All afternoon a saxophone wailed and inspired students when renowned jazz musician Richard Elliot played for and spoke to the Ramona High School jazz band.
Elliot talked with the students about his personal experiences becoming a professional musician and his time playing with the influential jazz band “Tower of Power,” and he offered advice to the budding musicians in the high school band room recently.
“The whole idea is to listen to a lot of different people,” said Elliot.
Take what you learn and make it your own, he said. “It’s very important to have your own sound.”
Elliot, a North County resident who grew up in Los Angeles, began playing the saxophone while still in high school. He told the students that it was his high school music teacher who influenced him to take up the instrument.
Daniel James, Ramona High School’s music teacher, hoped that the students would be just as inspired by Elliot’s perspective.
“He is able to be real honest about the music industry, and balancing family and a career like that,” said James. “It’s something these guys don’t think about.”
Elliot’s message of having a passion for something that a person wouldwant to do over and over again, that’s a wise thing for students to know, James added.
“What I can give them (the students), at least, is one perspective,” Elliot said. “Here’s one person’s experience — someone who made music a career, and here’s how I did it.”
People who are considering music as a career enjoy hearing how it happened, he said. Maybe it gives them a little bit of insight into the experience, he added.
And once the first few notes exploded from Elliot’s zebra-striped sax, the students were in awe.
“It was awesome,” said Allen Sulzen, 18. “A lot of the time, if you think you’re good and then you see someone better, you just want to improve. Right now, I wish I could play the guitar like he can play the sax.”
“Having a famous musician come up to me and sit next to me with his saxophone, it was the greatest opportunity I’ve had in my life, so far,” said Cody Branom, 17, one of the school’s saxophonists.
Keryn Pomicpic was instrumental in bringing the musician to the school. Her son, Trevor, attends Ramona High and is in the school’s jazz band.
“We saw him (Elliot) at a benefit concert and after a few e-mail correspondences we got him to come and speak to the students,” said Pomicpic.
Elliot speaks to students in area schools a few times a year. He tours, doing about 70 to 100 shows a year, and he records a new CD every year to a year-and-a-half. His latest release, “Rock Steady,” is available on iTunes or amazon.com.
But don’t call it “smooth jazz.” Musicians never call it that, said Elliot. It’s more like “instrumental R and B,” he said. “There are elements of jazz, elements of rhythm and blues, elements of Latin music, all different things that make up what we do. That’s the coolest thing about it.”
As for family life, “it’s all about the balance,” he said. “I didn’t have a family until I was well-established.”
Elliot is married and has five children.
He told the students they were lucky to be growing up in this age of technology, because recording CDs no longer requires large, expensive studios.
After the question-and-answer session, Elliot joined the students in a performance of “Critical Mass.” Led by James, the band played so well that it became difficult to tell the professional from the student.
Before the school bell rang, Elliot told the students one more thing: “You gotta pick something that you really, really want to do, because there’s nothing better than being able to say ‘I never get tired of this.’”
Music teaches “leadership, it builds confidence, it teaches students to work as a team — these are all life-skills that they are going to need,” said James. “Music highlights the joys of learning and gives the community and the parents a chance to see what the students are doing.”
“This was a great learning experience,” said Jose Leyva, 15. “It shows how there are many different ways to keep going in music. Music is a really big part of my life.”