Jesse Scheinin
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Jesse Scheinin

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"Teenager spins tales on tenor saxophone"

Writing about jazz, you learn quickly to listen closely when a musician offers a tip about an up-and-coming player.
So when 17-year-old tenor saxophonist Jesse Scheinin's name started coming up in conversations with some of the top players in the area, it confirmed the strong impression he had already made in performances with various high school honor bands.
A senior at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, Scheinin (pronounced shay-nin) is in his second year as a member of the SFJazz High School All-Stars and has been landing gigs with his own band, the Jesse Scheinin Quartet, at first-class venues like the Agenda Lounge in San Jose and San Francisco's Bacar for the past 16 months.
He makes his debut at Santa Cruz's Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Thursday with pianist Richard Sears, bassist Hans Bernhard and drummer Hamir Atwal.
Scheinin's father is Richard Scheinin, the classical and jazz music critic of the Mercury News.
There's no shortage of precociously talented teenage musicians these days, but as a rule, veteran improvisers are unimpressed by mere technical prowess. As tenor saxophone legend Lester Young once remarked to a youthful player trying to impress him with a cascade of licks, "That's cool, but can you tell me a story?"
Scheinin stands out from his peers not so much for his facility on the horn, but because he's already attained a personal sound on the saxophone and demonstrated a gift for weaving persuasive melodic
While still very much a work in progress, Scheinin plays with a musical maturity that seems uncanny for his age.
"There are a lot of talented kids out there, but there's something special about him that goes beyond what he's playing on the saxophone," says tenor sax star Joshua Redman, who has worked closely with Scheinin as artistic director of SFJazz's spring season.
"He's got this natural storytelling ability. He's not afraid to improvise," Redman says. "And in that one respect he reminds me of me a little bit. Musically, he's 100 times more together than I was at his age, but my thing was never what I knew or what I could play. It was going for what I didn't know, and hopefully managing to make something out of that. I think that's what inspires me about Jesse."
Scheinin's talent and sky-high promise has not gone unnoticed outside the Bay Area. Down Beat magazine named him an "Outstanding Soloist" in 2005, and last year the venerable jazz publication selected his tune "Paper Mache`" as the top composition in the Down Beat Student Music Awards.
Scheinin, who has been offered a full scholarship by The Berklee College of Music in Boston, is soaking up a wide array of styles and sounds rather than focusing on one particular player as a role model.
"Recently, I've been listening to Wayne Shorter, Mark Turner and David Binney, especially for composition," Scheinin says. "They're the type of composer I'd like to be like, with amazing melodies and an original concept for everything. There's not really one saxophonist I want to sound like. It's more like there are people I'd like to emulate for various qualities."
Scheinin says the work is most rewarding and challenging when he's leading his own combo.
"To be able to hear your music come together after working on it for a long time is the most incredible feeling," Scheinin says. "But players expect you to know everything about your music, and I've had to really work at that, study up on stuff so I don't look like an idiot when they ask me something. It took me a while to be able to count off a tune well. That's just happened in the last year."
He's spent the past two years taking private lessons with esteemed educator and saxophonist Dann Zinn, who says Scheinin has "unlimited potential."
Scheinin's gotten the most exposure with SFJazz, performing regularly around the Bay Area with the High School All-Stars. He also went to Europe last summer with the Monterey Jazz Festival's Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.
"I have to say, when I first heard him at the audition, I was floored," says pianist Dee Spencer, founder of San Francisco State's undergraduate jazz program and director of the SFJazz High School All-Stars. "He's so bold and daring in his approach to improvisation. I never know what he's going to do, and I can't say that about anyone else in the band. My mouth has been dropping for the last two years." - San Jose Mercury News

"Young Santa Cruz saxophonist showing jazz chops and creativity well beyond his years."

When it comes to musical prodigies, let me say this: It’s one thing to regurgitate John Coltrane’s licks at breakneck tempos when you’re 17.

It’s another thing to play a well-conceived solo of your own rendering.

Developing a mature sound takes years. And few youngsters ever bypass the macho phase of hammering listeners with a barrage of notes.

Which brings me to Jesse Scheinin, a tenor saxophonist from Santa Cruz’s Westside. Scheinin is an extraordinary talent — not just because he has the chops. It’s because he doesn’t bother trying to impress you with them.

Scheinin, who leads a quartet at Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Thursday, plays thoughtful, well-structured solos that belie his 17 years. His muscular yet lyrical sound conjures a lexicon of saxophonists from Ben Webster to Michael Brecker. And when you least expect it, he issues a guttural outburst like avant-garde icon Ornette Coleman.

"He’s able to develop melodies in a way that kids just can’t do," said Dan Zinn, an Alameda-based saxophonist who has taught Jesse for two years. "Most kids can throw together great licks, but he has a way of being creative within these melodies."

Scheinin’s leap to a mature sound so early in his development seems to be a conscious one. Style doesn’t interest him as much as substance. He doesn’t loathe the idea of technical proficiency; it’s merely a means to an end.

"You should put that aside when you get on the bandstand (and) play with other people," Scheinin said recently by phone from New York City, where he was preparing to audition for Manhattan School of Music.

Scheinin comes by his talent from a family where music was a constant. Both older brothers play instruments. His father, Richard Scheinin, the classical music writer for the San Jose Mercury News, played horn through college before turning to journalism.

"When me and my brothers were younger, he’d take it out once in a while and play for us a little bit," Jesse said. "So that always made me want to play."

In fact, Scheinin wanted to play that horn. But it needed a lot of repair, so at 9, he opted for clarinet. About five years later, he switched to tenor saxophone.

Today, Scheinin is poised to follow in the footsteps of other Santa Cruz saxophonists. Mention Jesse’s name and comparisons always include Remy Le Boeuf (an alum of Pacific Collegiate School, where Jesse is a senior), now attending Manhattan School of Music and picking up gigs in New York.

Scheinin’s talents haven’t gone unnoticed. Besides the Kuumbwa Jazz Center All-Star High School Band, he plays with SFJAZZ High School All-Star Ensemble. The latter opportunity has brought him face to face in jam sessions with luminaries like saxophonist Josh Redman and trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Last year, Scheinin played first tenor in the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, a prestigious collection of the nation’s best high school musicians. The band plays during the annual September event, and Scheinin will audition this weekend for a coveted spot in ensemble.

None of this, however, has gone to his head (perhaps another difference from the prodigy stereotype). He frames his life goals in modest, if not, downright realistic terms.

"It’s a big enough goal to be a jazz musician and make a living," he said. "And if I set as my goal to be some rich musician, being in advertisements like (trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center Director) Wynton Marsalis, I think I’ll have my hopes let down." - Santa Cruz Sentinel


Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Jesse Scheinin is a 17-year old tenor saxophonist and composer, living in Santa Cruz, CA. He plays first tenor in the Monterey Jazz Festival’s 2006 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra and the SFJAZZ High School All-Star Ensemble, and is a member of the Kuumbwa All-Star High School Band.

In June 2005, Jesse was named an “Outstanding Soloist” by Downbeat Magazine and, in June 2006, his song “Paper Maché” was the winning composition in the Downbeat Student Music Awards. In recent months, he has performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, San Francisco Jazz Festival, San Jose Jazz Festival, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, the Agenda Lounge in San Jose, and Bacar in San Francisco.

Recently, as part of the SFJAZZ All-Star High School Quintet, Jesse was named among the “Hot 20” (20 of the hottest rising talents in the Bay Area) by 7X7 Magazine. He has been fortunate enough to play with many of his musical heroes: Joshua Redman, Billy Harper, Miguel Zenon, Nicholas Payton, Mary Stallings, Andre Hayward, Renee Rosnes, Eric Harland, and Luciana Souza. Jesse will be attending the Berklee College of Music, with a full scholarship, in the fall.