Lynnwood High School jazz band member Jackson McCormick recently appeared as a guest DJ on KNKX public radio’s Evening Jazz show with Abe Beeson.
The 16-year-old junior plays saxophone in the jazz band and clarinet in the LHS wind ensemble. He said that when school band director Phillip Onishi asked him if he’d be interested in the guest DJ spot, he jumped on it as “a cool opportunity.” He was asked to provide Beeson with an hour-long playlist of jazz songs, which was then trimmed to about 45 minutes to allow time for talking.
Due to “last-minute” technical issues with his home microphone, McCormick said he went to the radio station to record his spoken pieces with Beeson, and learned he was the first guest DJ to appear in-person for quite some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that when asked to compile a playlist, one song that immediately came to mind was “Moment’s Notice” by John Coltrane. It’s a “pretty saxophone-based” song, McCormick said, that “had just caught my attention pretty recently and it was just stuck in my head all the time.”
Another song he made sure to include was “Funky Snake Foot” by Alphonse Mouzon. The song “has a saxophone solo in it, but I wouldn’t say it’s like a saxophone-focused song,” McCormick added. “I don’t just listen to music with like crazy saxophonists in it, I think all music has beauty in it, and I don’t think I should limit the music I listen to – to just like saxophone-based music.”
In creating the playlist, “It was just whatever was stuck in my head, I wasn’t going for a particular genre or anything – it was just what I’d been humming in the hallways,” he said.
McCormick first became interested in jazz music in seventh grade after a performance by the eighth-grade jazz band at his school. “I heard them and I was hooked,” he said. “I knew, OK I want to be in that band.”
He had been playing the clarinet since fifth grade, “but then I picked up saxophone and I’ve been with jazz ever since,” McCormick added. “The only reason I picked up saxophone was because I wanted to be in jazz band.”
He started by playing baritone saxophone the following year and has since also learned the tenor and alto saxophones. “Not many saxophonists at my school are very fluent in all of them but I am,” McCormick said. “So I sort of just fill in wherever I’m needed, and so this year it was tenor sax, but I don’t complain — I love playing all of them.”
What he really enjoys about jazz music, he said, is the sense of freedom it offers. “Usually there’s written music and you can obviously play it very straight-forward and technically correct, but I feel like jazz band involves or it requires a lot more emotion to play it powerfully,” McCormick said. “It’s always interesting to hear how different people approach how they play their jazz music. I really like to learn their different approaches and sort of understand the whole mentality – like what they’re thinking when they’re playing because it’s really interesting to see how playing the exact same song with two different mentalities can completely change it.”
McCormick said he also plays in a “pretty unofficial and not really serious” jazz combo outside of school. “It’s definitely fun to just jam with friends,” he added. “We just do it for fun,” although, “we’re looking at doing a few minor performances” in the future.
Playing the saxophone, he said,”allows me to really be unrestricted I guess in a way. I feel like I don’t have to work as hard to say what I’m trying to say through the instrument and I think it gives me a greater range of expression and just being more free.”
McCormick noted he even occasionally jams with his dad Erik, who plays drums and guitar – although the elder McCormick typically likes playing rock or heavy metal styles of music. “I just bring my saxophone in there a try to do some crazy rock and roll saxophone solos,” he said. “And then sometimes he gets a jazz beat going and then I work on creating a melody or improvising.”
McCormick is still deciding on his long-term plans after finishing high school, but is certain “that music will always be a part of my life. I guess at this point I’m just trying to figure out whether it’s going to be involved in my life professionally or just sort of (as) a side hobby.”
He is taking Running Start classes at Edmonds College and is even considering the possibility of a career in music education. “Most music careers aren’t very stable and safe I guess, but that’s like an actual full-time job and I feel like it’s something I’d enjoy,” he added. “I do have to think about what I’m going to do, but I know I shouldn’t make a decision like fully commit to something right now.”
McCormick said that he typically listens to jazz music in either the Jazz Classics or All New Jazz playlists curated in the Spotify app. He added while laughing, “I don’t (usually) like listening to the radio because I can’t stand commercials, so I hadn’t listened to KNKX too much before (the guest DJ spot). But now I’ve listened to them like every other day to see if there’s some good tunes going on.”
He added: “I have been dangerously close to starting to collect vinyl. But I know once I start that’ll just be burning a hole in my wallet — it is definitely something I’m pondering though.”
McCormick’s guest DJ spot on KNKX can be heard here – at the top of the profile.
— By Nathan Blackwell