by Lauren Witonsky
Take a peek into 18-year-old Jack Saint Clair’s iPod, and you may be surprised at what you find. Rather than discovering today’s number one hit playing, you’ll find a collection of classical music, operatic songs, Broadway tunes and a whole lot of jazz. These are the genres that have influenced Saint Clair to become the talented saxophonist he is today.
When given the option of joining the school band in third grade at Our Mother of Consolation Elementary School, Saint Clair was surprisingly not the one behind the decision. “I was a lazy child, but my parents forced me to play an instrument,” said Saint Clair. “I chose the saxophone, and it started from there.”
Despite his less than eager attitude to start playing an instrument, he was familiar with a fictional young lady who acted as his role model. “I watched the Simpsons religiously when I was little,” said Saint Clair. “Lisa played the sax, so I thought it was cool.”
Saint Clair’s unconventional approach to playing the saxophone ultimately led to making the decision at Masterman High School that he would devote his life to music. Although none of his family members are musicians themselves, Saint Clair is thankful that his parents are “huge supporters and love music.”
As a resident of Chestnut Hill, Saint Clair took advantage of the many local musical performances both onstage and off. “Every Sunday and Monday there is amazing music being played at LaRose Jazz Club on Germantown Avenue,” he said. “On Sunday night, drummer Rob Henderson leads a jam session. On Monday night, the wonderful saxophonist Tony Williams plays with his band.
“I started going there in high school, and it was an invaluable experience getting up on the bandstand and playing with musicians who had far more knowledge and experience than I. Luckily for me, they are all truly welcoming and encouraging, and they let me screw up onstage so I could learn.”
Saint Clair urges others who are intrigued by jazz to attend a concert at LaRose Jazz Club. “If you want to experience what jazz is about,” said Saint Clair, “go to La Rose on Sunday and Monday nights at 6 p.m.”
Out of all the legendary jazz musicians, Saint Clair considers his own teachers, past and present, to be his biggest inspirations. “I love all music and all the jazz greats. There are too many of them to list. Those who have had the greatest influence on me, as far as the kind of musician I’d like to be, have been my teachers: Hayden Wright, Jason Omara, Larry McKenna and currently, Dick Oatts.”
Saint Clair is currently a freshman in the Honors Program at Temple University, majoring in Jazz Performance. “I’m working on new music for my group. I’m starting my second year in the music program at Boyer and am looking forward to continuing working with the excellent faculty and students. I want to be a melodic player and just play beautiful melodies.”
As advice for other young musicians developing their instrumental skills, Saint Clair suggests continual practice and learning to play well with others. “Don’t shut yourself up in a room all the time,” he said.
Following his own advice, Saint Clair plays with musicians of all ages, sometimes with his peers and other times with older local musicians. This year he has even played the saxophone and flute with his own combo, the Jack Saint Clair Quintet, at Chris’ Jazz Café, 1431 Sansom St., arguably the city’s top professional venue for jazz.
A musician and a scholar, Saint Clair mentions that right now his focus is on studying rather than finding places to perform. If you are lucky enough, however, to be in the audience at one of Saint Clair’s shows, he hopes that you’ll take away one thing from the performance.
“I hope one of my tunes might get stuck in your head,” said Saint Clair, “and that you leave tapping your foot.”
Lauren Witonsky is entering her senior year at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. She aspires to attend the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. At school she is a leader of the writing center, an editor of the yearbook and a member of the fashion club. Lauren is passionate about both digital and film photography. She hopes to one day incorporate her writing and photography together as a fashion journalist for a magazine.