by Carole Verona
Happiness, joy and surprise. These are some of the feelings Jack Saint Clair hopes the audience will come away with after hearing his 17piece big band at Pastorius Park on Wednesday, June 19, 7:30 p.m.
“Hopefully, the audience will see the fun we’re having on stage and will be struck by the energy and spontaneity of the music,” he said.
The 25-year-old Chestnut Hill resident composed and arranged all of the band’s music, plays the saxophone and conducts the ensemble, which he founded two years ago.
‘“My music is very much in the spirit and tradition of big band music. We have our own book. We don’t do covers. I try to make our music danceable yet soulful, with an intellectual element that’s challenging. That’s the balance I try to maintain.”
Jack is especially sensitive to those who know nothing about jazz or who never listen to it.
“Some people have an idea of what jazz is and maybe don’t like it so much. Seriously, a lot of people hate jazz and think it’s boring. I just don’t want it to be boring! I want them to walk away saying, ‘When I thought about this music, I thought I wouldn’t be able to understand or enjoy it, but I had fun and liked it. That was just good music.’”
Much of Saint Clair’s music is inspired by Philadelphia and its musicians.
“It is our particular local brand of jazz music. The Philadelphia sound, really getting into the groove and the swing, is a big part of the tradition here. The other neat thing with this band is that it’s cross-generational.”
The band’s members include Jack’s peers, fellow students from Temple, teachers and musicians he’s played with at jam sessions.
“It’s for the love of the music that we’re playing together. There’s an improvisational side to what we do, mixed in with the more classical side of reading the music, blending things together and creating a body of sound in harmony with one another. That’s why we stay together.”
How do older musicians react to a much younger composer, arranger and conductor?
“I don’t want to put words in their mouths, but I’m very humbled that musicians have given me a chance to do something more challenging. The best compliment is that they enjoy themselves and come back. I’ve learned a lot from them. That’s the beauty of having a band that plays regularly. I can actually hear what I’ve written – it’s not just sitting on a shelf – and I get input. They all contribute in ways that help me.”
Of all aspects Saint Clair is involved in, what is the most challenging?
“Conducting,” he answered without hesitation. “It’s like herding cats in a way.”
Saint Clair attended Our Mother of Consolation School. He started playing saxophone when he was in third grade. His parents encouraged him to be well-rounded by participating in both athletics and the arts. After graduating from Masterman High School, he received a B.A. in music with an emphasis on saxophone performance from Temple University in 2016. While in college, he became interested in composition as well as harmony, arrangement and orchestration.
“Every teacher I’ve had has helped me. Larry McKenna, one of my early saxophone teachers, is still a mentor. Larry is an incredible saxophone player from Philly … He’s a real musician’s musician. His overall musicianship inspired me.”
The Jack Saint Clair Orchestra plays at LaRose Jazz Club in Germantown the first Thursday night of every month.
“There’s an older community that has been coming to the club for a long time. They know the history of the music, and they understand the inside jokes and references to another time that we put in the arrangements.”
To learn more about the band’s music, visit JackSaintClair.com. In the event of rain, the show will move to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s Chapel at the Inn, 500 West Willow Grove Ave. The free Pastorius Park Summer Concert Series is supported by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the main sponsor, Chestnut Hill Hospital. This performance is sponsored by Atria Lafayette Hill.