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Music major has a jazzy life

October 6, 2008

PLU music major decides to jazz up his life

For Bryan McEntire, choosing to be a jazz player wasn’t much of a choice. In fact, the Pacific Lutheran University junior feels the craft chose him. He remembers his grandfather had an old saxophone in his Marysville, Washington home. So at 9 years old, he picked it up and started to play it.

“I think my grandfather played it in high school, and then my uncle, and then they both stopped, so I picked up where they left off,” McEntire said.

This led to jazz band in middle school and another jazz band at Mount Lake Terrace High School, located north of Seattle. That’s where he met up with David Joyner, PLU’s director of jazz studies, who often trolls through high school jazz bands to recruit talent. But in this case, McEntire had already decided to come to PLU, the alma matter of his mother, Cindy ’82, father, Mike ’81 and sister, Erin ’08.

McEntire hasn’t regretted the choice – of school or his future profession – for an instant.

“After a few years of playing (jazz) everything fell into place,” McEntire said recently.

He said he draws inspiration from professors, as well as classes, and has found a mentor in sax professor Robert Miller, who he met during his freshman and sophomore years.

“I view him as a contemporary helping me along my path,” McEntire said. “He was, and still is, a mentor. Instead of just helping me with techniques and giving me tips to play better, he taught me about how one can view jazz as a parallel to life.”

McEntire admits that carving out a career in jazz is a bit daunting. Gigs are generally few, the pay’s not great, if there’s any pay at all, and finding enough work can be a challenge. However, McEntire is determined to follow his passions.

This passion for the smooth, smoky and unpredictable sound has McEntire and members of The Parkland Youth Symphony – the band in which he plays sax – checking out Seattle’s famed jazz spots, such as Jazz Alley, Triple Door or Tula’s to listen to local and national talent on a blustery evening recently.

As the first true evening of fall arrives in Seattle, with rain pinging off the pavement, McEntire and his crew – PLU juniors Luke Sumerfield, Graham Logen and Daniel Baskin – stroll through the crowds in the Seattle neighborhood known as Belltown, to Tula’s, marked by a bright blue neon lights. They edge through the biker bar crowd next door, and enter the dark, narrow restaurant, flanked by brick walls and they are greeted by Mack, the owner, who seems to know the students on sight.

Tonight’s entertainment will include former PLU music professor Mark Taylor, who plays sax with the Victor Noriega Trio. McEntire, who plays sax, can’t wait for the music to start after the group picks a table near the stage that dominates the restaurant.

There are many Northwest and PLU links to the jazz world – from sax player Cliff Colon ‘01, to jazz musician Jeffrey Berghammer ’02. Although there isn’t a vibrant jazz scene in Tacoma, as say compared to Seattle, Joyner notes it doesn’t bother most students.

“They just pile in the car are drive a half hour north,” he said. “Seattle isn’t a university town, but it’s a dense city, where jazz flourishes.”

Joyner compares it to students living in New Jersey who think nothing of hopping the train into New York, the epicenter of classic jazz in the United States. McEntire figures that eventually, the Big Apple is where he’ll end up. And with a bit of luck and grit, earn a living.

Aside from the his passion for jazz music, McEntire loves vintage saxophones. He owns one that’s about 50 years old, and swears the sound is nothing like the newer models. After one of the last vintage sax shops closed in Seattle, McEntire and others who have a passion for old instruments, had to turn to the Internet or the person-to-person network for the jazz version of a Stradivarius.

His perfect sax? One crafted circa 1940 or 1950.

“As much as music is a lifelong pursuit, so is finding a horn that is the best,” he said. “If you’re going to do (music) as a profession, you should have an instrument that let’s you play to the best of your ability.”

He hasn’t found it yet. But he’s still searching.