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Bebop all night long: it's Kyle Myers

"I went to jazz camp at Stanford, and there's a 12-year-old kicking my ass."

Nobody calls them Young Lions any more but Kyle Myers, from Rancho Penasquitos, could have been one -- that good.

And although I don't think alto sax man Christopher Hollyday was officially dubbed a Young Lion either, he surely could have been one as well. He was, after all, the youngest musician to ever be booked into the Village Vanguard in New York -- that good.

Hollyday gigs around San Diego and teaches music in Mira Mesa these days. Kyle Myers is his protégé.

Myers has alto sax chops to spare. He plays Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley heads with a range and depth of intelligence and raw feeling that borders on the supernatural. Close your eyes when Myers is playing, and tell me if he doesn't have the saxophone wisdom of a very old man. In truth, he is only 15.

Young Lion, by the way, was first used by a trumpet player named Wynton Marsalis in the 1980's, possibly as a catch phrase to help pump air into the lungs of the slowly dying beast that was/is traditional jazz. A Young Lion was an heir apparent to the legend, a hard bopper known for having serious musical skills that crossed over. It was a small club that included the Marsalis brothers, Roy Hargrove, Wallace Roney, Joshua Redman, and Marcus Greer, among few others.

But any critic could surely argue that Myers' path in music is maybe easier than it looks, considering that his tones and note choices and such were worked out years before he was even born. To those, I would say this: pick up a sax, and give it a try for yourself.

As with Jimi Hendrix in the 1970s, the world of music was not the same after Charlie Parker inflamed a new jazz called bebop during the 1940s and '50s. And Cannonball Adderley was one of the featured sax players on the groundbreaking Kind of Blue released by Miles Davis in 1959. To emulate the saxophone stylings of those two could be considered a life's work. Many have made it so.

And this is the path that Kyle Myers chose, not the saccharine-sweetened over-emotional saxophone sound that was until recently a cash cow for smooth jazz, which was more of an industry than an art form.

"The real jazz is bebop. It appealed to me because it's like classical music that you make up," Myers says by phone. "I don't know why I like it so much. I wouldn't say I've mastered it. There's a point where you don't know where to go."

I ask him what he thinks he sounds like.

"That's a good question. It's mostly a spiritual thing. You could like something, but you could not like something that you were meant to do. Like my speaking voice: I might not like it, the way it sounds, but it's my voice."

Then, does Myers think performance is a preordained thing? Or that it can be influenced through one's own will?

"I don't practice that much, as much as I play songs and as much as I listen to other players. Since I started getting into bop, I've been practicing the bebop scale and stuff, but not so much. It's a listening thing, and adjusting. Just let time take its course."

The bebop scale is a major scale with an extra note, a flat seven added in front of the natural seven. You could say that the extra note makes the scale longer, and you would be right. It helps a phrase fit better in a way that appealed then and now to the bop community at large.

This is the manner of information that Myers has perfected and filed in his sax playing arsenal at such a young age. And there is a staggering amount of things to know just to play jazz. "You learn all the scales," said a tenor sax player named Ernie Watts, "and you can never be wrong. Soloing becomes an elaborate game of multiple choice."

I wonder if Myers is the best alto sax player in his age group.

"I don't know, actually. In San Diego, maybe. Southern California, maybe. But California? No. There's some really good guys out there. Like, when I went to jazz camp at Stanford, and there's a 12-year-old kicking my ass."

One also wonders if Myer's non-musical contemporaries criticize his choice of a music that is, after all, decades old, even light-years old to a kid. He says no. He says the kids at Mt. Carmel, his high school, actually support his music. It was his attitude that was another thing entirely.

"I had an ego problem. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was good."

Insecurity? Performance anxiety?

"Probably. Actually, inside I thought I was a fake saxophone player. So I practiced a lot so I could catch up to what I was saying." He laughs. "There was a big step up from this year to last. And a lot of it's not so much the actual practice. It's from hearing what music means to other people. I think a lot about the spiritual side."

Myers says he actually landed up on sax as a choice of musical instrument by a process of elimination. "I wanted to play trombone at first. I went to a music shop, and I tried out a trombone and a trumpet. The sax worked out because I could make the most sounds with one, so I went with that." He was 10 years old.

"But I didn't start getting into it until two years later. At first, it was like another project. Then, and I won't say that my parents forced me, but they had me learn Dave Brubeck's "Take Five."

An alto sax player named Paul Desmond was on those legendary Brubeck sessions. Desmond, who became wildly popular in the 1960s, was possibly the easiest of all of the first call jazz cats of that generation to master. Again, Ernie Watts:

"I learned to play a Paul Desmond solo," he told an interviewer, "and for the first time, I thought, I could do this. I can play jazz saxophone."

Desmond played simple lines that seemed to float on the silkiest of tones -- his own, and a sound rarely duplicated. It is amazing in and of itself that a saxophone, which is basically sheet metal that has been rolled into a tube and punched full of holes, a kind of megaphone, really, with spring-loaded keys and flaps and levers, could ever make such beautiful noise.

"Alto sax," David Sanborn once said, "and tenor sax? That's the human voice."

I tell Myers that my own sax work is best when I mentally step out of the way, that in truth, the horn is actually teaching me to play it, not the reverse. I ask him if he agrees that his sax too is something of a living partnership, considering that the tone of the instrument begins in the stomach with wind pushed by one's diaphragm to a piece of cane on a mouthpiece that vibrates inside one's oral cavity.

Yes, he says. He gets it, and likewise describes his own sax as an extension of himself.

"Like a painter," he says, "without a brush."

Myers will appear at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant, Sat. Feb 9, with Mark Augustin and Bruce Cameron

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Nobody calls them Young Lions any more but Kyle Myers, from Rancho Penasquitos, could have been one -- that good.

And although I don't think alto sax man Christopher Hollyday was officially dubbed a Young Lion either, he surely could have been one as well. He was, after all, the youngest musician to ever be booked into the Village Vanguard in New York -- that good.

Hollyday gigs around San Diego and teaches music in Mira Mesa these days. Kyle Myers is his protégé.

Myers has alto sax chops to spare. He plays Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley heads with a range and depth of intelligence and raw feeling that borders on the supernatural. Close your eyes when Myers is playing, and tell me if he doesn't have the saxophone wisdom of a very old man. In truth, he is only 15.

Young Lion, by the way, was first used by a trumpet player named Wynton Marsalis in the 1980's, possibly as a catch phrase to help pump air into the lungs of the slowly dying beast that was/is traditional jazz. A Young Lion was an heir apparent to the legend, a hard bopper known for having serious musical skills that crossed over. It was a small club that included the Marsalis brothers, Roy Hargrove, Wallace Roney, Joshua Redman, and Marcus Greer, among few others.

But any critic could surely argue that Myers' path in music is maybe easier than it looks, considering that his tones and note choices and such were worked out years before he was even born. To those, I would say this: pick up a sax, and give it a try for yourself.

As with Jimi Hendrix in the 1970s, the world of music was not the same after Charlie Parker inflamed a new jazz called bebop during the 1940s and '50s. And Cannonball Adderley was one of the featured sax players on the groundbreaking Kind of Blue released by Miles Davis in 1959. To emulate the saxophone stylings of those two could be considered a life's work. Many have made it so.

And this is the path that Kyle Myers chose, not the saccharine-sweetened over-emotional saxophone sound that was until recently a cash cow for smooth jazz, which was more of an industry than an art form.

"The real jazz is bebop. It appealed to me because it's like classical music that you make up," Myers says by phone. "I don't know why I like it so much. I wouldn't say I've mastered it. There's a point where you don't know where to go."

I ask him what he thinks he sounds like.

"That's a good question. It's mostly a spiritual thing. You could like something, but you could not like something that you were meant to do. Like my speaking voice: I might not like it, the way it sounds, but it's my voice."

Then, does Myers think performance is a preordained thing? Or that it can be influenced through one's own will?

"I don't practice that much, as much as I play songs and as much as I listen to other players. Since I started getting into bop, I've been practicing the bebop scale and stuff, but not so much. It's a listening thing, and adjusting. Just let time take its course."

The bebop scale is a major scale with an extra note, a flat seven added in front of the natural seven. You could say that the extra note makes the scale longer, and you would be right. It helps a phrase fit better in a way that appealed then and now to the bop community at large.

This is the manner of information that Myers has perfected and filed in his sax playing arsenal at such a young age. And there is a staggering amount of things to know just to play jazz. "You learn all the scales," said a tenor sax player named Ernie Watts, "and you can never be wrong. Soloing becomes an elaborate game of multiple choice."

I wonder if Myers is the best alto sax player in his age group.

"I don't know, actually. In San Diego, maybe. Southern California, maybe. But California? No. There's some really good guys out there. Like, when I went to jazz camp at Stanford, and there's a 12-year-old kicking my ass."

One also wonders if Myer's non-musical contemporaries criticize his choice of a music that is, after all, decades old, even light-years old to a kid. He says no. He says the kids at Mt. Carmel, his high school, actually support his music. It was his attitude that was another thing entirely.

"I had an ego problem. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was good."

Insecurity? Performance anxiety?

"Probably. Actually, inside I thought I was a fake saxophone player. So I practiced a lot so I could catch up to what I was saying." He laughs. "There was a big step up from this year to last. And a lot of it's not so much the actual practice. It's from hearing what music means to other people. I think a lot about the spiritual side."

Myers says he actually landed up on sax as a choice of musical instrument by a process of elimination. "I wanted to play trombone at first. I went to a music shop, and I tried out a trombone and a trumpet. The sax worked out because I could make the most sounds with one, so I went with that." He was 10 years old.

"But I didn't start getting into it until two years later. At first, it was like another project. Then, and I won't say that my parents forced me, but they had me learn Dave Brubeck's "Take Five."

An alto sax player named Paul Desmond was on those legendary Brubeck sessions. Desmond, who became wildly popular in the 1960s, was possibly the easiest of all of the first call jazz cats of that generation to master. Again, Ernie Watts:

"I learned to play a Paul Desmond solo," he told an interviewer, "and for the first time, I thought, I could do this. I can play jazz saxophone."

Desmond played simple lines that seemed to float on the silkiest of tones -- his own, and a sound rarely duplicated. It is amazing in and of itself that a saxophone, which is basically sheet metal that has been rolled into a tube and punched full of holes, a kind of megaphone, really, with spring-loaded keys and flaps and levers, could ever make such beautiful noise.

"Alto sax," David Sanborn once said, "and tenor sax? That's the human voice."

I tell Myers that my own sax work is best when I mentally step out of the way, that in truth, the horn is actually teaching me to play it, not the reverse. I ask him if he agrees that his sax too is something of a living partnership, considering that the tone of the instrument begins in the stomach with wind pushed by one's diaphragm to a piece of cane on a mouthpiece that vibrates inside one's oral cavity.

Yes, he says. He gets it, and likewise describes his own sax as an extension of himself.

"Like a painter," he says, "without a brush."

Myers will appear at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant, Sat. Feb 9, with Mark Augustin and Bruce Cameron

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