All that jazz

With many musical achievements already under his belt, Ethan Buck ’21 enters his freshman year as a promising addition to the West High band.

He picks up the instrument, aligning his fingers on the keys, and steadily blows to produce a rich sound. After listening carefully to the pitch, he meticulously adjusts the mouthpiece to tune. Ethan Buck ’21 quickly runs through a scale in anticipation of what’s to come. The young alto saxophonist then looks to the bustling crowd of Aspen, Colorado and prepares to street perform for the very first time in his life.

Although Ethan’s passion lies in performing jazz music, this has not always been the case. Coming from a family of musicians, Ethan has been exposed to classical music since he was very young. Starting the piano at the age of five, Ethan chose the saxophone as his second instrument after his mother convinced him to join concert band in fifth grade.

“I had originally not wanted to play in band. But since I had to [because my older sister did], I chose saxophone because one of my friends chose to play, and we already had a saxophone at home because my uncle had played it and he gave it to us,” Ethan said.

I had originally not wanted to play in band. But since I had to, I chose saxophone because one of my friends chose to play.

— Ethan Buck '21

Even though he didn’t enjoy the saxophone in the beginning because he was forced to play, the social aspect of band appealed to Ethan. This helped contribute to his passion for band later on in his playing career.

“When I was in fifth grade and sixth grade, even though I hated the saxophone, I still tried to have fun in band. I had a few friends in the saxophone section so we would just mess around and play things up and down an octave and just have fun with ourselves,” Ethan said.

While goofing around with friends increased Ethan’s enthusiasm to play the saxophone, his exposure to jazz band is what truly prompted him to become a more active musician. In jazz, players are allowed to personalize the music; this aspect really appealed to Ethan.

“I think jazz is his area. It’s more free and not as structured as classical piano … which I think he appreciates,” said Emily Buck ’19, Ethan’s older sister.

I think jazz is his area. It’s more free and not as structured as classical piano … which I think he appreciates.

— Emily Buck '19

Soon enough, his passion for jazz grew and he began researching certain players. Players that have inspired him include John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, but one of his biggest inspirations is Charlie Parker.

“[Parker’s] alto playing is just so phenomenal and I admire him so much,” Ethan said. “His work ethic in the beginning of his life was also so impressive. He practiced like fifteen hours a day, and he was just so devoted to the instrument.”

Inspired by Parker’s work ethic, Ethan makes sure to practice almost everyday for several hours a week. On average, Ethan will practice five to six days a week for about an hour and a half, amounting to a total of seven and a half to nine hours of rehearsal a week.

“It doesn’t seem like he’s working hard,” Emily said, “It’s kind of amazing. He’ll go down [to the basement] to practice and have a great time. He’ll do that everyday for like a year, and it just completely shows. The progress is huge.”

This work paid off this past summer when Ethan and his family traveled to Aspen, Colorado for a music festival his parents worked at. Ethan decided to perform out in the streets since a permit is not needed in order to perform.

“The music festival didn’t have any jazz in it, so it was cool to do something different,” Ethan said.

In fact, Ethan’s progress has showed in auditions for honor bands, too. He has participated in various highly ranked bands, including the Iowa Bandmasters Association band, one of the highest ranking ensembles a junior high student can place in for concert band.

However, all of these achievements were not entirely surprising to those closest to Ethan.

“He definitely has the background [for music] because he’s also been playing piano for a really long time, so he’s just a really musical person, and then he always does really well with that,” said Vivien Ho ’21, a close friend of Ethan’s.

Ethan is now grateful for the exposure to concert and jazz band, which has allowed him to make many new friends and create many more memories.

“The only other motivation for me besides competition is friends,” Ethan said, “Many of my close friends are in band, and some I’ve even met through band. It’s really great to be able to play music and spend time with them.”


If you wanted to read more about some talented students at West High, check this story out: Show choirs perform at “Dollars for Scholars”