Young jazz musicians may have yet to make their mark, but they still have plenty of interesting things to share. Recently, I heard the award-winning Battle Ground High School Advanced Jazz Combo play. Afterward, I spoke to 16-year-old sophomore Steve Montecucco, trumpeter, and 18-year-old graduating senior Luke Nerton, drummer.
You’re walking in the woods and come upon a jazz icon; whom would you wish it to be?
Steve: Lee Morgan. He’s my favorite trumpet player. His tone is amazing. His ideas are crazy. He’s such a great innovator. In my opinion, he’s the best trumpet player of all time.
Luke: I’d probably talk to Art Blakey, because just learning about the Jazz Messengers and how it all came about, the style that he played, and the way he played, his way of approaching rhythms, it’s always been something that’s fascinated me. Just to be able to speak to him for any amount of time would be the most amazing thing.
What brought you into the jazz world?
Steve: A couple of friends of mine and I joined band in the 6th grade and someone said “Oh, you should come to jazz band.” It was something where I could hang out with my friends. Then I got in and got to know band leader Greg [McKelvey], the people, the music, and it just really got to me. It was what I wanted to do.
Luke: I started playing jazz in 6th grade, ‘cause that’s when the program started and they needed a drummer. They said, “Luke, you play this rhythm on the high hat, that’s what you do.” I thought, “Sweet, I get to meet girls!” They say drummers always get the girls, but I haven’t seen that come true yet. I’m graduating now as a senior and still loving jazz, knowing I’m going to play it the rest of my life and enjoy it. It was one of those things, a learning experience that I was excited about.
Say you wanted to take out a date that didn’t know about jazz at all; whom would you take your date to see?
Steve: I’d have to go with the Spring Quartet with Esperanza Spaulding and Jack DeJohnette. I saw them a while ago and they’re amazing. I love anything Esperanza does. I had a few chances to play with her, too, and everything she touches turns to gold. Another reason for me is that Jack DeJohnette was one of the more influential drummers of all time. He’s so crazy to be with, someone that close to Miles and other people in the jazz world.
Luke: I’d probably go with the same group. It’s the modern face of jazz in a more traditional style. It’s really gold to me because it really sounds like a match-up between the two, like the old traditional sound we know and this new style of jazz that’s Esperanza forging ahead with her style. If you want to turn [young] people on to something, you’re not having to tell them this was written back in 1922 or 1950, you can tell them this was written four months ago.
Pretend you hear a song, and you go “I’m going to put this in my repertoire.” What would it be?
Steve: That happened to me a while ago, with the Jazz Messengers’ “Someone I Love” with Lee Morgan doing the main solo. I love that. If not that, I would have to go with another Messengers tune: “Crisis.” That’s cool, too. But it changes month to month ‘cause whenever I’m listening I go, “Oh, I have to learn that!”
Luke: The one that would be like a showcase would be “Birdland.” I just love the Buddy Rich Big Band — just on for 7-10 minutes. It’s just the style of it. It’s got this nice edge to it. I always thought it would be the most amazing thing to play. But the one — it’s funny because it was the first tune I got to play — is “It’s Just One of Those Things.” No matter who you are, you can hear it and go, “That’s jazz.”
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Steve: If everything went perfectly, I would have just graduated out of Julliard and been playing in New York.
Luke: I hope to be running my own auto mechanic traditional hot rod style shop, that I’m actually going to school for. I’ve been accepted into a school in South Dakota. I’d honestly love to see myself doing my passion — that would be cars — but also enjoying the gift of music that I’ve had in life for so long. Jazz drumming is something I guarantee I’ll never get away from.