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Since 2005, KNKX's School of Jazz has provided mentorship, learning and performance opportunities to Western Washington middle school, high school and college jazz students. A cornerstone of the station's signature community outreach program, it has directly impacted thousands of jazz students, band directors and professional musicians. School of Jazz is sponsored by Alaska Airlines and BECU.

Guest Student DJ Jacob Shaffer: 'Jazz Is Like A Kaleidoscope'

Note: Each month, KPLU invites a teen guest DJ to play his or her favorite pieces on the air. The program is part of KPLU's School of Jazz.

Stadium High School's Jacob Shaffer is KPLU's guest DJ for the month of August. Jacob's hour aired from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on August 6th. To get to know him better, we asked 17-year-old Jacob to answer a few questions about jazz:

Which instrument do you play and why?

I come from a fairly musical family. Everyone in my family sings and plays piano. My mom is music teacher, my dad plays guitar, and my sister plays violin. So being stubborn as I am, I decided I would never get into music because that’s what everyone else did.

By the time 5th grade came around all my friends were joining band at Mason Middle School. I was in the car with my dad and we were listening to a CD. I forgot which one it was exactly, but I heard Dizzy Gillespie and I was hooked. I decided that I was going to play the trumpet because my family couldn't tell me how to play it.

I started out lessons with Lance Buller and he taught me which end of the horn to blown in. Since then I've been submerging myself farther into music. I still play trumpet, but I play bass on the side and am going to start playing percussion in one of the bands at school this fall. At the moment I’m also in the process of making my own acoustic bass guitar with the famous Roy McAlister.

What’s your all-time favorite jazz piece and why?

The more I listen, the harder it is to answer that question. The first tune I went and played on stage was My Funny Valentine.. I totally dig that tune.  Back in the 5th grade I listened to my Chet Baker album with that tune on it and I listened like it was the bare necessities. I think that chart just had such a fond impact on me that I always love going back to it and jamming with it. 

Who’s your jazz hero and why?

I think as I’ve progressed as a musician and with my growing knowledge of just who is out there, I think I would have to say my current jazz hero evolves to what I expand to. I could not listen to Bitches Brew back in 7th grade because it was just too much to grasp at the time. I think I owned that for 5-6 years before I had the ears for it. Now I totally love those recordings. But to name just the most influential jazz heros for me are Chet Baker, Jaco Pastorious, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis.

What is jazz, exactly? How would you explain it?

Jazz is a never ending, expanding, American-based, beautifully world-perverted, soul uplifting, self searching, community based genre of music. Jazz is like a kaleidoscope where it’s all these colors of influence rearranged to come up with something completely new. Thats what so great about it. The instrumentation, the arrangements, the improvisation, the mood are never set.

Take the swing part for example. Basie does not  swing the same as Kenton who does not swing the same as Maynard. If you ask the biggest jazz names from the south they will explain swing completely different from the Northwest who will explain it completely differently from the east coast. Sometimes they even fight over how to teach it. Yet they are all down with getting together and jamming.

Now jazz is heading in a direction where everyone is taking it and using it for the situation that a greater audience enjoys. Take Donnie Trumpet for example, he just came out with an album with Chance the Rapper and it’s got a huge jazz R&B influence in it. I don’t feel jazz will die because what jazz is is accepting anyone to take it, tear it up, and put it back together in a way they love. That’s what jazz has done since the beginning. It will continue to evolve and regroup and look back and move forward.

Jacob's Playlist:

  1. “CALDONIA” WYNTON MARSALIS/WILLIE NELSON (2 Men Playing the Blues)
  2. “PORTRAIT OF TRACY” JACO PASTORIUS (Jaco Pastorius)
  3. “SISTER MOON” HERBIE HANCOCK with STING (Possibilities)
  4. “KARMAPA CHENNO” DON CHERRY (Hear & Now)
  5. “BOLERO” FRANK ZAPPA (The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life)
  6. “LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME” NINA SIMONE (Little Girl Blue)
  7. “ELEANOR RIGBY” SOULIVE (Rubber Soulive)
  8. “SOME COW FONQUE” BUCKSHOT LeFONQUE (Buckshot LeFonque)
  9. “BLUEBIRD OF DEHLI (MYNAH)” DUKE ELLINGTON (Far East Suite)
  10. “CONSTIPATED DUCK” JEFF BECK (Blow By Blow)
  11. “LAYLA” WYNTON MARSALIS/ERIC CLAPTON (W.M. & E.C. Play the Blues)
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