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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 BECU.

School of Jazz guest DJs for October: Ryan Acheson and Gabriel Espitia

KNKX School of Jazz guest DJs Ryan Acheson (saxophone) and Gabriel Espitia (drums) from Mountlake Terrace High School
Abe Beeson
Left, Ryan Acheson. Right, Gabriel Espitia.

Saxophonist Ryan Acheson and drummer Gabriel Espitia from Mountlake Terrace High School joined Abe Beeson as the School of Jazz guest DJs for October. Get to know Ryan and Gabriel in their Q&A, and check out their playlist.

Which instrument do you play and why?

Ryan: I play alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute, and baritone saxophone in that order. I began my saxophone journey on tenor when I broke my left thumb in the 5th grade. I was playing clarinet at the time but had to wear a big metal splint holding my thumb in place. Long story short, I couldn’t cover the tone hole on the clarinet with my thumb but I could press the octave key on a saxophone. So I began playing tenor sax.

Gabriel: I play the drums. I started taking lessons at eight but it wasn’t anything special to me at the time so I ended up quitting. In 5th grade I was invited to go to a Seattle School of Rock concert at the Hard Rock Café and loved it. I loved it so much that I decided to join School of Rock in Seattle. I finally found something fun but I didn’t really practice much until 8th grade when I joined our school jazz band at Brier Terrace. Jazz inspired me to get better and be the best player I could possibly be.

What’s your all-time favorite jazz piece?

Ryan: This is a ridiculously tough question, so I narrowed it down to three:

  1. "Happy Go Lucky Local" by Duke Ellington
  2. "Beatrice" by Sam Rivers
  3. "Ecaroh" by Horace Silver

Gabriel: This is very, very tough question to answer but I’m going to go with "Birdland" by Maynard Ferguson. The arrangement is fantastic and it has the most energy of any recording I’ve ever heard. I also love the drums on this song. Peter Erksine is one of my all time favorite drummers and I think he does an excellent job on this recording.

Who is your jazz hero?

Ryan: My jazz hero is Cannonball Adderley because in every line he plays you can feel how much he loves the music. That’s been really inspirational for me.

Gabriel: I’m going to go with Dennis Chambers. He is exactly what I strive to be as a drummer. He exceeds in funk and fusion but can play in any situation with ease. The first time I heard his playing was on a record with Maceo Parker and the WDR big band, he had an outstanding solo on Pass the Peas and hearing that solo made me want to be a jazz drummer.

Why jazz?

Ryan: Freedom. Jazz allows me an outlet to mentally and sometimes physically plug into as an escape. Whether I’m playing or listening, I always feel like jazz is a place I can call home. A place where I can relax. A place I feel free.

Gabriel: The social aspect of jazz has always been a huge draw for me. I love being able to interact with the people I’m playing with and create a connection through the music. It also gives me the freedom I need when playing to experiment and try new things. When I can combine the freedom and social aspect in Jazz I feel like I’m where I belong.

Ryan and Gabriel's Playlist

  • Nathan East – "Sir Duke"
  • Ecstasy in Numbers – "Technoir"
  • Cannonball Adderley – "Soon"
  • Dave Weckl/Eric Marienthal – "Festival De Ritmo"
  • EMEFE – "Sun Spat"
  • Bob James – "Rocket Man"
  • Snarky Puppy – "Ready Wednesday"

Follow Gabriel Espitia on Instagram.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.