Profile: Jazz saxophonist Jonathan Lorentz

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(Host) Jazz saxophonist Jonathan Lorentz has built up an impressive resume.

The Vermont native is only thirty, but he’s performed at Radio City Music Hall and the famed Blue Note, he’s taught at New York University, and he’s shared stages with Grammy-winning artists.

For the last three years, Lorentz has headed up the jazz department at Castleton State College.

VPR’s Nina Keck met up with him there and has this profile.

(Keck) Jonathan Lorentz’s office is kind of like his music. . . . cool, comfortable and retro. Lining the walls are framed black and white photographs of jazz legends like Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Max Roach. Lorentz says that when he first began the saxophone in grade school, he wanted to play rock and roll. Then his grandfather turned him on to Louis Armstrong and he says he became fascinated by the infinite possibilities of jazz.

(Lorentz) “I think initially the thing that attracted me were some of the product oriented – you know- the suits, the berets! All that stuff that really was nothing more than part of how jazz is packaged. But what made it stay for me is this sense that you can make it completely new every night and still maintain a sense of tradition.”

(Keck) Lorentz grew up in Shrewsbury. His father, a local attorney – had supported himself through college and law school by playing saxophone in a rock and roll band. Lorentz says that intrigued him and started him thinking about a future in music.

(Lorentz) “I remember actually being in 6th grade and doing a career study and deciding at that point that I wanted to be a saxophone player and I had really no idea what that meant at the time except that I believed I could make some sort of living or career out of putting air through the horn.”

(Keck) At Mill River Union High School, Lorentz says his interest in music grew thanks to teachers like Glen Giles and Bear Irwin. They encouraged him to study music in college which he did at Plymouth State in New Hampshire. Lorentz says reality hit hard, though, when he headed to New York University for grad school.

(Lorentz) “As happy as I was in New Hampshire, I was never pushed to my absolute breaking point like I was in New York City. Certainly pushed to the point where I questioned whether or not I really wanted to play the horn or had any business being a musician. And while that’s a humbling, really dark place to be it was an important turning point for me.”

(Keck) Rather than quit, he decided to start from scratch and relearn everything from his playing to his approach to music. His strategy worked. He got his masters in music theory in 18 months and was hired by NYU right after graduation. He taught part time in the mornings then made extra money playing in the city’s subway stations.

(Lorentz) “We would play Softly as a Morning Sunrise as our first song . . . and then we would start with a B flat or an F blues – (sings) and it would go for 45 minutes or beyond without dropping a beat.”

“It was a lot of fun. I actually ran into a lot of people that I knew – even people from Vermont would see me on the subways – hey how’s it going? Great – how about a dollar? You know – it was fun.” (laughs)

(Keck) Perhaps as a tribute to those days, Jonathan Lorentz included this version of Softly as in a Morning Sunrise on his most recent CD titled Coming Home. While home will always be Vermont, Lorentz says he’s excited to take the next step in his career. After three years heading up the jazz department at Castleton State College, Lorentz says it’s time to move on.

(Lorentz) “I’m not entirely sure what’s next – I’m looking all over the map – a lot of opportunities that have come up including work on the west coast. . . .few opportunities that are right here in the area. But it’s time to do the next thing – try something new. And I’m excited for the next gig whenever it happens to be.”

(Keck) While he enjoys teaching and composing it’s the spontaneity and social interaction of performing that he loves best. As long as he can perform, Jonathan Lorentz says he’ll be happy wherever he ends up.

For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck.

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