Aug 09, 2020

Local jazz band plays the city

Musical group features Fresno State professor as lead sax, composer

A hypnotic melody fills the air as the crowd watches in silent awe. An alto saxophone player and his fellow musicians gracefully work their craft. For those who are connoisseurs of jazz, the Rogue Festival offers one of the most creative and inventive musical quartets imaginable.

Fresno State music professor and lead saxophone player Benjamin Boone met up with pianist David Aus to write original jazz pieces only days before they played on stage at this year’s Rogue Festival.

Teaming up with Grammy-award-winning drummer Steve Mitchell and bass player Nye Morton, the quartet plays once a year at this event.

“We have played five years together with the current quartet configuration and Ben and David have composed all the jazz songs,” Mitchell said.

On stage during their performance, the group starts to focus on their musical prowess, as each player takes a turn at performing solos. Creating unique and fun jazz pieces, the band melds together in perfect harmony, feeding off each other.

“We have lots of fun playing together and have a ball,” Mitchell said. “Fresno is amazingly alive artistically, and I like coming to this city because the band plays fresh, brand new songs.”

When the band started seven years ago at a dance studio, the band had Boone on sax, Mitchell on drums, and three guitar players. Since then, the group has evolved their sound into a more traditional jazz style with the addition of Aus and Morton.

“Since 2008, the band has been doing all new original jazz pieces,” Mitchell said. “Before then, we would play standard songs in the genre.”

Boone, mastermind for this jazz quartet, developed his interest in jazz at an early age growing up in North Carolina.

“I didn’t know about big bands till I was 8,” Boone said. “Then I heard a local high school band play and became fixated with jazz after that.”

With his newfound love for the genre, Boone tried his hand at being a jazz star early in life and started looking for others who shared his passion for music.

“In high school, I tried out for band and played the sax in the group,” Boone said. “I also got together with a drummer and played in small gigs.”

In college Boone played in a group called the Gospel Carolette, which furthered his knowledge and taste for jazz, enough for him to major in jazz music in college.

“I really learned how to play jazz in college and ended up majoring in it because I liked it so much,” Boone said.

Since moving to Fresno 11 years ago, Boone has enjoyed every moment of his musical career and is amazed at how much the city embraces the genre.

“They are playing [jazz] even in Fresno, and a lot of people don’t think of Fresno as a very interesting and culturally diverse city,” Celeste De Monte, a regular audience member to the jazz quartet’s annual concerts at the Rogue Festival, said.

Boone hopes that the music he creates and composes will inspire young and old to venture into jazz, though a majority of listeners don’t understand the genre.

“Jazz takes a while for people to understand the complexity of it,” Boone said. “But jazz is an expression of free speech, much like how our democratic nation encourages its people to be expressive of their creativity.”

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