Junior’s natural flair for jazz inspires teachers

From a young age, junior Colten Thomas always had an interest sparked for jazz. With it’s intriguing and innovative styles, it drew Thomas in and guided him to be a well known piano player for the high school. 

Music to me has always been something fun and new, especially in jazz. Searching for a jazz tune on YouTube will give countless recordings of the same song by different people played differently each time,” Thomas said. 

Ben Byersdorfer, concert band and jazz band teacher at Peet, recalled that the first time he met Thomas, he was utterly surprised by the talents that he possessed. “When I met him, he wasn’t enrolled in band. He didn’t have anything to do with the music hall or the band hall,” Byersdorfer said. Byersdorfer found him practicing piano in a practice room near his office during lunch hour. “I’m sitting in my office, and I’m like ‘who is this kid?,’ and I didn’t know it was a kid playing in there because it didn’t sound like a junior high kid. It sounded like a pro.”

On that day, the seventh grader that sat before Byersdorfer, as he opened the door to the practice room, had no sheet music in front of him and made Byersdorfer go back to question how he had never seen this kid. “He’s not in band. He’s not in choir. He’s not in orchestra, but he’s a phenom on the piano, and he has no music in front of him,” Byersdorfer said. 

The skills that Thomas has are now known to many as he expanded his musical interest into school since his days in junior high. Jazz band has continued to hold his interest. “l love the environment and the people around jazz band. While it can be a lot to go through at times, it’s always worth it when you get to perform for people and share other music experiences with others,” Thomas said. 

Jazz music has always gained his excitement with the many ways that jazz music can be played. “Every musician will have their own spin on it much like painters have their own and unique style in which they paint something,” Thomas said. 

According to Byersdorfer, Thomas’ spin on music is very rare to find, especially in the way that Thomas hears music. “I’m sitting here as a band director, and all my life I’ve been studying music, and I don’t hear music like Colten does,” Byersdorfer said. “I believe humans like him exist on a completely different frequency.”

Some artists and albums that have influenced Thomas’ jazz interest include Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, Moanin by Art Blakely and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. “These are all amazing albums that look at different mechanisms of theory offering key changes to unrelated keys or playing using modal jazz,” Thomas said. 

Some of Thomas’ influences that are closer to him include Byersdorfer and band director Kyle Englehardt. “Both have given me extreme encouragement to keep going as well as never failing to give helpful critique and advice,” Thomas said. 

To Thomas, his musical abilities have always seemed normal to him and have been nothing more than knowing that he has a passion for playing music, hearing music and being able to share music with others. But to others, such as the person who found him as a seventh grader, playing piano during lunch, he is much more than an amazing piano player; he has left a permanent impact on Byersdorfer. “I find him incredibly fascinating on so many levels, but musically, it’s a very rare thing going on here, and to him this is just normal. This is every day.”

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