Student Feature: Elijah Alexander

Elijah Alexander standing outside holding a trombone

Herbert Zipper Scholar, 2019–2020 LA Philharmonic Nancy and Barry Sanders Composer Fellow, and accomplished jazz trombonist, Elijah Alexander shares his perspective on Colburn, COVID-19, and college.

For trombonist and Herbert Zipper Scholar Elijah Alexander, the Colburn Jazz Program has been central in his musical development. After his time in high school, this talented young instrumentalist and composer is looking forward to a career in music composition.

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

How did you get started in music?
I didn’t initially have a moment where “the music spoke to me” or I felt like “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else” when I first started playing—I really only got into music by pure chance. A girl I liked in elementary school picked up the trumpet, and I, wanting to have her and other people see me as “cool,” picked up the trombone. I’ve stayed in music as it opens up another side of me that I find hard to express sometimes. Being a shy and reserved person, I sometimes find it hard to open up to others, but whenever I’m doing something in music, whether that be composition or jamming with my friends, I find that all of my insecurities melt away, and I can express myself freely.

How did you hear about Colburn? What drew you to enroll in the Jazz Program?
I became interested in the Colburn School after watching some videos of older Big Bands and Jazz Combos on YouTube. The musicians in the videos looked like they were having so much fun, and it just made me want to be a part of that hang.

Tell me about the Community School programs you are involved in right now? What has been impactful about them?
Currently I’m taking private trombone lessons with Shelly Suminski, as well as playing in the Monday Night Jazz Band under Lee Secard. Being in classes led by Lee has been one of the biggest impacts on my own personal growth. He has been one of my biggest supporters and a strong critic and has always pushed me in the right direction when I feel lost. Taking lessons with Shelly has also been important to me, as she’s opened me up to so many different approaches to playing trombone and has been one of my biggest cheerleaders whenever I doubt myself.

What is some advice you would give students looking to enter the Colburn Jazz program?
One is really simple: Come prepared because it’s only a short time. You don’t want to waste time in that class.

Also, come willing to take criticism and willing to learn from Lee Secard and the other students.

Because of COVID-19, all programming at Colburn has been virtual. How has online learning been at Colburn?
Weirdly, it’s actually helped a little bit. I have been a lot more concentrated on what I want to do. I get nervous playing while in front of other people and having that barrier helps for my nerves!

If you aren’t listening to jazz music, what are you listening to? What’s on your Spotify playlist?
Recently, I have really gotten into Björk. I have been listening to a bunch of her albums. She also has a jazz background as well, which is really cool! I have also been listening to Blur and Radiohead.

You were a 2019–20 fellow in the LA Phil Nancy and Barry Sanders Composer Fellowship Program. That is incredible! How was that experience?
Without this program, I would have said that I only wanted to do Jazz. That program opened up a whole new area of music that I was super scared of doing before then. They put us in groups and then we studied with specific instructors.

What are your musical goals and how has Colburn helped you achieve them? 
I want to be able to effectively match my compositional voice with my technical voice on the trombone. Colburn has helped me with this especially, with the teachers helping me on gaining a stronger understanding on what I need to work on, and what directions I should head in.

What do you see for your future? Will you continue to pursue music? 
Although I don’t know what exact job I want in the future, I hope to see myself making a career out of writing music, whether that be in a band, for an orchestra, or even writing music for commercials.

What is one great thing about Colburn that people don’t see unless they are taking classes or working with a teacher?
The awesome environment. The students I meet in my classes take their learning and growth super seriously, and it creates a super supportive environment that always motivates me to improve.

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