Call them jazz munchkins, call them the mighty mites of swing.
Just don’t call them late for their happy meals.
With the average age of gifted jazz musicians steadily dropping, and the learning curve for assimilating the music rapidly soaring, something like this was bound to happen: SYM Serious Young Musicians, juvenile beboppers whose only delinquency is in the way they gang bang rhythm changes.
SYM is an ensemble of six students with a mean age of 12 who are thoroughly marinated in the jazz tradition.
They have been performing professionally for three years and have already appeared opposite artists suck as Gary Bartz, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Pieces of a Dream, and Alex Bugnon.
The idea of a pre-teen jazz group was realized by SYM’s mentor and leader, 43-year-old public school teacher Tumust Allison. Allison had always been bothered by the music books that were at this disposal in the Dayton, Ohio, public school system and decided to do something about it.
“The majority of the songs were straight-laced nursery rhymes, folk songs, or just downright corny,” recalled Allison, a tenor saxophonist.”I began to teach the kids songs that had a little bit of feeling. Just so happens I showed some of them jazz tunes and they took right to it.”
Since then SYM has become a fast-rising jazz attraction in southem Ohio.
Last summer, in a single day, SYM opened Dayton’s 16th Annual Women in Jazz festival, scurried oﬁf to perform at Chicago Bulls star Ron Harper’s celebrity golf toumament and closed the night at the famed Gilly’s jazz club.
The members of SYM are Andrew Allison, 12, tenor sax; Brittany Coles. 12. ﬂute; Donte Grier, 13, drums; Aaron Holcombe, 12, alto sax; Chris McMahon, 12, trumpet and alto sax; and Devon Newsome, 12, trumpet. Tumust Allison plays electric keyboards and keyboard bass.
Being a member of SYM requires more than just chops and the desire to get out of the house on the weekends, Allison said.
The band practices three times a week, gig or no gig, and the members must read music, know their scales and maintain a grade average above C, as well as show respect for their parents and teachers.
Allison is proud of the success his miniature musicians have achieved.
“My dream is for all of them to get scholarships to colleges like Berklee, North Texas and Juilliard,” he said. “After that, the sky’s the limit for these kids.”
© Down Beat