Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jazz saxophonist Eric Darius inspires students at Progress Village Middle

PROGRESS VILLAGE — The tween and teens start hollering even before Eric Darius takes the stage.


They scream when they learn that the jazz saxophonist is from Tampa.


They shout again because he graduated from Blake High and once more because he has played with artists like Prince.

But when the bassline of Usher's O.M.G. rumbles the wooden gymnasium bleachers, the middle schoolers turn to look at each other. They are in shock, but they still manage to shriek.

Darius wanted to prove to 400 students at Progress Village Middle Magnet last week that jazz is not just for old people. Jazz is not elevator music. Jazz is not music to fall asleep to.

"I think I kind of opened up their ears and their eyes," Darius said after his Progress Village performance. "I'm just trying to give some of myself to them."

While on his nationwide tour, Darius visits schools to address music education and appreciation. His hometown kick-off continued with a visit to Orange Grove Middle Magnet on Wednesday, and he has scheduled an appearance at Blake for early next week.

At Progress Village, his saxophone bobs from its glitzy strap as he jams to the blaring pop music, infusing the sound that seizes his body.

His energy gets the students shimmying in their seats and pumping their fists. When Darius, 28, closes his eyes to play, girls shriek and cover their mouths and turn to their girlfriends: Oh my god!

They sing along and scream when the track scrambles into another Usher tune.

Darius shouts back at them. "Betcha didn't think I could do that with a saxophone, huh?"

He has their attention.

Darius polls the audience on TV-watching and video game-playing habits. Sitting in front of the TV, he warns the masses of raised hands, won't get you anywhere.

He tells them about writing music at age 13, studying hard through high school and at the University of South Florida.

There will be obstacles and let-downs and setbacks, he says, like his rejection from the performing arts conservatory the Juilliard School. "But it's what you do after that," he says, that measures success.

• • •

Playing with Progress Village's jazz ensemble, Darius' example encourages 13-year-old Marco Bonacquisto, a curly-haired saxophonist, to practice scales more diligently and give more flair to the boring exercises.

It inspires 14-year-old Jakob Wahlers, another saxophonist, to reclaim music that he was ready to forsake for art and cooking lessons.

And Darius challenges 13-year-old Mike Ryan, a quiet, tall guitarist with glasses, to mimic a melody of rapid-fire notes twirling and dipping. Back and forth, they trade and match improvised jazzy rhythms.

A smile creeps across Mike's face, small at first then broad.

Darius promises the assembly one more song. "Let's have some fun," he says.

The gleeful tune of Cee Lo Green's hit song Forget You pounds through the speakers. Darius motions to the sound technician to turn it up.

At first, only the bravest dare to stand and sway. But then Marco busts out the running man, the dance made popular by MC Hammer. By the end of the song, kids have flooded down from the top rows of the bleachers to groove on the gymnasium floor.

"Follow your dreams!" Darius shouts one last message into the microphone amid the chaos. "Follow your dreams!"

Stephanie Wang can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

Jazz saxophonist Eric Darius inspires students at Progress Village Middle 03/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 4:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Man charged with threatening Florida lawmaker on Facebook


    From The Associated Press:

    MIAMI — A Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill a state legislator in a Facebook post. 

    This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.
  2. Joe Maddon: What my time in Tampa Bay meant, and still means, to me

    The Heater

    Editor's note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to …

    Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton's home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2008)]
  3. First WannaCry, now cyberattack Petya spreads from Russia to Britain


    Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of an international cyberattack Tuesday in a hack that bore similarities to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

    A computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.  A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe.
[Oleg Reshetnyak via AP]
  4. Pinellas sheriff's corporal had racist, sexist, pornographic content on his cell phone

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff's corporal resigned recently after an investigation into an alleged extramarital affair revealed a trove of racist, sexist and pornographic images on his personal cell phone.

    Shawn Pappas, 46, resigned as a training division corporal from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after an investigation revealed a trove of offensive images and videos on his phone. This photo was taken as a screenshot from one of the videos released by the Sheriff's Office that Pappas filmed while on duty. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine reflects on the news from the Congressional Budget Office analysis that could imperil GOP leaders' hopes of pushing their health care the plan through the chamber this week, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. [AP photo]