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Young saxophonist hopes his talent leads to a career in contemporary jazz

Kyle Schroeder, 18, of Trinity has made inroads in the local jazz scene and has gained notice for his alto sax talent.
Kyle Schroeder, 18, of Trinity has made inroads in the local jazz scene and has gained notice for his alto sax talent.
Published Apr. 27, 2016

TRINITY

The afternoon sun streaming through the window bathed Kyle Schroeder in warm light as he gave a solitary performance in his parents' dining room.

With eyes closed, foot tapping time, Schroeder, 18, moved his fingers over the brass keys of his alto saxophone while the family's pet pocket beagle, Olive, lounged lazily nearby.

Kicking off the casual set was an old Charlie Parker tune called Billy's Bounce, followed by a little jazz improvisation, Stella by Starlight, and a song Frank Sinatra used to sing called Nancy (with a Laughing Face).

"I play that one a lot for auditions," Schroeder said before breaking into The Way You Look Tonight.

It's standard fare — a small slice of what the Mitchell High School senior has learned since he started messing around with an old, beat-up sax that was given to him about five years ago.

These days, Schroeder balances school and professional performances with college auditions, a stint with the Ruth Eckerd Hall Jazz Band and a part-time job at Pinch-A-Penny. He maintains a 4.45 weighted grade-point average and is ranked 11th in a senior class of 376. When he has time, he writes his own music.

And that beat-up sax? It hangs on the wall of his "band cave" music studio in his parents' garage — a humble reminder of the road already traveled.

Schroeder's interest in music was first piqued on a $100 guitar that his late grandfather purchased at a music shop in Spring Hill. In middle school, Schroeder moved on to the oboe, a double-reed woodwind instrument known for being a challenge.

"From an early age, he's been one of those self-driven people," said his dad, Shawn Schroeder. "Whenever he was interested in something, he did it 110 percent. Once music came around, he did that 110 percent."

While he also tinkers with drums and keyboards, Schroeder's passion lies with the sax. That was sparked in 2013 when his mom took him to see locally renowned saxophonist Eric Darius perform at the Black Heritage Festival at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa.

"I was able to arrange a meet-and-greet," said Carrie Schroeder, who is a promotions manager at WTVT-Ch. 13. "Everything changed after that."

"(Darius) had this connection with the audience," Schroeder said. "I realized smooth jazz is so cool. It's got so much groove. I was like, 'I want to do this.' "

And he has.

So much so that Tom Viking, his former middle school band teacher, is already claiming future bragging rights.

"I've made him promise that when he makes it, he'll give me a backstage pass," said Viking, who is now the fine arts program coordinator for Pasco schools.

Schroeder has racked up his share of school awards and was selected to perform in Pasco's all-county concert band six times and all-county jazz band three times.

He won the 2015 Ruth Eckerd Hall Song Writing Scholarship Competition and the 2016 Ruth Eckerd Hall Instrumental Scholarship. Add to that a Thursday Musicale scholarship, given each year by the local chorus of the same name to students pursuing a music education. He was also a finalist in the Bob Washington Jazz Scholarship competition.

He has twice played the national anthem at Tampa Bay Rays games. He also performed with Gloria West and the Gents at the 2015 Clearwater Jazz Holiday and with the Ruth Eckerd Hall/Clearwater Jazz Holiday Big Band. Later, he jammed at the after-party with two-time Grammy-nominated saxophonist Mindi Abair.

Setting that up was Allon Sams, a jazz pianist, who serves as music committee chairman for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. He has been impressed by Schroeder's maturity as a musician for some time.

"He was 15 or 16 years old when he stopped by a gig I was doing and came in and played and just blew me away," Sams said. "Every time he plays, he blows everyone away. He's just one of those kids that's very gifted."

Schroeder's latest, greatest gig was in March with the 2016 Jazz Band of America. He was one of two alto sax players selected from across the country to perform at Butler University in Indianapolis as part of the Music for All National Festival.

"Getting into Jazz Band of America is an unbelievable, over-the-top, honor," said Joel Quina, director of bands at Mitchell High. "We've had some good jazz players in here, but he's something different. Kyle is taking it to the next level. He's looking for the real jazz band experience."

"It was amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Schroeder said. "I was in the same room with a bunch of kids just like me that I had never met before. I thought it was so cool that we were able to share our passion for jazz."

While talent, desire and determination have propelled him, there's also an element of luck and "being in right place at the right time," Schroeder said, recalling the time he met jazz guitarist Nathan Mitchell at a weekly jam session at the Sam Ash Music store in Clearwater and ended up with an invitation to the 2014 Sea Breeze Jazz Festival in Panama City, where he joined Mitchell and other musicians playing at after-parties.

"It was awesome. I got to meet established performers and was able to learn from them," Schroeder said. "I also got the experience of being a professional jazz musician, being out till 2 in the morning."

Schroeder's next step is college. He auditioned for and was accepted at the Berklee College of Music, Florida State University, the University of North Florida and the University of South Florida, but has opted for the University of Miami Frost School of Music with a full ride.

The program there is all-encompassing, Schroeder said, adding that it covers music and the business aspect of what he hopes will lead to a professional career.

"I want to establish myself as a person and a musician on the contemporary jazz scene," he said. "I want to see where the music takes me because I have such a passion for it. I can't see myself doing anything else."

Contaact Michele Miller at mmiller@tampabay.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52.

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