When twenty-one of the nation's top young musicians sit down as elite members of the 2012 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra at the 55th Monterey Jazz Festival this weekend, Connor Anderson will be "the jazz saxophone guy."
"Music is a huge part of my identity and I don't always tell people, but when they know about me, they put me in that box," the 18-year old Concord musician says, happily.
Selected from 75 U.S. and Canadian applicants to represent the best of young, North American jazz talent, Anderson, who attended the FAME Charter School in Fremont, has a resume filled with musical honors, a dream of becoming a mechanical engineer working in robotics, and a plan "to run with it all and see where it takes me."
Originally attracted to a trombone's cool slide-ability and wavering in his choice of instruments, Anderson says the saxophone's darker tones won out. Trained to play classical repertoire, he found himself in a jazz band, cementing the decision.
"I just loved it. I would take classical pieces and change them to jazz. I've always been drawn to that kind of music. In classical music, the sax's in-depth sound can stick out, but in jazz, it's soulful; it's what people are looking for," he says.
Festival education director Paul Contos describes Anderson as a player with "a beautiful self-discipline" who has acquired "formidable jazz and legit chops."
Those qualities earned him a second year with Next Gen and allowed him to command this year's SFJAZZ All-Stars sax section with emotional passion, personal expression and a laserlike focus on fine technique.
"His competence and articulation of the language of jazz (improvisation) has grown exponentially this last year," says Contos.
After a one-night appearance July 22, at Yoshi's in San Francisco, the orchestra was ready for an extended tour in Japan.
Before the trip Anderson was trying to learn a few survival phrases like "thank you," but admitted it was pretty tough.
Fortunately, the incentives are terrific.
"Last year, Next Gen was the highlight of my summer, I had free time and it was with great musicians. This year, going to Japan, it's the exact same experience, but magnified."
Orchestra members are hosted by home stay families and engage in workshops and cross-cultural activities during the 15-day tour.
For Monterey Jazz Festival weekend, Anderson is anticipating the proximity to icons.
"We have an all-access pass at the festival, which means we can interact with the professionals. Last year, I got to watch Herbie Hancock from behind, which was pretty neat," he recalls.
With gratitude -- for the straight-A high school standing that has landed him entry to Stanford's engineering department and this second opportunity to rub shoulders with top-notch pros -- Anderson maintains his fine balance through loss, as well as through victory.
"Last year, I practiced a ton and auditioned for a lot of bands in the Bay Area. I didn't make any of them. I was pretty bummed. But it worked out perfectly because my teacher, Mary Fettig, got me into Marcos Silva's Brazilian combo and I got to work with mature, older musicians."
In Monterey, he expects to push himself, and, like everyone around him, give the people what they came for: high quality material played by the next generation's best big band.