All that jazz

Macs Reynolds, an interdisciplinary studies senior, said he was drawn to jazz because it freed him from the confines of classical music. Now, he directs his own jazz band. Photo by Saher Aqeel | Mercury Staff.

Editor’s note: This is the third part of a three-part series on full-time students who are working to enter the music industry.

“Zoom! He flies.”

Macs Reynolds began his performance. It was from a book of poetry on jazz musicians. Reynolds chose one about Dizzy Gillespie.

He was in a high school poetry competition. Among the Robert Frost, the Emily Dickinson, the Walt Whitman, Reynolds stuck out. As soon as he said those words, his musical journey changed.

“My mom would always push certain jazzy, slam stuff for me to perform,” he said. “When I came and did some of my different stuff … I ended up winning competitions. That was (my) first step into jazz.”

Reynolds, an interdisciplinary studies senior focusing on international relations, first picked up the trombone in sixth grade, learning primarily classical music. His parents, however, both pushed for him to take an interest in jazz, as the trombone is a jazz instrument.

Reynolds said he was hesitant to stray from the beaten path and learn to play jazz. Part of that came from not wanting to become a stereotype — the only black kid in school playing jazz while everyone else pursued classical.

“I went to a school that was primarily white. I felt it was different for me to do something like that,” he said.

When he was in high school, Reynolds had the opportunity to attend a jazz camp at Collin College.

“I was like, ‘I really don’t want to do this. I’m scared,’” he said. “I wasn’t really good at improv. … I was a classical player.”

After his father, who took an interest in jazz, pleaded with him to try it out, Reynolds eventually gave in.

“It was awesome. It was the coolest thing. And I felt like I was freer to play. I wasn’t confined to the rules of classical music,” he said. “And the people were completely different and you get the different cultures and styles.”

Learning to improvise was difficult for Reynolds, who was used to the rigidity of classical music. At camp, they practiced by scatting on the spot.

“You’d just say stuff,” he said. “It was uncomfortable … and embarrassing for some people. But I just went off, like, ‘I’m just going to do it.’”

From then on, Reynolds was hooked on jazz. He attended Collin College, where he played for the school’s jazz band, before transferring to UTD.

“Music is music. Music is supposed to help you express yourself, and jazz especially,” he said. “What you do with improv is kind of put yourself into the music and spread it to other people.”

Once at UTD, Reynolds decided he wanted to start his own jazz band. He gathered musicians he knew from Collin or from his old high school to play their first gig — a ceremony honoring a fallen veteran.

“It was cool because the people that I asked, they were willing to help me and come together as a group,” Reynolds said.

Unlike a traditional band, Reynolds’ group is in a constant, intentional state of flux, with players coming and going based on their schedules. Reynolds, on the other hand, is a fixture.

“It’s very dynamic,” he said. “Which I think is cool, because you get to play with different people.”

Although Reynolds said he doesn’t want to try to make a living making music, he plans to use it in his future career.

“This whole jazz experience has pushed me into my field of study,” he said. “Cultures are my main focus in education. Jazz has a lot of roots in different cultures and mixing them together. And that’s kind of how I started.”

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