The Associate Dean of DEI, RJAM director, and celebrated saxophonist discusses community and his love of Count Basie, Run DMC, and Prince.
In his own words, Jason Hainsworth, Director of RJAM & Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Special Advisor to the President, discusses his early musical influences.
I was very fortunate to come from a strong community of black musicians. They really believed in seeing a child and saying, “I can show this person something.” They would see me, as young as 11 or 12—the saxophone at that point was bigger than I was—trying to play songs and going to concerts. They would pull me aside and we’d shake hands and they’d show me some little line that I could practice.
I was interested in jazz right away. I remember seeing and hearing my brother play the saxophone. I was in kindergarten and he was in middle school and I heard his band play a Count Basie song and I thought “Wow, I want to play that. I want to play in a band that sounds like that.” Which is pretty crazy for a five-year-old. I will say my musical interests went in and out of jazz as every youngster does, especially growing up in the 80s. I listened to Run DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, and Prince—I was a huge Prince fan. Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, of course. All of those interests were kind of intertwined.
I don't think there's one particular thing that has been most difficult about my journey. Some of the difficulties are making your way not musically, but just in terms of maneuvering around society. As we are witnessing things in our country right now—which have improved—there’s still the simple fact that it's really hard surviving in this country as a person of color. That's just a point-blank statement. So my difficulties had some affiliation with the fact that I am a black person in the United States. That means having the opportunity to study music or be a part of certain ensembles, because of how I look, or being awarded certain awards, whether it's scholarship dollars or awards that are based upon my talent level as a composer or performer. But the beauty of music is that typically, the community of musicians is merit-based, meaning if they want you in their band, and they hear that you have value to being in their band, then usually, that trumps most things. That's a great thing.
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Get to know Jason Hainsworth and hear him perform side-by-side with SFCM students, and members of SFJAZZ Collective.