St. Clair Simmons Jr., 17
How did you get interested in music? In fourth grade, I started playing trombone . . . because in fourth grade if you want to, you can pick an instrument, and you start taking lessons and everything. I guess I just played the trombone in school and then . . . in seventh or eighth grade, I started getting interested in jazz.
Do you remember why you picked the trombone? I tried to play the trumpet . . . but I couldn't make a sound come out of it, so I played the trombone.
How did you get tuned into jazz? My dad listened to jazz, so I guess after a while I started to like it, and I started liking the music on the radio less. (Laughs) When I just started getting into jazz, I was interested in J.J. Johnson. He's a trombone player. I guess I don't have any particular favorite musicians. I just listen to anything I can find on YouTube or iTunes.
Are you in any ensembles? I always played in the band in school. I played with the (Dover Area High School) marching band. I was always in jazz band. I took trombone lessons and jazz lessons (outside of school).
When did you decide to audition for the Grammy Jazz Ensemble? I'd been auditioning for it for two years. This was my third time. Each other time, I was a finalist but didn't make it. This year, I made it. In October, I sent an audition (tape) and (The Grammy Foundation) evaluated it and picked from the top ones that they got. There are 18 people (selected for) the jazz band.
What will you do with the ensemble? From (Feb.) 4 to 14, we stay at a hotel in Los Angeles. I guess there are a couple of highlights. We play at career day at (The University of Southern California). We play at the presentation . . . of the Person of the Year award. (We play the MusiCares Person of the Year benefit gala) when they give the award to Barbra Streisand. We play at the Grammy nominee reception. Then we do some things with jazz clubs . . . and we record a CD in Los Angeles.
Are there any nominees you wouldn't mind bumping into? I guess Esperanza Spalding. She got nominated for . . . best new artist.
Are you excited to meet the other people who were selected for the ensemble? It will be cool to meet them, but I actually already added everybody in the band on Facebook. So, I know who they are, but I haven't met them before.
Does the ensemble rehearse a lot? It's two days of rehearsal. I think we're doing seven performances, and we're only going to be there for 10 days. They mailed us the pieces (we'll be performing) a couple weeks ago.
Any pieces you're looking forward to playing? Actually, it's all pretty good. (Laughs) It's all challenging music. I doubt people would recognize the names (of the composers).
Is it frustrating that people might not know the names of stars in the jazz genre? Yeah. But I'm used to it by now.
Have you made any decisions about where you want to go to college? No, I haven't yet. I applied to Manhattan School of Music, Temple (University) and William Paterson University. There are different reasons that I would go to each school. Manhattan School of Music is in New York City, and it's a conservatory. It's a music core and (I'll) practice all the time. That might not be the best life decision to just do music for four years instead of trombone for four years in college. I'm interested in learning languages, and I'm learning Chinese. There are other things that I can do at a school like William Paterson.
Do you have to try out if you want to get into a music program? Yeah. For the Manhattan School of Music, they are kind of affiliated with the (Grammy Foundation) so the people who make the Grammy (jazz ensemble) waive the auditions for the Manhattan School of Music and replace that with the fact that (they're) in the Grammy band. That's your audition.
What are you goals after college? I'd like to be a professional musician. I guess my biggest dream is to be a professional musician in a different country. I would like to go to China, but I've heard from people who I've spoken to from China that jazz isn't very popular there, so I might go somewhere else. (Laughs)
- ERIN McCRACKEN,
St. Clair Simmons Jr.'s sister
In 2009, LeAnna Simmons - a senior at Dover Area Senior High School at the time - was one of 30 international finalists in the Third Annual Voice of McDonald's Competition.
Simmons and hundreds of other McDonald's employees submitted videos online to the "American Idol"-style contest of themselves singing. Company officials surprised Simmons at work Oct. 12, 2009, at the McDonald's on Carlisle Road in Dover to tell her that she was a finalist.
Her video was posted on the Voice of McDonald's website, vom.mcdonalds.com, and people voted for the top 12 finalists. Simmons was not a finalist.
Chenee Capuyan, a McDonald's employee from Davao Del Sur, Philippines, won the competition and $25,000.
For details about the Grammy Jazz Ensemble, visit www.grammyintheschools.com
For details about the Grammys, visit www.grammy.com
Listen to an interview with St. Clair Simmons at www.flipsidepa.com
Read more meet-the-artist interviews at www.flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory