OPRF student musician selected for CYSO Jazz Band

 Inspired by seeing his private teacher and family friend Linda Van Dyke play for Broadway in Chicago, Thomas Smith began his interest in music. “I’ve always looked up to her,” he said.

Smith was chosen to play in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) Jazz Band along with 25 other Chicago high schoolers. Lessons and rehearsals are led by some of Chicago’s premier musicians. CYSO aspires to provide the means for youth in the Chicagoland area to achieve success and personal excellence through music. 

In fourth grade Smith decided to play clarinet, then in fifth grade he began playing saxophone. Smith learned the fundamentals from Thomas Kanwischer, the Julian Middle School band director, and participated in the school’s jazz band. Freshman year came and OPRF offered more opportunities for Smith to further his musical education. Smith is part of the wind ensemble, jazz ensemble and marching band.

Practice is necessary when trying to progress in any activity. “Playing my instruments in so many ensembles at school and practicing at home (prepared me for auditions),” says Smith. The auditions for CYSO were held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but rehearsals are being held in person. 

When Smith is not in rehearsals he enjoys working out, hanging out with friends and playing video games. Smith also teaches free lessons. “It’s really cool to see other people improve,” he said. Listening to jazz is the best way to improve improvisation skills, Smith said. “My favorite songs are Moon River by Jacob Collier, The House That Nat Built by Kenny Garrett and Fried Pies by Vincent Herring,” he said.

Before auditions, Smith worked with Rajiv Halim, an accomplished saxophonist, composer and educator based in Chicago. Halim has performed around the world from Canada to Belize where his parents immigrated from. Performing and recording with artists like Chance The Rapper, Jennifer Hudson and Antonio Hart.  

CYSO jazz orchestra director Pharez Witted has been playing trumpet for over 30 years. Witted is part of the Ravinia Jazz Scholar Program faculty and served as Professor of Music at Chicago State University.“He’s an amazing trumpet player and provides information about getting gigs and performance etiquette,” Smith said.   

The fall  CYSO jazz orchestra performance is Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. at Fulton Street Collective.