The Jazz Factor — seven talented Bay Area teens who turned their love of music and jazz into a combo — has been bringing its unique sound to popular venues around Silicon Valley since the summer of 2017.
Four of the musicians were at the St. Paddy’s Day Beer Stroll in downtown Los Altos on March 15. They were set up outside on the sidewalk, playing mellow favorites such as “All of Me” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Bryan Wang was on the alto saxophone, Neil Ramaswamy on drums, Brendan Wong on the tenor saxophone and Max Lee on the keyboard. Combo members not present that night were bass player Ajay Madala, drummer Ethan Fong and vocalist Katelyn Chen.
Wang, a junior at Harker Upper School — a college prep school in Saratoga, founded the band of high school classmates and friends. They are interested in STEM careers with music on the side.
Wang gave insights into jazz.
“The nature of jazz focuses on listening to the musical ideas of others and responding with your own, almost like a conversation,” said Wang.
“In such a way, one’s personality and feelings directly manifest in the way a song sounds. When multiple people come together to play jazz, a sound is created, unique to that specific group of people at that specific time.”
Wang was born and raised in San Jose. His parents, Frank and Jessica Wang — both engineers, grew up in China. His mom sang Chinese opera at college in Beijing.
Wang started playing the sax in the fifth or sixth grade. His parents encouraged his passion for jazz.
“He runs [the band] like a startup, finding venues, organizing and coordinating the players’ schedules, setting up practices,” said Jessica Wang. “We support Bryan wherever or whenever he needs us, from being his driver to being his audience. We really enjoy listening to the band music.”
“Sometimes we actually think it is not we who are helping him. It is Bryan who is helping us to understand more about music and jazz,” said Bryan’s mom.
Pianist Max Lee from Los Altos recounts how the band started.
“As for the Jazz Factor, I’m humbled mostly,” said Lee. “Our band just started as an after school thing, where I would meet up with Bryan and a couple other band members, and we would just jam out together. But after seeing that we had a really special blend and chemistry, we decided that we shouldn’t just keep the sessions to ourselves.”
Community service is an added factor to the Jazz Factor. The combo plays at benefit concerts for nonprofits such as the Pacific Autism Center for Education and the Ronald McDonald Charity House.
The combo has raised about $2,500 by playing at private events, from dinner parties to a realty open house. The money is targeted for musical education and opportunities for young, disadvantaged students.
“The decision to strive for goals bigger than the whole combo and to use our music to give back to the incredible community around us was a large commitment,” said Lee.
“But the huge difference that we’ve been able to drive in such a short period of time has allowed me to realize that we all have the power to drive positive change,” said Lee. “And that message has given me so much perspective and helped me mature immensely as an individual.”
For more about the Jazz Factor, visit www.thejazzpatrons.org. Hear the Jazz Factor on first Fridays nights in downtown Los Altos.
“Jazz is a nonverbal way to talk,” said drummer Neil Ramaswamy, from Cupertino. “Sharing the sounds we come up with makes people happy. It makes me feel like I’m part of something greater than myself and the music we play.”