Student Spotlight: Frank Li

Since the arrival of the Beatles in America, high school musicians have been forming bands. But the group started by senior Frank Li with other Diamond Bar High School musicians is a bit different as they play a style of music few people still listen to: jazz.

Li has been playing the alto saxophone since he was ten years old and was influenced by his mother who had also played the same instrument. In the eight years he has been playing the saxophone, Li has mostly performed classical and pop music. He only recently began to experiment with the jazz genre after being inspired by notable jazz musicians from the past, including saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.

“I think that jazz is really interesting to me because of the way you are improvising and how you are just reading the music and interacting with the audience, it’s just very colorful and very amazing,” Li said.

To improvise smoothly in his performances, Li has to practice almost daily.

“For musical improvisation, first of all, you need to learn a lot of skills,” Li said. “You need to learn the major skills, minor skills and there is so much more stuff that you need to learn.”

Li created the group because he liked the idea of having a band with a variety of musical instruments and to raise interest in the musical genre of jazz.

“There’s the jazzy sound that’s really colorful and when you listen to jazz I just feel like you want to dance along with it,” Li said. “That made me really want to do a live band and perform.”

Sharing his passion for jazz with other Brahmas, Li recruited senior bass player Brian Slack, junior  drummer Abel Phan and senior pianist Prokkawn Majumdar. The band started to play together last summer.

The band performed a paid gig at a party in September and also performed with DBHS commercial music group at a local guitar shop in October and at a local clinic for Veterans Day.

After his experience with the band, Li said that he prefers musical improvisation over playing straight off of sheet music.

“Before I just used to play all the notes that were written down and I was just reading off of it,” Li said. “But doing musical improv is like writing your own essay and you just put your own ideas into that and I think that it is really interesting and it allows you to use your own imagination to do whatever you want.”

Although he enjoys playing the saxophone, Li said that he has no plans for continuing in jazz as a future career, but he will continue to play recreationally.