Born: March 15, 1993 Primary Instrument: Sax, alto
Mikayla Gilbreath (17) began playing saxophone in September, 2005, and therefore still considers herself to be a novice. But her progress as a jazz musician has been nothing less than remarkable. Despite her young age and scant experience, she is currently Lead Alto Saxophonist for the nationally recognized DVHS Performance Jazz Ensemble. The band is widely considered to be one of the best high school jazz bands in America.
In August 2008, Mikayla was admitted to Glendale College where she presently studies Saxophone and Jazz Improvisation.
Gilbreath's passion for jazz grew from her exposure to the music of Sonny Rollins. On November 19, 2006, with just 14 months experience playing her instrument, Gilbreath had the great honor of meeting Mr. Rollins and playing her music for him. Gilbreath admits that having Rollins listen to her play was one of the most terrifying moments of her life! But by merely showing interest in Mikayla and her music, the legendary Sonny Rollins has created many opportunities for Gilbreath, and has instilled in her a genuine desire for personal achievement.
Since March 2007, Gilbreath has been featured on SonnyRollins.com as part of Meeting Sonny - The Sonny Rollins Podcast - Episode 3. In April 2007, Gilbreath appeared on National Public Radio where she participated in Jazz Journalists Assn President Howard Mandel's interview with Sonny Rollins entitled Saxophonist Sonny Rollins Still Swinging Strong. Gilbreath proudly notes that Mr. Rollins is referred to as her mentor in that piece. And in the September 2007 issue of JazzTimes Magazine, Gilbreath was featured in Nat Hentoff's article entitled Bridging Generations.
Saxophonist Candy Dulfer has also played a crucial role in introducing Gilbreath to jazz. Early on, Candy Dulfer's music caught Gilbreath's attention and now Dulfer's influence is reflected in Gilbreath's own playing style. But it was Dulfer's demonstrated success in a field dominated primarily by male performers that inspired Gilbreath most, and continues to motivate her as she strives to reach her own goals. Candy Dulfer's friendship and encouragement continue to provide Gilbreath with the confidence to reach higher.
Gilbreath has managed to connect with a surprising number of well-known musicians. In September, 2007, she hosted a pre-concert reception at Sonny Rollins' 50th Anniversary Carnegie Hall Concert that was attended by jazz artists Jimmy Heath, Lou Donaldson, Paquito D' Rivera, Joe Lovano, David Liebman, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Marion Meadows. She has also had the honor of meeting both Joey and Papa John DeFrancesco, George Benson, David Sanborn, and many other renowned artists, which has further served to increase Gilbreath's commitment to a life centered around jazz.
It is remarkable to learn that such a young girl, only 14 years old, who plays the alto saxophone for only two years now, reached such a high level in playing. Only few kids from that age can refer to the great master in jazz, Sonny Rollins, who has said about hearing Mikayla playing... 'Bravo, very nice! She's got talent.' The article went on to label Gilbreath as the young US 'Candy Dulfer.' Hans Koert, Keep Swinging Jazz Blog, The Netherlands, November 12, 2007. The article is available in both Dutch and English.
Given such an open and welcoming environment, it's no surprise that The Jazz Network has attracted such familiar names as David Benoit, Alex Bugnon, Onaje Allan Gumbs and Lenny White to its member roster, and earned accolades from the likes of fellow members Billy Cobham, Will Downing, Alphonse Mouzon and Buster Williams.
Yet it's not only established artists who hang out together over this electronic backyard fence [The Jazz Network]. There are plenty of tomorrow's aspiring stars as well, such as 15-year-old jazz saxophonist and journalist Mikayla Gilbreath. 'I heard Sonny Rollins,' she says, explaining her passion, 'and I just loved it. I loved the way it sounded, and I wanted to play jazz instead of just music.' Has anyone of any age ever put it better? Jazz instead of just music. Alan Kurtz, Jazz.com, June 29, 2008.