Jacob Polly ’17 prepares for professional piano career

photo by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Angel/" title="View all of this person's work">"Angel</a></span>

photo by Angel Musyimi

Jacob Polly ’17 is a dedicated student musician at PHS who primarily devotes himself to jazz piano. He learned of jazz in middle school, having previously played classical piano since the age of five. He appreciates fusion (mixed-genre) music as well, and also keeps up with his saxophone skills to be able to better understand his fellow musicians. Currently, he is the piano accompanist to the PHS choir, and a member of the highly respected Lincoln Center’s Jazz Youth Orchestra. Jacob plans on attending Columbia next year, and afterward plans to establish a reputation for himself as a studio musician in the New York City jazz scene.

So, how did you first get into playing piano, and how did that lead to you becoming involved with the Jazz Youth Orchestra in Lincoln Center?

I started taking lessons at Westminster [Choir College] when I was five, in their pre-kindergarten program, and I progressed through various teachers after Westminster around Princeton for classical piano… By the end of middle school I was being introduced to the jazz side of piano … The Jazz Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra is a program for students throughout high school, and … older musicians that were seniors and juniors introduced me to the more national jazz scene, and jazz at Lincoln Center, I heard, had quite an acclaimed high school jazz program. So I sent an audition tape, and then showed up for the live audition … I was a sophomore at the time, and surprisingly I was accepted above students that were upperclassmen, [who] I was a little bit intimidated seeing … warm-up beside me because they seemed very skilled to me. But luckily, I was selected. And it’s been an amazing opportunity … There’s great camaraderie within the group … It’s once every Sunday, so I really get to know these people [and] form very deep friendships with [them]. Every week, rehearsal is incredibly exciting, because we get to learn from various instructors who are in the jazz scene, or in the Lincoln Center Orchestra.

What’s the most important piece of advice you have to offer to other aspiring musicians?

I would say if you’re a young, aspiring high school jazz musician—or a middle school jazz musician—I recommend learning about the opportunities and the ensembles that you can audition for early in your high school career. Maybe even before then, in your middle school career if you get a head start, and you’re able to audition for these groups and be selected, this will allow you to meet more people in the New York area, the Philly area, and the New Jersey area, where jazz is very, very strong … The more people you meet, the more experiences you will have, and the more you will improve … If you can build upon your networking in the high school jazz scene, then you will begin to meet more and more people, and the great thing about jazz is that it’s a fairly small world … so if you go into New York City, and you go to concerts, you will be up close and personal with your jazz idols and the people you look up to musically … Next, I would recommend for the aspiring high school jazz pianist or jazz musician to listen to as much music as possible and transcribe ideas from the solos of the people that you love to listen to. So transcribing is essentially when you listen to the record and you listen to the improvisation of that musician and you write down their ideas—either note for note or just a few phrases—and then you play those ideas through every key until you’re comfortable with those ideas and then you can apply that to your own playing … The sooner you start, the more experienced you will be, and the more ideas you will have as a musician.

As a senior, how do you plan to continue your piano playing in the future? Do you have any dream jobs?

So, I’ve explored quite a range of things, in terms of professions for a musician. One thing that’s been interesting to me recently is work[ing] as a studio musician … I feel that I will be able to first play in jam sessions at jazz clubs in New York City, and expand my experiences into other ensembles that gig  around New York City. So I’d like to connect with the students at the college that I’m going to and also with the local jazz scene in New York City to further my playing experiences, and hopefully become a member of certain groups in the city. And expanding on that, hopefully, I can compose and arrange for these groups in New York City to sort of just establish myself as a musician who is on the scene in New York City. If somebody needs to record a project for a film, for another piece of multimedia — like a film, a play, a musical, an opera, et cetera — [the] goal is to establish yourself as a musician that they will call on a regular basis. So, if they need a piano player to back up a vocalist, for an album … [the] goal is to have yourself established as the person that they call every week, or every month, to record on certain records. So I think that [being a studio musician] would be a very fascinating side of the industry to work in.

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