His pinstripe fedora is the only clue to his secret identity. His classmates know he is in four band classes, and his friends might know that he wants to be a musician when he’s older, but not many people know the secret life of this American teenager: senior Cole Stillman by day, jazz-band-member and tenor-saxophone-player by night.
While being in a band may not be something people would know about Stillman, neither his music nor his band are entirely secretive. His band, Jazz Down Low, used to do monthly gigs at Lil’ Biscuit House on 37th Avenue in San Mateo, and he says even for free gigs, “when we put out a tip hat, the least amount is usually $90.” Another popular venue for the band is Dominico’s Winery in San Carlos. Stillman’s dad is “friends with the owners so he asked if we could play one night there. They gave us a shot and they just loved us.”
But Stillman is not quick to forget his roots, recalling that he may not have even joined the band if it had not been for unexpected circumstances. Stillman loved soccer and used to be a self-declared “sports jock”, but after getting kicked off the team, he found a love for music.
He heard the dad of a friend playing with his band at the Hillsdale Mall one Christmas. “They went up and played and I thought they were pretty good. So I said you know, if you ever need a tenor…After back to school night they gave me a shot…” and the rest is history.
The band’s name comes from their practice venue. “It’s called Jazz Down Low because we practice in Jordan’s basement. That’s all the room we got,” says junior Henry Reed, who is also a passionate musician outside school.
For Reed, Stillman is actually the reason the two now play together in Jazz Down Low. “Cole talked to me at school. He’s like… ‘We just ditched our drummer [and] we need a new one’. So I go over… and I play with them once and I’m like …this may just work out,” says Reed.
Reed plays the drum set in Jazz Down Low, his “first steady band”, but he’s no stranger to the instrument. “I started on my birthday when I was eight years old… My dad is a professional drummer-percussionist, and he basically gave me his old drum set that his uncle gave him. It took me a while to start, I wish I’d started earlier but I figured out music is fun, [and] I want to learn how to do it.”
Yet Stillman and Reed are not the only secret rock stars that Aragon has been hiding. Senior Brendan O’Brien does bass and vocals for his hard rock and heavy metal band, Iron and Ice. When asked if he writes his own songs, O’Brien replied confidently, “I certainly do. I’m working on enough songs to put together an album by the end of the school year.”
These musicians dream big with Stillman also planning on trying to make a sample album. “My biggest influence is Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead because he plays with a lot of distortion, which has a very different feel from most bass parts,” says O’Brien.
Going for a completely different feel, sophomores Marc Reichenberger and Justin Ordonez of the band Only For Tomorrow play metal core, but, “we kind of throw some techno and screamo in,” says Ordonez. They have been recording over the summer, and while they have yet to play their first gig, they’re a big Myspace and Facebook band. And when asked if they would like to pursue as careers, both Ordonez and Reichenberger enthusiastically responded “yes!”
“If there’s a situation where there’s potential to start something, go for it! It takes work, but it pays off,” says Ordonez. Reichenberger agrees, saying “It’s expensive… but it’s worth it.”
Whether it’s Stillman’s and Reed’s Jazz Down Low, O’Brien’s Iron and Ice, or Ordonez’s and Reichenberger’s Only For Tomorrow, student bands at Aragon are not something to be scoffed at. With three other people in his band, O’Brien has been playing outside of school for two years, as well as playing in the school band. Stillman confesses that he often plays tunes on a whim after hearing them, buying them, and playing them on his saxophone. And Reed confides that, “it’s just a great experience to play music.”
It’s clear these musicians are passionate about their art. Reed pretty much sums it up, saying simply but enthusiastically, “music is fun.”