Yesseh Furaha-Ali, a 16-year-old jazz saxophonist, is spending his summer at the Berklee College of Music Performance Program on July 7 through August 10. During this prestigious five-week program, Yesseh will study under Berklee percussion professor, Terri Lyne Carrington, who has toured for more than 20 years with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves. Carrington was also the house musician for the Arsenio Hall Show, Quincy Jones late night TV show and VIBE hosted by Sinbad.
Recommended by his teacher, Lovett Hines of the Philadelphia Clef Club, Yesseh was accepted to play with other young musicians from across the country and from 70 countries around the world. He will also have the opportunity to audition for the approximately $3.5 million in scholarships that are awarded to the five-week students.
“We have a partnership with Berklee,” Hines said. “Each year there is a search from all the partners around the country to recommend students who are persistent in our program, shown a steady growth and development and have strong improvisation skills. Yesseh met all those criteria. He takes lessons here on a steady basis, he’s a part of our ensemble program and over the years he has developed.”
The summer program—which is in its 26th year—offers a comprehensive study of performance in jazz, pop/rock, funk/fusion and pop/R&B instrumental and vocal styles.
“I just want to learn how to be more independent,” Yesseh said. “I want to know the business of music. And as a person who wants to pursue music as a career, I want to know how it will take me even father in my career.
Yesseh is a 2012 recipient of the Young Artist Study-Grant Program—which is a partnership of The University of the Arts and The Marian Anderson Award. In May, he was selected for membership to The National Society of High School Scholars.
His musical interests began at home. While his mother jammed to the large collection of jazz tunes in the house, his father played the djembe drum, flute and harmonica, and his siblings participated in the school band playing drums and other woodwind instruments.
“All the musicians I knew, I introduced him to,” Nashid Furaha-Ali, Yesseh’s father said. “He’s been around music all his young life.”
“My first influence was jazz,” Yesseh said. “The first jazz recording I listened to my father hooked me onto it. John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme.’ ”
As the youngest of seven children, Yesseh is an avid jazz enthusiast. He said his favorite musicians include Coltrane, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Webster, Dexter Gordan, Sunny Stit, Sunny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adleigh.
“I used to listen to a lot of Ray Charles when I was little,” Yesseh said. “And what really got me playing the saxophone was that I saw the movie ‘Ray’. I saw the saxophone playing. I thought it was a beautiful instrument to play. I thought that sound was really mellow.”
At eight-years-old, Yeseeh picked up one of his brother’s saxophones and began playing. Now as an 11th-grader at Upper Darby High School, Yesseh plays the soprano, alto and tenor saxophone, bass and B flat clarinet and piano. He also sings and writes music.
“He plays a little bit of funk, but his specialty is jazz,” Nashid said. “From my perspective, jazz is the African American classical music. If you’re going to play music, you’re going to play the classical music. He can play other genres, but jazz is what he likes.”
Yesseh has played at LaRose Jazz Club, Tuttleman School of Music, Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Chris’ Jazz Café and West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.
Upset by the canceling of the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival this year, Yesseh said it was his favorite venues.
“It meant a lot to me because I started playing at the [festival] when I was 11,” Yesseh said. “And ever since then, I’ve been playing at it every year. How many places in the city have a good jazz vibe? To not have the West Oak Lane, it breaks my heart.”
He has also traveled to several venues in Washington, D.C, Baltimore, New York and New Jersey.
With plans to attend Temple University, Manhattan School of Music, New York University or Oberlin College, Yesseh encourages other young musicians.
“Be patient,” Yesseh said. “If you’re trying to keep going, you can’t rush things. Just do you and feel you. Just stick with [music] because at the end of the day, it will help you out and it will take you somewhere.”
It is only a matter of time before the music world will know of Yesseh Furaha-Ali. The 16-year-old Upper Darby resident is in line to become a part of the area’s storied musical history.
As a member of the Tim Janis American Christmas Carol Orchestra, Furaha-Ali performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City last month alongside Grammy award-winner Sarah McLachlan. Proficient in playing seven instruments, the Upper Darby High School junior played the clarinet and saxophone during the benefit concert, which supported The Golden Hat Foundation.
Furaha-Ali was excited about “the fact that Carnegie Hall is “one of the best, most famous and prestigious halls to play in.”
A musician for just about half his life, the talented student has appeared on bills with internationally renowned artists including Donald Byrd, Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove.
He was selected for membership into the National Society of High School Scholars earlier this year and participated in the globally recognized summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“All of these programs have impacted my progress in many ways,” Furaha-Ali said. “I play with different people from all over the world and from different parts of the (Philadelphia) area who, through music, are able to come together. It’s wonderful.”
Dedicated to his craft as student-athletes are to their respective sports, Furaha-Ali has honed his skills here with the Kimmel Center Youth Jazz Ensemble Creative Music Program, Settlement Music School and the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts.
He is scheduled to perform live Jan. 19 at the Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation gala.
“Being committed, playing music, staying humble, and having admiration, joy and love of music are some of the characteristics that have made me successful,” Furaha-Ali said.
The youngest child of Nashid Furaha-Ali, Yesseh attributes his achievements thus far to his “family, friends, music teachers and all who have believed in and supported me.”
With a few recordings under his belt anda strong sense of respect for music history, Yesseh was voted by Philadelphia magazine as one of “Eight Kids Who’ll Restore Your Faith in the Future.” The magazine called him “the next John Coltrane.”
Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie also has nothing but praise for the young Furaha-Ali.
“He is an amazing young musician, a great student and a great young man,” the mayor said. “I saw his father supporting him at every school and music-related meeting or event in the township.”