The day before Thanksgiving, while many are packing for holiday travel, thawing their turkeys or getting last-minute groceries, 19-year-old Bryan Thompson will be wowing crowds in New York City with his saxophone.
Thompson, an Indianapolis native and graduate of Broad Ripple High School, has made it to the final round of the iconic Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night competition series.
The competition, which offers $10,000 for the winner, is notorious for its tough audience and seems to offer a pathway to stardom. “Who will be the next Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown or Michael Jackson? At Amateur Night, you decide,” the Apollo’s website says.
Thompson said he didn’t immediately realize the magnitude of his Apollo performances.
“It just hit me a few days ago how big this actually is. It feels almost surreal,” he said. “When you look at the track record of the people who have been there … Michael Jackson, James Brown and all these iconic, successful individuals who have come out of the Apollo, and then you actually realize you’re part of that … it’s breathtaking.”
Thompson says he’s come a long way since October 2007 when, at the age of 9, he got his first saxophone.
“It was an old, rusty alto saxophone, but it was something I was head over heels to have.”
“It was an old, rusty alto saxophone, but it was something I was head over heels to have,” he said.
The horn was a gift from his aunt and uncle, but Thompson said they weren’t immediately sold on the idea.
“I told them I wanted to play the saxophone. They thought I was joking. But what happened was, I made (a saxophone) out of foil, and it worked! I put nails in it; it was hollow. Of course it didn’t sound like manufactured saxophone, but it definitely made some sounds,” he said. “I was just so serious about it, and when they saw that, they were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to get him a real saxophone.’”
From there, Thompson said he began to learn the ins and outs of playing sax.
“I would say I’m 80 percent self-taught. The other 20 percent came from people who taught me how to put on the mouthpiece properly, what size reeds would be best for me, how to hold the horn properly,” he said.
Thompson borrows some of his material from others, in the form of playing covers, but he also writes his own music. As for finding inspiration, he said, it’s mostly about waiting for it to strike.
“Like sitting under an apple tree, you’ve just got to wait for the music to fall,” he said. “When it’s ripe, it’ll fall.”
Thompson is currently studying liberal arts and psychology at Indiana University, because he wanted to see what else was out there besides music. But he says ultimately, music is where his passion lies.
“What’s important to me is making sure my music is important for others and not just myself,” he said. “I just want my music to take me to a place where I can leave a legacy.”
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