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A Sound Foundation

At a time when most of his peers are tuned in to radio rappers like Nelly or Diddy or Jay-Z, Gabe Young has ears for Trane, Miles and Bird.

The 13-year-old saxophonist from Ashland is no mere idle listener. He's combing the works of modern jazz giants such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk for stuff he can use.

"I pretty much like listening to jazz for the ideas," he says.

Gabe will be fronting a just-put-together young band he calls Gabe Young and Friends at the ninth annual Rogue Valley Blues Festival in Ashland this weekend. The band will play a jazz/blues set at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Ashland Armory as part of the event's Under 21 Band Showcase and Dance Concert.

He says the set will be "mostly blues, maybe some funk."

After the one-hour gig, Gabe will join The Portland Blues Juniors with Mac Potts for their set. Tickets are $10 (adults) and $5 (students) at the door. Visit www.stclairevents.com.

Gabe's family is nothing if not musical. Dad Dave is a guitarist and fronts the vintage rock band Geriatric and the Pacemakers and the klezmer band the Bar Misfits, both of which Gabe plays in. Big sister Abby is a violinist and music major in the University of Oregon's honors program.

Gabe started playing a plastic toy sax as a toddler, moved up to a Casio digital horn at age 3 and on to his first real sax at age 6.

"I helped him until he was 6," Dave Young says. "But I'm anything but a jazz musician. Once he got the reed, it all got out of my hands."

Gabe, who plays oboe in addition to both alto and soprano sax, has gone to the Britt Festivals' jazz camp the last three years.

His father says the first year he applied he was discouraged from attending the workshop, which focuses on high school-age musicians, because he was only 10 years old.

"Then we sent them an audition CD."

End of story, beginning of workshop.

Gabe also plays oboe in the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon, where he is the youngest principal horn player. When he started playing the oboe he thought it would be strictly for classical music, and the saxophone would be for jazz and blues.

But he's since begun playing jazz on the oboe (the oboe part in Gershwin's "Summertime," for example) and classical music on the sax — recently mastering Bach's sixth sonata on that instrument.

"There's no saxophone in the symphony orchestra because it didn't exist," he says. "But a lot of modern composers use it."

He's also been getting into Celtic music.

"My sister does a lot of Irish stuff," he says, "and I've picked up on some of that."

Although he reads music, Gabe can also hear a part, pick it up by ear and commit it to memory, as he did recently with Miles Davis' "Freddie Freeloader."

"There's always going to be something you can't get if you listen to Charlie Parker," he says. "But I've always been able to learn stuff I put my mind to."

When festival presenter Ariella St. Clair asked Gabe to put together a band, he realized he knew some talented young players from Britt camp or from playing in his dad's band's New Year's Eve shows. He first heard singer Sophie Javna, an Ashland High School sophomore, at a battle of the bands.

"'Wow," he thought. "She's great."

Ashland High students Logan Shrewsbury and Rafferty Swink came aboard on drums and keyboards, and South Medford High students Kristina Meyer and Wes Wade took on bass and guitar chores.

With the gig just days away, the band has had just four rehearsals, working up arrangements of blues and jazz standards such as "Statesborough Blues," "The Thrill is Gone," "What'd I Say" and "Straight No Chaser."

"It's going great," Gabe says. "We really key into each other."

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

13-year-old Gabe Young and his band will play in Rogue Valley Blues Festival Sunday. Jim Craven 1/14/2009 - Jim Craven