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Eric Darius is on a mission on stage, studio and schools

by North County Times
08-18-2011

Suffice it to say, saxophonist Eric Darius is a man on a mission.

That’s not just the name of his new album —- it’s also his philosophy when it comes to schools and music.

“I am a firm believer in education and the arts, but unfortunately, with all the budget cuts, the arts are the ones suffering the most,” said Darius, who will perform Sunday at Thornton Winery as part of Soul of Summer with Jonathan Butler and Maysa.

“I’m here because of those opportunities I had in school to learn music,” he said. “It breaks my heart that they are taking those things like music out of the schools, because it’s such an important part of every child.”

As a result, he created the On a Mission in the Schools program where he goes to schools and performs for the students, talks with them and performs with them.

“I’m taking the campaign nationwide, going to elementary, middle and high schools to promote music and inspire people to not let anyone stop them from achieving their dreams,” he said.

Part of his passion for this cause is the fact that music education was such a major part of his young life.

“I got into music when I was about 3 or 4 years old, and my parents exposed me to a lot of different things, like Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Marvin Gaye,” he said. “When I was about 9, I saw a player at church and I just fell in love with the sound and emotion coming out of that instrument. I knew then it was what I wanted to do.”

His parents’ reaction?

“They bought me a sax for my 10th birthday,” he said. “My parents played a huge role. My dad would sacrifice anything so I could get opportunities. He even managed me for about 16 years, and he was the one who took my career from nothing to where it is today.”

As a youngster, Darius toured with American’s Youngest Jazz Band, which highlighted not only his gift of music but his passion.

“It was a group of very talented kids between the ages of 5 and 12, and there was something about me that always stood out to my parents,” he said. “That’s when they realized they needed to help nurture my talent. They saw I was a fast learner, dedicated and had a passion in me to play.”

It’s not a stretch to say Darius was dedicated, but not just to music.

“I’m passionate in whatever I do, 100 percent,” he said. “I was in jazz combos, soccer teams, and had a 5.2 grade point average. I just had a drive to be the best at whatever I do. But I cannot compare the passion I have for music to anything else. Nothing brings as much joy to me.”

And that leads back to his passion for music in the schools.

“I’m here because of those school opportunities, and it breaks my heart that they are taking those things away,” he said. “Kids are losing an opportunity to express themselves.”

And so far, the reaction has been incredible.

“When I go to the schools, I want to connect with the kids,” he said. “I want them to relate to the things that I’m saying, and to let them understand that it wasn’t long ago that I was where they were. They identify with me. I’m still kind of in their age group.”

Part of identifying with them is relating to their music.

“I just break it down, keep it simple,” he said. “I give them my life story and talk about the Justin Biebers and the Ushers and Beyonces and what they all have in common —- dedication and sacrifice. Their success is a product of the hard work they have put into their careers.”

And it’s not just music.

“I use pro athletes and use them as an example and show them that they can be in the same position,” he said. “Whatever they want to do, it’s going to take dedication and sacrifice. Then I play more jazz for them to show them that jazz can be fun.”

It can also be challenging, because as Darius can attest, the dreams don’t come easy or immediately.

“My dream was to go to Juilliard,” he said. “There was nothing else I wanted.”

He auditioned at the famed school for the performing arts in New York City; and of the 1,000 performers, he was among the top 10, which meant another tryout for his big prize.

“I wasn’t one of the next five, so I didn’t get in,” he said. “It was a difficult time in my life. I decided to focus on a recording career and I signed to Higher Octave Music when I was 20 and at the University of Southern Florida. I realized that everything happens for a reason.”

As it turned out, it was exactly the perfect path.

“That was a turning point,” he said. “Sometimes there’s disappointment. I love to tell the story of Michael Jordan and how he didn’t even make the varsity team in high school his freshman year because he wasn’t good enough. He became motivated to be better, and he worked harder.”

Part of that work ethic involves trying to be different.

“My goal is to stretch myself artistically each time,” he said. “I’d had a bunch of songs done by the time I recorded my first album, but the second one, there was more pressure. I had a blank canvas, and no clue what I was going to do next.”

As for live performances, that’s where Darius really shines.

“I was born to be on stage,” he said. “I was performing for people when I was 11, and I just studied how people like Michael Jackson, Prince and James Brown did it. I always wanted to put things in my show that would help me connect to the audience. Over time and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve refined it.”

This time around, he will be performing as part of the Soul of Summer tour with Jonathan Butler and Maysa.

“Jonathan Butler and I have been good friends and we’ve talked about collaborating and recording together,” he said. “He’s been touring with Dave Koz, and he decided he’d put together his own tour. I was the first person he called, and I agreed immediately. I have so much respect for Jonathan.”

He believes the show is a perfect blend of various styles.

“Jonathan is a great musician, and when he brought in Maysa, it really meant that there would be a great variety to the show because we are all so different that we bring something unique to the table,” he said.

And it allows Darius to improvise.

“It allows me to be different,” he said. “As a solo guy with my band, it’s different than collaborating with other artists. With this, it’s not 100 percent about me. It’s fun when it’s my turn to play my song. I can do my thing, while other times it’s just a supporting cast role.”

Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/entertainment/music/article_018e8e1c-30be-5bbf-bf15-24016cd349ab.html#ixzz1VsDzSYgS

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