Freshman trombonist making lots of noise

By Lindsay Carroll

Brandon Hang never had an official trombone teacher, and he didn’t play jazz until his sophomore… Brandon Hang never had an official trombone teacher, and he didn’t play jazz until his sophomore year of high school. Yet the 18-year-old Pitt freshman managed to score the prestigious $5,000 Pitt-Bank of New York Mellon Jazz Scholarship, awarded annually to a talented Pitt student by nationally recognized jazz musicians, including Pitt professor Nathan Davis. Although Hang decided to come to Pitt based on the pharmacy program, he also knew he wanted to attend school in a city where ‘jazz thrives.’ Hang, who also plays piano, saxophone and drums, won the award based on his recordings of jazz standards, including a ballad and blues sample. He played one of the tracks on the piano, which gave him an edge over the competition. His musical well-roundedness impressed the judges, but Hang was relatively new to playing jazz. Hang’s first instrument was piano. He started playing trombone eight years ago for the elementary school band. But he wasn’t interested in jazz until he attended a jazz camp at Lebanon Valley College during his sophomore year. ‘I thought jazz would be all that big band stuff,’ said Hang. ‘It opened up a new world where everything was spontaneous and only about four people are needed to do it.’ Although he had a band director, there was never a teacher who really taught him about jazz, he said. It was self-motivation. ‘It doesn’t really matter what teacher you have, it’s really all up to you,’ said Hang. He emphasized that despite receiving the award, he has goals in terms of musicianship. ‘It’s imitation before innovation,’ said Hang. ‘I’m still at the imitation phase, but I hope to become a unique performer.’ Learning to play jazz introduced a lot of musical opportunities for Hang. A fellow musician and friend, Jonathan Ragonese, suggested he attend performances at the Hilton Harrisburg Hotel, where the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz held jam sessions every week. There, Hang could play alongside local and international jazz greats, such as Antonio Onorato, an Italian jazz trombonist. He said the experience was humbling. ‘You learn that you suck, basically, and you have to get better,’ he said. Hang aimed to learn two new songs every week. He said it was playing at jam sessions and hearing live performances that motivated him to excel. Hang said he wants to pursue music throughout his life, with solid encouragement from family and friends, but he does not want to make it a career. He plans to try out for the Pitt Jazz Ensemble and take Nathan Davis’ History of Jazz course next semester, which he hopes will be an easy credit. The BNY Mellon Jazz program partners with various nonprofit organizations in the Pittsburgh area, including Pitt and the Pittsburgh Jazz Society, to provide students with music scholarships and sponsor events and concerts. Hang’s scholarship is the 22nd annual award from Pitt and BNY Mellon Jazz.