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'Reeding' is Fundamental for This Whiz Kid

Saxaphone prodigy John Miller considers himself old school.

Each week, Agoura Hills Patch will seek suggestions from readers for individual kids, youth groups, teens, and even sports teams that wow us with their accomplishments. We want to hear about these amazing children and teens and select one each week as the Patch Whiz Kid. 

This week’s Whiz Kid is Saxophone virtuoso, John Miller.  Miller, 14, just wrapped up three highly successful years at , where he was a straight “A” honor student.

Miller admits that he has never listened to popular music.  Instead he said he is inspired by past greats like Frank Sinatra, Stan Getz and Coltrane to name a few.  He loves improvisation jazz and works hard at his craft. 

Miller’s first musical experience was at age seven, when he began to play the piano. As a fourth grader, he became very excited about going to middle school and being a part of Matt McKagan's Lindero Middle School Music Program.  In preparation for middle school, he joined an after-school enrichment program at White Oak Elementary to learn to play the saxophone and said he instantly fell in love. 

It was his love of the instrument that lead to his success at Lindero where he excelled, playing the Cougar Band and Jazz “B” Combo as a sixth grader, and then participating in Jazz “A” and the Jazz “A” Combo in both his seventh and eighth grade years. The rest, they say, is history.

In 2009, at the age of 12, Miller auditioned and was accepted in to the Los Angeles Jazz Society's Bill Green Mentorship Program. He attended workshops and rehearsed at the Musician's Union in Hollywood. As part of this program he met and began working with his mentor, world-class tenor saxophonist Tom Peterson. Peterson has worked for many of the great composers/arrangers and bands, including John Williams, Pat Williams, Lennie Niehaus, Peter Matz, Tommy Newsom, Bill Holman, and Doc Severinsen to name a few.

Miller said he is fortunate that Peterson has taken him under his wing and is still his saxophone teacher and mentor. Miller says that Peterson, “has instilled a strong work ethic in me and challenges me at every lesson.”  Miller knows he still has so much to learn and is still at the beginning stages of his craft, but he’s grateful for the opportunity.

The Los Angeles Jazz Society's Bill Green Mentorship Program also included recording a CD in a professional recording studio. The highlight of the program was performing in 2010 at the Catalina Club in Hollywood. The group of students in the mentorship program ranges from the age of 13 - 20. Miller was one of 26 students and one of four tenor sax players in the program. Students were from all areas of Southern California

Miller's list of achievement reads like the resume of a seasoned professional:

  • Outstanding Musicianship Award, Newbury High School Jazz Festival (7th grade). 
  • Outstanding Musicianship Award, Reno Jazz Festival, April 2010 for both Jazz A and Jazz A Combo (7th grade).
  • Maestro award for Outstanding Soloists at the Heritage Music Festival in San Diego for his performance of "Love is Here to Stay." (8th grade).
  • Overall Outstanding Middle School Performer Award, Reno Jazz Festival (8th grade).

It was at the Newbury High School Jazz Festival that Miller was given a scholarship to attend Idyllwild's School of the Arts Summer Jazz Workshop, which he attended in the summer of 2010. Miller was the youngest person in the program.

To top off his string of success, Miller most recently received the Outstanding Overall Scholar Award at his Lindero Canyon Middle School culmination. Earning this distinction is no small feat.  Teachers submit names of deserving students for the award for their respective departments, and in June, all of the departments submitted Miller’s name, including his elective, Jazz “A” Band. This is only the third time its been awarded in 21 years.

In addition to playing tenor saxophone, Miller also plays clarinet, flute & piano. He has begun to arrange music under the direction of Matt Harris, his piano teacher and professional composer and the director of Jazz Studies at Cal State Northridge. Miller said he aspires to one day compose as well.  In this coming school year, John's will be in Agoura High School’s Jazz A Band & Wind Ensemble 2.  He hopes to continue to grow as a musician; go wherever his music will take him and either perform professionally or teach music at a university.

Whiz Kid: John Miller

Grade:  Incoming ninth-grader

School: Agoura High School

Accomplishment: Outstanding Overall Scholar Award (recognized as the top student in all departments at Lindero Canyon Middle School).

Key to Awesomeness: Despite his litany of successes and accolades, Miller is too humble to answer the question what makes him successful.  “There are so many great musicians in this area, including several I played with at Lindero and at Agoura High.  I’m just happy to have the opportunity to play,” said Miller.

Miriam Zacuto August 04, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Thanks for this great piece, Laura. This is one extraordinary young musician - we've been so fortunate to get to hear him play over the last few years - and look forward to many, many more. Bravo, John - play on! The Zacuto family

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