Demetrius "DJ" Turner II closes his eyes and lets "Cover the Waterfront" pour from his saxophone. It's easy to forget that he is only 13 years old.
The music is in front of him, but he doesn't need it. He plays it by heart because it comes from his heart. It's the Charlie Parker classic he played a year ago in remembrance at his grandfather's funeral.
This boy from Landenberg is a Kennett Middle School eighth grader who has become locally and nationally known in the jazz world in the last year. As his star rises, the pressures mount, and the demands on his time increase. His parents know it's their job to keep the boy in the jazz sensation. After all, he also likes football and science and, if the sax gets old, he might like to be a marine biologist.
He thinks of himself as a regular kid. He just happens to do amazing things with his "free" time. He talks about his accomplishments like they are no big deal, as if all eighth graders hear their music echoing off the crowd in Madison Square Garden, tour with a jazz ensemble all summer, play the sax for jazz greats and audition to play at the Grammy Awards.
Other kids on the verge of 14 throw their hearts and souls into sports or academics. DJ is no slouch in those departments either. But, his father, Demetrius Turner Sr., said the commitment and passion he shows for his music has taken him some incredible places, places even he wouldn't have expected his son to go so soon. And, while the alto saxophone is his primary instrument, he is also an accomplished flute player and is mastering the piano.
Unlike so many kids his age, no one has to tell DJ to practice. Turner said it touches him to see his son's love of jazz. "I see the passion, the desire to get in there and do it without being told. He really listens to jazz and he has his friends listening to jazz. You have to really listen to it and understand it and they do."
DJ said he loves to play his saxophone just for fun, but far better yet is playing for a crowd.
Part of what keeps DJ working so hard is knowing how much it would please his grandfather, his original inspiration.
DJ's passion was in his blood, drawn straight from the gene pool. It just skipped a generation. His grandfather, jazz musician Vewiser Turner Sr., had been looking for that love of music, and jazz in particular, in his children and when he found none, he looked to the next generation.
He knew DJ was the one when he was just a tiny boy. In his grandfather's world, jazz was always playing. Turner said after a day spent fishing with DJ, Vewiser Turner heard DJ humming to himself note for note a tune he heard in the background of his morning.
He sent the young boy an alto saxophone when he was 9 years old, but Turner kept it from him. He said DJ was into sports, his jump shot was pretty good and he didn't think he would be interested. On his 10th birthday, he brought it out and DJ took hold of it and never let it go.
DJ quickly taught himself to play Jingle Bells and a few months later was playing at church. His father knew it was time for lessons. DJ made his first recording at age 11 with his grandfather in Texas. Sadly, his grandfather became ill, and DJ last played for him while he was in hospice care. Turner said even as ill as he was, his father was still giving the boy tips.
In the past year DJ reached a bigger stage and a bigger audience. His performance in a talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem led to an invitation to participate in the New York Knick's Talented Kids contest. The contest was held on the court at half time of the Knick's home opener where he played "Georgia On My Mind" before a packed house and won after the enormous crowd went wild with applause.
Since then he has been booked solid, playing in Philadelphia with the Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts senior ensemble and solo all over the Wilmington and Kennett Square area. He played with the Virginia All-Star Youth Jazz Ensemble. He was the featured artist for the month of June on the west coast-based Internet site TeenJazz.com. Also in his repertoire is gospel music and the West Chester radio station WCOJ will play DJ's gospel music Sunday mornings. He has played for senators, a Catholic bishop, Olympian ice skaters, in festivals, on radio and television shows, in showcases, conventions and fundraisers. His stages have been big and small, on boardwalks, at schools, in a theatrical production, in
Harrington's Coffee Shop, at Anson B. Nixon Park, in his beloved St. Joseph's Church in Wilmington and this past week he was on stage at the Mushroom Festival.
On July 23, DJ was one of three recipients to be recognized and awarded scholarships by the John W. Coltrane Cultural Society. The society is dedicated to preserving the music and legacy of the legendary Coltrane. Coltrane's cousin Mary Alexander, who DJ's father said is considered the "mother of jazz in Philadelphia," presented the award.
Less than a week later DJ's family joined him on a 10-day, five-cities jazz tour with the Young Jazz Razzcals. He played the main stage of the 30th Annual Jazz
Celebrations in Telluride, Colo., where he met and played for jazz great Herbie Hancock and others.
It keeps getting better. DJ has been offered an audition for the Grammy Youth Jazz Ensemble that will play for the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. He's been asked to play Charlie Parker's original version of "Billie's Bounce" which his father said he knows inside and out. He also is considering auditioning for the Kimmel Center Youth Jazz Ensemble and he has been invited to be a guest performer by some professional musicians in Philadelphia.
Between gigs, school and sports DJ also helped put together a documentary about himself and his music entitled "In his Own Words." The film will be screened at the New Jersey Film Festival and the Rehoboth Film Festival this fall. It can be seen on the Website www.video.google.com.
Turner said the film has been played for several organizations to inspire other children to excel. "It touches me that kids are so inspired by what DJ has been able to achieve. He's so young and has had such an effect already."
DJ's father said it is up to him and his wife Jean to juggle DJ's hectic schedule and make sure he can still find time to be a kid. His success has taken the commitment of the whole family. His little brother Noah, 10, is his "front man," often introducing him and peddling his CDs and DVDs at events. His sister India, 7, is his fan and supporter.
In memory of Vewiser Turner Sr. and in honor of his wishes to pass a love of jazz on to future generations, the Turners have established the Vewiser Turner Sr. Youth Jazz Education Foundation to fund public performances, public education and community jazz-centered events. For more information, call 610-563-9396.