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About Town: Young Jazz Musicians Groove to a Mature Sound

You’d never guess that the members of Max Levin’s professional-sounding band, Fusion, are still in high school.

Max Levin isn’t the first kid to start a band at age 14.

But his group, Fusion, is no garage rock band. These talented high school students play sophisticated jazz, and Max writes a lot of their material.

As for the garage, they play above it, at Max’s home in North Redmond. (Max’s mother, Rita Levin, says, “The neighbors love it!”) And the group has synergy.

“Within that first practice we knew that something special was gonna happen,” Max remembers.

Besides Max, the six-member group includes Jacob Kappes on guitar, Colter Potter on drums, Abu Tafesse on tenor sax and vocals, and vocalist Taryn Sweeny. Bassist Reign King, a junior at Mountlake Terrace High School, and Colter, a junior at Juanita High School, are the only members who do not attend .

Along with Max’s originals, the group plays a mix of jazz, funk, Latin, and blues. The group recently performed at Pallino Restaurant in Redmond. On April 28, they will play at a benefit for Union Gospel Mission's Youth Services Program at Matthew's Winery in Woodinville.

Max, now 16, began taking piano lessons when he was 6. After years of classical training, he switched to jazz a few years ago.

“My parents took me to Jazz Alley a lot,” he said. “I like jazz because you can groove to it and improvise.”

Colter, who played piano before switching to drums in fourth grade, honed his chops at the 's Rock Camp. He’s glad that his parents "encouraged me to do a lot of camps.”

Abu, who is mostly self-taught, said Levin is a role model for the rest of the group.

“My parents don’t want another musical kid—they already have two. So Max is like my musical parent. He encourages me," Abu said. "When you play with a great accompanist like Max, even if you’re not good, you sound good.”

Reign is also mostly self-taught. He played in metal bands until joining the award-winning Mountlake Terrace High School jazz band in seventh grade.

“All I wanna do is play music,” Reign said. “Performing is what I love.” His dream is to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Taryn is a powerhouse singer who can belt like Etta James. For the past four years, she has sung with Vocalpoint! Seattle, which she says “has given me the best training and opportunities I could ever imagine. I love singing and music more than anything.”

Although Max's parents support his music, they have also encouraged him to focus on getting an education and keeping his career options open.

“I’m trying to find the middle ground. Maybe I can be a businessman by day and a musician by night,” he said.

Abu, who would like to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, a cruise ship musician who travels the world, is facing a similar dilemma. “My parents really want me to go to medical school,” he said.

Max also plays piano with a big band called Mojo that will perform at the Tacoma Jazz Festival on May 28. A good student whose other passion is skiing, he wishes “there were more hours in the day.”

Stay tuned—if all goes well, Fusion will record a CD this summer.

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To book the band for your corporate event or private party, email mxlevin7@gmail.com or call 206-919-0221.

Correction: An original version of this story contained incorrect information about where some of the band members attend school. Redmond Patch regrets the errors. 

Carol Lee April 17, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Great story on Fusion! Max Levin and his band are amazing to watch in person....check them out at the Jazz Fest at Matthews on April 28th!
Caitlin Moran April 17, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Thanks, Carol—both for the comment and for pointing us in the band's direction!

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