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By Photo courtesy of Isaiah Morfin
By MATT MUNOZ, Californian contributing columnist
School is out for Isaiah Morfin, which means his journey into the real world is just beginning.
Feeling confident about life after completing his studies at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in May, the multi-talented saxophonist and songwriter is eager to head into the next chapter.
Isaiah Morfin concert
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Le Corusse Rouge, 4647 White Lane
Admission: $10 (all ages admitted)
His suit pressed, saxophone shined, and sheet music in order, Morfin invites Bakersfield to celebrate the holidays in a funky way at a special Christmas-themed concert Thursday at Le Corusse Rouge.
"I'm really excited, because it's not the same Christmas songs you're used to hearing," said Morfin, 24, of his latest show, featuring a new batch of original compositions written just for the occasion.
"When I started writing for this, I wanted people to have a break from the Christmas overload from radio and in the department stores."
I've been following Morfin's travels in the Bakersfield music scene going back to his early days, when the young musician could be found making impromptu appearances at various public events, before finding his legs within the scholastic and collegiate music scenes. He eventually found his way to the Bakersfield Jazz Festival, where he could be seen and heard both as a student and featured artist.
Entering the Berklee College of Music in 2009, Morfin became another face in the crowd away from the local spotlight, allowing him to study and perform without distraction.
"The Boston scene is filled with college students and a lot of bands, but very few of them are making a substantial living. It's oversaturated. You have the conservatory down the street and the college.
"The main thing about Berklee is that a lot of people don't even graduate, it's all about the experience. So many musicians are actors and artists. The arts are really valued on the East Coast. You become more in tune with the arts just being there."
But Morfin said he always made regular trips to visit family during summer and for Christmas to enjoy the comforts of home.
"Each time you go back (to school), you have something different to say. The first time I went back I wanted to quit, the second time I learned something, third time I learned the most, the fourth time I was over going to school."
Morfin described the Berklee curriculum as perfectly tailored to his major: professional music. His instructors included a number of well-known professional artists who worked part time on campus, including Livingston Taylor, brother of iconic singer- songwriter James Taylor.
"He's such a passionate guy. He says everything from the heart. It's really great to have those teachers who understand the musician life. All of my teachers made sure I got everything: every sax genre, style and whatever will work for a particular gig."
Then there was the day funk legend George Clinton stopped by his Biographies in Black (Music, Lives, and Meanings) class one afternoon for a special lecture.
"We watched a video on his life, and he came into to talk about it. He worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so now I know why they're so funky. The lessons I got from him happened watching him perform. At times Parliament-Funkadelic had so much money they bought the full-sized spaceship for the show and touring. Then the other time he was in debt to his band and they split up. It was interesting how he got back onto his feet. I love hearing stories like that where people can bounce back."
Clinton's appearance was one of many standout moments for Morfin, who said that funk and neo-soul sounds appealed most to his fellow young musicians, who seem to be turning away from jazz.
"There's a divide in the jazz world. The younger guys are getting away from the early stuff. That's the culture. Swing music is slowly fading because it hasn't been around for a while. I still love that stuff but the thing is, if you're going to play something, you have to live it. Like Charlie Parker said, 'If you're going to play jazz, you have to live it.' Even Miles Davis used to say musicians don't play jazz with that kind of conviction anymore. The Boston musicians play the neo soul and R&B with conviction, because that's what they know."
Following graduation in May, Morfin packed his bags for the return home.
"It was weird not being around that space of life anymore. Anything you wanna do, as far as nightlife, gigging or hanging out with friends, there's so many kids your age; it's weird adjusting to that. That's the great thing about Boston. On the other hand, I also don't live in that box anymore."
Since returning, Morfin has picked up teaching jobs along the way and gigged at area restaurants.
"I'm teaching a few high school students. I also have some saxophone students, but trying to get some more. It's definitely great to have familiar faces and support in the audience."
Writing has also become a focus, a passion that inspired this evening's show.
"I put together 11 new songs, all originals with themes: the meaning of Christmas and getting to the heart of it all -- love, peace and hope. A lot of person feelings are within these songs."
Among the titles is "George Bailey," a composition based on the character from the holiday film, "It's a Wonderful Life."
"The song is about him being focused on his ambitions, but at the core is not being distracted and focusing on what's in front of you."
Morfin said career focus is something he's maintained since returning to Bakersfield.
"Right now, I feel like this show is going to be one of the last. I'm going to be recording and selling my music. I'm also going to have performance, but this coming year, I'm going to focus mostly on recording. That's what's important -- getting your music out there. I think I'm going to work towards getting a CD done, marketing and doing gigs to pay for it, then tour with it. I have some mentors that have shown me what it takes to get that all done."
Looking back at his time in Boston, Morfin said it definitely changed his outlook on a number of things surrounding his own life and what it means to be an artist. Those lessons will continue carrying him wherever the spirit moves him.
"Through all my experiences, it's not all about certain moments. It's about the journey, the whole experience of being a musician and gathering info and making art. Before it was about a certain gig, but it's really all about the whole thing. That's something I gained from school and growing up. It takes a lot off pressure when you get out of yourself. You have to continue to pursue your creative side, despite the outcome. As long as I'm putting in my hard work, I'm satisfied. Something great may happen or not."
Joining Morfin onstage are Bakersfield musicians Jay Jay Hicks on bass; Canaan McDuffie, drums; Tony Rinaldi on keys; Patric Caplo on guitar; and vocalists Natosha Ramirez and Ambra Williams.
"It's going to be pretty funky, fun, uplifting, with a lot of really great grooves. My inspiration for these songs come from Parliament-Funkadelic, guys like Al Green, James Brown, and Bobby Byrd."