FARMINGTON -- World-renown jazz saxophonist Eric Darius hosted a jazz party at Farmington Junior High.
Students from the largest junior high band in the district got up close and personal with the musician during a private clinic on Wednesday.
In town to help promote the opening of the new Summerhays music store in Layton, Darius asked if he could spend time at one of the local schools. He stayed nearly two hours playing for the crowded gymnasium of band students, answering questions, playing with the junior high's jazz band, and talking about his experience in the music world.
Darius has been playing the saxophone for nearly 20 years, beginning at age 10. He has five record-selling albums, with numerous top 10 hits, and a number one song on the Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Charts.
However, Darius told students his success wouldn't have been possible without a lot of determination.
"No matter what it is you want to be, there is one thing in common, practice and a lot of hard work. I practiced my saxophone four to five hours a day in junior high, and now I get to travel all over the world and meet lots of different people, but it's because I put a lot of hard work in early on," said Darius.
The musician shared with students his experience applying for The Juilliard School in New York. When Darius applied, he competed against 500 other saxophone players from all over the world. They selected 10 from that group to then play for a distinguished panel of judges, who then chose five of the musicians for admission into Juilliard.
Though Darius was one of the 10 selected for the panel of judges, he was not one of the five chosen for the school. "That was a really hard time for me because I had always dreamed of going to Juilliard, but it motivated me to work even harder, and literally the next year, I got my first record deal," said Darius.
"I love reaching out to kids and giving back to youth," said Darius regarding why he wanted to visit the junior high school. "This is a great opportunity because junior high kids are trying to figure out what to do with their lives."
Darius encouraged them to work hard in school. He said he was in every band available at school, in addition to participating in school sports, including basketball, soccer and track.
"You wonder when I slept, but academics was always number one for me and when I graduated, I had all A's, because I was determined to succeed in school," said Darius. "That is why I get to do what I love and perform with Prince, Carlos Santana, Mary J. Blige, and so many others."
Darius looked right at home with the junior high kids -- giving them high-fives, wandering around the audience while playing and watching the kids clap and cheer to his songs.
When ninth-grader Kayli McCoy, who plays alto-saxophone in the school's jazz band, was told by her teacher she would be sitting next to Darius when he joined the band for a couple of numbers, she said she stopped breathing for a moment.
"Then, when he was actually sitting by me, I was in a daze and just in awe of him as he sat playing next to me," said McCoy.
"This is something they will literally remember forever," said Heath Wolf, the school's band teacher, who helped coordinate the efforts to bring in Darius.
When Darius finished playing several of his original songs, he told students, "There is one thing I want you to remember. Always follow your dreams and know that it is not always going to be easy, but it will be worth the effort."