Tue | Aug 3, 2021

Get wind of Ariana’s Music - Young jazz-gospel alto saxophonist wants to forge a path for females in her field

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2020 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Alto Saxophonist Ariana Stanberry uses her musical instrument as a weapon for good.
When on a stage, Ariana Stanberry gets lost in her instrument.

Brought up on a diet of reggae, gospel, and jazz, 21-year-old Ariana Stanberry finds herself blowing to the tune of those genres. The love for music runs through her veins, she says, and the energy is pumped into her alto saxophone.

“Every person in my family is a musician. My father is a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and choir director, and my mother is a singer. My eldest sister is also a singer, and my younger sister plays almost every instrument there is. Even my cousins, aunts, and uncles, and my grandpa are all musicians … .It is in my blood,” said Ariana in her interview with The Sunday Gleaner.

“Gospel became the first genre that I fell in love with, and learning to play instruments was something I couldn’t imagine myself not doing. Just being able to express myself musically, whether that be through my voice or a horn, is a necessity for me,” she continued.

The Kingston-born musician, who is known as Ariana’s Music or simply Ariana, is currently studying at the premier music college in Boston, Massachusetts – Berklee College of Music – and in her 14 years residing in the United States, has garnered exposure that even some established players have not throughout the course of their careers.

Benny Carter, an architect of the swing era sound; Vi Redd (a highly regarded female veteran who has performed with the likes of Count Bassie and Dizzy Gillespie); Cannonball Adderley, who played on Miles Davis’ iconic jazz manifesto Kind of Blue in 1959; Johnny Hodges of Duke Ellington’s band: these are some of the great musicians in whose footsteps 21-year-old Ariana has chosen to follow.

Taking an interest in the alto saxophone, which these pioneers all mastered, she, too, has developed a unique and modern handle on the wind instrument, at the same time experimenting with classical, R&B, and pop genres. Even so, while her music looks forward, Ariana has never lost sight of the traditions of the musicians before her.

“The rhythm, improvisational skills, and melodic ideas I use when playing the saxophone are all rooted in reggae and gospel music. Even the jazz genre was inspired by reggae. The roots always come back to Jamaica’s history and the impact our musicians have on the music industry as a whole,” she said.

“The gospel music I heard playing in my house by my parents growing up contributes greatly to the way I play today while the jazz education I gained in high school and throughout my music career in college has greatly impacted my improvisation and style. With all of this knowledge I’ve gained from reggae, gospel, and jazz, I am slowly starting to develop my own sound on the saxophone that is unique to me because of these inspiring genres.”

Ariana’s background in music education started at the primary level, playing the bongo drums as a student at the Portmore Missionary Preparatory School in St Catherine, and when she migrated to the US, she moved on to the recorder and viola in the third grade before picking up the alto saxophone as a fourth- grader at the age of nine.


“I chose this instrument because it is my mom’s favourite!” she said enthusiastically.

But in addition to having a distinctive and emotionally intense sound on the sax, she knows her way around the microphone.

“I picked up singing naturally, and my father had started training my eldest sister and me from we were in Jamaica.”

Her covers of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and Risky by Davido, featuring Popcaan, are must-listens on YouTube, but she has also released a few originals. Her most recent, Unexpected, is a collaboration with other fast-rising instrumentalists including Josiah Walker on piano, Igor Vogels on bass, and Dante Dunbar on drums. Ariana’s next single incorporates reggae, and persons will get the chance to hear her move between the saxophone and vocals.

Noting that her field is globally dominated by males, she said, “I feel it is my duty to uplift other saxophonists, especially black female saxophonists, so that they can feel just as empowered and motivated to pursue their craft.”

Growing up, she added: “I did not have much female representation musically around me at all. In fact, I was the only black female saxophonist in my band classes, jazz, concert, All-State band, and Eastern Regional bands. I definitely feel that being that representation at my age is so important because young musicians need to see their peers within the music industry showing care and educating them about all there is to know to succeed.”

Ariana also has experienced teaching and instructing at String Theory School of Music in New London, Connecticut, and she has made it part of her weekly routine to teach private saxophone lessons and beginner piano lessons while balancing her recording and performing career by hosting her own live concerts, where she has featured some of her mentees like 10-year-old Nigerian Temilayo Abodunrin, who she has worked with since November 2018.

“She is my mentee, but I call her my little sister. We met through Instagram, and at a young age, she is a saxophone prodigy. I admire working with Temi, along with over 10 other private saxophone students I currently have across the globe, and I hope to inspire them so they can impact the future in better ways than I ever could.”

With dreams to launch a music summer camp, saxophone workshop, and other projects in Jamaica, she sees herself returning home sooner rather than later.

“I hope to accomplish these once the world opens back up. My musical journey isn’t limited to any one location. I hope to take my journey far enough to impact as many aspiring musicians as I can. Without music, I know I would not be the organised, dedicated, mature, inspired, and confident leader, musician, and student that I am today. Even my musical platform on Instagram has allowed me to grow into becoming a person who knows their worth, who is looking forward to making a change and an even greater impact on so many lives,” she said.