Student Spotlight: JahQuan Richards

The saxophonist and performance major discusses finding his voice, analyzing improvisational solos, and taking inspiration from multi-instrumentalist Adam Blackstone.

May 1, 2023

What’s it like to study at Berklee? Our Student Spotlight series asks current students all about their Berklee experience—what they’re learning in class, what kinds of projects they’re involved in onstage or behind the scenes, how they recharge, and of course, what they’re listening to. This week, meet JahQuan Richards, an eighth-semester alto saxophonist and woodwind performance major from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

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JahQuan Richards wearing sunglasses and playing alto saxophone on stage

Tell us about your path to Berklee. What made you decide to come here?

During high school, I realized that I wanted to pursue music as a career instead of just a hobby. So, when I decided to look for colleges to apply to, I realized that one of my friends, who was a grade ahead of me, was attending Berklee. I contacted him about how his experience at Berklee was going so far. He said many great things and then told me I should apply. From that moment, I knew where I wanted to go. Berklee was the first school that I applied to. I only applied to three colleges, Berklee being the only art school. When I auditioned in February 2019, I met up with the same friend who recommended that I apply to Berklee. I even got to watch him play in an ensemble he was in. The audition process was very chill, and watching how good the ensemble was solidified that Berklee was the number one school I wanted to attend. When I received the acceptance letter in March 2019, I was ecstatic that I would be attending Berklee for college.

I genuinely believe that when people call me to play in their sessions or gigs, they call me not just to get a saxophone player, but to get JahQuan Richards.

— JahQuan Richards

What's been your favorite class so far, and what has it taught you?

My favorite class has to be Harmonic Considerations in Improvisation. The class was taught by Mike Williams. I liked this class because it  developed my ears to be on a whole other level. In this class, we transcribed and analyzed many types of jazz solos. We really dived in to discover what the soloists may have been thinking musically while improvising.

What's a project you've worked on since coming to Berklee that you've been especially excited about?

This is not a project, per se, but more a goal that was part of my never-ending process of self-development. Coming into Berklee, I knew that there were going to be a lot of other talented saxophonists just like me. One of my top goals coming into Berklee was to find my voice as a saxophonist and stand out beautifully. I didn’t want to be placed in this large category of typical Berklee saxophonists. I genuinely believe that when people call me to play in their sessions or gigs, they call me not just to get a saxophone player, but to get JahQuan Richards.

How do you typically recharge or find new ideas outside of class?

In Boston, I usually develop new ideas by going on long walks, catching the train to different areas, and visiting places I’ve never seen before. I also recently developed an interest in watching random movies. Regarding recharging, I recently started going to the gym more often, and I try to get more hours of sleep.

What careers are you interested in pursuing in the future?

There are so many things I would like to do in my career, but I think the number one thing I would like to do is to become a member of a touring band. I am very interested in being one of those musicians that would get called to play for different films and award shows. I am also interested in becoming a sax repairman as well as a live sound engineer.

When you think towards your own future, who inspires you most?

As a musician, Adam Blackstone inspires me the most. He works with many different artists on many different occasions and has musically directed for game shows, award shows, national sports halftime shows, and many more. He also has his own music as an artist. Regarding opportunities and experience, I want my career to be just as blessed as his.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to your high school self?

Continue to be true to yourself! You’re already a reserved person as it is. Don’t let anybody try to dim your light whenever you do show confidence in yourself.

Five Songs by JahQuan's Favorite Artists

We asked JahQuan to share some music from his all-time favorite artists. Here's what he said:

1. "St. Thomas," Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins is definitely up there in regards to who would be my favorite saxophonist overall. His solos are very rhythmically and harmonically complex. One song of his that I like is "St. Thomas," mainly because of the Caribbean influence within the entire recording, and because his solo is so memorable. Not to mention that I am from the island of St. Thomas.

2. "Everything I Need," Pressure Busspipe

Pressure Busspipe is one of my favorite reggae artists. He is also from St. Thomas. He is such a down-to-earth person, and it shows through his music. One song that I like from him is called "Everything I Need." This song helps remind me to be grateful for the little things in life, and the music itself is a vibe.

3. "Love Yourz," J. Cole

J. Cole is one of my favorite rappers. Regarding rap, I love storytelling, and he has mastered that. One song of his that I like is "Love Yourz" because of the meaning behind the song, which is to be appreciative of what you got, and that money alone doesn’t bring complete happiness.

4. "Man Down," Rihanna

Rihanna is one of my favorite pop artists. Like most of her songs, "Man Down" is just pure vibes! I also love that you can hear her Bajan accent in her music, because it’s common for people from the Caribbean to code-switch when they get a career on the mainland.

5. "Free Mind," Tems

Tems is one of my favorite afrobeat artists. I love her voice. "Free Mind" is one of my favorites of hers because the song encourages people to do what they want to find peace, and ignore anything that may prevent them from doing that.

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