Alumni Profile: Alex Han '09
By the time saxophonist Alex Han won a full-ride Presidential Scholarship to Berklee, he was already palling around with jazz stars such as Paquito D'Rivera and Berklee faculty member Joe Lovano. During college, he balanced his courses with performances worldwide—including at Carnegie Hall with D'Rivera and in Poland with Berklee professor Terri Lyne Carrington.
While at Berklee, he turned down not one, but two invitations to tour with respected bassist/composer Marcus Miller. But playing hard to get, so to speak, didn't hurt his chances: Han is now touring with Miller in Europe. The following is a condensed and edited discussion of how he did it all.
See below for Miller's take on his 21-year-old sideman.
How did you get connected with Marcus Miller?
I performed with Marcus at Berklee, back in December 2006, when he had a residency at the school. To end his week at Berklee, he had a concert that was put together by [faculty member] David Fiuczynski, who auditioned probably 20 saxophonists on the first day, another 20 on the second. Full-out auditions.
So I did that performance with him, and he was really, really happy. I gave him my business card. Much to my surprise, I got my first call in January 2007. But I couldn't work with him then.
I was at school! Doing what I had to do to graduate. I actually ended up graduating a year early. If anyone goes to Berklee, I think it's the priority—to finish everything and get a degree.
You also had to turn down an opportunity to tour with Miller in Japan. With these offers in hand, did you ever consider dropping out of school?
When anybody goes to Berklee, there are moments when it might be a little much, when you feel like you might want to leave. But if you quit you disappoint yourself, you disappoint others. I knew that I needed to finish. There's nobody on my mom's side of the family that completed college.
How did you manage the workload?
If I had to leave the country I brought my work with me or I got extensions. Not that I got straight As—get real! If you were in my shoes you would make sure you did well with the time that you had.
Did you bring homework to Carnegie Hall?
That week was a few days before the start of spring break. I remember I had completed my work prior to leaving so I wouldn't have anything to worry about other than the music. Now I'm done, baby!
You considered other music colleges but chose Berklee. Why?
At first my father and I were really set on having me go to New York. I'd get to meet all these guys, get to play with them. But Joe [Lovano] said, "That's not a good idea for Alex. He's got to be somewhere he can focus. . . . Alex should go to Berklee. I'm going to be there!"
It was the right choice. Honestly I don't think I would've met Marcus anywhere else. And all the opportunities that happened after that and because of that . . . I started to work with George Duke, Patrice Rushen, Philip Bailey. It wasn't cutesy, it wasn't a student vibe. It was professional work.
Any plans for after the European tour?
I will be moving to New York this coming February. Once I'm there, I can set those groundroots and get everything started. It'll be a new chapter for me. We'll see what happens.
And now for the bandleader's perspective. . . . We asked Marcus Miller over email about his young sax-playing sideman.
What did you see in Alex?
What I immediately liked about Alex was that he seemed to have the whole picture. During our time at Berklee, he played outside, inside, funk, Latin—and each sounded very authentic, which is very rare. I also heard him trying to find his own identity within all of that. To me, that's the most important thing.
How has he changed as you've played together?
Over the past year and a half, he's becoming more and more confident onstage, commanding his own space while still keeping his ears open to what's happening around him.
Do you often hire young artists?
I'm very interested in young musicians these days. I won't hire them just because they're young, though. I like to hear cats who were like me, aware of the past with an eye on the future—looking to create something new.