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The Twists and Turns of a Lamont Grad’s Musical Journey

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Emma Atkinson

Jazz musician, composer and mentor Adam Gang has taken an improvised rather than traditional route.

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Adam Gang plays the saxophone.

Kids love to quit things. “It’s too hard” and “It’s too boring” are common refrains that echo from the mouths of youngsters who want to spend less time in structured activities and more time with their friends or in front of the TV.

Seventh-grader Adam Gang wanted to quit playing music. He had loved it when he was younger, inspired by his cousin Sam Yahel, a professional jazz pianist. On a piano that Yahel had given him, Gang learned to play Mozart and Chopin, begging his parents for piano lessons.

But in seventh grade, Gang decided that he wanted to play outside more.

“And my parents, they said, ‘Just give it one more week, and then you can quit if you still want to,’” Gang remembers. “And then I didn't quit after that week.”

He stuck with it and committed to becoming a better musician, so much so that he sold his brother’s hand-me-down video game consoles so that he wouldn’t become distracted.

“All I did was practice and focus on music,” Gang says.

After that pivotal moment, music became his life. Gang made all his closest friends through band, even starting a rock group with some friends in middle school. In high school, he joined the marching band and played classical percussion, getting together with friends to play drums for hours on end.

Stepping away from music—and coming back again

After growing up in Atlanta and then moving to Colorado Springs as a kid, Gang got an undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado Boulder in jazz studies in 2013. He then moved to Israel, where his father is from, for most of his 20s.

There, living with family, he left the music world again, this time for a bit longer.

“I went back to school, did most of a computer science degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and then, towards the end of that degree, I had a change of heart—I decided to drop out of school and go back to music and move back here to be a working musician,” Gang says.

Portrait of Adam Gang and his saxophone.

“Here,” he says, is the University of Denver.

Gang’s desire to become a working musician led him to DU’s Lamont School of Music, where many professors also perform professionally in the local music scene.

“I wanted to be able to be a part of the actual professional performing arts scene and also be pursuing a degree,” he says. “And I think DU was a nice combination of the two.”

Gang mainly plays the tenor saxophone—his favorite, he says—but is also proficient in other woodwinds like the clarinet and bass clarinet.

Much of his time at Lamont was spent as professor Remy Le Boeuf’s graduate assistant. Le Boeuf, a Grammy-nominated jazz saxophonist and composer, is an assistant professor and director of Lamont’s Jazz and Commercial Music Studies program.

During his meetings with Le Boeuf, Gang began to brainstorm how he could expand the boundaries of a traditional graduate assistantship and decided that he wanted to work directly with students.

“Since I started here, I've been doing group meetings every week—so students will come and bring their instruments and we'll play together, hands-on, and learn things together,” Gang says. “It could be jazz improvisation, or some sort of technical thing, or playing etudes together—just some sort of musical thing.”

As he was being mentored by Le Boeuf, Gang was mentoring undergrads. And he loved it.

“I remember a time when I was very hungry to learn,” Gang says. “I enjoy it. It feels good to see somebody progress and get closer to the point where they're ready to be fully self-motivated as a musician.”

New beginnings

In his first year at Lamont, Gang released an album of jazz standards, his take on songs that are already in the public jazz repertoire, with some improvisation. But he knew he wanted to do more.

“Last year, I was working with Remy Le Boeuf more on composition, and I was also taking courses with professor Annie Booth, who's a great composer as well,” he says. “And I was just writing a lot of new music, and in August 2023, I got some of my good friends to record the album with me—to play the music. And it came out much better than I would have hoped for.”

Gang’s album, titled “Where Does This Find You,” will drop sometime this summer. It’s an eclectic mix of songs, heavily influenced by Middle Eastern music.

“Where Does This Find You” holds personal significance for Gang, who has lived most of his life in two different countries.

“I find that I always have this feeling of like, ‘Oh, I miss being there. But I'm also happy that I'm here,’” he reflects. “And then those feelings become inseparable, because I think every place you live in leaves an imprint on your character and who you are as a person.”

Adam Gang will graduate this spring with his master’s degree in music performance with an emphasis in jazz studies.