As a four-year-old, growing up in Wheaton, IL, Kellin Hanas was a fan of the TV show, The Wiggles. “There were four Australian guys in colorful shirts, and they would sing songs,” she recalled. “In one of their shows, they brought out this guy with a little trumpet. I guess, from watching that, I had a dream one night that I was playing trumpet on a stage, and I was a soloist.”
Fast forward three years to when Hanas was seven. “My grandma has been a singer and a choir director forever. She was telling my parents to make sure I played an instrument. So, they took me to a music store, and I knew instantly I had some sort of connection to the trumpet.” Hanas started out playing on a cornet, but, “I hated practicing. My parents had to force me to practice, and there were times I almost quit because I was being classically trained, and it just wasn’t music I was interested in playing.”
Everything changed when she got to Franklin Middle School. The middle school Band Director, Dan Dupree, introduced Hanas to jazz, and she joined the jazz band in sixth grade. When she was preparing to enter eighth grade, Dupree invited her to play with a jazz band he led on Monday nights in the basement of a local church. “I remember being 14,” she said, “and sitting in the band, having a light bulb moment and saying, ‘I’m finally enjoying the stuff that I’m playing on my instrument.”
As a student at Wheaton North High School, Hanas made the all-state high school jazz band just about the time that Dupree was diagnosed with brain cancer. “I had just gotten the big solo at all-state when I went over to his house. He was unresponsive. I played the solo for him – Neal Hefti’s chart of ‘Li’l Darlin’ — and he started to move, but the next day he passed away. I realized how powerful this music was. I kind of decided, ‘Yeah, he would want me to do this’.”
Hanas became aware of national honor programs for high schoolers interested in jazz and applied to some of them. “I ended up getting into the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, the Jazz Band of America, and Carnegie Hall’s NYO Jazz Orchestra,” she said, “and I really connected with the kids there because we were coming from all around the country. My high school had a good music department, and my high school band director, Kent Krause, was really supportive and gave me the best opportunities. But, at a certain point, your local high school can only get you so far. Once I started making these other bands my junior and senior year, I discovered there were 20, 40, 60 kids just like me, who loved this music and played at such a high level.”
Krause remembered that, “Whatever ensemble Kellin was in, she was 100 per cent invested. Her integrity was unwavering, whether she was playing in the Jazz Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, or the Marching Band. It’s not like she focused only on jazz and blew off the rest. One of my favorite stories about Kellin is when she was a senior. She nervously approached me and said she had to miss playing in the football Pep Band because she was performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Needless to say, I excused the absence. Although Kellin showed prodigious talent, it was her work ethic that set her apart. Any chance she got, she was in that practice room, shedding away.
“Kellin,” he added, “never forgot where she came from. Although she maintains a busy performance schedule, she will not hesitate to let me know when she is in town to work with my ensembles. Even though her jazz vocabulary far exceeded everyone in the ensemble very early, she was always very respectful and supportive of others.”
Before attending the national programs, Hanas was thinking about majoring in music education at a local college. Then, her focus changed. “I saw that everybody else was getting a performance degree in jazz at these conservatories like Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard. I was like, ‘Wow, is that really possible for me?’ I applied to the Manhattan School of Music, and my audition went great. Ingrid Jensen (trumpeter and MSM Dean of Jazz Arts) judged it, and she was so nice to me. I just knew this was where I was supposed to be for the next four years.”
The 22-year-old Hanas is currently in her senior year at MSM, and Jensen calls her “a gem. She started studying with me four years ago, and her growth from then until now is mind-blowing. Her personal sound and approach to the trumpet and music are already setting her apart from many other young people I am seeing and hearing out on our current scene. Kellin is fearless, thoughtful, kind, and intentional with her goals as she works hard daily, chipping away at mastering all of the necessary skills needed to thrive as a jazz musician in 2023. Her potential goes as deep and as high as the earth and stars will allow.” Trumpeter Scott Wendholt, an MSM faculty member, described Hanas as “already the consummate professional and a joy to be around. I look forward to watching her blossoming career with great anticipation!”
Hanas was planning to apply to graduate school, but changed her mind. “I’m going to take a gap year, stay in New York and just travel and gig,” she said. Already, she has toured with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and Manhattan Transfer, appearing at DIVA’s 30th anniversary performance and recording at Dizzy’s Club. Said DIVA leader and drummer Sherrie Maricle: “Kellin Hanas is one of the most extraordinary young trumpet players on the music scene today! She has a vibrant, creative, original approach to music, and, equally important, she is a great presence on and off the stage.”
In March 2022, Hanas was contacted by Birdland to see if she was available to lead a band on Sunday nights. “They said, ‘We’re looking for somebody to fill this Sunday night spot, a small group; and we thought of you. Can you bring your band?’ My band? I didn’t have one, but, of course, I emailed back and said ‘absolutely!’ That forced me to write a ton of music and form my band. We did the Music Mountain Festival in Falls Village, Connecticut, in August. We’ve played some other venues including the Festival of New Trumpet Music in New York. And, in Ohio, we’re going to be clinicians at Marietta College and do a performance in Marietta for the community.” The other quintet members are multi-reedist Veronica Leahy, drummer Quintin Cain, pianist Ethan Ostrow, and bassist Aidan McCarthy. “We’ve all been playing together for a year and a half,” she added.
Looking forward to the North Carolina Jazz Festival, Hanas is very excited to play alongside fellow trumpeter Bruce Harris. “I’ve been a fan of his since I was in high school,” she said. As for other trumpet influences, “When I listen to Wynton Marsalis, I’m always just so inspired to go practice. His sound is something I want to strive for. I’ve always been a fan of Booker Little and Roy Hargrove, and I learned a lot of my articulation from listening to Lee Morgan.”-SANFORD JOSEPHSON
PHOTO BY ERIC EBAR