EAST COUNTY — Deep in the Berklee College of Music soundproof basement, Jordan Sanders handed an older man a sheet of music he wrote himself.
“You have sheet music?” The man asked. “You wrote a song?”
The man closed his eyes and rocked back and forth, tapping the beat with his hand as Sanders sang in a jazzy, husky voice.
Sanders, 17, then played the saxophone before closing with more singing.
Another man, furiously typed notes on a computer, smiling as he did it.
And while Sanders dazzled his small audience, his single mother, Joy Hawkins, a reading specialist at Harllee Middle School, in Bradenton, who first exposed her son to Anita Baker and Marvin Gaye, waited anxiously outside.
The older man opened his eyes.
“Man, that was really cool,” he said. “I appreciate that.”
Nine days after that Dec. 8 audition and interview, Sanders, a senior at Braden River High School, learned he had earned a partial scholarship ($40,000) to Berklee College of Music in Boston, the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world.
View Jordan Sanders Hawkins YouTube channel here
In fall 2012, the private school, with a student body representing more than 80 countries and an alumni base that has collectively won 250 Grammys and Latin Grammys — including John Mayer and Mariah Carey — had a 15% admission rate.
“(The audition process) was funny,” Sanders said. “It was fun. It was like a jam session. It wasn’t scary at all. I’m just in disbelief I found out I got in so quick. It’s yet to sink in.”
A journalism major at Braden River who models himself after John Legend and Frank Ocean, Sanders is a singer/songwriter who also plays a mean sax and dabbles in the piano.
Every since he met a member of The Society, Incorporated, a group of retired African-American women who support children in the arts, Sanders saw Berklee as the means to his dream.
Last year, the group gave Sanders money to participate in Berklee’s five-week summer performance program in Boston.
A wordsmith who started writing and reading poetry in third grade, Sanders travels with the Soul Sensations of Sarasota, a professional R&B jazz band, playing the sax and singing background at bars or clubs around the city.
He sometimes performs at the Carrollwood Cultural Center in Tampa with Jim Burge, a musician who plays 12 woodwind instruments and is the former director of music at Hillsborough Community College.
At Braden River, Sanders is a member of the National Honor Society. He sings in the school’s River Rhapsody Chorus and has been the first chair saxophone since sophomore year.
As a toddler growing up in Gainesville, Sanders would constantly hum.
He quickly earned the nickname “Hummer Hawkins.”
At 3 years old, Sanders could distinguish the sound of the saxophone when artists such as David Sanborn played on the radio.
By third grade, Sanders was singing in the Gainesville Youth and Chorus, touring the country.
“I always knew I was an entertainer,” Sanders said. “It has always been my duty. As kid, I never ever had stage fright. I love to make people laugh.”
Then, thanks to puberty, he lost his voice.
In sixth grade, Sanders’ voice began to crack and deepen.
Sanders thought he might just stick to instruments.
“My mom asked, ‘What are you going to do?’” Sanders said. “‘You can’t sing anymore.’”
The voice came back deeper and more mature three years later.
Now, Sanders is applying for more scholarships to cover Berklee’s tuition. He hopes to start in fall 2013.
“I will find a way to make it happen,” Sanders said. “My belief has always carried me.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected]