Saxophonist Kevin Patton, like many of his peers, got his start with his instrument in his middle school band. But his first musical experience was in choir in church. His spirituality would remain a strong influence on his musical life for many years to come. “Growing up in church, that’s really influenced my sound and my style,” says Patton. “You can hear that little gospel twang in my playing across the board.” But, he notes, “we’re really influenced by everything around us to some degree.”
Patton lists among his influences saxophone legends John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon. But just as important have been his personal mentors. A 2014 graduate of the College of Charleston, Patton remembers one jazz mentor in particular: “My personal saxophone professor was Robert Lewis — he’s now the conductor and music director of the Charleston Jazz orchestra. Studying with him has allowed me to grow in with the culture of the city and easily transition into professional music in Charleston.”
Many College of Charleston graduates have spoken of the valuable performance opportunities available to young musicians building their careers. “The city is the campus and the campus is the city,” observes Patton. “It’s very very integrated with the city, you can be walking down the street and pass by one of the buildings and not even know it. Having that situation where your professors are also the biggest players in town, your professors are also composing for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra… It can be kind of awkward, especially with the professors that are kind of strict in the classroom, but when you actually play with them… Once you get to a certain level there’s certain things you can let fly, and we have the freedom to bend if you actually know what’s going on.”
Patton has played at such major events as Piccolo Spoleto, the Savannah Black Heritage Festival and the Atlanta Heritage Music Festival. One of his crowning achievements has been the album he released in summer 2015 with fellow College of Charleston graduates Demetrius Doctor, Brett Belanger and Brandon Brooks. In addition to private lessons, Patton substitute teaches at the Allegro Charter School of Music. Since the pandemic began he has been producing an online series titled “Music In Charleston”, in which he records music at iconic local settings such as Marion Square and the Gibbes Museum of Art.
Speaking of the effect of social distancing restrictions on local businesses, Patton says, “I’m glad Joe [Clarke] has been able to create Forte and keep it going. Big credit to him for being able to weather the storm. …I can see Forte blossoming into one of the man jazz spots not just for to Charleston but for all of South Carolina.”