Although saxophonist Sophie Faught spent only one year in Temple’s Jazz Studies Program, she is a legend in Presser Hall – and Philadelphia.
“I started playing tenor saxophone the summer before seventh grade,” said Faught, an Indianapolis native. “One day in middle school band, I played a chromatic scale very quickly. That’s when my band director recommended I take lessons with Harry [Miedema].”
Miedema, director of jazz studies at the University of Indianapolis, accepted Faught as a student. Faught progressed so quickly that by the time she was a freshman at Franklin Central High School, Miedema asked her to play in the university’s big band. She accepted.
In 2005, Faught entered Indiana University as a jazz studies major and participated in a master class held by world-renown trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Payton liked Faught’s playing so much he asked for her contact information.
“He asked for my card, and I didn’t have one,” Faught said. “I ripped a piece of paper out of my notebook.”
Sure enough, Payton called and asked her to play some gigs with him.
Faught laughed. “That’s when I started to get a lot of respect.”
Since then, 20-year-old Faught has performed at the Lincoln and Kimmel Centers, in jazz festivals at North Sea, Portland, Vail, Indianapolis and Ravinia, and with international stars such as trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, clarinetist Frank Glover, pianist Darrell Grant, the Temptations and the Four Tops.
In 2006, she transferred to Temple because of the attraction of the faculty and location.
“The vibe I get from Philly is authenticity,” she said. “There are many supportive people here to help me learn.”
While at Temple, Faught played in the Big Band, led by Terell Stafford, director of jazz studies. She studied with Dick Oatts, saxophonist in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Ben Schachter, Philadelphia saxophonist and composer.
“Working with her was not like teaching a student,” Oatts said. “It was like working with a peer. I didn’t have to repeat anything – she has incredible retention.”
“She studied the history of the music and the stylistic idioms,” Stafford said. “She could really identify with it, and if she couldn’t, she did her homework.”
When Sophie first arrived at Temple, she faced some skepticism from the male-dominated body of jazz students.
“People look at me and think I’m up there for some other reason than to play,” Faught said. “When I played with Nicholas Payton, people didn’t expect the sax player to be a skinny, scared-looking redhead,” she said. “However, music eradicates differences. Once they hear, they don’t care.”
The male students in the program initially felt intimidated by Faught, Stafford said. As they got to know her, they eased up.
“In any big band, there is a testing ground,” Oatts said. “When she stood up to blow, their jaws were hanging open. Hearing her play was all it took. Sophie took no prisoners – she was furious.”
In high school, Faught started composing music first for piano and then for saxophone. In 2003, she won the University of Indianapolis Composition Competition.
“I started with tunes I wanted people to hear on piano, first,” Faught said. “At the end of my senior year in high school, my teacher [Miedema] and I played a concert, ‘Sophie’s Farewell.’ This was the first time I played my original compositions and arrangements for an audience.”
In her spring semester at Temple, Faught participated in Oatts’s Composers’ Ensemble.
“I think she became better at developing what was in her head,” Oatts said. “She had a very eager spirit. She would be so excited when she would write a tune.”
Senior jazz performance major Maxfield Gast, who played with Faught in the Composers’ Ensemble, said that Faught always knew what she wanted.
“It was inspirational to play with Sophie – her attitude, her approach, and her ability to play,” he said.
Oatts said the music always came first for Faught. “Blending was her first consideration. She was very selfless in ensembles and didn’t want to stand out. She wanted to be a musician.”
Surprisingly, Faught does not come from a musical family.
“She experiences music on a level I can’t experience it,” said Faught’s brother Ben, a freshman at the Indiana University. “When she was about six, she received a Disney musical instrument for Christmas, and she could play Christmas songs on it. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this like she can.’ Then, a year later, she received a keyboard and learned to play by ear. She always had natural musical tendencies.”
Although not musicians, Faught’s parents are very supportive.
“My dad listens to jazz,” Faught said, “And my mom made an effort, especially. She started listening and trying to learn. My mom actually turned me on to Django [Reinhardt, a jazz musician].”
This semester, Faught returned to the Indiana University to pursue International Studies.
“She has always been interested in travel and different cultures,” Ben said. “I was happy when Sophie decided to come back – when she was gone, it was like a part of me was missing. She affected my decision where I wanted to go [to college].”
“When I heard Sophie was leaving and changing her major, I was disappointed for us from a greedy standpoint,” Oatts said. “I miss her wonderful musicianship. However, I am happy for her.”
Faught’s personality lifted the department, Stafford said.
“She encouraged not only the professors, but the students, too, when she was here. Sophie will do well in whatever she does,” he said.
About her experience at Temple, Faught said, “I absolutely enjoyed it. What a great year of music-making.”
Although she changed her major, Faught certainly has not stopped making music.
On Oct. 17, Faught performed in the University of Indianapolis Jazz Artist Series, a monthly concert series showcasing Indianapolis jazz artists. Her quartet, comprised of Faught, renowned jazz pianist Claude Sifferlen, bassist Frank Smith and drummer Jason Tiemann, played standards as well as some of Faught’s original compositions: “Sun-Soaked,” “Lost Moon,” “I Hear My Dream” and “Hold Sway.”
Of her teachers, Faught said, “I am so grateful for my time with Harry, Ben and Dick – especially Harry. He was the greatest mentor I ever had.
“He was more than just my sax teacher,” she said. “He was my friend.”
Leah Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.