Saxophonist Tal Kaman named one of country's five best jazz soloists

Tal Kalman

Recent University of the Pacific graduate Tal Kalman ’22 has been named one of the best collegiate saxophone players in the country by Downbeat magazine, a nearly 100-year-old magazine that is the leading publication for jazz music.

Kalman was the only saxophonist honored in the Jazz Soloist category for Undergraduate College Outstanding Performance, alongside four students from esteemed music schools such as The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Patrick Langham, professor and program director for Jazz Studies. “Tal is one of the best students I have ever worked with. He's extremely talented. For Tal to be awarded this year and in a previous year is really special, but he's a special player.” 

Kalman was also honored by Downbeat in 2020 for best arrangement and jazz soloist. To enter the competition, Kalman had to submit a recording from 2021, a challenging year in which music was still socially distant and classes were held remotely. 

Kalman was living in his home country of Israel due to the pandemic, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. to attend classes because of the time difference. But he found a silver lining.

“There were different restrictions in Israel, so I was very privileged to play with people. We played every day for hours because we couldn't really do anything else. I call this time a Renaissance because it was a time of exploration (with my music),” he said.

As part of a musical family, Kalman began playing his first instrument, the piano, at age four. He picked up the clarinet in fifth grade and added the saxophone in sixth grade. But it wasn’t until high school that he got into jazz and found his passion.

“It’s social music. People don't really play, they talk with each other, they have conversations. It’s very emotional,” Kalman said. 

He met Langham, who he calls “an incredible educator,” at a jazz conference in Dallas in 2018 where his high school was performing. Langham recruited Kalman to be part of the Pacific Jazz Ambassadors, a selective group of five students who perform extensively, both locally and at national jazz venues and events.

“It was great. It really felt like a community,” Kalman said. “We had a lot of free time to explore, write music and just play music with each other. I have really good memories of being in Burns Tower at 3 a.m. playing music with the other people in this program.”

His experience at Pacific also influenced his compositions, inspiring him to write music that fused Israeli and American cultures.

Kalman is now living in New York where he will be starting a master’s program at Manhattan School of Music in the fall. Once he graduates, he hopes to perform in Broadway orchestras and be a band leader in the city he’s aspired to live in his whole life.

“The 10 best jazz clubs in the world are located within a few blocks of each other. I’ve been going to these places every night and whenever there’s a jam session I go up and play,” he said. “It's my dream to be here.”

Tal Kalman performs "You are too beautiful"