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Artist InFocus: The Musical Excellence of Gavin Sultan

By Lucas Chiang ‘22, Reporter and Webmaster 1/6/19

There is nothing quite like the thrill of a breakthrough performance, and for Gavin Sultan ‘19, that thrill occurred on the chilly night of December 23 at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, New York’s oldest rock and roll club. Gavin describes that special evening: “It went really great. The draw was 58 people which I’m ecstatic about. I felt like I was finally able to let myself go and feel the music.”

Photo by Josh Olley

Gavin has been playing music since the age of five. “One day… while my sister was taking a piano lesson, I started banging on the piano, being the pest I was. Instead of [my sister’s] teacher kicking me out of the room, she brought up the idea of lessons to my parents,” Gavin shares of his first musical experience. After taking introductory piano lessons with that same teacher for five years, he started lessons with a classical piano teacher. Around that time, he also started to learn the guitar. Then, when he was about 13 years old, he began his production career by learning from Chad Hamilton, his former tennis coach who, coincidentally, was a producer for Jay-Z’s Rocafella records, known for producing songs in Young Gunz’s debut album, Tough Luv. Soon after, Gavin met Mr. Bradley and joined the FCS Jazz Band, eventually growing to be the incredible ensemble leader and guitarist he is today. From his family, jazz band, and Spotify, Gavin has been exposed to a multitude of genres of music. Gavin also notes that Mr. Bradley’s African American Music History class was especially impactful for him.

By being exposed to so many kinds of music, Gavin has acquired tons of role models. From the classical and romantic era, different styles and genres inspire Gavin. He especially appreciates French composers Claude Debussy and Erik Satie. His favorite jazz artists include Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Grant Green, Grover Washington Jr., and Sun Ra. Some of his pop role models are The Bee Gees and Michael Jackson, and his rock idols consist of The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and The Beatles. He also loves Stevie Wonder, A Tribe Called Quest, and Badbadnotgood, among others. There are hundreds of other musicians who have also inspired Gavin, yet, this list can’t go on forever.

Gavin’s hard work and musical training have really paid off. He acknowledges the five-man band with whom he performed in New York as crucial to his successful performance. Gavin expresses, “I felt [unafraid] because of how confident I was in my bandmates. They’re all super tight and were able to pick up my arrangements with very little rehearsal time. If I went on that stage alone, it would have been a different story.” Gavin met most of his bandmates at a summer program in which he partook at Berklee College of Music. He first met the bass player, Adrian, at a class. He then met the drummer, Kabir, through an introductory activity. Kabir introduced Gavin to guitarist Alejandro. Adrian and Alejandro are now freshmen studying jazz at the New School in NYC, and Kabir is now at the New England Conservatory. Gavin met Marvin, the saxophonist and Alejandro’s friend, right before the performance. They played one song together during sound check and Marvin soon after joined the band for the show.

When I saw a clip of Gavin’s performance on his Instagram account (@gavinthesultan), I asked myself, “What can I do to be that good at music?” Gavin was kind enough to provide an answer. Gavin’s advice for amateur musicians is to practice. He reveals that if he could do his high school music career differently, he would try to constantly write, produce, and practice music. He wishes that he dedicated more time to his music over the course of these past few years. If you want to become good at something, take Gavin’s advice. Although he wishes that he put even more time and effort, Gavin Sultan is a perfect example of the classic phrase, “practice makes perfect.”

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