When the City of Evansville played host to the annual Indiana Conference of Mayors last year, organizers wanted to show off the community’s best talent. Among the line-up of entertainers invited to perform was University of Evansville student Monte Skelton. For Skelton, 21, taking the stage came naturally. The Evansville native has been performing publicly since he was a child when he and buddies formed a band to play in a talent show. That middle-school jazz ensemble later went on to take top honors at the Indiana State University Jazz Festival. Some of those same band members now join Skelton on stage when they perform as the “Soul Factor.” Their genre is jazz, which Skelton has immersed himself in. For the past three years, Skelton, the son of Pam Jutzi and the late Ben Jutzi, has also been the co-producer of Jazzflight on the campus radio station, WUEV 91.5 FM.
Who first introduced you to music?
When I was really young, my mom taught me how to play “Chopsticks” on the piano. My mom loves to listen to jazz, and she always comes to my performances when she is able. I really appreciate that she takes the time to support me in that way along with countless other things she does for me all the time.
Tell us about your first public performance.
It was at a small church gathering. I got a lot of applause, and it made me feel awesome on the inside. From that day on, I loved to perform for audiences.
You play 22 instruments. Do you remember which ones came first?
This could be quite long, but here are the first few: I picked up the alto saxophone when I was in 5th grade band (it was a rent-to-own model), then the soprano saxophone in 7th grade, the viola in 8th grade, and the violin shortly thereafter. The tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone I played for the first time in early high school, then the bass saxophone in 10th grade, flute in 11th, clarinet in 11th or 12th –– I can’t remember — baritone saxophone sometime in 12th grade. All the rest fall in college somewhere.
You’ve said music comes naturally to you. What does that mean?
It has a lot to do with having a deep understanding of musicality that no one can really teach you. It is deeply rooted with what makes music “music.” It also has something to do with what those who study music often overlook, and that is listening – just using our ears to tell us what our instrument should sound like to make it our own. I see people who have this ability from an early age as having it come naturally. It doesn’t mean they can read a Mozart composition or improvise a song at age three. You can tell that they love music in a different way – all the way to their heart.
If you had to choose one song to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
Probably (jazz saxophonist) Gerald Albright’s version of “Georgia on My Mind” from his album “Live at Birdland West.” It’s soulful, contemporary, and on the edge while keeping its classic strength, feel, and pride.
You’ve been called a prodigy. Does that apply to you?
I never really thought of myself as a prodigy. What I do is my own expression, and we all express ourselves in different ways. I feel very, very grateful that I discovered my form of expression at an early age. When I found it, I just wanted to be able to communicate it just as easily as one person can talk to another …Music is a language that has the ability to go deep within our hearts, souls, and minds. To have that connection with anyone and everyone is priceless.
Can you describe the feeling you get when you know you are playing really good music?
I can just feel it in my bones. It’s a great feeling because you can say to yourself, “THAT’S the way it’s supposed to sound!” You can see it in the faces of those listening; you can feel it in the music. It just resonates all around.
You have a strong sense of faith.
I feel that my gift for music is just that – a gift from God. So I always thank God for what I am able to do. Remembering to do that makes my music that much deeper in my heart and soul.