Chattanooga teen keeps adding instruments to resumé

Chattanooga teen keeps adding instruments to resumé

July 24th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Jalil Najeeb Muhammad sits with most all the instruments he presently plays. Muhammad holds his violin, but also plays tenor saxophone, trumpet, bassoon and alto saxophone.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


School: Rising 10th-grader at Brainerd High School.

Siblings: Sisters, Aramitta, 35, Alandria, 20, Skylar, 9; and brother, Alan, 21.

Favorite piece to play: "Sad Romance" by Thao Nguyen Xanh.

Favorite band: System of a Down.

Favorite video game: Assassin's Creed.

When Jalil Muhammad expressed interest in studying the alto saxophone at a summer music camp after years of playing sports, his parents were surprised.

His early squawking was surprising, too, if in a decidedly less pleasant way.

"The first day ... I thought, 'Oh my God, what have we gotten ourselves into?' " said Jalil's mother, Stephanie Muhammad, laughing. "It was awful; it was the worst sound I have ever heard."

In a matter of weeks, however, Jalil, then 12, performed during a recital that closed out the camp, which was run by Brainerd High School band director Tracey Frazier. Muhammad said seeing her son onstage then was eye-opening.

"To see Jalil, this little-bitty boy, holding this big instrument, ... blowing on it and something actually coming out -- it was an amazing sight," she said. "It was just awesome to see, and we haven't looked back since."

Neither has Jalil.

Now 15, the Brainerd High School rising sophomore has continually broadened his musical horizons by taking on a slew of new instruments.

"The more you know, the more instruments you know, the more stuff you can do," Jalil explained. "I get a lot of experience. I learn more and more stuff."

Within six months of taking up the alto saxophone, he began teaching himself near simultaneously to play the tenor saxophone and trumpet. Two months later, he added the piano, followed six months later by the bassoon.

Some children treat music like a hobby that can be dropped once they lose interest, but Jalil's father, Sabir Muhammad, said his son has neglected none of his previous instruments as he adds to his repertoire.

"[Jalil] doesn't give them up; he just keeps growing and growing," he said. "He made me a believer. We give all praise to God because he's a special child."

Jalil has been performing in ensembles almost from the first moment he laid fingers to brass.

After he finished her camp, Frazier invited Jalil to play saxophone in the Brainerd High School marching band, even though he was still in seventh grade at Dalewood Middle School at the time.

"I was the shortest one out there, [but] they were nice to me," he said. "It wasn't at all intimidating."

Jalil has continued to play in the school's marching band as well as in a number of regional honors ensembles through the East Tennessee School Band and Orchestra Association.

Jalil wasn't the first middle-school student Frazier recruited for the high school marching band, but usually she extends that invitation to students she knows well. Something about Jalil inspired confidence almost immediately, though, she said.

"I wasn't sure if he was going to be tough enough to hang with the big kids, but we took a chance, and he did really well," she said. "He has a natural gift ... [and] a passion for what he's doing. Some people can have a gift, but if they don't have a passion for it, it's not going to develop."

Jalil now is making headway on his new favorite instrument, the violin, which he began studying 18 months ago. He auditioned earlier this year as a violinist in the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestra and was accepted into the Philharmonic, the program's middle group.

Playing music has always been Jalil's passion, but it now also has become a way to distinguish himself from his peers.

In eighth grade, he was named Dalewood Middle School's most musically talented student. The same year, he received Brainerd High School's Grady Black Award for outstanding musicianship. In 2010, he attended Clark Atlanta University's summer band camp, earning the event's outstanding woodwind award.

Although they appreciate their son's achievements, Jalil's parents said they are proudest of the example he sets for others.

Stephanie Muhammad teaches computer technology at Woodmore Elementary in Brainerd, which Jalil attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. Woodmore doesn't emphasize musical education, Muhammad said, but Jalil inspires the students whenever he visits to play for them.

"You [can] see the light bulbs going off," she said. "Having that figure, that person in front of you, someone you can relate to and say you want to be like, that was a big thing, a humbling moment for me."


Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at or call him at 423-757-6205.