Ethan Heyenga grew up in the foothills of San Jose, California, and started music on the piano, where his mother found him playing the theme to “Free Willy” when he was four years old- he’d remembered it by ear from the movie.
In his piano lessons, he’d frequently improvise alterations to the pieces he was learning, curious about alternatives to the path the composer had taken, even if the composer was Beethoven (to the chagrin of his teacher). His propensity for exploring new sounds found an outlet in the eighth grade jazz band and saxophone lessons, and he became captivated by the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker.
Through high school, he found his place and purpose at summer music camps, particularly the Stanford Jazz Workshop, where he met and studied with Dayna Stephens and Julian Lage, and played with some of the best young musicians in the world. In his senior year, with his director’s blessing, he formed and rehearsed a quartet for a slot at the Reno Jazz Festival’s high school competition. After graduation, he worked with the newly rekindled small group jazz program during a gap year taken to prepare for Berklee College of Music, where he began attending on scholarship in 2011.
At Berklee, Ethan continued developing a singular voice, taking the roads less traveled on saxophone, incorporating a broad array of influences- the melodic modern jazz of Ben van Gelder met traditional Irish music and the boundary-pushing saxophone acrobatics of Colin Stetson. He had the good fortune of studying with Shannon LeClaire, George Garzone, Maeve Gilchrist, Alain Mallet, and Jason Palmer, with whom he shared the stage as a regular guest at Wally’s during his later years in Boston.
After Berklee, he collaborated with award-winning dancers, played in various projects, and visited local schools to teach workshops and lessons and learn from outstanding music educators working in Boston.
In 2017, he studied voice with Cristi Catt and recorded a 6-track album of original songs under the name Fort Hill, released in 2018.