It was Max Johnson’s first summer at Taylor High School.

As he was tidying up at school, he came across a jazz bass guitar. It was dusty and hadn’t been used in who knows how long.

The new band director then got a call from the office. There was a visitor. A student from Flint, Michigan, who was to start at Taylor that fall.

They tried to get him to join the tennis team, but the student was more interested in music.

Johnson linked up with the new student, Peyton Gaddis. Not even an hour after meeting him, Johnson gave Gaddis the bass guitar, an amp and directions to watch YouTube videos to learn how to play.

“I treated that bass like a child,” Gaddis said.

Gaddis could play a scale by the time school started.

“You could tell it sparked something in him that already existed that just hadn’t come out,” Johnson said.

Less than four years after he first picked up the instrument, Gaddis is being recognized as one of the best young bass players around.

That’s not an exaggeration, either.

Gaddis was selected for Music for All’s Jazz Band of America, a prestigious honor that includes high school students from across the country.

About two dozen students are selected via recorded audition. There is one jazz bass player, and this year it’s Gaddis. He’s one of three Indiana students chosen for this year’s Jazz Band of America.

“I don’t think I fully comprehend the pool of people,” Gaddis said.

The Taylor senior said he tried to avoid looking at Music for All’s website while waiting, to avoid learning what he’d miss out on if he wasn’t selected.

“I was thinking, ‘At least I’d get a critique,’” Gaddis said.

Gaddis is humble and won’t ever draw attention to himself, according to Johnson, who’s done the work in letting the community know about his student’s accomplishment.

In a way, his personality fits the instrument he plays. Gaddis said he gravitated toward jazz bass as a way to contribute to the band and support others.

“It was a passive instrument, but I knew it was important,” Gaddis said.

Gaddis is the first Taylor student ever selected for the honor.

It’s the result of a teacher who saw a student’s ability and that student’s drive to always improve.

Johnson leveraged his connections to get Gaddis opportunities to practice with top musicians and educators.

“I felt like my job as his educator was to get him in front of as many people (as possible),” Johnson said.

Those opportunities have paid off. Gaddis was selected for the Indiana Jazz Educators Association’s All District Jazz Ensemble and the All State Jazz Ensemble, along with the Pendleton Heights Jazz Honor Band.

Those who have worked with or heard the student play say he’s exceptionally talented. But there are plenty of talented musicians. What sets Gaddis apart is his work ethic.

Mark Buselli, director of jazz studies at Ball State University, saw that work ethic first hand when he conducted the All District Jazz Ensemble.

He recalled the first rehearsal with students, which was rough to say the least. But Gaddis stood out.

“Peyton walked in with all his stuff done,” Buselli said. “He listened to all the recordings.

“He’s got groove. …he’s got really big ears,” Buselli continued. “He listens a lot. You can tell the students around him respect him so much.”

Johnson said Gaddis is a question asker, always wanting to know more, always honing his craft.

“He has the most positive attitude working toward something that is very difficult,” Johnson said. “He never stops learning or wanting to learn.”

The band director admitted his student made him brush up on his own education after Gaddis started asking music theory questions.

“It’s that iron sharpens iron,” Johnson said. “He’s made me a better teacher, because he asks the right questions. Peyton is a once-in-a-career kind of kid.”

Gaddis moved to Kokomo with his dad, Omar Gaddis and stepmom Ebony Gates. His mom, Cindy McBroom, is still in Flint, though she’s in the crowd of his performances regularly.

“It was really surreal seeing her in the crowd,” Gaddis said.

Johnson said Gaddis’ parents are very supportive. They understand their son is very talented.

Gaddis will perform with the Jazz Band of America at 8 p.m. April 2 in the Schrott Center on the campus of Butler University.

Alan Baylock, a professor and director of the One O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas, is this year’s guest composer. It’s a big honor for students to be selected for Jazz Band of America, but working with Baylock might be even more of an honor.

For the unfamiliar, Baylock is a big deal in the jazz world. He develops professional jazz musicians. Students will learn from the best of the best.

Gaddis is excited, understandably, not only to work with Baylock but with the other students.

“I look forward to interacting with those players as much as I do performing with them,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefit of being around other people.”

Gaddis found out Thursday he was accepted into Indiana University. He was already accepted into IU’s Jacobs School of Music.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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