Jack Stratton lives in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, on the side of a hill, hidden from the street. You’ll find a set of stairs — earthquake-shuffled, probably — which cut a steep but short path. While I sat on his patio at a long cork table, Jack cooked greens on an Presto electric griddle and answered my questions.
Find out more about Jack and Vulfpeck — the band he leads — at vulfpeck.com.
What was the last thing you listened to?
“I’ll Be Satisfied,” by Hezekiah Walker. I was watching a Cory Henry live stream and someone asks about his Gospel influences, and Henry just starts going on a 10-minute crash course of what you need to know. And he said that this live Hezekiah Walker album, Live in New York — he said it’s the Thriller of gospel albums. The definitive live recording. So I’ve been checking that out, and I think “I’ll Be Satisfied” is the most popular song on that album. It is completely jamming. Great bass playing, great chord changes.
What was your first instrument?
Suzuki violin — little, little one. I don’t think I’ve ever been more stoked about a material object. I’d just stare at it. Must’ve been first grade, kindergarten? I was just completely obsessed with how it looked. And then I promptly quit.
You wanted to play it?
Yeah. I wanted to do it. Big time. But I didn’t know what Suzuki was, and I quit shortly into it, because they made you stand the whole lesson. So I could not handle.
I think I really wanted to play an instrument. I think saxophone. And my dad said I couldn’t start that until I was thirteen, for some reason. I think they knew that kids love saxophone because of the way it looks. So I think the only proven thing for kids that young was Suzuki. Can’t go and take private lessons for a first grader, it’s just not going to end well. So I think that’s how it happened.
I don’t think I was telling my parents, “I want to play violin.”
I do know the day it got there, it was in its case in a room, and I wasn’t allowed to see it until the lesson, and I snuck in and just messed around with it.
It was all just about an obsession with the way stuff looked. I didn’t care about the sound.
What happened to it after you quit?
It was a rental. My parents were smart about that. I still love the idea of those tiny violins. It’s a good look. It’s a ~good~ look. I know people who are successful at Suzuki do really well, they have good ears. It’s a really good method. Darren Criss was a Suzuki kid.
You ever think about playing violin again after that?
After interviewing Jack, I wanted to fact-check a few of his claims, so I sent an email to Jack’s father, Bert Stratton, who wrote back immediately with some disenheartening news.
“I don’t remember it all.”
But after consulting his home-video log, Bert unearthed some confirmation and some contradiction. Inspired by the example of his older sister (notably absent from Jack’s narrative), Jack did in fact begin a Suzuki violin course in the fall of 1991. However, earlier that year — 3/1/91, to be precise, when Jack was three-and-a-half — he sat in on drums with the Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Band, his father’s klezmer outfit, at the Beachwood Public Library.1
And why wasn’t Jack allowed to play saxophone until he was thirteen? Bert — a saxophonist himself — said he couldn’t remember exactly, though was happy to speculate.
“I have a bias against saxophone, because some kids take it up because it’s shiny and sexy-looking. Saxophone should be an acquired taste, something you get into after bar mitzvah age.”