Hartford, Conneticut -- He can play in the pocket. He can play it straight. He can shoot a target 500 yards away center-mass. He can give you a job doing all three.
Staff Sgt. Eric Kyne is a Marine musician currently serving as a recruiter for his home town of Hartford, Connecticut. Kyne enlisted in the Marines halfway through his senior year at William H. Hall High School, and has been living his dream ever since.
“I think it’s a lot of people’s dream,” he said. “To be a gigging artist that is not striving for that next meal. Not having to be a plumber or electrician on the side.”
For as long as Kyne can remember, he has had a deep love for music. At five, he started playing the piano, by nine, he transitioned to playing the saxophone; the instrument he has been playing professionally in the Marines for the last 11 years.
“Music was huge in my life,” Kyne said.
The Artists Collective Youth Jazz Orchestra in Hartford served as one of the early major influences on his path to becoming a professional musician. He would spend hours shedding with other band members preparing for performances.
“I started playing at the Collective in middle school because my parents saw how serious I was about music,” he said. “My parents were extremely supportive.”
At the school Kyne met Jackie McLean, a famous jazz artist and founder of the Artists Collective.
“When I first enrolled there as a student, I played something really basic at a recital, something you would find out of a standard of excellence book,” Kyne said. “Jackie just stood up and said ‘hey man we got to get this kid in the Youth Jazz Orchestra because he is going to be good.’ That is what really got me motivated to pursue music.”
Throughout his early years, Kyne continued to play for the Artist Collective. His next big musical influence came when he joined William H. Hall High School’s prestigious Jazz Program – a program that can count famous musicians among its ranks.
“Their alumni that I can list off are huge on the scene in the jazz world, like Brad Mehldau and Joel Frahm,” he said excitedly. “They are still monsters to this day!”
Kyne had a natural talent and love for music, according to John Mastrioanni, the school’s former band director. As far back as his freshman year, Kyne had a musical ability that attracted the interests of many colleges.
“The thing that stands out the most, was he always was one of the most polite and respectful gentlemen I have ever met,” Mastrioanni said. “He was just a great musician too. He is such a natural improviser. He had such a knack for improvising. He could get around the saxophone and create as things go along. That is a great skill of his and one that not many people have.”
At school, Kyne sharpened his skills as a musician as well as his love for the arts. There, it became clear to him that it was what he wanted to do with his life more than anything else.
“My dad always told me if you love what you do for work, it is not really work,” Kyne said. “I love music, I love performing music, and I love entertaining people with music.”
Kyne’s neighbors attended a concert hosted by the Marine Corps Band. After the concert, they told Kyne about the professionalism and skill the Marines had playing their instruments with – they also mentioned the snazzy uniforms. They suggested he talk to the Marines about their music program.
A week after the concert he got a call from his local recruiter and he later enlisted in the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program, a program meant to prepare people for the rigors of boot camp.
“I understood that the Marine Corps is the most elite fighting force, the hardest, and my mentality was always go hard or go home,” he said. “It was just an equation, it clicked for me, here I am, I can do something great for my country.”
In the Marines, Kyne has found the life he was looking for and has performed all across the country. He can boast performing at gigs such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Rose Parade, the Zulu & Rex Mardi Gras Parades, Times Square, and more. He has served as part of the Marine Corps All-Star Jazz Band, which selects the best jazz musicians to perform across the country.
He has achieved all this while gaining the various intangible accolades associated with being a Marine; physical fitness, leadership, professionalism and being able to accurately shoot very, very, far away.
“Being a Marine means you are held to a higher standard of excellence,” he said. “That fact is reflected in the proficiency and professionalism of Marine music.
“Being a Marine is something that just came out of nowhere in high school. When I joined, I thought ‘If I didn’t like my career in the military, I could always get out and go to college full time.’ As you can see, I stayed because I love what I do, and I am having a great time.”
Now, Kyne works back in his hometown to give other young people the same opportunities the Marines gave him, especially young musicians. He can be found shedding with the next generation in the same halls that helped make him the musician he is today.
“If I can help out one student to have the same opportunity, have all these great benefits of the Marine Corps, while doing what they love, that is amazing,” he said.
His current positon also allows him to reconnect with the educators who helped shape his life’s path.
“I can thank these mentors of my past for getting me to where I am now,” he said. “All those late night performances and rehearsals, they have paid off for me and amounted to something really good.”
Kyne continues to live his dream, swinging with Marines, shedding with young musicians, and looking for the next generation to serve in America’s most elite fighting force – The United States Marines.