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Flute Plays Key Role in Life of 16-Year-Old : Music: Pasadena student is recognized as one of the most promising instrumentalists of his generation. He recently won $10,000 in national concerto competition.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joann Jefferson says she had other plans for her son, Gregory--like maybe a career in the legal profession.

“Gregory Lawrence Jefferson--it’s a good name for an attorney,” she said.

But all of that changed when Gregory’s elementary school music teacher showed him a flute.

The 8-year-old Pasadenan took one look at the silvery tube with the intricate keys and valves and he recognized his destiny. Gregory and the flute--it was kismet. He hounded his parents to buy him one, then retreated to his room to practice for hours at a time.

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“I thought he was excessive about it,” says Joann Jefferson, a receptionist at the Altadena Town and Country Club. “I’d say: ‘Why don’t you stop and get back to it tomorrow?’ and he’d say, ‘No, I’m OK, I’ll get it today.’ It was like a fixation.”

Eight years later, Gregory, 16, has been recognized as one of the most promising instrumentalists of his generation. This month, he won the General Motors and Seventeen Magazine National Concerto Competition.

The contest, for which Gregory won $10,000 and a chance to perform as a soloist with the Detroit Symphony this spring, is probably the most prestigious in the country for high school-age musicians.

Making it even more of a coup for the tall, slim junior at the Los Angeles High School for the Performing Arts is the fact that he beat out a pianist, a violinist and a cellist for the prize. The repertoire for piano and violin, the darlings of composers who write concertos, is vast. By comparison, the flute is almost a neglected instrument.

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Gregory’s parents are still mystified by their son’s talent. Neither Ruddie Jefferson, a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Department, nor Joann is particularly musical. Ruddie’s father, the late Leon Jefferson, was a jazz violinist and pianist of some note when he lived in New Orleans. But after he moved to California, he worked mostly in construction.

“He did it (playing jazz) in small groups,” Joann Jefferson says. “He never went professional.”

Gregory’s talent must have been a kind of gift, the parents say.

“We talk about it all the time,” Ruddie Jefferson says. “What if he hadn’t gotten the flute when he did? If you don’t find it at the right time, it’s forever lost.”

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Gregory, who rises at 5 a.m. daily to practice for two hours before school, is blase about his burgeoning career and the attention it has brought him.

Jim Walker, head of the flute department at USC and Gregory’s teacher, says the boy has remarkable poise. Walker says he often asked Gregory about his preparations for the contest, for which he played the Mozart Flute Concerto 2 in D Major.

“I’d say, ‘How’s this one stacking up?’ ” Walker says. “And he’d say, ‘No problem.’ ”

It has always been that way. When it comes to performing, it’s “no problem” for Gregory. His father described an occasion when Gregory, at age 12, performed with Henry Mancini conducting the Los Angeles Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl.

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“There were thousands and thousands of people in the audience,” he recalled. “Gregory couldn’t wait to get out on the stage.”

It was at Walker’s house in the San Fernando Valley that Gregory met Irish flutist James Galway, the much acclaimed soloist. Galway, who had just played a concert at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, listened to Gregory perform an impressionistic piece by Georges Hue.

“He made a strong impression,” Walker says.


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