Teen guitarist making a name for himself on local, national stage
Jon Hay, 15, has performed in front of large crowds with multiple professional bands and is performing at numerous local concerts in the Philadelphia region this summer.
At the age of 15, Cherry Hill blues guitarist Jon Hay has achieved more than many musicians his age could even imagine.
Hay began playing the guitar at the age of 4. By age 12, he was playing professionally with a Philadelphia-based band called The Blackhawks. A couple years later, a chance meeting with a United Kingdom swing band named The Jive Aces landed Hay his largest gig.
Now, Hay is focused on turning his passion for music into a career. He is preparing to play a number of shows in the Philadelphia area this summer and has begun to write original music and put together his own band.
Hay has loved music for his entire life. He recalls wanting to play the guitar as young as the age of 2. When he was a toddler, Hay remembers watching his father’s DVD of guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Since then, Hay has loved music.
“He wanted every kind of toy guitar he could hold,” Hay’s mother, Dalia, said.
Hay began taking guitar lessons at Bluebond Guitars in Philadelphia when he was just 4 years old.
“I would have been playing when I was 2,” Hay said. “But I wasn’t big enough. So I had to wait.”
Not long after he began taking lessons, Hay performed in public for the first time.
“It was at this club, this smoky bar,” Hay said. “I remember I played ‘Wild Thing’ by Jimi Hendrix.”
As Hay grew older, performing in public became natural to him. He performed with Bluebond Guitars’ student bands at venues all around Philadelphia. When he was 12, his teacher, Michael Caughlin, invited Hay to join his band, The Blackhawks, to get him additional experience.
Hay said performing on big stages at such a young age has helped transform him into the guitarist he is today.
“It’s not something I have to get used to now,” Hay said of public performances. “It’s as normal as sitting down and having a drink. It’s like learning a language. It’s easier when you are young.”
Hay’s biggest performances have been with The Jive Aces. Hay has performed with the Britain-based band about a dozen times since they had a chance encounter a few years ago.
“We were driving back from Chicago,” Hay said of meeting The Jive Aces. “We stopped at this one hotel, but it was only 8 at night. So I thought let’s go another hour.”
“My mom was looking at hotels on her phone,” Hay continued. “There were none, until one suddenly popped up. It said take the next exit. It had us going 10 miles in the wrong direction. And it was the worst motel. Next to it was a tattoo parlor and across from it was an abandoned amusement park.”
At this old motel, Hay met The Jive Aces, who were in the middle of a tour in the United States. After speaking with them, The Jive Aces invited Hay to be a featured performer on their next U.S. tour.
“I guess they liked what they heard,” Hay said. “They said whenever they were here again to email them and get in touch.”
Hay joined The Jive Aces as a featured artist in New York City during their 2014 U.S. tour. Since then, the band has invited Hay to play with them at other U.S. shows in the Mid-Atlantic area.
The biggest honor for Hay came in April, when The Jive Aces invited Hay to play with them in a series of shows at the Derry Jazz Festival in Derry, Ireland.
This summer, Hay will be playing all around the area to try to build his own fanbase. He is a featured artist for Jazz It Up Philadelphia, a series of concerts featuring up-and-coming artists. Hay is also performing at numerous open mic nights. Last Thursday, Hay played at an open mic night at Saxby’s Coffee in Haddonfield and performed his original music in public for the first time. Following the show, he was invited back to perform again.
“It’s whatever I feel,” Hay said of his own music. “The last one I wrote, I sat down in study hall outside in school. I had a riff, started writing it down and went from there.”
Hay’s goal is to have a successful band in the near future. He has found a drummer and is looking for a bassist to join him. In the meantime, Hay is continuing to study with guitarist Kevin Hanson and hopes to play at World Café Live in Philadelphia in the near future. A Cherry Hill High School East student, Hay also plans to continue performing with Inspiration East, a jazz and funk band.
“I just want to make a living out of it,” Hay said. “I don’t have to be famous or anything. I just want to be able to do that.”