Saxophonic Memories

The other day, I posted about memories of being teased because my name had been used for the alien in the TV Alf, whom I remembered as a sax player, like myself. My hunt for the saxophone version of the theme song led me to this website, where many examples of the “sax solo” that became a trend in 80s popular music are available for your listening pleasure (or pain, as the case may be).

I now must say, it was not only because of that scene where a weirdly bejewelled Tim Capello plays saxophone in the vampire film Lost Boys:

… that explains my taking up the saxophone. I think that seeing that scene might still be counted as a decision point, but the cheesy trend explored on the website above brings back too many memories of my listening to those songs and, well, not transcribing them, but also learning them so I could play them back from memory. “Get Out of My Dreams and Into My Car,” the Alf theme, several of the Tina Turner and INXS songs, “Smooth Operator” by Sade, Huey Lewis and the News’ “Back in Time,” the George Harrison tune (“Got My Mind Set on You”), and plenty more of those songs were among the ones I learned eagerly, before my first real sax teacher laughed at me for saying I wanted to learn how to play “rock sax.”

(By the way, he was right. Rock sax is a joke. If you can play jazz, rock sax is easy. Is boring, actually. But that’s another story.)

Another song I learned by ear back in the heady days was this one, which got the most fun response during breaks in band class:

I’d hit that riff and this trombonist who sat behind me (John, this friend’s name was) would play it back on trombone, and I think someone would even shout that first line “From the Global Village! In the Age of Communication!” It might have been him shouting it out. It wasn’t me. I was too busy repeating that groove.

(This probably really only happened once or twice, but I remember it clearly, and the feeling it happened a few times. I also remember my friend Mike, a trumpeter, organizing the other trumpets — the last few — sight-transcribing the notes in their parts up or down a full-step or half-step during practice so that every time the full trumpet section came in, it all sounded like muddled crap. It was so hard not bursting into laughter as our band conductor — whom by this time we all disliked intensely because he’d been a jerk lately, and had even called some girl in a music appreciation class a “little slut” — would glare sourly at the trumpets, wondering what the hell was going on.

(Unfortunately, one of them actually did the transcription during a live competitive performance, if I remember right. Oops! We still got 2nd place to Nanaimo BC. Our band teacher — this is what he looks like now, by the way, which is surreal for all of us who remember a small, frustrated, balding little ex-bassoonist — always picked festivals where we had a good chance of winning something. It was good for his reputation.)

Anyway, back to the Dee-Lite song, I’m pretty sure that’s Maceo Parker, who used to play with James Brown but was doing solo stuff by then, which is a relief since it means my taste in saxophonists wasn’t all bad back then…ah, there was another Dee-Lite song I played a lot, too — not the sax riff, but the bass line, because it was so funky:

So, like gangbangers and rednecks, I too seem to be a product of my time — at least, in terms of my impetus for choosing the instrument I did. My choice was shaped by a musical trend, by the media glamorization of the saxophone, and all kinds of other stuff. And it was more Billy Ocean and Huey Lewis thhan anything I’d listen to today that brought me there, even if what I remember latching onto very soon after beginning learning the instrument was stuff like Giant Steps and songs from Miles Davis’ Tutu — like this one, with Marcus Miller (and Kenny Garrett on flute, who is a killer saxophonist too — way more killer than Sanborn, in my opinion, though I’d even kill for Sanborn’s chops at this point, to be flatly honest):

Later on, I ever transcribed parts of this song for the string bass I briefly took up as my second instrument! But sax was always my main thing. Funny thing, Miles. I cried the day he died, even if he was a trumpet guy, even if I was a sax guy. I was crazy about Miles Davis.

Speaking of which: I’ve almost paid off the whole of my student debt. (Yay! There is a payment due, and it’s coming through late, but it is coming, and once it does, all of this owing money to someone will be just a memory. An expensive memory, but a memory.)

The first thing I want to save up for is… a new tenor saxophone, without all the weird tuning problems that are a part of my current sax — the one I played in Dabang, the one I played on since middle school. I’ve been using that saxophone since I was 12, which makes it about 24 years. But the horn has so many weird idiosyncracies that when I last picked it up, I realized I’d once again have to relearn all the little tricks necessary to make it play in tune, and I decided to put it back down and not start again till I could do so on a horn that didn’t require finger contortions and lip adjustments for almost every note.

Don’t know what I’ll do with Bessie, which is what the current horn was called back in high school (… of course, after Bessie Smith), though I didn’t advertise it and probably nobody remembers that bit of trivia. It was a Christmas present, and I’ve had it with me for two-thirds of my life. It’s unplayable, but precious to me in some other way.

Maybe I could mount it on a plaque and hang it on the wall? Hm….

BONUS (since I’m posting music videos): I love this sheet music animation of John  Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”:

9 thoughts on “Saxophonic Memories

  1. Oh, thank you, Gord for that trip down memory lane. I sadly have not played my horn much in the last 8 years, but I bought my first pack of reeds just last month. Good luck in finding a horn.

  2. Still my old tenor Superaction Series II. It desperately needs a tuneup but the tone is still pretty fabulous. Despite how little I play it, I have not been able to give it up. I haven’t had time to find other people to jam with out here and I’m horribly rusty, but I’m hopeful that I’ll get back on that horse here shortly.

  3. Gord, soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone sax?

    I remember the first girl I ever fell for had an alto. We met at music camp, and I remember having to carry her alto like a mile across camp for her once. At fourteen, it was pretty heavy. I remember thinking . . . “She just wants someone to carry her damn saxophone!”

  4. Also, your “Popular Posts” module looks like one very long weird paragraph. I love it.

    “Just… Wow. On Derrick Jensen on a Bunch of 2009 SF films Canadian Ex-Defence Minister Says Alien Technology Gonna Save the World James on Wonder Girls.”

  5. Jackie,

    I remember envying that saxophone. What happened to that alto you had in highschool? I’m guessing you sold it off, the way I sold off my double bass?

    I also remember envying your experience of taking lessons with Rick. He seemed to want to teach you. Me, well… if you search for the name Rick on this page you see what happened at one point. He seemed quite content to let it go on for a while, and there wasn’t much we could do about it when he claimed he’d told us.

    Good luck getting back to it! I too want to do that, sometime soon. Hopefully I can carve some time out.

    By the way, did any of those pop/rock saxophone references resonate for you? I’m wondering now how many saxophonists in our age group took up the instrument because of the renewed “sax solo” trend in the 80s.


    I played them all over the years, but it was: alto and baritone in middle school, tenor and soprano in high school, alto and tenor (and occasionally) bari in university. Then tenor (and occasionally soprano and flute) in Dabang band.

    And now, mostly flute and guitar, but just noodling, teaching myself, etc. I figure I’ll be back on tenor (and then, later, soprano, when I can get a new one with good tuning), but I have considered trying out an alto instead. When I occasionally try out an alto, I find it much easier to make my fingers fly. But I think in Bb now and I suspect I’d be crabby if I had to start thinking in Eb.

    And heh, yeah, that is a good jumble. And I am still shocked someone from the Canadian Defence Ministry could say something that fucking stupid!

  6. Damn, I’m feeling really old right now… I couldn’t remember that I had the alto and I can’t remember when I sold it and I’m thinking it must’ve been in university some time because by the time I was there, I had pretty much stopped playing alto. Yeah, Bb, it feels so natural to me. Don’t envy me because of Rick. There was something “odd” about his enthusiasm with me. How many 30 something sax teachers ask their 17 year old students to go to the Bassment with them to see concerts… in his minivan. I was always very naive about it and everything was all very innocent, but as a mother with two girls… I’d never let them do the same… ever…

  7. Jackie,

    Oh yeah, you were the queen of the alto in high school. I think you switched back to tenor in University. When you played in the Uni big band, you played tenor — at least, you did when I caught up to you in your second year at U of S. I still remember lots of little shows we played together with Doug quite fondly, especially the tenor duo we played on Meeting of the Minds, or some other Bob Mintzer tune.

    (Big band was much less fun after you stopped playing… for various reasons I won’t get into except to say I missed how Doug was cool with everyone who wanted playing solos, instead of how it was only the buddies of the next leader.)

    As for Rick… woah, well, when you put it that way, yeah, I don’t envy you. Well, except I still think you learned more for your money than I did. I wonder what happened to Rick.

    As for my part, the best thing my mother did for me in terms of music studies was getting me some jazz theory lessons with Bill Richards… This was after Rick had left for Texas and I was studying with Mike Spindloe but not doing as much jazz stuff. I was mad at my mum because basically she decided I had to choose between lessons or the yearly band trip, and skipping the band trip meant a lower grade in that class, because Peter England was like that. (No, really, that’s him.)

    But really, in the long run? It was the best thing for me: Bill was just the nicest guy, and I learned tons from him in a short time — way more than anyone ever learned on some band trip to North Dakota. I was still digesting things from those lessons with Bill years later.

    By the way, if you click on the Music tab above you can laugh at me rocking out all out of tune with a rock band. Though that tune “Shiva and the Ecstasy of Butter and Fire” still hold up, I think. Maybe “Mars” too.

  8. Aaaand… ironically, eight years after I put down my horn, I’ve picked it up again too. I wonder if eight years is like some kind of limit for how long a saxophonist can stay away from the instrument, or something? Hmmm…

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