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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”:

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