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Playing How to Blag it as a Saxophone Player

I’ve only been playing the sax since November 2004 when my lovely wife bought me an alto, supposedly for Christmas. Well, we got it home and she let me have it there and then! (The saxophone that is!) After around an hour, I could do a bad rendition of several very well known tunes, not in time and not in the right key for that matter!

My idea of practicing (probably not recommended by the highly disciplined Mr Thomas) is to turn on my computer, find itunes, and work my way through the myriad of musical treats that I have saved on my hard drive, until I find something that sound like its in the right key and to try to play along until I feel like I’m really contributing to the piece. In this vein, I’ve played with some of the best, Chris Rea, I’m sure he loved it when I blew him away as I solo’d over his guitar solo in “The road To Hell” and Elton John’s “Sorry seem’s to be the hardest word” received the benefit of my extremely small talent.

Well after keeping up this strict training regime for several months, I started to look for jam sessions in my local area. Having never participated in such an event, I had no idea as to what I was getting in to but I felt the need to fill this void in my life.

And so it happened. A lonely chalk board sitting at the side of the road, beckoned to me one evening as I drove my lorry back to the depot. A jam session had revealed it’s self to me.

With alto horn in hand, I approached the door to the British legion and walked nervously inside.

“How you doin’ kid?”

“Kid I thought? I’m forty four, this guy must be old!”

Well I explained how I’d only just started to play “the horn” I said trying to sound like a blues player, and how I only wanted to stand at the back and play for my own benefit. “No problem kid” was the reply. Cool, I thought.

So I stood at the back and jammed along with this wonderful group of seasoned musicians. This went on for a couple of weeks until one night, as I was stood at the back of the room, eyes screwed tight shut, playing the solo of my life (to myself of course) when I suddenly heard the glorious sound of a sax. “Wow I sound so good tonight” I thought. Turning around, my heart crumbled into a thousand pieces. A tenor player had walked into the room, unpacked the most amazing looking Selmer, and played the sweetest sounding licks I’d ever heard. He instantly became my idol, a sax god. Pure genius had entered my life. He walked up to me afterwards and said, “You’re good, that’s a difficult key for an alto!” He then took my beloved horn in his hands and pushed the mouthpiece on properly! “Yup, I thought so” He said, “You were playing a semitone flat!” He then laughed and walked out of the room! I packed away my newly tuned alto, and crept out of the room, looking for a rock to crawl under, hoping that a crack would appear under my feet and swallow me whole.

I got home and felt low. I know, Chris and Elton have never humiliated me when I played with them. I entered my music room, unpacked my horn, and squawked to their tunes that I used to play with ease. Of course, I was now in tune, just not with them!

I know, I’ll get a tenor! That should do it.

So, after a couple of months of getting to know this bigger version of the alto, I started to get the hang of the tenor. There was however a flaw in my plan. The tenor I had bought, was a well advertised, old banger. It would have been ok if I had got a couple of hundred pounds to throw at it, but I didn’t. I bought blind, off that well known online auction house! But it had done the job it had intended. It had opened my eyes to the bigger, deeper and, lets face it, sexier sound of the tenor. I was hooked!

Having not learnt my lesson fully, I thought that all I needed was a new sax, not someone else’s cast offs. So what did I do? I trolled through the “New” adverts on the Devils Junkyard and went for a nice new tenor in “Shining Gold colour” complete with white gloves! (I know what your thinking…….You Plonker! I know, I know!) Well my playing got worse and worse, leaks, squeaks and unobtainable notes. Boy, was this sax a piece of junk!

Having not learnt my lesson at all……..don’t say it….. I returned to the pages of sax’s on the net and bought yet another one. This time I hit upon a genuine advert, an Amati student model that had been bought, way back, in the early seventies, was played for a short while and then laid to rest in the back of a wardrobe for years. When I received my new baby, I knew she was the one, she felt solid, clean and unmolested. Somehow pure.

With my new found love I returned to the jam.

What a difference. A total transformation. Here I was at last, joining in with real musicians, on their terms.

“Welcome back Kid.” I hadn’t been forgotten then! I unpacked my tenor and walked to the back of the stage. Somehow I felt at home, like I belonged with this strange group of people. I was still only playing for my own benefit and I was thoroughly enjoying myself when they played one of my favourites, Fleetwood Mac’s version of “Need your love so bad.” So there I was, standing at the back, eyes screwed tight shut and soloing over Peter Green’s bit, when once again I heard the beautiful sound of a tenor, echoing around the room! Surely not again, this could only happen once! I opened my eyes and to my horror, the singer had heard me soloing, thought it sounded good, and stuffed his microphone down the bell of my sax! All I could do was to carry on. What did the band do? “Sounds great Kid run it through again!”

Well that was the start. I’d fooled them into thinking I was a sax man after all!

I played with that band for nearly a year, going under the name of “Inside out.” We had a lot of fun to start with, playing mainly rock, but then egos grow (not mine I hasten to add) and the band split. My next band was a mixed group of musicians and one of them had a double base. It was my first introduction to this sort of music, Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’d not really listened to it when I was younger, but hey, this was just like the blues, but quicker and with a little fire in its belly! I was hooked.

So once again, there I was, playing along and soloing to a whole bunch of tunes that I had never heard before, but the fun I was having was immeasurable! The only problem I had was when they would say things like “Its in the key of…” and I’d look blankly at them. I think I soon found out that I liked the keys of A C D E and sometimes G.

This was a much smaller band than the last one and we went under the name of “Cliff Topp and the Lemmings!” We played the usual types of venue, pubs and some charity do’s, but we were never going to climb any sort of musical ladder. Then one day I got a phone call from the drummer from “Inside Out,”

“ Hi mate, are still playing that old sax of yours cos we’re in need of a good player?” That’s not me I thought!

“Yes I said” thinking “How on earth am I going to get out of this one?”

“Great” he said, “we’ve got a gig coming up and need you to play!”

So I turned up, thinking, “I’ll just play the sound check, they’ll think I’m rubbish and that’ll be it.” Wrong!

“That’s a great sound you got there kid”

What is it with musicians and calling people “Kid”

“Brilliant.” I thought, they liked it, now I’m in trouble.

“So, your coming back tonight to join us then?” said Johnny

“Yes, if you think I sounded ok?” I said.

So that evening, “Johnny and the Zephyrs” had themselves a Rock ‘n’ Roll sax player.

That night was the most exciting event I have ever been part of. The venue was a gastro pub, and entry was by ticket at the cost of thirty pounds a piece! Oh man they were expecting professional musicians, not the sort of thing I had been used to, that’s for sure!

The place soon filled with people. It was a large venue and it appeared that all of the tickets had been sold. It was packed.

We kicked off with Johnny B Goode. A solo was thrown my way and I blasted out my best rendition of something fairly unknown to me, but it was well received by the band. “Wow,” I thought, “nobody noticed!”

My whole evening followed the same lines, the band encouraging me to become more and more outrageous, moving off the stage and dancing with the audience, getting on my knees in front of these gorgeous women and then, to top it all off, they told me to stand on the piano and play there!

My journey with this band is far from over, I’ve been making it up as I go along with them for a year this month, and they still love what I do.

How did I do it? I’m still not sure. There are a million sax players out there who are leaps and bounds better than me. I put it down to confidence. I’ve got a fairly large personality, a loud horn, and the guts to blow it (good or bad) in front of people.

That’s it then. How to blag it as a Rock ’n’ Roll sax player? Get youself a sax (or two) Play it loud, play it dirty and play it with confidence!
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