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What Kind of Saxophonist do You Want to Be?

What Kind of Saxophonist do You Want to Be?

  • I want to be able to play anything that's put in front of me and improvise

  • I want to read and play well enough to get jobs and recording gigs

  • I want to be able to read music easily enough to play along with recordings or at jams

  • I want to play what I hear in my head for pleasure and in public

  • "I just want to get to outer space, I don't care who gets there first."

  • It's complicated (comments are there for that)


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randulo

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It's says 'saxophone' but any instrument you are learning or playing is fine for this discussion and ancillary poll. This is about your goals, how you see yourself in 5, 10 or 20 years. (Or in my case 6 months, one or two years. At breakfast, I search the web for obituaries to see if my name has come up.)

I would love to hear from you all about your plan and especially, what you are doing to put it in motion. Are you taking lessons? Do you follow method books at home? How much do you practice and what do you practice? How much facility do you need for your goals? What else does anyone do to prepare? Listening to music, for example? What music? Classical, bebop, avant garde, country western, pop...?

This discussion/poll isn't limited to beginners. Those of you "at the top" of your form, maybe you've reached the goal, how did you get there? How do you maintain the level? Same questions of how long and what you practice. Here are the poll question in more detail that software allows:

1. I want to be able to play anything that's put in front of me, but be able to improvise in most contexts, too
I knew a young pianist in Fresno, California. I played a few gigs and jams and recorded with with him. Back then in the 1970's, Downbeat had published a transcription of Coltrane's solo in Giant Steps. I brought it to a rehearsal and asked Louis if he could read it. He sat down and played it through! Today, Lou Pardini plays and sings with the band Chicago. Clearly, whatever he did to get there, he's there:

Lou: "At the age of 5, my parents noticed that I had a talent for figuring out the popular songs of the day on their piano… strictly by ear. Soon after, they decided to enroll me into private lessons. I took lessons from many different teachers, and actually studied guitar too, but piano was my fave."

2. I want to read and play well enough to get jobs and recording gigs focusing in one kind of music. This is a high achievement, too. A lot of people get there,, on a local level. I've know dozens of players at this level, especially in the area of jazz. The stage has moved from the local clubs to YouTube and the rest of the online platforms.

3. I want to be able to read music easily enough to play along with recordings or at jams for my own pleasure. I think many Café members are in this phase now or are just about there. Reading is a door opener, a true gateway drug to better playing.

4. I want to play what I hear in my head for pleasure and in public when feasible. The question is, do you have music in your head? If you are in a room with a sax and someone comes in the room and says, "Play something!" can you do it from your own ear, not some written thing you practiced?

5. "I just want to get to outer space, I don't care who gets there first." The Byrds said something like this.

6. It's complicated. Every one of us has some specific goals. I'd love to hear yours and how you plan to get them on the rails. We're friends here, it's a safe space and all that, so let's hear it!
 
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Pete Effamy

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This is a big question. During my life my pursuit of music has taught me who I am, and that I can not, or deep down do not wish to change.

I'm the same with all subjects - if it really grabs my interest I'm hooked. I can be incredibly obsessive, and devote many hours in a row to something, even missing meals etc. But, my energy for this intensity is finite. That's where the world class players differ from people like me, they don't stop. They don't get distracted, and they are completely single-minded and single-focussed. You have to be in order to be world class.

I'm lucky in that my level of ability rises very quickly (with hard work), and drops off very slowly. This last part is not enviable as it fuels my laziness and has allowed me to coast a lot. Don't get me wrong, I've still put in a phenomenal amount of practice over the years, it's just that this has sufficed for the professional work that I've done. Other than being a soloist, which I wasn't really cut out to be - leading and running a band, lots of travel, running a business rather than being employed - not me, my ability has rarely been challenged. Except in my own head of course.

I think that most professional musicians (and other creatives) spend the vast majority of time loathing their playing. For me, I probably loathe about 70% of what I do, am okay with 25% and really like 5%. It has been really important for me to have encouragement from fellow musicians that I respect in order to not be overly biased against my own playing and be more realistic. The same can be said of the people I know too. It has to come from peers, the gushing praise that comes from an audience member is thanked of course, but to me it's an uneducated view and if they heard Brecker play they'd realise that other people could in fact play rather a lot better than me.

For all my finite energy, my second problem is that my tastes and interests are wide. I spread myself thinly. My college finals on clarinet were adjudicated by a 2nd clarinet player in one of our UK chamber orchestras. He was going to retire and he recommended me for his post. It didn't work out in the end but I nearly became an orchestral clarinettist.

At this point I was 22. There was something about the possible life as an orchestral player that I didn't fancy, so I picked up the saxophone (which had been something I just played for fun) and set about becoming a sax player, rather than a clarinet player with a sax. I'd always played jazz on the clarinet - I was a Dixieland clarinet player before I was a straight player - so I had a lot of knowledge of language. Thankfully, this part wasn't a problem.

It took me quite a few years to be happy (enough) with my sax voice. I've never had any lessons on the sax (as opposed to hundreds on the clarinet) so whatever I found out - model of horn, type of setup etc - tended to be much slower than it could have been.

I tend to have phases of interest in the different horns. I'll become obsessed with alto and really improve what I set out to improve and then I'll lose interest and get into the tenor again. You should practice each horn alongside one another to keep them all going, and also to gain some flexibility in your embouchure and overall technique. I never do though.

Going back to what I said at the outset though, this is me and I've learned to live with it. I'm okay with it. I've done some really nice stuff in music and rubbed shoulders with some iconic musicians along the way, but the introvert loner in me has never gone away and I pick and choose my work. I've learned to be outgoing on stage and I enjoy it too, but I'm still an introvert. I love loads of music, from heavy rock to jazz to country to military band music to classical to pop etc and again, my problem is that I've wanted to play them all - authentically. I love going from one genre to another and knowing what my job is on my instrument - how to play and fit in etc. Again, spread thinly but happy to be.
 
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Pete Effamy

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Pete (both) you've come far, how much practice now and what do you work on.

As I've said before on here, I fell out of love with the whole music business after a long tour in 2014. In the next four years I probably did less than 20 gigs, a tiny bit of recording and pretty much never picked up my horns in between. I started going out again with a local band at the back end of 2018. I like them. I like playing to a small audience and really seeing them enjoy it (still enjoy a festival crowd too).

Sometimes I practice for a couple of hours for two or three days at a time, and then I might leave it for a week (or more!). I'm also starting to get back into my studio again too, and will shortly have a new space above my garage to set up properly. I love programming drums and the creative process of building an arrangement in a DAW.

These days I mostly need a reason to pick up a horn. I have a very good inbuilt gauge of whether a gig is going to 'find me out' or not, and my amount of practice is tempered by this. I'm 52 and have been playing for 45 years. Beating myself up for 45 years. The things that I've achieved have helped quell the fire a little. For me, there are other things in life (as well). At the moment, I would call my mood with regard to playing an instrument "interested".
 

Pete Effamy

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Forgot the 2nd part of the question.

I work on whatever has lapsed too far for comfort!

My tone never seems to leave me.

My control is still good, though nothing like when I was at college playing 10 hours per day on Paul Jean~Jean's Vade Mecum Du Clarinettiste.

My fingers need reminding not to be sloppy.

If I play lots of tenor I have to work on finding my alto altissimo again, particularly when jumping over an octave into harmonics.

If I play lots of alto I have to work at putting air into the tenor again. This might take 2-3 20 minute sessions for me to be happy with it being entered again.

Sight-reading deserts most people like rats leaving a sinking ship if you don't keep it up.

This goes for negotiation tricky chord sequences too - I forget my little tricks and phrases.
 

Pete Effamy

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A lot of it is just reawakening the muscle memory of so many thousands of hours of practice. Improving technically requires a big undertaking and a lot of focus. My biggest improvements in the last 15 years have mostly been realisations. Practising in my head not on my horn.
 

randulo

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I guess for those who are half century old and have been doing it since pre-pubescence, it has to be pretty natural, enough to play adequately well through most things. I know one thing that surprised me was when I was handed a clarinet at a friend's. I picked it up and played most of the chromatic scale slowly after at least 50 years of having never touched one!
 

sax panther

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my aim is to have fun! I do take a lot of paid gigs, some of them fairly high end function stuff, but I also have a day job so I can be as choosy/adventurous as I want with accepting gigs. Well paid gigs are a bonus, rather than a necessity. Some of my best music memories are unpaid festival gigs.

I like to do a bit of everything - festivals, functions, clubs, big ensembles, pit work..I suppose for my playing goals I want to be competent and versatile enough to keep doing this...and hopefully get a bit better .I've recently accepted a position in a local symphony orchestra on clarinet which is an itch I've wanted to scratch for ages. Used to do it at university and really missed it. I genuinely look forward to the rehearsals. Aaaand it feeds my gas, as I can now treat myself to a decent A clarinet! So I'm really happy with variety of stuff I'm doing at the moment - my only worry is the fear of double booking myself. .

In terms of how I got there...for the pit work and function stuff, it's a snowball effect. Once you get one gig, and you play well, you'll start to get asked to do other stuff - whether it's by the same organiser, or someone else in the band who's been asked by another organiser to recommend someone...then you eventually become a go-to person for the organisers. The other thing that helps is just basic punctionality/manners - don't turn up late, do as much prep as you can, help the drummer pack his stuff away etc. Attitude is just as important as musical talent. The orchestra slot I've just got came via a recommendation from the other clarinettist after I played with her in a couple of local am dram shows. Make connections!

I'm rarely happy with my playing - maybe 1 in 10 gigs I'll go home thinking I really nailed it. In each gig there's usually a couple of moments that I play back in my head where I beat myself up about not playing better - usually improvised solos. It keeps me awake at night. The counter argument I have to give myself to cheer myself up is that although I'm clearly no Michael Brecker, I can't be that bad if people keep hiring me.

I suppose my short answer to your question is jack of all trades, master of none. I'd be happy with that.
 

randulo

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I suppose my short answer to your question is jack of all trades, master of none. I'd be happy with that.
Thanks for the long answer, too.

(To all: )

One thing no one has mentioned yet (it's early times) is networking. Aside from your skills, and being good at showing up, some people are better at making the leader or whomever is hiring feel comfortable and confident. Musicians, and I have known many at all levels, are half crazy. Some are able to tame that until they get to a stage or when writing, but a few lack people skills and that also counts for a lot in monetary success.
 

Pete Effamy

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I’m not the sort of guy to hustle for work. Same as @sax panther my contacts were people I met directly along the way either at school/college or on a gig. These people tend to introduce you to their contacts too.

I can’t stress enough what @sax panther said about attitude. Being late, intoxicated, difficult is not going to get you another gig, more so than slightly under par playing.

Any rehearsal or gig is a potential audition for another job. To a certain degree, like a day job, you should be wary of the language you use and what you wear.

Sometimes fitting in is more important than standing out too. There are plenty of noses that can be put out these days.

Use of social media is good for advertising gigs - why wouldn’t you, it’s free.

The personal website thing is interesting though. I stopped mine about 5 years ago and don’t believe it ever got me any work.
 

randulo

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Any rehearsal or gig is a potential audition for another job. To a certain degree, like a day job, you should be wary of the language you use and what you wear.
That should be carved in rock!

There are guys who take a gig for some reason, while thinking it's beneath their station. They end up "phoning it in". That's not going to be constructive on any level. Whatever you do, in and out of music, do it the best you can. Otherwise, you're practicing to be mediocre. A friend of mine once said about a name organist, "Man, he just wants guys he can play cards with!" He meant this after obviously being good enough to play with the leader.
 

Pete Effamy

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Thinking about it, an ideal for me would be to have at least one band for each instrument. Then I'd keep them all going.
 

s.mundi

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I would love to be the saxophonist that sells all of his saxophones and public address equipment. I would love to be the saxophonist that takes a three-month vacation to reinvent his daddy-daughter relationship.
 

jbtsax

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At age 72 I have gone through most of those stages, and now just want to play for fun and because I enjoy it. If something is no longer fun, I move on to something else. Three hour gigs for low pay are moving in that direction. :)
 

randulo

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I think the last paid I gig I did was in 2012 (guitar). Since then, many appearances, all free.
 

s.mundi

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I think the last paid I gig I did was in 2012 (guitar). Since then, many appearances, all free.


Last night, my allergies were killing me and it was hard to make through a three-hour job. Please DO NOT perform for free!!! Tonight, I have another three-hour job. If you come to the Texas Gulf Coast, I'll pay you $20.00 for every song that you sing.
 

randulo

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Once a club owner told us to pass the hat, in addition to the pittance he was paying us. Then he just kept it all.
 
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