July 12, 2024

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Interview with Sanny Sax: To a purely soulful person it’s the Blues

Interview with saxophonist Sanny Sax. An interview by email in writing.

Dear readers, get to know more about our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festivals and the activities of our US/EU Jazz – Blues Association in the capitals of Europe, we will soon publish program for 2024, enjoy in the July – August – Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Sofia, new addreses this year, also in Amsterdam, Budapest and Liverpool.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Sanny Sax: – I grew up in London UK and my early musical interests in the ’70s were popular and classical. There really just wasn’t much jazz around although I wore out what I came across. In those days learning music meant classical tuition which was fine by me, but if you expressed an interest in jazz your teacher might dig out some ragtime which wasn’t really what we were after.

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It was also common to learn some instruments other than what you considered your main one – not necessarily to a high standard. That came in very handy later. It puts you in other people’s shoes. I think you start off learning to play your instrument then you learn to play the band.

I was very driven on a personal level but the conservatoire life just wasn’t for me. I’ve always regarded music as something I do rather than a musician being something I am. That can create interesting situations – so many people think that if music isn’t your whole life, you’re not serious about it. But those are their boxes, not mine.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

SS: – Evolving my sound, well… On the jazz side of things, the way I found in was via melodic hard bop (things like Miles’ Ing albums). It went on from there and I suppose you could say that I “studied” with just about every pianist Miles ever hired and then broadened out from there. On the Latin side, I’ve always been more Cuban than Brazilian inclined, so I spent a lot of time on people like Peruchin, Noro Morales, Charlie Palmieri. Classical interests have also fed into the whole over the years.

I think I’m ultimately a stew of just about everything. And it varies with context of course. I do sometimes deliberately mimic or channel, but I’m loose about it. Hey, the stew is going to come through whether you like it or not.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

SS: – I don’t really have a practice or exercise routine, I’ve always worked towards the requirements of a specific gig or recording project. Although I have over the years sometimes decided to knuckle down and work on some weak points.

I might cause arguments. When you’ve been playing for many years, you don’t actually need to bash the scales every day although you sometimes have to dust off the rust. Got to pay your dues to get there though. And gigging is the best practice, as long as you remember what you struggled with and put in some time at home later. Which leads me to my first piece of advice. Practice means working on what you can’t play before you polish what you can.

And here’s another specific suggestion, something I used to do a lot. If there’s a particular recording you really like, spend however many weeks or months it takes to learn it. Get it to the stage where you can play along and somebody walking past wouldn’t know you’re playing along or perhaps might just think the piano/sax/bass/etc is mixed a bit high. The idea is to inhabit them and what they’re doing rather than be able to trot it out.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

SS: – I’d say that aside from trying to absorb things into my “stew” there have been two main evolutionary stages for me and I don’t think they’re unusual. I worked towards my firebrand period – fingers flying. But ever since then I’ve become more and more interested in playing less to mean more. This seems to require a degree of self-assurance because so many people won’t realise that you’re choosing to play less and assume you’re incapable of playing more. Amusingly, some venue managers seem to think they’re paying you by the note…

There could be talk or advertising about your CD

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

SS: – Intellect and soul in music? Hmm, a minefield there. Does a concert pianist lack expression? Does a busker lack intellect and technique? It might simply be that we’re culturally conditioned to draw a distinction. Perhaps the former is regarded as institutional and the latter as instinctive. Does it matter?

Most musicians know theory in some way. If a purely “intellectual” person existed something might be subdominant preparation to a perfect cadence with partially flatted thirds and fifths. To a purely “soulful” person it’s the blues. You could even think in terms of art and craft – music is both. I don’t refer to myself as an artist.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

SS: – Well, you have to do what you do obviously but don’t turn up to a Valentine’s gig in a restaurant, set fire to your instruments and call it “your vision”. Unless it’s that kind of restaurant of course.

It can actually be fun to be flexible too. I once did a duo gig with a singer – NYE and we were the quiet lounge act before the main event. A punter came up and requested Bomb the Bass. So during the next tune I threw in an approximation of the bass riff and she shouted “this is a journey into sound” a couple of times. Then we carried on with our journey into Cole Porter. I think he was being facetious but he loved it and tipped us.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

SS: – I don’t think the age of the material matters, but you’re probably referring more to the fact that it all seems old fashioned. Even the stuff that isn’t. Actually, I think there’s a resurgence of interest of late. It would be the third in my lifetime. What we do goes in and out of style.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

SS: – I regard music as a celebration of emotional expression and that’s pretty much it. Insofar as I’m spiritual it’s just “be as kind as you can, when you can.” I have always felt there should be generosity in my playing and life.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

SS: – Difficult to say. More variety in the mainstream perhaps, but perhaps that’s a contradiction in terms.

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JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

SS: – Sonny Rollins!

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

SS: – Back to myself as a teenager to try to talk some sense into me.

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Interview by Emmanuel Bolton

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