Okay, when I was a kid in the fourth grade, I’m pretty sure it was the fourth grade. I was a reasonably good student. And when I was in the fourth grade, I always sat in the back of the class.
I was a smart kid, but I sat in the back row of the classroom because I didn’t want to bring any attention to myself. Bullies were beating down the smart kids. I just didn’t want to bring any unnecessary attention to the fact that I enjoyed learning!
Anyway, the teacher, whose name I have forgotten, asked me and maybe two other kids up to the front of the class, and I was startled thinking, “Jesus, I don’t remember doing anything unsavory.” And she asked us all up to the front of the class, and she said, “Hey, would you three like to play music?”, “Yes, I want to play music!” I belt out! And the other two said the same. So she said, “Okay, a gentleman is going to come up soon, and he’s going to walk you three down to the music room, to the band room.”
So this guy came up, and he walked us all down to the band room. And when we get there, he sat us down, all these instruments all around, and stuff. And he asked us one at a time, “What do you want to play? What do you want to play? What do you want to play?” And when he gets to me, I say, “I want to play the curvy one.”
Now they’re all curved, all of the wind instrument curves. What is the straightest musical instrument? The flute, I would say. And we’ll get to that. But I said, “the curvy one,” and the young woman who stood next to the gentleman says, “The saxophone.” I go, “Okay, whatever you call it.” And she says, “All right, good. You’re going to play the saxophone. Go home and tell your parents to get you a mouthpiece because we can’t give you the mouthpiece. We can get you the saxophone, but we can’t get you the mouthpiece, you got to get your mouthpiece yourself.” I was like, “Great.” I was psyched.
I go home. I tell my mom, “Mom, they picked me out of the class, me and two other kids, just us. And they asked us if we wanted to play music. I said, yeah, and I told them I wanted to play the saxophone, and they said okay. And then they said I need to get a mouthpiece because they can’t give me the mouthpiece, so they told me to come home, ask my parents for a mouthpiece.” So my mom says, “Ask your dad. He used to play the saxophone.”
I had no idea that he played any musical instrument. So I told the teacher, “I’ll get that mouthpiece.” And she said, “Cool, don’t worry. Soon as you get the mouthpiece, you can play the horn. We know these things take time. We need the mouthpiece, just let us know, and you’ll be playing the saxophone.”
So, I went to see my dad, and it was difficult trying to figure out how to get this out of him. My dad had his moments of when he was listening and when he wasn’t. And most of the time, he wasn’t listening to me. So I talked to my cousins about it, and they were like, “Try to get him when he’s just kind of distracted, like when he’s playing his card games. If you get him in a good mood, when he’s playing a card game, he might do it.” “Okay,” I said. That’s what my cousin Steve, my favorite cousin, at the time, told me to do.
So I see dad playing cards, “Okay, he’s playing cards at my cousin Steve’s house!” I say to myself, and I went up to him and said, “Dad, they in school, asked me if I wanted to play music, and I said yeah. And they said what? And I said the saxophone. And then they said you got to get your parents to buy you a mouthpiece. So Mom said, come to you because you can buy me a mouthpiece.” And dad said, he turned around, stopped looking at his cards, he looked down at me, and said, “I used to play the saxophone,” and then he kept playing the cards, kept playing the game, and he didn’t say anything else. And I said, “Well, Dad, I need a mouthpiece.” And he looked at me he turned his head quickly. I’ll never forget it. He turned his head quickly, and he gave me a look, which was I’m playing cards, son, and don’t bother me when I’m playing cards. And I knew right then I picked the wrong time.
And I couldn’t say another word to him, and I didn’t say another word to him. And then I waited until after the card game was over and we went home, and he had lost. And I knew that it was over, that I could not ask him because he lost, and he didn’t have the money, and he didn’t want to talk about it. He just didn’t even want to talk about it.
So I didn’t even ask him again because I knew that it wasn’t going to work. So I went back to school, and I told them that I couldn’t get the mouthpiece, and they said, “Well, you can’t play the saxophone because we can’t give you the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is the special part of the instrument.” And I said, “Fine, okay.”
I didn’t think anything of it. My mother always said, “You always into stuff anyway. Every week it changes.” and she was right because I was a kid in the fourth grade.
So, in the fifth grade, we moved to this new neighborhood, and we lived right across the street from the school. So I am the new kid on the block and stuff. I’m meeting some new people, some new friends. I met a couple of guys, and they liked playing and listening to music too. I love music. I used to sleep on the speaker when I was a kid. And this is before they had the little, bitty, Bluetooth speakers, well before that. I used to get a speaker, put a pillow on it, play the music, fall asleep. I loved music. Honestly, I still do a variation of that today.
I meet these guys Ellery, and Al were their names, and they both loved music. We started a singing group. Ellery could sing, and Al could sing too. I was the third wheel of the group, but I loved music.
We were doing some Motown stuff, Temptations, some Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder. We entered a couple of talent shows, and we won a couple of talent shows too. That’s an entirely different story. I’m just trying to get straight to the saxophone stuff.
So Al said, “Look, we need to form a band” because we were singing to records and stuff, and that’s nice, and everything, but Al kept saying, “We need to have a band. We need to take this seriously,” because we were a good group. Ellery and I agreed, “OK, OK, OK, let’s get some musical instruments.” Everybody decided on what they’re going to play. Then we were going to ask our parents to buy us the instruments. If I remember the conversation correctly, everybody went around and decided on their musical instrument. We had invited some friends to join the band because we needed more than three musicians to create the sound we wanted to create. I was going to be the bass player this time, and I was OK with my choice. “All right, I’m going to be the bass player!”
I went to my mom, and I said, “Mom, we are starting a band, with Ellery and Al. And I’m going to be the bass player, so I need a bass.” she said, “Go to your dad, and he’ll buy you a bass.”
And, here I go again, go to my father. So, I go to my father, and I pick a better time. He was in a better mood and everything. He wasn’t gambling, and he wasn’t drinking. He was just looking at the TV. I said, “All right, dad, me and some friends, we’re forming a band. I want to play the bass.” He says, “Okay, good, I got you. I’m going to buy the bass.” I was psyched.
So, I don’t know, maybe a week later my dad comes home to deliver the bass. So he gets there, we’re in the living room, and my mother comes down. I was excited. So he opens up the case, which was an excellent case. And he pulls out a guitar, and I look at it, and I go, “Dad, that’s a guitar.” And he goes, “Son, I went to the music store to get you a bass.” I look up, and a guy and I go, “What’s that next to the bass there?” He says, “What that?” And I look at it, “That one there?” He says, “That one there?” And I go, “Yeah.” That’s the guitar. And I say, “Give me that.” I try to explain it to him, but he interrupts, “But…”Look, son, the bass has four strings, the guitar has six strings. You got two extra strings!” He thought he was doing me a solid. He thought he was just giving me the massive hook up. He was getting his son together. He was giving me two extra strings. Jesus Christ. I was not happy, and he saw that I wasn’t, and he wasn’t pleased, and then said, “How dare you be unhappy? Here I am buying you a musical instrument. I’m giving you extra strings, and you’re unhappy.” And I could not explain to him how he messed up. He just didn’t get it, that he screwed up. He was like, “Well, you got a guitar, you’re a guitar player because I ain’t taking it back. Here, so this is your instrument.” He gave me the instrument, and he walked out of the door.
I had to go to the rest of the band because I was the first one to get an instrument. I said, “Well, I got a guitar.” And they replied, “All right, well, you’re the guitar player, then.” And I didn’t want to be the guitar player, but I was the guitar player. I don’t remember who was supposed to be the guitar player first.
So I’m going to play guitar. At this point, I’m taking guitar lessons. I may as well take guitar lessons. I’m taking some lessons, and I’m trying to play, and we form a band. We started a group, and Ellery and Al began to play the bass. Both of them picked up the bass ironically. Some other guys around started playing some different instruments, and we had a band, and we were called Purple Moon.
We were okay. We did a couple of talent shows, and we were okay. One particular time I was on Al’s front lawn. Al had his bass, and I had my guitar, and Floyd was on the drums. Floyd was the drummer. And I had a little wah-wah pedal, and I thought I was Jimi Hendrix. I was just wah-wahing. I was going at it, and then my younger brother, Mark, and his friend Michael saw us, and Michael came up, and he said, “You sound like a pig.” I went to little Michael, “What?” I put my guitar down, and I chased Michael, for I don’t know how long, 30 minutes. I chased him all over the neighborhood, and I never caught him, but he was right. I did sound like a pig, and I stopped playing the guitar shortly after that.
I was going into high school, and I realized that I wanted to continue to play music. The guitar player in the jazz band was named Daryl, who was also the brother of a friend of mine, named Donny. I was not as good as Daryl, Donny’s brother. Nowhere near as good as him. And I thought, “Well, I’m not going to get in the jazz band, and they only need one guitar player.” And I wanted to get in a band in high school, and my mother said, “Well, why don’t you play another instrument? Play the flute,” I said, “Yeah, flute, that’s a pretty straight instrument. Why not? I’ll play the flute. I don’t care.” I wanted to play something.
I signed up for the band and everything in high school, and I got in, and then I told them I wanted to play the flute. And I thought, “Wow, I picked the right instrument.” There were some beautiful girls in the flute section of the band.”
I noticed there was one particular girl named Gwen who was, really, really cute. Okay, very cute! I said to myself “Dad, I want to play the flute.” So I played the flute. Other guys were teasing me, “Oh, you’re playing the flute. That’s such a girly instrument.” I was like, “Yes, it is. And I’m sitting next to these pretty girls that I see you eyeing all the time!”
I couldn’t attempt to sit right next to Gwen, cause I was in the beginning band. I had to work my way up to Gwen. And I did. Within the first semester, I was in the marching band and the concert band, because I already knew how to read music. I was just learning how to play the flute. And I practiced all the time, all the time. And, as I said, by the second semester I was in the group, I was in the main band. Gwen didn’t like me, though, but I didn’t care by then. I was in the band, and that’s what I wanted.
And then my teacher, Mr. Murray, said, “You’re good at this flute. You should probably play the saxophone and the clarinet because they’re outstanding instruments. And if you’re going to be playing the flute, you should just play these other instruments.”
“Fine.” He gave me a saxophone and a mouthpiece. “Here it is,” he said. He gave me the horn. I didn’t have to ask my parents for a mouthpiece. He gave me a saxophone, mouthpiece and reeds, and everything. He showed me a few things on the instrument because he was a sax player too.
I picked up that saxophone, pow, loved it. It took me a long time to get to that saxophone.
Anyway, those five years in between were exciting, but I got to the saxophone, and it’s really about me and the saxophone, my life.