In 1985 I decided I was going to be a tenorsax man. That’s me on the right (click to biggify) shortly after I went to Baxter-Northup Music Company on Ventura Boulevard somewhat on a lark and bought a used Bundy on a two-year payment plan. She was not at all pretty to look at as saxes go, but she was beautiful to me and along with a couple beginning instructional booklets I brought her home to Van Nuys, and soon after spent many an hour with the doors closed in that dressing area of my single apartment usually with socks stuffed in the bell to protect my neighbors from the awful noise that came from my self-teachings.
Month to month, paying the $1,200 total down, my ability with the sax gradually increased. Never to the point of being any good or knowing what the hell I was doing, but I could put on “Joe’s Blues” recorded live at the Century Plaza by the Capp/Pierce Juggernaut and riff along somewhat capably with my favorite jazz vocalist Joe Williams. Same with some Manhattan Transfer, Lou Donaldson, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and others.
When my grandmother died in 1987, I consoled myself with long slow renditions of “Amazing Grace.”
Though it became quickly clear I didn’t have the chops or the dedication or the desire to be anything but a closeted sax player, I kept on blowing for the sheer joy of it until I even got up the courage a couple times to venture outside, open up the case and just blow under a streetlight. Once was at the Santa Monica Pier, and once at my beloved and long-gone Cafe Figaro located at the mouth of Melrose Avenue just before it drains into the convergence of Santa Monica and Doheny on the Beverly Hills border. Each time I made a few bucks, probably more out of my passing patrons’ sympathies than out of appreciations for my musicality.
Nevertheless I always said the two things I’d never be without was my bike to get me where I’m going and my sax when I got there to make me some money for breakfast. Or beer.
I kept saying that up until one of the literally and figuratively poorest days in my life. It was 1996, and to make whatever month’s rent, it came down to putting an ad in The Recycler and sacrificing my beloved sax. A fellow answered the “for sale” offer and showed up to see what I had. Given its condition got no better from when I’d bought it, he scoffed at the $350 asking price, countering with something substantially lower. I told him point blank there was no “OBO” in the deal and that the least I could do to honor my best friend who I’d been able to turn to keep me company through some 12 years of some serious solitude was stay firm on the deeply discounted price. It was $350, take it or leave it.
He took the price and my sax and a bit of my heart when he walked out the door.
But the rent got paid and I vowed that one day I’d replace her. I even kept the mouthpieces handy as reminders — a plastic black one that I bought to replace the white one that came with the instrument and a far fancier Berg Larsen one that my friend Donny Sierer — a cool cat and a tremendously talented musician who married my good friend and tremendous actress Josie DiVincenzo — had given to me as a gift in the late ’80s (along with kind encouragement to keep up my playing).
To this day, within arm’s reach at my desk the mouthpieces sit. And held to the plastic one by a clamp whose copper has spent the last 13-plus years oxidizingÂ is the same 2-1/2 Rico Royal reed that I last wetted and blew through so long ago.
Last night, after coming home from Yosemite, we decided not to wait until this morning to open our presents, mine from my beloved Susan being a brand new tenor sax. Goodness gracious: with going to Yosemite and coming back to find the Most Awesome Present Ever, could this Christmas get any better?Â That answer would be no.
As to any question about how she sounds, I like you people to much to subject you to any initial audio evidence of the havoc so long an absence can have on skills that were at best meager to begin with. But if anyone needs me I’ll be in the upstairs cubby hole off the bedroom known previously as The Clubhouse but now as the Music Chamber with some socks in the sax’s bell blowing my heart out now that an old hole in it has been filled.