Saxophonist

40 Years Of Mondays: One Saxophonist’s Addiction To The Fringe

I was an 18-year-old saxophone student at Berklee College of Music when my new best friend, a trumpeter named Willy Olenick, told me about The Fringe. “You’ve got to hear this band,” he said. “They’re an amazing trio. You can hear them any Monday night at Michael’s and you’re nuts not to go.”

Willy didn’t mention anything about what style they played, and I didn’t ask. I just took his advice and went.

Michael’s was a small, narrow bar behind Symphony Hall in Boston. There was a WPA mural on the wall. They only served beer and wine, and let’s just say a contingent of a few regulars might have been there just for the Rolling Rocks. (In fact, they may have been there all day for the Rolling Rocks.) A man named Bill was at the front door at night, collecting the $2 cover charge. Michael himself manned the bar.

Frankly, on first hearing The Fringe, I wasn’t sure what was happening. The trio took the stage, and I don’t think I was even sure when the set started. At some point, I realized that this music was not like the other jazz I had heard. Until that time, my jazz listening had been mostly big bands and straight-ahead, swinging jazz groups. Continue reading

Why One Saxophonist Covered His Idol

The late alto saxophone giant Jackie McLean died after a long illness in 2006, but continued performing and teaching until late in his life. One of the last songs he wrote and recorded was “Mr. E,” which leads off his 1998 septet album Fire and Love.

I’m thinking of it because I recently heard another version of the song by the much younger alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and his trio. Their take on “Mr. E” comes from a recording called Dialect Fluorescent, which came out just a few months ago.

“I really love the composition,” Lehman said. “I love the way the melody is structured; I love the way that the harmony is set up. And I think it’s really ingenious, actually, the way that every aspect of the composition … is really set up to create a kind of musical framework that at once is really grounded, and gives you a kind of sense of place and sound as a listener, but also has an incredible amount of flexibility and is kind of malleable as musical material.” Continue reading