By the end of last year, music journalists were tagging it the Year of the Sax. Why? Because Lady Gaga hired Clarence Clemons to play on “Born This Way.”
But that’s not all: Odd Future had a saxy moment, as did Deerhunter, Patrick Wolf, Janine Rostron, and a nutter on YouTube named Sergio Flores who calls himself the Sexy Sax Man. He’s a shirtless guy with a mullet and an alto sax who bombs classrooms, fast-food lines, and football games with cheesy George Michael. His buffoonery has gone viral.
Was 2011 really the Year of the Sax? We check in with some local saxists:
Todd Rewoldt, Swarmius
“Well, from the looks of it in Taiwan, it is definitely not the Year of the Sax, unless we are talking about saxophone manufacturing, which is really exploding here right now.
“Katy Perry and Lady Gaga recently featured sax solos, including every saxophonist’s favorite saxophonist to criticize, Kenny G. Actually, compared to what we had to listen to from Kenny in the 1990s, he has re-emerged as a mildly entertaining actor. Perhaps he missed his calling. However, since I am a saxophonist, it is always the Year of the Sax. So, how to continue the trend? Kanye West, do you need a saxophonist? Give me a call.”
Johny Viau, eternal sideman
“You could have fooled me, saying it was the Year of the Sax. My datebook would tell you otherwise. I had some good gigs in 2011 — I was in Europe for two months, and I had a good New Year’s gig — but compared to the ’80s and ’90s, it’s been getting worse and worse.
“Back then it was not unusual for me to play 29 times in 24 days. Now, it’s once or twice a week. It’s not just me, either. Everyone has been getting fewer gigs overall. I can’t wait for the Year of the Sax. I’ll be sure and let you know when one comes along.”
Ian Tordella, independent saxist
“In 2011, glam-sax came back, with indie-rock bands clamoring for more saxophone at varying levels of irony. And with bass saxophonist Colin Stetson collaborating with Feist and Bon Iver, the saxophone’s street cred went way up. Also, check out Stetson’s New History Warfare Vol. II for some mind-boggling stuff.
“But, for me, 2011 just meant a lot more sexy-sax studio work for cheesy commercials such as Godiva chocolate and Red Lobster.”
Dave Castel de Oro, Robin Henkel Band
“I’m not sure why 2011 was specifically targeted as the Year of the Sax, but it seems like the resurgence of the sax solo in the pop song was the main reason. Bon Iver and Lady Gaga with Clarence Clemons’s solo are two examples.
“I feel that the sax is one of the most versatile instruments in terms of its role in pop, jazz, and classical music. I grew up with music of the ’70s and ’80s, [and] Clarence Clemons’s work with Bruce Springsteen was seminal. More recent examples are Jeff Coffin’s work with Béla Fleck and the late LeRoi Moore from the Dave Matthews Band. I also really like Steve Berlin’s work with Los Lobos. And those are just some of the pop guys.”
Johnny Ciampoli, West Coast Express, Cool Fever, Blues Invaders
“I find that sax seems to be popping up more, whether from the sexiness or the interest or the confusion of the horn itself. I think there was a lot more saxophone this year. But I don’t think it ever went away. There was a time not too long ago when I was checking around online, and I found there are a lot of young horn players out there, and they’re good.
“It’s a curious instrument. It’s got a lot of knobs. It looks like it’s hard to play, like something people want to master. I certainly would like to.”
David Jackson, Euphoria Brass Band
“2011 saw the inclusion of saxophone solos in a number of high-profile releases by artists whose music is dominated by coursing computerized rhythms. Danceable, and maybe even cool? Sure, why not? But packed with living, breathing emotion? Not so much.
“The saxophone has always been one of the more expressive musical instruments, with its similarity to the human voice. The saxophone can express the highs and lows of human emotion as few other instruments can. It can portray the delight of a three-ring circus or the horror of a flop-house hotel.” ■