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Saxophone Lessons Learned
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Used by permission from Greg Vail .com :: Written by Greg Vail

Appropriate Sax Playing

This story comes from a Sax Guru Phil Sobel. Mr. Sobel moved to L.A. in the middle of Hollywoodís heyday. To be honest, I donít have the story real straight on how and when Phil came from somewhere else; but I will never forget this priceless lesson.

Phil told me that when he moved to L.A., it was all of 6 months and he was working with everyone. He became the most popular Second Alto player around and nearly overnight.

The reason was simple. Phil had learned how to be appropriate to the chair he was playing. Phil was not trying to play lead from the second chair. He was not trying to steal anyoneís gig. He didnít have too.

Phil Sobel got the call for the Second Alto chair and knew that job supported the Lead Alto part and player.

Phil had learned to be a part of the solution and not the problem. He made the Sax Section sound better when he played. He also made the Lead player sound better. It was the Lead Alto guys that wanted Phil on every gig possible because it made them look good.

If you make the band and band leader look good and sound better; you will always work. Phil taught me to contribute to the band's sounding better just because I was there; plain and simple. If you can make the boss look good, he will call you next time.

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Phil Sobel was soon playing Lead Alto on every major Radio and TV job in town; working on the NBC Staff Orchestra from 1955-1978, and developing an impressive list of credits over the past 50 years.

I learned a lot from this story and it might well be the single most important thing anyone ever shared with me to get, and keep playing jobs without games or back stabbing.

I realized, it's not really about the best technical player.

How a player fits into the group and what they add is so much more important. Does that Bass Player make the whole band play better? Is it the worlds best Bass Player? Who cares about having a star when you all can shine with an appropriate, team player.

There are stories in Jazz History that tell of amazing all-star bands that just sucked. 20 amazing soloists does not a band make!

I hire with the end product in mind and choose guys based on how slamming the band will sound together. Many times I have stars in the band, but they're there because everyone sounds better.

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The most important and missed word in the Musicians Dictionary is Appropriate.

I attribute my development of this valued concept to Phil Sobel and this little story.

I believe the most important thing a Musician can be is appropriate. Some guys show up to do there thing. Sometimes it is not the right thing for the gig but might be a really cool thing in a different setting.

The guys that work, stay working and build there client base do so because they do the job. They either find or create work that allows there personal expression; or learn to be appropriate to the job description regarding gigs they accept.

In simple terms; I work a lot because I try to be appropriate to the gig and make everyoneís job easier when Iím there. I donít ever remember loosing a gig that I wanted because I was not right for the gig. I say NO to work offers all the time and could work every night if I wanted to. I know that sounds lame but it is pretty dang true.

If you are going to show up to play sax; try it. Just go out of your way to kill on the job you were called for and make everyone else look good. It will only make you look better.

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If you apply this, you will have the cool problem of too many leaders wanting you and have to deal with the stress of saying NO to gigs you just canít fit in.

Remember that old joke? How do you get a musician to complain? Give him a gig! May there be much complaining going on from the overload of playing jobs that you love!

A big thanks to Phil Sobel for giving me this gem. One day this will be a book of great examples of appropriate players highly successful careers, all dedicated to his genius.

(c) Copyright 2004 Greg Vail Music

Greg Vail is an active recording and performing Saxophonist in the Jazz and Gospel Music genres, out spoken writer and webmaster providing help and support to the Saxophone Community.


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UPDATE :: JULY 30, 2005

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