We sat down with MP sax instructor Dave Wilson. He’s performed on the Ellen DeGeneres show and he’s composed several of his own pieces. We asked Dave what his top tips for saxophone players are, plus what challenges he faces as a professional musician, and he had some great advice:
1. How long have you been playing the saxophone, and why did you choose to become a saxophone player?
I’ve been playing the saxophone for 24 years. Originally, I wanted to choose the oboe because I thought the sound was beautiful. But, as a 10 year old kid in 1990, I was more concerned with this one girl thinking I was cool and I thought playing the saxophone would win her over!
2. What is your preferred brand of reeds to play on?
It depends on what type of music I’m playing, and which saxophone (soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone). For classical saxophone music, I use Vandoren (blue box) reeds regardless of which saxophone I’m playing. For jazz, I’m currently playing Rico Jazz Select reeds on tenor, Vandoren Java reeds on alto and soprano, and actually the Vandoren blue box on baritone.
Dave Wilson playing tenor at a jazz club performance.
3. In your opinion, what is one of the key traits that marks an outstanding saxophone player?
For me a saxophone player’s sound is what distinguishes him or her as outstanding. Of course it’s important to be able to express a range of tone colors, but in every setting, a full, focused, supported sound shows that a saxophonist is at a superior level and opens the door to a wide range of musical creativity.
4. What is one of the most challenging issues that you’ve faced as a musician and how did you, or how are you working to, overcome it?
I’m always challenging myself with new rhythmic concepts. As I discover musical traditions whose rhythmic intricacies are far more complex than those of the Western classical music tradition, I seek to incorporate those sensibilities into the way I think about music, the way I perform, and the way I improvise.
Feb. 2014 - Dave Wilson, center, playing the baritone saxophone as part of a septet.
5. What is one of the best pieces of advice that you’ve received in regards to your performance technique?
As musicians, we receive so much training in regards to our technique, which is really how we relate our bodies to our instruments in order to make musical expression easier. A few months ago, one of my mentors, flutist and composer James Newton, said to me: “Rely on your training.“ Sometimes I forget the basic things that I tell students about hand placement, embouchure, and breathing. But when I remember that training, and bring it into focus, I am able to so much more easily express myself through the instrument in a fluid way.