How to Master Every Saxophone Genre

with Saxophone Great Bill Evans

Date Posted: July 18, 2016

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Interview conducted by Ben Woodard

We hear the idea of someone being a "genre-defying" or "Multi-Genre" instrumentalist, but what does that mean for a saxophone player?

Bill Evans: Playing with different genres will give you a different perspective on improvising. I will play differently if I'm sitting in and playing with the Allman Brothers Band, than I will if I sit in and play with Willie Nelson. It's still me performing , but just reacting to the different music around me. I love that!

What expectations are there when approaching a solo album as a saxophone player incorporating blues, country, bluegrass or another less conventional style?

BE: I need to be inspired when I do each and every solo album that I write (I've done 20), and using interesting instruments, different genres of music inspires me. What painter only likes to paint trees? They will paint all kinds of pictures. The same goes for music. Inspiration gives me the drive to spend hours and hours writing and recording. On my latest CD, Rise Above, I used a lot of guest artist singers. I co-wrote with most of them. It's a progressive rock, jazz, soul CD. It's all just another flavor in the big picture. I have to love writing and recording what I do. If I don't feel totally inspired, than it's hard for me to work on it. It would become a "job" if I didn't love it.

What keeps more saxophone players from playing in different genres?

BE: I have no idea - maybe they don't hear it . From my early days with Miles Davis, I have always loved experimenting with different genres . It's a part of what I do. Tomorrow I will sing in front of 5,000 people here in Italy. I just started singing, so it's another challenging color I can add to the band. Experimentation keeps me going and also keeps it fresh for the audience.

As a saxophonist, where do you draw inspiration from when playing music with Americana influence?

BE: I get inspiration from good strong melodies. I'm a jazz musician first, so I need a certain element of harmony and chords to keep it interesting for me. I love the Americana rhythms , and the different instruments, like the banjo, fiddle and dobro. I toured using a banjo for over 10 years. I only recently went back to just guitar in the band. Bluegrass is just another form of bebop to me ...haha! Fast lines etc...all music!

What is the biggest obstacle in playing in a genre less explored by saxophonists?

BE: Getting recognized in the genre you are performing in. If it's unusual and people are not used to hearing it, then you have to bring the music to THEM. And that's not always so easy. I have had so many people over the years say to me, "Bill, don't stop doing what you're doing. We hear you out here and need people like you." So that's nice.

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