Vandoren Artist Profile | Chris Madsen

Date Posted: July 30, 2018

Not registered? Create account
Forgot Password?
Or continue with

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

I was always drawn to music from the time when I was really young. One of my earliest musical memories was when my father would be driving me around, and I’d always have two pencils and in the front seat, drumming on the dashboard to go along with the radio. My dad loved the Beatles. But then, my parents got me a real drum set and I taught myself, but that’s always what I wanted to do in my free time. There’s no better way that I wanted to spend my free time – messing around with piano, drums or whatever it was. Eventually the public school band program came along, I chose saxophone, and my obsessions went that direction. It was the summer after my eighth grade into my ninth grade year, I went to the Birch Creek Music Camp up in Door County. I was just really inspired. From that point on, I decided I wanted to be a professional jazz saxophonist. I was thirteen when I made that choice. I’ve known for a long time. I was real lucky to know early on and just take the hints from where my brain was leading me that that was going to be the best thing.

Who are your musical inspirations?

My parents aren’t musical – hardly at all. They never pursued it and they don’t have any musical talent necessarily. My various band directors growing up. I went to high school in the Chicago suburbs and we had this legendary band director named Don Shupe. He knew how to motivate the students for the right reasons, not for his glorification of his career. He taught us how to be inspired for our own sake. He taught us about hard work and having that pay off really well. I think I just take a lot of cues from that work ethic that he helped me to develop back then. Over the years there have been tons more, specifically saxophone and jazz influences. Early on, Don Shupe helped me get my mind right about what it takes to play music and to look at in a serious way.

"The beautiful thing about jazz is that there is no ranking. Everyone works to develop their own individuality. " - Chris Madsen

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced as a musician and how have you overcome them?

The greatest challenge I’ve faced as a jazz musician, specifically, is the fact that the field is so crowded with other jazz saxophonists. It’s a mind game you play with yourself where it’s very tempting to want to compare yourself to others and say this person is better than me or I’m gaining traction on them, but that takes the artistry out of it. The beautiful thing about jazz is that there is no ranking. Everyone works to develop their own individuality. That’s been the biggest thing for me: trying to be happy with my individuality within this really crowded field of other people who are trying to do the same thing. That’s trying to stick out in the crowd while still fitting in at the same time. Negotiating that paradigm, it’s tough, but I love the challenge of it. You have to learn to develop a thicker skin and not to take things personally in a musical sense which is something that everyone has to deal with.

Do you have any memorable performances?

I remember one of my most memorable ones was playing a late set at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola when I was living in New York. It was me, and pianist Aaron Diehl, who’s now gone off to do really great things. We were both in school together at Juilliard. We were able to play the late set after Joe Levano and Hank Jones who were playing the regular timed sets. (their engagement was later made into a famous album they put out). After that, Aaron Diehl and I got to go up there. It was the same instrumentation but it was with us. Being able to follow those guys every night for 5-straight nights. Sometimes they would stick around and watch us. Joe Levano is one of my living idols on my instrument. It was nerve-wracking but it was inspirational and that’s helped me in getting back to being comfortable in your own skin. Just playing the way I felt should be played – not alternating it because one of my heroes was sitting out there listening.

There was another one at Dizzy’s Club. It was my birthday and I was leading a gig (it was the after-hours set). Wynton Marsalis just finished playing in the next room over and after he was done, he came and checked out my group at Dizzy’s Club. He ended up sitting in and we ended up playing 5 or 6 tunes together. That was really memorable. The fact that it happened on my birthday it almost seemed like the stars aligned. It was incredible. It was trying to keep my blood pressure down and maintain my composure. That was really a special birthday.

What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a musician?

The most fulfilling aspect would be the idea that you can bring the thoughts and creative ideas that you have to life and that people will actually soak them in and appreciate them. I think it’s something we take for granted because it’s obvious we don’t want to do that. Whether it’s playing or composing or whatever, we just assume there will be an audience there and interested in what you have to say. If you take a step back and really think about it, there are people out there who have their own creative ambitions most of the time, and they’re willing to listen to what you have to say. All these years of blood, sweat, and tears that you put in to the practice room and the preparation, they come to fruition. People are moved by them, or at least are intellectually moved by them. When you think about, what’s really happening in a performance it kindof blows your mind. It’s such a gift to be able to do that, however often any one is able to do it. It’s amazing that we have this dynamic in the performing arts.

Learn about Vandoren JUNO reeds, the only reed specifically designed for students.

Subscribe to the We Are Vandoren E-newsletter (WAVE) to receive 4 weekly articles for Performers, Students, and Educators

First name:
Last name:
Search Loading...