Vandoren Artist Profile: Alex Beltran

Vandoren


When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

I wanted to be a musician as soon as I  started playing jazz saxophone. I was a originally a clarinetist. I liked playing clarinet and I liked playing music, but I didn’t see myself pursuing music beyond a hobby. Then, I was in school when somebody asked if I could play saxophone in jazz band – that was it. I started playing and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’  After that, I was pretty much sold on the saxophone in jazz – no looking back!

My folks introduced me to jazz. My mom’s favorite saxophone player was John Coltrane. She grew up listening to him and immediately gave me a bunch of albums. It was after being introduced to Coltrane that I decided to play tenor primarily.  


Who have been some of the most influential people in your life?

There have been a couple of influential people in my life. Musically, they are fellow Vandoren Artists. They would be people I’ve studied with – one of them being Tom Walsh, who I studied with at Indiana University. He taught me how to play the saxophone. He taught me the nuts and bolts. I would not know how to do it without his guidance. The second person would be Mark Colby, with whom I still play occasionally. He helped bring a sense of artistry and drama  into my playing, taught me how to be a musician, and how to be a working musician in the city. Both of them I’m very indebted to musically. I also studied with Jim Snidero – he kicked my butt in the best way possible. I think beyond music would be my family. They’ve been nothing but supportive of me in my artistic career. When you’re a young person, it can be a daunting proposition for anyone, but I couldn’t imagine pursuing it without the support of my family and my wife.


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

I have a slight stage-fright that I’ve been dealing with through my whole career. It’s not bad, but every time I’m about to play a big show or concert, I’ll get butterflies in my stomach and  I’ll feel goosebumps all over. I’ve felt  more comfortable as myself, not just as a musician, as I’ve gotten older. When I was younger and first starting out, it was moving to the city, meeting a bunch of musicians who were older than me, and sitting in on gigs that made me nervous. Those were  make it or break it times. As I got a little older and my colleagues got to  know me as a person, it’s became easier and easier. It never goes away, you just learn how to deal with it.

The second challenge would be physical. No one really tells you when you pursue music professionally that playing an instrument day in and day out, year after year, can put stains on your body. For me, it’s been about learning about my body physically and how it reacts to the stress of playing. It’s been about exercise, stretching, and some yoga. So that not only mentally am I capable of playing but also making sure I’m physically capable. I think the two are linked and needed in order to perform well. Honestly, ever since I’ve started paying attention to my physical well-being  more, it’s helped my playing a lot. For me, the past 5 years have had many  challenges I feel like I’ve overcome. Because of those two things, it’s made me become a better person and able to move forward.


Do you have any memorable performances?

Yes, there have been several in my life. Some of them have included playing along with my heroes in more of a jazz setting and then some surprising gigs where I didn’t think I would be there. It was sharing the stage with Ira Sullivan, Phil Woods, and musicians  I’ve always looked up to. Suddenly you’re sitting there and soloing with them and think ‘how did I get here? This is great!’

Other things such as I’ll be home on a Thursday morning, getting ready to go teach some students, and I’ll get a call, “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow night? We need a saxophone player to play with Aretha Franklin, are you available?”’ Next thing I know I’m playing with Aretha Franklin! Being a musician is always funny because you have no idea what the next week, day,  or even a couple of hours will look like  when you pick up the phone, check your email, or get a text. All of a sudden you thought your day or week was going one way and then the next thing you know you might be doing something totally different and incredible.


What has been the most fulfilling aspect as a musician?

That’s a tough one because there are  a lot of ways being a musician has changed my life. I’d probably be a completely different person had I not chosen to play music. I think the most fulfilling aspect is that music has  forced me to know myself better. I know who I am as a person, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Beyond that is just the camaraderie and the friendships I’ve made through music. I get to make music with and call some incredible people and musicians my colleagues and friends. Music gives you a sense of community. It’s a really beautiful thing! I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

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