There was a time when being a saxophone player and being in a rock band were not mutually exclusive. That ship has sailed, friends, and it only docks now when VH1 airs a weekend-long I Love the '80s marathon. The Me Decade was also the Reed Decade, an absolutely glorious time to be a rockin' sax player, only rivaled by the early days of rock & roll. Think about it: Clarence Clemons was the lynchpin of Bruce Springsteen's crowd-pleasing E Street Band. Kirk Pengilly more or less defined the INXS sound. There was Glen Frey's seminal "You Belong to the City," not to mention most of the Miami Vice soundtrack. There were tons of other sax-bands, too. And there was Billy Hicks.
Hicks is not a real person, nor is his group, the New Breed Band. Hicks is a part played (to some acclaim, mostly from teenage girls) by Rob Lowe in the TNT New Classic St. Elmo's Fire. But here's the thing: Hicks did nothing but play saxophone, and he was the absolute star of the aforementioned New Breed Band. His searing solos caused a younger, pudgier and much more realistic-looking Demi Moore to borderline mouth-rape him in one memorable scene.
If they remade St. Elmo's Fire with, say, Ashton Kutcher in the Billy Hicks role, two things would happen: 1) Demi Moore would almost definitely still borderline mouth-rape him, and 2) Hicks would now be the hot-shit guitar player. This is the first note a studio exec would make in the margins of the script. Why? Because no one in their right mind would buy the fact that a mothereffing saxophone player could front his own rock band.
There are a few people out there who still believe. I came across one when I was trying to find information on Timmy Cappello, also known as the creepy, ponytailed, greased-up sax player who made his mark on the 1980s with a cameo in Lost Boys and a few tours supporting Tina Turner. As it turns out, the "sweaty sax player from Lost Boys" -- which brought up five hits on Google -- has a Web site. A pretty fancy one, actually, at www.ultimatetimmyfanz.com. So I contacted the guy who created it, J.D. Summar, to ask what happened to the sax.
"I believe the ease of creating music (synthesizers/keyboards and sounds/beats at the touch of a button) has killed music that used to be played by real musicians," Summar writes. "To the producers of today, it's easier and probably more affordable to have a machine play music than a person. I'm sorry but computers can't play the same way a human can. You can't get Timmy's sound or any other known sax players out there that way; there's no 'individualism' to the music.... Plus, the majority of music out there today doesn't lend itself to sax performances, unfortunately."
That last bit is probably the real reason. But just because there doesn't seem to be a place for it doesn't mean it can't work. So listen up, Franz Ferdinand and the Killers and the Futureheads and all you other retro-leaning bands out there. The gauntlet has been thrown down. The game is afoot. Come next year, I want to see new albums with sax solos on them. Make it happen. Or don't, if you don't feel like it. I played tuba in high school. My dream died a long time ago. -- Zac Crain
Most weekend nights you'll find Dave Farver onstage at a local nightspot, playing sax and singing for party-hardy crowds who order beers right up until last call. On weekdays Farver's playing for a different sort of audience -- an equally rowdy bunch, but one whose after-show activity will consist of trying to chug juice boxes before naptime.
The kids' parents may have seen Farver perform with his band Deep Six, or with groups such as Groove Thang, Poke Chop or The Sun Sawed in Half. But to thousands of area preschoolers, Farver is known as "Mr. Saxophone": the tall, skinny guy who comes to their daycare center, camp or preschool to sing, play the sax and guitar, lead sing-a-longs, make funny faces, dance around, and do whatever else is necessary to entertain them for 45 minutes or so.
Farver first performed for children eight years ago. "It started out with me losing my day job, because I took unpaid leave to play a Department of Defense tour of military bases," he says. Farver considered all the ways his musical skills could be used to earn a living during the daytime. With a son and daughter of his own, it wasn't long before he hit on the idea of performing for children.
He put together a series of twelve shows with seasonal themes, incorporating traditional children's songs, music from TV cartoons, Raffi covers, polkas, public-domain folk songs and anything else that seemed likely to complement his own original tunes. After a lot of cold-calling and a few free gigs, he's developed a base of repeat customers, performing at some locations once a month, at others once or twice a year. He's also got a CD, Sing and Dance with Mr. Saxophone, that he sells on his Web site and through daycare centers and select retailers.
Farver travels light so he can do several shows a day, performing live vocals, sax and guitar over backing tracks prerecorded in his home studio and played back over a boombox. Add in a few simple props and a lot of audience participation, and it's child's play.
Farver admits to one downside, though. His wardrobe, which consists of "giant, stovepipe pants" and shirts in eye-bogglingly bright colors, can raise some eyebrows if he has to stop by the grown-up world on the way to or from a gig, "but I've gotten over it."
And he's discovered one bad habit that kids have in common with their parents. "They scream out requests just like people in the bars," says Farver. "'Old MacDonald' is the 'Free Bird' of the daycare-center set." -- Dean C. Minderman