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Artist Profiles

Scott Robinson: Jazz Ambassador

By Published: November 2, 2004
"It's part of the original design plan for the saxophone. It's not a novelty. It's not any kind of crazy idea that someone had to make a big saxophone. The original saxophone patent is for something like 14 sizes of these things," he said.

Another aspect of Robinson's career is his ability to repair instruments, necessity being the mother of invention.

"I'm a cheapskate and I don't want to pay all these repair bills," he chuckled. "I have hundreds of instruments and most of them are obtained in 'as-is' condition. That's how I'm able to maintain these things, by doing the work myself, which I started doing in high school: somebody showed my the basics, how to take the keys off, put them back on, this sort of thing."

And it is not unusual to see Robinson jump into the breach at a concert of festival when the call for a sax doctor goes out.

"I've been pressed into service a number of times, sometimes on the bands bus, sometimes on stage," he said. "Most things that go wrong are something very simple: one just needs to know how to identify the mistake and correct it. A little oil here, or removing some dirt there. That kind of thing clears up a lot of problems that have to do with springs and actions.

"I actually had to straighten the body of a saxophone once on a band bus with no tools at all. I managed to do it, although I think I scared everybody," he added.

Everybody has a "to do" list: mow lawn, wash car, get groceries, etc. Robinson's, however, includes an "orchestra of the impossible" and an airborne concert.

"I've always got a huge backlog of ideas and projects I wish I could do. The first that comes to mind that would require money and resources is my idea for a hot air balloon orchestra, which would be a three-dimensional orchestra. Well, four dimensional, really. Musicians placed in different hot air balloons which would be able to ascend to different altitude for specific parts of the piece. This is an idea which I've wished for years and years that I could somehow do. And I haven't found yet the way I could pull this off," he said.

"I've always had a great interest in lighter than air flight. In fact, a whole room of my house, which I call the airship room, is devoted entirely to memorabilia related to lighter-than-air flight," he said. "I've actually got pieces of some of the old airships that crashed in the '20s and '30s."

Instruments for his other pipe dream, the "orchestra of the impossible" would be "some of the more startling ones from my collection, plus others that need to be located or constructed," he explained. "Part of the orchestra is going to be a contrabass drum set, and I have most of the pieces of that ready to go, but I'm waiting for someone to construct the world's largest ride cymbal." With the cymbal expected to weigh in at 60 inches across and a 40-inch bass drum, "It's not going to sound anything like an ordinary drum set," he said.

Other aspirations include a multimedia work involving the surrealistic paintings of Richard Powers, whose works were used on science fiction book covers, Robinson said. "One of my biggest heroes and one of the largest influences on me musically and otherwise. He wasn't a musician, but his work has influence my music very much," he said.

Robinson said when people come to hear his first solo concert in 23 years November 4 at the Cornelia Street Cafe, they "should expect to see me in my mad scientist phase. I'm going to bring a lot of sound sources, some things that are seldom seen and the listener should expect a bit of science."

The duo portion of his show will include Julian Thayer, someone Robinson described as "a very important person in my musical life. He's a scientist and a bassist. I've known him for many years, and there are certain musical things that I only do with this person.

"When I was playing with Anthony Braxton's orchestra, he came one time and brought his mobile laboratory and put electrodes all over my body and took measurements of physiological changes that were occurring in my body as I performed Braxton's music. We met Braxton for lunch the next day and looked at the results and talked about it," he said.

"Anthony was very excited and I just remember very clearly that at one point he suddenly exclaimed: 'This is exactly what has to happen! The scientists and the musicians have to work together!' Big exclamation points."

Despite all this talk of science and experimentation, the audience can leave their lab coats at home, Robinson said.

"On this occasion, I don't think any goggles or protective wear will be required," he said. "Just don't sit too close on the contrabass sax."

Recommended Listening:

– Scott Robinson - Multiple Instruments (Multijazz, 1984)

– Frank Wess - Trying to Make My Blues Turn Green (Concord, 1994)

– Scott Robinson - Thinking Big (Arbors, 1997)

– Bob Brookmeyer's New Art Orchestra - New Works Celebration (Challenge,1997)

– Klaus Suonsaari - Portrait in Sound (Focus-KSJazz, 1998-'02)

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