Don Aliquo: The Man, The Music, The Journey
DA: Branford does have a point about the level of difficulty of some classical pieces! I didn't really get into playing any classical saxophone myself until my late 20s, early 30s. I had just gotten off the road with an R&B band, and my chops were pretty funky although I could play high, loud and fast! I just felt I had lost a certain amount of control and subtlety in my approach to music. So I sought out a classical saxophone teacher named Marino Galluzzo. I had studied a little classical as a freshman at Duquesne with a fine teacher, Nestor Koval, but that didn't go too well. I just couldn't get with the whole idea at that time. "How could anybody play alto with a better sound than Bird's?" was more or less my train of thought when I was 18. Anyway, after studying with Marino for a while I started to get more interested in learning some repertoire and I began to enjoy the challenge of it. He played me some recordings by people like Marcel Mule and Sigurd Raschèr and Jean-Marie Londeix, and I began to see that the level of artistry [of classical players] was great. I also remember a lot of jazz players whose musicianship I respected telling me, "Why the hell are you doing that for?"
I should say that I am always surprised at how closed-minded some folks still are about this issue on both sides of the aisle. There has always been a lot of controversy surrounding different styles of classical saxophone playing, and then you add jazz players with their individualized approach and tone and you have really stirred up the pot! It seems to me that musicians today are not limiting their options, but are open to both classical and jazz. I hope I am right! I think all jazz saxophone students should at least understand how to prepare a classical work technically and tonally speaking. If for no other reason, it brings another layer of musicianship to your career and certainly won't hurt your options for work! As I mentioned before, the nuance and technique required present a real challenge, although they do carry over well to jazz playing. If you think of your favorite saxophonist playing a ballad, for instance, you will hear shifts in tone color, a variety of articulation, expressive devices, dynamics, et ceteraall the things that are common to classical playing. Of course, it works both ways: I think all classically oriented saxophonists should understand how to play a jazz chart with acceptable tone and conception and improvise on a blues! I remember seeing the great classical player, Don Sinta, spending most of his master class trying to convince the students they needed to learn how to improvise. That was really refreshing, after seeing master classes where there was an undercurrent of disrespect leveled at the jazz saxophone.
Having said all that, it is extremely difficult for me to keep both oars in the water at an acceptable level. Both styles demand absolute dedication. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. The only way it could even work at all is if I practiced all day, every day! Actually, I have been dedicating a certain amount of practice time to studying my first instrument, the clarinet, and the bass clarinet. My goal is to be as proficient in those as I am with the saxophone, especially as a jazz musician! As far as Branford being able to perform difficult classical saxophone works, I say more power to him! If you got the chops to do it, do it!
Affinity Trio, with Special Guest Jeff Coffin Affinity Trio (Affinity, 2010)
Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra What Did You Dream (OA2, 2009)
Southern Excursion Quartet, Trading Post (Artists Recording Collective, 2008)
Don Aliquo, Jazz Folk (Young Warrior 300, 2006)
Don Aliquo with Dana Landry Journey Home (Summit Records DCD416, 2006)
Don Aliquo with Gene Ludwig Soul Serenade (Blues Leaf 9810, 2000)
All photos courtesy Don Aliquo