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Take Five With Dan Wilensky

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Dan Wilensky:

Saxophonist, composer, and author Dan Wilensky has toured and recorded with hundreds of artists, including Ray Charles, Jack McDuff, Joan Baez, Santana, Steve Winwood, Donna Summer, R. Kelly, Melissa Manchester, Faith No More, Hall & Oates, Freddie Jackson, Linda Eder, Mark Murphy, James Brown, Deborah Harry, The Manhattan Transfer, David Bowie, and Madonna. He has played on numerous commercial jingles, film soundtracks and TV themes, including The Nanny, Hollywood Squares, Sex In The City, ESPN Sportscenter, The Montel Williams Show, A Chorus Line and Hairspray, and can be heard on over 250 records.

In 1986, Wilensky won a National Endowment for the Arts award for jazz performance and composition. He has led or been a member of dozens of bands, notably Slickaphonics (featuring Ray Anderson and Mark Helias), Who It Is! (Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee, Will Lee and Steve Gadd), and Rick Derringer's house band for Joy Behar's talk show, Way Off Broadway.

Currently, Wilensky is featured on the music for the Emmy winning PBS children's show Between the Lions, and performs, records, and teaches worldwide. His new book, Musician!, his new CD, If You Only Knew, and his method book, Advanced Sax, are available at fine websites.


All Saxophones, flutes, keyboards.

Teachers and/or influences? I studied classical piano with Julian White, and saxophone with Joe Henderson. I'm influenced by everything I hear.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I realized that I was a musician.

Your sound and approach to music: Sound is where it's at! Just the fact that as humans, we use our eyes more than our ears, says it all. We are clearly not finished evolving. Seriously, just being blessed with the ability to hear is enough for me. I listen to everything, learn from what I hear, and try not to get in the way when I play or compose. I try to think like a singer, and make every note count. If I have a musical goal, it's to keep listening. And I like the idea of less notes in general.

Your teaching approach: Every student is different. I tailor the lessons to what each person needs and wants. That said, one thing I encourage all my students to do is to listen to everything.

Your dream band:

My goal right now is just to keep a working band together without having to make too many calls! And I want to work with everyone. Almost.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: In ancient times, before e-mails provided written evidence of gig details, I got a call from a club date office to play solo saxophone for a wedding ceremony at a church on lower Fifth Avenue in New York. The job entailed waiting outside the church; when the doors opened at 11am, I was to play a jazzy version of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," the classic wedding recessional. The newlyweds would hustle down the steps in a hail of rice, laughter, and joyful saxophonistics—an easy gig by any measure.

This particular Sunday morning was damp and gray, and there was a chance of a shower. I showed up early to get the lay of the land, and find out where I should play if it started raining. With the exception of a few pedestrians, no one was around, and I thought it was best not to enter the church in case the ceremony was in progress.

At 10:57, I focused all my attention on the church doors, horn at the ready. At the stroke of 11, a fellow in a dark suit slowly opened the doors; he didn't see me, and he hustled back inside before I could flag him down to get an update. Something felt wrong. A moment later, I saw several people coming towards the exit, so I busted into my swingin' take on the happy tune. Heads turned, and I thought I heard a woman scream. Just as I really start jamming, I heard someone yell: "Stop that right now! Get out of here! What in the hell are you doing?" Another guy comes running down the steps, looking like he was going to try to tackle me. I hustled my vintage Selmer to safety, and braced for a confrontation. The angry fellow bellowed:

"I don't know who you are or why you would play such a sick joke, but you should leave right now or you're going to get hurt."

Assessing my options, I made a gentle inquiry: "Isn't this the Parker wedding?"

"Listen to me carefully, young man. I don't know where you're supposed to be, or who sent you here, but you've just ruined this funeral. Leave now."

I could see the casket coming down the stairs behind him.

"I'm so sorry," I offered. "Apparently they sent me to the wrong church."



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