David came back to the sax after a break of 56 years – and he sounds awesome!
David is our Legend
This month at Sax School wanted to celebrate a member who has been making amazing videos for our community and for our spotlight sessions. He’s got such a great sound and he’s such a confident and established player. I just had to find out more about what he’s doing, what his background is, and how he’s using Sax School.
Our Legend for February 2022 is David Kresl.
Starting out on saxophone
Although David hasn’t been a member of Sax School for long, he’s been playing saxophone since he was a child. Right from the beginning, David was lucky to have an amazing saxophone teacher. “I was in 7th grade, in 1954,… and a man came to our little grade school, …with the intent of starting a school orchestra,” explains David. “So I took lessons from him for about five years. His name was Cecil Leeson, and he was the first saxophonist to solo with a major symphony orchestra – in 1937 in New York.”
Fortunately for David, Cecil Leeson moved away from performing and opened a music store. He also became a Professor of Saxophone at Northwestern University, and made a great contributed to the saxophone being taken seriously as an instrument.
So David had a great start to his saxophone journey, learning with such an influential player. However, this meant that David was only focused on classical saxophone.
There was no improv whatsoever,” remembers David, “I never heard of a blues scale, a pentatonic scale, or anything like that.”
However, David was exploring music outside of his saxophone lessons. “My brother and I were fans of jazz, and in Chicago there was a club called the Blue Note. And there were unusual in that they had a Coke bar where at 15 years old, I could go down… and we listened to Woody Herman’s Third Herd, Stan Kenton, Basie with Joe Williams, Gerry Mulligan, and all that stuff. So I was listening to music, but I’d never improvised.”
Playing with Jazz Orchestra
When David got to university, he got the first tenor seat in the university jazz orchestra, even though he wasn’t studying music.
“With this jazz band, we were playing Intermission Riff and Bernie’s Tune and Jump for Joe … And I had no idea what I was doing. I was just playing by instinct because I had not studied improvising,” he explains.
However, all the jazz which David had been listening to in the clubs in Chicago helped him know the direction he wanted to go with his own playing. “I think it’s important as a player, to sing in your mind…. so without picking the horn up, you can play songs. And the more you listen to a song, the more you learn little things that you could do to improvise it and make it a little different, to make it your own piece.”
After leaving university, David left his saxophone behind. With four children and a job that involved a lot of travelling, he didn’t have time to play.
Coming back to the sax
Two years ago, David decided to get his saxophone – a Conn “Naked Lady” tenor – reconditioned, and joined Sax School. After a set-back when he broke his femur, David got started with Sax School 6 months ago.
Coming back to the sax, David has noticed a lot of changes since he last played 56 years ago. “Before I was playing with cane reeds and I had my trusty razor blade. And now I’ve got a Reed Geek. Plus I have synthetic reeds – I use Légère 2.5 American Cut which I love”.
David has also been experimenting with different mouthpieces, and he’s come to an interesting conclusion. “I now play a Vandoren T20 and, it’s funny, the one that I liked second most is this one that I’ve had for 60 years. There’s no name on it – nothing!” says David.
Playing with Backing Tracks
Getting back to the sax, David has also enjoyed discovering backing tracks. “We never had backing tracks before,” he explains. “Now I can play with a symphony orchestra, or a group.” David makes use of backing tracks on YouTube, especially those which include the sheet music, and records using GarageBand. “I put [the track] into GarageBand. And if I’m preparing a piece to record… I’ll play that over and over again, without my horn. I’ll get so familiar with the song, and then start singing, and do some scat singing in my own mind. And finally, then I come up with the finished product.”
Here’s David playing “Blame it on my Youth”.
David’s three-step process (listen, sing, play) is a really great approach that we encourage our students to use in Sax School. And we can hear this in David’s playing. His improvised lines are melodic and make sense musically. “People say I sound like Ben Webster, which is interesting because I didn’t used to listen to a lot of his playing. That’s just my tone,” says David.
David’s Saxophone Goals
Having clear goals for his saxophone playing is really important to David. “They should be short-term goals. You can get too expansive”, he explains. “You try to set a time every day when you put time into practice and focus on a path. If you get on the Pathways [inside Sax School] as an example, go through the process of all the different lessons that are in pathways and expand upon that without trying to jump to other things. You have to be focused. The warmups and long tones and the technique and that stuff are important.”
For David, sharing his playing in our Sax School Community in a big priority. “That’s the importance of making these recordings, because we have a Community [in Sax School] that is so giving….They still love to listen to people who are in the process of developing their talents. I think that’s one of the big things about the Sax School. It’s great.”
In his practice routine, David is working on the foundations of his improvising. “I do scales all the time and anchor notes. And [Nigel] gave me the suggestion to concentrate more on the anchor notes and harmony…”, David explains.
Even thought he’s coming back to the sax after 56 years, David is still setting himself new challenges, starting to play the alto saxophone. “I bought a Jean-Paul [alto] a couple of months ago. I find a big, big difference between the alto and the tenor. My gosh, my embouchure, just to get it so I could hit some of the high notes! But it’s been enjoyable. I’m not ready to record anything yet, I don’t think, because I’ve got my own standard, but someday I will.”
It’s so inspiring to see David playing so well and still learning. If you’re new to the saxophone, or you’re coming back to the sax, Like David, after a long break, here are some essential tips from David to help you.
- Set small, achievable goals
- Use the Pathways to guide your learning
- Share your playing with a supportive Community
- When you’re starting with improvising use the 3 step process: Listen, Sing, then Play.
If you want to find out more about Sax School, where thousands of players like David are making great progress on saxophone, get our 14 day free trial here.