This month we are celebrating someone who inspires so many of our Sax School members – generous with his advice and support, and sharing a wealth of experience from his saxophone career. Our June Sax School Legend is John Carlo from the USA.
Starting out on saxophone
John comes from a family with many talented musicians, so it’s no surprise that it was a family member who introduced him to the saxophone, as a little boy. “My Uncle Ray had a band, and when I was a little kid I heard them play “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” at a wedding. My uncle asked me what I thought of the band, and I told him I wanted to play trumpet.”
Fortunately, Uncle Ray had other ideas. “My uncle brought me an old C melody saxophone that he had re-padded, and taught me to play the C scale. .. then a few weeks later he found me a Conn alto, which was a much better horn and I started to take it more seriously.”
John soon wanted a band of his own. “I got together with two other friends – one played snare drum, the other played accordion – and we learned to play “Alley Cat” for the church bazaar,” John explains.
As John progressed through school, he felt frustrated by the limited opportunities available to him to develop his music. “There was no music programme really till High School, but even then, they weren’t really offering the music I wanted to play,” he says. John’s independent attitude shone through when he took matters into his own hands again. “I formed my own dixieland band and we played church bazaars – it was fun!” he says.
Gigging on saxophone
By the time he was at High School, John’s saxophone career was already heading in the right direction. “I was playing gigs 3 nights a week with Matt Carlucci who sang and played Hammond B3 Organ,” John explains. “It was great, but it meant I didn’t do too well in my geometry class!”
These gigs proved to be a great opportunity for John’s saxophone playing to develop. “Matt liked to challenge me, so we would be playing “Misty,” then he would switch to a swing version, then he’d modulate into something else and he expected me to follow! It was a great grounding as a teenager.”
Playing with Legends
John went on to college as a music major in Ohio, where he auditioned in front of Lou Marini Snr (Blue Lou Marini’s father). “The music he gave me to read was way beyond what I had done with my High School band and I was out of my depth,” explains John. “ But then [Lou] said, ‘just play what you know’ so I played some standards, and the blues, and he said ‘we need you in the jazz band – we’re going to be gigging together!’”
This was an amazing experience for John, and taught him a lot about his own playing. “Lou once told me that I create melodies in my solos, and I think that’s true,” he says. “ I don’t think I play much jazz – I create melodies. I play horizontally, I don’t jump up and down the intervals so much. Maybe it was the influence of the music I listened to early on, like Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster”.
John went on to work on the band and orchestra programmes in schools , which he loved, for 13 years. But then, sadly John began to lose his hearing. He felt that he could no longer fulfil his role as he wanted to. This was a difficult time. “I sold my Selmer Mark VI saxophone, I couldn’t even bear to listen to music on the radio. It was sad to leave it,” he says.
Back to saxophone
However, John found that he missed playing saxophone, and when he got the opportunity to buy a Selmer Mark VI alto, he couldn’t resist. He started playing his saxophone in church, where he met some great musicians.
Finding Sax School
Another boost for John’s love for his saxophone came when he discovered Sax School. “I was hooked”, he says. “I went out and bought my Selmer Super-Balanced Action Jubilee edition tenor, which I love.” John quickly got involved in the Sax School Community, posting videos and offering advice. “They are phenomenal people who constitute Sax School. I don’t think you can find it anywhere else,” he says.
Tips for new Sax School Members
John has some great advice for people new to Sax School.
- Set realistic goals for yourself to stay motivated
- Get the foundations right. Practice scales and arpeggios – it really helps with key signatures. Breathe from your diaphragm and fill the horn with as much air as you can.
- Listen to all the great sax music out there – and get an idea of what you want to sound like.
- Follow through the Sax School lessons but don’t be afraid to try something that is a little bit beyond you. Challenge yourself.
- Get involved with the Community – there’s so much great advice in there.