Approach to Music
Basically break music down into:
Rhythm (including space/articulation/phrasing)
Rhythm being the most important thing (to me) that you can hear. Listening bringing everything together. Tone putting beauty into the music. Technique enabling you to express yourself. And of course you can do cool and beautiful things with harmony as well.
Began playing saxophone at age 11, but I studied a lot of math and science in school. Got a degree in physics, then starting working in a lab and working on a masters degree in applied physics.
Worked in the lab for a while, focusing on sensors and imagery. Also played in some bands and got more into music. Took a few months off from the lab and worked more on Sax Station and thought about some things. Then taught an introduction to physics course at a junior college. Now I’m focusing on music, especially the saxophone.
My approach is a little different, in my playing there is often a more rhythmic approach sometimes with a more rough tone. Influenced by Stanley Turrentine, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, and Maceo Parker. Also a lot of Latin music in more recent years.
Music started to become a bigger part of my life as I grew up, in Monterey, California, home of the Monterey Jazz Festival. My mom was a fan of jazz, so got introduced to the music through recordings and the festival, which is the longest running jazz festival in the world.
Started on clarinet and then began tenor sax as well (playing both for some time). The tenor saxophone was almost as big as I was!
Playing saxophone (and music in general) is good for the soul! Gary Stotz (Mr. Stotz at the time and my first music teacher) always said that it’s a great antidepressant.
But, you probably know that!
Playing Sax in School
Played in the school orchestra, band, jazz band, and a few other groups. The saxophone became a way for me to express myself.
Thousands of Hours of Physics…..
Physics was a subject that I enjoyed and my favorite science class so that’s what I ended up majoring in at Santa Clara University. Had a great adviser, Phil Kesten, and learned a lot. Physics is very interesting. But also took a number of other classes not so much related to physics.
At Santa Clara, I studied physics, language and music. Played sax with jazz combos, the big band, and bands with other students. Graduated with a degree in physics and continued to grad school to get a masters in applied physics with an emphasis in acoustics.
Research, teaching, music
Spent some time doing research in physics, recently began teaching college physics, but have kept playing saxophone the whole time.
Focusing more on music
Music is what I love, so though I studied physics and taught, also continued to spend a lot of time on music. Played in bands, check out concerts, and go to classes including some with George Young and Victor Wooten.
As a physics professor, I taught a class everyday. Teaching in college helps me lay things out better and figure out how different students learn. Teaching requires mastery and I learn the details in a deeper way when I need to simplify it and make it understandable.
Being a founding member of a salsa band, I also dance a lot. Dancing is another way of feeling the music and in between our band’s sets, I’ll usually be on the dance floor.
I perform with a salsa band called Salsón and we have played the SF Salsa Congress, Redwood City Salsa Festival, Agenda, Cafe Cocomo, among other places. Also play some jazz in Monterey and sub with some groups. Have been teaching many more students including students from around the world through Saxophone Tribe.
Started Sax Station in 2006, there is a ton of information as well as music and lessons. Check it out!
I talk about saxophone groove on the site since I think it matters more if the music feels good than if you play the ‘right’ note. And the note is only wrong if it disrupts the flow and messes up your playing. If you use a ‘wrong’ note as a passing tone, it sounds good and gives some color to what you play.
Watch this to learn some more about what Sax Station is about:
If you’re getting started with saxophone, click the button to the right to get personalized lessons.
If you’ve been playing for a little while and want to work on things like improvisation and ear training, also click the button to the right.
Or you can Hear Neal playing saxophone