The saxophone has not been getting a good rap lately. Suffering from the shame of tortured 1980's pop song solos and the lite jazz "revolution" provided by the Kenny G's and John Teshes of the world, it seemed for a while that the saxophone would never be taken seriously outside of Lisa Simpson's bedroom again.
Of course, die-hard jazz fans have always known where to find quality performances. And now the KCME Series of Great Jazz Artists and Performances is about to reveal what happened to live jazz and show Colorado Springs what's right with the saxophone. The April jazz concerts at the Fine Arts Center have proven to be successful for three years, and this week's performer, tenor sax sensation Eric Alexander will appeal to everyone, vinyl-collectors and non-fanatics alike.
Summarizing a career like Alexander's is close to impossible. It's not unusual to find seasoned performers in the jazz world, but it's a pleasure to find a young musician with such an extensive catalog of solo and supporting recordings. At age 34, with 14 solo albums and more than 50 as a session player, it's easy to see why this more-up-than-coming artist was rated one of the top three tenor men deserving wider recognition by Downbeat Magazine in 2001.
Numbers aside, Alexander's playing is his true accomplishment. Classically trained until college -- when he discovered jazz and switched from alto to tenor sax -- Alexander has built an impressive career around an intensive performing and recording schedule. He also manages to squeeze in appearances at jazz festivals and a little bit of teaching.
Although his schedule prohibits him from teaching often, he enjoys rediscovering the "universal truths" of playing when he's able to teach workshops or private classes. He plays and teaches everything from be-bop to free jazz and recognizes that instinct plays a valuable role in any kind of proper improvisation.
"A series of chord changes is a simple but beautiful operation. Complex, yet simple. The first melodic line that enters your head is the first thing that should be executed, since it's frequently the best," said Alexander, referring to his own playing and writing as a continual work in progress, which has been noted by jazz critics who celebrate his style's continually evolving nature.
A veteran of the gritty and innovative South Side of Chicago scene, Alexander has performed with jazz greats like Harold Mabern and Charles Earland, and has placed second at the celebrated Thelonious Monk Institute's International Saxophone Competition, finishing just behind Joshua Redman. Alexander now lives in New York City. He was recently featured in a weeklong engagement at the Village Vanguard, which is widely considered to be the Carnegie Hall of jazz, whose stage has been home to legends John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis and many others.
Alexander will be performing with Eric Gunnison on piano, Ken Walker on bass, and Paul Romaine on drums. The quartet will also be performing on Tuesday at the Steamplant Theater in Salida and on Wednesday at the jazz club Dazzle in Denver.