Jon Saxx is a young saxophonist who's been making waves in the local jazz scene for some time now. We had a little chance to catch up with him before this weekend's Miami Gardens' Jazz in the Gardens 2010 where he'll be performing on a roster including Mary J. Blige, Robin Thicke, Teena Marie and others. Concert begins at 4 pm at the Sun Life Stadium (2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami Gardens) and tickets cost $53.50 via Ticketmaster.
New Times: Coming from (and having been employed as such) an engineering background, how was the transition into the world of entertaining?
Jon: I got my degree from Miami University of Ohio in Manufacturing Engineering. I moved here to Miami in 2004 as a Medical Device Engineer for Johnson & Johnson specializing in medical devices for the heart and for the brain. It was very unique to have both a career in engineering and a career in music, so getting laid off in 2009 was truly a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to fully harness my passion. The transition into the world of entertaining I had already started while being employed with Johnson and Johnson, yet with starting anything new, I had to network with friends, family, and co-workers that heard me play so that I could show case my talent. I have been playing the saxophone since the 4th grade, and I have managed 2 different bands; the process didn't change the location did.
Any colorful colleague reactions?
Jon: My coworkers never knew I played the saxophone; I kept engineering and my passion for the saxophone separate. My boss heard me play at a Christmas party and asked me to play for the next Johnson and Johnson fund raiser; a talent contest to raise money for the American Red Cross. This was then the first time my colleagues heard me play, they were very surprised and amazed at the level I performed at. They clapped the entire time, and I actually got a lot of wedding and Team Building clients from that performance. The second time, my Director of Operations heard me play the National Anthem at a Miami Heat basketball game and he sent out a mass email to my entire department.
Do you have a "mathematical" angle or "engineering philosophy towards your compositions?
Jon: My degree is in manufacturing engineering and I specialized in Lean Manufacturing which allowed me to create more efficient manufacturing lines for various products. Music is a product with many levels and everyone loves music. Seeing how everyone loves music on some level, I was able to create a niche (The Jon Saxx Experience) in South Florida for a product everyone wants.
Something that saddens me is how Miami used to be a jazz Mecca before the gross proliferation of dance "music" clubs in particular South Beach, which really was the jazz hub back in the day. How do you find South Florida's reception of jazz to be?
Jon: I moved to Miami in 2004, as far the jazz scene, there weren't a lot of places to go for live jazz, but Love 94 radio station was the vehicle that helped locate those places. Fortunately, the 400 Club, Bill Diggs, Dexter Bridgman, and Louis Oliver provided the opportunity to create my own smooth jazz scene that encompassed live music at most of their events throughout South Florida and people were intrigued. I fall into the smooth jazz era, which has allowed me to perform at various functions for all genres of people. Living in South Florida has afforded me a wider cultural audience which allows me to play songs on the saxophone that traditional saxophone players wouldn't play.
Any changes you'd like to see?
Jon: I would love to just see more places for live music. I would love more festivals like the Miami Gardens Annual Jazz in the Gardens. I would also love for Miami to have a Latin Jazz festival; it's hard to find these things, especially after the expiration of the Love 94 jazz station.)
You are very skilled with the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones - do you have a preference or do you follow the instinct of the piece and choose accordingly?
Jon: I follow the instinct of the piece and I choose accordingly. The feel of the song determines which instrument I use. I find that everyone absolutely loves the soprano but there are certain songs that need a lot of body and depth in them, so the tenor and alto is a compliment. The tenor and alto saxophone are a preferred choice for jazz standards; it really provides a lot of personality for the music.
I've always found a certain mournfulness and melancholy to the saxophone, but that's just me as a listener, as musician, what draws you to it and adept of an instrument is it for you to express yourself with?
Jon: In the 4th grade the sound of the saxophone is what drew me to the instrument! I love the way I can take a saxophone and manipulate the notes in such a way to tell a story that moves people. While on my musical journey, I have been able to make my audiences dance, cry, shout, sing; based off of my feeling and rendition of a song. At every show I can be seen closing my eyes and playing what I feel, which allows me to cater that feeling towards my audience. I give 100% of myself when I am playing the saxophone and I play passionately. How I can sum this feeling up is through what I call "The Jon Saxx Experience". The Jon Saxx Experience is what makes my shows so unique. The Jon Saxx Experience simply put is the following: My appearance, audience interaction, The Band - Endless Possibilities, our chemistry and our sound. It's truly an Experience to witness Jon Saxx and Endless Possibilities perform.
I really like the way you present yourself, there's fun modernity in your style (musically and visually) and I think the hats and suits are a good nod to the old school, people tend to forget that jazzmen were always at the forefront of style, on that note, is there a particular make of sax or mouthpiece that you use?
Jon: I use all Cannonball saxophones. I love the way they sound and are made. I also am a big fan of Cannonball Adderly, who is the jazz musician that the saxophone brand is named after.
In your arsenal?
Jon: For alto saxophone, I use a Branche mouthpiece with a plastic reed. For the soprano saxophone, I use an Otto Link mouthpiece with a Rico Jazz Select reed.
Jazz music clearly changed your life at an early age and you pursued it as well as getting your degree in engineering, any words for aspiring musicians out there?
Jon: God didn't give everybody everything, but he did give everybody something. With that something you can do anything!
Any projects you'd like to pursue?
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Jon: I am currently working on my own album entitled "Saxxology". This album will be a compilation of all of the musical genres I have been exposed to while playing the saxophone. One of my goals is to perform with Stevie Wonder, he is truly a musical genius, and I would love sit down with him and pluck his brain about the world of music and even have him write a song for me! I believe in making music that lasts forever, now that Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, and Gerald Levert are gone, it's time for an artist like me to carry that torch and create music that lasts lifetimes.
Jon: I have been truly blessed to live in Miami for the last 6 years which has allowed me to embrace and adapt to all genres of music. These opportunities have enabled me to perform live with R&B, house, techno, and hip- hop DJs, The Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, The Jerk Festival, Latin to Latin Festival, Opening act for Frankie Beverly & Maze, 2005 Super Bowl Cruise, Live with Najee, Montell Jordan Jazz Cruise and be voted the Best Local Jazz Artist 2008!