Saxophone Interview With Pete
The other day I was lucky enough to have a great chat and saxophone interview with one of our AWESOME Members, Pete from the United Kingdom.
Pete was kind enough to spend some time talking to me about his saxophone journey and all of the amazing things he has done since starting to learn how to play the saxophone approximately two years ago.
And the story Pete told about his Rock Star moment with his Granddaughter certainly brought a tear to this saxophonists eye…..
Thanks so much Pete for your time, your generosity, your advice and for sharing your musical experiences during our saxophone interview !!
Click the play button below to join in our saxophone interview conversation, or read the transcript underneath.
More Saxophone Interviews can be found here: Saxophone Interview
Matthew: G’day, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and everyone in between. Welcome to how to play the sax.com, where we are all about having fun, playing saxophone, being awesome and repeating and Speaking of awesome. I am honoured to have a special guest with me today. I’ve got Pete from the UK. Weight has been playing his saxophone for a little while, but I’ll let him tell you a little bit about that. He’s been playing his sax for a for a year or two or thereabouts. And he has very kindly joined me this evening or today where he is. I’m in Melbourne. He’s in the UK. Pete, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me.
Pete: No problems at all. Thank you for having me.
Matthew: Yeah, excellent. Thank you. Thank you for joining me. Quick question. Tell me a little bit, Pete, who are you ? Can you give me the 10 or the 20 second overview of Who are you and what do you do?
Pete: Yeah, absolutely. No problems at all. So a little bit of background. I spent joining join the Army as a boy soldier, spent 22 years in the military, left in 2005, and I now work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which I’ve been in there now for 17 years and I’ve, I’ve had a crack in time. I’ve picked up, as you say, right at the beginning, playing saxophone as we hit COVID decided I wanted to learn and play something I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve just progressed it from there and thoroughly enjoy it.
Matthew: Awesome. OK, so forgive me if I’ve misunderstood. Did you start the saxophone because of COVID? Or coincidentally just before ?
Pete: It was just before – it was just it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I remember actually, it goes back to when I was in the military and I listened to this. One of my colleagues was learning to play the saxophone and again, it’s like everything isn’t – you start off and there is those squeaky bum notes and everything. Ohh, how’s it going? And that and it just heard him progress and progress and I just think I’ve always wanted to do it. I love the sound of the saxophone as well. And I had the opportunity when when COVID kicked in right at the beginning and I thought, now’s the right time for me to do it, and I did it.
Matthew: Awesome. OK, I know the army here in Australia and the police, uh, particularly the police as well, they have some really good bands. I know a guy I used to go to school with years and years and years ago, he joined the army purely to be in the band. Was that where you involved in the army or not ?
Pete: No, no, no, no. I mean I’ve dabbled a little bit with music. When I was a youngster at school we had a little three piece band and I was a drummer. Can’t read music for toffee, but it was all by ear and rhythm and everything. So we played a little bit of The Shadows and a bit of Wipeout by the surfers and and that sort of stuff. And I did the drumming and then left. That was obviously at 16. I joined the Army shortly after, but still had an interest in in music from that. But I just never had the opportunity.
Matthew: OK. So right. So you were the drummer when you were younger. In Wipeout, the drums jumps all over the place. That’s hard yeah, yeah that’s tricky. It’s really hard.
Pete: Really, really hard and I got to the point where I was able to use the Tom Toms and go across the Tom Toms with different beat just to get the different rhythm and the different sound and and again it was just all by ear because as I say, I can’t read sheet music at all. So your Cheat Sheets are just absolutely fantastic because I’ve memorized the key and on the sax and be able to use the Cheat Sheets which is brilliant for me. And so everything really for me is by ear and just listening and picking up the sound.
Matthew: Ohh great. I’m very much that way too. I can read the music but I’m not very good at it. Amusingly, couple of weeks ago at a rehearsal…. I’m lucky, I play in a couple of bands here….. the bass player and the keyboard player and I, we were sort of writing down some stuff because we were learning a new song and I had a look at their on their scribbles and it was very similar to the Cheat Sheets that I make and I laughed. The bass player is doing the same thing, and the keyboard player is doing the same thing. And it turned out they can’t read music either. So it kind of, yeah, whatever’s good and makes it easy. And anyway, so you don’t play the drums anymore ?
Pete: No, not anymore. I’m a little bit old. I haven’t got the dexterity anymore.
Matthew: Fair enough. Fair enough. So was there a gap in your musical journey ? Was that when you were a young bloke ? A gap ?
Pete: That’s how I I sort of stopped at 16 when I joined the Army and I didn’t really pick it up even though I had the interest in the music and listening to it. I didn’t pick up another musical instrument really until COVID in 2020. So that has taken me into my mid 50s.
Matthew: Awesome. So, it was just sort of listening to and remembering your for your friend in the army years ago and you thought “I could do that”….and started to play the saxophone.
Pete: Yes, that’s what was. Yeah, and it was interesting. With my saxophone my friends were saying “good on you”. People were, you know, people were talking to me and saying, God, that’s really hard instrument to learn. It’s a really difficult one. It’s not really. It’s quite easy, I say it’s down to your tutorage. Thank you this this is not a paid sponsorship, but I haven’t got paid for that one yet. You know, I think for me it is because the way you teach it, you break it down and you make it easy and repeatable. So it’s easy then just to remember the keys, where they are on the keys, and I just find it really easy for me to learn. You know, so it’s explanation, demonstration and repeat and for me that works volumes.
Matthew: Ohh OK. Ohh thank you. I find the same. If it’s finger choreography and as I’ve said before, if I can hear it in my head, if I can sing it in my head. I can play it, and I strongly believe that that’s the same for everyone. Yeah, and possibly, possibly for yourself too.
Pete: Yeah, and the Cheat Sheets work brilliantly. I mean the classic one for me now at the moment, I picked up with someone because obviously over in the UK it’s summer at the moment and you’ve just done the song “Summer Time”. So I picked it up. Got it brilliantly. And like you say, the thing that I like about it is, well, I’ve, I’ve messed around with it. I’ve slowed it down. Speed it up slightly, changed the tone, the length of the notes and everything else, and again, down to how I feel at the time of playing it.
Matthew: Cool ! So you slowed down the videos ?
Pete: No, no, no. Haven’t slowed the videos down. I’ve just, I’ve just slowed down how I’m playing the song to try and hook in. You know, to extend out the notes and then hooking in and picking it up as you go through.
Matthew: Yeah. OK. Good, good. Slowing it down and playing it ridiculously slowly and getting used to it. And again, fingers, ears, brain, mouths. That does make it easier. And then you can speed it up.
Pete: And for me as well, I had a major tendon realignment operation on my left hand, so I haven’t been able to play a saxophone for quite a while. Helping with the physio and the dexterity in the fingers to play and everything else as well. So again it’s another, it’s not just having fun playing the sax, it’s actually I’m using it for the beneficial physio side of things as well for me.
Matthew: All right, well that’s that’s really interesting. So did the physio, the physiotherapist prescribe that or suggest that ? Or was that just a happy coincidence ?
Pete: Well, after the operation I spoke to the physio and she said that’s gonna be really good. For the dexterity of the fingers to get the tendons working, extensions and and grip and and it has – it’s helped a lot for the dexterity on the fingers, which is brilliant.
Matthew: OK, you were obviously rescuing Dragons and saving Maidens In Distress when you hurt your hand ? Yeah, good, good. Well done, nice, excellent. Moving on, moving on. So what kind of music do you like playing, first of all? Because possibly listening to music, that’s a separate thing. What do you like playing ?
Pete: Yeah, I think actually it’s the styles, it’s the styles and the genre that you you have within the lessons and you know a lot of the….. I like some of the modern stuff and when I was challenged by my youngest son. When you set up that lesson. Insomnia, wasn’t it ? And yes, I wasn’t expecting him to challenge me on that one, but I think he obviously saw the saxophone group YouTube video I was in. Yeah, yeah, “I’ll challenge him on that one”.
Matthew: Yes. You send me a link.
Pete: Yeah. But I think for me, the genre is around the 80s and the 90s style of music. Being an older generation person as I am, I I sort of enjoy that, that era and what you’re doing from the lesson side of things fits in with that for me really well.
Matthew: Ah good uh great. That’s good to hear. Thank you – and again I’ve said it before… you’ve probably, you’ve heard me before but anyone who’s listening or watching this may or may not. I strongly believe if it’s not fun then given, given we’ve probably turned 21, I don’t know about you but I’ve turned 21 a couple of times now….
Pete: Yeah a couple of times.
Matthew: Yeah. And so yeah it’s a little bit different if you’re a young kid in early high school, but for an older, and I apologize, I can’t think of a better word for someone who’s turned 21 a couple of times…..if it’s not fun, then don’t do it. It’s kind of that simple, really. Yeah. And so I like the songs and I take requests and a lot of those songs are requests, but a lot of them are songs that that I enjoy as well. I personally like a drum beat in a song, but whether that’s jazz or rock or funk or Blues or <insert genre here>. I personally, I prefer the Funk and the Blues and the Rock and the Soul music. But each to their own. What about listening ? What do you listen to ?
Pete: Awesome. It’s a mixed bag, to be honest. It’s a real mixture of genres right across…we’ve got, uh, just trying to see what we’ve got here……I do like the Blues. I like just simple, you know, just chill out music in that as well. Yeah. And so, you know, certainly nowadays where everybody’s running at like 110 miles an hour, there’s nothing like just chilling out in the evenings and listening to some upbeat but chilled music in the garden with a glass of wine always works wonders.
Matthew: Yes. So what are your musical goals and aspirations ? Are you going to be a rock star when you grow up, or playing at Webley stadium ? Yeah, me too. Yeah, any day now, I’m sure.
Pete: Interestingly, a really good friend of mine is a classical pianist, but he plays different, different types of genres on the piano and he’s desperate to get me into an open mic night in our local pub. They have an open mic night once a month or whatever and he’s desperate to get us in there. And for us to be together, me on the sax, him on the piano. And I’m still a little bit nervous about it because every now again you know you still get those little squeaky note sort of thing, but you just go through it and play. So it’s like you say, no note is a bum note and it’s just, it’s just having that confidence in in standing in front of people and playing. And I’ve done it a couple of times here in where I live where we had a street party after the the second lockdown finished. It was nice weather and we had a bit of a street BBQ and they said to go and get your saxophone and I’m not so sure, but they convinced me and yeah it was great. So I was out playing for them and that as well was really good. I’ve enjoyed that.
Matthew: Were there other musicians playing ? Were you just by yourself and with some with some backing tracks, or literally just had a couple tracks ?
Pete: Yeah, a couple of backing tracks, and then it was just just me on the saxophone, no music, it’s just using the rhythms, as they say. It’s in the head and I’m playing. I’m singing along in my head and going through it as well.
Matthew: Fantastic ! Was it, you were playing some songs or just making it up as you went along or it was a song ?
Pete: Loads of Cheat Sheets, yes. Yeah. Loads of Cheat Sheets on the iPad. And I’m just going through them and I said, Oh yeah, this one’s a little bit of Roxy Music. Bryan Ferry and a little bit of Queen. And a little bit of Baker Street.
Matthew: Ohh, that sounds great fun.
Pete: It was brilliant. I really enjoyed it. Really good fun, really good fun. And then finished off with the Insomnia one.
Matthew: Yes. Great. Good. That’s your the closing of the show. Yeah, the closing the the biggest hit for yeah, for Pete and his saxophone gigs. Awesome. Awesome. That’s fantastic. What have you, umm, what have you enjoyed about the saxophone ? What’s been the highlight for you ?
Pete: For me, it’s actually seeing where I’ve started and I must admit I didn’t realize how bad it was. Until I got my eldest son when they came over to stay with us. So I said I’m gonna get you to play and have a go on the saxophone. So I got him playing “Mary Had A Funky Lamb”.
Matthew: Excellent !
Pete: Yes. And it was interesting to see. Uh oh, I must have been that bad when I first started. And actually, I’ve actually seen how I’ve progressed from where I started with the saxophone going through right from the basic lessons to where I am now, looking at all the different lessons and thinking “I actually quite like the sound of that song”. Going to give that one a go. See how we get on. And I’m able to pick and choose now and think, actually, yeah I can do it and I have that confidence now and that ability and I’ve seen how I’ve grown so much in being able to play the saxophone as well and the confidence it’s given me and being able to play the music, and you know, the instrument as well.
Matthew: Oh good. That’s that’s really good to hear. I enjoy it too. And I’ll play anywhere, anytime with anyone. And yes sometimes it’s nice playing classical music and sometimes it’s nice playing death metal and sometimes it’s nice playing this or that… and jazz. I love jazz. I especially love listening to jazz. But just playing like you were saying before about the chill out, it’s kind of really nice to just turn the world off and just go down into the music and yeah, the saxophone.
Pete: I can just sit here, I’m on my own. and I could just turn off everything and I can just just focus on playing or practicing different, different styles of how I want to play that sort of song and you know, and for me I just, I’d get lost in it at times.
Matthew: Yep. And that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. And I actually like hiding behind my saxophone. The saxophone is kind of big and chunky and it’s in front and I kind of hide behind it. I use it as, not as a shield, but a mental, mental protection between me and whoever is watching, whether that’s a video that I’m playing along with or whether it’s some, you know, some people that are at a pub. Like you say….You mentioned to me ages ago you played your saxophone at a birthday party. Can you tell me a little bit about that ?
Pete: It was my granddaughters, I think it was. I’m just trying to think how old she is. It was a 5th birthday and it was not long after I started learning with you and playing the saxophone and because they live overseas in your neck of the woods as we spoke in Canberra and so we were face timing them, wishing them a happy birthday. And I kept messaging them, saying I’ve got a really nice surprise for you and everything else and they’re trying to get it out of me and I said no, no, no, no, you’ll find out. When we FaceTime on the computer for your birthday, we’ll come home and wish you a happy birthday sort of thing. So we facetimed them, uh, came out, we wish them a happy birthday. And I said, oh hang on, I just need to disappear. So I went away, picked up the saxophone, I came back. They started laughing because they thought it was a pretend saxophone and it just be squeaky noise and everything else. I set up the iPad with happy birthday from the CHEAT SHEET and everything else and I just went straight into it and played Happy Birthday for my granddaughter. My other son was there and their faces just lit up. It was, it was a absolute joy to see the, the pleasure on their face. And they were just starstruck in awe of me being able to play Happy Birthday on the saxophone as I did and sort of finishing then that little bit of a wobble in the throat as you started talking again and….and you could see they were just amazed by it. It was, it was it was one of those moments I think I’ll never forget.
Matthew: Fantastic !!! That’s beautiful too – and to be brutally honest, I reckon that’s better than playing with The Rolling Stones at Wembley Stadium or Madison Square Gardens…. I personally I think that’s just, that’s just beautiful. That is just wonderful.
Pete: It was and it was just something I will never forget.
Matthew: Excellent. Good on you.
Pete: Thank you.
Matthew: Congratulations. That’s really, really beautiful. You should be really proud of that and if Grandad’s a Rockstar then even better !
Pete: Yeah it is absolutely cool.
Matthew: What’s been a challenge with your saxophone ? What have you found hard ? What have you found difficult ?
Pete: The challenge is, is from the dexterity, from the hands, from my hand operation. I don’t have on some of the notes when for instance if you’re looking for a G# sometimes I have issues with the little pinky on the left hand to get it down. Then to hold it in, since I’ve had the operation. And sometimes it’s having the speed of the tune, so sometimes it’s nicer for me, I just like to slow it down a little bit, and sometimes actually I find slowing it down, I enjoy it better than playing at the normal speed, but for me it’s having that little bit of more of a lack of dexterity than what I had before. And so that’s really my challenge. And sometimes picking up some of the songs where it’s a little bit quicker and going across into the different keys where you’re using you know, some for the register key or actually going into the higher, higher notes when you on on the left hand at the top when you’re using the three, three keys on the side. So sometimes I find that a little bit difficult but overall from where I was to I am now like you say, I think I’m an awesome Rockstar !
Matthew: Good ! Good on you, good on you ! It’s like all things, you know, all new skills – it takes a little bit of time and that’s alright, that’s alright as long as, as long as, the key is to have fun. That’s interesting. I mean, when you think about it, even a hand that hasn’t had an operation on it, your pinkies, your pinky fingers are, they’re pretty useless really. But my pinkies don’t do much. I mean when I stop and think about it, really, the only thing my pinkies do is G sharps on the left hand, and occasionally the E flat or C on the right hand, but that’s it. I don’t think I can think of an example where my pinkies do anything else. And so what that means is the muscles in your hands, for normal people pinkies are pretty useless and so it does take time and exercise, like when you’re doing bodybuilding and growing your biceps. It’s the same. It’s the same. So it’s interesting, right ?
Pete: Because the E flat I have don’t have an issue on that coming down that seems to be quite good. Which is because it’s the other hand. It’s just this. Yeah, it’s that little pinky. It’s just sometimes doesn’t wanna play.
Matthew: Yeah, that’s fair enough. My knees do that. I’ve got dodgy knees. And every now and then they don’t do what I want them to do either. But hey, possibly that’s just comes with turning 21 a few more times.
Pete: That’s right. That’s all right.
Matthew: So it sounds like you’ve had some really wonderful experiences with your saxophone. You’ve got your piano friend. Do you play with him ?
Pete: We haven’t yet. We keep meaning to hook up and practice, keep saying, look, we’ve got to get together, do the duet and everything else and just play some of the songs and everything. So again, we, I think in the next week or so we’re going to try and hook up. Because it’s easier to go around to his house. He’s got the piano there, and it’s harder to move than a saxophone, right? I didn’t really want to see him pushing his piano down the road, coming to my house.
Matthew: Have you got some saxophone songs in mind to play with piano ?
Pete: No, I think because he, he’s quite, quite easy to flex and bend across so, so we’re looking a bit of a little bit of jazz. From that side, uh, little bit of rock, which we can bring in from the Queen aspects of thing. So we’re just going to play it by ear, to be honest.
Matthew: Excellent. Good. That’s good. That sounds good.
Pete: And we’re going to do a little bit of recording as well. He wants to do a bit of recording on it. So if it works out, I can send something through to you, please.
Matthew: Yes, that would be really good. The recordings, I would strongly encourage to do recordings because you can get it wrong and you just press delete and you do it again and you do it again and then you get it right. You listen back and it’s like, it’s like hearing your own voice on a recording. Do I really sound like that ? Is that true ? Is that what I really sound like ? And from a saxophone perspective, that’s a good thing. You can’t really do anything about your voice. It is what it is. But the saxophone, you can decide if you, particularly with a recording, it’s either really forgiving and you go, that’s all right, or you go, oh man, is that, oh, let’s do that again. But you can press the delete button and you only keep the ones that you like. I would strongly recommend if there’s recording opportunities even with, you know, you just put your phone, put your phone down and press press record on the Voice app and press play on your hi-fi or your stereo or whatever and just play along and record it. Yes, do that. Especially if you’ve got a friend who plays the piano. So with that in mind, if it’s not a regular thing just yet, and I apologize if I put you on the spot, how do you make time to play your saxophone. I mean, yes, if you’ve hurt your hand, you have time off, of course, and life, and then something else happens. How do you fit in the saxophone to ?
Pete: So I’m quite fortunate. So like today for me it’s Friday afternoon for me (I know it’s Friday evening for yourself) so but Fridays is a non working day for me so I’m able to take the time and use that time maybe once a week or even on a weekend on Saturday and Sunday to just to go through and play a couple of songs, keep it ticking over and try different variations of how I want to play it. So I look to try and do at least twice a week or towards the weekend. So I can get that and still keep it ticking over and working.
Matthew: Yep. OK. Do you have your saxophone set up in the corner of the living room ?
Pete: Yeah. But what my wife says, Oh my living room is, a saxophonist living room because it sits on its stand in the corner alongside the TV. I can just go in and pick it up and away I go.
Matthew: Yep. My wife…..She does the same thing. Yeah. Maybe let’s back away from that little avenue of conversation. I think I understand what you’re saying there. It’s the same, the same here at my end. Same here at my end. Maybe as a final towards the end of this conversation question, what advice would you give to beginner saxophonist ? And the reason I asked that for us, for us people who are a little bit older than…we’re not a 14 year old who’s learning an instrument for the first time in high school. We have preconceived ideas. We know what it should sound like. We can get a little bit frustrated at the start when it doesn’t. I was pleased to hear that along your journey when you mentioning a few minutes ago you have noticeably progressed in your own mind and then it gets easier and that’s good. So what with that in mind, what advice would you give to other beginner saxophonists who are playing for the first time, especially for adults ?
Pete: Yeah, for me it is just go with it. Don’t worry about hitting the wrong notes or not being able to keep up with the speed or whatever. For me it’s about just understanding that and for me, certainly not really being able to read sheet music. Memorizing the keys. The keys are actually really easy to memorize, uh, where they are, the positions and everything else, and have confidence in your own ability and perseverance because it will come and all of a sudden, something will happen and you’ll play this song and it’s there and and that joy of actually hitting those notes at the same rhythm and tempo and the smile you get on your face afterwards because you’ve struggled going through it. And I’ll say have that perseverance and keep practicing, even if it’s, as you say, 10 minutes here, 30 minutes there. Just keep practicing as often as you can right at the beginning, because you’ll get that muscle mind memory with your hands and your fingers and the music and it will just click and it will come. It might take longer for some than it will for others, but it will. It will come. So just stick with it, persevere. But most of the most importantly, really enjoy it because the saxophone is an awesome, awesome instrument to play and I love it.
Matthew: Great ! Have fun, play saxophone, be awesome and repeat. Absolutely fantastic. Thank you. Let’s leave it there. Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been really interesting. I’ve especially enjoyed hearing about the physiotherapist concept for your hand and the just beautiful, beautiful story about your granddaughter’s birthday. That’s just, I cannot emphasize how wonderful I feel about that. That’s just, I’m struggling. it’s really, really good. So well done. Keep doing what you’re doing. Please keep having fun. And if I can help you anyway, please let me know.
Pete: But absolutely. Thank you so much.
Matthew: Thank you so much for joining me here in this saxophone interview. Pete, it’s been really good fun talking to you. Thank you.
Pete: It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me, Matthew. It’s been brilliant. Awesome. Thank you.
Matthew: Thank you 🙂
Thank you so much for joining me here today in this saxophone interview at HowToPlayTheSax.com .
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