Andy Sugg: “Obviously I think that the saxophone is very important”

Saxophone legend Andy Sugg is on tour around Australia, presenting his latest album, Tenorness (more on that later). Which was a great opportunity to discuss a few things about live music and culture in general.

The following is the outcome of that conversation, edited as a monologue, while listening to one of Andy’s signature solos.

I want to resist the doom and gloom, about Australian culture, when it comes to live music, but it is very interesting that the very first thing that you notice when you fly in Europe and even in America, is the extent to which music is so much more prominent in everyday life.If you go to a sporting event in America, there will be live music and dance. When you go to any social gathering in America, music is assumed that it will be a part of it. It’s just not like that in Australia. There is still a certain degree of having to explain what you are doing and why it matters in mainstream culture.

The struggle is for relevance I think; there can be ways to fix it up, but changing that will take some time.

As Australia continues to become more multicultural and be influenced by Asian cultures, for example, that is only going to be a good thing for performing arts in general, because it is going to enliven artistic culture in this country.

So, this is a really positive trend and something that people in the performing arts – or everyone, really – should look forward to.

You only got to think about New Orleans, at the turn of the century. That cultural mix, in a port town of boat people – the very definition of boat people! Look at the cultural vitality that developed there, this is what gave us jazz; we are still feeding from that dynamic.

So yes, that’s a way for things to improve in Australia. In the meantime, you just hang in there and do what you do and that’s it.

Musicians like me, who have been doing it for a very long time, do it because we just love it very deeply; it’s who we are. It means that much to me, that’s why I do it – not for fame and fortune.

Most of creative people I know do it for that reason, because if you go for fame and fortune, that’s a pretty shitty reason to do it – and it isn’t going to happen, anyway. If thats why you do it, you get weeded out of the profession early on.

One of the things that changed with me over the years, has to do with the audience.

I used to think that the audience would come to me and over the years I have come to understand that this is wrong for a whole host of reasons. You just have to take your thing to the people.

For example, I wasn’t interested in traveling a whole lot, but you have to be a traveler, there are audiences all over the world and you have to take what you do to them.

So I do that now, for the last 10 years I’ve been traveling a lot, playing in Europe and the States and it’s absolutely delightful. I wish I’d come to that realisation earlier, but it happens when it happens.

I’m a senior player, but I don’t think retrospectively, because for me it’s still like I’m in the middle of what’s going on. Things are still moving forward, I’m thinking of the future all the time – how can my playing improve, how can my ideas become more sophisticated, or how can I express it better.

Obviously, I think that jazz and improvised music is terribly important culturally, and I think that the saxophone is a very very important instrument.

The saxophone has a relatively short history, it is only 150 years old, which is nothing, if you think how far back guitars go. And it is interesting that its peak, in terms of influence, doesn’t come through classical music, it comes from jazz. People all over the world recognise something unique and beautiful and meaningful in Coltrane’s sound; that’s really significant. Remember when Bill Clinton was campaigning for President? He made a thing about how he was playing tenor saxophone, to make a connection with the ordinary people; it was that significant a cultural artefact.

I’ve been playing the instrument for 40 year now; I’ve been doing it long enough to be able to make a contribution to that conversation about how tenor is situated in all those stylistic developments. The tenor sax has the range of the adult human voice, thats why I talk about Tenorness, thats the distinctive quality of the instrument.

It means to many different kind of things to me, its hard to put it into words.

Its a kind of meaning of life thing, thats what it means to me. Its life.”

Next stops on Andy Sugg’s Tour