Saxophone player stays busy in 6 local bands

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Sonoma County has always attracted and produced musicians. Some of them are well known internationally. Others have more limited fan bases existing mainly within the Bay Area, throughout the West Coast or in a geographic range.

As with many working in the creative arts, those who haven’t made it to household-name fame often have to work especially hard to make a living doing what they love. For many local musicians that means working in and juggling commitments with multiple bands.

They share a passion for what they do that was instilled at a young age and have an appreciation for the many live music venues in the area that afford so many opportunities to play. They also share a commitment to continuous learning, and very busy schedules.

Before the season gets fully underway, they took a few minutes out of those busy schedules to tell us what keeps them going, and where you might be able to catch their acts this summer.

Susan Copperman

Bands she plays with: Medicine Ball Band, Tony Saunders’ smooth jazz ensemble, Poyntlyss Sistars Rockin’ Show Band, Rock ’n’ Roll Rhythm Review, Elvis Johnson’s Soul Review and BackTrax Rock Band

Instruments she plays: Saxophone. I fake it on the flute. I also play the guitar and piano, but just when I am teaching.

What inspired you to learn music, and where did you learn to play?

The inspiration came from my dad. “You are going to play the saxophone, whether you like it or not.” I squawked out my first note when I was a fourth-grade student at Meadows Elementary School (a public school in Millbrae). In the public schools they had short, free lessons and then you went on to play in the orchestra.

My father was a musician. He admired someone who played the saxophone. I did like the sax, but I really liked my dad’s approval. He didn’t give us a lot of praise. He would have his beer-drinking, cigar-smoking friends over to play poker, and he would call me out to make me play a song. Not just a song. He liked John Philip Sousa marches and polkas. I was the only girl playing the saxophone when I was in school. Not that many women play horns. People would always say, “How do you get so much noise out of that horn.”

I studied piano seriously with an amazing pianist from the San Francisco Symphony for 10 years, but the things you learn to do as a kid are the ones that come easily to you when you are an adult. I use all the instruments at the North Bay Christian Academy in Novato where I teach intermediate and advanced jazz ensemble, but the saxophone is the only one I play for an audience. One of the places I still get inspiration is playing out at the coast. I am a surfer. I like to combine the two loves.

What’s the best thing about playing in multiple bands at the same time?

If, or when, I get fired from one band, I can still toot my horn.

What’s the hardest thing about it?

Getting fired, because I am in too many bands. I think that I have been fired at least eight times, and twice from one band.

What’s your favorite venue to play in Sonoma County, and why?

The ones that stand out are Montgomery Village and Funky Fridays at Hood Mansion. They both support causes that are important. Montgomery Village did so much to support the fire victims. We raised thousands of dollars. Funky Fridays raises money to benefit the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation. It’s important to me to support people and venues that are supporting others.

More than the Sonoma County venues that I love, it’s the audiences! Sonoma County has a huge, fun loving, tightknit group of music lovers that really tear it up on the dance floor almost every night. This is in large part thanks to my dear friend Bob Favreau with “The Kids are Alright” and Jeff Alegria with “Mainland Thunder.” When they arrive, it is always a party! They get the word out, and people show up in numbers. Some of my best friends have become the people who show up at their events. It’s completely unique to Sonoma County. In the North Bay, I know I’ll get a good audience. When I play in Fairfax I can’t ever guarantee that. The whole music community in Sonoma County is outrageous.

What musician, living or dead, has most inspired you in your life as a musician?

I’ve had crushes on all the dead and buried jazz legends of the ’40s. Two that meant a great deal were Lester Young for the tenor saxophone and Charlie Parker for the alto sax. They had totally different styles. Charlie Parker was a fast bebop maniac saxophone player and so energetic. Lester Young was much more of a smooth romantic melodic player. The tones were just beautiful. I was captivated with their lives. They were black men growing up when there was so much prejudice against blacks. Their lives were bittersweet. They were great musicians but struggling to get their music out. I loved them for what they had to endure. There was so much pain in their music. All of us know what it’s like to have pain. I could relate to that.

What’s a favorite band/musician coming to Sonoma County (not one of yours) that you’ll want to see this summer?

My hope is that I would be able to support my fellow Sonoma County musicians by going out to hear them play. They are all on my bucket list. I’d like to see the bands that are playing at the same venues I am playing, but at different times. When the other musicians come to support us, I think it is really classy and I’d like to do that.

Where can people see you play this summer?

I think that you will have a hard time not running into me this summer! But between three of my bands, I will be playing at Sebastiani Wineries a good deal of the Fridays this summer. Come say “hello” to me! The concerts at Sebastiani really bring people together.

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