Category Archives: Saxophone

‘Finding a voice’: The saxophone in music therapy.



This month I am very excited to introduce Luke Annesley as a guest, to the series on the use of instruments in music therapy. Luke is a jazz saxophone player and music therapist. He works for Oxleas Music Therapy Service (with children and young people). He has a quartet with trumpet player Jim Howard called ‘Moonscape’ (you can find some of their music at ) and he plays with The John Wilson Orchestra. He also produces and presents the BAMT podcast ‘Music Therapy Conversations’. and frequently lectures at GSMD. Luke also has a blog site found at Luke writes:

In jazz, the saxophone puts you out front, ‘expressing yourself’, carrying the melody, getting all the glory, putting across your individuality, your musical personality. For this you have to develop a ‘personal sound’. A ‘good tone’ is not enough. Being a jazz saxophone player is a journey of self-discovery, in which your relationship to the tradition must be addressed, followed by the integration of stylistic influences, leading to a mythical moment when you ‘find your voice’. Paradoxically, the great saxophone players in jazz, Pres, Hawk, Bird, Trane, Rollins, Getz, Wayne Shorter, were/are great musical personalities, who seem to be expressing something beyond the instrument, and beyond themselves. There’s a weight of expectation on the saxophone that perhaps is not carried, in the same way, on rhythm section instruments, but then I would say that. On the other hand, you also have to play for the band, which sometimes means playing 2nd alto.

Recently I went to hear the great alto player Geoff Simkins play at The Vortex in Dalston. He plays with unstinting inventiveness, all the time, while connecting to the tradition, playing melodically, lyrically, recalling at times Lee Konitz or Paul Desmond, or Ornette Coleman, but always being himself. He was playing with a group of younger musicians (Tom Ollendorff on guitar, Connor Chapman on bass, James Maddren on drums), all at the top of their game and fully ‘up-to-date’ in their approach. There was no discernable musical generation gap. But there’s not the remotest hint of Geoff striving to be hip, or being a ‘daring innovator’. There’s no ‘image’ or agenda. He’s just playing, with total honesty and commitment, and playing really really well. I realised that it’s not really about striving to ‘find your voice’. Who you are will come through, probably, but, in any case, who cares? As a listener, I just want to hear the music clearly.

In music therapy, for me, using the saxophone always has a question mark attached. Very often there’s an internal dialogue along the lines of ‘Obviously the saxophone wouldn’t be appropriate in this context. Or would it?’ The starting point is not to play, because it might overwhelm the client, or I might tip towards satisfying my own musical needs, or it’ll just be too loud. But if I lose my connection to the saxophone in music therapy sessions then I do, in a sense, lose my connection to my musical self. It’s my main conduit, if I’m really expressing something, and what’s the point in playing, either performatively or ‘clinically’, if you’re not going to express something?

And I’ve found it useful in surprising situations. Working in groups with under 5s, the saxophone can raise the bar. It might be a sound the children have never heard before. (‘Sleeping bunnies’ works well in the middle register, by the way, maybe written G or F.) Working with older children or young people, I often find the saxophone useful for improvising with drums. We can get into a free jazz/improvised music space, which can become an exciting musical dialogue. Or the saxophone can provide a clearer alternative to using my singing voice, which has a limited range. In an improvising group, it can be useful if I need to cut through the chaos, perhaps provide a melodic thread to suggest musical connections. I use it sparingly, but I couldn’t do without it. It’s the instrument on which I can be the most congruent, which I suppose is what ‘finding your voice’ might be about.




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