Stephen Saxon in formal attire
(Backstage at the Davies Symphony Hall, 12.31.99)

Stephen Saxon's Music Page



Recent Projects

Clockwork

Clockwork is an a cappella quintet (five voices with no instruments) that started primarily as an outlet for the five of us to explore some music we weren't finding anywhere else. After a first attempt a few years ago, we reformed and gave it another go in 2003. It has become quite a living-breathing ensemble, with a book of more than 30 original arrangements, well-received performances around the Bay Area, and even a short CD, already in its second pressing.

We probably would have been happy enough to keep it going just for the joy of rehearsing and hearing the progress we've made, singing some devilishly difficult arrangements. As they say, the journey is more important than the destination, and the journey with this team has been both interesting and very satisfying.

Eventually, we decided that we should probably get out and perform a bit. Our first gig was at the 2003 A Cappella Summit in Marin County. We chose that as a likely understanding and appreciative audience for the things we were trying to accomplish. That went well enough, but we realized that we really liked singing under the controlled circumstances of our rehearsal space (Jim's house) better.

After a couple of small outings to benefit various organizations to which we owed personal allegiance, our next serious performance was at the S.F. regionals of the Harmony Sweepstakes a cappella competition. We discussed our chances and didn't figure that a jazz group was going to do very well in the competition, no matter how we actually performed. That made us feel pretty loose during the performance. I actually took a nap backstage because it had been such a busy day leading up to the show (I don't normally feel quite THAT relaxed before a performance).

To our extreme surprise, we won the regional competition, and the two arrangements we performed ("I've Got Rhythm / Fascinatin' Rhythm" and "Inna Gadda Davida") tied as "best arrangement."

We were truly shocked, and after realizing that people really could follow us to the musical places we were trying to explore, we experienced a marvelous two and a half months of very energetic activity. We conned our friend, Phil Schroeder, into letting us record a few tunes in his studio ("a few" grew to six, and by the end of it Phil was doing simply magical things with regard to engineering and production). With some produce shopping and graphics work by Angie and John, some clearance work by Jim, and a reproduction deal from Diskmakers that was actually one of the prizes we won with the regional Sweeps championship, we had a short CD ready for sale by the time the national finals came around. Just days before, in fact.

By then it was baseball season, so we had performed the national anthem for the Oakland A's (we sang for the A's again in June, and also sang for the S.F. Giants in August). That meant that the national Harmony Sweepstakes finals was something like our sixth public performance together. We'd spent many, MANY hours rehearsing, though. The truth is, figuring out what we were going to wear was our most difficult hurdle going into the finals. Our friend, Richard "Bob" Greene helped us out with some staging advice (which pretty much came down to "You should all look at whoever is singing the melody," but it was something we weren't doing before that, so thank you, Richard!).

Well, Chicago's Chapter 6 took top honors at the finals, and we didn't feel bad about that at all. They were funny, entertaining, and most of all they sang their asses off! But we had a wonderful time and we met some wonderful people. We sang as well as we could have expected to do, and after all of that we even took second place. While it ALWAYS feels better to be first, we shared the stage with eight excellent groups. Nobody was less than amazing.

Since the Sweeps, we've been rehearsing a lot (especially over the summer), writing and learning a lot of new material. We've done our first couple club dates, and we're looking forward to doing more of the same. We're planning to record a full CD in 2005, now that we've got so many tunes from which to choose, and we're scheduled for some clinic and adjudicating spots, along with more performance opportunities.

We may do a mini-set of three concerts in April or May of 2005 with The Idea Of North, but that's still in the planning stages. Keep up with Clockwork's activities by going to the group's web site (www.clockworksingers.com), where you can also sign yourself up for our occasional email newsletter.

Back to the Top

Recording in NYC

In late October, 2004, I'll be traveling to New York, in part to do some recording with the wonderful acoustic jazz guitarist, Mark Sganga (www.marksganga.com), and the equally wonderful bass player and my longtime friend, Jerry Watts. I'm really excited about this project, which was inspired by a few tunes that Mark and I performed on the spur of the moment at Jerry's wedding in Los Angeles, last year. It was just too fun to let it go, and now we're going to see what we can do together when the red light is on.

Back to the Top

San Francisco Klezmer Experience

I continue to perform regularly with the San Francisco Klezmer Experience (www.klezx.com), playing trumpet and singing. With the departure of Jeanette for New York, I've taken on some more of the vocal duties in the band, singing some Yiddish, some English, and some of my more recognizable Hebrew compositions in the traditional cantorial style.

Our third CD, Harbst, is now available, and you can find out where to get it at the KlezX web site.

Back to the Top

High Holy Days

I spent another very gratifying High Holy Days season (my seventh) leading services at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California. Under the musical direction of Dr. Noreen Green, and featureing Chris Hardin and Ben Tisser on organ and piano, and with the VBS choir providing additional musical touches, the music for the services was moving and beautiful.

Rabbis Ed Feinstein, Harold M. Schulweis and Joshua Hoffman were inspiring and very supportive (which is helpful for a guest cantor), and the veterans of the cantorial staff, Cantor Hershel Fox, Dr. Richard Braun, and Dr. Larry Neinstein were, as always, welcoming and supportive to the rookie.

Back to the Top

Arranging and Vocal Jazz Workshops

Returning to something that I'd done a lot in college, I'm now happy to report that I'm starting to schedule some clinics and workshops in vocal arranging, jazz improvisation, solo jazz singing, and various related subjects. I'm going to be leading an arranging workshop at the 2004 A Cappella Summit, and right after that session I'll be a lead clinician for the first annual Neal Cruz Memorial Arranging Workshop.

The first session will be a general skills workshop for vocal arrangers, but also applicable for any grouping of single-line instruments (horns, strings, etc.). We'll be discussing the various decisions an arranger has to make and look at some of the techniques an arranger can use to come up with something new from an existing song. We'll also look at what it takes to accurately transcribe a song from an audio recording, since this is usually the first step in coming up with a new arrangement. This portion of the session will include recognizing chord types and their functions, accurately transcribing melodies, when to be precise and when to simplify, and other tips to get musical ideas down on paper.

The Neal Cruz workshop will take all of this even further, looking at the arrangements that have been submitted for review and comment. It's not a competition for the "best" arrangement, but a workshop to look at some of the challenges that an arranger faces and then use some creative strategies for working through them.

Follow the workshop link for more information on the goals of the workshop and the Neal Cruz memorial fund, which honors a young man who was dedicated to a cappella arranging and performance. I was fortunate to sing with him as part of the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, and it's my honor to participate in this first workshop in his memory.

Back to the Top

Solo CD: Better Than Anything

While not strictly a recent project, I released a solo jazz CD in 1999, Better Than Anything. It features me singing and playing trumpet, along with Sheldon Brown on tenor and soprano saxonphones; Mark Little, piano; Bill Douglass, bass; and Wally Schnalle, drums. Follow this link to see what's on the CD and to hear some samples.

Back to the Top

Vernadsky Library Archive Recordings

In 2004 we have the ability to digitally record any sounds in such high fidelity and mix it together in ways that are so far removed from nature that one can create soundscapes and audio combinations that could not occur in the real world. But this technology is less than a hundred years old. During the infancy of recorded sound teams of ethnologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, and just plain folks took the highest tech devices they had available to them, hand cranked wax cylinder recorders, to the places where life's rhythms and sounds had changed little in the hundreds of years before then, but which were all but completely lost to the world within a few decades.

In the mid-1990's I learned about a collection of field recordings made between 1913 and 1947 and housed in the Ukraine's Vernadsky National Library, in Kiev. Over the years, I have tried to keep in touch with the folks who were first cataloging and then developing new ways of transferring these sound recordings to modern digital media.

In the past year, I've played a very small part in facilitating the release and sale of these recordings. There are many people who have widely varied interests in and opinions about this project, or even in the concept of it in the first place. I have taken the position that since the recordings exist, and since they were made by people who pretty much understood that they were recording a way of life that wouldn't last much longer, then it is a good thing for the recordings to be distributed and heard by those of us who can learn from them.

My part in the project has been pretty limited, consisting of advising the producers in some ways relating to the marketing of the materials, and in making the recordings available via CDBaby.Com (CD #1, CD #2). With luck, the entire series will consist of about 15 CDs, and starting with volume 3 they include some digitized print media along with the audio content. The people who collected these recordings also transcribed many of them and used them in their own classical compositions. Some of these sketches and other materials are included in the later releases.

Back to the Top


Other Stuff I've Been Up To...

Available Recordings:

Past Performances With:

(Voice)

(Trumpet or Trumpet & Voice)

Back to the Top


Interestingly, there are other Stephen (or Steve) Saxons out there. One is even a Bass-Baritone singer (which is one of the things I am). It turns out that he's a professor of mathematics in Florida. If you're looking for him, go back to the Saxon Home Page and check the bottom of the page for his email and web addresses.

Back to the Top



Questions or comments about this site? Contact Stephen Saxon.
Back to the Saxon Home Page