The following is from an interview with Bob Reynolds for the Brazilian John Mayer fan site johnmayerbr.com
JMBR: When did you start playing the saxophone, and why did you choose it?
I was thirteen and a neighbor gave me her daughter’s old alto saxophone.
Between the ages of ten and twelve I was obsessed with filmmaking. I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg and I spent all my free time making home movies with my mom’s early VHS camcorder. Eventually, I started writing scripts and forcing my younger brother, and neighborhood kids, to act in my productions. I was doing everything myself: writing, directing, shooting, acting, editing…the only thing I couldn’t do was compose my own soundtracks.
I spent hours sitting at my grandfather’s piano trying to “write” music. I had no idea what I was doing, but I definitely heard music in my head. Often it was a mood or moment from one of my movies that I was trying to capture through music. I was frustrated; unable to find those hidden sounds taunting me from the other side of the piano keys.
I didn’t take lessons because I had no desire to be a piano player–or waste time learning how to read other people’s music; I wanted to write my own.
So I signed up for band in seventh grade, and when a neighbor offered me her daughter’s old alto saxophone, I took it.
My first time playing it was in the bathroom (natural reverb). I opened the case, put it together and started making things up. It was my first taste of improvising.
JMBR: Who are your biggest influences?
Kenny G was my gateway drug. When I was thirteen and fourteen he was all over the radio and VH1. But soon I discovered Stan Getz and fell in love with his tone. Over the next few years the list got long: Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Charlie Parker, Stanley Turrentine, Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Kirk Whalum, Eric Alexander, Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Mark Turner, Seamus Blake…
Around age sixteen I discovered Joshua Redman and Chris Potter (two living legends on the saxophone) and I was hooked. They became my biggest influences. Redman’s first four albums are partially responsible for me pursuing the saxophone and playing jazz.
Speaking of jazz…
There are a hundred subsets of jazz. When people ask what kind of music I play I always struggle to find the words. If I answer “jazz” they might imagine Kenny G or Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis or Gato Barbieri. And if I reference Joshua Redman or Chris Potter, they most likely won’t know who I’m talking about. It’s a challenge finding accurate reference points to position what I do for someone who’s never heard me.
JMBR: When did you meet John Mayer?
We met in February, 1997, as freshmen at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
A mutual friend named Clay Cook (co-author of “No Such Thing” and now a guitarist with the Zac Brown Band) asked me to do a late-night recording session for a class assignment. The session didn’t start until 2:30 AM and I almost said no. We recorded an instrumental funk jam, written by Clay and John, called “Depends”. John seemed nice, and had a good groove, but he also was just another freshman guitar player in a school flooded with guitarists. I’m not sure he sang or wrote lyrics yet.
JMBR: When did you join the band and how did it happen?
I joined the band in January, 2007, at the start of the Continuum tour.
In the fall of 2006, about a week after returning to New York from my honeymoon, I visited John’s website to hear some of the new album; I saw he had a show that week at Webster Hall. It had been a few years since we last saw each other, so I reached out to see about grabbing a drink while he was in town. He responded by inviting me to the show and asking what I was doing “next year”.
I surprised my wife (a JM fan) by taking her to the show, and when I introduced them afterward, John said, “Nice to meet you. Do you mind if I borrow your husband next year?” She responded, “Not at all…will you sign my CD?”
JMBR: What are your favorite moments from touring with John?
There are so many.
First of all, coming from the world of small jazz clubs, it was exhilarating walking onto arena stages every night. Playing Madison Square Garden, Red Rocks, Giant’s Stadium and the Hollywood Bowl were all special. But one night that stands out is my first concert with John, the first show of the tour: it was in my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. What are the chances? John graciously featured me on “Wheel”, which was thrilling because I had a lot of friends and family in the audience.
John and I share an affinity for the music of Sting, particularly in the 80’s when Branford Marsalis played saxophone in the band. I used to dream of playing with Sting, but looking back, working with John basically was that experience, that same context. John’s an extraordinary songwriter, a serious musician, and he assembles phenomenal bands.
Songs like “Vultures”, “Wheel”, “Do You Know Me?”, “Stitched Up”, and “I Don’t Need No Doctor” became regular features for me, and occasionally he’d entrust me with “Gravity” or “Covered in Rain”. I was grateful for all of it; I’m a big fan of his music and love playing in that sophisticated pop-rock-blues setting.
One of my all-time highlights was playing “3×5” as a duet. We’d do this occasionally in encores, just acoustic guitar and soprano sax. It’s one of my favorite songs from Room for Squares, and performing it in that intimate, unplugged setting was, for me, a nod to the blueprint that is Sting and Branford.
We also had a ton of fun off stage, as a band. So many great meals, nights on the town, pre-show wiffle ball games, and even a camping trip complete with BB guns and fireworks.
There couldn’t be a better combination of nice people and high-level musicianship in the pop world.
JMBR: Tell us a bit about your recent album “A Live Life”.
I’m very proud of it. I think we caught the proverbial lightning in a bottle. But it never was intended to be an album.
What happened was I recorded 2 different shows, with two slightly different bands, at one club in downtown Manhattan. Just for reference. But when I reviewed the recordings a few months later I was struck by how compelling some of the music was, and how good the recording sounded.
When I heard the eighteen-minute rendition of “Can’t Wait for Perfect” I knew this was something special, something I was not likely to recreate in a studio. There was a certain magic to the music. A result of that rare cocktail of right audience, band, venue and material.
I scoured the four sets of music and chose a handful of songs that reflected what I was aiming to communicate musically at that time. Those seven tracks became A Live Life.
It’s worth noting that this band never practiced or worked together frequently. I had history with Janek Gwizdala and Oli Rockberger but I’d only played with Keith Carlock in John Mayer’s band, and I’d never played with Mark Guiliana or John Shannon. I was familiar with everyone’s playing, though, and had a feeling it would make for intense music.
Truth is, you never know whether it will play out like you hoped until you get on stage. In this case it was better. We got into some territory where things happened I never could have composed or arranged–and those are the most compelling moments.
That’s what I love about playing music with world-class improvisers: you can expect the unexpected, and it’s usually better than you could have expected. You dig?
The album title comes from realizing this was my fourth release as a leader and the third live one. The majority of my artistic output is represented either by live recordings or live concert footage. Also, my wife and I were expecting our first child the same week I released the album. So the title held several meanings for me.