A Sit Down with 21-Year Old Sax Boss Adam Larson

At the tender age of 21, Adam Larson has attained a level of musical mastery that many professionals twice his age would only dream of having.  Hailing from the unusually-named town of Normal, Illinois, Larson recently made the move to New York City where he currently attends at the Manhattan School of Music.

Cool thing about Adam’s playing – well, there are actually a lot of cool things about the way this kid plays – but the thing that hit me was his inventive use of rhythm. His style is decidedly modern, and he’s a great composer to boot.

Adam’s won a truckload of awards like the 2010 Yamaha Young Performing Artists competition for  Jazz Saxophone to name just a few. He’s played at just about every place where jazz is served, and shared the stage with monsters like James Moody and Joel Frahm. On top of all of that good stuff, he’s endorsed by both Rico as well as Bari.

In other words, if you haven’t heard of him yet, you’re going to be hearing a lot from Adam Larson so fasten those seat belts.

The Interview

Doron Orenstein: What do you think it was about your early days on the instrument that allowed you to progress as quickly as you did?

Adam Larson: I grew up in a very musical household. My father plays the drums and my mother plays the trumpet. My mom has been a middle school band director for 21 years and my father was also a band director for 11 years before he got started working with computers around the time that I turned 3. I know that growing up in such a household where I was around music so much definitely had an impact on my development as a player.

Another person who was instrumental in my development on the saxophone was my first saxophone teacher, a man by the name of Larry Harms. Through taking privately with him and through the support of my parents, I think I was able to make good strides in my progress on the instrument.

DO:What do you find yourself practicing the most these days?

AL: Currently I am studying with Donny McCaslin on saxophone and will being studying with Phil Markowitz this coming semester at the Manhattan School of Music. I find myself spending a fair amount of time on technique and scales, but I have also recently enjoyed playing through a lot of classical music – something that Donny quickly got me into this past semester. I also spend a fair amount of time on interval studies. In addition to these things, I try to spend time learning a tune during my practice time. I feel like writing tunes is a big part of who I am, and so I would also say that there is a fair amount of time that I spend writing tunes.

DO: I see that you study with the drummer John Riley. How has taking lessons from a drummer affected your sax playing?

AL: My private lessons with John Riley were invaluable to me and were some of the best lessons that I have ever had the chance to take with a teacher. I studied with him during my sophomore year at Manhattan School of Music and we would play duets together, talk about different rhythmic structures and a work on a myriad of other rhythmic ideas. More importantly, John is someone who I really look up to, and in addition to being a great teacher, he has been a great mentor for me in all things music and more importantly, NOT music.

DO: What are a few of the things you’ve done to expand your harmonic vocabulary?

AL: When I came into college as a freshman, I would say that I was very into two things; be-bop and Michael Brecker. The first saxophone teacher that I had the opportunity to study with at MSM was George Garzone, and I did so for two years. This was one of the best things for me because he showed me a whole new way of approaching harmony through his triadic-chromatic-approach concept. This did wonders for opening up my ears to new possibilities in harmony and it also over time has made me much more open to different musicians/groups which has in turn shaped the way that I play/write music. I would also say that playing through lots of classical music has strengthened my ear because of the rich harmony that the music contains.

DO: What’s been your most memorable musical experience to date?

AL: This is a hard question! It has truly been a blessing to a part of many great musical experiences, but one particular performance during my sophomore probably takes the cake. It was a show called “Tenor Madness” and was produced by pianist Ted Rosenthal. It was Frank Wess, Lew Tabackin, Joel Frahm, Wayne Escofferey and myself all playing the same concert and profiled different tenor players throughout the decades. It was truly amazing getting to play with legends of the instrument and it’s something that I will certainly never forget anytime soon.

DO: What non-jazz music are you listening to these days?

AL: I really enjoy Busta Rhymes and old school hip-hop as well as Michael Jackson. I guess I’ve also been getting into more and more classical music.

DO: What’s the next musical “frontier” for you?

AL: I hope to continue to play with groups under my own name and more importantly of my peers. I am excited about being a part of a new group of guys from school called “The Manhattan Experiment”, as we are going to be doing a 3 week tour of Europe in June. Ultimately, I hope to just continue to have the chance to make great music with great people and to keep enjoying what I feel very blessed to be doing.

Adam’s Setup

Tenor:
Super Balanced Unlacquered
Morgan 8
4H Rico Jazz Select
Rico H Ligature
Olegature

Mark VI

Alto:
Yamaha Custom Z Unlacquered
4S Rico Jazz Select
Bari Hard Rubber 82
Francois Louis Ultimate Ligature
Rico H ligature

Soprano:
Yamaha 62
4M Rico Jazz Select
Bari Hard Rubber S66
Francois Louis Ultimate Ligature
Olegature

To learn more about Adam, check out his website at AdamLarsonjazz.com.