Saxman Sam Greenfield on Practicing, Building a Brand Online, and Much More

https://www.instagram.com/photography._k

Introduction

I’ve been checking out Sam Greenfield’s Instagram account for quite some time, and besides enjoying the creative content he posts, I’ve also been blown away by Sam’s mastery of the instrument. I am excited to share with you my recent interview with Sam, and if you haven’t already been following him on Instagram and Facebook, you’re in for a treat.

Interview

ZS: How did you become interested in playing music? And how did you decide on the saxophone of all instruments?

SG: For me, I grew up in an extremely musical family. Both my parents are musicians. My dad is a bassoon player and pianist and my mom is a clarinetists, pianist, and saxophonist. She taught a lot of lessons when I was growing up. So needless to say, I was constantly surrounded by a lot of music at an early age. I don’t remember this, but my mom used to tell me that when I was really young she used to find all sorts of stuff lodged in her saxophone bell such as socks and even food and I was just obsessed with the saxophone.

When I was six, I picked up the saxophone for the first time and I found it really natural and never looked back. Before the saxophone, I actually started taking piano lessons at the age of four from my parents but I was very combative to criticism so they started sending me to other teachers. I actually started playing saxophone and trumpet at the same time, but trumpet started to fall by the wayside and I just focused on sax.

I took lessons from some of their friends in the neighborhood who taught sax lessons and they got me to a place where I could play some scales but I feel like there are a few teachers that really opened my eyes to what I wanted to do. Some of those players were Mike Fine, Tony Salicandro, and Larry McKenna.

When studying with Mike Fine from middle school to early high school, he started showing me a lot of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane. I was fortunate that I always had good ears so I could hear my way through chord changes but I didn’t know any of the theory to back up what I was hearing and Mike was the first teacher to really enforce that I needed to learn what was going on theory wise, because there was only so far I could go just being able to hear my way through chords. Besides Mike exposing me to the jazz I should be checking out, he also made sure I understood what was happening theoretically.

In early high school I switched to Tony Salicandro who taught at this school in South Jersey. Tony is a born educator who loves to teach and he was extremely encouraging. Tony was at times hard on me but it was because he wanted to make sure I knew I could go somewhere with music which gave me that final push to go study music in College. When studying with Tony, we worked on a lot of classical and technique material as well as overtones and sounds.

I decided to pursue music in college because it was the only thing I was really good at so I knew that this is what I was going to do but did not know how I was going to make it work. Actually, before heading to college, I dropped out of my senior year of high school and moved to Israel to attend a music school called Rimon School of Music and when I was there was when I really started falling in love with practicing and working to get better. I stayed at the Rimon School of Music for about a year and then came back to the states and auditioned for college.

I  had a pretty limited number of schools I could audition for since I dropped out of high school and I applied late so many of the application deadlines were closed. I auditioned at Manhattan School of Music, NEC, Berklee College of Music, and University of the Arts. I ended up being accepted to all of them but University of the Arts provided me a full ride so I decided to attend even though it wasn’t necessarily my top choice.

There were definitely motivators for some of the schools I applied to such as I was really into Chris Potter who was an adjunct faculty member at NYU, New School, and Manhattan School of Music. In terms of the Philly cats, I really wanted to study with an amazing saxophonist named Ben Schachter and it ended up that the year I got to the University of the Arts, Ben was no longer teaching there. With that being said, I still got to study with some amazing teachers such as Chris Farr, Larry McKenna, and Mark Allen and I got so much out of studying with them.

After graduation in 2014, I stayed around Philly and had built my network out there. I can accredit most of my saxophone abilities to just going out in Philly to the jam sessions and learning from other players even more than what I learned in college. I stayed in Philly and was a freelancer for around 7 years and in 2019 is when I started to tour with a couple bands.

One thing to mention is when I started playing saxophone I played both alto and tenor but mainly played alto and then made the switch to tenor when I made it into the big band my freshmen year of college. Recently, just this past year or the beginning of the pandemic, I impulse-bought a Mark VI alto at JL Woodwinds that I really fell in love with. Over the past year, I have mainly been playing alto but it ‘s funny because I moved to New York March 1st, 2020 all bright-eyed with tours and gigs lined up so I could totally justify dropping money on this alto, and then the day after I bought this Mark VI is when all my gigs got cancelled. Now, I don’t regret buying this alto and still think it was a great investment, but the timing was not ideal.

ZS: How have you adjusted to COVID? What have you found to be most challenging as well as beneficial?

SG: I think it might be unanimous amongst a lot of musicians that at first there were a lot of cons with Covid in terms of “What am I going to do? What am I going to do without all these gigs?”. But then players slowly realized, if I had the free time to pursue certain projects, now I am going to pursue that project.

For me, I had been spreading myself very thin for several years playing every gig I could get, and now all of a sudden that didn’t exist, so now I could focus on what I really wanted to work on but had always put off.

For me, I had this momentum when I moved to New York. Even with the pandemic, I refocused that energy to enhancing and learning new skills such as writing music, figuring out how to produce, record, leverage logic, post videos via IG, and grow my brand.

ZS: What are some key lessons you’ve learned playing the saxophone that you have passed on to you students? What do you find yourself practicing these days?

SG: I am big on sound, long tones, overtones, and fundamental exercises. Some of my favorite sax players are not always the most technical besides Chris Potter, but the common denominator is they have a beautiful sound and a great tone with an even brilliance throughout the entire range of the horn.

For my practicing, I start by playing long tones, overtones, and some technique exercises to get an evenness throughout my playing. I spent a lot of years practicing technique, working on different patterns, licks, and taking them through all the keys. My technique is like riding a bicycle, it has never really left me, but the most maintenance I focus on is my sound.

ZS: How have you seen the music business change since you started playing the saxophone and where do you see the future moving?

SG: Unfortunately, I think a lot of the changes that need to be made in the music industry are a huge uphill battle. As far as compensation is concerned, I’ve heard that the rates for a corporate gig has stayed the same since the 80’s while the price of a house has quadrupled.

I think that until there is some sort of uniformity or many musicians unionize and stop accepting gigs for the current rate, nothing is going to change. Of course, I was there too because it’s hard to say how the music industry has changed because I have changed so much since graduating college. When I was 22 and got a gig such as a $50 dollar gig at Chris’ Jazz Cafe I was excited. I know what it’s like to be a fresh out of college musician and you want to make it out there and get your name out so you will accept gigs that don’t necessarily pay well.

On a non-monetary side of things, the industry is changing with the internet and players are being more resourceful with growing their brand. One example is since playing with Cory Wong, he has leveraged the internet to his advantage in putting out a music tv show.

The music industry is broadening and bands like Snarky Puppy, Funky Knuckles, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Louis Cole weren’t as popular 10 years ago as they are now. These groups have branded this version of jazz that can be accessible to non-musicians which can be really good for the music industry as a whole.

As far as traffic to your product goes, you can get a lot further with putting $200-$300 dollars behind a very specifically targeted ad to your demographic versus getting a write up in Rolling Stone. I find out more info through Instagram, Facebook, or a sponsored post of a guy shredding than I do reading an article in Downbeat.

ZS: What projects are you currently working on?

SG:  I just released my album recently Here’s Some Stuff. I am still working on my next album and putting music together for that. I just played a live show recently and put together a band for this show and I was telling people during the pandemic, I was just “Frankenstein-ing” songs together and I would make demos and then send them to a drummer, and then they would send me backing tracks, and then send it to a keys player, and they would send me backing tracks. I would then piece it all together and realized this sounds awesome and this was an easy and efficient way to put an album together since we didn’t have to be live together.

It wasn’t until I played this music live with a band that I realized it was cool “Frankenstein-ing” music together, but playing live is the way it should be done. So I am looking forward to booking some studio time with this band and going in with real musicians at the same time because I didn’t realize how much I missed that. I have been booking more shows and then have a lot of Cory stuff coming up and playing at the Newport Jazz Festival at the end of July. We also just finished shooting season 2 of Cory’s show last month so I was busy with that. Right now I am really focused on working on my own stuff and some music for Cory.

Sam Trading Solos with Dave Koz

ZS: What are your thoughts on the importance of the equipment? Do you find yourself changing much or sticking with the same gear?

SG: I didn’t put too much thought on equipment and just played on what I had but until recently I started noticing the huge difference little nuances can make. One instance is Jack at Boston Sax Shop sent his BSS Heritage neck, and I didn’t realize how much a neck could change your sound, so I have been experimenting with mouthpieces and necks. I am a big believer that mouthpieces and necks can make a big difference.

Equipment

Saxophones:

  • Soprano: Selmer Super Action 80 Series II
  • Alto: Selmer Mark VI 232,xxx
  • Tenor: Selmer Super Balanced Action 43,xxx
  • Baritone: Yamaha 52

Necks:

Ligatures:

Reeds:

Mouthpieces:

NeckStrap:

Cases:

Website: