Saxophonist Ashu spotlights symphony performance

By MARY VANDEVENTER, Beaumont Enterprise: Special to The Enterprise

In Chris Zimmerman's first concert with the Symphony of Southeast Texas, Jan. 20, 2001, a timpani soloist played with the orchestra.

Not your normal piano or violin soloist, but a person playing one of those large, copper-colored, kettle-like drums. Since his unique directorial debut, Zimmerman has brought in soloists playing the trombone, clarinet, pan flute, classical guitar, charango, and even percussion.

It seems fitting that in Zimmerman's final season with SOST, he should bring in a saxophonist - and a very young one, at that.

Ashu joins SOST Feb. 24 to play a John Williams' tune, "Escapades." He visited on the phone with The Enterprise Feb. 5 about his music and his life as a young man who tours the world, playing his sax:

You grew up in California , but you've won a number of awards in Texas . Did you live in Texas for a time, and if so, where?
I moved from California to not far from Beaumont ; I went to junior high and high school in The Woodlands. (Ashu graduated from Woodlands High School .) That's where my parents still live. My dad's an engineer, and my mom is a banker.

How much did your parents influence your musical career?
I'm very lucky in that they were always very supportive of me. They aren't musicians, and no one in my family is a musician. It's just something that I discovered on my own. I started when I was about 10; I joined the school band, and it was just something I enjoyed so much from the beginning.

How many different instruments do you have?
I have played all the saxophones, but I tend to stick with just alto and soprano. It's mainly just because those two instruments are closest to me, sort of "my voice."

How many concerts do you play a year?
It varies so much. Like the John Williams' piece I'm doing in Beaumont , I'm doing it this week in Montana and next week in Florida . I tend to do them in tours, where you might be on the road for several weeks, or you might come home between concerts.

I did some concerts in Vienna , and that was a lot of fun. I'll be going to France this summer to do a concert at a festival in a castle. That'll be neat. It's pretty much just all over - California , Florida , Pennsylvania, South Carolina , Arizona , New Mexico . It's nice to come back to Beaumont , though, because I grew up near there and it's not too often I get to play so close to The Woodlands. (Ashu's parents will be attending the SOST concert.)

Why is the work you'll be playing in Beaumont , "Escapades," in your repertoire, and what do you like about it?
In some ways, getting to perform this John Williams' work is like a dream come true. When I was growing up, I was just completely enamored by these great soundtracks he wrote like "Star Wars" and "Jaws," and to get to stand up in front of this huge orchestra and play this new music is incredible.

This piece is so much fun, one of my favorites. When I saw the movie "Catch Me if You Can" in the theater, I was just completely in love with it. And afterwards, I found out he was turning the film score into a saxophone concerto. It was a movie that I admired, and he was going to be writing his first saxophone concerto based on it.

Many people don't realize that there's a lot of really great music for the saxophone. It's quite a new instrument, invented in the mid-1800's. A lot of great composers have written for the instrument.

What led you to want to play with the Symphony of Southeast Texas ?
I had just heard a lot of good things about Mr. Zimmerman's work and his conducting, and I just thought to throw the idea out. It turned out that he had done some work with sax before, but he had not done the John Williams' piece before, and he was interested in doing that.

How long do you want to keep playing concerts and traveling?
I hope forever, really. Sometimes people ask me, "What is it you love most about performing?" and for me, there's no feeling in the world like walking up on stage and seeing this sea of people and getting to share myself with them. I hope I get to do it as long as I live.

What advice do you give young people who want to "follow in your footsteps," so to speak?
Just don't listen to people that say what you can do and what you can't do. If you believe you can do something, just go for it. Believe in your instincts and believe in yourself.