Sax, musician made for classical

Tribune Staff Writer

Saxophonist Ashu has always loved the sound of the saxophone.

It can sound like a voice, and it can effortlessly project over any orchestra,” Ashu, who performs Saturday with the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra, says.

Ashu makes the saxophone sound as if it was made to play classical music, and he says that’s because the saxophone was intended to be a classical music instrument. However, generations of bands made people associate the sax with marching music. More recently, the sax has become an instrument linked with jazz, thanks in large part to the virtuosity of such musicians as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins.

And like most sax players, Ashu says he played in bands and jazz.

“I started playing in the school band,” he says.

“I immediately fell in love with classical music and the possibilities that existed as a soloist,” he says.

For a while, Ashu says, he played jazz and classical music. Ashu, however, says he wanted to devote himself fully to one genre.

“I wanted to see how far I could go if I gave it my all,” he says.

Plenty of people second-guessed Ashu’s decision to become a classical saxophonist. More than one person told Ashu that he should either switch genres or change instruments.

“Sometimes, if you really love something, you just have to believe in yourself,” he says. “The first time I heard the instrument, I heard a very human and organic sound that just captivated me.”

The instrument’s sound explains why Ashu says he never wavered from his desire to become a classical saxophone soloist.

“I knew that I had to find a way to pursue classical music on the saxophone,” he says.

The SMSO audience will see Ashu’s classical saxophone virtuosity on three numbers. One, called “Escapades,” is Ashu’s original arrangement of a piece that composer John Williams wrote for the Stephen Spielberg movie “Catch Me If You Can.”

Ashu says he’s excited to have the opportunity to perform a John Williams piece because he has always admired his film and classical compositions.

“To play a saxophone (piece based on) his work is a real thrill,” he says.

Ashu also will play two pieces by the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.

Ashu, who arranged the pieces for saxophone and strings, says he has a simple approach to deciding what songs to perform.

“I try to find a piece that I really love before trying to arrange it for saxophone,” he says, “I feel that a lot of classical music can work beautifully on the saxophone.

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