Saxophonist plays in Placitas

By David Steinberg / For the Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. The saxophone was invented as a classical music instrument in the 19th century, but since then jazz has made the sax what could be called its signature instrument.

Ashu, a 26-year-old Chicago musician, has brought the sax back to its roots.

"I feel very lucky to have built a career performing as a classical soloist. I realize how rare that is and I try not to take that for granted," Ashu said in a phone interview.

Accompanied by a pianist, Ashu will give a recital today in Placitas as part of the Placitas Artists Series. He'll be playing the alto sax and the soprano sax.

The program is diverse. It's a combination of some of Ashu's favorite pieces written for saxophone as well as music that he has been arranged for the instrument.

Works composed for the instrument on the program are Jacques Ibert's Concertino da Camera for Alto Saxophone and Eleven Instruments, Jules Demersseman's Fantasy on an Original Theme for Alto Saxophone and Piano, Paul Creston's Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano.

Ashu's arrangements are three tangos by Astor Piazzolla, a suite from Ennio Morricone's musical themes for the films Gabriel's Oboe, The Untouchables, and Cinema Paradiso,and the Andante from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata, Opus 19.

"This is a program I've been touring this season and there's something in it that anyone can enjoy. It's a very accessible program," Ashu said.

However, it's not just the music that Ashu says draws listeners.

"Ultimately it's about being yourself and being honest. When you do that the personality comes through, the spontaneity, the emotional power in the moment."

Ashu came to the saxophone when he was 10. He was walking in San Francisco, Calif., with his parents when he heard instrumental music emanating from the dark end of a street.

"It was the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard in my life. It was a busker playing this golden, curved instrument," Ashu said.

So entranced was he with the sound of the saxophone, that he begged his parents for one. They rented him an alto sax.

Three years later, he came across his first CD. It was a record of Luciano Pavarotti.

"I heard the emotional power of his singing. In that moment I decided I wanted to be a classical soloist, Ashu said.

He began listening to recordings of pianist Vladimir Horowitz, violinist Jascha Heifetz and other famous classical musicians. By age 16, Ashu was so accomplished that he gave his first saxophone recital, at Carnegie Hall, as the winner of the National Alliance for Excellence Competition.