|Wally West: The Big Fish|
Wally West: The Big Fish
By Skip Spratt
The saxophone is alive and well in Greensboro, North Carolina. Wally West, Yamaha clinician, commercial saxophonist and band leader is tearin' it up" in the Bible Belt. His big, bad tenor sound will get your attention, but it's Wally's soulful side that is a perfect match for his gentlemanly southern manner. Be it on stage, the back of the house or simply chatting with an old friend, Mr. West is a true gentleman. "There's hundreds, thousands, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS (laughs) of better saxophone players out there, but one thing that I really try to do when I go on any job is I try to be very personable. I like to let my personality come through, not just in my playing, but the way I interact with people. I think that has led to a lot of my success. I'm not gonna say that my music has. I think a lot of my success is by the way I handle my affairs."
Wally has been "handling" the saxophone quite well for the last 20 years. If you're not familiar with his playing, not to worry, you may have already heard him. He has backed a cross section of performers that includes jazz greats, original Motown groups, name big bands and even some of country music's finest. Whether playing with Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, The Dorsey Orchestras, Roy Clark or Vince Gill, Wally is at home behind the saxophone, regardless of style.
Wally West began playing alto saxophone at the age of 11 in Greensboro, North Carolina. From the moment he began to blow into that old alto, Wally knew he was on to something. He received recognition for being a promising young musician right from the beginning. "In six weeks I had pretty much gone through the first year of band. I received lots of honors and got lots of playing opportunities. I really made a good name for myself and I was really proud."
Years of touring and recording have brought many successes and some notoriety to Wally West, but this "good 'ole boy" is most comfortable at home in North Carolina. As he himself has said, "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy!"
"This particular region of North Carolina is blessed with so many wonderfully talented musicians and I like to think that I'm one of them. I work very hard at trying to do a good job, be on time, have a good attitude and help people, especially with my agency. I feel that in today's music world you've got to be 50 percent player and 50 percent business person. Being able to handle your affairs in an orderly fashion, in a timely fashion, in a mannerly fashion is probably the biggest step that you can take in order to further your musical career, even though those things have nothing to do with blowin' on a saxophone. I will gladly sacrifice a little bit of musicality any day of the week in order to hire someone that I know will show up early, be courteous, be well-dressed - somebody that's reputable, somebody that I can trust, rather than somebody that can play Giant Steps in 12 keys at quarter note equals 350!
I'm proud to say that I had the pleasure of playing and hanging out with Wally during my two-year stint at Berklee College of Music in Boston some 20 years ago. I left to grow as a player and Wally stayed for the same reason. We found each other on the internet after all these years. We spoke until our throats were sore and our eyes grew weary getting caught up on the last two decades. The conversation never grew old as Wally has the gift of inserting the perfect colloquialism at just the right moment. I learned quite a bit about the gentleman tenor player to the south. The following are excerpts from our conversations.
Let's start with Berklee. When did you go there and what degree(s) did you get?
I understand there were a lot of good players there at that time. You have mentioned that going to Berklee was an eye-opener. How so? How did it differ from what you were accustomed to living in North Carolina?
How so? What was the measuring stick?
I remember at Berklee the players that really knocked me out. The northeast United States was just heavenly laden with talent. I would imagine that compared to North Carolina, the density of the Northeast...It's so much more dense, you've got a whole lot more going on.
….YOU CAN READ THIS COMPLETE INTERVIEW IN MARCH/APRIL 2001 ISSUE OF SAXOPHONE JOURNAL. Contact dornpub.com for subscription information.
Used by permission.
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