When you hear music that moves your soul, what do you do? Perhaps you start dancing, swaying to the beat, or maybe even start singing along to the lyrics. It might make you feel emotional, whether happy or sad - even move you to tears, while you bail along to the lyrics of your favorite sad song. This is the power of music.
The first time I heard jazz saxophonist Tony Bragano play, I was captivated by his music. My family and I were passing through Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. Bragano was playing the saxophone, along with his friend who was on bongos. Together they created an amazing collaboration, which charmed and enticed passersby to stop and listen to their music.
When Bragano plays, the soothing music sails from his saxophone seemingly effortlessly. I wanted to know a little bit more about him, and how he came to become a jazz saxophonist. Recently, he graciously took the time to answer some questions I had for him. Let’s find out a little more about this talented saxophonist, whom you’re sure to start hearing more of soon!
1) What are the steps you took to go from playing the saxophone as something you enjoyed into making it a career?
Originally I was playing saxophone as a hobby while attending college and working part time. Incorporating music into my life gave me a sense of balance, and kept my creative juices flowing. Of course I had dreams of possibly playing music as a full time career. Then, in 2008, I graduated with my MBA (from the University of San Francisco) ambitiously ready to find a respectable, stable decent paying job. However, that was also right when the economy decided to take a dive. I spent a lot of time interviewing and trying to find a business job but it wasn't working. So I continued working my part-time job and put all my energy into music...developing skills, writing new material, and selling myself. I had nothing to lose.
The saxophone is just a tool, but the music is a product of my experiences, perceptions, body, imagination and soul. I am the instrument. I also support the definition that music is a language of emotions, and that music can speak emotions that words cannot. I like to think of myself as an artist that expresses and speaks this language. So with that being said, being an artist with the saxophone is my full time profession. I don't have any other job.
I am thankful that I currently have this opportunity, but I have gone back and forth between being a full time musician and being a part time musician, so I know it can change at any time.
I thank everyone who has supported my music by purchasing my songs and booking me. :)
2) What's your favorite part about playing the sax, and why?
MAGIC – The out of body experience and being in the zone feeling you get when you’re in a state of “flow.” It’s as if the saxophone is playing you, as opposed to you playing it. There is a direct link to the imagination and no thinking, it’s subconscious. This is where magic happens; and you accomplish what you thought was impossible.
FRUITS OF LABOR - When you want to get to a certain playing ability (having more control over the instrument) you work hours and hours to develop this. And then finally, one day it happens.....you have developed more strength and control over the instrument, and she takes you to another world.
3) What are the not so ideal/boring parts about your career that you'd rather not have to deal with?
Dealing with marketing paraphernalia. Traveling.
4) Can you tell us about a really memorable experience you had playing the sax and why it impacted you so?
While playing live at a wine bar once, someone asked if we could play “Happy Birthday” for someone at the party. Somehow I started playing some of the national anthem in the middle of the song - a little improvisation - and then went back to playing “Happy Birthday.” My friend, Andres, who was playing the bongos, was dying laughing while all this was going on. But the party was happy and everyone was having a good time. The impact comes in that music isn’t engineering its emotion, and there’s no need to overdo it technically, or take things too seriously.
5) What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
Despite my soothing and smooth music, I am actually kind of hyper. Music is my outlet to meditation and relaxation.
6) Could you walk us through a typical day in your life?
One of the fun things about being a musician (at least to me) is that you don't have the usual repetition that you might have in a 9 to 5 job. I definitely put in a lot of hours each day - 12 plus – but I am always learning new stuff and working with new people and playing new gigs. As the saying goes, “You'll never work a day in your life, when doing what you love.”
One thing that is consistent is that I work seasonally. During the winter I write music, and do a lot of studio production work (i.e. making the product, and working with featured artists). I like to have new material ready by summer, so in the spring I am getting a lot of business stuff in place like album covers, ordering CDs, booking gigs for the summer, making marketing paraphernalia, etc. (busy work). Come summer, it’s all about performances, playing gigs, and selling myself and the music. Also, right before winter, I do a lot of holiday gigs.
My practice philosophy is based on: consistency, desire, and rest. What I mean by that, is I make sure I consistently play the horn for at least 4 hours a day, so I don't get rusty. But I have also experienced overkill; you can burn yourself out by not letting your body rest and recover. Desire comes in to play in that if I'm not feeling it, or don't want to play it, I don't do it. So I play songs that I am going to play live and just get my practice in by playing them. When a song gets boring, I just throw it away and stop playing it. If I want to practice some scales or technique, I just play around with it in the song.
7) What advice would you give to other aspiring musicians hoping to follow in your footsteps?
No matter how much judgment comes your way, be yourself.
Thank you Tony, for taking the time to give a little more insight into your thoughts and career!
If you would like to find out more about Bragano, listen to his music, or see where he is performing next, you can visit his website, TonyBragano.com, Facebook, or Youtube.