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Patrick Byrne – Sax Man

GuanXi: How did you get involved in music? I know you started playing rather later in life – tell me about that. Did you grow up in a musical family? What prompted your decision?

PB: There was always music in our house. We had a piano and my dad would play classical after dinner most nights. I fell asleep to that, it was magical. My mum danced and sang a lot, particularly after a glass or two of wine. Good times.

Never had lessons until I picked up the sax at 26.
I had just come out of the bush from tree-planting – was on Main and 25th in Vancouver with 200 bucks in my pocket. Saw and old horn in a pawnshop and bought it.
It was an absolute piece of shit that didn’t really work but I learned my unique, warm tone on that. I knew from that day that I was going to be a sax man.

GuanXi: You were a driving force in the development of the Taichung Jazz Festival. Tell me how that came about. Who are some of the folks you got to play with that really peeled your skull back?

PB: I was at the first Jazz fest in Taichung at Feng Le Park – saw John Faddis and Bill Mays. It was awesome but the venue was inadequate.
We met with Mayor Hu and told him that a venue change was essential to expand the festival and turn it into an international event.
I asked the Mayor if we could get in his van to check out the venue we had in mind. Drove to Peoples Park, walked along the boulevard and I explained where the stages would go – painted a picture of the site and the main stage set-up – an urban ampitheatre. The Mayor loved it! He cut through the dissent and said, “ Make it happen.”

The rest is history.

I met many cats that played at the festival: Louis Nash, Eric Trufaz and the highlight was meeting Sheila Jordan who had performed with The Duke, Charlie Parker and Trane.

I was lucky enough to jam with Wallace Roney’s pianist (Aruan Ortiz) and bassist (Rashan Carter) after hours at Grooveyard. There were only 5 of us playing and no customers. That’s the highlight of my playing career so far.

GuanXi: You’ve played all over Taiwan with a variety of bands and combos. What’s most frustrating about playing around the island? What’s most rewarding?

PB: There are so many great things about playing here. There are a lot more playing opportunities if you’re willing to work hard and put yourself out there.

Of course some frustrating things do happen in anything worth doing. I guess the toughest thing is the fact that the scene is so transient. I’ve played with some awesome cats but most of them end up moving back to where they came from. Eventually you have to re-invent.

Having the opportunity to play and record with some great people has been very rewarding…especially with ‘Round Midnight, which has been playing for over nine years. We’ve played thousands of sweet gigs and had a great deal of fun all over the island – for heads of state and farmers alike, all very cool gigs.

GuanXi: Run through the various bands and combos with which you’ve been associated. Biggest pleasures? Biggest disappointments? Great road stories?

PB: I first started here playing with a friend of mine from Edmonton. It was a guitar/sax duo and I sang too. She left but around that time I was sitting in with Milk and then was asked to join Schlumpy, which was a kick ass band.

I formed ‘Round Midnight with Roger Smith. There was no jazz here at the time and we really established that scene. Schlumpy was working on their first album at that time as well.

Biggest disappointment was not getting a recording contract with EMI Taiwan…and of course the break-up of Schlumpy. Moneyshot was a blast and a great group of musicians. I had to drop that to spend more time with the kids and to give my head and liver a break.

‘Round Midnight is still going strong. I love jazz, it really fuels my soul.

There is a whole book worth of road stories. You’ll have to wait for that…and it’s in the works.

GuanXi: Who are your biggest musical influences? Re: Saxophone and generally speaking – composers, singers, artists?

PB: My favorite ballad player is Dexter Gordon. I love Trane, of course, Sonny Rollins and what Joshua Redman does with The Elastik band. Vocally I think Kurt Elling is the best jazz singer in our time.
For composing Wayne Shorter takes the cake.

GuanXi: Desert island – one album: What is it?

PB: I told you I’d leave the CD and just take my horn.
I guess if I was forced to answer that one I would take Kurt Elling’s “Flirting With Twilight.” It is such a beautiful album. I sing along with that so much that my copy is worn out.

AUTHOR: Cousin Avi
PHOTOS: Hank Westheim
PUBLISHED: GuanXi #1 – Summer 2010

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