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Sweet sax, sweet tune

by Donna Sealy

josephcallenderpaysseasideHe blows a sweet tune and he knows it.

Making music is his forte and whenever Joseph Callender picks up his saxophone and begins to play something wonderful happens.

The more he plays the more he is transported to a magical place where he and his notes become one.

At 21 years old he has had more than a few gigs and while he has not seen as much as the world, he likes where he has been and the reception from the audiences he played for.

Dressed casually in a green tee-shirt and blue jeans, he sat in the living room of the Christ Church home he shares with his aunt, and told Barbados TODAY that it was Derrick Etkins who suggested he got the flute, but it was Cassius Clay who bought him his first sax.

He also spoke about where he has been what got him started and how much he loves music.

“I started music at 11, the saxophone came about 12. I started on the recorder like everybody else at school and then I moved on to the flute. I didn’t really get that covered because it was difficult to play. It takes more air than a saxophone. It’s like blowing a bottle, only a little bit goes through to produce the sound,” he said.

What Cassius Clay told him was learn to play the C, F and G keys and “come play in the Eggs Band and go on tour”.

“C, F and G on the saxophone are different to the keyboards so I had to end up learning all of the notes. [The tour] was good. I went to Canada and after seeing it realised it was music I wanted to do as a full time career. My mum was cool and supportive, she bought a lot of reeds for me and a saxophone when the one I had went bum.

“I was about 12 or 13 when I realised I really wanted to do music it was my first trip out of Barbados to Winnipeg, Canada, which is a very lovely place. I met some really nice people and they said I could make a career out of it if I take it seriously so I did. It was a lot of fun too. I can’t remember any time not having fun with music,” he said with a smile.

The band made three more tours after that and by then he was 16-years old, ready to leave school and wondering what his next step would be.

“I decided to go to Community College to study music. It was a very, very, very good move. The College has very good tutors like Roger Gittens, Andr√ Woodvine, Andr√ Daniels, they helped mould me and what I know today,” Joseph said.

Apart from playing at home and in Canada, the musician has made wonderful music for audiences at the Bequia Music Festival and the Tobago Music Festival.

What does he do when he’s not playing?

“I try not to speak so much with a lot of opinions around I don’t like mix-ups. I like to keep by myself and practise, read books, ride around, exercise. I’m a ‘selfly’ person except when I get up and go to performances.

“Sometimes I go on a gig and I’ve had a horrible day and I get the saxophone in my hand and the prototype jumps inside, starts working the protocol and it’s a different me when I’m with it. It connects to you … I don’t know. Physically I can say all 10 of my fingers have a part to play, my wrist position has a part to play, every thing needs to be different in order to play the saxophone. …When you start to think about what you’re doing and you start to feel it. It is far more than a physical thing for sure, it’s more like and body and soul, a spiritual thing,” he said as he explained how he feels.

Joseph’s aim is to be best musician he can be and to achieve this he practices several hours a day at home, at his alma mater, at the beach or by the jetty in Oistins.

“There was a stage where I was practising for seven hours or more every day just trying to get technique correct, know the notes, not make mistakes and I still make mistakes,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe you would not be able to tell but the mistake is in my head and I know what I want to play. I know what I’m hearing in my head and I’m trying to take it from the intangible and put it into the tangible form so somebody else can enjoy it”.

“There is this one note that needs to be bent slightly, needs to be sharper, flatter, it needs to be the way I hear it and it’s not so it’s a mistake to me. A small distraction gets to be a big distraction. I don’t know if I’m a perfectionist but I try to get everything as close to good as possible or as it can be. I like to try my best at all times,” the saxophonist explained.

He is a part of the Stefan Walcott’s 1688 Orchestra and he loves interacting with the students when they head to schools to play.

“I joined when I was back at BCC. I really love 1688. It is a very good project started by Stefan Walcott. He put the group together, gave it a name based upon a cultural background. [That year] was the year they trained to ban the drums and our African instruments. The focus of the group was to keep the musicians coming out of BCC still playing and keeping the chops up, so the music industry in Barbados wouldn’t die. It’s doing very good.

“We do the For the Children Tour, we go around to various school and jam. That’s great, It’s nice to see the energy you get from the students, It’s good to see them liking the vibe and maybe it inspires a lot of students, in primary and secondary school to play music.

“I remember we went to a primary school, I don’t remember which one, and we said ‘this is a saxophone’ is there any one who would like to play music when they get older?’. There was this [chorus of] ‘me’,” he said smiling at the memory.

The tours are one way to expose the children to the music so it is not an abstract thing and if they wanted to, they could pursue it at another level, Joseph explained.

He likes jamming with jazz musicians such as Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, and Bobby Sparks to name a few and he also enjoyed the workshop he attended with Marcus Miller. “They always have positive energy”, was how he put it.

What are his goals apart from becoming “a great musician”?

“Besides being a better saxophone player and musician overall, I would like to do something with the Barbadians rhythm tuk and spouge. I would like to take those and fuse them somehow with the knowledge I have gained over the years studying music and performing. So somehow I’m going to fuse Caribbean rhythms with jazz harmonies and jazz concepts. Listening to different music and pulling concepts to put original music together.

“Sometimes when I’m practising, I go ‘oops that’s not what I want to play but it sounds really cool, I’m going to write that down’ After I write it, when I go back to it there’s always more to add to it and a song comes out of it.

“I’m playing to do an album in about a year, if so much. I already have a single I’m working on. It’s called On the Other Side. At that time I was coming out of BCC and was exploring concepts so looking at one thing and trying to figure out the complete opposite,” was how he explained the title.

His intention is to make music, travel the world and go wherever music takes him.

Until then he will continue to swim, “run as fast as I can, jump as high as I can, as far as I can off of the [Oistins] jetty into the deepest part and feel myself flying” because it feels very good.

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