OSLO, NORWAY — Ian Trewhella learned how to play a saxophone solo the hard way: He was ambushed.
Ian was 14 years old and playing second tenor saxophone in a big band. His teacher, Sid Warren, was playing first saxophone. “It was very sneaky what Sid did, to be honest,” Ian told me. “He told me: ‘I think you should play first tenor saxophone on this part and I’ll take your second one.’ So I said: OK, no problem.
“So I opened up this three-page thing [sheet of music], put it down, and I’m looking through the music and I’m playing and all of a sudden, I’m looking at the second page and…. where’s the music gone?” Ian remembered. “I’m looking at it and thinking: ‘Where have the notes gone?! What?! What’s this?!’
“And Sid said to me: ’That’s called chords and what you do is you just make your own music, you do what you want to do over this.’ And I’m saying: ‘I don’t know what to do!’ I’m panicking and saying ‘What the hell’, and he said: ‘Just do what you want.’
“So when I started playing, I was fumbling all over the place; I hadn’t a clue. But the solo was a typical long big band solo, and by the end of it, it started getting a little bit coherent,” Ian said.
“That was my baptism of fire when Sid literally threw me into the deep end. What he did was a bloody amazing thing because now I respect that as an adult because that made me go: ‘OK, I have to just do this!’
“There were no ifs, ands, or buts — you have to just do this in real time — Here comes the beat and you will play solo right now, BANG! GO! My heart was racing like crazy, yeah,” he said. “That was Sid Warren’s baptism of fire for me. And I say thank you, Sid. Thank you very much!”
Reflecting on that experience, Ian now sees a life lesson.
“it’s like anything in life, isn’t it? You know you have to do this certain thing, you just do it; you don’t know how to do it, but you muddle through it,” he said. “That’s what it was it was like muddling through it, panic in my heart that was racing like hell! I can still feel that adrenaline rushing through me, I really loved it, even though I was terrified, I loved it. It’s like happy and terrifying at the same time.”
Ian came to the saxophone by pure serendipity.
“I did not know what saxophone was when I was 12 or 13 years old,” Ian said. “I was in my music class and there were practice rooms all along the corridor, and I heard this sound, and of course it was just beginner sax, but I heard this tone and I thought, wow, what’s that, what’s that sound?
“So, I went out of my classroom and went looking through all the other classrooms for this sound. I opened the door of one of these rooms and there is one of the kids with an alto saxophone just going up and down some basic scales. I just heard that tone and I said that is the sound I want. That tone. That was it. That nailed it for me. As soon as I heard that, that was just a voice and that was it!”
Ian believes in the power of music beyond just being able to play it.
“Music is life. We all have heard this thing: Music is the international language, blah blah blah,” he said. “But I put it in these terms: If I go to China and say ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ I might get a strange look but if I go ‘La, la, la, la la [singing a tune], they might not like what I’m singing but they can understand it at a primal basic level because music is a primal language.
“That’s what music is to me — it blurs the line between borders, which don’t really exist anyway,” he said. “Music is for [anyone] from whatever background, you got money in your pockets or no money. It’s your music, you will always be rich in music. It crosses all the boundaries of age, gender, money in the pocket, no money, religion, politics, whatever, all this crap — it crosses everything because we all understand music at some level. It’s a primal thing.”
Ian assembled the band in 2017 and it is, as he put it, a reflection of today’s new Norway: Two Norwegians, a Brit (himself), and an Azerbaijani. The members are Ivar Austgoo on guitar, Daniel Bloch on bass, Hikmatg Baba Zada on keyboard, Geir Johansen (drums), and Ian on sax.
MORE ABOUT IAN & THE JAZZHEADS:
- On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IanandtheJazzHeads/
- On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDZCOmb7ZpgQnNtJkm3FeuA