What a saxophonist feels about music and freedom

2 Mins read

“First you learn the instrument, then you learn the music, then you forget all that shit and just play.” So said Charlie Parker, one of the greatest saxophone players in jazz history, about letting the instrument take control of the person playing it.

These words inspire Nicholas Hann, a composer, multi-instrumentalist and teacher who enjoys playing the saxophone more than anything in the world. A graduate from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama — with a first-class degree in Saxophone — he has taken this passion to performing in venues such as the music clubs IKLECTIK and Moth Club, as well as collaborating with the Columbia Saxophone Quartet and in his lessons as a teacher and pupil.

The multi-instrumentalist describes the saxophone as versatile, saying that artists such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Kenny G play it so distinctly that you can’t tell that all of them are using the same instrument.

Even though the saxophone is well known in the jazz genre, Nick found an opportunity to explore that flexibility in other areas such as classical and electronic music. In the orchestra landscape, he considers that the sax doesn’t have a proper place. He is happy he found this, because of the improvisational feeling the instrument has and what that oddity can sum to a concert.

“The way it’s guided through, and dedication to it – it’s really scary”

Nicholas Hann

When talking about his electronic work, and how that factors into his saxophone tendencies, he began treading those waters in the pandemic. The limitations of lockdown pushed his creativity. Instead of having his saxophone accompanied by various instruments at an in-person orchestra, he only had his computer, and that opened another world to him in terms of the effects and noises that he could make, which he describes as “glitchy or weird”.

He experienced the power of showcasing those sounds when he performed on an October’s Thursday night at IKLECTIK, an experimental contemporary art and music platform in South London. Because there were no gaps in his 20-minute show, and the audience was mostly silent during it, he didn’t know “if people were really listening or they’re really bored”. Once he got going, however, he went with the flow and ignored those thoughts.

Even though he’s mainly a saxophonist, Nick refers to videos of singers like Nina Simone or Sam Cooke using vocal improvisations as inspiration for his performances. “The way it’s guided through, and dedication to it – it’s really scary”.

That spontaneous ability is what, in his mind, makes music that he crafts special. He’s much more inclined to playing for live audiences and to what can happen in the moment than to think of himself as a recording artist. Yet, how can you achieve that and still be professional?

Hann emphasises practice as key, and says that with enough of it, you can feel the sax as if it’s “a limb” and adds: “I like the idea that we can trust–with a lot of practice and a lot of time with the instrument–what our fingers do naturally. How does a millipede control its hundred legs? It doesn’t think about it.”

Featured Image by Santiago Guerra

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