Conversations with a saxophonist

The conversation soon got to brass tacks

As I failed to gather the facts

I talked too much of me

When I found out, you see,

We both are players of sax.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. I followed 3 years Community Health Center work with further travel and adventures in temporary positions in Arctic Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania, western Nebraska, Canada, and South Central Alaska.  I split the summer between hospitalist work in my home town and rural medicine in northern British Columbia.  Back from two weeks in Israel, I visited my sister in San Francisco.   Any identifiable patient information, including that of my wife, has been used with permission.

Jumping 9 time zones in 72 hours will ruin my sleep for weeks. Despite a great bed at a quiet hotel, I had trouble keeping to my resolve of never leaving bed before 4:00AM. I arrived at SFO 3 hours early.

I stretched my breakfast time, eating slowly and savoring my food. Paying on the way out, I noticed an instrument case next to a woman waiting for her meal.

“Saxophone?” I asked. She answered in the affirmative. As usual when I speak English (but not when I speak Spanish) I started to show off. I asked if she’d heard of Theo Wanne mouthpieces. She had but she hadn’t tried one.

As it turned out, we had seats on the same flight to Chicago, and continued our conversation in the boarding lounge.

In addition to playing for hire, she teaches instrumental music, frequently to Native American youth. We have a commonality in experience with Navajo, Hopi, and Tuba City.

I talk about myself too much, a failing I’m improving slowly by writing this blog. But I fell to my old habits. I recounted my Indian Health Service experience early in my career and my adventures since 2010. But because I did the talking, I failed to detail her story. Still, I discovered that she is en route to Maryland. She has a daughter who works as a family therapist. We both have low serial number Selmer Mark VI saxophones.

Modern technology has improved almost everything but so far that sax remains the best.

She got hers when the people who hired her band brought a saxophone down from the attic and asked if that would settle the account for the entertainment. I can imagine her surprise and the trouble she took to nuance her facial expression when she opened the case, raised her chin, and nodded. I can picture her shutting the case and saying, yes, this will do just fine, and I can just hear the passion that particular victory added to the way the band played.

During the conversation, I realized that the threads of saxophones and music have wandered through this blog for the last 9 years.

I haven’t played my horn with the delightful mouthpiece since my teacher, Diane, died. I have had a lot of excuses: difficulty traveling with a horn and living in hotels where other people pay to not listen to my music. But in the end, those remain just excuses. I have the ultimate saxophone with arguably the ultimate mouthpiece, and I have let them and my meager musical talent languish. My teacher would never have approved. It’s time to stop grieving.


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