Artists You Should Know: Eric Alexander

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Nobody but dyed-in-the-wool jazz buffs would know about Eric Alexander.  He’s a tenor saxophonist (b. 1968) who came in second beyond fellow tenor player Joshua Redman (but ahead of Chris Potter, who came in 3rd) a few years back in the big Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition.

He certainly doesn’t try to look like some kind of jazz hipster.  He looks more like a high school history teacher or maybe a C.P.A.  His hipness, like his genius, comes out of his horn.  On the new album he wears a suit and tie.

Alexander actually started as a classical saxophonist, studying alto sax at the great Indiana University Music School.  As there is practically no repertoire for alto sax in classical music save for a rhapsody by Debussy and some miniatures by Jacques Ibert, Eric sensibly chose jazz saxophone as his ax.

New York-based High Note Records, founded and run by veteran jazz producer Joe Fields (Muse Records) and his son Barney recently put out a new cd, Don’t Follow the Crowd.  Alexander plays so seamlessly, so smoothly, so perfectly that it is hard for me to believe anybody would not be smitten by it.  The saxophone is jazz music’s instrument par excellence, and hearing Alexander play it makes me realize the amazing amount of time and effort needed to reach his level of virtuosity.   He plays a ballad by Michael Jackson, “She’s Out of My Life” with such grace and fluidity–he has what jazz players call “even fingers”, which comes from endless practicing.  There is a logic and architecture in his style that must make some swoon, and scare other tenor players away.

In my opinion, guys like him should be making as much money as Kenny G or Dave Koz.  He isn’t, but he certainly has won the utmost respect from other players and from aficionados who really know how to  listen.  You can’t say that about them.

Here’s a video of him playing Stanley Turrentine’s song “Sugar” at a place called The Artist’s Corner