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Arlen holding saxophone

I started playing saxophone when I was 11 years old. I foolishly chose it because I thought it would be the most difficult instrument to play. While it's certainly never been easy, it is not the most difficult instrument to initially learn. With 22-24 keys, depending on the horn you play, that are played with your fingers and various parts of your hand, I figured that would be a lot to master. It turns out that the most difficult part is not playing the correct notes or even making a note. It's making a nice note. Playing beautifully is exceedingly challenging. Thanks for the efforts of my teachers, Jack Brait, Dr. Don Dagrade and Cathy Ettle, I think I have overcome most of the challenge of playing beautifully. Now the challenge is simply finding the time to practice.

I play a 1945 Selmer Balanced Action Alto saxophone. It is a beautiful silver plated instrument, and when in proper repair, it plays beautifully, as well. Because of the heavy metal out of which it is made, it has a very dark tone quality that lends itself well to small room and mellow jazz playing. I primarily play a Selmer C* mouthpiece for both classical and jazz. This mouthpiece complements the vintage horn well, allowing it to play mostly in tune. When I need a brighter sound, I use a Meyer 5 mouthpiece, but this costs some intonation.

I also play an Artley student model clarinet and P. Mauriat semi-curved soprano saxophone. The clarinet is used occasionally for big band performances and for polka. I play the soprano whenever I get the chance. It is a fantastic modern horn with almost perfect intonation and a mellow tone (for a soprano). I typically play this horn with Saxopella, but I occasionally use it for solo performances in other locations

The Boulder Big Band

Boulder Big Band

The Boulder Big Band is the best for-fun group I've ever played with. It costs nothing to play with this group. The group gets quite a few gigs. We play probably almost ten times per year. We also play really fun, classical big band tunes.

The group is run by retired directory John Hoffman and has a variety of talented local musicians in its ranks. We play several regular gigs every year. We play the Wright Kingdom Fourth of July celebration and the Millennium Harvest House and a subset of the group, known as the oompah band plays at a private party near Nederland every fall as well as at a church Oktoberfest in Boulder.

In the big band, I play second chair alto, next to the excellent Sheri VandeRiet. In the oompah band, I play second clarinet next to Mike Tupper.

Selected Recordings


Saxopella was an all saxophone ensemble started by Barbara Christopher for her copious saxophone students. When I first joined the group, there were probably ten to twelve saxophones playing, all of whom were in middle or high school (except for Barbara, of course). This meant that the group had difficulty playing a lot of easy pieces and we didn't get to perform very often.

Over the next couple of years, the group dwindled until there was only one of Barbara's students remaining in the group. Fortunately over those couple of years he had become an excellent musician. He brought in a friend from school and we now have a very talented saxophone quartet. We play classical, jazz, ragtime, rock and some strange combination pieces that could only really be played by modern saxophonists.

As the group is about to lose the remaining student, we are trying to get one more great performance, playing the exceedingly difficult Diffusion Sweet by Gordon Goodwin. Hopefully we will go out with a bang.

I play soprano and alto saxophone with this group. We most commonly play on the Pearl Street Mall. We have also played some private venues and at Flatirons Crossing Mall.

The Beer Flats

When I spent three months in Cambridge, UK doing an internship at Microsoft research one of my housemates played in a band and it turned out that they were in need of a saxophone player. I've never played in a pop/funk band before. It was totally awesome. It was probably the most fun I've ever had playing music.

We played a few gigs before I came back to the states and I recently these Youtube videos of one of our gigs. They aren't the best recordings, but hey I transcribed/arranged the horn parts for the Amy Winehouse song.

Yes, I'm really waving a US dollar in that video. I'm a total nerd, but hey doesn't everybody keep a dollar in their saxophone case? It's just plain too useful.

The Dixieland Gospel Band

Bass Sax

I am primarily a substitute for this band, but in the fall of 2010, Saxopella joined with this group to perform a special concert. I played a combination of soprano sax and bass sax. Since I don't own a bass sax (and probably never will), I borrowed one from Barbara Christopher of Saxopella. It was a very fun and different instrument to play. It was a wonderful opportunity and the crowd greatly enjoyed seeing such a wide variety of saxophones.

The combined concert between Saxopella and the Dixieland Gospel Band was quite fun. It was an all ragtime concert featuring some local ragtime pianists and composers who are apparently well known in the ragtime scene. Regardless it was fun playing with such an excellent set of musicians.

I will be playing with this group for at least one more concert as a soprano sax player. Sadly I'll be substituting for an excellent musician.

Ziggi's Coffee Shop

Ziggi's Coffee Shop in Longmont, Colorado has a regular jazz improv group led by the excellent Chuck Cullian. As it is a bit far from Denver, I don't play here regularly anymore, but Ziggi's is a fun atmosphere. The group has an excellent groove and has a few regulars who are absolutely excellent jazzers. It truly is a fantastic experience.

Chuck decides which song to play. The whole group plays through the melody once or twice, then each musician gets a turn at soloing to the song. Some songs are quite easy blues tunes, but sometimes Chuck pulls out some wild stuff that's incredibly hard. It's a learning experience for everybody and it's always open to new musicians. This group meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 7.

The Boulder Concert Band

I had originally intended to join this group when I moved to Colorado, however they were not accepting auditions for saxophones when I arrived. Later I ended up playing with them as a substitute for the lead alto player in the Boulder Big Band. I only played one concert with this group, but they are a very decent set of musicians.

I played third chair alto with this group.

The Loveland Concert Band

Not long after I departed the Longmont Concert Band, I joined the Loveland Concert Band. The Loveland Concert Band is one of the best concert bands I've ever played with. They have a very dedicated group of musicians and perform four excellent concerts per year, plus an a summer series in which I never participated.

I played first or second chair alto saxophone with this group.

The Longmont Concert Band

Longmont Concert Band

I played with the Longmont Concert Band for a little more than a year after I moved to Colorado. This talented group, led by Richard Kohl plays a wide variety of music from classical to pop. I performed in five concerts with this group. I was first chair alto saxophone for four of them and last chair clarinet for one.

I left the group when I moved to Loveland, Colorado and the late night had become too taxing. It was with this group that I met Barbara Christopher, a local saxophone teacher, and began to play with The Boulder Big Band and Saxopella.


Phi Mu Alpha

In college I joined the Phi Mu Alpha music fraternity. One of the requirements of being in the fraternity was singing a variety of songs. Between this, joining the university choir and taking a sight singing class, I actually kind of learned how to sing.

The fraternity sang at basketball games, graduation (pictured) and at other school functions. We also sang an occasional tune at stranger places such as Denny's at odd hours of the night. While it wasn't due to my contribution, the Beta Pi chapter of the Phi Mu Alpha fraternity was well known around the university for performing music very well.

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