An Atlanta-based musician who plays sax, flute and clarinet, Sam Skelton’s words are as spare as his playing. He just — says it, plays it, does it. Sometimes without arrangements, with just a bare-bones mental sketch of what he wants to achieve. Or rather, maybe not the end-game: but how he wants to walk straight into a song, blow the notes he knows are its destiny, and find himself at the other end when it’s time. No over-planning, no rules that bind. He’s got enough experience (30+ years) to know that freedom is just another word for self-expression.
Sam burns it up on the solo of Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” and gets deep, low and funky on the baritone sax with “Sweet Memphis.” His busy sideman career has seen him working with a wide span of artists and genres, from Elton John to Matchbox 20, and in TV music for shows ranging from Glenn Beck to the Weather Channel to Cartoon Network. Versatile doesn’t begin to describe his adaptive flexibility.
You had a musical childhood? Was your family supportive?
Yes. My maternal grandfather was a jazz trumpet player, so I had a great deal of encouragement.
How have your classical studies made you a better jazz musician?
100%!!! Tangible literature is an incredible way to make you a solid musician. I’m a bit reticent to put a label on musicianship. Music is music, period…
Do you have a favorite instrument among the woodwinds you play?
No. The choice I make is based on the musical situation.
What are your most memorable jobs as sideman?
I only operate as a sideman, so every job is memorable! I just want to make good music with my colleagues. If I have a distraction, I’m not making the best music I can.
What’s your teaching philosophy; how do you get/keep students engaged in music?
Great question. I teach music as an occupation. This occupation encompasses a lot of areas! I refuse to withhold information from an education major or a performance major. Music is an all-surrounding art form. At some point in our careers, we are expected to teach, perform and lecture. Why not prepare our future generations to have these skills?
What are you asked the most by your students at Kennesaw State University [Georgia]?
Am I going to make a living with my degree? The answer is YES!!
Where do you go in your head when you’re performing?
I try to stay in the moment and perform according to the job at hand.
What is your favorite venue?
No comment. Too many great places to play. I don’t believe in superlatives.
What is it like to jam with Carol Albert?
What’s the jazz scene like in Georgia?
It’s great. Any scene is what you make of it.
“Cherokee” at Churchill Grounds was outstanding- smokin’! Talk about playing a classic like that and arranging it as a fugue.
There was no arrangement. It was 100% improvised on the spot. Thanks for the kind words!!! I love playing with Joe! [Joe Gransden /trumpet]
What bands are you in and how do you all mesh?
I play with a 10-piece band called Bumpin’ The Mango and it’s amazing!! Other than that, I’m just a freelancer!
Where would you most like to perform?
I have no interest in any venue. I am happy playing where I’m called to play. If I don’t want to play at a certain venue or with a certain person, I’m blessed enough to have enough experience to say no.
Future plans to grow your music in 2018?
My goal in life is to be a better husband, father, man and musician tomorrow than I am today. That will NEVER change regardless of the year.
I’m sure that my answers aren’t the typical of what you were expecting. I’m not the typical musician. I have no desires of fame. I happen to be good at my craft and I don’t take it for granted. I truly want to be a good steward of my gift from God. I truly appreciate your wanting to interview me and I am humbled!!
For more information, visit www.samskeltonmusic.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Sam Skelton. Second photo (c) Vincent Tseng.
© Debbie Burke 2017