Encore: The Trumpet Guy
Frosene Phillips is out on the scene today. During her absence from this space, she shares a 2001 personal favorite from her column archives. Today’s column originally appeared in the Oakland Tribune August 17, 2001 following her discovery of The Trumpet Guy aka Stephen Saxon. By the time you read today’s column, Bay Area Oakland Athletics fans will either be snatching up playoff tickets or celebrating another exciting season. In the spirit of that camaraderie and a taste of local history, Frosene shares this delightful musical treasure from almost two decades ago when the great Bill King was still with us, slugger Jason Giambi’s crack of the bat would incite the crowd, and the Yankees were in town. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!
The Oakland Athletics return home next Monday night to begin a four-game series with Cleveland and continue the home field spirited frenzy. Because I have spent many a night on the A's baseball scene, I was particularly struck last Friday night during the New York Yankees game, by an element of fan contribution.
Since I take my Oakland Athletics support seriously, I attend the games fully equipped with my radio to hear Oakland A's radio personalities Bill King and Ken Korach call the game. It's always educational and inspirational as King, I must confess, is not just the master of the airwaves in this arena but he is also the voice of comfort. After all, like so many of us in the Bay Area, not only did we listen to him broadcast the A's, but for many years, he was the voice of the Oakland Raiders.
Which brings me to last Friday night and my radio ritual. As I tuned in, there was a new addition to the festive air in the stands - the sounds of a trumpet. Only this trumpeter wasn't just playing the routine "Charge!" for everyone to cheer. No, he had a personality and wit that didn't take too long for the broadcast booth to discover. It didn't hurt either that he was sitting near a microphone that showcased his contribution perfectly in the background of the broadcast.
As King shared a story about his now signature mustache and bearded look from his early days, he referred to it as an "anathema" for working in television. Radio was fine, but television was another matter. Korach picked up on the word and said, "Didn't they sing the anathema at the beginning of the game?" Then the trumpet guy was all over it. First he played a phrase of the "Star Spangled Banner" and then segued, after further prompting, to the baseball anthem of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." That started the fun.
In the meantime, the Athletics were creating plenty of fun on the field, giving the trumpet guy more material to work with. When the Yankees were up, he'd play "New York, New York" only he'd make a point to mess it up each time. When Jason Giambi was at bat he played "Downtown." When it was David Justice's turn from the Yankees, out came the theme song from Perry Mason. When a bad call was made, it was "Three Blind Mice." Are you starting to get the picture?
Korach continued to acknowledge the tunes. Next came, "King of the Road." "Oh, so we've got some Roger Miller," chimed in Korach. It was really the trumpet guy's salute to Bill King. Finally, Korach went on to suggest to the A's fans that they should arrive early the following night as the game would coincide with an Eric Clapton concert scheduled next door in the arena.
"I wonder if the trumpet guy knows any Eric Clapton?" asked Korach. He started to play "Tears in Heaven" but it didn't seem to fit so he threw it out to the crowd for suggestions. After a pause, out popped "Layla." Korach and King responded with delight.
In addition to being treated to a spectacular ballgame, the radio / trumpet repartee added another nice dimension, complementing the kids with the drums in the bleachers. Where is Del Courtney when you need him? I see a band evolving here.
In any event, when I returned to the now history-making finish-off-the-Yankees Sunday game, I was fully prepared to track down that trumpet guy. I should mention too, that this guy was no slouch. His jazz riffs were his calling card.
A few innings into the game and bingo, the trumpet rang out. My brother directed my attention to the section to my left in the front row. There he was. Now I would be able to report what club, band, tour this guy was associated with once and for all. Being a considerate fan, I waited for the inning to end before I made my move. When I got to the section and inquired, I was informed that he had been sitting in someone else's seat and moved along.
Rats - a floater. Oh well, back to the game on the field. More excitement, tied 2-2, tension, anticipation and, yes, that darn trumpet sounded again. Only NOW he was in the box above me. Talk about working the room. What the heck, I've gone this far. So off I marched to the box. The door was open and I asked the first person I saw, "Is this the box that the trumpet guy is in?" "Yes," the man replied. "Could I speak with him for a moment," I asked. "Sure," he said. "It's me."
Meet Stephen Saxon, the trumpet guy. This Oaklander, trumpeter, vocalist, recording artist, lyricist and cantor was packin' a piccolo trumpet and a radio headset. "When I can get those two (King and Korach) to crack up, then I've done my job," he laughed. Saxon likes to think that in his own small way, he added to the electricity of the day.
Currently, Saxon performs with the San Francisco Klezmer Experience, however, his credits include stints with such notables as Chet Baker, Bobby McFerrin, Frank Zappa, Michael Brecker, John Williams, and Jose Feliciano, to name a few. He’s performed with the San Francisco Bach Choir, the Spokane Opera Company, American Conservatory Theatre, KlezmerMania, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, and the list goes on.
When he tried to come up with a musical reference for the A's recent addition, Jermaine Dye, he turned to his roots. "I played 'Dyanu' from Passover," he said. It's from the Torah and means 'it would be enough.'"
With the Indians coming into town next week, Saxon should have a field day (pun intended) in the music department. In the meantime, the trumpet guy has a CD "Better Than Anything" that showcases his vocal talents as well as his trumpeting skills. Recorded in 1999, the CD features Bay Area jazz favorites Mark Little on piano, Bill Douglass on bass along with Sheldon Brown on saxophones and Wally Schnalle on drums. For more details, visit The Trumpet Guy (as coined by Ken Korach) at www.saxon.com.
For now, A’s fans may find Saxon popping up with the drummers in the bleachers or appearing in a section near you. Personally, I'm waiting for the day they bring the trumpet guy and the drummers down on the field to play the National Anthem.
Then all we need is the Bill King Bobblehead Doll to finally make its appearance ... Go A's!
FEATURE PHOTO: COURTESY OAKLAND TRIBUNE