by Hal Parker, Music Director
If you were fortunate enough to be in church or at home worshipping online on Sept 19th, you experienced Jason Crane, our Office Manager, playing his soprano sax. For the Prelude he chose “Come Sunday” by Duke Ellington and the hymn “Amazing Grace” for the Anthem. Both were stunningly beautiful.
He graciously agreed to be interviewed and shed some light on his musical journey. Thank you, Jason, for adding such a beautiful moment in the Music Ministry of the church and enhancing our mission of Serving God Through Music.
Photo courtesy of Jason Crane
Jason: Thanks, Hal! It was such a joy to play for people. I used to play gigs quite regularly before the pandemic, but that was the first time I’d played for other people in nearly two years.
Take us back, how did your musical journey begin?
Jason: My grandfather, Bernie Flanders, was a saxophonist when he was younger, and he had a big record collection. I spent a lot of time with him as a kid in the 70s and he introduced me to big band music, Nat King Cole, and other performers of that period. My first instrument was classical guitar, but I didn’t love it. The summer before 7th grade my cousin sent me his clarinet, so I started playing in the school band. In high school they made me switch to tenor sax because we had too many clarinet players. Then I found the soprano sax and specialized in that.
Please tell us the path of your musical education. What was the experience(s) like?
Jason: Like most musical kids, I played in the band in school, starting in 7th grade and continuing through high school. I played in marching band, wind ensemble, jazz band — all the usual suspects. I also sang in the choir. I was an exchange student in Japan after high school, and I played some gigs with a big band there, and also sat in at a jazz club on a few occasions. When I came back, I went to a conservatory in New York State. My parents would only support a music education degree, which I disliked. After my first year they were displeased with my grades and kicked me out of the house. Thus ended my formal music education. The rest of what I know I learned on the bandstand.
Where in the country have you performed, such as venues and other musicians you have performed with?
Jason: I started my career as a professional musician in Tucson, Arizona, playing Latin dance music in clubs. I knew nothing about the music but learned quickly with help from the other members of the band. I also led my own jazz trio there. Our tiny claim to fame was that we opened for the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies during the swing dance revival of the mid-90s. In the late 90s I played in a house band at a funk dance club on Hilton Head Island, SC. In more recent years I’ve mostly accompanied singer-songwriters in Pennsylvania on both saxophone and cajon (a box drum that you sit on while you play). I also played traditional Venezuelan music in a trio called Elorza.
What is it about making music with the soprano sax that you like? How did you gravitate to that particular instrument?
Jason: My high school had a soprano saxophone, and to me it was the perfect marriage of the sound of the saxophone with the close fingering of the clarinet. Before my first time in Japan, at the age of 17, I bought my own horn to take with me, and that’s the horn I still play today, 31 years later. The soprano saxophone is a very malleable instrument and can fit seamlessly into the styles of music I most enjoy playing, including Latin dance, funk, and soul.
What is your approach to woodwind playing?
Jason: Fake it till you make it, then keep faking it. I’m mostly a self-taught saxophonist, having had no lessons in secondary school and maybe a dozen from a classical saxophone professor in my brief time in college. I know very little music theory. My technique is rudimentary and awful, and any modern saxophonist would be horrified by it. That said, I’ve always considered myself more of an entertainer than a saxophonist, so I can usually overcome my technical deficiencies with an emotional performance. I’m not being self-deprecating, by the way. My technique really is shockingly bad.
How do you get such a beautiful sound?
Jason: Three decades of playing, but mostly luck. And, in the case of my recent performance in church, a stunning space in which to play. But seriously I have no idea. I just lucked into a decent sound, aided by being able to hear what I like in the music I listen to and then reproduce it.
What is most important to you when performing music?
Jason: Connecting emotionally with the audience. To me this is the soul of performance and my reason for doing it.
How is performing sacred music different than secular music?
Jason: There’s no difference to me. All music is sacred, and the experience of sharing your innermost self with others through the medium of musical performance knows no genre boundaries.