Saxophone players come from everywhere and are everywhere! Although saxophone may not be why these people were propelled to fame, their musicianship probably caused them to be more well-rounded, relatable to the masses, and (of course) even more interesting!
Fred MacMurray (1909-1991)
Fred MacMurray was best known as an actor in movies such as Double Indemnity (1944) and The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), as well as the television show, My Three Sons (1960-1972).
Before becoming a movie and television star, MacMurray performed with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. He played clarinet and saxophone with the orchestra and later went on to record as a featured vocalist. He is recorded on the Victor label, singing“All I Want Is Just One Girl,”
MacMurray went on to perform on Broadway before being signed by Paramount Pictures.
Lucille Ball (1911-1989)
It is unclear whether Lucille Ball began learning saxophone during her school years in Celeron, New York, or not. We do know that Ball played alto saxophone herself, on I Love Lucy instead of having a musician playing it off-camera.
This performance occurred because writers for I Love Lucy wanted Lucy Ricardo to play saxophone for an upcoming episode. They asked Ball if she could play saxophone and she replied, “No, but give me a week.” Ball then played “Glow Worm,” by Paul Lincke, in the I Love Lucy episode entitled, “The Saxophone.”
Ball utilized her saxophone skills many times throughout the next several decades in at least three of her television shows. We see her playing the saxophone a few other times on I Love Lucy, and in episodes of Life with Lucy and The Lucy Show.
Alan Greenspan (b. 1926)
Alan Greenspan was a former Chair of the Federal Reserve of the United States. Prior to his career as an economist, Greenspan had a career as a saxophonist.
Greenspan studied clarinet and saxophone at the Juilliard School in New York City. He then went on to play with famous saxophonist, Stan Getz, in the Woody Herman Band. Greenspan apparently kept the books for the band and did all of the band members’ tax returns.
When asked why he made the decision to leave the music business, Greenspan stated, “I essentially concluded that having seen what some of the really good people could do, and fundamentally recognizing that it’s not an issue of studying and you’ll learn, there are certain inherent qualities that you’re born with, and if you don’t have them, you’ll never achieve certain levels. Mozart had it when he was 4. I never had it, period. I was a fairly good amateur musician, and I was an average professional.”
Ray Charles (1930-2004)
Ray Charles is best known as a piano player, vocalist, and composer. He was also an accomplished saxophonist. Charles learned alto saxophone, as well as clarinet, trumpet, and organ while attending the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind, from 1937 to 1945.
The following video is from a more recent concert, in 1999, from Florida.
Bill Clinton (b. 1946)
Former President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, began learning saxophone as a child in Arkansas. He even briefly considered music as a career. Clinton has shared that while he was a good saxophone player, he didn’t know if he could ever be as good as famed saxophonists Stan Getz and John Coltrane. He wasn’t sure if he could excel at a career in music but did think that he could excel at a career in politics.
Some of Clinton’s most memorable saxophone playing events include a 1992 appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, playing “Heartbreak Hotel,” a 1993 performance with saxophonist Clarence Clemmons at the inaugural ball, and a 1994 gig at the famed Reduta Jazz Club in Prague.
In 2007, Clinton donated the signed saxophone, that he played at the 1993 inaugural ball, to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986)
Ron McNair was an astronaut and an accomplished jazz saxophonist. In 1984, he became the first astronaut to play a musical instrument in space, when he played aboard the Challenger. McNair played on a curved soprano saxophone during the mission, because that is the only saxophone that would fit in his personal storage compartment.
McNair was supposed to play saxophone in space again, while on his second mission. He was planning to participate in a live-feed concert and recording for composer Jean Michel Jarre’s album, Rendez-Vous. This performance was set to occur while McNair was on board the Challenger, in 1986. Tragically this did not occur after the Challenger exploded soon after take-off, killing all of the crew members.
As a tribute, the last piece on Jean Michel Jarre’s album is entitled “Last Rendez-Vous (Ron’s Piece)”.
Hugh Laurie (b.1959)
Hugh Laurie might be best known for playing the title role in the television show House, from 2004-2012. He won two Golden Globes and numerous other awards for this role.
In addition to being an actor, Laurie is also a gifted musician. He plays piano, guitar, drums, harmonica, and saxophone. Laurie is most often heard as a pianist, touring with his blues band, the Copper Bottom Band, and a cover band called Band from TV. He has recorded two albums, Didn’t It Rain and Let Them Talk.
In 2013, Larry King asked Laurie if he enjoyed music more than acting. Laurie replied,
“I do, I do ...I think actors become actors because they want to hide—they put on masks, they want to be someone else. When you’re doing music, even when you’re playing a character in a song, there’s still an element of removing masks; it’s about exposing yourself, it’s about being vulnerable. And there’s an intimacy to that, and an honesty in that relationship with an audience, which I think is very, very precious when it’s right.”
Jennifer Garner (b. 1972)
Jennifer Garner is an American actress and producer. She is well-known for her roles in the television drama, Alias, as well as the films, Catch Me If You Can, Dallas Buyers Club, and Juno.
Garner, who is originally from Texas, began playing saxophone as part of her public school education. In recent years, Garner has played the saxophone a few times for interviews, and one time for a friend’s birthday. Watch below as Garner plays “Happy Birthday” for friend and fellow actress, Reese Witherspoon.
Then watch as Garner sits poolside and performs “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” as part of an interview for Vanity Fair.
Vince Carter (b.1977)
Vince Carter is a former professional basketball player and is currently a basketball analyst for ESPN. Carter played many instruments, including saxophone while attending high school in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Carter was offered a saxophone scholarship to attend Bethune–Cookman University in Daytona Beach. He instead chose to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and play basketball.
Carter still plays saxophone occasionally, writes his own music, and has a studio. He is an advocate of involving students in music, as can be heard in this interview below.
Lisa Simpson (created in 1987)
Lisa Simpson’s character was first seen in a short on The Tracey Ullman Show, in 1987. In 1989, Lisa Simpson went on to join the rest of the Simpson family in their own show on Fox.
Lisa Simpson is characterized as jazz being her favorite type of music to listen to and to play. It appears that Lisa Simpson plays an instrument resembling a baritone saxophone in the majority of her saxophone playing episodes. Saxophonist Terry Harrington is the musician who plays all of Lisa Simpson’s saxophone solos.
The video below from The Simpsons episode, “Moaning Lisa,” references the blues style of playing and the saxophone’s altissimo register.
Many of history’s most well-known personalities began playing some type of musical instrument, as a child. Perhaps that contributed to their later successes in life!