Doctoral Student Brings Variety of Sounds in Sax Recital

PHOTO COURTESY | JAMES SPURLIN James Spurlin will showcase a variety of sounds on his saxophone with some backing performers on Mother’s Day, May 11, in Beckwith Recital Hall.
James Spurlin will showcase a variety of sounds on his saxophone with some backing performers on Mother’s Day, May 11, in Beckwith Recital Hall.

First-year doctoral student James Spurlin is setting up for a saxophone recital that will bring more than the usual saxophone sounds to his listeners’ ears. Sure, the traditional French fare is there, but so is a variety of instrumentation and styles in his five-song recital. From traditional piano accompaniment to soprano and electronic tape to djembe and drum set, Spurlin’s repertoire sees a diverse variety that is sure to have something for everyone.

With multiple fellow student musicians joining him, Spurlin has the talents of people like fellow doctoral students Amy Mercer on piano and Nick Meyers on percussion to present his wide-ranging recital. Representing the standard saxophone material is Henri Tomasi’s “Concerto” for saxophone, but it’s the other arrangements that really stand out here, and Spurlin highlights these pieces.

“Saxophone is very easy to get into the trap of playing all the traditional French literature,” Spurlin said. “Our heritage is very rich in the French tradition … You don’t want to perform back-to-back-to-back-to-back French pieces like that ‘cause they do start to sound the same.”

Bringing some diversity to the recital is Dr. Renee Waters’ “Rotations,” selected in part due to Waters herself. After performing one of her saxophone quartet pieces at a North American Saxophone Alliance conference in 2000, Spurlin contacted the composer and professor, intending to ask after one of her sonatas. She, however, recommended something else.

“She was kind of candid with me and told me that she didn’t think it was a very good piece, that she wrote it in a hurry and said it just didn’t turn out the way that she wanted it to,” Spurlin said of the sonata he sought after, “so she recommended this other piece for soprano and electronic tape.”

Spurlin admits that “Rotations” has its hard spots, such as playing really high and nailing some technical licks. With assistance from soprano and electronic tape as Waters intended, he will present the piece alongside his others, and at four minutes long, it’s not shabby. This will be Spurlin’s first venue performance of it.

Another piece worthy of note is “Séance,” a multi-percussion piece that Spurlin will offer up with a little help from Meyers. Spurlin will handle the sax while Meyers switches from djembe to marimba to drum set for the percussion parts of things. This is a kind of collaboration that Spurlin has grown to love.

“I really like performing with percussionists, because I really think the marimba and alto saxophone sound is really, really cool,” he said, adding that the other percussion instruments in the arrangement will add African and rock sounds to “Séance.”

Daniel Wilson’s “Howling at the Moon” adds another diverse dimension to Spurlin’s recital, as some spoken parts pop in the song. The end even comes with a yell from Spurlin and his fellow performers in this intense arrangement.

Both tradition and diversity get a spotlight in Spurlin’s recital, and he readily agrees there is surely something for everybody.

“Maybe if one thing is not your bag, wait ‘til that piece is over, we’ll hit you with something else you might like.”


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. on May 11 (Mother’s Day: “Bring your mom, she’ll love it,” Spurlin said.)

WHERE: Beckwith Recital Hall


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