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  • Writer's pictureThomas Doggett

If this case could talk

I bought this case because Joshua Redman had one. Not because I know Josh but because it was in a picture on the back of his album Wish. That was a game changer. Since then, it's been with me on a lot of gigs, lessons, travel, good times, and bad times.

From 1991 to 1992, I busked on the Suspension Bridge.  But it didn't start off as busking; it started with a crazy idea; an idea to be free. Playing out there was so walls or doors...but it was also romantic.  Romantic in the sense of the folklore of Sonny Rollins and the other saxophonists that practiced on bridges. It became busking when I didn't have any money for a date. We were young and just happy to be around each other...but you know...sometimes you want to buy your girlfriend an ice cream cone. Not thinking about money but just wanting to do something, I said, "come with me out to the bridge, I'll play some songs for you." As I played, a Cincinnati Red's game let out. People started walking past us. Two guys came up to us and said to me: "you need a hat or you need to open up your're really good." A few minutes later, they came back to me with a handful of change that they collected from people and they dropped it in my case. I bought her an ice cream cone that night.

I played on the bridge until April 15, 1992.  The reason for that specific date is because that was the night I was mugged.  It was a terrible experience.  Three guys beat me up and stole my saxophone.  I was knocked out and left for dead.  When I came to, I stood up and found my glasses after stepping on them.  My saxophone was gone but my case, the money I had already made, and my Otto Link 7* mouthpiece were still there.  I wasn't sure what I looked like but some very kind strangers told me to sit down and wait for the ambulance to arrive.  When I got to the emergency room, everyone thought I had been in a car accident.  The happy ending to all of this is that everyone I knew was supportive.  I had several friends loan me their saxophone during this time until I was able to buy a new one.  The disappointment more than the act of violence was never feeling safe again in playing by myself in public...I wouldn't play by myself in public until 2004 in front of Paisley Park Studios...and that night turned out magical.

It was the summer of 2004. I was in Minneapolis. I was broke...broken. I wasn't sure where I was going...literally. My wife had just finished her DMA but she had an office job in Minneapolis. I had just had two schools in Cincinnati tell me they were really interested in hiring me...and neither one of them did. My gig schedule had so many irons in the fire that it was just a big ball of flame. So many questions and no answers. So, my wife and I did what we did best at that time: we sat down in a coffee shop and started working on our resumes. We started looking a job postings. We found jobs to apply to and did it. We did this all in one evening. The morning had started with a rejection from a job and the evening became magical. As we sat there and began focusing on the positive instead of the negative, it hit me: I just need $48 for a ticket...add it to the $2 in my pocket and I can see Prince play at Paisley Park. It was that mental shift from negative to positive that allowed for solutions to enter my mind. If all of this sounds very Tony Robbins, it's because it is. His book Awaken the Giant Within was very influential. So with that, I decided to head out to Paisley Park around 11pm. I knew that fans would be leaving St Paul after his big arena show to head out to Paisley Park for the after-party. The $50 ticket sales were donated to charity. I just needed to make $48 and I was in. My first goal was to not get asked to leave. Upon arriving, I parked on a side street and walked up to the main gate. I told the employee working what I wanted to do and he said "Why don't you stand across the street, if you do that, I can't say anything to you and you won't bother the officer directing traffic." So, I planted myself across the street, opened my case, and proceeded to play. People walked by; some stopped and dropped money, some didn't. Some talked to me, some didn't. Two hours flew by but I was still short of having $48. It was now around 1:30 am when a guy walked up to me from the direction of Paisley Park and he said: "Can I borrow your cell phone to call my ride?" I said: "sure" and handed him my phone. While he was on the phone, he said "what are you doing?" I told him, a limousine pulled up next to us, he handed me his pass, and said "get in there!" I offered him the money I had made and he said "keep it, just get in there" and he climbed in his limo. I put my saxophone in the car, I didn't think they'd let me bring it in plus walking into Paisley Park...with my horn...that's too much pressure and too much arrogance. Anyway, I walk in and I'm side stage. The audience is to my left and I calmly walk up to the front. Its 2 am and Prince has just taken the stage. They kick into Miss You by the Rolling Stones; second verse, Prince sings some gibberish and jokes: "Mick doesn't know the words either." After that song, Prince sits down at the keyboard rig and has the other band members sing songs. At one point, they're playing It Takes Two and Prince says: "Everybody up on stage, we're going to have a party." I don't hesitate; I'm on stage, I'm dancing, and I'm singing. Next thing I know, more band members come on stage. Who's in front of me? Prince's horn section: Maceo Parker, Mike Phillips, and Greg Boyer. My head is about to explode from excitement. This continues until 4 am. Eventually, the fans are asked to leave the stage. Prince leaves the stage. All the band members except for John Blackwell leave the stage. John doesn't sound like he's going to stop anytime soon. Then you hear Prince's voice come through the stage monitors: "John, we have to go now." John Blackwell finishes with a bombastic fill and the crowd goes wild. I'm still in amazement. Before leaving, I say something somewhat intelligent to Mike Phillips and then have a short conversation with Greg Boyer. On the way out, I bump into Larry Graham (that dude is tall). And I walk back to my car.

I retired my Berkeley tenor saxophone case; my TM Custom fits in a different case better. The Berkeley has more stories tell but most of them can be found in my schooling and gig career. The stickers, the scratches, and even the blood stains on the inside remind me of how I got to now. Thanks for reading.

Update: September 13, 2020: I'm using this case again. My other case has a zipper that doesn't always to be safe...and be able to get to my horn, I'm using this case again.


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