Sunday, June 20, 2021

ben wheeler

By Johnny Griffith

When one thinks saxophone, one probably equates it to a couple of different things: either smooth “pop” Jazz, i.e. Kenny G, and Candy Dulfer from the early nineties; or more traditional Jazz greats such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Either way it’s an instrument that is, at first glance, put into a very narrow box stylistically. 

Just don’t tell that to LaDarius Daniels.

LaDarius, or Low D as he’s known around stages across East Texas, has been playing saxophone since middle school, and he’s working hard to change the perception of the instrument as something relegated to coffee shops, wineries, and brunch entertainment. He’s quick to point out that saxophone has been pretty much in the lineup, and prominent, in just about every major genre of American music from rock, to blues, to classical, to funk, to jazz, and just about everywhere in between. In fact, some of the most easily recognizable songs you know feature a sax and you just don’t pay attention to it: “Who Can It Be Now” by Men At Work, “Urgent” by Foreigner, “Rio” by Duran Duran, and “Us And Them” byPink Floyd. And let’s not forget “Careless Whisper” by George Michael and “Super Freak” by Rick James.

Point being, the saxophone is a versatile instrument that enhances anything it touches and Low D is one of the most talented musicians to wield the instrument in these parts. I was able to sit down with him before a show this month and get a little bit more insight on him, the instrument, and what he’s got in the works.

Johnny: What is the earliest musical memory you can recall?

Low D: The earliest musical memory I have was listening to blues cassette tapes with my Grandpa and listening to Motown music with my aunt.

Johnny: Were there other musicians in the family you grew up listening to?

Low D: My grandmother was a pastor and sang in the church, and my mom had played piano at some point but stopped before I was born so I never got to hear her play.

Johnny: Who was your biggest influence musically early on?

Low D: I’d have to say Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, The Temptations, John Coltrane, Usher, and Youngblood Brass Band were very significant influences early on for me.

Johnny: When did you first decide to learn an instrument, and was saxophone your first choice?

Low D: No. I wanted to play drums when I got to middle school band, but the band director told me I didn’t have any rhythm and asked if I wanted to play saxophone and I pretty much said “okay” since I just wanted to be in band. All the other 6th graders coming in wanted to play drums, so the directors probably chose the best drummers and everyone else just put on other instruments. I was just blessed that I was put on saxophone. 

Johnny: At what point did you decide to make music more than just a hobby?

Low D: When I became a senior in high school I had earned a lot of awards and success in band, and when the teachers started pushing us to think about what we wanted to major in college, I couldn’t think of anything else other to major in music. It was the thing I was better at than anything else.

Johnny: Do you remember your first public gig?

Low D: My first public gig as a student was in 6th grade at a band concert, but as a professional musician it was at a restaurant somewhere around Nacogdoches, Texas. I’ve since forgotten the name of the restaurant, but I drove all the way from Gilmer, Texas to play for tips. One of my first legit paid performances was at People’s Choice Jazz and Blues in Longview, Texas. 

Johnny: You perform solo as well as with a full band. Who are some of the local musicians you work with regularly for the Jam Band?

Low D: Man, there are so many guys I work with in the East Texas and Dallas areas. My usual crew in East Texas is Mayson Garner, who is one of my best friends and he sings and plays guitar; Giant Boykin, a UT Tyler student that plays bass (he plays saxophone too); the baddest man on drums to me in East Texas, Aaron Gentry; and the famous Gary Freeman on keys, who is a teacher at UT Tyler who has played for Bill Withers before. Other fill-in players in East Texas are Robin Bibeau on guitar, who is also a UT Tyler student; Jordan Conley on bass, who is the full-time bass player for Post Profit; and the famous George Faber on keys, who is an East Texas legend to me.

In Dallas, there are so many guys but to name a few, Jermery Jackson, a Tyler native, on guitar; Pepe Valdez on guitar; on keys Jai Sun Williams and Leslie Ratliff; on bass guitar Brandon Broussard and Jeffery (Grits) Lewis; and on drums Jackie Whitmill Jr. and Medrick Greely. Those are the guys I hit up first if they are available. 

Johnny: You’re known in the area for your solid rotation of jazz selections, which doesn’t get a lot of real estate on local stages compared to other genres. What are some of the challenges of booking gigs for a band that’s a little out of the “norm”?

Low D: Well first of all, I don’t do just jazz. That’s just one of the problems of being a saxophone player. We are used in almost every genre of music. It’s just that when people see a saxophone player they think of Kenny G for some reason. My solo performances contain what I consider older Jazz standards mixed with funk, soul, R&B, and pop. 

My full band performances mostly contain funk, blues, soul, R&B, hip hop, reggae and, depending on the gig, some newer jazz fusion and jazz funk songs. We do have gigs where we play the traditional type jazz but its not our “go-to” choices. 

We are called Low D’s Jam Band because we are on stage to jam out. If we were more of a jazz group I would have chosen Low D’s ‘Jazz’ Band or any other genre, but when we get on stage we are there to make you move your feet.

Johnny: You recently have done some work in the studio. Anything to report on that project?

Low D: We just finished recording a cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and two originals – one of which is called “Lonely Man,” my leading single, and “Daily My Baby.” We have five more songs to record before the full project is done.

Johnny: Anything coming up in 2020 that we should be looking out for?

Low D: We have three songs out of eight done for my “Mixed Colors” album. I am splitting up the first three songs into a “Mixed Colors EP 1” which will have my original “Lonely Man,” a blues/rock song; my second original “Daily My Baby,” a very soulful song; plus a cover of“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. The “Mixed Colors EP 2” release will have two originals which are funk instrumental singles called “Stank” and “Low Boogie.” The full “Mixed Colors” album will be the final release with the added songs “Charlene,” a Doo Wop medley; “Rain,” a fast Blues/Rock tune; and “Wine For Me Baby,” an upbeat reggae tune. The final project will have all eight songs. 

Keep up with Low D via the following:

YouTube: youtube.com/user/ladariusdaniels

 

 

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