A REAL NOISE MAKER - Jazz saxophonist wears a number of hats in his pursuit of music
07/13/06 by Lane Page
Listen up, jazz fans. One of these months you'll be hearing recordings of the vocal stylings of Cheryl Jones, Janine Gilbert-Carter, Rusty Mason, Danielle Eva. Now listen closely. Within them, in tone or texture, do you recognize a hint of ... the saxophone?
If so, it's because the producer of their CDs is well-known Washington-based saxophonist Ron Kearns, and getting out their sound, rather than his own, is how he's spending much of his summer this year.
It's just one of the many musical hats worn by the Columbia resident, a longtime producer here and in New York. In fact, the Kearns family moved here from D.C. a dozen years ago because of the convenience to BWI Airport as well as for the upbringing of daughter Tiffany, then 2 years old.
Kearns also taught music for 30 years, he records, writes and arranges, represents other performers, runs clinics and does endorsements for P. Mauriat saxophones and Vandoren reeds and mouthpieces, requiring appearances cross-country.
And of course he performs. Practice sessions for the Ron Kearns Quintet's next bebop/hard bop-style gig in September fill the rest of his summer schedule, as they have done much of the time since he retired from teaching in the Montgomery County school system and privately two years ago.
"When I first started in Montgomery County, after coming from Baltimore, I thought I'd wean myself off teaching, but I got a school with kids who were so fired up ... I thought 'Maybe I can figure out a way of balancing it with producing and performing.'" He's glad it worked out.
"Each one gave me a break from the other, fed off the other, and none suffered because of the other. And although it was not part of my five-year plan, I taught 30 years before retiring."
Now he gets great pleasure from the success stories of his students, including jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford, Bruce Williams and Allison Miller, who he calls "the drummer most in demand in New York," among others who, as they say in the business, are "making noise."
Back in the day, though, Kearns obtained all his education in classical music, because there was no option.
"Jazz studies were not available until the 1980s, and then it was because of guys like me," he says. Still, he acknowledges, "If I hadn't had that classical training, I couldn't do jazz."
He considers the latter, based on improvisation and communication between musicians, to be the harder of the two forms.
"In classical music what was heard 200 years ago will be heard again. But with jazz, you can play the same 10 songs two nights in a row and everything can be entirely different except - possibly - the melody."
Kearns' training required a familiarity with every instrument in the orchestra. But the sax has been the one for him ever since fourth grade, when his school offered neither his first choice, the violin, nor his second, the flute. The sax was third; he has never regretted it.
And jazz has been his music of choice since high school, when he was introduced to the form by an older brother.
There's no hesitation when Kearns is asked to select his favorite of anything: It's the album "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis, with Kearns' own two favorite sax players, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane.
He's certainly not done "making noise" of his own. To add to his series of CDs recorded locally, including "Live at Blues Alley" and "Live at Montpelier," this September's performance will be "Live at Sabang," a Wheaton restaurant and on Saturday nights a jazz club.
"We're trying to do this so people who don't want to go into D.C. or Baltimore can go out for dinner and music in a nice area," he explains.
And when school starts in the fall, he'll continue presenting programs at Howard County high schools; he hopes the schedule will include Long Reach, where Tiffany, who inherited his saxophone gene, will attend. He's also a regular at the annual Baltimore Washington Jazz Fest at the Museum of African-American Art in Columbia and the East Coast Jazz Festival in Rockville.