Ben the Sax Guy
Creative Cocktail Hour After-Party, Feb. 21, Sully's Pub, 2071 Park St., Hartford, (860) 231-8881, sullyspub.com
Hartford musician Ben Golder-Novick, also known as Ben the Sax Guy (or Benito the Troubadour, if you aren't into the whole brevity thing), was hoping to have a new recording out this year. Then he got mugged.
The Sax Guy, 31, spent months — years, even — teaching himself the ins and outs of laptop recording, and he was close to finishing enough tracks for an album. "The ideas were starting to develop and I was finishing some of the songs," Golder-Novick told CT.com. "I had it all on my laptop and a backup hard drive." Last October, Golder-Novick returned one evening from Boston, where he was visiting family and attending an unveiling ceremony for his late grandfather. Three men approached Golder-Novick in the parking lot of his Hartford apartment complex and demanded the laptop, backup drive and other possessions.
"One guy came up to me like, 'Give me all of your stuff,'" Golder-Novick said. "I pushed him away and started running, but two other guys came out and threw me to the ground... I wanted to say, 'Hey, guys, here's my wallet. Here's what I need!' That was about four years of my life."
Golder-Novick, a graduate of the music education program at the Hartt School of Music, wasn't harmed. He had been working on the tracks slowly, taking his time, in between teaching elementary school band and chorus at Tolland Intermediate School, gigging with his own projects and getting called for sideman work. He didn't lose anything of great monetary value, and he got a free month's rent out of the deal. But he can't get back the time and music he lost.
"What's ironic is that one of the reasons I wanted to live in Connecticut was that it wasn't fast-paced all the time," Golder-Novick said, "because it's 'safe.' And then this happened."
At Hartt — he was there from '99-'03 — Benito tried to bridge the philosophical gaps between the music education program and the school's esteemed jazz program, started decades ago by Jackie McLean. "I didn't really tell people I was music ed," Golder-Novick said. "Steve Davis was there, Nat Reeves, the jazz teachers." Several years after graduation, he moved to New York for about a year, where he worked his way into the competitive jazz scene. "I try to stay connected to the scene there," he said. "A lot of commuting."
While in New York, Golder-Novick came up with the inspiration for the new, now-lost record. "I was doing all these different types of gigs, world music," he said. "I basically found myself playing a lot of really repetitive grooves in all types of musical situations, and I was mostly a sideman. I was like, I can totally make this happen on my own. I can play enough of each instrument. Everything I'm doing now, which is totally amazing, I can try to recreate it from my own angle, my own perspective."
The Sax Guy has different modes he works in. He'll open shows with a short solo set, playing various instruments through a loop pedal (as many musicians now do), crafting layers over which he'll improvise. "When I'm doing a song with the loops, it's bass, melodica, beatboxing, ukulele, sax, flute, clarinet, sometimes even trumpet," he said. Sax-wise, he plays four different registers. "These days, I'm playing mostly alto and sometimes tenor. I've played the bari — I don't actually own one, but I always find a way to get one if it's needed. And soprano, but I haven't really been liking that to be honest, especially now that I've been playing a lot of clarinet."
Golder-Novick will typically leave an open slot in the show for a guest DJ — Shag Frenzy, say — then he'll take the stage again with a band, often with a group called the Gimps. "I try to make shows like little festivals," Golder-Novick said. "I love playing with the loops, but I also love playing with a band, so that it's not as much about the technology. I'm still in the process of being more collaborative with the loops. Right now, when I use the loops, it's for a one-man band kind of thing."
Golder-Novick started getting into loops three years ago. "I'd sing ideas into my phone," he said. "Before I got the loop pedal, I pretty much had all of these ideas. It's just been a matter of finishing those ideas." With some new, post-mugging equipment in hand, he still does all of his own recording. Golder-Novick seems blessed with an uncommonly good musical memory, which has allowed him to recreate what was lost and to take the stage with every part in his head.
That's not to say he doesn't leave wiggle room. "I'll start playing and something different will happen," Golder-Novick said. "Improvising is a big part of it. Whenever I play a song, I always have a framework, so it's not just a jam... I've practiced it a million times and worked it out. But I'll make a change on the spot. I'll be improvising. Then I'll take an improvised solo. That's my common thing with everything: playing as a sideman, improvising as a leader now."
Two big names Golder-Novick has worked with are Bernie Worrell — late of Parliament-Funkadelic and a revered, shamanistic sideman — and G Love, with whom the Sax Guy jammed on a street corner in Northampton after a Special Sauce gig. He'll perform on Thursday at Sully's. He still gets called back to record in New York. And since the mugging, he'll continue to piece his recorded output back together.
"It was very upsetting," Golder-Novick said, "but I've gotten right back into it. One of the beautiful things about music: I always have it."