As the pandemic caused live music venues to shut down last year, saxophonist Shane Wheeler took on what he calls a “normal job.”
He wasn’t crazy about the job, and spent a good deal of time thinking about music.
“And, I started feeling like I should work for myself,” he said. “I was sitting with my buddies, was like, ‘Man, I don’t like this job.’ And we just said, ‘Well, let’s go record.’”
What emerged was his first album, “Unheard,” which was released earlier this year, and features 10 tracks and performances by a number of his friends.
In a recent interview, he spoke about how pressure helps his creative process, trying to line up some shows and what it’s like to play at weddings.
How did you get your start in music?
Well, I’m from Greensboro, born and raised. I went to Kernodle Middle School and Northwest Guilford High School. My family was of the generation that said, “You just need to go work and make money.” They were born musicians but were never able to chase that passion. Still, they always had music playing in the house and thousands of CDs, just thousands upon thousands of CDs in the house.
And it was everything. It was very apparent that they loved music as much as I did. But they had years of working in corporate, so they figured they would just let me do it (pursue music).
Who are some of your influences?
My first inspiration was a saxophonist named Gerald Albright, who plays Cannonball saxophones. I just loved how he was able to play whatever he wanted, and it was free and melodic and beautiful. I still work on having that every time I pick up my horn.
When I got to college, there was John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson. The list can go on and on.
How would you describe your music?
I love how modern jazz sounds, and I would definitely say my music is based on modern jazz.
What’s your creative process like?
I kind of hate how I’m wired, but pressure works for me, and I usually make my music in a very short span of time. It just happens that way, because I’ll think of the idea, and I’ll just work on that thing until it’s done.
My album, it’s 11 songs. Four of them I made the night before we had to record. The last seven, I took a few days before recording, so I could polish them up. But, there was still a lot of pressure.
If you could open a show for any artist, who would it be and why?
Well, there’s a specific venue I’d like to play, the Blue Note (Jazz Club) in New York City. If you look at all of the artists who have played there, I would love to open for any of those artists. One of my goals is to become a Blue Note artist.
Do you ever sing karaoke or sing in the shower, and, if so, what do you sing?
I actually am trying to sing more, but as a saxophonist, I find myself humming language or humming sax lines, or little melodies that I really like.
How do you care for your saxophone?
Kind of like everything else. You just build little habits. The biggest thing is you have to routinely take your sax in to get pads replaced and stuff put back into place.
I have this silk swab, run it through my horn after I play. That gets rid of all the water in it and that also keeps your pads dry. And you have to place it down just right, otherwise stuff will get out of alignment. It’s a very fragile instrument.
What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that has happened at one of your shows?
With the wedding band I’m in, we like to end with “Shout” most times, and there was a guy, one of the fathers, who knew every word, and he got up on stage and finished out the concert with us because that was his song. That was his jam.
What are some other songs people like to have played at their weddings?
People love popular music from every decade. We do Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” a lot. Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.” We’ll do “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, people still like that song. We’ll do Lizzo’s “Juice.” We’ll do a lot of Stevie Wonder.
What’s your favorite song to play?
“Omnipotent” from the album (“Unheard”). Just let that song get stuck in your head. When I first got that song, I was playing it all of the time. It got stuck in my head. I was on the phone with my bro this morning, and he told me, “I started humming that song ‘Omnipotent.’”
What’s next for you?
I’m paired with a playlist curator on Spotify and have a campaign for my album for the next month and a half. I’m just letting that do its thing. In August, I’ll probably try to get a few shows, maybe in Durham, Charlotte. We’ll see where it goes. I’m just looking at what I need to do right now.
— As told to Robert C. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org