FOREWORD to Thomas Liley's new biography "Eugene Rousseau: With Casual Brilliance" published by the North American Saxophone Alliance.
I remember the first time I met Dr. Rousseau. It was July 1976, the summer after my freshman year in high school. I was attending the Indianhead Center Jazz Camp in Shell Lake, Wisconsin the first saxophone class was about to begin. Dr. Rousseau breezed into the room, asking if we wanted to see his fingering for altissimo D, which he then demonstrated in a brief burst of pure tone. I’ve been under his spell since that day, but not for the perfection of his high note; it was for his spontaneous charm, humor, and intelligence. Even as kids, we knew we were in the presence of someone special.
In a sense, I met Dr. Rousseau the year before I attended camp. My high school band director had been trying to find a saxophone teacher for me. When this search failed he said to me, “Here is your new teacher” as he handed me astack of recordings. Included were three of Dr. Rousseau’s LPs: The Virtuoso Saxophone, volumes 1 and 2, and Saxophone Concertos. I had never heard “classical” saxophone before and it was a revelation. Who knew the saxophone could be so beautiful? Whenever I listen to Rousseau’s recording of the Dubois Concerto I am taken back to the first time I heard it.
Well into his 70s, Dr. Rousseau remains a force of nature. He continues to travel, teach, perform, and record. James Brown might call him the hardest working saxophonist in the business. Dr. Rousseau is such an influential current musicianthat one is apt to forget how large a role he has played in the saxophone’s history. He gave the first classical saxophone recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall, as well as the first full saxophone recitals in London and Paris. He has made more recordings than any other classical saxophonist, including the first LP entirely of saxophone concertos (Deutsche Grammophon) and the first saxophone recording released on compact disc (Saxophone Colors). He was a founding member of both the World Saxophone Congress (1969) and the North American Saxophone Alliance and his Rousseau Saxophone Workshop has been held each summer in Shell Lake, Wisconsin for more than three decades. He continues to design popular mouthpieces and reeds, and he was a driving force in the development of Yamaha’s current line of saxophones. Need one mention the dozens of works he has inspired? The story of Eugene Rousseau is the story of the modern saxophone.
Yet as anyone who knows Dr. Rousseau will tell you, it’s not his accomplishments that are important, it is the man himself. I had the good fortune to study with Dr. Rousseau for seven years while earning two degrees. As I was re-reading my lesson notes I realized that, in all those lessons, Dr. Rousseau never gave me an assignment. Not once. Without ever telling me what to do, Dr. Rousseau managed to communicate how to do something. I learned something new every time I met with him. I had a good time studying with him, and I often laughed.
But what makes Dr. Rousseau a great teacher? He is passionate about the saxophone and he instills that passion in his students. He believes the saxophone the equal of the great classical instruments of the world. He is always striving to better himself. How often have his students heard him use the words of his own teacher, Marcel Mule: “On n’arrive jamais”One never arrives. Finally, Dr. Rousseau loves people. He pays attention to them. He remembers them. If you have met him even briefly, you have felt this.
Years ago, after having finished my undergraduate degree at Indiana, I had the opportunity to study in Paris. While I was there Dr. Rousseau “dropped in” to give a recital. The house was packed that night with brash young saxophonists like me, all ready to remark on the smallest mistake. During his performance Dr. Rousseau suddenly stopped playing. With an apologetic look, he turned to us and charmingly (and in perfect French) remarked that he had missed the repeat. Laughing with him and then applauding, we were his for the rest of the evening. I left his concert having learned something great about art and about life – again.