Skip to main content

Jazz musician brings advice to youth clinic

The following story appeared in the March 13 edition of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram and is reprinted with permission. Photo by Dan Reiland, Leader-Telegram staff.

By Elizabeth Dohms, Leader-Telegram staff

Orienting his audience to reality, noted West Coast bebop jazz tenor saxophone player Pete Christlieb offered young musicians some sage advice. 

"If people don't hear you play, how will they know you exist?" he asked a crowd of about 125 students and teachers at a free jazz clinic Friday in Phillips Recital Hall at UW-Eau Claire's Haas Fine Arts Center, encouraging them to get out, and get heard. 

Christlieb credits his successful career — he is most well-known as a longtime tenor sax player for Doc Severinsen's "Tonight Show" band during the Johnny Carson era — to being born into a musical family. He gave up the violin at 13 for the jazzy, soul-heavy saxophone. 

He has worked alongside many major artists, including Tom Waits, Louie Bellson, Chet Baker, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Warne Marsh and Natalie Cole, and he performed the sax solos on the Steely Dan tunes "Deacon Blues" and "FM."  

The 70-year-old blended in well with the four-part band that backed him up Friday. Bass player Sam Olson, 19, described Christlieb's style as "melodic" and "more old-fashioned," adding that his friendly demeanor made playing with him all the more enjoyable.  

The UW-Eau Claire students hadn't met Christlieb before Friday, and had no way to rehearse for the winding performance that closed out Christlieb's two-hour informal presentation. Christlieb is scheduled to perform Sunday near the Twin Cities.  

Olson said the band on Friday played variations of four common jazz songs.

"We all know the music because of the jazz standards," he said.  

Christlieb emailed the students to learn what songs they would be comfortable with performing.

Miles Plant, a 21-year-old applied piano major who plans on graduating in May, enjoyed the challenge of meshing his own style with that of Christlieb's.  

Part of the university's top jazz rhythm section, Plant and the other students were invited to perform along with Christlieb.  

Olson found most noteworthy the advice that Christlieb offered on writing songs, which Olson didn't know could be such a lucrative profession.

"If writing is what it takes to make music my living, I'll do it," he said.

Christlieb was scheduled to perform Friday night with UW-Eau Claire students and assistant professor of music Michael Shults at Pizza Plus in downtown Eau Claire . 

Christlieb will perform with the JazzMN Orchestra at 3 p.m. Sunday in the auditorium of Hopkins High School, 2400 Lindbergh Drive, Hopkins, Minn. Tickets range from $10 to $34. Buy tickets at or 800-595-4849.