The saxophone was Tino Sax’s third choice, but it stuck. Then in middle school in Texas, he wanted to play the drums until the band director warned he would have to learn all the instruments in the percussion family.
“My mother said that may be a lot of stuff to learn — and practising drums at home may be too noisy,” he laughed.
His next choice was the trumpet but, with three valves, it seemed “too difficult at the time”.
The saxophone won by default.
The 34-year-old’s music lessons actually began a number of years before that. At 4, his mother Judith Smith and his grandmother, Albertha Delores “Ponnie” Gooby, got him started on the piano.
“My great-grandmother, Lillian Symons, was a piano teacher in Bermuda, but it was my grandmother, Ponnie, who saw the music in my soul and encouraged my creative expression,” Tino said.
He learnt the basics of music theory, practising with a glockenspiel before moving on to the piano.
Once he picked up the saxophone, he “never looked back”.
He enrolled at Southern University in Baton Rouge on a partial music scholarship, excited to play with “one of the world’s top marching bands”.
On graduation, however, the clinical laboratory scientist took a five-year break and focused on his career.
Were it not for the opportunity to play with The Failed Attempt, a punk/ska band in Houston, he believes he “probably never would have picked up the horn again”.
Two years later, he joined Idiginis, a roots/reggae band, also in Houston. Performances with The Skatalites, The Wailers, The Original Wailers, Culture featuring Kenyatta Hill, Third World, Freddie McGregor and Sanchez followed.
“I’m really excited with the way my career has unfolded,” Tino said.
“We played throughout Texas, Louisiana, Colorado and California on self-promoted tours. I’ve [also] been a member of the horn sections in third wave ska, reggae, neo-soul and jazz bands, as well as the house band on Sundays at the Red Cat Jazz Café in Houston. As a member of those bands, I have participated in the recording of five full-length albums, and one EP.”
In 2015, he moved to Bermuda to be with family and joined Devil’s Isles Audio, the popular backing band. If you’ve seen them play, you know Tino’s sax.
“The design on the horn of my bell is the Ethiopian Lion of Judah flag,” he said. “Some musicians may have custom horns and designs; I wanted to create a horn that closely represents me. You will not find this horn anywhere else in the world but in Bermuda, I guarantee.”
He is a regular with DIA at Marcus’ restaurant in the Hamilton Princess every Thursday night and is preparing for his first solo performance. A series of concerts he has dubbed Soul Session Saturdays kick off next week.
Naturally, “Bermuda’s hottest band, DIA” is backing him.
“I want to [invite] my audience into my musical consciousness through the sounds of neo-soul. Each session will be a different musical experience, but [next Saturday] you will hear songs from some of your favourite artists such as Maxwell, Jill Scott and more.
“I haven’t seen any neo-soul in Bermuda — in the States, you can hear neo-soul Monday to Sunday. Here, you hear it on radio sometimes, but nobody here plays it live. I just figured that people like a change and so I wanted to introduce something new. They can sit back and relax and be able to engage, to relate to the music.
“For a backing band there’s always a lead singer, we’re always doing what they like. This way I can do my own show and I can play music I like and make sure people are enjoying it too.”
• The first in Tino Sax’s Soul Session Saturdays series takes place on February 16 at Blue Waters Anglers Club. Doors open at 8pm; show begins at 9pm. Tickets, $25, are available at the club or through Tino: email@example.com or, on Instagram, @tino_sax