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Saxophonists notes can be heard all over
Sam Skelton

Sam Skelton Jazz All Stars
With Justin Varnes, Ramon Pooser
and Tyrone Jackson
What: Evenings of Intimate Jazz
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: the Arts Council’s Smithgall Arts Center, 331 Spring St., Gainesville
How much: $30
More info: 770-534-2787

What better way to spend a warm spring evening than enjoying some smooth, cool jazz? Saturday night’s final performance of the Gainesville Arts Council’s Evenings of Intimate Jazz 2010 series features the Sam Skelton Jazz All Stars.

Frontman and saxophonist Sam Skelton, director of jazz studies at Kennesaw State University, has a long list of musical accomplishments under his belt. Having performed with renowned orchestras including the London Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony and the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, he and his horn also appear on popular recordings by artists including Matchbox 20, Train and Sir Elton John.

"I’m what you call a side man," said Skelton in a phone interview. "I’m just the guy who gets called in for something additional on a recording."

Although Skelton seldom gets to meet the rock stars themselves — he usually lays down a few tracks in the studio with a couple of recording engineers — he got to engage in some collaboration with Elton John.

"He was there the whole time — it was very, very cool." recalled Skelton.

Aside from such elbow rubbings with the rich and famous, Skelton’s smooth grooves have been heard in television ads and themes everywhere, including CNN, The Cartoon Network, Subway and Papa John’s Pizza. Familiar with the Georgia Lottery’s "Today could be the day ..." intro each evening?

"Every time you hear them draw those numbers for the lottery, you’re listening to me," he said of his work for the Georgia State Lottery.

Skelton has been a musician as long as he can remember. His grandfather was a professional trumpet player who hung up his horn to take on a career with the DOT. "I’d pull the old trumpet out from under his bed and he’d teach me a few notes," said Skelton of his very early interest in music. By middle school he was playing saxophone and picked up the clarinet and the flute along the way.

"That’s all I’ve been doing ever since."

Skelton, who grew up in Conyers, bemoans the lack of exposure to musical education kids get these days.

"It’s a national travesty. ... It’s embarrassing to me that the first thing they’re gonna cut in any schools is the arts," he said. He especially mourns the fading of classical music in popular culture. "The only way to become a great musician is to study classical music."

As for Saturday’s gig, "I get to play with my favorite players," Skelton said, who this time will play frontman along with his saxophone. Joining Skelton on keys is Tyrone Jackson, Justin Varnes on drums and Ramon Pooser on bass — all equally accomplished musicians in their own rights, having performed with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Wycliffe Gordon and Ellis and Wynton Marsalis.

Skelton said he is looking forward to "an evening of spontaneous jazz — that’s the beauty of jazz," he said, noting that the quartet may even entertain requests if the spirit of the evening calls for it.

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