AHMAD Jaafar (Selamat Hari Raya), was a familiar figure for me way back in the days of B&W TV. Even my mum knew him. He always had a saxophone hanging from his lips. His body would bob (or rather, bounce) up and down to the rhythm of the pieces he played. He kept that rhythmic bounce even when conducting the RTS Orchestra.
Little did I know that I would take saxophone lessons from him at a music school that was in a terribly old building (was it Tudor Court, I couldn't really remember) that was waiting for a second life. That was in the early 80s.
I like the sound of saxophone. The alto sax was just right for me as it was short. Kenny G's very portable soprano sax would be ideal, but then, I didn't know saxophones went smaller than the alto sax. In fact, I thought all saxophones were those long things -- which I was prepared to strap to myself and learn. But when I enquired at the school, Mr Ahmad Jaafar said the alto sax was more suitable for me.
I was a bit disappointed because I thought if Kuo Po could play that long saxophone, so could I. But anyway, I got Mr Jaafar to buy for me the alto sax which was from China.
First few lessons was on licking the reed wet enough so that it would produce a sound when I blow on it. Positioning the mouthpiece between your lips and teeth was also important. You need to fold your lower lip over the lower row of teeth, than push the mouth piece in, and blow. (He said playing the saxophone would give you strong and firm facial muscles so that you stay young longer!)
You must also blow from the diaphragm, or you will get very superficial sound and will run out of air quickly.
Next, came the familiarising of the keys -- the higher ones were not so difficult. The lower ones were very complicated and you need to press certain levers to sharpen or flatten the notes.
But it was getting the rhythm (that characteristic Ahmad Jaafar bounce) that killed me. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, he would said sternly to me.
"Count! Timing! Rhythm! You practise!" he would say to me. His tall but slightly stooped frame would then disappear from the music room. Soon, I hear the sound of the vacuum cleaner humming as he pushed the machine up and down the corridor outside. He would return towards the end of the lesson, clapped the rhythm I should be playing, sighed, and dismissed me.
The most stressful part of the lesson was when he put the metronome on and I had to play in time. More stressful (but rather enjoyable -- for me) was when he played on the keyboard to accompany my playing. He would play some introductory bars and I would need to jump in. I was always at a loss as to when I should come in. And after that, of course, my timing varied a lot from his.
"Girl, you mustn't have your own timing. You want to play with a band?" He would leave the room without another word. Soon, I would hear the vacuum. The floors were very clean when I practised at the school.
It was to my credit that I struggled with the heavy saxophone (kept in a hard case) every Saturday, up and down the bus to Orchard Road for about three years before I too, gave up. (I think Mr Jaafar gave up on me long before that.)
Note: I can't remember the name of the music school, but I think it was Corey. Anyone from there?