On a recent Sunday at the downtown Hilton Hotel, the scene was hopping. A Baywatch party was the theme, though South Floridians need no excuse to get into swimsuits and get in the water.
A new brunch menu at the café that overlooks the pool area that featured steak and egg burritos, seared tuna salads and Nutella French Toast hit the spot. The real action was out around the pool, where a DJ was pumping out tunes for the crowd and a real treat was the handsome green-eyed saxophone player weaving magic melodies along with the DJ mix. The unexpected sound created a hypnotic spell for the crowd, at one point he was floating in the pool in a giant flamingo blow up float while playing. Now that’s something you don’t see or hear every day.
The sax player is Reginald Ellison, 31, a South-Florida based saxophonist. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, he began playing the saxophone at the age of 10 in his school’s band and has been playing ever since.
I met up with Reginald at Subculture Coffee in between his gigs on a humid Thursday afternoon to find out more about his sax affair.
“I got turned onto the saxophone by my older cousin,” he says. ‘I knew nothing about the famous jazz musicians who played the sax, I just knew I really loved it and that’s what I wanted to do. I had classical music training up to that point but once I heard he sax I dove into the music of John Coltrane, Kenny G., and others from the 50s and 60s. I continued my studies at both the University of Central Florida located in Orlando, FL, as well as Palm Beach Atlantic University where my focus was Music Performance and Hospitality.”
Realizing that forming a band was a difficult project, Reginald decided to just figure out a way to “play for as many people as I could”. That meant booking himself solo in all kinds of venues and functions including weddings, church events, guesting with other bands and playing cafes in all South Florida’s three counties.
“My real break came from C Street Café on Clematis,” he says. “I played solo during various shifts and met so many people including the Mayor, staff from hotels and other clubs. It’s close to the theater and the waterfront park. It really put me on the map. Now I perform in a wide spectrum of venues and events such as hotels, restaurants, fashion shows, weddings, bar mitzvahs, night clubs, corporate functions and more. I perform locally throughout South Florida in cities such as Miami, Boca Raton, Delray Beach and West Palm Beach. I do travel out of state for special events, and those cities thus far would include Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Denver, with more venues and locations still yet to be performed in. I have a pending offer from Dubai which I’m really excited about. All these contacts have come from the local scene here as it’s a pretty national and international set of people.”
Watch: Reginald Ellison playing his sax
The unique gig he made for himself involves playing along with the house DJ at weekly shows now at the Hilton and at the happening brunch spot Salt7 in Delray Beach on Atlantic Avenue where a recent Sunday found Reginald playing to a packed house of partying hordes downing Mimosas and omelets while dancing on table tops.
“I hook up with the DJ and find out what kind of music they’ll be playing like house, R&B, classical jazz, Pop and I even did a requested special set of Beatles music on sax. That was a challenge and I ended up with about 5 songs. The sets are usually 1 to 3 hours. The longest I ever played was 6 hours for a wedding. I played for the pre-ceremony, the actual ceremony, the cocktail hour, the dinner and then the reception non-stop. My mouth was twisted from that! I could hardly talk and could only drink from a straw.”
Considering Reginald has only been doing this for 2 years, it’s pretty impressive that he built a full time music career in that time.
I ask him why he thinks his sound is resonating with people.
“I like to think I’m connecting to the emotion they feel when they hear the sax,” he says. “It’s not just that it sounds pretty, the sax has a soulful sound that elevates whatever songs I’m playing. I know the songs, the key, then I just jump in and go with the melody. It gets tricky sometimes as the DJ will play the music of one song and then the lyrics to another. I’m free to walk around in the audience and on to the dance floor with my sax so that adds to the energy.”
He’s also been playing cruise ships, a cushy gig that lets him travel to the islands and make even more great contacts on luxury big ships.
“I’ve also hooked with some locals who play like Timothee Lovelock who plays a solo violin gig and Mr. Trombone. We’ve done some functions together and it’s always a lot of fun.”
With that Reginald checks his watch and realizes he’s got to jet to his next gig appointment. Catch him at one of his next weekend shows.
You can follow Ellison here