When I was in Grade 9, they abruptly stopped our orchestral program and we were forced to switch from a stringed instrument to a band instrument. Without hesitation, I chose saxophone, merely because I wanted to be Greg Ham. He was one of my all-time favourite musicians, as well as my personal hero. After 40 years of playing saxophone, I can finally understand the full extent to why I admired him so much.
First of all, he had a unique, personal sound. In a world filled with saxophone sound-clones, this has always been something that is almost impossible to achieve for almost any horn player (or any artist, for that matter)
Secondly, he wasn’t just an accessory to his band. He was an integral part of the compositions, the arrangements, as well as to the overall performance itself. Not only could he play both tenor and soprano saxophones brilliantly, but he was also a wonderful flautist, keyboardist and singer (though I’ve always assumed that he could play a lot more instruments than that). He was also one of the main faces of the band. Again, not something that is generally the case, unless the saxophonist is also the leader.
The real genius of Greg Ham, though, was his focus on melody and his ability to conserve. His musical ideas were incredibly well thought out. No idea was ever wasted and no solo ever went on even a beat longer than absolutely necessary. This is what made Greg Ham the consummate musician, composer, arranger and soloist. He never seemed interested in soloing ad nauseam or overstaying his musical welcome. The ideas were incredibly precise and were there purely to serve the song, rather than the song just being there to serve his own incessant meandering.
Beyond all of his musical accomplishments, Greg Ham also seemed to come across as someone who truly enjoyed what they were doing and appeared to achieve it all with an incredible sense of humour and grace. At the same time, he didn’t appear to suffer fools gladly. When interviewed, he cut right to the core, took the interviewer to task and let the music serve to hopefully impress on its own merits.
Thank you, Mr. Ham! May you eternally move forward into the longest night.