At a private fashion show in New York for A-list celebrities, Funkytown sax man Jeff Dazey finds himself out of his element. Waiting to go onstage with Leon Bridges after the models finish on the catwalk, he looks around the room and sees place markers on the chairs for the evening’s guests.
“We get fitted,” says Dazey. “I’m wearing this multiple-thousand-dollar suit. And all the seats out there, I’m looking around, and there’s Uma Thurman’s name tag, and Jon Hamm, and Tom Hanks — so I start getting nervous.
“I put on my suit, and it’s this really weird tie. I have trouble tying it. I start to have some anxiety about it, so I go down to the bathroom, and I’m in the mirror fixing my tie, and someone comes up next to me, and I see they’re doing the same thing. And it’s Neil Patrick Harris.”
Dazey explains he’s having trouble getting the tie right, and Neil Patrick Harris winds up adjusting his tie for him.
Later, Dazey finds himself passing a cigarette back and forth with Uma Thurman. (He was trying to quit smoking, but when Thurman asks, you to share a smoke.) Hanks even asked him for sax lessons.
Reflecting on the local scene
That’s just ultimate proof that Dazey has been around the world a few times since the Gunga Galunga days at the Wherehouse. He’s been touring for a couple of years straight, for the past year so with Leon Bridges. Last Monday, I got the chance to sit down at Dazey’s kitchen table in Fairmount and talk music with the man.
He’s been home since November, but he hasn’t been slacking off. He plays with two bands (Texas Gentlemen and Medicine Man), has a solo show at The Grackle Gallery on March 25 as part of Spring Gallery Night, and is working on Bridges’ new album. When I arrived, he was sitting at the table wearing a well-worn Canadian tuxedo (a world apart from the Tom Ford suit), eating pistachios and going over the horn charts for his upcoming marathon SXSW docket — 12 shows in four days. Even with all the touring, he still tries to keep up with the local scene.
“Since I’ve been home in November, I’ve gotten back out — and I’ve always kept my ear to the ground,” he said. “Locally, I really dig Joe Savage. He’s got a killer band. Every time I see Vincent Neil Emerson or Jake Paleschic — those guys are continuing to write great songs.”
Dazey was reluctant in fact to talk about life on the road, celebrities, and the tour. Our conversation kept returning to the state of the local music scene. After all, the number of available venues for live, original music is in decline.
“Man, I really started playing, getting out to the bars when I was 17,” Dazey, 35, reminisces. “I’ve definitely seen a lot of changes. It seems like all our favorite venues have come and gone. I was playing at places like The Jubilee. When I really started to play a lot, I was playing places like the Ridglea, The Black Dog, The Wreck Room, The Moon Bar, J&J’s Blues Bar and the Keys Lounge. Out of all those, the Keys Lounge is the only one still open.
“The thing that hasn’t changed is I feel like we have this really creative bubble that isn’t influenced too much by outside forces. Which I think kind of makes us still retain our personality,” he continues. “I guess it’s always been that way. Even if all the development off of West Seventh Street had turned into more music venues like a Deep Ellum or a small Sixth Street of Austin or something — even if that had been done I don’t think we would change too much. All that money they dumped on the West 7th, it’s still The Grotto and Lola’s.”
He did talk a bit about his adventures, like backing up Kris Kristofferson, or the time he played “Saturday Night Live” with Bridges. Like a lot of us, Dazey grew up watching “SNL,” but he got to be a part of it.
“Even in high school, when people asked who’s the best saxophone player I was like ‘You can turn on “SNL” every Saturday and see one of the best on the planet — Lenny Pickett.’ ”
After his “SNL” soundcheck, Dazey got a tap on his shoulder and turned around. It was Pickett — his childhood hero — and the show’s musical director. They hung out and talked about David Bowie for a bit.
Bridges’ new album is in the works at Niles City Sound, and although Dazey couldn’t give me much in the way of details (it’s a work in progress) he promises it will be a bit different.
“That, I’m not saying too much about because it’s such an interesting process — and right now were being very creative,” he said. “What actually ends up on the album we kind of formulate a vibe to it and we just aren’t there.”
Working on new Bridges album
The previous album was written here in Fort Worth, in the house of Bridges’ mother. A lot of life has happened for the young soul singer since then.
“All the new stuff was written on the road and post-tour and when you’re writing in that way there’s no way it can be the same,” Dazey explained. “It’s hard to say exactly what it’s going to be yet. You’ll definitely be able to tell it’s Leon Bridges.”
I’ve known Dazey for quite a few years now, and he’s always been a guy who makes things happen when he sees a need. We step out in the back yard behind the small mother-in-law apartment he rents when he’s not on the road (he has a place in New Orleans as well). He talks about pop-up venues and how he hopes to put on concerts in his back yard. With the death of some of Fort Worth’s outlets for live music, artists are making their own.
“It’s like the plant growing through concrete, it will find a way,” Dazey says. “And I feel like that that’s what’s happening now.
“Again, I feel like there’s something about being in Fort Worth,” says Dazey. “And coming up in this way you get equal parts underdog and equal parts unfiltered. Not to say that people can’t find that or be that in other cities [but] Fort Worth is untouched. And even the record labels are starting to notice that. Columbia Records, who signed Maren Morris and Leon Bridges — I was talking to one of the managers for Leon Bridges, and he definitely noticed that there is something special about Fort Worth.”