Saxophonist followed his dreams to break through
While saxophonist Quintin Gerard W. had already exhibited talent that gave him the potential to do great things as a musician, he fondly recalls one conversation years ago that gave him the direction he needed to funnel it.
“It all comes back to one day that I was speaking with Ellis Marsalis,” said Gerard W., a native of Norco who studied under Marsalis at Loyola University in New Orleans. “He said, ‘Let me tell you something … my son is the greatest saxophone player on the planet right now. What are you going to bring to the art?’”
Gerard W. admitted those words coming from the father of renowned Branford Marsalis were quite intimidating at first, but soon they sunk in, and they began to define him — or, perhaps more accurately, they inspired him to define himself.
“He was asking me what makes me different?” Gerard W. said. “Who am I? There are saxophone players everywhere and they’re all good, all great at this level. So what am I gonna do that’s different from anybody else?”
Thus, the FnkySax Player was born, and under that moniker Gerard W. has played a unique hybrid of funk, R&B, jazz, gospel and blues that he’s molded over the years to great success, along the way performing alongside many big name artists and eventually releasing several solo albums, starting with his debut album “Fnkysax.”
“It came down to, if I really did a self-analysis, I wasn’t really a jazz player,” said Gerard W., 53. “Others may describe me as that, but I’m a funk player. I’ve incorporated jazz, but I grew up listening to Motown, R&B … so that’s where the FnkySax player comes in, because I combined all these things and as a result I’m different.”
Before that fateful conversation, his journey to becoming a well-known artist traces back to his early childhood, where he was part of a family that made music part of its core. His mother sang at church, and his older brothers each were part of their high school band.
Gerard W. credited another mentoring influence with pointing him toward his eventual destiny, when he was just 8 years old: the late Dr. Rodney Lafon.
“He believed in me,” Gerard W. said. “He looked at me like, ‘You are the best and you’re gonna be the best.’ Even at that early age, that I could beat anybody and be anybody.”
Lafon’s belief was validated when Gerard W. earned first saxophone chair with the St. Charles Parish Honor Band.
“He was very proud, my mom was very proud … and at that point I started to think, wait, am I the best saxophonist in the parish, as a sixth grader? And that just stuck with me my whole life,” he said.
In fact, it became a core part of him. He liked that feeling, and he committed himself to work as hard as he needed to be that elite performer.
“I felt like I have to be the best in the parish, the best in the state, the best in the country and the best in the world,” he said. “Everything I’ve done really started as a vision that started all the way back when I was a kid at Norco Elementary.”
Gerard W. went on to make the Louisiana All-State Band as a saxophonist as a student at Destrehan High School before moving on to Loyola.
Though those like Lafon who believed in him spurred him on, there were also doubts that he had to dispel before he could truly make it.
“Back in those days, I heard people say that you don’t know what life is all about until you grow up, you’re not going anywhere, give this thing up,” said Gerard W.. “I heard those voices in my head for awhile and I had to overcome that.”
He got his first break when he was invited to play alongside renowned keyboardist Jeff Lorber, who came across Gerard W.’s demo tape after a producer friend of Lorber heard him playing in studio.
“(The producer) never told me who he was, but he was good friends with Jeff. He’d heard me and said, ‘Man, I like this sax player,’” Gerard W. said. “Took me in the studio, we recorded a three song demo and he ran it over to Jeff’s house, and Jeff said ‘hey, I want that guy to play with me.’”
Gerard W. went on to play with Lorbor on tour, as the latter had a record coming out at the time. He’s also performed with Kenny Garrett, Najee and Dave Koz among others, before eventually feeling the desire to strike out on his own.
Upon the release of his first CD, he felt an epiphany.
“It was the first time that my music was out there and I wasn’t just known as someone else’s saxophone player,” he said. “Before that, it was never me, I was always Jeff’s saxophone player, or somebody’s saxophone player. This was me.
“Nobody really knew who I was, but when I got that first e-mail that somebody purchased my CD … it meant so much to me. It let me know that somebody out there – even if just one – liked my music enough to buy it. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
That first buyer wouldn’t be the only one. Two years after Fnkysax, he released a follow-up album, “Perseverance,” in 2006. In 2011, he made a third solo album, “Before It’s Gone.”
Earlier this month, he made a surprise appearance at — fittingly — the Rodney Lafon Performing Arts Center, playing a short piece and then speaking to the crowd at the St. Charles Parish Public Schools’ Employee Welcome Event to kick off the school year.
“It was a great chance to show my appreciation for what they do and what they’ve done to help me and my career,” Gerard W. said. “I wanted to show some encouragement and let them know it doesn’t matter if you’re from a big town or a small town, it’s about how big your mind is, and that you can make a big difference in someone’s life.”