My Meeting with the Master
By Evan Tate
Used with permission.
Copyright 2002, Evan Tate
Just before I ever heard of Joe Allard, I spent my freshman year in college as a Composition/Jazz Studies major at a University in Connecticut. After deciding that I wasn't learning my instrument the way I wanted to, I decided to audition for admission to the Manhattan School of Music back in my hometown of New York City.
At that time I had almost no knowledge of classical saxophone literature. I only had a few transcriptions from G.F. Handel. But I was going to go for it. I did not meet my future saxophone instructors at my audition, but I had read about them in the Manhattan School of Music admissions handbook. Both names were unfamiliar to me, but hey, this is the Manhattan School of Music! They had to be good.
A few weeks after my audition I received my letter of acceptance. I told the news to a couple of colleagues of mine and informed them that I would be studying with a guy named Joe Allard. Suddenly their eyes got really big. "Man, you're going to be studying with Joe Allard? Oh, I envy you." It seemed that with nearly everyone who I had talked to mentioning Joe's name, he got the biggest praises. I made the acquaintance of a professor of saxophone in the Virginia / Washington, D.C. area, who again, was astounded to hear the news that I would study with Joe Allard. I asked him; "Who is Joe Allard?" He explained to me that anybody who's anybody studied with him: Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Eddie Daniels, Eric Dolphy, Harry Carney... the list goes on. You can imagine I really got excited and eager to start the Fall Semester.
Well, the time finally came. After going through admissions and meeting fellow saxophone students, I was advised to go to Joe's teaching studio right away to schedule an appointment to make sure I got a good time. Before I entered his room, I imagined Joe was a man in his mid-30's to 40's with dark hair, tall with a medium build. Why did I imagine all that? I don't know. I could hear that Joe was still giving a lesson, so I waited patiently outside his room until it was over.
A few minutes later, a student left the room. I nervously knocked on the door as not to disturb him. As I entered the room, I saw a white-haired man with a close cut beard; he had a slight build, medium height and was about in his early 70's. He had a big bright smile and was full of energy. I first thought to myself; "Is this the master that everyone's been talking about?" I explained to him that I was a new student and that I was advised to come to him right away to make an appointment. The only slot he had left in his schedule was Monday mornings at 8 am. I agreed, although I wasn't too excited about having to get up so early.
I arrived at the school building the following Monday at 7 a.m. in order to warm up before the lesson. I came into his studio at 8 am. Joe was already there, reading a newspaper and drinking a cup of tea (I think. I can't recall all details). He was in a good mood and full of energy (in fact, he always full of energy). I sat down, packed out my horn, we exchanged a few words, and he asked me play something. Not knowing what to play, I began to play that what I did at my audition. He stopped me not even midway. He spoke with me a while, explained a few things to me, showed me a few things. Joe never had his own horn with him. If he did play an instrument during the lesson, he played your horn and got a better sound than you did!
The concepts that he explained to me in that first lesson blew me away! It was almost like receiving a revelation! I became convinced immediately that this man is a Master Teacher. After I got home that day, I sent Joe a postcard. I thanked him for the lesson and that I was eagerly looking forward to the next lessons.
Joe was a very friendly, youthful man. In the school cafeteria, he always sat with the students and did not sit in the designated area for faculty. He wanted his students to call him "Joe" and not Mr. Allard or such. Joe was a very positive man, a supportive man. He had a no nonsense attitude about making music and playing the instrument. So many things he taught were based on simple laws of physics. His concepts challenged many previously held concepts of saxophone technique, embouchure, you name it. Joe stated that his job was not to teach you how to play, but to help you discover how you want to play, and give you the necessary tools and techniques to realize that goal.
I have taken as much of Joe's concepts to my more than 100 students that I've had over the past 15 years. Of course, I don't have the magic that Joe had, but I try to transmit what I can.
The years that I spent under his tutelage were some of the most productive and influential times in my musical life. I miss the Master as a teacher and as a person.
Many thanks to you, Joe! We all miss you.