Simple music played well7/13/2016
Heath Alan has been playing saxophone for 30 years. But even before he picked the instrument up in fourth grade, music had been in Alan’s blood. His mother — Bluebird Page, a singer and an Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Famer — raised him in a world surrounded by masterful performers. Alan recalled growing up listening to Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo and local legends in person.
“I remember as a kid, growing up in Cedar Falls, and the Mother Blues Band would come to town,” Alan said. “My mother worked at the Circle Bar, and she made fans with Bo Ramsey and those guys. They would come to the house, and I would fall asleep listening to those guys jam. It was how I grew up.
“We weren’t really casual listeners. I come from a big family of musicians, so it was something that was instilled in me from an early age. When Christmas rolled around every year, we didn’t listen to Christmas music on the radio — we played it.”
Perhaps the biggest influence the familial performing had on Alan’s musical development can be seen in how well he plays within a group. There are plenty of opportunities to listen, as Alan’s sax can be heard on songs from Iowa bands as diverse as James Biehn and the Soul Searchers, to Bonne Finken and Brother Trucker.
“I think the reason that I get the work that I get is that I listen a lot,” he explained. “Coming from the school of music I did, and learning how to treat the stage and the performance as a profession, I think it puts people’s minds at ease that you know what not to do. Sometimes that just means staying the hell out out of the way.”
In addition to his studio work, Alan performs live with his own act, the Heath Alan Band. The group contains some of Des Moines’ top musical talents, including keyboardist Justin Appel, bassist Jon Locker and drummer Jim Parker.
“I really like to work with jazz musicians, because they learn quickly and know form — musicians who can turn off the smarts and can play from the heart,” Alan said. “I like the ability to give some style and grace to simple, American music forms.” CV