International Saxophone Symposium History
During a 1977 summer saxophone conference in Brussels, then-Chief Musician Dale Underwood performed "Concertante" by Clare Grundman with the Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Guides, conducted by the U.S. Navy Band's leader, Cmdr. Ned Muffley. Later in the conference, Muffley discussed the possibility of hosting the band's own symposium. After some consideration, Muffley turned to Underwood and said, "we can do this and do it better." In those moments the United States Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium was born. Of course, this was just the idea. For anything to get done in the military, official orders must be given. Once back at the Washington Navy Yard, Underwood walked by Muffley's office and received his orders when he heard "Hey Dale, Sax Symposium, do it." Immediate planning began for the first symposium to be held on March 17-18, 1978 - less than a year away.
Although Underwood had never planned anything of this magnitude before, he had attended many other saxophone conferences. He realized the unique potential of hosting a Navy Band Saxophone Symposium because, in addition to the Concert Band, he had access to the Commodores and could incorporate a jazz component to this conference. Additionally, this conference would also set itself apart from others by having fewer guest artists present more clinics and masterclasses divided equally between classical and jazz idioms. The first concert had an international flavor with the appearance of guest soloist Elie Apper of the Royal Conservatory of Music and guest conductor Commandant Yvon Ducene of the Musique des Guides, both from Brussels, and whom Underwood had met the previous summer at the Belgian saxophone conference. The Friday evening concert featured Underwood, James Houlik and Donald Sinta. On Saturday night, the Commodores performed with jazz soloists Jim Boitos, Chad Evans, Tim Eyerman and Frank Foster. Since there was no budget for the first few Saxophone Symposiums, these and other guest artists had to be supported by their university, instrument sponsor or through other means. With a couple hundred people attending the Saturday afternoon clinics and a thousand in attendance at each the Friday and Saturday evening concerts, the Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium was a success. Half-way through the first symposium Underwood was asked to begin planning the next year's symposium, which he did with the same amount of enthusiasm. After the third symposium, it was decided this was to become an annual event. Underwood, the saxophone section and the band's public affairs office would be busy organizing this event for years to come.
The first symposium took place at three different locations lying several miles apart - the Sail Loft at the Washington Navy Yard, Howard University, and the old Departmental Auditorium. The symposium found its current home at George Mason when the chairman of the department of music at George Mason University, legendary retired U.S. Air Force Band conductor Col. Arnald Gabriel, asked Underwood to consider moving the Navy Band's 1991 Saxophone Symposium to the brand new concert hall at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. This large, state-of-the-art facility offered the potential to stage five events at once and has been the home of the symposium ever since. The current venue has enabled the Navy Band to increase the number of events on the program and attract even larger audiences. This expansion of the symposium has helped reflect the multifaceted nature of the saxophone and the performers who play the instrument.
For Underwood, the 1991 symposium was the most memorable one as Karel Husa guest conducted his compositions "Music for Prague" and "Concerto for Saxophone" with Underwood as the soloist. Underwood was later invited by Husa to perform the same concerto at his retirement ceremony from Cornell University in 1992.
One of the more difficult aspects of planning the Saxophone Symposium is finding various guest artists. In the symposium's early years, Underwood wanted to invite Zoot Sims and Phil Woods but performer's availability and Symposium dates didn't align. In spite of these difficulties, the Navy Band has hosted some of the biggest names in the saxophone community. The following saxophonists have performed with the Concert Band: Claude Delangle of the Paris Conservatory, Masahiro Maeda of the Osaka College of Music in Japan, Dragan Sremec of the Zabreb University Music Academy in Croatia, Arno Bornkamp of Amsterdam, Frederick Hemke of Northwestern University, Steven Mauk of Ithaca College, Debra Richtmeyer of the University of Illinois, Eugene Rousseau of Indiana University and the University of Minnesota and John Sampen of Bowling Green State University. Jazz greats who have performed with the Commodores include Branford Marsalis, Eddie Daniels, Dave Liebman, Chris Potter, Pete Christlieb, Bob Mintzer, Jim Snidero, Chris Vadala, and Grover Washington, Jr.
The legacy that Underwood began over 30 years ago has evolved into the largest two-day saxophone conference in the United States. The goal of the symposium has always been to provide a hands-on learning experience for saxophonists of all ages and abilities.
Under the leadership of Navy Band saxophonist Senior Chief Musician Timothy Roberts, the symposium was expanded to provide more clinics and masterclasses than ever before. In order to provide more national level performance opportunities for college saxophonists, Roberts and his team instituted the College Quartet Series in 2003. This sparked an increase in attendance and interest in saxophone chamber music by college and university students throughout the country. Roberts also continued the tradition of inviting international guest artists, and in the past ten years the band has featured soloists from Argentina, Canada, China, Croatia, England, France, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The International Saxophone Symposium has always been a venue to hear new performers and compositions for saxophone. "Fantasia" by Claude Smith, "Gossamer Rings" by David Deason and "Essay for Tenor Saxophone" by David Ott received their world premiere performances at the 1983 symposium. "Soliloquy and Dance" by Elliot del Borgo, "Capriccio Concertante," "Iberian Sketches" and "Americana Suite" are among a few of the other works that were given premiere performances at the Saxophone Symposium. In addition to solos with band, recitalists are often programming works written within the past 15 years.
The history of the symposium is preserved on the Navy Band website. Using historical materials, pictures, sound clips and programs, the website seeks to be a year-round resource for all saxophonists.