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Are you a regular watcher of Saturday Night Live? Well, whether you tune in weekly, or just occasionally, you may or may not know that the SNL Band is run by an amazing saxophone player by the name of Lenny Pickett, who can often be seen in the background during the guest’s monologue and at other various times during the show. In addition to seeing him, you can hear his virtuoso altissimo (high register) saxophone playing as the opening and closing credits roll, as well as during multiple other musical moments throughout the show. He has been a member of the SNL Band since 1985 and the music director since 1995. The SNL Band members are the unsung heroes of the show and can oftentimes be overlooked, so the next time you watch, keep an ear out for these masterful musicians.

The Jazz Knights are really excited to welcome Lenny Pickett, for the first time, into their facility for a reading session serving as a chance to read several jazz ensemble charts that he has written for Tower of Power, the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra, and his own group, the Borneo Horns. It is a collaboration that has been in the works for a long time and is finally coming to fruition on March 27th. The session will also be attended by members of the Cadet Jazz Forum Club as well as USMA’s art, philosophy, and literature (APL) majors.

The collaboration began with our own audio engineer, Staff Sgt. Brandie Lane. It was while teaching a recording class at New York University, where Lenny is on faculty, that she got to work closely with him. His ensemble served as the demonstration band for the recording techniques being discussed throughout the semester, which eventually led to this reading session, and hopefully more collaborations to come.

“The members of the Jazz Knights are really excited any time we have an opportunity like this to collaborate with a world-class musician. Looking through Lenny’s tremendous career, he’s played with a who’s-who in the entertainment industry, and he continues to do new and creative things. We all respect him as a player, but this will be a nice chance to see the composer side of him as well. We’re looking forward to getting to know each other and seeing where the relationship heads.”—Sgt. Major Scott Arcangel, Jazz Knights Music Director

According to Wikipedia, Lenny Pickett was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico on April 10, 1954, but he grew up in Berkeley, California. He has no formal musical training, did not attend high school beyond the ninth grade, and did not attend college. Except for a brief period of study with the jazz saxophonist Bert Wilson (another player known for his facility with the altissimo register) after dropping out of high school in Berkeley, he is completely self-taught in the saxophone. He was a member of the Tower of Power Horns, which he joined when he was 18 years old, and performed with Elton John and many other rhythm and blues and soul groups. He has also worked as a saxophonist and an arranger for artists including David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Laurie Anderson. As a composer, he has written for his group, the Borneo Horns, and has received a number of commissions to write works mixing classical and popular idioms for a variety of musical ensembles, including the New Century Saxophone Quartet, as well as music for theater and collaborations with dancers, poets and filmmakers.

The Jazz Knights have welcomed a number of guest composers into their rehearsal room. It gives these artists a chance to hear their music played at a high level and gives the Jazz Knights a unique opportunity to read works that, in some cases, no one else has ever played. Past guests include Anita Brown, Jens Wendelboe, Steve Turre, Darcy James Argue, and Dave Douglas, and on March 27th, the Jazz Knights will be able to add the great Lenny Pickett to the list. And again, the next time you watch Saturday Night Live, keep an ear out for Lenny and the Saturday Night Live Band!

Words by Staff Sgt. David Loy Song