Like David Sanborn or Michael Brecker, Clarence Clemons has played the saxophone for so long and for so many recording artists that his sound has become instantly recognizable. It's a bit like a favorite pair of jeans: durable, comfortable, well-worn at the edges.
Clemons has played with Aretha Franklin, Alvin Lee, Roy Orbison, the Grateful Dead, and Patti LaBelle, to name just a few. But the Big Man will probably always be known for his nineteen-year stint as the central player in Bruce Springsteen's now-legendary E Street Band.
After Springsteen dissolved the group, Clemons left New Jersey and made his permanent home on Singer Island. He hasn't stopped playing -- in fact, he's playing every Monday and Tuesday night at two venues in South Florida, and he's extended an open invitation to any local musician who wants to join him for a jam session on stage.
"Especially amateurs," Clemons said over a plate of chicken on a recent Monday night at 251 Sunrise in West Palm Beach. "It's fun to see people who've never ever played in public get up and play. You know it's in them."
Anyone who brings an instrument gets in free every Monday at 251 Sunrise and for half price every Tuesday at One Night Stan's in Hollywood. Clemons goes on at 9 p.m. and plays two hours' worth of jazz, blues, and rock. During intermission he and his manager, Darlene DeLano, go over the list of musicians who've signed up to play.
"We might put together a drummer and a bassist, or a singer and a guitarist, so it makes for a real band," DeLano says. "We try to accommodate everyone we can." She adds, "I have a feeling it's going to get very busy at Stan's, so come early. Last Tuesday the list was a page and a half long."
The roster is shorter at 251 Sunrise, DeLano says, because fewer musicians live in the area. The West Palm Beach shows tend to be more laid-back -- though after Clemons finished off that chicken, he returned to the stage and had the crowd literally dancing on the tables until the management cleared the furniture from the floor.
At one point the easy-going, self-effacing Clemons pulled a singing lawyer and guitar-playing doctor on stage and waved his arms over them. "I gotta sprinkle some magic saxophone dust on you," he said. The pair then delivered versions of "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road" in decidedly Bruce-like fashion.
"Does that remind you of somebody?" Clemons asked the audience. "All right, sit down," he then told the two Bruces. "I got fired once. I ain't going to get fired again, goddamnit."
Clemons' jam sessions will run through the month of March, after which he'll leave for Los Angeles to continue his burgeoning career as an actor. He's already appeared in an episode of the UPN series Viper, and he's in the new Blues Brothers 2000, which he says features "every rock 'n' roller that's still alive -- some dead ones, too."
Clemons may miss a date or two due to his schedule, so call 251 Sunrise at 561-820-9777, or One Night Stan's at 954-929-1566, for his availability.
"If you think you can't do it, don't come," Clemons warns. "This is for people who really feel that they have something to share. The main purpose is the music.
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