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A man with a musical mission

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Sax player supreme Danny Schauffler is elected to Oregon Music Hall of Fame


by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Before being elected as an individual musician, Schauffler was already in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame as a member of Nu Shooz and Crazy 8s.Probing, probing, probing.

That is what Danny Schauffler of Lake Oswego likes to do with everything from a musical composition to a person he meets for the first time. This indefatigable desire to not just settle for the surface of anything is one reason that on July 16 Schauffler was announced as one of the new members of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

“I was blown away,” said Schauffler of his OMHF honor.

But it isn’t just the honor that has Schauffler so excited. After all, he had been in two bands — Nu Shooz and the Crazy 8s — that were previously voted into the OMHF. It is the opportunity it offers him to pass on his musical knowledge to a new generation. As he said, “It’s more about education.”

That has been his main mission for a long time. He has been band director at Valley Catholic High School for many years. However, it is a task made more difficult than ever by the dropping of many fine school programs due to budget cuts in recent years.

“It has been a difficult time for music in schools,” Schauffler said. “I’m trying to jump start music education in Oregon, so I’m brainstorming now.”

The great performers that Schauffler are trying to brainstorm into coming to Oregon include Doc Severinson, trumpet virtuoso and famed leader of the Tonight Show Orchestra during the Johnny Carson years. Musicians like Severinson will be certain to raise the profile of music education in this state, which is sure to raise the hopes of some saxophone-loving kid, like Schauffler was while growing up in the 1970s.

Music was a huge part of Schauffler’s life from the beginning. His school band leader father surrounded him with guitar playing, folk music and singing in choirs. He also put the first musical instrument in his son’s hands — a flute. But it wasn’t long before Schauffler made the musical switch that set the course of his life.

“The sax really hit me,” Schauffler said. “It has so much more power than the flute. The sax is like the human voice, and it had the power I couldn’t get from the flute or my own voice.”

It was jazz that really ignited Schauffler’s ambition for a life in music.

“Jazz opened up the whole world for me,” he said. “I heard a level of ability that made me aspire to do something that came within miles of it.”

To get to hear and play with the music masters of Portland, Schauffler did things like pretending to be a reporter so he could get into music clubs despite being underaged. Schauffler had already been accepted as a student at Cal-Berkeley, but the only place he could get truly educated in jazz was way over on the other coast. At age 19 in 1979, Schauffler made his trek to the Big Apple.

“Wayne Shorter (famed sax player with Weather Report, and Schauffler’s idol) told me, ‘You got to get to New York City,’ “ Schauffler said. “He told me don’t be afraid to follow your dream. It was the end of an era in New York, before it got totally gentrified. There was so much music happening and many of the great musicians were still around.”

Great musicians like John Lewis, pianist with the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet. He became one of Schauffler’s most important mentors. Lewis and the MJQ were well known as being the best dressed men in jazz with their gleaming tuxedos. But Lewis had learned his music on the gut level by playing with Louis Armstrong’s band and going out for endless road trips to the middle of nowhere, where he got trench mouth and had to eat stolen chicken to stay alive. His connections were great. Lewis could get people like Dizzy Gillespie to give seminars to youngsters like Schauffler. “It was a precious four years,” Schauffler said.

However, he learned something important.

“I found it was very hard to make a living as a jazz player,” Schauffler said. “But you could take the concepts you learned in jazz and use them to make a career in pop music.”

Which is exactly what Schauffler did. He became “Have Sax, Will Travel” with many, many bands like Felicidades, Sky River, Paul Delay, Quarterflash, The Rockin’ Razorbacks, Dan Reed Network, Johnny Limbo, Tom Grant, the California Raisins and more.

Commercially, his high points came with Nu Shooz, which rose to number 3 on the U.S. charts in 1986 with its single, “I Can’t Wait,” and the Crazy 8s, a rollicking crew that produced six albums and had a very nice 10-year run. Schauffler became well known for his powerhouse sax playing and also his high-energy stage presence.

By the mid 1990s, however, Schauffler wanted something better. He wanted to break away from the rock and roll lifestyle, but more importantly, he wanted to become a music educator.

“Education was amazing and we were getting old,” Schauffler said. “I remembered how much my teachers had done for me, and when I thought about it I realized teaching was more rewarding than performing. Performing is such a rush. When I was playing it seemed all of my dreams and aspirations seemed to be coming true. But it was all pithy in the end. I love teaching.”

What he doesn’t love is the steady demise of some of the outstanding school music programs across the state.

“More and more music is getting shut down,” Schauffler said. “When they shut down the strings program in Washington County, it broke my heart.”

But Schauffler’s heart inflates again when he hears the exciting new sounds from high school musicians. He once thought high school band programs were stuck in the John Phillip Sousa era, but things are so much different now. And kids are ready for what Schauffler has to teach them.

“Musically, we’ve become a small planet in the last 30 years,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why not take what I’ve learned into the classroom?’ Kids love Earth, Wind and Fire and Tower of Power. I want to plug kids into the chain of music of rhythm and blues and blues. Kids are now throwing all of these sounds together. My daughter, Mia, took me to see Foxfire and they use everything from the bass clarinet to the mandolin to the Carter Family. Mia is burned out on all of the digital music.”

One reason that Schauffler has such a great platform to teach from is that he is now Danny Schauffler — Hall of Famer.

“One of the things I wondered about the Oregon Music Hall of Fame was ‘Is this just a big mutual admiration society?’ “ he said. “It isn’t. The OMHF has a mission of education.”

Perhaps Schauffler’s greatest lesson is this: “Music is bigger than you are. You get to be part of it.”