ALUMNI SPECIAL: JOHN WAUGH, SAXOPHONIST

From school play to world-renowned band The 1975...

As well as teaching music vocabulary and improvisation, Jazz (2010) graduate John Waugh is a recording and touring saxophonist with chart-topping indie-rock band The 1975.


What was your earliest musical experience?

Playing piano in a play at primary school called The Bumblesnouts Save The World.
 
Who/what motivated you to pursue a career in music?

A family friend of mine, George Irving, introduced me to albums by Steely Dan, Dire Straits and Michael Brecker when I was really young. George and my first saxophone teacher, Gary Cowey, were both hugely influential when I first started playing music.
 
Who’s your greatest inspiration?

Michael Brecker (American jazz saxophonist and composer).

What is/was your favourite thing about living / studying / being a musician in Leeds?

Leeds College of Music generates a great sense of community within the music scene in Leeds. The circles of musicians and tutors I became friends with were very supportive and always pushed me to improve. Also, Leeds is a beautiful and fun city that presents ample opportunity for fun and games outside of college.
 
How would you describe the challenges and joys of studying and being a musician in Leeds?

I think it’s perfectly natural to worry and draw comparisons between yourself and the musicians you play and work with, especially in a music conservatoire. Though the close communal feel of the conservatoire and the city soon eradicated any negativity, and becoming a part of a thriving scene allowed me to recognize my potential and the musical space I could inhabit.
 
Who/what would be your dream collaboration?

I’d love to see The Roots and Snarky Puppy form a super group, fronted by Stevie Wonder. That would be absolutely crazy!
 
How has your career developed since leaving Leeds College of Music?

I stayed in Leeds after graduating and became self-employed. At first I was juggling work with my band ‘Extra Curricular’ with function band work. I have gained a great deal of experience with Extra Curricular, both musically and personally. In addition to meeting amazing friends I regard EC as the band that I cut my teeth with. We have had so much fun playing and writing music together, though throughout have faced a lot of challenges. With that in mind I have been able to walk into current situations and gigs with The 1975 with confidence and take any pressure in my stride.

In addition to performing live with bands I’ve had a little bit of Music for Film work here and there, mainly working from home.
 
How have your studies at Leeds College of Music aided your career so far?

They've provided a solid foundation of knowledge to base things on, and also an abundance of practice material of which I’ll be scratching away at for years to come. Also, I was able to take varying modules that introduced new musical idioms to explore, for example Music for the Moving Image. This presented the prospect of chasing other opportunities alongside playing the saxophone in my career.
Overall though I think the most important thing the college provided me with was a circle of musicians to work with.
 
What has been your greatest achievement?

Touring with The 1975 has given me unforgettable experiences all over the world, both on stage and off. Playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury is certainly a highlight for me; also playing shows in Japan was crazy!
 
Where would you like to be in five years? 

I don’t ever want to become complacent. I want to keep improving, so five years from now I want to be a significantly better saxophone player and live performer. In terms of schedule I want to maintain the touring schedule I have, but also build on my saxophone tuition work. If I can be busy during my downtime from touring with teaching, then I’d be extremely happy.
 

Find out about John's teaching on his own website.
 


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"My studies at Leeds College of Music provided a solid foundation of knowledge... This presented the prospect of chasing other opportunities alongside playing the saxophone in my career... Touring with The 1975 has given me unforgettable experiences all over the world."

John Waugh, Saxophonist (The 1975)

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