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Eugene Rousseau: The King of the Classical Saxophone

Published: Wed January 28, 2009  News Feed

The legendary musician, scholar and Yamaha artist Eugene Rousseau is widely considered to be one of the greatest saxophone players in the world.

Eugene Rousseau

Eugene is the king of the classical saxophone

Las Vegas Philharmonic musical director David Itkin might have put it the best when he proclaimed, "Eugene is the king of the classical saxophone." Itkin, who is an admirer of the renowned saxophonist adds, "The opportunities in your lifetime to hear somebody who does what they do better than anyone else alive are few and far between."

Born in Blue Island, Illinois in 1932, Eugene Rousseau attended the Chicago Musical College, Northwestern University, and earned the Ph.D. in Music Literature and Performance at the University of Iowa. The reason he chose to play the saxophone was a simple one. "When I was eight years old, I heard a neighbor playing the instrument," he recalls. "It was the summer and very hot and since homes at that time were not air-conditioned, we heard everything that came out of our neighbors' houses. It was such a great sound, I loved it." As he grew older another opportunity arose. "In fourth grade, a great teacher organized a school band and we had to figure out what instrument we wanted to play. Of course, I chose the saxophone."

In 1960, Rousseau moved to Paris on a Fulbright Grant to study with saxophone legend Marcel Mule, the founder of the French Saxophone School. Marcel Mule is universally recognized as a modern master of the classical saxophone and spiritual heir to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the instrument. "He was the only saxophone teacher I ever had," remembers Rousseau. During his tenure in France, Rousseau also had a chance to study wind acoustics with Charles Houvenaghel, a famed acoustic scientist. This opportunity offered him a wealth of acoustic knowledge and led him to accept his first teaching positions in the United States. Later in his career, Rousseau wrote a popular book based on interviews with his revered instructor, "Marcel Mule: His Life and the Saxophone." Mule likewise held Rousseau in high regard calling him, "a brilliant saxophonist and distinguished artist."

Following Rousseau's Carnegie Hall debut in 1965, his career quickly expanded and he began performing and teaching all over the globe. Currently a member of the artist faculty of the School of Music at the University of Minnesota, he is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Music at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. His many students have distinguished themselves as university professors and superb performers throughout the world.

Rousseau's service to the saxophone community is equally impressive. In 1972, he became Yamaha's chief consultant for saxophone research, contributing to the development of acoustic improvements in saxophones and mouthpieces. He is proud of his work with the world's largest instrument manufacturer. "Having worked with Yamaha in research and development for 20 years, I am absolutely convinced that Yamaha Saxophones are the best." His enormous knowledge of wind instrument acoustics led him to develop some of the best instruments at the time. In 1985, he recorded a popular video program for Yamaha, "Steps to Excellence," which still is admired to this day by saxophone enthusiasts.

Given his tremendous accomplishments, Yamaha selected Rousseau as one of five legendary artists to be profiled through their Yamaha Living Legends Video Series. The videos profile artists who exhibit a wealth of information and experience and who share it with present and future generations. Yamaha honors these artists for their legendary contributions to music. In Rousseau's video, he sheds light on his personal and musical history while providing valuable advice on both practicing and performing. Highlights include priceless live performance footage as well as conversations with colleagues and students. These conversations share fascinating insight into his life, music and philosophy.

Today, Rousseau focuses his attention on his ever-expanding legacy. His passion for teaching and performing keeps him active in both fields. He is an participating judge and adjudicator for numerous competitions and festivals, including the Yamaha Young Performing Artist (YYPA) program, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008. "I enjoy teaching very much," he says. "Students appreciate the fact that I am active." He shows no signs of easing up his busy calendar, with a schedule that encompasses lectures and performances worldwide, including stops in Europe, Asia and all over the United States.

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