Checking in with Jeff Decker


What are you working on right now?

Well, I do have a lot of original songs that I’ve worked on over the years, and I’ve got a newer band that I hope to work with in the studio soon. They’re guys from Richmond, Randall Pharr and Aaron Binder, on bass and drums, and also a pianist from Richmond named Anthony Dowd. I’ve been working with them a lot, and hoping to do some studio work with them… Also, I have a tour coming up that’s kind of unusual. Reggie Marshall, who is kind of my booking agent, hooked me up to go to Russia to play with someone who is apparently a well known jazz pianist, a guy named Daniel Kramer.

If Jeff Decker were stuck on a deserted island with nothing but a stereo, he’d bring his Sonny Rollins records. “Great jazz saxophonist, still playing,” Decker says. “His improvisations have this ferocious energy, like he has access to a bottomless well of creativity.”

Speaking of Russia, have you done any travel recently?

A few years ago, my wife and I went to Brazil. You might be familiar with the group Beleza Brasil—well, Madeline is my stepdaughter. She was down there, and my wife and I went down to visit. They hooked me up to play some gigs down there, with an impresario friend of theirs who, after he heard me play at some jazz club, set me up playing in a concert with other Brazilian musicians. It was great.

Tell us about your day job.

I’m kind of lucky in a way, because there aren’t too many people who can consider themselves jazz musicians while making a living doing so. But if you can basically get a teaching gig, like I have at UVA, and supplement that with a lot of playing—even then, you’re not making a lot of money. It’s nice to have a teaching gig that I enjoy. Some musicians feel like teaching is a necessary evil or something, but I like it. High-quality students at UVA, some advanced players, really good kids for the most part. I like teaching, and at the same time I get to play. With those things together, it works out pretty well.

Locally, who would you like to collaborate with?

I don’t know if I can name names, because I’ve worked with a lot of people. Without thinking strictly in individual terms, I’m really open to anything. Sometimes you can be pigeonholed: “He’s a jazz saxophone guy, that’s his bag, and he isn’t interested in other styles.” Which is not true. I’m open to all musical experiences, especially having an improvisational background. That’s the kind of skill you can bring to almost any musical scenario and make a contribution. Whether it’s rock and roll, world music, anything. With Robert Jospé’s group Inner Rhythm, I’m experimenting with electronics on the saxophone—foot pedals for octave dividers and so on, distortion, wah-wah effects. That’s a real cool thing. 

What is your favorite tool of the trade?

The saxophone, certainly, but also improvisation, being the tool I use as a musician to express myself. I do compose, and I play classical saxophone as well, with the Richmond and Charlottesville Symphonies. That’s fun too, playing parts, blending, being part of an orchestra and making that contribution. Having said that, there’s nothing like being a jazz soloist. To be able to create and play with other players who are listening and interacting —something magical can happen. It doesn’t always happen, but that possibility is always there. Spontaneous creation, improvisation, for me is the number one vehicle.