Sax Genius, Richard Shaw Plays Three Saxophones Simultaneously, Harmonically, & With “Passion! ”
Updated: Mar 20
Learning to play one saxophone can be complex and physically demanding but try to play three all at once! Now that’s superhuman. That’s Richard Shaw! With over 25 years of playing, Richard is the rare talent that comes around far few and in between. When I learned of this Atlanta gem, I was blown away by how beautifully he plays. Three saxophones, all in perfect harmony! He is truly a musical genius! Throughout his career, he’s worked with many celebrities, including Jennifer Hudson, Tasha Cobbs, and many others. I had the honor of interviewing this modern-day sax genius, and this is what he shared.
Good morning. Is this the talented Richard Shaw Jr.? Yes. How are you doing?
I’m great, and you are phenomenal! Thank you so much. I appreciate that.
Yes, to God be the glory! Yes, indeed.
Richard, it is an honor to speak with you today. No problem.
There is much to discuss regarding your fascinating gift, but first, let's cover the basics. Where are you currently residing? I live in Fairburn, GA, about 25 miles outside of Atlanta.
I've never heard of Fairburn. Can you tell me about your town? Yes, Fairburn is growing by leaps and bounds. We have Amazon, Walmart, warehouses, and one of Chick-fil-A's corporate headquarters in this area. Because it is close to the airport, we have a lot of people traveling in and out utilizing Airbnb's area as well.
Fairburn sounds like a town full of possibilities. Let's go back to your childhood, Richard. When did you first become interested in playing the saxophone? I developed a love for music while in my mother's womb. I was told that when my mother was pregnant, I jumped in her womb every time she turned on the music. So, I had some connection with music, even in my mother's womb.
I'll never forget when I was ten, I was in a "Boy Scout" troop, and while we were camping, my Boy Scout leader played smooth jazz on his radio. So, I heard this saxophone player playing, but I didn't know what instrument it was. So, I asked my Boy Scout leader, "who was that, and what was he playing." To me, it sounded so beautiful!
What was the name of the individual you heard? Kenny G., My Boy Scout leader, told me the song's title and said that the instrument I was listening to was called "a saxophone." From there, it sparked my interest in playing the sax because of how beautiful it sounds.
You play the alto sax. What other horns do you play? My instruments include alto, soprano, tenor saxes, and bass guitar.
The bass guitar is incredible! How old were you when you started playing bass? I picked up the bass guitar when I was nineteen.
What drew you to that instrument? In my church, I heard a man play bass guitar. It was my first time hearing a bass guitar being played this way. He played the same licks I played on the sax. I didn't realize a bass could do that. Moreover, he played it so charismatically.
What is his name? Josh Merritt of Nashville, TN. He's an outstanding bassist. It was he who first sparked my interest in playing the bass.
As a bass player, do you feel as affluent as a horn player? Even though I am not fluent, I have had many opportunities to play bass guitar. I'm more of a foundational bassist. In other words, instead of doing all the fancy stuff, I focus on laying the foundation. Nevertheless, the opportunities I have had over the years and continue to have is something I am grateful for.
For a project to succeed, its foundation must be solid. Without foundation, everything falls apart, so that's awesome! Now Richard, do you produce your music and utilize your bass playing in your music? Yes. As a matter of fact, on my album “Believe Again,” I play bass on the first track, the intro song. I also play the bass in my music.
Is music something you picked up naturally without formal training, or was it something you studied? I had training in high school. Where I am from, our high school started in the eighth grade, so that's when I picked up the sax. I was also in a marching band, concert band, church band, and any other I could get my hands on.
I received private lessons in high school, and when I graduated from high school, I went to Tennessee State University, where I minored in music education. I received thorough training at TSU, and I had lessons throughout college as well.
I tell people that I'm on a journey and that I'll never arrive because there are always areas of opportunity and improvement. So, I'm doing my best to max out my potential.
When I was in high school, all the cool kids were athletes and cheerleaders, so if you were anything other than that, many kids viewed you as geeky or nerdy. What was your experience as a high school musician? Was it considered cool by your peers? You know, I've never thought about that. But that's a great point. I'll tell you about my experience. During my eighth-grade year, many upper heads in the band ridiculed, teased, laughed at, and wanted me to stop playing the sax.
That’s so sad. Some children can be so cruel. Yes. When I first started, I was horrible. Due to this, I was ostracized and ridiculed to the point where I almost gave up playing. The support of my parents prevented me from giving up. Their investment was too substantial for me to walk away. Yes, it was more pressure from within the band's family than from outside.
I'm glad you didn't give up. In those days, kids of that age wanted to go outside and play with their friends, so how did you stay focused as a young person playing such a demanding instrument? Early on, I learned how to use my pain and turn it into a passion that led to my purpose. That might have come from God; I don't know.
When they were talking about me and saying all these mean things, even though my parents supported me, it drove me to say, you know what, maybe my parents are right. So, I began to speak affirmations over myself and say things like, "I am great, and I can do it.
I used their negativity as my fuel. I remember while in the 8th grade, I would go home and practice daily. When I returned as a 9th grader, I got in "second chair."
The only reason I didn't get "second chair" the first time is because the band director at the time said that would be disrespectful, but really, I had "first chair" because of how I played this piece of music that we had. See, we had saxophone challenges that involved about 15 saxophone players.
After I returned and they heard me play, they were like, "wow, how did you grow at such a rapid rate?" So, that pain that reached passion turned into my purpose.
What a remarkable story. You were like that oyster, and you became a Pearl from the rubbing and agitation of the shell. You took those trails and turned them into victories. Praise God for the strength that He gave you to hold fat and not quit. My heart is full of joy to see God's purpose for your life fulfilled.
When did you decide to become a professional, and what was the process like? My professional career began at 14 in 8th grade, and I continued pursuing it at 15. A year and a half later, I had the honor of appearing on "Showtime at The Apollo." It was quite an experience.
I bet it was! Yes, it was twofold. It was a dream come true because I always wanted to be on "Showtime at the Apollo." From the first moment I saw it, I wanted to be on the show, but I didn't have the courage. I was vacillating between yes and no. Then, finally, I sent them my audition tape. My dad was very instrumental in that.
Over time, I noticed that I didn't achieve the success I wanted fast enough. So, after ten years of playing, I went through this dark stage.
Oh no! Tell me about that. I quit, and I gave up on my gift. I walked away because I compared myself to others. In hindsight, I realized God doesn't want us to compare ourselves but to learn from others. So, while in this period, it got so dark to where not only did I think about suicide, but I attempted suicide.
I was entirely in this dark place. Many negative things were going on in my life at the time. Poor relationships, lack of money, and low self-esteem all contributed to my incoherent thinking at that time.
So, I fell into this dark place and had symptoms of mental illness. I'll never forget when I was in a hospital bed after attempting suicide by swallowing numerous pills. While the doctor worked on me, I said, "God, if you bring me out of this, I'll never try to retake my life. To this day, I've never had another thought of suicide.
Praise God! That breaks my heart to hear that someone so talented does not see all God has deposited in you at that time. But I'm so glad God changed your life and snatched you out of that dark place. You also had another experience. Tell me about that. In 2018, another trial came my way as I began to get back on the trail of pursuing my purpose. One night while I was getting ready to practice, my wife and I noticed that it started hailing outside. My wife said to me, “Richard, wake the children up. We need to go down and take cover.” My wife grabbed the Bible and placed it in front of the bathroom door, and we jumped into the tub with my two children.
About 2 minutes after we closed the bathroom door, an “EF3” tornado ripped through our home. We heard glass shatter and the sound of a freight train rumbling through our house as the tornado tore through it. It wasn't very good!
But, after almost losing my life, it is what gave me my life at that time. I say this because God already told me to believe. After all, within that period, He gave me my album, “Believe Again.” In the NKJV in Mark 9:23, it says. Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
In that one particular time, I did believe, but I stopped believing, so, He said. "Rick, I want the message (believe again) to go out into the world. People are in one or three places. They either need to believe now, will need to believe, or must believe again. Delivering this message (believe again) to the people will bring hope and inspiration. Then, you will be victorious in your purpose, and God can begin to use you as a testimony."
What a beautiful, beautiful testimony. And thank you so much for sharing that with me. I thank God for sparing your life. As a result of your journey, you have become the fantastic musician you are today. You play two saxes simultaneously! I'm amazed! I've never in my lifetime seen something so phenomenal and unique. And what's even more astonishing is that you play both saxophones in perfect harmony. At what point did that concept enter your mind? Great question. I was in the recording studio with this producer called "Wizard," where I reside in Atlanta, GA. Now Wizard plays just about any instrument. So, one day I was in the studio, and I wasn't feeling great because it was a heavyweight for me. But I'll never forget when I went into the studio; he said, "what's up?" I said, "I don't know, man; it's just life." I had a lot of things going on at the time. So, he said," I want you to check this out." So, he put on a YouTube clip of "Béla Fleck and the Flecktones," and after I saw this group play, I was amazed! They were incredible!
Now, as I'm seeing them play, I look over to the right, and there's this saxophonist named Jeff. I notice that he's playing not only one but two saxophones. I couldn't believe it! I couldn't understand how he was doing that! He was even playing them in harmony. After seeing it, I was determined to do it, so it opened Pandora's box.
At that time, I was doing gospel music only, so I was determined to study and learn that new skill. I was going to do it! So, I began to incorporate it with my gospel playing, and I'll tell you, everywhere I went, the audience was impressed and wowed! People that have been in the industry for years, like 30, 40, and 50 years would come to me and say, "man, I've been involved in music for all these years, but I've never seen anything like that in my life." It occurred to me then that I was on to something.
Yes, you were! Fast forward to six years later. I heard another guy named “Rahsaan Roland Kirk,” who played three saxes. After playing two, he switched to three. After watching him, I decided to play three saxes simultaneously.
Are you kidding me? Three horns all at once? That’s awesome! Yes, and bookings were coming left and right. People were utterly blown away, so I continued perfecting my technique.