Sax man’s smooth sound grabs attention ‘This Time Around’
His sophomore album, “This Time Around,” released earlier this year, is a fusion of smooth jazz, RandB and funk that showcases Trotman’s skills on the tenor saxophone as well as his ability to compose.
“This is the album I want to put me on the map in the smooth jazz scene,” said Trotman, 30, a native of Barbados who grew up around music.
“My father played guitar and my mother sang in a choir,” explained Trotman. At 7, Trotman started playing his first instrument, the piano.
Trotman then moved to the French horn, which he played for his middle school band. During that time, Trotman started to notice other instruments.
“I saw all the sax players got all the attention, so I asked if I could switch,” said Trotman.
At 10, he made the switch, seeking to emulate those who were considered masters of the saxophone.
“One of my first tapes was Kenny G. I would play the tape through, rewind it and try to play along,” said Trotman. “I looked up to guys like [Arturo] Tappin. He [was] a huge part of my growing up while I was still on the island.”
In 1998, when Trotman graduated from high school, he received a national government scholarship from the country of Barbados that allowed him to attend any collegiate music school in the world. Trotman choose to attend Berklee School of Music like his idol Tappin, who was one of the first musicians from the island to go to Berklee.
Berklee was a different world for Trotman.
“You come up to Berklee at 18, and you realize there is a wealth of talent all around,” said Trotman. “I remember buying a 300-page book of jazz standards and being in one of the practice rooms trying to play [John] Coltrane’s ‘Big Steps.’”
Trotman became a regular at Wally’s Café Jazz Club, the famed Massachusetts Avenue nightspot that often played host to student musicians. The club has long served as both a proving ground and a place where students can hone their craft in front of a live audience.
“I remember my first time at Wally’s — I didn’t even take my sax out of the case, I was too intimidated,” Trotman said.
As Trotman’s skills progressed, his fear diminished. He began to play in festivals around Boston and decided that he wanted to make a name for himself as a recording artist.
“People [at Berklee] are more aggressive about mastering their craft because they realize they could be discovered,” Trotman explained.
In 2001, when he graduated from Berklee, Trotman released his first album, titled “Memories.” As much as he loved playing music and wanted to be a recording artist, Trotman decided to go into teaching because it provided the kind of job security that doesn’t come with being a touring musician who is constantly on the road.
Since 2003, Trotman has been teaching music in Cambridge as part of an instrumental instruction program. He also teaches beginner band, leads a chorus and does some basic music theory for the John D. Philbrick and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart schools in Roslindale.
“My scholarship guided me towards education, but I have a passion for teaching,” Trotman said.
After he’s done teaching during the day, Trotman picks up his saxophone at night and plays gigs around Boston at clubs like Slade’s Bar and Grill in Roxbury. He has been so busy that he has had to pass up some big opportunities.
“I had to miss out on a gig with Alicia Keys because I had used up all my sick days,” said Trotman.
As an artist, Trotman tries to keep up with trends in music. He listens to a lot of smooth jazz to further understand the genre and where it is going.
“I listen to other artists to see and hear what they do well,” Trotman said.
He also likes to maintain his skills in other musical areas, playing the organ and piano for Massachusetts Avenue Baptist Church in Cambridge. And, naturally, his students help keep him up to date with their interests in popular music.
“I also try to stay on top of current music because my students are always asking me to play new stuff,” Trotman said.
On “This Time Around,” Trotman pushes the boundaries of what is considered smooth jazz. Tracks like “Lil’ Too Late” move with a distinct rhythm similar to some of the pop sounds heard on the radio now. He said he came up with the melody for that song while waiting for a band member, who was running late to a gig.
Trotman also takes the idea of a “jazz standard” and flips it on a smooth jazz rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” originally sung by the rock group Journey.
“I want my music to have an edge to it so that it stands out from other smooth jazz artists,” Trotman said.
In that regard, Trotman seeks to be like his musical influences, like saxophonists Gerald Albright and Richard Elliott, who pushed the smooth jazz genre forward in new directions.
“I’m trying to achieve some of the same accolades as my musical influences,” he said.
As both a composer and artist, Trotman feels that he is coming to a point where he can support himself just by playing music. He began recording “This Time Around” in late 2008 and completed the album in six months, working with many young musicians like himself who are working to make a name for themselves.
As Trotman works to get his name out and generate a buzz about his album, he is also keeping his initial goals realistic.
“I want to start locally and expand from there,” he said.