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Q&A: Beyond the music with saxophonist Darryl Leeper

By Alicia Green, Point Park News Service:

Walk through Market Square on any given day and you might see Darryl Leeper, 60, a North Side native, playing various tunes on his saxophone with passion. Occasionally, he stops between songs to take breaks, but he’s always right back at it. Leeper recently agreed to share a little about himself and his art with the Point Park News Service.

Q: How long have you been playing the saxophone?

Darryl Leeper livens Market Square with his saxophone. Photo by Alicia Green, Point Park News Service.
Darryl Leeper livens Market Square with his saxophone. Photo by Alicia Green.

A: Since I’ve been a teenager. 13 (years old).

Q: What inspired you to start playing and why?

A: My grandmother. She always said I was going to play the saxophone. She’s always said that. When I was about three or four years old, she had a speakeasy over on North Side. It stuck with me.

Q: How did you learn to play?

A: Started in high school.

Q: When did you get your first saxophone and how long have you had your current one?

A: I probably bought my first sax when I was 15. That’s a good question. It has to be either mid-seventies or early-eighties. I’m betting on mid-seventies.

Q: What type of saxophone is it?

A: It’s a tenor saxophone. King.

Q: How long have you been playing in Market Square?

A: I think I came back last year. I came back last summer for a little bit. I played for a little bit. I came back a little bit this summer.

Q: Why do you like to come play here?

A: Hell! Everybody’s here.

Q: Do you seem to get a lot more money or a lot more recognition when you play out here?

A: It’s not about the money. It’s not even about the recognition. It’s about me doing what I got to do. What I got to do is play the instrument to be ready for whatever comes along.

Q: And what do you want to come along?

A: I’m going around the world [laughs].

Q: What inspires you to keep playing?

A: God gave me the talent. It’s God’s talent. His gifts. He didn’t give it to me to leave it on a shelf somewhere.

Q: Has there ever been a day where you felt like you wanted to just give up and just stop playing?

A: Not really. Sometimes, you got to start over. It’s such hard work. But once you get past the first couple days, you’ll be alright.

Q: Other than Market Square, where else do you like to play?

Darryl Leeper travels around the East Coast playing his saxophone. Photo by Alicia Green.
Darryl Leeper travels around the East Coast playing his saxophone. Photo by Alicia Green.

A: I usually am in D.C., Miami or New York. I usually am not home much, but I’ll come here when I’m home and I’ll go up by (the former) Kaufmann’s (department store).  I could really play anywhere. As long as people come by, I’ll be alright. I went to the South Side a couple times. I didn’t like the South Side.

Q: How come?

A: The sidewalks are too small for them big crowds and people almost bumped into my saxophone all the time. I just didn’t like that. Too congested for the area.

Q: So how did you end up going to D.C., Miami and New York? What made you want to leave Pittsburgh?

A: I’ve been traveling since I’ve been a kid. I ain’t going to tell you how I got the money.  I told my mom, “I’m going to New York. I’m going to Philly.”  (She said), “You ain’t going there.” I called back collect. (She said), “Where you at?” (I said), “I told you I was going to New York. I told you I was going to Texas.

Q: When you’re not playing the saxophone, what else are you doing?

A: The saxophone consumes like probably 80 percent of my day. It’s not all playing. In order to get five or six actual playing hours, you have to be at the horn 12-13 hours. By the time I get up in the morning, I clean my house a little bit then I’m out on the saxophone. I’ll probably play until like 7:30 p.m.

Q: So what time do you start in the morning?

A: I start the day about 11:30 a.m. up the street.

Q: The end of your day ends here in Market Square?

A: It might end here. It might end up somewhere else. I’m playing it by ear. I’m just hanging out.

Q: And then you have sheets of music or a book of music?

A: That’s stuff that I work on. I make sure I dot the I’s and cross the T’s. I got a trio waiting on me up in D.C. to come play with (them). When you play certain tunes, you got to know what you’re doing. It’s a skilled profession.

Q: Is there a favorite tune you like to play for your audiences when you’re out here and why?

A: I like “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” That’s my favorite tune. As far as like playing a favorite tune for somebody, you can’t keep up with what people want. You just got to play. I just play.

Q: Would you hope one day to get your music produced or recorded?

A: I got one CD done. I’m working on a new CD. I’m getting ready to put my site up. Look for it. Sax By Leep, coming to you real soon…in the next six weeks. I’m putting my music up.

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