Something about a saxophone

Over his long musical career, Frederick "Keith" Fiddmont, a saxophonist of 45 years, woodwind specialist, and Director of Jazz Studies at Santa Monica College, has performed with legendary musicians such as BB King, Gladys Knight, the Temptations, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder.

A St. Louis native, Fiddmont has had a burning passion for jazz music as long as he can remember, and was fortunate enough to be surrounded by jazz music from an extremely young age. The record that sparked his lifelong burning passion for the saxophone was "Boss Tenors in Orbit" by Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt — the very first record he ever owned.

Growing up, his love for jazz came naturally. "I remember growing up in a household which played mostly rhythm, blues, and pop music. But as soon as I heard jazz I immediately fell in love," Fiddmont said.

Now, all he knows is that his heart yearns to hear those deep, walking bass lines, improvised piano melodies, swinging drums and horn solos.

At age 10, he picked up his first instrument, the clarinet. Not because he had a desire for it specifically, but because he was not allowed to jump right into saxophone at his elementary school. Clarinet was the closest instrument to a saxophone that he could get his hands on and it wasn’t until he went into high school that he could finally blow on a golden sax, and fully dedicate his soul to what he really loved.

Fiddmont’s hometown greatly influenced him musically due to its rich and abundant jazz history. Some of the older men from his childhood in St. Louis played with jazz greats like Miles Davis and Oliver Nelson. One of these men was pianist Jeter Thompson from the group Tres Bien.

"Right before I left Missouri I had the opportunity to play with Tres Bien, which was great because they had influenced me as a jazz musician," Fiddmont said.

After he left Missouri, he was able to get his undergraduate degree in Film at Boston University, then moved on to the Berklee College of Music, and later the Manhattan School of Music where he earned his master’s degree in Jazz and Commercial Music/Performing Arts. When asked why he chose a degree in film and not music, he simply said, "I've always been influenced, musically, by film."

While in New York, he was informed by his mother’s friend that legendary vibraphone player Lionel Hampton was looking for a saxophonist to perform with his band. Almost immediately after auditioning for the part, he was accepted to join the crew through a consensus of Hampton’s saxophone players.

Around age 29, the monotony of a not so glamorous life had Fiddmont questioning his career path. One unfortunate truth of performing with big bands was that they had to share rooms with up to four people. He was struggling and living from gig to gig because he did not have any other job. He also strongly disliked having to play the same songs over and over again. Music never went completely dry for him, but he knew that what he was doing was no way to make a living.

With his wife Bridgette Bryant-Fiddmont and a child to take care of, he thought it was best to take a break. "I had a family to support and being a musician wasn't enough to keep going," he said.

It was not until 1990 that he decided to come to California where he played with Nolan Shaheed and Ron Brown. Almost immediately these two got him in a recording session with Stevie Wonder where he was featured on a song called “Fun Day” from the album "Jungle Fever." He then became a tour musician for two years before returning to family life.

After his second child was brought into the world, he got a part time job teaching instruments to grade school students. "I find great pleasure teaching saxophone and jazz history to others because my life pretty much revolves around it," Fiddmont said.

All that time he was still playing professionally with various groups and other well known artists such as Michael Buble, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, The Temptations, Leon Russell and the Clayton Hamilton Band, who he played with for thirteen years.

Two of his biggest musical accomplishments came later in his career. He performed a retrospective of the James Brown album "Soul on Top" with Brown and his orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006. Then in 2008, he had the honor of playing alto sax for BB King on his last album "One Kind Favor."

So how did we end up with such an accomplished musician among us at SMC? He was teaching grade school at New Roads Elementary School in 1996 when a friend employed by SMC helped him land a job as an adjunct jazz appreciation professor. He only recently became a full-time faculty member for jazz instrumentals and vocal ensembles in 2010.

Fiddmont has also been featured on the popular Comedy Central show "Key and Peele" as a jazz musician in 2013 as well as appearing in the movie "Water for Elephants."

After many years of musicianship and two lifetimes worth of experience, Fiddmont remains a passionate and insightful mind in the world of music and teaching.

“When I talk to my students about their instruments, I talk about telling a story and the art of telling a story,” he said. “Whatever you play, you should always tell a story.”