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Moondog gets jazzy
81-year-old saxophonist still playing

By Jeremy Rogers, Staff Critic

Like John Lee Hooker and the Velvet Underground, Moondog is one of the unsung forces of American music. Over the decades Moondog has refused to conform and has continued to experiment with music in every possible way.

His latest release confirms his status as a musical cult hero. Sax Pax for a Sax is an experiment in saxophone ensemble.

Without an Oo, Trimba, Uni or Tuji (all instruments Moondog invented), Sax Pax for a Sax is a collection of 15 baroque-like Moondog compositions played with the jazz timbres and harmonies of as many as 11 saxophones at a time.

Though the name Moondog doesn't exactly conjure up images of a world-class musician, with a discography nearly 20 albums long and a musical legacy dating back over 50 years, he is exactly that.

Born Louis Hardin in 1916 and accidentally blinded in 1932, Moondog received his first musical training at the Iowa School for the Blind during the Depression.

He moved to New York during World War II, befriended then-conductor of the New York Philharmonic Arthur Rodzinski, began performing music on Sixth Avenue and picked up the moniker Moondog.

Moondog was "discovered" by gonzo musicologist Tony Schwartz in his urban field recording albums in the early '50s. Soon after his recording debut on the streets of the big apple, Moondog won the admiration and curiosity of such musical giants as Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

By the end of the '50s, Moondog had released seven albums, been followed around for several weeks by Marlon Brando, collaborated with Julie Andrews and appeared in Conrad Brooks' impressionist film Chappaqua with William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg.

Now a resident of Germany, Moondog has toured across Europe numerous times.

Moondog's experiences in Europe have inspired many of the tunes on Sax Pax for a Sax including "Paris" and "New Amsterdam." Perhaps the most rhythmic of the pieces is an all-sax version of "Bird's Lament," which Moondog wrote in 1958 in honor of saxophone legend Charlie Parker.

Though Sax Pax for a Sax's tunes are all unique and individually themed, 21 tracks of nothing but sax -- save the occasional piano and drum -- get a little old. In his continuing pursuit of musical experimentation Moondog undoubtedly is on a quest to push the envelope of modern art music.

At 81 years old, Moondog assures his fans, "The excitement is unending."