I’ve always loved the sound of the saxophone. No instrument is more sensual. It can wail. It can moan. It can soar. It speaks volumes. It talks to me.
When, as a college student at Syracuse University, I reviewed for the campus paper David Bowie’s immortal album, “Ziggy Stardust,” I couldn’t resist cracking wise that I was a “sax maniac.”
So is John Winton. He started playing my favorite instrument at age 10. Growing up, he was inspired listening to the late, great sax player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. “The first songs I taught myself were ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘Jungleland,’” says John. “I wanted to play all of those Clarence Clemons solos.”
Now, since May, John gets to play all those solos—on stage in front of screaming fans. It all started when he responded to a Facebook ad last spring: Acclaimed Springsteen tribute band Tramps Like Us was seeking a saxophonist. John got the gig. Tramps Like Us got a gifted musician who cut his teeth on the music they play up and down the Eastern seaboard, from New England to Florida.
John got started early in his Springsteen schooling. He was not yet 10 when he first saw The Boss in person on stage. He’s also seen him in Ireland, and a year ago caught three shows within one week at MetLife Stadium, including a record-breaking, four-hour-plus marathon. By his count, he’s seen Bruce some 20 times.
“Every show is a sort of religious experience,” John says, echoing just about every other staunch Springsteen concert-goer. “You can just feel the passion with every word and every note.”
By day, John Winton works with a different kind of rock star: New York state Sen. Terrence Murphy, a perennially popular vote-getter and hard worker, whether he’s in session up in Albany or making the rounds year-round in his home district. Right after graduating in 2016 from Vassar College, John was hired as director of community affairs and special projects. “I absolutely love working for the senator,” he says.
At Vassar, John majored in history, minored in economics, and captained the rugby team, all while honing his sax chops. His instructor was esteemed music educator Ed Xiques, with whom he has been taking lessons for 15 years. “There’s never an end to studying any instrument,” he says.
John’s brand of discipline and perseverance pays off: He was chosen two years running for the All-County Jazz Ensemble and at Vassar fronted one of the school’s hottest bands.
With his new band, sax man John also gets to play keyboards and mandolin, plus can add vocals and guitar. His brother, Patrick, a rising senior at my alma mater, Syracuse University, also is an accomplished musician.
The brothers grew up in Mahopac, hometown of their mom, Jennifer, before moving to Putnam Valley. Their dad, Dennis, like Dr. Terrence Murphy, is from Yorktown, where John spends a lot of time as his “adopted” hometown. “I always considered myself more of a Yorktowner,” he says. The brothers, in fact, were students in Yorktown’s Lakeland school district.
Other members of Tramps Like Us hail from Mount Kisco, White Plains, and parts north and south of Westchester. The band has been covering Bruce tunes for 25 years, logging 2,000-plus dates in front of more than 1 million fans.
The group was honored to be selected by the NFL as the best Springsteen tribute band to play official events at the 2014 Super Bowl, held in The Boss’ s home state of New Jersey.
Asked to name his other musical heroes, John zeroes in on Dylan, Elvis, the Beatles, Tom Petty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He calls his joyride with Tramps Like Us “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” While music always will be a major theme in his life, he has other ambitions in the short term, namely attending law school in fall 2018.
He has another ambition: Other band members have met The Man himself, and John’s “fingers are crossed” he’ll get that chance one day.
You can catch John Winton and Tramps Like Us on Friday, July 14, at Putnam National Golf Club in Mahopac, and on Sunday, Aug. 13, at Jack DeVito Veterans Memorial Field in Yorktown Heights. For more information, visit TrampsLikeUs.com.
Note to the band: I can’t play guitar, or any instrument, worth a lick, but if Tramps Like Us, just for the sake of atmospherics, wants someone to stand on stage at whom people can point and scream, “Bruuuuce!” I may know someone who’s available…
Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency. Its Adventix division helps performing arts venues increase ticket sales. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals, including Westchester Magazine. Follow him as Bruce the Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.