What the City Brought the Saxophonist: Adriano Rossetti Bonell

How do musicians do it? They tour, write, practice, and somehow maintain an air of spontaneity as though they’d accidentally strolled on stage for the first time and figured they might as well have a fiddle with the instrument in front of them. Yet this fluidity is often born from rigidity. 

Adriano Rossetti-Bonell holds his saxophone with the kind of familiarity most of us can only achieve with a smartphone. After years of putting his sax aside to focus on songwriting and other musical endeavours, Adriano is playing again. This comeback is marked by landing a significant and exciting gig: he’s now the touring saxophonist for the legendary UB40. 

‘Music was always in my house’, he explains. ‘I started with the recorder and piano at school. The finger positions are roughly the same, so it was quite a logical progression.’

Adriano in his garden.

He’s now the touring saxophonist for the legendary ub40…

‘I was at Acland Burghley school, and they had free music lessons for anyone!’ Adriano continues. ‘On a Thursday night there would be a nice little community of kids and teachers who would all just hang out. There was a youth centre as well, and it was free for everyone. Every day after school we’d go play basketball or just take over the music room. There’s a charity too, called Weekend Art College (WAC), that was wicked. It was £1.50 a class… it’s actually still going now!’

On top of these sessions, Adriano would leave school on his lunches and practice for an hour or so at home. ‘I think with my playing I’ve always been somewhere between creative impulse and practice. When I was younger it was definitely more spur of the moment, but to maintain that fun later on I’ve taken to a more regimented approach. This means when I feel a creative surge I have the practice behind me to make it possible.’

Strict organisation can sometimes seem at odds with the arts, which rely so heavily on inspiration. John Lurie, co-founder of The Lounge Lizards and saxophone player, once stated, ‘I like people who can play their instrument like they just found it on the street. I would practice for two hours every day, but I wouldn’t tell people!’ 

This contrarian approach bubbles beneath the surface of many great musicians. Adriano himself adds, ‘I know this is said a lot, but if you really want to break the rules, you have to know them. You then know how to shed what isn’t for you’.

Adriano playing his saxophone.

if you really want to break the rules, you have to know them…

‘Practice makes perfect’ often comes across like a dismissive, infantile comment, but in creativity structure can prepare the ground for experimental outlet. This simple lesson may be unfashionable in our world of life hacks and instant gratification, but its essential soundness endures. 

‘Playing with UB40 came out of jamming with other musicians in London. You turn up, ask to play with people, and if you play well, they ask you to join some gigs… I’m still waiting to be asked by some.’ Adriano bursts out laughing. ‘I started sitting in on jams and a bass player offered to drive me home. He ended up taking me to see another band instead. I walked in and recognised the horn players from my WAC days. The guitar player was wicked, and after we got talking he said he was in UB40. We started writing and hanging out a lot. I got a call off his missus – he doesn’t have a phone – and she said they were looking for a new sax player. He recommended me.’

This is the duality that most of London runs on: work and play. It’s our challenges, craft and learning that allow the good times to roll. So here’s a reminder for all those musicians out there, honing talent in music rooms, schools and alongside friends: the city is open and waiting for them to step out and discover it all. Hard work is waiting to be celebrated, just like Adriano’s was.

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