Photos: Tim Hampson
Tom E. Politzer: Lead Tenor Sax
I can honestly say that being in Tower of Power is a dream come true. I get lost in the joy of this incredible sound coming together from so many sources and spirits. It’s a language that transcends words, an experience that defies description. Here’s some free-form verse that tries to capture what it’s like when a solo really feels like its going somewhere:
...This feeling...so much like flying, though your feet never leave the ground
Weaving in and out of currents, riding the prevailing wind
Then realizing the wind is ready to follow you....me!
Follow the twists and turns of my permutated mind
All of a sudden I feel again, that burst of energy, so unique
That I can only imagine comes from this particular way of flight
And not the kind where you're running from
The kind where you're soaring on.......
That’s really what it’s like – flying. The patterns and colors unfolding underneath my wings – just the realization that I have wings! - all the changes and colors and rhythms that merge when the band comes together, spontaneously. We’re like birds doing maneuvers in perfect synchronization – a flock that’s been together for the ages. Sometimes I leave my body and wonder, Am I really creating this? (Laughs.)
I feel things heating up
The motif that began as such a simple idea has begun to morph into a journey
I'm not sure how this is happening, as so much of it feels unconscious
Like I'm just some big conduit of the universe
When the band is grooving along I feel an inner happiness, and peace. It’s like a perfect moment in time. It balances my soul. My troubles wash away. I’m reminded that, yes, everything’s gonna be all right, that everything is alright. It’s so obvious that I want to kick myself sometimes, that I could have ever taken this freedom, this gift, for granted.
I was born in Detroit and raised in Palo Alto, Calif. My parents were opera lovers so I grew up with a strong background in classical music. I took up the clarinet when I was ten and became pretty proficient playing in my school bands and with local youth orchestras. I wasn’t really exposed to much popular music, but half way through my junior year in high school, the Jazz Band needed someone to fill the baritone sax chair. I was skeptical, but playing Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and especially “Squib Cakes” by Tower of Power convinced me! Had I not made the switch, I don't think I would have become a professional musician.
The switch changed my life forever. Suddenly I was listening to T.O.P., Earth, Wind & Fire and all types of jazz and r&b. I started buying records and going to clubs. I was a regular at the Keystone Corner in San Francisco and saw so many greats -- Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Weather Report, Freddie Hubbard, Miles. Playing sax just transformed me. I started thinking, ‘I’d like to do that’ -- sit on stage and perform with a great band -- and being in Tower of Power, or Maynard’s band, or Buddy Rich’s band, was at the top of my list. To me, Tower represented one of the greatest bands I ever heard –- they were inspired and they were having fun.
Being in the band has definitely made me a better musician. It’s just something that happens when you’re around great musicians. It’s like a minor league ball player making it to the majors. Your game just gets better. Plus, I get a lot of creative energy from our fans. Their enthusiasm really feeds me.
There’s never been a band like this, ever. It’s just so unique. In the jazz realm you have sophisticated horn sections from Ellington to Thad Jones to Bob Mintzer and Carla Bley, to name a few. But it’s rare to hear our kind of complexity in soul and r&b. Our horn section is detailed into minutia, to the smallest detail. Think about it – notes that start, cut off and have to move together exactly at the same time! That’s what makes this band so tight. I don’t consider myself a virtuoso, but I love to solo! I love the challenge to be spontaneous, and creative, and funky, night after night, to connect with my feelings and emotions. That’s the language I try to speak. People who love Tower don’t need to know how complicated the music really is. The trick is bringing it off seamlessly. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle -- you can see the big picture when you put it all together.
Traveling around for six months of the year together, you become a family. And the fraternal bond I feel in Tower is extraordinary. These guys are my brothers. It's got to be a team, or it wouldn't work, and we actually all like each other too, believe it or not, and that isn't always the case with a band on the road. I just wish I could share this experience with everyone.
All band member biographies were compiled by Leo Sacks.
Leo Sacks is a freelance record producer in New York. With Emilio Castillo, he co-wrote “Happy ‘Bout That” and “Stranger In My Own House” for Tower of Power’s Oakland Zone (Or Music, 2003), and the bonus track “Nothing Like It” for the European edition.