Musician Sue Greenway tells Jaine Blackman about a career that has now become her lifelong passion

Playing music all over the world for a living might sound glamorous and glitzy but it can come at a price.

Unsocial hours, months off touring and having to drop plans at a moment’s notice can all take a toll on relationships.

“I don’t have a family and I do regret that somewhere along the way that didn’t happen,” says professional saxophonist Sue Greenway, of Middle Barton.

“But for me music is a way of life, when the phone goes you have to cancel the milk and go, you need people around you who understand this, it’s not compatible with normal family life.

“It’s difficult to get a work life balance as it’s either feast or famine. A career in music is extremely difficult, there is no real progression or security, you are either working or you’re not.”

But it has plenty of good points too.

“The highs are being able to perform with great players, travelling and generally seeing a lot of life; then being on the bandstand is the best place to be,” says Sue, who has worked with The Syd Lawrence Orchestra, The BBC BIg Band, the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and played in the West End and touring shows of Chicago and The Rat Pack.

“When you connect with an audience, it’s just magic. It’s better than any other feeling.”

It’s been a lifelong love.

“I grew up listening to Big Band Swing and fell in love with jazz after hearing Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine,” says Sue.

“I thought it would be the best thing in the world to perform like that.”

After initially training as a secondary school teacher Sue, who grew up in East Sussex, became a musician in the RAF playing in the RAF Squadronaires and the RAF Central Band.

Since then she has been freelance playing with bands small and large.

“It is not that unusual to find female saxophonists playing professionally nowadays, there are more now than ever playing at an exceptionally high level,” says Sue, who is in her 40s “But initially I found it very difficult to be taken seriously, it was always assumed I was the singer!

“Certain forms of work are discriminatory. For instance on cruise ships, musicians share cabins and it is assumed they are all male. There are instances where you are booked because you are female however and not necessary the right player for the job.”

Work was the reason Sue moved to West Oxfordshire 13 years ago. “There was no attachment to the area, it was about logistics,” she says, explaining that a musician may be in Felixstow one night and Manchester the next.

“I found the house on the internet (which was quite new then) because Banbury is the most central spot for touring.”

But she was looking for a place to call home after a relationship ended and she finished work on cruise ships: “I got the garden gate and thought ‘this feels a nice house’.”

Sue teaches as well as plays to make a living: “And am always looking over my shoulder as to what else I could do... and then the phone rings,” she says.

She worries that live music which isn’t mainstream pop or rock is in danger of dying out, especially big bands. The BBC Big Band budget has been cut by 80 per cent and Sue says musicians wages haven’t risen for 30 years. “I feel sorry for youngsters coming out of music college,” she says, advising them to keep “another string to their bow”.

But despite the precarious nature of earning a living through music, it remains Sue’s passion... and one she hopes to share with a new generation.

The co-founder of the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, a 10-piece band plus two singers specialising in the music and songs from the 1920s and 30s, will be playing in Didcot tomorrow night.

“The TJO was formed by myself and the singer Tony Jacobs who I used to work with in the Syd lawrence Orchestra. We wanted to create a band which played great arrangements and showcased some of the finest players in the UK,” says Sue.

“I like the music of the 20s/30s because jazz had just begun and was beginning to shake the world with its raw energy and dance.

“It was fresh, new, unlike anything heard before.”

She thinks that vitality could appeal to new generations of audiences.

“I believe there is renewed interest in this period because people like the sophisticated and stylish fashions of the era. There was class then.”

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