Amy Lee was born in North Adams, Massachusetts but left the New England cold to study music at the University of Miami. She became a fulltime Southerner residing in Atlanta, immersing herself into the city's budding music scene. A multitalented sax player, studio musician, composer and arranger, Amy has worked extensively with Charles Neville and Jimmy Buffett, and played as well with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell to name a few.
Her debut indie CD Inside the Outside showcased her diverse musical talents as a player and writer. The album brings the listener into the realms of Amy's writing styles and playing, featuring songs ranging from contemporary and straight-ahead jazz to R&B. Her soulful "voice" is interspersed with her unique soloing and writing styles. "I'm somewhat of a chameleon, catering to the different styles of songs I write. I have so much music in me! If I write a modal straight ahead tune, I play in that style, like something Wayne Shorter might play. If I write a funk pop tune I play for that style. I love artists Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross so I write R&B tunes with them in mind."
Her sound is unlike any other's — she has her own sound, her own voice and identity. She is not a copycat soloist. Pop, R&B, soul and jazz were all musical influences on Amy, who grew up in a household filled with the radio playing all day long. "When I was a child, my mom didn't have the TV on. She played the radio. Both of my parents aren't musicians themselves but they wanted their children to learn an instrument and this was possible thanks to the music programs available in public schools." Amy started playing sax at age 10. She went through the music system playing in concert band, jazz band and marching band through high school. She became a professional musician at age 16, joining the local musician's union and playing in big bands in North Adams. She won various district and state competitions through the school system.
"Although I was very young in the 60s, I did grow up remembering and living in the tail end of the hippy era. There was some powerful music coming out in those times and some incredibly soulful sounds too. The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, War... wow! Also mom had albums I'd spin. Louie Prima I totally dug and Henry Mancini's music too. Now there's an incredible arranger! In high school I bought Mancini's orchestration book and studied this in my spare time. I really didn't have much of a social life because I just had my music. When I was 15 my high school band director gave me a Coltrane album, a Cannonball Adderly album and a Brubeck album. I'd play these over and over but didn't quite get it at that age but kept listening. I was more into the fusion side of jazz, like Jeff Lorber and the Crusaders. Then when I was about 17, Coltrane clicked on in my brain. That opened up a whole new avenue of great jazz for me and I am very thankful for my teacher's influence."
After high school it was a given Amy would study music in college. "Music was the only thing I did. Fortunately I did have good grades and the talent so I was awarded a music scholarship to study at the University of Miami. It's an extremely expensive school. I paid for that education on my own and worked 2 jobs while going to school while also playing in an off campus funk band. It was hard work but it made me realize I can do anything. I learned a lot of street smarts while living in Miami and playing in areas like Liberty City!"
Upon graduation Amy moved to Atlanta. She played everywhere and anywhere she could, even on the streets. It wasn't long before she connected with Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers and began playing and arranging for his jazz group Diversity for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. "I played with Charles at Jazz Fest for six years. It was through him that I met and sat in with Jimmy Buffett. I continued to play with Charles for five more years while also touring with Jimmy. New Orleans was like my second home."
Amy became a member of Buffett's band in 1991 and continued to tour and record as part of his Coral Reefer Band until 2006.
"Working with Jimmy has been an incredible learning experience. A lot of his music is simple story telling. As a soloist I've learned to keep it simple and have patience. You can't go throwing in the hottest licks just to prove a point. You have to create a marriage of your solo to his music. It has to make sense and complete his story and you may only have four bars to do it in so you better make it fit. Arranging for his music has been a blast. He is so diverse in his styles that one chart may dictate something like old-style R&B Memphis Horns and another may be for a salsa Cuban horn section. It was maybe through the years working with Jimmy that I decided to put out my first CD filled with many styles of jazz. There's a little bit of everything on Inside the Outside."
After Amy's debut indie release she continued to work with Buffett. "I tried to shop my CD but heard it was too straight-ahead or too smooth from the various labels. Of course, the beauty of doing an indie is that you can do whatever you want and not have a label dictate your voice. But I did find it to be hard to shop and even get distribution unfortunately."
Amy's disc remains independent and is not available in stores but only online via her site AmyLeeSax.com as well as CD Baby and Amazon. "The Internet is a wonderful resource and I have sold internationally. But with my 2nd solo album Use Me I am shooting for top!" Amy, a renaissance woman working in a typically male dominated field, knows her history whenever someone states how unusual it is for a female to play sax. "Women have been playing sax for decades! Look at all the wartime big bands for instance and the various artists out today! Sure it's difficult to prove yourself in the majors unfortunately. But hey, it's for everybody, male or female in this business!"
What Amy says about the look and sounds of her 2nd solo release Use Me: "With this project I am not stopping at anything - from the look, to the music. I used some incredible musicians and am extremely excited about this CD." Drummer Sonny Emory, percussionist Ralph MacDonald, bassist Ronnie Garrett, keyboardist Darrell Smith, tambourine player Jack Ashford, and guitarist John Raymond all play on the release, along with some of her band mates from the Coral Reefer Band, bassist Jim Mayer, guitarist Peter Mayer and drummer Roger Guth. "I have some of the best of the best playing on this CD, from Earth Wind and Fire's drummer to Kenny G's guitarist to Motown's tambourine player."
Amy muses about the title track, Use Me, and the look of her 2nd release. "I covered Bill Withers' tune and it is so funky and happening I wanted to make it the title of the CD." Coupled with the look of the cover and insert, it radiates sex appeal. "All my life I've struggled with the fact of trying to get people to hear me as a sax player and not make a quick judgment just by the way I look. With my first solo release I was rebelling over that whole thing, so I deliberately wore a tie dyed Tee shirt and had no makeup on. It finally dawned on me, I am who I am and I will show the world with pride that women can do anything, be anything and look however they want to. This time I'm presenting my feminine side. I'm not covering up my physique or the fact that I am a woman. I had an absolute ball participating in a real photo shoot and getting the look I wanted. I had a lot of fun making this CD and unmasking the imageto show the world that yes this woman can really play the sax!"
Amy Lee's Song/Album/TV/Film/Video Credits
SOLO CD RELEASES
RECORDED/PUBLISHED MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS
CDs PERFORMING ON
Performing with Jimmy Buffett & the Coral Reefer Band