It was in Mississippi in 1986 that Larry Francis Jr., a former musician in Fort Carson's band, gave his nephew an old alto saxophone.
Tony Exum Jr. was only 10 when his uncle passed along that gift, but quickly excelled with it. At 18, he began studies at the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music, where he worked with a number of musicians as a studio saxophonist and then branched out into live performances. Blending the styles of Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, Kenny G and others, Exum plays mostly jazz today, though hip-hop remains his "first love."
Exum's clips on YouTube showcase shamelessly passionate solos and soulful jams with his bandmates. So as you might guess, he says he doesn't limit his music to the stage.
"I was never afraid to play for anybody," he says, recounting times when he would spontaneously play in places not commonly known for their concert appeal, like a Denny's.
Today, the full-time musician with nationally produced CDs performs locally regularly. He calls himself "a semi-native"; though he grew up between Mississippi, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Germany, he was born here.
Himself now a father of two girls, he says he's committed to making the community better — largely by rejuvenating the music scene into a more socially conscious, community-involved entity. Joining him in this vision is Armed Green, the lead vocalist for Exum's current musical project, Musik Theory.
Exum and Green met only a couple of years ago, but have since become close friends with ambitious goals. Among them: what they're calling the inaugural Springs Summer Soul Jam.
Friday's Security Service Field event will feature R&B acts Silk, Troop, Next, H-Town and Musik Theory, and promises a family-friendly environment. All proceeds will benefit the Burnie Legette Foundation, which works to build community through scholarships and mentoring.