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Teen sax player handles stardom with ease

The story is almost too good to be true, but that is generally the case with big breaks that lead to cherished memories.

La Jolla High School sophomore Blaise Garza, 15, is a talented musician. While able to play a number of instruments, his specialty is the saxophone, of which he owns 17 different variations.

Garza’s most recent and grandest acquisition is a seven-foot-tall contrabass saxophone. And, the biggest saxophone in his collection led the teen-ager to performing with the worldly band known as the Violent Femmes at the Del Mar race Track on Sept. 3.

Zip Zembinski is a family friend of the Garzas. Zembinski is the production manager - and plays saxophone, occasionally - for the rock group when it tours on the West Coast. Garza’s unparalleled ability and his monster-sized saxophone gave Zembinski an idea.

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“We’re in Ventura sitting around having some drinks,” said Zembinski of the Violent Femmes. “I look at (bass player) Brian Ritchie and I say, ‘Hey, I know this 15-year-old kid who plays a seven-foot-tall contrabass saxophone.’ ”

Ritchie and the other members of the Violent Femmes were impressed and, on Zembinski’s word alone, invited Garza to play his sax with them at the race track gig. The high school student jumped at the chance to perform for thousands with one of the biggest rock bands of the last 20 years.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Garza, who has experience performing in more formal settings. “My mom and dad have their CDs, so I was listening to them before I met Zip. I think the rock band was a lot more fun. It was a bigger crowd. It was overall better. Plus there were people I could relate to there.”

That Garza is a talented young man is beyond question. He has been playing the saxophone since age 9 and is a member of the La Jolla High School jazz ensemble, the symphonic band and the pep band. He has also performed with the San Diego City Schools Honor Band, the Coronado Community Band, Jazz EXPRESS and numerous local saxophone ensembles.

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Blaise has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild since age 4, appearing in a number of commercials. He also has performed on stage locally in a handful of productions.

The Violent Femmes enjoyed Garza’s performance so much they invited him to play the next night in Anaheim at the Houses of Blues. Garza accepted without hesitation.

“It was something different, something cool,” said Zembinski. “No rock band has ever played with one of those (saxophones) on stage. He just rocked. I told him to just wing it. He’s a good player and deserved to be hooked up, so I hooked him up. Anybody who owns 17 saxophones doesn’t suck.”

Garza jammed on four songs with the legendary band known for the hits “Blister in the Sun,” “American Music,” “Kiss Off” and others. There was no sheet music, so Garza adapted as he went along.

“I just improvised in F Sharp,” he said nonchalantly.

Garza earned a standing invitation to perform with the band members whenever they are in Southern California. He is scheduled to play with them at the Santa Anita Racetrack in October and at Qualcomm Stadium on New Year’s Eve.

“When they’re in Southern California,” said Zembinski, “he’s sitting in with the band.”

The seven-foot-tall saxophone is a unique instrument. Over the last 80 years, about 30 have been made, but many were lost, melted down during World War II. Garza’s is one of only 12 known to exist.

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A lot of what Garza does revolves around his expensive hobby of collecting saxophones.

“I just like performing,” he said. “Getting the (acting) job so I can get another saxophone is what drives me.”

Added his mother Liz: “The only way he can afford these saxophones is by working. Every time he gets a new saxophone, he plays it until he masters it.”

Garza is a teen-ager with big dreams but a mature head on his shoulders.

“I focus on schoolwork first,” he said. “I need to get good grades to get to a good college. I want to be a famous musician or a famous actor, whichever comes first. Or both, actually.”

Garza’s mother is supportive of any opportunity that comes her son’s way.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Liz Garza. “I didn’t know what we were getting into. I think it’s great. Opportunities come in your lifetime and you can take them and run with them or you can let them pass you by. He’s taken it and is going with it. I’m very proud of him and supportive. With both of my kids, whatever they want to do, if they fall on their face, I tell them to pick themselves up and try something else.”