Sax in the subway

By Jasminee Sahoye

Carl Bryan

If you ride the Toronto subway on a regular basis, you would see musicians at different stations serenading commuters as they scurry to catch the transit. While there are several musicians, young and old, playing a variety of instruments and genre of music, a petite gentleman stands out with his saxophone

Seventy-five year-old Carl Bryan Snr, who started his musical journey at a tender age by attending Alpha Boys’ School in Jamaica, a school that produced a number of musicians who have helped to boost the Jamaican music industry, can be seen playing his saxophone while engaging commuters.

“I started hanging out with the older boys from Alpha when I was very young. At that time I only knew how to read music,” Bryan said as he took a break to speak to The Camera while playing at the Sheppard subway a few weeks ago.

“When I came here my daughter said to me, ‘Dad, I know you want to play, maybe if you don’t get to play you will go back home,’ and she told me to apply for a subway licence and I got it,” this father of 10, grandfather of 20 and great grandfather of four said, adding that he has played at all the subway stations for the past 16 years.

“I started with a base player, he went to one of the big schools in America, and we continued to play together for about two years and after that we separated and I still continued playing,” Bryan said, adding that he has had a rewarding musical journey, travelling to a number of countries including the USA, London, Australia, Spain, Tokyo, Paris, New Zealand, Amsterdam, and Italy.

“Once I was in Paris and this guy came by because he saw the banner, my name was on it and that I was playing. He said he had to come from miles to see me, his son listens to all of the records that I did in Jamaica at Coxson studio; he enjoyed my playing and it took him 36 years to meet me.”

Bryan says he enjoys playing at the subway as he gets a chance to meet people from different backgrounds. “The greatest asset is trying to please everyone. So if I can sit here and play a fool who sits on a stool and get by, watching the people go by, I does play and enjoy myself.” he said with a chuckle.

This great grandfather who started his professional musical career in 1953 and says he has had requests from commuters to play specially for them. “Nice people pass and give me money.” But he says he has met some challenges. “Guys try to bug you and even other players kind of envy you, I don’t give them no mind, I’m smart…. musicians were not made, they were born.”

But Bryan not only plays his instrument at the subway, he is hired to play at events such as weddings.

This proud musician says he played with Bob Marley wife’s father in 1954 and a number of popular singers such as Sammy Davis Jr, Patti La Belle, Jackie Wilson and Ben E King.
“I played at most of the hotels in Jamaica for the tourists and those days you used to get a lot of money from the tourists. I played at what they called the White House in Jamaica and I have a picture of the group at my house. I’m the only one alive from the group; that was way back in the late 50s.”