La Jolla High School ninth grader Blaise Garza has a bra in the case of his seven-foot saxophone. Can't decide if it's the ninth-grade boy with the bra or the seven-foot sax that's more peculiar?
Wait, there's more.
A few weeks ago, the 15-year-old played his first gig with the Violent Femmes-blowing an a capella version of Femmes-hit "Blister in the Sun" on the gargantuan contrabass saxophone. During the set, an admirer tossed the undergarment on stage.
"[Femmes' bassist] Brian [Ritchie] said I needed to put it in my case," says Garza with a young smile. "So that's what I did."
In many ways, Garza is a typical ninth grader: he's a good student, likes sports and plays in the high school band. In other ways, Garza's life is getting stranger by the day. And he owes it all to the day he picked up a pawnshop saxophone because it "looked cooler" than the woodwinds and horns.
Since that day six years ago, Garza has become an eBay addict-hunting down rare saxophones most people have never seen or heard. From the 10-inch soprillo Bb piccolo to the seven-foot contrabass, he's collected 18 different saxophones (all of which he's comfortable jamming on).
Following an almost six-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon path, the suburban San Diego kid got hooked up with one of rock's definitive cult bands. Femmes lighting designer Zip Zembinski happens to be a regular at a coffee shop owned by Garza's aunt. The aunt and Zembinski got to talking about Garza, then Zembrinski and Brian Ritchie got to talking about Garza, and Ritchie told Zembinski to invite the kid to the band's Del Mar gig earlier this fall.
"Brian Ritchie was quizzing him on his knowledge of music and, of course, Blaise knew everybody and everything Brian was talking about," says Garza's mom, Liz, about the pair's first meeting. "He was really impressed because most kids don't know the jazz greats and people like that."
Ritchie wasn't just impressed, it seems he found a kindred spirit in his appreciation of uncommon instruments and unusual music.
"Most young people would say that they love what they would term "music,'" says the bassist. "But they don't really mean music. They mean lyrics or dancing or clothing. It's impressive that Blaise has learned so much about music itself and the nuts and bolts of playing saxophone. There are a lot of posers two, three or four times his age in the music business who barely know anything about music."
That night at the Del Mar show, Garza's playing so awed the band and guest saxophonist Steve Mackay (of Iggy and the Stooges fame), they invited the youngster to join them the following night at their House of Blues show in Anaheim. The second show went so well, Garza received a permanent invitation to play with the Horns of Dilemma, the band's revolving horn section. Garza plans to play with the band in Arcadia on Oct. 15, Phoenix the following night and here in San Diego on New Year's Eve.
As of yet, Garza's newfound fame hasn't trickled down to his classmates-who probably don't know who the Violent Femmes are-but he says he's been stopped on the street a couple of times by college-aged people.They say, "Hey man, were you that little kid at the Violent Femmes concert?'" recounts Garza. "I say, "Yeah,' and they go, "Man, that is so cool.'"