Max on the Sax
BY SCOTT ANDERSON
Max Mayeaux is not a typical 15-year-old boy. You see, before “Max on the Sax” blows at shows, Max on the Sax rides a horse, of course. And he’s pretty boss when it comes to lacrosse.
Max is a sophomore at Loyola College Prep, where he plays lacrosse and football. He also trains and competes in equestrian events with Hidden Acres Equestrian Center in Stonewall. He’s done that for 10 years. But Max found his love for music at an early age. He remembers listening to the music his parents enjoyed when he was very young. He also performed in plays at South Highlands Elementary, including the lead role in “Aladdin.”
He picked up the saxophone for the first time as a sixth-grader in the Caddo Middle Magnet band program, under the direction of Krista Fanning. Why the saxophone? “My brother played before me,” Max said. “He played the saxophone, so I started with it, too.” His parents, Peyton and James Mayeaux, still remember that first instrument. “We just got a $250 alto sax I found online,” Peyton said.
As Max’s skills improved, he outgrew that starter saxophone. It was time for an upgrade. So Max had a choice to make. “He gave up going to Camp Ozark one summer to buy a new saxophone,” Peyton said.
In the music business, landing your first big break sometimes depends on who you know. For Max, it was who his mom knew that opened that first door with Professor Porkchop and the Dirty Dishes.
“My mom gets her hair done by Jason Coffield’s wife,” Max said. “Mom showed her videos of me playing. She told me to come out one night.” Max met bandmember Coffield along with lead singer and Professor Porkchop himself, Chris McCaa, and the rest of the band one night at Superior Grill. They invited him on stage, where he played “Havana” as his debut.
“I still can’t believe I played that in Superior Grill,” Max said. Max caught the attention of Chris Campisi with the band
The Good News. “I was in sixth grade,” Max said. “I didn’t know how to do half the stuff I do now.” That all changed when bandmates Omenka Webb and Dirty Redd stepped in to augment his musical education. “I learned to really play in front of people, to know where I am in the music, to know what’s right and what’s wrong,” Max said.
He started playing in front of people more often, with The Good News and also with Robert Trudeau’s Shreveport Second Line Brass Band.
Max’s mom was aware from the beginning they had a show-man on their hands. “When all this first started, we knew he was a performer,” Peyton said. “That wasn’t a surprise. It was when the switch flipped, and he could hear what others were doing and just play. When all of a sudden he could transpose in his head. That was huge. That’s when we realized we had an awesome responsibility.” It was a responsibility that took some adjustments, she added.
“It was a bit out of our wheelhouse,” she said. “We’d be at Superior, and he’s studying spelling words between sets.”
But the more he played, the more he learned. “Basically, all these bands taught me to play without looking at music,” he said. “I was taught by reading music. But these guys taught me how to improvise correctly.”
Shreveport musician Brady Blade also took Max under his wing as mentor. Thanks to Blade, Max got a behind-the-scenes look at live music in New York City. Peyton said that Blade had arranged for Max to meet the saxophone player from the Dave Matthews Band at a concert. But those plans fell through when the sax player contracted COVID. They still enjoyed the concert before landing at Ashford and Simpson’s bar for open mic night after the show.
“They called him up, and the man asked, ‘What are you going to play for us?,’” Peyton said. “Max said, “I’ll just play what you’re playing.’ “We’re sitting there, in this very strange place. The guy starts singing a Christmas song. I’m filming. I say, “Oh, no. Here we go.’ That guy sang and sang. He never gave Max the chance to get in. Finally, he did, and it was beautiful. I stood there, filming and sobbing. That’s when I realized this is a phenomenal talent,” says Peyton.
Max’s father James adds, “None of this would have happened without Jason Coffield and Chris Campisi. The entire Shreveport music community has embraced our boy and given him amazing opportunities. We will always be thankful for them, and we are incredibly proud of Max.”
Max said the biggest thing he has learned about playing music is the importance of the fundamentals. “Improv is very hard,” he said. “It’s really making sure you know your scales. Knowing all the scales will get you anywhere in the improv world. And sometimes you have to know when to play the wrong note. It’s all about how you make other people sound, too.” Back in Shreveport, Max is diligent about keeping up with his music, his academics, and his athletics. It’s a delicate balancing act, he said.
“I leave the house when it’s dark, and come back when it’s dark,” Max said. “It’s hard to balance waking up, going to school, coming home, and riding my horse, too. It’s hard to get good grades. But staying busy keeps you out of trouble. I’d get bored if I didn’t do it.”
Max does not have definite plans yet for college or beyond. After all, he is a teenager. But he does not foresee losing his love of music. “I really don’t have an idea yet what I want to do, or where I want to go to college,” Max said. “I know I’m not going to go for sports or anything like that. I’d like to keep playing music throughout my life, even if it’s not my paying job.”
Music has taught him one other important lesson he will carry throughout his life. “What I have really learned is how to communicate with people,” Max said. “I have learned to deal with all types of people. I worked with artists and producers in New York and learned what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. You have to know your audience and who you are playing to. Learn to read the reactions of the crowd. If your audience isn’t paying enough attention, play the wrong note to get them back. It’s all of learning how to communicate with someone.”