A conversation with saxophonist Solomon Alber is like listening to jazz. He riffs on various topics but always returns to the main theme -- how he and other musicians are handling the pandemic.
"Even though COVID-19 did prompt many struggles and difficulties for musicians and artists in the Bay Area and the rest of the world, I believe that we are all being as creative as we can be right now and using this time to build an even stronger connection with our communities," Alber said.
Alber, a 2017 graduate of Amador Valley High School, received a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston after years of playing alto saxophone at prestigious gigs. He toured New York and Canada with the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He also is a two-time Louis Armstrong Award winner.
In the spring, Alber returned to his family home in Pleasanton to finish his classes online, and he just started his senior year still sheltering in place here. But during the summer he stepped up his teaching efforts, released an album called "Salmon Alaska" in July, and launched a project for young musicians and artists to get creative together.
"Music has given me so much and I would like to share it with as many people as possible," Alber said. "I've always tried to diversify what I do, a mix of performing, teaching, recording and all these different projects."
He also plays clarinet and soprano saxophone, and has been teaching since high school, which he has resumed online.
"I like to cover lots of different topics -- about composing music, or very saxophone-specific, or woodwinds," Alber said.
He focuses on stage presence, too.
"Even though we're not able to go on the stage as yet, it's such a huge part of a musician's personality when performing in front of an audience," he said.
"Salmon Alaska" was recorded in a studio at Berklee College with other musicians on guitar, bass, piano and drums.
"It's contemporary jazz with a bit of smooth jazz," Alber said.
He wrote the melody, developed the structure and format, but said for the first rehearsal he didn't give the other musicians much direction.
"I wanted them to experiment," he said. "I knew they were amazing musicians, and I wanted them to bring it to the song in a way that was uniquely them."
The name reflects his concern for wildlife, including salmon, which has had a decline in population but still breeds in Alaska.
"It was interesting to wonder if I called it 'Salmon Alaska' what people might think if they heard the music," he said.
Alber is also busy planning his Second Wind Online Music and Arts Camp in early January for middle and high school musicians, vocalists, visual artists, dancers, lyricists, poets and writers. He is excited to create these opportunities for the students -- and the guest teachers -- to use their talents.
"I'm going to give students music and art projects to help them stay creative at home, and to try and teach them certain techniques, certain skills that are helpful if a musician is writing a song or if an artist is painting watercolors," Alber said. "At the end there will be a virtual performance and a virtual gallery to show all the students' work for friends and families."
"It's important to stay creative and optimistic," he added. "I've always been looking toward the future, looking for new ways to inspire and help people as much as I can."
He said he thrives on the creative people he meets, whether in Boston or California, and his Solomon Alber Band performs both places with different musicians.
"One of the great things is I meet so many people, not only musicians but so many creative people, and I've always been amazed that there's so many collaborations between these art fields, film directors with musicians and vice versa," he said.
Last year Alber appeared in a 13-minute documentary, "Unframed," about jazz and different types of expression. It can be seen on Vimeo.
He says in the film that he prefers his music to be like life: non-lineal.
"It can make crazy U-turns or go diagonally," he notes.
In "Unframed," Alber also cites music as a universal language, which does not have the barrier of spoken words.
"There is never any end," he explains. "There are always new sounds to imagine, new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feeling and sounds ... so that we can see more clearly what we are."
And he explores its nuances.
"Happy, sad and mad are the emotions we talk about, but there are so many more," he says. "Art and music help people confront things like that."
Even in these times of limitations, Alber is finding an upside.
"Nowadays everything is going more online, which gives us a little more freedom," he said. "Whether we are on the East Coast or West Coast, we can connect. I am very thankful that I can help people in Pleasanton and the Bay Area create new music and art."