Saxophone man

DONALD GIVENS (in the forefront) and Rodney Brown play saxophones May 14 at Franklin Medical Center to salute the first responders. The duo is from Monroe. (Sun photo by Joe Curtis)

Near the intersection of North 18th Street and Texas Avenue in Monroe, Donald Givens and his saxophone bring peace to a hectic world.

For years, each morning and afternoon he serenades those in traffic from his gazebo. His tunes drift in and out of traffic, causing some to stop and ask for requests to which he kindly obliges. During this time, his talented persistence has garnered him names such as “Saxophone Man” and “Palm Tree Sax.”

Givens along with his friend, Rodney Brown, brought their musical talent to Franklin Medical Center May 14.

The duo played under FMC’s drive, entertaining hospital employees and visitors for nearly three hours. It was their way of saying thanks to first responders and was sponsored by Poulos Brothers Foundation.

Givens has been playing the saxophone for five years, and he has learned to play the piano and guitar as an adult.

Givens is married to Ruth. Together they have one daughter, Sonja, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

When Sonja was eight-years-old, he started taking her to piano lessons. During those lessons, his interest piqued for the instrument, and he started taking lessons.

The 70-year-old piano teacher was strict, often rapping his hands with a ruler when he made a mistake. The structure did not hinder 28-year-old Givens, as he would practice far longer than the 30 minutes each day required by the teacher.

At 62, his curiosity for an instrument was piqued again after hearing a man play saxophone at a Minden church. He soon purchased a $150 saxophone at a West Monroe pawn shop. In his excitement, Givens wanted to immediately play the saxophone, but unfortunately the local music stores were closed due to the late hour.

“I didn’t want to wait until the next day,” Givens told the News-Star. “I wanted to try that saxophone that night, so I took that used mouthpiece, put it in some bleach for about 10 minutes. I put it on that saxophone

and blew through that thing and nothing happened.”

Givens went on.

“I said, ‘Man this thing don’t work,’ so I called the saxophonist…He said, ‘You got a reed? That shows you how much I knew.”

Around the same time, Givens also started learning guitar. He would take guitar lessons on Wednesdays and sax lessons of Fridays with David Butler of Ruston.

His favorite pieces to play include “Jesus, You’re the Center of My Joy,” “You Are So Beautiful,” “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” “Memory” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

His daily gazebo practices have yielded numerous offers to play at events. At a birthday party, a local radio personality introduced Givens as “Palm Tree Sax,” but many in Monroe know him simply as “Saxophone Man.”

Along with a musician, Givens is a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

Like many 19-year-olds in the late-60s, Givens found himself 8,500 miles away from home, fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. He served as a MOS 11D10 Army armor reconnaissance special and was injured one month into his tour.

Givens remembers lying face down while two doctors worked on him and within a month he was back on duty. Thirty-three years later in a routine’s doctor visit, Givens was informed the metal was still in his back, a souvenir from Vietnam.

Givens returned home in 1971. Like some soldiers, he spent a few years having a hard time adjusting to civilian life. He was drinking, gambling, doing marijuana and was heavily addicted to cigarettes.

His mother, concerned about his current state, handed him a Bible in 1975. Givens started reading the Bible and soon stopped drinking and gambling, but marijuana’s and nicotine’s grasp was strong.

Givens went to his mother’s house one afternoon with marijuana-reddened eyes and the Bible from her under his arm. His mother noticed his condition and snatched the Bible from him.

“When she took the Bible, it was like she took my heart,” he told Bayou Life.

After visiting his mother, he went to his brother’s house and

immediately entering he saw an emblem of Jesus Christ. He was convicted again and quit smoking marijuana that day.

On April 22, 1975, Givens was counseling teenagers outside a barbershop on the dangers of marijuana while smoking a cigarette. The boys quickly brought the hypocritical cigarette to his attention.

He agreed with the young men and extinguished it and never smoked again. He admits nicotine was his hardest hurdle. Now, Givens and his wife host seminars to help people quit.

Givens played the sax for hours under the driveway at FMC. He played not for self-aggrandizement, but to bring peace and spread joy in a uncertain time and to say thanks for those who serve.

“I’d like to give a shout of praise to the millions of mean and women who serve and have served in the US Armed Forces and salute you for the sacrifices you’ve made both here and abroad,” Givens said.

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