Manatee Rural Health physician has been playing sax for years

vmannix@bradenton.comOctober 22, 2013 


It was the last appointment of the day at the end of another long week for Dr. Melvin Price, but the podiatrist was in a mirthful mood.

"There's no business like toe business," he said.

Or show business.

Price knows about both, whether it's fixing soles or playing soul.

The 57-year-old has been a foot doctor for nearly 30 years, and he's been a jazz saxophone player longer than that.

In fact, he was going to beat feet to St. Pete Beach for a gig that night with his band, NuJazz. It was a warmup for "2013 Doctor Idol," a 7 p.m. Friday benefit at Sarasota's Hyatt Regency.

Between seeing roughly 100 patients weekly for Manatee County Rural Health Services, playing sax at a couple of gigs a month and weekly band practice, Price is a man on the go.

Have horn, will travel.

"I couldn't survive without it," Price said, showing off a shiny alto sax. "It's calming. It puts me in a different place. No matter how bad I feel, I feel good when I start playing."

Especially at a gig anywhere around the area.

"When you start playing, you interact with the crowd and, if the crowd is into it, you get into it and do things you didn't think you could do because the adrenaline is flowing," he said. "When I'm playing I'm not even looking at the crowd. I can feel their response and when I feel that I'm good."

His family vouches for it.

"It's like therapy," said wife, Phyllis. "He's so engrossed in his medical practice, surgery and all that.

It's a respite for him."

It amazes Price's daughter, Shawny Robey, director of business development at Manatee Glens.

"That he can juggle everything he does and still be a musician that good is inspiring," she said.

It's in the blood.

Price grew up in South Philadelphia and absorbed its musical influences. He also idolized his older brother, Isaac, a pianist who toured with artists such as Ramsey Lewis and Ray Charles.

Yet, after learning piano and later clarinet with the St. Joseph's Prep orchestra, he really wanted to play the saxophone.

Price joked his mother should've named him "Sonny" after sax legends such as Sonny Criss, Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt.

"I loved the tone, fell in love with it and wanted to play it when I was playing clarinet, but there was no call for sax in the orchestra," he said. "I was a big fan of Grover Washington Jr., and listened to all kinds of jazz sax players, but I couldn't find a way to play it until I picked up the sax."

That was at Marquette University where Price taught himself to play sax and performed gigs around Milwaukee for spending money.

There were other advantages, too, for the young man far from home.

"Branford Marsalis started out as a piano player," Price said. "But he said he noticed at all the gigs the sax players got all the girls. So he switched to sax."

Turned out love of music helped win the heart of his future wife, who played clarinet in her Milwaukee high school marching band and symphony.

"I really appreciated he had a love for music because I did, too," Phyllis Price said. "I don't play anymore, but that's why it's so nice to hear him still playing."

That goes for the doctor's 3-year-old grandson, too.

Price likes to play every Saturday and Sunday afternoon in his man cave with the door closed.

Closed except to Brady Robey.

"He'll cry and bang on the door while I'm playing until I let him in and then he'll mess around on the keyboard," the doctor said.

The boy's mother is amused by the ritual.

"I grew up listening to dad play and I'm happy he is, too," Shawny Robey said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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