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[whitespace] Bob Craddock

Sax in Public

One day Bob Craddock said: Enough engineering already!

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Bob Craddock seems oddly out of place and out of time in downtown San Jose, looking as if he'd be more at home in the Berkeley of the '60s or over the hill on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. White-bearded with dark shades, shorts, sandals and a tank top, with his skin red and peeling from long days in the sun, the 70-year-old retiree stretches his long legs out into the plaza between the Fairmont Hotel and the San Jose Museum of Art and plays his saxophone for the noontime lunchers.

Jazz standards, mostly. A little Herbie Hancock. A little John Coltrane (one of the easier songs, he admits). A little Miles Davis. "Caravan." "Satin Doll." "A Foggy Day." Here and there some "free-form New Age stuff" he pulled off the Internet. And one Bob Marley reggae tune. He plays them all slow and easy, to the background of a portable MP3, set up next to his bicycle and shade umbrella.

It's hard to tell whether the shoppers and tourists and office workers walking through the plaza are ignoring him entirely, or taking this as city background sounds--like elevator music or songs heard while waiting on hold on the telephone, or if they really appreciate him. For me, anyway, the sounds hang in the midday heat, a lovely break in the sometimes-sterile landscape.

"I don't know why I'm out here, really," he says between songs, in a voice as slow and rolling as the old orchard landscape he remembers from his valley childhood. "I'm really very shy." Certainly not for the money. A tip jar is placed unobtrusively at his side, but no one even glances at it as they walk by. "I make McDonald's money out here," he explains. "Some days the tips are good. Some days, it's crummy. It's best out here during Christmas time. Winter's okay, as long as it's not raining. I come out and play Christmas carols, a cappella. Those days you get the biggest tips. I do it because I like it. It's a lot better'n sitting at home in an empty room, practicing. It gets me out in the sunshine."

Craddock came to sit against the wall next to Cafe 1850, playing his 58 tunes, by the most roundabout of routes.

"I started out in high school playing classical piano," he says. "Then I played the sax and the piano for local dance bands and small combos."

He entered the College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific) as a music major, but dropped out after a year because he decided he really didn't want to be a musician. "You had to either be a teacher or travel a lot," he says, "and I didn't want to do either one."

Instead, he became an auto mechanic. He admits that this job sucked, too.

"In the winter it rains and the water comes in the open garage, and you're lying on the ground up under a car, and it gets all into your clothes."

So Craddock went back to college and got a math degree and became--what else in the valley?--a computer programmer. He retired 35 years later, deciding that maybe that music dream he'd had as a teenager wasn't such a bad idea after all.

"My son was taking guitar lessons and I decided to learn along with him," he explains. "I started playing in coffee shops--James Taylor-type of stuff--but as usual, I got tired of that, too. About six years ago, I told my wife I wanted to play the soprano sax. I thought it was silly to buy one, but she sneaked out and surprised me and got one for me."

That led him eventually to the plaza between the Fairmont Hotel and the San Jose Museum of Art, where he's been playing for the past five years, riding his bicycle from his San Jose home. He's got his own website, of course, and the support of his wife, whom he calls his "pretty, dark-haired Lady Dale," who stays at home to create greeting cards on a computer and work on writing a cookbook.

And all in all, it's not a bad life as a street musician. The commute is a breeze. He can pack up all of his equipment onto his bicycle and pedal from his house down to the plaza. And the perks aren't bad either.

"The owner of the Cafe 1850 comes out and makes sure I get a sandwich every day," he says. "And he always puts a tip in the jar."

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From the August 24-30. 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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