Sax Man in Demand

Photography by Tyler & Christina
Levi Saelua Sax Man

Finding the “right” instrument is not always easy, even for the musically inclined. For Levi Saelua, it was his mom who helped with that process, plunking out prerecorded sounds on an electronic keyboard and letting her young son’s ear decide.

He picked tenor sax.

Saelua was only 9 then, but he hasn’t changed course since. At 28, he’s one of the most in-demand sax players in town, regularly gigging with a bevy of bands including the Alex Jenkins Quartet, Ron Cunha Big Band, STRQ (Shawn Thwaites Rebel Quartet) and his own bands, the Colossus West Jazz Orchestra and a trio, Triism. Most Thursday nights, you can catch him hosting the jazz jam at downtown’s Shine cafe.

The music bug bit early for the San Francisco-born Saelua, who moved to Sacramento at age 3 and started studying taiko drums at 6. “Taiko drumming introduced me to a lot of complex rhythms, which helped when I started playing sax,” he says. He cut his teeth in Rio Americano High’s acclaimed jazz program, then attended the prestigious Eastman School of Music (in Rochester, N.Y.) to study sax and jazz composition.

Back in Sac since 2013, Saelua has lately been getting back into composing in a big way, he says, as well as working on some recording projects.

Whether playing bebop, straight-ahead jazz or swing, Saelua says his goal is always the same: “To communicate a story without words.”

For more about Saelua, including a calendar of shows, visit