ST. PETERSBURG — Cutting through the cacophony of thunderous bus engines, chattering pedestrians, angry car horns and other white city noise, Timothy Turner’s spiraling saxophone notes soar up into the brilliant March sky, providing downtown with a jazzy soundtrack.
From his spot on the corner of Central Ave. and Third St., the street musician colors the clamorous city soundscape with his vibrant flourishes and fluid musical brushstrokes, as he churns out the melodic riffs of the soul classic “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire on his trusty horn.
Turner, who also plays drums and keyboards, has played the sax for 20 years but has only been performing on street corners and outside venues for about six years. Originally from Virginia, he has lived in Miami and now finds himself in St. Pete.
“The first time I came to Tampa was 2009,” he said, “for the Super Bowl, and I made a lot of money from that game. Then they had the Gasparilla parade that weekend, so that made for a really good week!”
With his open instrument case serving as a tip jar, the 33 year old plays about four days a week and not only makes enough money to cover the bills, but believes he often makes more that many paid professional gigs can offer him.
“Most pro gigs aren’t going to pay more than I would make outside the Mahaffey Theater,” he said matter-of-factly. “In general you can make more out here than most of the bars will pay. Maybe not private parties and stuff like that—which I do, too—but I’m not waiting for gigs to pay my bills.”
Street performing comes with perks besides money, Turner confided.
“You’ll be playing outside a Katy Perry concert, and some girls will come out and say, ‘Oh, my God, you’re playing Katy Perry songs!’ and you might leave with a phone number,” he said, grinning.
A typical day will see Turner performing for up to five hours, but if he plans to supply his impromptu brand of entertainment outside a venue on the day of a show, he’ll put in extra hours to learn the particular band’s songs.
“If there’s a concert then I might spend most of my day learning the music,” Turner explained, “then I’ll go play an hour before the concert and an hour after.”
On days when he feels free to play whatever grabs him, his arsenal is expansive and impressive as he can fire off hits by such diverse artists as Britney Spears, the Beatles, Usher and even Nirvana, among many others.
“I learned to play through jazz, you know, Cannonball and Coltrane,” he said, “but I play everything!”’
He calls street performing part of his overall plan, in which he hopes to attract a clientele and perhaps take his art to another level, perhaps with a band. But above all he loves connecting on an immediate and personal level with passersby in the street, whether they’re walking back to the office, running an errand or simply taking a stroll to no place in particular.
“If you can make somebody smile—face to face—you can feel that. And sometimes they forget to put the money in, but that’s all right too, as long as they’re smiling and snapping, we’re good!” he said, laughing.
At home in the open air and sunshine, Turner loves to jazz up people’s days by supplying background music for all to enjoy, and his philosophy is fairly straightforward: “I’ve got to wake up and do what I can for my health, whether it’s exercise or you know, for my mental health, which is practicing or whatnot. Other than that, as long as you provide a service, everything else will take care of itself.”