Sax and the City

Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón
John Leadbetter with saxophone in front of a wall of saxophones
John Leadbetter (’08) (Photo by Clay Lyons)

John Leadbetter’s (’08) first saxophone shop was small — about 90 square feet.

“It was basically a closet in midtown Manhattan,” he says. “It was big enough to hold a few shelves, a workbench and me.”

Now four years later, his business JL Woodwind Repair is about to move into a 1,500-square-foot building, complete with a showroom. He has built a strong reputation among saxophone players in New York City, attracting members of the Saturday Night Live band, the Vanguard Big Band and smooth jazz artist Najee.

“My goal was to do really high-quality work and take care of the customers,” Leadbetter says. “If you maintain those principles, people are going to spread the word.”

Leadbetter, who played saxophone with the One O’Clock Lab Band, moved to New York City to pursue music as a career after graduation. He realized he needed a steady income.

So he used the skills he learned from a UNT instrument repair class taught by adjunct professor Ann McMillan. The long-standing class has helped countless musicians learn practical skills in the industry.

Leadbetter worked his way from apprentice to head technician at Sam Ash Music’s shop near Times Square, then started his own shop in 2014.

He has since moved several times, expanding the size and bringing in customers from his own network. Many UNT alumni, including Jim Riggs, Professor Emeritus of jazz studies, have dropped by through the years. In addition to repairs, Leadbetter and his two part-time workers design and make their own saxophone line. They also make custom carbon light weight saxophone cases and assemble its own line of saxophones.

“I love to push myself,” he says, adding that the shop is rewarding. “I’m performing and pursuing what I love.”

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