Saxophonist hits all right notes during storied military career


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Andrew Cleaver, who enlisted in the Air Force in 1988, has performed in front of England’s Queen Mother, former Prime Minister John Major, and Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama. Cleaver was part of the Inauguration Parade for President Obama and served on the funeral procession for President Ford.

Courtesy of Andrew Cleaver

Some seemingly mundane incidents can have tremendous impact on a person’s life. In the case of Andrew Cleaver, this happened when an elementary school buddy showed him the saxophone he had found at home.

“I was hooked,” Cleaver said.

From that day forward, the saxophone would be an important part of Cleaver’s life and his career.

The Baltimore native, who grew up in Lakeland, graduated from Florida Southern College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education.

“I thought I was going to be a teacher,” the Melbourne resident said.

His band director had other ideas, however, and he arranged for special auditions with the Marines and Air Force bands. The Air Force made Cleaver an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Cleaver enlisted in 1988, joining the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base as a saxophonist. By 1992, he was in Germany as the principal alto sax in the concert band of the United States Air Forces in Europe Band. Other additions to Cleaver’s resume at the time included the job of lead alto to the Air Force’s Glenn Miller Band, the military’s version of the Glenn Miller Band, and of drum major for its ceremonial band. The result was that Cleaver was very, very busy with the sax.

The sax even led him to romance, for it was during one of his performances in England that he met his future wife, Ruth, a dancer.

Cleaver’s audiences have included some heavy hitters such as England’s Queen Mother, former Prime Minister John Major and U.S. Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama. He was part of the Inauguration Parade for President Obama and served on the funeral procession for President Ford.

He will never forget the performance for the Queen Mum, not just because of the extraordinary lady
who was listening, but also because the whole gig was spent playing in
the rain.

“We were basically marching in the mud,” he said.

Bill Clinton joined Cleaver onstage to play the extra sax that had been brought just in case.

“At one point, he lost track of the music and I got to help a U.S. president get back on track,” Cleaver said.

After Germany, Cleaver headed to Scott Air Force Base to join the Band of Mid-America, where he served as drum major, sax player, photographer and videographer. The assignment led to two years with the Air Force Public Affairs Office at the Pentagon. The job was great, but the first day on the job could have been better.

“My first day at the Pentagon was Sept. 11, 2001,” Cleaver said.

Two years later, he joined the United States Air Force Band in Washington, later playing sax as a member of the Air Force’s premier jazz ensemble, the Airmen of Note, until he retired in 2009.

“Growing up, I had listened to the Airmen of Note, and they were like the Beatles to me,” he said.

Among Cleaver’s career highlights was participating in the Grammy-winning “PDQ Bach — Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion.”

“It’s nice to have our name on the jacket of a Grammy winner,” he said.

These days, he works for the IRS, but don’t get scared, for Cleaver is a manager in the department’s Charities Division, which helps small charities apply for federal tax exemption.

In his spare time, he performs with the Central Florida Winds, the Space Coast Big Band and Melbourne Municipal Band’s sax quartet. He teaches the instrument, too, and his students include a 76-year-old retired police officer who wanted Cleaver to knock off a bucket list must-do for him.