Turning emotion, into sound, into notes on the Iowa City Ped Mall

Local musician ‘Sax Man’ Eddie Raines shares his philosophy.

Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

On frequent occasions, the sweet, smooth sounds of a saxophone can be heard throughout the Pedestrian Mall (provided people remember to remove their headphones). Since his move to Iowa City three years ago, busker Eddie Raines, 51, has treated downtown with his renditions of household tunes; we know him as “The Sax Man.”

His saxophone is a tenor and the color green, one of his favorites. It’s an intermediate model, nothing too flashy. He bought the green one recently after the repairs for his old one became too expensive. He has been playing the saxophone since the summer of ’86, when he decided to learn something besides the bass clarinet.

His clarinet was bought in his childhood, and, as a condition of the cost, he was sure as hell going to practice it, his mother said. The young Raines played the clarinet through high school, then decided to try the saxophone in college.

For Raines, Hagerstown, Maryland, is home, although the whole of the United States has been his stomping ground. Playing, busking, and giving private lessons, Raines has made his way from coast to coast, and nearly everywhere in between. Tucson and Tampa, California and New Mexico were stopovers; Oklahoma and Oregon were honorable mentions. Consistent with American tradition, Iowa holds the trophy for niceness in Raines’ eyes.

“I’ve played all over, but of everywhere, Iowa City is the best,” he said. “I love it here, I really do.”

To gain practice and perhaps a spare buck along the way, he makes his way out to the public sometimes three, four times a week. The Ped Mall has the best acoustics for his instrument and the most people.

He tries to steer clear of the homeless, to give them space and respect so he isn’t cutting into loose dollars and change. He can be seen in a full suit or dressed down to a bohemian look; it just depends on the day. He favors playing the blues, but he will playfully riff and jam in between recognizable soft melodies, giving in to his rock ’n’ roll tendencies. Staying in Iowa City longer than any place besides Maryland, Raines’ joy and goal is in exchanging energy with spectators.

“Music is turning feelings into sound for me and turning sound into feelings for people listening,” he said.

In a different method of expression, Raines performed a personal essay on Sunday at the Englert for the event “This Is My Brave.” Speaking out in support of resources for mental health, Raines spread a message of love and support for those struggling with depression and other mental-health issues. Aside from his friends in the area, his greatest ally is his sax.

“I feel like I’ve lived about seven lives,” he said. “I’ve been in different places, jobs, ups and downs. It’s been a varied quality of life.”

Raines plans to continue playing on the Ped Mall, because it’s a good part of his day. He’s a working man; he doesn’t need to busk, but he does it for his love of music and of Iowa City.

If you miss his tunes while bopping to Beyoncé on the way to class, or always seem to miss him downtown, his musicianship can be found on YouTube: MrEdmundSax.