From the time Kenneth Rice was 9 years old, he wanted to play saxophone.
“When I was 12, my father took me to the fire station which was the auditorium, and Duke Ellington’s band was playing,” Rice said. “They were having rehearsal and they told me to bring my saxophone, so I actually got to sit in and play with them.”
Johnny Hodges, a saxophonist who did some solo work with Duke Ellington’s band, patted Rice on the knee, he said, while they were reading his music chart and told him that he didn’t have it, but to keep rehearsing and someday he would.
“Because of them, I continued to play,” Rice said.
He started small bands in high school and later playing professionally.
“We played all the school parties and stuff like that, and then life went on and I ended up in the service,” Rice said.
Rice enlisted in the U.S. Army, and he was stationed in Germany and was supposed to go to Vietnam.
“I was playing my saxophone and a sergeant major heard me playing and asked me if I could start a public relations group. So it started off as a glee club and it ended up being a band, and I ended up being put on civilian status,” Rice said. “I didn’t have to wear a uniform, didn’t have to go to Vietnam, and I recruited all of these folks to be in the group and we would just travel all over Europe and do private functions, and it turned out incredible.”
The band was called the 7th Signal Brigade Communicators, and it is still in existence today.
Rice received three presidential awards, two from former President Richard Nixon and one from former President Barack Obama.
“I got a presidential citation from Richard Nixon for starting that band and doing American-European relations,” Rice said, adding that the one he received from Obama was for his service for underprivileged children and community service.
After he got out of the Army in 1974, Rice came back and went on the road with The Fabulous Flippers.
“We toured all over the world,” Rice said. “The band has been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame three times and will be inducted again in 2020.”
Rice continued to play saxophone, while working at The Horn Connection in Los Angeles as an apprentice learning how to do repairs.
“Everybody came in – Boney James, Kenny G, the biggies that you’d hear on the radio – everyone came in all the time and you’d just meet them, and they’d be playing right there,” Rice said.
In 1999, Rice opened his shop, Little Shop of Horns, in Temecula. The shop celebrated its 20 year anniversary, Nov. 5. Some of the students he taught over the years have become teachers, professors, some recording artists and performers. The shop currently has 30 students.
“Almost all the students that come in have never played,” Rice said. “I have students age 6 all the way to about 70.”
The shop teaches students how to play from a variety of band instruments: trumpet, flute, clarinet, trombone, saxophone, French horn, oboe, guitar, piano and voice.
“If there’s parents, grandparents or even just people out there who want to learn how to play – this store is totally different from anything in the area,” Rice said. “We teach you how to play the instrument, to become a musician not just to play in school, and I do that with all my students. So if there’s anyone who would at least want to learn how to play, stop by and talk to us because you never know. We can teach you.”
Menifee resident Kat Russell said it’s not just about the instruments Rice plays.
“When you meet this man, he is truly a people person who cares about you and how he is entertaining you,” Russell said. “I have driven miles to hear this man because it is worth it. Too bad we don’t have more musicians like this.”
Rice can play two horns at once.
“For four hours, he does his magic on various saxes, crooned to the crowd all the primo hits from the 50s to current tunes, including his own published tunes,” Riverside resident Donna Vialta said. “I love just hearing him croon out a Frank Sinatra favorite, a Bruno Mars hit or Motown classics.”
Rice said he writes a lot of music and has worked with multiple artists, including jazz artist Frankie Laine. His dream? To one day play with the famous rock band Santana.
Lexington Howe can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.