Saturday Night Live Bandleader Lenny Pickett Picks Three

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If there’s one sound that characterizes the Saturday Night Live opening theme, it’s that wailing, fluttering and occasionally ear-splitting lead tenor sax. Lenny Pickett has been playing those legendary solos with the SNL band for almost 30 years -- and he’s been the band’s musical director for almost 20. He gives us a glimpse of life behind the scenes at SNL -- and shares with us a Pick Three

Interview Highlights

Lenny Pickett, on what keeps SNL band members around for decades: 

There are very few opportunities that are steady anymore for musicians. One of the great things about our show is we do the 20 or 22 episodes a year, and the summers are off, so these amazing jazz musicians go and do their other tours and continue with their other work and still have a job that helps support their families. 

On SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels: 

He seems to have found his way into the entire universe of late night television. I've worked with a lot of producers but he has more expertise and more talent at producing than anybody I've ever seen. He's quite amazing. 

On whether the SNL band ever collaborates with SNL's guest artists: 

Recently, the tendency of these acts is to go out very complete. We play with people like Al Green and Aretha Franklin and Randy Newman - people who were really comfortable working with a studio band. That happened more often. But by and large, we have the budget for it, so we let them come and produce their music exactly the way they do it on their tour. We say, bring in whatever will fit in our studio, and do it the way you want to do it. 


Lenny Pickett's Pick Three Selections: 

"Dangaye - ongo" by Ongo Trogode

"Devil Got My Woman" - Skip James

"Wings" (or "Give Me Wings") - The Rising Stars Gospel Quartet