MIDDLETOWN — With less than 10 years of saxophone training under his belt, retired Middletown deputy chief of police Gregory Sneed can already boast that he has played with many of the nation’s biggest jazz musicians.

He recently released his first single, his rendition of “My One and Only Love,” the jazz standard by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartma.

But it all started when he was 3. Sneed would routinely sit outside the door of his home for two to three hours, listening to the strains of his 19-year-old uncle playing the brass instrument. That evoked in him a passion for music he wasn’t able to explore until he was 53, he said.

“That music his uncle played when he was stuck outside the door, it became a part of him. It was there and it needed an opportunity to blossom,” according to his wife of 21 years, Helen Sneed.

Before he became an adult, Gregory Sneed’s uncle was already well-known. In fact, he had played with James Brown and others. “That’s when my love for the saxophone began,” he said.

While in his teens, Gregory Sneed tried out for the school orchestra, but was told there were no saxophones in the band. “My dream went unfulfilled until I was 53.”

Gregory Sneed left the force in 2011 after 26 years of service. The couple live in Bristol. He has been the chief of police at Central Connecticut State University since 2014.

His wife, who was human resources director at a local television station at the time, took a more demanding job there as a salesperson, in order to gain more freedom, she said.

That left Gregory Sneed with an awful lot of free time. Soon, he realized he needed a hobby. So, he went to Middlesex Music Academy on Main Street in Middletown and began taking lessons, he said.

For those eight months, no one knew what he was up to, Gregory Sneed said.

His inaugural concert, for his wife’s birthday, was before an audience of one. Gregory Sneed prepared an intimate picnic on the floor, a tradition that hearkens back when they were first married and living on a tight budget. For Valentine’s Day, they would always order Chinese takeout and lay a blanket on the living room floor, Helen Sneed said.

He left the room, his wife thought, to put on the radio.

She thought was going to activate surround sound. “The volume was getting louder as he moved from the reading room to the living room. That was him playing,” she said. She couldn’t believe what she was witnessing and instantly burst into joyful tears.

“She fell in love with it, and three to four months later, said ‘you’re getting to be a pretty good player,’” Gregory Sneed said.

Two months later, his wife told him she had booked him a small gig at a country club. “You’ll be a hit,” she said. It turned out to be an audience of 300, he said.

How bad could her husband be, she said she thought. “He’s not going to totally bomb. I knew I was dealing with women who were generally around 50. They would appreciate how my husband looked, they would appreciate the instrument, they would appreciate the music itself, and they weren’t expecting BB King,” Helen Sneed said.

“I knew they would clap and they would pay attention, and it would boost his belief in himself and his abilities,” she said.

“I was panicked, but it went well,” Gregory Sneed said.

Gregory Sneed went to see The Coffeehouse Recording Studio owner Michael Arafeh, whose Middletown office is on Main Street. When the singer laid down her track to his music, “Mike and I looked at each other and said, ‘I think we have something here,’” he said.

Helen Sneed had little indication that her husband was musically inclined, however, “I knew the desire was there.”

“My wife really believes in me. We push and support each other,” Gregory Sneed said.

“Part of my HR background is being able to recognize talent when you see it,” Helen Sneed said. “My whole life has been: I have a dream, figure out how to make the dream a reality and go for it. I don’t have a lot of fear, but I’m not reckless.”

Soon after her husband’s country club appearance, Helen Sneed ran into a couple of friends who ran the now-closed Hot Tomatoes in Hartford. She walked up to one and told him: “you need to hire my husband.”

He agreed. “People were sitting there drinking. They’re not paying $100 to watch Michael Jackson,” Helen Sneed figured.

Soon, Gregory Sneed was opening up for the bands once a week, he said. “I’m getting a crash course every Monday night.”

One night, at the Hartford Jazz Society weekly concerts, an older man came shuffling over with two glasses of wine in his hand, Gregory Sneed said. “‘Hey kid, you’re pretty good. Do you want to play with me?’” the man said.

It was local jazz legend Don DePalma. “I was intimidated, and said ‘no thank you,’” Gregory Sneed said. “Right behind me, my wife yells out ‘He’ll play with you!’”

He ended up with DePalma’s jazz trio for three years. “I have been exposed to more famous people than I should have during that time frame,” said Gregory Sneed, who has since played with Kris Jensen, saxophonist for the Allman Brothers Band, Warren Bird and Alvin Carter Jr. “The list is endless,” he said.

“They didn’t have to do any of that,” Gregory Sneed said. “I don’t know why they decided to help me. I don’t know why I’m so lucky.”

He has an eclectic style, the musician said. “I don’t fit into any specific genre.” He will play country, R&B, jazz, rock and pop. “I do a little bit of everything.”

In 2017, he became the Hartford Jazz Society’s first Emerging Artist Showcase winner. “It’s been an unbelievable four years, a roller coaster of a ride,” Gregory Sneed said. “I’m blessed to have so many role models. I can never say enough how great it’s been.”

“My One and Only Love” can be downloaded on Amazon Music, Apple Music, ITunes, IHeart Music, Spotify and most other music sites. To find out where the musician is playing next, visit GBSaxPlayer on Facebook.

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