On Friday, Novato resident and sax player extraordinaire Scott "E-Dawg" Petersen will don a wide-lapelled houndstooth suit, choose one of his thick art-deco ties to go with it, and, oh yeah, inflate the two new lungs in his chest to blow for your listening pleasure as he lines up in the Spare Change horn section of Steve Lucky’s band, the Rhumba Bums.
Petersen was born with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary chronic disease that attacks the lungs and digestive system. Lung power, saxophone playing and cystic fibrosis go together kind of like mountain climbing, vertigo and no legs. Yet he'll be there Friday on the debut evening of Pacheco Plaza's Summer Music Series.
When Petersen was born more than 50 years ago, the average lifespan for a child with CF was in the teens. Now it’s up to the 30s.
“When I was a kid, getting into your mid-20s was considered a good ride,” Petersen says. “Compared to most people with cystic fibrosis, I’ve been really better off, but it has been rough and I’ve had to cope with CF. The fact that I’ve lived this long is a miracle, and it’s probably due to my playing. The doctors believe it, too.”
Petersen couldn’t wait to try an instrument when he got the opportunity in elementary school and started with clarinet and switched to saxophone a few years later.
“I did whatever I had to do to work on my craft and become a professional," he says. "As I started to deteriorate. I had to call on all my skills to keep going. Trying to keep your positive attitude was tricky."
Steve Lucky adds, “Scott received a double lung transplant two years ago and is now blowing saxophone magnificently.” When I remarked, "how amazing," Lucky replied: “The more amazing thing is that he played needing a double lung transplant. He played three weeks before his operation at 30 percent lung capacity of the rest of us and he played LOUD.”
Lucky, the leader, singer and piano player of the band, says there was no doubt about the band's lineup when Friday’s free concert at Pacheco Plaza was booked.
“I thought to myself, 'We can't play in Novato without having E-Dawg on the gig,' so we hired him as a special guest artist," Lucky says. "We'll be performing as a seven-piece band for the first time ever, with three saxophones."
Petersen, who is known alternately as "Scotty Dog" or just “The Pup” says, he remembers when Lucky and Miss Carmen Getit threw a fundraiser for him in Berkeley in early 2008 right when he started getting sick. (Ms. Getit taught ballroom dance classes at the Margaret Todd Senior Center back in the mid-1990s.)
"They have been really good to me, really wonderful people,” he says.
Petersen and his partner, Susan Zeitler, and their four cats became first-time homebuyers in Novato in 2003 after years of renting in the city and southern Marin. His favorite local hangout is in Old Town. "It’s got a downtown vibe and things going on," he says, "and I like the coffee, too.”
Petersen speaks to people in the CF world now and then, “on the subject of how important it is to not think of yourself as an invalid, and keep trying.” His message is to go out and live. “My dad said to me, ‘You can do anything' and I never forgot it.’”
Petersen still copes with the symptoms and discomforts of the post-op regime of immune-suppressing drugs, but says he love playing music. In fact, he loves it now more than he ever has.
Feel and hear the love as Scott "E-Dawg" Peterson joins Danny Brown and Doug Rowan on sax in the Spare Change horn section of the Rhumba Bums at Pacheco Plaza. Music starts at 6:30 p.m. Bringing your own chairs is encouraged. Wingtips optional!