Sax on the Streets

Confessions of an American Street Musician in Europe

A book about life as a street musician.
Available at

About the book

Sax on the Streets chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Dan Gordon and his buddy Gary Scavone while they performed as street musicians (or "buskers") across 13 European countries over two summers. Their act consisted of duets on two soprano saxophones. Between their regular street- corner performances, they serenaded a French couple in a Parisian penthouse apartment, paid homage to the inventor of the saxophone at his doorstep in Belgium, appeared in a Danish newspaper, squabbled with Czech border guards, and got thrown in jail cell in Switzerland. Along the way, Gordon gives pointers to would-be street musicians and discusses the in's and out's of the trade. If you've ever wondered how a busker lives, or have ever dreamed of busking yourself, this is the book for you.

About the author

Since the footloose and bohemian busking days of his young adulthood, Daniel Gordon has followed a more conventional career path without ever forgetting his roots as a street musician. In his position as a member of the music faculty at Plattsburgh State University of New York, he gives a presentation on his busking experiences as the last class in several of his courses. He has served as music critic for newspapers in New Hampshire and Colorado, and other writings of his have appeared in The Boston Sunday Globe newspaper, Instrumentalist, Games, and Finland-USA magazines, as well as several music journals in France, Canada, and the United States. He has spoken about his busking experiences on WNYC-FM Public Radio and CCTV in Cambridge MA. Sax on the Streets is his first book.

Mr. Gordon lives his wife and two daughters in Plattsburgh NY, where he teaches, writes, and makes music in various forms—and still busks occasionally.


Part I
1. Barcelona, Spain Enjoy this Meal
2. San Sebastián, Spain The Real Thing
3. Bordeaux, France Starting to Roll
4. Paris, France Bridge over Troubled Waters
5. Dinant, Belgium Glory at the Origin
6. Bonn, W. Germany Making a Mark
7. Århus, Denmark Parades and Papers
8. Copenhagen, Denmark Foiled by Mother Nature
9. Stockholm, Sweden With More
Part II
10. New York City Let’s Do It Again
11. Amsterdam, Holland Another Omen?
12. Paris, Bonn, Århus, Copenhagen, Stockholm Familiar Terrain
13. Uppsala, Sweden Cranking
14. Åland Islands, Finland Big Fuss, Small Change
15. Helsinki, Finland Good Löylys
16. Stockholm, Sweden A Midsummer Nightmare
17. Oslo, Norway Bums and Blondes
18. Berlin, Germany The East-West Game
19. Prague, Czechoslovakia Don’t Ask Questions
20. Budapest, Hungary Waiters and Waiting
21. Munich, W. Germany Rushed Along by Regulations
22. Zermatt, Switzerland Run-ins
23. Barcelona, Spain Ragtime
24. Ghent, Belgium Fading Fast
25. Amsterdam, Holland Wrap Up

Reader reviews

Whether you’re a saxophone player or not, “Sax on the Streets” is an exciting read that reveals the carefree lifestyle of two young aspiring saxophonists. Not only does this book key the reader in on how to busk through Europe, but it also effortlessly educates the reader in topics ranging from European cuisine to the mystery of the saxophone’s invention. Dan Gordon’s humor and endless supply of energy bring his tale to life.
--Mike Farley
Computer programmer and amateur saxophonist
Santa Barbara, CA

The idea of American wanderlust may sometimes seem relegated to a bygone era of pioneers in wagon trains, but author Daniel Gordon proves that there are still adventurers among us. In "Sax On The Streets" we are given the rare opportunity to experience the transient life of a busker through a pen that is both honest and insatiable for new observations. The romantic ideal of the "American in Paris" is lived out on every page with intriguing insights into each new locale. The book is highly entertaining and leaves the reader inspired to heed the call of those fanciful longings for adventure that often go unfulfilled.
--Matt Schlomer
Milwaukee, WI

Have you ever wondered what buskers do in real life? Ever wonder what it would be like to be a street musician yourself? Well, wonder no longer. Get Daniel Gordon's book "Sax on the Streets." Here you will find everything you need to know wrapped up in a travelogue adventure story.

The author and his friend Gary Scavone, both of them conservatory-trained musicians, spent two summers traveling throughout Europe and Scandinavia, paying their way by playing Telemann sonatas on the streets of the major cities. It was a class act: two young Americans with their curved soprano saxophones playing sophisticated Baroque music with a hat on the pavement in front of them. The chapters of the book detail their adventures from Barcelona to Oslo and many points in between. We learn of their good luck with generous audiences, bad luck with weather, chance encounters that grew to long-lasting friendships, and some uncomfortable encounters with police and inflexible authorities.

There are also valuable travel tips on how to make the best train connections, how to find cheap accommodation, advice on managing finances, and how to stay out of trouble. The personality of each city is revealed from a busker's unique point of view, and this often differs from the official travel guides.

I have known for years that Dan Gordon is a fine musician; now it turns out that he is a first rate story teller as well. I guarantee that after reading this book, you will no longer hasten past a street musician. You will linger a bit, listen appreciatively, and maybe toss something into the hat. You might even be tempted to work up your act and get out there on the street yourself. If you do, you will find that Gordon's book will have prepared you with all you need to know. Good luck!

- John David Lamb
Composer, Seattle

I saw this guy on CCTV in Cambridge Mass and have been on his email list ever since.

This is a charming book, about a charming custom that I wish took place more in the US. Maybe if we all go and read this book, we'll get more "buskers" in America as a result. Those of you who have visited Our Fair City may discover a couple of street performers in Harvard Square -- but wouldn't it be great if every little town had them? And if the OTHER squares in Cambridge (like, nearer where I live) occassionally got visited also?

The book is also a snapshot of Europe just before the transition from Communism. The sections from behind the Iron Curtain may be the only known first-hand record of busking under Communist rule -- that's history, huh? Seriously, you can get a flavor for what has changed since then. And judging by the chapter on persnickety officialdom in Zermatt which landed the saxophonist in jail for practicing his art, Switzerland has not.

I'm not much of a musician but there's lots about music in here too. I guess I understand why buskers can't play stuff from the Romantic Era on the streets now ("Too involved for passersby"). I'll leave the musical reviews to others.

The people in the book are an interesting lot. Being a fervent traveler, I enjoyed reading about some fellow travel-bums. I'd have liked to have read more about the women -- the authors are too polite and the reader is left to wonder what went on after the chapter closes....

-- Alan K. Jansen
Cambridge MA


If the street musician is reasonably well-groomed and even moderately talented, everybody loves him. Everybody, that is, except for irate shop owners who are annoyed by unsolicited disturbances outside their doors and power-hungry policemen who have nothing better to do than stop these harmless entertainers from doing their thing. Just about everyone else loves them. I’m not sure why; the romance of that wandering lifestyle seems to strike a special chord and arouse the latent bohemianism within everyone.

After two summers of street-musicianing, or “busking,” through thirteen European countries and an American city or two, I am by no means the foremost authority on the subject. I have never been a “hard core” busker who played on the street full-time. I busked as an addendum to my travels, to cut costs as I went, and to have a different kind of experience than the usual tourist activities. But in chatting with other street musicians about the ins and outs of the trade, I found that we all faced similar issues, shared similar experiences, and generally went through a similar process whatever the act was, be it bagpipes, bongos, banjos, accordions, violins, or even spoons.

This book recounts the busking experiences I had with a college buddy as we traversed the Continent playing baroque duets on two saxophones. It tells a few tricks of the trade and expresses my feelings about the people, places, and things we encountered. Our busking was entirely peripatetic; that is, we learned everything by going, observing, playing, talking, and asking questions. This story is, therefore, not necessarily definitive on any of the topics discussed, but true to what we found along the way.

In telling it all, I hope to give a feeling for the kind of life these mysterious entertainers of the street lead: what goes on in their heads while on the street and what goes on in their lives while off it. For while everybody loves the street musician, few really know the street musician. And at the very least, I’m hopeful this tale will make you that much more willing to toss some spare change at the next busker you see.


all of those
street musicians
who always wanted
to write a book
about their adventures
but never seemed
to get around to it
all of those
would-be street musicians
who never even got around
to busking at all

Sax on the Streets, by Dan Gordon
All material copyright 2004 by Dan Gordon and SynergEbooks.
Reprinting by permission only.


Dan Gordon, c/o 1770 Mass Ave., #630
Cambridge, MA 02140
Voice mail: (617) 320-6989
E-mail: jesse @