From Senate to Stage
HELP Staffer Moonlights as Sax Player, Singer for Local Band
Though Bill Clinton’s name may come to mind as the political world’s most famous saxophone player, one Senate staffer is proving Republicans can jam, too.
Steve Northrup, health policy adviser for Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), may look like an ordinary policy wonk, but in the evenings, he trades in his briefcase for B-flats.
When Northrup is not working on major health care issues for the committee, he plays the saxophone and sings for a D.C. area band called Blame It on Jane.
“It’s an interesting juxtaposition — the daytime government
guy and the night gig with the band — it’s a different type of creativity,” Northrup said.
Northrup’s role in his day job is to “advance the chairman’s health care agenda.” He began working for Enzi at the start of the 108th Congress; he had previously worked as a lobbyist.
Like many musicians, his saxophone playing days date back to elementary school music, while growing up in Massachusetts and upstate New York.
“A lot of people drop out, but for whatever reason, I stuck with it,” he said of the saxophone.
After graduating from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., Northrup came to Washington, D.C., and worked as a paralegal, but he decided law school was not in the cards for him.
He discovered he was better suited to lobbying.
“I’d always been interested in politics,” Northrup said. “I learned there were other opportunities to work in government.”
Northrup met Jane Adams in 1995 when they were both lobbyists. He worked for the Association of American Medical Colleges and she for the National Association of Biomedical Research. They discovered their mutual love for music before he moved to Chicago, and she asked him to join her band when he returned to D.C.
“He’s a phenomenal musician. He’s a great sax player with lots of energy and creativity,” Adams said. “He’s also so much fun to be around.”
Northrup and the other five band members call themselves on their Web site “Pols by day, rockers by night — a fine picture of graceful moonlighting.”
Led by Adams, the band has been playing around D.C. since 1999, performing a mixture of music ranging from country to classic rock and contemporary pop.
The band’s most prominent gigs have included the Texas Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball in both 2001 and 2005. Their venues range from private parties to the legendary New York underground rock club CBGB.
Northrup said they played at CBGB “as a lark” back in 1999, and they stuck out as a “fairly clean cut group of characters” playing at the club in the East Village.
Adams said the band keeps Northrup very busy, between playing the sax and lending his vocals to the band.
She cites “friendship, professionalism, and great musicianship” as qualities Northrup brings to Blame It on Jane.
The band’s namesake also said his sense of humor is important to the group. “You wouldn’t know it because he takes his job so seriously, but he’s hilarious when you get him out of a work situation,” Adams said.
Northrup and his wife, Elizabeth, have been married for four years, and they have a 10-month-old son.
So how does a busy Hill staffer juggle a family, career and moonlighting as a rock star?
“It’s difficult for anyone who has kids and works on the Hill. My son goes to bed like clockwork every night at 7, so I try to get out of here and get home to help put him to bed as many nights as possible,” Northrup said. “You think you’re going to go home, but you don’t know what will land on your desk at 5 o’clock.”
Northrup cites Congressional recess as an opportunity for a more normal schedule.
“The only way to stay sane is to keep a 9-to-5ish day when we’re in recess,” he said. “That’s the only time you can really plan your day.”
What does the Senate musician have to say about the saxophone-playing former president from across the aisle?
“The legacy of John Coltrane has nothing to worry about,” he said with a smile. “But he is the best saxophone-playing president we’ve had.”