As you arrive at the zoo for ZOOLIGHTS presented by Olympia Trust Company and make your way across the concourse, a surprising sound fills the air. It’s not one usually associated with the zoo, like the roar of lions or chirping of birds. It’s a saxophone. The beautiful sound of jazzy Christmas music fills the air near the front entrance of the zoo, welcoming visitors to the magical holiday experience that is ZOOLIGHTS.
Tony Daoust, aka The Sax Man, first learned to play music when he was nine years old. At 12, his parents rented his first sax so that he could play it in the school band. Tony took to it like a natural and, except for a short hiatus after high school, has been playing ever since.
“Music is the thing in my life that’s always there for me,” says Tony. “And the great thing about busking is that you get honest reactions. You get the chance to really gage how good you actually are.”
Tony has been busking for over 25 years, playing at ZOOLIGHTS for six. Christmas is his favourite time of year and there’s just something special about Calgary’s most luminous holiday tradition that keeps him coming back.
“I just love the atmosphere,” he says. “The lights are amazing, and each year they seem to get even better.”
But, Tony’s favourite thing about ZOOLIGHTS isn’t the atmosphere or the lights. There’s something else that tops the rest. The people.
“There is a lady who comes every year. A few years ago, she told me listening to me play was her favourite part of ZOOLIGHTS,” he says. “And every year, kids come up to me and ask me if I’m Santa Claus. I take joy in bringing smiles to their faces.”
It’s not Tony who benefits from ZOOLIGHTS, though. It’s the other way around. His music is the first thing people hear when they arrive, and it sets the tone for their rest of their evening. In case his musical contributions aren’t enough, every year, Tony donates a portion of his proceeds back to the zoo, helping wildlife conservation.
“I give what I can,” he says. “To say thank you.”