Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
March 12, 2003:
If Princeton has its own Piano Man, it could be Sanders Maxwell
'39, known to three generations of music-loving Princetonians as
Sandy. Maxwell, now in his eighties, is an active professional musician,
playing at Princeton-area gatherings, including weddings, anniversaries,
First Communions, birthdays, brunches, dinners, cocktail parties,
receptions, and Reunions. In fact, he says, "I have played
in my band, or somebody else's band, at Reunions almost every year
since I graduated."
Maxwell plays solo, at piano or keyboard, or with his group, which
he assembles from his wide acquaintance of musicians. Among his
favorite band mates are cornettist Edward J. Polcer'58 and trombonist
Thomas Artin'60 *68, both of whom will join him at the Class of
1943's upcoming 60th Reunion in June.
He grew up in New Jersey, where his musical education began at
six, with piano lessons he "hated and escaped." At 13,
a few guitar lessons "taught me to read music in the treble
clef." After signing up for "Ten Easy Piano Lessons for
Ten Dollars," he learned the bass clef, and mounted another
assault on the family upright. Since then, "I've been pretty
much self-taught." Nor has he been far from a piano in all
"Some people like traveling or barbecues or baseball,"
he says. "I do too, but it's even more fun to sit down with
88 keys, and try to entice good sounds from them. Playing a tune
at least a little differently each time is part of the fun.
"And of course, seeing people enjoy your music, and hearing
them tell you they do, is another big kick."
At Princeton, Maxwell majored in classics, played piano with the
Triangle Club orchestra, and headed Triangle his senior year. Summers
were spent playing aboard cruise ships, entertaining vacationers
on the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Baltic.
He began to study musicology at Columbia, but left graduate school
to enter the advertising business with Young and Rubicam in New
York City. Then, however, "The war happened." An intelligence
officer in the U.S. Eighth Air Force from 1942 to 1945, he was stationed
in Chelveston, England, where "I played wherever I found a
After discharge, Maxwell worked "on the creative side"
of Young and Rubicam and several other advertising agencies, creating
print ads and radio and TV jingles and spots for various clients
including General Foods, Borden's, and Goldman Sachs. Music was
limited to weekends, when "I played in Dixieland jazz bands,"
sometimes in New York City, sometimes in Princeton, where he lived,
and its environs.
Then, in 1982, "I retired from advertising and commuting,
and gave most of the free hours thus acquired to what was my avocation
all along music."
Maxwell's repertoire offers something for well, almost
everyone. While lovers of punk rock or heavy metal may not groove
to Maxwell's tunes, his songbag is capacious enough to satisfy almost
anyone else, regardless of age. He plays Duke Ellington, Cole Porter,
Sinatra, Diana Krall, Elvis, Jimmy Buffet, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel,
Elton John, the Rolling Stones, U2, the Beatles, and you-name-it
hits from the '30s through the '90s. He plays Big Band, Swing, Latin,
Country, Dixieland, and show tunes.
Current musical activities include a regular weekly gig at Acqua
Restaurant near Somerville, N.J. "From my point of view,"
he says, "it was easier in the old days. I walked in, sat down
at the piano, and played till I went home, and that was it. Now
I often have to lug keyboards, mics, a mixer, stands, speakers
it's a lot of gear to be loading at midnight when I finish playing."
And yes, music has changed some too. His repertoire, he says,
"includes tunes like ëStardust' and ëMoonglow,' which
are old tunes, but fundamentally ageless, and communicate to lots
of people. Today's music has less melody, and is characterized mainly
by rhythm and volume."
A dedicated Princetonian, Maxwell is vice-president of the Great
Class of 1939; he has also served as reunion chair, is an emeritus
member of the Triangle board, and is on the board of the Princeton
He is looking forward to his Reunions performance. "Hey,"
he says, "Reunions are just no way like anything else. Playing
Reunions is always special."
By Caroline Moseley
Caroline Moseley is a frequent contributor to PAW.