Sonny Calo on his saxophone one evening at the Georgetown Shopping Center.
Sonny Calo on his saxophone one evening at the Georgetown Shopping Center.

In a suburban city where sidewalks are rare and car horns provide the ongoing song of the road, a street musician is an unusual sight—and, judging by the smiles on passersby, a welcome sound.

Sonny Calo, the street musician of Dunwoody, breaks out his saxophone on early evenings at the Georgetown Shopping Center and plays rich, mellow jazz.

Entranced kids toss a coin or two into his sax case. Adults break into grins and stop to listen or even shoot cellphone video of the slim, middle-aged musician with his thin mustache and jazz hat.

“Music is uplifting. Music is a spiritually uplifting thing,” Calo said during a pause in his playing.

Now a Dunwoody resident, Calo is a New York native who headed south after attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He plays in some bands, including Atlanta Boogie, and performs for residents of assisted living facilities.

About a year ago, he began playing outdoors at shopping centers in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, including the miniature park next to the Kroger at Georgetown.

“Rather than sitting in a room [while practicing], why not share the music?” he said.

Calo plays jazz, saying he likes its freedom. He enjoys the many flavors of jazz, and many other types of music, such as punk rock. “It’s all just music,” he said.

He performs on a Selmer Mark VI sax, a beautiful instrument with an etched surface, mother-of-pearl keys and a patina from frequent handling that lends it a sense of character. It’s a French instrument that he estimates is about 50 years old.

On the Georgetown sidewalk, Calo lets his sax do most of the talking in the universal language of music. But he offers a quick translation of his musical message in words: “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.