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Saxophonist Paul Haar didn’t expect to see Natalie Cole after a concert.

Haar, a former Fremonter, had played a song he detested for the legendary singer during the event.

Cole sang, “Unforgettable,” first made popular by her late father, Nat King Cole.

Haar loathed the song, because it had been played at his own father’s funeral.

But he played it for Cole anyway.

Someone from the band later let Cole know about Haar’s history with the song.

And after the concert, she was waiting for Haar when he came off stage.

“She came up and gave me a hug and she said, ‘Thank you for playing that music for my dad, knowing that you had to play it for your dad,’” Haar recalled.

On Saturday night, Haar and his saxophone quartet will play a variety of music at Fremont Opera House. The public is invited to the performance, which starts at 7 p.m. at 541 N. Broad St.

Tickets are $20 each and available by visiting fremont operahouse.org or stopping by Sampter’s store, 517 N. Main St., in downtown Fremont or calling 402-720-2332. Tickets also will be sold at the door.

Haar is associate professor of saxophone and director of jazz studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

He’s performed with a host of renowned jazz musicians including Grammy nominee Toshiko Akiyoski and has backed personalities such as Lou Rawls, Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight and the Temptations.

Haar grew up in Fremont. His parents, Sol and Dotty Haar, owned Harr’s Restaurant first in Fremont and then in Waterloo. Sol Haar spelled the restaurant’s name with two “r’s,” because an Omaha business already had the name “Haar’s.”

Growing up, Paul Haar attended Fremont Public Schools and began playing saxophone in grade school.

“I really got the bug in seventh grade,” he said.

Haar’s teacher was Bob Olsen, who taught instrumental music for Fremont Public Schools for 35 years.

Olsen asked Haar to play the tenor saxophone in a jazz ensemble.

So he did.

“I took to it and had a love for it and he was really instrumental in getting me in a lot dance bands,” Haar said.

Then in his early teens, Haar would play with the Moostash Joe, Bobby Lane and other area bands.

Originally, Haar intended to become a band director, but decided playing saxophone was what he loved to do the most.

He’d planned to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but said the saxophone instructor at that time didn’t respond to his calls or letters.

“That’s OK,” he said. “It worked out fine.”

Haar had nephews and older brothers who went to the University of Kansas in Lawrence and he’d gone to music camps there.

He attended the University of Kansas, where he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees. He earned a doctorate in saxophone performance with an emphasis in jazz studies from the University of Texas in Austin.

Haar taught at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

He began at UNL in 2004 and is on the faculty of UNL’s Glenn Korff School of Music. Haar and his wife, Tara, have two children, Hailey, a UNL freshman, and Caden, 12.

In 2017, Paul Haar created an online saxophone magazine, THESAXOPHONIST.ORG. The magazine is designed to provide special features, including inspirational interviews, and Haar is its editor-in-chief.

As a classical musician, Haar has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and South America at noted venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Shanghai Conservatory and The Theatro da Paz in Brazil.

Throughout his career, Haar has backed many renowned musicians.

“When you see these performers, you really get a sense of how important the presentation is,” Haar said.

Haar was playing saxophone for Gladys Knight a few years ago, when she was having severe leg and knee problems and could barely walk.

“But when the show started, they brought out some heels, she put them on and you would have thought she was in her 20s,” Haar said. “When she got off the stage, the pain set in.”

Lou Rawls died of cancer a couple weeks after he performed for a show in Lincoln.

Haar makes note of such longtime performers’ talents.

“What captures me is these people are as good in person as they are on the recordings, sometimes better. They were in a time when there was no auto-tune or computer correction of pitch or anything like that,” Haar said.

That was the case with Natalie Cole, with whom he played twice.

He recalled a performance with Cole, who sings “Unforgettable” with a recording of her late father.

“She was very specific about wanting the saxophone solo to be the same way as it was on the recording and so I was asked to do that and that was piece of music we played at my father’s funeral so I was not real fond of it,” Haar said.

Usually, musicians don’t see the artist after a concert, but after Cole learned about Haar’s dislike of the song made a point of expressing her gratitude for his performing it.

“She was really sweet,” Haar said.

Haar has a love for music.

“It can transcend whatever issues or problems that are happening,” he said.

He’s enjoyed the opportunity to make share talents with other musicians.

Fremont Opera House President Lee Meyer is pleased that Haar will be performing locally.

“We’re really happy to bring back a hometown boy who has made such a name for himself,” Meyer said.

Haar is excited to come to Fremont.

“I don’t get a chance to play in Fremont very often and this is showcasing a group that I’m really excited to play in,” he said, adding, “Most people don’t ever get a chance to hear something like this.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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