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Saxophonist turns his adversity into sweet music

By Justin Boron

Jason Bitten lost what any brass or woodwind musician needs the most - his lips.

Diagnosed with embouchure dystonia, the 35-year old's lips became plagued with uncontrollable quivering and intense pain. He said he tried to fight through it, sometimes thinking he wasn't practicing enough or that he was doing something wrong.

But there seemed to be no way to beat it.

Once while playing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, he said the pain was so great he just had to quit.

His career seemed at an end and he said he felt like giving up.

But Bitten said the congregation at Divine Faith Ministries in Jonesboro gave him some hope.

“There was something else that I needed to get that push,” he said.

Pastors there encouraged him and he managed to overcome the affliction, allowing him to return to the passion he explained was planned by God.

Music was a talent passed down in his family, Bitten said. For one Christmas, he said his father bought him and his brothers a set of drums and keyboards.

His first instrument was actually a set of bongos.

But Bitten said he felt an inexplicable attraction to the saxophone.

“I saw the sax and there was something about the sax that kind of got me,” he said. “I guess the love was in me.

“It's something that God put in me.”

Through high school, Bitten said he excelled in the school bands. For a period, he said quit playing saxophone though. Feeling a void, he knew he had to go back to it.

“When I stopped playing, something in my gut was still in me,” he said.

Although Bitten received a scholarship for his talent, he stayed close to home for school in Birmingham, Ala.

He later moved to Atlanta where in 1998, he spent his rent money on a soprano saxophone and started a gospel jazz band. And three years after that, he started a successful record label based in College Park.

“I just kind of stepped out on faith,” he said.

But in 2002, his neurological disorder took over.

Doctors told him Botox injections may help but at the same time could complicate the problem even more. He didn't want to risk it. Instead, Bitten said he relied on God's healing power.

In November 2004, the pain and quivering went away and he said he hasn't experienced the symptoms since.

“I shouldn't be playing. I should be hanging up the towel,” he said.

Far from it, he won the 2004 “Best Gospel Jazz Album of the Year” from the Urban Gospel Industry.

Now he also gives speeches to young people. He said he tells them he is living testimony that a person, no matter how great the struggle, should never give up.

If you know an interesting person who should be profiled in our weekly “Everyday Person” feature each Friday, e-mail your suggestion to bpaslay@news-daily.com .