Interview: Sal Lozano, saxophone and woodwind artist

Photo courtesy Gio Washington-Wright. Used with permission.

Sal Lozano: Everything's Gonna Be GreatLately I have been enjoying Sal Lozano‘s recent CD, Everything’s Gonna Be Great (available from CD Baby and iTunes). The album is 13 charts by Tom Kubis for 5-piece saxophone section with rhythm section, and Sal plays all five of the saxophone parts. It’s a lot of fun, Sal sounds great, and there’s an all-star lineup of guest soloists.

Even if you don’t know Sal Lozano’s name, you have almost certainly heard him play saxophone and woodwinds. He has recorded with artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Stevie Wonder to Christina Aguilera to Mel Tormé, played on movie scores for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and National Treasure, and performed in TV orchestras for the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Grammy Awards, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars, among many, many other projects. He plays in Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, which just picked up another four Grammy nominations to add to an already-impressive list. (Also check out my interview with Big Phat Band saxophonist Jay Mason.) Sal also teaches at California State University, Long Beach, is a clinician for Disneyland music education programs, and is available for masterclasses and clinics.

Sal is very generous with his time and expertise, and was kind enough to answer some questions about his work and his new album. (He also asked me to let my readers know that they are welcome to contact him.)

Photo courtesy Gio Washington-Wright. Used with permission.
Photo courtesy of Gio Washington-Wright. Used with permission.

What you do for a living?

“I’m a sax player.” That’s what I say to anyone who asks. I also teach saxophone at the university level. Just private students, about six, which has paid for my daughters’ education.

What education (formal or otherwise) and experience prepared you for the work you do?

I studied at California State University, Long Beach as a performance major on saxophone. Four years of private lessons with Leo Potts. Prior to that I studied with Greg Adams at a music education studio owned by Gary Foster. After college I studied flute with John Barcelona and Jim Walker (he kicked my butt). Then clarinet with Jim Kanter. I also have enjoyed playing in ensembles for many many years which is just as much a learning experience as any teaching I’ve had. I also started playing at Disneyland when I was 19 and that was a great learning experience. Too much to talk about now.

If you could do it over, is there anything you would have done differently to prepare for your current career?

Interesting. (This is my third rewrite of this question.) I’m not sure I knew of a plan then. I just wanted to play. Having said that, I wish I could have learned a little more theory and harmony, but maybe things happen for a reason.

What is a typical work week like for you?

Long tones. Oh… work? It’s all “maybe…” Maybe a recording or two (motion picture, TV show, CD recording, etc.), or if I’m doing theater my nights are busy with that (usually six nights a week if I happen to have a theater run). Teach on Friday. Perhaps a concert with the Phat Band, which is mostly out of town. That band is a lot of fun and travels well. Sometimes weeks can be very busy and some are sporadic. However, I try to do something musical every day.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I have the new CD out and have been getting great response. I am hoping to put out a playalong book based on the tunes on the CD. In April I will be on a solo tour in Japan playing with several local big bands. I’m also in the orchestra for the Oscars so things are great right now.

What instruments do you consider part of your current professional toolbox?

I play all the saxes, flutes, clarinets, whistles, ethnic flutes, and the EWI.

Are there others you are working on or would like to add at some point?

I was asked to play the ocarina last year on a Robbie Williams CD so I learned that. This year I’m on a project where I’m playing a bamboo sax from Argentina. Another calls for the shakuhachi flute so I may learn that.

Do you self-identify as a “doubler?” A saxophonist who doubles? Something else? Is it your intention to play all your instruments equally well, or are there one or more that you would prefer to focus on?

I’ll answer these in order: no, no, yes, and all equally well. To explain, I consider myself a woodwind player (I know, I don’t play double reeds, I tried and said “no”). When I pick up the sax, I’m a sax player; flute? a flute player, etc. That’s the attitude I’ve taken when approaching these instruments. I dive into the deep end when playing these because most of the time I’m sitting next to great players who only play flute, clarinet, oboe, etc. Many remarkable players.

What kinds of teaching/educational activities are you involved with?

I teach at California State University, Long Beach, which is a four-year university, teaching private saxophone lessons. For about 23 years I also have been a clinician for a program at Disneyland called Disney Performing Arts where we take students through a 1½ hour recording session, reading music written for that level and recording a soundtrack of a short clip of a Disney animated motion picture. We use a click track and everything that is involved with recording. Great program because the students react quickly when they hear themselves on the soundtrack. It turns out that they fix problems quickly. I also enjoy very much going across the country and playing with music schools of any type. Clinics, masterclasses, etc. I really get a kick out of that and would like to do more.

What is the best part of your job? What is the worst part?

The best part is playing music. Doing something I love to do. Hanging and playing with great players and writers and the joy of watching a student excel and succeed. Not sure if there is a worst part because I really enjoy it.

Do you have time for other interests, hobbies, etc.?

Oh yes. MLB baseball. College hoops.

Your new album is in sort of a Supersax vein, with a big-band-style saxophone section playing with rhythm section and guest soloists, but you recorded all the saxophone section parts yourself. How does that process compare to recording section parts with other saxophonists?

Well, first of all, I didn’t have to tell anyone in the section where to breathe and how to phrase. No one shows up late or has to leave early. I don’t have to tell the second alto he’s playing too loud. Tom Kubis told me he had written these charts and wanted to record them with the guys in the big band. I told him that I would record all the parts, and that was it. It is really fun to play in a section, or play chamber music where you have to listen and react.

In the liner notes, Tom Kubis (who wrote all the charts) compares your lead playing to Marshal Royal and Jerome Richardson. Does that ring true to you? Do you have other favorite lead players?

Marshal is one of my idols and heroes. I had the honor of sitting next to him with the Ray Anthony big band and he still commanded a lead alto presence in his mid- to late 70’s. He was the first guy I heard way back in junior high school and I was hooked. I’m a huge Basie fan and collect bootleg recordings from the 50’s of that band with Marshal playing lead. Great sound, great time. Jerome was a great influence while he was with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band, especially on soprano. There is a huge list of lead alto players I love. The list is quite extensive and it wouldn’t be right to start to list because I can’t think of all of them. They all have this confidence in their sound, the way they go from one note to the next, in many, many styles, not just traditional big band.

Some of the charts on the album use the “standard” alto/alto/tenor/tenor/baritone saxophone section, but some use the less-common soprano lead. Any thoughts on soprano vs. alto as lead instruments? Other than paying dues on the horn, are there any other special considerations when you play lead soprano?

To me? Soprano saxophone requires a hard reed and a slightly open mouthpiece. Mine is an old S80 Selmer E with #3 traditional Vandoren reeds. I need to have the resistance to help me get from one note to the next and hold the pitch and sound I want. I’m not going to change this setup, only the reed. This goes for any playing situation. I most certainly put more air into lead alto playing than I do soprano.

Although the album seems to feature you primarily as a section player, you do take some nice solos, including one on flute. Are you as comfortable improvising on your doubles as you are on saxophone? I think a lot of doublers (myself included) really learn to improvise on the saxophone, and then discover that the vocabulary and fluency don’t automatically transfer.

I would suggest learning technical patterns on the other instruments as you would with saxophone. However, my overall objective is to play flute and clarinet with more of a “classical” approach, so I have had to catch up when improvising on those instruments. Listening to great jazz flute and clarinet players as much as I have listened to “classical” players is quite helpful. I have to remember that each of these instruments requires its own discipline, which is why I don’t consider them “doubles.” It just doesn’t work that way for me.

Any other behind-the-scenes information about the album that you would like to share?

For this project we started with bass and drums and a scratch lead alto/soprano part. Then, the following week, I sat down and played the parts, which took two six-hour days to play 13 charts playing all five parts on each. Eventually we added soloists, guitar, percussion, and piano.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who want to do the kind of work you do?

Practice everything, learn to write, arrange, play the piano, enjoy what you do, get into teaching once you feel comfortable in your playing. With the computer age, ProTools or other recording software makes it very easy to record anywhere.

So, with that comes a responsibility to music. Practicing scales with a metronome, playing long tones with a tuner. The reason is that these recording techniques require us to play along with instruments that are fixed pitched. Record yourself using GarageBand on a Mac or the PC equivalent and it will become apparent. [Ed. note: Audacity is one free, basic recording program for Windows or Linux computers.]

Play in every situation you possibly can, listen to music. A lot. To anything.

Do you have any favorite woodwind doubling (or general woodwind-playing) tips?

One thing I began to realize when studying was that the approach to putting air into these instruments grew to be similar. How I phrased and how I went from one note to the next and playing everything between the notes sort of became the same to me. Obviously embouchure is different but the air thing became the same.

Get a great mouthpiece/reed combination as soon as you can. Look for a decent flute or maybe a head-joint. Ask around, try out everything.

As you play keep in mind four things:

  1. When you read music, the second time you see it you are no longer sightreading.
  2. Listen.
  3. Count.
  4. Always look for beat one.

Thanks, Sal, for the music and for taking some time to share a bit of your experience and expertise!

Death from exposure

Working musicians, especially those trying to launch their careers or take them to the next level, are all too familiar with the idea of playing for “exposure”—in other words, playing gigs for free with the idea that maybe it will somehow lead to paying gigs.

Playing for free is one thing; there’s no reason you can’t do a favor for a friend, or show up at a jam session for fun and/or practice. But it’s more insidious when your unpaid labor is fueling somebody else’s profits. This seems to be a phenomenon that particularly affects creative types: the same people who want your band to play at their event for “exposure” or “experience” are no doubt paying the waitstaff, stage crew, or what-have-you, because people in those jobs simply don’t work for free.

Photo, Mark Robinson
Photo, Mark Robinson

The fallacy here is that the prospective employer is offering you exposure and experience and networking instead of money, as if the alternative were gigs that paid money but didn’t offer those things. That simply isn’t the case: you get all those benefits from paid gigs, too, plus you get to pay your rent that month. Continue reading “Death from exposure”

Teaching multiple instruments in higher education

My academic credentials in multiple woodwind instruments have served me well so far: I was fortunate to be one among my graduating class who did get a college teaching job right out of school, and it’s a job that happens to be an excellent fit. Part of the reason it’s a great fit is because teaching multiple instruments is what I want to do, at least at this point; sometimes others assume that I’ve taken a multiple-woodwinds job as a stepping stone to something else, but that isn’t the case.

While I thoroughly enjoy the variety in my day (I’m teaching oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone), there are some additional things worth considering if you take on multiple instruments in a collegiate teaching career. For example:

  • Resources allocated per faculty member sometimes get spread extra thin. When I arrived at my new job, I was given a little bit of funding for library acquisitions in my area. If I were teaching a single instrument, my current and future students would have benefited from all that money being spent on items directly relevant to them. Instead, I was able to get only a few items related to each instrument. My students, through no fault of their own, got fewer applicable new library resources.
  • Time also gets spread thin. We recently hosted a high school honor band on our campus as a recruiting event. At one point the visiting students were sent to masterclasses with the professors on their instrument, so I got all the reed players. It’s certainly not impossible to run a worthwhile masterclass in that situation, but the circumstances do complicate things a bit. The same problem exists with studio classes for my college students.
  • Some of the work multiplies. When we hold our ensemble auditions, I select audition excerpts and sightreading material for four instruments instead of one. When it’s time to submit textbook orders to the bookstore, I submit separate requests for each instrument’s separate batch of course numbers.
  • It is common for applied music professors to attend their professional organizations’ conferences annually, and to seek out officer positions in those organizations as a way to enhance their tenure portfolios. I would love to attend the annual conferences of the International Double Reed Society, the International Clarinet Association, and the North American Saxophone Alliance each year, but my limited travel funding and the potential time away from my teaching make this unrealistic. And since I don’t attend any one conference every year, it’s difficult to get taken seriously as an officer candidate.
Photo, Trevor Hempfling Photography
Photo, Trevor Hempfling Photography

Not that I am complaining—I am grateful every day that I get to do what I love for a living, and most of these problems can be mitigated with a little effort and creativity. But I think they are worth knowing about if you see yourself headed for a career in college music teaching.

 

Interview: Jay Mason, saxophone and woodwind artist

One of the cool people I’ve come in contact with through this blog is Jay Mason, a very busy southern California woodwind player. If you’re a fan of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (and you should be), you have heard Jay’s baritone anchoring the saxophone section. You may have also heard him on film scores (like the recent Monsters University), on television (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, for one), in the theater (numerous productions around southern California), on high-profile recording projects (Patti Austin, Barry Manilow, Chick Corea…), and backing up a wide variety of marquee acts in concert (Barry White, Kenny Rogers, Michael Bolton, Bob Hope, and many more). He also teaches at Cal State Long Beach and Concordia University – Irvine. Jay was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions about his work.

Jay Mason and friends
Jay Mason and friends

BP: What do you do for a living?

JM: A combination of playing saxophones and woodwinds in recording and live situations, and music education.

What education (formal or otherwise) and experience prepared you for the work you do?

I was very fortunate to have several great young players in my high school bands, both jazz and concert band, who have gone on to successful careers in music. The choir director there started a music theory class during my junior year, which was very thorough and inclusive of many styles, which really helped me to understand how music works, not just how to play. In college, quite a few of the professors either were or had been involved in studio and live work, and working with them, talking shop, etc. helped me to understand what I needed to do if I wanted to become part of that scene. In terms of experience, the opportunity to double on flute and clarinet, as well as all of the different types of saxophones, came along in college in a variety of situations in and outside of school: musicals, different ensembles, saxophone quartets, you name it. After college, I performed at Disneyland for quite a while, which put me into a huge variety of situations, playing everything from piccolo to bass saxophone, often having to read new material or learn new parts quickly, and make it happen day in and day out, no matter the weather, the crowd, or my mood and health.

What is a typical work week like for you? Continue reading “Interview: Jay Mason, saxophone and woodwind artist”

What I’ve learned in my first three years as a college professor

I’m still at what I hope is the beginning of a long career, with lots of things left to learn. But here are a few little things I’ve picked up along the way so far (three and a half years, actually), and that I thought might be worth sharing.

red pen
Photo, cellar_door_films

Getting hired for a job in academia is about being the right match. I applied to a lot of jobs during the final year of my doctoral studies. A few seemed like good matches on paper, but for a number of others I thought I could perhaps offer something better than what was listed in the requirements. For example, I applied for quite a few single-woodwind jobs, and tried to emphasize in my cover letters and CVs that I could potentially take on responsibilities with additional instruments. I got virtually no response to those applications. The jobs that I got interviews for were specifically multiple-woodwinds jobs.

A highly-qualified and very talented friend of mine was hired for a teaching position. I had opportunity later to speak with one of his new colleagues, who raved about my friend’s lively and outgoing personality. “The other person we interviewed was so boring,” she moaned. I suspect that had I interviewed for that job, I would have been the “boring” one. At some other interview, my friend’s energy and humor might have been seen as frivolous or flippant, and my more muted social style might have won the day.

Since being hired myself, I’ve had several opportunities to serve on committees that have sifted through applicants for other music faculty positions. There are lots of people looking for those jobs, and when the applications start to pile up, anyone who doesn’t meet the specific requirements of the job gets set aside pretty quickly, no matter what other strengths they might bring to the table. Continue reading “What I’ve learned in my first three years as a college professor”

Interview: Woodwind road warrior Terry Halvorson

Terry Halvorson

I’m always pleased to hear from other woodwind players. Terry Halvorson has been a contributor to my Broadway woodwind doubling list for several years, we’ve communicated periodically online, and we even bumped into each other in person at an IDRS conference a few years back. Terry has been working as a musician with touring musical theater productions for a while now, and I  was curious about life on the road. He was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions.

BP: What do you do for a living?

TH: I am a woodwind doubler (oboe/English horn, flutes, clarinets, saxophones, recorders, whistles). I am currently 44 years old and have been performing musical theater since I was 14. I have been playing the Reed 2 book (oboe and English horn) with the national tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast since February 2010 and will be continuing, switching to the Reed 3 book (clarinet, bass clarinet, 2nd flute) from late September through May 2013.

How did you get the job?

I was called back in late 2005 by a musical director friend to play a reed book on the tour of Will Rogers Follies, but I had commitments at the time that I couldn’t get out of, so I had to turn it down. However the reed player who was hired gave notice four months into the eight-month contract and I was able to join the tour in the middle, replacing him (my first experience seeing a high D on flute!). Toward the end of this tour, we were in the New York City area when NETworks Presentations (my current company) was holding musician auditions, and I was able to attend; I received a call five weeks later asking me if I would like to play with the national tour of The Producers, and here I still am!

What background (education, other experience, etc.) do you have that prepared you for this job?

Wow, loaded question… well, I have been a major woodwind geek since high school (I arranged my favorite band piece for mixed clarinet sextet when I was 14 years old, and we won a command performance at our regional solo and ensemble festival); I also played oboe, clarinet and bassoon in my local youth symphony in various years. I was, of course, a music major (oboe and clarinet) in college as well, beginning as an education major but switching to performance. I freelanced a LOT, playing mostly reed books 2 and 3.

What’s the best part of the job? What’s the worst part?

Best parts are having a steady paycheck as a performing musician (how many people can say that?) and of course seeing and experiencing all the different places we play; I have played all fifty states and most Canadian provinces. The worst part is probably the lack of freedom to come and go and the strict adherence to a schedule.

What’s it like being on the road? Continue reading “Interview: Woodwind road warrior Terry Halvorson”

Interview: Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments

Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments

I’m pleased to share an interview that I did with Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments. Ryan and I played in college jazz band together, and recently reconnected. He is a really creative and fun soloist with an incredible tenor sound, plus a cool guy with a cool job, not to mention a new dad. Read all the way to the bottom to find a video of Ryan and his Cannonball colleagues (all very tasty players) showing off their chops and their horns. Cannonball is a serious contender in today’s saxophone market, doing some very interesting and innovative things, generating some great buzz, and signing big-name endorsing artists left and right. Ryan was kind enough to answer a few questions about what he does at work. [Full disclosure: I recently bought a new Cannonball tenor with Ryan’s expert help, and it is a seriously awesome horn.]

 

BP: Tell us a little about yourself.

 

RL: I work for Cannonball Musical Instruments. I studied at Brigham Young University where I started in music but ended up graduating with a business degree and a music minor. When I’m not working, I stay busy performing, fixing up old horns, working on my old muscle car, and spending time with my wife and five-month-old daughter.

 

Tell us about your performing background.

 

I had a blast as lead tenor in Synthesis (BYU’s jazz band); I’ve performed with the Utah Symphony and some smaller local groups, recorded for movies and commercials, and recently performed with the Cannonball Band at the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival. Most of that was on tenor sax, but I’ve done my share of doubling on flutes and clarinets in pit orchestras. I currently take my jazz quartet around for local weddings and other events, which I’ve been doing for about a decade now and still enjoy. Especially when food is provided.

 

What is your job title? What do you do at work?

 

It kind of depends on the day … we all wear a lot of hats around here. I play test, inspect, and acoustically customize about half of the saxophones we sell; I’m in charge of the spare parts/repair department; I manage a number of international accounts; I do our social media; I contribute to product and acoustical development and testing; I clean the boys’ bathroom (hey, you asked!); and whatever other projects come up. Things definitely don’t get boring around here.

 

How did you get the job?

Continue reading “Interview: Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments”

Doubling fees under fire in Denver

oboe and English horn
Photo, quack.a.duck

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, like so many others, is facing a financial crisis that threatens its ability to continue making music. An opinion piece in Sunday’s Denver Post criticizes the Denver Musicians’ Association (AFM Local 20-623) for its unwillingness to budge on certain elements of its agreement with the orchestra.

The issues here are complex, and I hope that the DMA and the CSO will be able to come to a solution that is fair to all involved and that keeps the music alive. But this point in the authors’ list of complaints caught my eye:

Musicians performing on more than one instrument receive “doubling pay.”

I don’t have the full details of the doubling pay currently available to CSO members (though the amount doesn’t appear to be the issue here—it’s the fact that any doubling pay is offered that seems to offend). But a slightly-outdated agreement between the DMA and the Boulder Philharmonic, summarized below, shows a typical doubling pay structure, and it’s a reasonable guess that the CSO’s is identical or very similar:

  • 25% bonus for first double
  • 10% for each additional double
  • B-flat and A clarinets count as one instrument
  • Alto and tenor saxophones count as one instrument
  • Alto and bass clarinets count as one instrument
  • Piccolo, larger flutes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, and saxophones larger than tenor each count as a double, even when used in common combinations (like flute plus piccolo)
Though I am not currently a union member (due to a dearth of union gigs in my area), I frequently ask for doubling fees when negotiating my pay for gigs. Here’s why doubling fees make sense to me as a woodwind player: Continue reading “Doubling fees under fire in Denver”

Interview: Gene Scholtens, Broadway woodwind doubler

Gene Scholtens

One of the awesome things that has happened since I started my list of reed books in musicals is that great people from all over the world have contacted me to contribute to the list. These contacts are always a pleasure for me personally, and they serve to make the list more accurate, complete, and useful for others.

I have a number of regular contributors who contact me periodically with updates, and until recently the record was nearly twenty individual contributions from one much-appreciated person.

That record was shattered when, a few months ago, I started getting emails from Gene Scholtens. The first email was a small correction for one show, but then the floodgates opened. Gene revealed that he has been playing woodwinds in Broadway orchestras for over thirty years, and has been keeping his own very comprehensive log of who plays which doubles on which shows. Gene’s contributions to my list at the time of this writing number a staggering 72.

As it turns out, Gene is not only a talented musician and a prolific record keeper, but also a very nice, humble, and generous guy, and graciously agreed to talk to me on the phone about his career. Here’s what he had to say. [Note: edited for length.]

 

BP: How many shows have you played?

 

GS: I’ve been playing on Broadway since roughly 1980. The last count was somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-95 shows.

 

Wow. Continue reading “Interview: Gene Scholtens, Broadway woodwind doubler”