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?

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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:

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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.

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Still going strong: Seymour “Red” Press

The Theater Development Fund‘s Stages blog has a nice little story on Seymour “Red” Press, a veteran Broadway woodwind doubler and contractor and an alumnus of Benny Goodman’s band.

The cast of Chicago changes frequently, but if you listen to the orchestra behind the actors, then you’ll hear the same man night after night.

Woodwinds player Seymour “Red” Press has been in the orchestra of the long-running Broadway revival since it opened in 1996, and that’s just part of a career that spans over fifty years and 100 shows. He’s played everything from Pippin to Meet Me in St. Louis to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, not to mention the original production of Chicago.

Read the whole thing here, and see a photo of Mr. Press in his natural habitat.

This thread at the Clarinet BBoard brought the story to my attention, and has some nice comments from some of Mr. Press’s colleagues and admirers.

From The Savvy Musician: military gigs and the saxophonist

Dr. David Cutler’s The Savvy Musician blog is worth checking out for high-quality career tips.

In a recent post, he discusses careers as a military musician. A couple of highlights for the woodwind-inclined:

With the possible exception of saxophonists and euphoniumists, few musicians dream of a military career. Yet this path can provide a dependable income, solid benefits, and varied opportunities.

This no doubt refers to the problem of “classically-trained” saxophonists with shiny new BM degrees and no gigs. Symphony orchestras, if you haven’t noticed, don’t hire full-time saxophonists. Military bands are about the only regular “classical” saxophone performing gig out there.

The best candidates are solid and versatile players who read well and are comfortable with number of styles. Doubling on multiple instruments (i.e. a saxophonist who plays flute and clarinet) is also highly desirable.

Even in military bands, the most employable saxophonists are the ones with doubling skills and stylistic versatility (for saxophonists, read: “jazz/rock chops”).

Read the whole thing

Why musicians cost money

I very much appreciate this brief article by trumpet player Jeff Purtle: Why Do Musicians Charge? Mr. Purtle makes the point that it costs a lot of money to be a musician. This is painfully true for woodwind doublers, who need not only a large number of high-quality instruments, but also reeds, maintenance and repairs, insurance, stands, cases, and more for each instrument, not to mention the cost of lessons or even college or conservatory study.

I think the overhead costs of being an instrumentalist are a really important and valid point. But I do think are some more reasons why musicians should expect to be compensated fairly for what they do:

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University woodwinds job postings, 5/30/08

Being a doctoral student in multiple woodwinds performance, I like to keep an eye on the job listings for university faculty positions that involve teaching multiple woodwind instruments. There usually aren’t many, at least not many that involve a national search. But two positions were posted to HigherEdJobs.com this morning:

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