Interview: bassoonist and inventor Trent Jacobs

Last summer I finally got myself a Little-Jake setup so I could experiment with some electric bassoon playing. The inventor of the Little-Jake, Trent Jacobs, is a performer, educator, and reedmaker, and I’ve linked to his blog posts on a number of occasions.

Trent was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself and about the Little-Jake.


Tell us in a nutshell about yourself and your career.

I have a bachelor of music degree from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, and Masters and DMA degrees from the University of Illinois. My primary teachers were Monte Perkins and Timothy McGovern. I moved to Minneapolis in 2009 where I started work at Midwest Musical Imports, and began freelancing and teaching as much as I could around the full time job. In about 2010 I started making reeds commercially under the Weasel Reeds brand, which grew significantly over the years. I started teaching bassoon and music theory at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in fall of 2015 and left MMI shortly after. I now teach there and in my studio in Minneapolis, continue with the reed making business, help in raising my two children (which includes Suzuki violin lessons), and freelance when I’m able.

What is the “Little-Jake?”

The Little-Jake is a small and inexpensive wind instrument pickup, designed to mount directly to the bocal of the bassoon or similar location on other woodwinds. It gets the name from a nickname I had when I was a little boy. My fathers friends called him “Jake” as short for Jacobs so when I was around I was “little Jake” while he was “big Jake.”

What was the impetus for creating it?

In about 2005 while I was working on my DMA, I started working out that my thesis/project would be somehow related to jazz bassoon. Years prior I was a pretty competent jazz guitarist, but didn’t ever translate that to bassoon much, and never improvised on bassoon until then. So when pursuing jazz bassoon in all facets I encountered (again) the music of Paul Hanson, and his electric bassoon playing.

If you know anything about Paul’s setup at that time, you’ll know he was using a pickup that was no longer being made or serviced by the inventor, and was an unusual piece of gear with odd technical requirements. The only thing on the market available to anyone else was actually a control booth earpiece that functioned as a microphone well enough when fit to a bocal (the Telex pickup).

I was curious about it and happened to have a third-hand connection with Mark Ortwein at the time, and I knew he had a Telex setup which he let me borrow. It worked, but I was rather unimpressed with the sound quality I could get through my guitar amp and pedals, so I set out to make something I liked better. Quite a few dozen experimental pieces later I had a prototype I was close to happy with, that worked with the Telex fitting.

What kind of background or skills did you have that made it possible?

It’s rather embarrassing to say, but the first skill needed in making something like this is soldering, which I learned by modifying gaming consoles to play homebrew software. I had learned to do that with some tutorial videos on the internet and had made a few small electronics projects so I had some idea what I was doing. I also got some help from the guy that makes the Altoids box preamps that are now commonly bundled with the Little Jake in the technical aspects of circuit building.

Most of the construction of them isn’t all that different from bassoon reed making in my mind. Small pieces have to be fit together in a precise way, it’s just that the tools and pieces are a bit different. The hardest thing in the early days was getting a good connection with the existing Telex pickup bocal adapter being made by Forrests Music. I was fortunate enough to have a colleague in the bassoon studio at the University of Illinois who was an architecture major and had access to CAD and acrylic laser cutting machines. He helped me prototype and get working pieces to allow for a solid connection.

Eventually I switched everything over to a threaded/screw adapter like what Paul Hanson was using with his FRAP pickups, so he could use my pickups with his existing equipment. That is the only way I make the pickups now.

What instruments are people using the Little Jake with? Are there others that it theoretically would work with?

I’ve seen them used on clarinet and saxophone, although not too much. Nearly any woodwind instrument is possible, as long as the player is willing to drill a hole where it’s needed. Clarinet is best done in the barrel, which is easy. Saxophone could use the mouthpiece but the neck is better, similar to the bocal mount for the bassoon. English horn could be done on the bocal but it’s fine work and I don’t know of anyone that’s actually gone there.

Flute is the one that’s not really necessary, as there are plenty of high quality microphone systems for flute that would be ultimately superior to the sound you could get with the Little Jake anyway, but there is a way to modify a Little Jake and a headjoint of a flute to make it work together. A lot of work and the sound wouldn’t be as good as a commercially available flute mic at the lip plate anyway.

Oboe is the toughest sell: you have to drill a hole at about where the third octave key is on the top joint. Most oboists aren’t willing to sacrifice a top joint to electrify the oboe, so I don’t think it’s been done. Paul McCandless has done it in the past with a FRAP, but I don’t think anyone else ever has.

I’m sure there are non-western instruments that it’d work with as well, as long as there’s a place to drill the hole.

Have you seen any uses of the Little Jake that you found especially surprising?

I’m just always surprised when I find a bassoonist using it and enjoying it in a rock band setting. I’ve had people send me recordings over the years and it’s pretty cool to see something you’ve created being used in contexts you wouldn’t yourself be in. I was blown away when I discovered a band in Iceland that had a bassoonist using a Little Jake.

Obviously using a Little Jake opens up a whole rabbit hole of new gear to buy, but what is a good minimum setup that, say, a bassoonist needs just to try out some electric playing?

The amp is the most important second piece of equipment. The goal of using a pickup with a bassoon is to get the sound space into a place that can be heard even when there are drums involved. When putting together a guitar rig, as an example, the guitar is only half of the sound; the other half of the sound is the amplifier. Ask any guitar player, the amp is absolutely critical when getting the tone you want. All the pedals and stuff you can put between the instrument and amp are just extras. So it’s really important to get an amp that gets you the sound you want at a volume appropriate for what you’re doing. I’ve settled on a really high end acoustic guitar amp, but in the past I’ve used bass guitar amps, powered PA speakers, and guitar amplifiers. It all depends on what kind of sound you want. You can get a good amp used for $100 or less.

For someone who already has that minimum setup, what are the next few things to consider buying?

If you don’t know anything about effects pedals, one of the simple and small multi-effect units for guitar or bass guitar are a good starting point. You can experiment with lots of different types of effects and decide what you like to use before investing in more specialized gear. Those multi-effect units can sometimes be found for $50 if you get a good Craigslist deal.

If you know what kinds of effects you like, you can get dedicated pedals that do that one thing really well. I find that a lot of things respond differently to bassoon than to electric guitar (which is what these things are designed for) so you really have to try things out before you spend the money. It’s always fun to take your bassoon out in a guitar store and start playing through pedals. The people in those shops love it! I also really highly suggest effects units designed with vocalists in mind. A voice or wind instrument is more similar to a bassoon than an electric guitar is. I personally use a lot of pitch shifting effects, modulation effects (phaser, chorus, etc.), and time based effects like delay/echo and reverb. I don’t really use distortion all that much unless I’m really trying to sound like another guitar player in the same band. The other thing that’s always sure to turn heads is an Envelope Filter (sometimes called auto-wah but that’s not really correct). That’s the effect that makes your instrument have that “quack” or “wah” sound when you articulate.

What surprises or challenges do people run into when electrifying their instruments for the first time?

Feedback is probably the biggest issue with amplifying an acoustic instrument. Feedback is where the sound from the amplifier or speaker is picked up by the microphone, which creates an audio loop that quickly becomes very loud and usually very high pitched. Acoustic instruments have more problems with this because they themselves are a bit of an amplifying chamber that can pick up the sound of the speakers. You have to learn what effects and volume levels will create that feedback with your own setups and be ready with a plan to control them (be always close to a volume knob that you can zero out if it gets really bad).

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

Don’t play on crap reeds. Life is too short. Practice your damned scales and long tones. Take good care of your equipment: regular instrument maintenance with a specialist on that instrument, store things properly, clean them regularly, buy appropriate cases or covers or whatever to keep things protected. Don’t swing stuff around carelessly. Swab your horn. Especially in my years at MMI I was frequently amazed at how poorly some people, even professionals, took care of their gear. If you’re playing a bassoon at a night club you’d best know that you have the single most expensive piece of equipment in the band probably, and nobody knows it or cares, so watch out for your own stuff.

Would you like to share anything about your recent medical history?

In May of 2017 I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I underwent 9 weeks of chemotherapy and in early November had surgery to remove the tumor, which involved also removing my entire stomach and a portion of my esophagus. I finished 9 more weeks of chemotherapy after the surgery and have started playing again, but I still have a long road to recovery and learning to live without a stomach. I have started teaching and working again and so far things are looking good for my healing. We will do regular scans and hopefully find nothing.

I found that some side effects of chemo prevented me from making reeds as much as I was used to, and generally being fatigued kept me from playing as much as I wanted. I obviously had to turn down quite a few calls for gigs. I’m fortunate to have a good health insurance plan through my university and have some of the best doctors in the world working on me, so while my income has suffered I have a good safety net. I expect to be in full production of bassoon reeds again in the spring of 2018, so if anyone wants to be notified when I have reeds ready to go again, send a message to me through my website.


Thanks Trent!

Check out a couple of Trent’s performing groups:

And of course his website: Trent Jacobs, bassoonist

Interview: flutist Tammy Evans Yonce

Flutist Tammy Evans Yonce is an active recitalist, writer, clinician, speaker, contributor to various conferences and professional organizations, and professor at South Dakota State University (plus: she is my former classmate). Her thoughtful blog is a favorite of mine and my regular readers will recall that I have featured her posts on a number of occasions. Her debut CD will be released earlier next year—keep an eye on her website and Twitter for details.

I am always particularly amazed by her brutally busy performance schedule, and she kindly agreed to let me pick her brain about it.

How often do you perform?

I do an annual fall tour, which includes multiple performances and masterclasses. This year it was to Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Sometimes I choose these places because it’s a geographical area I want to explore or because I have friends and collaborators there. This year’s tour included collaborations with some really fantastic friends. I’ve been able to perform in 24 states so far, so that’s been fun.

I always give one on-campus recital each year but also frequently collaborate with colleagues on theirs.

Other performances include festivals, conventions, and such. I like giving 15–20 performances per year.

How do you maintain such a busy performance schedule, on top of teaching full time, having a family, etc.?

It mainly comes down to organization and clearly defined goals. And making consistent progress every day. I work in big six-month chunks, where I have goals listed in a variety of categories (performance, writing, recording, commissions, etc.). Those goals help me organize my day-to-day decisions, and they also allow me to stretch beyond what I think I’m capable of.

I have some general long-term goals but I think the nature of my work (music + academia) means that I can’t anticipate all opportunities that might arise, so I try not to be too rigid about those long-term plans. My upcoming fellowship to Israel came out of left field, for example, so I try to keep my eyes open.

I also have a really supportive husband who carries his share (plus some, probably) at home so I have some flexibility.

How does your performance schedule affect you? What benefits or drawbacks are there to a busy performance calendar?

I enjoy travel and find it invigorating. It helps me to break up my schedule, see new people and places, and be in a different environment, and it certainly helps my teaching. I enjoy collaborating with friends.

Performing frequently has effectively eliminated performance anxiety for me. There’s just not time to be nervous and I have a lot of hours banked actually on the stage. I’ve “practiced” performing so much that I can stay in the moment. Since creation and analysis are completely different processes, if I can stay in the moment I’m not worried about analyzing my performance as it happens.

Being busy might be considered a drawback for some but I feel like the things I do are a worthwhile use of my time. I don’t do things just to have something to do.

How do you maintain balance in your career and life?

I have a couple of trusted people who understand me and my goals that I check in with regularly. We make sure that we’re staying on track. Also, I don’t check work email after 5pm or on the weekends.

Do you have any self-care or stress-reduction practices?

I get regular massages. I used to see this as a luxurious indulgence but being a musician does take a physical toll. I like good food, I travel as much as I can, and I try to work with my friends whenever possible. Finally, I read a lot. I read at least 25 books a year.

You frequently commission new works. How do you connect with and select composers?

Sometimes I’m approached by composers who hear me play and have an idea of something they’d like to write. Other times there are composers I know I’d love to work with, and I approach them. Most of these connections happen either online (Twitter, usually) or at conferences and festivals. Even if I haven’t met a composer, it’s likely that I’ve seen them around online or have mutual friends, so there’s usually a connection.

Generally I work with the composer during the compositional process. We meet via Skype or FaceTime so I can try out their ideas or they send sketches as the piece progresses, so I have a good idea of what the piece is before it’s done. The composers I work with want things to work, so if something is awkward or impractical, we find a solution.

You have done some performing and commissioning with the Glissando Headjoint. How does this play into your career? Is it bringing you opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise? Does it cause you to be pigeonholed?

The Glissando Headjoint has been a lot of fun. I don’t think it has helped or hindered me. I see it as another item in the toolkit I can use to get the musical message across. Since there isn’t much repertoire for it, it has been fascinating to see how composers use it. They are really drawing from their own creativity instead of basing their musical decisions on existing repertoire.

When programming, how do you balance new repertoire with previously-performed works?

Big considerations are the audience, the logistics of the performing venue, and whether or not I have collaborators available.

My recitals have taken a big turn lately and are much more logistically complex. Last month’s recital featured dancers, lines of poetry projected in real time, a lithograph displayed during one piece, multiple collaborators, and a variety of equipment changes. While it was complex, I think it was effective.

I’m already planning next year’s recital, which will involve literature, readings, photographs and other visual art, and several new commissions. Once I get the plans in place, I’ll put more info on my website. I like the impact of a cohesive recital that involves more than just the ears.

Do you have any favorite flute-playing tips?

Practice. You can’t go wrong with lots of etudes and Taffanel and Gaubert.


Thanks, Tammy, for taking the time to answer some questions! Find her at:

Interview: Jonathan Tunick, Broadway orchestrator and more

Jonathan Tunick is a show business legend: a composer/arranger/orchestrator/musical director for stage and screen; a collaborator with Stephen Sondheim, Placido Domingo, Barbra Streisand, and too many more to mention; and a winner of many awards.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear from Mr. Tunick a few years ago, when he contributed some information to my list of Broadway shows. Recently we were in touch again and he was kind enough to answer some of my woodwind-player questions about his work.

Jonathan Tunick

I understand you have background in clarinet playing. Are you still actively playing?

Although I can play the piano after a fashion, the clarinet was my true instrument. My uncle, a dedicated amateur who studied with Bellison, started me on the instrument at age ten, turning me over after a few months to Harold Freeman of the NBC Symphony, with whom I studied for several years. As a college freshman I had a year of saxophone lessons with Jimmy Abato, who gave me a few clarinet lessons as well. Later when I entered Juilliard I studied (mostly clarinet, but some saxophone too) with Joe Allard, a wonderful man and teacher, for four years. I consider him my principal teacher.

I was a fair classical clarinet player, played bass clarinet in the Juilliard Orchestra, and could play either lead or jazz in a band. My flute (Haynes, Louis Lot piccolo) playing was mediocre but passable. I freelanced in New York playing orchestra, opera, dance band, theater, resort and club dates through the sixties until my arranging career superseded my playing and my horns went into the closet.

A few years ago I started playing the clarinet again; chamber music with friends and fronting a 14-piece swing band made up of Broadway musicians around New York. I play a 1959 Buffet clarinet picked out for me by Joe Allard, and alternate between a Selmer Table HS** c.1938 and a Leon Russianoff c.1950 mouthpiece (these are Chedeville blanks faced by George Jenney) with Vandoren #4 and #5 reeds from my stash still in their sealed boxes since the 1960s.

Does your background as a woodwind player inform your orchestrations? How so?

More so as an orchestral and big-band section player in general than specifically as a woodwind player. The orchestra player learns to understand the principles of intonation, attack, articulation, sound color, and balance in a way that the pianist never can. The pianist will tend to hear chords vertically and so stack notes on the score rather than considering the movement of the parts. He or she will be tempted to write for orchestral instruments patterns that are comfortable for the piano, for example, repeated wide skips, which may be awkward for woodwind and other orchestral instruments.

This is why most of the great arrangers have been orchestra players rather than pianists. This said, it must be noted that the exceptions are dramatic ones: Wagner, Debussy, Strauss, Mahler, Ellington, Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Ralph Burns, etc.

What factors do you have to consider when writing parts for woodwind doublers? Do you have any rules of “thumb” about how long of a player will need for an instrument switch, or which instruments can go together in a book, or other logistical issues?

When planning an instrument change (and I try to avoid them altogether whenever possible) I simply count out the bars of rest in tempo while mentally going through the motion of changing instruments. Four bars of moderate tempo, six or eight of fast are usually enough.

I usually organize my sections somewhat along the following pattern, although many variations are possible

  1. (The “lead” chair and “flute specialist”) Lead alto, flute 1, piccolo, alto flute, clarinet 1 or 3. Will usually play 1st clarinet unless busy on flute, in which case reed 2 or 3 will be clarinet 1.
  2. (The “second” chair) Alto 2, flute 2, piccolo, clarinet 2.
  3. (The “clarinet specialist) Tenor, flute 3, clarinet 3 or 1, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet.
  4. (The “oboe specialist”) Tenor, oboe, English horn, clarinet 4.
  5. (The bassoon and “big horns” specialist) Baritone, bassoon, clarinet 5, bass clarinet.

If you eliminate the saxophones, a pattern more suited to operetta or classical players emerges:

  1. Flute, piccolo (optional clarinet double)
  2. Clarinet 1 (optional other clarinets and flute 2 double)
  3. Clarinet 2 (optional other clarinets and flute 3 double)
  4. Oboe, English horn (optional clarinet double)
  5. Bassoon (optional clarinet, bass clarinet, flute double)

Here is a good plan for four reeds, with or without saxophones:

  1. Alto saxophone, flute 1, piccolo, clarinet 1 or 2
  2. Alto saxophone, flute 2, clarinet 1 or 2, bass clarinet (this might be on reed 4)
  3. Tenor saxophone, oboe, English horn, clarinet
  4. Baritone saxophone, bassoon, clarinet, bass clarinet (this might be on reed 2)

Phil Lang used a very versatile layout again with or without saxophones:

  1. Alto saxophone, flute 1, piccolo, clarinet 2 or 1
  2. Alto saxophone, clarinet 1, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet
  3. Tenor saxophone, oboe, English horn, clarinet 3
  4. Baritone saxophone, bassoon, flute 2, clarinet 4

As bands become smaller, requirements become more stringent. Here is a typical format for three reeds:

  1. Alto saxophone, flute, piccolo, clarinet
  2. Tenor saxophone, oboe, English horn, clarinet (much greater clarinet ability required of this player than with 5 or even 4 reeds)
  3. Baritone saxophone, bassoon, clarinet, bass clarinet

If the score doesn’t require saxophones, The above formats work equally well without them; otherwise I try to do without doubles altogether, such as A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE, scored for 1. Oboe/English horn 2. B-flat/A clarinet and 3. bassoon, or INTO THE WOODS: 1. Flute/piccolo 2. Clarinet 3. Bassoon. This way I have a larger pool of accomplished players to choose from, especially out of town.

Do you often orchestrate for a Broadway-type woodwind section with specific doublers in mind, knowing their individual strengths, or do you more often write for musicians to be selected later? How much does that affect your writing?

I know my players well, and write to their particular abilities. Hiring a section is much like casting a show. I think of my players as specialists; the “flute specialist,” “oboe specialist,” “bassoon and big horns specialist,” etc., as well as the occasional need for a stylist: jazz, ethnic, etc. I assign solos according to the specialties. For example, the clarinet solo will not usually go to the oboe or bassoon specialist. When working out of town with an unfamiliar orchestra I am even more careful, avoiding unusual doubles altogether, even when assured by the contractor that he has people that “play all the instruments.” I remember all too well the guy who played bassoon, bass clarinet and baritone and they all sounded the same!

It seems that over the last few decades, woodwind sections for musicals have gotten smaller and smaller but also call for more and more instruments, including “world” instruments and other things. Is this true in your orchestrations?

In general, no. I use no more doubles than I ever did, and in most cases fewer. I want the player who plays the best, not the one who owns the most horns.

Do you have any advice for woodwind doublers who aspire to play on Broadway or other major venues?

Saxophone players seem not to realize the sheer brute power of this instrument. Three or four of them can swamp any brass section. They are amazed at how incredibly loud the saxes are when I invite one of them to come and listen up front. I’m always on the saxes to play softly, even under loud brass, and to use civilized mouthpieces with medium chambers and baffles.

But remember, this is just me. Other arrangers and leaders will have their own preferences and it’s up to you to find out what they want (very difficult) and do it for them (relatively easy).


Many thanks to Mr. Tunick for sharing his knowledge, and for all the great woodwind parts!

Interview: Sarah Cosano, woodwind player and more

Sarah Cosano is a busy working woodwind player (among other things). I initially reached out to Sarah about doing an interview because I was interested in her experiences with playing on cruise ships, but it turns out her musical experiences are quite varied. In 2000, Sarah was an MTNA National Competition winner, a featured performer on the NPR radio show From the Top, and an Emerson Scholar at the Interlochen Arts Camp. Since then she has performed with the Disneyland All American College BandBLAST: Music in Xtreme, and the show Evolution in Japan. Her cruise ship playing has taken her around the world (Russia, Estonia, Fiji, New Zealand, Iceland, and the Caribbean). She is a bandleader, a freelancer, an educator, and a doctoral student in saxophone at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Sarah was kind enough to answer some questions about her career thus far. Read to the end for a video of Sarah doing her thing on flute, and be sure to check out her website for more performances.

20140621_Ref_Music_0032_sm_mini
photo, Rich Whitlow

Tell us about your musical background.

I grew up in a small town in rural Idaho, and really the only music I knew was through competitions. (My graduating class was 8 people, so band programs were non-existent!) My teacher kept me motivated by entering me in competitions. I loved the dedication it required to make pieces as perfect as possible.

When I got into school at Duquesne in Pittsburgh, I was elated! Little did I know how much my life would change. Living in a larger city made it very clear to me that I didn’t have gig-worthy skills even when I was practicing 3+ hours a day. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree as a performance major, I knew something was missing. I moved back home and spent a few years working day jobs, saving up for instruments, and taking lessons on doubling and jazz. A couple of years later, I was on ships as a showband musician.

Since then, my career has been eclectic. I love the university environment, the constant challenge to become better and all the available information. At the same time, I believe the “real world” deserves respect. It’s hard and unforgiving, and that’s what makes it great. I would say so far my life has been equal parts school and career musician. Between each degree I have taken a few years off to tour and try to balance my academic knowledge with the practical. I don’t regret one second of it.

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

Classical training is definitely useful for some things: technique, rhythm, tuning, and the basics of musicianship. I took lessons on each instrument from great teachers (clarinet lessons from a clarinet professor, etc.). The downside to the college education system is, often there is an expectation for virtuosic technique in just one skill set. That can inhibit students because they feel they don’t have time to diversify. And I think deep down we sometimes are afraid to be bad at something again.

When I started gigging, I had to pick up skills from all kinds of sources. You never know what you can learn from someone, even non musicians. As a lounge singer on Celebrity, I got commentary about how I switch the microphone a lot while I sing (point taken/fixed!). When I played in a funk band, they wanted simple solos with more soul. I learned about networking, and really being a team player (for example, when you’re a sideman, your primary job is to meet the goals of the person who hired you). Even the showbiz aspect was picked up out there: learning how to create an environment and collaborate with other artists to create an interesting product.

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

Every step of the way, I have been really honest with myself. If I am doing a gig and feel that I am not being challenged enough, then I take it upon myself to find where the next step is for me. So with whatever knowledge I had at that point, I took it as far as I could. That translated to a lot of change in the past 10 years.

Some would say it can also be a weakness, because I find myself getting to a certain level and then losing interest. It’s fun for me to pick up something completely new because the progress is so noticeable in the early stages. Where I am now, I wish I had taken some voice lessons and worked on double reeds so I’d be further along at this point, but I’m doing that now, so I don’t have regrets. Nobody plowed this path for me—I really had to work for it and I’m proud of that.

Side note: I think it’s important to assess where you are regularly. I feel that jealousy and dissatisfaction can be healthy because we see that we need to stretch again, to make a change in our own life. We just have to keep pushing forward.

What effects did youth/student-oriented music experiences like Interlochen, MTNA, From the Top, and the Disneyland All-American College Band have on your career development?

You know, these were all different phases in my life. Competitions like MTNA are like musical Mount Everest. You have to do the opposite of woodwind doubling and focus on one main goal. The pieces need to be perfect. You have to be able to hear the music like your own voice, becoming one with it and committing if you want to win these things. It taught me how much deeper I could reach into the heart of one piece. But it takes everything. I don’t know if I could compete at that level with all the things I balance right now. I remember that Interlochen had chair challenges, where you would challenge the person above you every week in band. No slacking if you don’t want to be last chair!

Competitions really have instilled in me a sense of how big the world is. Even if you are the top player in your school or town, there is someone out there who can run circles around you. I think if people really thought about that, they would work harder.

Disneyland was a completely different experience, I got in as I was coming home to work on doubling and jazz. At first, I really failed at the movement while playing, it was so hard! This summer was so different from what I had been taught in school. It was a place where jazz, doubling, and showbiz were everything, and perfection was not important. The people I worked with in this band have all gone on to some incredible careers, I’m proud to know them all.

Most importantly with the Disneyland experience, one guy that I worked with on this gig recommended me for BLAST and, after sending a demo, I got in on the Japan tour. Then from that tour, another person I met on BLAST recommended me for Evolution. So really Disneyland catapulted me on a crazy ride to some great gigs. Luckily the dancing part got easier!

How did you get started playing on cruise ships?

Cruise ships are a lot less who you know. There are many agencies out there, and if you’re lucky, you can work direct with the company. Agents usually take a 7–12% cut from each month’s salary, and they have clauses that renew for a few years after each contract. They are cruise-line-specific, so if you have an agent with Holland, you can still go direct with Royal if you get the contact info. Downside: working direct with head office takes a lot of time to get a hold of people. If you want quick or fill in work, an agent is a better way to go.

I kind of went in blind because I didn’t know much about working on ships. I auditioned for an agent and got a gig a month later. I’ve worked with a few agents, but our last contract as a lounge band was direct with head office. For showband,  they send you charts an hour or less in advance and you print them out. Then they call you on a landline and you video record the audition. Afterwards, you send the files to them, and they do the video editing and get you a gig. They usually ask for sight reading of a show with tracks and some basic soloing. And they’ll definitely test you on flute and clarinet.

What is day-to-day life like for a cruise musician? What is the best part? What is the worst part?

Typically for showband you will have a rehearsal in the am and then play two shows at night. There also are other sets, like captain’s cocktail (swing big band music) and possibly theme sets. What company you work for has a huge part in how your life is going to be. On Holland, we played 5 hours a day every day, split between Top 40 music and tracked shows (they recently dropped the sax from the instrumentation, the last surviving horn!) Most other companies are lighter. I would say the average work is around 3 hours.

Shows will typically be a couple of production shows with cast singers and dancers (most companies are going the route of tracks these days, and the band has to play with a click track). Then you’ll have a fly-on guest entertainer a couple times a cruise where you read the show in the morning and play it that night. That really helps with sight reading. Lately some companies (Princess) have cut the second sax part, so they ask you to bring tenor, alto, clarinet, and flute out there.

About the lifestyle. There are important factors to consider. For example, IPM, or in port manning means you have to stay on the ship to “protect it” even if you aren’t working. Some companies like Holland had a heavy rotation, every 3-4 days, but Celebrity was once every 3 months or so. And FOOD! Companies vary on whether you can eat upstairs with passengers or not. Believe me, crew food can be brutal. You’ll be sleeping in bunk beds with a roommate, likely a guy from the band. And you will need to have some degree of safety duties. So you want to think about these things when you consider a ship gig.

One good thing is I paid off all my student loans with ships! You can really save because you don’t have to pay rent or buy food. I also travelled all over the world and meet some incredible, adventurous people. We went to Australia, Fiji, Greenland, Alaska, Caribbean, Russia, Norway, Hawaii, Italy, Spain, etc., for free. I also met my husband from Argentina working on ships. Professionally, I had time to really work on my doubling and grow as a musician.

Still, living can become a drag after awhile because ships really have a corporate aspect to them. If a cruise director wants you playing to an empty bar that is not open at 11 am while the ship docks in Rome, you will be doing that. Also, you don’t really have control over the music or the musicians that you are playing with, so it can be really great… or it can stink. Many people on ships work 13-14 hours a day for very little wage so there can be some jealousy towards the entertainment department. Some companies have been pushing the limits to what musician contracts delineate. I was recently on a ship that assigned musicians check in duties at 6:00 AM every week. There has been push back, but I don’t know if the gig is going to keep going this way. It has changed a lot even in the past 10 years.

What advice would you give to a musician who wants to play on cruise ships? for BLAST? shows like Evolution?

To get onboard: practice your doubles, practice your reading, get used to improv (rhythm changes and blues is usually enough for starters), and work on getting a clear, solid jazz sound. I don’t think you will have any problem getting on if you have these skills ready to go.

Once you get there, explore the destinations, and take advantage of this time. For most people, you’ll never get to see the world like this again. Musically, go in there and learn everything that you can. If there is anything that you don’t know how to do, work your butt off and fix it! Also, don’t underestimate the people around you because they can make your life easier, especially in a ship situation. Make friends because you don’t know who’s connected to who. At some point, you will have learned everything that you can get from this gig, and you may began to feel stuck in one place. Don’t become one of those musicians who kept doing the same thing because they’re afraid of moving—find that next step!

BLAST and Evolution sometimes feel to me like luck. But I think they are lessons in basic networking. These aren’t advertised gigs, they are people knowing people. You have to get your foot in the door somehow, and then things will open up. Also, I should point out that my main instrument is saxophone, but for Evolution I barely played that. It helped to be versatile on a few instruments. My main job there was a flute feature while dancing. So really work hard on making each instrument sound as legit as possible, because you may be hired primarily as one of those, and you have to step up to that.

Several of your performance experiences (BLAST, Evolution, the Disney College Band) include movement and dance. Do you enjoy that part of it, or is it just a necessary part of getting to play music? Do you have abilities/experience in these areas that has given you an advantage over other musicians who might have wanted those performing opportunities?

I love it! I love being on stage and being a ham, so that’s really fun. Of course, movement was hard at first. In BLAST, I would come to the hotel every night and put the iPod on in the gym, going through the movements while singing my part. You have to time the movements of big muscles with the small muscles. We also had a part where we used pogo balls and jumped on trampolines while we played, so that took practice. I still am more stiff when performing than I would like to be, probably because I only took dance as a kid and it is hard to keep good air support while jumping in the air.

Players who do marching band would definitely have an advantage at BLAST, and that is something I wished I had when I was growing up. If you haven’t had formal dance training, movement while playing can still be done. You just have to practice it just like you would an instrument.

What part has teaching played in your career? What part do you see it playing in the future?

I really enjoy teaching, especially because I have had to teach myself a lot of things over the course of my career. Another plug for doubling, when I lived in Austin there was not much need of saxophone teachers, so most of my students were middle school clarinetists. That’s an advantage to being a doubler. Wherever you are, you can find a place for yourself among all the other professionals in your area. I would like to teach at the college level, because I feel comfortable in this environment and like to boil things down to a practical level. I’m not a very abstract person. I want my students to be empowered to really achieve things and I also want them to know how to think on their feet and create opportunities for themselves. Looking back, my career has been pretty cool so far, but anybody can do the same thing if they take some risks.

What part has YouTube and other online presence played in your career and development?

I only set up a website this past summer. For a long time, I used YouTube and Myspace for all my promo materials. It wasn’t very organized, but if I wanted a gig I could send links to the specific videos. It’s important to have information online so people can “spy” on you. Now that I book more gigs with my band, the first thing I do before hiring someone is internet search them. It’s a shame how many great players do not have material available. How can I know they are good for our gig if I can’t hear them?

A few years ago, I started putting instructional videos up. I really should do more. It takes effort to get them online. It’s been crazy how many more people come to my channel now! I’ve picked up a few Skype students this way—they will see the video, check out my website, and then go from there. Another part of this is that there is some misinformation there on YouTube. If I can combat it a little of that, then I’ve done something good for the world.

You do non-woodwind things like singing and playing keyboards. Do those things affect or inform your woodwind playing? How? Would your career to this point have turned out differently if you were strictly a woodwind player?

I got into singing when I realized how much better the gig is if you can sing! I also like to front bands, and truthfully was getting bored just playing short lines on sax. Singing is a totally different world. Words, meaning, acting, and connection with the audience are all supremely important. It’s still hard for me to disconnect from mechanics and really convey the song’s meaning. I think this is something that we as instrumentalists often miss, just the simplicity of emotion and the importance of audience-performer connections.

I played piano in high school, but I have gotten really rusty. If I had more time, I’d like to do more jazz piano because it would be cool to be able to accompany myself on a solo gig. But I just can’t find time for it right now. Playing keys on that one cruise contract made me very aware of a mindset difference—as a sax player I play a lick and then hang out. But with piano, you are always there as part of the rhythm section. You really need stamina and a focus towards the people around you, more so than when you’re playing horn. Having some piano skills has also been nice for accompanying students. My career has been mainly woodwinds, but piano is useful when arranging things, and working on singing exercises.

Do you identify as a “doubler?” 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 tend to focus on whatever gig I’m working towards. Its hard to juggle 5+ instruments all the time equally. If it is 3 or more that I need to keep in shape, I rotate instruments with 45 minute practice sessions and I try to get 2-3 hours in a day.

I began as a saxophonist, and that instrument is the easiest for me. It’s what I primarily get gigs with too. But I want to make them as equal as I can. Another caveat, don’t let other people define you. They may see what you are, but only you know where you’re going. At the beginning of every phase (or instrument) in my career, pretty much nobody believed in me. And probably for good reason, because I’m sure I didn’t sound very good! But I practiced my way out of it. I wasn’t going to stay in that place long.

Do you have any favorite woodwind doubling tips?

I know this is common advice, but get rid of the concept of a “doubler” as soon as you can. Whenever I pick up an instrument, I say to myself, I am now a [insert instrument here] player. With flute, I work really hard to match the embouchure to full-time flutists. Don’t take fingering shortcuts— if clarinetists don’t slide their pinkies, don’t form that habit yourself! You have to also hear notes in a different way, the airstream and the shaping inside your mouth will change depending on what instrument you are performing on. Listen to recordings of great players and try to internalize it so it will come out correctly.

We’re really lucky to play multiple instruments. If you can get past the initial feeling of frustration trying to make sounds come out (I sometimes call it the 40-year-old in a 10-year-old body syndrome), you’ll see there is a real advantage to the speed with which we learn things. You already know rhythms, tuning, and many aspects of technique that will cross apply to whatever instrument you are playing.

What instruments do you consider part of your current professional toolbox? What musical styles? Are there others you are working on or would like to add at some point?

  • Alto, tenor, soprano sax
  • Bari sax
  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Singing
  • Piccolo
  • Piano
  • Bassoon (just started lessons this semester!)
  • Classical
  • Jazz
  • Pop/Rock/R&B
  • Reading gigs

I have a whole list of instruments that I would buy if I won the lottery!! A better-quality piccolo, my own bari sax, bass clarinet, alto flute, and bassoon. I’m also aiming to take oboe lessons next fall. For a long time, I was wary of double reeds, but bassoon has broken the ice for me. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m enrolled for another semester come January.

I saw some very cool electronic things that musicians were doing on ships on my last contract, and I may someday try to figure out basics of DJing. Not top-40 style, but actually creating electronic patches as music. So much to learn, so little time.

What projects are you working on now?

My jazz group Cambia (formerly Off the Record) is releasing our debut CD on December 11. We’ll have songs online via iTunes, Amazon, and all those great places before Christmas. I play tenor, alto, flute, clarinet, and I have a vocal cameo in the last track so it’s a doubler’s dream. The music is original compositions by myself and my husband (a guitar player). We’re hoping to take this project on the road to a few places next year, so if you stay tuned to my website I will keep updates rolling there.

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

I wish! I used to guide rafting tours and I went snowboarding a lot when I lived on the West Coast. I miss it sometimes, but living here in Nebraska makes those hobbies difficult. At this point, I pretty much just do music stuff and follow news and politics obsessively. I like cats. Does that count?

Thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences!

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!

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”

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”

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”