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Trumpeter Emma Stanley Talks Touring as a New AFM Member

Practicing gratitude is commonly acknowledged to be one of keys to living a healthy, balanced life. Trumpet player Emma Stanley of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) has this gratitude thing down: She not only practices it, she lives it. Stanley plays in the US national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970 rock opera, and she says she feels fortunate every single day to get to do what she loves.

“To get to play this music for a living is a dream job,” says Stanley, a Portland, Maine, native who joined the tour last September—and is also grateful for how that came about. “I saw the job listed on playbill.com,” she explains. “I sent in a resume, and they asked for a video audition. They were already doing live auditions in New York, so it was last-minute. Thankfully, they ended up not hiring anyone, so I lucked out.”

Stanley comes to Superstar with a long history of connections to the show, having constantly heard the record album at home growing up, when her older brother would play it. She remembers singing and dancing to it in the family living room, and she fell in love with the songs. Her brother was also a trumpet player, so it’s equally unsurprising that she picked up that as well, learning it alongside the piano which she started at the age of four.

A 2009 graduate of Peabody Conservatory, Stanley’s first job was playing trumpet on a cruise ship. From there, she made her way to touring shows, traveling on and off for several years. The big difference, she says, is that those tours were non-union. “Sometimes we’d be on a bus six to 10 hours a day and then go straight into a show, eight shows a week. It was good, steady work, but it was exhausting without a union to look out for our quality of life.”

Life is quite different now since she joined the AFM in October 2019, and for that Stanley is—you guessed it—grateful. “For starters, the pay is better,” she says. “The AFM guarantees I’ll be compensated for extra rehearsals, sound checks, overtime, etc.” Stanley also plays keyboards for Superstar, so she gets additional pay for doubling and electronics. “That is just mind-blowingly wonderful. In a union gig you feel taken care of, respected, and valued for your abilities and expertise.” And gone are those endless days on the road followed by a show. Traveling for Superstar involves fewer buses and more planes, for one thing. “The AFM also stipulates that we can’t go over a certain number of hours for travel days. If we do, we get compensated for that, too.”

Even with the support of the AFM, it would be reasonable to assume the repetition of eight shows a week might be a challenge. But not for Stanley. Gratitude to the rescue once more: “It helps that Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favorite shows. And it also helps that it’s relatively short,” she laughs. “But on the rare occasion that it starts feeling like a job, I just tell myself that I’m fortunate to play the trumpet for a living, and that’s amazing. So many other people go to jobs for eight hours a day and hate it.”

Stanley acknowledges that staying healthy, physically and mentally, is a big challenge with any touring show. She tries to eat well and get her mind off the job. “When we land in a city, we typically have the whole week where we don’t work till the evening, so I go explore,” she says, adding that it’s also tough to miss family and friends. “I have little nieces, and I obviously don’t see them as often as I might like.” But Stanley is thankful to have a supportive family back home in Portland. “They are used to it by now, since I’ve been touring for so many years. And when I do get home, my friends still get me to play on gigs with my old bands. That helps a lot.”

Stanley has at least another year of touring with Jesus Christ Superstar, and she plans to stick with the road life. “Mixing it up is great whenever I can, maybe a wedding, a funk band, or a classical chamber gig. But if I had to pick an overall favorite, it would be the theater pit. I feel really grateful to be where I’m supposed to be, and that the AFM has my back.”

Postal Workers Rally in Boston

On October 18, Postal workers and their supporters rallied in front of Boston’s main post office to protest job cutbacks that have led to long lines and delivery delays around New England. Scott Hoffman, president of the Boston chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, says hundreds of area vacancies have gone unfilled.

A pilot program to outsource operations to Staples, Inc. was scrapped last spring after a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge ordered the US Postal Service to discontinue its retail relationship with Staples. The Staples deal was an attempt to replace union jobs with low-wage, nonunion workers.

Boston Conservatory Faculty Join Berklee Union

In June, the Berklee College of Music voluntarily recognized the Berklee Faculty Union as the bargaining representative for the 200-plus full-time and part-time faculty of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. The move follows the 2016 merger of the Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory. The conservatory faculty join their 600-plus sisters and brothers on the Berklee faculty, who have been represented by the Berklee Faculty Union since 1986.

Jon Damian

Professor Jon Damian Taps into the Universe for Inspiration

Jon Damian

Jon Damian’s workshops feature Rubbertellie murals in which he produces visual and sound art simultaneously.

At Berklee College of Music, professor and guitarist Jon Damian of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) says, “When I’m teaching, I’m composing. I have to be able to compose on the spot as an example. It’s important to be able to see it actually come alive in someone’s hands and face. Teaching and composing, writing, they work in tandem.”

In his renowned Creative Workshop Ensemble, he focuses on unconventional motifs and nonmusical forms—art and multimedia exercises—to heighten listening skills and teach students to draw on more than music for composing, from alphabets to zodiacs. He explains the better students become as improvisers, the less they tend to respond to musical events around them. “In the Creative Workshop, we’re inspired by anything in the universe.” With everyday language, for instance, he adds, “Go to the piano and play ‘popcorn, air, or mozzarella.’ No two people do the same thing. The language of words becomes a medium. To use it to stimulate a musical idea is cool.”

One of Damian’s earliest music memories is listening to his mother whistle. “It was like listening to an aria.” But it was his older sister Judy’s vast record collection that introduced him to everything from Count Basie and Tony Bennett to opera and classical recordings of Claude Debussy and Béla Bartok.   

His first music experience was vocal. He sang in a cappella groups in Brooklyn. “We were a nice, serious trio that used to sing on the street corners,” he says.

Watching Tony Mottola on The Tonight Show, Damian remembers, “His beautiful solo guitar, swing and rock—I watched and listened, and I said, ‘Wow, I want to do that.’ And that’s what happened.”

Damian began teaching himself to play guitar and read music. One of his first gigs was a veterans hospital near Coney Island with his band, The Strangers. They played the Merry-Go-Round Room in Brooklyn, which had a rotating bar, and that’s when he joined the union. “I still have my cabaret card that says I am able to play in nightclubs.” Damian remembers going to the union office, which was in the same building as the Roseland Ballroom. “Duke would come and play. People would dance. During the day, union musicians would meet and talk, and there would be auditions happening right there.”

Damian’s all-embracing creative model is based on his early career as a visual artist. He worked on Madison Avenue back in 1965 until he was drafted into the army in 1966. His military occupational standing (MOS) was as an artist in the officer’s training unit.

As bleak a prospect as it was, being drafted proved to be a defining moment in Damian’s life. “Brooklyn was just as dangerous as the army. My friends were getting into drugs. For a kid in 1966, it was scary, but for me, it was exciting. Wherever I was stationed, I always studied at the clubs so it was like a paid education,” he says.

The army became a major part of Damian’s musical development. He says, “I was able to go to service clubs, which had instruments and libraries full of music books so I spent all my free time continuing my music training on my own.” He sharpened his reading proficiency to a professional level and auditioned for a larger ensemble.

After the army, Damian attended Berklee on the GI bill, where he studied theory and composition. He’s been a full professor there ever since, for 43 years.

For years, Damian kept busy doing theater work, playing with Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, Boston Ballet Orchestra, and Boston Opera Company. “I’ve been fortunate to have such a wide spectrum of possibilities,” says Damian, who has worked with Phil Woods, Sam Rivers, Sheila Jordan, Johnny Cash, Howard McGhee, Leonard Bernstein, and Luciano Pavarotti (at the Boston Garden), to name a few. He’s also shared the stage with a number of his students, notably jazz luminary Bill Frisell of Local 76-493 (Seattle, WA) with whom he recorded the CD, Dedications: Faces and Places.

In his book, the Guitarist’s Guide to Composing and Improvising, Damian shows musicians how to break out of pattern-based playing to enrich their understanding of composition and improvisation. In his latest book, Fresh Music: Explorations with the Creative Workshop Ensemble for Musicians, Artists, and Teachers, he chronicles the ideas in the workshop he’s been teaching since the 1970s. 

Damian’s interest in avant-garde music led him to explore other instrumental mediums. One of his innovations is the Rubbertellie, an electric guitar that stretches the boundaries of the traditional guitar. It’s tuned differently, held differently, on his lap or in the style of viola da gamba.

Now, midway to retirement as a part-time professor, he’s finding time to write books for his grandchildren and compose more music. Last year, when he was hospitalized for an extended period, he wrote a woodwind quartet for his caregivers called “Saints and Angels.” He explains, “It’s not too pretty or sad, but more of a soft Schoenberg, a natural roll that builds from chord symbols.” Damian says, “It creates the power of connections. It’s serious, but hopeful.”

Maggie Scott and the Great American Songbook

Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) member Maggie Scott has had a long career performing from the Great American Songbook and teaching it to students at Berklee College of Music.

Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) member Maggie Scott has had a long career performing from the Great American Songbook and teaching it to students at Berklee College of Music.

In a career that has spanned seven decades, jazz vocalist and pianist Maggie Scott of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) still draws inspiration from the music she grew up with, in an era when the big bands were in full swing.

Scott remembers waiting at the stage door of the RKO Theatre on Washington Street after shows for autographs of Gene Krupa, Anita O’Day, and Tex Beneke. Hearing the Tommy Dorsey band, with Frank Sinatra, was a highlight. “He was thin,” she recalls, “He sang really well—and in those days, girls swooned. I was still in high school and the fare going into Boston was 10 cents!” 

The smoky piano lounges and full jazz orchestras may be long gone but Scott, who still performs at the Top of the Hub in Boston, has done her part to introduce the canon of standards to a new generation. At Berklee College of Music, where she has taught since 1978, Scott is something of a legend.

Her own story lends an illuminating dimension to the course she teaches: The Great American Songbook. She draws on her experiences to help students develop phrasing, tempos, style, and artful presentation. She is a purist who urges students to learn as many jazz standards as possible, a solid repertoire of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, and Johnny Mercer.

“The lyric is the song! Tell the story,” she instructs her students. “A jazz piece never requires vibrato, but straight sound always,” she says. Only when a student has mastered the song and knows it inside out can he or she improvise, change keys and tempos.

“An experienced singer starts to hear other melodies that fit the chord progression,” she says. It’s a natural process, but one Scott insists takes time. For diction, unparalleled tone, and range, she points to First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald. “As a singer matures and sings them long enough, the lyrics take on new meaning,” she says, adding, “Billie Holiday, for example, her pain came through on so many of her ballads. You could just hear it.”

To learn harmony and chord progressions Scott studied the piano stylings of Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. Later, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, and Tommy Flanagan all inspired her playing. She says, “These trios were exceptional—I thought, very swinging, beautiful harmonies.”

Vocalists who had a strong influences on her development included Peggy Lee, Julie London, Chris Connor, June Christy, and Jo Stafford. Classical training came later, in 1950, when she auditioned for Arthur Fiedler. After nearly three years of practice and a second audition, she earned a solo with the Boston Pops, playing Gershwin’s “Concerto in F.”

Scott, who in the 1970s accompanied many of the greats—Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt, John Raitt, Tommy Tune, Toots Thielemans, and Natalie Cole—studied at the Juilliard School of Music in the late 1940s with jazz pianist John Mehegan.

She had joined the AFM in 1946, just out of high school, and was already playing piano at hotels and clubs around Boston. “I knew the best musicians belonged to the local and I aspired to play with them—and ultimately I did,” she says. “There is a certain amount of respect given a member, and playing with my peers was all part of it.”

She went on to become the first woman elected to the union’s local executive board, where she served for 31 years, from 1979 to 2010. Back in the days of crowded, smoke-filled union halls, the exchanges could become quite heated. Scott says, “I charged 25 cents for every swear word, and actually collected $11. And I bought donuts with the money!” She adds, “I also bought a ‘no smoking’ sign.”

Scott laments the loss of live venues for musicians, noting DJs have flooded the industry, competing for wedding and club engagements once reserved for casual-date players. “There has been a tremendous loss of gigs for the union musician. The jazz clubs have suffered as well,” she says.

Her job now, as she sees it, is to educate a new generation of Songbook devotees. “The lyricists were unbeatable. Students should know the music, become familiar with it because it may influence what they may want to pursue as part of their music education,” she says. Given the scores of young stars and high profile students—Lalah Hathaway, Antonia Bennett, Lauren Kinhan, and Robin McKelle—who have all crooned their way through her classes, there is no doubt of her success.

Boston Local 9-535, Getting Results

Boston Local 9-535, Getting Results

This month, as a part of my series highlighting the outstanding legislative work being accomplished across the Federation, I am honored to shine the spotlight on AFM Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) and its president, Patrick Hollenbeck. Boston, Massachusetts, sits atop global cultural centers as one of the world’s most revered and respected music destinations. For centuries, the Boston arts community has been responsible for innovative musical concepts that have generated new audiences and work opportunities for Boston musicians.

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