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Larry Goldings

Pianist and Composer Larry Goldings Brings the Jazz Era to Life on Screen

Grammy-nominated pianist and composer Larry Goldings has had an amazing and stylistically eclectic career—from 20 years recording and touring with James Taylor, to numerous artistic collaborations that straddle the realms of jazz and pop, to scoring music for television and motion pictures. But Goldings’ recent project, scoring the Netflix series, Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, has been not only the biggest project he’s ever done, but also one of the most meaningful.

Goldings, of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), started playing the piano by ear at age 10. By 12, he says, “my ear was interested in harmony,” and he discovered jazz, which he calls his “first love.” He went to college at the New School in New York City, which had just started a new jazz program. “I very quickly found some good luck and starting working around town as a sideman,” he says. He joined Local 802 (New York City) not only because he found it essential in order to work, but because the older, more experienced musicians he was playing with told him it would be smart for his future. “It quickly became apparent to me how necessary and beneficial it was for me to join,” he says. “Our union is a support system that musicians need, especially now when we are all just trying to figure out what our futures will look like. Our rights need to be protected. It’s still a chaotic time in terms of how we make a living: How do we get fair compensation? How are our rights protected? How as musicians do we tackle our needs for health care, security, and all that? I don’t think there’s ever been a more challenging time.”

Throughout the 1990s, Goldings played New York City and toured the world with an impressive and eclectic array of artists. His musical inspirations draw from a lifetime of absorbing jazz, pop, funk, R&B, electronic, and classical music, and he has done numerous long-term collaborations that straddle the realms of jazz and pop with such artists as Maceo Parker (Local 47), John Scofield (Local 802), Steve Gadd (Local 802), Pat Metheny (Local 34-627 – Kansas City, MO), John Mayer (Local 47), and others. In 2000, Goldings received a call from James Taylor’s producer, asking him to play on Taylor’s (a member of Local 802) new record and join him on the road.
“That was the beginning of my stint with James Taylor, and it’s still ongoing—or would be if not for the pandemic,” Goldings says. “As a pianist, there’s a lot for me to do with James; he’s a unique and brilliant person. I grew up listening to him, so it’s kind of a great dream come true, and I couldn’t think of a more interesting, humble person to work for, particularly someone who’s as iconic as he is.”

All of these professional experiences led to others for Goldings: songwriting, co-writing, forming his own trio, and recording. He moved to LA in 2001 (where he became a member of Local 47) with the idea to break into Hollywood, see if he enjoyed it, and, hopefully, to be home more and take a break from being on the road. He has since worked on numerous movie and television soundtracks (including with Local 47 member Clint Eastwood and his film Space Cowboys), and underscoring stories for NPR’s “This American Life.” But Goldings discovered he was actually doing about the same amount of roadwork, because, after all, “it’s hard to turn down James Taylor,” he says with a laugh.

All of these experiences led to one of the biggest projects in Goldings’ career: scoring the Netflix series, Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. The series, which first aired on March 20, chronicles the incredible story of Madam C.J. Walker, who built a haircare empire for African-Americans that made her America’s first female self-made millionaire.

“I really loved the experience of Self-Made, partly because it took place in the early 1900s and allowed me to use my jazz knowledge to approach it,” he says. However, he wanted to make sure he got the history of the period correct and the sound authentic, so he hired two musicians with whom he had not previously worked who were knowledgeable about the music of the time period: brass player Dan Weinstein and drummer Jay Bellerose, both of Local 47.

“The next challenge was: What’s going to be the sound of the film?” Goldings says. “I felt the project needed reminders of the era but not a straightforward jazz score. That wouldn’t have served it deeply enough for all the different emotional places that this series goes.” Ultimately, he says, there were two “hybrid” musical sounds he was trying to inject into the show, using either jazz instrumentation or jazz harmonies and melding those with the licensed music from modern artists the producers were also using in the show. Goldings’ score ultimately infused the drama with shades of ragtime and early jazz, in combination with modern, back-beat oriented cues, in which early jazz meets hip-hop. “It ended up pretty much the way I was imagining it, some kind of hybrid sound,” he says.

While Self-Made came out months before the Black Lives Matter movement and accompanying protests occurred, Netflix has put the series in the “Black Lives Matter” category on the site. “It’s a story a lot of people didn’t know about, including myself,” Goldings says. “It’s an incredible story, and it’s self-explanatory how important it is. I am so thrilled I was able to be involved in something so meaningful.”

William Bell: Longtime Soul Man Creates New Legacy For Young Musicians

With a career spanning more than 50 years in the recording industry, Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA) member William Bell received his first Grammy this year in the category Best Americana Album. The honor was fitting for This Is Where I Live, a retrospective album that also marks Bell’s return to Stax Records, where he began his career all those years earlier.

william bellWho knows what would have become of the Memphis native if not for the music emanating from 926 East McLemore Avenue. “Jim [Stewart] and Estelle [Axton] established Stax Records right in the heart of the deprived neighborhood we lived in,” explains Bell. “It kept us out of trouble. We went to the record shop and listened to songs. All the neighborhood kids had an outlet there.”

Aside from the music they heard hanging out at the record shop, he and friends like David Porter and Isaac Hayes, listened to disc jockey Rufus Thomas who worked for WDIA, the only black radio station at the time. “We heard everything on the radio—country and western, blues, and rhythm and blues. It was just an extension of our lives,” he says. “Music was everywhere—on the radio, in the clubs, and on the street corners.”

William Bell began singing in church, but by age 16 he’d moved on to singing “secular” music and won a Mid-South Talent contest and a trip to Chicago to perform with the Red Saunders Band. Upon return to Memphis, he spent the next five years working with and learning from the Phineas Newborn Orchestra.

Bell wrote his first hit song, “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” in a New York City hotel room during a tour with the band. “We had a night off and it was raining. I’m sitting in the hotel room and missing the girl back home. This song just came to me,” he says. He recorded it with Stax, and even though it was the B side of the record, it ended up being one of the record company’s first hits.

Bell says many of his songs come from a personal place, while others are inspired by the people around him. “I’m a people watcher. I’ll go to a party and sit in the corner and watch the human factor take over. I write about life and things I think people can relate to. Other times I just come up with an idea and construct a song.”

That’s what happened when he wrote “Born Under a Bad Sign” with Booker T. Jones of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). “It was back in the ’60s when everyone was talking about zodiac signs. I’d finished a bass line, one verse, and a chorus. I was at the studio doing an Albert King session. He didn’t have enough material. I sang it for him and he just fell in love with it, so Booker and I finished
it overnight.”

“We knew that we had something special. But we didn’t know it would become so iconic,” says Bell. One of the most covered blues tunes of all time, Bell wasn’t too keen on recording it for This Is Where I Live when producer John Leventhal of Local 802 (New York City) first suggested it.

Leventhal said he wanted to do a stripped down version, very “back porch-ish.” When Leventhal presented him with a track, the first thing Bell noticed was that the iconic bass line was gone. But after living with it a couple days, he found himself humming along. “The more I listened to it, the more I came to like it,” he says. “We captured it on the first take, so I guess it was meant to be.”

Such open-mindedness has been key to surviving in an industry that has seen tremendous change over Bell’s career. “Technology has changed the playing field. When you record something it’s for the world. You put it on the Internet and everybody hears it at once. You have to really do your homework and create a great product,” he says.

“Years ago, we went into the studio with eight or 10 people and created. That instilled discipline because you had to get it right the first time. Now you can keep going over a part until you get it just like you want it, but it’s a little sterile,” he says. “I’m still from the old school. I like the bodies in the studio so we can feed off each other.”

Bell says the union has helped him tremendously throughout his career. “And they are still fighting,” he says. “Technology has created some new problems for us to get paid. And the new generation thinks it should all be free. But creators have to make a living. We need that body to speak for us. The union kind of levels the playing field a little bit.”

Coming back to the Stax label brought back memories from the early days of Bell’s career. Somewhat of an oasis in the 1960s, Bell recalls that race and gender didn’t enter into the mix at Stax. “We accepted a person for what they could bring to the table in terms of creativity and musicianship,” he says.

Touring with Stax Revues in the early ’60s, the interracial tour was unusual. “We were like 50/50 with the band and the artists,” says Bell. “We caught a lot of flack, but we tore down a lot of barriers because we were a tight-knit organization. If we stopped somewhere to have lunch and they would not accept blacks in the restaurant, none of us went in.”

“We would go to little towns where it was horrible to even stop for gas,” he says. “We set our parameters. Some cities wanted to have two performances for blacks and whites and we insisted on one performance for everybody. They would put the blacks upstairs and whites downstairs, but at least they were all in the same building.”

The 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis brought the racial unrest from the rest of the country to the forefront. Behind the walls of Stax the music continued under the shadow of grief.

“Sadness hovered over the studio, over the city. We had also just lost Otis Redding [in a plane crash],” Bell recalls. “Outside of the studio the whole atmosphere had changed. It was a bad scene for a while in Memphis. There was burning and looting and practically every building in the neighborhood was touched except for Stax. They had a reverence for us. We would walk the white participants out to their cars and say, ‘Hey guys, they are a part of us.’ They would back off.”

Other things had begun to change at Stax. Longtime distributor Atlantic Records had been sold to Warner Bros. in 1967. When Stewart was unable to reach a distribution deal with Warner Bros., the company refused to return Stax’s master tapes.

When Estelle Axton left in 1969, new vice president Al Bell began rebuilding the catalog, recording 30 singles and 27 albums in eight months. Though it was a period of some success, the atmosphere had changed. “Our tight-knit family became a corporate structure,” recalls William Bell. “Some of the musicians were unhappy. Booker moved to L.A. and I moved to Atlanta.”

“But that’s not why it went under,” he continues. “It was systematically put out of business. It was one of the largest black-owned corporate structures; the year before it filed for bankruptcy it cleared more than $20 million in sales.” The company’s cash flow was affected by its inability to distribute the hit records it was recording, then the minute the company couldn’t pay its debts it was foreclosed upon. The unpaid debt totaled just $1,900 when the bank took everything in December 1975 and escorted the owners out at gunpoint.

“A lot of us artists hung in there until the very last, in lieu of getting our royalties. We wanted Stax to pull out of that downward spiral. Some artists lost homes and cars when it folded. Thank goodness I was in the creative end of it as well, so I could still write and produce for other labels,” says Bell who was so disenchanted with the music industry that he took up acting.

Bell never thought he would record for Stax again. But when Concord Records bought the label in 2004, it began reissuing the classics, as well as creating new records with Stax artists.

Despite the building being torn down in 1989, 926 East McLemore Avenue also saw a rebirth thanks to Bell and other former Stax musicians. “It was a vacant lot with beer bottles thrown about,” he says. “It was heartbreaking after we had spent 14 years, almost 24 hours a day, on that corner.” They just hoped to erect a monument, but once they got the ball rolling through fundraising concerts, community leaders and philanthropists also stepped in and together they formed the Soulsville Foundation.

They unearthed the original blueprints for the building and erected an exact replica, founding the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in 2003. Later they created the Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School, which together cover a whole city block. The current generation of talented Memphis children now has a place to go to learn a craft just as Bell had in his youth.

Bell’s dedication to the next generation doesn’t end there. He is politically active, lobbying for music education through Grammys on the Hill.

He, along with a number of other Memphis artists, including Bobby Rush, Mavis Staples, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ben Cauley, and Charlie Musselwhite, shared their music legacy through the Take Me to the River film, tour, and an educational curriculum developed through Berklee College of Music. The 2014 documentary (available on Netflix) brought together iconic Memphis musicians, popular young musicians, and students to create music.

“We are working with a lot of organizations promoting and preserving the legacy and teaching the origin of the music. Kids have gotten into sampling so much. We are trying to teach them how to create their own sound,” says Bell, who continues to tour with Take Me to the River. “Teach kids the ground roots of the development of the music, and not only from the ’60s, but all the way back so they can get a good foundation. Once the get a good foundation, they can survive in it.”

Of the proceeds from the film, 75% goes to the Soulsville Foundation and organizations that support musician well-being.

Bell says they are now working on Take Me to the River Part 2 with New Orleans’ musicians. He is also active with the Notes for Notes, which gives kids access to instruments, recording studios, and mentors/educators to teach them about the music business.

The Accidentals: Learning from the Challenges of Life on the Road

The first time then-teenagers Katie Larson and Savannah Buist, both members of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI) jammed together in 2011 they knew they had something special. The next five years were a blur of learning, creativity, and performing. They’ve graduated with the inaugural singer-songwriter major at Interlochen Arts Academy high school, produced three albums, and toured the country.

“Neither of us had any idea that we would be getting into music professionally,” says Larson. The cellist met Buist, a violinist, when they both volunteered for Alternative Styles for Strings Club at their Traverse City, Michigan, public high school.

What made the connection magic was how they immediately fed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Larson came from a classical background. “I was very uncomfortable improvising and doing anything like that. Savannah was playing in her family’s folk band, singing harmonies, and doing solos,” says Larson.

Buist picks up the story, “I had only played violin until I met Katie and realized she was a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter. I hadn’t really tried those things. She came over to my house to rehearse for this homework assignment, and instead of rehearsing classical music for our orchestra program, we ended up playing the White Stripes. We were pretty much a band from that night.”

The Accidentals captures all of their many influences. “We kind of open up a discussion of genre whenever we talk about our band,” says Larson. “Music is going to a more genre-less platform. We incorporate elements of classical, folk, pop, jazz, rock, and gypsy jazz, along with singer-songwriter. We usually classify ourselves as indy folk rock, but we are just a couple of musical geeks who play a lot of instruments and as many styles as we can.”

The music is infectious and upbeat, and has earned them plenty of early recognition: Billboard’s Top Seven Breakout Artists SXSW 2015; Winner of Summerfest WI, Emerging Artists Series US Cellular Stage 2015; VinylMag.com’s Top Ten Artists to Watch at SXSW 2016; Huffington Post’s Sweet Sixteen Bands of 2016; and Yahoo Music Top Ten Bands to Watch 2017.

“The first time we went to SXSW was in 2015 and when we got home my phone blew up!” says Buist. “We made Billboard Magazine as one of the top seven breakout bands. I didn’t believe it; I thought a friend of mine had Photoshopped our names. It was kind of a mind-blowing experience to have somebody actually see us play a show and walk away thinking we had something.”

“There are so many bands invited down there and so much oversaturation of music. We were afraid we wouldn’t get any recognition,” she says. “We feel so unbelievably lucky that people are excited about what we are doing.”

Since launching their career, The Accidentals have had a crash course in the music business. “We are trying to run everything from the road and a lot of things fall through at the last minute, turning us into professional troubleshooters finding a way to make things work,” says Larson.

One of the things The Accidentals did get right was joining the AFM early in their career. “We joined the AFM when we entered into our first recording deal. It was 2013 and we were still teenagers at the time. We really appreciated joining because it showed us what kind of rights we had as musicians. We feel extremely supported by the people in the AFM,” says Larson. “It did really make us feel empowered. I think all musicians appreciate that.”

The Accidentals officially moved from duo to trio after about two years, adding multi-instrumentalist Michael Dause of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) to the band in 2014. They discovered the freedom of having a full-time rhythm section by accident at northern Michigan’s Blissfest in 2012 when a friend hopped up on stage and began drumming along.

“It blew our minds,” says Buist. “One of us had always covered the rhythm instrument; when we had a drummer it opened up a huge world of opportunity for Katie and I to start improvising. We met Michael at Blissfest about a year later. He was playing a solo set [on guitar] and when we found out he was also a drummer we asked if he’d like to audition with us.”

Dause’s first gig with the band was on vehicle-free Makinac Island, so he couldn’t bring a drum kit. “He brought just a little cajon with him and we played the set together. He knew all of the songs because he’d been a fan of the band. It was really a perfect fit and Michael has been with us ever since,” says Buist.

The Accidentals have been busy over the past few months putting finishing touches on their new album, Odyssey, scheduled for release in August. It will include 12 original songs and possibly a bonus track. The first single, “KW,” was released in March at SXSW 2017.

The album’s theme is about moving beyond their fears. “We are going to take 2017 as the year of no fear … not the absence of fear, but in spite of it. It’s really powerful to acknowledge where you are vulnerable and keep moving into the new year despite fear and vulnerability. Every song details a specific problem that we see and a way we come together to solve it—a journey of sorts,” says Larson. “The message manifested itself after we had written and recorded the songs.”

Both Larson and Buist consider themselves to be “introverted” songwriters and each writes songs independently. “Songwriting is kind of an intimate process for us,” says Larson. “We write the chord progressions, have the song worked out, take it to the group, and generally the three of us will work up an arrangement for how we conquer the song live.”

Only about one song per release is written together, explains Buist. Each tackles the songwriting process differently, again feeding off each other’s strengths. Buist is much stronger on writing lyrics, while Larson’s focus is more on melody.

After graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy, Larson and Buist weighed their options. Larson was offered a Presidential Scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music, but when a production deal was offered at the same time, they chose the latter.

“College will always be there for us on the back burner,” says Buist, though she says she wouldn’t necessarily study music. “We are running our business and it has been really interesting learning from the real life application of that. I might go for something that I haven’t tried before if I were going to go to school.”

“I totally agree,” says Larson. “I think the great thing about choosing to tour right after high school is that, when I was in high school, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction I wanted to take. I was also very shy. Being thrown in all these situations helped me break out of my shell and realize all of these new interests I may want to pursue later.”

For the past few years, The Accidentals have been on tour pretty much non-stop, and so far, aside from missing their families, they love the experience.

“Savannah and I are overachievers. We are amazed when we overcome challenges and the road is full of constant crises so there is always something fun to learn,” says Larson.

“All three of us are looking forward to having the new album out just because of the personal achievement. We’ve had an exciting two or three years since we graduated high school and we’ve really learned a lot about the industry,” says Larson.

“A lot can happen in the future and so we are just trying to balance it all,” says Buist. “We’ve got a lot of people who care about us and are helping us get through it one step at time. I think we’ve learned to ask for what we need, and to remember, in the grand scale of the universe this is just a tiny spec. We’ve learned to put our problems into perspective, understand how lucky we are, and keep moving forward.”

“We try to keep short-term and long-term goals for ourselves and the band,” says Larson. “We are on a wild ride and every once in a while it’s nice to have little things to check off your bucket list.”

Serena Ryder

Serena Ryder Discovers Utopia Through Her World of Contrasts

Canadian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Serena Ryder is known for her vocal range and full voice. A natural talent, the six-time Juno winner has opened shows for Aerosmith and One Republic, and traveled with Melissa Etheridge on her 2011 tour across Canada.

Through hard work, networking, and creativity, she’s built a steady following in Canada with her catchy, genre-blending songs. Ryder relocated to Petersborough, Ontario, from the small town of Millbrook at age 18 to launch her career. Roughly nine years later she had her first hit “Weak in the Knees” (2007) and then won her first Juno Award: Best New Artist of the Year (2008).

Though people stateside might not yet know her name, they may have already heard her music. The catchy tune “Stompa” from her fifth album (Harmony, 2012) was featured on both Grey’s Anatomy and Hawaii Five-O. In 2013 Ryder performed the platinum recording on the Tonight Show.

serena-ryder-handNow a six-time Juno winner, she has sold more than one million singles from her releases. All the while, she has been a member of Local 149 (Toronto, ON). “Now, as an adult I’m seeing the importance of being a part of a larger community and learning from that community,” says the singer songwriter who will release her sixth album, Utopia, in early 2017 and launch an international tour.

As a child, Ryder’s mother would write out the lyrics to songs she wanted to learn. At age seven, her mother found Ryder a private music teacher who ended up becoming more of a collaborator. “I already knew a bunch of songs—Linda Ronstadt, Buddy Holly, Roger Miller. He would play them on piano and I would sing. I did my first gig when I was eight years old at the Legion hall in Millbrook.”

“I just knew I always wanted a life in music,” says Ryder, who began writing her own songs at age 11, after her step-father gave her a guitar.

“My biggest influence was definitely Roger Miller,” she recalls. “He was a quirky, amazing songwriter who kind of blurred the lines, but always made it fun and kind of silly. He didn’t take himself too seriously, which I loved,” she says.

She was further influenced by her parents’ record collection. “When I was about 13, I went into my basement and just started unearthing all this vinyl,” she says. There she discovered diverse artists—from Leonard Cohen to The Beatles. Their sounds now resonate in the music she creates.

Ryder says that the Canadian weather inspires her. “It’s the changing seasons that really make Canadian music and gives artists diverse emotional perspectives. The weather affects how you feel. When it’s freezing cold—minus 30 degrees Celsius—you don’t want to even walk to the corner store. Music becomes more insular—about your close friends and family. In the summertime it gets as hot as Los Angeles and you’re [music is] inspired by spring fever.”

At just 33, Serena Ryder says she has seen huge changes in the way technology helps her create music. She says that, with the past two albums, she’s had more creative freedom. Beginning with her fifth album, Harmony, she completely changed her writing process.

“It shocked me that I could go into a studio, write a song, and have the track finished in four hours. I used to write for a year or two, get all my songs compiled, find a producer, hire a band, and then we would get into the studio to learn the songs. Then, that would take a couple weeks,” she explains.

She also finds her new process more instantly gratifying. “I feel more free to write whatever I want because it doesn’t feel so painstaking and it doesn’t cost as much in terms of money and time,” she says.

“I made my last record mostly in my garage studio,” she explains. “My producer stayed in my basement. In the morning he went to the studio and got all the tracks ready and the sound running. I’d go out with my guitar and start riffing and write for a couple hours; then he’d produce it. By the end of a day, we had one song done, sometimes two. The main recording of the whole album took a couple weeks.”

Among the innovations it allows, is the ability to experiment with different instruments. She recorded some of her own harmonica and drum tracks. She also plays these instruments at her concerts. “Sometimes for an encore I’ll play drums and guitar and sing, all at the same time,” she says.

Ryder says the process of creating her sixth album, was even more unrestrained. “For Utopia I recorded stuff all over the world,” she says.

With all her success, Ryder is the first to admit she’s had struggles with depression and self-doubt along the way. She advises struggling musicians to look within themselves for answers. “The more you think about what you should be doing or how you should be doing it, the more complicated it gets.” She says that one of the best pieces of advice Ryder received came from veteran AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) musician Melissa Etheridge who told her simply, “Do what you love.”

The two met through Ryder’s manager, Sandy Pandya, and developed a friendship. When Etheridge was looking for a Canadian musician to pair up with for her Canadian tour, she turned to Ryder.

serena-ryder-sitting“Melissa Etheridge was an amazing person to be on tour with; she’s one of the coolest people I’ve met and she kind of took me under her wing,” says Ryder who was just 29 at the time. “She heard one of my songs, ‘Broken Heart Sun,’ which I’d written with one of her producers and she loved it.” Etheridge recorded the song as a duet with Ryder and released it in Canada before the tour began.” The pair also performed the song for the 2011 Juno Awards.

Of late, Ryder has been particularly prolific. She’s written about 80 tunes in the past three years. “I really love them all,” she adds, explaining how she followed her own advice. “I think it’s because I haven’t been taking myself so seriously, and I know that not everything I do matters as much as I think it does.”

She says that being true to yourself is important in songwriting. “Write from the place where you feel, even if you think it’s a bunch of shit!” she advises. “A year later you will look back at the songs you wrote and think they are amazing. I may not always be present with myself in some sort of happy state that we all want to be in, but I am honest.”

Coming to terms with her inner struggles is at the heart of the new album’s title, Utopia. The idea came from a First Nations story about two wolves. “There is a white wolf inside of you that is love and peace, happiness and joy, and it’s starving; there’s also a dark wolf inside you that is anger, jealousy, resentment, pain, and it’s starving too. They are battling each other. The wolf that wins is the one you feed.”

“Utopia, for me, is about marrying the light and the dark, and making a gray area—a balanced area. It’s about finding your own balance in life. Utopia is a place of absolute light and perfection,” she says.

This balancing act brings Ryder’s typical diversity to the album. “There are a lot of dark songs about dark feelings and dark places, like the song ‘Killing Time’—one of my favorites. It’s about wasting time and getting caught up in your head. Then there’s ‘Got Your Number,’ which is a single I wrote while jamming on the drums in my apartment. I was thinking about New Orleans, which I love, and people dancing in the street.”

“Then, there’s a song called ‘The First Time’; it’s about treating your relationships like you are meeting the people in your life for the first time. We all have history and we think we know our mom, sister, brother, but in actuality, we are always changing and every second is a new opportunity to see things differently.”

Serena Ryder is pre-releasing a few singles from Utopia over the next few months, with an album launch planned for early 2017. “We are doing a lot of intimate shows to test out some of the new stuff live to see what the industry thinks,” she explains.

Finding the Right Physical Therapist for Musicians

By Shmuel Tatz, P.T., Ph.D.

For musicians, professionally related physical trauma can be one of the worst kinds of trauma because working musicians can repetitively, step-by-step, hour-by-hour continue to damage their bodies.

Musicians’ injuries usually don’t happen overnight, and healing doesn’t happen in one day. It takes time. Injuries related to the music profession can become aggravated because they are generally related to overuse and are difficult to avoid.

It is the job of a good physical therapist to help a musician heal in the shortest amount of time because the next day he or she may be off to London, Moscow, or Tokyo. Whatever the case may be, working musicians must be in excellent physical condition.

I have been working with musicians for more then 30 years. Using a hands-on physical therapy method, I have learned to feel the musician’s pain so that I can help him or her heal as quickly as possible.

I also have learned that being a musician is not just a profession, it’s a lifestyle. In order to play, you have to be in top shape, but you have to be prepared for injuries as well. This means you must know how to find the right kind of physical therapist in whatever city you are playing, just in case treatment becomes necessary for the show to go on. To help I have compiled a list of frequently asked questions:

How severe can structural misalignments requiring physical therapy become?

Naturally, the worse the problems are, the longer it takes to correct them. And, as time goes by, the original problem can become worse and create secondary problems. For instance, when a vertebra moves out of place, the body tries to compensate. It gradually adapts so one or more vertebras are forced out of place in some other parts of the spine. What’s more, it is likely that the vertebrae have built up a resistance to change. It takes time and regular physical therapy to “re-educate” the vertebrae and get them to hold their proper position.

How long should treatments last?

It’s impossible to answer this question simply. It depends on your specific problem and on the severity of your condition. And, of course, it also depends on the physical therapist’s education and experience. An experienced therapist who has worked with musicians can achieve positive results in 20 minutes, while a therapist with less experience may take 90 minutes to achieve the same results.

How rapidly will my body react to corrective physical therapy?

Healing time differs with each individual. It is possible that your symptoms will disappear shortly after you begin physical therapy. But healing and rehabilitation involve not only relief of symptoms but, more importantly, correction of the underlying cause. It’s a mistake to assume you are well just because your pain or symptoms are gone. Until the cause of your condition has been fully corrected, you should never stop physical therapy.

Always follow your physical therapist’s instructions carefully. He or she usually can estimate the minimum time and number of treatments it will take for any given condition to heal. Give yourself time, even if it seems longer than you hoped for. Remember, that complete cooperation with the therapist’s recommendations is the best way to shorten the time it takes to regain your health.

How can I find the right physical therapist?

One way to find a good practitioner is to ask your colleagues because you might have a physical problem someone you know has or used to have. A good physical therapist should give you some improvement even at your first session.

I believe that manual therapy is the cornerstone of good physical therapy, so a good therapist will combine manual therapy with other appropriate treatments, such as laser therapy or auricular therapy. While physical therapists can accomplish quite a bit using their hands alone, the added dimension of machines and exercises create a therapeutic counterpoint with many possibilities. Think of combined therapy like this: a violin solo is lovely, but add a cello and a piano, and you may have something extraordinary!

It is crucial that a musician get his or her main instrument–the body–checked out and tuned up from time to time, before minor issues have a chance to become serious problems.

–Shmuel Tatz is a Licensed Physical Therapist. Learn more at www.tatzstudio.net.

Perform at Your Best: Eating Well on the Road

by Karen Stauffer, nutritionist
eating-healthy-on-the-roadWe all know what’s wrong with eating too much restaurant food on the run. Too much fat, sugar, and salt combined with hurried eating can lead to weight gain, fatigue, sluggishness, and even worsening pre-existing health conditions. Often there’s also a lack of fiber in a road diet, and usually fresh greens are in short supply.

When we’re young, these shortcomings don’t affect us as much. However, the body becomes less resilient the more it has to endure a poor diet, especially when it’s combined with the stress of travel and work. The easiest step to better nutrition, even if on a “road diet,” is to take an enzyme digestive aid. This helps break down food so the body can absorb it more readily, so you will get more nutritional value from food and less indigestion and gas. Taking an enzyme supplement is particularly important for people older than 40 or those taking acid-reducing medication, which might cause you to produce less stomach acid for digestion.

Chewable enzymes are not unpleasant. One brand is Zand’s Quick Digest. It tastes good and helps the body digest all food components: fats, starches, and proteins.

To cut down on unhealthy foods buy a small cooler, about the size that holds six cans of soda. Often these come with shoulder straps and are so convenient, they can become part of your carry-on luggage. Also, buy a refreezable cold pack or fill a zipper bag with ice. Fill the cooler with an apple, an orange, cheese portions, hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, pea pods, red and green peppers, and carrots. All these healthy foods travel well.

Another way to get a healthy snack on the road is with a small day-pack. Raw nuts, crackers, energy bars, and dried fruit can go in here. Also, toss in a few small aseptic (no refrigeration needed) packs of soy milk, a perfect quick breakfast. Don’t forget a bottle of water. If traveling by car, keep a stock of bottled water in your trunk.

Restaurants are convenient, but that’s where poor eating often happens. Make the most of choice, and substitute healthy items whenever possible. The other week I heard a waitress offer broccoli instead of French fries. That’s a good choice: steamed veggies, with a squeeze of lemon! Also, request “no salt,” “heart healthy,” or “low carb” options, and ask for whole grain breads.

Many of us enjoy fast food now and again, but avoid relying on it on the road. If there is no choice but fast food, avoid soda and milkshakes (substitute low fat milk or juice instead), cheese (fast food “cheese” is not cheese at all), and French fries (ask for a baked potato). Remember, many fast food restaurants offer healthy alternatives now, such as salads, applesauce, and fruit cups.

If traveling through time zones has upset your daily routine, a fiber supplement can keep you regular. Discuss with a professional nutritionist which is the right supplement for your needs: soluble, insoluble, chewable, or a blend.

Health food stores offer other nutritious ideas for traveling musicians. Vitamin supplements are one. Another is to pick up a “green drink” powder. A packet can be mixed with water or juice to make an instant nutritional beverage. Another great, easy-to-pack beverage is Emergen-C. Mixed with water it provides vitamins C and B, minerals, and alpha lipoic acid in a tasty fizzy drink.

If you’re having trouble with insomnia, avoid using alcohol to relax. Instead, try Koppla, a soothing, pleasantly sweet drink mix, which contains lemon balm and other herbs. There are other drink mixes containing magnesium, which acts as a muscle relaxant. One problem with alcohol, especially overindulgence, is that it can cause your blood sugar to drop, waking you up in the middle of the night. Eating too late at night can do the same.

Early morning flights or less-than-regular sleep schedules may mean you have to wake yourself up quickly. Many people turn to coffee, but green tea is a better option. Lower in caffeine than coffee, it’s also rich in antioxidants and contains an amino acid (called theanine) whose calming effects may help balance the caffeine.

Adapt these suggestions to your own needs and limitations. Some people travel well, and they have fewer needs than others. For instance, despite my careful planning, my husband drove to Atlanta and back eating bread, peanut butter, jelly, bottled water, and chocolate soy milk. (At least he took his vitamins!) A weeks worth of PB&J sandwiches would have had me headed for a burger joint, but he thrived on them.

I don’t mean for you to pass on any good regional cuisine that appeals to you. After all, delicious barbecue, jambalaya, or homemade pie can make a trip memorable. But be smart, and don’t live on fatty, salty, sugary, fiber deficient foods, either at home or while traveling. If you eat right, you’ll play better, feel better, be more alert and relaxed, and, hopefully, live longer!

–Professional nutritionist Karen Stauffer is owner of River of Life Natural Foods in Lahaska, Pennsylvania. Nutritional counseling is available by calling her at 1-800-651-3820. Read more articles on her specialty–nutrition for musicians–at www.professorpooch.com/Karen.htm.

If I could play an instrument…

By Brien Matson, board member, Local 677 (Honolulu, HI)

Editor’s Note: This article won an International Labor Communications Association 2006 award in the category of Best Feature Story (Local Unions). It is reprinted from the March 2005 edition of Keola O Na Mele, the official journal of Local 677.

“If I could play an instrument … I’d love to play for a couple of hours for $50. Heck, I’d even do it for free, I’d just be so happy to be playing music. You’re so lucky!”

Sound familiar? It’s the voice of the uninitiated non-musician, the fan, the admirer, the “Regular Josephine,” the “Regular Joe.” They’re right. We are lucky that we play music, but it’s bad luck that most people look at our profession in that way.

We are professionals. We chose music as a career, we work hard at it, and we want to make a decent living at it.

Here’s another familiar sound: “It’s just not in the budget. Look, you love to play, why don’t you just do it for that amount? It’s better than nothing…” Or these: “Take it or leave it;” “It’s great exposure.”

Sound painfully familiar? It’s the voice of the purchaser. The club owner, the restaurateur, the agent, the promoter. The sad thing is that the purchaser is in the music business to make money, but somehow, they don’t want to pay the people who make the music that makes the money.

This article is addressed to the “Regular Joes,” the “Regular Josephines,” and the purchasers. It’s also to us, the professionals. We need to think about this, and remind ourselves of how specialized what we do is, and set the bar a little higher in order to survive and–dare I say this?–prosper. Let’s go with the $50 gig. Most of us won’t take them, and people are surprised when we don’t. But let’s use that figure and do a little math to illustrate why we’re not happy to play a couple of hours for 50 bucks.

“Two hour gig, $50 each, cash. What’s wrong with that? That’s $25 an hour.” Hmmm-m-m-m. Let’s say the gig is from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and let’s not take into consideration practicing or warming up.

Start with the drive to the gig. What? Everyone has to drive to work! True, so we won’t count the drive. Keep in mind that most people drive the distance, and then walk in to work five minutes early, grab a cup of coffee, and start working. We have to pack up the car with equipment (half an hour) and drive to the site. Unload the car, load the equipment onto the stage (half hour), go park the car (15 minutes), come back and set up (1 hour).

Let’s say that you timed it so you had 15 minutes before the gig starts. That’s two and a half hours. Add the gig, and you’ve got four and a half hours.

Now pack up. If you’re lucky, and nobody wants to talk to you after the gig, you can tear down in one hour, go get your car, load your equipment (another half hour), and drive home.

Nobody counts the drive home, but when you get home, you unpack your car, and load your stuff into the house, another half-hour, easy.

That’s six hours work, for $50 cash. More like $8.33 an hour, not $25 an hour.

Let’s look at making a living with that same amount. To make $1500 a month, you would have to do one $50 gig a day, every day of the month. If you did that every day, every month of the year, no vacation, no holidays, you would make about $18,000 per year, and that’s before taxes.

Paying federal and state income tax, general excise tax, and full social security tax (no employer contributions), knocks it down to about $11,880. By the way, you’re not eligible for unemployment or workers’ comp, but that’s okay, it’s not really work, right?

Let’s double that to $36,000 gross, which is $23,760 after taxes. For that, you would need to do two of those gigs a day. Two gigs taking up 6 hours each is 12 hours a day, every day of the year.

It’s a simplistic formula, but it makes a point. The point is, that’s why we’re not “happy to play for a couple of hours for $50,” even though we are lucky to be able to play music.

The next time someone says something like the opening line of this article to you, turn it around. Say: “If I could be a dentist, I’d love to do it for $8.33 an hour. I’d just be so happy to be able to practice dentistry. You’re so lucky!” I’m sure the reply would be: “What do you mean, lucky? I studied for years, and I still study. I worked long, hard hours to perfect my craft, and still do. My equipment cost me an arm and a leg, and it’s very specialized work. I’m a professional!”

Just smile and say, “Me, too.”


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John Williams: Back Again to a Galaxy

John WilliamsThe scene opens on a black screen. From the depths of inaudibility, a single eerie string chord rises to underpin the image of a windswept desert landscape.

Instantly, we know where we are: a desert planet much like the homeworld of Luke Skywalker. And, equally importantly, we know who wrote that unmistakable chord: John Williams, the legendary composer of the soundtracks for all six (soon to be seven) installments of the Star Wars saga.

It’s probably fair to say that a significant portion of the American public was waiting impatiently for the debut of this first of two trailers advertising the Christmas release of The Force Awakens, the latest Star Wars chapter. It’s an equally fair bet that Williams’ music played a big role in that anticipation. Every bit as important as the characters and scenes they portray, Williams’ soundtracks have tended to take on a life of their own in every film he has scored in a career spanning more than six decades, and incorporating a filmography fast approaching the century mark.

With the film’s premiere still months away, recording sessions for The Force Awakens are just getting started, with the initial sessions slated for the first week of June. Williams tackled earlier recordings for both trailers, with the second trailer being released several weeks ago to add to the mounting excitement around Star Wars VII. Williams says sessions will continue through August, possibly into September. “Then it’s back and forth with editing,” he says. The music will be recorded over several months while working in tandem with the film’s editorial and special effects teams on the West Coast. “At the moment I’m working on composing the music, which I started at the beginning of the year. I’ve been through most of the film reels, working on a daily basis.”

Old School Approach

John Williams, a life member of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 47 (Los Angeles), is the winner of five Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, and 22 Grammys, and has composed many of the most popular and recognizable film scores in cinematic history. He meticulously crafts themes that virtually become living, breathing characters in their own right. But it may come as a surprise that the man who writes music for space pirates and evil galactic empires prefers a fairly old-fashioned method of composition. “I work very much in what some would consider old school,” he says, “in front of the keyboard with pencil and paper. The piano is my favorite tool. Over the decades there has been so much amazing technological change in the music business, but I’ve been so busy that I never really retooled.”

Williams explains that it used to be standard practice for a film composer to write music that was then passed off to assistants to flesh out for full orchestra. By contrast, he typically composes fully orchestrated sketches, eight to 10 lines indicating winds, brass, strings, and percussion. “The music library then transfers these directly to a computerized score from which instrumental parts are made,” he says. “We can reprint parts, edit as needed, change the bowings, etc.” He admits the irony is not lost on him that his work quickly becomes state of the art despite its more traditional beginnings.

Somewhat surprisingly, Williams prefers not to read scripts before he tackles writing his first ideas on a score. “I’ve always preferred to write only to footage,” he says. A little like a set designer, he writes music according to a story’s mood and setting, and the feeling that a particular scene might be trying to convey. The process starts with a “spotting” session, deciding in meetings with the director which scenes will feature music and which will not. For four decades, Williams has enjoyed a fruitful (to say the least) collaboration with director Steven Spielberg, and—for most of the previous Star Wars films—George Lucas as director and/or screenwriter. For The Force Awakens, Star Wars newcomer J.J. Abrams is in the director’s chair.

“J.J. Abrams has been a joy,” says Williams, expressing his delight with the working relationship so far. “He’s a very genial, warm person. We had a few preliminary meetings and I played themes on the piano to which he responded very positively. By and large he has allowed me to do my thing, and our minds have been together on our approach to the scoring.”

Once Abrams has the music in hand, the film will be edited. “Neither of us will see the final version with the special effects until much later,” Williams continues. “Any music changes that need to be done are made later in the editing process, which sometimes involves some rerecording.” Every shot requires thousands of adjustments. “It’s a two-hour-plus journey of complex details that all interrelate, with music being only one of them,” he adds. Tempo, dynamics, instrumental effects—all need to be married to what is happening in the screen images. Williams feels that when the desired effect is achieved, all those long hours of work should be unseen and unnoticed. “The final product, the finished film, has to feel seamless and natural, as with everything we do. Time is just one of the necessary ingredients in the process.”

Music as Character

john-william-recordingFilm music’s traditional role has been to set a mood, but remain subservient to the screen action. In many cases, this role also included the subtle underpinning of a particular character to reinforce personality traits—or quirks. In the case of the Star Wars films, Williams has aimed to raise the music to the level of a story character in its own right. As with his approach to composing, the technique used to achieve this goal looks back to an earlier time: that of 19th century opera composer Richard Wagner and his concept of the leitmotif, a recurring theme throughout the opera that becomes associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.

Wagner’s four Ring operas, not unlike the Star Wars saga, are massive in scope and reach, with literally dozens of characters that need to be remembered and differentiated. Each character (and sometimes a nonliving story element) is given its own particular identifying theme, the leitmotif. In four operas lasting up to six hours each, Wagner utilized more than 90 of these themes to tie together story and characters. Thus it is with the galaxy-spanning Star Wars films, where from the outset Williams linked Darth Vader inexorably to a dark, unstoppable march, while Princess Leia’s regal beauty is given voice by solo flute and horn. Even the Force, the unseen mystical power binding together the Star Wars galaxy, is given its own special snippet of music. Over the course of the next five films, most of the regular Star Wars characters come to be immediately identified by the particular themes that Williams has created for them.

Williams says he plans to continue the use of leitmotifs in the new film. “While the majority of the music is also new, there are necessary references to early story lines, which helps create association with the previous films,” he explains. “So the music will look back in spots to the earlier films, but there are also new themes that will be applied in a similar way.”

So it would seem that even though film composition has changed radically in the last half-century, there are some techniques that will always find a use. This blending of old and new is something of a recurring theme with Williams, and that includes where he sees film music heading in succeeding generations. In the ’40s and ’50s, serious composers routinely wrote film music. While this isn’t the case so much these days, he sees the next generation of composers returning to it. “Philip Glass, for example, has been quite involved in writing film music, and this has helped get other composers more interested in the possibilities in writing for film,” he points out. “In the future, I think serious composers will become even more interested. Changes in technology also help change aesthetic approaches. More connections between the audio and visual world also open up possibilities that young composers find increasingly intriguing.”

First Class Musicians

John-williams-composerA living, breathing score takes talented musicians to bring it to life. After six previous film soundtracks being recorded in the UK with the London Symphony Orchestra, The Force Awakens marks the first Star Wars soundtrack to be recorded on American shores, utilizing musicians from AFM Local 47. “With this new film, the schedule has evolved to the point that I’ll need to be working with the orchestra continuously for several months, and that’s obviously easier for me to do here in Los Angeles, than it would be in London.”

“We are thrilled that this is the first Star Wars soundtrack to be recorded in the US,” says Sandy DeCrescent, who has contracted Local 47 musicians for Williams’ film scores for many decades. “So much music before this was disappearing overseas, and John has been a moving force in bringing the work back to American musicians.”

Williams says he feels very privileged to be working with the freelance orchestra in Los Angeles, an ensemble he knows well. “This group is made up of a pool of freelancers in Southern California. I’ve worked with them for decades now on a variety of films, and I am friends with most of them. They consistently come together to form a fabulous orchestra, and I’m always happy and proud to be reunited with them for these projects.”

Trumpet player Jon Lewis is a member of the freelance orchestra, and he says the experience is off to an incredible start with the recording of the two trailers. “The first trailer was the first time any of this music was recorded in LA,” says Lewis. “We had the pleasure of running the original Star Wars main titles for a ‘warm-up,’ as John called it. What a thrill that was, and it was such an amazing sound to hear coming out of the Sony scoring stage that day—as near perfection as I’ve ever heard.”

Stephen Erdody, Williams’ principal cellist for the last 16 years, agrees, adding that the working process with Wiliams is always efficient and rewarding. “John is an outstanding musician, an amazing orchestrator, and he has the best ears in the business,” Erdody enthuses. “The two trailer sessions were each three hours long, and all of us take great pride in our speed of recording and our ability to adjust and make changes to improve the final product as quickly as possible.”

“The pressure to get things right is always there in any recording session, and I think the Los Angeles musicians meet that challenge better than anywhere else in the world,” explains Lewis. Aside from small changes or balancing adjustments, each and every take is as presentable as the next.”

“When that red light goes on, it’s 100% focus and attention to producing an amazing performance,” adds horn player Andrew Bain.

For flutist Heather Clark, the experience of working with Williams has an added element of pressure. “The amazing flutist Louise DiTullio has played principal flute for John Williams the past 40 years, and it’s an honor and a great responsibility to fill such big shoes on a huge movie playing for a legendary composer who continues to raise the bar on film music. It will be the experience of a lifetime.”

All four musicians agree that the thrill of being part of an American cultural icon far outweighs any pressures and stresses of recording sessions. Says Erdody, “A few days after I graduated from Juilliard in 1977, I saw Star Wars and it changed the way I watched and listened to movies from that day forward. That score had an enormous impact on me, and I can’t believe some 38 years later I will be a part of the next installment.”

“I’m still so in love with this business, and to be the first American orchestra to play for a Star Wars movie is beyond exciting for all of us,” says Lewis. “I think the entire movie industry underwent a major shift due to the grand score that John Williams composed for the original movie. The trend of movie music shifted back to full orchestras, and for several decades since, the role of music in film has been far more important than ever before.”

As Williams loves his LA musicians, he has similar high praise for orchestra musicians elsewhere across the US. Over the past two decades since his 13 years at the helm of the Boston Pops, he says he has conducted as many American orchestras as he could possibly manage with his schedule. In particular, Williams feels a responsibility to be involved in benefits for AFM musicians’ pension funds and also for educational outreach programs. “We have so many orchestras in this country that are truly world class,” he says. “All of them are fabulous. It makes me realize that, although our country is geographically larger than most, we really do have more amazing orchestras than any other place.” He believes this speaks to the success of American music education. “We can all take great pride as a nation in the number of fabulously high-level arts institutions in this country, and we don’t praise them nearly enough,” he says.

“There are obviously great orchestras and schools all around the world, but we can be so very proud of what American schools produce here every single year. We don’t celebrate this enough, and we absolutely need to be more vocal about it.”

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Loretta Lynn: Music Keeps Her Young

Loretta LynnLoretta Lynn’s career has inspired musicians for 50 years, and her personal story of persistence and success paved the way for many strong female country singers who followed in her footsteps, living out their country music dreams. A completely self-taught singer songwriter and guitarist, Lynn wrote her first song, “I’m a Honky Tonk Woman,” on a $17 guitar that her husband, Oliver Doolittle “Doo” Lynn, purchased as an anniversary present.

“The neck soon warped and I couldn’t keep it in tune, but that’s how I learned to play,” she says. The then-24-year-old mother launched her career while caring for four children and cooking and cleaning for 36 ranch hands in Washington State. She was shy, but Doo saw her talent. When he landed her a gig in a local bar they both hoped for an easier life.

“I didn’t know I was talented. Everybody in Butcher Hollow sang, it seemed like,” says Loretta of the Kentucky coal mine town where she grew up.

Lynn’s upbringing as the second of eight children born to a union coal miner can partially be credited for her frank and open outlook, and willingness to address causes she cares about. She recalls John L. Lewis as the leader of the United Mine Workers who brought much needed help to people like her father. “Anybody who worked in the coal mines at that time had to be in the union,” she recalls.

Lynn has been a union musician her whole career. She initially joined the AFM when she worked her first gigs in Washington, and she’s now been a member of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) for 53 years. “The musicians union helps the artists,” she says. “Where would we be if not for their help?”

Back in early 1960, when Lynn made her first recordings on Zero Records, radio stations were still small, local operations. Loretta and Doo drove station to station with copies of her record in the trunk of their Pontiac, imploring the DJs to play it.

“We would drive to a radio station and I would go in with my record. Some of them would say they couldn’t play it, or they wouldn’t play it, and some of them played it while I was there,” she recalls. “I just sat there until they played it. I imagine they thought to themselves, ‘This girl is going to stay here all night if we don’t play her record.’”

Loretta Lynn“The disc jockey would say, ‘I don’t think the program director will let me play this,’ and I would say, ‘Why don’t you try?’” recalls Lynn.

By the time the pair arrived in Nashville, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” was already a minor hit, eventually reaching number 14 on the country charts. She took the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in 1960 as a star-struck 28-year-old who knew very little about the music industry. Looking back, she says, “I’m glad I didn’t have sense enough to take no for an answer.”

After the Lynn family relocated to Nashville, she met the Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, and became part of their show. Through the brothers, she was introduced to Decca Records and began cutting demos with producer Owen Bradley. She says Bradley helped her enormously, recalling how he  gently coached her about how to be a better performer and about the music business. “He told me things about other artists that he had recorded. We would talk and I would get the message,” she says.

Today, one of the most awarded performers in all of country music and a 52-year member of the Grand Ole Opry, Lynn was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame 1988 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. In 2003 the Kennedy Center Honored her for her lifetime contributions to the arts, and in 2013, in one of her proudest moments, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

At 83 years old, Lynn still performs regularly and continues to win awards. In the past year alone she was honored with a 2014 Americana Music Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriter (September 2014), the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award (March 2015), and the Country Music Awards (CMA) Crystal Milestone (April 2015).

The country music pioneer was the first woman to get a gold record in 1970 and the first woman to be awarded CMA’s Entertainer of the year in 1973. Though she never set out to be a feminist, she was never afraid to tackle issues important to working-class women, both in interviews and in her music.

Songs like: “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)” (1966), “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind)” (1967), “Fist City” (1968), and “The Pill” (1975) bravely pushed boundaries. Her 1966 song “Dear Uncle Sam” expressed the country’s frustration with the human cost of the Vietnam War, while the 1972 “Rated X” told the story of the stigma that divorced women in the country faced at the time.

During the early 1970s, Lynn began a collaboration with Conway Twitty that lasted almost 20 years and made the pair the most successful duo in the history of country music. Twitty became a close friend of both Loretta and Doo. “We had 12 albums together,” she says. “Conway Twitty was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.”

Loretta Lynn“Doo loved Conway,” she adds, recalling how Doo actually gave the pair their biggest hit. “We’d been out on tour a couple weeks and we’d come home. We walked in and my husband was sitting at the desk. He didn’t usually come into the office. He says, ‘I’ve got a hit for you.’ And Conway says, ‘Oh, my god, he’s got a song for us?!’ It was called ‘Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man’ and it was a number one hit. We kind of listened to Doo from then on.” The pair remained close until Twitty passed away in 1993.

Lynn has released 54 studio albums, plus 15 compilation albums in her career. Her most recent album, Van Lear Rose (2004), was produced by then-28-year-old Jack White. White had been a long-time fan, ever since he saw the 1980 film of Lynn’s life, Coal Miner’s Daughter, as a child. He met Lynn when she was working in Detroit. When he suggested he would like to produce her next album she replied, “Why not?”

The album won critical acclaim, peaking at number two on Billboard’s country album chart. It was nominated for five Grammy Awards in 2005, winning two—Best Country Album and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for its song “Portland, Oregon,” a duet Lynn sang with White.

Her property in Nashville, Hurricane Hills, has long been open to visitors who can tour her mansion and museum and stay in her on-site campgrounds. She regularly holds festivals, concerts, and other events on the property.

Lynn has a new album coming out in the next year. She says it will be a combination of new songs and old-time ones. “I’ve got some old songs that Mommy taught me when I was growing up and some new stuff that I wrote,” Lynn says.

Meanwhile, Lynn keeps busy touring and performing. She’s pleased with how her career has stood the test of time, a reward due in large part to her non-stop work ethic. She says she prefers to work only on the weekends these days. “We’ve been turning them away. I think that’s pretty exciting,” she says, agreeing that music is what keeps her young.

Life in Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Bubble

gordon-goodwinGordon Goodwin is humbled when he looks back at where his career has taken him—he’s scored dozens of films and television shows from the late 1970s to today and toured the world with his wildly successful Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. The musician, composer, bandleader, and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member says he has achieved success beyond his wildest dreams.

“To see my name on a list of Grammy nominees, right next to John Williams, and people like that, I can’t get used to it and I don’t want to get used to it,” he says, referring to his fourth Grammy win: Best Large Jazz Ensemble, for his Big Phat Band’s album Life in the Bubble. His other Grammy Awards came in 2005 for the instrumental arrangement of “Incredits” for the film The Incredibles, 2011 for an arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and 2013 for an arrangement of the legendary jazz tune “On Green Dolphin Street.”

“I think Life in the Bubble is probably the one I will treasure the most,” he says, explaining that this album was “from the ground up” his charts and the band’s performance. “I never would have predicted I would have 20 Grammy nominations, ever. I never thought that I would be able to do tours like I do of Asia, Europe, and Australia,” he adds.

Goodwin’s love for big band music began in  7th grade when he first heard the Sammy Nestico chart “The Queen Bee.” “It changed my life,” he recalls. “You could hear his love of music and love of life with every note. I remember the epiphany I had hearing that arrangement and realizing that that was what I wanted to do with my life.”

In 1978, following college, Goodwin began his career playing at Disneyland. “It was, and remains, a great place for a young musician to work and to learn how to be a professional, to learn how to play well, even when you don’t feel like playing well,” he says.

Another part of becoming a professional musician was joining the AFM. “I can remember getting the phone directory and just paging through and looking at all the famous names of my idols, and the thrill I felt—’wow, I’m in the same book as these guys’,” he recalls.

Goodwin’s first writing assignment was for a Disney musical show featuring past and present Mouseketeers and his first film score was Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. He’s since built a reputation in the industry for his skill in composing, arranging, and playing. He’s worked with people like Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Natalie Cole, and fellow Local 47 members John Williams, David Foster, and Quincy Jones, to name but a few.

A Band of His Own

Big-Phat-BandGoodwin’s passion for big band music and its “optimism and buoyancy” led him to launch an 18-member big band in 1999. “I was working at Warner Bros. animation and I was making good money and winning Emmy awards. All that stuff was fantastic, but it wasn’t me,” he recalls thinking. “I realized that I may have more road behind me than I have ahead of me, and maybe I should have the courage to start writing music for me and I put together what was to become the Big Phat Band.”

He knew it was a risky venture. “I was mindful of the hostile cultural climate for this type of music, the economic challenges, and logistic challenges—the stuff that started to kill the big band environment the first time around,” he says.

“I knew I could get the music right, but I didn’t know if I could get the business right,” he continues. “Could I convince people that this music wasn’t just about nostalgia, or that it wasn’t elitist? That you could make jazz accessible and even entertaining? I was fighting the concept, even in the jazz community, that to market your music meant that you didn’t have artistic integrity. I felt you could do both, and as a matter of fact, you had to.”

Even with the right combination of music and marketing, the numbers didn’t always stack up. “It’s been a balancing act where I work in film or TV and get paid a little better money that I can then use to finance my big band,” he explains. “I don’t think I could have done it had I not had other opportunities in the music business.”

And the 18 members of the Big Phat Band also sacrifice to be part of the lineup. Like Goodwin, they take on other projects to subsidize their big band “habits.” “I’m not competing with other big bands,” Goodwin says of maintaining personnel. “I’m competing with the Oscars, six weeks of Wicked at the Pantages, or a one-week film date. I’m going to pay them $500 for a gig and they are going to turn down $5,000? And sometimes they do it; they turn other work down because they believe that it’s important to be a kind of a link in the chain of big band music.”

Big Phat Philosophy

Gordon-Goodwin-Life-in-the-Bubble-Album-CoverTo allow band members flexibility every chair has a sub. Each must be a top notch player, but also adopt the Big Phat Band’s musical philosophy. “It’s a willingness to put your ego aside and be a member. Not everyone is willing to do that,” says Goodwin. “The guys in the band are uniquely suited to play my stuff. The music is written with those players in mind. They constantly surprise me in the ways they add depth and nuance to the charts. A composer can have no greater gift than to stand up in front of musicians like these.”

Aside from philosophy, Goodwin hires only AFM members for the Big Phat Band. “Let’s face it, if you want to get the best of the best you’re going to go to the AFM. There’s little doubt about that,” he says.

Musically, Goodwin’s Big Phat Band presents upbeat big band music in fun arrangements mixed with funk, swing, Latin, classical, rock, and more. The repertoire is a big hit with audiences around the world. “I love all those genres. What’s common is an optimism and positive outlook and an awareness that to be on stage is a gift.”

“I think I have one responsibility and that is to write music that sounds good to me, not to fans or critics,” he adds. “People can hear some intangible difference in music that has integrity from an honest point of view and music that is just kind of well-crafted. Music is what inspires me. I’ll listen to it and soak it up. Then, I’ll write something that has the essence of that music, but has our point of view.”

The Big Phat Band’s latest album’s title, Life in the Bubble, is a fun commentary on modern culture. “I think we tend to construct bubbles around us where we [for example] think everybody must love big band music because I love it and everybody in my bubble loves it,” he explains. “I remember, when I was a kid, radio stations didn’t have the same kind of corporate playlist that they do now. It would be up to each disc jockey to play a wide range of stuff. Life in the Bubble is reflective of the Big Phat Band’s philosophy where, even though we came out of Count Basie, we don’t just play swing music, we play funk, rock and roll, and even hoedown.”

Finding Balance

Gordon Goodwin -for-Cover-by-Rex-BullingtonOver the years, Goodwin has scored or orchestrated numerous films and television shows. Some of the projects he’s worked on include: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Escape to Witch Mountain, Get Smart, Glory Road, National Treasure, Remember the Titans, Armageddon, The Majestic, Con Air, Gone in 60 Seconds, Enemy of the State, and Star Trek Nemesis.

But among his personal highlights are projects he did at Warner Bros. with Steven Spielberg. Animated shows like Pinky & the Brain and Animaniacs, allowed him to combine his passion for music with a lifelong love of animation. “We were emulating the music of Carl Stalling who was a composer for Bugs Bunny and those cartoons, on the same stage where Carl Stalling stood, with the same piano. That music was a really good match for what I believed in. It was a thrill,” says Goodwin. Other favorite animated projects were The Incredibles (2004) and the big band score for the Daffy Duck Christmas movie Bah, Humduck! (2006).

“Those are the projects I am attracted to; they have a synergy in terms of the musical values—not only in what the music sounds like, but the role of music in film. Those directors were not afraid to turn the music up. Music is a character in the film,” he says, adding, “Nowadays, that is not the norm. Film scores are more sound designed; if the music intrudes too much as a specific character the directors feel it impinges on reality.”

This change, combined with the success of his Big Phat Band, has seen Goodwin spending less time doing scoring work these days. “I think the word that I’ve become hyper aware of lately is balance, finding balance in my music and balance in my life,” says Goodwin. “When I started the Big Phat Band in 1999, and declared who I was, balance started to come into my life. Now I’m at the stage where I’ll get called for other gigs because they’ve heard about the Big Phat Band.”

“Putting yourself out there and in new situations is how you keep growing, and how you stay young,” he says. “I strike a balance between working on projects where I know the road ahead, and others where the path is less clear,” he explains. “I am attracted to projects where the music can really make an impact.” Recent projects include writing two string quartets for Quartet San Francisco last year. He’s currently working on some pieces for a clarinet trio to debut at the Detroit Jazz Festival and a major piece for the Cape Cod Symphony to premiere in the fall.

The Big Phat Band will release a Christmas album in 2015 and will be touring in France and Australia, as well as hosting a summer jazz camp in Tokyo. Goodwin has also recorded an album with a seven-member subset of the Big Phat Band, the Little Phat Band.

“I still have genuine wonderment that all this is happening,” he says. “Commit to your life and good things happen. If you give your 100% best effort that’s all anybody can ask.”