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andrew white

From Nashville to Paris: The Roots of a Jazz Musician

andrew white

Iconoclastic musician Andrew White of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) has successfully run a music publishing business for 45 years, which includes an exhaustive collection of John Coltrane solos.

Andrew White is a quintessential artist. A sax player, classically trained oboist, composer, and arranger, a wildly eclectic and spirited genius who has transcribed 840 of John Coltrane’s free-flight solos.

“From the first time I heard Mr. Coltrane, at the age of 14, I thought he was the most significant linguistic contributor to the language of jazz—in the history of jazz. I started transcribing his music because I wanted to see what the music looked like,” White says.

It was only when he turned 70, that White of Locals 161-710 (Washington, DC) and 802 (New York City) started using the term musicologist. He is unaffected and laughs easily. He’s a virtuoso who has mastered many instruments in a range of styles, but who has learned not to take himself too seriously.

He’s transcribed sax solos by Sonny Rollins of Local 802 (New York City), Charlie Parker, Jackie McLean, Paul Desmond, Billy Mitchell, and Stan Getz, plus trumpet solos by Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. White says, “I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about the things I could hear, write them down so I could see them and connect them visually.”

At Howard University, in Washington, DC, White was part of the renowned JFK Quintet. The group played regularly at the legendary Bohemian Caverns. During intermission, White would slip around the corner to Abart’s Internationale to hear Coltrane play.

One night, Eric Dolphy was in the audience. He asked White if he could borrow his horn, and White says, “I was sitting next to Walter Booker, our bassist, and he was laughing hysterically at what Eric was playing. ‘He said, Andrew I’ll never give you a hard time again for your alto sound after hearing that man play your horn. This guy’s playing your stuff.’”

The comparison between the two is now legendary, and White says, “I’ve recorded his tune, ‘Miss Ann,’ twice and people mention the similarities.” White would eventually transcribe 11 of Dolphy’s demanding solos.

In 1963, White went off to Tanglewood to study oboe, and the following year entered the Paris Conservatory on a John Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship. In early 1965, at 21, White played at the Blue Note Paris, sitting in for Ornette Coleman. “So much of the music business is happenstance,” he says. “I was at the right place at the right time.”

After Paris and another two years at the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of Buffalo, he joined the orchestra pit of New York City’s American Ballet Theatre in 1968. By then, he was a successful session jazz player and sideman, playing with drummer bandleaders Elvin Jones and Beaver Harris, and recording with Coltrane’s pianist McCoy Tyner. He eventually made a name for himself as a funk bass player with Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) for a couple of years—while simultaneously playing oboe for the American Ballet.

White was playing bass with the 5th Dimension in the early 1970s when Joe Zawinul of Weather Report saw him on TV. He and Wayne Shorter of Local 802 knew White could help their band create the funk sound they needed to extend their fan base. In the slicked-up album Sweetnighter, White contributed a distinctive electric bass line, and even played English horn on a couple of tracks.

A descriptor frequently applied to White is “iconoclastic.” He has shared the stage with some of the greatest jazz players in the world and is a deft interpreter of Coltrane, but it was his foray into popular R&B and funk as an electric bassist that ultimately provided the resources he needed to become an independent artist and music publisher.

Since 1971, White has recorded under his independent label, Andrew’s Music, which has an inventory of nearly 3,000 products: vinyl records, CDs, books, his own compositions—nearly 1,000—almost 2,000 transcriptions, and an 840-page autobiography. His catalog includes his series of transcriptions, The Works of John Coltrane, Vols. 1-16: 840 transcriptions of John Coltrane’s Improvisations and the semi-autobiographical Trane ‘n Me, which is a scholarly exposition on the music of Coltrane.

White says he has too many different artistic interests for one commercial label. “Blue Note Records would not record me as an oboe player playing Mozart. Motown would not record me playing as an iconoclastic jazz saxophonist, and Columbia would not take me on as a funk rock ‘n’ roll bass player,” White says. Under Andrew’s Music, he’s been able to do it all.

His own compositions are broad, steeped in eclectic influences, including classical. In 2006, he received the Gold Medal of the French Society of Arts, Sciences, and Letters in Paris, the only American that year to have been presented the honor.

White joined the union in 1958 and jokes that he could go anywhere, play any club, bar mitzvah, or wedding, because his dues have been paid up since 1958.

“As artists, the best thing we ever did was create a union,” says White. With a number of his recording contracts, he has had to invoke the clause regarding reuse. Though there were a lot of opportunities for mishaps, he says that because he had union contracts, he knew to read the fine print. With AFM contracts, “when doing TV, musicians are working for the studio or network and cannot be undercut.” White stresses, “The AFM is a professional organization. Beyond the benefits and the pension fund, it protects musicians on a fundamental level, on stage and in the studio.”

White turns 75 in September and has already begun marking the occasion with what he calls 75th Anniversary Festival Concerts. He started with two shows this spring—one in April at D.C.’s Blues Alley and one in May at the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

Paul Merkelo: OSM Principal Trumpet and international Envoy

Buy this issuemerkeloTrumpet virtuoso Paul Merkelo of Local 406 (Montréal, PQ), soloist and principal for Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) since 1995, has been recognized for both his technique and virtuosity. The international performer has been a soloist and has taught master classes in North and South America, Europe, Russia, and Asia.

“When I travel to other countries to perform, it opens my eyes and ears to other styles of playing and interpretations. This has helped me grow as an artist, and I’m constantly inspired by great players I hear,” says Merkelo. He explains how he then draws on those influences for OSM.

Merkelo was appointed Canadian musical ambassador to China for the 1999 inauguration of Montreal Park in Shanghai and performed the Haydn trumpet concerto with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra on national TV. He says that during international trips, language is not a barrier as he tells his musical story through his instrument, which affects the audience from an emotional standpoint.

“All musicians speak the same language—we all want to be moved by music. The more I travel, the more I realize how important what I am representing is,” he says.

Given his international presence, it’s not surprising that Merkelo was pleased to hear the International Federation of Musicians International Orchestra Conference (FIM IOC) would be held in Montréal. “It signifies that there’s a lot of cultural activity going on in Montréal. The audiences in Québec are very supportive of classical music, and the arts as a whole. I’m really proud that it’s going to be here,” he says.

But, Merkelo knows that the need for international organizations like FIM goes beyond the cultural aspect of sharing music. With continued growth in digital music, and the ease with which music can be shared globally, musicians need protection. “We need continued support of international federations to protect all artists who are trying to make a living through recorded music at a time when consumers are accustomed to receiving it for free,” he says. 

Local 406 (Montréal, PQ) member Paul Merkelo performs with Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, under the direction of Kent Nagano.

He says that orchestra musicians like himself are fortunate to have union contracts. “There is stability and protection in terms of work hours and restrictions on touring and recording. Our union protects us so we can play our best and not have to worry about excessive work conditions. If we have an injury, or need time off, we can take the time to heal properly,” he says. “Beyond that, I am proud to be first trumpet for the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and I’m proud that we are supported by the AFM.’’

Merkelo says OSM is unique. “We are an integrated and diverse orchestra; there are many Québécois musicians, Canadian musicians, American musicians, and other international colleagues,” he says, which helps to create a distinctive sound. “You could say it sounds North American, but also European.”

“There’s definitely a virtuosic flare that makes the orchestra very agile, colorful. We are able to switch gears quickly, for example, between the French repertoire and the German repertoire,” he continues. “This is what I love about the Montréal symphony. My colleagues and I work very hard to get into the repertoire we are playing so we can be really flexible in our approach.”

It’s clear that Merkelo ended up in the right orchestra, though like many musicians, where he ended up was more a matter of happenstance. “When you are a struggling student you audition everywhere,” he says. “You can never predict where you are going to end up.”

“I love my life here in Montréal!” Merkelo says enthusiastically. However, he admits the first year after relocating was a struggle as he didn’t speak a word of French when he arrived. “I had to try to learn French, at the same time I was trying to get my tenure and learning all these big parts—some of them for the first time.”

For the next few years, Merkelo studied French in weekly private lessons and practiced with friends. “I was making a lot of grammatical mistakes. The process took years before I felt confident enough to do an interview in French or to be able to announce a program,” he says. “I still get very nervous. Sometimes I am more nervous about my introductions in French than about the parts I’m playing.”

Almost immediately after arriving in his adopted city, Merkelo became involved in the community, which includes work with OSM’s Manulife Competition for the past 17 years. “We have more than $100,000 in prizes that we give out every year to young Canadian musicians,” he explains.

Twelve years ago he started his own scholarship fund. “Initially I raised $10,000 to launch the foundation as part of the OSM competition, and they were very enthusiastic,” he says. With that original gift and additional fundraising, Merkelo gives away $2,500 annually to one talented young Canadian musician auditioning for the OSM Manulife Competition. “My stipulation is that they have to come from a place of little or no financial means and have the skill on their instrument.”

The scholarship is a way of giving back. While at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, Merkelo was awarded the Rudolf Speth Memorial Scholarship for Outstanding Orchestral Musician, which most likely saved his future career in music. “That was a real game-changer for me in terms of being able to finish my education, not only from a financial perspective, but also to know that other people believed in what I was doing on the instrument—that gave me an amazing push and sense of self-confidence at the point when I needed it most,” he says.

Merkelo also encourages the next generation of musicians through teaching. He is on the faculty at McGill University, and during the summer, at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Plus he’s on the board of directors for the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (Canada). “Teaching, especially one-on-one, is more than just learning how to play the instrument—it’s a mentorship. A teacher needs to be a strong, positive role model; for me, helping to instill a sense of one’s self as an artist, and constant, committed discipline.”

Paul Merkelo Gear Guide
Instruments: “Almost all of my trumpets are Yamaha—my Bb, my C, my flugelhorn, my cornets. I also play a Schagerl rotary valve trumpet from Austria.”
Mouthpiece: “It’s pretty boring! Just a simple Bach 1C.”
Mutes: “I buy almost everything on the market because I like to try different things. I use a Denis Wick a lot; I use a Tom Crown piccolo mute; on my recording of the Tomasi concerto I used an old stonelined cup mute with some leaks and holes in it. It’s kind of a magical mute!”

Merkelo points to the long line of educators who helped him develop as a musician: his first trumpet teacher, Jerry Loyet; former University of Illinois professor Ray Sasaki; former Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal trumpet Adolf Herseth; and former New York Philharmonic principal trumpet Phil Smith of Local 802 (New York City); and Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) members Charles Geyer and Barbara Butler, who were at Eastman School of Music.


“All of them are great players, but also great individuals, human beings, and role models. All of them changed my life and made me believe that it was possible to be successful on the instrument, but also successful as a person. They taught me to have self-confidence, humility, and work hard. This is what I try to instill in my students,” he explains.

Merkelo is constantly involved in multifarious projects aside from his work with OSM. Last year, Merkelo’s recording, French Trumpet Concertos, was nominated for a Juno Award for Best Classical Soloist with Large Ensemble. He says that the CD, featuring three French trumpet concertos—Tomasi, Désenclos, and Jolivet—was a dream come true. Merkelo funded the project mainly through Kickstarter.

“It was inspiring to record these concertos, under conductor Kent Nagano and with my colleagues at the OSM—arguably one of the best orchestras in the world in interpreting French repertoire,” he says. All of his royalties from the project go to his scholarship fund.

Coming up, Merkelo has a couple of world premieres planned. This summer at the Music Academy of the West, he will premiere “Martha Uncaged” by composer James Stephenson, a childhood friend. “It is a tribute to [dancer and choreographer] Martha Graham for solo trumpet and stage band, and dancers,” he explains.

The other premiere is a concerto for trumpet and full orchestra by John Estacio of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB)—a co-commission with 18 other orchestras all over Canada. Merkelo will perform with OSM for the Québec premiere in October.

“The goal for now is to get new works out there for trumpet that people really love and want to hear again and again,” says Markelo.

stann champion

Chicago’s Stann Champion Has Deep Roots in Community

stann champion

Last summer Stann Champion of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to his community through music.

Stann Champion of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) has dominated Chicago’s vibrant Caribbean music scene for 30 years. His band, Roots Rock Society (RRS), has cultivated a wider community audience by redefining the performance venue and connecting with people where they live—in schools, cultural centers, colleges, churches, and sports venues. Champion says, “We are a movement committed especially to reaching young people of all cultures with our message of mutual respect for one another and learning through music.”

“This music chose me back in 1978,” says Champion. He was recruited in 1980 by the reggae band, Gypsi Fari, for a recording project at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica. Champion explains, “At the time, very few Chicago musicians could play reggae and other island rhythms.”

As a child, Champion was already exposed to a rich collection of American and island roots music. “We grew up in a black cultural environment listening to a wide range of artists like Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, Mariam Makeba, Trini Lopez, and Ray Charles,” he says. “I started playing guitar and listening to B.B. King and rumba and flamenco.”

Champion got his first guitar at 13 years old and studied the sounds of Chuck Berry, Wes Montgomery, Albert King, The Beatles, and Bo Diddley. “The first song I learned was blues. I wanted to learn anything on a six-string,” he says. A gifted child, he attended the art education program at The Art Institute of Chicago from 10 years old through high school. And during his tenure at Columbia College Chicago, art was his focus.

“In my home, it was important I finish college, since I was the first in my family to do so. But I still maintained my passion for the guitar and continued to play,” he says. Champion was on a path bound for a career in commercial art. After a trip to the Caribbean where he experienced roots music in its most authentic form, he returned to Chicago with a different mindset. He says, “I could have continued on to a ‘Madison Avenue’ type of advertising career, but I chose to use my talents, my drive to create and advance positive change for the greater community around me.” For Champion the decision paid off.

He formed Roots Rock Society in 1986 and they began touring with top-flight reggae bands such as Steel Pulse, Third World, Culture, Burning Spear, and Gil Scott-Heron. Along with the traditional reggae fare, the group performs calypso, samba, soul, and zouk. Champion explores writing songs in Swahili, Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia), French, and Spanish.

In the tradition of Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey and his movement, Champion, who has been a member of the union for 15 years, says this is his life’s work. “It’s about uplifting our community with culture, knowledge, and reaching one’s goals—which were not part of life as a slave. I find this same hunger in all communities. It is my duty to use my gift in a positive manner,” he explains.

He and his band are deeply committed to issues of peace and social justice. Champion, who also hosts a radio show says, “We work in schools, hospitals, churches, and community events. It’s all about compassion and tolerance, messages passed along from the African diaspora.” Each summer, he spends time working on Chicago’s south side, where campers learn the roots of instruments, storytelling, and songwriting. The band conducts education workshops throughout the community to promote awareness of hunger and homelessness, and Champion runs a weekly workshop, CampChamp, at Arthur Ashe Elementary.

Among his numerous awards, Champion has been honored by Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Music Awards a dozen times, including Best Calypso and Soul Calypso Entertainer, Best Gospel/Spiritual Band, and last summer he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the music industry and to the community.

The Beaches

Life’s a Beach: Toronto Rock Group, The Beaches, Head Out on the Road with a New Album, New Tour, and Big Ideas

The BeachesEven through the roar of the open road, The Beaches’ youthful optimism reverberates on the other end of a speakerphone call. Leandra Earl (23, guitar), Kylie Miller (20, guitar), Jordan Miller (21, bass and lead vocals), and Eliza Enman McDaniel (21, drums) are packed in the Miller’s family van en route to Seattle where they will open for the Canadian rock duo and fellow Local 149 (Toronto, ON) members Death from Above 1979. While it’s not the most luxurious of accommodations for Canadian rockers on the rise, it will do for now. The members of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) were smart about joining the union from the onset of their careers.

Currently on their first international tour, fresh off the heels of their debut album Late Show, the musicians have gained attention in the alt-rock world for a 1970s sound and swagger transported to the twenty-first century.  Drawing from the likes of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and The Strokes, Late Show’s lip-curling lyrics, pounding drums, and snarling guitars feature heavily on the album. Standout tracks like lead single “Money” and “T-Shirt,” show off an attitude fit for a young rock band with veteran polish to back it up.  International Musician caught up with The Beaches in the middle of a hectic touring schedule to talk rock influences, record contracts, and whether making it means just getting out of your parents’ basement.

How did you guys meet, how did The Beaches form?

Kylie: Jordan is my sister and we started playing guitar together at very young ages, six and seven. We wanted to start a band and we were looking for someone to drum with us and we asked our friend, Eliza, if she would come and audition—and she absolutely kicked ass and the three of us have been playing music ever since. We were in a Disney pop-punk band called Done with Dolls up until high school. At that point, we were looking for another band member and that’s when we asked our friend Leandra to join the band to expand the outlook. That’s how The Beaches came to be.

The BeachesDid any of you guys have plans for college or post-secondary education before getting signed?

Eliza: I think the three of us—me, Jordan, and Kylie—were kind of unified in not going to school. With Leandra, it was kind of an overlap with her joining the band and also applying to school. She got accepted to York University for classical piano. She went through a bit of a hard choice and she wasn’t sure whether she should commit to school or the band, or both. We kind of came to the unified decision that, if she went to school, she couldn’t give her all to either—and at the same time we decided that we wanted to go full force with this band.

Leandra: It was weird because I took an extra year of high school just because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after grade 12. I knew I wanted to pursue music, and the only option was to become a music therapist or a music teacher, which didn’t excite me, really. When I got the offer to join this band I was excited and I didn’t know if my parents would support it, or how far this would go. But my parents were super supportive and they’re the biggest fans of this band. They come to like every show. It’s been amazing. This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Since [hearing] my gal, Avril Lavigne, in grade four, I knew that I wanted to be on stage and play all these instruments with my BFFs, so it was insane to get to do this.

The BeachesWas there anything about being on a label that deviated from your expectations?

Kylie: There was this kind of expectation, in my mind at least, that once we got signed, we’d release a record and be on tour right away. But the reality of the situation was that we got signed and for three years we were doing writing sessions and working with different producers. At the same time, we were able to work with amazing writers and producers and we became a lot stronger as a band and as friends. We had that time to develop our sound and our band.

Jordan: The one thing I didn’t expect was how many people were going to be on our team. I thought there would be maybe six or seven people, but there are like 30 people that have their own unique job at the label that are working for you.

You guys have cited Avril Lavigne as a childhood influence of yours. Why was she so important to you at a young age?

Kylie: You know, being young women and seeing someone who’s badass playing a guitar and being a rock goddess. It was an inspiring visual image for us to see and there weren’t a lot of people doing that at the time. They were playing a different kind of sound and owning their own thing.

Do you guys take inspiration from other all-girl groups? You have a lot of male heavy rock references. Is there any other all girl group you guys idolized or looked to incorporate into your sound?

Kylie: I think that we don’t really think about gender in who we’re inspired by; it’s not really something we consider. So, there are females we’re inspired by, but there are a lot of males. We don’t really think about that when we’re writing music and making music.

The BeachesDo you feel like the “all-girl” label sets expectations for you?

Jordan: When we were in Done with Dolls we’d have people come up to us and be like, ‘Yo, I really like you guys. I didn’t expect you to be good because you were all girls, but you were awesome.’ But, honestly, we haven’t gotten a comment like that in years. I think it’s because there are a lot more females present, especially in the alternative rock industry; it’s way less of like a taboo that we’re girls in a band.

Can you tell me a bit about how you got involved with Death From Above 1979?

Kylie: We actually met them backstage at a show during Canadian Music Week [in 2016] when we opened up for Eagles of Death Metal and DFA was on tour with them. But it wasn’t until Leandra, who runs our social media, became social media buds with the guys that our relationship with them blossomed. They ended up reaching out to us and offering us a spot on this tour. To seal the deal, they ended up coming to our show this summer in Quebec City. They watched our set and officially invited us to the tour. We ended up celebrating with them all night. We went out until five in the morning and got poutine. It was rad.

Jordan: I really think the audition was how long we could stay out with them. It wasn’t even our show. [laughs]

Kylie: This is our first big international tour. It’s been really fun. A lot of unique opportunities—a lot of firsts.

What was one interesting first?

Leandra: A first for us that I thought was really exciting was we got to go on live radio in Laguna Beach and play our song “Money” for the first time and play a couple other songs. It was really cool because we’re getting a lot of radio play in Canada right now—we’re number three on the charts, nbd, it’s a good time—so to go over to America and start our journey over there is really cool.

Where do you see rock going in the next few years and where do you see your place in it moving forward?

Kylie: There’s a nice little community in Toronto currently that we’re happy to be a part of. If we can just continue to expand and explore that, that would be really awesome. For us it’s all about real music and actual rock, rock ‘n’ roll movements. There’s nothing fabricated about us. Sometimes it’s chaotic, sometimes we f*** up, but it’s all really fun and raw. I, personally, am not a fan of things that feel fake or things that feel phony, so I’m happy to see a lot of people exploring a more real side of this.

When will you guys know you’ve made it as a band?

Leandra: We haven’t really been on a headlining tour or played many heading shows, so I think when we start to do that and see people coming out to our shows and buying tickets to see just us, then we’ll start to realize, oh, cool we’re making it.

Eliza: For me personally, I think when we have a real legit tour bus—with beds and a toilet and stuff—I’ll feel like we’ve made it. Currently, we’re in a family car. Jordan and Kylie’s dad was very nice and lent us his car for the tour and we have a U-Haul attached. But I think we’ll have made it when I can sleep on my bed in a tour bus with a fridge and a driver [laughs].

Jordan: I think we’ve made it when I can move out of my parents’ basement. Like, that’s my goal right now.

Kylie: When we were in New York City, someone saw a couple people across the street yelling “Beaches!” while were trying to go get a bagel in the morning, and I said to Leandra, “Oh my God we’ve made it, people know who we are here!” And then we cross the street and see they’re our friends who were in New York at the same time. So, still making a name for ourselves, I guess.

Andrew Schulman

Andrew Schulman Creates Bridge to Healing for ICU Patients

Andrew Schulman

Andrew Schulman of Local 802 (New York City) is resident artist of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at the Beth Israel Medical Center.

Following pancreas surgery in 2009, Andrew Schulman of Local 802 (New York City) suffered cardiovascular collapse and was not expected to survive. When he came out of the coma, doctors called it a medical miracle. But Schulman, a professional musician and guitarist knew it was music that had reached him and brought him back.

At his bedside in the intensive care unit, Schulman’s wife, Wendy, thought music would comfort him in the ICU, but desperately hoped for more, that it just might be a lifeline. From his playlist she chose Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Within an hour, Schulman’s vital signs began to stabilize. In three days, he emerged from the coma. No one would know exactly how he survived the first night, but Schulman, whose case has been cited in medical journals and at major medical conferences, says, “The day I came back, six months after being in ICU, people said, ‘You’re famous in this hospital.’”

In his book, Waking the Spirit: A Musician’s Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul, Schulman recounts his experience, from survival and recovery to his new calling as a medical musician. Drawing on the inspirational stories of the people he’s met, as well as experts in both music and neuroscience, Schulman reveals the powerful ways music helps patients negotiate illness. After his medical crisis, Schulman became a volunteer musician three days a week in the surgical ICU, and in 2011, was officially appointed resident artist of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at the Beth Israel Medical Center.

“The guitar is perfect for playing in this setting, especially if you need to make a modulation instantly,” Schulman says. Most patients in the ICU cannot make a request, but once in a while, someone will ask for Elvis or Gershwin. The right music, the right sound, makes a difference. A Bach prelude is typically calming. Music can make heart rhythms more regular, and lower stress hormone levels, heart rate, and blood pressure. Schulman says, “The key is finding the resonance frequency of a patient.”

Schulman has been working with trauma surgeon, Dr. Marvin A. McMillen, perioperative director at Berkshire Medical Center in Massachusetts, to develop a program of medical music specifically for post-op care. He expects to attract many professional musicians, but Schulman emphasizes it’s not a regular gig. It requires natural empathy, extreme motivation, and a sense of humor, plus the confidence to handle some rather complex medical information. He explains, “You’re the one who needs to keep up the spirits of patients. You have to play your Carnegie Hall best, all the while watching the patient’s face, hands, and feet because that’s where you can see agitation—checking the monitor and range of vital signs.” 

Of his renewed passion for life and music, Schulman says, “It’s like being in three worlds—a triad of music, medicine, and writing. I’m using much more of my brain than I ever did before.” He suffered brain damage during cardiac arrest—retrograde and anterograde  amnesia. In cases like this, although the nerve network for memory was damaged, the brain compensates by reorganizing the neural pathways to work around the deficiency. Called neuroplasticity, the neural rerouting allowed him to continue to play and read music, eventually relearning all the songs he had forgotten.

Schulman continues to play professionally with the Abaca String Band, his own quintet, and as a soloist. His steady union engagements include landmark New York City venues, the Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel, The Mark Hotel, and The InterContinental/Barclay. He’s performed at Carnegie Hall, the Improv, and the Royal Albert Hall in London. His CDs include The Baroque Style, Lullabies, Reveilles, (and Siesta!), and two Live from Chautauqua recordings.

Schulman was just out of college in 1975 when he joined Local 802. A year before his surgery, which coincided with the 2009 recession, his wife learned she had breast cancer. He says, “If it hadn’t been for emergency relief fund of Local 802, if they hadn’t helped us after my surgery, I don’t know what we would have done. I might have been evicted, might have lost my apartment. They helped us through a crucial three months. I’m forever grateful.”

Back to work, in a new role, Schulman reflects on the turning point in his own ICU experience, when he heard St. Matthew Passion. He says, “The greatest grace a musician can have is to play for a patient who’s in a critical care unit. Instead of hearing the cold harsh beeps and alarms of a medical machine and impersonal voices, they hear a beautiful flow of Bach or a melody or tune that’s soothing.”

Reggie Watts: Musical Disinformationist

reggie-watts-mic-pointingReggie Watts of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) is making a definite mark on late-night television. For years, in his solo shows, he has entertained by disorienting his audience, referring to himself as a “disinformationist.” His funky looking sweaters, colorful socks, and bigger-than-life afro made him instantly recognizable to fans. In 2015, he become the leader of the house band for The Late Late Show with James Corden. 

Watts wasn’t looking for a “day job” when James Corden asked him if he’d like to be bandleader. Watts says he approached his decision to take the gig as a sort of experiment into an unknown realm. “I thought about it pretty hard for about a month,” he says. “It’s strange to have a thing repeat, and I entered into it interested in that idea, that paradigm.”

Watts seems to have found his place on the show. “They give me the space that I need and the leeway,” he says. “They trust me in what I do.” He says he also enjoys the freedom of being able to exploit his unique improvisational skills for much of the show.

Watts hand-selected his Late Late Show bandmates: Tim Young (lead guitar), Steve Scalfati (keyboards), Hagar Ben Ari (bass), and Guillermo E. Brown (drums), all members of Local 47. “The band is really great; we have a fun time always,” says Watts.

“We create great videos that I get to watch live during the show. I’m kind of half audience member and half bandleader. I appreciate the show from two perspectives,” he explains.

As bandleader, Watts has an egalitarian take on publishing. “I made the decision to give equal publishing to everybody in the band for new material we come up with,” he explains. “Splitting things evenly just makes sense. It’s a great incentive and gives a cooperative feel, so there is no hierarchy when it comes to the money made from publishing.”

reggie-watts-james-cordonWatts likes knowing that he and his bandmates are covered under union agreements should any problems arise. “It helps them to know they are in a union, that’s great!” he says. “It’s really about guidance and advice, especially when things aren’t moving smoothly. If there’s a technical issue—a problem with publishing, overtime, or things of that nature, it helps them. It’s a resource and kind of an ambient feeling to know I have this to fall back on. It’s also about camaraderie and knowing you have a resource for questions you might have.”

As a comedian and musician on The Late Late Show, Watts not only leads the band, but also participates in other areas of the show, acting as an announcer, as well as occasionally asking questions of guests sitting on the couch. “We get incredible combinations of people on the couch, and it’s really a lot of fun,” he says.

When it comes to his questions to guests, they are just as spontaneous as his music. Watts asked singer and guitarist Noel Gallagher, former frontman for Oasis: “As a person who lives on a very interesting island with a huge history, do you have hope that humanity will make good choices for itself for the future?” And asked actress Jessica Szohr: “Would you allow me to name a really hard-core metal band after your last name?”

Watts began honing his solo act way back in high school in Great Falls, Montana. “I always thought that music and comedy went together sort of naturally. When I was in drama in high school, we would perform in statewide drama competitions and I would do exactly what I’m doing now, minus the reverb pedals,” he says.

Among his many early musical influences he names Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI), James Brown, and Elvis. On the comedy side, he was a fan of Monty Python and looked up to many of the popular comedians of the 1980s: Gilda Radner, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and George Carlin, plus Carol Burnett and Danny Kaye.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-1-43-29-pmAfter high school, Watts moved to Seattle to study music at Cornish College of the Arts and became involved in as many as 20 bands, in a wide variety of genres. This early dabbling in new areas had a huge impact on his chops and continues to shape his act. “Whether it was a pop group, a dance band, a heavy metal group, a rock and roll band, a jazz fusion band, performance arts stuff, or creating music for modern dance choreographers, all of that has contributed to my history and my performance today.”

In his one-man show, Watts switches between numerous accents, while singing and speaking, breaking into convincing faux languages. His music moves from hip-hop to blues to funk and heavy metal.

In the late 1990s, Watts was singer with the band Maktub, which also explored a variety of genres. Though the group never formally split up they stopped playing together when bandmates ended up in different cities. “We continued to make a couple albums together,” he says. And it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they could one day create another.

Watts’ most recent project is the Netflix special Spatial, which he describes as a “hybrid stand-up, science fiction, variety show.” Debuting in December, it highlights Watts’ musical and comedic talents through sketches, singing, stand-up routines, and dance. The show, like all of Watts’ acts, is completely improvised.

reggie-watts-sing“I kind of just go for it; I’m listening to everything—my intuition, the audience, and even the soundprint the microphone might be making. I react to the moment,” says Watts. To accompany himself, he uses a small table full of tools—a Line 6 DL4 delay pedal, a reverb pedal, an Eletro-Harmonix 45000 four-track looper/recorder, plus a Teenage Engineering OP1 micro-synthesizer.

Watts first incorporated loopers into his show back in the late 1990s. At first, he used the Line 6 DL4 with his band Maktub, as kind of an idea sketchpad. “I could sing ideas that I wanted the band to play and loop it,” he says. “Then, I started to use if for harmony; I would sing my lead vocals and then harmonize with the sample.” That evolved into using the looping function to accompany himself in his solo act.

Very much into exploring gadgets and modern technology, Watts calls himself a “fan” of virtual reality (VR). To that end, he created the 360-degree VR video, Waves, which includes special effects, music, and philosophy. He describes the experience he showcased at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival as “visualizing his imagination.” He says that another VR 360 movie is in the works.

Watts’ advice to other musicians? “Keep believing in music and keep making art, at all costs.”

Neil Balm: Trumpeter’s Career Hits the High Note

nEIL-BALMNeil Balm of Local 802 (New York City) is co-principal trumpet of the New York City Ballet and principal trumpet for the New York Pops and Mostly Mozart Festival. All along, he’s demonstrated his virtuosity, recording with the Canadian Brass, as a soloist with award-winning conductor Gerard Schwarz of Local 802, and on tour in Europe with Louie Bellson’s Big Band. The experiences were revelatory for Balm, who hails from Hamilton, Ontario. He says, “They are such fabulous musicians!”   

Balm’s father was a high school music teacher who also repaired instruments. Balm picked up the trumpet and never put it down. He showed promise, and at 12 years old, when he formed a band, his father told him, “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. Let’s join the union.”

His father passed away before Balm entered high school. Balm, who at the time was studying with Ronald Romm of the nearby Canadian Brass, found an extended family. Romm became a father figure. When Balm entered the Juilliard School to study with William Vacchiano, it was Brass member Fred Mills (also trumpet coach for the National Youth Orchestra of Canada) who introduced Balm to top New York musicians.

In 1979, Balm was practicing concertos and orchestral music, in between his bachelors and masters degrees at Juilliard, when the phone rang. Peter Frampton of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) needed a horn section and somebody asked if Balm was available. He was hired based on references. Opening the four-month tour with the band in Flint, Michigan, to more than 7,000 people, Balm (who played lead trumpet and keyboards) says, “I had never been to a rock concert until I played that one. I couldn’t believe my eyes and the roar of the crowd. It was fantastic!”

“I was fortunate to have had rich exposure to such a high level of playing,” Balm says. His main teacher and chamber music coach, conductor Gerard Schwarz,  gave him playing opportunities which Balm says, put him on the map. On Schwarz’s recommendation, Balm became principal trumpet for the preeminent summer concert series Mostly Mozart Festival. This year will be Balm’s 33rd season with the 50-year-old festival.

Balm credits old friend Marvin Stamm of Local 802 for inroads to the jazz scene. “I went to recording sessions and got to see some of the great players, how they played and how the business worked. Eventually, I started covering for some of those guys.” For five years, he worked with Ted Weis, long considered the first trumpet of New York. Balm says, “He was a pro, and if you were observant, you could learn how to survive on the job.”

That’s where the union comes into play. He stresses, “It’s a team sport, not just on the stage or on the band stand, but also behind the scenes. It’s a mistake to think you can do it on your own. Without the union, negotiations, contracts, CBAs, and the fraternity that we have, we’d be making $50 a night the rest of our lives.”

The camaraderie he found in the union positioned him to help other musicians. Partnering with timpanist Jonathan Haas of Local 802, he formed Gemini Music Productions. The contracting and consulting firm provides educational and business outreach for musicians so they can build and use the area’s vast union-connected resources.

Between the New York City Ballet Orchestra, the New York Pops, the All-Star Orchestra, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart, and his production company, the 58 year-old Balm stays busy. He has no plans to stop working—but when he does, his investment in the union means he has a pension to cushion retirement.

Balm maintains, “If you can really play, you’re going to work.” He admits it may not be a 52-week contract with a symphony orchestra, but he says it’s easier nowadays for artists to create music, especially with today’s technology. Ever mindful of the shifts and metamorphosis of the music business with each decade or generation, Balm nonetheless proclaims it’s alive and well.

“After the ’40s, people said, ‘the big bands are done, the business is gone’; in the ’50s, when radio orchestras started dying out, people said it was over. In the ’70s and ’80s, when the jingle business dried up, people said, ‘the business is gone.’ But it’s still here. The music business changes, but it’s still here!” he says.

paul williams

Paul Williams: The Man with the Rainbow Connection

paul williamsToday, singer, songwriter, and composer Paul Williams is a different man than he was at the height of his music career. Now President of ASCAP, Williams says that his two biggest passions are recovery and artists’ rights.

“March 15 I celebrated 26 years of continuous sobriety—the greatest gift I’ve ever been given,” he says. “At 49, I had misplaced a decade due to alcohol and cocaine addiction. I was a mess and I was dying. I asked for help and people came out of the woodwork—a choir of grateful hearts—recovering alcoholics and addicts. I began to connect with the world around me.”

Musician Buddy Arnald, founder of the Musicians Assistance Program (MAP), suggested the newly sober Williams spend a year in UCLA’s drug and alcohol counseling program. Afterward, Williams became a volunteer counselor at MAP’s offices that were located in AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), where Williams has been a member for 44 years.

“I felt really useful for the first time in years,” he says. “And isn’t it interesting that it was at Local 47 in Los Angeles that I found that feeling? Eventually, I fell in love with songwriting again. However, I think it’s remarkable that my career in music—the life and love of music that I had misplaced—I found again partly through the musicians union’s generosity.”

Q: How did the process of recovery change the way you thought about your career? How did it change you as a human being?

I became grateful. I began to see life as a gift. I began to feel connected to the world around me in ways I’d never really experienced before. Alcoholism is an isolating disease. We recover into a life of love and service. Those are important words to a recovering alcoholic. We get to keep the miracle by giving it away.

Writing became easier. I began to trust that the words and the music would come. I see the real magic in the process and I know the songs are a gift to me that I get to share. I think we have unseen allies. The muse has been very generous to me.

Q: What are some of the ways organizations like ASCAP or the AFM can help with the problem of musician substance abuse?

Organizations like ASCAP and AFM provide a community of peers. The ASCAP membership is strong. This community is a source of mentorship and learning, and one that I’m thankful for and proud to be part of. One of the things we provide at our EXPO every year is a safe harbor room for any attendee who needs the support.

Q: Why did you want to become president of ASCAP? Was there something you thought the organization should or could do differently when you took the helm?

I’ve been an ASCAP member since 1972. My friend Hal David—the great lyricist and former president of ASCAP—suggested that I run for the board in 2001. I was pretty uninformed for someone who made their living in music and counted on performance royalties to feed his family. The more I learned, the more impressed I became. I’ve come to love this remarkable organization.

Since its founding, ASCAP has been on the front lines fighting for the rights of its members. We are still the only PRO owned and run by creator members, and we’re proud to operate as a not-for-profit.

When I took over as president in 2009, I saw an opportunity to expand our message to include the first-person stories of our members. The songs and scores don’t write themselves. I wanted to put a face to the work. The antiquated music licensing system is having a severely negative impact on their ability to earn a fair wage for their craft. Everything starts with a song, and it’s important we tell this story to legislators and those in Washington, DC, who write the laws.

Q: Can you explain for AFM members how ASCAP and the AFM support each other’s missions? Why should performing songwriters belong to both?

The songs would be lifeless without the musicians’ art and craft. You bring our songs to life. Thank you. We really appreciate it. When music is performed there is a blanket licensing process that serves the music creator, the licensee, and the music lover. I was free to write a second song because ASCAP was collecting for my first.

AFM is dedicated to the interests of musicians, just as ASCAP is dedicated to the interests of publishers and songwriters. We both work to negotiate fair payments, protect the use of our members’ work, and advocate for policies that ensure a prosperous future for American music. Joining both organizations allows performing songwriters to enjoy the benefits of two of America’s most trusted advocates for music creators.

Q: Many AFM members have lost work in small venues due to the proprietors’ reluctance to pay SESAC, BMI, and ASCAP fees. Has ASCAP explored the idea of exempting or reducing fees for venues with small capacities?

We understand how essential music is to local businesses—it helps attract customers and drive revenue. But it’s also important that songwriters be compensated when their music is performed. In today’s marketplace, we depend on public performance royalties more than ever before to earn a living. ASCAP recently re-examined our fees, particularly for small venues, to ensure fairness and transparency across the system. The average cost of an ASCAP license for bars and restaurants amounts to a little over $2 a day. So for the equivalent of the cost of a cup of coffee, businesses can legally perform any of the millions of copyrighted works in the ASCAP repertory. Also, food service or drinking establishments under 3,750 gross square feet are exempt from licensing for radio or TV music uses.

paul-williams-speakingQ: As a leader in the music business, do you have any advice for young musicians?

As music creators, we understand it’s a personal decision to join any professional organization. That’s why we’re honored when songwriters and publishers decide to join ASCAP, and we work tirelessly to support them, their music, and their rights.

My advice to young musicians would be to educate themselves about their rights and join an organization that has proven itself to be on the side of music creators; whether that’s AFM, ASCAP, or any other organization that is out there fighting to protect the future of this profession.

Q: I remember talking to one songwriter about how, when a song he wrote for a well-known country singer went viral on YouTube, he received only pennies. How can performers’ rights organizations better adapt to this new dynamic?

The framework of federal laws that governs how ASCAP and BMI operate was largely put in place in the 1940s. It’s a system that was created for a very different time and a very different marketplace. Today, a lot of digital music companies are exploiting these outdated music licensing laws in order to pay songwriters less than what their music is truly worth—or less than it would be in a truly free and fair marketplace.

The remedy, of course, is modernizing the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees to better reflect the way people listen to music today. ASCAP’s consent decree, for example, hasn’t been updated since before the iPod hit stores.

When I started out, it was possible to earn a decent living as a songwriter. Now, it’s a much riskier time. In today’s highly competitive music marketplace, it’s downright absurd that American songwriters—small business owners, in the truest sense—are more heavily regulated by the federal government than the giant corporations that use and profit from the music we create. This needs to change so that we can keep America’s music industry alive and thriving.

That’s why ASCAP is fighting for updates to our federal music licensing laws.

Q: Do you think we are losing diversity in songwriting due to the fact that fewer songwriters can earn a fair living?

The irony is, music is used more today than ever, yet our music licensing system rewards the billion-dollar streaming companies at the expense of the actual creators. I do think it’s having a negative effect on those who are thinking about joining this profession.

From a practical standpoint, it’s very risky to enter the music business as a songwriter today simply because there is so much standing in the way of being able to earn a fair wage. It still takes more than one million streams on Pandora for a songwriter to earn $100! Even when your song is a hit, it’s still a very risky business.

And that’s a shame, because if the profession can’t attract talent, it affects everyone downstream—record labels, recording artists, streaming companies, and music lovers alike.

paul-williams-standingQ: How has your thinking about digital music changed as the industry has evolved?

The advent of digital music has brought with it some great changes to the way people consume music—people are able to discover new artists with ease and carry their music with them everywhere they go. Personally, I think that’s a wonderful thing.

But as music users move from physical downloads to streaming, the royalties don’t cover the gap in what songwriters used to make. In 2015, ASCAP processed about 570 billion performances of our members’ music, a 14% increase from 2014, and more than double the number of performances tracked in 2013. But revenues and distributions have remained relatively flat in comparison. That’s because the majority of the growth is happening on streaming platforms, which pay songwriters far less. And that’s why we continue to push for reform. We need our licensing laws to reflect today’s technologies.

Q: Looking back on your career, knowing what you know now about life and the
music industry, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?

Be authentic. Tell us your story. Let us know who you are. When you dare to share something from the center of your chest—your most private thoughts about loneliness or love—you may be happily surprised by the number of people who identify with your emotions and find comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

I get very Jiminy Cricket about our work. But I’m a realist too. Having witnessed this incredible technological revolution in music, I could have never predicted that there would be such great inequities for the lifeblood of the industry—the music creators themselves.

If I were just starting out today, I’d tell myself the usual—find what inspires you, hone your craft. But just as important, I’d tell myself to get up to speed on copyright law; join the movement to modernize our music licensing system because these laws won’t correct themselves. We, as music creators, must fight for change.

Q: What song are you most proud of? Which song has the most personal meaning to you?

One of the high points of my career was working with Jim Henson. Kenny Ascher and I wrote the songs for The Muppet Movie. “The Rainbow Connection” has had a life beyond our wildest expectations. It’s really a song about the power of belief.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered if wished on the morning star? Somebody thought of that … And someone believed it. Look what it’s done so far.

Q: What projects are you currently
working on?

I’m working on a musical with Gustavo Santaolalla. We’re writing the songs for a theatrical adaptation of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s writing the music and then I am providing the lyrics. Incidentally, he’s brilliant. I’m so excited about this work.

Bonnie Raitt: Slide Guitar Legend Digs in Deep and Speaks Out About Fair Pay

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-6by Matt MindlinBlues legend, accomplished guitarist, and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member Bonnie Raitt was fortunate to have early opportunities to play with legends of the genre. Throughout her career, the singer songwriter has never been shy about standing up for causes she believes in. For the daughter of musicians John Raitt and Marge Goddard, both music and social activism are in her blood.

Though Raitt started guitar lessons at age eight, her real passion didn’t begin until a few years later when she first discovered slide guitar and the blues. “I didn’t even hear slide guitar on a blues record until I was about 13 or 14. It was a record on Vanguard called Blues at Newport ’63. I turned the record over and combed through the credits,” says Raitt. She soon soaked the label off a Coricidin cold medicine bottle, put it on her middle finger, and began teaching herself slide guitar.

Interested in culture and politics, Raitt began college at Harvard/Radcliffe studying social relations and African studies. Between classes she spent her time playing music at local coffee houses. About three years into her studies, she decided to pursue music full-time.

That was about the same time she joined Local 374 (Concord, NH). “You couldn’t make a record unless you were part of the union [in those days],” she says. “Musicians need to band together to make sure they are treated fairly. There’s power in the union and talking about issues that affect us all—collective bargaining for better deals, health insurance, making sure that people get paid, and tracking is really important.”

Learning from Legends

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-5 Marina ChvezRaitt soon found herself opening up for some of her heroes: Fred McDowell, Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker, to name a few. It was a world that you might assume would be intimidating to a young woman, but she says it was just the opposite.

“When I met these older blues artists and they heard me play, they got a kick out of it, just like they were thrilled with all the people who played the blues,” she reflects. “Of course, if you were good they admired you, and if you weren’t good they probably just wrote you off; that was the same for any musician—you either had the chops or you didn’t.”

In fact, the blues musicians were so accepting to Raitt that she feels it gave her an advantage. “I was lucky to have my foot in the door a lot more than other female singers that would have loved to have had a career in the business. I played the blues and that was a little bit unusual. It set me apart,” she says.

She studied from her mentors—how the music fit together, the function of the rhythm section, and which guitar or piano parts were important. She was also schooled in some intangible qualities. “Aside from just soaking up the authenticity, deep groove, and passion,” Raitt says she studied the way band members interacted and the interplay of the rhythm sections.

“I watched how they worked the crowd and built the set with dramatic pauses, how it just came naturally and how incredibly erotic and playful [it was], and the heartache on the slow songs,” she says.

Digging in Deep

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-1 by Marina ChavezAbout 45 years later and 20 albums into her own career, Raitt’s latest project, Dig in Deep, still reflects all the emotion and technique she’d absorbed decades earlier. “All the topics of the songs I picked because they mean something to me at this time,” she says. “Having it be the 20th album, I’ve covered a lot of heartbreak topics before. I worked very hard on having a new thing to say and a new way to say it.”

As usual she didn’t shy away from tough topics. For example, she says, “‘Comin’ Round Is Going Through’ was something that was really burning in me to express how frustrated I am with money and politics—how democracy has been hijacked by big business and corporations that are influencing our policy too much. Regardless of your political leanings, I think everybody agrees that the system is kind of broken.”

“I think we are citizens first and we are musicians, artists after that. If you feel strongly that something is wrong, you should speak out as a citizen. We have responsibility, if we have the luxury of being well-known and having a microphone, to at least be informed and passionate,” she says. “I think all of us should speak out if we care about something and we want to help.”

The album’s title takes a line from the lead song, “Unintended Consequence of Love.” “It seemed to describe how deep the band was digging into these grooves,” says Raitt. “There’s something about a unit that has been together this long that just digs deeper. It’s effortless, like an unspoken language amongst ourselves. We instinctively know where the others are going and consequently don’t have to plan the arrangements. It’s very organic.”

Band members include Local 47 members James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass), Ricky Fataar (drums), and Mike Finnigan (keyboards), and Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member George Marinelli (guitar). Raitt has played with Hutch and Fataar since the early ’80s. Marinelli has played guitar with Raitt on and off since 1993, and has been a permanent band member since 2000. And even though the newest member, Finnigan, has been with the band for just four years, Raitt has known him since the ’70s.

Going Indie

_images_uploads_gallery_BonnieRaitt_ConcreteStairs_Credit_MarinaChavezDig In Deep is the second album that Raitt has released on her own label, Redwing Records. The first, Slipstream, released after a seven-year recording hiatus, achieved success beyond what even Raitt had expected. It earned her a Grammy (her 10th) for Best Americana Album in 2012, and was one of the best selling independent albums for that year, selling more than a quarter million copies.

Raitt says that one of the keys to their successful label launch was the research and prep work they did. “We had been getting coached for several years before we suited up and started our own label. We watched a lot of people who have gone independent and learned by talking to them and finding out what we could do better and what they would have done differently. It is a strong learning curve, a lot of effort, but it’s really satisfying,” she concludes.

“It’s great to be able to own your own music and make a little more per CD, but it costs a lot to have the people to run your company. It’s a question of having a team willing to put in the savvy and expertise—accounting and reporting back. It’s a lot of work for the mighty group of three women running Redwing,” she continues.

“It’s exhilarating and it’s fun. The drawback [to independence] is the level of work. We have a large extended team, not just in our office—great people in my band and crew. I think the important thing is to pick people who are good to their families and good to work with. When you have quality people with integrity, then it’s a pleasure. You also have to be honest when it’s not working.”

This new world of music self-promotion, while satisfying, can present a challenge for new artists, admits Raitt. “Starting out, there are just thousands more out there competing for the same print or Internet interview time, or radio time. It’s tough to be independent, if you are not already famous. I feel sorry for people who are just starting up,” she says, advising, “You just have to stick with it. Take a look at other artists whose careers are going in the right direction and who seem to be handled smartly and try to do what they are doing.”

“But, man, it’s hard to keep up! Every time I think I just found my next 10 favorite new songwriters, a week later I’ll get another bunch. I’m so excited about the quality of music coming out—the avenues for new music and old music. The younger generations go across the musical aisles and get immediate links to people like Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and endless links to great jazz artists. I don’t think there’s ever been a more exciting time to be a music fan or a music creator,” she says.

Earning a Living

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-3 by Marina ChavezHowever, she cautions that in all this openness and availability, we need to continue to strive for fair wages for everyone involved in the industry. “More musicians I know are staying on the road because that’s the only place they can sell CDs—after gigs, spending an hour signing them,” she says. “But, there’s a lot of people involved with songwriting and production of a record; they create the music we all enjoy and they don’t have the luxury of going on the road, so they can’t make a living. At some point it’s important to understand that buying music is critcal … do not assume that people are playing for free.”

“We need to make sure all the journalists, engineers, and bus drivers can make a living continuing to put great music out,” she says. “We have to figure out a way for that to be more fair and to have the musicians sitting at the tables, making the deals for streaming.”

“Let’s talk about what is the fair amount to get paid and how we are going to track how many plays we got. There are people not as lucky as me to be able to go out on the road and make a living. Songwriters are getting cut because the industry is shrinking. I don’t want to see that happen,” she says.

“I’m glad I got my foot in the door and got famous before this happened, but I’m going to pull everybody along with me,” she continues. “It’s just too important to have a wide variety. That’s one of the reasons independents and Americana format and public radio stations are important—to get the fringe music out there. Not everybody is going to be a Bruno Mars, you know?”

Kristian Bush: Rediscovers His Voice Through Southern Gravity

Kristian Bush has been a successful professional union musician since the 1990s, but it’s only recently that the Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member launched his first solo album, Southern Gravity. After spending his most recent 10 years as the silent but creative voice behind the duo Sugarland, the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist says some people are surprised to hear him sing.

“When I started Sugarland it was pretty clear that my voice was not going to fit on country radio. At the time, the singers signed had rich baritone voices, but now my voice feels like a good fit for current commercial country music. So this first record, my third first record, weirdly enough, is right on time,” says Bush.

Long before Sugarland, Bush had already achieved commercial singing success in the folk rock duo Billy Pilgrim with
Andrew Hyra more than 20 years ago. That’s when he first joined Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA). “I’m a very proud union member,” he says. “It always feels like there’s another person in the conversation every time I get paid, which I am grateful for because this business is complicated and has changed dramatically since I signed up
in 1994.”

Kristian-BushBush later transferred to Local 257 with Sugarland. “The Nashville union is very thorough on their approach to protecting musicians,” he says, “really making sure everybody gets the most they can get paid out of every session.”

Bush founded Sugarland in 2002 with his friend Kristen Hall. Jennifer Nettles, also a member of Local 257, was the fifth singer to audition for lead vocalist and co-songwriter with the group. “She blew it out of the water,” says Bush.

“The second song we wrote together was ‘Baby Girl,’” he says, recalling their quick success after Nettles joined. As Sugarland’s debut single, the song eventually went to number two on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks charts, and stayed on the chart for a record-setting 46 weeks. Sugarland became a duo when Hall dropped out after the first album.

Between 2004 and 2012 Sugarland released eight successful albums and racked up dozens of music industry honors, including the 2005 American Music Awards Favorite Breakthrough New Artist, the 2006 ACM award for Top New Duo or Vocal Group, two Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards for Top Vocal Duo and one for Single of the Year, five Country Music Association (CMA) Vocal Duo of the Year awards, four Country Music Television (CMT) Duo Video of the Year awards, and two Grammy awards.

Check out the gear Bush prefers using.

Tragedy Follows Success

Kristian-Bush-stairsSugarland’s success was suddenly and tragically tempered by pain on August 13, 2011. The stage collapsed above them as they waited underneath to begin a show at the Indiana State Fair. Seven people were killed and 100 others were injured, among them stagehands, security personnel, and fans. Though he and Nettles were uninjured, Bush says the event changed him forever in ways that he hasn’t even totally understood.

“Music should be a safe place, no matter what. I certainly look up now every time I walk on stage,” he says. Some of the stage crew led a charge for better stage safety following the tragedy, which has resulted in new regulations for safer outdoor stage rigging techniques.

In 2012, Nettles decided she wanted to take a break from Sugarland to start a family and make a solo album. When the pair put Sugarland on hold, Bush says an independent career wasn’t something he’d even considered. However, fueled by a particularly emotional time in his life, he suddenly found himself flooded by songs.

Not only was he dealing with the aftermath of the stage collapse, but also the breakup of his 12-year marriage. He didn’t speak publicly about either until earlier this year. Instead, he poured his emotions into songs. “There was a lot of sadness and mourning, but every once in a while an incredibly bright song would pop out. They are like hot air balloons; you just kind of want to hold onto them and see if they lift you up,” he says.

But, with his sudden productivity, came self-doubt. “I usually write about a song a month—12 to 15 a year; suddenly, kind of as soon as we parked the bus off the last tour, I was writing one almost every other day,” he says. “I was a little worried that the songs weren’t any good because they were coming too fast. It was unsettling and it started to make me question what I should do for a living. What if, at this level of success, people aren’t telling me the truth?”

To counter his doubts Bush sought collaborators. “I thought the only way I could figure out an honest answer was to write with the best people I could find. I went all over the world,” he explains. “I went to see Will Jennings in LA, and I said, ‘Teach me how to write for film’; I went to Stockholm and Jøgen Olsen and said, ‘Teach me how to write a pop song’; and I went to Nashville, to Paul Overstreet and Bob DiPiero [of Local 257], and said, ‘Teach me how to write the best country music’; and I went to London to Sacha Scarbeck and James Blunt.” These influences and co-writers can be heard on Southern Gravity.

Right Time for Radio

kristian-bush-featureBush says that, even when he knew he had the songs, he was still reluctant to take focus away from Sugarland. “Then, I figured out that my voice, Jennifer’s voice, and the band can be on the radio at the same time; it was not going to affect my band for me to have a solo record,” he continues. “I now have two careers. Sugarland is still together; we have a couple records left with our label and it’s going to be super exciting when we get to do it.”

The final hurdle was figuring out, from all the songs he’d written and recorded, just what he wanted to sound like. “Thinking about what I sound like can be unsettling at first,” he says. “I wrote 300 songs for this record and recorded them all. The process of that almost felt like discovering my voice.”

Bush co-produced the album with executive producer Byron Gallimore and Tom Tapley, whom he also worked with on Sugarland’s studio albums. “I love producing albums,” says Bush, “but it’s weird to produce your own vocals. You have to emotionally detach yourself. So the hardest part is the speed. I would do full takes, cut them together, and then take it home and listen to it for two or three days.”

In the end, they created an album far removed from the emotional turmoil where it began. Instead, Southern Gravity is hopeful, even joyful. “These songs are like Post-it notes that you might put around your house as inspirational reminders,” says Bush. “I listen to them for that reason sometimes—to remind myself that no matter how hard it gets, you can make things out of the pieces that are smashed.”

Once the songs were complete, it was time to begin his first solo tour. Bush admits that, even as a veteran musician, it felt strange to take the stage as a solo act. “I was so nervous my first show. It was strangely at the [huge] O2 Arena in London and I was opening for Little Big Town and Tim McGraw. I walked out on stage and my heart was practically beating out of my chest. I broke into the first song, and suddenly it was like, ‘Wait a minute, I totally know how to do this!’” he recalls.

Bush recently had the opportunity to look back on his career through a new documentary to air this month called Walk Tall (also the name of one of the tunes on his album). “It’s about Southern Gravity, but it’s also a journey, and what it’s like to make music after terrible things happen,” he says of the film. “As Americans, as people, the idea of never giving up is really important. When you have a passion, a belief, a joy, whatever life throws at you, the only choice you really have is how you deal with it. I’ve started to realize that there’s a resiliency in loving what you do and you go back to it as a way to ground yourself.”

Two tips for upcoming singer songwriters from Kristian Bush:

1) “Don’t give up; don’t judge yourself until about 100 songs because it’s going to suck for a while. They are going to be emotionally very much like your babies; write them as exercises.”

2) “There is so much technology out there to give you rhythms to write against. Whether it’s an app on your phone, a piece of software, or a drum machine, write against a beat.  I love the way lyrics bounce against a rhythm.”