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Lou Marini: The Joy of Providing Blueness to Fellow Musicians

Lou Marini ImageMusic and people are clear priorities to Lou Marini, who has been an in-demand sideman and session player his whole career. The multi-instrumentalist is adept on soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone sax, as well as piccolo, flute, and clarinet. He’s also a composer, arranger, producer, and educator.

His distinctive solos can be heard on dozens of albums from artists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI), Aerosmith, Jimmy Buffet of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), John Tropea of Local 802 (New York City), and Steely Dan. This year Marini looks forward to a long list of appointments including touring this summer with Local 802 member James Taylor; performing at the Kennedy Center with Lynda Carter; as well as traveling to Japan and Europe with the Blues Brothers Band.

A member of Local 802 since 1971, Marini says he first joined the union in Ohio as a teenager. “I was around guys who believed in the union and what it could do and that we had to stand together,” he says. “I’m a passionate defender of the union. Politicians seem to delight in claiming that unions are the source of all evil. It baffles me that the normal worker doesn’t realize that, if you leave it to the man to determine what you are going to get, you are going to get less and less.”

“I have a good pension through the union—a cushion of financial stability. New York musicians who spent their whole careers on Broadway are set, and that’s because, at some point, guys banded together,” he concludes. 

UNT Days

Lou Marini sunglassesThe son of composer and band director Lou Marini, Sr., Marini says he never considered pursuing anything but music. He’s been working steadily ever since his days at the University of North Texas in Denton, where he played in the school’s famed One O’Clock Lab Band. By the end of his freshman year, Marini also had a steady gig with jazz trumpeter Don Jacoby.

“I was playing in the number one jazz band in school, and at the same time, I was working six nights a week. Then I started recording. Dallas had a real vibrant recording scene and I became a part of that when I was 19 years old,” he says.

Though UNT is known for its jazz program, Marini says that his time in Texas introduced him to the wide range of genres he would play for the rest of his career. He recalls one early experience when he was playing with Les Elgart’s band. The show had them performing with the country duo Jethro and Homer, and the main act was bluegrass—Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

“I was a little budding jazz snob. After the rehearsal we started jamming with Jethro on mandolin, and he played better than any of us did! That was sort of a mind-blower, and then that night, when we heard Flatt and Scruggs—their very first tune was at a blazingly fast tempo. I was like, ‘Holy shit these cats are bad, and I sort of lost my jazz snobbery a little bit.”

“In university I also got turned onto classical music much more,” he says. “All that led to a more open mind as far as playing goes.”

Between recording and freelancing over the next few years Marini played with anyone he could—Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Manhattans, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight. “They would come to North Texas and pick up horn sections from the area,” says Marini who also managed to go on the road with Woody Herman’s band during that time. “I was reading new, challenging music all
the time.”

A True New Yorker

Lou Marini saxBut that was just the beginning for Marini. To officially launch his career he set his sights much further north. “New York City was where I thought I should be,” he says. Marini had played with Doc Severinsen when Severinsen toured in Texas, so when a friend mentioned Marini was moving to New York, the bandleader hired him immediately.

“I remember when I drove across the George Washington Bridge, I said to myself, ‘I’m home.’ I’ve always felt that way; I’m a committed New Yorker,” Marini says.

He quickly became an in-demand New York sideman and session musician. “I had already played a super wide variety of music when I came to New York, so I sort of fell into the recording scene here,” he says. “I always liked the challenge and camaraderie of going into the studio and sitting down and sight reading.”

Marini also credits his strong mid-Western values for his success in New York. “I was on time and prepared. Those things stood me in good stead when it came to New York,” he says. “It was based on tons of hard work. I’m still practicing three or four hours a day. I certainly never had a master plan, but doors open and you have to be prepared.”

Three months after arriving in the Big Apple, Marini joined Blood, Sweat, and Tears, in 1972. During the 1970s he also worked with The Band, Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars, and Frank Zappa. But one of his most memorable jobs came about when he auditioned for a late-night television comedy show that was launching—Saturday Night Live.

“When I auditioned I just had a certainty that I was going to get the gig and what a wonderful gig it was!” says Marini. “That time was so fantastic. I remember Alan Rubin, right before we’d play the opening theme he’d say, ‘Where’s the hippest place on earth to be right now?’ It was fun; it was so loose.”

Marini says that one of the greatest things to come out of the eight-year SNL gig was his friendship with bassist Bob Cranshaw of Local 802. “Bob, to me, is a jazz hero,” he says. Other long-lasting outcomes of the show were the Blues Brothers Band and Marini’s nickname, Blue Lou.

“Dan Aykroyd told us we had to have a blues moniker and that he would supply it if we didn’t. I chose Blue Lou because it’s the title of an old jazz tune that my Dad had a recording of,” says Marini.

“If someone had told me in 1978, when we started, that in 2016 we would be going to Japan as the Blues Brothers Band, I would have told them they were out of their minds,” laughs Marini, who also appeared in the Blues Brothers movies.

“The Blues Brothers is energy and camaraderie—most of us have been on the road together for at least 20 years. [Steve] Cropper and I kiddingly say that we’ve had dinner with each other more than we have with our wives,” Marini says.

“We’ve had a lot of adventures,” he continues. “One thing that’s great about the Blues Brothers Band is that, because of the nature of it, we play places like three-county summer arts festivals in the South of France—unbelievable beautiful villages where they bring you local wine and cheese. You can’t buy those types of experiences.”

Marini the Leader

Lou Marini smileIt wasn’t until the 1990s that Marini released his first project as bandleader, Soul Serenade. Lou’s Blues followed in 2001 and then Starmaker. As a bandleader he is committed to looking out for his band. “I think that I pretty much see things through the sideman’s eyes. I have this funny idea that everybody should be treated fairly and with respect, and make good money,” he says.

The most recently released project to feature Marini is The Blue Lou & Misha Project—Highly Classified. Marini first met Misha Segal when he was on tour in Israel. The pair kept in touch and Segal later relocated to the US. “We were hanging out one night at his pad and he played me some stuff he had been working on, and he says, ‘what do you think?’ And I said, ‘It’s nice, but it needs a saxophone solo,’” recalls Marini. The project took several years of going back and forth between L.A. and New York until its release in 2010.

Currently, Marini is working on a CD of originals inspired by his frequent trips to his wife’s native Spain where he plays and sings in the blues quartet Redhouse. “We started playing together in Madrid about seven years ago and have done a couple hundred gigs around Spain,” says Marini. “I sing about a half-dozen tunes. This is a real jazz album with vocals.”

But, he confesses that he’s way too busy to put a timetable on the project, saying, “I’m going to find windows to record it, and in between we want to record a new Blues Brothers album, probably at the end of April.”

Marini’s biography reads like a who’s who of the music industry. He says, simply: “I’m happy to have done things I did and I treasure the friendships I’ve made along the way, and all the great musicians I’ve gotten to play with. When you get to be 70, there’s a lot of water under the bridge, and a lot of the guys that were swimming in it are gone too! At the same time, I look forward to the next thing.”

“I’m still trying to figure out how to play,” he laughs. “You can’t exhaust it; you hear these young saxophone players—what the hell are they doing, what is that, and how can they play so fast? I gotta practice! The fact is, I just like playing, so I practice.”

“When I look back on it, I’ve had a long and continuing apprenticeship,” he notes. “I keep ending up in these great gigs, but I’m just in awe of my fellow musicians. I like people, and that’s one thing about being a musician—they are a bunch of nuts! So you get to meet these characters that just delight you and make you laugh.”

#NotesForRelief Raises Funds for New York Musicians

Local 802 (New York City) has launched a new hashtag fundraising campaign to support its Emergency Relief Fund (ERF), which has helped musicians in times of crisis since 1967. The local hopes that the hashtag #NotesForRelief will go viral, attracting donations from successful musicians and music lovers. The ERF supports professional musicians facing medical emergencies, family crisis, and career threatening medical conditions. You can read some of the ERF success stories and find out more information at local802erf.org.

Boston Local Sponsors Hollywood Orchestration Class

On October 4, the Boston Musicians’ Association, Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), is co-sponsoring a three-hour Hollywood Orchestration Master Class by Norm Ludwin of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). Ludwin is a well-respected orchestrator from Hollywood, who recently worked on the films Jurassic World, Inside Out, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Mission Impossible-Ghost Protocol, and is also an instructor in the UCLA Extension Film Music Department. The event is being held in conjunction with Northeastern University, October 4, from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm at Northeastern University’s Fenway Center (corner of Gainsborough and St. Stephens St). This master class is free but space is limited so arrive early.

fyler boston

Rosanne Cash Selected as Artist-in-Residence

Local 802 (New York City) member Rosanne Cash has been selected as the 2015 Artist-in-Residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. As artist-in-residence, the Grammy-winning singer songwriter will perform three intimate concerts at the Hall of Fame September 2, 3, and 24—each with a different theme and guest line-up. “Rosanne Cash, this year’s artist-in-residence, comes to us at the top of her game. On her latest release, The River and the Thread, Rosanne explores her deep roots in the South and delivers some of her best work in an already illustrious career,” says museum CEO Kyle Young.

To read more about Cash’s latest album and her career click here.

Apple Makes Swift Change in Plan

taylor swiftLast week, indie labels and artists put pressure on Apple to compensate artists during the three-month trial period for its new streaming service. Musicians feared, in particular, that they would miss out on opportunities to get financial return from new music launched during Apple Music’s free introductory period, beginning June 30.

This weekend, Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member Taylor Swift posted an open letter on her Tumblr page saying she would withhold her latest album, 1989, from the service because of this situation. The letter read, in part: “I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company … This is not about me. Thankfully, I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team, by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt … We know how astronomically successful Apple has been and we know that this incredible company has the money to pay artists, writers, and producers for the three-month trial period.”

According to Billboard, Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue reached out to Swift, letting her know he had heard her concerns, as well as the concerns of indie musicians across the country. Apple also announced that it will now be paying royalties to artists and record labels during the introductory first three months.

Goals and Intentions

Success consists of having a good relationship with all the people that have traveled through life with us, especially those who have touched our inner soul and spirit. Thus, we must give the best of ourselves touching their souls and spirits. One of the main goals in our lives should be that we must live the best way we can, to love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are as the greatest musicians in the world. Most of the successful professional union musicians I have had the pleasure to share my musical journey with these many years were motivated with a goal to achieve. Remember, every person can always step into a life of greatness. Just be prepared to face challenges head-on; they will always lead you to a better place!

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Get It in Writing

I had a chance to talk with one of my AFM buddies a few weeks ago who I hadn’t seen for awhile. He said he’s had a pretty busy calendar, but was ticked off when, a few days ago, a private party he had booked cancelled on him a week before the gig. The person called him on the phone and just said they no longer wanted his band. He asked why, and the answer was: “We found another group who will do it for less, and are going to use them.” I asked him if he had a contract or anything in writing. He said no. It was a local gig. He knew the people and didn’t think it was necessary.

How many times have you played a gig that was pretty much on the “honor system”? You had a verbal agreement as to date and time. It could be a private party, a wedding, or a spur-of-the-moment club date. Then, when it’s time to get paid, you have to renegotiate your rate, or you get into a hassle about getting paid at all. Or maybe they cancel at the last minute and you can’t fill the date.

You’re an AFM member. You don’t play for free. You don’t “pay to play.” You’re a professional. Use an AFM contract. Get it in writing. Then, if there’s a problem getting paid, you have some recourse. You have a tool to support your position. Many times it makes the difference when you have the unfortunate situation of having to take legal action.

I received an e-mail from Roger Latzgo of Local 45 (Lehigh Valley, PA) just recently. He wrote:

get it in writingI was playing a wedding at a Pocono resort several years ago. It was winter, and the ceremony was to be in the indoor swimming pool area. The place was lavishly decorated with lights, flowers, and a gazebo under which the couple would stand.

As I was setting up, the florist/decorator comes in and starts dismantling everything, saying, “I hope you get paid. I didn’t!” Not a good omen, but everything was straight as far as my dealings with the client were concerned: AFM contract, deposit, etc., were all in order.

The exiting florist crossed paths with the food and bar staff as the latter set up their stations. The ceremony started on time; I played and it was great. Afterward, the couple thanked me profusely for my professionalism, never mentioning the florist. And, yes, I did get paid and (believe it or not) even received a nice tip. So what I learned was: focus on your job, use an AFM contract, and ignore the external noise. I’ve done it ever since.

I think having a written contract for all gigs can really help you stay out of court altogether. Putting the terms of the agreement down in writing will help prevent both parties from forgetting exactly what was agreed to. What were the exact date and times you were supposed to play? Was there an agreement on number of musicians? Do you furnish your own PA, or is the client supposed to supply it? Is a tuned piano part of the agreement, or do you bring your own keyboard? Do you get a deposit with the rest paid upon completion of the gig? The list goes on and on. I’m not an attorney. It’s not legal advice. This is simply what I’ve learned over the years.

I think the best way to deal with a botched verbal contract is to avoid the whole mess in the first place. Get it in writing. I personally learned this the hard way. People remember things differently or don’t remember crucial details you may have talked about verbally. So ask your clients to sign an AFM contract. This is business, after all, and anyone who balks at written contracts could possibly pull a disappearing act once the gig is over.

That’s just my thought. You don’t have to make it into a major legal issue. You don’t need attorneys. You can explain it’s for their protection, as well as yours. In fact, just tell them to “OK it.” You’ll take it from there. Sometimes verbal contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.