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james pennebaker

Multi-Instrumentalist James Pennebaker Ready to Return to the Road

james pennebaker

Musical rebellion isn’t just for rock-and-rollers, though country and blues multi-instrumentalist James Pennebaker did spend a bit of time playing around with rock as a kid when he supplemented his classical violin studies with British Invasion records. But as a Fort Worth native, the siren song that pulled him away from his orchestral future had a bit more of a twang.

“I got really into Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in high school. All the Western swing bands, really, but Bob Wills was from Fort Worth and I always had that connection,” says Pennebaker, currently a member of Local 257 (Nashville, TN). “I kept on playing swing and country and blues, but I went to college as a violin major until I left in 1976 to run off with the circus. I was 19. My orchestra-mates thought I was nuts.”

“The circus” was the touring band of roots music trailblazer Delbert McClinton, also of Local 257, with whom Pennebaker has toured on and off for his entire career, along with stints in the touring or recording bands for other 257 members Lee Roy Parnell, Pam Tillis, and many more.

Playing guitar (acoustic, electric, and steel), mandolin, and fiddle in McClinton’s touring band is Pennebaker’s primary gig even still, but times have never been more uncertain for a touring musician. And as he observes the COVID-19-brutalized live music landscape, he’s as relieved as ever to be a member of Local 257.

Tennessee has had sweeping right-to-work/anti-union laws since the 1940s, but that hasn’t stopped the country music capital’s local from being one of the most powerful in the country. “When I first moved to Nashville 20, 30 years ago, you had to be a card-carrying member if you wanted to get hired for anything—recording, tours, you name it,” explains Pennebaker.

He already had his card, having joined up with the Fort Worth local (now Dallas-Ft. Worth Local 72-147) in 1979 when McClinton had some commercial success with the album Giving it Up For Your Love and performed a slate of national TV appearances. Union membership paid off quickly, though, as Pennebaker continued to play fiddle, mandolin, and guitar around Fort Worth when he wasn’t on the road. “If you got stiffed, someone from the union would go out and make sure you got paid,” he says—no small deal for a young picker raising a family on gig money.

Other union benefits have been useful over the years. “They’ve helped me with health insurance, with musical instrument insurance, and then there’s the pension, which … well, I might be taking that sooner than I thought, given the situation.” The pandemic-related lockdown has Pennebaker spinning his wheels. “I’m a touring musician. I don’t really do session work anymore. All I want to do is get back on that bus with Delbert and play shows,” he says.

A loss of touring income this summer comes as a particular sting, as Delbert McClinton and his Self-Made Men are coming off a fresh Grammy Award win, having won the trophy for Best Traditional Blues Album for Tall, Dark, and Handsome at the 2020 ceremonies. “It’s my first trophy, but I still don’t have it. I wouldn’t mind getting to look at it in my living room right about now,” laughs Pennebaker. The Recording Academy’s office is, like just about every office everywhere, currently shut down, and he reports that the Academy employees working from home send occasional messages to remind this year’s winners that they haven’t been forgotten and that their trophies will be in the mail soon.

Pennebaker also self-released a solo album, Under the Influence, in January of this year, recorded in his home studio with a who’s who of Nashville’s finest. “It wasn’t intended to be a big release or anything, it’s just nice to have something to sell at shows. But now CD Baby is shut down and they’re not sending out CDs, so there’s another thing.”

He sees a glimpse of hope in the future, though. “I had a socially-distanced meeting with a friend the other day, an industry lawyer who knows more than just about anyone about this stuff, and he is thinking we might be able to do some performing again by August, at least outdoor things, so that would be a big relief,” Pennebaker says. For this consummate picker, playing live music is far more than just a job, and his ache to return to the stage is palpable. “To take it all away is pretty tough. It’s like having my whole world wash away.”

Capri Everitt

Capri Everitt: Canadian Teen Sings Outside the Box to Advance a Burgeoning Career

Capri Everitt
Fourteen-year-old Capri Everitt of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC) is a singer, speaker, and youth ambassador for orphaned children.

At age 14, Canadian singer and musician Capri Everitt is one of the youngest members of the American Federation of Musicians, but she has already discovered how indispensable union membership is for an artist at the beginning of a career.

Everitt, of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC), has been playing the piano and composing music since she was five years old. Three years ago, at age 11, Everitt decided she wanted to use her love of music to make a difference in the world. “To get people’s attention you really need to do something [outstanding],” she says. So she came up with an idea inspired by the Jules Verne story, Around the World in 80 Days. Everitt’s idea: “Around the World in 80 Anthems.” She traveled to 80 countries with her family and sang the national anthem of each country in the national language (41 languages total, which took her six months of intensive study to learn) at various events to raise money and awareness for orphaned and abandoned children.

Her nine-month journey, which received international acclaim and worldwide media attention, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars (in money and in publicity value) for the charity SOS Children’s Village. The effort also earned Everitt a Guinness World Record for “Most national anthems sung in their host countries in one year,” and became the subject of a recent documentary also titled Around the World in 80 Anthems. Since then, Everitt, who has continued to perform internationally, has released a single she co-wrote with platinum Juno award-winning producer Ryan Stewart titled “New York in My Mind.” She also made a music video, is a two-time WE Day performer and TEDx speaker, and auditioned for America’s Got Talent (AGT).

It was that AGT audition—and the callback she received—that led her to the AFM.

“They asked me to fly to LA and audition in front of the producers; so I joined the union because I heard that there were a lot of resources to protect me as an artist and I thought it would help me being part of a larger community of musicians,” Everitt says.

Her mother Kerrie, who is a lawyer and also Everitt’s manager, says the “clincher” for them reaching out to the AFM was the fact that the lead producer for the show said Capri did an excellent audition but, if she was invited to compete, the Canadian would need a work visa for the US. “So that’s where my job kicked in,” Kerrie says. “I started calling around and I called the Vancouver Musicians Association [Local 145] and I talked to this amazing woman, Kaisha Brown, who basically explained what the union could do, and that they could get Capri a P-2 Visa because of her Guinness World Record. She provided us with checklists and emails and she was so amazing that I think that’s the reason why we decided to join the union right away—because we felt like she made it seem so efficient and easy to be able to get that visa if necessary.”

A P-2 Visa allows an individual performer, or an artist who is part of a group, to temporarily enter the US in order to perform.

Everitt did not get on the show, but she did become a member of Local 145 in February 2019.

“As a songwriter, I want to write more songs and release more pop music … and I just heard that in joining the union there would be a lot of resources to help promote my music and protect it, which is something I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t joined,” Everitt says.

Everitt is working her way through grade 9 in school (she loves math and science, she says), while also taking voice, piano, and guitar lessons (she got a Hummingbird guitar for Christmas last year, which she says is “amazing to play”) and writing  songs. One of the many lessons she learned as she traveled the world in 2015-2016, she says, was that to write valuable and impactful songs you need a lot of experience. “Traveling helped me write from a worldly perspective; I’ve seen a lot of things kids my age haven’t seen,” she says.

One of her favorite experiences on her world tour was meeting a girl her own age during a brief stay in the South African village of Johannesburg. Everitt interviewed the girl, Hectah—who was extremely shy—for a school project and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. At the time, Hectah said she did not know, but three days later she told Everitt that she wanted to be a lawyer and help people. She said that Everitt’s visit and example had inspired her and given her self-confidence in a culture where girls are often treated as inferior. “It was just amazing to see her grow,” Everitt says.

Everitt’s career continues to progress, and her schedule remains full. After completing her first music video last year she is eager to do more, she says, as well as to play more gigs and eventually tour to advance her career. “[Being in] this union will help,” she says. Her mom agrees. “The union and the resources I found already are going to be very helpful looking at that,” Kerrie says. Going forward, they plan on utilizing their local as much as possible, especially when it comes to signatory contracts and union-backed videos and gigs. “I’m definitely a newbie at this, so that’s why it’s going to be great to call and ask questions,” Kerrie says.

For the near future, Everitt already has her sights set on a new Guinness World Record: “Singing the most national anthems in a host language by a single performer in one tournament.” She wants to raise more money for charity, and release an album, all while continuing to perform and tour. One day she hopes to sing at the Olympics.

“My main advice to people starting out, or people my age who are trying to become musicians or artists, is to try and think as far outside of the box as you can because there’s a lot of competition these days and you need to do something crazy in order to stick out and get people to pay attention,” Everitt says.


Boston Jazz Bassist Bruce Gertz Walks the Walk

Bassist Bruce Gertz of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) is a renowned educator, performer, and composer who has written several books on technique.

Bruce Gertz has been on the Boston jazz scene for 42 years. A bassist, composer, and producer, he’s also an educator, joining a coterie of top players on the faculty of his alma mater, the Berklee College of Music.    

The Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) member picked up the guitar at age 10. “I kept playing in the lower register, the bottom four strings.” At 14, he switched to the electric bass, saying, “The bass always felt so good to me. I could feel those vibrations in my gut.”

In 1966, he bought a classic Fender Precision for $245 from a music store in his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. At age 16, when he was playing blues and rock, a bandmate gave him the Charles Mingus record, Blues and Roots, and Gertz became captivated by its jazz style. “I listened to it a thousand times. A jazz guy playing blues. I heard blues in a whole other way. He played so powerfully,” says Gertz.   

The upright bass became his focus when he had the opportunity to take lessons from a classical bassist in Boston. That eventually led to an audition at Berklee. Gertz taught ensembles during his senior year at Berklee, while playing on the local scene. His acoustic bass teacher John Neves often asked Gertz to sub for him when he doubled-booked gigs. On one such occasion, Gertz found himself on stage with Alan Dawson, Ray Bryant, Helen Humes, and none other than, Count Basie.

Gertz spent six years studying advanced improvisation with jazz guru Charlie Banacos, renowned for his ear-training methods. Gertz says, “One of his big things was transcription, a lot of [Local 802 (New York City) member] Ron Carter and Ray Brown. I’d transcribe lines, solos off records. It was a combination of analytical and ear-training—to see a microcosm of a form in eight beats of a bass line.”

Soon after graduation, then chair of the bass department and Local 9-535 member Rich Appleman hired Gertz who was by then accomplished in both acoustic and electric bass and known for his solos. Appleman had just added electric bass as a principal instrument to the curriculum.

Gertz has performed locally with Mick Goodrick (of Local 9-535), Mike Stern of Local 802, and longtime fellow Berklee professors George Garzone and Gary Burton, guesting with lead artists Bob Berg, Charles McPherson, Joe Lovano of Local 802, Bill Frisell of Local 802, Lee Konitz, Gil Evans, and John Abercrombie. Gertz has also toured with legends Billy Eckstine, Maynard Ferguson, and Dave Brubeck. He and celebrated Boston-based saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi have been playing together for 40 years.

As a composer, it was natural for Gertz to write every day. He’d been teaching for a while when he realized he had enough compositions and lessons for a textbook. His bestseller, “Walkin,’” wasfirst published in 1982. It was followed up by 22 Contemporary Melodic Studies for Electric Bass,
a book of études designed to enhance solo and improvisational technique.

The project was also a way to challenge his own reading skills, he says, “Itwas an experiment to write melodic material that was different than the bebop vocabulary, to give me some original melodies that would be unique and not sound like they were derived from anyone else.”

He’s written the compendium, Mastering the Bass (Books 1 and 2) and a method book for all instruments titled Let’s Play Rhythm. Complete with bass lines, grooves, and solo material, Gertz incorporates melodies—diatonic, rhythmic, pentatonic/blues scale, symmetric diminished, and upper structure triad and intervallic—and includes free-form style tracks of swing, funk, Latin, and open jazz for students to follow.

Along with his Berklee composition and improvisation classes, Gertz teaches high school students, usually ones bound for music schools. “Some love a theoretical approach,” he says. “They’ll try this diminished scale over this dominant chord—and then they listen to examples of Thelonious Monk using it in a melodic way.”

He explains, “You’re not going be able to play a stream of notes like Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound,’ but you can take these little pieces that are playable on your instrument and make them into something fantastic.”

Teaching and playing are his focus, but his passion for composition has led to a prolific catalog containing some 200 recorded works. Gertz created his own label, Open Mind Jazz, under which he’s produced 15 albums since 2007.

At 65, Gertz has been recognized with awards from the International Association of Jazz Educators and the Jazz Education Network. He has also received numerous honors for outstanding bassist from the Boston Music Awards and ASCAP.

He still plays regularly, three to six times a week, alternately with his group Trio-Now, the Bruce Gertz quintet, a quartet, and as a sideman. Of the industry now, he says that, while having an online presence is essential and YouTube hits provide access, Gertz maintains, screens are two-dimensional. “Doing live gigs has energy, feedback from the audience. It’s a personal experience,” he says. 

radney foster

A Lonestar State of Mind: The Literary Rise of Radney Foster

Storyteller Radney Foster of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) is touring this fall as both a musician and an author, following the release of his book and companion CD, For You to See the Stars.

When he’s touring the US this fall, singer-songwriter Radney Foster of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) will add book signings to his schedule. Last year, he released a collection of short stories, For You to See the Stars, complete with a companion CD.

The project began a few years ago when Foster was stricken with pneumonia and resulting laryngitis that set him back for nearly two months. He says, “I had to have about six weeks of physical therapy before I could sing and resume touring,” adding, “It was an existential crisis for a guy like me.”

“I decided I was a storyteller. I started thinking up all the ways I could tell stories.” He was taking a vacation in West Texas when he was inspired to write the title story of his book. “There’s no light pollution and a crazy array of stars. That’s where the short story was born, from that place.” It’s about struggle, he explains. “You’ve got to go through the dark times, the depths of things, the things we suffer as humans, to see the brighter notions that make our lives better.”

Foster is known for his literary approach to songwriting, having penned songs covered by Keith Urban of Local 257, Sara Evans, and The Dixie Chicks. Troubadour Guy Clark had immense influence on how Foster approaches the craft of songwriting, with artistry. In Nashville, at MTM Records, which employed a slew of songwriters, Foster honed his craft. He worked for a time with renowned lyricist Bob McDill, long considered the poet laureate of country music. With classics like “Everything that Glitters Is Not Gold” and “Good Ole Boys Like me,” Foster says, “For Bob, the story mattered.”

Foster’s song “The Greatest Show on Earth” is a nod to his musical roots. His grandfather was a cowboy and his father played guitar. Foster says, “He loved to sing with his buddies. On Saturday nights, somebody brought the barbecue, somebody brought the beer, and everybody brought
a mandolin or guitar and they sang on the back porch.”

A year spent opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) and Vince Gill of Local 257 informed his performance. Foster says, “You learn a lot from watching people who you open for and share the stage with. You’ve got 45 minutes to win over the audience. You better be able to tell a story in a song that really moves somebody.”

The magnanimity of his heroes is not lost on Foster—stars like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard asked him to join them on stage. Guy Clark invited him to a guitar pull at a festival in 1989 that included heavyweights Jeff Hanna from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Emmylou Harris of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC), Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell of Local 257, and Rosanne Cash.

Foster often tackles social issues with his music, sometimes drawing on Woodie Guthrie. Such was the case in 2016, during the presidential campaign, when he wrote “All that I Require.” In it, he targets extremism, hate speech, and intolerance, while not directly calling out a candidate.

Recently, the separation of parents and children at the US-Mexico border moved Foster to re-release his lullaby “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” in Spanish (“Dulces Sueños”). He wrote the song 21 years ago for his five-year-old son who was headed to France to live with his mother. Foster says, “Songs like this have taught me that you change hearts before you change minds.” He cast the new version as “a prayer for the border” accompanied by a video with images of stranded children and grief-stricken parents. Proceeds will benefit the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based advocacy group working on behalf of immigrants. 

Growing up in Del Rio, Texas, just a mile from the Mexico border, Foster heard as much traditional Mexican music as country and rock ’n’ roll. “On the other side of the river, there were guys playing huapangos, a very Latin-driven style,” adding, “Our nanny listened to Jalisco music, mariachi, ranchero, and corridos.”

“My father [a lawyer] was adamant that you could not work in that town if you were not bilingual.” He laughs, “If you’re playing at the Holiday Inn lounge and you don’t know any songs in Spanish, you might be losing out on tip money—at least in my hometown.”

Foster sings in Spanish in some concerts. One of the bonus tracks on his last album is a song he wrote with three Latino soldiers through the charity program Songwriting with Soldiers.

In the late ’80s, he and Bill Lloyd of Local 257 delivered a number of commercial hits as the duo Foster & Lloyd. “We were on the cusp of a new generation who knew and understood the roots of country music and we were willing to stretch the envelope,” he says. “All of a sudden, Rodney Crowell had a country record with five number one singles. Our friend, Steve Earle, got signed to MCA and put out Guitar Town, and Guy Clark introduced us to this young guy, Lyle Lovett. We got signed the same year.”

Foster says joining the union helped him focus on the business side of his career, saying Local 257 President Dave Pomeroy has been extremely supportive. In addition to becoming part of the community of players—whom he regularly calls on for backup—he remembers getting help figuring out how to put a budget together, applying low budget scale for independent records, and maintaining the rights to his own masters.

Last year, Foster expanded to theater, as lead in the musical, Troubadour, by the Grammy Award-winning Kristian Bush of Local 257. In the meantime, he continues to write and is considering adapting a story from his book.

Reflecting on his new career as an author, Foster says it’s not unlike his previous roles as guitar player, producer, singer, and songwriter. “I’m adding as many ways as I can to tell stories,” he says.

In the Jazz Club and Classroom, Percussionist Nasar Abadey Inspires

Just after this photo was taken in 2010, Nasar Abadey of Local 161-710 embarked on a month-long Supernova tour to East Africa sponsored by the US State Department. (Photo credit: Jos A. Beasley.)

This month, Nasar Abadey, drummer, bandleader, and educator will receive the DC Jazz Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, alongside Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés.

Abadey, of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC), has played with masters of the jazz world, among them fellow DC union members Andrew White and Lennie Cuje. Abadey was tapped by Sun Ra in the early 1970s in New York City. “I was sitting in with McCoy Tyner’s band at a club called Slugs’ on the Lower East Side. When I left the bandstand, Sun Ra’s manager he asked if I was interested in playing with Sun Ra. I said, ‘Well, sure.’ He said, ‘Meet me at Penn Station tomorrow at noon.’”

Named Best Drummer in Jazz in 2011 by the Washington City Paper, Abadey went on to play with other greats, like Stanley Turrentine, David Sanchez, Charlie Rouse, Gary Bartz, Cyrus Chestnut, Gregory Porter, Frank Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, and Bobby Hutcherson.

Back in 1976, Abadey was playing gigs in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, when he got a call out of the blue to play with Ella Fitzgerald. Throughout his long career, he’s built a solid reputation as a sideman with many groups. He has recorded and performed with innovators Malachi Thompson and Joe Ford (saxophonist in Abadey’s group Supernova).

With Supernova, Abadey performs jazz steeped in hard bop, modal, and avant-garde, often incorporating traditional African rhythms, bebop, fusion, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Brazilian influences. He is also founder and artistic director of the 16-piece band Washington Renaissance Orchestra (WRO).

For a time the family lived in Buffalo with his mother’s cousins, the Dunlops. Frankie Dunlop was the prodigious drummer who famously played with Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, among others. He says that Frankie practiced every day in the attic and became one of his main influences. Abadey was just six years old when Frankie put a set of sticks in his hands and showed him how to start playing.

“I didn’t know who he was. He left Buffalo when I was seven years old and I didn’t see him again until I was 13. I had a transistor radio and I heard the song ‘Monk’s Dream’ on a jazz program and I said, ‘Wow, the drummer sounds like my cousin Frankie.’ When they announced the group members, the drummer was Frankie. I remembered his sound.” They reconnected when Abadey moved to New York City. He’d often visit Dunlop in his Harlem home where Dunlop would tell him stories about his years playing with jazz legends. 

Abadey who has lived in Washington, DC, since 1977, embarked on his own career in jazz that placed him in a class all his own. Drawing on influences from powerhouse drummers such as Tony Williams, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, and Elvin Jones, he built a solid career as an artist and teacher. Now, he is one of the mid-Atlantic region’s premier jazz drummers.

In 2006, Abadey was asked to join the faculty of the Peabody Institute. “The process of education has been an organic kind of thing. Each semester, each year, I find myself incorporating more into what I teach and how I teach. As a result, I become a better musician and drummer,” he says.

“I like to think of music as going in many directions simultaneously—poly-directional.” Which he calls “multi-D”: multi-dimensional and multi-directional, a term that is also easy to pronounce and remember in any language. “It helps the listener understand that they are experiencing various dimensional realms while listening to music. I like to think the music is more complex than traditional forms of jazz.”

Abadey invokes plenty of John Coltrane’s automatic technique, which he says allows the music to lift off into a spiritual zone. “The unknown can always render something new because it is the unknown. How your spirit interacts with the creative endeavor,” he says.

He encourages his students to go to his gigs to hear him play so they know that what he’s teaching is not abstract. He adds, “It’s also important to articulate the source of a particular rhythm when I play it and understand it when I hear it played. I look at Africa as the source and different rhythms from Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico.”

Throughout his career, the union, which he joined at 18, has provided support. He says, “With the union, you’re associated with an organization that has what every musician needs to indulge their art and the backing to make sure we’re getting proper wages, benefits, and pension. When you get gigs, you will not be paid below a certain amount. All those things are in place. Plus, you have legal representation.”

In addition to Supernova and the Washington Renaissance Orchestra, Abadey leads the Renaissance Trio (rhythm section) and the Washington Renaissance Orchestra Octet. In between gigs this summer, he is working on a project writing for strings for his 11-piece Supernova Chamber Orchestra.

Aldo Mazza: Educator Builds Bridges to Cuban Rhythms and Culture

Percussionist Aldo Mazza of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ) is an Italian-born Canadian educator specializing in Cuban rhythms and music. With his wife, violinist Jolán Kovács, he founded KoSA Academy in Montreal. The educational program offers master classes in classical music, jazz, and rock, but stretches beyond North America to Europe, South America, and Asia. Of Cuba’s musical tradition, Mazza likes to say, “We’re not dealing with one music—a small island—we’re dealing with a musical continent.”

Mazza’s hybrid approach to teaching combines Cuba’s rich music with lyrical traditions of African, Spanish, and European percussion and rhythms. Along with music clinics and concerts, the academy hosts international workshops. Participants come from all walks of life and musical persuasions—students and professionals alike. Faculty includes virtuosos like Walfredo Reyes of Local 47, and Yves Cypihot, Eugenio Roberto “Kiko” Osorio, and Harold Faustin of Local 406, among others.

As a drummer, Mazza cut his chops in rock bands before studying classical percussion and jazz performance at McGill University. Graduate studies in ethnomusicology at l’Université de Montréal and attending international festivals, he says, opened his eyes. He found himself attracted to Cuban music and began to rigorously explore its language and vocabulary, the political and historical currents that shaped its traditions, and how music was infused into the culture. He found his true niche as an educator and ambassador for Cuban music.

Citing a few examples, Mazza explains that rumba and cha-cha-chá have different histories as do danzón and son. Influenced by African and Haitian rhythms, Spanish flamenco, Andalusian folk music, and European contra dance, Cuban music is a confluence of rhythms, dance, and ritual. “It’s the cha-cha-chá, mambo, and Mozambique—but there are Chinese and European lineages. When slaves were freed, they went to the eastern side of the province near Santiago, where rumba was developed. The conga, which is high-life music, almost Brazilian, is different from son, the root of so many Cuban dance rhythms. A huge repertoire of rhythms were invented in Cuba.” 

Mazza, who until age nine lived in Italy, says his interest in percussion rhythms as a common language is a direct result of his early experiences. In Calabria, where he was born, contemporary drumming, funk and jazz, for instance, always incorporate traditional and cultural roots. The question is “How is the younger generation making it hybrid?” Likewise, he says, “Our Cuban trips and music camps are musical, historical, cultural—a deeper experience.”

Cuban rhythms have been absorbed into other cultures, filtered through other traditions, especially in the US, Mazza says. For example, Mozambique is played differently in Cuba than in the US.

Mazza started KoSA Cuba Festival Camp and Fiesta del Tambor (Havana Rhythm and Dance Festival) 17 years ago and has since established clinics and events in China, New York City, and Italy. Moving beyond music camp, it has become an immersive cultural experience. Several times a year, the week-long clinic brings students and veteran musicians together with top Cuban artists, for a program that encompasses visits to museums, religious ceremonies, interaction with Cuban musicians, jam sessions, and nightly concerts.

In recent years, KoSA Cuba has recruited top musicians to give master classes to Cuban students, like Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), who composed the score for the award-winning film Birdman and Rascal Flatts drummer Jim Riley of Local 257 (Nashville, TN). “It’s a good way to build a bridge,” Mazza says, adding, “In fact, Jim [Riley] was taking classes, too. He said, ‘Do you mind if I sit in a class—you know, we all have a lot to learn.’”

One of the most important components of the academy is the enlistment of elder-statesmen musicians from different traditions, who teach and pass down what they know. “It would be like Beethoven teaching classical composition. A lot of the people learning these rhythms and music are getting to the level where they can compete with Cuban musicians, which is a pretty high bar,” says Mazza. 

In 2004, Mazza and KoSA moved the workshops to Matanzas and Havana, where they began a collaboration with Giraldo Piloto to help establish Cuba’s La Fiesta del Tambor in honor of Piloto’s uncle, Guillermo Barreto, one of Cuba’s most celebrated drummers.

KoSA also sponsors a national competition in which winners in five categories are awarded a Cuban percussion instrument. Through its nonprofit foundation, KoSA raises funds to help Cuban students acquire instruments not otherwise available.

In 2017, Mazza published an instructional book and DVD, Cuban Rhythms for Percussion and Drumset: The Essentials. He says, “Students are given a white canvas—beginning a discussion of the divergent traditions and the significance of how they relate to each other to make a more complete experience. Not calling things Afro-Cuban or Latin-Cuban, but accurately identifying rhythms on Cuban instruments.” 

If musicians want to play Cuban music, according to Mazza, they all need to learn these rhythms. “In Cuba, that’s the way it is.” It’s about enlightening musicians and correcting myths. “Like Hollywood appropriating mambo with Desi Arnaz,” Mazza says. “We try to correct that.”

Mazza, who has worked with John Cage and Philip Glass, performs with the percussion quartet, Répercussion, which has been active for more than 40 years. The first Western percussion group to play in Beijing, they used to do 150 shows a year, but now perform exclusively for special events and festivals.

In 2015, Joachim Horsley, a composer and pianist based in Los Angeles, called Mazza. He wanted to write an authentic piece blending classical and Cuban music—a hybrid approach that Mazza fosters—and wanted to learn to play the instruments. Mazza recalls telling him, “‘I’ll become your conscience. It’s important that you keep the integrity of the music and not create some Hollywood mishmash.’ He did it right.” The result was Beethoven in Havana. Horsley and Mazza went on tour in Italy and France, culminating in a performance at Paris’s Folies Bergère.

Mazza is a featured guest artist with leading symphony orchestras, and can be regularly heard on television and radio broadcasts worldwide. Still, Mazza says, “There’s so much more to do. When I hear about schools closing down their programs I always say—repeating what I’ve heard in my travels—‘A village without music is a dead place.’”

Tommy Banks

Music Lost a Champion – Tommy Banks

The following excerpts are from a longer tribute written by E. Eddy Bayens, President of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB)

Tommy Banks

Photo credit: Fred Katz

On January 25 we suffered the great loss of Tommy Banks at 81 years old. He was a close friend and I find it difficult to sufficiently honour him.

We had at least one thing in common, at age 14, we each chose music as our careers, ignoring wise advice to the contrary. He quit high school so “his playing would not be contaminated by the ravages of higher learning,” as he explained. Few people are as gifted as Tommy. He had an insatiably curious mind that appeared to absorb, process, and instantaneously retain information. That allowed him to productively participate in discussions about an astonishingly wide range of subjects. He was an extremely perceptive listener and made every person feel comfortable and important.

Born in Calgary, his parents moved to Edmonton in his early teens. Word quickly got around about this piano playing kid who seemed to know all the tunes ever written. Too restless to be a sideman, he formed his own band, Tommy Banks and The Banknotes. He got involved in all aspects of the music business: arranger, composer, record producer, promoter, philanthropist, and more. Through it all, he remained a decent, humble guy, who would always make time to listen, especially to musicians who needed help, providing constructive musical leadership.

Many of Tommy’s activities could potentially have put him “on the other side of the table” from the AFM, as an engager of musicians, but his mantra was: “If it is in the interest of the musicians, that is the right thing to do.” All his engagements went by the book. No membership card? No gig.

He and his band spent enough time on the road and in the “big places” to appreciate making a living at home in Edmonton. Alberta and Canada reaped the benefits.

Edmonton had an active jazz scene thanks to Tommy’s Yardbird Suite Jazz Club. In spite of various invitations to relocate, he stayed in Edmonton, playing in his own club, The Embers. As a result, many outstanding musicians remained in town and others moved to Edmonton to work with him. 

When the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation needed a host for a nightly talk show, they asked Tommy. He insisted the show be produced in Edmonton and that he lead his own band. The Tommy Banks Show lasted 13 years. Later, Tommy convinced the owner of the Edmonton ITV station to produce the In Concert Series, backed up by various ensembles and recorded before a live audience at Jubilee Auditorium. The 36 shows presented an awesome array of soloists.

Tommy could play and write in any style. He fixed the music for Gretzky’s wedding, the Pope’s visit, the Universiade, Commonwealth Games, royal visits, and the Winter Olympics. There appeared to be no limit to his creativity, stamina, and focus.

As head of the music department at MacEwan University, he insisted that, to be successful in music, you must consider yourself a tradesman. He would say, “You have to have plan A, the artistic side, and plan B, the business side, and be able to satisfy the demands of the marketplace.”

Tom was instrumental in building the Winspear Centre for Music, home of the Edmonton Symphony. He also created the Alberta Foundation for the Arts in conjunction with the Alberta government and looked after the musical requirements of the Citadel Theatre for many years. In recognition of his many contributions to music and to society, he received a number of awards, Gemini, Juno, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, University of Alberta Dr. of Law, and Officer of the Order of Canada status.

In 2000, he was appointed a senator, quite a remarkable achievement for a piano playing, high school dropout. As a senator, he served on prominent committees for 11 years. He influenced government decisions regarding arts funding, taxation, and transport issues until mandatory retirement at 75. As a senator, he eloquently addressed an AFM Convention some years ago. He left us a better world; it is now up to us.

On behalf of musicians everywhere, we offer our respectful condolences to Tommy Banks’ family. Wherever musicians go after they die, we may take comfort from the assurance that this gentle genius is now busy writing great charts, and looking after player interests. First, take a well-deserved rest, my friend.

Christina Linhardt

The Beauty of Variety: Christina Linhardt Covers the Artistic Gamut

Christina Linhardt

Christina Linhardt of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) works with a nonprofit arts therapy organization, Imagination Workshop (photo credit: Anthony Verebes)

Christina Linhardt of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) is a musical chameleon. Her talent spans classical music, high opera, folk dance, cabaret, and when called for, the occasional circus performance. Her artistic upbringing meant traveling the world, spending summers in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, among artists and musicians, notably the Arnold Schoenberg family.

In Berlin, she attended the Goethe Institute, later studying French at the Eurocentre in Paris, and acting at Oxford University. Back in the States, Linhardt graduated in music and vocal arts from the University of Southern California.

A recurring role for Linhardt is that of chanteuse. Her “Classics to Cabaret” act is a favorite both here and abroad. In Germany, it headlined the opening of the Grand Concert Hall Parksalle in Dippoldiswalde and the reopening of the Palace Ligner in Dresden. Linhardt adds, “I have done it in Germany with the Berliner accent and included songs made popular by Marlene Dietrich.” 

Linhardt has a gift for innovative art forms. She had exposure to diverse traditions early on—for instance, attending cabarets in Vienna—and says, “I was influenced by the authors, writers, and artists I lived amongst as a child in Europe.” Her dramatic interpretation of new and avant-garde music is often accompanied by professional acrobats and clowns. She has successfully parlayed opera, theater, and contemporary rhythms into her CDs Circus Sanctuary and Voodoo Princess, which were both recorded under union contracts.

With fellow Local 47 members Susan Craig Winsberg and Carolyn Sykes she established the Celtic Consort of Hollywood and with Carol Tatum of Local 47 and Cathy Biagini she performs with Angels of Venice—“a classical trio with a new age twist,” says Linhardt, who is also a featured soprano on their CDs. In addition to vocals, she plays flute. “We do a lot of Medieval and Renaissance music: harp, voice, mandolin, cello. It has variety.” With longtime accompanist and pianist Bryan Pezzone of Local 47, this summer Linhardt is planning local concerts and another recording, also in a Celtic-Renaissance vein.

Linhardt points out that she’s relied on the benefits of the union throughout her career. “Early on, I was a music contractor for a score contracted through Local 47. They gave me legal advice when I was producing albums and doing radio promotion—what to do and how to not get scammed.”

As a soloist, Linhardt has performed classical arias and premiered new opera pieces—many written exclusively for her—in Los Angeles and throughout Germany. She is the official national anthem singer for the German Consulate and represents Berlin every year at the Los Angeles Sister Cities Festival.

Her clown and mime training landed her a part in the Vamphear Circus in 2006, when the troupe traveled to the naval base on Guantanamo Bay. “A friend of mine said he was going to Guantanamo Bay for a gig,” She remembers saying, “You’ve got to get me on that circus gig.’”

Known primarily for the notorious detention camp, the sequestered region is also home to US military personnel and service workers.  Linhardt says, “At the time, there were about 2,000 children on Guantanamo Bay. It was very 1950s. People said it was a great place to raise your kids. It was a Twilight Zone set—almost surreal.”

The subsequent documentary Guantanamo Circus, by Linhardt and fellow performer Michael Rose, won the Hollywood FAME Award for Best Documentary.

Off stage, Linhardt works for the Imagination Workshop (IW), a nonprofit theater arts organization that uses music and art as therapy for senior citizens, those with Alzheimer’s disease, at-risk youth, and homeless veterans, among others.

Linhardt says, “Music is an effective tool, especially, with Alzheimer’s patients, who cannot engage in the same way,” she says. “I’ll have people who can’t speak, except through the words of the music. After a session, sometimes we can get a few words out of them because they just sang the song. Music activates different parts of the brain and that’s why music can still be remembered when all other memory is gone.”         

For the past 16 years, she has been working with veterans with PTSD. “As the veterans are highly functional, we take the program to the next level, like a play written by and starring the participants. A lot of vets say, ‘For once, we don’t have to be our addiction; we don’t have to be our PTSD; we don’t have to be our past. We can try to be somebody else.’ It’s a new opportunity,” Linhardt says.

Recently, she has taken on yet another role, that of staff writer for the California Philharmonic, where she writes a Meet the Musician series. “Classical musicians are trained to be soloists, to be super stars,” Linhardt says, “I wanted to give each musician a moment in the limelight.”

To Mongolia, with Love

Thomas A. Blomster of Local 20-623 (Denver, CO) (with black bow tie) was made an honorary member of the Morin Khuur Ensemble (pictured here) and presented with official pendants and a commemorative history book of the ensemble. His score of Postcards to Mongolia was placed in the Mongolian national archives as a permanent part of the country’s more than 2,000-year history.

Last summer, Mongolia’s Morin Khuur Ensemble, performed the world premiere of Postcards to Mongolia, by American composer and conductor Thomas A. Blomster of Local 20-623 (Denver, CO)—a first for both maestro and orchestra. The concert was broadcast live on Mongolian TV and the score was placed in the Mongolian national archives.

“Making music, the arts, are an integral part of the Mongolian people,” Blomster says, “There’s a real sense of identity. You combine that with the music making and it’s really powerful.” Ulaanbaatar, the capitol, hosts world-class concerts; the opera singers are veterans of major opera houses around the world. What’s more, there is an audience for these concerts. “In this developing country, there is tremendous support for the arts,” he says.

He and his wife, pianist Noriko “Nikki” Tsuchiya, also of Local 20-623, were guests at the opening ceremonies of the midsummer Naadam Festival. Dating back to Genghis Khan, the elaborate, highly choreographed event is Mongolia’s version of the Olympics, with competitions in archery, wrestling, and horse racing. Plus, it showcases performing arts groups: traditional ensembles, choirs, and dancers, ballet, military bands and choir, and pop singers. The whole time, Blomster says, “The Mongolian Philharmonic was in the pit supporting them.”

The Soviet influence in Mongolia is still in evidence, especially in its cultural institutions. The training of Mongolian musicians is pure Russian conservatory. “Everybody in the [Morin Khuur] ensemble is at a virtuoso level,” Blomster says. “There is a high level of technical ability, but the intonation is a whole other level. Their approach is different. I could hear them tuning between every piece. Each player was sensitive to this—for instance, when a musician was tuning his morin khuur, you could hear the yatga softly play the intervals. You combine this technical expertise of the ensemble with heart and soul—the Mongolian culture is alive and well. Genghis Khan is not dead!”

Blomster’s journey to Mongolia began 20 years ago, when he attended an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. He watched a loop of a film from World War I, so old it was inaudible, but clearly it was the Nadaam Festival. “I could see the musicians playing these giant oversize finger cymbals and as a percussionist I was dying to know what the sound was like.” Years later, he found Mongolian cymbals in a junk shop which, he says, “I immediately dropped a fortune on.”

Eventually, he made a connection at the Mongolian Philharmonic, with the assistant executive director Erdene-Oyun Burgedee, who visited Denver and introduced Blomster to the work of the Morin Khuur Ensemble, a traditional folk orchestra associated with the philharmonic. They became good friends as he helped her navigate the Denver arts scene. The thought occurred to Blomster, “What if I wrote a piece for the Morin Khuur Ensemble?’”

A bowed instrument similar to a violin, the morin khuur holds a sacred place in Mongolian culture. Says Blomster, “It’s the soul of the country. In the old days, even in the yurts, every nomad owned a morin khuur, in part, to keep away evil spirits. It’s an instrument that has many powerful associations.”

“[In my composition] I tried to be respectful of the aspects of their music, which could easily be overwhelmed by my Western training. Using pentatonic scales was at the forefront and being careful about not having too much moving harmony.” For instance, he says, “There are a whole bunch of hotshot yatga players—which has some of the same limitations as a classical harp. If it’s set in a certain key, that’s the note choice you have, but I also know the bass strings of the harp—even if you don’t hear them out in the audience—are really good for reinforcing the bottom harmony.” 

Blomster, who is director of the Colorado Chamber Orchestra, splits his time evenly conducting and playing percussion (including timpani and vibes) in other orchestras as well as jazz ensembles. “A big part of what attracted me to the country was the landscape—the mountains and huge steppe plains,” he says. He drew inspiration closer to home, from his relationship to the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.

They were not expecting to be cultural ambassadors, but the American musicians were treated as emissaries and introduced to a number of government dignitaries, including the advisor to the American ambassador at the US Embassy. Blomster says, “We were hanging out with the deputy prime minister!” 

The language barrier posed a challenge, he says, “But ultimately the music became our common ground.” As a tribute to the American conductor, the ensemble ended the program with a Souza march arranged by the director.

No stranger to the world stage, Blomster studied at Berlin’s Hochschule fur Musik, where he trained with members of the Berlin Philharmonic and the Deutsche Opera. He spent many years performing at the Aspen Music Festival, where he also worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Elliott Carter and acclaimed Polish composer Kryzstof Penderecki.

When Blomster talks about his work now, it’s teaching that fulfills him. When the school district on the south side of Denver eliminated its elementary instrumental music program, one of his colleagues started a before- and after-school program, which now includes 1,500 students. He says, “For me, in many ways, it’s the most significant thing I’ve been a part of in my life because of the influence that we’re having.”

A longtime union official and member since 1974, Blomster says the AFM is invaluable for a musician’s career. He’s finishing his third term on the board of Local 20-623 for which he has also served as vice president. The union supports better wages and working conditions, but on a personal level, he says, “The union has gone to bat for me when I’ve been in situations where I needed some muscle behind me.” He adds, “Today, technology is turning our industry upside down—all the more reason to stick together.”

Jeff lorber

Pianist Jeff Lorber: A Career Built from Coast to Coast

Jeff lorber

Jeff Lorber of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA).

Pianist Jeff Lorber of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) says he felt like he had access to the world stage growing up in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. He saw the genesis of rock and roll up close. Local record label Cameo Parkway put out a string of hits with Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, and The Orlons. Plus, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand premiered there in 1950. The city offered more inspiration in the way of homegrown jazz talent—Jimmy Heath, McCoy Tyner, and the Brecker Brothers. During the same period, John Coltrane famously lived there.

As a teenager, Lorber played with local R&B bands. At Berklee College of Music in the 1970s, his tastes veered toward jazz and fusion. “I knew if I was going to be an instrumentalist, I’d have to get better at jazz. It was a way to get vocabulary and to become better as a musician,” he says. “Berklee aligned curriculum to the local scene that allowed students to go out and make a living in the music business. It gave us tools to analyze music—taking it apart and putting it back together to understand it—and make our own music.”

In many ways, the Jazz Workshop at Berklee was almost as valuable as taking courses. He says, “Every week there would be somebody absolutely great playing: [Local 802 members] George Benson, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson. I saw Miles Davis play a number of times during that era.” Lorber followed Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, as well as R&B acts like The Crusaders, and Grover Washington, Jr.

But it was Herbie Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda album that most inspired him. He remembers thinking it was revolutionary, “Wow, that’s what I want to do. I want to play funky jazz like that.”

Lorber moved to Portland, Oregon, where he formed The Jeff Lorber Fusion. The group released a self-titled debut album in 1977. “There were lucky coincidences, but it’s also about being able to take advantage of those lucky breaks,” Lorber says. “We were touring, selling records. It was a good time in the music biz. We were signed to Arista records and they had good budgets to make records and promote B artists.”

“Then one day Clive Davis [Arista founder and president] decided he wasn’t into jazz anymore. He got rid of his jazz division almost overnight. The few who were left, he wanted them to do R&B vocal stuff,” says Lorber. “That was a mistake. We were on a trajectory to having a solid fan base and touring a lot of pretty big venues. When we radically changed what we were doing, we lost fans.”

Lorber briefly launched a solo career with a release in 1982, but took a break from solo recording and composing, opting instead to work with other artists. There were a few hits on Arista, “Step by Step” (1985) with Audrey Wheeler and Anita Pointer. He moved to Warner Bros. and had another hit with “Facts of Love,” with Karyn White. He recalls working with the R&B duo René Moore and Angela Winbush. “I loved the music we made, the records, and what I learned working with them.” He says, though, “Most of the time vocal overpowers instruments.” He resumed his solo career in 1991 with Worth Waiting For.

Lorber says union scale was important. “Most guys would get double scale for gigs—and having that standard in place created a level playing field where everybody knew the value of a musician’s time. You didn’t have to negotiate each time.” When he lived in Portland, early in his career, Lorber says, “We used to do Musicians Performance Trust Fund gigs. Here in LA, a lot of people do jam sessions and rehearse at the union hall.” Lorber says he’s a supporter of any organization that looks after musicians. “[Otherwise] we’re out here on our own.”

For a number of years, Lorber has battled Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), a congenital disease, which has affected many members of his family. A kidney donated by his wife 11 years ago saved his life. “When you face a life and death situation, you know what’s important. I try to spend my time doing things I love doing, which is playing music and composing,” says Lorber, who says about 600,000 people in the US and two million worldwide are afflicted with PKD.

The proceeds from Lorber’s record of bebop standards, Jazz Funk Soul (Everett Harp and the late Chuck Loeb), go to PKD research. Lorber says, “I love the straight-ahead jazz. You can hear bebop phrasing in the solos.”

Lorber’s most recent album, Prototype (2017), was nominated for a Grammy. “I’m just grateful I’ve had a chance to make a career doing music. I love living in LA and working with the great talents here on a regular basis,” he says. At present, he’s doing some composing and planning an upcoming tour of Southeast Asia.