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Paul henning

Union Contract Bolsters Début Album for Pianist Paul Henning

Paul henning

Paul Henning of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

For his first CD, Breaking Through, Paul Henning of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) made sure it was done on a Limited Pressing Agreement with a live 48-piece orchestra. A string section, woodwinds, horns, and percussionists formed the all-union ensemble. A mix of Celtic folk melodies and lush orchestration, the album was inspired by Henning’s excursions to the Pacific Northwest. 

Henning grew up near Pullman, Washington, on his family’s wheat farm. He’s played piano since the age of eight and began playing violin as a teenager. Well into his first year at Washington State University, he was interested in civil engineering and architecture. A musician friend convinced him to take some music courses, and he ended up graduating with a degree in music composition. In 1999 he attended the one-year film scoring program at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, where he studied with late film scorers Elmer Bernstein and David Raksin.

Henning joined the union in 2000 when he was attending recording sessions for James Newton Howard, also of Local 47. In addition to orchestrating and proofreading scores, he was asked to do session work. The union’s established wages safeguard a career, plus he says, the steady stream of royalties offer financial stability.

In addition to studio work for TV, Henning has worked on orchestrations for more than 50 feature film scores, including The BFGNight at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and Chocolat

Etching out a score can be a solitary activity so Henning welcomes the variety union work offers. Playing for the Hollywood Studio Symphony, he has performed on the soundtracks for Moana, Storks, Furious 7, Frozen, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Maze Runner, Monsters University, and Alice in Wonderland. His violin session work has included performances with Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC), Neil Young of Local 47, Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli, and Josh Groban, also of Local 47. He says, “It’s a totally different challenge to show up at a recording session and be able to sight read the music in front of you.”

Since 2004, Henning has been concertmaster for the Golden State Pops. “We play a lot of film music in the orchestra and it was one of the ways I met a lot of film composers, orchestrators, and conductors. They’d guest-conduct or be in the audience. They started asking me to play on their film scores. It was one of the ways I got into playing in sessions,” he explains.

Henning owes much to mentors like Patrick Russ of Local 47, the orchestrator for Maurice Jarre who wrote the music for Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. “I met Pat early on and he took me under his wing. I called him up out of the blue and told him I was interested in orchestrating, and he met with me. I started proofreading scores for him and eventually I was working with him all the time. He got me started in orchestration,” says Henning.

Henning has also worked with John Williams of Local 47 and Local 9-535 (Boston, MA). “His sketches are extremely detailed, and he does everything by hand. It’s an interesting challenge putting together scores by someone so incredibly intelligent and at a genius level musically,” says Henning, who worked on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “He is an inspiration all the time. You’re hoping that some of it will rub off on you musically and professionally.”

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed Four Celebrates 50 Years

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed Four, members of Local 591 (Thunder Bay, ON), are celebrating their 50th anniversary this month. (R to L) are: Brian Thompson (mandolin, guitar, spoons, bodhran), Bob Balabuck (banjo, fiddle, mandolin), Jamie Gerow (guitar, Irish bouzouki), and Jack Wall (bass).

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed Four, members of Local 591 (Thunder Bay, ON), will celebrate their 50th anniversary with concerts and events across the region beginning June 15 at the Magnus Theatre in Thunder Bay, Ontario. According to band member and guitarist Jamie Gerow, the concerts are retrospective of all the songs their audience has enjoyed over the years.

Bob Balabuck and founder Brian Thompson, are the original members. Gerow and Jack Wall joined about five years later. Thompson and Balabuck formed several folk groups in the mid-1960s. Among the distinctive genres, the one that eventually stuck was Irish music. Their drummer at the time, Rick Lazar of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) and founder of Samba Squad, suggested “Father Flanagan’s,” and later added “Flat Footed Four.”

Back in the day, the band was known for their raucous performances, and they were even banned from one university because audience members destroyed some furniture. No subject off limits, Gerow says, they were also kicked out of a high school assembly for performing a song called “The Pill.”

They’ve long since redeemed themselves. In 1983, the band was presented with an achievement award for their contribution to the City of Thunder Bay and they have been recognized twice by the city as distinguished citizens.

Gerow is a former school principal, Balabuck a retired special education teacher, Thompson is a social worker, and Wall is a sound engineer (who graduated in the first class of Radio and Television Arts from Confederation College in 1969).

They cheekily refer to their style as progressive pub. Gerow says, “We start with rock songs and do them as bluegrass and do bluegrass as Irish tunes, stealing the progressive name from jazz musicians. In the bluegrass world, they say, ‘If you make the same mistake twice, call it jazz.’”

Gerow credits the group’s harmony on stage and off for their longtime partnership. He says, “It’s been years of friendship unequaled. We’ve enjoyed each other, centered around music, and that’s what the music scene should be.” He jokes, “Hatches, matches, and dispatches.”

Two of the members are cancer survivors. When Balabuck developed focal dystonia, he was told he’d never play the banjo again. “So, he learned to play with his left hand and now does both. To our knowledge, he’s the only five-string banjo player playing both left and right handed banjo in the world,” says Gerow.

The band still holds rehearsals at Balabuck’s house, which, Gerow says, is not more than 300 meters away from his. “I can hear Bob practice his banjo on his front porch—and he practices all the time!”

garry pressy

Out of the Ball Park: Organist Plays the Big League

garry pressy

At his organ in the press booth at Wrigley Field, Gary Pressy of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) shows off his 2016 World Series ring.

Gary Pressy of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) enjoys a seat at Chicago Cubs games like no other player. From his perch in the press booth overlooking Wrigley Field, the Cubs organist, since 1987, has played 2,446 consecutive games without missing a beat.

For Pressy, 59, playing the sonorous organ at Wrigley Field is a dream come true. From the time he was a kid, he knew it was exactly what he wanted to do. He became fascinated with the sound of the organ when he was a just five years old. “I’d listen to games and in the background, you’d hear the organ. My mother says I’d be in the backyard humming the national anthem and ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’”

After years of instruction, including private lessons with local teacher and mentor Russ Caifano, Pressy started playing the organ for Loyola basketball, all the while sending out his resume to teams in Chicago that he knew employed organists. Sports executive John McDonough finally responded. At the time, he was working for the pro soccer team, the Chicago Sting, and he hired Pressy to play. When the time came for the Cubs to hire a full-time organist, McDonough recommended Pressy. “I had my eyes set on one job, and I got lucky. This was always my goal,” says Pressy.

Pressy arrives a few hours before game time. He does his research and brushes up on new songs, but says the standards are crowd pleasers. “I spread the songs around. I won’t play to one generation: Lady Gaga and Sinatra. I don’t want people to scratch their heads, but they’ve got to be catchy tunes,” he explains.

To adjust and time the music, he follows the game as closely as any announcer. “When players come on field, it’s got to come from the top of your head, it’s spontaneous. If the Cubs have players on first and third, I’ll play the song, ‘Down on the Corner.’” Years ago, he’d even supply trivia—this day in Cubs history.

The seventh-inning stretch is the hallmark of the Cubs’ home games, which began when longtime Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” After his death in 1998, the Cubs continued the tradition, but with guest conductors leading the crowd.

It all starts out with “Ah-One! Ah-Two! Ah-Three!” And celebrities from every walk of life have been featured: politicians, athletes, and musicians, like diehard fan Eddie Vedder of Local 76-493 (Seattle, WA) and Ozzie Osborne. In game three of the 2016 World Series, Bill Murray famously performed his rendition as Daffy Duck.

Pressy says, “We have so much fun with the live guests. When these guys come in here, they shed the celebrity persona; it’s pure fan, and just shows their amorous relationship with game of baseball.” 

When former Major League player Dave Collins came to sing, Pressy (a huge Boston Celtics fan) says they talked Celtic basketball and reminisced. “All these people are so down to earth. It’s their honor to do it,” he says. After last year’s win, Pressy was on stage playing at Grant Park. “The parade must have had 5 million people. It was a glorious day weather-wise and for a Cub’s fan.”   

The Cubs became the first major league team to install an organ at the ballpark in 1941. Roy Nelson played the pregame program to entertain the crowd, but it was short-lived and the organ would not return permanently to Wrigley Field until 1967.

Organ players are a tight-knit group and Pressy says he’s had the privilege of meeting greats like Fenway Park organist John Kiley and Ernie Hayes of the St. Louis Cardinals. Pressy’s longtime friend and White Sox organist, Nancy Faust of Local 10-208, started the now legendary “Na-Na-Na-Na, Na-Na-Na-Na, Hey, Hey, Good Bye.”

By his own admission, baseball is a hobby that got out of hand. He’s got audio recordings of 250 baseball games from the 1960s and 1970s, plus Boston Celtics games. Pressy says, “I like to listen to those games driving back and forth to the games, fighting traffic. It’s just something I really enjoy. You can hear the organ in the background,” He adds, “Someday, I’d like to write a book about the history of games.”

Pressy joined the union in 1978, which among other things—benefits and pension—initially helped him get a credit card. Of his famous association with a World Series winning team, he says, “I’m just a guy who’s earning a living.”

Dawn Hannay: Shining Light on the Union

Dawn Hannay of Local 802 (New York City) looks back on her career and activism as a violist with the New York Philharmonic.

Dawn Hannay of Local 802 (New York City) practically grew up on the stage of the New York Philharmonic. Having joined at 23, in 1979, the violist was one of a handful of women performing with the orchestra at the time. Now comprising more than half women, the oldest ensemble in the country is steeped in history and tradition. Hannay, who retired from her position last October, says she learned quickly, “I was always a bit of a rabble rouser so it wasn’t long before I was elected chair of the musicians’ committee.”

Back then, for an “inexperienced young woman,” there was a learning curve. Hannay explains that in those days music schools did little to prepare string players to master the overwhelming orchestral repertoire. “You had to be a great sight reader and fast learner,” she says, remembering the first time she played Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe suite in Studio 8H at NBC with the mics on, no rehearsal. “It’s like jumping on a speeding train. You have to be tough, especially as a young and very naive woman in what in those days seemed like a good ole boys club, complete with poker games, chain smoking, and even occasional fisticuffs!”

Hannay inherited the torch from those older and more experienced musicians who had fought so successfully to improve the lives of orchestral musicians. She says, “I took on the challenge, and spent decades doing my utmost to improve the working life of my colleagues, negotiating contracts and helping to resolve disputes.”

“The union is crucial in maintaining fair wages and working conditions for all musicians. Younger musicians who prefer to remain independent need to learn the history of their business, and how essential the union is in ensuring that musicians could earn a living from their craft. It is easy to take for granted the 52-week season, health benefits, and pension that we enjoy today,” she says.

What distinguishes prestigious orchestras like the New York Philharmonic from the Vienna Philharmonic? She says it’s “the communication between older players and the next generation. There are many traditions of phrasing and tempi, of fingerings and articulations, of tone quality and bowings, and even jokes that are handed down, such as applauding in rehearsal at the false ending in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.”

Hannay explains that a wise conductor lets an orchestra play, shaping his or her own interpretation, but allowing the unique character of the orchestra to shine through. She says, “There may be fewer than a dozen musicians left in the orchestra who played West Side Story under Leonard Bernstein, but they still play the score like nobody’s business. That’s tradition.” 

Not long ago, playing in an orchestra was among the most precarious of livings. Hannay explains, “It’s almost unheard of nowadays in any profession for people to stay in a single job for 30, 40, or even 50 or more years. It’s the norm here. We owe this extraordinary stability to a whole generation of musicians who fought to make it so. Their work created the continuity that enables the unique musical traditions to be carried forward from generation to generation. Through the efforts of the past generation there are contracts and fair wages.” 

Orchestra standards were set by flutist Julius Baker, clarinetist Stanley Drucker, trumpeter Phil Smith, and concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, of Local 802. Bassist Orin O’Brien of Local 802 shattered the glass ceiling and became the first woman in the orchestra. Legendary players Buster Bailey, Bert Bial, Ralph Mendelssohn, Newton Mansfield, and John Ware created and added to the history and traditions that make today’s daily performances possible. 

Hannay performs chamber music, appearing often with the New York Philharmonic Ensembles. She spends the summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, playing with the Grand Teton Music Festival, where she is a founding member of the string quartet Wind River 4. In 2001, she was a featured soloist and guest principal viola with the London Chamber Players on a tour of South Africa.

Donn Trenner

Donn Trenner: Pianist, Musical Director, Arranger, and Author

by Ginny Bales, Member of Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT)

Donn Trenner

The remarkable career of Local 802 (New York City) and 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member Donn Trenner is highlighted in the book Leave It to Me: My Life in Music.

It would be remarkable enough to have played with jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Anita O’Day, and many others; to have entertained the troops with Bob Hope or led the band for the original Tonight Show; to have served long stints as musical director for Ann-Margret, Nancy Wilson, and Shirley MacLaine; and to have declined doing the same for Frank Sinatra. But can you imagine what it was like to tour with big bands led by Les Brown, Charlie Barnet, or Buddy Morrow?

Donn Trenner, a member of Locals 802 (New York City) and 47 (Los Angeles, CA), has done all of these things in his dream career characterized by consistent hard work, unstinting devotion to quality musicianship, and careful attention to making gigs run smoothly on all levels.

The AFM is important to Trenner. “I am a very devoted union member, starting in New Haven when I was 15 years old. I believe the benefits of being a member outweigh anything else,” he says.

Trenner’s life and career began in Connecticut, and we are fortunate that he has returned to this area where he continues to lead the Hartford Jazz Orchestra. Everyone who has ever known or worked with Trenner appreciates his depth of musical experience, gentlemanly charm, and sense of humor. 

The book Leave It to Me: My Life in Music (BearManor Media, 2015) by Trenner and Tim Atherton, jazz educator at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Westfield State University in Massachusetts, tells the tale. It’s filled with gig stories and anecdotes often involving well-known musicians and entertainers. 

Those interested in understanding how to write arrangements that work well will find Trenner’s insights invaluable. One section of the book is devoted to his philosophy of orchestration, and the entire book is peppered with observations on arranging, dynamics, instrumental balance, stagecraft, and how to bring the best performance out of other musicians. 

At age 90, Trenner continues to be a role model. He connects us to iconic music “scenes” from classic jazz and big bands through international touring, TV, and Las Vegas-style shows. He continues to create beautiful music and also entertain through writing and speaking engagements.

A quote on Trenner’s piano reads: “Don’t just play notes—tell a story.” His key to happiness? “Keep music in your life.  Music and laughter are the most important beneficial ingredients in a person’s life.”

Peter Cho

Peter Cho: Educating and Organizing in the Big Easy

Peter Cho

Peter Cho of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) is a pianist, educator, and union board member whose work runs the gamut, from advocacy for all musicians to mentoring a younger generation of music students.

At the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, where Peter Cho of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) has taught for the last 20 years, he says, “We make sure music students are well-rounded. Part of that is making sure they understand their capacity for other things. If you’ve got an analytical mind, explore music composition or the music business, maybe as a booking agent or a talent buyer. It’s a holistic approach to education.” An educator and jazz pianist, Cho is the executive dean of Delgado Community College’s West Bank Campus.

For a much sought-after pianist, Cho admits he had a rather inauspicious start, learning piano as a kid—and hating it, he claims—because it required too much discipline. In high school in Auburn, Alabama, he played the clarinet in the jazz band and participated in music festivals around country.

Before he knew it, the kid who was heading to Auburn University for pre-med was getting scholarship offers for music. Cho says he owes his sudden change of heart to his father, a professor of veterinary medicine, who said, “I don’t want you to be an old man, wondering, ‘what if?’” Cho ended up at Loyola University on a scholarship as a jazz studies major. 

In New Orleans, he began playing gigs immediately. Cho would take the streetcar downtown to the Maison Bourbon, where he’d met an old piano player by the name of Ed Frank. Cho says “I’d hang out with him every day. He was my unofficial teacher and mentor.” By the time he was 19, Cho was playing piano professionally.

The cultural economy is the life force of New Orleans rooted in older musicians passing the mantle on to younger musicians. Like elder statesmen of the Marsalis and Batiste families, Cho sees his job as an extension of this, training younger generations of musicians. He says, “As a community we are doing what we need to do to make sure that engine of creativity continues.”

As a dean and a musician Cho has found what’s meaningful. “You understand how you fit into your community, how what you do matters to others,” he says. The college enlists musicians from the community, many of whom are retired, to teach classes and provide students with real-world ensemble experience. “They want to give back. Professional musicians are mentoring. It’s the internal program linking students to the actual music scene.”

Early on, Cho (who went on to earn a Ph.D. in Education Administration from the University of New Orleans), studied with Michael Pellara. He’s responsible for many of the city’s best musicians, including the younger Jon Batiste of Local 802 (New York City), who also came out of the Armstrong camp and is now the musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Pianist Barry Doyle Harris of Local 802 served as an inspiration for Cho. Nearly every night, since 1990, the 48-year-old Cho has performed with James Rivers and his band, The James Rivers Movement, which has been a fixture in the city for nearly 50 years. He is also a pianist for the Victory Swing Orchestra of the WWII Museum. 

On stage, he’s performed with Willie Singleton of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI), Jimmy Heath of Local 802, and Johnny Vidacovich, George Porter, and Delfeayo Marsalis, all of Local 174-496, to name only a few.

An executive board member of Local 174-496 since 2006, post Katrina, Cho knows firsthand the permanent shadow the storm cast over the city, where once-robust music neighborhoods have been forever altered. When Katrina struck, the natural musical traditions of individual areas were uprooted. “A lot of musical families were displaced. Musicians came back, but they weren’t able to settle in old neighborhoods. The actual engine that created this musical tradition and culture has been disrupted,” Cho explains.

Musician friends of Cho’s, who were forced to relocate, say one positive effect of displacement is that there now exists a fairly thriving New Orleans style jazz music scene in other cities, like Houston and Atlanta. He says, “These cities are seeing an influx or growing New Orleans musical and cultural heritage.”

The loss of neighborhoods and the corner clubs after Katrina created unexpected opportunities for musicians. But Cho says, “There are districts where a lot of musicians are willing to play for the door or tips, and aren’t necessarily compensated as professionals. The local has been trying to fight for musician’s rights, trying to organize and give all musicians a roadmap.” He’s encouraged, noting, “I’m seeing a lot of attitudes of nonunion musicians change; if we’re willing to undercut each other, everybody loses.”

“Right to work” laws obviously obstruct the aims of the local union, but with the present board and Deacon John Moore at the helm, Cho sees more solidarity among all musicians, union and nonunion alike. Moore’s efforts, in fact, have greatly improved working conditions for musicians.

“Once nonmembers understand the advocacy and how we as musicians fit into the cultural economy and how we, as raw materials of this economy, have more power. If musicians boycotted playing any type of music for one day, the ramifications would be tremendous,” he says.

“That’s how you mobilize and show what type of clout you have. It gives you more leverage and you’re better able to go to club owners and say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to take these conditions anymore.’” In addition to highlighting the benefits of a pension, the local advocates financial literacy. Cho says, “One of the things we tell musicians is: pay yourself first, you’re worth it. And you’ll have something to fall back on.”

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.

bobby baird

Bobby Baird: The Man with a Horn

by Edward J. Zebrowski, Secretary of Local 140 (Wilkes-Barre, PA)

bobby baird

Still an active performer, trumpet player Bobby Baird has been a member of Local 140 (Wilkes-Barre, PA) for more than 73 years.

It was my pleasure recently to spend some time talking with Bobby Baird about his musical career—a career that has spanned most of eight decades. Baird began playing trumpet at a very early age. He played his first solo at the age of five for his grandfather and never stopped. 

Baird joined Local 140 (Wilkes-Barre, PA) September 30, 1944. He had to be granted a special exemption from the minimum age requirement in effect at the time, since he was only 14 years old!

On September 30, 2017, Baird will achieve the enviable record of having been a member of Local 140 for 73 consecutive years. To the best of my knowledge, no other member has ever achieved that milestone. We at Local 140 are honored to have had Baird as a member all these years.

When he was 18, Baird achieved another milestone: he became the youngest member of the United States Navy Band to be chosen as concert trumpet soloist. It was a position he went on to hold with many bands, including several local bands, such as the Stegmaier Gold Medal Band, during its heyday.

During his stint with the Navy Band, they toured all 48 contiguous states and Canada. It is worth mentioning that Baird, who led his own Dixieland Jazz Band for many years, can still blow the doors off trumpeters who are half his age. Baird still performs actively, and says he will continue to do so as long as he has the breath to blow through that piece of brass.

On a more personal note, Bobby Baird and his wife, Pat, recently celebrated their 63rd anniversary. Congratulations to them both! 

When you talk with Baird, you quickly become aware that he is a very humble and modest man. He provided a number of newspaper articles to use as background information, but he also made it very clear that he was more interested in having people know that he has been a trumpeter for eight decades and a union member for 73 years. He wasn’t interested in having me write about all his accomplishments—performing for several presidents, being honored recently with a special tribute by the Back Mountain Chamber, playing in a Grammy-winning band, or the many other well-deserved accolades and awards he has received.

Baird has a great sense of humor. During a recent conversation, he asked me how old I was and I told him. He says, “Heck, you’re just a kid!” For that, Bobby, you have my profound thanks. It’s been a long, long time since anybody said that to me! 

All of us at Local 140 hope Bobby Baird will be around sharing his wonderful music with us for many more years.

Anja Wood

Hamilton Cellist Anja Wood Follows Her Heart to Aid Families in Ethiopia

Anja Wood

Anja Wood, cellist for the Broadway show Hamilton and a member of Local 802 (New York City), founded her own charity to help Ethiopian families overcome poverty.

When Anja Wood of Local 802 (New York City) graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music in the early 1990s, she headed east to carve out a life as a freelance musician. A classical cellist armed with a master’s degree, she easily settled into a tidy routine of playing in regional orchestras and touring Japan during the summer with conductor Mamoru Takahara (also of Local 802) and the New York Symphonic Ensemble.    

“I lived like a pauper with little gigs here and there, and eventually worked my way up,” she says. Wood joined the union in 1997 when she first started subbing on Broadway.

In 2014, Wood received a call from musical director Alex Lacamoire of Local 802, who asked her to join the orchestra of the Broadway hit, Hamilton. It was the same creative team that produced In the Heights. Wood says, “It was exactly what I’d been wanting to do for years,” adding, “It was long before we knew what Hamilton would be. We knew people would react well. We just didn’t know it would be this juggernaut success.”

They play eight shows a week, but the union contract allows the orchestra musicians to take off four days a week and still maintain their contract. Wood says, “The brilliance of that is we can go and play another gig, and a friend and colleague whom we trust and love can come and play the show for us, and is happy to have the work. It’s a great system for musicians in New York.”

In a different role, a world away from New York City and Broadway, Wood serves as president of the Lelt Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps severely impoverished Ethiopian orphans and families. It began in 2009, when she and her husband began the adoption process for their second daughter from Ethiopia. Amid agency-wide and embassy delays, Wood says that their daughter, who should have already been in the States, was still in Ethiopia five months after she was legally theirs.

Taking a leave from work, she traveled to Addis Ababa to take custody. In Ethiopia, they stayed with her friend, the late Carrie Neel-Parker, who also adopted a daughter from Ethiopia. While visiting state-run orphanages, many in grave disrepair, they realized that some basic, inexpensive upgrades could vastly improve living conditions for the children. With the help of friends back in the US, who chipped in about $30 each, they were able to provide 250 girls in Kechene Orphanage with mattresses and linens, plus repair the crumbling outer compound security wall.

Wood initiated a music program at the Kolfe Boys Orphanage, where an instructor comes in twice a week to teach students electric piano, bass, and electric guitar. She felt confident that the efforts made in just a couple of months would give way to more initiatives. “Our daughters gave us this gift of having Ethiopian families and we wanted to continue to give back to those we now consider our family,” she says.

Back home she filed for nonprofit status, formed a board of directors together with Neel-Parker, and the Lelt Foundation was born. Its focus: nutrition, education, and job creation programs for very impoverished neighborhoods. “Our whole mission is to help people so they won’t need us in a few years,” Wood says. “People graduate from the program with assistance we give them—it’s a hand-up, not a handout.”

A partnership with the Ethiopian government helps the organization identify the most impoverished families in the region. Lelt pays the fee for their children’s public school education, about $2.50 a year, and gives them a daily nutritious lunch and after-school tutoring. Families are provided counseling and job creation services, monthly food rations, and household necessities.   

In just six years, Lelt has built a community center, and homes for girls and boys, which are refuges for children who are abandoned or severely abused. A dedicated staff in Ethiopia, managed by a husband and wife team (called Mommy and Poppy by the children) live on site, in the compound. “This team is deeply committed to the community. This is their mission. It’s what they want to die doing,” Wood says.

Lelt conducts seminars on money and business management skills, providing micro loans to families to launch their businesses—a “jumpstart to financial independence,” says Wood. “The kids are in school, moms have just started a small business, like vegetable wholesale at the local market or bread baking. Once they get started, we usually see graduation from the program about three years later.”

Investing in music education is a natural component of Lelt’s mission. In addition to Western instruments—keyboards and guitars—students learn to play the traditional instruments of Ethiopia, including the masinko (an ancient violin), the krar (a lyre-shaped guitar), and traditional drums. Traditional folk music is important to Ethiopians, Wood explains. It is what folk music might be to people who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Everybody has a grandparent, an aunt, or uncle who plays an instrument, and the children want to learn, too.”

In the music community Wood has found many on-and-off Broadway friends and donors who support her work. “In fact, 20% of the people who sponsor children in the organization are musician colleagues,” she says. “They are by no means wealthy, but loyal and compassionate humans who want to contribute in some way.”

Now, a busy mother, managing daily operations and directing the foundation’s fundraising efforts, Wood says, “Playing a show is the easiest part of my day. I get to go off and be my adult self and who I’m trained to be. I have a few hours of easy peace and artistic expression.”

Working with fellow pit musicians in Hamilton, Wood says, “I love knowing this group really well. I love coming in and knowing exactly where I’m going to put my F# in ‘Right Hand Man’ because my quartet is sitting right next to me. I know exactly where the first violinist is going to use less vibrato for emphasis and I’m going to match him. I know where we’ll sit behind the beat on ‘Room Where It Happens’ because I’ve learned this band so well—and that to me is exciting. We’re making this music as perfect as possible.”

For more information on the Lelt Foundation and to make a donation, visit www.leltfoundation.org.

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.