Tag Archives: member profiles

Irving “Andy” Andrusia

Irving “Andy” Andrusia — A Union Man for 76 Years

Irving “Andy” Andrusia
Irving “Andy” Andrusia (right) and Local 161-710 President Ed Malaga at a Life Member Lunch back in 2016.

Irving “Andy” Andrusia of Local 161-710 (Washington, D.C.) may be a centenarian, but his life remains busy and filled with song. “I still work, I still drive—day and night—and I’m still connected to music,” he says. Hearing loss has made it a challenge to continue playing his string bass (“My fingers are fine, my mind is all here, but you have to understand, I stood next to drummers and ear-splitting amps for 70 years!”), but Andrusia stays on in the industry working in the front of the house at the 2,000-seat Music Center at Strathmore, just outside the Beltway in Bethesda, MD. As his 101st birthday approaches, Andrusia’s commitment to the union remains as strong as ever. He has been a union member since 1944.

“I like the benefits; I get vacation days and health benefits. My kids even get a $1,500 death benefit when I die, though that’ll be awhile” he says with a wry chuckle. “I’m a union man. I’ve always been a union man. My father was a union man, and I’m a union man,” affirms Andrusia, whose immigrant father was a skilled cabinetmaker and a member of his local carpenters’ union. Andrusia was the youngest of seven children and the only one born in the United States, after the Russian Jewish family made their new home in Washington, D.C.

Andrusia’s first brush with the music business came in kindergarten, where he was selected as conductor of his kindergarten band, he explains with a laugh, but things got more serious a few years later. After false starts on the violin and the tuba in elementary and junior high, he joined the high school Cadet Band. “They didn’t need a tuba, but the teacher said, ‘Hey, we have a string bass in the closet, want to give it a try?’ So I did!” Andrusia says. “And I went every day and I took string bass lessons with the teacher right there in that closet.”

Finally, Andrusia had found his instrument; and from there, it was off to the races. He formed bands with his friends and started booking gigs while they were still in high school. New York bandleader and composer/arranger Bob Sylvester saw them live in D.C. one night. “He said, ‘As soon as you graduate, I’ll take you on tour!’ So we graduated, joined the union, and went on a tour of the whole south: Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, the whole thing.” Six months later, homesickness brought Andrusia back to D.C., where he played night gigs while working as a machinist in the Navy Yard. “And then December 7th, [1941] happened,” he says. Andrusia, because he was a skilled machinist making necessary equipment, avoided the draft and continued to work (and play music) throughout World War II at home in the nation’s capital.

After the war, things heated up professionally for Andrusia, whose flexibility and love for all genres of music kept him performing nearly every night of the week. He considers himself a proud journeyman, happy to take work as it came. “I played weddings, bar mitzvahs, but also theaters and vaudeville,” he says. He eventually landed longer-standing gigs with jazz pianist and songwriter Dardanelle Hadley and, later, big band leader Horace Heidt. Heidt brought Andrusia to Los Angeles, where he spent half a decade working the show business band circuit. He played the openings of both the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel and “if you can believe it, a little place called Disneyland!” before eventually marrying and returning to D.C. Back home, he took a day job as a mechanical engineer at a defense contracting firm, still playing music several nights a week.

Living in the nation’s capital has its advantages for a musician, especially a high-demand bass player in the big band and pops scene. “I played every inauguration from FDR through Reagan,” he says. “I played at the White House, oh, five or six times.” But he also played every small club in town, and credits his union membership with making that possible. “They saved and recovered a lot of money for me over the years,” he says. “Whenever we’d have a contract and the owner would try to tilt the scale a little, [our union] would make sure we’d get what we were owed.”

Having watched (and participated in) the arc of organizing over the past 85 years as a union member has given Andrusia unique insight into the labor movement. “A lot of it has died down over the years. But I always look and I say to myself, all these complaints, all these grievances that workers have these days, why aren’t they organizing?” he says. But he has hope because he sees interest rising again. “Historically, unions are the only way that the middle class and the lower class get any leverage against the bosses, and I think young people are beginning to realize that again,” Andrusia says. “Unions are important!”

guy yehuda

Helping the Music Shine Through: Guy Yehuda Believes Flexibility Leads to Success

guy yehuda

“Versatile” is an often-used buzzword these days when describing working musicians, but it’s rare to find a musician who truly incorporates every facet of the word in their daily life. For clarinetist Guy Yehuda of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI), versatility isn’t just a buzzword—it’s how he stays fresh and competitive in today’s heavily commercialized music world.

Between teaching, solo and orchestral performing, giving clinics, and playing chamber music, Yehuda seems to wear a daunting number of hats. Currently principal clarinet in the Lansing (MI) Symphony, he is a frequent recitalist in North America and Europe. He is also an active clinician and recording artist, and has given master classes throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Israel. Yehuda is an associate professor and teaching artist at Michigan State University (MSU), and—as if all that wasn’t enough—he is also a published composer.

He attributes the astonishing variety of the work to his success. “I love it all,” Yehuda says. “When I play Mahler or Shostakovich in the orchestra, the thrill is as transcending as when I play a Brahms quintet. It’s vital to learn flexibility and figure out how to change the music in your own playing.”

Adaptability was a lesson Yehuda learned as a young boy in Israel. His father first turned him onto the clarinet after hearing a famous klezmer player on television. Yehuda started clarinet at age 12 and quickly took to it, adding it to a long list of things he was already doing well, including painting and drawing, which he had been gearing himself toward as a career. “I was in an arts school,” he recalls. “But music started to take over. I was practicing, performing, and winning accolades. Things started to pave their own way.” Yehuda says it quickly became evident that the clarinet would be his path.  

Yehuda’s switch to music ultimately led him to being the top prizewinner in several international competitions, including the 2003 Heida Hermanns International Woodwind Competition and the 2004 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition with Trio di Colore, of which he is a founding member. While working on a bachelor’s degree, he made his North American concerto debut with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, going on to receive a master’s degree, doctorate, and performer’s certificate from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. He joined the Lansing Symphony in 2013 and became a member of the Lansing AFM local that year. “Strength in numbers is crucial,” he believes. “There are many forces in the commercial world not always favorable to musicians. The union makes sure we have a voice in that world.”

Success along the way has taught Yehuda the importance of giving back. “I’m a performer at the core,” he says, “but from a young age I understood the obligation of continuing the line of communicating learning from one generation to another. I received such valuable knowledge, how could I keep that to myself?” It’s not surprising that Yehuda took on his first clarinet students at 17 in his hometown in Israel. “They were 14,” he recalls, “and I think they could relate to me because I was not much older. If I could do it, they could, too.” Those first students led to a career-long emphasis on music education. Yehuda has a robust studio at MSU, and he says taking care of his students involves balance: “Aside from the Lansing Symphony, the bulk of my traveling for performances is in the summer. I learn so much from my students. When they figure something out, I discover something as well. It’s similar to the collaboration between myself, audience, and composer. It’s always about communication.”

At the core of Yehuda’s teaching philosophy is, of course, flexibility. “It’s crucial to learn how to adapt your playing whether you’re in an orchestra or a chamber group,” he says. “Successful musicians are those who can shift on a dime. Doing one thing may have been the norm 50 years ago, but the music industry is different now. That old career path of doing one job doesn’t exist for most people, and students need to learn how to be eclectic.”

That flexibility applies equally outside the music world. “I have three young kids, and they take time outside of practicing and teaching.” Yehuda is also an avid motorcyclist. “You can’t be a great musician if you don’t live, because music reflects life,” he says. “Otherwise you’re just pretending to portray life. I encourage my students to find hobbies. And they always find parallels anyway, just like I do. The music always finds a way to shine through.”

Tools of the Trade
Guy Yehuda is a Selmer-Paris and Vandoren international performing artist and serves as an artist instrumental adviser for both companies. With Selmer-Paris, he has developed the new Privilege II clarinet.

natalie macmaster

Canadian Celtic Fiddler Natalie MacMaster Plays True to Her Roots

natalie macmaster

Natalie MacMaster Never Expected to Have a Career in Music

Artists and writers are taught that their work often has more truth when they create by using what they know. Acclaimed Canadian Celtic fiddler and step dancer Natalie MacMaster of Local 355 (Cape Breton, NS) has proven that truism and made it a way of life, writing and performing music in her native Cape Breton style.

“The music of Cape Breton is flavorful and natural,” says MacMaster, a Nova Scotian who took up the fiddle at the age of nine and released her first independent album at 16. “It hasn’t become overly refined or lost its endearing character. It’s special nowadays to have something that lasts like this.” She adds that Celtic fiddling isn’t really a classically disciplined way to play. “It’s a true hand-me-down tradition, a ‘gosh I love it so much I want to do it’ kind of music.”

The rocky Cape Breton Island coastline must have been a forbidding place for the early Scottish immigrants, who brought their distinctive uplifting style of fiddling, step-dancing, and square dancing with them to North America. Indeed, a square dance was where the nine-year-old MacMaster made her first public performance. Surprisingly, she never intended to do music for a living. “I sort of morphed into it,” she says. “I loved making music and took to it like it was meant to be, but I certainly didn’t expect to have this kind of career.”

During her formative years, MacMaster says Celtic music was mostly a niche genre with nobody to look to as an example of making a living out of playing the fiddle. “All the fiddlers in my world had jobs and played on the side. So I went to a teachers’ college and got a degree in education. I continued performing, motivated by the game in my head that I loved this music but knew I’d have to work hard to make a living at it.” Fortunately, tastes changed, and people became more open to Celtic music—and especially the fiddle. MacMaster signed her first record contract in 1995 at the age of 23. “Being in the music industry opened up another world,” she recalls. “It brought extra motivation and opportunities to broaden my creativity.”

This creative expansion has included collaborations over the years with artists as disparate as cellist Yo-Yo Ma of Local 802 (New York City), Carlos Santana of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), bluegrass star Alison Kraus of Local 257 (Nashville), and the Eagles’ Don Henley of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth). “I love studio work. I could eat and drink creativity and arrangements,” she says. Through it all, MacMaster has kept doggedly true to her roots—for example, adding flamenco guitar and percussion to a highland reel. And regardless of who she’s worked with, her music has always retained that infectious, barely contained wildness typical of Cape Breton fiddling.

Currently up to 15 albums, MacMaster has received multiple Juno and East Coast Music Association awards, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2006. She got married at 30 to fellow fiddler and current duo partner Donnell Leahy, and the two have raised seven kids—who have also grown to take an active role in their parents’ music. That’s not surprising when you consider the whole family tours together. 

Asked how she copes with that, MacMaster laughs: “We realized early on that being on the road without the kids was harder than touring with them. And we have a lot of helpers.” She adds that all seven now have fiddles. “We taught them tunes, and they took to it.” As it turns out, they are all musical, and play in shows on tour. “The older ones are showing signs of considering music as a career. I can see their potential, and their curiosity is growing,” she says.

Though she never taught a day of public school, MacMaster does use her degree, homeschooling the family on the road. The kids, in turn, have taught their parents to embrace technology. MacMaster says she treasures her iPhone for its documenting capability, for example taking a photo of a snippet of a tune dashed off on an airport restaurant napkin.

An equally important early embrace was union membership. MacMaster has been an AFM member since 1991. “Joining the union was simply intuitive,” she says. “It was a way to enter into the music industry with a clear sense of how things are done. Before that, everyone around me was half in the industry, half not. Joining made sense because the AFM shows the way.” She’s happy to have the union play a vital role in her career. “It’s something reliable; I know it’s always there, and it always has my back.”

felicia foland

St. Louis Symphony Bassoonist Felicia Foland: Music – and the Labor Movement – Are Both About Cooperation

By Megan Romer, Contributing Writer

Felicia Foland was just 16 when she became a member of Local 2-197 (St. Louis, MO). An alumna of public school music programs and the then-nascent St. Louis Youth Symphony Orchestra, the teenaged Foland was encouraged by her teacher to learn the ropes of auditioning by doing as many auditions as possible. Because young artists were only admitted to the union following an audition, it was a rare opportunity for her to gain audition experience. “I had to go play for the president of the union, but it doubled as a practice audition,” explains Foland, who has now played bassoon in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra for nearly 30 years.

Foland did not grow up in a specifically musical family, but she recalls with a laugh that her parents were adamant that all of their children “learn to read music and learn to swim.” After a few false starts throughout the woodwinds, Foland settled on the bassoon, went on to graduate from Eastman School of Music and Northwestern University, then found her way back to St. Louis. In addition to occupying the second bassoon chair in the orchestra, she is an enthusiastic instructor in the orchestra’s youth program—which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year—teaching both group classes and working one-to-one as a mentor for young bassoonists and woodwind players.

Offering both somewhere to land and somewhere to spring from, the youth orchestra experience is crucial to the classical music landscape, says Foland. “Having a classical music destination for young people is just super-important,” she emphasizes. And it’s this belief that leads her not only to work as an instructor, but also to volunteer as a fundraiser and community advocate. “I’m not at all shy about fundraising,” she says. “I totally believe in well-funded arts programs, and that belief makes it much easier to ask.”

felicia foland

In addition to advocating for the SLYSO, Foland is a tireless and outspoken advocate for public school music education. “Left to the school district without arts advocacy, music programs just get slashed and burned,” she says. “You see it over and over again. And I, like most of us in my field, am really concerned about that and will fight it every chance I get.”

The academic benefits of a good music education program are well-documented—music education increases test scores across subjects with notable increases in spatial-temporal reasoning—and few would argue against the aesthetic and cultural benefits of studying the arts. Foland, however, reminds us that teaching children to play music gives them an additional crucial skill, perhaps more important now than ever: cooperation.

“Of course, our field can be competitive, but at its heart music is about cooperation,” she says. “Making music is about coming together, about working together to create something greater.”

Foland saw the real-world need for cooperation first-hand in 2018, when Missouri lawmakers floated a right-to-work law in the state. Prop A, put forth as a ballot measure for direct voting by the people of Missouri, would have banned compulsory union fees, thus largely kneecapping the labor movement in the state. “The unions, especially the AFL-CIO and the IBEW Local 1 [the first electrical union in the United States] really hit the road: They held sessions around the state to teach people how to communicate as union members, how to fight for our right to organize, and to explain the need for fees and how to fight for our right to keep them,” she says. “I studied at a couple of sessions and then hit the road with them.”

With everyone from building tradespeople to public school employees to symphonic musicians working side-by-side, labor’s victory was overwhelming. “Sixty-seven percent of people in rural areas and 90% in urban areas [voted no],” says Foland, with obvious pride. “What I learned in those sessions and in doing that work is the power of partnering with other unions and organizations. And most people get it. You knock on someone’s door or they stop when you’re petitioning, they understand it: right-to-work means a race to the bottom.”

Foland is an unabashed advocate not just for labor movements in general, but for her specific union. The stability that union membership offers gives her the ability to engage in philanthropic work and other artistic explorations that may not pay the bills. “I think people don’t always realize what a gift the security of union jobs can be,” she says. “But I also don’t think there’s enough education about what unions actually do, especially for people who work in industries that are typically not unionized.”

Negative feelings about unions, Foland finds, often come from misinformation about how unions are structured and even what their purpose is. “What I learned over the years is that unions are not just one thing, and people have this idea that if you join a union it’s like every other union. It’s not. It’s a collective, and the collective agrees about how the collective is governed. It’s one of the joys of self-governance, the ability to choose and pick!”

jack ashford

For Jack Ashford and His Funk Brothers, Jazz Roots Ran Deep

While gigging around Boston in the late 1950s trying to establish himself as a jazz player, vibraphonist Jack Ashford met music producer Harvey Fuqua and his future brother-in-law Marvin Gaye. “Harvey asked me, ‘You know who Marvin Gaye is?’ I said, ‘Nah, never heard of him. If they don’t play jazz, I don’t know ’em.’ I was cocky. Everybody wanted to be like Miles Davis. Marvin said he was starting a band and would I like to come to Detroit.”

Months later, Ashford of Local 368 (Reno, NV) arrived at Motown Studios during a session for a teenager named Stevie Wonder. The studio, which was in the basement of record producer Berry Gordy’s home, was jammed, Ashford recalls. “It was full of people—mobbed. I saw Marvin [Gaye] back there; he waved at me. I saw James Jamerson and Earl Van Dyke. I recognized Earl, an organ player, through the circuit, in Camden, in Atlantic City, and New Jersey,” he says. “I was looking at the Funk Brothers and I didn’t even know it.”

Though largely unknown session musicians during the Motown era, the Funk Brothers were no ordinary sidemen but elite jazz musicians and seasoned blues players. Tapping into their formal training, they created dazzling rhythms on hundreds of records. From 1958 to 1972, they cut seven days a week and played on more No. 1 hits than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and Elvis.

The award-winning 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown shows just how integral the Funk Brothers were to Motown’s success. The band was often presented with only a few chords and the musicians did the rest, creating hooks and grooves, and sophisticated melodies. Motown music was nurtured by their virtuosity and their roots in jazz clubs, where they got their start, and where they would return.

jack ashford

In the Funk Brothers, Ashford found his soulmates. Studio work supplemented their love of jazz. They would play outside dates at clubs around Detroit, including the Twenty Grand and the Chit Chat. Like the rest of the band members, Ashford considered himself a working jazz musician with little interest in pop and R&B. But, he says, “I knew we were making history.”

“They used to take the Record World and Billboard charts and post them on the community board. We would have six and seven records on the charts. Everybody else had one,” he says.

On his 1971 classic What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye made good use of the band’s jazz talent, and he was the first one to credit the musicians on a record. “But Marvin was a renegade—and a jazz musician himself,” Ashford says. “He proved that with ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Trouble Man.’”

In the 1950s, Ashford’s hometown of Philadelphia was fertile ground for jazz, with no shortage of great players: Red Garland, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Smith, and Philly “Joe” Jones. Fans crammed jazz clubs and music education was affordable. Ashford attended Granoff School of Music, whose distinguished alumni included John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie.

At a live theater intermission show, Ashford saw Lionel Hampton. Ashford, who often describes his musical growth as a series of divine episodes, says, “The curtain opened up and there was a set of gold vibes. It was like the Arc of the Covenant sitting up on stage. Lionel Hampton came out and started playing. I was transfixed.” Ashford credits his uncle Gordon “Bass” Ashford for cultivating his interest in jazz and in the vibes.

Ashford’s brother signed for his first Wurlitzer, a model 513 T traveler. “I got those vibes and I started practicing,” he says.

He was exposed to Philly’s greatest musicians, including the famous Heath Brothers who lived in the neighborhood. He says, “I’m going to music school, I’m studying, I’m practicing. The guys, when they would be playing touch football on the street, I’m … up in the bedroom with my vibes by the window, practicing scales.”

Ashford started gigging with his Uncle “Bass.” Before long, he was playing clubs on the circuit with hard bop organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith and guitarist Eddie McFadden. One night in Boston, bandleader Charles Harris presented Ashford with a tambourine he found in a pawn shop. Ashford remembers Harris saying, “When you’re not soloing or playing a melody on the song, pick up the tambourine.”

On Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” which Ashford always played on vibes, he grudgingly picked up the tambourine. “I don’t know what happened, but the rhythm just seemed to just go right on into my hands as I was playing,” he says. “I was looking at it like I was looking at somebody else playing it, and people stopped dancing because they’re not used to hearing a tambourine in a jazz band. They started crowding around the stage. By the time that show was over that night, man, the owner came and extended our stay.”

Ashford’s music studies paid off. In Detroit, he says, “All these cats could read and play. Oh man, they were big.” Joe Messina (the only other surviving Funk Brother) was in great demand for his fluent guitar lines; experimental bassist James Jamerson is widely regarded as one of the most influential players in music history; Robert White was famous for his guitar hooks. Some, like pianists Johnny Griffith, Joe Hunter, and Earl Van Dyke, had classical influences and held dual degrees. 

Ashford was guesting on vibes one night at the Chit Chat with some of the Funk Brothers, when Jamerson casually announced to a packed house after an AFM Local 5-sponsored live show that the vibraphonist Jack Ashford was officially hired as a member of the Funk Brothers. As Ashford says, “the rest is history.”

He brought a varied repertoire of instruments to hits like Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby, Baby” (vibes), Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (bells), and The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” (marimba). 

Ashford helped launch the Detroit soul imprint Pied Piper in the mid-’60s. When it closed, he opened his own production company called Just Productions. In 1972, Berry Gordy abruptly moved Motown to Los Angeles, shuttering Detroit headquarters—and with it the dissolution of the Funk Brothers.

Band members followed, but were never booked together again. In 1978, the Funk Brothers reunited to record a film score written by Ashford and arranged by guitarist Robert White. James Jamerson played bass, Earl Van Dyke was on piano, Eddie Bongo was on congas, with Ashford presiding over vibes and percussion. “That’s the last time these guys played together, since Motown. And the last time Jamerson recorded,” he says.

“The hits we did were hits forever because it was the time for that sound. It’s not the notes, it’s the sound that these guys got when we played together.” In the intervening years, there have been musicians who lay claim to the title, but Ashford is quick to point out that there were only ever 12 original Funk Brothers.

Still playing at 85, Ashford draws on those glory days of Detroit and the Funk Brothers to generate rare and in-demand soul music.

He’s won two Grammy Awards and has several gold records to his credit. Known as the “tambourine man,” Ashford has spent the last decade working with producer and Oscar winner T-Bone Burnett of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and performing with artists like Elton John of Local 47. In 2013, he and his Funk Brothers received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

holly hofmann

A New Standard: Holly Hofmann Takes Flute to the Front-line of Jazz

holly hofmann

Holly Hofmann is the rarest of musicians: A flutist who has made a successful career as a jazz player. Considered one of the most influential artists on jazz flute, Hofmann, of Local 325 (San Diego, CA), capitalizes on the instrument’s versatile palette to produce a convincing hard bop sound. In her hands, the flute is a front-line instrument.

Hofmann laughs when she says, “It’s become kind of a joke when I see clarinetist Ken Peplowski on the road … we always just say, ‘Oh, man, are you still playing that classical instrument?’”

Tutored by her jazz guitarist father Nelson Hofmann, the Great American Songbook was her entrée to jazz. Hofmann says, “We played every night after dinner. I would listen to a song and embellish the melody. Then, we’d put these little solos together and pretty soon I was improvising.”

At 11 years old, she bought her first jazz recording, We Get Requests, by the Oscar Peterson Trio, with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. “Dizzy Gillespie once told me I sounded like a trumpet player,” Hofmann says. “I didn’t have any flute recordings growing up. My dad was a Big Band devotee and there were no flute recordings to speak of. [Besides] Herbie Mann and Paul Horn, there was really nothing for me to listen to. So, I listened to all the soloists in the big band, which were trumpet players and saxophone players.”

Her parents insisted she complete her education in orchestral performance as a backup plan: “In case I couldn’t make a living as an artist, I could teach college,” she says. She attended Interlochen Arts Academy and by 15 she was studying with the Cleveland Orchestra’s Principal Flutist Maurice Sharp. She graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music and received a master’s degree in performance and education from the University of Northern Colorado.

A stint in New York City in the 1990s sitting in on jam sessions with Count Basie’s flute veteran Frank Wess and trombone great Slide Hampton fortified her love of jazz flute. It was there that she also got one of her first big breaks. Lorraine Gordon of the Village Vanguard offered her a six-night headlining gig, a show Hofmann did for three years with a trio of heavyweights: bassist Ray Brown, pianist Kenny Barron of Local 802 (New York City), and drummer Victor Lewis. At the time, Hofmann was the only jazz flute player the venue had presented and one of the only female instrumentalists.

In fact, Brown invited Hofmann to tour the US and Europe with his trio. “Talk about a lifelong dream!” Hofmann says. “Instead of taking tenor and trumpet and vocal, which is what everybody wanted, he brought Regina Carter on violin and me on flute. [Brown] was an incredible supporter. He didn’t have a mind full of those stereotypes, because he was an innovator himself.”

In the mid ’90s, Holly Hofmann also began performing nationally with pianist Bill Cunliffe of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), a partnership that led to several recordings, including her acclaimed Holly Hofmann Quartet Live at Birdland, featuring Brown and Lewis. To date, she has 13 recordings as a leader.

The long-held bias that the flute is ill-suited to the jazz idiom has been a common theme in Hofmann’s career, starting in junior high school. “They didn’t want me in the jazz ensemble because flute didn’t belong—and I was a girl,” she says.

Hofmann was subjected to the double stigma of a woman playing flute in jazz—as if both were incapable of competing with male-dominated brass and reeds. She was “the wrong age, the wrong sex, the wrong instrument.” Hofmann has made it her mission to change this perception, saying, “I want [people] to hear the flute in a context where they’re not expecting it: full on as a horn, a typical jazz horn.”

Hofmann joined the union in 1988, before recording her first CD, Take Note. “In those years [joining the union] was a sign of being serious about your craft, and you were in a pool with a lot of other people, both classical and jazz, who were serious about their craft,” she says. “I’ve been a lifelong member because there are opportunities you have with the union membership that you wouldn’t necessarily have [otherwise]. I chose festivals and opportunities as a young player that paid work dues because that meant a contract got filed. As a young player, I wouldn’t have been able to ameliorate any bad situation without the union.”

Pianist Mike Wofford (music director for both Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald) of Local 325 appeared on Hofmann’s first two recordings. They collaborated for a decade and eventually married. Like Ray Brown, Wofford had a significant impact on her career. “Having played with every jazz musician you can think of—he really is the biggest influence. I learned so much from him about harmony and voice leading and progressions,” Hofmann says.

The duo toured in various quartet settings, with Brown, Lewis, Peter Washington, and Ben Riley. From 2000 to 2004, they toured and recorded with Flutology, an all-star sextet featuring Wess, Lewis, and fellow flutist Ali Ryerson.

Soon Hofmann and Wofford will be traveling in New Zealand, as they do every few years. “It’s different there than even the western European countries we’ve played. There, people don’t really know your name … but they come anyway because they like the music and they don’t get as many opportunities to hear great jazz artists,” she says.

As a woman in jazz and a front-line artist who years ago had been told she would never make it as a jazz player, Holly Hofmann is acutely aware of expectations, both as a performer and as a role model. “People ask me, ‘Has it gotten better?’ I say ‘Yes, it’s gotten better, but it’s not the same. The stereotype is still there.’ They wonder if women can swing. They wonder, especially, how a woman flute player is going to play.”

It’s not an even playing field, but women are beginning to make their mark and, Hofmann says, “I will have contributed to that change.”

thomas kluge

A New Kind of Gig: Thomas Kluge Talks Best Practices

A new website, increased communication, and improved outreach efforts have helped Omaha, Nebraska musicians strengthen their local union and garner new members. Local 70-558 President Thomas Kluge, who initiated the changes, loves his job as a symphonic violist and his musical community—which is ironic, since, as a young student he was told by a violin teacher not to pursue music as a career.

A native of Milwaukee, a big union town, Kluge says he was encouraged to join the AFM at 17 years old. He had begun taking violin lessons at home with his father at five years old. Later, he studied with a local violinist, who was also a lawyer—who did his best to discourage his young student from pursuing music. Kluge says, “The funny thing is, here I am now, a professional musician and the president of the local union, and for the six years that I took lessons with him, he said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go into music. You need to practice really hard, more than other people, but don’t go into music!’”

Kluge did go into music. At 19, he began studying in Switzerland with the distinguished violinist Max Rostal. He earned a diploma in violin pedagogy and viola performance and pedagogy from the Bern Conservatory and the School for Music and Theatre. He then studied viola in Germany with leading chamber musician Hermann Voss, a founding member of the famous Melos Quartet. Kluge is now principal violist for the Omaha Symphony Orchestra and for four years has been president of the Omaha Musician’s Association.

In New York, after four years abroad, he continued to study viola under the New York Philharmonic Principal Violist Leonard Davis, whom Kluge credits for helping to make his transition from violinist to violist. He eventually earned a master’s in performance from the Manhattan School of Music. On Davis’s recommendation, Thomas Kluge became a substitute in the viola section of the New York Philharmonic. The experience proved invaluable on many levels. At the time, there were people who still had connections to Leonard Bernstein, even some to the “Maestro” himself, Toscanini. It was also Kluge’s true introduction to the union. “I had been a member in Milwaukee—I played with professionals in Europe—but in New York there was a stronger presence of the union. I started to realize how important it was.”

thomas kluge

In 1991, Kluge moved to Omaha for a position with the symphony. In the 1980s, there had been a union strike and the people who weathered the strike were still active and representing the orchestra. They were veterans of the symphony and of the union, Kluge explains, and ready to pass the baton. Kluge, who for a few years had taken on the role of spokesperson for the musicians, was elected to the orchestra committee. Slowly, he began ramping up his engagement on other union boards—the conflict committees, the contract negotiating committees, artistic advisor committees, and as a liaison to management.

It was almost like a generational shift, Kluge says, “Where the union came a-calling.” During one of the first strategy sessions about member recruitment, the same issue kept cropping up—how to attract new members. The local began by creating a website—an online presence that promoted members and the union and made it easy for the public to access musicians. Called The Omahamusic.com Advantage, the site now boasts more than 400 bands and musicians and hundreds of musical events each year.

Thomas Kluge says visitors can shop around in one place, and members report they have gotten more work this way. For some, it’s been more of a boon to their business than their own websites. “It’s has been great for driving traffic directly to our members,” he says. “People searching for any type of music—whether it’s for a wedding or a corporate cocktail reception—as long as they search Omaha they will be directed to our site. From there, they’re linked to specific music, and to a band’s or musician’s professional profile and photos.”

Another action, brokered by Dan Cerveny (a keyboardist) and Secretary of the Omaha Musicians’ Association, was the renegotiation with the Omaha Performing Arts on the scale for traveling Broadway shows. The agreement (now entering its sixth on extension) was codified five years ago on a “Midwestern handshake,” says Cerveny. “It was formalized and updated to make it comparable to venues of Omaha’s size.” On a very local level, when an individual musician was stiffed out of a gig and the venue canceled his hotel room, Cerveny took care of that too, Kluge says, “the old-fashioned union way.” Not only did Cerveny step in, but he worked with the Omaha Federation of Labor and the musician was compensated. Kluge adds, “We have also gotten people money for new equipment when it was damaged at gigs.”

Thomas Kluge says it’s important to get the word out to young players. “Many don’t realize they can get their equipment and instruments insured. They don’t realize that if they are members they can go down to the union office and get a hard copy of a paper contract or download one. You basically get things guaranteed and our union will support you if anything goes wrong.”

For Kluge, it does not always come down to a board meeting at the union hall. On his nights off, he tries to make appearances at as many gigs as possible. An important part of being a union official, he says, is getting out into the community to hear other bands and concerts, fully engaging with the local music scene and other musicians. “I think it would serve musicians well if we shared some experiences. For instance, jazz players should get to know classical players. We like to say there’s strength in a union, but I think it can get a lot stronger if we navigate outside our group.”

When he makes the effort to go to gigs, players recognize Thomas Kluge not only as a musician in the symphony but as a local union president—who follows his own best advice. “I’ve got a night off, but really I don’t have a night off because I represent my colleagues and I need to be out there with them,” he says.

This summer—as he has done every summer for 18 years—Kluge performed at the Peninsula Music Festival. Now in its 67th season, the festival presents nine concerts over three weeks with musicians from the country’s best symphonies, making it home to the most exclusive chamber orchestra in the country. This fall, as he embarks on a new season at the symphony, he will be coaching and mentoring in programs offered through the Omaha Symphony and the Omaha Chamber Music Society (of which he is a founding member). Along with his union duties, Kluge also teaches privately. To those students—if they are serious about music—Kluge says, “Go into music and if you do, join our union.”

ford musicians awards

Community Outreach Is a Measure of Success for Principal Trombonist Donna Parkes

donna parkes
Donna Parkes of Local 11-637 (Louisville, KY) is one of five musicians who have received the Ford Musician Awards for Excellence in Community Service from the League of American Orchestras.

Donna Parkes has enjoyed a prodigious career, from performing at the Sydney Opera House at just 20 to competing around the world and playing in major orchestras across the US. Since 2008, the Local 11-637 (Louisville, KY) member, who hails from Canberra, Australia, has been principal trombone of the Louisville Orchestra. A strong advocate for music education, she is passionate about community engagement and outreach. For her work with hearing- and speech-impaired children at the Heuser Hearing and Language Academy, Parkes recently received a 2019 Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service.

Parkes vividly recalls her first day at the Heuser school, saying, “It was a sense of fulfillment that resonated on a very emotional level. It really had an impact on me. I remember just thinking what a privilege it is that I get to do this.”

The academy focuses on children from birth to kindergarten with hearing and/or vision impairment. Parkes says, “These children have a very different relationship with sound. Some of them have just received cochlear implants. They’re just starting to understand what sound is and what it means to them in their world.”

In her sessions with the students, Parkes makes the experience as tactile as possible—and the low brass instruments are powerful enough to deliver a palpable sound through touch. “They can hold onto the bell and feel the vibration. They can put their hands inside the bell and feel the airstream moving,” she says. “For me, it is without question, the most rewarding outreach work I’ve ever gotten to do because you’re sharing this journey with these kids. It’s all so new and so exciting. It just gives them a much fuller grasp of what sound is and how they can appreciate it.” 

In the Making Music series Louisville Orchestra chamber groups visit fourth and fifth grade classes in Jefferson County to give students one-on-one time with musicians. She and other orchestra members also play at homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and memory care facilities.

“We owe it to our community to play a larger role,” she says. “Those performances are some of the most meaningful. Some kids have never seen a live musician. It’s all digital. Music is not a given here for kids.”

Parkes tells the story of going into a public school and meeting a child who remembered her from a previous event at an outreach at a shelter. “I met this little guy and he came up to me when we played in his elementary school and said, ‘I know you. You played “Star Wars.” It was awesome.’ He was so excited, and on so many levels it was meaningful because he [not only] remembered, which was great, but the fact that he was in a regular school indicated that he was in a stable home environment. Just that sense of ‘He can see me in a different place’ and we’re part of the same community. Those are the things that matter to me.”

For this reason, she is passionate about exposing music to children. She recalls her own vastly different experience back home in Canberra, which was more immersive. Parkes had access to a unique program at a completely brass-focused school and took up the trombone at age nine. By 12, she was enrolled in the Canberra School of Music on a scholarship studying with award-winning trombonist Michael Mulcahy of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), who now heads the trombone studio at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music in Chicago. Other teachers she studied under include world-class players Simone de Haan, Ian Perry, and Ron Prussing.

Parkes went on to win the Australian National Trombone Competition, the Brisbane International Brass Competition, and was a finalist in the Jeju Brass Competition in Korea. Parkes has performed with the London Symphony, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Singapore Symphony.

Though Australia’s music scene is rich, known particularly for its indie and alternative scene, it’s also isolated from most major markets. Like many Aussie brass players, Parkes decided to test the waters in the States. At DePaul University, she pursued a master’s degree under Charles Vernon of the Chicago Symphony. She even managed to get a lesson with tuba great Arnold Jacobs. “Sitting outside his office and just looking at the name on the door was surreal,” she says.

When she secured her first orchestra job with the Virginia Symphony, in 2000, Parkes joined the union. For an orchestral musician, she says that working conditions and safety are paramount, and the union has played a crucial role. “We have all the conditions that allow us to do our jobs to the best of our ability, in terms of just the simplest things, like rehearsal times and temperatures—which we take for granted. These policies would not exist if it wasn’t for the fact that we have a union contract.” She adds, “Agreements regarding pay and pension are certainly things that are fundamental to being a union member.”

At home, in the Louisville Orchestra, Parkes has found a sense of kinship. “The low brass section here is a great group of guys, and we are all very good friends. For me, part of the joy is how do we keep building musically on what we already have and how do we keep improving it and how do we challenge ourselves? You can do that with people you’ve known for a long time. You know how they’re going to play and how they’re going to respond. That’s a different level of satisfaction, I think—when you can really start to build on the history you have with the musicians around you.”

Abbie Conant, the doyenne of the brass world, who has paved the way for a new generation of musicians, has had a major impact on Parkes’ career. “She’s had many trials and tribulations,” says Parkes, referring to Conant’s epic battle in 1980 against gender discrimination in the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. “She’s been a huge inspiration for me just in terms of having a female role model who’s been extremely successful. She has been a wonderful, positive influence, not only as a musician but as a person—in terms of her ethics and her integrity.”

There is, in fact, a generation of young women playing brass that did not exist when Parkes was a young player. Carol Jantsch of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA), principal tuba of the Philadelphia Orchestra, is the first female tuba player of a major symphony orchestra. The versatile English trombonist Carol Jarvis is a mainstay on the freelance scene. “Now, we have models and we have players who can be there for younger musicians. It’s not out of the norm anymore, which is a great improvement.”

When their schedules permit, Parkes and her chamber music group Brass Hoppers play at venues around the country. The trio, which draws on an eclectic mix of classical music and jazz-inspired arrangements, includes trumpeter Mary Elizabeth Bowden and pianist Milana Strezeva.

Overall, Parkes aims for the lyrical artistry of old-school jazz greats Jack Teagarden and Tommy Dorsey. “They had this beautiful singing style of playing the instrument. Tommy Dorsey had the ability to just sing through the instrument. My goal on the instrument is for it to be very easy and very effortless. Then, of course, there are many orchestral greats—certainly, Michael [Mulcahy] is high on my list of greats who’ve inspired me.”

Twice a year, Parkes goes to Sitka, Alaska. In December, it’s a holiday concert which she’s taken part in for 10 years. Parkes returns in the summer, when she teaches at a fine arts camp. “It’s a very arts-focused community and they’re just the nicest, most genuine people—and they embrace you. I feel like I have a whole sense of community there.”

This summer, Parkes has taken the opportunity to return home to Australia, at the Queensland Conservatory to perform and teach. In December, she returns to Sitka for the annual holiday ensemble.

jesse kinch

Jesse Kinch: Bringing Rock Back to Its Glory Days

jesse kinch
Jesse Kinch of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) has performed and participated in charity events to support organizations such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, American Cancer Society, and Long Island Cares. He was also a headliner for the “Rock for Haiti” benefit concert. He recently participated in the GRAMMY U program, through which he visited college campuses and spoke to aspiring young musicians.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Jesse Kinch of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) may only be 25 years old, but he is already a seasoned musician. He started playing guitar at age six and began singing at 11. Throughout his teens, while still in school, he was also sharpening his skills and playing the clubs in New York City and on Long Island. “I discovered I had a real powerful, passionate voice that was influenced by all the great artists that came before me, all the classic rock that I grew up listening to,” he says. He was striving to break out of his hometown and find a bigger stage.

His chance arrived in 2014, at age 20, when he scored a spot as a contestant on the television show Rising Star—and won. He spent that entire summer performing live on stage every week—to a television audience of 5 million people—singing songs by artists who influenced him, such as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Credence Clearwater Revival, and The Who. His slow-tempo cover of Michael Jackson’s hit song “Billie Jean” in the semi-finals became the talk of social media. “The show just opened up so many doors for me, so many opportunities,” he says. He was finally able to expand beyond New York and perform in the rich music scenes of Nashville and Los Angeles.

Appearing on Rising Star had another major impact on Kinch’s life and career—it was there that he learned about and decided to join the AFM. “I had gotten the advice from many of the musicians I was meeting that were actually playing in the background on the show, behind the singers. They were all union members, and Ray Chew, the musical director, was a union member [of Local 802 (New York City)], and I began to understand what it actually meant to be part of the union,” Kinch says. “The union gives support to all musicians, whether they are struggling or whether they are more successful. It just gives everyone a voice and everybody a chance to be fairly paid and fairly treated by the music industry. And I began to understand their struggles—people who are a part of the union and trying to work paycheck by paycheck, with every show or every performance. … I’ve seen the struggles of so many older, talented musicians who have dedicated their life to music and many things the union provides is a godsend for them; it gives them some sense of security in their life.”

Not long after the show ended, Kinch saw one of the benefits of being a union member when he performed on the show Dancing with the Stars. He was asked to perform a two-song medley and, because he was union, he received a rehearsal fee and a performance fee. “That was what showed me how it works,” he says.

Within two years of winning Rising Star, Kinch scored a contract with Curb Records and recorded his first album, I’m Not Like Everybody Else. The album, on which Kinch was given complete artistic control, has nine original songs and four covers—including his version of “Billie Jean.” “It was a great experience doing what I love and creating what I thought was a perfect album,” he says. “I am just overall very, very proud of the work that was done in the studio to create an album that I love.”

Kinch may be a millennial, but his influences are more old school—and his artistry reflects that. He grew up with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, was fascinated by artists like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon, and fell in love with Curt Cobain and the ’90s grunge scene. “You had real singers back then, real musicians, real poetry; it was real, honest music. I feel that in this day and age … the quality of music has decayed,” he says. For Kinch, who is on a mission to revive rock’s glory days, it’s time to recover that honesty and poetry, that connection to the past. “I feel like I have it in me to bring something to the table that hasn’t been heard in many years,” he says.

As a songwriter, Kinch says he is finding new ideas and new inspirations as he gets older, travels more, faces ups and downs, and experiences life. He realizes that his outlook as a teenager was different than it is now as an adult.

“You just become more experienced musically— and I’m not just talking about writing the lyrics; I’m talking about music in terms of chord progressions and melodies. I think I’ve become more advanced, more mature in the way I approach writing,” he says. “I think I’ve become more open minded with my tastes. I listen to so many different things that span from the ’60s all the ways through the ’90s, from rock to beautiful ballads to classical crossover. There’s so much that I’m listening to now that I can infuse into my sounds. I guess it’s a different mentality both in terms of how I write music and how I approach it.”

This open-mindedness and devotion to meaningful artistry is how Kinch plans to continue his career as he moves forward. He already has his first overseas performances scheduled for the BlackThorn Music Festival in the UK in mid-July and potential bookings in South Africa, Japan, and Australia. He is scheduled to be part of the Woodstock Festival commemoration in Bethel, New York, this summer, and already has a second record deal signed. “I’m one of those people who thinks  more about the past and the future than about the present, and sometimes I don’t get to enjoy the present. So I’m really just going to enjoy what I have right now, while in the back of my head keeping in mind what I have to do for the future,” he says.

That’s really all any artist can do, he adds. To be successful, you have to be dedicated, avoid negativity and distractions, make the right connections, work hard, and be professional. “Whatever you do, you have to stay true to yourself … and stay focused on your craft,” he says. As he writes in his song “Preaching like the Pope”:

“No you’ll never own me I told you
I’m only gonna be true to myself
But you told me I don’t belong
Told me five million people
got it all wrong”

Kinch also believes that young musicians should join the union. “The industry is multilayered; it’s complicated and it’s not for the timid or the weak. You have to make sure when you’re a musician that you’re not getting screwed over and you’re not being taken advantage of because there are a lot of people out there who don’t care about your struggles,” he says. “So it’s important to join the union because it’s going to give you a voice; it’s going to give you power; it’s going to give you security; it’s going to make sure that you’re treated more fairly by the industry. It’s going to protect you from the vultures.”

To learn more about Jesse Kinch, visit his website at jessekinch.com.

john isley

Never “Movin’ Out”: John Isley is Home in New York City

john isley
Local 802 member and saxophonist John Isley has been a union member for 30 years. His jobs have spanned the industry, from working as a copyist on Broadway during graduate school to touring years later with the Broadway hit Movin’ Out.

New York City always felt like home to saxophonist and North Carolina native John Isley. From the time he stepped foot in the city, he knew he belonged there. It was the early 1980s, and he was standing in the middle of Times Square, back then only a seedy corridor. He admits it was scary for a kid from a small town in the South, but says, “You know, it just had such a vibe. I remember being terrified and at the same time standing there and just knowing in my soul that I had never belonged anyplace like I belonged there.”

Isley, of Local 802 (New York City), had heard stories about New York back in Greensboro from former teacher Neill Clegg, who inspired him. “He said to me, ‘If you want to become who you say you want to be, then you need to be someplace else. And that someplace else is New York.’”

Though he had auditioned for the Manhattan School of Music, finances delayed his admission to the conservatory. To make money, Isley, at 17 years old, went on the road as part of the horn section for an 11-piece, all-black, funk soul band. Looking back, he says, “It was a hell of an education.” The Fantastic Showmen performed throughout the southeast playing the Chitlin Circuit and the beach clubs from Florida through Georgia to South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. “[The band] really taught me the ropes, how to be a traveling, touring, working musician,” says Isley, adding, “There was no book, there were no charts. It was stand on stage and keep up, son!”

At times, the life lessons were ugly. “We were subject to abuse by law enforcement and other people, primarily because [my bandmates] were black. I witnessed it firsthand. I vividly remember thinking: ‘This is 1985, not 1955.’ There was still systemic racism and other-ism.”

After a year on the road, Isley returned to New York and was part of the first graduating class of the New School’s Jazz and Contemporary Music program. While pursuing a master’s degree at Queens College, he studied with renowned saxophonist Jimmy Heath of Local 802 and pianist Sir Roland Hanna.

“Everything I do is based in a jazz sensibility,” says Isley, who credits his first saxophone teacher, Scott Adair, for building his theoretical background in music and improvisation. “He was the first person that turned me on to actual jazz. I spent a lot of time studying Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley.”

Early in his career, Isley found himself mirroring his favorite artists, conjuring their style and technique. “I remember a friend of mine saying, ‘You know you’re not bad for a Michael Brecker clone in your price range.’” he says. “I started out being as emulative as I possibly could be. Now, anybody who hears me play, they might point to Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Lee Allen, or King Curtis, or Junior Walker.”

For the past 10 years, Isley has made his career about composing, playing, and performing what he hears and feels, a kind of abstract of all his influences. He channels his heroes in a way that allows his own artistry to shine. “It’s a conscious choice to try to find whatever my voice may be. I’m not saying that my voice is necessarily loud enough or valid enough to be in that pantheon of players. I’m just trying to figure out what music actually means to me at this point,” he says.

He calls himself a contemporary musician who loves jazz, and spends much of his time practicing it, but in his practical day-to-day life of musicmaking, Isley is an R&B soul and funk saxophone player. “That’s where my heart lies,” he says. “That’s who I am.”

In the early 1990s, Isley was making his way through graduate school as a copyist for Broadway and the American Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He joined the union to begin earning the benefits and to procure more union work, saying, “If it exists in the music business, I’ve probably worn the hat at some point.” This includes a stint in 1997 in which he and Asbury Jukes trumpeter Chris Anderson of Local 802 cofounded New York Horns, a horn section that offered online track delivery.  

After doing about a hundred shows, starting in 2003, as a sub on Broadway for the Tony Award-winning show Movin’ Out, Isley went on a national tour for the show for almost five years. He came back in early 2008, expecting to return to a robust career subbing on Broadway. Instead, he found it languishing in the aftermath of the financial crisis. “I was subbing on five different shows at the time. By January 4, 2009, every show I was working on closed. Everything I was doing, I mean, the bottom just drops right out of the business. I was gone for four and a half years. I went from working a lot to not working at all.”

In the course of the next eight or 10 months, Isley spent every dime he had saved from four years on the road—just surviving. He thought about giving up music entirely, and seriously considered going to culinary school, but wound up going to work for Apple as a creative trainer. He turned out to be a good teacher, honing skills he uses to this day.

A couple of years ago, John Lyon (also known as Southside Johnny) front man of the Asbury Jukes, asked Isley, its sax player, to arrange some Billie Holiday material for him. The final arrangement, conducted by Isley, called Detour Ahead: The Music of Billie Holiday, premiered at the Apollo Theater. It was a defining moment for him. Imagining the performers who graced the iconic stage, he felt overwhelmed. The project is highly representative of Isley’s lifework: bringing in elements of blues and soul, yet never straying far from Holiday’s—or his own—jazz roots.

As the baritone player for Diana Ross, Isley has traveled the world. In 2015, following a New Year’s Eve performance in Singapore, the band stopped in Japan to play the Budokan, an old sumo wrestling arena in Tokyo. He says, “There is a picture of the Japanese rising sun flag on the Budokan stage. I vividly remember walking out on that stage for soundcheck and looking up and there’s that rising sun flag hanging up there. And it was just a real spiritual moment.”

Two years ago, Isley rounded out his career with a teaching position in jazz arrangement and orchestration at Sarah Lawrence College, an effort he finds richly rewarding.

“The way I look at it, 25, 30 years from now, one of my students might be on a phone interview with someone and say, ‘Yeah, this guy had a profound impact on my life.’” Isley remembers his teacher and friend Neill Clegg. “None of what I have, none of who I am, none of what I do would exist without him at this point, because he was the reason I came to New York. He believed in me in a way that no one else, much less myself, did at that time. So, he really set all of this in motion.” Isley hopes he can be remembered the same way.