Tag Archives: professional musician

Gary Karr

Gary Karr: Life on the G String

Gary KarrGary Karr’s career as a double bass soloist was launched in 1962 by Leonard Bernstein, in a Young People’s Concert at Carnegie Hall, which was viewed on television by 7 million people. Gary Karr gained legendary status for his virtuosity and inimitable lyricism, infectious sense of humour, and pioneering spirit. In 1967, he founded the International Society of Bassists. The Local 247 (Victoria, BC) member continues to perform and record at age 75. Emotional, surprising, and entertaining, his story appeals to fans, musicians, music-lovers, and biography enthusiasts.

Gary Karr: Life on the G String, by Mary Rannie, Friesenpress,

Tommy Banks

Music Lost a Champion – Tommy Banks

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

Tommy Banks

Photo credit: Fred Katz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Linhardt

The Beauty of Variety: Christina Linhardt Covers the Artistic Gamut

Christina Linhardt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound. Words. People. The Intentional Practice of Alexander Laing

Alexander Laing thinks a lot about diversity, inclusion, and equity, especially in the context of the culture of orchestras and classical music. He’s spoken on the topic at symphonic conferences in the US and in the UK. Through a practice focused on sound, words, and people, the Phoenix Symphony principal clarinetist is hoping to be part of the solution to building symphonies that better reflect their communities.

Alexander Laing

The Leading Tone’s Yeti Records Project (photo cred: Ben Scolaro.)

When Laing began his career in Phoenix in 2002, he discovered a very welcoming community, incredible colleagues who inspire him, and 299 days a year of sunshine! Since then, the Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) member has performed around the city and become deeply involved in his community.


“In many ways we’re a typical mid-size American orchestra—hardworking, somewhat under resourced, with beautiful music making that just keeps getting better. Phoenix is a young city that’s more focused on reinvention than tradition. That’s influencing and supporting our explorations around how an orchestra serves and engages people,” he says.

“Over the years, I’ve been lucky to play a lot of great concerts—in concert halls, the ballet pit, and classrooms all over Phoenix,” he says. Among two that stand out were concerts led by James DePriest, and a concert celebrating the music of John Williams, hosted by Steven Spielberg and conducted by Williams [a member of Local 9-535 and 47]. “I think the whole band was trying to honor Williams and thank him with our playing. It felt amazing,” says Laing.

In February, he took part in the world premiere of Opera Philadelphia’s Cycles of My Being. This summer he will be on the faculty for the League of American Orchestra’s Essentials of Orchestra Management course in Los Angeles.

He’s also involved with the League of American Orchestra’s diversity forum, which was convened to address strategic priorities in diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s on the board of the Gateways Music Festival and Arizona School for the Arts. In 2015, Laing founded his own nonprofit The Leading Tone.

Laing says that all of his activities boil down to how he defines his practice. “For me, music is about sound, words, and people,” he says. “Sound speaks for itself—I try to make a great sound and play great. I’ve been intentional about my words and about trying to use those words to reveal and examine the operating systems in the art form and in the business. And, I’ve been intentional about the people I want to serve, engage with, and make central to my practice.”

At the end of 2017, Laing was recognized by Musical America as one of its Top 30 Professionals of the year. On March 21, he will receive a Sphinx Medal of Excellence and $50,000 career grant. The Sphinx Organization is dedicated to changing lives through the power of diversity in the arts. It awards the medal to extraordinary emerging classical artists of color who, early in their professional careers, demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and ongoing commitment to leadership.

“It’s exciting and genuinely humbling because there is a lot of really good work being done,” he says. “For them to shine this light on me is amazing. It has made an impact on my career and family in ways I can only be grateful for.”

A union member for almost 20 years, Laing first joined in the summer of 1998 when he had an opportunity to sub with Boston Symphony Orchestra for a Tanglewood concert when he was fresh out of graduate school.


Alexander Laing

“My real education in the role of the union in orchestras came when I got my job in Phoenix and became active, serving on committees and being engaged in that way. The union and my committee work have been a big part of my professional development, especially on the words and people front,” he says. “The AFM has done so much to professionalize music making, having practice space for this art form that offers an adult, professional, living wage drives this whole thing.”

The seeds of Laing’s community involvement go back to graduate school where he was introduced to the concept of community engaged music making. “Up until that point, I had a desire to connect to community and serve, but music was not a part of that. In fact, sometimes they were at odds with each other,” he says. “The idea of practicing this art form in engagement with community, not just as a one-way exchange, was exciting for me. It allowed me to imagine a whole new practice for myself in which music, blackness, coolness, youthfulness, and community were all intertwined.”

This led to The Leading Tone, a nonprofit that uses quality out-of-school music opportunities to help students learn to succeed. “You don’t necessarily touch a broad cross section playing concerts,” he says. “This is work I wanted to do to feel complete as an artist and connected to community.”

Laing says that Local 586 played a big role in helping him start a pilot program in the summer of 2015 where he created a bucket band with elementary students. The local donated space, put him in touch with someone who ran a youth development organization, and the program’s first teacher was a fellow union member.

Since its inception, the program has changed in ways that Laing could never have imagined. “Every year it’s been a different program,” he says. The current focus is The Yeti Records Project in which kids are making and recording their own music, using keyboards, microphones, and computers.

Laing recalls how music shaped him early on. “Learning to play an instrument gave me an identity at a time when many young people didn’t have one,” he says. “With the support of my first teacher, Charles Stier, I really started to organize my life around the clarinet, practicing, and competitions.”

In his senior year, he received a fellowship with the National Symphony in Washington, DC, then attended Northwestern University for clarinet performance. Midway through, he made the bold decision to withdraw for a year to spend time on what he calls a “clarinet retreat.” He went to the Sweelinck Conservatorium, Amsterdam, where he earned an artist’s diploma under George Peterson, principal clarinet Concertgebouw Orchestra.

“I felt like I needed to do something dramatic if I was going to get to the next level,” says Laing. “I put myself in a circumstance where the only focus was clarinet. It was a critical year for me. I rebuilt my technique and practiced a ridiculous number of hours.”

After graduating with a degree in clarinet performance from Northwestern, Laing entered the Manhattan School of Music in its Orchestral Performance Program, a unique curriculum that also looks at orchestras as working organizations.

When he began studying under then Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Principal Clarinet Ricardo Morales (now principal for The Philadelphia Orchestra and a member of Local 77), he says it was transformative.

“We were both in our mid to late 20s; it was the first time I had a teacher who was nonwhite,” says Laing. “It was the perfect situation for me—the closeness in age and cultural outlook, coupled with the most incredible clarinet playing I’d ever heard. I had my first lesson with him on Wednesday and was a better player by Friday.”


Alexander LaingToday, Laing is concerned about the lack of diversity in symphony orchestras as well as the culture of orchestras. In February, he moderated a panel at SphinxConnect, a conference of The Sphinx Organization. Explains Laing, “Sphinx convenes the field, holds a competition for black and Latino musicians, and puts together an orchestra, which I first played in about 10 years ago.”

Laing’s panel, “The orchestra as an inclusive institution?” relates to his work as co-chair of the League of American Orchestra’s Institutional Readiness Taskforce. “We are tasked with looking at orchestra cultures and seeing how our current culture helps or hinders our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and aspirations,” he says.

Other panelists were MET Second Trombone Weston Sprott of Local 802 (New York City), AFM Symphonic Services Division Director Rochelle Skolnick, Albany Symphony CEO Anna Kuwabara, and Laing’s brother, Justin Laing, who runs his own nonprofit arts organization, Hillombo.

Participants addressed orchestra culture from two perspectives. “Inside Looking In” examined the culture as stakeholders and “Outside Looking In” assessed orchestras as organizations within an ecosystem of other nonprofits in entertainment, education, and community dynamics.

“Orchestras have been talking about our lack of diversity for decades and not much has changed. I think we have to allow that there are bigger things standing in our way than just systems and talent development, like our values,” Laing says.

Often, he says, “We are taught to think of our art form as silent on issues of cultural affirmation. Talking about the ‘universality’ and ‘classicality’ of the art form leads us to start to believe that this music is outside the bounds of race, space, and time.”

Stories often relegated to the background are what form frameworks and systems. Laing says, “I think if we adopt different stories about what’s valuable about this music—ones that see it as more of a dialog than a monologue—then we would be able to see how we can make this music better.”

“There is also the question for institutions,” he continues. “Are we preservers and protectors of culture or are we culture makers? If we are makers, we need the different voices to make the best culture and respond to what is happening in our culture. What could it be like if there was more attention paid to the culture of orchestras as workplaces and artistic practice spaces? A lot of studies show that a diverse and inclusive team will outperform a homogeneous exclusive team.”

While Laing agrees that unequal access to instrumental instruction is also a problem, he doesn’t believe it’s the main challenge. “Having played in the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra and Sphinx and gone to school with a lot of people, I reject the idea that the talent is not out there in the underrepresented communities that we say we want and need in our orchestras. So the question becomes, do we really want this?”

Though difficult, changing the orchestra culture is possible. “People do amazing and impossible things in this business and we make them normal at some point,” he says. “The Tchaikovsky violin concerto was considered unplayable when it was first written, and now students play it.”

Laing says that the union has a role to play when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Certainly part of this will be working within our own union and conferences. We know as union members that change doesn’t always come from the corner office,” he says. “We can advocate for this ourselves—individually as bargaining units and collectively. We don’t have to wait for others to lead.”

He sees examples in what other unions are doing. The Chicago teacher’s union, for instance, is bargaining on issues for the students that go beyond teacher working conditions. “What would it look like for us to have a more outward focus? Could we advocate for equitable access to music instruction?” Laing says, “We absolutely should be raising our voices as musicians, as union members, and as members of this ecosystem and our communities.”

Beyond the stage, he says, “There are other ways we express our values with things we control—our boards, leadership, the music we play, the soloists and conductors we hire, and the way we contextualize ourselves and our music.”

“Artists are discovering ways and spaces to bring their whole selves to their work,” he says. “Ultimately, I think orchestras are going to have to recruit and compete for the artists they want, not just against other orchestras, but against affirming musical and human experiences that artists are creating for themselves in chamber and popular music.”

“Ultimately, I hope that orchestras will become more reflective of their communities because they want to make better music and better musical experiences for people,” says Laing.

To Mongolia, with Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Piano Man Mike Renzi Creates Colorful Orchestration


Pianist Mike Renzi of Local 802 (New York City) was just 12 years old when he joined the AFM and began his professional career.

Pianist, arranger, and musical director Mike Renzi of Local 198-457 (Providence, RI) and Local 802 (New York City) joined the union as a youngster. Recognizing the young Renzi’s abundant talent, his piano teacher booked him to play at the Narragansett Hotel. “Every Saturday night, they had dining and dancing. It was a six-piece group with three horns and three rhythm players. My piano teacher put me there with a big fat book—but I’d already been memorizing songs. I was so young, in fact, people would dance by and ask, ‘How old are you?’” he recalls.

When he heard jazz, he explains, “It was like a magnet. My parents had great jazz records. I loved the harmonies and songs. I wanted to learn to play this kind of music, and that’s what I did. I started doing that when I was eight or nine and did my first job when I was 12.”

Renzi went on to win seven Emmy awards for musical direction and composition, both for his work on Sesame Street and the long-running soap opera, One Life to Live. Now semi-retired, Renzi divides his time between Newport, Rhode Island, and Florida, but still performs with longtime friends and colleagues, including accompanying singer Marlene VerPlanck in New York City; gigs at Birdland; an Irving Berlin tribute at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center; dedication of a new Tony Bennett-Frank Sinatra Studio in Queens; and performing with Michael Feinstein and the Kravis Center Pops Orchestra Big Band in Palm Beach.

Throughout a career that’s stretched nearly 60 years, Renzi has worked with a panoply of stars—among them: Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Ben Webster, Julius La Rosa, Gerry Mulligan, Mark Murphy, and Local 802 members Houston Person and John Pizzarelli. He played with Lena Horne on Broadway in Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, later joining her at Carnegie Hall and recording the CD, An Evening with Lena Horne: Live at the Supper Club in the late 1980s.

He was a studio pianist on the films The Birdcage, Everybody Says I Love You, Broadway Danny Rose, and Biloxi Blues. Then he was called to play a session for the soap opera Ryan’s Hope. “The music supervisor needed a couple of extra cues, which I composed on the spot. Before I knew it, I was writing music for the soaps, from the 1980s until 1990s,” says Renzi.    

Eventually, he was tapped by Sesame Street as a big band arranger. “The script writers would say, ‘This is my song about a veterinarian, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Fur,’ and I want it to sound like ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.’” He arranged songs to zydeco, disco, and funk.

“I kept that gig for 12 years,” Renzi says. “It changes you financially. Two recording sessions a week adds to a union pension.” He notes that the entire band on the show was contracted through Local 802, including Glenn Drewes, Wally Kane, Steve Bargonetti, Ben Brown, and Ricky Martinez.

Before graduating from the Boston Conservatory of Music and Berklee College of Music in 1974, he played professionally with local and visiting artists. Following an engagement with Sylvia Syms, he was recruited to work with Mel Tormé, a partnership that would last nearly 25 years.

Trained classically from the time he was a child, Renzi says, “When I practice, I don’t play jazz, or show tunes. I play Bach fugues, Chopin waltzes, or a Beethoven sonata. I keep my hands in shape that way.”

Renzi owes his musical genius to those who came before him. He says he learned by listening to great pianists—Sergei Rachmaninoff, Earl Wild, Dave McKenna (who hailed from his hometown), Dick Hyman of Local 802, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Tommy Flanagan, Red Garland, Bud Powell, and Monty Alexander. He’s a big fan of Local 802 members Bill Charlap, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock.

Having developed his own hard bop style, Renzi became a much sought-after arranger over many years, establishing rapport with some of the greatest jazz soloists: Cynthia Crane, Freddy Cole, Blossom Dearie, Jack Jones, Eartha Kitt, and Peggy Lee, among others. He and Maureen McGovern have been frequent collaborators since 1981, when Mel Tormé first introduced them. Their CD, Pleasure of His Company, is one of his favorite recordings.

“I like to make colors and orchestra behind singers,” he says. “Accompaniment is a very beautiful thing for me. Words mean a lot to me and I know the lyrics to most of the songs I play. The words help me color the song, [to know] how I’m going to fill in a certain space, what kind of mood I’m going to try to create. The lyric and mood  help me pick my chord voicings, how I fill it in, and create an introduction and ending. I’m creating not for me, but for them—but vicariously, how I would like to be accompanied.”

Other pianists capitalize on Renzi’s experience, at times asking for direction on particular pieces. “Occasionally, professionals come by the house. They’ll bring in a song and ask how I’d play it and we’ll sit at the piano. I’ll spend two or three hours with them—almost like an informal clinic,” he says.

What’s most important, Renzi explains, is to have the taste and the skill to edit your own playing. “You can have all the chops and technique in the world, but you still have to edit and make musical sense out of it. A lot of people have so much technical facility—they play a million notes and it’s impressive, but the editing is important. You make that happen through improvisation—make it melodic and swinging. Everything in jazz and improvisation is articulation and time feel,” he says.

Stylistically, nothing defines the freedom and unpredictability of improvisation more than his three-year world tour with classic crooner Tony Bennett. The repertoire may not change, but the interpretation, the undercurrent of each song shifts to fit the mood of the audience. “We did the tour with Lady Gaga, which was fabulous. With Tony, you’re at the greatest venues—great theaters and high-end casinos. He was 87 when I joined him. He’s remarkable and still sounds great,” says Renzi.

A sign that he has no intention of completely retiring, Renzi and singer Nicolas King paired up to record the CD, On Another Note (2017) comprising Great American Songbook standards like “Skylark,” “The Way She Makes Me Feel,” “It Amazes Me,” “Love Is Here to Stay,”  and “On Second Thought.” The song “You Must Believe in Spring” from the album has been nominated for a Grammy Award.

gig gloves holiday gift guide

Holiday Gift Guide 2017: The Perfect Gifts for any Musician


holiday gift guide and gig glovesProtect your most valuable asset: your hands. Gig gloves are the ultimate gloves for gigging musicians and production pros who spend a lot of time loading in and out, setting up, and tearing down. They protect the back of the hand and palms with breathability for extended use, access to the first three fingers via fold-over fingertips (for fine motor tasks), and touchscreen capability directly through the fabric. Original Gig Gloves provide visibility of the hands in low light, Gig Gloves Onyx are completely black for those who need to be invisible to an audience, and Thermo-Gig Gloves add a layer of internal fleece for cold weather. Gig Gloves come in six sizes (XS to XXL).


d:vice MMA-A

d:vice MMA-ADPA’s d:vice MMA-A Digital Audio Interface is a high-quality, dual-channel microphone preamplifier and A/D converter that captures crystal-clear audio via your favorite recording or broadcasting apps. It’s pre-
programable, easy to use, and inconspicuous. While third-party apps can be used with d:vice, an exclusive downloadable DPA app allows you to store gain settings and low-cut filters for personalized use in dedicated presets. The d:vice MMA-A comes with one Micro USB-B to iOS (Lightning) and one Micro USB-B to PC/Mac (USB-A).



Cloudlifter zi

Cloud Microphones’ Cloudlifter Zi instrument DI and mic activator is designed for guitar, bass, keyboard players, and singers. It maximizes your instrument or mic’s signal and lets you contour your tone. The variable impedance “Z” knob and high-pass filter combine to create massive tone shaping, while the three-position gain switch adds gain (up to 25db for microphones or 12dB for instruments) for a clean signal.




Holiday gift guide avidThis holiday season, there will be plenty of great deals out there. If you’re thinking to yourself, “what’s the deal, Avid?”, we’ve got you covered, whether you’re a relative newbie, or a seasoned pro. Get our best deal of the season on Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD, amazing deals on plug-ins, and more. Here’s a small sampling: 20% new Pro Tools subscriptions, 75% Off sound library, 50% off audio plug-ins. And keep an eye out for flash sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Get these deals while they’re still around!



Halo Sport

halo holiday gift guideHalo Sport, the first product from Halo Neuroscience, is a wearable neurostimulator that accelerates the development of muscle memory, when paired with training. See them in action at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVUvgUSX9hU.




Designed and optimized for outstanding music recording, the Philips VoiceTracer DVT7500 music recorder features three high-quality microphones for uncompromising high fidelity sound. The innovative XLR and line-in connectors allow you to connect your instruments directly, achieving crisp and accurate, multi-source recording. The DVT7500 records PCM (WAV) and MP3 files at up to 24 bit/96 kHz, and features virtually unlimited storage capacity thanks to 16G internal memory and a microSD memory card slot supporting up to 64G of additional memory. A large color display and intuitive user interface make it user-friendly. The high-capacity lithium polymer battery extends battery life up to 30 hours, ensuring that your recorder is ready to work when you are.



CD Baby

Your audience is out there. CD Baby helps you build the bridge, giving you more ways to reach fans and make money from your music than any other distributor. For a one-time setup fee of just $49 per album, or $9.95 per single, your music will be selling and streaming on Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, and more. Plus, we give you major-label promo tools, help you make money from YouTube, give you daily trending reports, and all without annual fees! CD Baby is a preferred Apple content provider, so we’re the quickest way to get your music onto Apple Music and iTunes. We’ve also been paying artists weekly since 1998, so you know your music is in good hands!



Lotus Light pro

Lotus Light PRO holiday guideLotus Light PRO series incorporates a lithium polymer battery and the highest quality LED technology to provide the most powerful music light. It floods four pages of music with light, without any hot spots, and for a longer time than ever before. Lotus Light is lightweight and compact enough to take wherever you go. It clips to any music stand and the jaws are padded to clip to a piano music rest without fear of damage. A stiff but flexible arm allows you to position the light where it won’t distract others or interfere with page turns. Visit our website to learn more about the light and other accessories to make it the most useful light you can own.



Result6 Monitors

PMC’s result6 compact nearfield monitors guarantee ideal results for audio professionals in all areas of music—recording, mixing, mastering, broadcast, and post production. These monitors provide the perfect introduction to PMC’s renowned sound quality and sophisticated ATL technology. With result6 there are no overly complex DSP-based user options or room profiles; instead, these monitors achieve their characteristically neutral, dependable reference sound solely on the strength of engineering. You can plug them in and immediately trust what you hear to create the best results in the shortest time. result6 are available from PMC USA and the PMC Factory Boutique at RSPE. For more information email maurice@pmc-speakers.us.



Happy Holidays from Sennheiser!

Sennheiser wants to help with your holiday shopping this year. Check out customer favorites like the popular evolution 900-series wired vocal mics; e935 and e945, the industry-standard HD 25 line of headphones, and the incredible ClipMic Digital (powered by Apogee) for mobile recording with iOS devices! Visit your favorite Sennheiser dealer or visit Sennheiser.com for more holiday specials.



Learn to Play Ukulele Starter Kit

Kala Ukulele Starter Kit has everything you need to start playing today! It comes with a Kala soprano mahogany ukulele, logo tote bag, free online lessons, and a free tuning app with lessons. Our high-quality ukulele and lessons make learning the uke fast, simple, and fun! Pricing is just $59.99 MAP/$84.99 retail. Look for the Kala Learn Ukulele Starter Kit on Amazon.




shoulder rest holiday gift guideDurable, ergonomic, light-weight, and adjustable. After years of development, Balu Musik is excited to present the ShouldeAir, a new and revolutionary shoulder rest for Violins and Violas. The ShouldeAir is made of the highest grade carbon fiber (used also by NASA, Boeing, and NASCAR) making it lightweight (just under 60 grams!) and built to last. The sleek, elegant design provides exceptional comfort. The adjustable height and legs provide a perfect fit. (Patent Pending – #62/546,294)



Chromatc Pedal Tuner

Stunningly accurate. Or, more accurately, stunning. With its striking, full-color vertical display and quick, accurate response, the new D’Addario Chromatic Pedal Tuner helps you make sure not to miss the mark—even in demanding onstage conditions. Its slim profile leaves room on your pedalboard for all your effects, so it’s there when you need it, but out of the way when you don’t.




Happy Holidays from ChopSaver! Invented by Local 3 (Indianapolis, IN) member Dan Gosling, ChopSaver Lip Care is the perfect gift for all your musician friends. While brass and woodwind players love it, no one likes chapped lips in the winter, no matter what they play! So let ChopSaver’s all-natural ingredients soothe and protect your lips all year long. Visit www.chopsaver.com to find a store near you—and watch out for flying sousaphones while you’re there!


john Scofield

John Scofield Brings Country, Rock and More Into His World

john Scofield At age 66 this month and 40 years in, John Scofield is at the prime of his career. A major guitarist in the jazz scene since the 1970s, “Sco” is one of the most prolific jazz geniuses, in a perpetual cycle of recording and touring. In 2016, he received his first Grammy award for the album Past Present, and two more followed in 2017 for Country for Old Men. He’s been nominated a total of nine times and almost constantly has several projects in the works. “I haven’t had a lot of dead air time,” he says.

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Reggie Young

American Original: The Storied Career of Reggie Young

Reggie Young

Reggie Young of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) with his 1957 Stratocaster at Jackson Highway Studio, Florence, Alabama.

Few session musicians can lay claim to the deep roots of Reggie Young. Among guitarists, he is revered. His instinct for phrasing has consistently rendered artful licks mimicked by hundreds of other players. The now 80-year-old musician of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) crafted some of the most famous guitar riffs in history. Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” James Carr’s “Dark End of the Street,” Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” Dusty Springfield’s classic “Son of a Preacher Man,” and Elvis Presley’s comeback hit, “Suspicious Minds.” The list goes on.

In the 1960s and early 1970s Young and the rhythm ensemble known as the Memphis Boys were at the heart of the American Sound Studio at 827 Thomas Street in Memphis. What followed in that five-year period, between 1967 and 1972, was an unparalleled run of more than 120 Top 40 hits.

“We thought it was normal,” Young says, “but it was extraordinary. The talent of everybody combined contributed to the success.” Session work would take Young from Memphis to Nashville and corridors along the way at FAME Studio, Muscle Shoals Records, Stax Records, and Royal Studios. The work led to major tours around the country and Europe and as an opening act, witnessing Beatlemania. “I feel like I was in the middle of the peak of the session world as a studio player.” Of those days, he says, “It was rewarding. There was a lot of camaraderie.”

The story of Reggie Young may well be the story of Southern soul music. He was born in Caruthersville, Missouri, in 1936, and raised in Osceola, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee. His father played Hawaiian guitar—old music like “Sweet Lelani,” Young recalls—and bought him a National flat top when he was 14 years old. Young was fueled by the Delta blues, as well as Django Reinhardt and B.B. King. Most of his musical education came by way of radio, inspired by the Chet Atkins and Jerry Byrd show, Two Guitars, which aired on the now famous WSM radio out of Nashville.

By 1955, Young got his first break with Eddie Bond and the Stompers, which recorded the rockabilly song, “Rockin’ Daddy.” The song charted quickly and Mercury Records signed the band to a deal. A local disc jockey promoting tours hired them to join a tour that included Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, and Roy Orbison.

In 1959, Young was working at Royal Studios cutting records, expanding his range with saxophonist Ace Cannon, trumpeter and bandleader Willie Mitchell, and drummer Al Jackson. Young wrote several instrumentals with Mitchell, who would later produce Al Green’s most successful albums. Young recalls playing the Plantation Inn in West Memphis with B.B. King’s band. “A white guy couldn’t sit in with that band. The crowd wouldn’t go for it. So, I’d do it, but I’d be behind the curtain,” he says.

Young says, “You could sell instrumentals in those days.” He was just practicing on his old ’59 Gibson when, he says, “I tuned the guitar down two whole steps, striking the loose strings with a pencil in a rocking rhythm. The strings were heavier back then and it sounded real good when I played a shuffle beat.” It was an old jazz trick the drummer would use with his sticks on the upright bass. The record was signed and the tune “Smokie Part 2” became the number one R&B hit and rose to number 17 on the pop charts. Instrumentals would set the standard for the label for several years and Billboard voted Bill Black’s Combo the number one instrumental band from 1960 to 1962.

Young was drafted into the Army in 1960 and served for almost two years at Kagnew Station in Ethiopia. When he returned, “Smokie” was still on the charts. Fortunately, Young says, “The studio gave us a choice of paying us scale or letting us have a piece of the record. We all took a cut except for the saxophone player. He got scale—$41.25—and we made a lot of money.”

In between sessions, Young often traveled to New York City to work for Atlantic Records, adding guitar to releases by R&B greats Don Covay and Solomon Burke. Because of their success putting out smash hits, Bill Black’s Combo got an offer to be an opening act for the first American tour of The Beatles. Thirty days in the states and 30 days in Europe. It was in 1964 and “A Hard Day’s Night” was a hit.

At the time, Young says, “The union had a trade agreement with England and we were the trade band for The Beatles. In Europe, we backed up The Ronettes, who had the hit, ‘Be My Baby.’ Lulu was there, and The Kinks.” The tour yielded great music, long jam sessions, and new musical partnerships. Young became good friends with George Harrison. On the second leg of the tour, he met a 20-something Eric Clapton (then a member of the Yardbirds). “He was a blues player and I was too, so we hit it off pretty good. We learned from each other,” Young says.

In 1967, Young joined the house band of guitarist and producer Chips Moman (of Stax Records fame) as part of The Memphis Boys. at American Sound Studio. With Young on guitar and fellow Local 257 members Gene Chrisman on drums, Bobby Wood and Bobby Emmons on piano and organ, and Mike Leech and Tommy Cogbill alternating on bass, they ushered in waves of rock and roll, soul, and early R&B. In fact, it was one of the few studio bands at the time to play both pop music and R&B.

Many musical collaborations would change, seemingly overnight, when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis April 4, 1968, according to Young. Big acts, like Aretha Franklin, canceled bookings at American Sound Studio and worse—although musicians had long integrated—Young felt in the aftermath, even good friends became distant.

Hi Records and American Sound Studio came to an end, and Young moved on to Nashville in 1972, where he quickly became an integral member of the Nashville studio scene, playing with J. J. Cale, Cat Stevens, George Strait of Local 433 (Austin, TX), Paul Simon of Local 802 (New York City), and Merle Haggard, among others. In 2014, Young contributed to the album, The Breeze: An Appreciation of J. J. Cale, produced by Eric Clapton and Simon Climie.

In the mid 1980s, Young hit the road with The Highway Men, which comprised Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson of Local 433, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson of Local 257. He says, “It scared me at first to leave my main job, doing studio work. But we’d go out in fall and springtime, all over the world for five years.” Young remembers each star trying to outdo the other on stage at night. He says, “Everybody had a bus. It looked like the Ringling Bros. Circus.”

Of his distinctive sound, his wife, Jenny—a classically trained cellist and member of Local 257—says, “It’s his tone; even at 80, he has beautiful tone.” Young adds, “I was never trying to be somebody else.” Eric Clapton famously singled out Young in his autobiography as one of the best guitar players he’d ever heard.

Earlier this year, the musician who was responsible for scores of hits by other artists finally recorded his first solo record, Forever Young. In his golden years, the master of session work finally found time to record his own solos. Everyone who has heard the classic songs he made famous over a 60-year career will recognize the soulful, lyrical strains of Young’s genius.

Lorraine Desmarais

Bandleader and Jazz Pianist Lorraine Desmarais Takes Charge

Lorraine Desmarais

Lorraine Desmarais of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ) is among a handful of women big band leaders. She and her bands are regularly featured at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Lorraine Desmarais of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ) made her solo debut as a jazz artist at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 1983. Before that, in 1982, her trio was the first jazz group to tour through the Jeunesses Musicales du Canada, which at the time, she explains, presented mostly classical music. “So, we were delighted to be the first jazz trio ever to be put on the road!”

In 1984, Desmarais won a Yamaha Jazz Competition at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Entering the jazz scene at age 21—old for a jazz player, according to Desmarais—the stage was set for her to be prominent in the festival’s lineup for years to come.

Among prizes she’s received are First Prize at the Great Jazz Piano American Competition (in 1986), the Oscar Peterson Award of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Artistic Creation Award of the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec prize, and the Ontario Arts Foundation Prize for Keyboard Artistry.

She joined the union in 1982 when she began doing a number of club dates, concerts, and touring, and sat in as a keyboardist on television shows. In 1983, while finishing her master’s degree in classical piano, Desmarais received a grant to study in New York City with Kenny Barron of Local 802—her first formal jazz lesson. She joined a few jazz combos, and at McGill University, she devoured the jazz standards and the history of jazz piano, from ragtime to nu jazz. She began transcribing solos by Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Herbie Hancock of Local 802 (New York City).

In 1999, Desmarais played keyboards for a two-month, 45-concert world tour with the Diva Big Band out of New York City and she fell in love with the big band sound. “It’s so exciting being surrounded by soloists and playing charts and arrangements,” she says.

By 2004, her status as a virtuosic jazz pianist was well established. But she still had a dream of playing with Chick Corea of Local 802. Desmarais says, “He was one of my greatest influences. I love his music; he’s a great pianist. His solo and electric band corresponded to my own career.” When he and his electric band trio performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival that year, she asked if they could arrange something for her. Twenty minutes before the pair went on stage, Corea asked her, “Do you know ‘Spain’?”   

“In 2005, I said, it’s now or never. I took many of my compositions written for trio or quartet and rewrote them for big band. It’s a way to learn arrangement,” she says. It was challenging, she admits, writing for wind instruments and making the sax or trumpet soloist front and center. “In smaller groups, you have more freedom; it’s more spontaneous, everybody is soloist from time to time. But in a big band, it’s almost like a portrait of a soloist.”

Her 2016 big band album, Danses, Dansas, Dances, showcases to full effect the talents of each musician. Along with her all-union, 16-member big band, she is the leader of a trio comprising longtime big band drummer Camil Belisle and bassist Frédéric Alarie, both members of Local 406.

Desmarais says she is a big fan of Brad Mehl-
dau of Local 47 and was inspired by the piano stylings and compositions of McCoy Tyner and big band leader Maria Schneider of Local 802, the latter of whom also influenced her approach to arrangement and orchestration. She has played with luminaries: the late Marian McPartland, Jacky Terrasson, and Joe Lovano both of Local 802.

It was a great honor for her to premiere the song, “For Lola,” by Dave Brubeck at a 2013 concert with the Brubeck Brothers (members of Local 802) at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe during the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

With 12 albums of mostly original compositions to her credit, a number of which have become jazz standards, the ever-humble Desmarais acknowledges that she seems to have earned a distinguished place in the world of music and jazz. In 2013, she became a Member of the Order of Canada and received a Prix Opus from the Conseil québécois de la Musique. Three of her albums (Trio Lorraine Desmarais, Jazz pour Noël, and Big Band) have received Félix awards.

Growing up in Montreal, Desmarais studied classical music, all the while playing pop music. “The best part was trying to improvise and compose on piano,” says Desmarais “Luckily, I had a teacher who encouraged me.” At the French-language college, Cégep de St-Laurent, Montréal, Québec, where she teaches jazz piano, Desmarsais emboldens her students to do the same. She uses two pianos in her classes to improvise with them, explaining that playing off each other makes the music more accessible. “It really has to be fun. You have to make young people feel they have potential and it’s possible to develop.”    

As she looks ahead, Desmarais calls 2018 her symphonique year. Among other projects with symphonies, she’ll perform with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony to create a soundtrack for the 1965 film The Railrodder and produce a number of commissioned works, all of which have her stepping out of her comfort zone. She says, “When I return to my work, I’m that much stronger.”   

What’s next for Desmarais?  She says she’d like to go back to where it all began: “I would like to do more tours with my big band.”