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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.”

William Bell: Longtime Soul Man Creates New Legacy For Young Musicians

With a career spanning more than 50 years in the recording industry, Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA) member William Bell received his first Grammy this year in the category Best Americana Album. The honor was fitting for This Is Where I Live, a retrospective album that also marks Bell’s return to Stax Records, where he began his career all those years earlier.

william bellWho knows what would have become of the Memphis native if not for the music emanating from 926 East McLemore Avenue. “Jim [Stewart] and Estelle [Axton] established Stax Records right in the heart of the deprived neighborhood we lived in,” explains Bell. “It kept us out of trouble. We went to the record shop and listened to songs. All the neighborhood kids had an outlet there.”

Aside from the music they heard hanging out at the record shop, he and friends like David Porter and Isaac Hayes, listened to disc jockey Rufus Thomas who worked for WDIA, the only black radio station at the time. “We heard everything on the radio—country and western, blues, and rhythm and blues. It was just an extension of our lives,” he says. “Music was everywhere—on the radio, in the clubs, and on the street corners.”

William Bell began singing in church, but by age 16 he’d moved on to singing “secular” music and won a Mid-South Talent contest and a trip to Chicago to perform with the Red Saunders Band. Upon return to Memphis, he spent the next five years working with and learning from the Phineas Newborn Orchestra.

Bell wrote his first hit song, “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” in a New York City hotel room during a tour with the band. “We had a night off and it was raining. I’m sitting in the hotel room and missing the girl back home. This song just came to me,” he says. He recorded it with Stax, and even though it was the B side of the record, it ended up being one of the record company’s first hits.

Bell says many of his songs come from a personal place, while others are inspired by the people around him. “I’m a people watcher. I’ll go to a party and sit in the corner and watch the human factor take over. I write about life and things I think people can relate to. Other times I just come up with an idea and construct a song.”

That’s what happened when he wrote “Born Under a Bad Sign” with Booker T. Jones of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). “It was back in the ’60s when everyone was talking about zodiac signs. I’d finished a bass line, one verse, and a chorus. I was at the studio doing an Albert King session. He didn’t have enough material. I sang it for him and he just fell in love with it, so Booker and I finished
it overnight.”

“We knew that we had something special. But we didn’t know it would become so iconic,” says Bell. One of the most covered blues tunes of all time, Bell wasn’t too keen on recording it for This Is Where I Live when producer John Leventhal of Local 802 (New York City) first suggested it.

Leventhal said he wanted to do a stripped down version, very “back porch-ish.” When Leventhal presented him with a track, the first thing Bell noticed was that the iconic bass line was gone. But after living with it a couple days, he found himself humming along. “The more I listened to it, the more I came to like it,” he says. “We captured it on the first take, so I guess it was meant to be.”

Such open-mindedness has been key to surviving in an industry that has seen tremendous change over Bell’s career. “Technology has changed the playing field. When you record something it’s for the world. You put it on the Internet and everybody hears it at once. You have to really do your homework and create a great product,” he says.

“Years ago, we went into the studio with eight or 10 people and created. That instilled discipline because you had to get it right the first time. Now you can keep going over a part until you get it just like you want it, but it’s a little sterile,” he says. “I’m still from the old school. I like the bodies in the studio so we can feed off each other.”

Bell says the union has helped him tremendously throughout his career. “And they are still fighting,” he says. “Technology has created some new problems for us to get paid. And the new generation thinks it should all be free. But creators have to make a living. We need that body to speak for us. The union kind of levels the playing field a little bit.”

Coming back to the Stax label brought back memories from the early days of Bell’s career. Somewhat of an oasis in the 1960s, Bell recalls that race and gender didn’t enter into the mix at Stax. “We accepted a person for what they could bring to the table in terms of creativity and musicianship,” he says.

Touring with Stax Revues in the early ’60s, the interracial tour was unusual. “We were like 50/50 with the band and the artists,” says Bell. “We caught a lot of flack, but we tore down a lot of barriers because we were a tight-knit organization. If we stopped somewhere to have lunch and they would not accept blacks in the restaurant, none of us went in.”

“We would go to little towns where it was horrible to even stop for gas,” he says. “We set our parameters. Some cities wanted to have two performances for blacks and whites and we insisted on one performance for everybody. They would put the blacks upstairs and whites downstairs, but at least they were all in the same building.”

The 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis brought the racial unrest from the rest of the country to the forefront. Behind the walls of Stax the music continued under the shadow of grief.

“Sadness hovered over the studio, over the city. We had also just lost Otis Redding [in a plane crash],” Bell recalls. “Outside of the studio the whole atmosphere had changed. It was a bad scene for a while in Memphis. There was burning and looting and practically every building in the neighborhood was touched except for Stax. They had a reverence for us. We would walk the white participants out to their cars and say, ‘Hey guys, they are a part of us.’ They would back off.”

Other things had begun to change at Stax. Longtime distributor Atlantic Records had been sold to Warner Bros. in 1967. When Stewart was unable to reach a distribution deal with Warner Bros., the company refused to return Stax’s master tapes.

When Estelle Axton left in 1969, new vice president Al Bell began rebuilding the catalog, recording 30 singles and 27 albums in eight months. Though it was a period of some success, the atmosphere had changed. “Our tight-knit family became a corporate structure,” recalls William Bell. “Some of the musicians were unhappy. Booker moved to L.A. and I moved to Atlanta.”

“But that’s not why it went under,” he continues. “It was systematically put out of business. It was one of the largest black-owned corporate structures; the year before it filed for bankruptcy it cleared more than $20 million in sales.” The company’s cash flow was affected by its inability to distribute the hit records it was recording, then the minute the company couldn’t pay its debts it was foreclosed upon. The unpaid debt totaled just $1,900 when the bank took everything in December 1975 and escorted the owners out at gunpoint.

“A lot of us artists hung in there until the very last, in lieu of getting our royalties. We wanted Stax to pull out of that downward spiral. Some artists lost homes and cars when it folded. Thank goodness I was in the creative end of it as well, so I could still write and produce for other labels,” says Bell who was so disenchanted with the music industry that he took up acting.

Bell never thought he would record for Stax again. But when Concord Records bought the label in 2004, it began reissuing the classics, as well as creating new records with Stax artists.

Despite the building being torn down in 1989, 926 East McLemore Avenue also saw a rebirth thanks to Bell and other former Stax musicians. “It was a vacant lot with beer bottles thrown about,” he says. “It was heartbreaking after we had spent 14 years, almost 24 hours a day, on that corner.” They just hoped to erect a monument, but once they got the ball rolling through fundraising concerts, community leaders and philanthropists also stepped in and together they formed the Soulsville Foundation.

They unearthed the original blueprints for the building and erected an exact replica, founding the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in 2003. Later they created the Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School, which together cover a whole city block. The current generation of talented Memphis children now has a place to go to learn a craft just as Bell had in his youth.

Bell’s dedication to the next generation doesn’t end there. He is politically active, lobbying for music education through Grammys on the Hill.

He, along with a number of other Memphis artists, including Bobby Rush, Mavis Staples, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ben Cauley, and Charlie Musselwhite, shared their music legacy through the Take Me to the River film, tour, and an educational curriculum developed through Berklee College of Music. The 2014 documentary (available on Netflix) brought together iconic Memphis musicians, popular young musicians, and students to create music.

“We are working with a lot of organizations promoting and preserving the legacy and teaching the origin of the music. Kids have gotten into sampling so much. We are trying to teach them how to create their own sound,” says Bell, who continues to tour with Take Me to the River. “Teach kids the ground roots of the development of the music, and not only from the ’60s, but all the way back so they can get a good foundation. Once the get a good foundation, they can survive in it.”

Of the proceeds from the film, 75% goes to the Soulsville Foundation and organizations that support musician well-being.

Bell says they are now working on Take Me to the River Part 2 with New Orleans’ musicians. He is also active with the Notes for Notes, which gives kids access to instruments, recording studios, and mentors/educators to teach them about the music business.

john tachoir

Jerry Tachoir: The Good Vibes of a Jazz Percussionist

john tachoir

Marlène and Jerry Tachoir of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) with their instruments. In the jazz band the Jerry Tachoir Group, led by Jerry, the vibraphone is the lead instrument. The group performs original music throughout the Nashville region, across the US, and Canada.

While a vibraphone is not often thought of as a lead instrument, that is how Jerry Tachoir of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) conceived his band, the Jerry Tachoir Group. The group also features his wife, pianist and composer Marlène Tachoir, bassist Roy Vogt, and drummer Rich Adams, all members of Local 257.

“As a vibes player, I’m forced into a leader role, since most musicians and bands seldom consider hiring a vibes player to replace a keyboardist or guitarist,” he says, explaining that the most difficult thing is proving how versatile an instrument it is. The vibes have become closely associated with jazz, but at clinics Tachoir tells students he can play anything—country, Latin, classical.

“You have to be creative, to create job situations that allow the vibraphone to be used, or your phone will never ring,” says Tachoir. “Once people hear it and realize I can play what a piano player or a guitar player can play—chords, lines, counterpoint, whatever you need—it’s cool. It’s such a novelty instrument it piques curiosity. When you roll it in, they either think it’s the dessert cart or a gurney.”

Like legendary vibist Red Norvo, Tachoir uses a four-mallet technique, with two mallets in each hand. Other influences include pianists Bill Evans and Chick Corea of Local 802 (New York City). Tachoir says he tries to apply his four-mallet technique to a three-octave aluminum bar instrument and play as a pianist. “My left hand is my accompanist, my right hand does the soloing, and the other mallets fill in chords with additional notes.” 

As a young classical percussion player growing up in the Pittsburgh area in the ’70s, Tachoir was known as the “mallet guy.” He performed with many orchestras, namely the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, Wilkensburg Symphony, and the International Orchestra in Switzerland. Tachoir attributes his solid foundation in a range of percussion to his teacher, Eugene “Babe” Fabrizi, who insisted that his students become well-rounded percussionists, not just drummers. Because of Fabrizi, Tachoir learned all the percussion instruments: xylophone, marimba, vibes, tympani, and hand percussion.

In 1972, Tachoir had a chance meeting with vibraphone virtuoso Gary Burton at a jazz festival where Local 802 (New York City) member Herbie Hancock was playing. Tachoir had never seen or heard anything like it. He was struck by the spontaneity and camaraderie of the jazz players—in stark contrast to the conventions of orchestra playing. “Herbie Hancock would play a line, [bassist of Local 802] Ron Carter would respond. It was the communication I picked up on. They were creating it on the fly, improvising. They were laughing, smiling,” Tachoir remembers. After that show, he immediately went out and bought Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew.

Tachoir told Burton he wanted to learn more about jazz improvisation, and Burton suggested he study with him at Berklee College of Music. Once Tachoir realized he could transfer rhythm skills and play melodies and chords, he was hooked. The tuned bar side of percussion became his emphasis. “I became a mallet player devoted to jazz,” says Tachoir who designed his own degree program in applied vibraphone and mallet percussion, graduating Berklee in 1976.

Now a Grammy-nominated artist, band leader, and author of books on method and approach to the vibraphone and marimba, Tachoir is considered one of the foremost authorities on vibes. He’s recorded with his friend Danny Gottlieb of Local 257 (a Pat Metheny Group veteran) and the late session great Tom Roady, among others.

The Jerry Tachoir Group tours the US, Canada, and Europe, with stops at jazz events like the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and the International Festival de Jazz in Montreal. Marlène Tachoir, a prolific composer, writes the group’s original music. A native of Quebec, she studied classical organ at the Quebec Conservatory.

“Talk about vibes not being popular,” Jerry jokes. “You don’t carry your classical pipe organ to gigs!” At Berklee, where the two met, Marlène switched to piano and composition. “Her piano playing is unique and complements my busy vibes playing,” he says. “It just works.”

He also credits Marlène’s perfect pitch and ability to scat sing with adding “a wonderful nuance to what has become our signature sound.” Jerry explains, originality is at the core of the group’s identity. “We’re going for a certain style, a composition that works with the band that’s identifiable with us.”

It’s a challenge to write for the vibraphone, but after nearly 30 years working alongside her husband, Marlène now imagines her compositions in terms of the way they would be played on the vibraphone. Her styles are varied: jazz, swing, a lot of blues, Latin, classical elements, and occasionally rock. As independent artists, she says, “We have to make things happen for ourselves.” Of their partnership, she adds, “It’s nice to have an ally.” 

Her recent concerto, Jazz Mass for World Peace, was performed by the Jerry Tachoir Group for the International Day of Peace. Indeed, she views peacemaking as part of the musician’s role, saying, “Hopefully we reach people through music.”

In addition to numerous concerts, Jerry presents jazz improvisation clinics and mallet master classes at colleges and universities in North America and Europe. “College students really dig jazz. They’ve outgrown their high school music of the moment.” When teaching jazz clinics, he says, “I always do a lot of playing to allow the students to see and hear my technique.”

Jerry cautions students about going into music nonchalantly or without completing college. He explains that he has seen too many young drummers attempt to bypass college. “They’re not getting the preparation needed to excel, to become a pro, and compete,” he says.

Having lived in New York City and Los Angeles, the Tachoirs headed to Nashville in 1979, where friends told them there were opportunities for musicians with skills like theirs. “In the good old days people were running from session to session at specific times. Today, that’s not the kind of routine that has made careers for a lot of the session kings in Nashville,” he says.

Now everyone needs to be more flexible because a lot of musicians are recording in home studios. With great microphones, digital equipment, and computers, Jerry says, you can do anything. “I record all my projects in my own studio, and mix it at my leisure.” The space was designed to accommodate his sound, and he says the quality is better than any major studio he has recorded in.   

Jerry becomes nostalgic when he talks about the days of vinyl. “It had a story. Now, it’s shrunk down to a CD.” Worse yet, with iTunes and similar services, you typically buy a track, not an album. The sense of ownership that came with a record is gone. Still, he recognizes the need to move on. He’s changed with the times, making technology work for him. “I teach people all over the world via Skype and Facetime. The industry has evolved. It’s not great, it’s not bad, but different.”

What hasn’t changed for Tachoir is his love for the music. At 61, he says, “I still love what I do.”

Laura Whitely

Laura Whitely: Longtime Secretary-Treasurer Retires at 92

Laura Whitely

(L to R, in back) Local 123 (Richmond, VA) President George Tuckwiller, Vice President Tim Judd, new Secretary-Treasurer Scott Winger, and members Richard Serpa, Jill Serpa, and Jackie Spears. Seated in front is retired Secretary-Treasurer Laura Whitely.

Laura Whitely, secretary-treasurer of Local 123 (Richmond, VA) since 1981, has retired at age 92. She has kept the local office running for the past 35 years and for more than 30 years before that she helped her husband who also held the job. James Whitely, who died in 1990, was a professional musician and the local’s secretary-treasurer since the early 1950s. When he retired, she was officially elected to the position.

Local president George Tuckwiller III says, “Laura has been totally committed to the union since assisting her husband Jimmy many years ago. She is a force of nature, and at the tender age of 92, handled all of the secretarial duties to keep the Richmond Musician’s Association up and running.” 

In fact, Tuckwiller says, “When I joined the union in 1969, it was Laura who handled the paper work and explained the obligations of membership to me.” The union would encourage her to run for re-election, but as Whitely explains, she no longer drives and quite simply, the time had come.

Although another member will be taking over for Whitely, Tuckwiller says she could never really be replaced. After 65 years, she is considered the union’s resident historian. As a member of the executive board, Tuckwiller says, “She has been our go-to person, and even though she is stepping down, we will continue to use her wisdom to guide the organization.”

Joe Costello

While Firmly Entrenched in the Phoenix Music Scene, Joe Costello Still Longs for the Road

Joe CostelloJoe Costello of Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) put his promising music career as a drummer on hold nearly 25 years ago. At the time, the now 54-year-old musician says, “I thought I would save money and stash it. Being in the corporate world would support my music.” He became a weekend warrior, touring with a blues band, often doing shows in three states over three days, and returning late Sunday to begin a normal workweek. 

Eventually, Costello started his own software company. It was the 1980s, at the beginning of the dot com era, and Costello says, “I thought something magical would happen. I’d buy a tour bus and tour the world.” In 2004, he moved from New York City to Phoenix. It would take him another seven years to shed the software, networking, and home automation jobs and return to music.

He pared down his belongings and anything that required a monthly payment. “It meant being lean and mean,” he says. To his astonishment, something remarkable did happen. The moment he let his business life go, music work started coming in. 

Indeed, the projects now seem inexhaustible. He plays four to six nights a week (including the union hall of Local 586), and leads three working bands. He also presides over the jazz ensemble The Joe Costello Project. He heads a highly successful booking agency, Onstage Entertainment Group; teaches private drum lessons; produces shows; and as a session drummer, he records percussion tracks for a number of in-town and touring artists.

In May, Costello launched his most ambitious effort yet, The Performers Institute. The Phoenix-based facility offers summer music camps, private lessons, band coaching, music business seminars, clinics, workshops, and online courses. Costello says he wants to help artists make a living with their talent and passion for playing music, but also teach them entrepreneurial skills.

“If more musicians were educated on the business side of being a performer, they could better sustain themselves and make a living at what they love to do,” says Costello.

In business clinics he tells young musicians, “Don’t do what I did. You’ve got to go for exactly what you want. Meet it head-on.” He emphasizes that it takes more than talent. It takes learning to communicate and learning about music as an industry. He eagerly imparts what experience has taught him: develop  business acumen, PR, and marketing skills, and above all, have integrity. Costello adds, “Make sure you answer your phone. Get back to people.” 

Instructors and teachers at the institute are professional musicians. Costello explains that the kids absorb on-the-job lessons from people in the trenches. His goal is to bring in top-notch musicians, but also draw on professionals and experts in the field. For instance, entertainment attorneys who could explain contracts and clarify copyright for songwriters, and accountants could help independent artists with tax issues.

He wants the institute to be a destination for professional musicians making their way along the Phoenix-to-LA corridor to do seminars, workshops, and concerts. According to Costello, more musicians are relocating to Phoenix for the weather or its proximity to Los Angeles, a mere six-hour drive. Some performers cut their teeth in LA, but get tired of the rat race and move to Phoenix.

His hope is that the Performers Institute becomes an institution on par with the Musicians Institute of Los Angeles, which was similarly conceived as an innovative education facility for creative and professional careers in the music industry. People in the community know Costello is funding the institute with his own money—on a musician’s income—and they have rallied, volunteering and donating equipment, food, furniture, keyboards, and drums.

There is a particular camaraderie in the Phoenix music scene and the union is well-represented with a number of transplanted musicians. Costello holds what he calls a “musicians’ hang,” essentially a networking event where musicians show up with business cards—and a sense of what they want to accomplish in their careers. Costello feels strongly that it’s important to bring the music community together: those who want to play for fun and those who need the work. The hang helps to fast-track connections
for people. He says, “It gets things moving in the community.”

Costello grew up in Port Ewen, New York, just south of Kingston. His father owned a restaurant that was a hot spot for music. He sat in and listened to a lot of bands and learned to play the sax. But his idol was Buddy Rich, the drummer. When his parents took him to a show, he would walk out shaking. Although he played drums in high school, he entered Fredonia School of Music as a vocal major—an operatic singer. Gradually, he moved into radio, sound recording, and performance and proved to be a natural drummer for the school’s jazz ensemble.

After graduation, in between odd jobs, he performed with a quartet. Some of the musicians he played with were in Harry Connick, Jr.’s band and periodically Connick of Local 802 (New York City) would sit in and play.

Ideally, Costello says he’d model his career on that of his friend, the versatile session drummer Steve Gadd of Local 802. As a studio musician, Costello is well versed in jazz, funk, R&B, and country music. For all his accomplishments—cultivating the Costello brand and building a center for contemporary music, to say nothing of endorsements from cymbal, stick, and drum companies—you would think Costello would be content and too busy to think of anything else. Still, he has not strayed from his original dream. He still longs to tour the world.

“It’s vast,” he says, “I want to see every part of it. If I can do it, and if I can make a living, that’s my ultimate dream.” He has a core team in place at the institute and ample support from the community. One day, he hopes to have a stream of income that allows him to leave it behind for a while to just travel and play music.

Longtime Local 126 Member Francis Higgins Prepares to Celebrate His 100th Birthday

(L to R): Local 126 Vice-President Dick Clary; President Norm Dobson; 99-year-old Board Member Frank Higgins; Business Agent Gordon Bowman; and North Shore Musicians Union Concert Band Conductor David Benjamin.

(L to R): Local 126 Vice-President Dick Clary; President Norm Dobson; 99-year-old Board Member Frank Higgins; Business Agent Gordon Bowman; and North Shore Musicians Union Concert Band Conductor David Benjamin.

Francis (Frank) C. Higgins, longtime trumpet player and member of the North Shore Musicians Association, Local 126 (Lynn, MA) will celebrate his 100th birthday November 22. Higgins joined Local 126 in 1935 and has maintained a performing career for the past 81 years. The only break in his music career was during his service in World War II. Higgins was a member of the 11th Airborne Division Band and participated in the 11th Airborne Division glider operations in New Guinea and The Philippines.

His incredible music career has encompassed every conceivable area of performance. His versatility has enabled him to perform in concert bands, orchestras, ballrooms, Dixieland bands, nightclubs, resorts, ethnic bands, and function bands, at venues too numerous to mention. 

At 99, Higgins continues to perform regularly and plays every Thursday at the weekly Peabody, Massachusetts, Senior Center Ballroom Dance. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Local 126. Aside from his music abilities, his quiet, dignified manner, sense of humor, and personality have earned him the respect and admiration of all of his colleagues throughout the years.

papa john

Papa John Talks About His Keys to Success

papa john

In the Hammond B-3, Papa John Defrancesco of Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) discovered a “spiritual sound” that determined his extraordinary career in jazz.

Keyboardist John Defrancesco of Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) started on clarinet. “But I saw Louis Armstrong play, and I said, ‘Man, I want to play the trumpet!’ Louie inspired me on the horn. I had all those old 78s. There was one called the ‘12th Street Rag.’ I’ll never forget it.” He hums, “Babaa do ba dupe.”

At 16 years old, the Niagara Falls, New York, native joined AFM. “It was a powerful thing when I was a kid,” he says.

His father Joseph was a musician, too, a reed man. “Back in the day, he played with the Dorsey brothers, when they were young, before they were popular,” he recalls. “I remember dad saying they would argue all the time.”

Defrancesco was still a teenager when he first heard Jimmy Smith playing his famous Hammond B-3 in Buffalo, New York. He says, “I heard that organ and it was just so spiritual. I was playing trumpet at the time, but when I heard that organ and Jimmy and the band—the groove, it sounded so heavy.”

With a powerful instrument like the B-3, he says, “A musician uses all his limbs. Your brain is working extra hard playing chords, bass lines, and harmony changes.” It would be a few years before Defrancesco began playing the B-3 full time.

Laughing, he says, “My wife bought me an organ because it’s all I ever talked about.” From then on, hard bop and deep groove would define his sound. He quit trumpet, and after months of steady practice, he was ready to showcase his skill.

He moved from western New York to Philadelphia in 1967, and immersed himself in its vibrant jazz community. It was there he and his wife, Laurene, raised their family.

“Jazz was the music of the house and the organ music was at the top. We used to listen to all the cats—Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott,” Defrancesco says. He played around Philly and on the Jersey Shore, between three and four nights a week, plus festivals—which meant hauling the 325-pound organ to and from gigs.

“One time, it slipped and chased us down the stairs,” he says. “I flipped it, tightened the tubes, and went right to work.”

To think Defrancesco’s first love was aviation. “Originally, I wanted to be a pilot,” he laughs. “You get wrapped up in music and it takes everything away from you. In a good way,” he adds. “When you’re playing it’s so enjoyable. The bad time is when you’re not playing, of course, but that’s the business.”

In 1979, he put his career on hold to spend time with his kids. By then, his son Joey, just eight years old, was a prodigy on the organ, and his father was his music teacher. At 17, Joey was offered a rare chance to tour as a member of Miles Davis’ band. John resumed performing and recording, which eventually included his sons. It was at this point Defrancesco adopted the moniker “Papa John.”

With a playing career of more than 50 years behind him, Papa John lives far from the Philly music scene where he made his name. In Maricopa, Arizona, he still performs and occasionally does out-of-town gigs. He plays around Phoenix and at the union hall, with Jerry Donato, also of Local 586.

Before Jimmy Smith died, in 2005, Defrancesco was able to perform and spend time with the B-3 legend. Defrancesco says he tries to keep the music alive—but he needn’t worry. Thanks to Papa John’s example, inspiration, and mentoring, the Defrancesco name remains synonymous with soulful jazz organ mastery.

Lou Marini: The Joy of Providing Blueness to Fellow Musicians

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

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

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

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

UNT Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

A True New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marini the Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy McIntosh Creates CD with His Heroes

Jimmy McIntosh

The album Jimmy McIntosh, a Downbeat editor’s pick, features the Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV) guitarist jamming out with some of his musical heroes, including John Scofield (left) of Local 802 (New York City) .

You could say that Las Vegas guitarist Jimmy McIntosh has built his life and career around music business connections. The best example may be his latest CD, Jimmy McIntosh and … which features McIntosh exchanging licks with some of his personal heroes, including John Scofield and Mike Stern of Local 802 (New York City), plus Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones.

McIntosh’s earliest connection to the music industry goes way back to his mom’s friendship with Duke Ellington, who was a major influence when McIntosh was a young musician. Ellington bought McIntosh his first instrument when he was in 7th grade—a Bb French horn.

“Whenever he was playing in Detroit, Cincinnati, or Toledo we would go see him,” says McIntosh, who grew up in Temperance, Michigan, on the border with Ohio. “He would chip in money for private lessons.” The afternoon before McIntosh’s first school performance Ellington called to give him a pep talk.

McIntosh began playing guitar in 9th grade, influenced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie, and later, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny of Local 34-627 (Kansas City, MO), John Scofield, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, The Neville Brothers, and The Meters.

After graduating from college, McIntosh moved to Las Vegas, a city he was also profoundly connected to and visited frequently while growing up. “Our roots are in Las Vegas,” he says. “My grandfather built the first permanent structure—a saloon called the Arizona Club.”

When he arrived in Vegas in 1981, McIntosh reached out to a musician he’d met at Berklee College of Music who was already working there. “I didn’t have any experience as a professional musician,” says McIntosh. “He told me to start at one end of the Las Vegas strip and go to every place that had live music and introduce myself to the band and see if I could sit in.”

McIntosh also joined the union, Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV). “My goal was always to get good union gigs. The best jobs are union,” he says. “There was a really nice union hall on Duke Ellington Boulevard and they would have bands on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights where they would get together and play big band music. I would go down and hang out.”

Throughout the years, his career expanded until he became an in-demand Vegas guitarist. McIntosh says the union has been important to that growth. Though he admits he’s played some “Vegassy” gigs that were kind of corny, he’s also managed to share the stage with quite a few big name musicians.

For a while, McIntosh played a show called Legends in Concert at the Imperial Palace. Through that job, he also worked as the house band for several annual cerebral palsy telethons. “Billy Preston was on the last one,” he says. “Playing with him was a real highlight. I was about 26 at the time.”

One steady gig for the past 25 years has been with the Lon Bronson All-Star Band. “We do a lot of Tower of Power and that kind of thing,” McIntosh says. “It’s made up of some of the best players in town who do other full-time gigs.” Aside from playing after-hours shows a couple nights a week, for a while, the All-Star Band played on a show on Comedy Central called Viva Variety.

A big fan of Penn & Teller, McIntosh was particularly pleased to get a gig playing for the magician duo’s Sin City Spectacular variety show broadcast on the FX Network 1998-1999. “It was fun and challenged your reading,” he says. It also gave him an opportunity to work with a wide variety of musicians, including Lyle Lovett of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), Jennifer Holiday, and Slash of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). Other career highlights include working with David Foster and Kenny Loggins of Local 47, Donna Summer, and Gloria Gaynor.

Though McIntosh works steadily, he says the Vegas music scene is not as great as it used to be. “I think the heyday for working musicians was the ’60s and ’70s, when every little lounge had a duo or trio playing,” he says. “Now there’s some lounge work, but not that much. Musicians still move here, but like any place, it takes a little while to get plugged in.”

“Broadway shows have been really good for Vegas,” he continues. McIntosh played Mamma Mia in the Mandalay Bay for five years and then moved over to Jersey Boys for the past eight years. “I enjoy the steady gig, and then I can do something creative on the side. I have a trio with Keith Hubacher and José “Pepe” Jimenez [both members of Local 369].”

Having a steady gig allowed McIntosh to launch his first solo album, New Orleans to London, in 2006. “It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to make a record. All of my musical heroes wrote their own material, so I kind of think that’s the ultimate thing to do,” he says. “Then my father passed away in 2001. That’s what got me thinking—life is short; it’s time for me to make a musical statement.” He wanted to ask the Neville Brothers to be on the album, so he set a date when they would be in town.

It was Art Neville of 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) who first introduced McIntosh to Ronnie Wood backstage at a Las Vegas Stones show. They reconnected through Wood’s manager, and Woods agreed to play on that first solo project, New Orleans to London. McIntosh flew out to London to record five tracks with Wood, and was surprised when Jeff Beck also showed up and played on three tracks.

“Ronnie and I hit it off fantastically and we stayed in touch, so when I started the second record, Jimmy McIntosh and …, I was hoping he would play on it,” says McIntosh. Wood agreed and he and McIntosh played two improvised jams to open and close the album, plus Wood played on McIntosh’s cover of Wood’s “I Gotta See.” “The Rolling Stones have been my favorite band since I was a kid, so getting to work and play with Ronnie is literally a dream come true.”