Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken begins with the line: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” In the Fall of 2017 I interviewed multi-reed virtuoso Eddie Daniels as part of my Woodwind Legacy Series and that line occurred to me as we were conducting the interview. During the course of our conversation, Eddie said that he initially began studying flute so that he could play the flute parts on a Broadway show (Mame) and on studio recordings. However, as he got more involved with the flute, he realized that “I want more on this instrument.” The more proficient he became on the flute, the greater was his desire to sound like a flutist and not just a competent doubler. He then proceeded to study with great flute artists such as Harold Bennett and Tom Nyfenger. (His achievements on the flute can best be heard on his album, A Flower For All Seasons.)
Eddie’s “I want more” statement touched a nerve within me because it brought into perspective something that I have observed throughout my career—the difference between “part players” and those with loftier artistic goals—the two roads in Frost’s poem. While these two different approaches to music-making might seem worlds apart, I believe most players have moved back and forth between these two paths in their musical lives. Continue reading
During the course of a music-performing career, one encounters a variety of jobs that vary in their musical orientation and degree of difficulty. The expectation of performing at a high level on any gig is often enough to cause stress in any musician’s life. However, nothing compares to the stress, anxiety, and nervousness that a concerned, sensitive musician experiences when subbing for a colleague on a job. Whether in a musical theater show, orchestral concert, chamber ensemble performance, cover band gig, recording date, rehearsal, or any other type of musical engagement, the position of the sub is unenviable. I consider it the hardest job in the music industry. Continue reading
When I began to study music, it was much like other baby boomers—piano lessons during grade school years. Eventually, I chose clarinet, then saxophone, and finally flute as my principal instruments. During the course of studies that I embarked upon, I always worked privately with a variety of excellent teachers. Some of these mentors were associated with the schools that I attended, but most were individuals whose playing I admired and sought out to study with on a private basis. These studies occurred not only while I was a student, but also after I had finished my formal schooling and was working as a full-time player; while I was a professor at a university; and continue presently. In other words, I have never stopped studying. I have always found the help of an accomplished teacher to be inspiring while elevating my performance abilities and understanding of different musical genres. Throughout my years of study, the singular motivation was to improve, to learn more. I never picked a teacher because I thought he or she might “connect” me in the industry. Perhaps I was naïve, but that was the approach that felt right for me. It was verified for me during my college years when one of my woodwind heroes—Phil Woods—told me backstage after one of his performances, “If you’re good enough, they’ll (industry people) find you.” Continue reading
On December 27, 2016, the music industry lost one its great artists and most ardent supporters, Larry Abel. Larry was 83 when he passed and is survived by his wife Shelley, sons Curtis & Steven, grandchildren Hudson and Chloe-Kate, and sister Sally. Larry was more than just my friend: he was a symbol of what was good about the music industry and humanity. From the first moment that I met him, I felt that I had met a friend and found someone who cared about music as much as anyone I had ever encountered and demanded that every job be treated with great respect and dignity.
I met Larry Abel in 1995 during the early stages of the Broadway production of Victor Victoria. I had been hired by a well-known Broadway contractor for the first time and was to play the lead reed book. Since this was the first time in many years that big Hollywood money was being invested in a Broadway show and because Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews were directly involved in the production, everyone was quite nervous. There were several additional important industry people involved with the production including Henry Mancini, Leslie Bricusse, Frank Wildhorn, Ian Fraser, Rob Marshall and the great Billy Byers. Continue reading
I recently retired as a professor of music from a NJ state university after 24 years. This ended a 30-year career of institutional teaching that spanned 4th grade through graduate school. Having also been a full-time musician for the past 40 years while completing two Masters degrees and a DMA in music, I have a somewhat unique perspective of having lived inside the music industry as a performer, student and teacher simultaneously. While this blog post might be considered by some as biting the hand that once fed me and a means to vent frustration at a failing and out-of-touch educational system, I hope it will be taken as an honest look at the state of today’s music industry and a prescription for music programs to change in order to help aspiring instrumental music students prepare for the real world.Continue reading
On August 15, 2015 we lost Al Block, one of the wonderful woodwind doublers of the twentieth century who was 89 years old when he succumbed to pneumonia. Al had a distinguished career having played with the Sauter-Finegan Band, Benny Goodman, Boyd Raeburn, Artie Shaw, Raymond Scott, among many other big bands. He also participated in several legendary recordings including the Miles Davis/Gil Evans Sketches of Spain and Charlie Parker and Voices; played in numerous Broadway shows including the original productions of West Side Story, Gypsy, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, La Cage Aux Folles, etc; and was regarded as one of the better flute doublers of his generation. Al’s career was a successful one but not radically different from many of his New York colleagues who came along during the last great heyday of the music and recording industry in the 1950s/1960s.Continue reading
Every professional musician owes part of their success to the talents of their repair technicians. The need to have one’s instrument in top performing shape for any job is self-evident but finding the right repairman is akin to finding the right medical doctor. It is more than just their abilities we seek; it’s also their understanding, creativity, flexibility and support that we need. One never knows when a pad or spring will break down at the 11th hour, a support post gets bent, reeds stop sealing on the mouthpiece, or the instrument has been jostled in the carrying case and suddenly doesn’t work as well. THAT’S WHEN WE REALLY NEED OUR REPAIRMEN!
There have always been many capable technicians available but in my career, I’ve experienced a few who went beyond that category who were also ARTISTS and enjoyed sharing their time, knowledge and experience with their customers. They were always there in case of a last minute emergency in addition to their regular appointments. Here are a few who made my life better, in alphabetical order.Continue reading