Where to begin? What a great experience this has been! This was the first time I’ve been involved in a musical since doing Cinderella back home in Biggar in 2008; my 8th consecutive production with the New Creations Community Players. I knew I missed doing it, but I didn’t realize how much.
The Journey: (Not So) Easy Street
It was 3 or 4 years ago when I decided to start working on my doubles so I could get work in pit orchestras. I knew that once I was ready to start playing, I’d have to do some volunteering first to both get the experience and to get the word out that I was doing this. However, living in Saskatoon at the time, there’s enough people wanting to do it that you have to audition to volunteer your time just to be rejected. I did this a few times and was never successful in the auditions, but I kept working. When we moved to Yorkton this past summer, I started to hear about an upcoming production in Langenburg. I met some of the people involved, including some people playing in the orchestra, and I decided to get in touch and see if they’d have me. Since I didn’t know these people, I decided to use a bit of the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach.
In my initial contact with the Musical Director (MD) I simply said, “I play saxophones, clarinets, and a bit of flute.” Not an outright lie, but my clarinet playing was still work in progress and, well, saying I play even a bit of flute is somewhat generous. After a few e-mails back and forth, she sent me Reed 3 which I knew from some research contained clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax, but I didn’t know how much of each. Well, there was A LOT of clarinet. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, but I was sure as hell going to try. I spent hours working on the clarinet parts and had to learn several new things. I had to get really comfortable with both the right and left hand pinky keys, I had to learn new trill fingerings, and notes a major 4th higher than what I already know.
Did I get it to 100%? No. Did I get it in the 90-95% range? I think so. Either way, I’m happy with it. Not only for the work I put in, the things I learned, and the progress I made, but also for learning what I need to work on next, and that is just as valuable.
The People: I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here
One of the greatest parts about working on a musical is always the people you meet. Most of the other members of the orchestra, Tom, Dean, Graham, and Gerry, I was already aquatinted with as we all play with the Yorkton Community Band, so it was great to get to know these people better. The two people I didn’t know, Shannon (MD) and Kevin, were also both fantastic to work with, very welcoming, and great players. However, the person I enjoyed having in the pit the most was my wife, Chelsea. I sort of had to talk her into doing this show as she is busy enough as it is, but I’m so glad she did it. I loved not only getting the chance to play with her again, but the time spent together practicing at home and having Broadway sing-a-longs on the drive to and from Langenburg for each rehearsal and show. I really hope we get a chance to do more of this together.
As for the rest of the cast and crew, I didn’t get a whole lot of opporunity to get to know them. That being said, I had some brief conversations with a few people and connected with some on social media, so I hope to get to know them a little better, perhaps turn some acquaintances into friends, and get the chance to work with them again in the future. Most importantly, I need to say what a fantastic job everyone did! There was a lot of great work being done on the stage, but the one person from the cast I want to give a shout out to is Chelsea Farmer who played the role of Annie. The role of Annie is (obviously) huge and she rocked it. I’d also like give a shoutout to the director, Patti, and producer, Jill, for putting together such an amazing show!
The Lessons: I Don’t Need Anything But You
I honestly feel that the day I come out of any type of performance and haven’t learned anything then it’s time to hang it up, so I look for lessons in every single show. In the case of something like a musical where between dress rehearsal and performances we ran it six times this week, there is something to be learned in the day to day. I left every run knowing what I could practice at home to be better tomorrow.
I also learned about the work ahead of me to take me to my next show. As a woodwind doubler you’re expected to play everything. That includes saxophones, clarinets, flutes, oboe, english horn, bassoon, recorders, penny whistles, tin whistles, and just about anything else you don’t need to buzz your lips to make a sound on. Specifically though, I have a better idea of where my clarinet playing is at and, therefore, what I need to work on. Despite knowing that I still have a lot to learn, I’m looking for the next opportunity to do a musical as soon as possible, because I really learned how hard I work when there is a specific project with a specific deadline.
Finally, I learned how much I love doing this. I’ve done many shows of different types of shows over the years, wearing many different hats including stage roles, lighting, sound, stage hand, stage manager, directing, and orchestra. The orchestra is where I feel the most at home, but that doesn’t mean I’ll leave the rest of it behind. I’ll definitely keep doing stage hand and technical work, and you may even see me in stage roles again one day. Who knows?
Well, here we are at the end of another year! I didn’t write a year end blog post last year because, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t a great year and I was feeling a little disgruntled about it. In 2018 some things really came together both musically and personally and I’m feeling excited again, so here we go.
In 2018, we got the full band out twice, trios a few times, and a handful of duo gigs. Though we didn’t play a whole lot this year, the shows we did play included some pretty great ones. The big show of the year for the Quintet was at the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. We played to a great audience at the Nutrien Club Jazz Freestage. We experimented with some new tunes and had a lot of fun doing it. We’re always appreciative of the opportunities that the jazz festival gives us.
With the smaller groups we played some great events, including the City Park Community Association’s Gatsby Night, Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Brunch, Bubbly, and Bling, and our first ever wedding ceremony. 2019 is shaping up to be a great year for the band in all its sizes with three trio gigs and a quintet gig booked in the first four months.
I played with a fair amount of other groups in 2018 which is new for me and I had a great time doing it. I had a great year with the Toon Town Big Band, playing our annual shows, including our feature performance at The Broadway Theatre. After university was over, I really missed playing in a big band, so it’s been great to be back doing it. With the Drew Tofin Band, we were pleased to be invited to our second time playing for the grand opening of a Save On Foods. It is a rather interesting experience when you look out from the stage and directly in front of you is the produce section.
The Howlin’ Huskies Pep Band had a great start to year, but it unfortunately went down hill very quickly. Both Huskies basketball teams were having a great season and ended up with home playoff games, but due to budget issues Huskie Athletics decided to replace us with a DJ. That was just the first road block. Come fall, we were expecting to be back for football season, but they decided to scrap us there as well. Then, come basketball season, we were dropped again. This could mean the end of the Howlin’ Huskies Pep Band, but hopefully not. If it is though, we’ve had a good run and it’s been lots of fun.
Back to happier times! My year is ending in a pretty exciting way. I decided to take a step outside my comfort zone and signed up for Band Swap. For those that don’t know, Band Swap is a charity event where 35 musicians get together, split into 7 bands, and have 24 hours to put together a 20 minute set. This is coming up this Saturday night, December 28th. It’s all for charity so come on out! However, that’s still not the end of my year. I’ll be playing New Years Eve at the Cosmo Seniors Centre in Saskatoon with the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band. This is my first time playing with this group. It’s been a lot of work to get ready for this show, stepping out of my comfort zone again and learning all the tunes by ear and memorizing them, a skill I’ve been wanting to work on, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. Come on out for a Caribbean New Years Eve!
I’ve had a pretty busy year of teaching. I’m now in my 8th year at the Saskatoon Academy of Music and I’m privileged to have fantastic students and coworkers there. I also have one student who I’ve been teaching in their own house. He’s a great kid and a dedicated student who I have really enjoyed teaching. I’ve also been trying to set up a home studio at our new place out in Rosetown, but have not yet had any students sign up.
This year I really kept busy with teach band clinics, teaching ten in total this year. The number of clinics I’ve been teaching has been growing each year and I really enjoy doing them. I’m very happy to see so many schools doing a second round of clinics in the spring to give their students an extra boost before their year end concerts.
This year brought a big change in my personal life when my wife accepted a job in Rosetown. We immediately decided she would take the job, but we didn’t immediately decide that I would go with her. We both recognized that living in Rosetown would add a major challenge to my pursuit of a career in music. After giving it some thought though, I decided to go with her. The lower cost of living meant that I didn’t need to have a conventional job. The deal was that I would split my time between music, a new work from home, commission only, sales job, and taking care of the house. It’s challenging at times, but so far it’s working and we like it. It’s meant a lot of help from our families though. We didn’t have a place in Rosetown until October 1, but our lease in Saskatoon was up at the end of August, so Chelsea spent September living in Biggar with my parents, and I spent most of September living in Saskatoon with her parents because I was busy with beginner band clinics. Even though we now have a place in Rosetown, I still need to spend a lot of time in Saskatoon which means I’m staying with my in-laws A LOT. I’d really like to thank Chelsea’s parents for supporting me in my pursuit of this career by giving me a place to stay and feeding me while I’m there. It really makes a huge difference in my ability to make this work. I’d also like to thank my parents for giving Chelsea a place to stay in September. It made a huge difference to her by cutting half an hour off her daily commute for that month. I’d especially like to thank Chelsea for giving me this opportunity to chase a dream. It takes a really special person to understand that this is what I really want and to support me on the road there. She recognizes that even though I don’t have a set schedule and I’m not always making money, that this is still my job and that I am working. I am eternally grateful for this.
I always wrap these things up by giving thanks. First, to the people who come to my shows and support my dream. It’s always great to play for people you don’t know, but it means so much to see familiar faces in the audience because it tells me that people believe in me. I’d also like to thank all the musicians I’ve work with this past year, particularly Larry Hume, director of the Toon Town Big Band, my good friend Drew Tofin, and Oral Fuentes for giving me the opportunity to play with his band. Last, but certainly not least, I’d be lost without my bandmates, Michael Stankowski, Bryn Becker, Nevin Buehler, and Dylan Smith. I’m thankful to have such talented musicians to work with and I’m grateful to have such a great friend in each and every one of them.
Another edition of the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival has come and gone. Here in Saskatoon, jazz fest is one of the greatest times of the year. There’s music everywhere and there are people everywhere. It’s not only the kick off to summer in Saskatoon, but it really brings the city to life!
Quite often, jazz fest can feel like it is lacking in real jazz. This was the first year in a long time that I felt like jazz was alive and well at the festival. Two of my favourite shows this year were Austrian jazz group Shake Stew and rising jazz start Kamasi Washington. Two very different shows, but both undeniably jazz and incredibly powerful. Stepping a little out of the jazz world, but only a little were two fantastic shows at The Broadway Theatre. The first, from Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soul-phony followed by the legendary Spanish Harlem Orchestra. I also take in the occasional show that isn’t jazz at all. Tom Cochrane and Red Rider absolutely rocked the main stage on Saturday night and Begonia absolutely slayed the opening spot on the main stage Friday night.
The only show of the festival that I was disappointed by was The Jerry Granelli Band Featuring Robben Ford, Bob Lanzetti, & J Anthony Granelli. Knowing Jerry Granelli only from his playing on the Charlie Brown Christmas Album, I as expecting some classic sounding tunes, though I first got a little worried when on stage with him were two electric guitars and an electric bass. As I read through their bio though I saw that these guys were some pretty serious players; Ford having played with Miles Davis, Lanzetti having played with Snarky Puppy, and A. Granelli having studied with Charlie Hayden. Unfortunaly after the first half of the show was filled with blues rock jam style playing, I left. Don’t get me wrong, they all played great, but those that know me know that I have a very short attention span for the blues.
I also got to see some great shows in Saskatoon bars that I normally try to avoid including Ghost Note, Sons of Kemet, and Red Baraat at The Capitol and Moon Hooch at Amigos. The music of all four of these bands clearly has roots in jazz, but they’re all doing such new and innovative things. It was really refreshing to hear.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a shout out to my friends, and fellow Saskatoon based saxophonists, Rory Lynch, Connor Newton, and Gerard Weber, for putting on fantastic shows with each of their bands.
The blood pumping through the veins is each and every one of the hundreds of volunteers. I know how hard these people work because for the last 5 years, I’ve been one of them. The stage mangers/MCs, the drivers, the hospitality providers, the beer garden workers, each and every one of them is a volunteer. As a performer, I’d like to recognize all the areas of volunteers that have an impact on our show. First our MC, I unfortunately don’t recall his name (and I feel bad for this), but he has been assigned to our show three years in a row and always does an amazing job of introducing us in a way that makes us sound like something really amazing. Our drivers; yes we have drivers. As a former volunteer on the transportation committee and having one of the transportation coordinators as my neighbour, I arrange for me and the band to be picked up from my house for the show with all our gear and brought back after the show so we don’t have to worry about parking. I greatly appreciate them allowing a small time local jazz group to get a taste of what the big stars get. The hospitality crew for bringing us beer. Enough said. Most importantly, the beer gardens workers and 50/50 sellers. I recognize that ultimately your job isn’t glamorous, but the work that you do and the festival income it generates is ultimately what pays our performance fees and for that, I thank you.
As a volunteer, I’d like to thank all of my fellow volunteers for being so much fun to work with. As special shout out as well to all the volunteer coordinators who put in an insane amount of hours to make this all work. Finally, I’d like to thank the festival for all the perks that come with being a volunteer. The cheep drinks and the pass into shows that aren’t sold out makes for a much more exciting festival for me without breaking the bank.
Going into our jazz fest show this year I really didn’t feel prepared. We all worked really hard on the music and the performance, but something just didn’t feel right. But that all went away when we stepped on stage and played the first notes. I’m so fortunate to be able to play with some a talented group of musicians and to keep a more or less consistent line up for the whole five years we have been doing this.
Our audience started small due to the weather shutting down the band before us 15 minutes early, but the skies cleared up in time for our show and we went out there and hit it hard. Musically, everything fell into place. Performance wise, it felt great. In the last couple of years I’ve really loosened up on stage and it feels great. As we played, the audience started to slowly rebuild and by the end of our 90 minute set, the park was full again. It’s always great to play for familiar faces and I thank my friends and family for coming, but there is something special about playing for strangers. It’s thrilling to know people are hearing your music for the first or maybe even second or third time. But either way, and audience is an audience and we appreciate each and every one of you.
To close, I want to thank some more people because I haven’t done enough of that already, so here we go…
To Kevin Tobin, artistic director of the festival, for booking this local blip on the radar of a jazz band year after year and giving us great time slots. To my band mates, Michael Stankowski, Bryn Becker, Nevin Buehler, and Dylan Smith for being solid musicians and thus, making me a better player. To the crew of PR Productions for putting up with us and still making us sound amazing. And most important of all, to my wife, Chelsea, for the endless support in chasing this (possibly) ludicrous dream of being a jazz musician, letting us make noise in the basement, and for allowing me to virtually disappear for 10 days every year when jazz fest rolls around.
Well I may be a little late getting to this, but I think having a big gig on New Years Eve is an acceptable excuse! 2016 was a really great year for me both personally and professionally. It’s always exciting at the end of each year to look back at the highlights and maybe remember a few things I have forgotten about. So sit back and enjoy my year end recap of 2016!
As you likely all know, the Marc Holt Quintet has been my main project for three years now and we had quite the year in 2016. We started out with our biggest show yet at the Majestic Theatre in my hometown of Biggar, Saskatchewan as part of the the Biggar & District Arts Council’s 2015/16 concert series on January 9th. If playing for a nearly sold out audience of 280 people wasn’t enough already, throw in the fact that it was our first ever theatre show and EVERYONE was listening. A totally weird feeling at first, but once we settled into it we felt right at home!
Our year didn’t stop there though. Throughout the late winter and spring we played several private events around Saskatoon at places such as the University of Saskatchewan, The Broadway Theatre, and the Delta Bessborough. One of the most exciting of our private performances this year was when we were asked to perform at the opening ceremonies of the national conference of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education. And though new events are always exciting, it is always an honour to be invited back for repeat performances which we had several of this year.
June of course brought the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. This was our third consecutive year to be invited to perform at the festival and when we were scheduled for a Monday at 6pm on the free stage we were beyond happy with that placement! Sure it isn’t Friday or Saturday at 8pm, or an opening spot at The Broadway, but for a local group playing straight ahead jazz music to get a time slot where the majority of people won’t still be at work is big! Hopefully we can get as good of a spot or better at this year’s festival (just submitted my application today!), but ultimately it is a pleasure to just to get any time at the festival.
Summer as usual was quiet, but we used that time to prepare for the biggest step in our career yet. In October, we hit the road. Sure it was only for three days, but it took us to all new locations! The first night had us playing a house concert in North Battleford at a place known as The Gog due to its original use as a synagog and the second and third days had us in Edmonton, first at the Cafe Blackbird and then at La Cite Francophone for a wedding. Not only did this tour bring us exciting new experiences, but a great opportunity to really bond as a band. The tour was such a success that we have already started planning a Western Canadian tour for later this year.
The tour was more or less the end of 2016 for the Quintet as we had to say a goodbye and then restructure. As some of you may know, our original drummer, Dylan Smith, set off on a new adventure in New Zealand for an unknown amount of time. Though it was hard to say goodbye, we greatly enjoyed our 3 days on the road all together before he left. We wish him luck on this new adventure and look forward to seeing him when he returns. With that, we had a hole to fill. In November, we welcomed Nathan Abramyk to the band as our new drummer. We haven’t had the opportunity to perform with Nathan yet, but we look forward to doing so in 2017.
That more or less wraps up 2016 for the Marc Holt Quintet, and what a great year it was, but my 2016 contained much more than that!
This past year contained 4 other musical projects for me outside of the Quintet; 2 of them are new and 2 of them are old. A nice balance. The 2 new projects brought new challenges and the old ones continued to bring great fun.
The first of these new projects was the Holt/Becker Duo. Bryn Becker has been playing with me in the Marc Holt Quintet since the beginning. Over the summer we decided to try playing as a duo for a new challenge and to increase the versatility of our musical abilities. We debuted the group at Una Pizza + Wine in September to great reviews! Though 2016 didn’t have any more performances in store for us, we will be returning to Prairie Ink on February 3 and we hope to see you there!
After 2 years away from playing in a Big Band after graduating from University, I was very excited when I was asked to join the Toon Town Big Band as the new bari sax player. I had subbed on a show with this band once in October 2010 and really enjoyed it so I was happy for the new opportunity. It is also really great to have a band that rehearses weekly, as playing with other musicians is always welcome. This band has also been a good challenge for me as there are several tunes in the bari sax book that call for flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet. These are all instruments I have dabbled in, but it has forced me to get serious about them and now that is one of my goals for 2017. I’m really looking forward to my first performance with the Toon Town Big Band at The Broadway Theatre on March 18 (those reading this here are the first to hear about it)!
As for the old projects, I’ve really enjoyed continuing to play with the Howlin’ Huskies Pep Band and the Drew Tofin Big Band. Playing with the Pep Band has been a blast over the last few years. Sure during football season it gets cold some nights, but it’s worth it to be out there supporting my alma mater! The highlights with the Pep Band this year were playing at the basketball games in the spring as the women’s team went all the way to the national championship and in the fall playing at the homecoming football game to kick of the centennial year of the Alumni Association. Basketball resumes this Saturday at the PAC and I’m looking forward to it! As for the Drew Tofin Big Band, we only played one show this year, but it was a big one! We played New Years Eve back in my hometown and what a night it was! With almost an entirely new band for this show, preparing took a lot of work, but it came together really well in the end for one heck of a party to wrap of 2016 and kick off 2017!
I wouldn’t be who I am as a musician if it weren’t for my personal life. Though there isn’t as much to report on, there were still two very important events this year. The most important of all came July 2 when I married the love of my life. Chelsea is the biggest supporter of my music career and without her supporting me I wouldn’t be where I am today. I mean that both figuratively and literally, as the other major event we had this year was moving into our first house! As a musician, it is so great to have an entire house and not have to worry about annoying anyone with the constant practicing. The best part about this house is the basement which is completely my space and is set up as my office and a jam space. We learned a few days ago that it is even big enough that I was able to put all 11 members of the Drew Tofin Big Band in there for a rehearsal! These were big events for me in 2016, and I am so thankful for this life I get to live.
That about sums up 2016. There are so many other things I wanted to mention or go into more detail over, but I feel like I should be happy if you are still reading this at this point so I left them out. I have big plans for 2017 and 2018 that I look forward to sharing with you. Until then I want to say thank you to each and every person who I have had the opportunity to work with this year and everyone who has come out to support me at my shows. And I’d like to say an extra thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my blog. Writing is a new adventure for me, but so far I am enjoying it and look forward to doing it for. Thanks for reading!
So one month later I am finally getting around to writing a blog post about the Quintet’s mini tour over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was quite honestly one of the best weekends of my life and I can’t wait to do it again! This post is going to partially be just the story of the tour, but also what I learned along the way. There is a TL;DR at the bottom if you need it. I hope you enjoy it!
We started out on Friday afternoon. Getting loaded up and out of town went relatively smoothly and the drive was uneventful in the good way. Our first stop was in North Battleford for a house concert at a place known as The Gog. This name comes from the fact that this house use to be a synagogue. It wasn’t as big as we expected, but it was a beautiful space to play in. The Gog is owned by Kelly Waters; what a lady! Kelly says that her art is cooking, and damn is she good at it. We arrived to her in the kitchen preparing an amazing spread of food for the guests that were coming to the show. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if half the audience was there for the food and not for us! As we were setting up for the show, we ran into our first problem. Dylan had forgotten his snare drum. (We gave him a hard time about this for the extent of the tour, but he is chilling in Australia now so he doesn’t care).
LESSON #1: Even though we are all adults, adults make mistakes, and next time it would probably be a good idea to make check list of all the gear we need and go through it as we are packing up.
It’s something simple enough that it falls into the category of ‘better safe than sorry.’ In the end, things worked out. There was a guy at the show (whose name I really can’t remember) who was there early because he was displaying his art at the show (fantastic stuff). I wasn’t present for the conversation, but he heard we were short an snare so he offered to track one down for us through a friend. Crisis averted. When we started the show, I learned something else.
LESSON #2: HOUSE CONCERTS ARE THE FREAKING BEST!!!
This was honestly one of the best audience I have ever played for. Top 3 for sure! Because of the setting, they are sitting so close to you that you can’t not interact with them constantly. Not to mention, being able to find a group of 35 people willing to pay $20 for a jazz group they have never heard of. These people were fantastic. I have to mention one of them specifically. I only know her as Sue, but when we took our first break, she came straight over to talk to us and was just raving about the show so far. The word ‘phenomenal’ came out of her mouth more than once. I loved talking to her and her feedback was very much appreciated as it is from anyone, but I didn’t think this conversation was anything special. I was mistaken.
LESSON #3: You never know who is going to be at your show.
I learned later that Sue had also talked to my parents and my aunt and uncle who had driven up from Biggar for the show. They learned a little bit more about her. Before moving to North Battleford three years ago, Sue lived in Ottawa. During her time there, Sue was on the board of directors of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Holy validation Batman! I always appreciate positive comments about our show from anyone, but when it comes from someone with a background like that it gives you a major boost of confidence. After the show we spent some more time talking to the wonderful people who came out to the show. Bryn and I both ran into friends from the area that had come out to the show. Kelly was kind enough to let all five of us spend the night at her house so we spread ourselves out on the floor and couches and called it a night.
Saturday started with the drive from North Battleford to Edmonton. Before hitting the road, Kelly hit the kitchen again and cooked us a fantastic breakfast. We thanked her a million times, did several dummy checks to make sure we didn’t forget anything and then we hit the road. Our first stop of the day was for lunch. I had consulted the hive mind that is Facebook for the best place to stop for lunch between North Battleford and Edmonton. The consensus was the truck stop in Innisfree. I got a lot of flack from the guys for picking a greasy truck stop diner as our lunch stop, but as soon as they got there food everything changed.
LESSON #4: Greasy truck stop diners are the best thing ever!
I’m sure they aren’t all great, but there was clearly a reason that everyone who responded to my call for a recommendation told us to go to Innisfree. After lunch we continued our drive to Edmonton. We made the obligatory stop in Vegreville, Alberta for a group photo with the worlds largest pysanka (Ukrainian Easter Egg). Our first stop in Edmonton was to pick up a snare drum for Dylan. Thankfully, because Dylan had gone to University in Edmonton, he knew someone there he could borrow a snare from. We arrived at the venue, Café Blackbird, pretty early so we scoped things out, chatted with the staff, and had some coffee. They were kind enough to let us set up earlier than scheduled which was really great because there was no stage, just a spot on the floor, so tables had to be taken out to accommodate us. At the start of the show, there were very few people there, but it was a 3 set show so we were hopeful that more people would come. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. It was Saturday night, it was snowing, it was a long weekend, and its as our first ever show outside of Saskatchewan. All of these things probably contributed to the small crowd we had and we were prepared for that so we were thankful for the people that did come.
LESSON #5: Straight door deals can really suck sometimes.
The venue was giving 100% of the $10 people were being charged at the door. Unfortunately we only had 15 people through the door. At the end of the night we made $150 and our tab was $100. This sucked, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time. The band played really well and the people that were there seemed to really enjoy it. The highlight of the night was our last set. There was only 2 people left in the venue beside us and the staff, but they were Dylan’s friend that lent us the snare and his girlfriend. We made the decision to cut all the ‘filler’ tunes that we added to the set to fill out 3 hours, and replace them with extra long solos in the other tunes and it turned out to be a great show! Afterwards, we packed up, thanked the staff at the venue, and then braved the drive in the snow storm to my cousin Justin’s place in Nisku where we were staying while in Edmonton.
LESSON #6: Make sure your navigator is sober. I think this one explains it self.
What should have been about a half hour drive, turned into a little over an hour due to wrong turns and the snow making the roads very slick. When we arrived at the house, Bryn got excited about the sauna, we had some drinks, we chatted, and it was a pretty chill night. For our first ever venture outside of Saskatchewan, I think we were off to a good start.
Sunday was a pretty chill day. As we were already in Edmonton (more or less) and our show that day was in Edmonton again, we took the opportunity to get some extra sleep before heading into the city. We drop Dylan off at Mountain Equipment Co-op because he wanted to buy some gear for his trip to Australia and New Zealand. While he did this, the rest of us went in search of food. We were hunting blindly. The consensus was that we wanted good pizza and good beer. As we arrived at this agreement, we find ourselves driving past a restaurant called “Beer Revolution: Craft Beer & Pizza.” We felt like a ray of sunshine had come down from the heavens and guided us there. The pizza was amazing and the beer variety was incredible. The best part was the beer list being displayed on TVs throughout the restaurant in a similar fashion to arrivals and departures at an airport. Unfortunately a couple of us didn’t look at the price of a beer before ordering it.
LESSON #7: Check the price before ordering something. No beer is worth $20/pint.
After lunch, we picked up Dylan and headed over to the venue. We were playing at the wedding of an old friend of mine. I always appreciate when my friends hire my band and support what I’m trying to do with my life; it really means a lot. We were running a little behind schedule so we set up super fast so that I could pop in for the ceremony before we played. When I opened up my case to set my horn up I had quite a shock. A piece of my horn was laying loose in the case. Thankfully, I’m prepared for that. I pulled out my repair kit, reattached the key with some help from Mike, and set up my horn all in time to catch the ceremony. As soon as the ceremony was over I rushed out because we were scheduled to play during cocktails immediately after the ceremony. For this event we were just background music. People were clearly enjoying it, but unlike our other gigs on the tour, the audience interaction wasn’t as important. It’s just nice to play for people, and for them to enjoy our music.
LESSON #8: Private events on tour are pretty damn great.
In jazz we have the luxury of being able to do what we usually do as background music. The reason this is a luxury is because it opens up a whole new set of places to play. The reason for having this private event on the tour is because of what comes with it. We may not get any real new fans out of it, but there was a guaranteed amount of money at the end, we were able to bill a portion of the tour expenses, and it came with a free meal. After the less-than-awesome turn out the night before, a cheque at the end of the wedding really brought it all together from a financial point of view. After dinner we all did our own thing. Dylan met up with some friends, Bryn and Nevin found the piano in the theatre where the ceremony happened and had a small jam session, and Michael and I stayed and enjoyed the wedding reception, as we both knew the bride and some of the other people there. At the end of the night, we all met back up and drove back out to Nisku for the night. The drive still contained some wrong turns due to a drunk navigator, but the weather was much better this time. The rest of our night was much like the previous one; though this time replace the sauna with the hot tub.
The last day of tour was Thanksgiving and it was just a travel day. Bryn was flying Vancouver to visit his family so we were up at a reasonable time to take him to the airport. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We made the drive back to Saskatoon with only two stops for gas and nothing more as we were all in a hurry to get back for Thanksgiving dinner.
LESSON #9: Have a driving schedule for the tour.
Michael and Nevin literally slept the whole drive back from Edmonton to Saskatoon. We had planned to rotate drivers throughout the weekend, but because we didn’t have a real plan, I found myself being the only one awake or the only one sober all weekend so I ended up doing all of the driving. It was a short enough tour that this wasn’t the end of the world, but anything longer I wouldn’t want to do it that way. When we got back to Saskatoon, we unloaded and everyone went home. The last thing to do with return our rented trailer.
LESSON #10: If you are going to forge someones signature in front of someone, practice first. Especially if you have to sign two copies.
The trailer was rented in Bryn’s name, but because he didn’t come back with us I had to pretend to be him and forge his signature when returning the trailer. This was, of course, all with his permission, but those two signatures didn’t not look anything alike and I am thankful no one noticed.
P.S. I do not condone illegal fraud 🙂
All in all it was a really great weekend. We had fun, we played for a lot of new people, and we really bonded as a band. I’d like to close with a lot of thank you’s. First, thank you to my bandmates Michael, Bryn, Nevin, and Dylan for taking on this adventure with me. Thank you to Kelly at The Gog, Michelle at the Café Blackbird, and Lisa and Mark for inviting us to play at their wedding. All of you giving us that chance to play means to world to us. Thank you to my in-laws for letting us borrow their van for the weekend. And last, but not least, thank you my wife, Chelsea, for letting me be on the road with my band on our first Thanksgiving weekend as husband and wife. Thanks for reading!
Tour was a lot of fun. Thank you to a lot of people (just read the paragraph above this). And I learned the following 10 lessons:
LESSON #1: Even though we are all adults, adults make mistakes, and next time it would probably be a good idea to make a check list of all the gear we need and go through it as we are packing up.
LESSON #2: HOUSE CONCERTS ARE THE FREAKING BEST!!!
LESSON #3: You never know who is going to be at your show
LESSON #4: Greasy truck stop diners are the best thing ever.
LESSON #5: Straight door deals can really suck sometimes.
LESSON #6: Make sure your navigator is sober. I think this one explains it self.
LESSON #7: Check the price before ordering something. No beer is worth $20/pint.
LESSON #8: Private events on tour are pretty damn great.
LESSON #9: Have a driving schedule for the tour.
LESSON #10: If you are going to forge someones signature in front of someone, practice first. Especially if you have to sign two copies.
Hey readers! Before we get to the topic of buying a saxophone I just want to update you on something. If you haven’t already heard, the Marc Holt Quintet is hitting the road for a couple of days in October! We are in North Battleford at The Gog on Oct 7 and Edmonton at Café Blackbird on Oct 8. Hope to see you there!
Anyways…. Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I’m going to try to do this more regularly. This time around I want to talk about purchasing or renting an instrument, specifically saxophones of course, but before I start I want to state that I am not paid nor contracted by any of these brands to endorse their instruments.
Unlike instruments such as pianos, guitars, and drums, which you can by cheap version of and still make sounds on, when it comes to saxophones, cheap instruments often don’t play properly, don’t play at all, or very quickly fall into that category. This is because of the way saxophones work. The pitch is changed by making the instrument longer or shorter by covering or uncovering holes that are precisely measured to play in tune. When you close a key, a ‘pad’ on the under side of the key seals the hole causing air to move further down the instrument, thus making the pitch lower. If the key does not seal properly, the air like can cause squeaks, honks, wobbling sounds, or no sound at all. Playing on a poor quality instrument can be extremely discouraging to beginners of all ages, and often ends up as wasted money. This is all to common of a problem on cheap instruments, which is why it is important to always purchase or rent a quality instrument.
Let’s start by talking about beginner instruments, also known as student models. Unfortunately there are very few manufactures that make quality beginner saxophones and A LOT that make very poor quality saxophones. In my opinion, and the opinion of many teachers, Yamaha makes the best student model saxophones. They retail for around $1200 for an alto and $2200 for a tenor and they are worth every penny. Other quality manufactures of student model saxophones include Jupiter, P. Mauriat and Selmer and they sell for around the same price as the Yamaha. When it comes to brands to avoid, there are far too many to list, so here are a few guidelines. First, if it is an alto saxophone you are buying and it costs less than $1000 brand new, don’t buy it. If it is a tenor, avoid anything under around $1500. Second, if it is a colour other than brass or silver, you probably shouldn’t buy it. Third, if you can buy it in a department store such as Walmart, Sears, or Costco, definitely do not buy it. If you follow these rules you should end up with a good quality instrument that will last many years if it is well taken care of. If in doubt, ask your band teacher or private instructor to help you pick one out. No qualified teacher will recommend a poor quality instrument.
When it comes time to move up from a beginner instrument to an intermediate model there are a few more options. Selmer and Yamaha are still very good choices. Yanagisawa also makes some good quality student instruments. As for P. Mauriat, their intermediate models can be ok, but there are definitely better choices. Intermediate model Jupiter saxophones do exist, but the quality isn’t really there. The rules for buying an intermediate model saxophone are mostly the same as buying a beginner model. In price, expect to pay $2000-$3200 for an alto and $3000-$4500 for a tenor. Colour gets a little looser at this level. There are some quality instruments in bronze and black, but brass and silver are still the standard. If it is a colour you would find in the rainbow you should not even consider buying it. The one rule that does not change through all levels is that you should never buy an instrument from a department store. One thing to keep in mind when buying an intermediate level instrument is that at this level, the player is starting to develop their own sound and they are also starting to understand what quality feels and sounds like, so you should always try an instrument before buying it. I still recommend seeking the assistance of your teacher, or if you aren’t currently taking lessons, a qualified teacher or professional in your area would be able to assist you.
By the time you get to the point of buying a professional level instrument you should know your instrument well enough to make your own decisions on what is a quality instrument and what isn’t. If you are not, you are probably not ready for a professional instrument, but I will still provide a little bit of information about brands. Selmer and Yamaha are the gold standard in most professional communities. You really can’t go wrong with either of those brands. Yanagisawa also makes some very good quality professional level instruments. There are some others that there is much debate on the quality of the instrument, mostly because they have a different aesthetic appeal than most traditional instruments and they also tend to retail for a lower price. Two of those brands are Cannonball and SeaWind (which is a Canadian company). I personally think that both of these manufacturers make great quality instruments and would recommend them to my students. As I stated before though, at this level it is about what you want so you definitely need to be trying multiple instruments and comparing them before purchasing. A teacher or trusted professional can still be of great assistance at this level, but make sure that you are buying something that YOU are happy with.
When it comes to buying used the game changes a little. For beginners I highly recommend having your teacher or a trusted professional to help you out with the process. Stick to the same brands mentioned before, but make sure the instrument has been well taken care of and is in good working order. Prices will obviously vary when buying used instruments so use your judgment. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. For intermediate and professional instruments al the same rules apply to used as they did to new instruments. However, when it comes to buying vintage instruments you really need to do your research and learn which vintage instruments are good, which are not, and what they are worth. Again, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
What it all boils down to is just be smart about what you are buying. You will get what you pay for. Buying a quality instrument is so important for a new saxophone player to set them up with the best chance to succeed. If they have to play on an instrument that doesn’t work they won’t first assume that the instrument is the problem, but they will assume that they are the problem and they will quit and be discouraged for years to come.
If you are in the process of buying an instrument and have any questions please feel free to contact me. I would love to help. If you like or disagree with anything I said here I would really like to hear about it. Thanks for reading!
Alright, it’s time for the blog I’ve been meaning to write for days and in a few hours writing it will be pointless so here we go. It’s my year end wrap up blog! What a year it has been. I’ve had some great new experiences as a musician and as a teacher, and the Quintet and I have had some fantastic experiences as well.
One of the more exciting things we did this year was taking the band outside of Saskatoon for the first time. Technically the first time we did that was in the final days of 2014, but who cares. Our other two out of town excursions were for weddings; one at the beautiful Elk Ridge Resort in Northern Saskatchewan and the other in my hometown of Biggar. I’d like to thank Elenee and Jeremiah, and Kristina and Chris for having us as a part of your big days. We had a blast at both weddings!
The Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival was also particularly good to myself and my band this year. The Quintet played two shows at the festival; one on the Experience Downtown Free Stage, and the other on the PotashCorp Club Jazz Free Stage. I also had the opportunity to play with the Drew Tofin Big Band and the University of Saskatchewan Jazz Ensemble at Club Jazz as well. I’d like to send out a big thank you to Saskatchewan Jazz Festival Artistic Director, Kevin Tobin and the staff, board, and volunteers at the Jazz Festival for giving young musicians like myself and the Quintet such fantastic opportunities year after year!
I was also very fortunate to be a part of two album release concerts this year. The first was the release of Drew Tofin’s ‘One Night’ on March 7th at Louis’ Pub and the second was the University of Saskatchewan Jazz Ensemble’s Bumper Crop VI: Continuance on June 13th in Quance Theatre. Both concerts were an absolute blast to be a part of! Thank you to Drew for continuing to include me as a part of the Drew Tofin Big Band, and thank you to Dean McNeill, director of the UofS Jazz Ensemble, for bringing me back to play in the alumni band for this album release.
Perhaps the biggest moment of 2015 was when we launched my website. On May 18th we officially unveiled www.marcholtmusic.com to the world. It was such huge leap forward in my career and there are a few people/organizations that I could not have done it without, the first being Creative Saskatchewan, who helped fund the creation of this website. It would not have happened without their support. The second is Kaelen Klypak at SaskMusic who helped me through the process of apply for the grant. It was the first grant I had ever applied for and his help was instrumental in my successful application. Third, and possibly most important, is my good friend and band-mate Bryn Becker who designed and created the website. I was unbelievably happy with how it turned out. It looked so much better than I could have even imagined!
This year there was also a lot of performances that weren’t new to us, but still very much appreciated. We played four more shows at Prairie Ink this year and we always have a blast. Thank you to Marcy Hildebrand for bringing us back over and over again. As well, one of our biggest supporters has always been the University of Saskatchewan. We performed at nine different events hosted by the University of Saskatchewan in 2015 and we appreciate each and every one of them. For that, a big thank you goes out to Heather Dawson and Meagan Mann.
I’d be a terrible band leader if I didn’t take the time to thank my band mates in the Marc Holt Quintet. These guys put up with a lot from me and from the bottom of my heart I appreciate everything they do. So to Michael, Bryn, Nevin, and Dylan, thank you for everything you have done to help me make this all happen over the last year and I am so excited to continue playing with you guys in 2016 and beyond.
I also need to send a thank you out to my family and friends who I could not do this without. Most important of which is my beautiful and fantastic fiancée Chelsea. You have provided so much support on my journey working as a professional musician and you put up with listening to me practice, complaining about difficult clients, or whatever I happen to be complaining about day in and day out. I really could not do this without you. Also, a great big thank you goes out to my mom and dad who to this day drive the hour each way from Biggar to Saskatoon to come to almost every public show I play. Thank you for the support you have provided over the years. I would not be who I am today without you.
Last, but not least, thank you to all of the fans. I know that most of you fall into the category of friends and family, but all the same a big thank you to one and all, whether you like me because you’re my friend or because you like my music (or both)!
That just about sums it up. I really hope I didn’t miss anyone, but if I did know that I appreciate what you did. 2015 was one of the greatest musical years of my life and 2016 is already shaping up to be even better. Thank you once again to all of you. I will see you in 2016. Happy New Year!
The Holiday season being one of the most common times of the year for businesses or individuals to hire musicians/a band to perform at parties and events, I thought it timely to give you all a sort of ‘how to’ on hiring musicians. You may think that it shouldn’t be that challenging, but you would be surprised the things that people don’t realize. So here are some helpful tips to keep in mind year round when you consider hiring musicians.
The first and most important thing you need to be ready to do is pony up some money – just like for your photographer and caterer. Musicians are trained professionals and we don’t perform solely for the fun of it. Music doesn’t come cheap. You may think you are just hiring a few people to perform for an hour and that hour is all you are paying for, but there is more to it than that. There is the performance time itself, plus they are probably arriving an hour or more ahead of the performance to set-up and do a sound check, they are going to be there half an hour or more after the performance packing up their equipment. That is just time you will actually see. You are also paying for the hours of rehearsal, both as a group and individually, the cost to get to and from the performance, and the cost of any equipment that needs to be rented for the performance, just to name a few. There are any number of costs factored in, so be prepared! This goes for ALL individuals, companies, and organizations. Fundraisers are not exempt from paying for musicians; I would be willing to bet you aren’t getting everything else for free. One of my university professors told me that the only place that one should perform for free is in their own church. This is the standard that I hold for myself and that I would like to see across the whole industry. Since I am not a religious man, I won’t be playing for free anytime soon.
If you find musicians online or hear about them through word of mouth, make sure you have listened to at least one of their recordings before you contact them. It is incredibly frustrating to have someone phone you to inquire about your band and they have no idea what it is that you actually do! We live in an incredible age where you can type the name of any individual or band in to Google and find out all kinds of things about them. Use this to find exactly what you are looking for and then make contact. It will be less painful for both you and the musicians.
Now that you have found the performers of your choosing and they have agreed to perform at your event it is time to work out all of the little details. I know a lot of musicians who are terrible at doing this so if you are prepared it helps everyone. These details may include: what time the show starts, what time it ends, where it is taking place, what time the performers can set-up at, are there any times during the performance that you need the performers to stop for someone to speak. These types of details not only help the performers to prepare, but they also make your event run smoothly. There may be other details that need to be settled; it will be different with each event. Be prepared!
This next point only applies to events that are open to the public. Smart musicians will advertise on social media at the very least when they are performing at public events even if the number of people in attendance has no effect on how much they get paid. They want people to see the cool things they are doing and they want people to come out and see the cool things they are doing. They are doing you a favour by bringing more people out to your event, so why not return the favour and advertising that they are performing at your event? It will likely attract people who weren’t interested in your event before, but are not because of who is performing. It helps all of us, so why not just do it?
On the day of the event it isn’t so much about what you have to do, but what you need to have prepared. The most important is that when the musicians arrive at the venue at the previously arranged time, that you aren’t now changing their set-up or performance time. They are busy people and they live on schedules like everyone else. Changes complicate things, so try to avoid changes on the day of the event, and if unusual circumstances arise, let your musicians know as soon as possible! You should also know where the band is to set-up if it’s not in a space with an obvious spot such as a stage. You should also consider having a green room (pre/post performance space) for the performers. It isn’t always possible, but it is always appreciated when there is a spot to store our cases, to change, to relax, and to warm up. At the very least have a place to store cases, because nobody wants those randomly strewn about or stacked in a corner of the room. As well, if you have someone acting as MC at the event, make sure the musicians are included in the “thank you’s”. It can be pretty disheartening as a musician to hear the venue, the caterers, the photographer, and everyone else be thanked publicly and the musicians are forgotten. It happens more often than you would think, so don’t let it happen. The last, but most important, thing to do on the day of the performance is have the performer’s payment ready for them. Payment before the performance is a great vote of confidence, but payment immediately after the performance is generally expected. “I’ll mail you a cheque” all too often means the money isn’t coming, so spare everyone the hassle and have the payment ready to go.
After the event is done there is nothing you are expected to do, but it is nice to receive a follow up phone call or e-mail. If you were happy with the performance, we want to hear about it. If you weren’t happy with the performance, we probably don’t want to hear about it, but we probably should. It’s just a small detail that helps to build a good business relationship.
Here are a few other small things to keep in mind through the whole process: Don’t try to change aspects of the artist’s performance; you should be hiring them because their music is what you want for their event. If there is a meal involved with your event, offer to feed the musicians – it’s just a nice thing to do. Don’t leave booking music until the last minute because it will probably cost you more.
I hope you find this guide to booking musicians to be helpful. These are my own opinion on the matter and they may differ from others. If you are a performer or event planner (professional or not) and have additions, disagreements, or questions, please post a comment. I would love to hear from you!
What would an artistic professional’s blog post be without a little sales pitch! It’s not too late to book me and the band for your holiday parties! If you are reading this after the holiday season, it’s not too late to book us for whatever you may be planning. Visit the contact page to get the ball rolling!
Woot! First real blog post! Let me know what you all think of it and feel free to give me tips and select future topics.
So I get a lot of people asking me why I contract almost every single show I do and even get some of my regular clients complaining about having to sign a contract. Well, I don’t do it just to be a pain in the ass.
I do it because I am running a business. I started doing it because I felt like it added credibility to what I was doing. It showed that I was serious about this and not just some hack doing this for fun on the side because people want the real deal. The ones that are actually hiring musicians (as a rare as that seems to be) want to know that they are getting their money’s worth. Contracts are an easy way to add credibility to what you are doing when your name is unheard of in the market.
Contracts are also a bit of an insurance policy for both the performer and the client. The contact I use states that the client will pay the performer in full if they cancel the event. I have been criticized for this part because people think that there should be a grace period on this or certain conditions, and to be honest I some what agree with that and am looking into changing it. The reason that sections exists is because myself and all of my band mates have other jobs that we have to take time off from to do gigs. If the gig gets cancelled and we have already booked time off of work that is lost income. So that clause of the contract is security for us. For the client, the contract is maybe a little less of a security. They get a piece of paper that we have both signed saying that I will bring my band to event X on day Y to perform from time A to time B. However, they don’t gain or lose anything in the event that we cancel UNLESS they have paid a deposit which I am starting to do more and more. If they pay a deposit and we cancel for any reason obviously the money goes back to the client. What it comes down to is that our clients what to know that we are going to show up for them and we want to know that we are getting paid.
I often get criticized for continuing to require contracts with long time clients. People say I should just drop the contract as a sign of trust, but here’s the thing; it’s not about trust. It’s about BOOK KEEPING. Like I said before, I am running a business here! I have money coming in from clients, I have money going out to employees/contractors (my band mates), and I have expenses. When it comes time to do my taxes, it makes life so much easier with that piece of paper signed by myself and signed by the client saying that they paid me X number of dollars for this job.
So there you have it. That is why I contract almost every gig that I do. Maybe you agree with my reason, maybe you don’t. So here is one more reason for those of you who still don’t like the idea. IT ADDS CREDIBILITY TO WHAT WE AS MUSICIANS DO! We are providing a highly skilled service to our clients and they pay for that. But over the last 40 years people have become less and less interested in paying for it. Run your music like a business to show people that you are as much of a professional as the other people they hired such as the caterer, the event planner, the florist, and the bar tender.
One final thing for you. The contract that I use isn’t one I created. It is drafter by SaskMusic from the Arts Professions Act of Saskatchewan and you can find it here: http://www.saskmusic.org/how-to/contracts-and-templates. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s straight forward, and it’s legit.
Have comments or questions? We have space for that down below!
It’s here! Welcome to my brand spankin’ new website!
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