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Mary-Sue Tobin: I’m Mary-Sue Tobin and I’ve lived in Portland for almost 30 years. Before that I was born and bred in Eugene, and I moved up here in about 1990.


AK: Were you aware of a Portland music scene when you first moved here?


MST: Yeah definitely because I had already been playing in Eugene at the time. There was a big blues scene in Eugene, punk-rock scene, definitely funk and reggae. So I was a teenager in Eugene, and I was playing with bands from Portland that would come down to Eugene, and people that were from Eugene that had moved to Portland. So I was definitely aware of the Portland scene, and I was going up even at 15 and 16 to play in Portland clubs with reggae bands and funk bands and blues bands. So I was actually entranced with the Portland scene and couldn’t wait to get up here.


AK: So do you feel like you gelled in pretty quickly with the Portland music scene once you got up here?


MST: Well that’s interesting because I did know people in the music scene, but I more knew the sort of hippie, Eugene, reggae people and the band that I joined was a world beat group that played at clubs. You know, would sell out Key Largo downtown. I could make my rent just from a weekend gig at Key Largo, which Eugene did not have that. So the band I was in was popular and worked in the scene, but at the time there were these sort-of mega-pop bands in Portland. So like Quarterflash, and Dan Reed Network, and Crazy 8s were really big. Now I knew some of the Crazy 8s, that was sort of more my scene. I knew the guys in the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, but that bigger pop echelon definitely I sort of felt like a hick from Eugene when I first got here, and they’re like “Who’s this little girl playing the saxophone?” You know like, “This is the big city.” So I didn’t… and people like Curtis… I felt kind of small. I would go down to the Candlelight and I was very comfortable going and jamming, so I would go to the jazz jams or go to the blues jams. I was pretty unafraid at that point. And so I got to know a lot of the blues musicians and jazz musicians, and I definitely felt if not embraced, like “Hey, welcome to our community.” At the same time I was getting a pretty prime gig so I think there was possibly some resentment from other sax players because I was getting this high paying job as an 18-year old from Eugene. And even though the scene at that time you could make a lot of money being a club musician, still it wasn’t for everybody. It was these top 10 bands that were filling the clubs. So I did feel accepted. I definitely felt inside of the community, but I also made an effort to get out and check out the rest of the community. Go to jam sessions. You know, all the things that you’re supposed to do when you move to a new city.


AK: So do you think someone coming here today would be able to get that same welcoming vibe?


MST: That’s interesting. When I moved towards playing jazz more, later after touring, going back to school, all that kind of stuff, I would get… at the time there was an insurgance of young jazz musicians coming to Portland, like it was this Mecca land. I would get calls or emails from people I knew. And it’s almost that old fashioned thing of here’s a paper, go to these people, they’ll get you in the scene. So there was people that sent me an email like “so and so told me to call you.” And I would be like, “Oh okay, I trust so and so –  sure you can come over to my house.” Because would come over, we would listen to music, or hire people for gigs. And I think that that still is the same. So if you know somebody, and you have an in, and you kind of have a mentor – somebody who’s gonna vouch for you. I think that that’s extremely helpful. I think trying to break into this scene without having any sort of pin, you’re gonna have to go out… There’s definitely a pecking order in this town for sure. And there’s call lists – you know, top call. And somebody could be just as good but they’re not gonna get called because they haven’t quote unquote paid their dues or been around. But I think if you have somebody to help you, and you are going out… I don’t go to all the jam sessions anymore, but I send my students there. If they say to me that they want to be in bands and they want to play, I’m like “Well, do everything. Do everything. Go to every jam session. Go to all different kinds of jam sessions. Go sit in with people. Take crappy gigs. Because it is a little bit elitist here I would have to say.


AK: Do you think it’s grown more elitist since you’ve been here?


MST: I think that there’s so many good musicians here, that maybe it’s not elitist, but it’s a lot. It’s a lot of people wanting to have studio projects and have gigs. There are a lot of venues, the scene is really good, but people tend to hold onto their gigs. They tend to be… like if they have a sub, it’ll be like “don’t steal my gig.” You know? So I think maybe it is just because of we have so many people move here, and there’s such a pool of talent… I mean it’s sort of a, “Oh, poor us we have so many good players!” And yay for me cuz I’ve been here for 30 years so I don’t have to worry about it! But I would feel a little of… and then there’s the old school Portland thing too. So old school Portlanders tend to be like, who the fuck are you? Oh sorry, who the hell are you, and how long have you been here. Definitely that kind of a thing. Or who do you know?


AK: So do you feel that after being here for 30 years that you’ve become a name that people would drop then themselves to get in to play?


MST: Yeah! Oh for sure, yeah. And I can say that because I have played in every kind of band here in this town. And I have almost never had a day job. You know I’ve been poor. So I can say that my street cred is pretty darn good in this town. But it is funny because I’ve had people use my name, which seems a weird thing. But often people will say, “Oh they said they knew you.” And I’m like, who are they? I don’t actually know them. So if you’re dropping my name, please make sure that I know you, you know? And they’ll do it for publicity too, like I’ve had my photo… When I’m just sort of doing a casual gig and my photo’s blasted all over the posters, and it’s like that was a one hour gig. I’m not part of your band. So it doesn’t really bother me, but I do think it is odd when people drop my name that I don’t know. Yeah, I think I played one gig with you five years ago – we were not colleagues. Not to be mean! Because I’m not mean and I wish the best for people, but also it is my name and I worked hard for the reputation that it brings.


AK: As a non-day-job kind of person, has it gotten easier or harder for you to survive in Portland as a musician?


MST: Definitely easier. I dreamed of the life that I have now, and people will say to me, “Oh your boys are grown, you could go off to New York.” Why would I want to do that? I’m top call. I have a house. I have a full studio of students that I like. I could drop students if I didn’t want them. I direct a band. I like all the band’s that I’m in. I do have a space in the community. So when I was poor and couldn’t pay my rent and going to jam sessions… I have all the gear that I need. When I was younger I didn’t have a stand. I was using old reeds. And now I’m like wow, I have all the saxophones and they’re all nice, and I have stands for all of them. I feel like the richest… I’m not rich. But I do feel like if only 19-year old me could have seen me now! What a luxury! I have a house in SouthEast that my students come to. My gigs pay me money. [laughs] I have nice gear. This is like I’m living the dream. People always say that you’re living the dream. No I feel like I am living my dream that I wanted for myself as a kid. So yeah, I think it’s gotten easier, and it’s just gotten easier because people know me. Band directors will hire me for seminars. I don’t have to go audition. People will say, “Oh have you got a band? I need a group for this. It pays that much.” And part of it has been luck. Most of the people I’ve worked with are really high-quality people which has been good luck for me. So that my name has been associated with projects that people respect and they like, so then they don’t have any fear to give me gigs, because they know I’ll bring something good. So it’s definitely gotten easier for me.


AK: Do you feel though that there’s less full-time professional musicians in Portland than they’re used to be?


MST: Well yeah, people are often surprised that I don’t… Even I’m taking an Uber to a gig the other day, and the driver was so surprised – “That’s all… that’s what you do?” And I’m like, yeah this is what I do. And he was like, “Well is most of your money from teaching?” And I was like, no it’s half and half. It’s half performance and studio work, and it’s half teaching. And it varies. It could be more in the summertime for playing and less teaching. But people will say, “oh I want to get to that position – how do you get to that position?” It took me a really long time to get to this position, and to build up your studio. And one of the bands that I’m in that gets paid now – we didn’t always get paid. When we started we agreed that we all were in the band for the music and now we’re getting paid. But I’ve taken gigs for no money before if I feel like it’s gonna go somewhere or it’s something I really want to do. So I don’t think it can be instant for people, and I think, like I was saying, there are so many people here that want that. That just want to only be full-time musicians and teachers. But at the same time, I see friends of mine that have trios – they play four nights a week. $300 – that’s a hundred bucks a person, and they don’t seem to have any problem doing that week after week after week. So they’re playing five or six times a week. I think it’s perfectly feasible but you have to hustle. And I don’t want to hustle that hard the older that I get. I want people to just give me work. [laughs] Good work that I like. But I think if you hustle, and you’re willing to hustle, you can make a living. But some people as they get older, they don’t want to be doing the club scene anymore. They don’t even want to be teaching anymore. So as people sort of phase out of that, then new opportunities for people open.


AK: Have you seen any shift in how supportive just the overall community of Portland in general is to the music scene? 


MST: Yes. So there used to be a lot more clubs that could go until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. And I’ve definitely seen a shift like clubs – The Fremont Theater. It’s in a residential neighborhood. Well it wasn’t enough that they stopped at 10:00. You know, they were shut down because the Yoga Studio above them didn’t like the noise. What noise? Are you having yoga at 9:00pm? There was a blues club over in a non-residential area, Duff’s Garage, and the catering company. They’re in a businessdistrict and the catering company complained about the noise. And again, that club didn’t go past 11:00. And the noise regulation thing and one of the city commissioners really went after a lot of the clubs in residential areas in NorthWest Portland, and I feel like they are gunning for clubs on a city level. And I think that’s a really dumb idea because cities should have vibrant music scenes, and cities stay up late. I get it with people coming out and making noise. But the next thing they did is the sprinklers. But they were targeting clubs. And it’s not just me saying this. People have been sued because of unfairly targeting clubs. We don’t have $200,000 for a sprinkler system but why aren’t you shutting down these other places? And then now they want have the regulations for the earthquake. Well I get it and they want to be safe and it’s for insurance, but I really have this anger I guess. Why are you trying to shut down clubs. Clubs are a part of our scene and they’re vibrant, and we say that we love live music here. Well you need an operating club scene. And it just feels like venues are shutting down, especially ones with more than say a trio. I definitely think it’s gone downhill are far as that. When I was coming up, there was tons of clubs. Like I said, at the Candlelight we would play a full weekend. We would play 9:00 to 2:00. We would play at Key Largo. Same thing: 9:00 to 2:00. Now it’s 8:00 to 11:00. Oh, it got moved to 7:00 to 10:00! Is everybody just getting so old that they have to go to bed at 9:30? And the jazz jams used to go a lot longer. Yeah I feel like it has gone downhill. I feel like there’s a difference for sure.


AK: Can you think of anything about the music scene in general in Portland that’s changed since then that you like? Any positive changes?


MST: [Laughs] None! Bitter! [Laughs] Yeah, I like that it actually used to be a lot more clicky. So even within the genres, say for jazz for instance. The Bebop people didn’t like the Out people. And the Out people didn’t like the Swing people. And the Swing people didn’t like the Dixie people, and no one liked each other. And if you played in one scene, it was highly unlikely that other players were gonna view you. So say, Ronado Curanto, one of the top sax players in Portland. Hands bard. Everyone would say that. And he actually went out with a country star now. But when he came up, he was playing blues. And people were like, “Oh, Ronado. The blues player.” Now he’s known as one of the best jazz players in town, and no one even questions anything about him. But when I was here, he was sort of dismissively called, “Oh he’s a bluesplayer.” Don’t get the name of a blues player on you because no one will hire you for jazz. Or avant-garde music. By all means don’t associate yourself with those people! You’ll get labeled.And it was the same in other genres. So in alt-country, god forbid you should play a pop song. And then the pop bands hated the indie bands because they’re just “idiots who can’t play.” And then the punkers kept to themselves. And then within those genres and sub-genres that wouldn’t interact with each other, or you had to sort of quietly do so for fear of getting a bad reputation.


Then also too you had the old school Portland versus the new school Portland, and it was way worse in those days. You had to have a rep. I was sort of okay because I was coming from Eugene. But god forbid back in that day that I was some upstart from Santa Monica or something. I would have been burned at the stake. But now I feel like there’s so much mixing of genres and that it’s popular. It’s great you have a funk/pop/hip-hop/metal/avant-garde/Ethiopian band – stellar. And I agree with that because I always liked to play all kinds of music and I never felt like just because I wanted to go to a blues jam didn’t mean I couldn’t go to an avant-garde, that didn’t mean that I can’t swing and play changes, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t go and play with a Dead band. And that was another thing – oh god, don’t play with the hippies. And I feel like the scenes, even though you tend to have basic scene, there’s a lot more comingling and it’s much more appreciated now. I think that’s the way music is always progressing to blend together, and I think we’re having a really wonderful time  where people want to have… So people will say, “What kind of saxophone do you play.” And I say whatever kind of music you want to put saxophone on. And I’ve played on some weird albums where I’m like, “I don’t really hear saxophone but sure, let’s go for it. Let’s do this. And it worked out fine. So I enjoy that. I think it’s great for the kids that can go play avant-garde, they can go play changes. Nobody questions that anymore. 


AK: Well do you see the point of view though from, I feel there’s a lot of people in this town who feel like the scenes are still too disassociative from one another?


MST: Yeah, I find that within the scenes it’s okay. Within the jamrock scenes it’s okay to comingle with alt-country and jam, and so within the subgenres. But the larger subgenres… like I have friends who are horn players that, “Okay, well we just play in the jam scene. We don’t want to go to the jazz scene because you guys are dicks.” [laughs] Then the alt-country or indie can be very closed, can be very not let people into that circle. Don’t want people outside of that circle in the circle. And then the punk scene is an entirely different… So I might run across a great musician and be like, “Whoa, I haven’t heard of you.” And they’re like, “Well I mostly stay to this scene.” So I do get what you’re saying, but I think within the different scenes, the different styles are mixing more. But yeah, I think there’s still that problem for sure.


AK: Well it seems to me, and part of what this project is about, I feel like recently there’s this new Music Portland group that’s gotten together to have a voice in the townhall when people are coming up saying they want to shut places down because of earthquake violations and stuff. And my though it, and what I want to see you agree with, is the reason some of these places are closing down, and they’re making these stupid noise ordinance things in places, is because there hasn’t been enough of a unified voice for just music in general to fight back against these people.


MST: Yeah, I definitely agree. Because everyone… jazz musicians are always, “We don’t have jazzvenues.” And that’s their agenda. But what about venues in general. Right. Everyone is so focused on “we need our kind of venue” as opposed to what you’re saying. And I 100% agree that people are too focused on wanting to save their own kind of venues as opposed to there’s greater power in greater numbers. And I think that if people did come together a little bit more as they are doing with the earthquake resolutions in particular, now you’re talking about heavy hitters like McMenamin’s, and Jim Brunberg with Revolution Hall and Mississippi Studios, and those places are eclectic bigger halls. So now everybody’s got to be on board, instead of just “we’re losing jazz venues” or “we’re losing rockabilly venues.” No, we’re losing venues. I do think that great thing for people to come together.


AK: So are you optimistic or what are your thoughts on the future of how things are progressing here?


MST: I’m wanting to be optimistic because I think one thing about having bigger powers behind you, which I know we don’t like in Portland, and we want it all to be the underdog… But if you start pissing off McMenamin’s and you start pissing off owners of big venues, and longtime production people here, True West, and Revolution Hall and Mississippi Studios, those people have… you know, money. [laughs] Money helps when you’re trying to convince people. And when you have the entire music community behind you, you can make more waves. I loved Hardesty. She immediately went after that stuff and that’s what she promised she would do. And sure enough, she is. She had her campaign party at Holocone with the Normal Sylvester Band. Holocene is not a blues club. So here she is combining genres and clubs, and then just bam – going after… Now I don’t know if she can get it done, but at least I feel like there are voices that are loud and that have some sort of power and combined with a unified community, I’m going to say yes I’m hopeful.


AK: Final answer. [laughing] So aside from venues and things like that, can you think of other things that you miss of what the scene used to be? 


MST: I miss having that weekend residency in a club. You go put your gear there. People will know. In the jazz clubs for New York, or in Chicago, or back in the day, people would have a week run somewhere. Or two week run somewhere. And one thing I’ve done was here was tried to start series so that people know they can go there. They might be getting something different every week. But I miss the places to hang out with people in your community. I feel like we all used to hang out at these particular clubs and you felt sort of connected with your community like you would if you were going to church every Sunday and you’re with a community or something that felt kind of like that. Like I knew places that I could go. And I’m not just talking about venues. I’m talking about just like a “hang”. I miss that. And I’m sure that there are places that I don’t know about, but I certainly feel the lack of it and I certainly hear people talking about. Like “remember when we all used to hang out, or you could go here, and you’d see these people hanging out.” And I know that it happens a little bit here in certain places, but I just feel like it’s not as much anymore. I do miss it.


AK: Can you think of your favorite place or places to have played or play in town?


MST: I used to love playing at the Candlelight. It’s gone now, but it was down the end of the PSU district so you would get college kids. But you also would get a lot of diverse audience, so black people, and an age range from young to old. I’ve only been to New Orleans a couple times, and it’s the only place that reminded me of that spirit of… there was just all kinds of people in there at all times. And it was a super fun vibe. I loved playing there. The crowd was into it. Stayed the whole night. I think you see a little bit of that at Goodfoot on certain thing. And I think Goodfoot definitely is trying to do that, but it’s with a very specific crowd. So there’s people like, “I will not go to the Goodfoot and I do not like jam music.” [laughs] And that’s valid. It’s valid. So where as for me the Candlelight felt like more very open to everyone and everything and I miss playing there. And it was kind of a dive bar too but it had a stage. But on the opposite spectrum, I do miss Jimmy Mak’s – both the old one and the new one. It really felt like, “Hey I’m somebody. I’m playing downtown at this cool jazz club.” I definitely miss playing at both the old Jimmy Mak’s and the new, now gone, Jimmy Mak’s.


I miss playing at the old La Luna – was a big scene here during the 90’s. And not only attending concerts there, but playing there. It just had a really cool vibe to it. But for today, let’s see. I like playing, where do I like playing? I was gonna say all these places and now they’re shut, now they’re shut, now they’re shut. I was gonna say the Fremont Theater but that’s gone. Gosh. Blanking now. I was gonna say the Mission, I like playing the Mission, but now they’re gonna shut down. I’m just gonna be sad now. I like Rev Hall. I like Rev Hall a lot. I think it’s got a really good vibe and it’s a cool place to be in. It’s a cool place to play. I love the Aladdin too, I have to say. Those are both bigger venues. As far as clubs go I’m just really drawing a blank right now and maybe that’s not a good thing.


AK: What are your least favorite places that you’ve played here?


MST: Oh gosh…


AK: And you don’t need to name names.


MST: There’s sort of these remnants of back in the day, when you would have theses bigger clubs like Key Largo, but now they’re just kind of slimy. Like The Gemini in Lake Oswego. It feels really bro. The bartenders and staff kind of keep the musicians like, “Oh god, here they come again. Here’s your tickets.” And everything is just kind of greasy and just a bored looking sound guy. And I feel like there’s a lot of those places. There’s a place called Billy’s in Vancouver. I hate that place. I’m glad I’m not in a particular band… I won’t name the names of bands anymore, but I see that band playing there now, and I’m like, “Phew, I’m so glad I’m not on that gig.” I don’t like those places. They’re kind of hold-overs from the late 80’s/early 90’s that are sort of these generic, you know… cinnamon whiskey shots lined up on the bar, and the TVs are on, and the staff is not particularly glad that you’re there. So those kinds of places.


Also I don’t like it when, on an entirely different level, restaurants or wine bars want to have music but they don’t reallywant to have music. Although there are some fine wine bars in town, like Vino Veritas up on Stark is great and they let the musicians play. I’ve never heard anybody ask or told to be turned down. Arrivederci – there’s a bunch that are good. So I’m not saying that they’re all bad, but places that are restaurants and they decide… They get a hair up their butt and “let’s have jazz!” They don’t really want jazz. One gig the guitar player… the lady is coming over to ask him to turn down and I’m like, “He’s not playing through his amp, so actually you can’t hear him so he can not physically turn down anymore.” I just felt like telling everybody to pack up – they just want light Muzak over their speaker system. I don’t know whether they want us to stand here and pluck our instruments just for the look of it, because obviously they hate music. I do not like those places. I would rather not play. That is how I feel about that Adam! [laughs]


AK: Thinking beyond jazz and all the music in Portland, do you think there’s a tangible Portland sound or vibe maybe if not a sound?


MST: I definitely think there’s a Portland vibe and I think you see it clearer when you go to other places. I used to go up to Seattle all the time with bands. And it was tangible. The audiences in Seattle, regardless if they liked you or not, they’d sort of stand there. ‘Cuz they’re too cool to have any outward appearance of enthusiasm or positivity. [laughs] And we’re like this happy world-beat band, and I do not want to look at an audience of people standing there with their arms crossed because you’re too cool to dance or get into it. On the other hand you go down to Eugene, and we have the twirlers which I am all too familiar with. And that’s sort of the opposite spectrum which some people don’t like that either, and that’s fine. I feel like Portland is in between those two things. I remember when the Portland musicians would come down to Eugene and play and they just seemed a little cooler than the Eugene people – like a little bit of an edge, but not dicks.


So I think that Portland gets this rep of hipsters, and that is true. And sometimes the jazz people can be… well, people in all genres can be a little bit aloof. But there’s that whole thing of the jazz jams like “Oh are they gonna be like in New York, ‘cuz that means they’re gonna cut you.” I will send my students to jams and know that they’re probably not going to come home crying and wanting to quit their instruments. So I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but I do know that there is a Portland vibe beyond the aloofness. We don’t really want to be New York. We don’t want to be dicks. But we don’t want to be happy pushovers either, so there’s this sort of middle ground, “Okay we want to like you, but we’ll see! We’ll be nice and welcoming until you mess with us, and then you’re out and we will vibe you!” [laughs] Yeah but I think people want to be welcoming, they do. But there’s still that little edge of we’re not gonna be pushovers.


AK: Would you say you’re proud to be a Portland musician?


MST: I am. I’m super proud to be a Portland musician, and I’ve supported free programming to start series. And people are all, “Oh why don’t you put your bands in there” all the time. It’s not about my personal recognition. It’s about having this scene and showcasing. We have awesome, awesome talent here and I’m definitely… I have people write my bio for me because I don’t particularly want to sit there and talk about all the things I’ve done. Whenever I have a student write my bio, and they’re like, “Mary-Sue, well respected member of the Portland community,” that does make me feel proud because I admire the quality of talent here. I’m happy to be included in them, and I feel like we can be absolutely proud of ourselves for all the communities of music that we have. They’re pretty stellar on a national and international level.


AK: Can you think of any other cities or communities that you’ve been to or haven’t even been to that have aspects of them you’d like to see Portland take on?


MST: Yeah. I think it’s great we have so many places that have no cover. Sure, that gets people in the door and packs your houses, but it keeps your guarantees for the bands low. Now I’m not talking about that I think that we should be New York with a twenty dollar cover and a two drink minimum and the drinks are twelve bucks a peep. Our drinks are cheap here. Way cheaper than Seattle, San Francisco. You can get a microbrew for four bucks at happy hour. People from New York are like, “that’s ridiculous.” So you’re already getting good food and drinks for not very much money, and I think that we’ve had free cover for so long that people are kind of outraged if you ask them to pay a cover. And it’s like, “Oh c’mon, you have five dollars. I know you do.” Then the club owners are like “Well then they won’t buy beer.” But if they went to New York, they’d be spending forty bucks.


And I get it that we’re Portland, but also I’d like to see a little bit more, and people are still asking you to play for free here. That’s ridiculous. I think it’s because we’ve had this laisse-fare, or we’re afraid to ask for what we’re worth. Oh we’re just Portland. Well we’re also really good. So if you get people used to getting everything for free, they’re not gonna want to go back. So now we have to sort of struggle to be like, “Hey I deserve five dollars. My band rehearses and works really hard.” I guess I don’t want us to be more cutthroat, but I’d like to see the pay scale go up a little bit. I’d like to see club owners be a little bit more respectful to the musicians. I think that we’ve gotten this idea of free talent here for some reason and I think it should go away.


AK: What do you think about how there’s some places – I don’t know if anywhere in Portland is doing it now – where they’ve added “band tip” to people’s tabs.


MST: I love that. I lovethat idea. And it makes it so easy for people, and people that wouldn’t even have thought about going up. Because people don’t carry cash on them a lot, so even if you have a tip jar. I find that people are really generous, but they just don’t have cash on them a lot of the time. So yeah, if you add that line. Brilliant. There you go. 


AK: I’m not sure why more people aren’t doing that yet.


MST: Yeah I don’t understand. It’s not that hard. You add a line.


AK: Like the bar has to eat a 37 cent fee for processing or something?


Do you have a distinct line of where your artistic integrity and financial payout would diverge?


MST: When I was coming up, I would take any gig offered to me absolutely. Pit work. Wedding bands. Cover bands. Polka bands. And I was bringing up my kids and I was a young musician, so I definitely would take anything. And I would fight you if you told me, “Oh, I don’t take those kinds of gigs.” Oh, well why don’t you raise my two children and pay my rent for me? You have your mother’s bank account? Oh I see why you’re so ethical. And also it was a good learning experience for me and I became very versatile in what I could do. However, now that I’m in a little bit better of a financial situation due to working hard, and my boys are grown, I absolutely do not take every gig. I just sort of through the years started questioning is this making me miserable. You know there’s the woman who’s like does that bring you joy. I’d be like, does this band… Okay yes, they’re making me hate music. If they’re making me hate music, or I’m coming home and my family runs away from me because they know I’m just gonna complain about the band leader or the situations that we’re in… And they’re like, “god you just never stop complaining.” If it gets to that, I am like okay, regardless of the financial implications, I’m not gonna do that anymore.


And I have, through the years, names unmentioned, but “You’re a terrible band leader.” One year for New Year’s Eve, after a particular terrible New Year’s Eve gig the night before, my only resolution was to quit that band even though that band made me a lot of money. I just said it’s too much for me. The music was unbearable. The treatment was unbearable. The venues were unbearable. So even despite the money, I quit. Pit orchestra work – it paid a lot, and I just got tired of doing stuff over and over. Cover bands, wedding bands – those kinds of situations were just making me very unhappy and I didn’t feel like the music was… I was not having a good time artistically. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. It was becoming work. And so I didn’t cut all those things out all at once, but just every year, getting older, quality of time… And now the bands I’m in, I like them all artistically, and what you do know – most of them do pay. And I still get to do lots of different things, but I definitely am happy, and I say to my students, “Yes, go out and do everything. But then determine, maybe you’re not meant to be a pit orchestra musician. Maybe you hate weddings and you shouldn’t play weddings.” I found that when I made those decisions, other doors would open up for me. But I never stopped trying to get better. Always was the pursuit to be better.


I certainly play like myself, but when I go play with different kinds of groups I try to play appropriately to that group without losing my own artist integrity. Like somebody said one time, one of my friends, “Why are you in that working class band? You’re not doing anything. You’re just playing a second tenor part.” At the time I really liked being in that band, so I said “Because I like the band. It’s fun for me.” And then I did eventually get tired of it, but I resented the working class part of it. There’s a lot of people that are happy to have their bands and they go out and do their thing and it makes them happy. It’s just what makes you happy, and if you feel like you’re suffering and your art is suffering, then move on.


AK: Do you think you could be doing what you’re doing here anywhere else?


MST: No I don’t. Because I don’t know how I would haul my bari and a tenor on the New York subway with a stand in the rain and then come home to a five floor walkup for three times the amount that I’m paying here. And I have a yard. And I don’t have to take the subway with my upright bass or whatever. I don’t think I could have the quality of life, or do all the things that I do. Absolutely no way. Like the other night I had two gigs, and one was at a tavern and I brought my Wurlitzer for my friend. And I set that up there and then I went up and played a gig with two of my saxes in SouthWest then drove back to the other gig. You couldn’t do that in San Francisco or New York or even Seattle. I don’t think that you could. I do feel that as far as a working class musician goes, it’s a pretty luxurious life. Not that I’m rolling around in jazz money, but I think I have a pretty high quality of life. 

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