WWBW: There are some really great TV orchestras working right now, but I think you guys just swing a little harder than most. You guys all come from a heavy touring background. Is that why?
Mark: Maybe "journeymen" is not the right word, but we all played in a lot of different bands together, but really good bands. I think once the band was put together, we weren't playing together like a bunch of hired guns. We were playing together like a band.
La Bamba: Also, 23 years, the same guys.
Mark: You know, it's kind of like a comfortable shoe.
WWBW: Having the gig that you have is the envy of any musician, four nights a week, steady salary and so on. Does that keep you from pursuing other projects, or does that give you leisure to pursue other projects?
Jerry: I think other projects come to us because of this. We're off 12 weeks a year. So I pursue other projects when I can. This takes priority. This is our gig.
Mark: I mean, the gig is so great, and it's been so great. Did we miss out on some stuff? Probably. But the payoff is that we have this great gig. It's fun and it doesn't get old.
Jerry: I also think what's happened, the three of us worked together prior to this, whether it was tours or sessions or one-night pickup gigs. We were in the real world of month-to-month 'what am I going to do next month?' We all lived that and survived it. When we got this gig we embraced it. What did we think, Mark? It was going to end in five weeks?
Mark: Yeah. There was a lot of speculation. When we started, they said probably at least 13 weeks.
Jerry: There were no promises of longevity.
Mark: Basically, we'd be offered gigs. "Hey, in three months, you want to do a tour?" We'd have to say no, because we didn't know where we stood. But it worked out. I'll tell you what else though. Conan O' Brien is the greatest boss in the world, and he loves music.
Jerry: He's been so loyal to us. We did Late Night. We did The Tonight Show. We've done the tour, and now we're at TBS.
Mark: There have been a few times when we've been absent from the show. It's rare, but when that happens, it's an uneasy feeling for us, being away from the show. But sometimes things do come up, and you have to make it happen. We all went to the Super Bowl with Bruce [Springsteen].
WWBW: Yeah. How could you pass that up?
La Bamba: Well, we had to go to Conan and his producers.
WWBW: And say, "Hey, do you mind?"
La Bamba: And he was totally cool with that.
WWBW: So we're all about gear at Woodwind & Brasswind. That's what we do. We sell stuff. So Jerry, you first. What's your setup?
Jerry: Let me just tell you a Woodwind/Brasswind story first, if you want to hear it.
Jerry: I have a relationship with Selmer and Yamaha.
Jerry: I love them both. I was looking for a new alto flute and I spoke to Yamaha directly here in Anaheim, and they gave me prices. They're very difficult to come by. So I called Woodwind & Brasswind, and of course they hooked me up with one. And I called Yamaha, and I said, "Look, here's the price." They said, "Grab it. It's better than what we can do." They said my wait through Yamaha was probably four to six weeks, and you guys had it right there for me. I needed it. I really needed it, because I got called for this session work with a lot of alto flute in it.
WWBW: Great to hear it.
Jerry: Now can I sell it back to you? [laughter] I don't play that on the show unless it's prerecorded. Sometimes we'll do prerecords. We'll come in here, any of us. That's when I play the light winds, which are like clarinets, flutes, piccolos, all that. But on the show it's just saxophone. I guess I took over. You're starting with me.
WWBW: Yeah. What's your setup?
Jerry: I use an alto piece on the show, a Vandoren A9 small chamber. And I use all Vandoren reeds.
WWBW: Which one are you using now for alto?
Jerry: This is a 2 ½ green box V16.
WWBW: Have you tried the new one? The V21?
Jerry: No, no. I haven't tried that. You know why? I don't want to confuse myself. [laughter] What I'm using right now, like, they wanted me to use red box last year. And I liked them. But still I said, "Well, I'd rather just stay." I use the green V16, 2.5 on alto, or 3. On baritone I use a B9 mouthpiece, and I use blue box, 2.5 or 3 strength. And on tenor, I use a T75 or a T7 medium chamber, which is like a Link.
That's a newer mouthpiece. But I usually use the T75. It projects pretty nicely, because we play a lot of loud music here, too. A lot of rock. And on a tenor I use the V16 2.5 exclusively.
WWBW: I saw a really nice video of you playing "Harlem Nocturne."
Jerry: Was it the Link or the Vandoren?
WWBW: Not sure on the mouthpiece. But it was definitely an old Selmer tenor.
Jerry: That was my MK VI. This right here, my alto, is a 1957 gold-plated. This is a 66000 Series Mark VI. I had it redone years ago, because when I got it, I got it really cheap. And it was green. But my tenor, which I just put away, the lacquer is totally off. And that one, anyway, is a 1964 vintage. I like the vintage Selmers. Even my Yamaha tenor is vintage. It's an early Yamaha purple. And I keep that in New York in a locker, because I go work with groups in New York. But that one, too, is not a new Yamaha. For baritone, I have a fairly new Yamaha. And here, I have a Selmer, but I flip them. And I have two sopranos. One is a new Z. I just got it last year. That is the best soprano I've ever played. But I have a Mark VI. It's very good. Old. An old Mark VI.
WWBW: To jump to Pro Audio, do you have any involvement in how your signal gets to the board, or you just let the techs [handle that]?
La Bamba: They're just clip-ons.
Mark: We're using clip-ons now. For years we had really great studio mikes. I'm not sure what they were. But the clip-ons help us to see Jimmy for cut-offs and getting us in and out. It also makes it so much fun if you can put the horn up in the air, bring it down and you can do stuff. Our warm up, I don't know if you saw the warm up.
WWBW: No, we got here towards the end.
La Bamba: We run out into the audience and we all play.
Mark: We're mobile. They compress a little, but for this, it's about the show.
Jerry: And they sound really good on the air. I think they're Shures, aren't they?
Mark: Yeah. I think so. Right. The Shure clip-ons.
WWBW: Now, you have an endorsement with B&S, right?
Mark: Right, uh-huh. I'm playing the 3137, the Challenger 3137. It's just a brass horn with the gold brass lacquer. No modification whatsoever. I got a new one from them two years ago.
Those years when I was struggling to come up, only having one horn, when I could get other horns, I've overcompensated for it now I guess. So I have a few. I have a few of this exact one that I play every day. But when they gave it to me right out of the case, it played great. I didn't have any transition whatsoever. And that's really cool. At one time they called this the Mark Pender model, but I don't think they do that anymore.
WWBW: Sales just went south immediately ... [laughter]
Mark: They took my name off of it and it sold a lot more right away. [laughter]
Jerry: I had a relationship with B&S when it was Gemeinhardt. It was his family's several-hundred year old company. Now Buffet has bought them and is distributing them worldwide, and I cannot say a bad thing about them. They're lovely people. They treat me with a lot of respect. There's a charity event that I've been involved in, in the Kansas City area where I grew up, called the Band of Angels. What they do is they take old horns that people donate and they fix them, and they give them to kids that can't afford them. Last year I did one of their fundraisers, and Buffet, the president of the company comes down, and they award kids with brand new, professional quality horns. It was a pretty powerful, emotional moment.
WWBW: That's fantastic.
Jerry: For kids who were really starting to get good, but were having trouble with their families, and financially. Broken homes and stuff like that. And the tears that were coming down these kids' faces. To have Buffet, first of all, fly their top executive from Florida to come and just hang out, and then the gesture they made while they were there, it was pretty overwhelming.
I think their idea should be expanded. I keep telling them, "You've got to go national with this." We were down in New Orleans. Myself and LaBamba, we did the Seger sessions tour. We played Jazz Fest with Bruce Springsteen. I think we were the main stage the year after Katrina. The night before, we were hanging out on the street, and a brass band came by. These kids just lost all their horns and stuff. And some of them were just getting their horns. It was one of those days where I had some cash in my pocket, and I'd played with these guys on the street for an hour. First, they looked at me, like, what does white guy want to do with us? And once I started jamming with them, they really enjoyed it. But I ended up giving these kids cash on the spot.
Mark: That was why they accepted you. [laughter]
Jerry: That was after an hour and they still let me play. Seriously though, it was really heartbreaking. People lost their home and stuff. And their horns. And they were good players, too. These were kids that had some really powerful tones.
WWBW: La Bamba, what's your gear setup? Is that a King?
La Bamba: A King 3b.
WWBW: That's the one.
La Bamba: 7C mouthpiece. Nothing fancy.
WWBW: Which 3B is it?
La Bamba: Silver Sonic. I have another one of these and I have a 2b.
WWBW: That's been your equipment for a long time?
La Bamba: Yeah. I have a brass one that was given to me from a friend whose father passed away and he wanted to send it to somebody. So he contacted me.
WWBW: Having a provenance on an instrument is nice, know where it came from. Where it's been.
Jerry: La Bamba plays euphonium, too.
WWBW: Oh, yeah? You ever break it out on this gig?
Mark: He has.
WWBW: What is it?
Mark: It's French, right? It's a, it's a ...
La Bamba: Besson, yeah.
WWBW: You know, in those big, British brass bands, the euphonium is the guy who gets the girl.
La Bamba: Oh, really? [laughs]
Mark: That sentence is just wrong.
WWBW: The euphonium player is the guy that gets the girl.
Jerry: English brass band, the euphonium guy gets the girl. I don't think that's ever been said before.
WWBW: So La Bamba's going to get his ticket to London to see if it's true. So Mark, La Bamba is playing pretty much the same mouthpiece he was using in fifth grade, the 7C. Nothing fancy, he says. What about you?
Mark: I started playing Jet-Tone mouthpieces. The Dave Stahl custom model. A very weird mouthpiece to get married to. And the old man, I think, passed away, the guy who created Jet-Tone.
Mark: And finally I called Woodwind & Brasswind. I said, "Hey, man, I don't know what's going on with these mouthpieces. They look like the old Jet-Tones, but don't play like them." And he knew exactly what I was talking about. He hooked me up with a guy who had, like, sacks full of Jet-Tones.
WWBW: The originals?
Mark: Vintage, original Jet-Tone mouthpieces, and I bought a few from him. And that, to me, typified what my experience with Woodwind & Brasswind was when I first started buying stuff from them.
It wasn't so much that he was worried about I was going to buy another thing from Woodwind & Brasswind. It's, like, you know, you're not getting what you want, but I can help you get it.
WWBW: How about clinics?
Mark: I did do some stuff with Buffet and B&S. Most of the focus, though, was not on trying to get guys into professional level, but was trying to get kids from middle school age up to just start improvising. Like, here's a couple of notes. And the kids would leave the school or the store, like, "OK. I can improvise." Even if we're just giving them five notes. Instead of being afraid of it. I know coming up in high school, there was nobody who really improvised around me.
WWBW: It was a tremendous mystery for me at that point.
Mark: Yeah. 15, 16 years old.
Jerry: At that level. But if you do, like, I'll do a clinic at a college, and these kids ...
WWBW: Yeah. Burning.
Jerry: They cut me sometimes. So basically, what you're teaching there is how did you get from point A to point B. And I think this is something they don't teach in school. How do you get gigs? How do you work? A degree doesn't mean anything if you don't network properly.
WWBW: How do you get gigs? I'm really curious about that. [laughter] Show up on time, don't swear at the boss?
Mark: Well, you know what I'm saying. You know, the kids, the first question I get is, "How do you get on television." Which is kind of, like, you know ...
WWBW: It's an inside out question.
La Bamba: I think you've got to be a good player and basically be a nice guy.
Jerry: And that stuff you said. Show up on time. Be there to play.
WWBW: How about just a quick bit on your early instruction.
Jerry: You mean the most important instruction that you could ever have?
WWBW: Thank you.
Jerry: The person, to me, that really taught me, was the guy who taught me from when I was 10 years old through high school. He's still alive. His name is Ray Girard. He directed me in a proper way. I played clarinet for five years with him. Finally, he told my father, "OK. Let's move him to sax." Then when I was 18, it was flute. In my senior year in high school, he said, "What do you want to do? Do you want to go into music?" I said, "I think so, yeah." He said, "You play pretty well. You've got a lot to learn, but it's the route you take." He told me to keep my doubles going. Unless you're going to be a virtuoso, be John Coltrane. "Are you going to be John Coltrane?" I don't think so. So I think what he impressed upon me was to be prepared for all kinds of work, and it kept me well-rounded. To me, that's the guy.
WWBW: Great answer. Thanks. Can you top that, LaBamba? How did you get going?
La Bamba: Just high school in Philadelphia.
WWBW: Was a pretty competitive band program? Have a very organized band program?
La Bamba: Oh, yeah. And my teacher, Mr. Evans, he was losing a lot of trombone players who were graduating that year, the first year I went in there. This choir director wanted me in her choir, and my sister was, oh, I'm not going to let you be in that. I'm going to take you over to see Mr. Evans. She was in the instrumental department, too. So he said, "Well, I need some trombones next year, so take this home over the summer." Brian Pasture was a student that went to the same school years before me. He plays lead in the Philly Pops, and has his own big band. He was my trombone teacher for years.
Jerry: La Bamba's quiet, and he won't tell you this, but he is also an amazing orchestrator and arranger.
WWBW: Oh, yeah?
Mark: Amazing. A record we did a few years back, Southside Johnny, doing the music of Tom Waits with a big band, which he arranged all the charts.
Jerry: Mark and Ritchie have a long history together.
Mark: Only since 1980.
Jerry: I came along later. Like, who's this guy? Through you know who.
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
Jerry: We did a lot of corporate gigs. I started working session in New York for this guy Dan Gralik. He goes, "You know Mark and Ritchie?" And I said, "Yeah, I know them." He said, "I want the three of you to start doing some of these corporates." That's when I learned Ritchie (La Bamba) did all the arranging for sessions. He just blew my mind how he'd make three of us sound. Like an orchestra, with three horns. Jimmy's the same way.
WWBW: When a horn section runs together, one of them usually has to figure out. You've got to figure out who's the good arranger.
Jerry: Trombone players are, usually.
WWBW: Isn't that so? I find it to be unbelievably consistent. It's that netherworld, in between the bass and the treble that makes you have to cooperate down and up. It's not uncommon.
Jerry: It's trombone players.
WWBW: I have noticed that commonality before.
La Bamba: Check these out, they're really nice, Jimmy's charts. And they're all written on two staffs. The horns are in the top staff, and they're all in concert key. The only problem we have is our eyes are starting to go.
WWBW: What is your early instruction, Mark?
Mark: The whole public school thing. Fifth grade, they came along and said, "Who wants to play what?" We had a couple of great teachers there. Mr. Wertman and then Al Ebstein, when I was in middle school, were just wonderful.
Somebody told me to go down to this Musician's Foundation. It was the old Black Musicians' Union. They had a jam session down there every Friday and Saturday night from midnight till 7:00 AM. I went down there a few times and I met some guys who had played with real people, who had grown up around Charlie Parker and Lester Young.
So then one of the guys there, a piano player, trumpet player, Willie Rice, who had made some noise in the '40s in Kansas City, had put together a big band, through Jimmy Carter's CETA program. So I was asked to be the lead trumpet player by Willie one night. He had had a few drinks so I wasn't sure he was serious. Says, "I want you to be my lead trumpet player in this 18-piece big band, and you're going to make money every day, too."
That was really my whole college and experience. Plus we were doing gigs, clubs, and that was really my education.
Jerry: Mark's the 8th Wonder of the World. Pretty much self-taught monster.
WWBW: Never had a mentor, per se?
Mark: I had tons of mentors. But it was all, most of it was informal.
WWBW: No like sit down, one on one lesson kind of thing. Here. Practice this.
Mark: Well, Willie Rice. This guy would take me upstairs and he played this old piano that used to belong to Count Basie. He says, "You can play these notes when you hit this chord." And he just started showing me stuff like that. But the main thing was, here I am, I think I had just turned 19 or something, and he asked me to be his lead trumpet player. I was the youngest guy in the band. I was the only white guy in the band.
All of a sudden, it was like this. He had thousands of charts that he had written. I'm showing up and going to work every day playing for, like, six or seven hours, going through these charts with him. I was forced to learn. I owe such a debt of gratitude.
And also to these guys, too. I have to say once I moved to New York, Jerry and La Bamba are two people who really made a difference in my life.
Jerry: When we moved to New York, we had opportunities, when we were in our 20's. And Philly, too. You know, that whole Metropolitan whatever you want to call it, from Baltimore all the way to Boston. There was quite a lot of freelance work. You'd learn so much music, because it'd be Dixieland one night, or two-beat pop tunes or rock the next.
Mark: There was a lot of club work back there.
Jerry: And you had to learn. You were forced to just go out and do it.