How A Full-Time Sax Player Stays Fed

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Local saxophone player Audley Reid, who has garnered national acclaim over his 30-year career, blows his horn in his Forest Park home. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

Audley Reid, who lives in nearby Forest Park, may be a musician, but he thinks like Warren Buffet. That’s the only way he keeps from starving after more than 30 years of playing music full-time, said the acclaimed jazz saxophonist during an interview earlier this year at Maywood restaurant T&JJ’s during one of its bimonthly Rebirth of Jazz nights.

Nowadays, if a musician wants to keep working, Reid and several of his bandmates maintain, he has to diversify.

“Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, you could make a good living playing on the road, but due to the economy, a lot of promoters and venues aren’t really allowing you to take your band on the road, anymore,” he said. “So you’ve got to have stuff working for you every day — whether it be CD sales, live performances or merchandising.”

Reid said the bulk of his revenue comes from live performances, but his CD sales can do exceptionally well on any given night. One recording, “A Plays E,” was highly ranked by a trade publication. He also sells branded merchandise like T-shirts and key chains.

Some degree of Buffett-like frugality helps, too. Reid, who is divorced and has no kids, had been living in Chicago before he moved to the suburbs about two years ago. He said the lower taxes and housing costs lured him here.

A quiet, middle-class community may seem an odd destination for a musician whose performances, with stars like Buddy Guy, Will Downing and Kim Fields, have taken him all over the world — from Mexico to Asia to Europe to Jamaica, his native country.

But nowadays, Reid’s eponymously named band keeps him moving and paid. The band comprises a base of five musicians but can expand to up to 16, depending on the requirements of a given act. Although smooth jazz and R&B are their forte, Reid said they can play almost anything.

But if you think he has to scour New York or L.A. to find professional musicians to keep his act staffed, you’d be wrong. Reid said there’s a rather robust community of musicians in Forest Park and the western suburbs in general. You can hear them on any given night jamming at, say, Wire in Berwyn or Tuscany in Oak Brook.

Will Howard, Reid’s bassist, is one of those musicians. The former Oak Park resident said he also plays music full-time.

“You have to have multiple streams of income,” Howard said, echoing Reed’s mantra. “So I do different things, combining performance with musical education. That’s the easiest way to keep ends looking at each other. They’ve never met.”

The week before talking with the Review, Howard said he’d just finished a contract gig — two days spent tracking country music.

“I play with like 15 different bands,” said Derek Henderson, Reid’s drummer. “I play at three churches, I run my own studio, I write music, I refurbish drums — I do all things music.”

Henderson, who lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, emphasized the importance of versatility for working musicians.

“You have to know how to play all styles of music, so you don’t leave any money on the table,” he said. “You have to know how to read music. I tell young cats all the time, you’ve got to be well-rounded so you’re always leaving yourself open to opportunities to play with new people.”

Not all of Reid’s bandmates are full-timers. When asked how he makes his passion for music square with stubborn necessities like food and shelter, Self Black, Reid’s keyboardist, deadpanned, “I went back to work.”

“My story is a little interesting because I’ve sent kids to school and all of that,” Black said. “I’ve been gigging for 31 years, but I’ve had a job for something like 25 of those years.”

Black may be the only employee at the waste management company where he works who can boast having been nominated for a Grammy. He earned the accolade in the early 2000s while playing with the English-American guitarist Vernon Reid and his band Masque, he said.

Vernon Reid sits at No. 66 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 listing of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Critics have described his sound as “rampant eclecticism” — a kaleidoscopic mix of punk, R&B, jazz and heavy metal.

That’s not a bad act to be associated with, considering that many would describe being an aspiring musician something of a youthful indiscretion. When he was much younger, Black also had an opportunity to tour with the great trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

“My dad wouldn’t let me,” Black recalled. “He said, you need a real job.”

But for the other Reid, and his fellow full-timers, life doesn’t get much more real than grinding out a living while doing what they love.

“I don’t know how they do it,” Black said in a tone of deference.

“You have to market yourself to as many different masses as you can,” said Audley Reid. And you also have to learn to say no, he cautioned.

“One of the biggest problems musicians have is that everybody wants complimentary tickets and other free stuff,” Reid observed. “We just can’t do that. We’ve got to eat.” VFP

P A I D  A D V E R T I S I N G

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