Interview conducted by Sean Packard
A Southern California native, Sal Lozano has established himself as a first call freelance woodwind player and educator. He is a featured member of bands led by such notable composers as Johnny Mandel, Tom Kubis, and can be heard with Gordon Goodwin's critically acclaimed Big Phat Band. A few of the artists Sal has also recorded with include Paul McCartney, Natalie Cole, Christina Aguilera, Stevie Wonder, Lalo Schifrin, Brian McKnight, Michael Buble, Keely Smith, Barbra Streisand, Joey DeFrancesco, and Maynard Ferguson.
SP: Besides having some serious saxophone and doubling chops, how did you establish yourself as one of top woodwind players in the LA area?
Sal Lozano: Well I appreciate you saying that but I’m still one of the guys trying to work, I don’t know about top but I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I’m doing. I learned during high school that I had to really be diverse in order for me to be able to do what I wanted to do in Los Angeles.
I can remember when I was in high school I was playing in a band at a junior college led by Gary Foster. There was a part in the book that I was playing that had clarinet in it, and I said, “I don’t have a clarinet.” Gary looked at me and said “well you better get one then.” So I thought, “Wow I better find one.” (Laughs). So I tried to locate instruments that I could play, like a flute and a clarinet. I played a little bit of alto sax, but I didn’t own a tenor or a baritone. I started on baritone in junior high but you know, I just owned an alto. So I started playing more, and I took some lessons. The more I got to doing that, the more opportunity there was. I remember a guy who mentioned to me one time that he thought all I played was clarinet and a little bit of saxophone. Now that’s a huge compliment. Some other people think that I’m a strong flute player. I’ve just always studied each one of those instruments formally and really got into playing them as correctly as I could, and I still do.
SP: What did you do to prepare the famous opening clarinet solo for Gordon Goodwin’s arrangement of Rhapsody and Blue?
SL: I remember the first time that we played it - the story is getting more famous as time goes on. Gordon had about 10 days to write a medley for a concert we were going to do with Patti Austin at Disney Hall, and she was going to sing all Gershwin music. So the people at Disney Hall asked us to play five or six minutes before they would bring out Patti Austin. Gordon said we could do one or two of our tunes, and they said, “No, you’re going to play Gershwin.” Gordon hadn’t written anything by Gershwin, so he sat down about 10 days before the show and arranged this piece, Rhapsody in Blue - taking the condensed piano score and figuring out who’s going to get what. So I remember him calling me saying, “Hey, you’re going to play the clarinet solo on Rhapsody in Blue at Disney Hall.” So I said ok cool, I don’t know what for but all right. I thought, wow the Big Phat Band is playing Gershwin. I did just what all the orchestral clarinetists would do; I found the excerpt, listened to different players play it, how they negotiate the gliss up, how they negotiate the trill and all that kind of stuff, and then I just formed my own opinion of it. I also used a very hard reed.
SP: What is it like being in the house band of a top rated TV show like Dancing with the Stars? Was there an audition process involved?
SL: It’s the best gig I’ve ever had in my life, and it will probably be the best gig I’ll ever have. I’ve never been treated so well by people, and the band is a lot of fun. I think the band was essentially hand-picked by a couple people: Harold Wheeler our musical director, and the music contractor Bill Hughes. When we started in 2005 they wanted us for a sort of 6 week trial, as a “summer replacement” for a TV show that was cancelled. So no there was no real audition process, Bill and Harold had known us and we were each picked to be in the band for whatever it is that we do.
Ironically enough when we first started the job, I got a text message from the piano player sitting across the stage from me telling me that he felt like he was on the Titanic, because it really was weird seeing Evander Holyfield dancing ballroom. He was right, we felt like we just had a six week summer gig for one or two days a week. And then it was on the next season starting in January and then September, and now it’s on every September and March. Who knows when it’s going to end? I’m very thankful and it’s an absolute blast. It’s a big rush to play live television and it’s a very concentrated thing. To know that what you are doing is important to the show and the dancers’ performance is very rewarding. It’s a great experience.
SP: With the incredibly busy schedules of both the musicians in that band and the dancers involved, how often do you get to rehearse together?
SL: The only time the musicians see the music is the day of the shoot. Monday and Tuesday are the days the program airs on TV, so Monday we get there around 9 in the morning, that’s the first time we see the music. The dancers have a cd that they’ve been rehearsing with for the week. Three of the guys in the band arrange the music, and we play their arrangements that day with the dancers. We play them twice for each couple, once for the rehearsal, and once on the show, that’s it. The only time we get to rehearse is the day of the shooting.
SP: Could you run us through a typical day on the TV set?
SL: First we get the music, at the beginning of the season we usually have about eleven or twelve couples. We have a lot of different pieces of music that we have to play during the first part of the season. So let’s say that we have twelve couples. We read the music for each couple twice, and then we take a break. After that we have a dress rehearsal, followed by another break while we bring in the audience. Then we do the show live to the east coast so that it airs at 8 on Monday night and live at 9 on Tuesday night. So we tape it at 5 and at 6 here in California. That’s pretty much the day. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great gig.