Andy Snitzer
by Shannon West

Visit Andy at
www.andysnitzer.com
Andy Snitzer's name may not be on the tip of your tongue when you start to think of big names in the genre but you undoubtedly are familiar with his work. He had a series of hits during the years when Contemporary jazz was peaking and his label, Warner Brothers, and GRP were hot. The changes in the industry affected his career as they did many other artists. He went independent, he grappled with the frustration of releasing an album he really put his heart into at the point in time where his label folded, leaving it to fade into oblivion until it was rescued by another label which also put him back on the path to subsequent releases – Traveler and the follow up, The Rhythm – which have both become successful and have attained quite a bit of airplay and added to his fan base. Along the way he had quite the adventures as a sideman. He spent time touring with the Rolling Stones and is currently a part of Paul Simon's band. He graduated from University of Miami as part of the class that turned out sax stars like Euge Groove and Ed Calle and label executive/jazz pioneer Matt Pierson. He moved to New York City and got his MBA and a “daytime job” while paying serious dues as he established his musical career. Then hard work, talent, and timing came together in his favor. Kenny G's stardom had put the saxophone in high profile and record companies were jumping on the bandwagon and signing other young players. That's how the story begins.

SmoothViews (SV): You were doing session work and a session with Roxette led to you being approached about a solo career.
Andy Snitzer (AS): I came to New York because my heroes were Mike Brecker and David Sanborn, who were based in New York. I wanted to come to do sessions and play with the best musicians in the country and have that life. I didn't really give much thought to having a solo career or making a record. I was having success as a session musician and I ended up on a session for Roxette that was a remix with a producer named Ron Fair who was very important and worked at the EMI label. They had me play a solo, they liked it, they asked me to double it and I did that in one take and he offered me a record deal on the spot.

SV: I guess they figured if you could pull that off you could probably play (laughs).
AS:  He felt the mojo; he felt my essence in all of that somehow. I had that deal then about six or eight months into the process that whole label fell apart and reorganized so that was the end of it. I didn't really think about it much but a few months later Matt Pierson at  Warner Brothers, who was also a college classmate of mine, got in touch and said he had heard about the EMI situation and he wanted to talk to me. I went up and talked to him, signed a deal with Warner Bros. and that deal became Ties that Bind.

SV: This was also around the time you went on the road with the Rolling Stones. Was that while you were recording it or after it was released?

AS: This was a case of my excellent good luck, or more like good luck and my hard work at the time. We finished Ties That Bind in spring of 1994 and it was going to come out in early fall, then out of the blue the horn section got a call to audition for the Rolling Stones. We went in and did the audition and we got the gig. My album came out in the fall while I was on the road with the Stones. It was a double edge sword because I was all over the states so I could go around and do interviews without anyone having to pay for my travel. The other side of it was that I couldn't form a band to go out and do gigs to support the record. That was basically the choice I made when we took the gig. It was a case of getting a chance to be on stage with the Rolling Stones and the money I was going to be making was insane so I was going to do that. I decided the record thing would either wait for me or have some arc that was different from the ordinary arc as far as how it was promoted and how it got out there. I never felt that I made the wrong decision doing that tour. It was an amazing thing and it led to other things of that type including Paul Simon, and that's the defining aspect of who I am in this sphere

SV: I don't recall any concern with you not touring behind it either. I remember an incredible word of mouth buzz among radio and retail people about the album, There was a lot of word of mouth. Plus, Warner had strong promotions people who were behind it and bottom line, the music was so solid. You had some hit songs on there.
AS: “You've Changed” went to #1. That was all fantastic in a normal environment and really stood out since Warner was starting to have some issues. What really worked for me was that radio supported it.

SV: I've got to ask the obvious question. What was it like touring with the Rolling Stones?
AS: It was really good. I didn't have a ton to do because they had Bobby Keys, who was their long time sax player. I was in the horn section and played second keyboard on a few tunes but as a human experience it was unbelievable. I got to travel around the world playing football stadiums every night. Every time you go to a gig you're going to be playing in front of 60,000 people. Experiencing that was an amazing gift.

SV:  Did that have an effect on you as far as your performance?
AS:  I was kind of always built for that, but one thing I got from watching Mick was absolutely knowing that I was never going to be one of those people who could grab, hold on to, and lead a football stadium full of people (laughs.)  It's a deep ability and it's a really powerful thing. Being on stage behind him and watching him go out and do that every night and seeing those stadiums full of people getting into it was pretty deep. Only a few people in the world can do that.

SV: You did the follow up with Warner too.
AS: I produced that one entirely and both “My Dream Come True” and “Rivers Road” did well at radio. Radio was a bright spot for me as a solo artist. Then the label cut their jazz department that was the end of that for me. That was where you could start seeing what was going to happen – that there was going to be a contraction within the whole business and this little sliver that I was a part of was really being affected.

SV: There was a little time off then you released Some Quiet Place, which I just adored and still do, but it didn't seem to have the sound that radio wanted. It was really melodic; it had a kind of organic pop rock thing going at a time radio was totally into high gloss urban productions. And, basically, it tanked.
AS: Yeah at that time I had some not fantastic things happen. The little label I was with fell apart right when it was released. I had experienced that before, but the lack of radio support was new to me. It was a little instruction that radio wasn't going to be as automatic for me as it had been before.

SV: Familiarity was a big deal with the music research process. If you didn't sound like something they already knew, chances are you wouldn't get play, and this was a really individualistic record.
AS: At that point I was starting to feel like I had an audience but it was not the people who like the record that sounds like the guy who sounds like the guy who sounds like Boney. 

SV: That about sums up the format then (laughs.) A lot of what I am getting in the mail still sounds like it is derivative of Boney, Benson, or Kenny G. Now, people who love those artists already have their music and they don't seem to be laying money down to own imitations of it.
AS: I hope these musicians who sound imitative are doing what they like to do because if it is insincere I think people will pick up on it. My feeling is that when people are that successful they love what they do and it shows.  If someone told me they were going to bring me in to play over tracks that sounded like Boney I could do it but it wouldn't be successful because it would not be true for me. Boney would kick my butt at that because what is true for him isn't going to be true for me, or someone else trying to do it.

SV: Boney could kick your butt at being Boney and you could kick Boney's butt at being Andy Snitzer.
AS:  Exactly, that's the point. You have to roll out the way you are constituted and be who you are.

SV:  One thing I love about your two most recent albums is that there were things you wanted to express that fell into the realm of smooth and you didn't deny that part of it but you didn't let it restrict you either. You created music that had to do with who you are and where you are at the time.
AS: I can tell you for a fact that that is true. They are not a lie on any level. That has always been the case with my albums but I am super happy now because with these albums, particularly with Traveler, I feel like I hit my stride as a stylist, record maker, as a player, and as far as how I created the tracks. I love that it did so well at radio even though it was something different. It wasn't the R&B sound; it had kind of this Euro-chill, hang out in a club after hours feeling.

SV: But it didn't have that sterile feeling that the chill records that the format jumped on a few years ago had that was too much technology and lack of warmth.
AS: Nobody was playing on those songs, it was all studio. That's why I was so happy with the album. I feel like I am playing on it, the melodies are still there, but in terms of the style and mood it has that atmospheric thing going. It was an example of me finding some success with an idea that was a true to me. It landed with listeners and wasn't pandering or an attempt to be somebody else.

SV: The interesting thing is that you did the three contemporary jazz albums then you were under the radar for a while but you had some straight-ahead albums.
AS: That was an interesting twist on the business. Those were Japanese releases. I'm in a band called the Manhattan Jazz Quintet. It's a straight-ahead band led by an American guy who goes to Japan and is only well known there and does concerts there. The producer and impresario approached me with an idea for making a record that would come out in Japan. It was going to be a quick thing, recorded in less than a day by me and a few other guys and I would get paid for the session. I like the material and enjoy playing that style, it was only going to come out in Japan, I'm a working musician and it's a paying gig like any recording session so I was going to go for it. The only difference was that they were going to stick my face on the cover (laughs.)  It had nothing to do with an artistic desire or a plan I had. It was a guy calling and saying he wanted to do this and here's so much it paid. So I said yes. Then the internet happened and all of a sudden this stuff is public record all over the world and people like you stumble across it and go “WTF?”

SV: It's actually really quality stuff, and it has a really live sound to it so it was off the path and I did go “WTF” when those albums popped up but quite a few musicians sneak off and do a straight-ahead album if their labels will let them.
AS: There is a little part of me that likes representing the fact that I can play over changes and people can hear that I can play jazz harmony. It was a side trip, it's not what I spend most of my time on or the center of what I do artistically though.
SV: There were some artists that did choose not to do the smooth thing when it got really narrow, they were doing straight-ahead or progressive so I did think that was what you were doing during that period.
AS: That would be a logical conclusion. The truth is much baser than that – it was a job, some of my friends and I went in and played we had fun, and we had a nice payday (laughs.) The other truth is that after Some Quiet Place I did quit contemporary jazz in terms of recording as a solo artist. Then Joe Sherbanee from Native Language called in 2006 and said he wanted  to re-release that album. He thought it was a great record that never got its due. We put one new track on it and did new artwork. Then we started talking about doing something else. That gave life to the idea of making some modern music and that's what led to Traveler. I'm so happy he did that. I'm so glad I didn't end up being a guy who made some records in the 90's then quit the whole thing.

SV: A very wise person I interviewed back when we were starting this website who was also coming out of a dry period felt that if you keep doing what you're doing and you're coming from a good place as far as the spirit of the thing it will eventually come around and pick you up again.
AS: I agree with that. There's nothing that says if you're super true to your heart there will be a big pile of success or money at the end of the rainbow, but the audience that does find you will love you for telling the truth about yourself and telling the truth about the music you want to make. The whole thing that happened in the business is kind of freeing because now it's nowhere near as lucrative as it was but you can focus on playing for the audience that is going to connect with what you do instead of thinking about having your record go gold. At this point I have this freedom to try to be as good as I can be as a composer, player, producer and record-maker.

SV: You have been traveling the world as a part of Paul Simon's touring band for the past few years. This is an incredible aggregation of accomplished musicians from so many different nationalities and backgrounds. What has that been like?

AS:  That is another kind of awesome. The Rolling Stones thing was spectacle awesome and rock star awesome. Paul's thing is artistically awesome. You start with one of the greatest people in the history of songwriting. That guy also happens to be a meticulous record maker, artistic searcher, and musical dabbler. With this very keen eye he surrounds himself with a group of musicians that are super interesting, quirky and weird and powerful, and all different. It's perfect! It's a band of seven or eight guys and there are all these different things going on on the stage, everyone is multitasking and playing different things. I can't imagine anything better than this as a sideman. I'm so lucky to be a part of it.

SV: For someone like me who spent a lot of time hiding in my bedroom listening to Simon and Garfunkel as a kid it is so amazing to see how he has grown and expanded so much on the idea of a poet with a guitar. Who would have thought you could take that to such far reaching places.
AS: He's a singularity. He's heavy duty. He's a poet, he's an amazing songwriter from a musical point of view, as a crafter of tracks and sounds, as a musical entity,  The word genius gets thrown around a lot but he's a super unique guy in a bunch of different ways. Conversations with him, particularly about record making, allowed me to make Traveler.  That allowed me to get good enough to do that. If not for him I don't think I would have been able to do that.

SV: In what way?

AS: A bunch of ways. The first is to be unrelenting in your critique. That had an immediate influence and fantastic payoff. In the past I would write a track and have an idea for a melody in my head before I even picked up the saxophone. Then when I did start playing the melody if it didn't feel right I would sweat it out to get it to the point where it sounded pretty cool. On Traveler I would have an idea for a melody for the track, then I would pick up the saxophone and play it. If it did not feel really great I abandoned it immediately and started playing and searching for other melodies and ideas. I loved the process because it takes you out of this box you made when you recorded the track and in the freedom of that process something better came every time. I love that ethic, I love that way of working and that would not have happened without his influence. 

SV: The Rhythm seems to have evolved from what was happening sonically on Traveler.  The way I heard it was kind of like it's Traveler with teeth.
AS: (laughs) If that's what you say then I got the mission right. At this point I consider Traveler my best achievement so far but the feedback I got from the player community was that there wasn't enough sax playing. They wanted to hear me shred. That's what they were looking for because I was that guy, I was a saxophone player who set a high bar on the playing thing and they like it when I do difficult things and pull them off. I tried to put that in there. When you say it was Traveler with teeth you got that right.

SV: When you say the player community do you mean other musicians?
AS: No. I mean the saxophone fans around the world.

SV: Was it a case of them wanting something that sounded more like your first three albums?
AS: Something like that. I still like the idea of having vibe and style and mood in all the cuts. Kind of this sense of elegance but I wanted to give them something this time that added to that.

SV: It's quite a trick to keep those elements and get more in your face with the sax without having the two elements fight each other.
AS: That is a challenge and my feelings about how I pulled it off are evolving. There are definitely some examples where I think I got it really right. If I do another one I'm not going to worry about that. I'm just going to do it the way it comes to me.

SV: The response has been really positive. You've got lots of really good reviews and you are getting a lot of play on both internet and traditional radio.
AS:  The radio response has been good on both these albums. There were some people who reviewed Traveler and panned it and those people like this one, and the people who liked Traveler like The Rhythm too so both camps seem to be good with it. I am still too close to this one to have the feeling for it that I have about Traveler. I think it takes time and some distance to get that feeling for your own work.  It's still too fresh in your mind and you start thinking about revisions as if you are still in the process instead of finished with it.

SV: You went to University of Miami, which has turned out some incredible musicians. Then you headed into that career but you also got your MBA. How did you end up deciding to go into business.
AS: It was a hedge. I came from a family of professionals. I was always kind of that math/music kid so I was able to do the coursework. It was kind of a mediation, a deal with my parents. I get it now, you're a lawyer and a professional and you have a son who is smart. You envision that he's going to get into Harvard or clerk for the Supreme Court one day because that's your perspective then he comes along and says “it's going to be the saxophone, dad.”

SV: And dad drops through the floor. So you go to grad school. During that time you were also trying to launch your career as a musician in New York City.
AS: I was doing school during the day and at night I was sitting in on jam sessions, and I got into a wedding band and started doing that. Then they tried to revive the Playboy Club in 1985 and they put together a house band. I was in it, Chris Botti was in it, a guy named Rob Mathis who is now Sting's musical director was in it. We were this band of super young guys playing five nights a week. The club failed,  the idea just didn't have a foundation, but the band was really good. It was this powerful melting pot but nobody knew that, we were all 21 year old kids. I came out of school and got a job at JP Morgan and kept playing and trying go upward .Then I started getting some sessions like the one for 'Waiting for A Star To Fall” for Boy Meets Girl and Arif Mardin at Arista. At some point after that I felt like it was pretty clear that I could do it, or at least that I should take a shot because I could tell that my trajectory was upward.

SV: That's big because you're going into this field that is very demanding and very competitive. How do you get the type of credibility that gets you to the point where you can support yourself as a musician?
AS: You just play. You go out and you play. It's a word of mouth network. It's literally like guys who do a trade, like plumbers or electricians or masons. The watch a guy work and they can tell if a guy is good or if he's a hack and that's his reputation. You go sit in at the late night jam sessions, you play a wedding with other young musicians who are trying to go somewhere. Wherever you are you play and as you distinguish yourself by your playing word around, because it's a trade. And other people in the trade know instantly who has the skill and the commitment.

SV: You had a comment - I think on your website bio - that caught my attention. You said “Doing gigs at night and getting established in the New York music scene...slowly garnered a reputation that eventually led to acceptance through a myriad of less prestigious gigs.” It struck me because now everyone wants it instantly. They want to record a bunch of songs on their computer at home, put it out there and immediately become stars. People don't understand the time and work that comes first.
AS: You aren't going to get it instantly. You can go for that but whatever happens is not going to last. You can learn how to play a little bit and put out a record. You can use the technology to make it sound really good, but in terms of it lasting in this business certainly you can't last as a sideman without real skills. The same is true for being a recording artist.  Eventually the fan base will sort you out. If you haven't put the time in and really belabored it and grown your own artistry you are not going to have a long career. You can scrape for your moment but that's about it. And why would you want to end run the hard work? It's not a drag to do this. It's cool. You've got to practice playing music. There are worse fates in the world (laughs.) If you're driven to do this, especially as an instrumentalist, I would hope that you are driven by more than a notion of fame.

SV: Especially because as an instrumentalist you are most likely spend time as a sideman and play while someone else is at the center of the stage. It could be you with Paul Simon, Gerald Albright with Phil Collins, Candy Dulfer with Prince, there are lots of cases like that. You're up there but you aren't the famous one.
AS: You're not the famous one but you're there with that person because you worked and sweated it and became top tier. You became a person who would be called in to stand next to someone who could have anybody in the world. It's artistic insight, it's honed craft, it's the time you have spent with the craft. You elevate yourself through the process of doing it, experimenting, not doing very well, practicing, and getting better at it. It's like anything people want to achieve. If you spend the time and put the sweat equity into it you will eventually be as good as you can possibly be. There will be some elegance about what you do. Maybe someone else is going to be more elegant than you, or more talented than you, but at least you will have taken your thing to the end game, to be as good at it as  you can be.

SV: And that doesn't just apply to music. It applies to any endeavor. You nailed the process and the commitment it requires so beautifully, which is why you are able to do what you do and will hopefully inspire others to commit to the work ethic that is behind the glamorous part. Thank you so much for the conversation and deeper insight into your music.

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