What first drew you to jazz?
When I came to L.A. I immediately got a job as a waitress because no one would hire me as a musician. I would walk into jam sessions in Los Angeles and ask if I could play. They wouldn’t even think I was a musician. I looked like a cheerleader, at that point. I was twenty-one-years-old and I’m sure I didn’t look the part of what I was trying to be. It was interesting. I learned you kind of have to make your own.
And because no one would hire me, I made my own. I did everything from play on the street in order to pay the rent to booking myself as a solo saxophonist, playing in lobbies of hotels or parties. I would even play with a trio, or a duo, hiring guys I wanted to play with. Whatever they wanted, that’s what I had.
I begged my friend from college at Berklee in Boston, Tommy Coster, Jr., to move to L.A. because I didn't know anyone here who would play with me. I promised him I would get us bookings. He moved to L.A. from Boston, and I did get us bookings...we did the coffee shop circuit and played basically anywhere they would feed us dinner!
After that, he helped me get guys to play with us and between us, we formed my first band. I played all the little dirty rocker clubs in Hollywood, and any jazz club or restaurant that would let us in...everyone was playing for free. We moved up slowly to getting paid maybe $30-$50 a night. We definitely paid our dues. We even played on the route of the L.A. Marathon (for free) just to play. We didn’t say "no" to any moneymaking opportunity or any opportunity to get in front of people and play. You never know.
At one point I was playing on the street alone in Santa Monica, and Bobby Lyle walked past me. He is a veteran jazz musician. He is incredible, and I recognized him immediately. I was a fan. He walked by and stood and watched me play for a while.
I am thinking to myself, I’ve got a college education and I am out here on the street playing and I’ve got Bobby Lyle watching me. This is a little embarrassing.
He stayed to the end of the song and then he walked up and said, “You are really good. I should hire you for something.”
Well, maybe this isn’t embarrassing, I thought. Maybe this is pretty cool.
He did hire me, and I played on one of his albums, Power of Touch [Atlantic/WEA, 1997] and toured with him on and off for years.
We’ll still do stuff together every once in a while. He was a huge part of my coming up the ranks. It all came from him walking up Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California and seeing me out there with my case out.