Baron Raymonde (pronounced Raymonday) has been busy performing and recording R&B saxophone in the New York City area for over a decade. In that time, he has compiled an impressive list of credits which includes his most recent 42-city tour of the USA and Canada with Rod Stewart. As a featured instrumentalist with Rod, Baron played no less than six instruments.
Known primarily as a rock and R&B guy, Baron has toured and performed with Matt "Guitar" Murphy of Blues Brothers fame, The Blues Brothers Band, The G.E. Smith Band, The Hiram Bullock Band, Sister Sledge, Buster Poindexter and Taylor Dayne. He has also backed classic rock artists including Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, The Temptations and Four Tops, as well as The Coasters and The Drifters.
He's quick to mention that hes not just a "rock guy" but is a better-rounded saxophonist who has performed with Manhattan Transfer and toured with Artie Shaw Orchestra under the direction of Dick Johnson. In his own words, "I know how to play rock".
baron's presence can be felt on the World Wide Web these days with his new site SaxBaron.com. Hes got links to his tour dates and performances. An especially nice link to his "smooth jazz" CD on Mp3.com. He has five cuts uploaded which are all funky but "smooth" only at times. Its not your typical fare from smooth jazz radio. His sound is bright, sometimes aggressive and very passionate. What really draws you to his music are that he doesnt waste a single note on top of the great grooves provided by George Witty. Not once did he play a flurry of notes and runs as some popular soloists like Kenny G or guitarist Eddie Van Halen might. Every note counts. His influences are obvious but hes got his own twist on a familiar sound.
I first met Baron somewhere on the Internet - most likely a saxophone site. Soon thereafter, I was getting regular e-mails telling of his upcoming performances in NYC with different bands, many times filled with New Yorks best known rock musicians. One e-mail had a picture of Baron complete with his "rock saxophone stage persona" attached. Another was a reminder of his upcoming appearance with Rod Stewart on the Rosie ODonnell Show. I was intrigued. It was on that show that I first heard him play.
The interview started with our minds on September 11 events but gradually shifted to our common interest - the saxophone.
he tragedy of September 11 is on everyone's mind. you're so involved in the NY scene. Have the recent events affected you personally?
Fortunately for me, no they havent. I have a friend who is a guitar player and he was in the Holland Tunnel, near Ground Zero. He is having a tough time dealing with what he experienced when he exited the tunnel in Manhattan. What was really strange was that I had a Friday night gig set for September 14 at the World Trade Center that was obviously canceled.
That must have been a very strange feeling. What was that gig all about and where was the club?
It was to be in "Windows of the World". They were going to feature a different artist each week. It was something new they were trying.
You really didn't have a long history with that club. This was something new?
Bob Magnusson recommended me. He does a lot of commercial work. He couldnt do it so he recommended me.
It was never meant to happen.
No. It wasnt. Ill tell you, there are lots of players concerned about shows.
I've been subbing on Love Janice at the Village Theater. Lots of players are concerned about the attendance of the shows, as many people in New York are. I was actually supposed to do the show but I got called to do the tour with Rod (Stewart).
I remember seeing you on the Rosie ODonnell Show playing with Rod Stewart.
Yes, that was my first gig with Rod. I played tenor on "Tonight is the Night".
How did that first gig and the resulting tour with Rod come about?
Rod's keyboardist, Chuck Kentis, recommended me. He used to live in Nutley, New Jersey, where I live. Rod actually wanted a female sax player. He was doing a benefit in New York for the "City of Hope" when he heard me play.
He was thinking he wanted a girl, but he heard you and decided to go with you?
Yeah. That's how I did the summer with him. He's great. Ill tell you something.
When I first played with him he asked me to play like Ben Webster. I noticed he'd listen to Charlie Parker.
That's hip! Rod Stewart is obviously a good musician with some depth there.
Oh yes, a lot. When I played on tour I played six instruments: flute, clarinet, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax. He had me bring penny whistles but I didnt actually use them. I needed a penny whistle pitched in Db but they are hard to come by. Theres about a year wait for them to be made. We tried clarinet on it and it sounded really good. The tune was "I Wish I Knew What I Knew When I Was Younger".
So. it was clarinet in Db concert? There are worse keys.
Yes. (laughs) Most people in NY know me as an R&B saxophonist, particularly the alto, but I do play all the saxophones, flute and clarinet.
Do you play keys or sing on gigs?
I have and I do, but mostly its just playing saxophone. As I said, with Rod I played six instruments.
How did your affinity for playing the sax rather than piano come about?
When I was nine, up in Westchester County, I wanted to play French horn, but then my friend wanted to play sax. I started playing concert band on sax in school and really got into it. I was still playing piano, but my heart was into the saxophone. Playing the piano, I always felt alone but playing with the band I felt like I was part of the whole thing. I started to learn to improvise in Junior
High. We actually recorded a record, played "In the Mood" and other stuff like that. I guess when I got into high school I lost the interest in piano. My heart was into the saxophone. I played alto and later tenor, depending on what they needed.
I was looking at schools like Berklee, Eastman, Indiana, Miami, and the New England Conservatory, North Texas...
North Texas won out I see.
Well, I kept seeing that they (One O'clock Jazz Band) were nominated for Grammy Awards and Lyle Mays had written one (composition). I ended up going there. I had just seen a lot of guys from Saturday Night Live and a lot of people who played on a lot of records went there. I heard it was a really good brass school and it was affordable.
They really emphasized reading,, which was good. I guess I was better as a soloist early on. My piano reading had helped a lot, though. There was a lot of competition down there. At first I made the last band or something like that. I don't remember exactly what it was. It was a good experience. There were a lot of great musicians there. There were a lot of big bands. There were like nine lab bands.
Theyre all named for the time they meet, right?
The One O'clock Band was supposed to be the best band?
Right. I did concerts with the One O'clock Band, but I was in graduate school at that time. I wasnt officially (in that band). I played lead alto in the Two O'clock Band. They offered me a scholarship to go to graduate school. Thats when I played with the One O'clock Band.
Did they put you to work as a Graduate Assistant?
No, it was actually a jazz scholarship. Actually, at that point I didnt officially play in the One O'clock Band but I did some concerts with them. I was just there to finish up schoolÖThey were really great musicians. I learned how important ensemble playing and reading isÖI started gigging in Dallas and Fort Worth. Dave Liebman stayed with us for a while. All of it was a good learning experience.
At North Texas was there any sax teacher in particular whom you found influential?
I studied with Steve Duke, was grad assistant who was really good. He was probably the best teacher I had there. He teaches college in Illinois now. When I came back to NY I studied with Eddie Daniels and took some lessons with George Young.
How did you end up getting back to NY after being in Denton, Texas?
When I used to come home to visit Id play some gigs. I played in this band called the Toasters. So I figured Id go back and give it a shot.
Thats a huge big band school. To look at your bio, you have really channeled yourself into rock and commercial playing. How did it come to be that you got so heavily into R&B and Rock?
Actually, when I was in high school I really liked a lot of rock bands. I remember listening to Tom Scott and Ernie Watts. They did a lot of commercial/rock solos. I got turned onto the blues too. My first album I bought was T-Bone Walker. It might have been Mono Debango. I wasnt sure if it was him on that, but I remember listen to him and saying "oh, thats cool". I liked the stuff I would hear with King Curtis, Junior Walker, the sax player with Stevie Winwood. When I went to North Texas, I focused more on the jazz and modes and really got into that for a while. I was paying my own way through school by playing funk and R&B in Dallas and Fort Worth with a couple different bands.
How much of the financial aspect of playing commercial music came into play with you playing so much rock? We all know you wont get rich playing jazz.
At first I had a love for commercial music. Then at North Texas I still had a commercial sound. I wasnt so jazz-oriented even there. Just somehow I became more adept at playing commercially. I just sort of gravitated toward that.
It called you, rather than you calling it.
Yes. You find your way. When I got older I thought, "Good, Im glad Im doing this."
So, you were a "rocker" from the beginning.
Actually, my mother sang classical opera, but my father wanted me to be a classical pianist.
Well, you didnt quite make them happy. (laughs)
It sounds like an interesting start for an R&B sax player! When did you start playing and where are you from?
I was born in New York City. I lived in Queens until I was eight and then we moved up to Westchester. I started piano first at Carnegie Hall Studios on top of Carnegie Hall. I studied with Amelia Del Terzo. When I was three, I started at the Dalcroze School in New York City.
Your family was full of performers?
My mother was a singer. My grandfather was a magician. Thats how I got my last Name - Raymonde. He was actually Hungarian. That was his show name, "The Great Raymonde". He knew Houdini and Blackstone. My great uncle, Aladare DiSio, was a violinist from Hungary as well. He had a Gypsy orchestra and played in the NBC Orchestra. Basically, my father was brought up by my great uncle.
So much of what you do while performing is visual. How do you look at image and movement on stage versus the music you play? Is seems there has to be a balance between good musicianship and good showmanship.
I agree with you. Being in music school, you're just taught the music and thats great...but you're right. When you do a rock gig, its more than just the music. Its your image. Thats why I wear those outfits in the pictures - because it looks good on the big screen. Yeah, it has to do with the image and the attitude.
Does moving around when you're playing come natural or is that something you do just for the camera?
I'm one that likes to move around unless I'm in the studio. In the studio I don't like to move around too much (because of mic placement). I like to get into it that way. I feel free that way. Plus, when you're playing a big rock concert and its a big stage, you've got to "work the audience". To me, movement is part of that. If you're playing a big venue like Jones Beach, you work the venue.
You're talking to a guy whos been on his share of bars and on top of tables...
(laughs) Strolling, right?
All that stuff. (laughs)
You remember Lou Marini doing that in The Blues Brothers Movie?
Absolutely. Blue Lou Marini!
Hes a friend of mine and I play in his band sometimes. Its called the Nuff Brothers.
Matt Murphy (of the Blues Brothers) was the first guy to bring me out on the road. Playing with him was a big influence. Playing with Lou Marini and the Blues Brothers was a big influence.
Did you ever actually play in a place that had chicken wire in front of the stage like in the Blues Brothers Movie?
No, but CLOSE in North Dakota! (laughs)
I'm assuming you have a wireless setup. You have your own or does the production company on tour supply you with one?
When you're playing a big production thing, they usually have everyone use the same equipment. They have it all set up that way. I actually have used an AKG system. Now I use an Audio Technica when Im using my own setup in smaller venues.
Do you have a favorite studio mic?
Ill tell you what, a friend of mine who owns Unique Recording in NYC let me try out about 20 different mics. Of course I like the higher end mics like the Neumann, but I found the Sennheiser 421 is very good. Ive also been using the Shure Beta 57A. I really like it. I have Pro Tools at home and have recorded with the 57A in the kitchen and it sounds really good!
Do you have a whole rig you go out with? Effects or anything?
No, not really. I used to do that. Its been a long time since Ive done that. I just bring the Audio Technica, which needs phantom power.
So, you leave most of the equipment stuff up to the soundman and you just worry about the horn.
Right. One thing thats real important to me is sound. When I was younger, I used to sneak down to the Village Vanguard in New York. They wouldnt let me in but I used to stand at the stairs and watch Dexter Gordon. He used to fill the room with sound and I thought, "Wow, I want to sound like that where I can fill the room with sound like he does!"
Do you have a warm up or practice routine?
I always warm up and then do some type of scale work and patterns. Then I work on whatever music Im working on. Long tones are REAL important for me. I've always done those.
What sax players do you like to listen to?
I like Eddie Harris, Tom Scott, Ernie Watts, Wayne Shorter, Sanborn is great. I like Maceo Parker a lot. He's great.
There's something very "Sanbornesque" in your picture on your web site. You play a little off center in the mouth with a very high angle coming out of the mouth.
Yeah, I play off to the side a little on the alto. When I was at North Texas, I was told I sounded like Sanborn a lot but Ive gotten away from that over the years. I wouldnt play at that angle on tenor or bari.
Yeah, some guys play with a more downward angle on tenor, sort of like the many pictures of Trane. Theoretically, you're not supposed to play that way, but whatever works, right?
That sometimes can look cool. Looks like the typical sax player thing. I know when I was playing with Rod, they'd have me up on the big screen. I'd look in the TV monitor and it did look cool! (Laughs)
Inevitably the conversation always turns to equipment in a saxophone interview.
Saxophonists (yours truly included) on the whole seem to have a fixation on the combination of reeds, mouthpieces and ligatures that they use - and with good reason. Obviously, with regard to equipment, the single most important factor in producing the desired saxophone sound lies in the combination of reed, mouthpiece and ligature. We always talk about it. Some deny that they are "equipment hounds" yet change mouthpieces as often as the New England weather.
In talking at length with Baron, I found that he constantly had to dig out his equipment from gig bag to road case to tell me what he plays on. It soon became apparent that he has not memorized the configuration of each set up. That being said, baron's equipment helps him do the job, but never did I get the impression that equipment was a big concern of his. Thats sometimes refreshing when so many saxophonists place a greater emphasis on their equipment rather than their playing. My two-cents worth.
3 Yamaha Altos Favorite: Silver Custom 875
Phil Barone Metal Mouthpiece .085, Vandoren V16 #3 or 3 1/2 Reeds, Optima ligature.
Selmer Mark VI (180,000 or later) Vandoren Metal V16 and a Keilworth. Vandoren traditional.
Selmer Mark VI Phil Barone Metal. V16 reeds, Olegature.
Selmer Mark VI Rico Graphite mouthpiece. Fibracell, theyre louder for rock gigs
Prima Sanyo Flute
B46 Vandoren Mouthpiece, Traditional 3 1/2 Vandoren Reeds
Hard Rubber Artley Clarinet that I like cause it has a bigger bore. It projects more and plays in tune. For what I do I like it. I dont think Id use it on a show though. I found out about it from some guys who played a lot of Dixieland.
Its not like your typical plastic clarinet. I really like it.
Whats the best gig you've ever played?
I played with Matt Guitar Murphy from the Blues Brothers. Playing at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena Arkansas. I guess its the crossroad where Robert Johnson meets with the evil. They actually have the stage at the crossroad. I thought that was great. Playing with Rod was great. When the curtains opened with the audience just going crazy - its a rush!
Whats in the works for the future?
I'm playing at the Kennedy Center with G.E. Smith and Im playing at the Mohegan Sun with the Mohegan Sun All-Stars. We just put a CD out. Maceo Parker did just record with Shelby Lynne, who just won a Grammy. Ive got a bunch of other stuff coming out. I do a lot of horn arranging these days. Im getting into that more. A few years ago, I got my teaching certificate at William Patterson.
I guess teaching is a possibility at some point. Where do you see yourself years from now?
Thats a hard question to answer...I want to give back with my music. I've got my teaching certificate. As long as I can give back what Ive learned. I guess I just want to be able to give my music to people.