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Knoxville TN Area

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
My better half and I are considering retirement in the Knoxville area. One of my concerns is re-establishing a musical network. After 33 years in the Chicago area, I have several hundred musical contacts in my address book, and regularly get calls from six or seven bands for gigs. I know it will take time to get plugged in, and if we make the move I plan to do the usual things - join a community band, reach out to local college programs, theater groups, etc. I'm not too into the small jazz combo thing. Mostly I play in big bands and horn oriented rock groups / show bands, although I did cut my teeth in the mid 70's playing with country rock bands. Our "horn section" consisted of sax, fiddle and pedal steel guitar!

I guess my concern is how much of a market there is. On a recent visit, we stayed in Pigeon Forge, the "Branson, Missouri" of TN (Dollywood). It seems like all the dinner shows have pre-recorded music, and only one bar on a six mile strip of entertainment options had live music - a country duo. The other concern is what seems to be a lack of music stores and qualified instrument repair persons, which is usually a good networking opportunity as well. From the research I have done, it appears you need to go to Nashville (180 miles) to get your horn fixed.

Does anyone here have any familiarity with the area and the music scene?
 

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
Apparently no Knoxvillians (Knoxvillains?) here. I guess I'll ask over at that "other place".
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
A couple of things:

I think (but may be remembering wrong; it's been a few years since it came up) that Tennessee is a "right to work" state, which means in turn that the music scene is going to be governed by the low bidders. While union pay isn't the greatest remuneration in the world, there are work rules and hiring networks that go along with it. Something to consider.

Second, you will be "breaking in" to an established network of folks who will be willing to accept you as a peer, but will not necessarily be willing to fully bring you into their circle. I worked decent jobs (pits, mostly, but the occasional big band or R & B jobs) up north, but I lived there for nigh on forty five years. When we moved down here, I (and my lovely wife) both joined the union as a matter of course (although we are in a right to work state now), but I've gotten squat in the way of work through my association with the union. Everything was all about contacts that I established on my own, reaching out and joining groups as the opportunity presented itself.

Despite playing in art music groups for decades up north, the normal route into community orchestras here (once again, through contacts and the like) just was not available. Where I was able to wedge my way in was with my bass clarinet and other horn skills. Playing something from the romantic period? It's time to root around for a bass clarinet. Pops concert time? Who can play saxophone? Gershwin? You need both.

Over our twenty years here, I've played with orchestral groups from (literally) one side of the Houston area to another. As far north as The Woodlands, as far south as Lake Jackson - a span of over sixty miles. And, almost always, it has been as the bass clarinet/saxophone/third clarinet guy. (I did play second clarinet in one group for a season, subbing for a pregnant woman.) Hell, one group even paid AFM folks out of the Performance Fund (or at least they did - that was the last ballet orchestra that I've played in, and it's been a good twelve years ago)

With theater work, things have been a bit more liberal. High schools and colleges are always on the lookout for players skilled in the Broadway books, and some of them pay quite well for what you have to do. I make a couple of grand a year playing for such groups, but the tech and dress rehearsals can be boring as hell.

However, one group that I've always wanted to play with is a semi-pro operation on the near west side of town. When we moved here, my daughter and I both joined the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society, as well as the semi-pro operation. Despite our membership, and despite the professed policy of both groups of "employing" their membership, I never have been able to break into the orchestras for either group. And, that's despite the semi-pro operation using some high school kids who can barely read music, much less play Forum.

Pop/jazz/big band? Originally, I only did this on the side on an occasional basis, but after moving down here, I started in as a last minute sub with a "big band" (despite running a 102° fever with the 'flu at the time), then replaced the guy that I subbed for, and then played with that group for four or five years before breaking off and starting my current group with another sax player. Since then, it's been mostly pop/R & B, with the occasional big band number thrown in for contrast, for about the last thirteen years.

In every case, I had to first "know people" before the offers came. That one theater group I will never figure out, but my play in one pit usually led to offers to play in others, and so the story continued. Same with the pop stuff - a friend of a friend needed a baritone player at the last minute, then wanted me to stay on.

But, that's a function of moving into a closed group of people and (in effect) sticking your oar into a new (and perhaps smaller) pond. The opportunities will come in time, but you first have to fit into the local scene.
 

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
Thanks, Terry. Good info. I'm not too worried about the union thing. I was a member in five different locals from 1977 through 2009. I can count on one hand the number of gigs I got from them, and most were MPTF gigs (a whopping $21 for 3 hours) from a small town in central NY, with 35 members in the local. I finally decided that my $200 per year wasn't getting me much more than a tiny 6 point font listing in the Chicago membership book - one of 300 or so sax players.

My big break in the Chicago area was auditioning for the local community college jazz band in 1983 and making the lead tenor chair. At the first concert, I had a bunch of solos. After the concert, I was approached by a local big band leader looking to fill a tenor slot. I have played with him now for 30 years, although the band is now in semi-retirement. From those two bands, I just kept expanding my network. If I look at my gig history, I have played with about 25 different bands in the past ten years. Many more if you go back 30 years.

I know it will take some time starting over, but after I retire, time is the one thing I will have. It's never been too much about the money. Everything I make goes back into the equipment, repairs and supplies. I just want to keep playing and keep my chops up for as long as I can - maybe even improve! What a concept.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
I got more work from my membership in the Galveston local (now defunct, although I still carry my last card from the place - the union's offices were in the back room of a cleaning supply company) than I ever did from the Houston one.

Up north, it was a different story. But then again, I had thirty years of contacts there...
 

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
OK, we are taking the plunge. I just bought a lakefront home outside of Knoxville. Sold our house here in just two weeks. We might actually be there by the new year. Still looking for repair references, as well as networking contacts in the area. PM me if you can introduce me to some players.
 

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
Things are moving along quickly, although packing $uck$. It looks like we will be in Knoxville for the new year. Here's a pic of the new place.

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