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FAQ's

Here’s a Chance to get to know Chris a little better where he took some time to answer some

Frequently Asked Questions 

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How Did You Become a Saxophone Player? 

Did You Always Want to be a Professional Musician?

 

How Did You Get Started? 

Did You Grow Up Listening to Smooth Jazz? (Influences)

You’re Also a Respiratory Therapist? 

How Did You Go From Private Events to Being on the Radio?

Do You get Paid From Streaming Services Like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music ?

 

Why Don't You Play Near Me or Do Jazz Festivals Anymore? 


Is Smooth Jazz Disappearing? Does it Have Longevity? 

 

How Did You Become a Saxophone Player? 

I was a military kid and when I was younger we were stations in Germany. We only picked up one tv channel so we listened to a lot of music. Kenny G was real popular in our house as was a trumpet player by the name of Phil Driscol.

I loved instrumental music and in particular the saxophone so I thought it would be neat to learn it. When I was starting middle school I wanted to join the band, but my doctors said I couldn't play because my asthma was too severe. They told me to pick something else. I remembered that I could do “all things through Christ who strengthens me”  [Phillipians 4:13] It wasn’t easy, but I gave it to God and He used the saxophone to help my lungs. It became a form of self therapy. The positive pressure and resistance of playing got me off of the corticosteroids that I was taking to keep my asthma under control. That was 6th grade at Morningside middle school Charleston, SC, 1997. By 8th grade I was first chair saxophonist. I was also the only saxophonist. It was a small band that year, so I was first chair everyday and I got all the solos.  

Did You Always Want to be a Professional Musician? 

Not at all. I was a military kid surrounded by jets and I watched too much Top Gun so I wanted to be a fighter pilot for as long as I can remember. I had to make a tough choice when I got to high school, Band or JROTC, I couldn’t do both. I chose JROTC for 9th-11th grade. Unfortunately, my senior year I found out the hard truth that with my very well documented asthma history I wasn’t eligible for any branch of the military. I was devastated. I felt the need, “the need for speed” and now the closest I could get to being in the military was as a cashier at the Old Navy.  

 

How Did You Get Started? 

You know, God works in mysterious ways. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]  Even though I wasn’t in high school band I never put my horn down as I was playing in the church band for 3 services per week starting in 9th grade. In this band I was the only horn initially (later joined by another saxophonist and trumpet). It was keys, guitar, bass, drums and vocalists. They didn’t give me any music so this developed my ability to play by ear. It also forced me to study music theory on my own to figure out what key I was in as it pertained to the other instruments and why. More importantly I learned when and when not to play and how to adlib and add embellishments here and there. I was given solos weekly to play during the offering and that got me over my stage fright. Because of this, however, I didn’t play the traditional jazz and bebop methods of most saxophonists, but I approached the saxophone more lyrically; implementing the Gospel phrasing runs and nuances I was hearing from the vocalists.

 

By my senior year a lot was going on. Our minister of music left suddenly and I was ‘voluntold’ to step up and take the position. I taught myself how to play keys and led the praise team and band full time for my 12th grade year and first year of college. That was around the same time that I found out being a military aviator was not in my future. However, for the first time I stopped focusing on what I wanted and starting seeking what God’s plan truly was for my life.  In no short order, God began to reveal to me a path I had never considered. This shouldn’t have been a surprise though; His ways are often different than our ways.  

 Weddings were constantly happening at the church and as the go to soloist, I started getting booked to play these events. A lightbulb went off when I suddenly was getting paid what was 2 weeks pay for me at my cashier job to play 30-45 mins worth of music. So naturally I quit my job at K-mart. One wedding would lead to another two, three as well as other private dinner events, and then corporate events and Governors' balls and so on. I was well versed in audio equipment from also having to run the sound board at church and quickly learned not to rely on church / venue sound systems. With this I purchased my own PA equipment, wireless sax mic and hand held mics etc to ensure that I could have consistent, reliable sound at my events, not just for me as a musician, but for those presenting, speaking and wedding officiants. I treated my music like a business, because it was. I took all the necessary steps to establish that and learn how to document it, got an accountant and everything. Live sound and playing saxophone for private events became my full time job.  

 

Did You Grow Up Listening to Smooth Jazz? - Who Were Your Influences? 

I didn’t grow up on Smooth Jazz and really I didn’t discover the genre until around 2005. Up to this point I mostly listened to Gospel music, Kenny G and a few other Christian sax players that most smooth jazz aficionados may not be familiar with [but you should definitely check them out] such as Sam Levine, Dave Thrush and Angela Christie. 

While in college I started taking a lot of music classes from theory to performance and trying to find my style and sound. In addition to the private events I had started doing some many concerts and playing at various churches during their praise and worship services, sharing a few selections and sharing my testimony of what God had done in my life with asthma and through the saxophone. This led me to compete in the GMA (Gospel Music Association) Music in the Rockies, Estes Park, CO. 

 

In the summer of 2005 my dad and I made the 26 hour drive to the Rocky mountains from FL.  It was a week long music competition filled with seminars taught by various industry artists and nightly concerts. That was an experience. I mean what was I thinking, an asthmatic Florida boy that lives at sea-level going to play saxophone on a mountain at 7500 ft? Breathing was difficult to say the least, but by the Grace of God I came out a Top 5 National Finalist out of over 400 people and the only saxophonist to make it. I learned a lot about the industry, labels and so much of the inner workings of the business by Artist, A&R and label executives. However, one of the biggest things that happened was my introduction to an artist named Jonathan Butler. I didn’t meet him that day, but was mesmerized by his concert, his music was like nothing I had ever heard. The voice, the lyrics and the way he played a 12-string guitar (which I had never seen) was amazing. "Falling In Love with Jesus" sent me down a path, that led to my discovery of Kirk Whalum which branched me from Gospel Jazz to this thing called, “Contemporary Jazz” or more commonly referred to as Smooth Jazz. Ironically, we had a smooth jazz station 60 miles away from where I was living called “WSBZ 106.3, The Seabreeze” but their antenna was too small for me to get service in my area. So I started buying all the smooth jazz mp3s I could find and making mixed cds for my car. I discovered Kirk Whalum, Najee, Grover Washington Jr, George Benson, Richard Elliot, Mindi Abair, Brian Culbertson, Jeff Kashiwa and started soaking it up. My bass player from my church heard me playing something one Sunday and said, “Chris that sounded like Boney” I had no idea who he was talking about so then he introduced by to Boney James music. I had a lot of catching up to do, but it was all very inspiring to me that there was this genre of music where saxophone players [and instrumentalists in general] were given some light and ability to play melodically over these grooves just like a vocalist would. It was what I had been trying to do with my demo recordings and at churches, but on a grander scale.   

 

You’re Also a Respiratory Therapist? 

Yes, God must have a sense of humor to take an asthmatic saxophonist and turn him into a sax therapist!

I was full time music since college, but knew that I needed to secure a job that would provide stability and job security in case this music train every stopped. But honestly, I was bored with college and trying to declare a major. I graduated with my AA in 2006 and didn’t know where to go from there.  Around that time my grandmother got sick with pneumonia and while visiting her at the hospital someone came in the room to put her on a nasal cannula and give her a breathing treatment. I knew she wasn’t a nurse, but I wasn’t sure what she was so I struck up conversation with her about it. (TV only glamorizes doctors and nurses, but there's a plethora of ancillary fields within healthcare that are just as important and hardly anyone talks about.) Turns out she’s a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RT) The schooling is similar to RN school, but specialized in the heart and lungs. RT’s typically work 12 hour shifts so full time is 3 days per week. Another lightbulb moment and right then and there I realized I could get paid to do what I had been self medicating for most of my life as an asthmatic, make my own schedule when I wasn’t playing music and still play music on the other days. I went back to the college that day and signed up for another 2 years. I soon found out there was a lot more to this whole breathing thing than neb treatments. I remember the first day the professors said, "Look to your left and to your right. In 2 years, one of those people probably won't be here" They weren't kidding. We started with 14, graduated with 7.  It was grueling, however, I pushed forward and kept doing the music thing all throughout. I graduated in 2009 and subsequently released my first official project, “One Breath at a Time”,  a play on words to my story, .  It’s a bit of a Gospel Jazz inspired piece of mostly original music. It was done on a very tight budget and recorded in a bit of an old school style in that we recorded it live, everyone playing each track at the same time as a band. This wasn’t for radio but mainly to have a product to sell at my gigs for the local fanbase and a bit of a musical business card. I’ve been blessed to work part-time as a RT just enough to get my health insurance (2 days per week) while music has remained my full time gig. However, during the COVID shutdowns of 2020 when I lost all of gigs, I was so blessed to have Respiratory Therapy to fall back on. I had all the hours I could want and never missed a paycheck. Because of this I wrote a song called, “Sax Therapy” on my West Coast Soul project.  

How Did You Go From Private Events to Being on the Radio? 

After my 2009 project I just kept doing private events regionally, throughout the southeast. Occasionally further, but for the most part I was content playing FL, GA & AL. I got married in 2010 and we became a team. My wife was with me every gig, helping either with cd sales, setting up sound or taking photos and video for promo. (She does all my promo photos and albums shots except for the One Breath at a Time project) I did a follow up project in 2011 My Offering, another Gospel inspired project, but with a few covers and leaning more into contemporary jazz territory. This one was also recorded in the same budget minded way as my previous project, but sold well locally and actually got the attention of several online radio stations with a little tune called Kick Back.  In 2012 while playing for the grand opening of Blue Wahoo’s stadium in Pensacola, FL I met a very talented pianist named, Gino Rosaria. He and I hit it off and recorded a little Christmas EP together. I was impressed with his skills and decided to have him produce a Christmas project for me [Where Are You Christmas] the following year, using a few of the songs from our EP.  

With this I started getting people in my ear saying I should pursue the radio thing and try to do a contemporary jazz project. I was pretty content doing what I was doing, but it peaked my interest. Something about hearing your song on the radio is hard to describe. I decided to research it, if I was going to do it I needed to do it right and figure out the ends and outs. I read an online magazine article around that time from Melody Warren, The Jazz in Mee Magazine. Confirming what I had learned years earlier from the GMA Music in the Rockies seminars that radio isn’t about talent, it’s about relationships.  Just like the age old saying in business, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”  So goes it for radio. In this article, Melody interviewed well known Smooth Jazz Radio promoter Jason Gorov. In it they discussed the importance of marketing in general, but especially how vital a radio promoter is in that marketing and that basically without one it’s going to be hard to get airplay. Radio stations don’t accept unsolicited materials so you have to know someone that has that established relationship with the DJ’s so they will listen.  It’s pay to play essentially.  But it’s not guaranteed, the radio promoters don’t work with just anyone, you have to have a solid product. In other words, don’t stink.  

I didn’t personally know any big shot smooth producers as the genre was still fairly new to me. So I talked with a gospel keyboardist friend of mine, Caleb Middleton. We had played many events together and I knew he produced some cool music. We talked about the idea of doing a contemporary jazz project, trying to give it a commercial sound with the hopes of getting on the radio. He wasn’t familiar with smooth jazz at all so I gave him some home work of some artists to listen to and he got plugged in to see what the vibe was. There’s a formula to it and we studied it.  We wrote song after song and recorded all these demos so we could see what was the best stuff.  We probably wrote 18-20 tracks and picked the best 10-11. I decided to throw in a cover as well for good measure.  It’s 2014 now and my first child was born so I took a little time away. Caleb kept plugging in and reaching out to various musicians to play on the record, Adam Hawley on guitar, Eric Lampley on bass etc. When we got back together I couldn’t believe it. I wasn't familiar with Adam as this was before he put out his own music, but I quickly became a fan. I laid down the sax tracks and we sent them to Jason Gorov to see what he thought.  He agreed to do a campaign with us, and at the time he didn’t work with a lot of independent artists, but he took a chance on me. The project was a rebranding for me musically so we called it, Starting Over released summer 2015. We started with the first single, "Rain" and by the grace of God it got picked up by SIRIUS XM Watercolors and numerous Billboard FM stations and online stations peaking at #6 on the Groove Jazz Music charts. The next single from that project was “Chill” which was another Top 10 charting track and has been a fan favorite.  

Do You get Paid From Streaming Services Like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music ? 

No. lol Ok, really the answer is not really, barely. Each one has their own sliding pay scale, but take Spotify for example and it’s like anywhere from .003-.005 per play. So if you get 200-400 streams it will finally equal $1, but then 30% of that goes to Spotify and the other 70% gets split with the rights owners, (label, songwriters and artist) If you’re indie and write your own songs and produce your own songs then you get $0.70 per 200-400 plays. Whoop whoop. So when you see these artists posting that they got 5 million streams this year on their Spotify Wrapped it looks great, but in reality they may have only gotten a few thousand dollars in royalties versus if 5 million people had downloaded their song for .99 cents they would have made millions.  

Buying and downloading music is still the best way to support and artist. But I get it, streaming is just so convenient. That’s why it’s such a big deal to get picked up on SIRIUS XM. They’re a subscription service with a huge reach and therefore pay the highest royalties of anyone I know. They've been quite supportive of my music and I appreciate the platform they've given me to share my music with people that definitely would not have heard it otherwise.  

 

 

Why Is it So Hard For Up & Coming Artists to get into Jazz Festivals?

Bottom line, the majority of the festivals only want to book the same 10-15 "Big Named" Artists to fill seats and sell tickets to get their guaranteed ROI. And why not? It works, the consumer keeps buying tickets and showing up to watch the same show over and over. The problem is they're not letting very many "new" acts through the gate and the major draw acts aren't going to be around forever. 

 

As for the little artist, it's nearly impossible to get to that major artist level in this time. The industry has changed so much since the 90’s when a lot of these so called “Big Artists” were coming up. Then it was about record deals and record sales. The comical thing about it is that smooth jazz is such a small sub genre in the grand scheme of things. I mean you can look at some of the biggest names in the genre and compare them to really big names like, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Prince, Taylor Swift or Bruno Mars or whoever and realize it’s not that serious.  

 You’ve got gatekeepers in anything and it’s rarely about talent. There’s a lot of amazing musicians that aren’t famous and there’s a lot of famous ones that aren’t that talented. A fellow artist friend of mine I think explained it best.  He said, "It’s like a club and if you finally get on the radio and start getting booked at these festivals and events you think you’re part of the club. But no, you’re just in Gen Pop. There’s different levels of the club; there's VIP lounges and that’s 'invite only'. It’s political like anything else. If you want to be with the 'in crowd' you have to be invited, and since it’s a small niche, only a select few will get the invite. Then you start the grooming process and get taken under another bigger artist’s wing and follow them around a bit. Do this for maybe 8-10 years getting scraps and when they think you’re ready they will let you in one of the next levels of the club."

  

Maybe I could have done that 20 years ago, but I’ve got a family that I support playing music so now is not the time for that. And honestly, I love what I do. I love being my own boss and deciding if I want to do a gig or not, and I turn down a lot. The funny thing is playing private events is much easier and pays little fish like myself much better than the jazz fest / jazz club circuit. Those gigs are nice to post on social media for the "look at me" factor, but it’s the low key dinner receptions and cocktail hours that pay the most. 90% of my events I never post on social media because what am I going to say? “I’m playing here and you’re not invited” lol. The irony is the more boring the event, the more it pays.  

 

You Did Do Some Festivals Though, Why Don't You Play Festivals Anymore?

  

After the success of my Starting Over project I landed some jazz festival slots that had previously turned me down. I was excited initially as I was going to meet fellow artists and fans and play for large crowds. The problem was, by the time this had happened I had been spoiled by doing private and corporate engagements for over 10 years and was used to getting paid for it. Now I was having to start over (no pun intended) from the bottom and basically play for exposure. The festivals will pay XYZ Artist $20k plus, but didn’t even want to pay indie artists like myself $1000 for the artist and the band, and then expected us to pay our own travel and rooms most of the time. I was used to getting more than that without a band so that was a hard pill to swallow. One particular example was a very prominent festival of over 30 years calling me and offering me $900 for my band and I to drive 5 hours to come play and we were supposed to get our own rooms. I laughed harder than I probably should have. I thanked them for the opportunity, but asked them to call back when they were serious. That was a Friday, they called back Monday and came back with a much better offer and 5 rooms, but still lower than what we got locally. However, we decided to do it as we were opening for Dr. John and Snarky Puppy so figured it would be a fun experience and good for the résumé.

 

We did several for that reason over the years, always having negotiate heavily for even a fraction what what we were used to getting while still taking a loss. One experience that really left a bad taste in my mouth was another huge festival that switched to cashless armbands. (So they can take 20% of everything sold at the festival) It was the first year they did it and I was the ginny pig artist to open the festival and try out this system. No cash could be used everyone had to use their arm bands attached to their credit card profile. Well, after our set they golf carted us to the merch area and had a line of about 200 people trying to come get cds at the tent. However, the festival iPad wasn't working with the armbands. Here I had boxes of cds and fans waiting and they wouldn't let me sell any of them. They had an inventory of how many I had so it would have been very easy to tell how many were sold and settle up as they were the ones handling it, but they wouldn't allow me to. All I could do was smile and take photos. I lost a lot of cd sales that day. Better believe they had it working by the time Jackiem Joyner's set was done though an hour later. 

 

Out of all the festivals that I’ve played Jacksonville Jazz fest was the best festival experiences I’ve ever had, they treated us well. I did many more to pad the résumé, but ultimately realized that I was going to lose money at it. Travel is killer, but so is time. I either take my guys and we fly up somewhere (flying 5 guys anywhere automatically would put me in the hole financially before I even got there) or hire a local band to learn my music and play with me when I get there. But that requires getting to that city at least one day earlier to rehearse, which incurs extra hotel rental car etc. For the pay they were offering, it just wasn't economical when I could make so much more playing in my local area for zero headache. 

Really it comes down to knowing your worth and having the mindset of a professional. I'm certainly not the best musician in the world, not even one of the great ones. However, I know what I'm good at and what I'm not and try to work with my strengths. I started off with private events and kept at it and raised my prices to a reasonable living wage over the years. Most local musicians don't have enough self respect for themselves to charge what they're worth. Or maybe they don't know what they're worth. I think a lot of people just go play at restaurants and take whatever they're offering or play for tips. I talk to them and these places are paying the same amount they were 20-30 years ago. It's not ok, but it won't change unless the musicians step up and stop doing agreeing to that and treat it like a business.

Is Smooth Jazz Disappearing? Does it Have Longevity? 

 When I finally decided to try the radio thing it was 2015, there were about 44 Billboard Reporting stations playing smooth jazz (not including online stations) As of 2024 there are 13. Note this is Billboard Reporting stations, this does not include the numerous online stations spinning smooth jazz. (Side note - These smaller online stations are hidden gems playing the most variety and giving little nobody artists like myself a platform and for them I am truly grateful!)

 There’s a lot of factors at play here though and you can’t merely look at the numbers. What’s to blame? COVID shutdowns, or streaming services or XM Radio, stale format,  or ???  Probably all the above and more. I have xm in one of my cars, the other vehicles I almost never listen to FM radio, I have it on Pandora or something else streaming music or audio books, podcasts etc. We live in a Burger King society where we want what we want when we want to hear it. I love commercial free xm, but it’s hard to argue that you can get commercial-free Pandora for $4.99/month and skip songs and listen on repeat. Having all of these apps and technology on our phones, streaming services with no commercials is tough competition for any radio service so while the smooth jazz genre as a whole does seem to be diminishing, I’ve seen several other FM Top 40, Country and Rock stations closing down as well.   

As for longevity, you’re not alone if you feel like music is all starting to sound the same. It’s not just smooth jazz, pop music is the same way. But really it always has been. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Under Pressure” (Queen) start playing and thought it was “Ice Ice Baby” (Vanilla Ice)  It's biblical though. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” [Ecclesiastes 1:9-11] 

 

People will copy whatever is popular and successful because it’s so much easier than original thought. And what is original? There’s only 12 keys in music and most arrangements are limited to 6-7 chords. Most pop music uses 3 or 4 chords with I, iV & V being a real popular progression for literally thousands of songs. Angus Young from AC/DC said "I hate it when I hear people say that we created 11 albums that sounds the same. The fact is, we made 12 albums that sound the same."  What’s more, even if an artist feels they have an original thought, often it’s produced by one of 4 or 5 of the same producers making all the other ‘hits’ on smooth jazz radio so it’s going to have a familiar vibe that’s out of their wheelhouse. That and the radio has gatekeepers too and they like what they like and they won’t play what they don’t. So these producers know what has worked and been working so let’s keep making it sound like that! I’ve had many songs that I thought showcased better musicianship, but radio didn’t think they were catchy enough. I remember one very big Billboard station told me they didn't pick up one of my songs, Vibin'  because it didn't sound like my last one [Momentum]” To which I thought, isn’t that the point? Ironically that ended up being my highest Billboard charting song. 

The good news is, music is timeless.  Good music from yesterday is still good music today. Mister Magic [Grover Wasnington Jr.] is still just as funky today as when Grover rolled it out. Play what you like and don't worry about the small stuff really, it's all small stuff. 

 

Sax Player?
How Did You Get Started
Influences
SAX THERAPY
Radio
Private Events
Is Smoot Jazz Dying?
Pro Musician?
Spotify
Festivals
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