Stars. Sure, we need ‘em! But our industry is founded upon great players. Their contribution to performances- live and in the studio- fuels the business and inspires the front man (or lady).
Baron Raymonde is one of those musicians. He grew up in Scarsdale, NY, headed south on Route 62 and obtained both Bachelor and Masters Degrees in jazz performance from the University of North Texas before migrating back to Manhattan in the late 1980’s. I first met Baron in the mid 90’s when I had a music production company and was struggling to make a living in the jingle business. Eventually, we made a five song demo, “Before The Memory Fades,” that we released online. Before sinking it received over 100,000 hits.
Baron currently lives in Nutley, New Jersey. I caught up with him last week.
Gary Eskow: “Baron, what have you been up to lately?”
Baron Raymonde: “I’ve been subbing recently in Levon Helms’ band up at his place in Woodstock. Most people know that he built a studio on his property, the Midnight Ramble. It’s a great space that also serves as a concert facility, seating several hundred people.”
GE: “How did you get that gig?”
BR: “Erik Lawrence, one of the band members recommended me. There are some great players in the group; Dave Bromberg (guitar), Brian Mitchell (keyboards), and Howard Johnson (baritone sax/tuba) among them. Larry Campbell is the Music Director.”
GE: “How deep is Levon’s groove?”
BF: “He has an unbelievable pocket, and he glows when he plays. He’s also a real gentleman, a very gracious person. The group performs some of The Band’s material, plus Levon’s own stuff. He won an American Grammy in 2009, I believe, plus another one, on his own.”
GE: “When did your first big opportunity in the industry come?”
BF: “I moved back north to Manhattan in 1984 and started playing with J.T. Bowen, Clarence Clemons’ lead singer. We got a gig at the Sands in Atlantic City, but Matt “Guitar” Murphy called me and I went on tour with him instead. That was a defining moment for me.”
GE: “What are some of the highlights of your career?”
BF: “Well, first of all I’d say that just being able to spend 25 years living the life of a touring musician has been amazing. Nothing beats doing what you love to do, even with all of the ups and downs of the business.
“In 2001 I was with Rod Stewart on his “Human” tour. We performed in 42 cities in North America and Canada, and I played six instruments- all reeds, plus flute and clarinet.
“I didn’t think I was going to get that gig because I’d heard that Rod was looking for a female player. But he heard me play at a benefit and told me that he wanted me to join him for that tour. I didn’t believe him- but the next day I was on the Rosie O’Donnell show playing a solo on “Tonight’s The Night.”
“We performed in a huge arena in Tampa, and that night I played a long solo on “Downtown Train.” When I finished Rod acknowledged me and the crowd started chanting my name… that was thrilling!
“Just recently I played a show at Lincoln Center with Ronnie Spector and Leslie Gore. It was great to hang out with them. Ronnie was very nice and approachable. Gene Cornish, the original guitar player with the Young Rascals, was on that date.
“As far as recordings, I’d have to say that the work I did on India Arie’s 2002 album, “Voyage To India,” which won the R&B album of the year award in 2003, remains a highlight for me. We recorded at Electric Lady, and I played saxes and flute. The album was released on Motown Records, which was also exciting.”
GE: “You went back and got a teaching degree several years ago, didn’t you?”
BR: “Yes. Work was slow, though I had some interesting gigs at the time; I was subbing on the show “Love, Janis,” and playing with GE Smith. GE’ band played the televised Mark Twain award event which honored Whoopi Goldgerg.
“But as I said, work was slow, so I started subbing in the public school system. In 1994 I got my teaching certificate at William Paterson University. These days I teach fourth to sixth graders, five days a week. I really enjoy it! It’s a way for me to give something back, and the job doesn’t interfere with my performance schedule, although things can get a bit hectic at times!”
GE: “Anything interesting coming up?”
BR: “On November 26th I’ll be playing with Alan Chez’ band- he’s the trumpet player in David Letterman’s band- at Dominion, in New York City. The group is called The Brothers of Funk Big Band.”
Baron urges everyone who wants to keep up with his schedule to visit his website, www.saxbaron.com.