Wednesday, January 22, 2014

That Sax Player

If you are a frequent visitor to music venues in Central Florida, chances are you’ve probably seen Christian Ryan perform. A full-time musician, he is an active performer of 10 different bands and plays about 4 shows per week. Ryan first picked up the alto saxophone in the 6th grade at Tuskawilla Middle School. During his junior year of high school, he first heard the Dave Bruckbeck Quartet and gravitated towards jazz music for the first time in his life, which eventually inspired a desire to perform. He plays full sets and tours with Ancient Sun (Funk/Blues/Rock), Buster Keaton (Jazz/Funk/Hip-Hop/Groove), Control This (Ska/Rocksteady/Reggae) , Evan Taylor Jones (Soul), Holey Miss Moley (Funk/Dub/Rock), I-Resolution (Dancehall/Dub/Reggae), Petey & the Ravens (Blues/Rock Fusion), Liquid Spiral (Blues Rock/Fusion), N-Fusion (Latin/Reggae) and the Savi Fernandez Band (Reggae/Funk). Due to its uncertainty of success, many families dismiss the idea of pursuing music or any art, but Ryan’s family was supportive from day one. “Having a parent who owns a bar certainly helped me out in the beginning.” His mother, Rosemarie Ryan, has owned the Red Lion Pub since the late 1980’s. “I have been playing there on a regular basis since I started playing at local venues in 2010, and it’s where I was able to get a lot of performance experience under my belt and grow. Until that point, the whole 'band thing' was new to me because he had only performed in school functions.”
At the end of high school, Ryan auditioned to Berklee School of Music in Boston, his dream school. Despite being accepted into Berklee, he attended Valencia College instead because Berklee did not offer financial aid. During his time at Valencia, he evolved from a classically trained kid to an in-demand and versatile saxophonist.  “During that time, I was able to learn a tremendous amount not only about music but about myself. I played in more groups and sessions then I could have ever imagined.” After earning an Associate’s degree at the end of 2012, Ryan pursued music full-time instead of continuing education. “I did that for a solid year, playing an average of 4 shows a week with various groups all around the state from festivals and sold out venues, to dive bars and fields in the middle of nowhere.” At a certain point, he thought about where he wanted to go from there and recalled his old dream of attending Berklee. He auditioned a second time, and was given a scholarship that covered 100% of his tuition. Unfortunately, upon moving to Boston, he quickly realized that his dream school was not what he thought it would be.
“I went in wanting to be the worst musician in the room, to be surrounded by people who were on the same level in their passion for music and to be taken to the next level. While I was by no means the best musician there, I wound up being placed with musicians who weren't any better than the ones I was playing with back home. The classes I was in weren't really that challenging. They went over a lot of material I already knew, and I wasn't learning too much that was applicable to being a working musician. I spent more time on my computer sequencing and writing lead sheets than I did with my saxophone!”
Unable to connect with his classmates or his professors, he realized he had a lot more real-world experience than most of his classmates and decided that it was time to leave.

Many current music students are unsure of how to create a career outside of the classroom. Ryan agrees that the best place to start is to check out your local music scene. “Learn who the top notch groups and musicians are and why they are successful. Learn where the popular venues are at, what events are going on and who's putting these events together. Ditch the club scene and see what Orlando really has to offer.” It is equally important to take advantage of every opportunity you possibly can to perform gigs, since that’s where your real world experience is developed. “That experience will teach you more than what you'll learn in a classroom. Obviously, if you work hard and practice well, opportunities will begin to take shape. It's a slow process, but it goes a long way. You also need to really try and figure out what your goals are. Are you are full-time performer? A solo artist or a band musician? All these things become clearer the more experience you gain. Not everyone is cut out for the same thing. The harsh reality is, not everyone is cut out to be a musician.”  The last piece of advice he provided is to stop caring what others think of you or what others think you should do. “At the end of the day there is only you. Your parents don't write your music, your teachers aren't booking your shows, and 90% of your audience doesn't know a thing about music. There are many who wish to help, but there are also those who wish to limit your potential or try to mold you a certain way. Find your voice and be yourself.” Ryan was recently involved Evan Taylor Jones' "Song From An Old Soul" album released in November 2013. Holey Miss Moley and Buster Keaton are making plans to record full albums in the coming months. In the near future, Ryan plans to narrow his musical options to groups who are more active and fit his musical preferences. “I have a bold plan for something completely unique that will attempt to bring the different groups of the Orlando music scene together and hopefully propel new aspirations for what is truly possible. I can't go into more detail at this time, but I am VERY excited to get the ball rolling. Expect a lot of action from yours truly this year.”

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