Christian Ryan Interview 3/23/14
By K. Winslow Smith
Christian Ryan is an Orlando, Florida based saxophonist who epitomizes the idea of the
freelance musician. He plays with dozens of bands and is a constant fixture up and down the
sunny Florida peninsula and America’s southeast. He blends genres and breaks down musical
barriers, having played with Incubus-like prog bands, Christian-Pop-Spanish groups,
jambands, funk outfits, and much more. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with
Christian, check it out!
When did you discover music?
I grew up listening to my parent’s music. My mom was really into Motown and my dad was
more of a classic rock guy. I started playing saxophone when I was in 6th grade, just over ten years ago.
Right about when I was seventeen or eighteen I really
started pursuing music seriously. I grew up doing the school band thing for a while,
and I didn’t think I was going to be a performing musician. I thought maybe I was
going to be a band director, but right around when I was seventeen I heard the Dave
Brubeck Quartet and I never heard anything like it before and it changed my whole perspective.
How has being a freelance musician differed from being in a set band?
When I first started I was primarily playing with a singer-songwriter. For a while I
was just involved with that. When you really put your heart and soul into something
and it doesn’t really work out, it can really drive you crazy. It got to the point where
I was frustrated, and it got to where I couldn’t rely on people to be a certain way.
After that I started branching out and playing with other people. Freelance, opposed
to being in other groups, is like being a mercenary in a certain way. Any band that
I play with sends me their music and I learn it, a lot of times I don’t even rehearse
with these guys. I’ll show up and do the gig, and that’s it. As a freelance guy you
take everything into your own hands. Most everything I’ve done has been by myself.
It’s gotten to the point that a lot of people in Florida, when they think of a saxophone
player, they think of me. Being a freelance person, a lot of people just wait for things
to happen, rather than going out there and making things happen. I’ve played at some
festivals in front of a lot of people, and I’ve played in backyards with a handful of people.
How do you approach a new gig?
Recently, there was a band from Tampa who hit me up because
their trumpet player was going to be out of town—they sent me a few dates and I
told them which ones I could make it to and in a about a week’s time I learned the
horn lines, I drove down to Tampa and played the show. I just always try to be as
professional as possible. Being prepared is one thing I really strive to do. When a new
group approaches me it’s not just that I’m open to their music, it’s that I’m open to
how they do things as well.
Do you have any musical goals?
I have this three-headed goal. My main goal is be a part of the music festival circuit—whether
with a particular band or as myself as an artist. I’d love to have the ability to tour
and then have my own home-base here in Orlando. The last thing would be to make
my own music. I feel like I have a lot left to learn before I pursue my own particular music.
Do you have a philosophy of music or any guiding principles?
One of my mantras is to do what you love, whatever that may be. Once I discovered
the flame and realized that I wanted to play music for the rest of my life I just went
for it. Any art in particular you’ll have the naysayers who say you’ll have to get a real
job or you can’t possibly make a living that easy, but what is easy? If it’s something
you’re passionate about, you gotta do it. I’m fortunate because some people might
not find that thing, but for me it clicked and I rolled with it. It hasn’t been easy all the
time, but when I’m playing on a stage, whenever that may be and with whoever that
may be it’s like nothing else. I don’t do drugs, and I don’t drink, so that feeling I get
when I’m on stage performing with people is all I need to keep on keeping on. It’s
like you’re in another world where nothing can go wrong. It’s euphoric.
Where do you get your kicks, live or recording?
I’m much more of a live performer than a studio musician. With live music you
get the audience reaction, and any one moment could go in a direction you might
not expect. There are those moments that happen that you can’t duplicate, where
everything comes together at the right time and that can’t be matched. The studio
gives you the opportunity to do a lot of things; you can bring in different musicians
and overdub and there are multiple takes. There’s more freedom live. In the studio
there’s schedules and deadlines. I’m trying to find a unique voice in the studio,
whereas live I already have an established sound. Recording is an art in itself, from
the musicians to the engineers to everybody else that has a hand in it. Whereas live
it’s the band and the audience.
If you could collaborate with any musician who would it be?
I’d love to have played with Frank Zappa. I have the greatest respect for him, not only
as a musician but as a person. I’d love to play with Snarky Puppy. I got to meet their
bass player and he’s a really down to earth guy, and to see someone you really look
up to be so humble is great.
What would the one thing on your studio contract be?
I’m just really happy if I get some food. [laughs] A nice fresh home-cooked meal. I’d
also like a bottle of original Listerine for my reeds.