‘Why we joined the union’

Cynthia Saye

Volume 120, No. 6June, 2020

Cynthia Saye

My first union was AFM Local 132 in Ithaca, which I joined in college because someone I was gigging with recommended I become a member. After graduating, I moved to NYC and transferred to Local 802. During this Covid-19 shutdown, my partner and I stay inside a lot, take care of our health and try to stay positive. We’re in regular touch with family and friends. I’ve expanded my online teaching and posted music videos, joined virtual collaborations and am educating myself about virtual performance options. Like many other musicians, I earned most of my living on tour, and post-Covid, one goal is to perform in NYC more often. I love touring, but it sure felt great to be home for a recent stretch of work for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Experiencing the amazing power of music to uplift and unite gets me every time. Some of my favorite pre-quarantine gigs were my annual PAC concert in Sarasota, Florida; my band’s most recent tour in China; introducing NYC public school kids to jazz; and a post-punk/jazz fusion recording session. One of my missions has been to re-popularize the four-string banjo, and I’m proud to have broken new ground as the first to win several awards on my instrument, the first to be a featured artist at the Newport Jazz Festival, and to be in the American Banjo Hall Of Fame. I’ve been privileged to play with many leading jazz, roots and popular artists. As a kid I had no thought of becoming a musician, but was delighted to discover I could get paid to play gigs as a teen, and earn spending money while in college. After graduation I planned to go to law school, but decided to wait and first have fun playing gigs before I continued my schooling. I never did get to law school, and have been a full-time player ever since. Music is important to me because it enables me to bring joy to others while earning a living and loving what I do! My primary instruments are banjo, vocals and tenor guitar, though I also sometimes gig with piano and uke. Besides being a bandleader, I also do studio work (soundtracks, albums), concert and festival gigs, orchestral and classical ensemble work, theatre pit work, private teaching, workshops, educational concerts, lecture/demos, and community outreach.

— Cynthia Sayer