Out of the Pit

Times Square Alliance partners with Local 802 in a new live music series to spotlight Broadway musicians

Volume 117, No. 6June, 2017

Jack Bashkow (left) and David Calhoun played live music in Times Square’s new pedestrian plazas. Musicians are covered under a Local 802 union contract as part of the Times Square Alliance’s new “Out of the Pit” music series.

Live music sounds even better outdoors! This spring, the Times Square Alliance celebrated its grand opening of the new Times Square pedestrian plazas, featuring live entertainment, food, and public art and design. The plazas, which add 110,000 square feet of new pedestrian space, transform the area from a congested network of sidewalks into a radically open civic square.

To help celebrate the opening of these newly designed public spaces, Local 802 members and “Aladdin” pit orchestra musicians Augie Haas and Dick Sarpola performed as a flugelhorn/upright bass duo. In keeping with the Times Square Alliance’s current Broadway-themed programming, the duo performed such requested tunes as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “42nd Street” for the benefit of the ceremony’s invited guests as well as fascinated passersby.

The ceremony included speeches by NYC Council Members Daniel Garodnick and Corey Johnson, as well as representatives from Borough President Gale Brewer’s office and various city agencies, culminating with the launch of the Times Square Alliance’s brand-new music series “Out of the Pit.” The concept was designed by the Times Square Alliance to shine a light on the musicians of Broadway’s pit orchestras, spotlighting them as some of Times Square’s most illustrious music talent.

At the opening ceremony, Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, expressed the Alliance’s intent to make the new pedestrian plaza programming oriented towards New Yorkers who live and work near the “bowtie” of the Times Square District.
“We want these plazas to be a place by, of and for New Yorkers, that we can then share proudly with the rest of the world,” Tompkins said.

Invited to represent Local 802 at the opening ceremony, Recording Vice President Andy Schwartz told the crowd, “Our public plazas provide the perfect stage upon which we can share and celebrate our city’s artistic creativity, and Local 802 is glad to partner with Times Square Alliance this spring and summer to showcase the virtuosity and energy that Broadway musicians bring to the area every day.”

Schwartz added, “We are thrilled that these live musical performances will be done under a contract that guarantees fair pay and treatment of musicians, and we thank the Times Square Alliance for helping to bring the magic of live music to the streets of Times Square.”

The “Out of the Pit” music series is a first step or beta test for what may hopefully become a more expansive music series presented in partnership with Local 802.
In accordance with the Alliance’s programming concept, Local 802’s Musician Referral Service has issued a request for applications from Broadway chair holders and subs to perform. The series is open to applications from any musician who held a chair or subbed for a Broadway show in the 2016 or 2017 seasons.

This beta test phase is scheduled to run until June 30, but applications will be accepted even after that date for possible inclusion in future performances.

The first performance took place on April 24 with Jack Bashkow serving as the inaugural solo act. Bashkow, most recently at “The Color Purple,” performed solo tenor saxophone renditions of Broadway show tunes, New York-themed songs, Billy Joel hits, jazz standards and numerous audience requests. His enthusiasm, stunning repertoire list and fun-loving engagement with the Times Square crowds made Jack an instant hit. Already requested back for more performances later in the series, Bashkow represented Local 802 and Broadway musicians at the highest possible level, demonstrating the standard of musicianship and professionalism that people have come to expect from New York City and its Broadway musicians.

The next performance occurred a week later, spotlighting David Calhoun (most recently working at “Phantom,” “Fiddler” and “American in Paris”) as a solo act on cello. Calhoun’s glorious 90-minute performance of Bach’s cello suites grabbed attention from the entire plaza, attracting people from the Red Staircase and Duffy Square to sit quietly and listen attentively. Couples stopped to embrace each other while listening to the unexpected beautiful music as it wafted through the plaza. But most impressive was the attention from local New Yorkers and Times Square business workers who pulled up chairs and requested personal favorites such as “Ave Maria.” Calhoun’s solo act served to further solidify the Alliance’s understanding of the musical caliber offered by our Broadway musicians.

As Allegro went to press, the next performances coming up included Boo Reiners (“Bright Star”) on banjo, guitar and vocals, and Denise Stillwell (“Kinky Boots”) on violin and viola. With continued interest and participation from our Broadway musicians, we anticipate great success for this series. As “Out of the Pit” continues to enhance and elevate the new pedestrian plazas, we look forward to future partnerships with the Times Square Alliance, and hope that we may work to expand the series to include a wider variety of Local 802 musicians and types of musical performances.

Julie Ferrara is the coordinator of Local 802’s Musician Referral Service. She can be reached at (212) 245-4802, ext. 156.