Podcast Episode 60 Transcript – Tino Gagliardi

Ken: Hey, everybody. Ken Davenport here. This is the Producer’s Perspective Podcast. Look, there’s no doubt about it – Broadway is fueled by musicals, and since music is the root word of musicals I thought it would be fitting to talk to the guy who’s responsible for all of the people who play that music in those musicals. Please welcome to the podcast, the president of Local 802, I can’t pronounce his name as beautifully as he can, Mr. Tino Gagliardi. Welcome, Tino!

Tino: It’s good to be here, Ken. Thanks for having me.

Ken: How close was I with the name?

Tino: Not close at all.

Ken: Give it to us.

Tino: It’s Gagliardi.

Ken: Let me just say that one of the greatest memories of me working on my very first show, and actually of all of the shows I’ve worked on, is this magical moment called the sitzprobe, where we come in and it’s the first time we hear the orchestra and the cast together and I remember the first time I went in there and I had heard from someone ,“Oh yeah, the orchestra, they have like four sessions beforehand and this is where we put it all together,” and I remember thinking, “How in the hell is this going to sound good at all?” And of course it was amazing and that’s when I was reminded that, of course, New York City has the most brilliant musicians in the world and you are the head of all of them.

Tino: Well, yes, I’m the designated bargaining agents – in the words of labor, anyway – but yeah, I advocate and represent the musicians that work on Broadway.

Ken: So tell me how you ended up in this position – I assume you started as a musician.

Tino: I did, I’m a trumpet player. Primarily musicals, shows, I also did a lot of freelance concert work and recording as well. There was a time when there was a lot more recording session work in New York than there is now.

Ken: So did you play in the pits?

Tino: I did, I’ve probably played in all of the pits at this point, in one way or another – either as a chair holder myself or as a substitute musician.

Ken: What was the first pit you played in?

Tino: A Chorus Line at the Schubert Theatre back in 1985 or ’86, I don’t remember.

Ken: Were you in the first group of musicians or did you sub into that one?

Tino: I was a substitute musician for that. That was my first entry into Broadway.

Ken: One of the things I think the listeners out there may not know, because frankly we can’t see what’s going on in the pit half the time, what’s it like to be a musician in the pit?

Tino: That’s a hard question to answer. The Broadway musician is a very specific kind of breed of musician because you have to be very fluent in many different styles of music – in other words, sometimes you would have to play sort of phonically, sometimes you have to play more pop, sometimes you’ve got to play commercial jazz, that kind of thing, so you really have to have a finger and an ability to actually play all of those different styles of music. That’s actually what attracted me to working in theatre in the first place, because I didn’t want to be just one type, I wanted to cover all of that ground, I guess is one way to put it

Ken: I’m actually already learning something because I never thought of it that way – a classical musician plays classical music all day long.

Tino: That’s right.

Ken: But a Broadway musician may have to jump into all different types of music.

Tino: Yeah, you may be playing a legit line and then have to blow 16 bars of honka-honka or something like that, you know?

Ken: What was your favorite pit you played in? What’s the music you love to play the best?

Tino: That’s a hard question to answer. I’ve played in some really great pits, A Chorus Line, of course, being one of them, playing with the Cat musicians, Victor Victoria, ‘How to Succeed… with Matthew, do you remember that?

Ken: Oh my God, that was a fantastic production.

Tino: Every one of those experiences was unique in one way or another. Victor Victoria was kind of special to me because I liked the book and I thought the orchestrations were just fantastic but you can say that about A Chorus Line as well. Some of the finest orchestrating on Broadway, I believe, was the group that put together A Chorus Line.

Ken: So how did you go from playing in the pit to an administrative and then an executive position? What attracted you to getting on to the other side of the pits?

Tino: My family has long been part of the labor movement. My family is more from the building trades – my parents coming in as immigrants, it was really the unions that helped them maintain a standard that they could make a living off so I was always exposed to that part of the world, I guess, and it’s no different with Local 802, for instance. I guess what really got me started was actually I was subbing at Cats for a time and the chair of the theatre committee was playing that show and he said “You know, you’ve got some pretty good ideas. Why don’t you come and talk to the committee?” And at that point I was hooked and that was, I think, 1998, some time ago, and of course what really sunk the hook for me was the battle that we had in 2003. I was on the negotiating committee for those very difficult negotiations and there were some things I liked about it and there were some things I didn’t like about the process and it was that point in time that I realized you can’t stand on the outside and throw rocks at something – if you really want an institute to change you’ve got to be a part of it and it was in 2003 that I ran for the union’s executive board and I’ve been active ever since then. What made me finally decide to go here was  a matter of what I viewed as basically I wasn’t happy with the way the union was being run and, as I said earlier, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to make a change you’ve got to be a part of the change so that was when I originally ran for recording vice president and I lost so I went back to playing the trumpet and things continued to go in a direction that I was not happy with so I ran for president back in 2009. So I’ve been here since January 2010.

Ken: So what are your day to day responsibilities as the president? How many members are there in 802?

Tino: Between 7,500 and 8,000.

Ken: My gosh, that’s a lot.

Tino: We’re the largest local union of professional musicians in the world. There’s no bigger local. And of course the AFM is the largest union of professional musicians globally.

Ken: And you represent the musicians – because a lot of people may think 802, and those of us in the theatre community, because we are very self-centered, we always go “802, those are the Broadway musicians,” but it’s not just the Broadway musicians.

Tino: You know, Ken, I’m really glad you brought that up because it absolutely is not. Whether it’s a club downtown or something going on at Lincoln Center, it’s not only Broadway, it’s the casual jobs, the hotels, like I said, the nightclubs. We have a lot of initiatives right now that are going on to try to address the concerns of those musicians as well. Broadway is definitely a cornerstone, it’s been around for a long time, and it does employ probably the greatest number of musicians under a single CBA but, as you said, there’s a lot of stuff out there. I can remind you of last summer when we were dealing with the Metropolitan Opera, as an example, the Philharmonic, City Ballet, of course New York City Opera is back, but then there’s the other work like 54 Below, where we were successfully able to negotiate an agreement that would accommodate both the club and the musicians. We were very happy about that.

Ken: It reminds me of when we were talking to Jimmy Claffey of Local One. It’s a very similar situation – we tend to think just Broadway but you represents the interests of 7,500-8,000 people in all areas.

Tino: That’s right, and as a member of the executive committee of the AFM I also have to take under my wing all of the musicians in the United States and Canada.

Ken: So the interests of someone who’s playing on Broadway may be very different to the interests of someone playing in a hotel or playing at the Met – how do you deal with that? Because your responsibility, I imagine, is to hear everyone.

Tino: Yeah, I negotiate all of those agreements and you’re right, that’s where I really have to step in and make sure that I’m aware of what’s going on in those other areas so that we don’t agree to something that could possibly undermine what already exists somewhere else, for instance. That’s really a hard part of the job because, as you said, musicians playing at one venue may have a completely different set of ideals and issues than someone who’s working on Broadway or the New York Philharmonic or a club.

Ken: Is there a prevailing concern amongst all musicians across all of the agreements? Like one thing you hear more often than others.

Tino: It really depends on what you’re dealing with – for instance, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, they’re not that concerned about technology because they know that this is the art form and this is the way it is and this is the way it’s going to continue to be. There are other areas of concern in theatre, obviously, where technology can do things that would hurt us in the long run – and I want to say that very carefully because it’s not like we’re a union of Luddites by any stretch of the imagination, it’s more like the ideal of what live performance represents and, as a union, people say “Well, he’s the union, he’s going to want wages, working conditions…,” but it’s really not the case with the musicians because we are the ones that produce the art and we are equally if not more concerned about the standard and quality of the live performances that we’re part of. That’s really important to us and when we see something happening that cheapens what we do it makes it very difficult, from an artistic point of view. Do you know what I mean?

Ken: You are musicians and artists, just like the actors are artists as well.

Tino: Exactly.

Ken: So of course you’re just trying to protect that art.

Tino: Exactly, and we know what we’re talking about.

Ken: You’re a perfect example because you’re a musician yourself – you’re not an administrator or an executive.

Tino: Well I had to learn to be, but yes.

Ken: How did you learn to be?

Tino: On the ground, basically. As I said earlier, I’m also the executive director, which means I basically oversee all the operations that go on in the building. We have two unions in our building – we have the office professionals and we also have an in-house union called the organization of union representatives that we have to negotiate with and we have to provide a good working environment for. So it’s an interesting part of the job when you find yourself on that side of the table.

Ken: So you mentioned the 2003 strike and you were not the president at the time but you were on the committee.

Tino: The theatre committee, right.

Ken: So talk to me a little bit about that – many of the listeners out there may not have been around. I was actually the company manager of Gypsy at the time.

Tino: No kidding.

Ken: The Bernadette Peters Gypsy, so we were in rehearsals and we cancelled our rehearsals when we didn’t have the musicians. Many people may not remember what that was about so what was the crux of the issue there and why were the negotiations so difficult?

Tino: There had been a ten year moratorium on the discussion on the minimum number of musicians for each theatre, which is based on theatre size, and that came up and right out of the box at the negotiations the League came with a number that’s round and we don’t like round numbers – unions generally don’t like round numbers – and that zero was something very difficult for us. The gist of it was the fact that they were looking to get rid of that little bit of artistic control that we have.

Ken: And obviously that was a difficult time for both.

Tino: It was awful. It was absolutely awful. I remember walking down Eight Avenue and seeing all my colleagues on the street. I was doing Oklahoma! at the time at the Gershwin and that might have closed a week or two before we went on strike but to see your colleagues on the street and know that you had a hand in making that happen was a very, very difficult thing for me.

Ken: I can’t even imagine, actually. How do you overcome that, knowing that, of course, you are doing what’s right, overall, what you believe? But still, you’re in the pit with them.

Tino: Yeah, you’ve got to face your colleagues and you hope that you have their support and that they have the faith in you to do the right thing. We work on a committee system in this local, as a lot of locals do, I’m sure, and in order for me to be part of this process I had to be elected by the negotiating committee as someone that they can trust to present their best interests, so that’s part of the battle. As far as getting over it, I don’t think you ever get over it, quite frankly. I think that comes into play evert time I sit at the negotiating table, knowing that something bad can really happen. It’s something you’ve got to be prepared for.

Ken: There’s only been one other strike, one other 802 musicians strike, in the history of Broadway?

Tino: I think there was one before.

Ken: In 1975.

Tino: That was another minimum issue, I believe.

Ken: The same issue?

Tino: Yeah.

Ken: It seems to me, and I’m a bit on the outside of this, that things since then have been a little calmer. We’ve gone through a couple of negotiations since then

Tino: Actually, no. We’re gearing up now for negotiations with the Broadway League. The agreement expired in 2011 so we were able to put together a five year deal after my first year in office but there’s only been one agreement and this will be the second one, at least in my tenure.

Ken: And how would you characterize relationships in general between producers and 802? Has it changed?

Tino: It’s hard to describe a relationship with a specific producer because we really don’t deal with specific producers. The Broadway League represents the theatre owners and the producers and the director of labor relations for the League is really the one I have the most interaction with and I’m happy to say that we have a really good relationship.

Ken: Would you like to have relationships with individual producers?

Tino: I’m not saying I don’t.

Ken: Do they call you?

Tino: Occasionally, yeah, sure. There’s a couple that I’m not going to mention but of course.

Ken: What about the ones that you don’t like? I’d love to hear your least favorite!

Tino: I’m sure, a lot of people would like to hear that.

Ken: Do you like to have that kind of communication with folks?

Tino: Absolutely, absolutely.

Ken: Because I think there’s this feeling, I know there is on my side, that we shouldn’t be reaching out to the union head, we should let the League deal with it, but I sometimes think that things get solved much quicker if there’s just faster communication.

Tino: I agree with you and that does happen on occasion.

Ken: A lot of people are talking about the recording of shows and video. For example, I just livestreamed Daddy Long Legs on Broadway and a couple of shows have done it – the final performance of Rent, etc. – what do you, in general, think about that concept? Forgetting the contractual, 802…

Tino: Whatever the obligations are under the contract?

Ken: Yeah, do you think that’s a good idea for the theatre or a bad idea for the theatre?

Tino: I’ve been living with that question since I started on the theatre committee because I think it was back in the late ’90s when the Broadway Television Network or something like that, Bruce Brandwen, do you remember that?

Ken: Oh yes I do.

Tino: Yeah, I think he did Company. Oh, the first one was Sophisticated Ladies. We always had an agreement with him but it never really took off and there was a big concern – and I think that the League had a similar concern – that if we started putting this stuff out, either in theatres or available pay-per-view or whatever delivery system you want to use, that maybe Aunt Ethel who lives in Webster, Connecticut will decide to keep the car in the driveway and just pay the $20 or whatever and just watch it at home. There’s always been that concern, I don’t know if that really has transpired on Broadway anyway because the degree that it’s been done has kind of been diminishing. I know there were arguments that were made that ticket sales went up after Phantom became a motion picture but the fact of that matter is that that was a cinematic production, it wasn’t taking the live show and putting it out there. It’s a question that’s being asked at the Metropolitan Opera. There are two schools of thought – we’re getting opera out to people that have never experienced it and therefore creating a larger base, and there are other people saying you’re cutting the legs off people that would normally buy tickets. It’s a hard question to answer – I don’t have the answer for that, I don’t know that there’s enough data available to actually make a definitive answer on that. How do you feel about it? As a producer, how do you feel about that?

Ken: I thought I was asking the questions here!

Tino: Well I’d like to get your perspective on that.

Ken: I am a big believer. I think we’ve seen, over the last several years, several filmed versions of musicals that are running now, from Phantom, like you mentioned, Chicago, Rent, and what we’re seen is that the box office has always gone up as a result of them, even when the movies were bad. That’s partly, I think, because the movie companies spend so much money purely on the advertising of it, so when you see Hairspray or you see Rent or Phantom in so many places, naturally all of those impressions add up to something.

Tino: For me, it would be seeing a movie of a currently running Broadway show, a cinematic production, and the curiosity of “How do they do this on stage? I want to see this live, I want to see how they really do this.”

Ken: I will say that as we were livestreaming Daddy Long Legs I was watching it on my computer in the lobby of my little theatre and then I would sneak in, open the door and watch it going on live, and I will tell you, as I’m sure everyone listening can imagine, and you for sure, that the difference was extraordinary. It was good on screen and then you’d walk in and you’d hear the lush music and the voices just overwhelming and you’re like “Oh, right, this is why you go to things live!”

Tino: The technology is out there – if you look at a DVD of the Carmen that the Met did several years ago, the HD broadcast, they’ve got how many HD cameras setup and they’re catching every angle, you’re seeing parts of singers you’ve never seen before. That has its attraction too, I would imagine. We have a situation now – I mean I have it in my own living room – I’ve got a big old TV with a theatrical sound setup and I can sit there and it’s like I’m in a movie theatre and you’re getting all of that sound from all around. But you’re absolutely right – even that will never replace the experience of sitting there in the center orchestra and seeing and hearing all of that together.

Ken: You’re a musician yourself so what do you think of the state of music on Broadway right now? What do you think? Do you long for the golden age of Broadway musicals and Rogers and Hammerstein? Do you think the composers today are doing it justice?

Tino: I think composers today are doing it justice. I mean tastes change, right? That’s the nature of music and I think Broadway is doing a good job of accommodating those changes and tastes. Do I long for the golden age? No, but I really appreciate when a production uses the original orchestration to do one of those classic musicals. You’ve got to appreciate that. I remember when I saw South Pacific several years ago at Lincoln Center – I don’t know if you saw that production.

Ken: Oh, sure.

Tino: When that thing went back and the orchestra… I had goosebumps, it was exciting, you know what I mean? And we’ve got some good productions like that right now that are running that also offer that kind of lush, full sound from an orchestra pit – and from a musician’s standpoint that’s really important, but it’s also important to be able to have a show like Hamilton running that is far more now and today and what’s happening and the cast and the pit are just having a blast doing it. I don’t know if I answered your question.

Ken: No, that’s exactly it. So what would you say to a producer right now? Because, of course, as we all stare at these budgets, and you certainly know the crazy risks involved with this industry and the relatively few successes, and we all want our shows to sound as magnificent as they can, so what would you say to a producer that’s debating the number of musicians, “Should I use 16, should I use 20, 19?” What’s your reason why we would use the biggest we can and not think dollars and cents.

Tino: You can’t fill a theatre with sound just by raising the volume. You can have a small band and you’re trying to fill up and you’re trying to get all of that space and you turn the volume up, it doesn’t make it sound fuller. You don’t buy a sound system with 2000w because you want to listen to the music loudly, you do it because you want to get that clarity at any volume. I think that’s what I would. I would remind the producers of that, that maybe you could get someone to orchestrate it for six or seven musicians, but what is it that you really want to do? What is it you’re trying to accomplish with this? And, like I said, remember that loudness does not equal full. Does that make sense?

Ken: I couldn’t have said it at all, never mind better than that. I think, to a layman, people like me who are uneducated – and I actually played trumpet when I was a kid, not very well but I played, but I consider myself a layman musician, I can fake a little piano of course, but to me sometimes louder equals better, which is of course not true but that’s sometimes the easy way to think of it – “Oh, just turn it up!” And of course that’s not it, I just don’t know the details of the richness of all of that.

Tino: There was a color copier commercial that was on a couple of years ago where they started out with “This is this printer,” and it was like Rinky Dink, and then “This is this printer, it’s a little better but not quite there,” and then they said “This is our printer and it’s like a full symphony orchestra,” and it had to do with the number of pixels, the number of dots, I guess, it was an inkjet printer, the more the better, that kind of thing.

Ken: So what do you think about the advent of technology in music and where we’re headed over the next 10-20 years? What more technology do you think will come into the pits of orchestras?

Tino: I don’t know how to answer that. Like I said earlier, we’re not a union of Luddites. We certainly recognize that technology is there and technology is generally good when it makes things better. When it makes it cheaper, it’s bad. Like I said, the technology has advanced to a degree now where, to someone who doesn’t know any better or hears something for the first time, maybe it doesn’t make a difference and my fear, of course, again, has to do with maintaining the quality of live performance, that cheap will end up being better. I guess that’s the biggest problem.

Ken: What’s the biggest myth you think people have about Broadway pit musicians that you would love to say “That’s not true?”

Tino: There are several – which one do you want me to address?

Ken: All of them.

Tino: The big joke for a long time when I was coming up was that the reason we’re Local 802 is because that’s when we show up to work – and that’s not the case, I just want to make that clear.

Ken: 7:58!

Tino: That was the funny part because they would always complain that everybody else has to sign in at half hour or whatever. It’s because the musicians are in the pit warming up, they’re getting ready to play, they have to be on top of everything when that conductor brings the downbeat down. Sure you may have someone come in at the last minute because they were caught up – that happens on stage as well, we’re not different than that, we have to warm up just like the actors warm up, and if we do that at home maybe we can shave a few minutes off on the way in, but that’s a myth that I would like to dispel, that we’re constantly showing up at the last minute.

Ken: Okay, my last question for you, which is my Genie Question – I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin shows up here at the 802 offices, thanks you for your incredible service to the community and says “Because of that contribution I want to grant you one wish. Just one.” What’s the one thing about Broadway that drives you so crazy, makes you angry, upset, you can’t sleep at night, whatever it is, the one thing that, if you had the chance, you’d ask this genie to wish away with the snap of a finger.

Tino: I’d have to ask for 50 more wishes, I don’t know if I could do it in one issue. It’s interesting – Broadway, for Local 802, is a living being, this contract, there’s a lot of components to this contract. A lot of times we’re grouped in with the acting/production contract without paying much attention to what our work rules are, thinking that, rightly or wrongly, that everything is in line and it’s not. So, like I said, there are different issues that come up at different times so it’s really hard. You know what, if we could get the producers to all read the contract, that might be a start.

Ken: That’s a very good statement. I wonder how many actually have? I’ve certainly read it as a company manager when I was coming up and I’ve certainly looked at it a couple of times because I have that background but I wonder, if we polled the producers, how many have actually read the contracts?

Tino: They can prove me wrong – maybe they’re just doing it to poke me, who knows? But a lot of times, if there’s a conflict that shows up somewhere, sometimes it’s just a matter of clarifying what the work rule is. Another thing, another myth if you will, is that the union is inflexible. We’re nothing but flexible! Putting Broadway aside, because we have to live within the constraints of that agreement, a lot of work gets done and musicians’ product is exploited without the union knowing because whoever is producing is afraid that “Oh, if I go to Local 802 I won’t be able to afford to do this,” and that’s just not the case, it really isn’t.

Ken: So if producers want to use the best musicians in the world, which are in this city, they should just reach out and talk to you?

Tino: Yes, they should. Again, working within the parameters. For Broadway obviously we have a collective bargaining agreement that we apply, but if it’s something new – this is probably geared more towards some of the clubs that we deal with and other areas where we can’t offer flexibility. We do, and you know what, the musicians are as expensive as everybody thinks they are.

Ken: And just one more thing – if there’s a musician listening and wants to join Local 802, can people just walk up and join? What’s the process?

Tino: Absolutely, they can come to the second floor here at 322 West 48th Street, between 8th and 9th. We’re open from 9:30 to 5:00. They can come in and talk to us, they can come and visit me on the fifth floor if they’d like. I’d be more than happy to welcome anybody to join.

Ken: Well thank you so much for spending time with us and thanks for everything that you do to protect live music here in the city and on Broadway. I want to thank all of you for listening. Oh, look at that, it’s like Labor Month here.

Tino: Yes it is.

Ken: Next week we have Kate Shindle, president of Actors Equity Association, with us on the podcast. Thanks so much, Tino. Thanks for listening, everybody – we’ll see you next time!

Tino: Thanks, Ken.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.