A View from the Pit: Reed Doubler John DiSanto

Two summers ago, I was musical directing Searching for Romeo at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (with the lovely Laura Josepher directing). After finishing the musical arrangements and orchestrations, I had to put together my band. I reached out to Giuseppe Fusco, a fantastic reed doubler who played CMT’s launch concert at Second Stage three years ago (wow… where’d the time go?!), but he was unavailable. He recommended his friend and colleague, John DiSanto, who is equally talented and also a great guy. John played flute, clarinet and sax in that show with equal ease.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working with John on my 54 Below debut concert with my collaborator, Tom Gualtieri (shameless plug: watch it here). John booked it over from a sub job to play our late-night show. He’s in high demand. And if you watch the above videos, you’ll hear why.

I recently interviewed him about his experience as a reed-doubling pit musician.

You play multiple instruments with such impressive dexterity. Was that something you were interested in or encouraged to do from a young age?

I began doubling during high school in the musicals. I remember being very enamored with the musicians that filled out some of the parts of the woodwind section who could double. They would come in the first rehearsal and play the parts down that we had been working on for months! I began getting really serious early on in college when a friend of mine, who was an upperclassman, told me I needed to learn flute. Up until that point I had only played clarinet.

Tell us how your training prepared you for a career as a pit musician.

In my undergrad at Rutgers University, I played in all of the community theater productions at the school for free as well as other various local productions.  I also played in the wind ensembles, chamber ensembles and jazz ensembles every semester I was in school. At New Jersey City University I was in the multiple woodwind masters program, which really focused on sustaining a playing career in the music industry today. At that school I was playing in many different ensembles including the orchestra and the doubling chamber ensemble where four of the multiple woodwind masters students would play various pieces on many different instruments.

How did you get your first gig playing in a Broadway pit?

I got my first broadway gig through one of my teachers at New Jersey City University. I had asked him if I could come in and watch his book on his show to see what a Broadway pit was like. Shortly after watching, he lost a sub and asked if I’d like to come in and play for him. I of course said YES!

You often switch instruments in the middle of a song. That has to be challenging, especially if it’s a fast change. What does that require of you as a player?

It requires an excellent sense of pitch and embouchure flexibility. With certain instruments, like bassoon, you can wind up more than a half step off if you don’t hear the note before playing it! Also, having strong fundamentals of sound production on all your horns. I’ve studied all of my instruments with private teachers.

I’m fascinated by how transient many jobs are, whether they be subbing gigs or a short run on Broadway. How do musicians quickly create a coherent sound and ensemble? How much of that is the conductor’s responsibility versus the individual musician’s?

Subbing on gigs is a very different vibe than doing a run of a show. When you’re subbing there is already an ensemble sound in place that you have to fit into. The conductor and players around you will dictate how you approach your part – so will careful study of the pit recording and conductor videos that the player you are subbing for give you. When you have your own show or short run, you have to be hyper aware of what is going on around you. I’m always trying to listen and fit my part into whatever is going on around me.  Also possessing an excellent knowledge of classical, jazz/swing, and rock styles is essential on all your instruments. The conductor will let you know if what you’re doing is effective out front. Sometimes what sounds good up close is not what sounds good in the audience and vice versa. The conductor also has the responsibility of coordinating what is going on in the pit with what’s happening on stage.  So it really is both the conductor’s responsibility and the individual musician.

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DiSantoJohn DiSanto is a graduate of the Mason Gross School of the Arts with a bachelors in classical saxophone performance and music education. He also holds a masters in multiple woodwind performance from New Jersey City University. He is an active freelance woodwind artist in the New York area. He has performed on multiple Broadway shows and currently can be found subbing at Disney’s Aladdin, Finding Neverland, Wicked, Dames at Sea and Allegiance.  He is currently playing the Papermill Playhouse production of A Christmas Story.  John is also a member of the Swingadelic big band which performs every Monday night at swing 46 in midtown Manhattan. He plays all saxes, clarinets, flutes and bassoon.

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