Whilst reviews and interviews have long been a part of the jazz world, podcasts are a newer phenomenon which allow a deeper level of insight into the musician’s story. 

Here at Jazzfuel we’re a big fan of these, both as listeners and as partners for press campaigns we’re working on. 

One which we recently featured in our roundup of best jazz podcasts is the “Everything Saxophone Podcast” hosted by Donna Schwartz. We caught up with her (in a more traditional, written format!) to tall about her career and her role in shining a spotlight on the saxophone

Musician, educator, speaker and “Everything Saxophone Podcast” host, Donna Schwartz, has helped thousands of people of all ages, all over the world, boost their music performance and improvisation skills through private and small group coaching, and online courses for over 30 years.

What got you hooked on the saxophone? 

I actually started, and still play, trumpet! I started at age 9 because I loved the sound.

As I was in high school, I started to get attracted to the sound of the saxophone, especially because this was the time where you would hear saxophone on the radio for pop music.

I asked my high school band teacher if I could play saxophone too, and he said, No, it would ruin my trumpet embouchure.

 So I let it go a few years until college, when a good friend of mine told me playing saxophone would not ruin my trumpet embouchure.

He got me started, and I taught myself how to play tenor sax

I bought an alto sax 4 years later and started playing both in shows across Long Island for various groups (Pop, Rock, Funk, Jazz).

And the rest is history!

Can you talk a bit about your own career and how you came to the point of being both a performing saxophonist and a podcaster?

When I was in college, even though I was President of the Queens College Chapter of NafMe (National Association for Music Education), I did NOT want to teach.

I believed the saying, “those who can’t…teach.”

So I didn’t pursue teaching in schools for almost 10 years, even though I had been privately teaching since I was in high school.

During that time, I did some performing, private teaching, and also became a Certified Social Worker, working with senior citizens and also with gay youth.

I founded the first LGBTQ Coffeehouse in the country in a suburban area with the Long Island Crisis Center in 1995.

But I wasn’t happy…I wasn’t fulfilled.

I knew I needed to get back into music.

I noticed many of my college music performance friends were teaching in public schools. And these folks were incredible musicians – that made me decide to go into public school teaching.

While I was getting my second Masters in Music Education, I started performing a lot more. This was important for me because teaching can be draining, and as a musician, you need an outlet to express yourself.

I taught in public schools for 15 years, and decided I wanted to work for myself.

It was also at this time that my wife and I decided to move from NY to Los Angeles to enjoy much better weather.

In 2015, I started working for myself (teaching online courses, performing, teaching 1:1 and group lessons).

Right before I moved to Los Angeles, I was approached by the BAM Radio Network to be a host for my own Radio Show on their network.

I created the Music Teacher’s Education Network Radio Show, which lasted about 3 years until BAM shut down.

After this happened, I was looking to start my own podcast, when Nick Mainella approached me to start one together.

We created the Everything Saxophone Podcast in 2018, and I never looked back.

Nick had to leave in 2020 because he accepted a college teaching position that demanded a lot more of his time.

We’ve interviewed the most AMAZING people! Musicians such as Grace Kelly, Derek Brown, Kirk Whalum, Jamet Aebersold, Harvey Pittel, Bob Reynolds, Camille Thurman, Alexa Tarantino, and so many more.

What makes a great interviewee?

Someone who is willing to share their story and what helped them succeed.

I like to just have conversations with people.

And the funny thing is, for a majority of my guests, I never met them before.

We have some questions we’ve thought about beforehand, but half the time I never get to all of them because I am going with the flow.

(I think my social work degree has helped with that!)

What does your practice routine look like as a saxophonist? 

I actually follow the strategies and techniques I teach in my Get a Killer Saxophone Tone, Practice Smarter and Improvisation Made Easy courses. 

You can find them at https://academy.donnaschwartzmusic.com/courses  

What’s the most memorable story you’ve heard on your podcast?

Every story is amazing, but the two that get referenced the most are Camille Thurman and Matt Lee.

Camille survived horrific bullying to become an amazing saxophonist and singer.

Matt finally pursued his dream of playing his music and recently recorded an album that is now topping the charts.

You’ve published a course about the saxophone tone. What is your #1 tip for making progress in that area?

I have over 35 courses as of this interview; many of them address Improvisation, building technique, playing over particular songs, and saxophone tone.

My Get a Killer Saxophone Tone course is all about setting up the best embouchure for you, and giving you a toolbox of exercises and concepts to develop and maintain it over your career.

We all run into problems at some point, and my course helps to correct that, and build the student’s range to make playing more efficient.

My #1 tip is to make sure you have the best embouchure setting that is efficient for you, so that you can find the right equipment that “gets out of your way” so you can perform and create music.

Not every embouchure looks the same, so don’t imitate pictures of your favorite players!

You’ve interviewed more than 100 world-class saxophone players. Any common personality trait that helps them get there? 

The desire to keep going and never give up.

Also…not letting criticism stop them from expressing themselves!

I have never seen any of my guests criticize someone else’s playing – not on social media, nor in person when I have performed with them.

Part of the podcast concept is really getting into the stories behind the music. What attracts you to a certain musician or band, before you’ve heard the music?

It’s hard to say because I do listen to the musician first, and if I feel something…a connection…then I reach out or am contacted by their agent.

For music industry guests, I am always looking for companies/entrepreneurs that have created great products that will help people perform better.

How feasible is it for a beginner to learn saxophone via online courses, versus finding a teacher? 

I like to use an analogy…do we build a house from the foundation up, or from the penthouse down?

Every person wanting to play any wind instrument (brass & woodwinds) should start out with a teacher.

Online courses can be great to supplement, but wind musicians should take at least 1-3 months of private instruction with a qualified teacher (someone who understands teaching and different learning styles and is patient).

When it comes to teaching private students online as opposed to in person, I can teach beginners 1:1 online (and have done so for 8 years now) because I have been teaching for over 30 years at this point.

I have seen just about every problem there is, from missing teeth to dentures to TMJ to asthma… 

And I have taught young children in public schools for 15 years as well, and you can’t imagine the craziness that happens there!

Are there people that can learn just from taking online courses, with no guidance? Yes, but not as many as those who need the 1:1 interaction and personal instruction.

Wind instruments are tricky; you can’t see what’s going on inside someone’s mouth like you can see fingers on a piano, guitar or body position on a drum set. 

Anything else you’d like to share? 

I am grateful I made the decision to move to Los Angeles and work for myself.

I can perform a lot more, teach people all over the world and bring them an awesome podcast where they can learn so much and get exposed to new people and music and products they may have never heard of.

I will also tell you, after EVERY podcast episode, I get chills.

This is because I feel like I am so lucky to have spent those 90 minutes with a truly amazing human being, and I get to share that with the world.

Thanks to Donna for taking part in this interview!

About Donna Schwartz

Donna has over 400 YouTube videos and dozens of online courses, including Improvisation Made Easy, Boost Your Blues Improvisation, Jazz Improvisation Explained, Supercharge Your Jazz Improvisation, Get a Killer Saxophone Tone and many others.

She has performed in the NY and Los Angeles metro areas with finalists from the NBC show, The Voice, members from Billy Joel, Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult, Barbara Morrison and many other artists.

Her tracks have been featured on a number of indie artists’ CD’s, such as Domino Grey, The Levenbirds, Amber Ferrari, and in Criss Angel’s Believe show at The Luxor in Las Vegas.

You can check out her podcast here.