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Keith Fiala: From Maynard to the Maestro

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Keith Fiala, trumpeter, composer, producer, author, educator/clinician, video production guru, and currently personal assistant to 10-time Grammy winner, Arturo Sandoval. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa and later Austin, Texas, Fiala who also spent time starring on Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band, took a few moments from his busy schedule to chat.

All About Jazz: Keith, on behalf of All About Jazz, thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to talk.

Keith Fiala: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate this opportunity!

AAJ: OK, you had a VERY successful playing, recording and teaching thing happening in Austin. What prompted the move to Los Angeles?

KF: Yeah, I was quite busy working five or six nights a week in Austin, but felt a pull for something bigger. I knew I wasn't getting exposed to the things I wanted to be around musically there. The Austin scene has dramatically changed and I didn't want to wake up at age 70 playing weddings.

AAJ: Personal assistant to Arturo. Tell us about that.

KF: Working for Arturo is a blessing! I do anything that is required or that I find will help alleviate stress for him so that he can just focus on making music. That can range from logistics to interacting on-site with the performance venues and personnel.

AAJ: Do you travel with him?

KF: I do—domestically and internationally. When we are on tour, I'm his tour manager, I handle all the necessary details about the traveling—so I become his manager, Melody Lisman on the road, solving any issues that come up as well as set up the stage and do the sound checks for him—or at least have his mix and microphones dialed in for when he arrives. He graciously allows me to do his sound checks on his equipment.

AAJ: Do you perform with him?

KF: Yes, I have and I'm very grateful for that experience. It's an awesome privilege and I stay ready. Maestro recently allowed me to play in Austin when we were at One World Theatre. I'm hoping for more experiences like that in the future as my playing grows.

AAJ: What are the most impactful things you've learned from Maestro Sandoval—both playing-wise and non-playing-wise?

KF: Wow! Where do I begin? As a player, he has completely changed my trumpet playing approach, my concept of sound, how to practice and WHAT to practice. When I first moved out to Los Angeles, I was just another high note trumpeter. I didn't have much finesse to my playing and didn't have reverence for sound, clarity, etc. He totally changed my concepts and has shown me how to play musically and with finesse—or, at least that's what I'm working on. But one of the biggest things he's taught me is confidence... when you have someone like the Maestro believe in you, it's infectious!

AAJ: Tell us about your involvement with Arturo and Clint Eastwood for the movie The Mule.

KF: Another wow! Arturo was extremely kind in allowing me to be involved in any way with that whole production. I was extremely nervous when I first met Clint at Arturo's home in late summer of last year. I assisted Arturo with a couple of meetings as they were discussing placement of music and what the music should be for aspects of the film. As recording day approached, Arturo subsequently asked me to document the whole process via video and photos. So I was on the sound stage with the 81-piece studio orchestra and big band during recording. It was a GREAT honor.

AAJ: What did you learn from the process?

KF: I learned really quickly that the floor creaks in certain places and not to move—or breathe—when the recording light is on. But seriously, just getting to watch this project from the point of a fly on the wall and seeing a master create for another master was mind blowing. Arturo has a magical gift for seeing a scene and composing or playing how it makes him feel—completely mind blowing!

AAJ: What did you do on the video production of the extra segment The Recording the Soundtrack of The Mule?

KF: Ah... yes, the videos. When Arturo and Melody Lisman, his manager, asked me to help them put together a video showing the entire process, I told them that's something that I had never done on that scale before. I'd done many things for myself which were far from Hollywood quality and quite frankly I had zero confidence in what I could bring to the table. I never want to disappoint the Maestro, so I put my head down and learned as much as I could as quickly as I could about Final Cut and the whole video making process. It all worked out well.

AAJ: I'd guess you met some phenomenal musicians through your work with Arturo.

KF: Again, the Maestro has been extremely generous and kind by involving me with various projects and activities in which he's involved which have led to meeting numerous legendary musicians—Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder to name just a few. Clint and Andy Garcia, too!

AAJ: Your own recording of your single "All I Do" has gotten worldwide airplay and fine reception. Fill us on about how that came about.

KF: Last summer, Arturo and I were talking about ways of establishing my name out here as a trumpet player/musician/performing artist... kind of like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. When I first moved out here, I basically locked myself in a practice room and did very little playing out of "The Shed..." I wanted to work on my deficiencies as a musician and improve everything about my playing. So other than a handful of people, I really hadn't been seen or heard out much. It was through a suggestion from Arturo that I put together a cover tune or two and do a video to re-establish myself as a musician. So I called in some old friends and put together an arrangement of a classic Stevie Wonder tune. I was totally blown away when the Maestro was willing to lay down a Moog solo on it for me!

AAJ: What was the project you did for John Williams and L.A. Philharmonic's principal trumpeter, Tom Hooten?

KF: Tom is another phenomenal musician that I've been fortunate enough to meet through the Maestro. Tom had just recorded his new album with John Williams and Arturo being the beautiful person he is, wanted to help Tom garner some attention for that project. I was called in to video the interaction between Tom and Arturo and then generate a video. It was another great experience.

AAJ: You've worked for and with two of the greatest trumpeters in the world—Arturo and Maynard Ferguson. Thoughts?

KF: To say that I've been fortunate in meeting and working with my two super heroes doesn't even begin to scratch the surface... but then to develop a friendship with them and get to know them and learn from them... it's priceless! Both men were heroes musically, and became heroes to me personally as well. Arturo has become like my Dad and I would be mistaken if I didn't say there's nothing I wouldn't do for him. Arturo's and Maynard's passion for music, their audiences, and their bands personnel is second to none.

AAJ: What kinds of projects are you involved in when not touring with Arturo? Do you have involvement with him then?

KF: When we're off the road we've developed a practice partnership. So, so I'm at his home frequently practicing with him hours on end with him. The little projects that pop up can vary from a short little video to helping maintain his collection of horns by oiling and playing them. I LOVE my job!

AAJ: What's coming down the pike for you?

KF: Aside from practicing as much as I possibly can? I'm kicking around lots of things and the idea of putting together a new album, so I've been writing tunes and working on ideas. So, yes, there are some things coming in the near future.

AAJ: Keith, this has been terrific. Thank you so much!

KF: I just wanted to say thank you once again, Nick and All about Jazz!
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