Photograph by Robert Sanchez
John Reynolds fared better than most musicians during Governor Newsom’s lockdown.
Of all the collateral damage suffered in the last 12 months, the music industry has been hit particularly hard. Everyone has lost gigs, and many venues have shuttered permanently. But for trumpeter John Reynolds, a weekly session at Madison on Park (4622 Park Boulevard) has been a welcome respite.
Madison, 4622 Park Boulevard, University Heights
“We’ve pretty much been playing the entire time,” Reynolds related over the phone. “We started in 2019, and other than two blips in the road [April 2020, and the second California shut-down], we’ve been at this every Tuesday from 7 to 9.”
How do you manage the safety aspect?
“Well, the whole restaurant is classified as ‘outdoors’ because it’s like a giant canopy and we’re all observing social distancing. In these times of covid, it’s been like an alternate reality, compared to the other six days of the week. You step into Madison and it’s safe. Everyone is wearing a mask, you know.”
The Madison gig came about as a fundraising effort for the students of the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts where Reynolds was employed at the time. “At that point, I pitched the concept of a summer series to the owners,” says Reynolds. “We decided to try it for eight weeks. I settled on Tuesdays so it wouldn’t interfere with the sessions that Louie Valenzuela was doing at Rosie O’ Grady’s on Monday’s or the scene Gilbert Castellanos has at Panama 66 on Wednesday. Within a few weeks, the place was packed. Usually, Tuesday is a slow night, (Madison is closed on Mondays) but by the time 7 pm rolls around, every table was filled and it stays filled until we leave. We’ve been very fortunate.”
The band features Reynolds on trumpet, Louie Valenzuela on guitar, Rob Thorsen on bass, and Kevin Higuchi on drums. Reynolds tries to spread the opportunity to play around by inviting other local musicians, including Alvin Paige (a former student) and Robert Dove (who recently moved back to Ohio) on saxophone. There’s plenty of room for the musicians to spread out, and the rhythm section keeps their masks on. Obviously, it’s different for horn players.
“All of the studies they’ve done regarding aerosol distribution from brass instruments is like 30 centimeters [basically one foot]. So as long as you are farther than a foot away from the bell of my trumpet, you’re fine. And honestly, no one wants to be that close.”
How has Covid affected your personal outlook on life?
“I’m very fortunate that I am able to teach, both at school [Reynolds is the associate director of instrumental music at the Orange County School of the Arts] and privately. A lot of my friends have just been decimated over the last year. It’s been a tragedy for the folks who are full-time performers, who depend on that for their main source of income.”
And what about the future?
“I think things are moving in the right direction. You know schools are reopening, of course with guidance from the CDC. I feel like, in the next few months, maybe we’ll get back to, you know, normal performances, with some alterations. It was great to see Gilbert Castellanos play last week at Panama 66.”
How has the community responded? Do you see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd?
“We have a kind of regular crowd that keeps coming back. We get some musicians who stop by and sit in. I feel very blessed to have been in the right place at the right time.”