Ann Klein is a Broadway guitarist and mandolin player most recently seen as a chair holder in Head Over Heels and freshly returned from playing for the Almost Famous musical in San Diego. She has lent her guitar skills on Broadway to Grease; 9 to 5; Baby It’s You; Everyday Rapture; Kinky Boots; Waitress; Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812; and Trip of Love. As a singer/songwriter and guitarist, Ann has toured in Europe and the US performing her own compositions, has released six CDs, and has performed in venues from Lincoln Center to Carnegie Hall. She has performed with Kate Pierson of the B-52s, Ani DiFranco, Nona Hendryx, Toshi Reagon, Todd Almond, and Laura Benanti. She has composed music for libraries for worldwide use in television and radio. Ann has also conducted songwriting workshops and taught private lessons in guitar and mandolin.
A Conversation with Ann Klein
Jamie Maletz: To start, you recently got back from working on Almost Famous in San Diego. Can we talk about that experience?
Ann Klein: Sure. It was great. I got back basically on November 1st, which seems like a lifetime ago.
JM: So you were on that job as a guitarist?
Ann Klein: Yeah, and I played mandolin as well.
JM: What was a day in the life like? What were your responsibilities?
Ann Klein: Well, it depends on which day, because I was there for tech. The drummer and I, the MD, and the associate were the only New York people. So they had, I think, nine other local musicians. I was considered the guitar captain for a 3-guitar section.
JM: Oh cool.
Ann Klein: We had some issues with guitar sounds. The creative team really were very particular about that, as Almost Famous is a very guitar-driven show, so I had to help them get sounds with one of the players. He was using a more modern setup and we wanted him to use real amps with tubes, and he didn’t have that. So we kind of had to craft that a little bit. And that was kind of a nice experience for me, being made captain, “Aye aye captain–” it was cool. A nice little boost. Once the show got rolling, though, it was like any other show. Show up to play, leave when it’s done, maybe go out for drinks.
JM: And how’s the show? Are you allowed to say? Is it in good shape? Is it rolling towards Broadway or…?
Ann Klein: I think it’s in really good shape. I’m not sure when it will come in, but I’m confident that it will. I would hope sometime in the fall? But who knows with everything going on in the world.
JM: Do you think they’d bring you back with it?
Ann Klein: Yeah, I think so. We did a recording session about six weeks ago for promo material, so they brought me back for that.
JM: That’s awesome! Do you have any favorite stories from the experience of working on the show?
Ann Klein: Well, I got to meet David Crosby, so that was pretty exciting. We had a little conversation, David and his wife and Cameron Crowe. Cameron filmed it. I got a little snippet of that. Pretty monumental for me because I basically grew up with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. You know, when I was learning how to play guitar I learned “Teach Your Children” and “Four and Twenty Years Ago.” Meeting David was huge for me.
JM: I can imagine. And you also worked on Head Over Heels as the guitarist and mandolinist and in-house contractor.
Ann Klein: Yes.
JM: What was it like to work on that show?
Ann Klein: Well, that was just so much fun. We had such a good time. We were just a bunch of pissers. It was a rock band. It was five women: bass (Cat Popper), two guitars (me and Bess Rogers), drums (Dena Tauriello), and keyboards/MD (Kim Grigsby). She was great. She left and we had Julie McBride and then Jane Cardona…these are relationships that I will treasure forever.
JM: So Head Over Heels was an all-female band?
Ann Klein: Yes. It was a five-piece all-female band.
JM: And remind me: were you visible on stage?
Ann Klein: We were at the end. There was a reveal at the end of the show.
JM: Yeah, I thought I remembered that.
Ann Klein: Yeah, it was fun. I think people thought we were The Go-Go’s for a minute. That show was my first chair, so it had particular meaning to me. I loved it. The cast was great, everybody was really nice. I’ve heard horror stories about bad energy on a show, but I have yet to experience that.
JM: As a pit musician, how often do you interact with the cast?
Ann Klein: Fair amount. I mean, Head Over Heels, everybody was pretty friendly and same with Almost Famous. I mean, the unusual thing about Almost Famous was most of the actors could play guitar. They were musicians too. So they would come and talk about music or gear. They loved talking about gear, and my pedal board, and you know, “What does that tremolo do and why is that tremolo different from–” you know, just geeky stuff. So they were in it.
JM: That’s so great. So what were your favorite and least favorite parts of the job as a Broadway pit musician?
Ann Klein: I guess eight shows a week. It’s a lot. And I’m not complaining about it. You know, coming back on Tuesday is no big deal. But it’s hard to get away without using a vacation or sick day. Other people get away for weekends. I’d say that’s the hardest part of it. Tech is pretty grueling too. Long hours of nothing.
JM: And your favorite part?
Ann Klein: My favorite part? Just being a part of a wheel. Supporting a wheel that’s moving. A cog in a wheel, but a good cog. I like the camaraderie of it.
JM: What might surprise people about working as a pit musician on a Broadway show?
Ann Klein: What might surprise people… that’s a great question. I guess maybe that you have to sub out. People are like, “Well, how do you show up all the time for eight shows a week?” “Well, you get a sub.” “Really?”
JM: Sometimes you just don’t come in.
Ann Klein: Yeah, so that might be a surprise to someone who’s not in this world. Like, “Oh wow, how do you train them, how does that work?”
JM: So for those who don’t know, what’s the answer? How does the sub learn the show?
Ann Klein: You get the book and recordings and hopefully a conductor video. And then you learn the book. And you go and watch the show, maybe more than once if necessary. I can’t speak for any other instrument, [but] as a guitarist, you must learn the pedal moves – i.e., tremolo here, distortion there, etc. There are all kinds of effects so you have to learn that dance with your feet. There are usually doubles for guitar players: electric, acoustic, mandolin, banjo, 12-string, etc. So, as a sub, you have to know when to switch instruments, turn your mic on, in addition to learning the sound effects moves. You have to play someone else’s instrument, which can be problematic. I was asked to sub on one show and I couldn’t play the guitars that were there, so I asked if I could bring my own, which I did. But that is generally discouraged.
JM: So you really have to know all the ins and outs of the show to sub for it.
Ann Klein: Yeah, you absolutely have to know the show. You have to know the dialogue before you come in so you’re ready. You have to know how your pedal moves because whoever has the chair sets up their pedals their way. So you have to learn it their way, not your way. And I think for drummers, that’s actually kind of a big deal. Because drummers place their cymbals and drums in different places at different heights…
JM: It must be really stressful to be a sub.
Ann Klein: Oh, yeah.
JM: Because for multiple shows, you have to know every single in and out. And you have to keep them in your brain, and you have to worry about forgetting some little nuance for that one show, and at any time you could be called to sub in.
Ann Klein: Yeah, but you can always say no. I mean, to be honest, unless I really knew a show and I was subbing on it a lot, I don’t know that I would just go in and play it. I have often said no. There have been a few shows I decided not to sub on for several reasons. If the book was super difficult or there was a lot of memorization involved and I wasn’t guaranteed a lot of work, it just wasn’t worth my time.
JM: Do you have any favorite stories from when you worked on Head Over Heels?
Ann Klein: Yeah, Christmas 2018. I pretty much handled most of the soloing in the show. So at Christmas time, every night during the exit music, I would do a Christmas theme. I did Auld Lang Syne New Year’s Eve. I would make that my solo. I might do a solo with the whammy bar or wild effects and make it super weird. Everybody would acknowledge it. And everybody would [say,] “Oh, I heard that,” or “That was hilarious.” That was a lot of fun. I think I might have done dreidel too.
JM: That’s so fun. Did you ever try to do that crazy dancing? I saw the funky choreography. Did the band ever try to learn any of those dance moves?
Ann Klein: No. No. And I am definitely not the person to ask about that.
JM: So you’ve performed at a lot of really cool places from Lincoln Center to Carnegie Hall…what was your favorite place that you’ve ever performed?
Ann Klein: There’s a venue in Salzburg, Austria called Rockhaus that I used to play in all the time with my band. And it was a great club. Don’t get me wrong, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall are pretty amazing, but there’s something about the intimacy of a hip club that is really magical. Plus, I was doing that with my own band and we’d always end our tour at Rockhaus. Because we were based out of Salzburg, it felt like we were coming home. And it just felt really good.
JM: And you’ve also released six CD’s.
Ann Klein: Yeah.
JM: How long did it take you to do that? Did you have a publisher? Did you do it all yourself? What was the process?
Ann Klein: Well, each album was different. This was a long time ago. So the first one, “Driving You Insane,” I had a producer that funded it. And I don’t think it took that long. But I couldn’t tell you how many months it took. Again, this was like a million years ago. But it was a three-piece band so it wasn’t like there was a lot of mixing.
JM: It was a three-piece band?
Ann Klein: Yeah. Power trio. Bass (Steve Count), guitar, drums (Rich Mercurio).
Ann Klein: The slowest part was the vocals. For the second album I think I had a publisher who gave me some money to do it. And then the third one my promoter in Austria paid for and I used my Austrian musicians. They came over here and my husband, who is a producer/engineer, has a studio, so we had free studio time. He produced it.
JM: Well that’s helpful!
Ann Klein: Indeed!
JM: So, what things did you learn? What would you do differently if you were trying to make an album now?
Ann Klein: Don’t rush it. Get the right people, get the right producer. Make sure your material’s great. But don’t overthink it either.
JM: Do you think not having a producer means you shouldn’t make a CD?
Ann Klein: No. But the good thing about a producer is they bring out who the artist is. And it’s really gotta be someone you trust and who gets you, because there are producers who will impose what they think should be. And that’s ok if that’s what you want, if you want their imprint on your thing.
JM: How do you get a producer?
Ann Klein: It’s pretty easy.
Ann Klein: There’s lots of people out there. I mean, I’ve produced people. A good place to start is look at Broadway musicians. I mean, they’re all great musicians, I’m sure they’ve all written music, they know studios, they know gear, I mean… I think it’s just meeting people, recommendations… engineers are great because they know the gear. They really know how it works.
JM: When you say producer though, do you mean someone who’s willing to pay the cost of making the album? Or someone who’s willing to organize putting the album together?
Ann Klein: Someone who’s willing to organize it. It can mean money, but usually that’s an “executive producer.” A producer is like a director. Like, “This is how we’re gonna run the session, this is who I hope we’re going to get to play the instruments, this is how I want the session to go. Here are the charts, here’s how we’re gonna rehearse it…” Like that. Does that make sense?
JM: Yeah! Cool. So you also teach songwriting workshops and guitar and mandolin. What’s your favorite thing about teaching?
Ann Klein: My favorite thing about teaching is when I have a student who wants to be there. That’s exciting to me. That makes me feel like I’m earning my keep. You know, sometimes you get kids whose parents want them to take lessons and they’re not into it, and it’s just not fun. They don’t do the work. So what do you do for, you know, 45 minutes or an hour or however long your lesson is?
JM: Yeah, you’re like, “I can tell you don’t want to be here, I don’t really want to be here…”
Ann Klein: Yeah that’s really tough. And I’ve had some kid students who were bratty, telling me, “I already know this.” (They didn’t.) And they’re telling me how I should be teaching. And I don’t really like that either. Because it’s like… well… I do this for a living, you know? People pay me. And I’ve had adult students, too, but adult students, they want to be there.
JM: So what’s your favorite thing to teach?
Ann Klein: Whatever makes us happy in the moment. Seriously. If they are getting it, whatever it is, I love it.
JM: I actually started to learn how to play the guitar when I was younger. And I’ll tell you why I stopped: bar chords. The thing where you have to stretch your finger across the fret. How did you get past that? Is there a trick? Or is it just sheer determination?
Ann Klein: It’s sheer determination. And it’s muscle development. And I would be sure to tell people, “You’re gonna suck at this. It’s very possible that you’re gonna suck at this for a while. That’s normal, it’s fine. And one day you’ll play it right.”
JM: I was like, totally fine with not being good at it, but then I got to the bar chords and I was like, “This is physically impossible. How do hands do this? My hands don’t do this.”
Ann Klein: Who knows, maybe it is the function of a physical thing. I’ve always wondered that about singers. I took singing lessons, and I mean, I can sing, but I can’t sing. I mean these people are born with it, so maybe it is that. But I would just tell people, “You’re gonna get it, and don’t beat yourself up about it.” You’re not allowed to beat yourself up about it. You know, I would try to get into the little psychology of it. And it worked for people. And I would say, “This is kinda like working out a pair of cowboy boots. One day they’re just gonna be comfortable.”
JM: Do you play instruments other than guitar or mandolin?
Ann Klein: I have a dobro that I’ll play every now and then.
JM: A dobro?
Ann Klein: Yeah, it’s a six string instrument and you play it with a slide.
JM: Oh cool.
Ann Klein: But I mean, I cheat, I tune it like a guitar. And I play a little bit of lap steel. It’s like another six-string instrument and you put it on your lap and you play it with a bar over the strings, not with your hand wrapped around. And it’s tuned differently. There’s a special tuning for it. So I can play a little bit of that. I mean, I’m not a whiz, but I can make some music on it. This past Christmas I did a few songs on lap steel and posted them on Instagram. They were decent!
JM: And how old were you when you started learning how to play your first instrument, which I assume was guitar?
Ann Klein: Guitar, yeah. I think I was seven when I started?
JM: Did you play in band at school, or take lessons?
Ann Klein: I took lessons on and off. I didn’t go to music school or college or anything like that. No “band.” They didn’t have band for guitar.
JM: Just always played for fun and for projects and things like that?
Ann Klein: Yeah. I had a duo as a teenager and we would play in coffee shops.
JM: That’s really cool. And what’s next for you? What jobs and projects are on the horizon?
Ann Klein: I’m involved with several things now, three theater-based (two Broadway). But who knows when that will come back. So, I’m keeping on the DL with that until I know how things shake out. I’m working with a singer/songwriter named Alan Chapell who is incredibly prolific, so he thankfully keeps me pretty busy. But again, coronavirus has put a damper on that as well.
JM: We’re all kind of on that same sad boat in uncharted waters. But to shift the focus to something positive: We’re so glad you’re a part of our Maestra community. What made you decide to join?
Ann Klein: I just wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t want to miss out on being part of it. I haven’t been that active in it because I was away in San Diego for two months. That said, I think women are a good resource for women.
JM: And why do you think Maestra is important?
Ann Klein: I think it’s a good way for all of us to, for lack of a better word, complain or bring up things that are grievances and find a way to work them out together. And maybe know that you’re not alone in the world. I didn’t… when I was growing up, I didn’t really have that. There weren’t a lot of women I could talk to. So it’s kind of comforting in a way to just be with other women musicians and talk about experiences.
JM: How has Maestra helped you or people that you know so far?
Ann Klein: Just knowing that it’s there for me as a resource. I did get a call for a gig, it didn’t work out. But that was kind of cool that somebody found me on the site, and hopefully they found someone else that could do it. I think it’s still very new, so I think time will tell more.
JM: And why should people care about the goals that we’re working towards and the services that we offer?
Ann Klein: Well they should care because it’s a positive step. So it’s something that’s hopefully gonna help a lot of people. And being knowledgeable and being able to get information about what you do and how you can live your life as a musician or composer is huge. I mean, a resource is a resource. It’s proactive. That’s always a positive thing.
Special thanks to Ann for sharing her story.
Read more of our Women Who Wow Us series, including interviews with Nancy Ford, Anessa Marie, Elise Frawley, Erin McKeown, Meg Zervoulis, Masi Asare, Britt Bonney, Jennifer Isaacson, Emily Grishman, Rona Siddiqui, Sheilah Rae, Kathy Sommer, Kristy Norter, and Elena Bonomo.