Rich has found that some of the best experience a musician can have is to be a freelancer, functioning as a sideman in somebody else’s band. People presumably call you to play for them because they know your capabilities and trust that you will be able to play whatever they ask of you.

Rich has been called to play in some famous bands and many more not-famous bands. He worked in the Mel Tormé Big Band in New York City in 1992 and for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau  in 2001. Rich also toured with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra  from 2002 through 2007. He has been called to play with The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, The Glenn Miller Band, The Sammy Kaye Orchestra, The Cab Calloway Orchestra, The Nelson Riddle Orchestra, The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra  and many others.

Some of the things that Rich has discovered as a freelance jazz musician:

★ The freelancer is expected be able to transpose pretty much anything put in front of him. There are gigs where they have only C lead sheets and no rehearsal. Being proficient at sight-reading and sight-transposing is not something taught by professors, but the road will certainly teach musicians to either do that or not get the call for the gig the next time.
★ Players need to be able to sight-read chord changes. Sometimes a freelancer will encounter an unfamiliar chart with printed chord changes that are highly specific, and if any of the changes are missed, everybody knows. Not only are the changes unfamiliar (and sometimes bizarre), the freelancer is expected to improvise over them the first time through and nail it.

jazz freelance musician

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra Brass Section

★ Taking care of business is every bit as important as turning in a good performance when freelancing. Returning phone calls or emails, having the right attire for the gig, being there a half-hour early, having the right equipment, starting and ending the gig sober, those kind of things matter every bit as much as musical ability.


Rich’s trumpet playing and his use of bass trumpet is especially refreshing. A no-nonsense player.”
— MICHAEL ABENE, NY, faculty member at Manhattan School of Music

“Rich Willey is a damn fine musician…an excellent trumpet player with great chops, great ideas, excellent reading skills and amazing dexterity on both trumpet and bass trumpet.” — RUSS WILSON (bandleader, drummer, vocalist)

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