When he is not developing amplification products to reproduce music and movie soundtracks, Rick Santiago of Indy Audio Labs, is probably gigging somewhere in Indianapolis.
Santiago is an avid saxophonist. He likes to play jazz and rock styles and currently plays semi-professionally with a band called Joyswing that consists of local music educators and gigging musicians in the Indianapolis area.
Picking up the instrument during his freshman year in high school in Milwaukee, Wisc., where he grew up, Santiago says that playing the sax happened as a chance occurrence.
“I like to say that I became a musician by accident. I was always the visual arts kid in the class in grade school. I remember registering for my first semester high school classes and the high school teacher who was getting my classes lined up asked me if I preferred music or art. I quickly answered 'art' of course, to which she responded, 'Okay, we’ll put you in the band—you need to move outside your comfort zone.' So I joined the band and learned to play the sax,” he remembers.
As early as high school, Santiago began his interest in the genre of jazz.
“I was surrounded by music growing up and I noticed that the saxophone was a prominent instrument in jazz,” he says.
“That spurred my interest in studying the horn and listening to as many recordings as I could get my hands on. My early influences include Jay Beckenstein, Erik Marienthal and Grover Washington, Jr.”
Jazz Shapes Santiago's Electronics Career
Entering college, Santiago continued playing the sax and was lead tenor for the Marquette University Jazz Ensemble, while fronting his own combo in the Milwaukee area named Jagged Jazz.
While not having a formal music degree—Santiago has his Master’s degree in electrical engineering and DSP—he did seek instruction in jazz by playing at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and received guidance from players such Berkeley Fudge, Mark Davis, James Williams and Eric Alexander.
According to Santiago, his playing experience ranges from rock and R&B bands, to big band to jazz combos, and occasional solo engagements. He says the venues he's played over the years range from clubs, halls, to contemporary church settings.
In the early 2000s, Santiago adds that he was called to record a few sax loops for a Sony loop library.
Prior to co-founding Indy Audio Labs, Santiago spent 17 years developing products for Shure in Chicago where he worked and played with other musician employees. It was at Shure that Santiago was able to interact with renowned artists of all backgrounds, including jazz legends Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter.
“I remember being called into one of our studios to play tenor sax with a new model sax mic we were developing. The marketing department wanted me to play for a visiting engineer so he could evaluate the sound of the new mic live,” says Santiago.
“So I went to the booth and blew whatever came to mind. At that moment it was a few bars of the Sonny Rollins tune 'St. Thomas' and I noodled around the changes a bit. I should have asked who our guest was; it turns out that it was Sonny’s live engineer. Good thing I didn’t find that out until later.”
“I’m excited to jam with some colleagues and friends of mine in our industry,” he states.
“I’ve had a business relationship with a number of these folks for several years and getting the chance to get to play together will be something we’ll talk about for years to come.”