At Home on the World Stage

John Michalak
Jazz Musician
Attended 1989-1992, 1995-1997

Professional saxophone and flute player John Michalak has a lot of stamps on his passport.

Michalak has traveled to 43 countries, performing with internationally known artists such as Gloria Estefan, KC and The Sunshine Band, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Jon Secada, Carole King, Engelbert Humperdinck, Sammy Figueroa, Franco De Vita and Dany Brillant.

Michalak started getting invitations to join performing groups soon after he left Palm Beach Community College – where, he says, he had a great educational experience and was able to hone his musical skills.

“The College has always had a strong music program, thanks to teachers like Sy Pryweller and Dave Gibble, and all the other instructors who helped me and other students along the way to a career in music,” he said. “I chose to begin my professional performance career during my time at the school, and soon after, I started getting opportunities to travel around the country and around the world performing.”

While at PBCC, Michalak says, his fondest memories were traveling to the Jazz Educators conferences (now the Jazz Education Network conferences) where he saw performances and attended workshops, panel discussions and research presentations, and also received live mentoring. “Those conferences were instrumental in helping me grow as a performer and musician,” he said.

The professors at PBCC also left a big impression.  “All the instructors, including all the academic teachers, were passionate about what they do. I think they all have a lot to offer to someone who wants to get a good foundation for higher education or a great career.”

That educational foundation has helped lead him to a now more than 25-year career in music. A highlight, Michalak says, was a special collaboration with percussionist Sammy Figueroa that led to a 2006 Grammy nomination.

Michalak is a feature soloist on flute and saxophone on the album “And Sammy Walked In,” by Figueroa and his band, The Latin Jazz Explosion. He had first started playing in Figueroa’s band in 2003, performing standard Latin jazz songs. In 2005, Figueroa decided to record his solo album titled “And Sammy Walked In,” which was the name of the title song composed for him by renowned pianist Michel Camilo. The rest of the album consisted of songs written by several other musicians from the New York jazz scene.

“We went into the studio with a few rehearsals and live performances of the material,” said Michalak. “It was done basically on somewhat of a low budget. Even though we all felt pretty good about the project and had fun doing it, we didn’t expect much from it and certainly not being in the top five Latin Jazz albums on the Grammy ballot. We were all ecstatic over the nomination. Even though we didn’t win, the whole experience was very inspiring and encouraging.”

Michalak was a part of Figueroa’s next two albums. He was a saxophonist for “The Magician,” which also received a Grammy nomination in 2007 for Best Latin Jazz Album, and a saxophonist for “Urban Nature.”

He still performs occasionally with Figueroa locally and internationally, doing some of the gigs saxophone great Troy Roberts, who also recorded on Figueroa’s albums, is unable to do.

After his collaboration on “The Magician,” Michalak contributed to yet another album four years later that won a Grammy award. He was a featured soloist on saxophone in a video DVD/CD called “En Primera Fila” by Venezuelan singer/songwriter Franco DeVita. It won the Latin Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video.

Michalak first got the call to record with him from his colleague David Cabrera, guitarist and musical director for De Vita, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and others. Cabrera had been the musical director for KC and The Sunshine Band when Michalak was part of that band from 1998 to 2001.

“David was solely responsible for getting me involved with Franco’s recording,” said Michalak. “When Franco was putting together his follow-up to that project, ‘Primera Fila II,’ he personally requested me for the recording in Mexico City. Shortly after, he asked me to tour with him, which I did for a year and a half, until I decided it was time to be off the road for a while. It was a great experience.”

Today, Michalak lives in Lake Worth and is a South Florida regional dealer/rep for CE Winds, a saxophone/mouthpiece company based in Ft. Meyers.

He is also a founding member of a Flamenco/jazz fusion group called Urban Gypsy, which performs at top music venues, including Jazziz Nightlife, the Boca Raton Food and Wine Festival, and for select charity events.

After successfully carving out his own professional music career, Michalak says anyone considering the field should start by studying different facets, including writing, arranging and recording, and certainly should do live performances. “There are so many different things you can do in music. Choose your own path and work hard at it.”

Watch an interview with John Michalak: