You are here
Analog Honking Device: Meet Cynthia Mullis
When Meany Center’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Cynthia Mullis, was growing up in Albuquerque, she discovered the saxophone. The “Analog Honking Device” (as she jokingly calls it) has directed the winding path her life has followed ever since.
Cynthia was in sixth grade when she joined band. While trying out various instruments at the local music store, she couldn’t get a sound out of the flute or the clarinet, but the sax was a different story. “The sax was so cool!” Cynthia says, and it spoke to her like no other instrument — “I loved it from the first note.”
In eighth grade, Cynthia became interested in jazz. “I asked my saxophone teacher about jazz, or, more specifically, about how to improvise jazz,” she remembers. His answer was succinct but sage: “Listen to jazz every chance you get.”
So, she did. She listened to jazz music, attended jazz concerts, collected jazz records and read books about the jazz greats. Eventually, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in music performance from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, after playing in the top jazz band and performing two classical saxophone recitals. The saxophone then took her from New Mexico and Colorado to San Francisco and on to New York City — where she received her Master’s degree in Jazz Performance while studying with saxophonist Jimmy Heath — and to performances all around the world with the Diva Jazz Orchestra.
At this point, you might be wondering what a woman with two music degrees and years of experience touring the U.S. and Europe, backing musicians such as Diane Schuur, Joe Williams and Dave Brubeck, is doing as the marketing and communications manager at Meany Center.
“A lot of musicians often have to work crappy day jobs to support themselves,” Cynthia points out. “But I knew there could be something else out there that was meaningful to me.” She began exploring other avenues and discovered a particular affinity between graphic design, writing and music: her ability as a jazz musician to improvise and thrive in challenging and dynamic situations applied to marketing and communications as well.
Eventually, the two paths converged at Meany. “Sometimes, it seems like all roads were heading to my job here at Meany Center,” Cynthia muses. “If you’re reading an Encore program, looking at our website or opening a Meany Center email, it has my fingerprints all over it. For me, it’s not either/or with music and working at Meany” she says. “My life is totally integrated — my love of music fuels what I do here, and my job fuels my love of music.” This is especially true when it comes to the Visiting Artists program, which Cynthia credits with expanding her musical palate even further.
“I had to study classical music in college, but I didn’t like it. The language and history didn’t feel alive to me.” After several seasons attending Meany performances, she is developing a new appreciation for the lineage. In listening to Simone Dinnerstein’s “A Character of Quiet,” which features the music of Philip Glass and Franz Schubert, for example, she was inspired to learn more about the composers and discovered that Glass was influenced by Schubert. And the more she listens to string quartets, the more the classical composers make sense to her ears.
“String quartets remind me of jazz combos,” Cynthia says. “There is the magic of collaboration, of individual musicians holding down different roles while speaking from the same reference points.” And listening to the chamber groups allows her to get the essence of the composer in a way that doesn’t happen in symphonic music.
Like the music she reveres, Cynthia’s life is analogous to a jazz group: her talents, interests and occupations all seemingly disparate, yet speaking from the same reference point. She still plays music (although the pandemic has paused live performance at this point, she is practicing piano and her newly-acquired soprano saxophone) but these days she is focused on a different relationship with music — one that has been influenced by her time at Meany. “The spiritual quest is where it’s at for me,” she says. She is “trying to remain right-sized,” living with a sense of gratitude and staying connected to the excitement she felt when she discovered jazz — and the Analog Honking Device — for the first time.
Cynthia Mullis has had a life-long fascination with jazz and the saxophone that set the trajectory for her entire career. She draws on her experience in music, design, language and writing on a daily basis in her work as Meany Center’s Marketing and Communications Manager. In this al fresco performance, she regales her neighborhood with the Thelonious Monk classic, "Well You Needn’t.”