All that Jazz
In 1999, Jody Espina was invited to play music at the 93rd birthday party of famous mouthpiece maker Santy Runyon.
A long time resident of New York City, Espina was a professional musician and teacher at Concordia College and the coordinator of the Jazz program at the Hoff-Barthleson Music School. Meeting Runyon and attending his Lafayette, Louisiana birthday party was a tremendous treat for the music aficionado. And would mark the official beginning of his career in mouthpiece making.
In his day, Runyon had given lessons to many jazz greats including Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and Harry Carney. What happened next was an accident. Espina returned to New York from Louisiana with a mouthpiece that Runyon had manufactured. After months playing with it, Espina decided he needed more “free breathing” from it. He took his recommendations back to Runyon who crafted a specific model and facing for his friend Espina.
“Santy had the idea call the new model, ‘JodyJazz,’” says Espina.
“I gratefully accepted his offer but had no idea that it would turn into a real business – I thought I would only sell it to a few students. Then people started talking about this mouthpiece in online forums and I started getting orders.” Espina then left New York to work in Runyon’s factory, reproducing the special mouthpiece that would eventually become JodyJazz’s “ESP series.”
Espina would later find himself in his own factory, with his own line of mouthpieces, inspired by the original Runyon piece but manufactured independently, by JodyJazz. Since then, the company has developed and designed an array of high end mouthpieces, including the HR* hard rubber series, and their flagship US Patented DV and DV NY series – the product line that won Espina TCCa’s 2008 Innovation Award.
“2000 was our first year in business and we took in $65,000,” explains Espina, who was still playing and teaching in New York, putting in 14 to 18 hour days.
“Since that first year, growth has been steady and swift so that now our yearly revenue has exceeded the million dollar mark."
“We occupy a unique niche in this market in that we have grown bigger than all of the small boutique mouthpiece makers.”
Like so many others in the creative industry, Jody Espina has found Savannah to be a delightful and profitable place to set up shop. “I had ensconced in New York since 85, but if I had ever thought about living anywhere else," says Espina.
“Savannah was one of the few places in the country that had many of the best things that I liked about New York: walkability, cool food, cool Architecture, cool people.”
“We love Savannah. The business community and The Creative Coast have been very helpful.”
Be on the lookout for Espina’s five new publishing projects, due out in the fall and a new tenor sax mouthpiece slated for release in January 2010.
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