Courtesy of Frank Lacy

Tutu Records


I have developed a fondness for the trombone through the years. Maybe it comes with age as does wisdom and maturity. Hard as it may be for me to digest J.J. Johnson or Slide Hampton, I am starting to appreciate the artistry of bone players like Konrad Bauer, Gunter Christmann, Paul Rutherford, Albert Mangelsdorff, Ray Anderson, and Frank Lacy. I first saw Lacy live when he was touring with the Mingus Big Band some ten years ago. He weighed in by taking a twenty minute (I kid you not because I timed him) solo that had the audience standing in ovation. His mastery of the instrument had me wanting to bring him to the Roadshow for some time now, but Lacy has a hectic schedule to say the least, but he came onboard and shared his thoughts on his instrument, his music, and his future, as always, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.

FRANK LACY: I waited until later to make music as a profession. I started piano lessons when I was eight, but I didn't make music my profession until I was about twenty, twenty-one. I started playing the trombone around the age of seventeen. I was in the twelfth grade. Before that, I played trumpet and euphonium. The trombone was a very interesting instrument to me. It is a very unique instrument to me, a very unique instrument with the positions, slide positions and all. I just the gravitated towards the weirdness of it, the oddity of how it is being played.

FJ: What were you listening to?

FRANK LACY: Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders. Wayne was from Houston. He's from the same part of Houston that I'm from. Later on, I got turned onto J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, Curtis Fuller, Albert Mangelsdorff.

FJ: What type of trombone do you play?

FRANK LACY: I play the standard, classical trombone, Bach Stradivarius 42G.

FJ: How much did you pay for it?

FRANK LACY: Well, I bought it in 1976 for seven hundred dollars, but now, I would say it costs between twelve and eighteen hundred.

FJ: How do you approach playing the trombone?

FRANK LACY: I would say, probably with the approach of a brass player or trumpet player and probably with the approach of a violin player or string player.

FJ: How does a trombonist playing a slide instrument mirror a string instrument?

FRANK LACY: It has positions just like a string instrument.

FJ: How does the use of a plunger augment the sound of the trombone?

FRANK LACY: Well, the plunger actually, it makes a stoppage of the air, the sound when it comes out the bell. But it has enough, the plunger has enough space in it to give the trombone a different sound when the plunger is closed. When you open a plunger on the horn, then it has another sound (imitating doo-woop sounds). That is the main thing. It sounds like something where you plunge it into a deep abyss or something like that.

FJ: You had a brief tenure with Art Blakey. What did he impart to you?

FRANK LACY: Oh, man, confidence. I would say, for the most part, confidence, a lot of things, but for the most part, confidence. To a certain extent, it was kind of like going to school, but I think a lot of people that played with him, they always say the thing about the Art Blakey School of Music. Well, Art wasn't like that. He didn't really refer to his band as being a school. A lot of people, as time went on, they called it a school, but Art didn't look at it that way. Art just looked at it as a band and that we were here to play some music. He didn't really look at it as a school. He just had ways that he had the band play and he had ways that he showed the guys how to act and I guess that you can look at it being a school in that way, but Art Blakey didn't look at it as a school himself. It was just a band of cats that he loved.

FJ: Touch on your close association with Lester Bowie as a member of his Brass Fantasy.

FRANK LACY: Well, Lester taught me a lot about the business of music, how to book my own band without using managers and agents and middlemen. He knew a lot about the business of music, how to get your band working because he never recorded on a major record label. He had to do it all himself. He had to have his own productions. He never recorded on a major record label all throughout his life. He never got a music contract with Blue Note or Columbia. But yet a lot of people know about him. That is how resourceful he was.

FJ: That is the state of the marketplace.

FRANK LACY: I think that's the way musicians always have done it. The guys with the record contracts, they are the few, Fred. Most musicians don't even get a record contract in their whole lifetime.

FJ: Is that a first person point of view, considering you yourself have never had a record contract?

FRANK LACY: Right, and I don't at the moment. Well, I think America plays a lot of attention to the saxophone and trumpet and vocalists. They don't really pay enough attention to trombones, but Europe does. I work pretty decently in Europe.

FJ: Is Europe more enlightened when it comes to jazz music?

FRANK LACY: I hate to say it, but I think so.

FJ: You recorded a few titles that were released on the little known and even lesser available Tutu label.

FRANK LACY: I did three. One of them, I was the musical director for a big group. I wrote some music for a German musical. But I did two as a leader, yes, Tonal Weights & Blue Fire and Settegest Strut.

FJ: Short of knocking on the label's front door, how does one get his or her hands on these ditties?

FRANK LACY: I would try Cadence ( or KOCH Jazz.

FJ: During his lifetime, Lester was lambasted by critics for taking on pop tunes, something you have been doing of late.

FRANK LACY: Well, Lester came out of the blues. He used to play with Sam & Dave and Ike and Tina Turner. So he didn't really play in too many jazz groups. He really came out of the blues groups, Sam & Dave, Righteous Brothers. He came out of that bag. So that is why I think he had his own way of turning pop tunes. But that is the problem with these jazz critics, Fred. They are always trying to say what jazz is and what jazz isn't, what's good music and what's bad music. Sometimes I think a lot of jazz musicians and a lot of the general public kind of listen too much to what critics say. They buy into it.

FJ: You have held a trombone chair in the Mingus Big Band for some years. I recall on concert a few years back when the Mingus Big Band actually played in my hometown of Fullerton. You stood up and took a fifteen minute solo (I timed him) and it was the first time I had seen an audience hand a bone player a standing ovation.

FRANK LACY: For one thing, when you say it was the first time you heard a trombone player get a standing ovation from the audience. You see that is what most Americans would say. They don't particularly look at the trombone as being able to get a standing ovation. Europeans do. Well, it takes an amount of thinking to play a fifteen minute trombone solo because you have to be creative. You have to be creative. I'm happy that I was able to do it, but some people think that's kind of rare to be able to do that. But, the trombone is such a special instrument that if you really know what you are doing on it. If you really know the history of the trombone from Jack Teagarden all the way to Albert Mangelsdorff and J.J. and all in between, one can put together a somewhat innovative solo because the instrument lends itself to innovation. For me, I think the trombone is the closest instrument to the human voice. In Europe, they have country towns in the hills of Switzerland, in Germany, in Austria where almost the whole town plays a brass instrument. They have brass bands. The town has their own brass bands in like Italy, Germany, or Austria. It is a normal thing. The kids learn how to play the instrument. The instrument gets handed down to them from their parents and grandparents. You don't get that here. So they are more knowledgeable about the brass instrument itself, not only the trombone, but tuba, trumpet, baritone, all the other instruments. So they are more knowledgeable about the brass instrument.

FJ: So it is a funding and cultural priority issue. We should place more funding into our schools, so our youth develops an appreciation for jazz music and place a greater importance in music and the arts?

FRANK LACY: Yes, I definitely agree. Place more importance on instrumentalized music, music with instruments. We tend to pay a lot of homage to vocalists. Well, they call themselves singers, which I am not really crazy about the term. I am a vocalist myself. I think singers should call themselves musicians. Their instrument is the human voice, instead of calling themselves a singer. When people call themselves a singer, I think about a sewing machine. They should call themselves musicians, whose instrument is their own voice.

FJ: And the future?

FRANK LACY: Right now, Mapleshade wants to record my big band, but I don't know, I am trying to get the big band together. We have a big band that plays every Monday in New York now at the Jazz Gallery. We're trying to do that. It is hard for trombonists, but we're trying to do that. I'm pretty sure that I will be recording in the next year or so with Mapleshade, hopefully. The thing is, Fred, I do more music than just jazz. I don't really want to sign to a label just on a jazz track. A lot of record companies feel that it is hard to pigeonhole me because I do so many different musics. I have like twenty difference ensembles, about eleven that are in the jazz category. I have nine of them that aren't even in the jazz category. I do rock, funk, R&B, hip hop. Right now, I am playing with D'Angelo.

FJ: Did you play on Voodoo?

FRANK LACY: Yeah, I am on that record. I did the Voodoo tour. I am doing so many different musics that I am most content when I am doing different genres of music and not just one.

FJ: Roy Hargrove is on the D'Angelo record as well. You have been somewhat of a mentor to the young Hargrove through the years.

FRANK LACY: Yeah, Roy Hargrove has been on that record as well. We're pretty close through the years. I'm glad that you realize that I am sort of a mentor to him. There were a lot of tunes, I played with Roy's Sextet and a lot tunes that people were associating with Roy, which were my compositions. Like for instance, on his record that got the Grammy (Habana), the first tune and the last tune of the record is my tunes, but a lot of people think it is Roy's. There is a lot of tunes that Roy plays that are mine that a lot of people incorporate with Roy's music, but it is actually mine. Roy is always looking at me as a mentor, nice guy. He said he first met me when he was in the seventh or eighth grade in junior high school and I was the lead trombonist in the high school big band. We gave a jazz festival at this college and he came by. His band played and he came and met me. That was back in 1976 and I can't even remember it.

FJ: People's perceptions are due in large part because of the stigma that seems to follow you about being a sideman and further demonstrated by Downbeat's proclamation that you are "the best sideman in jazz."

FRANK LACY: The best sideman in jazz. You know, Fred, I don't appreciate it, but what I am most appreciate about it, it is in part. It is like half and half. Most sideman don't even get on the cover of Downbeat. You have to either be a bandleader or some great musician. I had just been a sideman and made the cover of Downbeat, so I really think that it gave a big kudos to the sidemen, when most of the articles give the play to the bandleader. But the bandleader can't do it without the sidemen. But being a sideman all those years gave me a lot of wisdom. Now, I know how to be a good bandleader. I know how to be more compassionate to the sidemen because I've spent most of my time as a sideman. Some bandleaders, they just have been a bandleader, so they aren't really compassionate enough to the sidemen.

FJ: It is time people quit referring to you as a sideman.

FRANK LACY: Thank you, Fred. Thank you.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and enjoys the Stugots. Email Him.