Laurie Frink, Trumpeter and Brass Instructor to Many, Dies at 61

By Nate Chinen
Published July 17, 2013 in The New York Times

laurie-frink-press-1The cause was cancer of the bile duct, said the classical violist Lois Martin, her partner of 25 years. Ms. Frink built her trumpet career as a section player, starting when few women were accepted in those ranks. She worked extensively on Broadway and with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the Mel Lewis Orchestra and Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, often playing lead.

“She was one of the most accurate trumpet players I’ve ever heard,” John McNeil, who recalled playing in trumpet sections alongside Ms. Frink some 40 years ago, said in an interview.

Ms. Frink and Mr. McNeil wrote a book together, “Flexus: Trumpet Calisthenics for the Modern Improvisor,” which has become an essential resource for many trumpeters since its publication a decade ago. The book’s exercises and études came from Ms. Frink’s reservoir of strategies for addressing physical issues on the horn, especially where a player’s embouchure, or formation of lips and facial muscles, was concerned.

“She would take each player and find out what was causing the problem — and then do it to herself, so she could figure out a solution,” said the celebrated trumpeter Dave Douglas, who sought out Ms. Frink when he ran into embouchure problems in the early 1990s. Meeting with her, Mr. Douglas recalled, “was like a combination of therapy, gym instruction and music lesson.”

A warm but private person with a sharp wit, Ms. Frink earned the protective loyalty of her students. Some of the brass players she counseled — trombonists and others as well as trumpeters — were, like Mr. Douglas and Mr. McNeil, working professionals seeking to discreetly avert career-ending difficulties.

But as a faculty member at several leading jazz conservatories, she also mentored many trumpeters at a more formative stage, including Ambrose Akinmusire and Nadje Noordhuis, who have since gained prominence in jazz circles. “I always encourage my students to be the square peg,” Ms. Frink said in 2011. “Sometimes it’s difficult for them, so I try to nurture that. They call me trumpet mother.”

Laurie Ann Frink was born on Aug. 8, 1951, in Pender, Neb., a small town now claimed by the Omaha Indian Reservation, to James and Carol Frink. Her father was a candy salesman. In addition to Ms. Martin, she is survived by her brother, James.

Ms. Frink studied with Dennis Schneider, the principal trumpeter with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra, at the University of Nebraska. After moving to New York in her early 20s, she met Carmine Caruso, a brass guru who devised an adaptable set of calisthenic exercises for trumpet. Ms. Frink became Mr. Caruso’s protégée, and for more than a dozen years his romantic partner. He died in 1987. Her own style of instruction was an extension of the Caruso method.

Ms. Frink never stopped playing at a high level. She appears on every album by the Maria Schneider Orchestra, including two that won Grammy Awards. “When I wrote these subtle inner parts, I would always give them to her,” Ms. Schneider said. “I knew she was the person who would really spin the heart into the line.”

Ms. Frink also worked in recent years with other critically acclaimed big bands, including the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project. Her recorded work will endure, but for many of her former students her instruction is her chief legacy. “In a way it’s a very living art form,” Mr. Douglas said. “There are people all over town, and all over the world, doing what she told them to do.” He said he practiced a routine of hers on Sunday morning after hearing the news of her death.

Remembering Laurie Frink, The ‘Trumpet Mother’ Of The Jazz Scene

By Patrick Jarenwattananon
Published July 17, 2014 in A Blog Supreme from NPR Jazz


Sometimes, the most important musicians are the ones farthest away from the spotlight.

Laurie Frink was a great trumpet player. Great enough to tour with jazz big bands led by Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan (where she played lead) and Maria Schneider; to be one of the first female trumpet players on the Broadway pit orchestra circuit in New York. As a freelancer, she was known for her ability to execute just about anything, no matter the level of difficulty.

Jazz trumpeter John McNeil first met Frink decades ago in a rock club. A week later, she showed up to a big band rehearsal he was attending.

“What she did, just for entertainment: She proceeded to play some of the warhorses of classical trumpet literature, like the Hummel Concerto and some of these others that everybody knows,” McNeil says. “But she played them at light speed. It was the funniest thing I ever heard in my life — it sounded like a wind-up toy, or something played like a 33 [RPM vinyl] disc played on 78 [RPM], you know? It was hilarious — it sounded like a chipmunk playing trumpet. … But I started thinking to myself as she’s doing that, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty funny, but Jesus Christ, she’s actually able to do that.'”

Though rarely an enthusiastic bandleader, Frink made a lot of bands sound good. But she was better known as someone who made a lot of other brass players sound better.

For the last 25-odd years, Laurie Frink was the go-to brass instructor in New York City, especially for improvising musicians. In addition to her private studio and online video-chat lessons, she was on faculty at three New York City universities — NYU, the New School, Manhattan School of Music — and the New England Conservatory. She attracted students from around the world.

Her method came from Carmine Caruso, a famed brass guru and one of her own teachers. Caruso was a saxophonist by trade, but his particular method of technique exercises, paired with personable coaching, made him a revered instructor. After Caruso, she started teaching more heavily, based on his method.

This meant she worked personally with students on how to practice, often designing custom exercises with her students based on their goals. She would go so far as to regularly attend her students’ gigs in order to better understand specifically what they wanted to work on. Those students included many of the top jazz musicians in New York — players like Dave Douglas.

“Technique, people think of as being something really cold,” Douglas says. “And there was something very warm about the way Laurie understood how to talk to people. Some people refer to her as their ‘trumpet mother,’ because a session with her was part psychotherapy, part cheering section and part, ‘Let’s figure out the trumpet.'”

On the morning he was recording his second album with the Tiny Bell Trio, Douglas was having issues with his “chops” — his ability to execute. He was in Zurich, Switzerland, and placed a desperate call to Frink in New York.

“It must have been 6 in the morning in New York,” Douglas says. “I left a message on her machine. I just said, ‘This is crazy, but I’m in Zurich, and here’s what’s happening, and I’m really freaking out. Here’s the hotel number, and if you happen to get the chance to call me, I’ll be here for another hour or so.’ This is before cell phones.

“Sure enough, the phone rings in 15 minutes. And I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you so much for calling!’ She goes, ‘Shut up, put the phone down, and play this for me.’ So I play it, and I pick up the phone, and she goes, “OK, now play this.’ I play it, pick the phone back up, and she says, “OK, I’ve got three exercises for you. You got a pencil and paper?’ So I wrote down the exercises, did ’em and you can listen to the record. … She saved me.”

With fellow Caruso student John McNeil, Frink wrote Flexus, a book of “trumpet calisthenics” designed to improve physical facility specifically for improvisers. This came about after she helped McNeil completely relearn how to play the instrument — twice — when a degenerative disease left him with limited muscle control.

“If it weren’t for her teaching me how to be as efficient as possible, I wouldn’t be playing today,” McNeil says. “Absolutely not — I just wouldn’t be able to.”

Thousands of musicians sing her praises. “R.I.P MS Laurie Frink – changed my life !!”posted trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on Twitter. In a heartfelt essay, another trumpeter, Nadje Noordhuis, reflected on Frink’s friendship and inspiration.

One time, I wrote that I was having a bad day. Within half an hour, she had emailed me a picture of herself in a hilarious costume. It was so unbelievably funny that I laughed uncontrollably for about half an hour. I’m laughing through my tears right now just thinking of it.

Though Frink dedicated her career to serving others without expectation of recognition, the Festival of New Trumpet Music, a nonprofit group which puts on trumpet-led concerts, feted her with a lifetime achievement award last year. Her student Jon Crowley wrote about the experience.

She sat in the back, uncomfortable with being the center of attention. … There was a great photo montage of her giving the middle finger to the camera in various places, her sense of humor was another reason we all loved her. She got up at the very end when she was finally forced to talk and just said “This has been great, it’s like being able to attend your own funeral and hear all the nice things people say about you!” It was a good night for close friends to thank Laurie for what she’s given to us and for her friendship. I know it meant a lot to her.

Crowley never got to see her again. Laurie Frink died July 13 from lingering complications of bile duct cancer, according to her longtime partner Lois Martin. She was 62.

But for Crowley and other brass players, she remains with them in spirit. Long after her lessons, many of her students still do the exercises she designed specifically for them every day.


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