Even though I have never played the trumpet – or any brass instrument, for that matter – I have always considered Laurie to be one of my teachers. She was one of the few musicians/educators that didn’t just teach students – she mentored them. Her teaching went far beyond just brass technique; she taught you about life and helped guide you through new situations with examples from her own experiences. She had an extraordinary knack for helping you succeed, almost the way a parent teaches their kid to ride a
bike without training wheels. You start with your parent running alongside, holding the seat, and before you can say you’re ready for them to let go, you look back, and they’re already in the distance, cheering you on. Laurie was there to help steady you at the beginning, cheer you on once you were on your own, and come running to pick you up when you wiped out. She had more students than any other teacher I knew, but when you were with her, you were her only one.
As a player, Laurie was unmatched. Unfortunately, she could be easily overlooked by an audience because she didn’t need to stand in front of the band and solo, and never needed to draw attention to herself when she played. But I know for a fact, every musician on the bandstand knew she was there. In the Gil Evans Project band, Laurie was our anchor-in-the-middle, our “center,” and gave us all a boost of confidence just by being there. The band played better with her in the section, and I know I was a better bandleader when she was there.
It’s hard for me to imagine leading a band without Laurie Frink in the section. She was a monster player, beloved mentor, and one of the funniest, most quick-witted people I know. But most importantly, she was a great person and a dear friend who I miss very much. I am grateful for all of the
time I got to spend with her, and was honored to have her as a member of the Gil Evans Project. I find myself comforted by all the memories I have; the times we spent together on the road, and her stories and life lessons that not only left me doubled over with laughter, but helped shape me into the bandleader that I am today.
Laurie played with my group for 21 years. We all feel blessed to have made music with her and to get to enjoy her wonderful humor, her keen intelligence and tender heart. Laurie’s influence was far-reaching and deep. Laurie took such a deep care in the way she approached playing music. That excellence and real beauty (shaping every line, whether a melody or a harmonic line with equal care and perfection), as well as dedication (she was there through thick and thin), helped shape band, my music and my life all these wonderful years we had together. A large piece of my band belongs to Laurie. And driving all of that was a most stellar, hysterically funny, creative, artistic and highly unique, treasure-of-a human being – a bright light on this earth. She brought such joy, wisdom, inspiration and beauty to so insanely many lives. Laurie, you’re so deeply missed.
When I was at the beginning stages of formulating a large ensemble in NYC, I was taking particular notice of who might fit the group. And what I noticed was that Laurie Frink was in almost every good band. And then once I started playing in some of these bands, I noticed that she was always the first to show up…already there in her chair, warming up with a quiet concentration. It was clear she was a team player, a solid player who played her part impeccably, cracked a few jokes along the way (at the absolute perfect moment!), and then went home without getting into any trouble – sounds easy but there are very few musicians who possess such a perfect balance of positive traits.
Having Laurie in your band meant that you were one of the good ones. She was obviously just there for the music, so it was a true honor when Laurie agreed to play in my Large Ensemble. In all of the bands she played for, she seemed totally content to play 4th trumpet, a book that in school is usually reserved for the weakest player – but with Laurie she was actually the most-respected trumpet player in the section. It was not until later that I heard about her former life as lead player and her regal status as “chops doctor” to every horn player I played with (and that is not an exaggeration!) She had all types of musicians coming to her for help – mostly brass players but also woodwind players. She did not boast about this or remind you of this – her humility, always touched with humor, was a big part of her persona and endeared her to many.
I loved Laurie’s spirit, her soul. Now that her physicalness is gone, I realize how much it meant to merely have her in the room. Her quiet, gentle presence made a remarkable impact in a “behind the scenes” kind of way. She will be deeply missed and I hope we will continue to be reminded of how a subtle presence can powerfully alter the world we live in.
After learning of Laurie’s passing, I didn’t know what to do, so I read through every email that she had sent me and then posted them on my blog. I have taken this a step farther and compiled her emails to create this next bit of prose. I did not add anything or correct any typos or change the order in which I received them – I just kept the most important gems. And in this way, through this process, I found some reassurance – it made me smile and even laugh a little to “play” with Laurie again!
all can work
whoo hooooo!! fun gig!! yes, I’d like music
not me I had a great time playing music!!!! anythings cool with me
just curious I am a pacer
Ok either is fine for me ok fine confirmed i;m good everything is doable I’m good anytime anytime I’m good
i got confused haha
I’m good for everything thats great!! a f*&^king NITEMARE!!! i’m a restless traveler yep
doesnt’ matter good for me im good
I went to the University of Nebraska
I’m up–standing , and awake
cool cool I’m cool with this cool cool
sorry I’m such an airhead a nitemare!!!!
I can also just flirt real heavy…..sorry to be so lame
Confirmed Looking forward good No problem. will be there with bells on ok for me cool
my mother didn’t like me Never have we doubled up either
I am in the woods i’m ok yay!!! I’m good cool
I will miss you all and especially the music,
words by Laurie Frink written to John Hollenbeck via email Edited by JH but kept in chronological order
I met Laurie Frink soon after I came to New York in the winter of 1977. I had just started learning how to arrange for various ensembles. When I decided to put a big band together, my friend from Chicago, Spanky Davis brought along Laurie to play 2nd trumpet. Soon after THAT, Laurie became my lead trumpet player. As my arranging skills improved, Laurie was with me every step of the way. I never took her for granted because I KNEW I had an amazing musician and incredible person in my corner. We were the closest of friends the entire 20 years she played in my band.
Laurie was also one of the first people to meet my firstborn daughter, Molly. Laurie gave Molly her own “special” name-“Melissa”-that would only be for those two to share. One time, when Molly was a baby, I was about to throw a party for a bunch of musician friends. Prior to anyone showing up, Molly got her chunky little baby thighs stuck on a closing elevator. We rushed her to the hospital where she got a clean bill of health (just banged her legs a little), but the biggest damage was to me and my wife’s soul.
When the guests arrived, I was clearly fried emotionally. Laurie stuck with me the entire party. She could tell I needed that support.
That is, in a nutshell, a clear picture of the absolutely beautiful soul of Laurie Frink.
I began studying with Laurie Frink at the age of eighteen, at which time I had both embouchure problems and aspirations of being a commercial trumpeter, perhaps on broadway or in a rock band. My adolescent energies had been spent on the pursuit of higher notes, and despite a lack of progress I had not yet been made to understand the ability of the trumpet to make music. Laurie immediately made her plans for me, unknown to me of course, and convinced me that after extensive work on tone, time, articulation, intonation, flexibility, dynamic range, phrasing, reading, and more work on tone, I would at last be allowed to practice high notes. She also confiscated all of my superfluous mouthpieces.
Throughout my time at Manhattan School of music, Laurie was teacher, shrink, and mother figure to me, as she was to so many students in need of guidance in more areas of life than the trumpet alone. How one woman had space in her heart for the problems of so many, I’ll never know. Every lesson was a combination of therapy and confessional, followed by Laurie leading me to musical realizations I could not have made on my own, yet could not have swallowed coming from someone else. She didn’t just teach, she taught her students how to learn, and how to continue educating themselves.
By the time I finished college, I had discovered an area of personal passion, and Laurie encouraged both my independent study and the professional work that came with it, always admonishing me meanwhile to keep my options open, not to burn any bridges, and to avoid making pronouncements about which music I do or don’t play. Among her nuggets of wisdom were, “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut,” “Don’t turn down any gig unless you’re already booked”, and “remember to blow into the small end”. Though I have often failed to live up to these, I think of Laurie every time I pick up the trumpet, and I feel so blessed to have had four years of study with her.
Anyone familiar with Laurie’s teaching knows that one of her mantras is “tap your foot.” You might find that a strange practice technique…it’s probably something most of us outgrew the need for in 5th or 6th grade when we figured out how to keep 4 beats straight in our head. But Laurie has a different reason to keep you tapping; it’s to coordinate your body and your brain. While you are thinking—-reading notes, chord changes, dynamics, and rhythms, concentrating on your lips and teeth and jaw, and breathing, tounging, or remembering dynamics, your brain is in multitasking overdrive. There are thousands of variables at up in the air. You need a coordinator, a conductor—-and your foot is that organizing force. When you tap your foot you are telling your muscles to move NOW, NOW, NOW, and that gives your brain little spaces to store things, little post it notes, a chance to say “this thought works HERE and that thing we’re concentrating on goes HERE.” It’s not a magic trick, and it doesn’t make everything work at once. But just like a great conductor, if you keep at it eventually things will fall into place. Tapping your foot helps your thoughts lock up with your actions, and after enough practice your body starts to remember how to do things the right way. Tap your foot. Brain, body, again, again. Adhering to this technique helps us avoid one of the most dangerous pitfalls of trumpet playing, called “end- gaining.” End-gaining means having a result in mind, and doing anything you can, any way you have to, to get that result. Doing anything and everything to force out that high E or octave lip slur is only a trick that will at best work a few times before it tires you out, and at worst get you hurt. Laurie teaches us not to end-gain, but instead to use the proper technique, body, brain, tap tap… The reason I’m making such a big deal of this tapping vs. end gaining issue is that it’s really a perfect metaphor for Laurie’s philosophy on life, and they way she has distinguished herself as a musician, teacher, and person of such remarkable character.
When I wandered into Laurie’s studio in 1997, the first line of my first lesson went something like this: “Every student of mine is an individual in here. We strive for individual achievement. No two musicians are alike, nor should they be. There is no set level or piece you need to master by any date for me. Work hard, and improve—that’s what we are going for.” Now, every time I take on a new student a little Laurie shaped angel appears on my shoulder and reminds me that students need to be built up the right way, not molded to my needs, schedule, particular educational philosophy. I remember that taking the long view with a student is really the only way. Treat them like an individual—-with respect, with an expectation that they will rise—and I as their teacher need to keep them on track. Keep them motivated but grounded. And though I will do my best to live up to your example, but without you here my heart is broken. You will be missed by so many, and though we extol your technical accomplishments, you will be missed mostly for things other than your trumpet or teaching artistry. Rarely has this earth been graced by such a bright sprit, a presence so dedicated to making the world better despite the personal sacrifice. Losing you without the chance to say goodbye was awful, but in this I can see the lesson as well. We should love each other now and never take each other for granted. We should all be so lucky to bask in the warmth of those like you. I hope there is a whole choir of angels wrapping you in the same love you yourself shared so willingly. I am sure you will get them tapping their feet soon enough.
Benny Benack III
When speaking about Laurie, it’s tough to decide what to highlight first. On one hand, she’s universally lauded as one of the finest trumpet teachers and educators in the world. On the other hand, anyone that knew her personally would talk chiefly about her indefatigable spirit and passion for others. I think of Laurie not only as a trumpet teacher, but a therapist, life coach, and friend.
From the trumpet spectrum, Laurie had the precision of a surgeon. Seeing new students, she’d only need them to play a few basic things before diagnosing their issues and devising the exact plan to correct their flaws. She took the guesswork and mystery out of the trumpet and gave players a calmness and peace of mind that even on the bad days, everything would be okay.
Laurie’s lessons were as much therapy sessions as they were about the trumpet. Knowing that the trumpet is as much a mental game as any, she was adept at keeping morale up. Laurie was full of wisdom and due to her own colorful life, she always had a funny story or relatable experience.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I had 4 years of lessons with Laurie, and like many of her other students, her exercises and her presence will stick with me forever. We will all miss her, but her spirit lives on in every student thriving today, thanks to her!
We love you Laurie.
It’s literally awesome to fathom Laurie Frink’s influence on the trumpet community in New York City. I’ve been thinking a lot about Laurie lately. Though I hadn’t seen her as frequently in recent years as in the past, not being able to count on her being there is one of life’s game-changing absolutes. I’ll be wrestling with her absence for a long time. I think a lot of trumpet players probably feel something similar– she was a go to person when you felt yourself drifting from your path. She was more than a “trumpet teacher”. The self-applied “trumpet-mother” is probably closer to accurate.
Laurie’s genius, and this has been been pointed out to me by trumpet players who command my immense respect, was knowing the right bit of knowledge to drop on her students at the right time. We would come to her with our questions, fears, our senses of self, our concepts of musicianship, and she would listen, and come back with the right exercise or suggestion to open up new pathways, to give us something to get us unstuck. When you think about combination of intuition and erudition we’re talking about here, you begin to get a picture of Laurie’s genius at work.
To talk about Laurie as a teacher is inevitably to talk about her personality. She was warm, and giving, but also guarded and private (skills I believe she acquired to balance and foster the openness she exercised in her work). She had a legendary and weird sense of humor and people in her presence tended to be smiling.
Her studio was a place that felt safe, like a second home or a retreat from home, and yet as a young trumpet student, I would run into my trumpet idols there, in for a check up, and I would get shy. But Laurie would flash an enormous smile and make an introduction. She was great at bringing people together. Her teaching didn’t stop at the door to the studio, or at the tick of the hour. She would push us to check out music we hadn’t discovered yet. Her influence on my life is immeasurable, and I’m surely just one of many. In this way Laurie is very much still here with us. I’m reminded of this every time I hear trumpet players warming up before a rehearsal. When someone plays the kind of role in your life that Laurie played in so many of ours, we can’t help but carry her spirit around with us as well as her teachings.
I first read about Laurie in 2000 when I came across a book on a friend’s bookshelf called Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists by Leslie Gourse. At the time I was in my early twenties, living in Melbourne, Australia, and studying trumpet and improvisation at VCA. I’d never heard of any professional female trumpet players before and so I was really curious to see who was listed. As I turned to a trumpet chapter, the first player profiled was Laurie Frink. I thought to myself, “If she is the first one, she must be the best, and therefore I have to meet her”. Fast forward two years and I am beginning my arduous eighteen month process of applying for the Masters program at Manhattan School of Music. I remember looking through the list of their well known trumpet teachers but didn’t see anyone listed that I was particularly drawn to. A year later, I’m still wondering if moving to New York on a gut feeling is a good idea, but then I get an updated copy of the MSM trumpet teachers in the mail. The newest addition – Laurie Frink. And then everything fell into place.
My lessons with Laurie began in the fall of 2003, and each week I received a piece of staff paper with my weekly exercises written in pencil in her distinctive back sloping handwriting. After a few months, or perhaps even earlier, she probably realized that I only practiced in her lesson. I was so busy adjusting to life in New York, working as an usher, struggling with all the theoretical homework for my classes, and feeling like I was constantly running behind the musical bus in comparison to all of my classmates. And so our lessons turned into a wonderful 55-minute chat, complete with cups of black coffee made from beans she had roasted herself. Sometimes we’d have a little chocolate too. We compared our “war stories” of dealing with sexism and all sorts of idiocy that we encountered on a regular basis. We would chat about my family and what was going on in my life. We laughed a lot. “How are those stupid boys?”, she asked. “Still stupid”, I replied. And with a wide and wicked grin, she exclaimed “Of course!!”
My two years of studying for my Masters degree were very difficult. I was sick, stressed, broke, tired, heartbroken. I lived off a $10 p/h job and ate a lot of cheap oatmeal. But each week I had a little break from my reality when I would visit Laurie, and when I left an hour later, I would feel good about my life again. We became really good friends. We talked about our craft projects (I knitted, she crocheted big rugs out of t-shirts, and also loved pottery). I introduced her to the Tim-Tam slam (I have pictures!). We confided in each other. 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.
At the end of my two years of studying with her, I was at a loss for words. I wanted to tell her how much her lessons had meant to me but I got so shy. But she said to me “You don’t need these exercises. You just need to play”. And so that’s what I have done. In the last ten years, I have been able to play with incredible musicians, travel the world, and do some really unbelievably cool things. And along the way she has sent me little emails of encouragement, recommended me for gigs, turned up to my big performances, and made me feel like I could do anything. She was the first person that heard my album, and it was her opinion that always mattered the most to me.
When Laurie became sick about five years ago, I cried a lot. I cried for the brass world, I cried for Lois, I cried for me. I lost my first two musical (and life) mentors when I was seven, when my beloved piano teacher and her trumpet player husband were killed in a car accident. I began playing trumpet after that, and went through a bunch of piano teachers trying to find a replacement for her, but I never did. I gave up playing piano. When I was about twelve I had a trumpet mentor, who was also the founder and conductor of a community concert band that I played in throughout primary school. He was about to become my trumpet teacher when he got cancer and passed away. I remember the last time that I sat with him – we were having a cup of tea and a biscuit, and I really wanted to tell him that I loved him. I was too shy. I cried all the way home, and that was the last time I ever saw him. And so with Laurie, I was trying hard to muster up the courage to email her and tell her that I loved her before it was too late. But luckily, thankfully, she told me first.
One of my gigs in May 2013 was with Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Centennial Project. I was super excited to be a part of the week long residency at the Jazz Standard, especially because I was going to be in the trumpet section with Laurie. It had been a really long time since we had played together (we were both on Darcy James Argue’s first Secret Society record, Infernal Machines, in 2009). I felt like I had really improved as a player since then, and was keen to find out what the trumpet section would sound like. That night was really special for me. I stood right next to drummer Lewis Nash as he played some of the most swinging music I’d ever heard. As we finished a chart, I would put my trumpet down on its stand and say “Wow!”. And Laurie was right there with me too. I was so happy.
After hearing the news, I spent a few hours crying on the phone with a number of trumpet players, family, friends. I’ve seen the outpouring of grief through social media, and the shock and disbelief that we have lost someone so unbelievably amazing, important, funny, wise, patient, and completely irreplaceable. I received lots of lovely messages from friends and peers who knew how special she was to me. And in the kinds words of a remarkable trumpet player that I received via email: “Laurie lives on in us”. And by us, he means all the thousands of brass players that she has ever taught, all the band members she has made laugh, all the women that are following her lead, and all the people she has ever met and loved.
And now, I will strive to play every note as beautifully as I can, channel the grief into my ballads, help my students to better express themselves, and in true Laurie fashion, continue to do exactly as I please.