If you’ve been watching this space in recent weeks, I’m really sorry. Life has been happening fast. Blog posts have not. Look for a separate item soon that will gather some highlights from the past two months or so.
What I want to talk about now, in case the photo here hasn’t tipped you off, is Laurie Frink, whose death on Saturday came a shock, if not exactly a surprise, to a lot of people.
I spent a good portion of Monday speaking with musicians who were close to Frink, as background for this Times obituary. But I didn’t need their testimonials to know how much she meant to those who knew her, perhaps especially her students. A little over a decade ago, I shared an apartment with one of those students, Jesse Neuman, and heard a ton of stories. I also heard Jesse’s daily practice regimen, as prescribed by Frink. For a while, it was like the soundtrack of my life during daylight hours.
I thought of that immediately when John McNeil, laughing ruefully, told me about the time a plumber (or was it an electrician?) came over to his apartment while he was practicing a Frink routine. McNeil’s wife answered the door, and the guy said, “Oh, is your son learning to play the trumpet?” She chuckled and said yes, to which he replied: “Whew, that’s brutal!”
I’m going to devote the rest of this post to some transcribed comments from my conversations, since the obituary was too brief to allow for more than a choice quote or two. But before you read on, please see the beautifully touching tribute that Jesse posted on Sunday. He was the person who let me know that Frink had passed, and he was the first person I called.
John McNeil: She was one of the best trumpet players that has ever been. We all knew it at the time. She could play high notes — but she wasn’t a real power animal up there. What she was, was one of the most accurate trumpet players I’ve ever heard. Just did not miss, ever. She could play second, could match anybody’s sound. And the thing you really want in a section, which is to play it exactly the same way every time. I remember when David Berger was just getting his big band together. The trumpet section was great. Lew Soloff playing lead, and me and Laurie, some other guys. So Laurie had this one thing that he wrote where she didn’t play with the rest of the horns, this antiphonal thing where she was playing with a couple of saxophones. It was one of these kind of left-handed things that Dave would write. It wasn’t impossible but it was tricky. You could miss it easily. Shit kept happening, and we’d do a take and something would fuck up. And then something else. Had to keep playing it over. And we began to notice that, I don’t know how many takes, she never even came close to missing that thing. She played it exactly perfect every motherfucking time. The average person, as time mounts, thinks: “I have yet to miss, what if I fuck it up and everybody else gets it right?” That as much as anything sticks in my mind. Not a very important or famous musical event, but the fact that she could do that. Extremely dependable, and a great person to have in a band.
Maria Schneider: I would have rehearsals with my band, and she would call me afterwards. When she knew that I was discouraged with what I’d heard, she was the one to tell me how great it sounded. She just kept so many people feeling strong and good. We were once in Europe with the band, and we got on the wrong train to the wrong city. You can imagine, with a big band, what a disaster that is. I mean, every fuse in my being just blew. I burst into tears. And Laurie comes over laughing hysterically. She said, “These are the best times! Nobody ever talks about the tours that go well.” That changed me for life. Whenever everything is going wrong at once, I’ll think “Oh, this is fantastic!” She just had that way. And I don’t know that she was always that way for herself. She was that way for everybody else.
Dave Douglas: Over the years she taught me how to solve my own brass problems. The way she did that, it was a very unique and personal approach. She would take each player and find out what was causing the problem — and then do it to herself, so that she could figure out a solution. When I first started touring with Masada, the demands of the gig were so high that my chops fell apart. She came to see the band a few times, and then she said, “I spent three days ruining my face, doing what you were doing on the stage. Here’s what you need to do.” The one-on-one lesson with her was like a combination of therapy, gym instruction and music lesson. You’d go in thinking, “This is a disaster, I’ll never be able to play the horn again,” and you go out thinking, “I’m a champion, I love everybody, everything is going to be great.” She had a way of putting things in perspective and giving the student the power to figure out how to overcome it.
Lois Martin: She worked full-time through all of [her recent battle with cancer]. And she didn’t want anybody to know. Because she didn’t want to go to that place. When she was teaching, she was teaching 100%. She didn’t want any student to be worried about her. She had complete, 100% focus for whoever was sitting in the chair across from her. Her commitment was astounding. She would drag herself to the airport to Boston to teach, drag herself to the hotel afterwards. She did that out of the love of what she believed in. It was incredible.
For more Laurie Frink appreciation, see what Nadje Noordhuis wrote on her blog. Or see this series of elegiac tweets by Jacob Garchik, from Sunday afternoon. I am sure there will be more like this to come.