Miles. Chet. Louis. The names conjure up the sweet, hip sounds that follow the placing of lips against trumpet. Cooler than cool. For Larry Larson, they’re icons of the jazz he loves to listen to and perform. On Mar. 9, he and his band – Larry’s Jazz Guys – will fill the Registry Theatre with their music in a performance dubbed Hot & Cool: The Trumpets of Jazz. The show is aptly named, as it was the coolness factor that drew Larson to the trumpet in the first place. Not that of Miles Davis, Chet Baker or Louis Armstrong, however, but the slightly older cool kid that lived in the Chicago neighbourhood he moved to in the fifth grade.
“He was really cool. He played the trumpet, so I wanted to play the trumpet,” he laughed. Supported by an encouraging music teacher, Larson stuck with it. “I knew at a pretty early age this was what I wanted to do.”
As a grade school student, however, he really didn’t think about the details of making a living as a jazz musician. He simply kept on playing, eventually studying music at Chicago’s DePaul University. It was there that his jazzy life took a sudden change: exposed for the first time to orchestral music, he became enthralled, shifting into classical music.
After graduation, his search for orchestral work brought him to Canada, first at Orchestra London, followed by a stint with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and then with K-W Symphony, where he’s been the principal trumpeter since 1993.
Over the years, he’s worked with a variety of other orchestras, including performances with the backing orchestras for Diana Krall, Brian Wilson, Jann Arden, Holly Cole, Anne Murray, Dennis DeYoung, Roger Hodgson, and Yes.
In addition to performances of the classical repertoire, Larson has developed nine critically-acclaimed Pops programmes for orchestra with conductor/trombonist David Martin. He is in frequent demand by Toronto recording studios for his work on motion picture soundtracks and commercial jingles.
Larson is happy to be busy, knowing that versatility is what it takes to maintain a professional musical career. It beats the alternative. Dormant, the jazz bug never left him. After an absence of 20 years, he got back into jazz about a decade ago, renewing his love affair for the genre. Out of that sprang Larry’s Jazz Guys, with Larson joined by David Martin (trombone, tuba, vocals), Paul Shilton (piano), Kevin Muir (bass) and David Campion (drums).
Happy to have his fingers in many pies, Larson savours the jazz performances, which are in many ways the exact opposite of his day job with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Where classical music demands strict adherence to a composer’s notes and arrangements, jazz is all about improvisation. Playing jazz adds variety to his life.
“No piece has to be the same every time – and it shouldn’t,” he said in an interview this week. “Jazz is a side adventure to what I do week in and week out here at the symphony.” Job, of course, is a very subjective term – Larson says none if it really feels like toil.
“I don’t consider it work very often. It’s an absolute kick to do my job, and I enjoy it.
“If I’m not enjoying it, what’s the point?”
Next week’s show will be long on enjoyment, drawing on his trumpeting heroes, including Baker, Armstrong and Davis, as well as New York’s Tom Harrell, who, while not a household name, has been a major influence on many players.
“It will be a mixed bag of tunes that I know the audience will be familiar with, along with some other less-familiar stuff for them to appreciate,” he said, adding he’ll be putting his own take on some of the standards.
That, after all, is what jazz is all about – putting the moment into the music.
Hot & Cool: The Trumpets of Jazz is set for Mar. 9 at 8 p.m. at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $22, available at the Centre in the Square box office by calling 578-1570 or toll free 1-800-265-8977 or online at www.centre-square.com.