Trumpeter Charles Lazarus is a multi-faceted performer, composer, producer and band leader whose career has included tenures in Dallas Brass, Meridian Arts Ensemble, Canadian Brass, and the Minnesota Orchestra. He has appeared as a soloist with numerous orchestras around the US and Canada, performed with the Empire Brass, New York Philharmonic Principal Brass, London Brass, Barry White, and opened for Tony Bennett.
Charles has performed and taught master classes in every US state, Canada, throughout Asia and Europe, and currently serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota. He has created and produced several crossover orchestral shows featuring his various ensembles with which he has released four CDs and a children’s animated short film.
Hi Chuck, can you please give a little background to your relationship with the trumpet?
When I was 9, my Dad took me to a Dizzy Gillespie concert and I got to meet Dizzy backstage. He actually let me try to play a note on his trumpet which was pretty exciting! I didn’t start playing in band until I was 12, but I picked trumpet and fell in love with the sound and versatility of the instrument right away. Trumpet was just the right amount of frustrating to keep me chasing the dangling carrot of success!
When did you decide that you wanted a career in music?
I knew this would be my career path within the first few week of playing the instrument. It was the first way I had ever seen my own self improvement and I was hooked!
What styles of music have you listened to most over the years?
All styles. I tend to listen more to styles of music I’m not playing at the time.
You have worked across many, many genres and styles over the years. What are the challenges both musically and technically, adjusting to these changes?
Advancing harmonically in jazz is challenging when playing classical music full time, so I try to make sure my daily routine covers a lot of ground harmonically. The biggest difference between my approach as I change styles is articualtion. I pay a lot of attention to that.
How do your practice routines need to change to reflect this?
I pick days where I focus on certain modes or patterns in my playing and incorporate that in my flow studies and arpeggio workouts. Monday= diminished day Tuesday= lydian dominant etc. That kind of thing. Sometimes I substitute my usual Clarke or Vizzutti studies with the John McNeil Art of Jazz Trumpet studies. I can work on my fundamentals of airflow and articulation while exploring harmonic ground. It’s way too easy to get stuck in open harmonics. I try to branch out. I consider it cross training. It’s more efficient and way more fun. I also practice the opposite of what I am performing on any given week. If I’m playing 2nd trumpet in Beethoven one week, I do a lot of high note practice. If I’m playing lead on a pops show, I practice a lot of soft low notes.
Oh man. So many to be grateful for!
Playing the Britten St Edmunsbury Fanfare with Doc Severinsen and Bud Herseth.
Playing the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in Carnegie Hall with the NY String Orchestra.
My first concert with Canadian Brass.
Playing My Spirit Be Joyful next to Rolf Smedvig in Empire Brass.
Playing my own jazz compositions with the Minnesota Orchestra for the first time with Osmo Vänskä conducting.
The privilege to play in the Minnesota Orchestra brass section with friends that inspire me.
Can you talk a little about the horns and mouthpieces that you play, and the process of working with Pickett Brass to find the right setup?
Well, I’ve known Peter for many years when he was just getting started in his garage! He is a great guy and a total pro. I was already playing Yamaha trumpets when I met him and I’ve been playing them since I was 19. I’ve also owned a number of Blackburns over the years and they are fantastic as well! For mouthpieces, Peter has always been willing to work with players to find a great fit for their style and technical needs. Finding the size and contour of his rims and cups was kind of like finding a pair of shoes that fits perfectly. He’s great at that and because I have so many varied demands on my playing, my line of mouthpieces tends to have something for everyone. It’s all on the Pickett Blackburn site.
I should say though, that for me, the thing that really makes his mouthpieces work so well is the evenness and quality of his backbores. They really even everything out allowing me to relax and blow smoothly, giving me more control over my sound than I’ve ever had. He has a lot of little tweaks in his designs that can accomplish pretty much anything you need. Plus the staff there are all great trumpet players that are a blast to hang out with. In addition to my work with Peter, I’ve also worked a lot with Eric Murine (killer player) and the rest of the staff there on mouthpieces as well as eating BBQ and perfecting the “Whiskey Chew”- An important art in Lexington!
How have you managed during this global lockdown? How do you think that musicians are going to need to adapt in the future to deal with may be a very different musical world?
I’m just trying to practice, plan recordings, and double down on learning technology. I’ve been setting up my home studio for recording and I’ve been getting into some video projects for fun. There are so many new and increasingly efficient ways to reach people online. it’s a perfect and necessary time for all of us to learn more about how to pilot our own ships. I really think when this mess is all over, people will be so starved for live music that it will be a roaring 2020s age of music. I am trying my best to make sure I’m ready for that.
What advice would you give to young and aspiring trumpet players?
View every mistake and failure as an opportunity to learn. Be willing to fail. Every little success is built on a multitude of failures. Most importantly though, enjoy making music. Then, all the work is just an enjoyable part of the process. The smarter you practice, the better you get. The better you get, the easier it is. The easier it is, the more fun you have!
What are you working on at the moment or in the future?
I’m recording some brass quintet and solo trumpet music by Jack Stamp and learning Logic Pro Audio.
You can visit the Charles Lazarus website here.
The range of Lazarus Signature mouthpieces can be viewed here.
You may also be interested to read this interview with master craftsman, Peter Pickett.