Lasse Lindgren is a multi-faceted musician, with a reputation as a great ‘lead’ trumpet player as well as a great ‘jazz’ player. In recent times, he is also responsible for the resurrection of the great Ullvén Mute brand, made famous by players such as Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson. Lasse kindly talks to me here about all things trumpet as well as this recent project…
What first drew you to the trumpet?
That’s easy! I heard Louis Armstrong on the radio as a 5 year old boy. That totally blew my mind and made me decide to dedicate my life to playing trumpet. Then I had to wait until I was eight before I got a trumpet, and I still remember that moment as very exciting, after I had to wait for years. I also remember that I was dreaming of making that sound for so long, that when I finally got it, it was a great relief to put the mouthpiece to my lips and blow the sound I had in my head for years. I think that also made it easy for me, I got a good sound right away. I think because I was so eager and had the sound built up inside me, it just came out naturally.
Any early musical influences?
As a young boy I loved the recordings of Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Harry James and the other famous BBs. My mother had an old 78rpm record player at my grandparents’ home. I used to love to sit by myself and listen to the old records – that sound made a deep impression on me.
When I was 15, my trumpet teacher played the record “Message from New Port” with Maynard Ferguson’s orchestra for me. That was another “blow my mind” experience. I loved not only MF playing, but the sound and energy of the music arrangements!! and I still do. I thought playing those high notes MF did was something you learn when you get older, that is how stupid I was))-
But of course I wanted to play the notes of MF and his “sound”, but how? No one to ask? So I had to experiment myself by my own. From age of seventeen to twenty I spend 8-10 hours a day with my trumpet, playing, thinking and trying out how to do this.
I also spent some time playing “Free Jazz/music” as a teenager, that opened my ears and mind, Lester Bowie and Art Ensemble of Chicago!
Who have been your favourite players and music to listen to?
Well, when I went to high school, I started to play with friends in a band, and we played some kind of “Jazz-rock” in the style of “Weather Report” and so on. So I broadened my view of music. Then at that time, I also started to be aware of other great Trumpet Heroes, especially in more “modern” Jazz. Artists like Dizzy, Miles Davies, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Chet Baker, among others, but also the European players like Palle Mikkelborg, Kenny Wheeler (Canadian in UK) Tomas Stanko (I played a lot with him in Germany) and my Swedish friends and heroes Bosse Broberg, Jan Allan and Rolf Ericsson. I also loved players who were both “Lead” and “Jazz” players – Snooky Young, Benny Bailey, Booby Shew (whom I met and got informed about the Yoga Breathing from when I was 18)…
Today I still listen to them all, the old stars were the genuine originals. There are many new great trumpet players of today, but have to admit, I am not so familiar with them, although Roy Hargrove was fantastic, RIP.
It’s hard to invent the wheel again, and to me, many of the young very skilled and talented players of today, sound as though they are playing “licks” they have practiced and learned. To me, that is actually is not spontaneous soulful improvisations, more than showing that they can play the right “hip” patterns over the chord changes – rather boring to me.
It is not easy to make your own sound and style, and I think too few even try. The exception is Tim Hagans, but he is not so young anymore!!
Is it a difficult skill to practise, being able to specialize in lead AND jazz? What are the particular challenges? Are there any particular routines that you follow in order to be able to achieve this?
Apart from the physical aspect of these two different ways of playing, the Lead player often has to use different equipment (not always) and play more demanding physical parts, to play with agood sound in the upper register with the endurance required. This takes a lot of work, exercises to keep up the “chops” to handle this, not everyone can do this. The Jazz player, on the other hand, meaning improvised jazz solos, has to learn how to do that… also the techniques. Scales, tunes, and how that music works, most likely Jazz players use different equipment (mouthpiece) compared to the Lead player. A good “lead” player must besides having the control of the instrument in any register, also be able to interpret music, a melodic line that you are asked to play, what the music is about, play it soulful and interesting in the style of the music.
When I play lead, I always ask the composer what the music is about or make my interpretation of the title. I always play as if I were singing the music instead of blowing the trumpet. I think a lead part or a melody also should be played like it was improvised, so it would sound fresh new and spontaneous, but at the same same time consistent the same way each time, so the other musicians can follow and trust in me and the way I play. Lead means to guide, show the way the music should be phrased for the fellow musicians, not only playing high notes. I think you must have an ability to be a leader, a strong personality, not ego, but be a steady and reliable player.
It is also a question of knowledge of style and understanding how to play different types of music. How do you learn to play good “lead”? Listen a lot, sit and play under a good “lead” player for years to get the “Know how”. The same goes for Jazz playing, listen and play with good musicians. So my conclusion is that to play good “Lead” it is good to be able to play some Jazz as well. To play good jazz, one must also be able to present an interesting melody, with respect for the song/tune, and the technique required.
So one difference between “lead” and Jazz is that a leadplayer must sound like the music is improvised but at the same time not. The jazz player should make the music fresh and spontaneous, every time to challenge other musicians and maybe be unpredictable to make it interesting.
I do have my daily routine that I do when warming up, getting my sound in all register together. It takes normally 1-1/2 hours from the first breathing exercise and buzz on the mouthpiece through scales or arpeggios from the deep pedal notes to the high register double C. After this I rest and do other duties. Later if I have
time I practice music, Jazz play along records (I still do that with a record player, not with the computer, I’m too old and stupid!) or etudes or music I have to play and need to be practiced.
As well as playing in lots of great bands over the years, you have also been a band leader. When did you realise that you wanted to create music under your own direction?
I remember that I was making drawings of “my own Big Band” when I was 10, so for some reason I always wanted that!
Since I always have been interested in writing music for my band, it was natural to have a group to play my music. For some reason, even though I always loved and listened to “Jazz” old and new, as I mention before, I never hear this in my head when I compose??!! Why? I dont know. So my own music is a little different, I try to make more compositions rather than just a short melody and then the standard for soloists. This is just the way for me, so can my music be called called Jazz??
Is it possible to define what ‘jazz’ is? It is such a broad musical term isn’t it?
Well, Jazz is a name with a history, from mid 19th-century meaning spirit, energy, or courage and other things as well… “semen”… so it has a hot history I suppose! When we talk about what is Jazz today, it covers many “styles”, but for me somehow, it is a rhythm with the swing pattern played on the ride cymbal. As they say triplet groove,
swinging eight notes, it is the same as Hip Hop, bebop, dixieland for me. As long as it has that “diiing diiingdidiiiing” groove played on the drums or on the cymbal, it is basic Jazz.
Then there are many other styles that has evolved from this: Free jazz with swing groove or not, Scandinavian sounds of “Jazz”, Latin Jazz… if these are Jazz? Then Funk, more composed music, Charles Mingus wrote as he said – not Jazz, he wrote “Charles Mingus”, even if he was one of the big names in “Jazz”. To me the rhythm and improvisation are important to define Jazz. When I compose it comes out more like my music, which is not so often Jazz, or any typical style. It is hard for me to define my own music which also makes it harder to sell! A lot of my music has more beat grooves or rhythms, straight -jazz eight notes, still it has the other elements in Jazz improvisation. Is it still Jazz?
Any particular career highlights that stand out?
Besides all the gigs and tours with my own groups throughout the years I have some. I did a gig with Ray Charles in Finland once. It was a mix, with a half Finnish band and half Ray Charles orchestra, at a big sports arena, 8-10,000 people. I had some solos and I remember one was 1m in front of Ray Charles. It was a very slow “Georgia” type of song, and I played kind of blusey with some long high notes in the end. I remember it was thrilling and inspiring (goosebumps) to hear Ray’s comments while he was comping me – “yeah man!!” and so on, after that I was offered a job in his band. I didn’t take it however, I already had the gig as lead player in the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, and also a family!
In contrast, great moments also happened in smaller situations many times. Like, on tour with my quintet in small villages far up in northern Sweden, at small Jazzclubs in front of 10 people. When some of them, after the concert, come to us with tears in their eyes and thank us for the music. Then I also feel it was a great moment, when I was able with my own music, to touch somebody to tears of joy! Another was when we made a 3 week tour all round Europe with the Danish band. Maria Schneider conducted Gil Evans music with David Sandborn as soloist. We played some of the original scores that Gil wrote for Miles Davies. It was a highlight, especially in Spain. The audience’s reaction in Seville after “Sketches of Spain”, was amazing.
Tell me about the journey bring the great Ullvén brand back to life!
Ullvén Mutes have always been “the Mutes” for me, and I grew up in the same small town of Uddevalla at the west coast of Sweden, where Mr Ullvén had his Workshop. He had also a music shop there were I naturally used to go. Besides that, my mother took care of his bookkeeping, since she worked as an accountant. Mr Gunnar Ullvén used to come home to us every Christmas with gifts, flowers to my mother and a 1 litre bottle of “Popy” Valve lubricant to me. I also remember being in his shop when Dizzy Gillespie called and needed some more mutes – and sometimes as a teenager, I went to Ullvén’s workshop and got some mutes to experiment with. So, when I was offered to take over and restart the company one year ago, it was natural for me, I feel close to this company and its great products.
But, since it has been sleeping for 20 years, it will take some time to get things going, but I do work hard and want to be able to bring these mutes and things available for brass players worldwide again.
All the old tools are still there, and the now old man, who made the mutes by Metalspinning has retired, but he taught his son how to do it, which is great – without them it would have been much harder, maybe impossible for me.
Any particular challenges along the way?
Well, yes, to find suppliers for some of the products I need, like the special Industry felt, Cork, Labels and cardboard can’s for the the mutes. The last time they ordered these things was 25 years ago and most of the suppliers are gone so it takes time to get new contacts. Also for example, getting license to use Dizzy Gillespie’s name – Jon Faddis helped me with that!
What are your plans for the future?
Times are strange in the Era of the Corona Virus!! No gigs last year, but I stay alive with my horns by practising daily as well as possible. I’m of course using the time to get my Ullvén mutes for brass instruments on the market.
Then musically I do have things coming up later this year, but… we don’t know for sure yet.
I have done some recordings that will be out there soon I hope. Two records with the great “Latvian Radio BB”. One released 2 years ago, we should have played concerts with that in 2020, but it was cancelled. Then another with more “standard Jazz” that will also be out soon.
I also made a recording for the Scottish label “Sleepy Night Records” with my own band in Croatia/Slovenia. This is also postponed for better times, hopefully this year!! New arrangements of old “Rock and film” hits, in the style of Maynard Ferguson “Alive and Well in London”.
I have got 25 old arrangements by Slide Hampton, Don Sebesky, Mike Abene, Willie Maiden, and others. Music arranged for Maynard Fergusons Orchestra 1956-65, but never recorded. I will do that with my band here in Sweden as soon as we are allowed to.
Then, once again, I have a third project with the same great “Latvian Big Band” next year. A new album, mostly my own music, arranged by the great Michael Abene, it will be a wonderful adventure.
I will also get a new quartet together, asap, something that I have wanted to do for a long time.
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