April 29, 2015
An Interview with Charles Lazarus
North Carolina native Charles Lazarus, a member of the Minnesota Orchestra's trumpet section since 2000, is one of the ensemble's most versatile musicians, designing and starring in numerous programs with the Orchestra, creating the annual holiday show Merry and Bright, and soloing in works such as Steve Heitzeg's new trumpet concerto American Nomad.
What is your earliest musical memory?
I’ve played piano by ear as long as I can remember, but my first musical memory involving a concert was hearing Johnny Best when I was about six years old. He was from Shelby, my hometown, and he played the trumpet solo on the original version of the Hoagy Carmichael song “Stardust.” Then when I was nine, I heard Dizzy Gillespie play a concert and got to meet him backstage, and the first note I ever tried to play on a trumpet was on his horn. These experiences are the reason I chose the trumpet as my instrument.
What have you been listening to lately?
Eddie Harris, D’Angelo and Gil Evans, because the great feel of these artists is an influence for my latest CD project. Also Clark Terry, because he had such a virtuosic style that was always full of joy. Since his recent passing I’ve been revisiting his great recordings for inspiration. I’ve also been watching the vintage New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts with Leonard Bernstein and enjoying his brilliance, as well the iconic trumpet sound of William Vacchiano, [Principal Trumpet] Manny Laureano’s teacher.
Do you play any instruments besides trumpet?
I play a little piano when I compose music. But never in public!
Tell us what you like best about being a Minnesota Orchestra member.
I enjoy the incredible talent of my colleagues, and I know I’m fortunate to work with them. The power of our shared artistic vision, knowing what we can sound like together, and our sense camaraderie—these make us a true family. I think that comes across to our audiences, and ultimately, this unique voice connects us to the culture of the Twin Cities. There’s a profound meaning behind what we do, a social purpose, which makes it especially nice to come to work at this job.
What is your favorite thing about performing music?
I love the feeling onstage when the audience reacts emotionally to the music, and that energy fuels the Orchestra’s excitement. It’s an incredible snowball of energy!
Do you have advice for young musicians?
The more you practice, the easier it gets. The easier it gets, the more fun it is. So get out there and share the fun!
What's something particularly interesting right now?
I’m excited to be premiering Steve Heitzeg’s American Nomad for Trumpet and Orchestra in May. This is a wonderfully unusual concerto: it incorporates jazz improvisation as an integral part within its classical format. It’s also a hipster’s coast-to-coast journey, capturing elements of America’s diverse musical styles. Influences by Gershwin, Bernstein and Copland all show up, and Heitzeg melds these sounds with cool jazz and a contemporary cinematic flair. It will certainly tell this American story in a compelling way.