Brett Lemley

Brett LemleyTrumpet

What makes a person choose a life in music? Even more so a life in jazz? The arguments against such a decision are so well known they’re cliché. The only explanation Brett has is that he’s not happy any other way.

“I got my first trumpet at 9. I played in the school band, and also in the local youth band. As I look back I realize that since that time, I’ve been involved in more musical activities than I had classes in school. Marching bands, jazz bands, brass groups, orchestras, if the group needed a trumpet, I was there. I couldn’t care less about math, but I could play any tune I knew in any key. If I forgot the melody, I made something up. I played solos, won awards, and knew all along that this was
what I wanted to do with my life.

I went to college. I played in the orchestra, wind ensemble, brass quintet, and jazz ensemble. When I graduated, I decided to make a living as a classical trumpet player, figuring that’s where the money was. My jazz idols at the time weren’t exactly role models: Chet Baker (a heroin addict who looked 70 before he was 50 and died when he nodded off while sitting in a second floor window), Freddie Hubbard (an alcoholic who couldn’t play unless he was drunk and ruined his chops in 1991), Charlie Parker (heroin, dead at 33). I figured the “legit” road was the way to go.

A few years go by. I play a bunch of gigs, I’m a reasonably well-known trumpet player on the classical scene, I’m making decent money (when you throw in the restaurant jobs). I’m also miserable. Don’t get me wrong. I love all kinds of music, and some of my favorite musical moments have occurred while I was playing piccolo trumpet or in an orchestra. I just knew something wasn’t right, and it was a year or two more before I figured it out.

One day I came home from a ˜gig from hell.” One of those times when the conductor is an idiot, the other musicians are snobs and you can’t wait to get your check and go. I practically ripped my tux off when I got home, and I needed to unwind. I put some Chet on the CD player, and collapsed on the couch. A few minutes later, as I listened to him blowing one of his perfect solos on ˜But Not for Me,” I thought, ˜I used to do that. I used to be a pretty good jazz player.” By the time the tune was over, I knew what was wrong, what was missing, and what I had to change.

That was in 1999. Since then I’ve transcribed about 100 of my favorite solos, taken lessons from guys like Donald Byrd and Chris Vadala, and I’ve earned my Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies. Along with Blue Sky 5 I’ve also played with Joe Lovano, Allen Vizzutti, and Tom Cunningham. And I’m happy.”