Remembering Laurie…

“A time for summer skies, for hummingbirds and butterflies, for tender words that harmonize with love.  A time for climbing hills, for leaning out of window sills admiring the daffodils above.  A time for holding hands together.  A time for rainbow-colored weather.  A kind of make-believe that we’ve been dreaming of.  As time goes drifting by, the willow bends and so do I.  But oh, my friend, what ever sky above, I’ve known a time for spring, a time for fall, but best of all, a time for love.”

Johnny Mandel’s & Paul Francis Webster’s song is echoing through my mind as I reflect upon the past week.  In the wee hours of Sunday morning, my iPhone buzzed its familiar buzz indicative of an incoming email message while in silent mode.  I was awake already in my normal struggle to achieve a restful night’s sleep.  Upon opening the message, my eyes couldn’t believe the words before them.  A few minutes later, I would have the sender, Ingrid Jensen, on the other end of the telephone confirming her sad message:  Laurie Frink, my friend and mentor, was gone…

Hanging up, I rolled over and let the conversation replay in my mind.  No.  It wasn’t possible!  Laurie was so vivacious, the most positive person I knew! Why?  Immediately, regret encompassed my being as I remembered that I still owed her that phone call I’d been promising to make for the past few months.  No…not yet.  This just couldn’t be happening.

Hours later, I found myself sitting at BWI Airport, awaiting a flight to Boston with my colleagues from the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.  I sipped coffee and made idle chit chat as I awaited the bird that would safely deliver me to Beantown.  In the quiet moments, my mind went back to Laurie.  Eighteen years my elder, I first heard her name from Rich Fanning, an adjunct professor at Appalachian State University in 1989.  Rich and I were returning late one night from a rehearsal in Statesville, NC with the Unifour Big Band.  We were discussing opportunities in New York City, more specifically those for women trumpet players.  I never knew of a woman who’d “made it” in the commercial trumpet business until the moment Rich mentioned her name.  He informed me that she was the first one to break that gender barrier, and to do so, with the utmost respect.  He encouraged me to “look her up” whenever I decided to make the move.

A few short years later, I found myself sitting on a stage at the Local 802 Union Hall on NYC’s West 48th Street.  As I unpacked my horn and mutes, I heard the most jovial laugh enter the room.  Looking up, I saw a woman carrying a trumpet case, laughing heartily at something she’d just said. Immediately, I liked her.  As she approached the stage, she extended her hand and, smiling, said, “Laurie Frink.  Call me ‘Snatchmo’.  Welcome!”.   I had to laugh!  It was a greeting she’d used before, I would learn later.  Laurie Frink.  It was her!  I was immediately thrilled and terrified!  I did my best to just get through the rehearsal, sight-reading alongside one of my mentors, and trying to be cool under pressure.  She could not have been more kind and encouraging.  Along with the guys, the jokes were flying from her mouth. Yet, when the horn went to her lips, it was all business, the utmost professional taking over.  She gave me her card as I left, and said to give her a call if I wanted to hang sometime.  I left that rehearsal more inspired than I had in years.  Wonderful!

I would run into Laurie many times as my years in New York City began to pile up.  Rehearsal bands.  Gigs.  Hangs.  Various backdrops behind or between the hangs.  I enjoyed the many jovial “Bite Me!”s” from her mouth.  I’d smile every time I’d ask how she was doing, and she’d reply, “I am excellent!”.  Or when I’d say something that made her laugh, she’d follow it up with her trademark, “Outstanding!”  One hot, summer afternoon, I found myself sitting alongside of Laurie in the pit of “The Wizard of Oz” at Madison Square Gardens.  She was subbing for the late Rich Raffio, who, with me, had been the trumpets in the pit since that production’s origin.  Between shows, we had a couple of hours to kill.  So we ventured across the street to the shady bar which many musicians often frequented between shows.  We enjoyed a few beers and conversation in that ill-lit joint, and I enjoyed Laurie’s humor and serious side.  I remember her telling me of her youth in Nebraska, and of the challenges she faced upon moving to New York.  She described to me some of the harassment and unprofessionalism she’d faced at the hands of those early men alongside whom she had to work. Specifically, she told me about the time she was playing lead trumpet at the circus.  She was nailing the show, despite the disbelief of the other men in the pit.  The man playing trumpet next to her tried his best to trip her up.  They were sharing a book, one which had both trumpet parts printed together. He consistently would turn more than one page at a time on purpose to see if she would crash and burn.  But in fine, “Laurie fashion”, she would correct his blunder, recovering beautifully before she ever fell for his antics.  The result would be a completely nailed show, and a man ashamed, jealous and beaten by his own dishonesty.  These were the types of things she endured as that first woman to come into the Broadway and show scene.  Of course, for every jerk like that, there were dozens of fine gentleman players who accepted and loved her for what she was:  a world class trumpet player and an outstanding human being!  She fought her way through the mucks, and wound up a respected, New York City legend.  For this, I respected and admired her!

In that same conversation in the dive bar, I remember her telling me a story in which she’d gotten into a disagreement with Lois, her longtime partner. Apparently, Laurie had made somewhat of an off-color joke at her own expense which upset Lois.  After much discussion, Laurie came to the following conclusion which she passed on to me as sage advice:  “Hey.  If you can’t laugh at yourself, then Fuck You!”.  And then she laughed her hearty, infectious laugh for which she was well known.  I then clinked her glass, we each raised one in the air and said triumphantly, “Cheers!”, and then continued to laugh after gulping from our frosty pints.  I never forgot that moment, nor did I forget that advice which has served me well over the years. For this, I loved and cherished her!

We could not stop the years from finding us, both a little more seasoned, and each being challenged by different health issues.  I wasn’t able to hang out as much as I’d have liked – I was married at the time, and would join the Army Band in Washington, DC in 2000, and she was well embedded in the “scene”, growing into the “brass guru” of New York City.  Her teaching saved countless careers.  I took lessons with her, also, at one point.  It was the most real lesson I’d ever receive in which she catered a practice routine to me specifically, and in which I had the luxury of meeting Lois and the cats. She had more patience than anyone I’d ever met.  When someone would call in desperation needing help with a new “chop” problem, she’d stop whatever she was doing to talk them down from that musical ledge.  She cared for people not only with her musicianship, but also through her ability to play the psychiatrist whenever you were fighting through something.  She’d drop everything to help someone.  She didn’t do it for the right to say she’d been an influence.  She did it because she truly cared about people – deep down – love – never wanting anything for herself in return.  And I’m brought back to my original lyric:

“A time for summer skies, for hummingbirds and butterflies, for tender words that harmonize with love.  A time for climbing hills, for leaning out of window sills admiring the daffodils above.  A time for holding hands together.  A time for rainbow-colored weather.  A kind of make-believe that we’ve been dreaming of.  As time goes drifting by, the willow bends and so do I.  But oh, my friend, what ever sky above, I’ve known a time for spring, a time for fall, but best of all, a time for love.”

This reminds me of Laurie.  She loved the trumpet.  She loved music.  But more importantly, anyone that knew her knew how much she loved to laugh and to love.  As I dedicated my performance in Boston to her memory Sunday night, the lump in my throat would not subside.  The lovely Delores King Williams’s rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” brought the flood of tears to the stage that night.  But what truly broke me was Charlie Young‘s performance of “Bloodcount”.  Never more had that haunting melody touched me so much, and I hung my head, ashamed of the publicity of my emotion.  I would barely recover in time to finish the show.  But this is when music can overpower and when it should.  Messages vary from person to person.  That night, it really hit me that our Laurie was gone.  A beautiful woman, my mentor, passing far before her time.  I will miss you, Laurie, and I hope that one day I can be half the person you were.  Rest in peace, dear one.  I’m so thankful that I knew both you and your time of love.

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4 Responses to Remembering Laurie…

  1. Andrew Smith says:

    Very sorry for your loss. A lovely, well-written tribute.


  2. Mike Kaiser says:

    What Andrew said.


  3. Truly beautiful,very moving and completely accurate. Thank you for so freely sharing it with us.


  4. Donald Pratt says:

    Well done, Liesl. You have a great heart !

    I would really like to know more about Laurie as she is a distant relative and I am writing family history . If anybody reads this and can direct me to someone who would spend a few minutes talking to me about Laurie, I’d surely appreciate it.


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