Laurie Frink,Trumpeter and Brass Instructor to Many, Dies at 61
By NATE CHINEN
Published: July 17, 2013
Laurie Frink, an accomplished trumpeter who became a brass instructor of widespread influence and high regard, died on Saturday at her home in Manhattan. She was 61.
The cause was cancer of the bile duct, said the classical violist Lois Martin, her partner of 25 years.
Ms. Frink built her trumpet career as a section player, starting when few women were accepted in those ranks. She worked extensively on Broadway and with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the Mel Lewis Orchestra and Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, often playing lead.
“She was one of the most accurate trumpet players I’ve ever heard,” John McNeil, who recalled playing in trumpet sections alongside Ms. Frink some 40 years ago, said in an interview.
Ms. Frink and Mr. McNeil wrote a book together, “Flexus: Trumpet Calisthenics for the Modern Improvisor,” which has become an essential resource for many trumpeters since its publication a decade ago. The book’s exercises and études came from Ms. Frink’s reservoir of strategies for addressing physical issues on the horn, especially where a player’s embouchure, or formation of lips and facial muscles, was concerned.
“She would take each player and find out what was causing the problem — and then do it to herself, so she could figure out a solution,” said the celebrated trumpeter Dave Douglas, who sought out Ms. Frink when he ran into embouchure problems in the early 1990s. Meeting with her, Mr. Douglas recalled, “was like a combination of therapy, gym instruction and music lesson.”
A warm but private person with a sharp wit, Ms. Frink earned the protective loyalty of her students. Some of the brass players she counseled — trombonists and others as well as trumpeters — were, like Mr. Douglas and Mr. McNeil, working professionals seeking to discreetly avert career-ending difficulties.
But as a faculty member at several leading jazz conservatories, she also mentored many trumpeters at a more formative stage, including Ambrose Akinmusire and Nadje Noordhuis, who have since gained prominence in jazz circles. “I always encourage my students to be the square peg,” Ms. Frink said in 2011. “Sometimes it’s difficult for them, so I try to nurture that. They call me trumpet mother.”
Laurie Ann Frink was born on Aug. 8, 1951, in Pender, Neb., a small town now claimed by the Omaha Indian Reservation, to James and Carol Frink. Her father was a candy salesman. In addition to Ms. Martin, she is survived by her brother, James.
Ms. Frink studied with Dennis Schneider, the principal trumpeter with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra, at the University of Nebraska. After moving to New York in her early 20s, she met Carmine Caruso, a brass guru who devised an adaptable set of calisthenic exercises for trumpet.
Ms. Frink became Mr. Caruso’s protégée, and for more than a dozen years his romantic partner. He died in 1987. Her own style of instruction was an extension of the Caruso method.
Ms. Frink never stopped playing at a high level. She appears on every album by the Maria Schneider Orchestra, including two that won Grammy Awards. “When I wrote these subtle inner parts, I would always give them to her,” Ms. Schneider said. “I knew she was the person who would really spin the heart into the line.”
Ms. Frink also worked in recent years with other critically acclaimed big bands, including the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project. Her recorded work will endure, but for many of her former students her instruction is her chief legacy. “In a way it’s a very living art form,” Mr. Douglas said. “There are people all over town, and all over the world, doing what she told them to do.”
He said he practiced a routine of hers on Sunday morning after hearing the news of her death.