A tribute to trumpet legend Lew Soloff

The next time you watch your favorite pop singer perform on TV, check out the musicians who are in the shadows, dutifully playing their instruments. They’re making an indispensable contribution to the performance but they aren’t the “star.” Welcome to the world of the professional “studio” musician.

And in this “underground”, partially-hidden musical world, a few individuals stand out as legends among their peers. One of these legends died last Sunday (3/8/15) at the age of 71. His name was Lew Soloff.

Soloff played trumpet on countless recordings, movie soundtracks and TV commercials over the years. He recorded with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Lou Reed among many others, and was visible to the public from 1968-1973 as part of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears. He brought a jazz sensibility to rock music and influenced whole generations of young musicians. Many of them imitated his playing without knowing who he was.

You can hear Soloff playing a trumpet solo on the hit song “Spinning Wheel” here. This video is from the legendary Woodstock festival and his trumpet solo starts at 2:00.

I met Soloff a few times and found him to be friendly, humble, and very down-to-earth. We even did one concert together, as part of a jazz big band during the late 1990s. He sounded awesome! The only problem (for me) was that the musical arrangements tended to place the piano solo right AFTER his trumpet solos. So the whole 16-piece band would be roaring while Soloff wailed in the trumpet’s high register. The music would build to an loud, exciting high point and the audience would be going crazy. Then, his solo would end and everyone would stop playing except the rhythm section. I would have liked to “ride the music wave” that was going on, but the bass player would switch from walking the bass line to a calm 2-beat and the drummer would play a soft pattern on his high at cymbal. If struggled in vain to keep the excitement going during my solo but felt as if the earth opened up and swallowed up all the energy. I wanted to scream! (Note to jazz arrangers: this is NOT the way to write a big band arrangement!)

All worked out in the end, though, and I cherished the opportunity to hang out and play music with a legendary musician like Lew Soloff. His music will live on every time we listen to his recordings with Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Mingus Big Band, The Gil Evans Orchestra, George Benson, Maynard Ferguson, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Marianne Faithfull, Paul Simon…

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