Houston’s Ku-umba Frank Lacy nonetheless a messenger for jazz


Frank Lacy, Houston native and a legendary jazz trombonist who was music director of Artwork Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and a member of the Mingus Large Band.

Photograph: courtesy picture / courtesy picture

Ku-umba Frank Lacy stands at an attention-grabbing level in jazz’s lengthy and rising historical past. At 62, he’s younger sufficient to have realized his commerce from such storied mentors because the legendary Artwork Blakey, who as soon as employed the trombonist as one in every of his Jazz Messengers. Lacy has additionally minimize a particular profession over the previous 40-plus years and is regarded by youthful gamers with a reverence befitting a storied determine himself.

The Houston native will lead a gaggle dubbed Bu’s Messengers on the competition’s “Message From Bu,” Blakey’s nickname, for a present marking what would have been the drummer and bandleader’s 101st birthday.

“One factor Blakey all the time did was deliver up children,” says Joe Peine with the Houston Jazz Collective, which based the Houston Jazz Pageant. “Frank has finished the identical factor. He’s taken a whole lot of younger gamers below his wing.”

Lacy is an enchanting fount of vitality, notably when discussing his life and profession. He often caps an extended little bit of discourse with a “this dialogue simply bought very metaphysical.”

“I’m thinking about that primordial inventive spark,” he says. “I believe for a lot of gamers, it’s one thing they’re born with. Others, it’s from finding out. However those who research, that’s why I’m so gung-ho about this mission. It’s in step with the custom of Artwork Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. This seems like a 360-degree factor to me. Artists studying to create one thing. Sorry, this dialogue bought very metaphysical.”

Houston Jazz Pageant presents ‘Message From Bu’

When: 6 p.m. Oct. 25

Particulars: Stream the live performance at milleroutdoortheatre.com

Shelley Carrol, the nice saxophonist from Houston who can be on the competition invoice , pipes up: “It’s a traditional query: Is it the best way we grew up? Or is it who we’re? Or is it each?”

‘Music picked me’

Lacy grew up immersed in it. His mom was a singer and his father was an educator who performed guitar. He’d typically accompany famous saxophonists with Houston ties: Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Lacy recollects all types of touring musicians stopping by to play.

“I bear in mind Wes Montgomery got here to the crib and performed,” he says. “I bear in mind all people speaking a few new younger guitarist — they had been speaking about George Benson earlier than he made it massive.”

Lacy began piano round age eight. He picked up the tuba, the euphonium and the trombone at Forest Brook Excessive College. An early hero was Wayne Henderson, trombonist within the Jazz Crusaders. Lacy recollects Forest Brook profitable first place in a contest towards Conrad Johnson’s storied Kashmere Stage Band in 1976. Lacy went to Texas Southern College, however to not research music. Quite he graduated with a level in physics. However music continued whispering to him.

“It’s what I imply concerning the primordial ooze,” he says. “Music picked me. I knew there was expertise there. I knew my father had it. However I don’t know what else there’s to say about it. It simply occurred. Music picked me.”

He studied on the Berklee Faculty of Music and later settled in New York.

Lacy shortly discovered footing with a number of the most modern gamers in New York on the time, including trombone on landmark recordings by David Murray, Henry Threadgill and Lester Bowie. He additionally “went to high school,” his description for his tenure in Blakey’s band, a brief interval that left an enduring impression.

There isn’t a clear delineation between Lacy’s time as a scholar and as a mentor. His checklist of credit over the previous 40 years is lengthy and assorted. He performed trombone with elders like McCoy Tyner and people youthful than him, like Roy Hargrove. He’d play with artists exterior of jazz, taking periods with Erykah Badu and Elvis Costello. He’s had a decades-spanning tenure within the Mingus Large Band. Three years in the past he performed on the debut album by singer, Texas native and rising star Jazzmeia Horn.

Lacy has additionally made a number of albums because the session chief together with “Mingus Sings” in 2015, an album that was a revelation to those that hadn’t heard Lacy sing with the Mingus Large Band. His pool of skills runs deep.

He spends his days enjoying and composing. “I’ll by no means cease writing,” he says. “However I don’t know, I’ve been interested by retiring. Do like Sonny Rollins and dangle it up with enjoying. I take into consideration retiring some . . .”

He laughs and finishes the thought, “. . . perhaps in 20, 25 years.”

No stay viewers

His extra speedy future includes prepping for “Message From Bu.” Lacy shall be joined by an unimaginable band of fellow graduates of Blakey’s college: saxophonist Bobby Watson, trumpeter Valery Ponomarev, pianist Michael Palma and bassist Curtis Lundy.

Additionally on the invoice shall be Carrol-Simmons-Sparks, a Texas-based ensemble with Carrol on saxophone, keyboardist Bobby Sparks and drummer Mark Simmons, joined by bassist Jay McK. Each Carrol, who spent years performing within the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Simmons, who drummed for Al Jarreau, are graduates of Houston’s Excessive College for the Performing and Visible Arts.

The competition will happen at Miller Outside Theatre as a correct present proper all the way down to set design by Jesse Lott. However this 12 months’s competition received’t get pleasure from a stay viewers on the theater. Miller’s web site will livestream the occasion, which can be being picked up by NPR’s “Dwell Periods.”

So this metaphysical gathering shall be digital.

However Carrol credit Peine for “placing this collectively after which placing it again collectively after dates needed to change. It’s a aggravating factor. However he stayed within the battle to make it occur. It’s good to be round individuals who love the music that a lot.”

And Lacy says Blakey’s college students can present some respite from fraught occasions, as Blakey did himself.

“He was like a jazz preacher, he may as properly have been in some sort of spiritual garb. He would hold forth on the bandstand.”

At this level, Lacy’s voice lowers into an virtually cartoonish growl: “Blakey used to say each night time, that music washed away the mud of on a regular basis life.”


  • Andrew Dansby

    Andrew Dansby covers tradition and leisure, each native and nationwide, for the Houston Chronicle, and Chron.com. He got here to the Chronicle in 2004 from Rolling Stone, the place he spent 5 years writing about music. He’d beforehand spent 5 years in e-book publishing, working with George R.R. Martin’s editor on the primary two books within the collection that may turn into TV’s “Recreation of Thrones. He misspent a 12 months within the movie business, concerned in three “main” movement photos you’ve got by no means seen. He is written for Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, Texas Music, Playboy and different publications.

    Andrew dislikes monkeys, dolphins and the outside.

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