Although jazz trumper Brian Lynch was born in Urbana, Ill. and has lived in New York since 1981, he still considers himself a Milwaukee boy. That’s because he grew up in Glendale, earned a degree from the Conservatory and cut his musical teeth at Brew City jazz clubs.
Since he left town, Lynch has released a dozen or so discs as a leader and has appeared on dozens more as a sideman. He is immersed in the New York jazz world and his travels have taken him around the globe (he even keeps a cell phone number in Japan!)
His latest effort, "Simpatico," recorded with Latin jazz legend Eddie Palmieri (artistShare), finds him in the company of not only Palmieri, but also Phil Woods, Lila Downs, Donald Harrison and others.
But despite his success, Lynch has always come back to Milwaukee to play and hasn’t forgotten about his friends back home.
We recently asked him about his Milwaukee past, his New York present and more.
OMC: Tell us a bit about growing up in Milwaukee. Where did you live? Did you come from a musical family?
BL: I grew up in Glendale and went to Nicolet High School. My mother sang in the church choir -- she's now pursuing a avocation as a jazz singer in her 70s! -- and my father played a little bit of trumpet. A little jazz was in the house -- Louis Armstrong -- but I really found the music mostly on my own.
OMC: When did you start playing actively in the jazz clubs here? Was there any kind of "scene" here at the time?
BL: I started sitting in in clubs like Lloyd & David's (at Green Bay Road and Capitol Drive), The End -- which became the Main Event later -- and others when I was about 16. I used to borrow my buddy's pre-photo id drivers license to get in. There was a great scene in Milwaukee at the time! The first group I sat in with was Berkeley Fudge's at Lloyd and David's.
OMC: Who were some of the people you worked with here? Was anyone a particular inspiration or mentor to you as a young musician?
BL: My first mentors were Manty Ellis and Berkeley, especially when I started at the Conservatory where they were both teaching. Their guidance and welcoming me into their musical world -- both used me on their gigs -- gave me a lot of motivation and confidence. Tony King, the head of the jazz department, was a great inspiration as well.
Then Buddy Montgomery (vibist and brother of guitarist Wes), who lived in Milwaukee during those years, was the influence. You could go to the Marc Plaza almost any day of the week and hear him, and I also sat in with him a lot. He would even use me on sextet and quintet gigs sometimes. He was a powerful influence; the way he went about music -- by ear, not by paper -- really challenged me and put me on the right path.
Also Melvin Rhyne, the organist - I played with him a lot during my formative years. He's from Indianapolis like Buddy (Rhyne also played with Wes Montgomery) and has that same approach.
And all the talented peers of mine on the scene and in school influenced me: Marcus Robinson, Sam Belton, Charlie Small, David Hazeltine, Jerry Weitzer, Barry Velleman and so many others.
OMC: When and why did you make the decision to move away?
BL: I had always wanted to move to New York ever since the first time I had visited when I was 18. At a certain point a combination of my feeling somewhat prepared to make the move and a drastic fall off of playing opportunities in Milwaukee made me feel it was time. I actually spent about a year in San Diego before I moved to N.Y. That was helpful, to learn how to break into a new scene. I played a lot out there with Charles McPherson, who I learned much from.
BL: I don't know if it's as much a question of "making it" as gravitating to a place where there's a real community of practice for your music. There are great players in Milwaukee, like Manty, Berkeley, and from another generation, Mark Davis, who have "made it" without being in New York. Going to New York was really about being around the music 24/7 rather than about gaining success.
OMC: Do you see that ever changing? Is Milwaukee moving in the right direction to be the kind of place where you could be around the music 24/7?
BL: I think if jazz was more integrated into the cultural life and the cultural institutions of the city, it would make a difference. At this point, you do have to go away to get significant career opportunities in jazz.
OMC: Was it hard at first to make connections and get work in New York?
BL: I had visited N.Y. a number of times before moving and made some connections then. Trumpeter Claudio Roditi was very helpful to me in getting on some gigs. Essentially, you hang out, meet other musicians and try to get heard.
OMC: Do you maintain contact with friends, family and other musicians here in Milwaukee? Do you come back to play much?
BL: My family moved to California in the 1970s, so I don't have immediate family there anymore. I do have a cousin who lives in Wauwatosa; she's a Unitarian minister in Brookfield. I still maintain contact with the musicians here, from my mentors to contemporaries and the younger generation.
OMC: Have you heard anyone from here recently that has caught your ear?
BL: As I said previously, there's a lot of good players in Milwaukee! Bassist Bryan Doherty, who played with my Latin Jazz group at Jazz In The Park this summer, impressed me. Of course, Mark Davis is a world class pianist. Bassist Jeff Hamman and drummer Brian Ritter are fine players, as is trumpeter Mike Plog.
OMC: How about out there, do you know other Milwaukee musicians making a go of it in New York?
BL: Of the young cats, bassist Joe Sanders, currently with Roy Hargrove, is making a mark. Trumpeter Philip Dizack, who has studied with me, has a wonderful debut CD out that I produced and is making the scene in N.Y. as he completes his degree at the Manhattan School of Music.
Of course, Ricky Germanson is one of the most in demand players on the N.Y. scene, and my old buddy David Hazeltine is enjoying much well deserved success as a recording artist, star sideman and leader.
Other Milwaukeeans that have long enjoyed acclaim in the Apple include drummers Carl Allen and Mark Johnson, bassist Gerald Cannon -- Gerald's actually from Racine but lived in Milwaukee for years -- pianist Lynne Arriale, trumpeter Eddie Allen, among many others.
OMC: What's on your calendar at the moment? What are you working on?
BL: The major thing right now is my brand new CD with the great Eddie Palmieri, "Simpático." It's a real collaboration between the master and myself, and features a stellar cast including Phil Woods, Lila Downs, Giovanni Hidalgo, Donald Harrison and many other greats. I've produced this recording myself through the ArtistShare system, where I've documented the whole project through journals, photos, audio and video and made all this additional content available online to the CD buyer, or participant as he/she is termed with ArtistShare.
OMC: When will you get back to Milwaukee again?
BL: I will be ducking in and out in November to do a clinic for Cascio Horn Fest, sponsored by my horn company, Yamaha. I'm playing with Palmieri in Madison on Dec. 2 and may be scheduling a Milwaukee performance in conjunction with that date.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.