If you're a jazz fan, you've probably seen him playing his trumpet --- on the stage of Hochstein Performance Hall with Jon Faddis, sitting in with Wycliffe Gordon and Marcus Printup at the Pythodd Jazz Lounge, or at an after-hours jam at the Crowne Plaza during the Rochester International Jazz Festival.
At 19, Quinn Lawrence has just finished his sophomore year at the Eastman School of Music, but he's already turning heads at jazz venues around Rochester.
"Quinn has grown remarkably in five years," says Ned Corman, artistic director of The Commission Project. "He stands on stage with John Faddis, Fred Wesley, and Paquito D'Rivera at Swing 'n Jazz concerts and acquits himself wonderfully."
Lawrence remembers the moment he decided on his career.
"I was 13, in eighth grade at School of the Arts, and all I knew was the B-flat concert blues scale on trumpet," he says. "We had a very big concert in the auditorium. I gave that B-flat blues scale everything I got. The response from the people, the clapping; I felt the respect. I was like, this is it."
Musical ability runs in Lawrence's family. He's been told that his great grandmother on his father's side was a well-known piano teacher, recognized at the Julliard School because so many of her students went there. His grandfather played the saxophone, and his father, Dean Lawrence, was a Hammond B-3 organist and singer who worked locally with several groups before his son was born.
But his father has not played a major role in his life. Lawrence grew up with his mother, who loves to sing Gospel.
"The funny thing is, I know I have all this music in my background, but I don't feel like I ever came in touch with it."
Lawrence, who grew up near Wilson Magnet High School, says he was a very serious child. Whatever he did, he gave it his all.
"There's a tape of me, seven years old, doing a presentation on dinosaurs and I knew all the names, I knew what they did. I thought I was going to be a paleontologist. After that I got into Taekwondo. I got up to my first-degree black belt and I thought that was it, I was going to be the master."
And then the trumpet came along.
He was in 5th grade and his music teacher handed out applications to rent an instrument. He wasn't sure which one to choose, but he'd heard about Louis Armstrong. His teacher said, "Well, Louis Armstrong played the trumpet and he was famous. Want to be famous like Louis Armstrong?" He circled the trumpet.
At School of the Arts, Lawrence studied with Dr. John Kruger. He found himself especially fascinated by Kruger's ability to play high notes. Kruger explained what he was doing, but at the time, Lawrence says, it went over his head. He attempted to hit those notes all through high school.
Then, at 15, he and another trumpeter, Paul Gaspar, went to hear high-note king Jon Faddis, who was playing at an LPGA event.
Lawrence was both nervous and excited about meeting someone he greatly admired. He and his friend shook hands with Faddis, who asked if Lawrence wanted to play something. Lawrence hadn't brought his horn, but the tables were decorated with trumpets holding flowers.
"I didn't know it, but they were real trumpets. Paul takes a trumpet and he had a mouthpiece. I just played the blues scale."
That was the start of a friendship with Faddis that Lawrence values greatly.
"I was just amazed by his playing; he's an incredible trumpet player and he wasn't really doing what he's known for --- the high notes," Lawrence says of Faddis. "He was pretty low-key, but he was very musical, very clear and articulate. When I noticed that side of his playing, that's when I really started to admire him as a trumpet player and an artist. A lot of musicians tend to be more virtuosic than musical and vice-versa. I want to find a happy medium between the two. I want to be virtuosic and musical all the time."
That's an apt description of Lawrence's favorite trumpet player, Dizzy Gillespie, who Lawrence finds himself listening to more than anyone else. He also admires Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, and Wynton Marsalis.
Jazz majors at Eastman take classical lessons for their first two years, so Lawrence has so far studied with James Thompson and Douglas Prosser. Next year he begins with jazz trumpet veteran Clay Jenkins.
"The atmosphere here is very serious," Lawrence says of the Eastman School. "At School of the Arts I was one of the few serious ones and the funny thing is, now that I come to Eastman, I'm in a community of students that were all the only serious ones at their high schools." After graduating, Lawrence plans on earning a masters degree.
On the first night of the open jam during the jazz festival, Lawrence joined the Bob Sneider Trio on his trumpet. But on the second night, audience members at the Crowne Plaza did a double-take. There was Lawrence improvising beautifully on the saxophone. Seems he just couldn't resist picking up a second instrument.
"I sat there in church [New Life Fellowship] every Sunday and listened to an incredible local saxophone player, Terrance Bruce, and I said to myself, I have to sound like that," he says. "My second year at School of the Arts, Dr. Kruger took a sabbatical and a woodwind guy took his place. I said this is perfect; I get to learn saxophone and it was great from the jump. I practiced so hard that year it was almost to the point where trumpet was on the back burner."
Lawrence has been told, by teachers and others, that he can't do both. But he's got his own plans.
"I figure it takes a very long time to master the trumpet," he says. "I'll be 25, 30 before this instrument will be something that I can really play. I said just forget about it because I'm not going to wait such a long time when I had this great passion for the saxophone and to learn other instruments, too. I said 'God put me here and I'm only going to do what he said I can do.' According to the Bible, it says I can do all things and that I'm more than a conqueror and that's what I live by. This is what I do. This is who I am."
Because the saxophone and trumpet have two completely different embouchures, Lawrence finds it difficult to switch immediately. When he performs he only brings one instrument or the other.
Lawrence believes his ability to play both instruments well will provide more options as a musician. He should have no trouble making a living, especially considering the fact that he also plays the electric bass in his church ensemble.
Aside from straight-ahead bebop and Gospel, Lawrence is very much into funk. He loves James Brown, Maceo Parker, and Parliament. He also loves the blues.
"There's something for me to get from all types of music. I feel like my life can take so many different paths musically," he says. "Everybody has a vision for me. At church they want me to be a Christian jazz artist. Some say trumpet. Others say sax. I think it's so funny. People want to narrow me down to this one thing. At Eastman, I'm known as the high-note trumpet player. I'm not here to abide by some other man's vision for my life."
Meanwhile, whenever a great jazz musician comes to Rochester, Lawrence is there. He's become good friends with Gordon and Printup and, during the Swing 'n Jazz festival in 2000, he spent a lot of time with Faddis, as his driver. They talked a lot, shared meals, and Faddis gave him some lessons. Faddis told him to keep in touch and Lawrence does, communicating by phone or e-mail once a month.
Lawrence will glean what he can from the masters in terms of technique and advice, but he knows that ultimately it's about establishing his individuality.
"There's something that I have to bring to the table that says this is Quinn Lawrence and nobody else and I haven't found that yet. But that's something that I'm striving for right now. I'm trying to find that voice."