Don Lanphere isn’t the only jazz great to go down from drug use. But he’s one of a handful to get a second chance. The Wenatchee-born sax player is enjoying a second career that would be the envy of many musicians the first time around. He’ll appear at Hobart’s Jazz Lounge tonight and Saturday.
Lanphere’s sudden rise to the top began when he was just 17. He left the security of Wenatchee to study with a clarinet master at Northwestern University.
Two years later, he landed in Manhattan and almost immediately lined up a gig with the pivotal trumpeter, Fats Navarro. Soon he was friends with and a bandmate of Max Roach, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. He was an original member of the Woody Herman Band’s fabled Four Brothers sax section. He played with the greatest of them all - Charlie Parker - and called Bird friend.
Unfortunately he learned more from Parker than how to play bebop, and Phase 1 of Lanphere’s career ended in a Detroit jail, thanks to a drug deal gone bad.
After a cleansing, five-year retreat in Wenatchee, Lanphere returned to New York, where he gigged with Elvin Jones, Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnet, Urbie Green and, one more time, Woody Herman.
This time, alcohol and pot did him in. Finally, Lanphere returned home to the family music business in Wenatchee, became a born-again Christian, and put the jazz world behind him. But he began to play again, beginning with the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1985.
The comeback trail has been good to Lanphere. He began by teaching, and now his career is in full flower. Since the mid-‘80s, he has released a string of superb records.
This weekend’s shows will be a homecoming of sorts. Years ago, Lanphere circulated in the local jazz scene, where he was befriended by pianist Arnie Carruthers. After a show, he’d crash at the Carruthers home.
Carruthers’ daughter, Charlotte, recalls charging kids a quarter to watch the visiting sax man sleep.
Tonight and Saturday, the Carrutherses will join Lanphere - Arnie on piano, Charlotte on vocals.
Noel Waters will play bass and Tom Shager sits in on drums.
xxxx DON LANPHERE Location and time: Hobart’s Jazz Lounge, tonight and Saturday, 9 p.m. Tickets: $8, available at Street Music, 117 N. Howard, and G&B;