Don Lanphere

Where Do You Start?



iTunes - $7.99

MUSIC REVIEW BY Mike Zwerin, International Herald Tribune


SEATTLE - Bud Young of Seattle's Bud's Jazz Records (''Jazz in all its forms'') says: ''Don Lanphere is a sort of candidate for sainthood around here.''
Bertrand Tavernier's film '''Round Midnight'' was about alienated heroes who died young, poor, strung out and unappreciated. Their search for peace in Paris had only temporary success. Meanwhile, there was a parallel migration from town to city by other doomed jazzmen looking to find whatever is to be found in New York. The fate of another group - the survivors - could not be known until later.

Lanphere, who grew up in Wenatchee, Washington - the ''Apple Capital of America'' - is a survivor. Sonny Rollins, Benny Carter, Lee Konitz, Max Roach, Jim Hall and Roy Haynes are some others that come to mind. Lanphere is perhaps not as well known. Having turned 70, he is a big fish in a small but glamorous market; he might even be called its dean.

He recorded with the bebop trumpet legend Fats Navarro and played with several versions of Woody Herman's ''Four Brothers'' bands, as well as with such big-ticket big bands as Artie Shaw. He has his place in history.

In the late 1940s, when he first came to New York, he was a prime student in the school of white tenor saxophone players who followed in the wake of Lester Young, the ''Mozart of jazz.'' Young eventually turned quite bitter about their success. Poor and sick and a has-been with a ruined sound, he was living and would die in the run-down Alvin Hotel across Broadway from Birdland. ''These guys sound more like me than me,'' he said, after hearing Stan Getz. Most of them found early ruin themselves.

Lanphere is one of the few who remain healthy and prosperous. Along the way he became a born-again Christian. It takes coaxing to hear his story.

In 1961, Lanphere and his wife, Midge (one of his recent recordings is titled ''Don Still Loves Midge''), went back to Wenatchee. As he settled in to running his father's music store, his horn gathered dust. They were still smoking grass. Midge had been on the edge of a mental breakdown and her doctor suggested LSD. It was new and being used experimentally in psychological therapy. ''You've got to try this,'' she said.

Just what they needed - one more substance to abuse. Sometimes he would get drunk and end up in jail overnight and there would be a story in the morning paper. He was Wenatchee's lovable black sheep. ''From the Big Apple to the little apple,'' he shrugs, with a crooked smile and clear eyes.

One day in 1969 he was ''reasonably loaded'' on grass driving home from across the Cascade Mountains. A psychedelic-colored minibus was parked in front of the store, a long-haired rock group wearing overalls was trying out instruments. (One of them bought a harmonica.) They said they would be at the Bright Moon Tavern that night.

Wenatchee is a small town. There was nothing else to do and no traffic, but somehow Lanphere managed to get there late. The band sang about Jesus, people reported, and they weren't bad at all. They had gone to Denny's to eat but he missed them there too. On his way out he passed Flash, who was dressed in leather, parking his big bike. Once an on-campus LSD salesman, Flash had recently met Jesus in Yakima, Washington, during a Grateful Dead concert.

''I want to talk to you,'' Flash said. ''I want to know where you're coming from.'' Although he did not know why, Lanphere went back into Denny's with him. They ordered coffee, and Flash asked him: ''You got guts enough to hold hands for a minute?'' Lanphere thought this might be trouble. Flash took his hand and said ''Say after me: 'Lord Jesus, I ask you to come into my heart.''' Getting up to leave, Lanphere fell right down. Wow! he thought. ''You've been trying to knock yourself to the floor for years with heroin, alcohol, marijuana and acid and now you can do it with nothing at all."

When he got home, Midge said to him: ''What are you on? Give me some.''

''A guy just told me I got saved,'' he answered. ''From what?'' she asked.

One way or another one thing led to another and, on Nov. 5, 1969, they flushed their bottles of reds and yellows plus an ounce of grass down the toilet. He had begun to play his tenor again, filling in for Getz in Seattle and going out for a week in Vancouver, British Columbia, with Maynard Ferguson. When the Christian rock band from the Bright Moon Tavern asked him to jam with them in a local theater, he tried to think of something appropriate. ''Is 'Battle Hymn of The Republic' a sacred song?'' he asked Midge. He'd played it in a bar recently and it was fun.

''Seek and ye shall find,'' she advised. Lanphere stood up, looked up and yelled: ''Hey, Jesus! Is 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' a sacred song?'' The television was on and a face came on the screen and said: ''This is the final night of the Billy Graham Anaheim crusade and Miss Ethel Waters is going to sing probably the most famous of all gospel songs, 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.'"

''That was that,'' says Lanphere. ''That was 30 years ago, and it's still rolling.'' He closed the store, which was $750,000 in debt ''thanks to my business acumen.'' Selling the building covered it, and they moved to Seattle.





  • Origin Records
    8649 Island Drive South
    Seattle, WA 98118
    ph: (206) 781-2589
    fx: (206) 374-2618
  • Email / Order Info / Etc