Arranger and lead trumpeter for the late Prince. Producer and composer of seven Grammy-award winning projects. A musician sponsored by Cannonball Instruments and signed to Snarky Puppy’s GroundUP Records. Each of these descriptions can be used to characterize Philip Lassiter, the Los Angeles-based trumpeter who’s established himself as one of the industry’s most admired brass instrumentalists since emerging onto the scene in 2008.
“I hope everyone knows I don’t use this following term loosely, but I believe Mr. Philip Lassiter is a musical genius,” writes decorated gospel music composer, Donald Lawrence. “As a writer, arranger, producer and musician, Phil is one of the most talented people I have encountered in over 20 years in the music industry.” The high praise does not run dry for Lassiter, who’s coming off the debut of his most significant studio album to date, Chill Mode, released last week.
To celebrate the grand reveal of his newest record, Lassiter will perform a special album release party at The Hall at MP in Brooklyn on Friday, December 2nd, with Jay Jennings, Justin Stanton and Mike Maher of Snarky Puppy. Doors open at 7pm, and the Atlanta-based jazz fusion quartet, The 4 Korners, will kick off their opening performance at 8pm. I had the unique opportunity to catch up with Lassiter ahead of his New York gig, where we dig in to Chill Mode, rehash memories of Prince, and discuss plans for 2017, among other things. Advance tickets the album release party in Brooklyn can be reserved here.
CEG: Hey Phil, thanks for taking some time to answer some questions ahead of your album release party on December 2nd in NYC. To kick things off here, fill us in on what you’ve been up to so far this Fall.
Philip Lassiter: My lady and I just moved to L.A. this fall and we are doing lots of creative things. I am plugging in with some really talented singer / songwriters. One of which is Elliott Yamin, American Idol star and amazing soul singer. I’m currently working on an EP with him. I’ve also been studio hopping and networking with lots of great producers like Warryn Campbell and Dr. Dre. I just blazed horns for Blue Note recording artist Jose James here in L.A. as well. I’ve also been coaching my lady, Josephine Rojer, as she has been competing on The Voice of Holland in the Netherlands. It’s been a busy several months!
CEG: Just last week you released your newest studio album, Chill Mode. How would you describe this album, and in what ways does it compare to previous projects?
PL: Chill Mode is very special to me because it’s my first mostly instrumental album featuring me on trumpet layering trumpet stacks. I’ve been cultivating this sound on albums for well over a decade. I was originally inspired by Roy Hargrove and I feel that I’ve put my own spin on it. This record is all hip-hop, featuring super-producers like James Poyser (The Roots), Rodney Jones (V Boseman), Jae Deal, and many more. It also features a few cameos by Cory Henry (Snarky Puppy) & Mono Neon (Prince), as well as a few features by Josephine on vocals.
CEG: Every musician or band I speak with does it differently. Do you have any special rituals or techniques in your approach to creating new music?
PL: When it comes to creating I just try to pull from every source of inspiration I connect with. With this album, I had the various producers pitch tracks to me and I just simply tried to create over the top, letting the groove and vibe inspire me organically.
CEG: Cory Henry of Snarky Puppy is featured on your new album’s self-titled single, “CHILLMODE.” Explain your relationship with Snarky Puppy and how you first began collaborating with that group of musicians.
PL: I’ve known Snarky since they were in school at the University of North Texas. I met Mike League at a jam in Fort Worth one night and hired him to play in my church band. Bernard Wright (Miles Davis, Roberta Flack) was also in that band. Bernard was a mentor to me for quite some time and then he also became one to Mike and the whole Snarky crew. I watched those fellas grow and mature throughout the years. I saw them struggle, living on a big yellow school bus and playing for empty rooms. It has been so cool to see them overcome the obstacles of being independent artists. I’m so proud of my Texas brothers.
CEG: Before his passing, you were a section leader, arranger, and lead trumpeter for the late Prince. What was it like working with one of
music’s greatest legends?
PL: The 2 years I was with Prince was absolutely magical. I learned so much on so many levels. I never worked so hard in my life! He was so inspiring to be around. He loved to rehearse and try things out. If one of us had an idea he would always respond, “let’s hear it!” He liked to experiment and tweak ideas. I have so much gratitude for my time with the NPG. I even met Josephine while playing a festival with Prince on the island, Curacao. I was able to introduce them and thank him personally. I miss him greatly. I have so many stories, let me tell you one. We went to Montreaux Jazz Fest and my luggage was delayed. All I had was what I was wearing – shorts and a tshirt. The MD told me it was a bad idea to wear that to sound check and I was told our luggage would not arrive until right before the show, so I had to go shopping in one of the most expensive cities in the world! After wandering around for a while I found an H&M and the only thing that fit me (it’s easy for an American to feel fat in Europe) was this white suit that was only around 200 EURO. I squeezed into it and wore it to sound check. I was beaming! Prince usually only spoke to me when he had something musical to address but this day he came right up to me and said, “that’s a nice suit” (in his low mono tone voice). I responded, “thanks.” He then said, “you should get a pocket square for it.” Me- “ok, noted!” He replied, “you will wear that suit tonight, right?” “Oh yes, I said.” He replied, “That’s CLEAN.” During the show we were in the middle of one of our horn features, dancing all over center stage and he was dancing all around us. He danced right up to me, slid his hand across the top of my shoulder and shouted, “CLEAN!!” **laughs** I’ll never forget it. He emphasized that we always look great. He was always clean. On a Tuesday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon watching sports he was….clean!
CEG: Looking back at your musical background, how and when did you first start playing the trumpet? What inspired you to select and stick with this instrument?
PL: I actually started out on baritone. I played it for a year. I was a scrawny kid so it was too heavy for me, so I switched to trumpet. My dad was a preacher so I grew up playing by ear in church. I always say that I learned to read music in school but I learned to play music in church. I was hooked early on. I loved sports as a kid but I was never great. I was a terrible student. Music is all I’ve ever been good at. I’m so grateful to be able to wake up every day and do what I love.
CEG: Is there a trumpeter you can pinpoint who’s been your greatest musical influence?
PL: I have so many trumpet influences but I’d have to say that Louis Armstrong was my first big inspiration. He played with such energy and joy. Then later on I got into all the other greats like Dizzy, Miles, Chet, Freddie, Woody, etc. Over the course of the last 15 years, however, it has been Roy Hargrove who has influenced me the most. His sound, pocket, ideas, soul….everything. I’m a die-hard Roy fan. Plus he’s from Dallas!
CEG: Looking to the future, what are your plans and goals for 2017?
PL: I am expecting 2017 to be an amazing year for myself and many of my friends. We have been sowing seeds for many, many years, and I feel that this next year will be a season of harvest. I’m in L.A. now, and there are some really positive things falling into place. Although our country and world seems to be in a very volatile place, I believe there’s a revolution stirring in culture, music and art in general. The world needs great art right now more than ever. People need real music with depth and authenticity. I’m excited about where things are headed and I look forward to this album release with my pals from Snarky Puppy.
CEG: I like to top off interviews with an open forum. Is there anything we didn’t cover here that you’d like to share?
PL: We gon make some noise & break some necks on December 2nd!