Louise Baranger first put her hands on a trumpet in the fourth grade.
“Someone came to the school so we could learn to play band instruments. My best friend’s brother had a trumpet in their attic, so she had to play the trumpet. Of course, I said ‘I’ll play the trumpet.’ I immediately realized this was me. The trumpet was really cool,” Louise told me.
Born in Hollywood, Louise grew up in Irvine, CA, because her lawyer dad wanted to distance the family from the air pollution and rat race of LA. She and her husband, Fred Tregaskis, now reside in Connecticut. Fred owns New England Wine Cellars and does a show for National Public Radio called A Moment in Wine. Louise still toots the trumpet as a freelance player. Her first CD, Trumpeter’s Prayer, was released in 1996. She’s looking for a record label for her new album, The Great American Groove Book. She also leads her own Great American Groove Book band and the Revolutionary Brass quintet.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
My grandfather wrote music for the Shuberts back in the 20s, then screenplays and lyrics. My grandmother was in an episode of The Twilight Zone, but she had to quit acting when she got hepatitis. My mother was an extra in many movies as a teenager, including Bedtime for Bonzo with Ronald Reagan. So I was aware of the business growing up. My grandfather and my parents encouraged me to play. It just felt like a good thing to do.
Tell us about what happened with your playing after the fourth grade.
I played through elementary school, but I was ‘way too cool’ to play in the middle school band, plus the band was terrible, so I quit. I wanted to be in the band again in high school, so I took out the trumpet out and got it together. I took lessons with a local guy who played the accordion but taught me basic music stuff. I liked leading the band as first trumpet in high school.
When I was in 9th grade, I started to study with Harold ‘Pappy’ Mitchell, who was first trumpet in the MGM Studios orchestra from the late 20s through the 40s. He played in the original Jazz Singer, Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz. He was amazing and taught all the good players in the area. I studied with him through high school.
I went to a community college in Mission Viejo, which had an amazing music department, then moved back to LA and started working. Many times I asked myself whether I needed a music degree, but since I didn’t want to teach and I studied with famous players like Bobby Shew and Bill Vacchiano, who was in the New York Philharmonic, I decided I really didn’t need it.
I was offered a job with Harry James when I was 24. After that I had credibility. Then I played with Nelson Riddle and Ray Anthony. Harry opened the door for everything.
I’ve been on tv shows including Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and in movies. I played on albums and videos with Joe Cocker and Bobby Womack, and backed up live performances by Dionne Warwick, Carol Lawrence, Joan Rivers and others. I was a soloist with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and at the Stars and Stripes Presidential Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C. in 2005. I currently play with the brass quintet, Revolutionary Brass, and perform a wine tasting and music show for fundraisers and other private events with with my husband.
What drew you to the trumpet?
I felt like I was speaking through the trumpet. It just felt right. It felt comfortable, like what I should be doing. Each instrument is powerful in its own ways. If you put a bunch of musically inclined kids in a room with instruments, they’ll first be attracted to the physical instruments and how they feel in their hands. Then they’ll listen to someone playing and gravitate to the one that’s ‘right’ for them. It’s like their ‘voice.’
What style of music do you play?
I’ve been in Latin bands to brass quintets, which I love. I’ve played with rock-type society bands that play Motown with singers and big shows. I’ll play Broadway, rock n roll and modern jazz. I write a little, but it’s not a passion for me.
Is it physically demanding to play the trumpet? How often do you practice?
I practice at least an hour everyday; sometimes two or three hours. Practice helps keep your musculature strong so you have the endurance to play. Most players stop in their 70s, certainly in their 80s. You have to slow down at some point because you can no longer physically do it. I do deep breathing exercises to take in the most air and help my lungs. I also practice yoga breathing. I hike, play tennis, and bike with my husband.
Please tell us about how women are perceived in your business, especially older women
Age is an issue in the music business, and I hate that. When I was 39, a photographer told me to start lying about my age or I wouldn’t get work. It’s dignified and cool for a man to get older, but it’s this embarrassment for a woman. I’ve lost a couple of gigs because they said they wanted people under 40. And that was when I was 45. I look very decent for my age. I’m in pretty good shape. It’s a stigma in the entire entertainment industry. Women in the public eye are scrutinized. ‘Oh, she doesn’t look that great anymore.’
I work with men most of the time, as old as 75, and many are insensitive and childish. They work in a business where they don’t need to grow up. It’s like a boy’s club where they posture with each other, like a bunch of guys getting together to play pool. It’s not like they’re trying to be disrespectful. The music business is fun. The men almost expect me to react to their behavior. They’re usually extremely cool about me playing. They’re just an earthy bunch of guys expressing themselves. It’s probably never going to change, so I’ve spent my life fitting in with that. Getting offended is a waste of time.
Leslie Nielsen didn’t want me in a movie he was doing because he didn’t want a woman trumpet player sitting behind him. It would distract from him, he said. When Harry James’s band backed up George Burns singing country music in 1983, George brought everyone up to his suite for dinner ‘Harry. Did you know there’s a girl in your band,’ he joked about me.
Do many women play the trumpet?
When I joined the band in high school, the first trumpet player was a woman, but there were few women trumpet players then. Women all over the world play the trumpet today. Alison Balsom is a British classical player and a mega star. Tine Thing is a classical player from Scandinavia.
The women who have hung in there have helped all women come a long way. Stand up for yourself. Be strong. Do the best job you can. Just being there will help pave the way for other women. I appreciate what I had and what I have now.