Amanda Carr sits down with singer, songwriter, trumpeter and educator Christine Fawson

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ChristineFawsonYou are a somewhat rare combination of female trumpet player and vocalist. Did one come before the other? At what age did you begin and how did your current incarnation evolve?

I grew up in a musical family, I was the youngest of five. We would sing in harmony as a family, so I was singing with my sisters and brother before I knew what was going on! My mother plays piano and guitar, so she enrolled us all in piano lessons as children. When we got old enough to be in a school band, we picked our instruments. My brother played trombone. I was a tomboy and looked up to him. Trumpet seemed like a tough, boy-like instrument, so I picked that when I started sixth grade. As a kid, people knew me more as a trumpet player. I studied trumpet in college, but will always consider myself a singer first.

You exude a confidence in performance that presents an ease to the musicians who accompany you and also invites the audience into that comfortable space. Was this confidence something you had to develop, or are you an intrinsically confident person?

My parents instilled a sense of confidence in me from a young age. I love to perform. Since I was a kid, I have been fearless in front of an audience. Through the years, I’ve gone through phases where I doubted myself, but in the end, I always remember being a kid at church singing a song with confidence, back when there was nothing to be afraid of. I have to work to remember that!

 

We are similar in that we both have embraced the American Songbook, but we’ve organically emerged within the genre of our generation, both performing and cherishing our rock, soul and pop roots. What made you initially choose the Songbook as your springboard into recording?

As a young trumpet player, I listened to Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Chet Baker….. I learned most of the standards I sing from instrumental versions first! Then I got hip to singers like Ella and Sarah Vaughan, and my mom had Frank Sinatra records. So I started learning lyrics to songs and singing them on gigs. Pretty soon, people started calling me as a singer, so I had to learn more lyrics and figure out keys, etc. as a vocalist!

Your new CD is a bold, versatile and creative execution of original pop/progressive based material which is a culmination of your musical background such as the ukulele. Can you elaborate on your upbringing and the musical influences that have inspired this latest album?

I had a lot of different influences as a kid. There were ukuleles and acoustic guitars in the house. Along with church music I would sing with my family, I loved listening to Michael Jackson. I was obsessed. I also loved Whitney Houston, knew all of her hits and performed them. Madonna, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, those were other artists I loved. This was all before I got serious about trumpet. Ha, even country artists – Amy Grant, Garth Brooks. And have you heard of the Statler Brothers? Every Saturday night, my family would sit down and watch their show – they were a spiritual barbershop quartet. I loved watching them perform!

Do you plan to continue to explore and record in other musical genres or will you be returning to the American Songbook platform for which you’ve been more traditionally known?

I will always sing Cole Porter songs! Until I die! I love the melodies, the chord changes, the lyrics, so perfect in their simplicity! But I have so many ideas! Up next, one of the following: a folk/country, more acoustic type project; a more funky, horn heavy, jazz/fusion record; or maybe all instrumental! One of these days, I have to just play trumpet and not sing. I have to make myself do it. I want to. I just love to sing.

OK... so here’s the question I’ve been dying to ask you as one female performer to another ? Lipstick: can you wear any when you’re playing the trumpet, or do you have to forfeit it altogether in performance?

I never wear lipstick. It is possible to cake it on while playing (I’ve had some good makeup artists over the years who have insisted!), but when left to my own devices, I’d rather just go without. I’ve just gotten used to the fact that lipstick is just not part of my package.

As a first-time mother of a 2 year old, how has this changed your approach to your career? Your music? How has your daughter inspired you?

Wow, I think I am still in shock over the fact that I have a daughter! Ask me a few years from now! It’s amazing, difficult, emotional, wonderful! Everything! It’s tough, but it was a decision my husband and I made together. In general, I have to be more selective, more planning. I don’t just take every gig now, there are some nights I just stay home and play with her. We are making it work and she’s along for the ride! We have jam sessions and rehearsals at our home, and she dances along!

You are on the teaching staff of Berklee College of Music. How and when did teaching become part of your music career and can you speak a little bit about what you impart to your students that you feel is important and about the music business in general?

I went to Berklee as a trumpet student. Shortly after I graduated, there was an influx of students, and the chair of the brass department called me to see if I was interested in taking on a few hours, part time. That was over ten years ago! I am fortunate to be in an environment with young, motivated musicians. To me, it should be all connected – education and performance. All the cats I learned from (most of whom I never met – Clifford Brown, Dizzy…) had the same approach. Learning from each other at sessions, on the bandstand. When I am in a classroom at Berklee, it might as well be a gig, or on the road somewhere. We are playing music, trying to get to the next level and learning from each other.

Which musicians provided the inspiration in your musical development? Who are some of the musicians you work with now that you feel have contributed to your sound and brand?

Most of the musicians I learned from are dead. I have gotten so much from transcribing Freddie Hubbard and Clifford Brown solos. And guys who aren’t dead, like Harry Connick, Jr. I have loved him for years!! But I have some big mentors who have helped motivate me along the way. My high school band director was a huge influence. Since coming to Boston, Phil Wilson has been my biggest mentor. He put me in front of his band as a singer when I probably just should have stayed in the trumpet section! But he believed in me, and that gave me confidence to keep doing it. But what really got me paying dues was singing with Syncopation for ten years. I learned so much from everyone in the band. When you’re with a band like that, traveling, recording, it’s like a family. As far as a brand and sound, still working on that!

You’ve performed overseas and have been on large stages with such shows as The Boston Pops on the Esplanade for the 4th of July celebration (a concert I attended and so appreciated), do you measure your career success with these types of performances or do you feel there is a more comprehensive measure of your career that includes other musical endeavors.

Well, that’s a tough one. It’s easy to say, “I just wanna play and make good music…” but isn’t part of that playing and making good music for a substantial audience? Of course, as an artist I want to be recognized and respected. To do that, you have to be present in the world. Now, there are different levels of this. Unfortunately, with youtube and American Idol, the focus these days seems to be more on “fame” than good, long lasting music. The more I see popularity contests, the more I just want to write music and play with people I like. Jam sessions in my living room, strumming uke on a beach. But I do like the big stage too! I just refuse to let that define me or validate me as a musician.

Collaboration is the essence of musical creativity, aside from those who you have worked with, are there musicians you hope to work with in the future?

I do love to collaborate, but it’s not always easy finding someone who connects with me. Over the years, I have tried to write with people and only when Scott Tarulli and I hooked up, did I really think collaborating would work! It is so effortless working with him. No ego, totally easy. I plan to do many more songs/albums with him! And of course, there are other guys I dream of working with. I would love to work with Harry Connick, Jr. or Bruno Mars. In my dreams, ha ha. I love to write melodies and lyrics, something they are both very good at.

What words of wisdom do or can you impart to women just entering the music business, as a business? Can you elaborate on the difference between music as an art form and music created for a particular business model?

Yes, the music business is tough! If it were just as easy as writing and performing songs, there might not be much to talk about! I’m lucky because I play and sing, so I have more options. Women have to be strong! Through the years, there has always been someone saying I need to be this way, that way, lose weight, wear different clothes, play this kind of music, play that kind of music. To be an artist, you have to have a clear idea of who you are and you have to have a few strong mentors. Most importantly, you must have a love for the music. This has what has kept me in the business. When I start having thoughts of doubt, “I’m not good enough, not famous, etc…” this is what keeps me going, a deep love for the music. The only way I have survived in this business, is by giving myself no other option. But I love it that much. It’s not for everybody.

Can you express how you feel the music business has changed just during the time you’ve been involved. Do you still think it’s feasible for young people to expect to be able to make their living solely on playing music?

I don’t envy young musicians now. Even since I went to Berklee, things have changed. Fewer live performing opportunities and fewer audience members! (is everyone at home, watching youtube? I don’t know). I can say this: Versatility is key, being able to play, write, read, etc. I know a lot of young musicians at Berklee who have computer chops, recording, etc. This is all good, considering how the internet is so present in our daily lives. I am fortunate to be able to make a living as a player and an educator. To me, it always goes back to the love of the music. If a young musician has this, I really believe anything is possible.

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Hear samples from her new CD "My Side."