Interview with Lin Rountree
Written by Joe Montague   
Monday, 04 June 2007

For all of you saxophone players who think you are the only sexy horn musicians out there, trumpeter Lin Rountree has a message for you—Not So! Actually, the focus of our conversation was not on the sex appeal of either type of brass player, but came out of a larger conversation in which we briefly discussed the opportunities for saxophonists versus trumpeters and within the jazz and R&B genres.

“Saxophone is still considered (by some people) to be the smooth jazz instrument and they don’t usually consider the trumpet as such. They think of the trumpet as a sectional instrument that blares the high notes,” says Rountree. He dispels this myth with a gorgeous muted trumpet vibe from on the velvety “Everyday,” from his current album Groovetree produced by Billy Meadows on the BDK Records label.

Rountree finds a certain delicious irony in the fact that smooth jazz charts ruler Chris Botti is a trumpet player. Rountree also points to well established artists such as Rick Braun and Chuck Mangione as trumpeters who pioneered the smooth jazz scene.

Rountree says, “Trumpet players have to make opportunities (for themselves) because they are out there. I don’t think they are falling out of the sky and people are not saying, ‘Oh you are a trumpet player so we are going to get you on.” Rountree says he feels that the ability of the trumpet to enhance a horn section is often overlooked.

The jazz composer, flugelhorn and trumpet player has crisscrossed America professionally as a fulltime musician, and prior to turning to music fulltime, during a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. Career and educational (Florida A&M) stops in Florida, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington and now his home of Detroit have allowed him the opportunity to play with many diverse and talented musicians. “It gave me an opportunity to vibe with different musicians. With every opportunity that I got during an evening or on a weekend, I took my horn and I was out. During the daytime I put on my suit and went to work (in the pharmaceutical industry),” he says.

“It (the exposure to so many artists) has helped to broaden the different approaches that I take to music and in particular jazz. When I was in a lot of those cities I wasn’t even thinking of R&B, I was thinking of straight-ahead traditional jazz. Different players will push music in different ways and forms. A common jam song that you may play in one city may not be played in another city, so you end up learning other songs. That of course broadens your repertoire of music,” Roundtree recalls.

When Rountree arrived in Detroit, he discovered a different and thriving music scene awaited him. “When I got to Detroit there was this soul thing going on. I sought out the straight-ahead environment, and found out guys were doubling. They were doing straight- ahead and then going over to do funk stuff. I (also) started to do the funk stuff,” he says.

“Detroit has an R&B soul sound that is (experiencing) resurgence, brought about by artists such as (drummer) Gene Dunlap (Tales Of The Phatman-2000), (saxophonist) Dave McMurray, Tim Bowman (guitarist) and myself are creating the new soul, funky R&B grooves that we call our own. We are pumping it up. There are a lot of people waiting in the wings (in Detroit) to come out. There is a lot of energy here. There is an abundance of good musicians here in the city, and on every corner, there is some kid who is ready to get up and wax you on the stage. It doesn’t allow you to get a big head and (forces) you to keep your skills sharp,” says Rountree.

Lin Rountree

Rountree says it is a blessing for any musician to find themselves in the Detroit music scene because there is an opportunity to play with so many talented musicians. Secondly, he believes with the plethora of talent in Detroit if you can make it in this city’s music scene you can make it anywhere.

Those listening to Groovetree will hear as much flugelhorn from Rountree as the muted trumpet. “I record with the flugelhorn because it is a warmer, softer sound (than the trumpet). When you are playing smooth jazz, the key word is smooth. It is soulful (music), but the trumpet on the other hand can be biting and brash at times. I play the flugelhorn so it is easy on people’s ears and not biting,” he says. He refers to the flugelhorn as an instrument that allows the musician to play high, fast and mellow.

On Groovetree Rountree opted for the muted trumpet sound, saying, “I can play a little funkier with the mute on. I can play a little more aggressive and attack more without it being brash, brassy and harsh.” The warmer, pastel colors created by both the flugelhorn and the muted trumpet are particularly noticeable on the third track “Into The Night,” an almost dreamy piece that makes you want to sail away on a cloud. Even the drumbeats of Ron Otis are subdued and quiet your soul.

The song “Into The Night,” was inspired during an evening that he was spending with his then fiancÚ, now wife Yolanda. “I heard (in his head) a beautiful groove with a Latin feel to it. I recorded the groove into the recorder of my cell phone. (Later) I laid the groove down, with a melody over top of it. (The melody) had to be something beautiful to push the groove out,” says Rountree.

When it came time to record “The Message,” Meadows and Rountree were stuck for an appropriate vocalist. Late one night or actually early one morning Meadows suggested his cousin Leslie Nelson, a backup singer for Aretha Franklin. They tracked Nelson down at two o’clock in the morning in a local club. Rountree picks up the story, “Billy and I went picked her up and asked her to sing on the track. She came in and knocked it out pretty much in one night. She came over again the next day and did the hooks. She has a beautiful voice, has so much professional skill and knows how to approach the music.” When you listen to “The Message,” you will be knocked out by the lush vocals of Leslie Nelson.

“Most of my songs are inspirational and come to me when I am just sitting around humming a tune or feeling a groove. Once I get the groove down, I put a melody over top of it. That is why so some of my songs are so groove based,” he says referring to “Into the Night” and “Bio-Funk” as two groove based tunes. By comparison, Rountree says, “In the first song “For Your Love” you hear the melody first.”

Rountree says, “The fourth (track) “Groovetree” is the only song that is contrived. “My producer said that we needed something funky. The song is nothing but an altered minor blues. We all play minor blues as musicians, so I just took a funky minor blues and (he imitates the beat), hooked it up with a bassline and put a nice little melody over top of it.”

Rountree speaks in glowing terms about his wife Yolanda and what she has added to his life and career, “She is very supportive of me, has been there for me and is going to continue to be there.”

With two local Detroit television stations, providing exposure for Lin Rountree and numerous gigs he has become a force to be reckoned with on the smooth jazz scene. He has not taken for granted the gift he has been given. Combining his spiritual life with music comes easily for the trumpeter. “You give your money but a lot of people get away from giving of their time and their talents. You need to share all of your blessings. He (God) blessed me with the gift to play this horn, and I have to share that with people too. I have a duty to honor the blessings that I have been given,” he says.

There certainly is no doubt that Rountree is a tremendously gifted musician and to think he is really just at the beginning of his career.

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