Mel LamarComposer Pattern or Practice

All that jazz Mel Lamar won’t tell you that he has jammed with jazz legends Al Jarreau or Mel Torme. He’s much too modest. You have to hear that from his friends and students.And when you ask him about it, he’ll nonchalantly recall, “Oh yeah, I played with them.” Lamar also won’t tell you that he’s inspired hundreds of people over the years and has instilled in them a lifelong passion for music. And he doesn’t really think that he’s one of this area’s musical legends. All he’ll tell you is that he’s just a simple guy who loves jazz, loves music and loves to play the guitar. But to his students, most of them youngsters, Lamar, 76, is “one cool old dude.” An Osakis resident since 1985, Lamar is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At age 16, he started playing the guitar after a failed attempt on his parents’ part to get him to play the violin. “I traded it [the violin] in for a guitar,” he reminisced. “They didn’t find out until after I did it.” Self-taught, Lamar was a quick study and started playing with bands at age 18. “I wanted to be a professional musician and I worked at it,” he said. At age 21 he joined the Ricchio Trio, which played six nights a week at a club in Milwaukee owned by a man with Mafia connections who ended up in federal prison. Here Lamar hobnobbed with several musical greats, like Jarreau, Torme, Vic Damone, Sarah Vaughn, Dorothy Lamour and The Platters, to name a few. He was a member of that trio for 13 years. Like many young musicians, Lamar dreamed of “being a big star in a band.” But by then he was a family man (he is the father of eight children) and didn’t want to travel, so he stayed in Wisconsin, where he taught, owned a music store and played in bands. Over the years he has been the guitarist in about 10 bands, while teaching at the same time. While he has dabbled in country, country rock, and 1950s and 60s rock, his true love is jazz. “Jazz has a feel to it, a beat,” he said. “It has a lot of beautiful chord changes. I just like that style of music.” In 1982 his band traveled to Alexandria, where he met Freddy Dean, an Osakis musician. It was Dean who convinced him to move to Osakis in 1985. Lamar owned a music store in Osakis for several years while teaching and playing gigs. For the past six years he has taught lessons to aspiring guitarists in Osakis and Alexandria. One of his students has gone on to perform on Broadway in New York City and has released CDs of jazz guitar music. “I like my kids and I want them to learn,” he said of the joy he gets from teaching and the students who show promise and dedication. “I’m not here just for the money. If they show talent, I’ll go all out for them.” But if you ask him if he’s made a difference in his students’ lives, or has inspired them, he humbly shrugs his shoulders and says, “Maybe, I don’t know. “I am what I am,” he concluded. “And I try to help them all.” – See more at: