MUSIC: Violinst Lorenzo Laroc Electrifies Audiences
PITCH PERFECT: SUBWAY STORIES WITH ELECTRIC VIOLINIST LORENZO LAROC
On any given day, you can miss a lot of amazing stories rushing through New York City’s subway stations, so slow down once in a while to appreciate those priceless treasures. If you haven’t heard him yet, electric violinist Lorenzo Laroc is one of those names you need to know. For years, he has happily shared his gift with Gotham’s commuters when he isn’t touring with Big Band greats or performing for dignitaries. Find out more about this interesting fellow in the following Subway Stories interview with Tania Fuentez Media.
TFM: Why is a classically trained electric and acoustic violinist who has played Carnegie Hall and toured with jazz greats and R&B legends performing in NYC’s subway stations? Are the acoustics really that good?
LL: I consider my achievements in my career, as part of my journey as an artist. Granted, the subways have opened many beautiful opportunities to me that both were financially positive and creatively rewarding. I won $25,000 on a Fox show by one of the producers seeing me on 34th Street Herald Square; I performed Center Court at the (Madison Square) Garden for the Knicks by being seen at Penn Station; same with the NY Rangers home opening game last year, Center Court at The U.S. Open, and the countless private gigs I book from performing in the subways …
Also, to be successful in the subways of NYC you must be a strong, great, seasoned artist, and to get a stranger’s attention in less than 60 seconds (which is about the time you have to get someone’s attention who is in transit) is quite difficult. Needless to say, I have signed tens of thousands of autographs over the years to faithful fans who support my art and self-produced material. Also, I get to give back to humanity, for the wonderful gift I was given, the gift of creativity and the passion to pursue that creativity through my life (I have been a violinist for over 40 years). Many people in the subways _ like the elderly, the poor, young children _ cannot afford to go out to a nightclub to see live performances. Last time I went to a local jazz club it cost me and a friend $150.
As far as exposure from the subways, with Youtube posts I am quite an item! And it can only get better. I take the trains seriously as a venue and the public recognizes that, and I use the trains to expose my art, and interviews like this are part of it. A perfect example is, we met in the trains, and who’s to say how many people read your blog? I am on this Earth to perform and the trains give me the opportunity to have an instant audience. After that, it’s up to me to keep that audience. I started playing in the trains long after my professional career started, and being an electric violinist, technology has given me the opportunity to bring a professional performance underground to the Music Under New York Program and exposing a new instrument to the public. Ninety percent of my audience has never seen an electric violinist live prior to seeing me.
I perform a public service by bringing art directly to those who don’t get to see it often live, and it only cost $2.25 or free at Penn Station! Also, the trains don’t define who I am as an artist and gives the flexibility to travel (which I do often for corporate and private clients and I choose my own times, material, attire, breaks etc.) I have been known to take years off of the trains if projects call for it. I have been involved with the MUNY program since 1985, and it is hard to say when I will stop doing it. As far as the second part of question, no, the acoustics in the train are not that good. That’s why I bring a hundred-thousand dollars worth of instruments and equipment and 650 watts of power with me, to make the acoustics sound beautiful.
TFM: Your trademark is a custom-made five string plexiglass electric violin/viola, but you’re also a respected composer and arranger. What do you consider career highlights and the lowest point along the way?
LL: My life as an artist/composer, has been filled with ebbs and flows, ups and downs, and all in between. I started composing in my early 20s, and always had an affinity to take music I have heard, and usually like very much, and make it my own with a jazz or rock version substituting the violin in the vocal parts. Playing electric violin gave me the opportunity to lead a band with an instrument that technically could handle it. Early electric violins (1970s) were not as advanced as the present day electric violins, my custom-made instrument has the latest cutting-edge digital electronics available (Barbera Electronics).
But, to put my life as a composer/violinist in a perspective of highs and lows … the low point was trying to be creative and perform for major sporting events at that time, was the loss of my mother and two brothers within a five-year period. It was the first time in my life that the act of performing and creating become something of a challenge. I did not start playing the blues, but I could not write and I was taking some dark solos. My band members complemented me on my chops during this time because I was playing from my heart. It was like dreaming sometimes at gigs during that time, I would do whole hour and a half sets with my eyes closed. My audience at the time seemed to like that look. It was kind of like I was there for the audience and at the same time a deep healing process was taking place on stage.
The high point was the birth of my first child, Bellamia, who is now 7 and her sister, Sierra, who is 4. My daughters turned my creative abilities on full straight. I can hear it in my playing in the last few years, the intensity of what my children have brought to my art. I have been writing like never before. I joke with my band that since my kids were born I play with dedication and desperation! The loss of my mom and brothers and the birth of kids represent the highs and the lows of this composer’s life, due to the fact that I live my craft every day. My art is not a 9 to 5 job I can walk away from at the end of the day. It’s a lifelong commitment for artists like me. Time paints a picture of an artist, and after 40 years, my painting is about half done.
TFM: Are you impressed with the level of creativity in the current music scene? What’s your take on the industry?
LL: I don’t get impressed by other artists and art, I get inspired or excited. The current status of art in the world is fine, thanks to the Internet. Creativity is a constant in the arts, although, some parts of history like the Renaissance, where creativity was nursed and flourished, stand out. Perhaps another Renaissance is on the horizon?
Now commercial music and art is a whole different beast. What you hear on the radio or VH1 or MTV is a small representation of the “Music and Art scene” _ for every Lady Gaga, you have a million ultra talented artists who are making a statement in the history of art, just not as promoted and produced. I take my hat off to any artist who can make millions in this art business. But the reality is that most of the world’s artists are humble, hard-working people who go about life giving the gift of the arts to their fellow human beings for a fair living wage that a person can raise their children and provide for their family.
TFM: What else is on tap for Lorenzo Laroc … albums, video, new solo projects?
LL: My first DVD will be released by May 2012. It is of live concerts I did with my full band (Masterpiece). I think it’s some of my best work and it’s with my full band, my original compositions performed by the world’s best performers, including one of the world’s most recorded drummers, Buddy William. But what has me the most excited is a pop album entitled “Passion And Performance” _ my first vocal recording of my songs with lyrics. I believe it will hit a mainstream audience, and it smells like a Grammy!
TFM: You’re a native New Yorker, so what’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the subway?
LL: The strangest thing I have seen on the subway? There are several worth mentioning.
1. A beautiful, well-dressed woman in her 30s buys a CD and then stands there listening to me perform for about 10 minutes. After I stop to take a break she announces to the crowd of about 100 people gathered to see my performance. “I just brought this CD, this man’s music just made me have three orgasms.” Then, she said again “three orgasms” and proceeded to hold the CD up over her head to show the crowd. She was not intoxicated.
2. A woman told me that her son was in a coma from a car accident, and that before the accident, his favorite CD was my “Live In New York City.” After no response to therapy of any kind they brought a CD player to the hospital and played my CD. Three days later he was home. Although I do not really know what my music did for her kid, but his mom believes that my music brought her son back to her. Who am I to dispute her beliefs.
3. I had a cop, who 20 years earlier, had given me a ticket for performing in the subways (before it was legal, 1985). He purchased two CDs from me in uniform, while I was at Herald Square 34th Street. It was his way of saying sorry for being a jerk, 20 years earlier.
4. A man comes up to me before I am about to perform at Penn Station and tells me that his wife and he had conceived their two kids while listening to my second CD. Wow, What do say to that? I said, Thank you!
Lorenzo Laroc: http://www.lorenzolaroc.com/
MTA’s Arts for Transit: http://www.mta.info/mta/aft/
MTA’s Music Under New York: http://www.mta.info/mta/aft/muny/
Tania Fuentez Media’s Subway Stories photo gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajournalist/sets/72157631275785696/