Greene Lights

Trumpeter Frank Greene's career has led him to big gigs in the music world -- from working with David Letterman's orchestra to Broadway musicals.
Written by: 
Jessica DeLeĆ³n
Frank Greene
Frank Greene

While growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Frank Greene frequently attended jazz concerts with his family.

As the musicians were introduced, the announcer would say the name of their college -- making an impression on Greene, who had been playing the trumpet since his youth.

"I heard North Texas quite a bit," he says.

So when deciding on where to attend college, Greene gravitated toward UNT. It paid off. Greene, who studied at UNT from 1984 to 1987, has made quite a career. He was part of the orchestra for the Late Show with David Letterman, and has performed with Lou Rawls, John Williams, Natalie Cole, Queen Latifah, Ray Charles and Chaka Khan. He now currently plays on Broadway's Funny Girl.

But reaching this point has required countless hours of hard work.

"You do it because you can't imagine doing anything else," he says.

Hitting His Goals

Greene's love for the trumpet began at age 5 with a case of sibling rivalry.

His older sister got a recorder. He would have to wait five years until he got one.

A few years later, he got to pick his own instrument in elementary school. His parents said no to the drums, but his dad saw they could rent a cornet for $3 a week, not being sure of the youngster's desire just yet.

"All I did was sit around playing with Herb Alpert all the time," Greene says.

He spent hours and hours of the day listening to the radio, mimicking tunes with his instrument.

"I didn't know if it sounded good or bad," he says.

But the desire came so naturally to Greene. When he asked his dad if he had been worried about his son making it in such a competitive business, his father told him, "We never once had to ask you to practice."

Another natural fit was North Texas, which seemed more open compared to other schools Greene visited.

"People were outside and practicing outside," he thought as he toured North Texas. "Now this feels like a better place."

But now Greene had more than 200 trumpet players to compete with -- compared to the six trumpet players at his high school -- for a position in seven lab bands. He was determined to make it into the top band.

When being rejected from every band after auditioning, Greene thought, "I can't be fourth trumpet in the last band. Sometimes anger can be a good motivator."

He found the best trumpet player -- Daniel Smith ('83), who went on to play with the prestigious The United States Army Band "Pershing's Own" -- and practiced with him for five hours a day.

"My mind was, 'If I can play as good as they played, at least I had a shot,'" he says. "I thought it was a matter of time."

He soon advanced through the lab bands and made it to the One O'Clock Lab Band. At age 21, he was asked to join Woody Herman's Young Thundering Herds band. Greene decided to leave UNT and join the band -- leading to his illustrious career, which has included playing for the Maynard Ferguson Band, the Clark Terry Big Band and the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra.

One of Greene's most famous gigs was the Letterman show. He got to meet people like Halle Berry and Vanessa Williams as well as hold the Stanley Cup and Lombardi Trophy.

"There were so many things that would be my favorite things," he says.

But he says the best part of that gig was working with such a great band -- including Paul Shaffer, Will Lee, Sid McGinnis and fellow alumnus Tom "Bones" Malone ('69), among others.

Greene's played Carnegie Hall and he frequently plays at prestigious venues such as the Vanguard and Blue Note clubs in New York City and the Hollywood Bowl. One time, he played on two works -- one with Chuck Owen and the other with Christian McBride -- that were nominated for Grammys in the same category while on stage with the band for the awards ceremony.

"I've hit all my major goals 10 years ago, but there is always more fun stuff beyond the horizon," he says.