“What I create is a direct reflection of what I see and experience every day here in Akron. I hope to inspire anyone who hears my music to live with more love and on a higher vibration day-to-day,” jazz musician and trumpeter Tommy Lehman says.
Born and raised in Akron, Tommy has been surrounded by music for as long as he can remember. From his musically inclined family to his experiences in Akron’s finest visual performing arts programs, Tommy was destined to play.
He credits his teachers at Miller South School and Firestone High School for helping him cultivate a passion for creating. When asked if there were any musicians that made an impact on him, he paid homage to the album Oscar Peterson Trio + One by The Oscar Peterson Trio and Clark Terry, a 1964 jazz album he discovered his junior year of high school.
“This album sparked a deep curiosity within me. After I heard it, I focused all of my time on replicating the solos,” Tommy says.
Despite his newfound curiosity, Tommy had no plans to make a career out of music. During the spring of his senior year high school, he enrolled at The University of Akron as an accounting major. Only because of a field trip to Cuyahoga Community College shortly after did his path change entirely.
“Our high school jazz band had the chance to be adjudicated by Dominick Farinacci’s band from New York,” Tommy says. “During the trip, the director of the music program came up to me and asked what my plans were after high school. He offered me a scholarship to come here and study music,” Tommy says.
It didn’t take much to convince Tommy to make the switch, and that fall he went on to study music at Tri-C. After two years there, he finished his undergraduate degree at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut. Both schools gave Tommy the opportunity to learn from professional jazz musicians, and they all left a lasting impression on him.
“Being around faculty members at Tri-C and the Hartt School who were so serious about music and carried themselves with integrity made me want to hold myself to the same standard,” Tommy says. “I had the best role models ever.”
After his time at Hartt, Tommy returned home to Akron and began settling into his professional music career as a trumpeter, vocalist and keys player. He is currently a member of the Tommy Lehman Squadtet, Acid Cats, Nathan Paul & the Admirables, Alla Boara, Alba Trio and Nine Lives Project.
In addition to his groups, he continually works on his solo work and contributes to a wide variety of projects with Northeast Ohio musicians. He has an upcoming collaboration with Akron’s Floco Torres and SmokeFace. He has worked with Cleveland’s Peachcurls and Theron Brown as well, to name a few.
“Northeast Ohio has some of the best musicians in the world,” Tommy says. “We say it all the time because we truly believe that about each other. Everyone is so humble here.”
Tommy made it clear that the local music scene is like a family. They help each other out on albums, perform together and constantly support one another.
“What can I say other than I am so thankful to even be in the conversation with these people. They are real life heroes,” Tommy says.
Though the past year made collaborations and performances more difficult, Tommy was able to put some music from the vaults into the world, as well as focus on who he is as a creator.
“The pandemic gave me the time and mental space to reset my creative process. When the world stopped, I had to ask myself ‘Why do I create?’ and ‘Why do I play?’” Tommy says.
Feeling creatively rejuvenated, Tommy took to working on his first full length studio album that he plans to release later this year. Tommy hopes this summer offers opportunities to perform on stage in his element once again.
“I can’t wait to get back to Musica. That venue always brings something special out of our performances. I also can’t wait to be back at Blu Jazz and the Bop Stop in Cleveland. Until then, I’m just looking forward to the new live opportunities that come about this summer outdoors and on patios,” Tommy says.
Laura Lakins is an educator and freelance writer from Akron, Ohio.
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