"The trumpet just makes sense to me,” says Dustin Lutomski. “I feel like I can express myself through it in ways my voice and words can't capture. At the age of 10 I chose it because I thought it was an ‘easy’ instrument with only three keys, but now it seems more like it was my destiny.”
That fate would lead Lutomski to his current weekly gig at the Red Onion, where he plays trumpet solo every Wednesday from 8-10 p.m. on the stage next to the front window.
Lutomski first picked up a trumpet in the fourth grade when the ambitious music program at his New York state public school asked every kid if they wanted to join the band. After having previously played the piano as a child, he chose the trumpet.
The trumpet would become his voice, and this ability ran in his family. Lutomski’s mother played trumpet in high school. Her father was also a trumpet player, and it just so happens that grandpa was playing nightclubs in Buffalo, New York, when he first met grandma.
After moving to Aspen in 2005 to live in the mountains, Lutomski got his start on the Aspen music scene like most: signing up for open mic at the Red Onion on Monday nights. His band at the time was called “Two Day Rental,” but open mic would lead him into other bands and on to performing solo-trumpet jazz standards every Monday.
These short sets were popular with the crowd, so Lutomski built up his repertoire to suit a full showcase, which premiered on Valentine's Day 2018. He performed all of the sappy love songs he knew, and that performance segued into a twice-monthly gig, which then became every Wednesday night.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have this gig,” says Lutomski. “Jazz is not a popular genre these days, but I know it's really important to keep these classic songs alive. I'm practicing every day now, studying old recordings and constantly learning new material. I honestly didn't foresee this, but I'm having a blast.”
Always fascinated by jazz, Lutomski gravitates toward the bebop era but finds enjoyment dabbling in rock, soul and funk. With Polish blood flowing though his veins, Lutomski is well versed in the folk music of Austria and Germany (otherwise known as polka). In autumn he plays Oktoberfest gigs with “Those Austrian Guys” – literally a group of Austrians – and, when he is alone and thinks no one is listening, he attempts Balkan Gypsy brass tunes.
“At this point I have performed 92 different songs at the Red Onion,” says Lutomski. “I'm pretty nerdy about putting together my set lists. Sometimes they follow a theme. Sometimes I seek diversity in the styles. No matter what, I check that no two songs in a row are in the same key signature, and I try to alternate between slower and faster tempos. Every week I debut two new songs, and I never play the same tune two weeks in a row.”
With so many songs in his repertoire, it’s hard to believe that Lutomski knows the majority by heart. But because of his dedication, it is easy to understand why people are becoming regulars each Wednesday, and he could not be happier. “I feel like I've created my own niche, and the people who like it are really supporting me in my endeavors.”
During his show, he puts on a backing track and plays trumpet over it, the same way he has practiced since high school. Playing over the top of a recorded piano, drum set and bass is a great way to learn melodies and practice improvising.
“I realize it's ‘cheating’ to some degree to perform with a canned rhythm section, but it suits my needs,” says Lutomski. “I'm looking forward to the day I can perform all of these songs with live musicians; I just need to find people who are interested in the same stuff that I am.”
If you were to stumble upon the Red Onion on a Wednesday night you might feel as though you accidentally walked into a hole-in-the-wall tavern on the Lower East Side. A solo trumpet player entertaining with clean and crisp notes moving through classic jazz, blues and swing, only interrupted by clapping and a few hoots and hollers at the end of each song.
Last week, in between songs, Lutomski reminded everyone in the audience that he would be at the Red Onion every Wednesday night and then said, “Bring a hot date. Have dinner. I’ll make it real sexy for ya.”
John Zelazny comes from a long line of Polish accordion polka performers. He appreciates your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.