Seattle Symphony’s first black player auditioned down the phone

Seattle Symphony’s first black player auditioned down the phone


norman lebrecht

September 13, 2015

Bruce Lawrence, a Harlem bassist, played with Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane before he got bitten by the symphonic bug. After spells with the CBC orchestra in Ottawa and the Syracuse Symphony, he got a call from Seattle and played to them down the phone.

‘There were maybe 10 [African-American symphony players] in the whole country,’ said Gerard Schwarz, conductor at the time. ‘He was not only the first in Seattle, but one of the first in the whole country.’

Bruce has died aged 88. Read a full obit here.

bruce lawrence


  • MacroV says:

    Bruce Lawrence was a legend in the Seattle Symphony and quite the character; I grew up seeing him in the bass section. But while Gerry Schwarz was music director in Seattle for a very long time (28 years), he came many years after Mr. Lawrence; phoning in his audition probably happened in the 1960s.

  • Richard Sparks says:

    I had a volunteer group in Seattle in the ’70s which did Bach cantatas once a month. Bruce showed up and asked if he could play. I told him we didn’t pay anyone and he said, “Doesn’t matter. I’d just like to play some Bach.” He ended up playing for a couple years whenever he was free. Beautiful man.

  • Emily G. says:

    As far as I can tell, there was never a CBC orchestra in Ottawa. The CBC Radio Orchestra (called the CBC Vancouver Orchestra originally, and defunct for some years now) was in Vancouver. Ottawa does have the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

    • Emily G. says:

      To add: CBC Radio used to have orchestras in a few different Canadian cities, but apparently not Ottawa.

    • Emily G. says:

      Okay, I’ve found out which orchestras he played in.
      It says in the obituary, “he played in the Ottawa Symphony, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation studio orchestra, and the Syracuse (N.Y.) Symphony.” The CBC studio orchestra and the Ottawa Symphony are therefore two different orchestras.

  • Itsjtime says:

    Is “down the phone” some sort of jazz lingo I am unaware of?????

    Or, is this mockery of the Black American vernacular?????

  • Mia Ivy says:

    This man was my grandfather and was an amazing man and always fun to be around!! I love you grandpa❤