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Roxbury lawyer finds new life as musician

Jacquinn Williams | 7/20/2011, 12:11 p.m.
Lance Houston can be seen on Tuesday nights at the Seaport Hotel’s Tamo Bar. (Photo courtesy of Lance Houston)...
Lance Houston can be seen on Tuesday nights at the Seaport Hotel’s Tamo Bar. Lance Houston

Roxbury resident Lance Houston is chasing a dream. The educated lawyer-turned-flugelhorn-player has walked away from a steady paycheck to try his hand at making it in music.

He prefers the horn to compliance issues and believes that one should do everything one can to be happy. Five years ago, he decided to redefine the American dream and became the master of his future.

 At the time, Houston worked at Roxbury Community College as the director of human resources and affirmative action. Before that, he held many law related jobs from hearing officer for the Office of Civil Rights at the Boston Housing Authority to assistant vice president for legal affairs at Delaware State College.

Though he had a solid legal career, Houston said he was missing something. He has nothing bad to say about practicing law, but he has everything good to say when it comes to making music. His larger-than-life personality pops when he talks about his journey into the arts.

 “I’ve always been torn between two loves,” he said. “Being in Roxbury I’ve seen injustices and wanted to effect positive change through public policy.  But, I love playing jazz. I love Miles Davis. Being a lawyer will always be there for me, but music is not always there. It’s very esoteric.”

 His love affair with music started long ago. He decided he was going to learn to play the trumpet and just picked it up. He purchased a book on trumpeting and tackled it. He was 19 years old.

 “I just got this book. It was really basic, like ‘Trumpeting for Dummies’ or something,” said Houston.

Learning to play the trumpet or any instrument is a difficult task even with an instructor. But Houston decided he could do it on his own. Armed with his book, his love of jazz and faith in his gift, it seems that his hard work is paying off.

 Every Tuesday night from 6-10 p.m., the Lance Houston Jazz Quartet has been booked as the house jazz band this summer at the Seaport Hotel’s Tamo Bar.

Houston — determined to make music his reality — cold-called the Seaport one day and brazenly asked for a job. The hotel had been looking for live music for a couple of years and decided to give Houston a chance.

 “It was luck. I called them and they listened. They thought about it and finally committed,” Houston said.

 Even though Houston, a graduate of Suffolk Law and Harvard Extension School, is by no means a starving artist, the news about his career change didn’t bode well with his family at first.

 “They thought I was crazy. People said: ‘How much money did you spend on your degree?’ ” Houston shared.  “But law is a part of me, like a piece of a puzzle, so when it’s time for me to lay down the trumpet, I will,” he said.

 For Houston, the leap from lawyer to musician is not so big a deal.

 “Being an attorney is similar to being a musician. In music you have eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc. and in law we have statutes, but in either case it’s all about interpretation. How I interpret the law will affect how I present my findings, and how I interpret the music will determine how I manipulate the notes,” Houston said.

 Though his road to happiness may seem circuitous to some, practicing law has helped Houston realize that he should pursue music. It’s in his soul.

 “I play the horn and people enjoy it and they clap and go home. But for me, it’s more than that. Every note, every passage is the story of me through music.”

Catch The Lance Houston Jazz Quartet every Tuesday night at the Seaport Hotel’s Tamo Bar from 6-10 p.m.