Leo Fine, trumpeter and conductor, dies at 95
When Leo Fine, the trumpeter and bandleader, was out with his family, well-wishers approached, happy to remind the St. Louis Park resident that he had performed at their wedding or bar mitzvah. .
He owes everything to a burlesque show.
Fine served in the Fifth Army Band during World War II, receiving extra pay for performing at officers’ clubs but never accepting money to play taps for a dead soldier. A former touring musician, he teamed up with Mort Kaufman to open the Park Music Center, a major player in the Twin Cities garage rock scene.
Fine, who continued to support the greats when they came to town but passed up the chance to play with the king of rock & roll, died on December 28 at 95, still managing to play a bit of trumpet after having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. .
“He obviously touched a lot of lives through music,” his son Steven said.
Leo Fine was 7 years old when he and his brother Elliot went to downtown Minneapolis to see a cousin perform on the burlesque circuit, he later recounted. He was drawn to the trumpet and Elliot to the drums. The brothers toured throughout the Midwest in territory bands—dance groups of the day—and also performed in a burlesque theater group.
It was during Elliot’s tenure with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra that they scored one of their most memorable moments.
From time to time Leo would get calls to play the trumpet with the orchestra, and he would walk around one day predicting an easy time. But then he learned he had to do a solo, and a difficult solo, his son Dale recalled at his funeral.
As Leo tried to understand, conductor Antal Dorati arrived for rehearsal, put down his baton and said, “I want to hear that trumpet solo.” There, among world-class musicians, Leo succeeded and the main trumpeter waved OK at him. And his brother ?
“Elliot almost passed out,” Leo’s wife Maureen said this week.
In April 1966, Park Music Center opened at 7200 Minnetonka Blvd. It was the era of the “Big Hits of Mid-America” bands, bands like the Underbeats and Gregory Dee and the Avanties, and Leo and Mort providing powerful amps and promotional support to newcomers like Jokers Wild and the Nickel Revolution.
“We’d love to hear his stories about what music meant to him,” Nickel Revolution’s Jerry Lenz said this week. “At this level, from musician to musician, we could really identify.”
Fine didn’t give many details about who he played with, Lenz said. But as a member of the Musicians Union, he was often called upon when celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Liberace and Nat “King” Cole came to town needing support.
Years earlier, Fine toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He quit the touring life, but Dorsey moved on to television – specifically a variety series, Stage Show, which in 1956 hosted Elvis Presley’s network debut.
Fine, asked to join the band, declined and later joked that “he wasn’t going to leave the house to play with an unknown guitarist”, Steven said.
Maureen added, “It was good for conversation.”
Along with his wife and sons Steven, Dale and Michael, Fine is survived by three grandchildren. Her brother Elliot died in 2012. Services were held.