Vince Lars has been a beloved guest artist in the Tam jazz band and symphonic orchestra for nearly seven years, but his time spent in the Tam music community is just a snippet of his life as a musician. Over the years, Lars used his skills as a saxophonist to perform with Beyonce and Destiny’s Child and has even played at one of President Obama’s campaign rallies in 2008.
“It is just amazing what your instrument can do for you,” Lars said.
Lars started learning saxophone from his grandfather at age nine. “I accidentally found my grandfather’s horn in his closet. I was just exploring and… [my grandfather] walked in the room and caught me messing with it,” Lars said. “I jumped at first, thinking I was going to get in trouble, and he was like do you want to learn how to play that? I said yeah and that’s how it all started.”
After that seminal moment, music became a huge part of Lars’s life. “When I was growing up at that age it was a really rich time for music…the whole Motown movement and all of the stuff that’s classic now was made then,” he said, “It was like I was just hearing all this kind of music and it touched me that I could actually play it. It was really cool.”
Lars grew up in Richmond and in 8th grade he won a scholarship for the Young Musician’s Program at UC Berkeley. “They taught us music at the college level,” Lars said. “[After that] I started touring the world and seeing things. I’m so happy that I got that really great education through the scholarship.”
Lars’s scholarship and his pursuits in music set him up for a number of extraordinary opportunities. “I have a picture with Barack Obama; he and I with our arms around each other,” Lars said. “I hooked up with this group called Tony! Toni! Toné!..we were the opening act for Janet Jackson’s tour that year…Then I played with Eric Benet who was married to Halle Berry for a minute, and I met her. I met Prince because I played with Larry Graham and just a lot of unexpected things.”
After many years of touring and other amazing experiences, Lars felt the need to settle down so he could spend more time with his family.
“You grow up as a young musician wanting success and you want to travel,” Lars said. You never think about the part where you might meet someone and fall in love and have kids and [your music’s] going to take you away from them. It’s an enormous contradiction.”
Lars currently plays with corporate bands so he can support his family without having to go on tour. However, he still plays at very special events. “I played for Seinfeld’s co-writer’s wedding, a lot of sports figures, their weddings, and [for] Ricky Watters, an ex -49er.” Lars is also working as a music producer, composing his own music and writing for other music groups. “I’m into trying to do this pop act,” Lars said, “It’s a girls group I’m writing for and producing for and I’m looking forward to doing that. I’m trying to start a little record label…I want to make a lot of money like these young pop stars, so I can ride off into the sunset and retire.”
While he is not performing or producing music, Lars continues to work at Tam. “I’ve been working with the concert band and the jazz band,” he said “I like the diversity of music that we do…those were the two bands that I participated in when I was in high school and even though I was a jazz R&B guy I really learned to love classical music.” For the past seven years, Lars has been a huge asset to the Tam music program and has done wonders for the development of Tam’s winds players. “We’re really lucky to have him,” Tam music teacher Spiro Tsingaris. “[Lar] helps specifically by leading sectionals with the wind players. He’s excellent but he doesn’t come across as pompous. He’s strict but he’s also easy going…I’ve really enjoyed working with him.”