BEMIDJI -- What started two years ago as sort of a hobby for Del Lyren is turning into a growing enterprise.
Lyren, a professor of music at Bemidji State University, relied on connections in the music industry to form DGL Artists in the summer of 2017. He began by helping a friend -- trumpeter Joe Burgstaller -- line up solo gigs. Now, with a growing roster of performers, Lyren's hobby is so much more.
"I kind of expected it to be maybe three people on the roster and just bring in a little extra income, and it's turned into something much larger than that," Lyren said.
DGL Artists recently added world-renowned jazz trumpet player, conductor, composer and educator Jon Faddis to the roster.
"The guy is amazing," Lyren said. "I would say he is on par with Wynton Marsalis. He used to lead the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, he was a Dizzy Gillespie protege, and he's been called by the L.A. Times the one-man walking history of jazz trumpet. He's one of the world's best, and he actually called me a couple of months ago. I was just blown away."
Faddis joins a list that also includes jazz pianist John Beasley, the Dallas Brass ensemble and about a dozen others.
Lyren has booked musicians at schools and performing arts venues throughout the United States. As exclusive agent for Faddis as a soloist, band leader, and leader of his own quartet, Lyren expects to be booking all over the world at universities, jazz clubs and other venues.
The growth of DGL Artists can mostly be attributed to Lyren's networking skills. It goes back to his college days at Arizona State. Lyren and Burgstaller became friends as fellow trumpet players there, and they kept in touch as they went their separate ways. Burgstaller eventually joined the Canadian Brass (and performed with that group in Bemidji). When he left that ensemble several years ago, Burgstaller contacted Lyren for help in lining up solo gigs.
"I worked with Joe doing that," Lyren recalled, "and honestly, I did a pretty poor job of it. I told Joe a couple of times 'why don't you just fire me and get somebody who knows what they're doing?' In about April of 2017 he and I had the same kind of discussion. I finally said, 'Joe, if I'm going to do this for you I'm going to do it right. Let's make this work for both of us.' He is a great businessman and had a lot of good pointers for me helped me set up this business."
First, he needed to get the word out. "When I formed the agency, I just put it out there on Facebook to make it official, and I started getting people contacting me. I've never had to go out and contact anyone about joining the roster," Lyren said.
"Getting to know musicians of this caliber has been a terrific learning experience for me," he added. "Hearing them talk about the history of jazz, improvisational ideas, rehearsal techniques -- it has all made me a better teacher at BSU. Hearing these musicians in live concerts is a learning experience that cannot be replicated by listening to a CD. For a musician, especially a jazz musician, listening and watching live music is critical to the development of the language of jazz. So in running this business, I have been extraordinarily lucky to be given the opportunity to hear these musicians many times in live settings. And then, following the performance, I often have the chance to discuss with them what I heard, and learn from the discussion. It's been a wonderful experience."
It also has brought some of the musicians to the BSU campus.
"Over the past year, I've been able to bring a couple of my artists to BSU to work with our students," Lyren said. "Mike Vax (trumpet) taught some lessons, did a workshop on jazz improvisation. The Dallas Brass worked with our student brass quintet. And of course when someone on the DGL Artists roster visits BSU, I do not take a commission. So it costs little for the university, and greatly benefits our students. Being able to provide these opportunities for our students is one of the most rewarding parts of running the business."
Lyren had another reward last month at a Minnesota Twins game in Minneapolis. For the ninth year in a row, Lyren conducted a large group of trumpet players, many with ties to Bemidji State, for the National Anthem at Target Field. This time, on Father's Day, his daughter, Alexandra, helped conduct. She is a Bemidji High School graduate and has a music education degree from the University of Minnesota.
"That was a fun way to celebrate the day," her father said.