Anyone’s first question to jazz drummer Lars-Erik Larson ’10 might be: Why is your jazz quartet called Mancrush? Answer: It’s the name you give to a group of serious professional musicians as a joke; sometimes that joke sticks. Next question: How would you describe Mancrush’s music? Well, that’s harder.
Listening to Mancrush, the Twin Cities–based group Larson started in 2013 to play his original compositions, you hear warm saxophone melding with ruddy keyboard, glossy jazz guitar, and rich, oscillating drums. It sends your mind to jazz country, but once there you can make out frontiers that blend into indie rock, contemporary classical, and folk music. Mancrush even has a jazz interpretation of a 1930 Béla Bartók piano concerto, just to keep you guessing.
“It’s intentionally very simple music,” says Larson, who writes every note for each member. “It’s what the inside of my head sounds like.”
In March of 2016, Larson released his debut album, Authentic Midwestern, with Mancrush in St. Paul, Minn., at the Vieux Carré, a legendary subterranean jazz club formerly known as the Artists’ Quarter. Met with high acclaim from the Twin Cities music community, Mancrush is growing in popularity.
But Larson is not the type to let his success go to his head. True to the name of his latest album, he remains authentic and Midwestern—eager to point out the people that helped him get where he is today as a professional drummer.
A fourth-generation graduate of Luther, Larson credits its music program for shaping him into a multidimensional musician. In college, he played drums in every capacity available to him: Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Concert Band, Jazz Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble—the list goes on. The exposure to such breadth of music served Larson well as he discerned what style of drumming allowed him to best express himself.
“Because of Luther, I had a really strong understanding of music as a whole,” he says. “And while there I was exposed to modern jazz, which I related to more than the traditional jazz I was familiar with.”
His discerned love of jazz led Larson to earn a master’s degree in jazz studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2012. From there, he moved to the Twin Cities and dove headlong into the life of a working musician, taking on as many gigs as possible and working odd jobs until he landed his current full-time position as an apprentice restoring grand pianos, all the while spearheading Mancrush.
“The goal for me has always been to create my art, to support myself through this creative passion of mine,” Larson says. “But it’s a juggling act, a leap of faith. It takes a lot of hard work to get yourself to a point where you can do that.”
Fortunately for Larson (and anyone crushing on Mancrush), he’s reached that point.