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The Daily Tar Heel

Meet 'Trumpet Monk': a street musician who seeks to give back

Chris, the trumpet monk, playing his rendition of a Louis Armstrong piece at sunset by the corner of Chapel Hill Florist in Chapel Hill, N.C. on April 25th, 2023.

At the pinnacle of his guitar career in 2012, a local musician who goes by “Trumpet Monk” realized how deeply unhappy he was.

He put down his guitar, intending never to play music again.

But Trumpet Monk said his outlook changed in 2022 with the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war.

He said he was watching the news when he saw an interview with a jazz musician, who was playing very close to the Russia-Ukraine border just prior to the invasion. The musician said she was not scared of the war because she was so immersed in her music.

“It was the spark that reignited my flame,” he said. “I grabbed the trumpet, and I can’t put it down.”

Publicly, he also goes by his first name, Chris.

During his guitar career, he traveled around the world 10 times, performing in cities such as Beijing, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

After learning how to play the trumpet, Chris said he felt called to remain in Chapel Hill rather than return overseas because of his sentimental connection to the area.

“I want to give back to UNC,” he said. “We all gain so much from our time here, and we’re all blessed to be here.”

As a native of Chapel Hill, Chris said he was first introduced to music when his mother, a music major at Duke University, could not afford daycare. He said she instead brought Chris along with her to college music classes. 

Chris said he learned about the importance of physical representations of ideas from Lauren Leve, a professor at UNC.  He can be found most nights beginning around sunset on Franklin Street, playing jazz and losing himself in his music. 

“You can record music on YouTube, but the most powerful is face-to-face, and that’s one of the things that brought me out again,” he said.

Chris said that he also plays his music on the streets as a form of community outreach. He said he wants his music to be accessible to everyone and not be barred by those who can afford it.

“The more music there is on the streets, the less guns on the streets, the less violence on the streets, that's why I do this here,” he said.

Seth Laney, a senior at UNC and a resident of Franklin Street apartment complex Carolina Square, said he can frequently hear Trumpet Monk playing on the street beneath him. 

“It’s nice and peaceful, to have music in the background when you’re doing anything or just walking around," Laney said. 

He said the presence of jazz music on Franklin Street might not be a characteristic that people notice right away, but adds to Chapel Hill’s charm.

“When people hear me play, I hope they gain peace in a very turbulent world,” Chris said. 

Michael Rogers Jr., a junior at UNC, said his fraternity recently hired Chris to perform at one of their social events earlier this semester.

He said he loved having Chris and that everyone was into the music. 

Rogers said it is important to him that his fraternity support local musicians, which allows these artists exposure and the opportunity to grow.

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“I think live music is so important,” Rogers said. “Having him play in person is so much better than just putting jazz on a speaker.”


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