Omaha jazz trumpeter Mason Prince dies at 92; ‘what he played was so beautiful’
As a musician, trumpeter Mason Prince of Omaha was like an athlete who makes all his teammates better.
“Playing with him always made me feel I was very blessed,” said pianist Tom Larson of Lincoln. “Mason wasn’t Mr. Flash; he was very economical with his notes. But what he played was so beautiful, and he had the ability to draw everybody into the band.”
Prince, a member of the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame, died Wednesday at 92, his son said, from “complications of old age.” He will be remembered at a 10 a.m. Wednesday service at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Mason L. Prince Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in French Lick, Indiana. He took up trumpet in the Navy and after his service hit the road with Midwestern bands.
A longtime friend of famed musician Clark Terry, a fellow Navy trumpeter, Prince played in Omaha with the likes of Preston Love, Luigi Waites and William “Big Daddy” Sailes. He jammed at McGill’s Blue Room at 24th and Lake Streets with touring bands led by Gene Krupa and Woody Herman.
In the 1980s, Prince began playing with the Bill Ritchie Quartet. Still a bass player for the Omaha Symphony, Ritchie called him “a consummate jazz player and such a sweet guy.”
Drummer Gayland Prince of Omaha said his father played music practically all of his life and retired after 34 years at the Omaha Public Power District, where he ran the print shop.
“He was everything you could ask for in a father,” Gayland said. “He was patient, and all of us had that Navy discipline.”
Mason Prince’s wife, Winona, died in 2002. Besides Gayland, he is survived by son Mason Prince III and daughters Terrie Smith and Whitney Green.
Larson, assistant professor of musical composition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, recently wrote a piece in his friend’s honor, titled “The Prince,” which musicians will play at the service.
“Mason was just a beautiful soul,” Larson said. “He had a great sense of humor and always showed so much class, so much grace.”