Enrolled at Indiana State University at Evansville, Lett began playing the upright bass and discovered jazz. First it was guitarist Barney Kessel. Then he worked a gig at a country club, playing such standards as "Satin Doll" and "Stardust."
"I didn't know what I was doing, but the piano player was patient," Lett said. "He told me to get an Oscar Peterson record with Ray Brown on bass, and I took Ray's bass lines off the record and learned how to play jazz that way."
Formal studies with Murray Grodner at Indiana and John Williams at Oklahoma prepared Lett for the whirlwind of activity he encountered at North Texas State.
"I knew when I got there that I wanted to be a performer, so I went to school part time," Lett said. "A typical day would be to practice from 8 in the morning until noon, then rehearse with the One O'Clock Lab Band (the school's top ensemble), then jam in the afternoon, and work a job that night."
After four years at North Texas, Lett found it a natural move to enter the lucrative studio recording scene in Dallas. But after five years, he found the work boring.
"It wasn't challenging, and Los Angeles seemed like it would be," he said.
Arriving here seven years ago, Lett was soon in demand. He joined Holman's band, subbed for John Patitucci on jobs in Orange County and became a regular on the party and wedding circuit.
"I know a thousand tunes, some of those stupid pop tunes," he said. "If you know the tunes, you can get work."
Sometimes, though, the work is slow, as in January, or, he jokes, "on a Monday when I haven't worked that weekend." Then Lett has second thoughts about his career. "I think, 'Maybe I should have taken up home building.' But, hey," he added with a laugh, "that's slow now, too."
* \o7 Bruce Lett's band plays tonight and every Thursday from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at the Studio Cafe, 3201 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Corona Del Mar. Admission: free. Information: (714) 675-7575. \f7