A Smooth Talk With Hubert Laws
May 22, 2010
Author: Enid Francis, SmoothJazzTimes.com

SJT: I donít think youíll ever retire, but Iíll ask anyway; will you?

HL: How can I retire when Iím still growing musically? Itís the strangest thing; I used to spend so much time hoping to play classical flute perfectly. I realized that no one can do that but it didnít stop me from trying to achieve the highest level of that skill. Little did I realize something that was inherent in me is the ability to improvise Ė to play jazz. Itís just like having a woman, a presence in your life, who is great for you and you donít look at her that way. The ďwomanĒ was in my life from the beginning, but I just took her for granted. I felt I didnít have to spend that much time on her Ė her being jazz improvisation, in my early years. That said I took my own ability to improvise for granted, but learned that this art of improvisation is a challenging one.

SJT: Tell me about your early exposure to music then.

HL: I went to church with my parents where I would hear people shouting and improvising with gospel music and there I learned to play gospel music. And right across the street from my childhood home was a honky-tonk named Ms. Maryís Place, Iíll never forget it, so Iíd hear people like BB King and Big Mama Willie Thornton. Through my window at night, I listened to all the artists that came through there. Thatís how I learned to appreciate different music genres.

SJT: Did you get to indulge in jazz while at Julliard?

SJT: Improvising basically means you take a melody and you vary it, which is what I heard all my life. You donít have that latitude with classical music Ė you play whatís written, and you canít make it sound the way you want it to sound. Since the focus of my scholarship to Julliard was classical flute I guess what I did was to take on the attitude of the establishment, which was to look down their noses, in a sense, at jazz improvisation. Lucky for me, Chick Correa would grab a bunch of us to jam and improvise, because there was no jazz program, so that was the only jazz that was going on at Julliard at that time. Thatís where I began to appreciate my skill and my freedom to improvise.

SJT: Why do you love jazz improvisation?

HL: I love it because it is something that is very personal and unique to each musicianís creativity.

SJT: So what musical genre brings out your deepest passion for playing the flute?

HL: Itís all the music that I hear on a daily basis that keeps me passionate, whether itís classical or jazz. In jazz improvisation Iím trying to bring some content, or to make musical statements that will keep people listening. Thatís the challenge.

SJT: To what do you attribute your longevity in the music world?

HL: Longevity? I think if I had stayed only with one idiom, like classical music, Iíd be like some of those other fatalities, people who would not go beyond the boundaries of the orchestra. I can move from classical, to jazz or even to R&B if I have too. That and my interest in growing is what keep me relevant. A jazz musician produces on the spot. Just like an orator has to put his own words to a speech, jazz is like having to put meat on the bones, so to speak.

SJT: Who did you meet early in your career that you feel played a profound role in expanding your musical capabilities?

HL: I donít think it was one individual. I think it runs the gamut from my mother, who was influential when she took me to church for gospel music, to the variety of highly achieving artists Iíve been blessed to share a stage with.

SJT: Do you write new music?

HL: I havenít written a single note of music since Iíve been married. Iím telling you (laughing)! But I recently recorded Rachmaninoffís Piano Concnerto No. 2, but adapted it for flute.

SJT: Are there recordings that you go back to listen to with a new appreciation for them?

HL: Of course! I listen to people who are very economical with notes. I think about Count Basie Ė he was a guy who didnít play a bunch of notes, Miles Davis did the same thing, Coltrane Ė Coltrane played a lot of notes but he also was economical in a way, so all of those things influence me now. Iím in constant metamorphosis, thereís a change going on all the time, and thatís what keeps me so interested.

SJT: Where do you record?

HL: I have my own studio. I have recorded the last five albums on my own in my studio. I do the flute myself, but for other sounds, I depend on a man named Chris Brown. I love recording on my own.

SJT: Whatís the most valuable piece of advice youíve ever received about music?

HL: ďPractice while youíre young because when you get older youíll have less time!Ē Julius Baker, my flute teacher at Julliard, told me that. I apply that advice to whatever Iím doing, because time is valuable. I grab time. I grab space to continue to improve. And Baker was right, when you get older time just flies by you.