FAMED FLUTIST LAWS LIFTS BIG BAND TO NEW HEIGHTS
By Doug Anders
For The Register-Guard
Published: (Monday, Apr 9, 2012 10:06AM) Midnight, April 9
SPRINGFIELD — A sold-out Wildish Theater audience was treated Friday night to magically epic memories of a kind usually found in international metropolitan concert halls.
Devoted local jazz musicians teamed up with a world-renowned flute master, delivering 12 ingeniously conceived pieces played with inspired passion.
Jim Olsen, director of the big band Swing Shift, deserves credit for an extraordinary effort to see years of musical visions reach fruition. A highly skilled arranger and composer in his own right, Olsen extended an invitation to a role model from his youth, Grammy-nominated jazz flutist Hubert Laws, to play with the band.
The resulting show gave new meaning to the term “big band.” These musicians traversed their way through a richly diverse collection of jazz and classical music, expressing themselves in magnitudes larger than their number.
Olsen gets an “A” grade, not only for preparing exceptionally unique and lush arrangements of jazz and classical material, but for guiding his band through opening number jitters to a consistently solid performance all night.
The adventurous arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” struck a perfect balance between faithfulness to the original and expressions of swinging jazz in the tradition of Duke Ellington’s, Dizzy Gillespie’s and Don Sebesky’s bands. The piece was arranged powerfully and performed in such a way that it captured the primal emotions and audacity Stravinsky intended.
Known for decades for his unique interpretations of classical, pop and jazz selections, Laws — recognized as a jazz master by the National Endowment for the Arts — displayed proven mastery of his instrument with each note. Laws also expertly partnered with the other musicians, despite their brief rehearsal time.
Olsen’s uptempo arrangement of Victor Feldman’s “Seven Steps to Heaven” provided a sophisticated playground for Laws to enter the show on piccolo. His solo over the band’s quiet vamp at the song’s end, set a high bar and seemingly paid homage to the likes of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and John Philip Sousa.
Throughout the night’s material — ranging from modern jazz staples such as Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dare” and Kurt Weill’s “My Ship” to such classical pieces as Gabriel Fauré’s “Pavane”and Laws’ originals — the jazz master continually raised the bar, inspiring his collaborators to their best performance I have heard to date.
With a solo version of “Amazing Grace,” Laws brought the evening to a stunning climax. Originally recorded with orchestra in 1972, hearing him render the song this way to a breathless audience was truly heart-clutching.
Although the program’s scale and performance were grand, the pretentiousness sometimes found in symphony halls was noticeably absent. The fun these musicians were having together was key to the show’s magic. The band wove its way through harmonically complex horn passages like a choir executing precision dynamics.
Highlights included trombone work by Joe Freuen that made it seem as if he were speaking through the instrument; rhythmically and harmonically expressive piano playing by Andria Martin, echoing Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans; and vibrant bass and flute exchanges between Christoph Greiner and Laws.
The encore, “This Bass Was Made for Walking” (complete with Jim Olsen’s ebullient flute solo in the spirit of Rahsaan Roland Kirk), summarized an evening’s celebration.
Swing Shift convincingly proved future shows are well worth attending.
Doug Anders is the host of KLCC-FM’s “Jazz Inside Out,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Excerpt from CTI Jazz’s website (March 2004)
“… Still, Creed Taylor had the last laugh on the Jazz police by headlining a roster of mainstream jazz artists like Milt Jackson, Chet Baker and Paul Desmond alongside newer artists like Joe Farrell and Airto Moreira, as well as established players at the time, like George Benson, Freddie Hubbard and Hubert Laws. On a literary side note, when we researched our first book, Rotten, chronicling the Sex Pistols and the late 1970s British punk era, we stumbled upon an interesting muso-socio phenomenon. Back in the early 1970s, before Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious stalked the King’s Road in bondage gear and became Sex Pistols, John and Sid and their pre-punk friends danced in an out-of-the-way disco in Ilford called the Lacey Lady. This particular disco was also the hangout of a contingent of young English hoodlums called “Soul Boys.” The Soul Boys, who populated areas outside of London like Essex, were an underground offshoot of the Mods, and their hard-hitting style of dress predated the punks and became their early inspiration in rebellion.
What kind of music did the Soul Boys listen and dance to? Hard rock? Reggae? Nope. Our sources said that the Soul Boys listened almost exclusively to hard funk jazz by people like Hubert Laws and George Benson. Yes, it’s true, and if you don’t believe us, ask Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick of the British Acid Jazz band, Incognito. He was there when it happened.
The current crop of CTI reissues represents a delightful range of titles, like big-beat organist Johnny Hammond’s Breakout. Breakout includes two soulful performances of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” and features both Grover Washington, Jr. and Hank Crawford on saxophone. The liner notes on Breakout recount a time when the CTI All-Stars showed up for a gig at the Red Rock amphitheatre in Colorado, the same night as concerts by Jefferson Airplane and Jethro Tull. Presale tickets were weak, but the fans showed up. The place sold out and 13,000 kids grooved to the new Jazz sound of the day. It was a magical era when Jazz, previously upended by the rise of progressive and acid rock, fought back mightily. On the other side of this CTI release spectrum is Hubert Laws’ pristine classical musings of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which feature the crisp arrangements of Don Sebesky and a hot lineup including Bob James, Jack DeJohnette and Ron Carter. While George Benson’s 1973 effort Body Talk may not be as indispensable as his 1971 CTI effort, White Rabbit, both feature the strong guitar duo of Benson and Earl Klugh.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES, FEBRUARY 12, 1999
By DON HECKMAN special to the TIMES
Flutist Laws Crosses Genres With Creative, Skillful Ease
Tchaikovsky and Ravel are not exactly regular contributors to the programming at the Jazz Bakery. But the music of both turned up Tuesday night in the playing of flutist Hubert Laws.
In fact, the presence of classical themes in a Laws program was not all that unusual, since the veteran jazz artist has made a practice of moving freely between mainstream jazz, smooth jazz, funk and the concert music of Debussy, Bach, Stravinsky and Faure, in addition to Ravel and Tchaikovsky.
Amazingly, Laws does it all with great craft and creativity. Working, in the opening performance of a four-night run, with a strongly supportive quintet, he moved easily from the crisp rhythms of Victor Feldman’s “Seven Steps to Heaven” (performed on piccolo) to a sweeping Ravel theme and a rhythmic variation on Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Laws’ effectiveness with such a range of styles traced, in part, to his gorgeous sound, with its centered, overtone-rich qualities.
Like James Galway he used it to bring a consistency to his style that reached easily across genre boundaries. Add to that an inherent rhythmic drive in his melodic lines and an imaginative harmonic vision, and the result was a virtual seminar in the interpretive potential of the flute.
He was aided enormously by a sympathetic group of highly responsive players. Pianist David Budway’s classical touch was supplemented by some fiery improvisational passages; keyboardist Rob Mullins added colorful textures and sounds; bassist John Leftwich contributed a solid foundation as well as some strikingly articulate bowed solos; and drummer Ralph Penland revealed that he can counter his bombastic qualities with subtlety and precision.
Curiously, to this otherwise attractive evening of music, Laws chose not to showcase material from his new RKO Unique album, in which he pays tribute to tunes associated with Nat King Cole. It was a strange way to support a new release, and one can only assume that the Cole material will surface during the balance of his run at the Bakery.
The Hubert Laws Quintet at the jazz Bakery, through Saturday. 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310)271-9039. $20 admission.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, THURSDAY, AUGUST 3,1989
Reviews | Music
Some Fancy Flute Work
By JON PARELES
On too many of his albums, the flutist Hubert Laws smothers his solos in goopy pop-jazz arrangements. But in a rare New York engagement through Sunday at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, Mr. Laws is allowing himself to play some of the daredevil, harmonically intricate material that established him as the leading jazz flutist of his generation.
Mr. Laws, who played with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in 1968, has technique to spare – a hefty tone that stays warm and rounded from the sultry low resister to the highest notes, dazzling speed and articulation, octave-hopping agility, fluency with bent notes and alternate fingerings. His solos might riffle arpeggios above and below a tune or streak through invented lines; he can match with terse, oblique fragments or make the original melody sing with dramatic urgency.
His opening set on Tuesday started with mainstream jazz and moved to pop-jazz; for the latter, the pianist John Beasley used an electric keyboard while Gary Willis switched from fretless to fretted electric bass.
The first part peaked with a zooming, tour-de-force version of Sonny Rollins’s “Airegin,” played on piccolo, including an unaccompanied section where Mr. Laws Sprinted in and out of the harmonies, followed by a -fleet guitar solo from Rick Zunigar. Partway through the set, Mr. Laws took a break while a jazz flutist from Amsterdam, Ellen Helmus, played a ballad in a Laws-derived style. Helmus also joined him for the finale, a pop-funk adaptation of Tschaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”; amid the kitsch, Mr. Law’s swooping; skittering solo was an acrobatic delight.
HOUSTON NEWSPAGES, MAY 14, 1990
Hubert Laws to be at TSU Graduation
Native Houstonian, Hubert Laws will be featured along with the Jazz Sextet on Saturday May 11 at 9 p.m. in the University Auditorium of Texas Southern University.
The former TSU student is one of the well-known, musical Laws family of Houston. The second of eight children, he is the brother of musician Ronnie Laws and songstress Eloise and Debra Laws. All have made a mark in the music industry. Blanche has devoted her talents to gospel while younger brother Johnnie has displayed his vocal prowess on several of Huberts recordings. It’s not surprising then that Hubert’s fourth LP for Columbia was titled “Family.” It featured the entire Laws clan, save sisters Charlotte and Donna.
Hubert’s education in the field of music has always been an amalgam of courses. He grew up directly across the street from an honest-to-goodness hanky tonk Mis Mary’s Place. “It still sits on the same spot in Houston’s Studewood section,” notes Hubert. His grandfather played the harmonica and often entertained as a one-man band. His mother Miola played gospel music on piano.
In his early teen years, Hubert worked primarily with R&B bands … at neighborhood dances. He turned to jazz through the influence of his high school band director at Phillis Wheatley. Sammy Harris first exposed him to jazz, he recalls. Hubert played regularly with a Houston group known at various times as the Swingsters, the Modern Jazz Sextet, Night Hawks, the Jazz Crusaders now known as simply the Crusaders. “I really enjoy the freedom of improvisation and the creativity it allows” he said of his affinity for jazz.
His classical music education also got underway in high school. He credits his music teacher, Clenient Barone with teaching him the “fundamentals of the instrument.” Huberts’ education was furthered by a solo performance with the Houston Youth Symphony.
After high school, Hubert enrolled in the music department of Texas Southern University and soon went from the classrooms of that university, to the prestigious corridors of the Julliard School of Music in New York, via Los Angeles where he gigged around for awhile at the age of 18.
Once in New York, it became apparent that his tuition scholarship, renewed annually until his graduation in 1964, and his savings barely covered the necessities. Down to his last $50, he frantically searched for work.
He fondly remembered the moment. “It was the fall of 1960. I was down to my last $50 bucks and wondering what to do. Then the phone rang and it was a call offer me my first job at Sugar Ray’s Lounge in Harlem. Times were tough then but I haven’t looked back since”.
His weekday itinerary went something like this: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. was devoted to academic classes and study with master flautist Julius Baker. The evenings were spent gigging to support himself.
It wasn’t long before he was playing with the likes of Mongo Santamaria, Lloyd Price Big Band, John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Orchestra USA and the Berkshire Festival Orchestra at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Recording session work became a staple of Huberts schedule, and included such diverse talents as Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, James Moody, Sergio Mendes, Bob James, Carly Simon, George Benson, Clark Terry, and J. J. Johnson. Hubert firmly believes that the ability “to play R&B and jazz, though he was studying classical music, enabled him to earn a living during those tough times.”
Even today, he acknowledged, a musician would do well “to learn how to play in various music idioms. There are only a few openings nationwide with the symphony orchestras. You have to be practical.”
He certainly has been “practical” in his own choices of work, which has included the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Montreaux Festival in,Switzerland, the Kool Jazz Festival in 1983, the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.
He’s had sessions with Quincy Jones, Bob James, and Claude Bolling (for Neil Simon’s comedy California Suite), Hubert was also featured soloist with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic; and with the Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland, Amsterdarn Holland, Yomiuri, Japan and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestras and the Stanford String Quartet. Also to his credit are commercials for Kraft and collaboration with Earl Klugh and Pat Williams on the musical for How to Beat the High Cost of Living.
The music for The Wiz, A Hero Ain’t Nothing But a Sandwich and the Disney movie Spot Marks the X also contains the Houston native’s distinctive flute stylings. And there have been two standing-room-only concerts with internationally renowned flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, a stint as artist-in-residence with the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, annual performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Muramatsu Flute Company-sponsored clinical series held in Michigan.
Daytona Reach, Florida, Friday, April 10, 1992
Famed flutist seeks diversity in classics, jazz
By RICK de YAMPERT
News-Journal Entertainment Writer
DAYTONA BEACH – Young Hubert Laws grew up playing sax while across the street from his family’s home in Houston drifted R&B sounds from a honky tonk called “Mis” Mary’s Place.”
When his high school band needed a flute player, Laws volunteered to learn. Exit his sax and burgeoning R&B career. Enter a flute-playing career that 25 years later would include acclaim as best flutist in the renowned Down Beat magazine polls, performances with top symphony orchestras, studio session work with Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin and others, and many jazz and pop-jazz albums, including a classical/jazz album written by jazz pianist and New Smyrna Beach resident Harold Blanchard.
Laws and his jazz quartet will be in concert at 8 p.m. today at the Theater Center of Daytona Beach Community College.
After Laws graduated from high school, he gigged for a while in Los Angeles, then auditioned for the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia and was rejected. Undaunted, he auditioned for the Julliard School of Music and was accepted in 1950. Laws studied with master flutist Julius Baker by Flutist Hubert Laws day and gigged at Sugar Ray’s Lounge in Harlem by night.
He soon was playing with Mongo Santamaria, the Lloyd Price Big Band and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and later with such giants of pop as McCartney, Jones, Sergio Mendes, Carly Simon and George Benson. Laws was a member of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra from 1968-73, and worked with the New York Philharmonic from 1971-74.
His 18 albums reflect this diversity: “Laws of Jazz” featuring Chick Corea, “Flute by Laws”, “Laws’ Cause,” the Grammy-nominated “Rite of Spring,” “Morning Star”, “Crying Song” “Afro Classic” the pop-jazz “Chicago Theme,” the Grammy-nominated “Land of Passion,” and the classical/ jazz “New Earth Sonata,” which Laws commissioned Blanchard to compose. The recording, released in 1985, features Quincy Jones conducting, Pianist Chick Corea playing the jazzier sections, and Blanchard performing the more classical oriented piano sections.
Joachim Berendt, writing in “The Jazz Book” said, “Laws is a technically brilliant musician who has successfully attempted to create a number of jazz adaptations of classical music – compositions of Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Stravinsky and others. He did this while frequently preserving the element usually lost in such adaptations ‘jazziness.'”
Blanchard and Laws met in 1961 in the Bahamas, where Blanchard was playing at a hotel.
“He was absolutely, awesome,” Blanchard said, recalling the first time he heard Laws perform. “He played both jazz and classical beautifully.”
The two musicians became friends, and Blanchard assisted Laws during the flutist’s residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 1983. Today Laws is a member of the center’s advisory council.
Laws commissioned Blanchard to compose “New Earth Sonata” because the flutist “wanted to showcase the two dimensions of his playing jazz and classical,” Blanchard said.
Laws also recorded Blanchard’s jazz composition “Restoration,” which appears on Laws’ “In the, Beginning, Vol. 2” album.
THE PITTSBURGH PRESS
Thursday, January 17, 1991
Hubert Laws plays in 2 musical worlds
By BOB KARLOVITS
The Pittsburgh Press
You never know.
In the cauldrons of Chuck Mangione’s symphonic attempts, the blend of classical music and jazz boiled over. In John Lewis’ work with small groups, that same musical blend simply cooked.
But for flutist Hubert Laws, the guesswork is eliminated. He’s been combining the two forms since his days as a student, through his “Rite of Spring ” album, and into his current perfomances.
“It is like speaking two languages, really – knowing two cultures. I don’t want to belabor the point, but it just doesn’t make much of a difference to me, playing classical music or jazz.”
Laws’ two languages will be on display at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, North Side, when he takes the stage as the next featured performer in the Virtuoso series.
The first half of the concert will be dedicated to classical works such as Bach’s Sonata in C Major, performed with pianist David Budway. In the second half, Laws and Budway will be joined by drummer Roger Humphries and bassist Dwayne Dolphin for jazz offerings.
Laws says he either structures concerts in split sessions or sticks entirely to jazz that makes use of classical themes.
“To tell you the truth, the audience has heard this music and has come to know it. The lines have become less delineated. People who come to hear me are often a college-educated crowd, and they know jazzand the classics. I imagine they can appreciate the things I have done with the music.”
His lines have become less delineated too, mostly because of playing the flute, an instrument he says is more related to the classical repertoire.
When Laws was a high school student in Huston, he played the saxes and worked largely with rhythm and blues and gospel bands. When his high school band needed a flute player, he switched instruments and showed enough talent to eventually earn a solo with the Huston Youth Symphony.
He enrolled in Texas Southern University , but switched to Juilliard. During those days on the East Coast, he studied music during the day and played it at night to support himself.
He met jazz performers through engagements with people such as percussionist Mongo Santamaria and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Those contacts led to a busy recording career.
He worked as a sideman for artists like Quincy Jones and Paul McCartney, but also started doing albums of his own. His “Rite of Spring” album framed the Stravinsky work in a jazz setting and in some ways, established the musical philosophy that is so much a part of his playing today.
(Regional editor Bob Karlovits covers jazz for the Pittsburgh Press.)
Where: Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, North Side
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $20; 322-0800
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, Saturday, January 19,1991
Jazz liberates classical for flutist Laws
By MARK KANNY
“The arts really have a way of sharpening your senses for beauty,” said flutist Hubert Laws, who will perform a classical/jazz concert tomorrow night at 7 for the Virtuoso Series at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.
Laws’ own appreciation of musical beauty has an unusually broad range. He has been principally oriented toward jazz, winning the Down Beat magazine readers’ poll for 10 consecutive years. Laws and his combo – pianist David Budway, bassist Dwayne Dolphin and drummer Roger Humphreys – will probably play music by Chick Corea among others, but won’t set their card until just before the concert.
A graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, Laws has incorporated classical pieces, such as Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” into some of his musical creations. His program tomorrow will include Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, as well as pieces by Charles Tomlinson Griffes and Johnann Sebastian Bach.
Laws was asked how his diverse background influences his music making. “The classical gives me the aura of discipline that is necessary when playing jazz. In playing jazz, you involve yourself with progressions and chord changes. The discipline exacted from classical music makes me examine these chord progressions, actually study them, so that I have them really firmly in my mind and under my fingers.
“The jazz brings a certain freedom to the classical. The composer may have had definite ideas in mind, but, as a composer myself, I realize that maybe he could be liberal about how his pieces should be played. Many times composers realize that what’s been written can be enhanced by the players.”
One of the jazz pieces Laws expects to play reflects a major change in his life. He says Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere,” with lyrics added later by Oscar Brown Jr. “is like a kid asking his father, “What is dat dere?” What turned out is so typical of what I am experiencing now with my son, Sky, and daughter, Ashley,” both 5 years old.
“I’ve had a career, but I’ve never experienced anything like having children. Although it’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication, it is really the most important thing. Life is about life, and things about things. Music is a thing, although it’s an excellent gift to have and to appreciate.
“Having children makes me put my career on hold the past five years. I’ve been very selective about the playing. I opted to spend more time with them, instead of accepting a lot of gigs here and there.”
Both classical and jazz enthusiasts here can be grateful that the Virtuoso Series made Laws’ select list of significant concerts. For ticket information, call 322-0800.