story posted by Robert J. Carmack
In the almost 40 years plus of playing music, producing and writing about music especially Jazz, I have seen many triumphant returns. In the last 40 years , there have been only three major triumphant returns to greatness in Jazz, early 1970s, Jug Gene Ammons, the mid 70s return of The great Dexter Gordon, and late 70s/80s return of Miles Dewey Davis IMHO. As I drove into the Long Beach California venue where the Seabird Lounge is located , I thought about those three titans and their return to greatness .whatever they went through to get to that point in their professional careers. This rainy night in January , casted a defining moment in my eyes where all of the power, spiritual meditation and passion all met at the fork, with the end results being all smiles and a thunderous applause as the pay off. Azar Lawrence has been on this path back for the last 10 years, at least from my perspective. I have been an avid fan since I first saw him with Alice Coltrane ensemble at the famous Lighthouse circa 1972 conjuring up the spirit of John Coltrane through tone and approach on the tenor saxophone. From that point on, Lawrence was seen in the company of some of the highest ranking jazz musicians of the era at the time, musicians like Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Woody Shaw just to name a few . Azar was sailing along, getting great press and multi-recording sessions, festivals and club work up until the end of 80s & as the 90s was unfurling , he just disappeared from the music scene altogether, Poof! Gone! then a little over 10 years ago, I saw him at a jam session at the Billy Higgins World Stage in Los Angeles(Leimert Park). a little older, but that sound was still intact. I moved away to Atlanta , and returned 12 years later to Los Angeles, often hearing about Azar Lawrence , but I never could catch a gig or concert. So this particular night was a great opportunity to watch a veteran musician that has all the experience ,maturity and life’s lumps that makes for a great evening of solid jazz improvisation. joining Lawrence for the evening ‘s performance was bassist Jeff Littleton,Theo Saunders, a phenomenal pianist creating lots of buzz around Los Angeles today.bringing up the heart beat was master drummer Alphonse Mouzon. a very special guest vocalist , Jeff Robinson appeared on the evening’s program as well.
Well , its January 2015, and he’s now leading his own Quartet. Azar was searing through the changes of Coltrane tunes like My Favorite Things, My One and Only Love, and Simone , a beautiful composition by Frank Foster, along with other great tunes throughout the evening. at one point late in the first set, Vocalist , Jeff Robinson and Azar teamed up on a John Coltrane Johnny Hartman classic, You Are Too Beautifull. I found Robinson navigation of that tune to be excellent . Robinson showed his musicianship as he often played behind the beat on his vocals of well-known standards with Jeff’s very soulful spin he puts on these gems. In addition to ballad You Are Too Beautiful, Jeff hit really funky versions of So what , and Round Midnight
The fairly full club was in-sync with Lawrence all evening as he ran through one tune after another, taking us on great adventures and putting us on cloud nine. Lol. Jeff Robinson a veteran performer has been around the LA jazz scene for the last 20 years. I first met him at a now defunct 5th Street Dick’s Coffee house in Leimert Park back in the early 90s. Robinson brings a certain type of swag to jazz singing that is not heard much today in male artists. You somehow get the impression Robinson, a prolific jazz singer could easily bust out in a Marvin Gaye classic with no problem. He really knows how to interpret the lyrics of these perennial jazz gems. ” You have to let these tunes breathe” said Robinson when I asked him about the “behind the beat” technique he employed on several songs which gave it new life as he allowed the songs to “breathe” while performing them.
This event was on january 10, but according to club management The Azar Lawrence quartet will be returning on Jan 31st @Roscoe’s Sea Bird Lounge in Long Beach California.