Born: November 3, 1952 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Azar Lawrence led a very musical childhood and began playing drums at the age of five and moved onto violin and piano under the direction of his mother Ima Lawrence. Ima, a gifted musician and teacher from whom Azar received his acute flair for all things music has shaped many successful musicians.
Azar began playing with the USC JR Orchestra at the age of five. He played violin until the age of 8. He performed vocals accompanied by his mother during elementary school where she taught sixth grade and music
At age eleven he began hearing a different musical voice. He was an accomplished pianist, violinist and vocalist in his own right at the time.
He thought it was time to learn viola. But something happened. Lonnie a long time friend of Mr. Lawrence, and of the family, who often brought his flute when he visited, came by for a swim, and brought his alto sax. Azar was not poolside but he had to see who was playing that cool sound. His father his biggest supporter and fan who had bought all of Azar’s instruments purchased him an alto sax, and Azar began taking instruction from Mr. Schumaker once a week. In high school Azar played with the Dorsey High Jazz Band, and played a jazz workshop with Herbert Baker, “one of the greatest pianist that ever lived and I feel blessed to have been in his presence.”
Azar played everyday with Herbert Baker until a tragic car accident took his teacher and mentor’s life, Azar’s senior year in high school. “That event made me reach deeper and I knew I had to carry on what I had learned.”
Drummer, Reggie Golson, introduced Azar to “the music”, and that’s when he began to get into the creation. Nightly he went to Reggie’s house. Reggie had a room full of records, and he would play them all, over time. Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Shorter. “Reggie prepared me. “
After high school at the age of 19, Azar played with Candy Finch, Larry Gales, and Woody Shaw at a regular gig at a club on 54th St. in Los Angeles.
Soon he would perform with Ike & Tina Turner, Watts 103rd St. band, and War. He then joined Elvin Jones for two years and after leaving Elvin, he joined McCoy Tyner’s group for five years and then back to Elvin for a year, and in the meantime recorded with Roberta Flack.
“Miles Davis used to come and hear me when I played with McCoy Tyner in New York, as well as when I was with Elvin.”
Miles approached Azar about joining his group, and he wasn’t ready to commit cause he wasn’t “feeling it.”
Azar’s first performance with Miles was in DC and then they performed in New York at Carnegie Hall where Dark Magus was recorded.
Azar Lawrence’s history has been impressive since the age of five, throughout his musical sojourn he’s played sax alongside names like Woody Shaw, Horace Tapscott, Ron Carter, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Henry Butler and Buddy Collette.
Azar has been a force since he graduated from high school, releasing three albums of his own before the age of twenty-five, Bridge Into the New Age, People Moving People, and Summer Solstice.
During the eighties he wrote and performed for Earth Wind & Fire, on one of their highly acclaimed releases Powerlight. He collaborated with Earth Wind & Fire’s leader Maurice White.
Azar is known to bring jazz to popular music he can be heard on the late Frank Zappa’s music to Busta Rhymes.
There has been much speculation that Azar disappeared off the jazz scene, quite the contrary, although he wasn’t in the limelight, his credits are numerous one being the highly acclaimed, Grammy award winning album, Marvin Gaye’s, Hear My Dear.
“After my biggest supporter passed, it was as if I passed with him.” Azar’s biggest fan and supporter was Azel Lawrence, his father. He would travel to gigs, he went to see Azar in Detroit when he was playing with McCoy and also to the Houston Astrodome.
He needed to feel it like the first time when Lonnie played poolside at the house where he grew up. In the eighties and nineties, Azar began searching for a sound of his own, and began to write songs even more seriously than when preparing for his first three projects while recording for Fantasy records.
He began working with Chuck Jackson who is known in part for his role as producer for all of Natalie Coles hit recordings. They co wrote twenty songs all of which were placed on projects such as Stanley Turentine’s, Coming Home. He formed a band, called Chameleon which recorded for Electra Records. Patrice Banks, Chocolate, of Grande Central Station was a member of that team.
Currently, Azar is in residence at The World Stage, also known as the house of Billy Higgins who he recorded and performed many times with the great until his death. He is a member of The World Stage Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, which was under the direction of the great Horace Tapscott until his death in the late nineties.
Being successful at such a young age has can have draw backs. His musical career was meteoric to say the least. Azar had performed on six continents before the age of 21. You could say my life was fast and furious I had forgotten what I was taught, by my great teachers, my mother being the first, and she’s still teaching me in her 90’s.”
“Music is your voice, keep it pure and share your gift not for the fame or fortune, but for the creator, as it was given to you by him at no cost. If you should make a living from your gift then that’s just gravy.”
“If hadn’t run out of it, (manna) I would have died.” Playing for his mind, body and soul, and for self
...he’s still the same physical, gritty, pentatonically inclined tenor and soprano saxophonist. Lawrence made his name with the music he played in the ’70s.......... He should get it back with the music he’s playing today., Chris Kelsey, JazzTimes, May 2009
Today, Azar Lawrence burns like a bright, hot flame at the altar of his muse. Given the ever-present fire danger in the Southland, a fire truck should remain on call when Lawrence blows. ........ it is a medicinal injection of peace and joy to hear Azar Lawrence burning it up again. Chuck Koton, AllAboutJazz, January 2009
“The rather academic title of this release doesn’t do justice to the power of this celebration of the ecstatic music of John Coltrane. The two front men - Lawrence and Bayard - have both drunk deeply from the fount of Coltrane’s musical wisdom, and the devotees pay tribute to their master in four extended performances.
Each blows with a raw, fervent tone. They chant sequential modal patterns that rise to the upper reaches of their horns. It’s the Jazz equivalent of saying the rosary. The set opens with a ballad reading by one of the two • the notes don’t say whom - of “I Thought About You” that helps set the stage.
The entire group is dedicated to paying tribute not only to Coltrane but the classic quartet. Drummer Mark Lomax II emulates the aggressive, polyrhythmic style of Elvin Jones, whipping up cross- rhythms that tear away from the underlying meter, only to come back to the beat with a smack. William Mennefield is a fine pianist, who clearly knows this music and how Tyner played it, but stays true to his own, erudite style.
Bassist Hulett provides deep, throbbing bass lines that provide a steady footing underneath the drummer’s rambling that keeps this exuberant tribute spinning forward and upward.”
David Dupont, Cadence Magazine, August 2007
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