FEATURE: Hubert Laws' rare London appearance (Barbican, 6 April)

Hubert Laws
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Flautist Hubert Laws, who featured in the early work of the Jazz Crusaders, Gil Scott Heron and Jaco Pastorius and who teamed up with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette to record acclaimed jazz versions of classical favourites in the 1970s for the legendary CTI label, makes a rare appearance in London with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra at the Barbican on Saturday 6 April. Rob Adams looks forward: 

The concert, part of a ten-city world tour, also marks a rare visit to London for the orchestra and will feature a programme that explores the global tradition and evolution of jazz. Artistic director, saxophonist Charlie Young, who is a long-time member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and has worked with Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder, has chosen a wide selection of pieces ranging from original Ellington arrangements from the Smithsonian archives and some of Fitzgerald’s historic arrangements to contemporary music for big band.

Hubert Laws grew up in Houston, Texas and is one of a quintet of siblings who have made their mark in music in the US and worldwide. His younger brother, saxophonist Ronnie Laws recorded for Blue Note Records in the 1970s, creating a jazz-funk hit with Always There, and sisters Debra and Eloise and brother Jonnie all followed successful careers as singers.

Hubert himself studied classical flute at school and went on to play with both the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He also became adept at improvising in his teens and joined the local jazz group the Swingsters, which evolved into the Jazz Crusaders. While continuing his classical studies at the Juilliard School of Music he joined Mongo Santamaria’s band. He went on to lead his own band, recording a series of albums for Atlantic Records, and played on sessions for George Benson, Gil Scott Heron (including the album Pieces of a Man, which included The Revolution Will Not be Televised) and Jaco Pastorius, whose eponymous debut album featured Laws’ virtuosic playing on Used to Be (Cha Cha).

He has since worked with artists from across the musical spectrum including Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, Herbie Hancock, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Leonard Bernstein and Quincy Jones.

A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Charlie Young has been coordinator of jazz studies at Howard University since the early 1990s and took over the role of artistic director with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in 2013, having joined the orchestra as principal saxophonist in 1995. He is currently lead saxophonist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra and, like Hubert Laws, he has worked across the classical and jazz fields, performing with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
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The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra was formed in 1990 in recognition by the U.S. Congress of the importance of jazz in American culture and it became the orchestra-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History.

It performs in various formats, including septet and 17-piece big band, according to programme and venue and will feature an eight-piece band alongside Hubert Laws. All the musicians involved have strong pedigrees and they include Delores King Williams, a Downbeat magazine award-winning singer and former winner of the Billie Holiday Vocal Competition, the hugely experienced bassist James King, whose 40-years-plus CV includes work with Elvin Jones, Stanley Turrentine, Sonny Fortune, and Cedar Walton, and the much-decorated drummer and concert producer Ken Kimery.

Trumpeter Tom Williams brings experience gained from working with Rosemary Clooney, Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle, among other top performers. Pianist Tony Nalker has been with the orchestra since 2005 and in addition to his jazz experience has featured on pop, country, classical, folk and Broadway sessions. Baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer has toured internationally with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and is an in-demand arranger, and guitarist Marty Ashby has performed and recorded with Slide Hampton, Claudio Roditi, Nancy Wilson, Paquito D’Rivera, Herbie Mann, Phil Woods, and The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. (pp)

BOOKING LINK: The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra at the Barbican

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