When Azar Lawrence plays Phoenix on Wednesday, April 30, as part of International Jazz Day, he will bring with him a lifetime's worth of jazz knowledge, plus the experience of playing with jazz greats such as Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Young, not to mention non-traditional types such as Frank Zappa, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Busta Rhymes.
Lawrence is in town at the behest of William "Doc" Jones, who organized an event at CityScape to promote "real jazz," featuring Lawrence, Jones, Papa John DeFrancesco, Carlos Rivas, Kerry Campbell, Nayo Jones, and Phoenix Country Day School Varsity Jazz Band. The event is a part of International Jazz Day, organized by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
And just what is this "real jazz" thing that Jones seeks to promote? Some have, in recent years, decried the encroachment of other genres into the space under the "jazz" umbrella, and a few traditionalists have started getting territorial. Lawrence, who has played everything from traditional jazz with Tyner (best-known as the pianist for one of John Coltrane's quartets) to acid-laced jazz fusion with Miles Davis, sees it, too.
"You know, I think that it's a real situation. It's a real thing," Lawrence says. "They have widened the terms for 'jazz' now.
"Look, there's some music that is called 'jazz' that where people go to the festival, and it's really a whole tailgate party . . . Nobody's listening. They get up and do a little dance, and that's great. Then, there's music that you go to the concert and listen because it's gonna heal you . . . The music that has the healing in the forefront, the intent is to heal. I think if you listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy [Gillespie] and Coltrane -- you can feel something out of it."
Soon, Lawrence will release a live album called The Seeker: Live at the Jazz Standard, which he recorded in 2011. Lawrence gets mystical when he talks about it, describing the album as inspired by the mythical lost continent of Lemuria (apparently, the Atlantis of the Pacific Ocean).
Lawrence has played with some of of jazz's finest musicians, but those he hasn't play with far outnumbers those he has. When asked who he would have liked to share a stage with, he answers quickly and without pause -- Jimi Hendrix.
"Yeah, man! Jimi," Lawrence says. "I saw Jimi live at the Forum in [Los Angeles] when I was in high school. That was fortunate, wasn't it? He was bad, man. He was just as bad as Miles and 'Trane. He was playing the shit."
Azar Lawrence is scheduled to perform Wednesday, April 30, at CityScape.
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