The Jazz Renaissance concert series begun in Mobile in October promises to maintain its straight-ahead character with its latest show, which will feature tributes to jazz greats John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.
The headliner for the Thursday evening show is saxophonist Azar Lawrence. St. Louis-based singer James Love will emulate the vocals of Hartman, with whom Coltrane recorded an album in the early 1960s.
Azar Lawrence promises music that is heavily influenced by John Coltrane, but says he's never had any interest in simply imitating the legendary saxophonist.
Saxophonist Coltrane is regarded as one of the titans of jazz, a trendsetting composer who set new standards both for technical command of his instrument and for working spirituality into his music. Show promoter Ron Bookman conceded that Hartman “is not as recognizable to most people,” but said his music also is well worth remembering.
Hartman gained a measure of posthumous attention in the mid-‘90s, courtesy of Clint Eastwood and his movie “The Bridges of Madison County.”
“In that movie he featured the vocal velvet baritone sound of Johnny Hartman,” Bookman said. “It brought him to a whole new audience.”
Coltrane fans may note the significance of show’s timing.
“We deliberately selected the concert date, Dec. 9, because that coincided with the original date of Dec. 9, 1964,” Bookman said. “That was the date Coltrane released his classic album ‘A Love Supreme.’”
The game plan for the show allows for at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center allows for some variety, within the straight-ahead framework.
Pensacola-based vocalist Cynthia Domulot and the Guffman Trio will open with a special salute to vocalist Nina Simone.
Lawrence’s set will include a tribute to Coltrane and “A Love Supreme,” with Love appearing during a segment focusing on the Hartman-Coltrane collaboration.
Lawrence, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, said that listeners can expect a living tribute, not a flat effort to parrot music of the past.
Jazz Renaissance concert featuring Azar Lawrence and his Quartet plus vocalist James Love, with special guests Cynthia Domulot and the Guffman Trio, 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center at the foot of Government Street on the Mobile waterfront.
Tickets: $20, available at the Mobile Civic Center box office and other Ticketmaster outlets. To order by phone, call 800-745-3000; online orders can be placed at www.ticketmaster.com. For more information call the Civic Center box office at 251-208-7381. Student, senior and group pricing is available; e-mail email@example.com for details.
“There never has been a day I’ve taken my saxophone out and put a Coltrane record on and played along with it,” he said. “I’ve never done that.”
Lawrence said his career includes a broad range of popular music: He’s worked with rockers Frank Zappa and Eric Burdon, among many others, he said.
But his growth as a jazz player was strongly influenced by working with former Coltrane collaborators such as McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.
In him, he said, they found someone whose outlook and musical vision were similar to Coltrane’s. In them, he found mentors who could guide him as he explored territory Coltrane had opened up.
“These individuals ... John Coltrane didn’t stand up and just play solo,” Lawrence said. “All these people helped shape that sound ... they all grew, and each part was a major component of that sound.”
“Some of the music he has given us I find is the best vehicle in which for me to carry some of my message over as well,” Lawrence said. “We’ll do some of the ‘Love Supreme’ suite, but you’re going to hear the ‘Love Supreme’ of today.”
“If John was there, he wouldn’t be playing the same thing over and over,” he said.
He does, however, share Coltrane’s sense that music has a spiritual component and can be more than just a night of entertainment. It’s a notion he’s explored in his original work, such as his recent album “Mystic Journey.”
“What we’re endeavoring to do ... is raising our vibrations, raising our spirit, which produces a healing,” he said.
But for those who really do want just a night of classic jazz entertainment, the music works perfectly well on that level, he said.
“I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” he said. “They will understand it’s nothing foreign to them and they’ll find a part of themselves in the music. It’ll be quite familiar.”
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