Legendary bassist’s band to top off sizzlin’ summer series
August 12, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( www.lasierra.edu )He’s played his upright bass with jazz and pop greats Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Count Basie, Freddie Hubbard and Milt Jackson and was part of the legendary Hugh Musekela’s band during the late 1960s. And after more than 40 years honing his craft on stage and in the studio, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin keeps on jazzing it up.
This summer, Franklin brought his talents and musical connections to La Sierra University by organizing four concerts for the university’s summer jazz series. The first three concerts, held over the past six weeks, involved quartets of various professional musicians and bandleaders with Franklin on bass in each group. Now it’s Franklin’s turn to showcase his own ensemble. The Henry Franklin Quartet will perform Tues., Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. in the university’s Student Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.
Franklin’s group has performed and recorded together the past three years. The band includes Franklin; Ramon Banda on drums, a former 24-year member of the Grammy award-winning Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band; worldwide performing pianist and composer Theo Saunders; and renowned saxophonist Azar Lawrence, one of a few sax players to follow successfully in the John Coltrane vein and a former performer with the late, great Miles Davis. The band’s latest album, “Home Cookin’,” is played frequently on KJAZZ 88.1 FM.
La Sierra University is at 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, Riverside, 92515. A campus map is at lasierra.edu/index.php. For more information call 951-785-2148, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The summer jazz series concept at La Sierra emanated from the university’s Summer Programs director. Marvin Payne, chemistry and biochemistry department chair, and university Provost Warren Trenchard assisted in coordinating the concerts.
“La Sierra University Summer Programs wishes to support a very important art form and provide expanding cultural experiences on our campus in the summer to supplement the many fine performances held throughout the rest of the year,” Payne stated.
Franklin, together with other artists, has performed more than ten years at The Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif. The Los Angeles native’s storied background includes recordings on gold albums and work with many high-profile musicians. He has performed on more than 100 albums, many of which he produced. Franklin produces artists under his label, SP Records. “I strive and work hard to do the best for Jazz,” Franklin says in his biography. “It’s America’s only art form.”
Drummer Banda grew up in Norwalk, Calif., part of a large musical family. When Banda was a boy, the family performance group, The Latin Boys, played at parties and weddings around Southern California. Banda started out on the guitar but switched to drums in 1967 when his cousin Mike Chavarria Jr. was called to serve in Vietnam. Banda and his electric bass-playing brother, Tony Banda, performed weekend gigs during their grade school years with several bands including with Poncho Sanchez.
Lawrence cut his musical teeth early in life. By age five he had learned the drums, violin and piano and became a member of the University of Southern California Junior Orchestra, according to a biographical account. At age 11 a family friend introduced him to the tenor saxophone and he fell in love with the instrument. During his twenties, Lawrence played saxophone with Ike and Tina Turner, War and other acts and alternately performed as a band member with Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. In 1974 he performed with Miles Davis’s band at Carnegie Hall in New York City, for a live, recorded performance that became the highly acclaimed “Dark Magus” album.
Saunders has performed in many of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals and concert halls with distinguished artists including Hubbard, Carla Bley, David “Fathead” Newman, Barbara Morrison, Charles Lloyd, Claudio Roditi, Victor Brasil, Raul De Souza, Bobby Rodriguez, Gladys Knight, the Four Tops and many others.
He has directed music for opera productions and international musical theatre. As a composer, Saunders has numerous compositions to his credit as well as original scores for theatre, radio and multimedia production. Artists Franklin, Ray Armando, Benn Clatworthy, Bobby Matos, and Bruce Paulson have recorded his compositions.
“This final concert will be the ‘big one’ as it involves Henry’s quartet which has a CD out this summer,” said Riverside resident and jazz enthusiast Frank Husak. An ardent Franklin fan, Husak attended the last two summer jazz concerts at La Sierra.
“Jazz is America’s significant contribution to music as an art. It has developed over the years, influenced by various kinds of music and changes made by musicians creating something new,” Husak said. “A key feature is improvisation, which to some extent amounts to composing or arranging music on the spot. …And jazz was not only influenced by other music, but itself has influenced the art of music and the culture to a larger extent than is realized by many today.”
“A free, professional jazz concert in Riverside gives those who already appreciate jazz an uncommon opportunity to hear live jazz locally and to continue to learn more about it,” Husak continued. “For those who know little or nothing about it, it can help open the door to the enjoyment of this important music, which is timeless and can even be therapeutic.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University