Acclaimed saxophonist, songwriter to play Pierce Street Jazz

Saxophonist, songwriter, bandleader Azar Lawrence

Nov. 5, 2012

By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) Saxophonist Azar Lawrence, a former Miles Davis sideman and Capitol Records songwriter is bringing his talent to La Sierra University’s Pierce Street Jazz concert series.

Lawrence will take the stage Nov. 14 with a band of long-time jazz pros who have achieved their own industry acclaim. The Azar Lawrence Quartet includes Theo Saunders on piano, Henry “the Skipper” Franklin on bass and Alphonse Mouzon on drums. The performance takes place at 7 p.m. at the La Sierra University Alumni Center, 11500 Pierce Street, Riverside. Admission is free. For more information call 951-785-2148.

Lawrence's lengthy career includes extensive work as a performer and recording artist with jazz legend Davis, McCoy Tyner’s quartet, Frank Zappa, Busta Rhymes and many other top acts. He branched into composition and served as a music writer for Capitol Records and as executive assistant for Stan Neufeld at Orion Pictures for television game show Hollywood Squares and for Outside Productions. His composition work includes three songs for the “Powerlight” album of famed rhythm and blues band Earth, Wind & Fire, a group with whom he performed on several albums.

Lawrence has released his own acclaimed album projects including “Bridge Into The New Age” (Prestige, 1974), “Summer Solstice” (Prestige, 1975), and more recently a 2010 production titled “Mystic Journey.” Another new album project called “The Seeker” will be announced, according to his web site.

Lawrence got an early start in his musical endeavors, studying violin and piano at age 5 with his mother, Ima Lawrence, a music teacher and educator. He was a member of the University of Southern California Junior Orchestra until age 11, and by age 12 had taken up the alto saxophone. His professional career kicked off during his late teens when he was asked to join the Elvin Jones’ band, Jazz Machine, a group he performed with for years. While with Elvin Jones, Lawrence also headed up Fantasy/Prestige Records.

Drummer Mouzon has also carved out an acclaimed career in jazz music. In addition to his musical pursuits, he has studied acting and appeared in major Hollywood feature films.

After studying music and drums in high school while living in Los Angeles, and after a brief stint working in the medical field, Mouzon focused his career on music. He worked with Tyner, served as a charter member of the group Weather Report, and co-founded the 1970s seminal fusion band The Eleventh House.

Mouzon’s biography lists performance and recording credits with many top names in jazz, pop and rock music including George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Chet Baker, Denise Williams, Kirk Whalum, Kenny G., Arturo Sandoval, Roberta Flack, David Benoit, Gerald Albright, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin and many others. His music has aired on many mainstream television programs including “All My Children,” “Days of Our Lives,” CBS Sports and “Entertainment Tonight.” He also acted in and composed music for the 1996 Tom Hanks film “That Thing You Do,” appeared in the 2004 film “First Daughter” with Michael Keaton and Katie Holmes, and acted in the 2007 Robert Davi feature film “The Dukes.”

Mouzon currently is chairman and chief executive officer of Tenacious Records. Recordings under Tenacious include Mouzon’s all-star compact disc titled “Angel Face” featuring Sandoval, Ernie Watts, Henry “the Skipper” Franklin, Christian McBride, Kenny Barron and many others. He performs in Europe and the United States and teaches drums at his school in Northridge, Calif.

Known in music circles as the Skipper, Franklin organizes the Pierce Street concerts for La Sierra. His extensive musical background includes performances on more than 150 albums and compact discs including gold releases, many of which he produced. In 2011 he released his 24th album, “Soul of the World,” recorded with his band on his SP Records label. His band’s 2009 album, “Home Cookin’,” features the renowned Barbara Morrison on vocals.

Franklin has played his upright bass with numerous jazz and pop greats including Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Count Basie, Freddie Hubbard and Milt Jackson, and was part of the legendary Hugh Masekela’s band during the late 1960s. When not on tour in various parts of the United States and the world, Franklin performs at The Historic Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif. He recently completed his latest CD, “June Night,” to be released in January. Franklin will tour in Malaysia later this month.

Pianist Saunders has performed in many of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals and concert halls with distinguished artists including Freddie Hubbard, Carla Bley, David “Fathead” Newman, Barbara Morrison, 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. He will perform in Venice, Calif. with Franklin and other Lawrence band members through November and December.

  • Last update on  November 12, 2012