Contemporary Jazz Giant Ronnie Laws Set To Release Latest CD
By Phillip Barnett
Mar 22, 2008, 10:41
When the discussion turns to the essence of contemporary jazz, it’s safe to say the contributions of Ronnie Laws would have to be included in the conversation. As a matter of fact, the entire Laws family is so completely wolven within the historic texture of American music that the names Hubert, Eloise, Debra along with Ronnie himself are synonymous with the word legendary.
With Ronnie set to release his new CD, “Voices In The Water”, it’s reasonable to think the Laws’ strong tradition will continue well into the new millennium.
The CD’s title is a reflection of the slave trade and the journeys of ships whose cargo were captive Africans whose decision to dive into the Atlantic rather than live a life of slavery. It was Laws’ reminisce of the overall destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina that sparked this inspiration. The end results were the same. There were voices that went unheard. Those voices were drowned out figuratively and literally.”
It’s not uncommon for artist to use historical references as an inspiration for their music. “I can’t speak for every musician, but most of us do have a keen sense of history that has inspired us in many ways,” said Laws. One of his most notable albums, “Every Generation” even had a historic footnote attached to it. “My grandfather was a musician, he played the blues harmonica along the streets of Houston,” said Laws, who grew up in that city. “Every time I see that scene of the guy playing the harmonica in the movie ‘The Color Purple’ it reminds me of him.” Laws’ mother was a gospel pianist, and of course, he has a few brothers and sisters who are in the business, too.
At one point Laws might not have been included among the musicians in his family. As a teenager he had his sights set on baseball, but an eye injury kept him from pursuing that goal. “I played as high as the Pony League level,” said Laws, who is happy to talk about his versatility as a ball player. “I was a line-drive hitter with power, and I could play any outfield position,” he said.
Laws spent a lot of time at old Colts Stadium in Houston where he was one of the first kids to sell peanuts and popcorn for the expansion Colt 45’s who later were re-named the Astros. Baseball’s loss continues to be the music world’s gain as Laws and Golden Sound Distributors, a United States representative of a Chinese company, are responsible for the manufacturing and distribution of The Ronnie Laws Legend Saxophone. “It’s manufactured and customized along the lines of my standards and techniques,” explained Laws. “I am excited about this. Kenny G and I are the only two people who have a private saxophone line through Golden Sound Distributors.”
Back in the 70’s before Kenny G’s days as a premiere solo artist, he was a member of Jeff Lorbor’s Fusion band who use to open for Laws whenever he performed in the Seattle area. During that time, fusion wasn’t widely accepted as it is today, especially among the jazz purists. But Laws and his contemporaries continued to expand the boundaries of that particular brand of music. “People really need to know the orgin of fusion. Grover Washington, Jr, the Crusaders, Herbie Handcock and I were first to break out with that sound,” recalled Laws. “It’s the fusion groups of today who are emulating what we laid down.”
The road to having fusion accepted was long and well traveled. Laws’ first professional exposure was with a country and western singer named Kenny Rogers in Houston. “A lot of people out there don’t know that,” revealed Laws.
When Laws’ first album was released, the expectations were high, especially from Los Angeles jazz critic Leonard Feather, who followed the talented musician since high school. Everyone was anticipating a traditional jazz sound, but when vibes of fusion filled the air, Laws was subject to plenty of criticism as many people expressed their disappointment. “Leonard Feather called me a renegade,” laughed Laws. “You have to take criticism with a balanced view. Critics are going to have their own agenda. But as an artist, you have to do what you feel comfortable with. My music is real and my audience realizes that. It’s like a language, and I try to communicate with as many people as I can.”
Having just completed a world-wide tour with legends Roy Ayers, Bobbie Humphries, Jean Carne and Lonnie Liston Smith, Laws has certainly communicated with a wide range of fans. After a late-March appearance in Detroit, Laws plans to concentrate on the production of his new CD, with co-producer John Barns. “It has taken almost two years to complete this,” said Laws. John Barns has been very instrumental with this project. He’ll be working with Michael Jackson on another project soon. He’s been a big help to me.” The first single scheduled for release will either be the titled track “Voices in the Water”, or a tune called “Step Right”. But whatever track drops first, it’s a sure bet that Laws will still be one of the primary subjects of the current conversation.
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