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Hubert Laws – Master of many styles
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Hubert Laws - Houston Texas
Houstonian Hubert Laws is one of the few classical artists who has also mastered jazz, pop, and rhythm-and-blues genres; moving effortlessly from one to another. He has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, with the orchestras of Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland, Amsterdam, Japan, Detroit and with the Stanford String Quartet. He has given annual performances at Carnegie Hall, and has sold out performances in the Hollywood Bowl with fellow flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and was a member of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera Orchestras. In addition, he has appeared at the Montreux, Playboy, and Kool Jazz festivals; he performed with the Modern Jazz Quartet at the Hollywood Bowl in 1982 and with the Detroit Symphony in 1994. His recordings have won three Grammy nominations.
Hubert's musical education was an amalgamation. His boyhood home was directly across the street from an honest-to-goodness honky-tonk, Miss Mary's Place, which still sits on the same spot in Houston's Studewood section. His grandfather played the harmonica and often entertained as a one-man band. His mother, Miola, played gospel music on piano.
The second of eight children in a musical family, Hubert grew up playing rhythm and blues and gospel at dances in the neighborhood. Brother Ronnie and sisters, Eloise and Debra, have all made their mark in the music industry, while sister Blanche has devoted her talent to gospel singing and brother Johnnie has contributed his voice on Hubert's recordings. It's fitting that Hubert's fourth album for Columbia was entitled Family, featuring almost the entire Laws clan.
Starting out on piano then mellophone and alto sax, Hubert picked up the flute in high school while volunteering to fill-in on a flute solo performance with his high school orchestra. Music teacher Clement Barone is credited with teaching Hubert the fundamentals. During his early teens, Hubert was exposed to jazz by high school band director Sammy Harris at Phillis Wheatley High School. He enjoyed the freedom of improvisation and the creativity allowed by jazz and began playing regularly with a Houston group known variously as the Swingsters, the Modern Jazz Sextet, Night Hawks, the Jazz Crusaders, and more recently, the Crusaders.
After high school, Hubert enrolled in the Music Department at Texas Southern University. After two years he left with the Crusaders for Los Angeles. This soon became a point of departure for the famous Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Winning a scholarship that would cover the cost of tuition in 1960, Hubert left for New York in a 1950 Plymouth sedan with $600 in his pocket. Remembering the moment he realized his savings would not cover the necessities of life in New York, Hubert smiled, "It was the fall of 1960. I was down to my last fifty bucks and wondering what to do when the phone rang and it was a call offering me my first job at Sugar Ray's Lounge in Harlem. Times were tough then, but, I haven't looked back since."
Studying all day every day in class or with master flutist Julius Baker, evenings were devoted to gigging to pay the bills. Soon Hubert was playing with the likes of Mongo Santamaria, Lloyd Price Big Band, John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Orchestra USA, and the Berkshire Festival Orchestra at Tanglewood -- summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Recording session work became a staple of Hubert's schedule and included sessions with Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, James Moody, Sergio Mendes, Bob James, Carly Simon, George Benson, Clark Terry, and J.J. Johnson. During those tough times, the ability to play R&B and jazz enabled him not only to survive, but to thrive. Hubert believes musicians would do well to learn how to play in a variety of musical styles.
In 1964 Laws began recording as a bandleader for the Atlantic label, and he released the albums The Laws of Jazz, Flute By-Laws, and Laws' Cause. During this period, he also played with Santamaria, Clark Terry, Benny Golson, Jim Hall, and James Moody. He guested on albums by Ashford and Simpson, Chet Baker, and George Benson. He also played flute on Gil Scott-Heron's 1972 album Free Will, which featured the jazz poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." In the early 1970s Laws released a series of highly regarded albums on the CTI label. Such albums as Crying Song, Wild Flower, Morning Star, the live recording At Carnegie Hall, In the Beginning, and Chicago Theme are considered the watershed of his jazz career. In addition, his renditions of classical compositions by Gabriel Faure, Stravinsky, Debussy, and Bach on the 1971 CTI recording Rite of Spring—with a string section and such jazz stalwarts as Airto Moreira, Jack DeJohnette, Bob James, and Ron Carter—earned him a new audience of classical music aficionados.
Hubert Laws has been involved in unique projects such as collaborations with Quincy Jones, Bob James, and Claude Bolling for Neil Simon's comedy California Suite, a collaboration with Earl Klugh and Pat Williams on the soundtrack for How to Beat the High Cost of Living: and film scores for The Wiz, The Color Purple, A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich, and Spot Marks the X.
There are 20 albums in Hubert’s discography for such record companies as: Atlantic, CBS, CTI, including: "My Time Will Come" and "Storm Then The Calm" for the Music Masters record label.
In addition, Hubert Laws maintains his own publishing companies, Hulaws Music and Golden Flute Music, and he founded Spirit Productions in 1976 to produce his own albums and those of promising new artists. He was selected the No. 1 flutist in Down Beat readers' polls ten years in a row and was the critic's choice for seven consecutive years.
He remains a role model for aspiring musicians in the Studewood neighborhood of Houston, and is still active in recording and developing young musical talent.