The Road to Monterey: Azar Lawrence’s Epic Experience in Jazz
MJF is proud to present tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence at MJF66 on the West End Stage at 8pm on Sunday, September 24. This powerful and spiritual-minded Los Angeles-based saxophonist is from the younger post-bop and post-Coltrane generation of players (Azar was only 13 when he first heard Coltrane in 1965). By late 1972, the 20-year-old was drawn into jazz royalty when Elvin Jones, Coltrane’s iconic drummer, asked Azar to join his Jazz Machine. In short order, Azar had joined another Coltrane Quartet alum, McCoy Tyner for a trio of classic albums — Enlightenment, Sama Layuca and Atlantis, all intense, hard-hitting modal outings for Orrin Keepnews’ Milestone label. In turn, Keepnews signed Azar for another trio of solo records: Bridge into the New Age, Summer Solstice and People Moving.
In his ascension, Azar also made a guest appearance with Miles Davis on the relentless 1974 live record, Dark Magus, all while recording with Freddie Hubbard, Gene Harris, Woody Shaw, and others. In the late 70s and 80s, Azar began collaborating outside of the jazz scene and into funk and pop music, collaborating with Marvin Gaye on 1978’s Here, My Dear; with Earth Wind & Fire for their 1983 release Powerlight; and was a guest on New Orleans pianist Henry Butler’s Fivin’ Around in 1986. Sadly, moving through the rest of the decade, many of Azar’s classic recordings—like many jazz records of the vinyl era—fell out of print and labels went dormant.
In an era when Azar may have disappeared from the mainstream jazz world by concentrating on keyboards and writing pop songs, he never stopped engaging with the jazz community in Los Angeles. He eventually got his embouchure together and assembled a band for weekly gigs on the Billy Higgins-founded World Stage, an integral forum and community space to preserving African American jazz culture in Los Angeles. This location inspired a whole new generation of Afrocentric, inventive, and spiritual jazz players, including saxophonist Kamasi Washington and others in the West Coast Get Down collective (other members include bassists Thundercat and Miles Mosley, and pianist Cameron Graves.)
Beginning in 2007, Azar began to release solo records again for the first time in 30 years. A decade later, in the digital and vinyl world, Azar’s 70s Prestige albums began to be reissued and introduced to a younger audience that craved something different, meaningful, and rare. Azar Lawrence is one of the few artists from the legendary Prestige Records era who is still touring and putting out new music.
Azar told JazzTimes in 2022 that “I have forever been an antenna for all universal vibrations in the symphony of life… And that which lifts us through those vibrations brings about healing. It’s all from above.”