Recording solo albums and collaborating with other artists in several genres, including classical, pop, and R&B, flutist Hubert Laws most often is associated with jazz music. As a member of the Modern Jazz Sextet in the 1950s, Laws honed his jazz sensibilities, but he left the group before it changed its name and became popular as the Jazz Crusaders. Laws was one of the musicians of the 1950s who popularized the use of the flute in a jazz context, historically placing him among such other jazz flutists as Jerome Richardson, Frank Wess, and Bud Shank. Other contemporary jazz flutists, however, were primarily saxophonists who played flute as a secondary instrument. A notable exception is flutist Herbie Mann, but unlike Mann, Laws adapted many classical standards to the jazz idiom, including works by composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Mozart, Claude Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky.
Laws collaborated on a series of popular concerts with classical music flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, as well as performing on recordings by such diverse pop, jazz, and R&B performers as Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, James Moody, Sergio Mendes, Bob James, Carly Simon, George Benson, Clark Terry, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, and J. J. Johnson. Laws’s distinctive style of flute playing has been noted by several critics as a critical influence on subsequent use of the instrument in jazz, pop, classical, and Latin music. His impact on Latin music stems from his collaborations with New York Latin ensembles led by Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo.
Laws was born in the Studewood section of Houston, Texas, the second of eight children. Many of his siblings also entered the music industry, including saxophonist Ronnie Laws and vocalists Eloise, Debra, and Johnnie Laws. Hubert Laws’s first instrument was the piano. The family’s home was across the street from Miss Mary’s Place, a honky tonk saloon that served liquor and served as a venue for a variety of live musical acts. Laws’s mother played gospel music on piano for her family, and his grandfather played harmonica. Laws began his initial musical instruction by learning the mellophone and alto saxophone. He began playing flute in high school after volunteering to substitute for the school orchestra’s regular flutist. Laws arranged for private musical instruction from Clement Barone, who taught Laws the fundamentals of the flute, while his high school band director, Sammy Harris, introduced him to jazz music. He became adept at jazz improvisation by playing in the Houston-area jazz group the Swingsters, which eventually evolved into the Modern Jazz Sextet, the Night Hawks, the Jazz Crusaders, and the Crusaders.
Upon graduation from high school, Laws enrolled in the music department at Texas Southern University. Before he could graduate, however, he left school to travel with the Modern Jazz Sextet to Los Angeles. He then
Born Hubert Laws, Jr. on November 10, 1939, in Houston, TX. Education: Attended Texas Southern University, Houston, 1956-59; Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences; bachelor of music degree, Juilliard School of Music, New York, 1964.
Joined the Modern Jazz Sextet, 1953; performed at Sugar Ray’s Lounge, Harlem, New York, 1960; performed with Mongo Santamaria, 1963-67; played with both the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (member) and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, 1969-72; signed with Columbia, 1976; toured with classical flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, 1980s; semi-retired, 1986-93; resumed recording and touring, 1993.
Addresses: Website —Hubert Laws Official Website: http://www.hubertlaws.com.
took classes at the Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences but left after winning a scholarship to New York’s Juilliard School of Music in 1960. He departed for the East Coast in a 1950 Plymouth sedan with $600. After arriving in New York City in 1960, he stated on his website, “I was down to my last fifty bucks and wondering what to do when the phone rang.” The phone call was to set up his first paid performance in New York, at Sugar Ray’s Lounge in Harlem. He matriculated at Juilliard and studied music both in the classroom and with master flutist Julius Baker. During the evenings, he played flute with several acts, including Mongo Santamaria, John Lewis, Orchestra USA, and the Berkshire Festival Orchestra.
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. Despite the critical and commercial successes of his CTI output, however, his subsequent recordings of the late 1970s and early 1980s generally are dismissed by critics as commercial records resembling pop music more than jazz or classical music. During the mid-1980s he went into semi-retirement for seven years.
In the 1990s Laws resumed his career, playing on the 1991 Spirituals in Concert recording by opera singers Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. His albums on the Music Masters label—My Time Will Come in 1990 and, more particularly, Storm Then Calm in 1994—are regarded by critics as a return to the form he exhibited on his early 1970s albums. He also recorded a tribute album to jazz pianist and pop-music vocalist Nat King Cole, Hubert Laws Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole, which received critical accolades.
Laws began his own music publishing companies, Hulaws Music and Golden Flute Music, and he founded Spirit Productions in 1976 to produce his own albums and albums by new artists. He was named the number-one flutist in the Down Beat readers’ poll for ten straight years and was the critics’ choice for seven consecutive years. He collaborated on the soundtrack to the Neil Simon comedy California Suite with Quincy Jones and Claude Boiling; worked with Earl Klugh and Pat Williams for the soundtrack of How to Beat the High Cost of Living;and contributed work to film scores for The Wiz, The Color Purple, A Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich, and Spot Marks the X.
The Laws of Jazz, Atlantic, 1964.
Flute By-Laws, Atlantic, 1965.
Laws’ Cause, Atlantic, 1965.
Afro Classic, Columbia, 1970; reissued, CTI, 1976.
Crying Song, Columbia, 1970.
The Rite of Spring, Columbia, 1971.
Wild Flower, Atlantic, 1972.
Morning Star, CTI, 1972.
At Carnegie Hall, CTI, 1974.
In the Beginning, CTI, 1974.
Chicago Theme, CTI, 1975.
Romeo and Juliet, Columbia, 1976.
The San Francisco Concert, Columbia, 1978.
Say It with Silence, Columbia, 1978.
Land of Passion, Columbia, 1979.
(Contributor) How to Beat the High Cost of Living (soundtrack), Columbia, 1980.
Family, CBS Columbia, 1980.
Make It Last, CBS, 1983.
My Time Will Come, Music Masters, 1990.
Storm Then Calm, Music Masters, 1994.
Hubert Laws Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole, RKOR, 1998.
I Love My Daddy, Columbia, 1998.
Gioa, Ted, The History of Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Huesmann, Gunther, The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond, Lawrence Hill Books, 1992.
Kernfield, Barry, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, second edition, Grove’s Dictionaries Inc., 2002.
“Hubert Laws,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (April 30, 2002).
Hubert Laws Official Website, http://www.hubertlaws.com (April 30, 2002).
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