Doug Lawrence is every bit the archetypal southern tenor man, from the top of his tall frame to the bell of his brightly shining tenor. His sound is fat and down-home-cooking rich, whether playing softly or at volume. He has more cut through than a diamond headed drill-bit. Lawrence has such considerable credentials that it is beyond my reach to enumerate them all here (google him).
He arrived in New Zealand several weeks ago as lead tenor player for the Basie Band. It was a sellout concert in the Civic and we marvelled at the tightness and punch of their sound. Eighty years on the road will do that. Kansas City swing is a wonder of the universe and seeing Lawrence solo in front of that famous orchestra told us that we were in for another treat. Unbelievably our CJC Jazz club had booked him to appear in a few days. At first we wondered how this came about, but we were soon to learn of a long-standing connection between him and the CJC’s Roger Manins. A wonderful Jazz back story informed this gig and we were the lucky beneficiaries.Lawrence is tall and as he performs he stoops slightly, forming a classic old school playing pose. Slowing bending his knees inwards before stretching and lifting his horn to the ceiling. His speaking voice is rich like his playing, a southern Louisiana drawl adding to his considerable charm. The first number was ‘End of a love Affair (Redding) and the audience whooped in delight as the band took the changes at a good pace. The rhythm section propelled by the tidal waves of sound emanating from the tenor. It was that sound and the power of delivery that grabbed you from the get go. The intonation and phrasing revealing influences which although readily identifiable, transformed them into a new sound. This was pure alchemy. It was like having Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon on the same band stand.It is during ballads that the skill of a musician is often tested. In this case we saw something close to perfection. It wasn’t just Lawrence, but his Kiwi pickup band as well. Spurred on by each other, they dug deeper and deeper. A night and a vibe that we will remember for years to come. There was an obvious rapport between pianist Kevin Field and Lawrence. I gather that he found Field’s harmonic approach interesting and perhaps this is an indication of our own development as we grow our standing. Lawrence’s intonation was the thing that grabbed you most and this made his solos particularly enjoyable. Long held notes ending in breathy flurries or else bending the note ever so slightly before delivering a short heart stopping burst of controlled vibrato. With Holland and Samsom also finding their sweet spot this was a dream band.
There were a few evergreen Basie numbers like the swinging ‘Shiny Stockings’ (Foster) and ‘Jumping by the Woodside’ (Basie) but the biggest surprise came later when Lawrence invited Roger Manins and Nathan Haines up to join him. Leaning into the microphone he announced ‘Impressions’ by John Coltrane. This was a change of pace devoured by club audience and band alike as they dove deeper and deeper into the crazy off the grid modal grooves. Its true what they say. Cats like this can do anything when the spirit moves them. The spirit was sure among us that night.Here is the back story: 17 years ago a younger Roger Manins hit the New York streets, where he learned to scuffle in the time-honoured way of Jazz musicians. Because he possessed the hunger to learn he approached many established horn players. One of these was Doug Lawrence and traces of that time are still evident in Manins sound. All of those years ago Manins subbed for him and here is a Face Book extract that Lawrence posted once he returned to the USA. “Roger has matured into a GREAT player and MAGNIFICENT teacher! All of his students have a SOUND and they are all inspired to play, because of Roger. The curriculum at the University of Auckland Jazz Department is second to none, and I am going to use it as my model when conducting masterclasses at other universities around the world. Roger and Ron Samsom and the rest of the faculty have got it right at the U of A and I’m going to suggest that each and every University I teach at check it out. Cheers ROG! You are doing it ALL right brother! I hope to see and play with you soon mate!” That says it all really.
The last phase of the evening is best described as Tenor Madness. At times three tenors played in unison, at other times Nathan Haines keening Soprano took up the challenge. When Manins and Haines (plus Haines father Kevin) took to the stage we found ourselves in 1940’s Kansas City. Witnessing the good-natured, but no holds barred tenor battles of old. At the end of the second set the audience nearly rioted. No-one wanted this night to end. Lawrence asked for another drink and picked up his saxophone again. “My plane for the States doesn’t leave for five hours, lets play on”, he said. And they did.
You can purchase Doug Lawrence’s ‘New Organ Trio album’ from iTunes, Cactus Records or from Amazon. Please show your appreciation for these amazing artists by purchasing their recordings.
Who: The Doug Lawrence Quartet – plus guests: Doug Lawrence (Tenor Saxophone, Kevin Field (piano), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – Guests: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Nathan Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Kevin Haines (bass).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 3rd June 2015.