The Quintet includes Azar Lawrence on saxophone, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet, Theo Saunders on piano, Henry Franklin on bass, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. Azar Lawrence began playing the drums, violin, piano, and vocals at the age of 5. At the age of 11 he began playing the alto sax, mentored by Mr. Shoemaker. He was also taught by his mother who was a classical pianist, and when attending Dorsey High School was schooled by Herbert Baker. At the age of 17 he played with Clark Terry, and Muddy Waters, at the age of 19 he played with George Cables, Candy Finch, Larry Gales, and Woody Shaw. From there he played with Ike and Tina Turner, and at the age of 20, joined Elvin Jones’ group. From there Azar replaced John Coltrane upon his death and played with the McCoy Tyner group for 5 years. Influenced by jazz man Horace Tapscott and Reggie Golson, son of Benny Golson, they together listened to the music of Coltrane, Miles, Monk, and Shorter, Azar also credits Sonny Rollins, Arthur Blythe, and Yusef Lateef as influences. Azar plays with great spirituality, and has a distinctive sound that is full forced post be-bop. He plays with a deep virtuosity, and expresses vivid ideas with a palpable texture in his sound. After working with McCoy Tyner Azar went on to play with Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Woody Shaw. Azar has played many styles of music including Afro/Cuban, Avant Garde, Latin, modal, modern creative, and world fusion. Azar has worked with literally dozens of jazz greats, and has also worked with Earth, Wind, & Fire, Frank Zappa, Busta Rhymes, and with Marvin Gaye won a Grammy Award. Azar has made 10 CDs as a leader, and has played on nearly 60 recordings in his career. Now in her 90’s Azar’s mother taught him “Music is your voice, keep it pure and share your gift not for the fame or fortune, but for the creator, as it was given to you by him at no cost. If you should make a living from your gift then that’s just gravy.” Azar plays for mind, body, soul, and the self.
Nolan Shaheed began playing the violin at age 12, and soon after hearing Louis Armstrong made the switch to the trumpet. He enjoyed sports as much as music and became a track star in high school, and would continue to excel as a world-class runner. In music Nolan was chosen to play on the All City High School and State Jazz Bands. Nolan soon became a world-class trumpeter, and a world record holding masters athlete. He can blow your socks off in either endeavor. Nolan is a world record holder for his age group in the 800 meters, 1 mile, 1500 meters, and 3000 meters in track and field. As a busy studio musician Nolan was Marvin Gaye’s musical director, and has played with dozens of major artists including Count Basie, Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Phil Collins, Anita Baker, Carole King, Tom Waits, John Handy, Aretha Franklin, Eddie Harris, Teddy Edwards, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham, and Francisco Aquabella. Nolan follows in a long line of great trumpeters which include Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Bobby Bryant, Snooky Young, Oscar Brashear, and Chuck Findley. Nolan has owned and operated a recording studio in Pasadena for the last 20 years making it affordable for local musicians to record. Nolan has great passion for recording other musicians and with his great energy loves to perform jazz the most, striving for his best, and enjoying to improvise from scratch. He is a member of Cal State LA Luckman Jazz Orchestra, and is constantly busy in both playing and recording in the music industry. As an ageless and timeless athlete, Nolan trains everyday four hours on the trumpet, and two hours running and training. He follows a strict diet, and says the key to maintaining good health and longevity is simple, exercise and watch what you eat. He doesn’t expect to get sick, but expects excellence in himself. Nolan says the more he runs the better he plays.
Pianist Theo Saunders is a composer, arranger, and virtuoso pianist who was born in Manhattan. Influenced by his Russian parents, who were both actors, Theo accompanied his mom on piano at many Broadway Show auditions. Theo attended Performing Arts High School, and got the jazz bug listening to Miles, Coltrane, and Monk, and went on to attend New York University. Theo performed there and in Boston, Montreal, Cincinnati, LA, and around New York City. Theo played with Jack De Johnette at the Village Van Guard, played on Bill Evans & George Russell’s album “Living Time”, played with Jerry Bergonzi’s “Conbrio” group, with John Klemmer, Ted Curson, Willie Bobo, Freddie Hubbard, Carla Bley, Bob Brookmeyer, Mike Stern, Sonny Fortune, Bobby Matos, and Azar Lawrence. Theo has directed 3 operas, various dance, cabaret, and theatre performances. Theo has collaborated with artists George Herms, poet David Meltzer, and the Jazz Tap Ensemble. Theo has toured five continents, played in over 25 countries with over 125 different musicians, and over 35 different jazz festivals, concert halls, and clubs. Theo plays Latin, R&B, rock, and jazz, and has recorded 8 CD’s as a leader/co-leader. Theo has played on over 40 recordings as a sideman. One of Theo’s favorite quotes by Van Gogh is “Ignore the obvious, and exaggerate the essential”. Theo approaches music with spontaneity, and taking chances. He plays what he hears, hears into the future as far ahead as possible so the future becomes the present, the past is created linking it to the future, in the present!
Bassist Henry Franklin, affectionately known as “The Skipper” grew up in the heart of LA’s Central Avenue Jazz District. Influenced by his father who was a trumpeter and band leader Henry learned the clarinet, piano, tap dancing, and studied with classical bassists. He was mentored by bassists Al McKibbon, and George Morrow. Henry cites Paul Chambers and Doug Watkins as bass influences. Henry attended Manual Arts High School, and first played with the Roy Ayers Latin Jazz Quintet. Henry played with Bill Henderson, Carl Burnett, Elmo Jones, and was in the same company with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and Scott Lafaro. Henry’s big heroes are Harold Land, and Hampton Hawes whom he toured and recorded 5 records with. Henry has played with Willie Bobo, Archie Shepp, Lamont Johnson, Beaver Harris, and Roswell Rudd. Henry played on the number one hit “Grazing in the Grass” with Hugh Masakela, and played on Stevie Wonders gold record “Secret Life of Plants”. Henry has performed with dozens of jazz greats including O.C. Smith, Gene Harris and the 3 Sounds, Freddie Hubbard, Bobbi Humphrey, Count Basie, Pharoah Sanders, Azar Lawrence, John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Dennis Gonzales, Joe Williams, Sonny Rollins, Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Fortune, and Milt Jackson. Henry has recorded 29 albums as a leader, and played on over 100 in total of which many he produced. Henry was a mainstay performing at the Mission Inn in Riverside for 13 years, and has authored a method book for bassists entitled “Basically Yours”. Henry always strives and works hard to do his best for jazz, America’s only art form.
Drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith at 3 years old began playing the drums under the drumming influence of his father. Raised in Illinois Marvin graduated from the Berklee College of Music, and began his career playing with jazz greats such as Jon Hendricks, John Hicks, Bobby Watson, Slide Hampton, Ray Brown, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Ron Carter, Hank Jones, and the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet. Marvin has recorded on over 200 albums, and has 2 solo albums as a leader. Marvin has worked with Sting, Dave Holland, Sonny Rollins, Willie Nelson, Steve Coleman, George Shearing, the New York Jazz Quartet, and literally hundreds of jazz musicians. Marvin played on the Tonight Show Band for 15 seasons with Kevin Eubanks and Jay Leno. Marvin is the drummer for Harry Connicks’ TV show “Harry”, and has been a guest on the KLAC radio show “Loose Cannons”. Marvin has performed with over 25 different jazz groups, and is a composer, arranger, clinician, and conducts seminars and workshops. Marvin is on the staff of the Banff Center of Fine Arts in Canada, and the “Drummers Collective” in New York City. Marvin has been called the John Coltrane of the drums.
Saturday April 22nd at 7:00pm the Azar Lawrence Quintet plays Pete Carlson’s. Five exceptional musicians performing music with high energy, integrity, precision, and depth that showcases how great jazz music can be played in a live setting. Don’t miss it!!!