Jazz musician Frank Morgan's favorite Taos venue was The Taos Inn, a place where he played countless hours. Morgan would be pleased to know that this year's kickoff concert for the jazz festival …
Jazz musician Frank Morgan's favorite Taos venue was The Taos Inn, a place where he played countless hours. Morgan would be pleased to know that this year's kickoff concert for the jazz festival bearing his name takes place at the same venue. Doug Lawrence, tenor saxophone player for the renowned Count Basie Orchestra, will be heading up a free concert with dynamite players at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 14) in the Adobe Bar at The Taos Inn, 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Admission is free.
Joining Lawrence are Pete Amahl on drums, John Rangel on keyboards and John Webber on bass. Amahl and Rangel are two of New Mexico's finest jazz musicians, and Lawrence says New Yorker Webber has a reputation as one of the best bass players around, particularly for accompanying a tenor sax. Interestingly, Webber also has a New Mexico connection as his mother and sister live in Taos.
Lawrence's family is from Louisiana, and he was born there. His family was on their way from New Orleans to Los Angeles when Doug Lawrence was five years old, and they ran out of money in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. They stayed for two years and then moved to Albuquerque.
"After a couple of years, my mom and dad and sister and everybody started digging New Mexico. We used to go to Taos a lot," Lawrence said.
After graduating from Highland High School in Albuquerque, Lawrence went away to college on scholarship, then made his way to New York City on the advice of many.
Lawrence has performed and recorded with an impressive list of great musicians. Among them are Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Sara Vaughn, Frank Sinatra and Lady Gaga. He has traveled the world, performing in major concert halls and for luminaries, including five U.S. presidents, the Queen of England, the King of Thailand and the royal families of Monaco, Sweden, Japan and Spain.
Lawrence knew Frank Morgan.
"Frank sometimes would call me here in Albuquerque to hang out, and most of the time I was out on tour, but we hung out a few times," he said. "We'd run across each other out on the road, one time was in San Sebastian, Spain. We were doing a jazz festival there. He was with George Cables. We had a great time."
"I know a lot of people who knew Frank for a long time, since he was a kid," Lawrence continued. "For me, it's an honor to open the festival for Frank. They've been wanting me to do it for the past three to four years, but my schedule hasn't permitted it. We probably hung out about a dozen times over the years, but that time in Spain we really had a great time."
This year, Lawrence has kept busy with a number of recording projects, including a Latin Jazz album featuring Bobby Shew and others, and a quartet album with longtime friend John Trentacosta recorded in New York City and featuring Dan Trudell and John Webber. He has also recently recorded as a featured soloist in "Ella turns 100 Live At The Apollo" featuring Andra Day, Patti Austin, Cassandra Williams and Lizz Wright on Concord Records, and "80 Years of Basie" with the Count Basie Orchestra featuring Stevie Wonder on Concord Records.
For his Taos show, Lawrence told me he plans to play a mix of blues, American jazz standards and a few originals.
This year's Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival includes four concerts and a film. Both the kickoff concert with the Doug Lawrence Quartet and the film, "Life Time" are free of charge.
"Life Time" is a documentary film work-in-progress by N.C. Heikin about jazz pianist and convicted felon, Reggie Austin. Festivalgoers will remember Reggie Austin from his performance at the 2016 Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival. The film will be screened on Thursday (Nov. 15) at the Taos Community Auditorium. On Friday evening, the George Cable Trio plays at the Harwood Museum of Art and on Saturday and Sunday, Grace Kelly performs at the Harwood and the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, respectively. A full schedule is available at taosjazz.org.
Curious about who the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival is meant to attract, I asked board member Eric Gladstone to describe the intended festival audience.
"We're primarily serving the jazz audiences of Northern New Mexico, but we have made an effort to advertise and bring in people from throughout the Southwest as well as the whole country," said Gladstone. "When we first started the festival The Taos Inn told us that week is the slowest week of the year for tourism and hotels in Taos. Each year the Taos Inn has increased its occupancy to the point where there are no vacant rooms for some nights of the festival, and the festival has attracted people from New York and California."
Starting at the end of last year, Doug Lawrence joined the board of the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival. He told me he usually meets with the other board members over the phone or computer because he can seldom make it to their Taos meetings, but he is happy to be part of the organization.
Lucky for us, Lawrence uses his many connections in the jazz world to bring excellent jazz players to Taos. His show on Wednesday, with Pete Amahl, John Rangel and John Webber is one such example.
No cover is charged for the show. For more information, call (575) 758-2233. For more on the Frank Morgan Jazz Festival, visit taosjazz.org.
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