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Hubert Laws: Flute Virtuoso and NEA Jazz Master

By Published: February 23, 2011
HL: I didn't even realize the level of the appreciation that it bestowed on me. So I appreciate it even more. But, you know what? I'm a very gregarious type of person, so it has allowed me to do some things that I haven't been able to do recently. That is: get into a studio with a bunch of musicians, and we play the music; the camaraderie—that's what it does. Gives me the opportunity to see people I haven't seen in a long time—Todd Barkan, Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
. I hadn't seen Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
in years! We used to do recording sessions over there at Rudy Van Gelder
Rudy Van Gelder
Rudy Van Gelder
's studio. I told him, "Johnny, you used to come in and tell the flute section: no vibrato!"

AAJ: Who did you first hear play jazz on flute?

HL: The first flautist that I heard improvise was James Moody, when I was in high school. I hadn't aspired to play the flute but my high school band director, Sammy Harris, decided to play the William Tell Overture at our graduation. But there was no one to play the flute. Some friend had a flute in his attic and gave it to me at that strategic time. I tried to learn the instrument just to play that solo.

AAJ: You played other instruments before that, right?

HL: I played saxophone and clarinet in high school. My first instrument was piano, and my first wind instrument was the mellophone, which looks like a French horn but the pistons were like on a trumpet. And I found out, when doing some research on Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
, that's what he played, too. But I didn't get a chance to talk with him about that commonality.

But that flute experience led me to other aspects of...excellence. Excellence is pervasive. It doesn't have to be on your instrument to influence you. Why? Because it inspires me to be as excellent as I can in what I do.

AAJ: What part of the day or night do you like to hear music best and why?

HL: The best music that I'm able to see and hear is when most people are asleep, after midnight, from 12-6am. The master teacher said this: "Go in through the narrow road, because the wide and spacious road can lead to destruction." That's deep, and it's true, because quality, man, is not enjoyed by the majority.

Look at McDonald's hamburgers. Most people are going down that road. And, likewise, most people are totally oblivious about what's happening musically—I mean on a high level. That's why there's such a degradation of society, because they're being inspired by some of the most non-substantive music and art. See?

AAJ: What are the distinctions between European classical and American jazz?

HL: The European influence comes from the classical composers. Their music is contrived; but that doesn't invalidate it. It just means it's written and studied before it's performed. Jazz is mostly spontaneous, on the spot, composition. There's some written too, but it's as an outline for jazz expression. It gives vent for a person to express themselves spontaneously. That's the difference, see? Even Stravinsky recognized that; he loved jazz too, that spontaneous composition. That's what I love about it. But classical is a very valid music. I just love some of the composers: Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, and Rachmaninoff. There are so many composers who are so wonderful.

AAJ: Didn't you do the New Earth Sonata and Telemann's Suite in A Minor, with Quincy Jones conducting?

HL:Yes. The New Earth Sonata was written by a friend of mine, who just passed away a few weeks ago [December 19, 2010], Harold Blanchard. The composition had the flute, guitar, percussion, and Chick [Corea] played the piano.

AAJ: What's the purpose of music?

HL: Most people have lost the whole meaning of the purpose of music. And if they go back in history, they'll learn that music was created by a Master Musician who created life and existence. If they study scripture, they'll find out it's really for the praise of the Creator, Jehovah. However, like many other things, it becomes perverted. You don't use the base of a lamp to hammer a nail into the wall. That's a perverted use of the lamp base. It's supposed to hold the lamp so you can have light. People have taken music and perverted it in order to aggrandize human beings.

That's giving praise to the created one rather than to the Creator. I notice people bringing up the names of this artist and that artist—that's good, and gives honor to those people, but what about the one who created it?

AAJ: What about on the human level of expression?

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