He has two solo albums to his name and has also recorded with the likes of Erykah Badu and Boyz II Men. His music has been described as “pure, unadulterated New York City and Philadelphia jazz” (Elements of Jazz). Lawrence performs regularly with pianist Orrin Evan’s Captain Black Big Band, saxophonist Norman David and the Eleventet, the Shrine Big Band, saxophonist Tim Armacost’s Brooklyn Big Band and singer Laurin Talese.
What is your first musical memory?
The earliest music that I remember hearing was Earth, Wind & Fire. My dad was really into that band. It was all just brass heavy, and the sound of the trumpet section was the first music that I can recall.
Both of my parents had studied music in college. My mom was more of a Broadway person - she studied at Juilliard and was into the American Songbook, so I knew the different instruments, but I was definitely attracted to brass. And at that time, too, John Williams had come out with the Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark music, which is all just soaring brass Those are all the things that I first remember catching my attention; I guess I was always a brass player at heart.
Who is the most influential character [relative, teacher, player] in your musical development, and why?
My band director when I was in high school, Tony Biancosino. He was a great saxophonist and educator, and I was really lucky to have met him at the time, because I didn’t really know that “musician” was a “career option,” and he was kind of an old school, music union type - played a lot of gigs around Philly, went to Temple, got a doctorate in music, and he was really into American Classical music and symphonic music for wind ensemble, and of course on top of that, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. And I was playing in the high school big band where we would read, like, 200 charts a year and play swing dances, but also played in the university wind ensemble, and that was all through him, so he really exposed me to most of the “serious working musician” type of things that I was doing, and really pushed me.
If you could play with any artist who has passed, who would that be and why?
I would say the Count Basie Orchestra, and I would want to play on Second Trumpet, and just take plunger solos all night. That’s all I’d want to do. If that were a possibility, to be on the road most of the year, and sit there and growl, and swing, and drink bourbon with the rest of the guys. That’s one of those bands that I think would be the most fun to be in.
Is jazz relevant today and, if so, how?
To me, it’s very relevant, just because it speaks to me. What’s interesting about the term, “jazz,” is so many types of music are labeled as that anymore (if we’re using this broad label of improvisational instrumental music, which is what most of jazz could be classified as). It could be Louis Armstrong to big band to bebop to hard bop, all the way to today, where it’s like smooth jazz, certain rock music, or electronica could be jazz. You’ve got a lot to choose from, depending on who you are and what type of music you’re into it. This broad label allows you to pretty much find anything you could want. To me, music is for a certain mood I have. If I’m drinking lots of coffee and walking around, I’m probably listening to bebop because it’s getting me to move. When I was in New York, I was listening to bebop all the time. It just had this fast motion, and it makes you move. But sometimes I’m not in the mood for bebop, and I just want to chill out with a glass of wine and listen to Sarah Vaughan, or Clifford Brown with Strings. Or maybe I want to listen to something a little more hip; maybe I’m listening to the Mingus stuff from mid 60’s. I kind of came up with Radiohead and stuff like that, and that’s like the new hip thing - if you’re a young, mid 20’s jazz musician you cover Radiohead. It really depends on the person and what they’re into, but I think it’s really relevant because there’s something that relates to everyone.
Without getting into the “what is jazz?”, and what does the term even mean, but as far as how it exists in society, then it definitely serves as just a general palette of different tastes for anything. I saw an interview recently with someone who said jazz can be thrown around and applied to so many different things that whatever mood you’re in, you can find some music. And that’s just somebody that’s not a musician - the average person might want to go to a club and find some music they like, if they are attuned to being open to that experience. Like I said, even in Philadelphia, on any given night, unfortunately a lot of places have shut down, but you can go to Time on a Monday night and get your r’n’b fix, or go to Triumph Brewery and see a more open, free improvisation, more electric, rock type thing. You can go to LaRose on a Sunday to see the old heads playing 4/4 swing. People just need to find what is attractive to them. But there’s so much in jazz that it’s definitely relevant to anyone who has ears to hear it.