Lawrence and son

Erik Lawrence, son of Arnie Lawrence is set to perform in the upcoming Jerusalem Jazz Festival.

Erik Lawrence: Following his father’s jazz trail. (photo credit: SID CAESAR)
Erik Lawrence: Following his father’s jazz trail.
(photo credit: SID CAESAR)
The upcoming edition of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, which will take place for the fourth year at the Israel Museum December 12 to 14, is a varied affair. Once again, internationally acclaimed trumpeter, artistic director Avishai Cohen has cooked up a slew of shows that traverse several styles of jazz, taking in straight-ahead fare, jazz heavily seasoned with Latin colors, and experimental projects, jazz tinged with classical flavors, pop-oriented efforts, world music and hip hop.
Anyone who has listened to jazz here at any stage in the past 20 or so years may not be entirely aware of the incontrovertible fact that, were it not for US-born Arnie Lawrence making aliyah in 1997, in all likelihood the music on offer would be of an inferior standard.
The roll call of jazz artists in this country and the many who have left these shores to ply their craft overseas, who owe much of their level of artistry to Lawrence passing on some of his hard-earned wisdom about the discipline, about music in general, and about life, is hefty. Add to that the upper-echelon jazz players from the United States, who benefited from Lawrence’s peerless tutelage at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, such as trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Peter Bernstein, and pianists Brad Mehldau and Larry Goldings, and you begin to get some idea of the scale of Lawrence’s work and influence. The latter also, naturally, applies to his offspring, two of whom, vocalist Marya and saxophone-flutist Erik, followed his trail into the heart of the world of jazz.
LAWRENCE DIED in 2005 after a long career as a leader and sideman, including a lengthy association with modern jazz pioneering trumpeter-vocalist Dizzy Gillespie, and as a lauded educator, both in New York and here. The program for this year’s Jerusalem Jazz Festival deservedly includes two tribute shows, both with Erik front and center. One features several former protégés and collaborators of the late saxophonist and educator, such as vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, double-bass player Hagai Belitzky, drummer Ronen Itzik and vocalist Julia Feldman, with renowned pianist Anat Fort replacing another Lawrence disciple Omri Mor, who will be on tour abroad at the time of the festival.
The second concert will be based on an album recently recorded by Lawrence Jr., Gottlieb and Fort, called Carry Your Heart – A Tribute to Arnie Lawrence, based on the latter’s 1969 release Arnie Lawrence and the Children Of All Ages: Inside An Hourglass. That was the first time that Erik, the now 57-year-old reedman and bandleader participated in a studio session. He says it was quite an adventure for all concerned, young and adult, seasoned musicians and junior contributors alike.
“The record in 1969 was free improvisation and it featured incredible musicians – [bassist] Richard Davis, [pianist] Dick Hyman and [drummer] Ed Shaughnessy.”
Considering he was only eight years old at the time, Lawrence’s part in his dad’s recording was a little less than entirely professional, although it is all down there on the wax.
“My dad was a child prodigy. He was already doing gigs at 12 years old.”
By “gigs,” Lawrence means actually playing music as a bona fide member of a jazz band.
“I wouldn’t say I was a child prodigy,” he recalls. “I grew up in a musical household. My dad made a point to start each one of us on saxophone when we turned five years old. So we had a good understanding of it. I was the one who stuck with it, so that old curved soprano saxophone, from 1921, I ended up playing that, and I played it on the [1969] record.”
Arnie’s loss was Erik’s gain.
“I also played an alto saxophone that used to be his,” Lawrence continues. “He played that on the records he made back in the 1960s. He passed it on to me in the 1980s. We played a lot of gigs together before he moved to Israel, and he would always say he was sorry he gave me it,” Lawrence laughs. “It’s a beautiful horn.”
The young Lawrence wasn’t the only kid at the 1969 session. Another youngster also helped “embellish” the go-with-the-flow sounds being created by the professionals.
“Myself and Richard Davis’s son Dickie, who was five, we’d run around the studio and pick up instruments and just play them, and that made it onto the record.” With that in mind, it is only natural that Gottlieb’s own three, even younger, offspring – Maia, Naor and Maor – who were two years old and under at the time – can also be heard on the tribute release. “Ayelet had this idea that we would recreate this with her children, who were a bit younger, but they made all these beautiful sounds. Some of it is crying, which is not so beautiful, but that’s life.”
The salute to Lawrence Sr. was made in Vancouver, Canada, following an appearance by Fort at the jazz festival there. It was, says Lawrence, basically a matter of things just coming together at the right time, as befitting a jazz venture.
“Ayelet and Anat have had a long association – they are almost sisters,” says Lawrence. “Ayelet was living in Vancouver at the time and I flew over there. Anat had a day off after the festival, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity [to make the tribute record].”
With the personal chemistry well established, it comes as no surprise to hear that the studio session went swimmingly.
“We recorded easily two CDs worth of music,” Lawrence says. “It’s a double CD. It was very difficult to choose what to leave in and what to leave out. It wasn’t one long piece, like my dad’s. Ayelet did some creative things with sounds, including a clip from the original record with my dad playing.” It all sounds both intriguing and emotive.
LAWRENCE SAYS the new record is more than just a nostalgia trip and nod to his dad. It is also part of his own artistic continuum.
“You go back and listen to the [1969] record and you realize these sounds have been in your ear since before you were aware. I have a record, which almost nobody has, with my dad playing baritone saxophone, the kind of record you find, perhaps, on late night TV in the 1960s, of people playing the theme music from sort of Batman and Superman TV shows. He’s not the primary saxophone, he plays baritone throughout. But there’s one solo that he takes – I listened to it, and I thought wow that could be me playing.”
Rather than recoiling from comparisons with his feted father, Lawrence is happy to be mentioned in the same breath as him.
“It’s always a huge compliment for me when someone says I sound like my dad,” he says, although he doesn’t entirely agree with that.
“I don’t think I do sound like him. When I was five years old, he showed me how to play the sax, the notes, how to hold it, how to breathe, and then he said, now just play what you feel. I honestly feel I have been doing that my whole life.”
Lawrence Jr. has been plying his own course through the mysteries of the art form, fronting his Hiptomism band, and mixing free-roaming sounds with poetry, along with his work as a sound and vibrational healer. It is, of course, only fitting that this long-overdue salute to a man who did so much for the Israeli jazz scene should take place in Jerusalem, where Arnie lived out the last eight years of his life, giving young budding jazz artists a giant helping hand along the way.
Shauli Einav was one of his many students who owe Arnie a debt of gratitude for introducing them to the intricacies of improvisational art and giving them some idea of where it all started. Today the thirty-something Paris-based saxophonist Shauli Einav is an established fixture on the global jazz scene, making forays over here every so often to show where he’s at on his creative curve.
“Arnie was bigger than life. He gave all his students a sense of mission. Me too.”
About 20 ago, Lawrence set up a music school in a small old building in Ein Kerem, behind what was then The Lebanese Restaurant, and he’d run weekly jam sessions at the eatery. Einav was a keen participant in the impromptu musical gatherings.
“I remember, after the first time I went there, he told me I had talent. That meant so much to me.”
Einav was possibly the last of the long line of students to play for his beloved teacher.
“I heard he had been transferred to a hospice on Mount Scopus, so I went there with my saxophone and played [Duke Ellington standard] ‘Come Sunday,’ which he loved,” Einav recalls. “I shook his hand, although I don’t think he was really conscious of that, and three hours later he died. It was so sad. Without Arnie, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That’s for sure.”
The Arnie Lawrence tribute shows will take place on December 12 at 8 p.m. and December 14 at noon. For tickets and more information about the Jerusalem Jazz Festival: