Meet the Amazing Musicians that have been part of The Azar Lawrence Experience #TALE

Mr. Azar Lawrence (Saxophonist)

Azar is on fire! Shortly after John Coltane’s death in 1967, Azar Lawrence, at just 19 years old, was chosen by Elvin Jones (for 3.5 years) then McCoy Tyner (for 5 years) to fill the shoes of Mr.Coltrane. Azar recorded and played with Miles Davis on his Dark Magus album, wrote and recorded with Earth, Wind & Fire and Marvin Gaye to name a few!  Azar’s 2018 album, Elementals, garnered such reviews as “Azar Lawrence sounds more like John Coltrane than John Coltrane ever did” Chris May, London Times, a humbling review.  Azar continues to roar with his 8 piece ensemble, The Azar Lawrence Experience, sizzling to the sound of Azar’s original compositions from Elementals and Concord’s reiissued Bridge into the New Age & the 1976  Summer Solstice album!

(Click Here to See Azar’s Full Bio)

Babatunde Lea (Percussion)

Babatunde Lea’s vast experience of nearly forty years as a master percussionist, as well as the spiritual depth and resonance he brings to everything he does, has made him one of the most esteemed musicians of the past half century.   He joined a band called Juju, which relocated to Richmond, Virginia in the early 1970s.  Among the artists with whom he played were Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston, Van Morrison, and Oscar Brown, Jr.. His first album as leader, Levels of Consciousness was released in 1979. He recorded with a band called Phenomena, which grew out of the Loft Jazz Association.   In 2010, Babatunde moved to Pennsylvania to teach at Gettysburg College.

Benito Gonzalez  (Piano)

 After almost seven years of touring with Kenny Garrett, Benito has added numerous festivals and international jazz club dates to his credit. He has also shared the stage with Curtis Fuller, Pharaoh Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, Christian McBride, Ignacio Berroa, Roy Hargrove, Rene McLean, Steve Turre,Delfeayo Marsalis,Hamiet Bluiett, Antonio Sanchez, T.K. Blue, Nicholas Payton, Jackie McLean, and a returning member of The Azar Lawrence Experience.  Benito also took home first prize at the Great American Jazz Piano Competition.

Billy Hart (Drums)

Early on in his career he performed with soul artists such as Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, and then later with Buck Hill and Shirley Horn, and was a sideman with the Montgomery Brothers (1961), Jimmy Smith (1964–1966), and Wes Montgomery (1966–68). Following Montgomery’s death in 1968, Hart moved to New York, where he recorded with McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Zawinul, and played with Eddie Harris, Pharoah Sanders, and Marian McPartland. Hart was a member of Herbie Hancock’s sextet (1969–73), and played with McCoy Tyner (1973–74), Stan Getz (1974–77), and Quest (1980s), in addition to extensive freelance playing (including recording with Miles Davis on 1972’s On the Corner).

Brandon Lewis (Drums)

Drummer Brandon Lee Lewis has performed internationally with artists such as Gil Coggins, Harry Whitaker, Frank Wess, George Mraz, Kenny Garrett, Myron Walden, Azar Lawrence, Lezlie Harrison, Saul Rubin, Avi Rothbard, Anthony Wonsey, David Weiss, Billy Harper, Reggie Workman and Charles Tolliver, among others. He’s also performed on Award-Winning Broadway productions The Color Purple and Memphis and the feature film American Gangster.

Brian Swartz (Trumpet)

 Trumpeter Brian Swartz  has appeared on multiple Grammy nominated and winning recordings with artists including The Dixie Chicks, John Beasley’s Monk’estra , and Kim Richmond’s Concert Jazz Orchestra. He has also performed or recorded with Michael Bublé, Saint Motel, Patti Labelle, Natalie Cole,  Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Luckman Jazz Orchestra, Jose Rizo’s Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars and many more.

Dale Williams (Guitar)

Dale Williams was born and raised in Hyde Park, on the south side of Chicago. While still in Chicago, Williams performed with many other well-known acts such as the the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Phil Coran, as well as the Pharaohs/aka Sky (just to name a few). From there, Williams toured the US with Little Milton, Oscar Brown Jr., the Sun-Ra Arkestra, and Jean Carn.

Williams eventually made his way to Los Angeles, where he would go on to tour with artists such as Watt’s 103rd st. Band, Rebbie Jackson, Otis Day & the Knights, Solomon Burke’s, Mighty Mo Rodgers, Tito Jackson, Dorothy Moore, LL Cool J, Ronnie Laws, Elosie Laws, and Tom Browne. Dale Williams began performing in the local blues, jazz, and R&B scene, where he played with Howard Hewitt, Al B Sure, Faith Evans, Eric Bennet, The Mary Jane Girls, Doug E Fresh, Brian McKnight, and Brandy.

David Weiss (Trumpet)

Weiss started a band with tenor saxophonist Craig Handy. The rest of the band rotated: Benny Green, Stephen Scott, or Dave Kikoski on piano, Christian McBride on bass, and Billy Hart or Jeff Watts on drums. Weiss assisted Handy with the music of The Cosby Mysteries, including arranging the title theme. From there, he began arranging for such artists as Abbey Lincoln, Freddie Hubbard, and Rodney Kendrick, Alto Legacy with Phil Woods, Vincent Herring, and Antonio Hart. He arranged an album called Haunted Melodies in tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, as well as tribute concerts at Birdland for Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little, and Lee Morgan.

Derf Reklaw (Percussion)

Derf is a musician, composer, choreographer, lecturer, vocalist and inventor amongst other things. It is highly appropriate that he resides in Leimert Park LA, which is quickly becoming a focal point for jazz innovation on the West Coast. “From The Nile” is his debut album for Ubiquity and provides sonic testament to his endless capabilities.

Reklaw moved to LA from Chicago in 1979. He is an artist in residence at several educational institutions including UCLA, Santa monica College, LA Conservatory and View Park Academy. His career has enabled him to play to with artists like Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Eddie Harris, Minnie Ripperton, Ahmad Jamal, Sting and Lionel Hampton. This latest album features guest spots from drummer Billy Higgins, poet Kamau Daaood and original member of the Pharoahs Lui Lui Satterfield.

Essiet Essiet (Bass)

In the 1990s, the bassist began what has proven to be a significant freelance career. He has performed and recorded with such notables as Benny Golson, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, Jackie McLean, Kenny Barron, Billy Higgins, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kenny Garrett, Kurt Elling, and Geri Allen. In his festival performance, Essiet leads his own group, IBO, a Nigerian jazz project that mixes jazz harmonies with West African rhythms.

Frank Martin (Piano)

During those early years connecting for lessons with jazz pianist Don Burke exposed him to artists such as Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Toots Thielemans, and Dave Brubeck, which began a lifelong love for jazz.  Frank  is a keyboard player, arranger, composer, conductor, session musician, band leader, and teacher. His list of recording credits include Narada Michael Walden, Whitney Houston, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Regina Bell, Tevin Campbell, and Chris Isaak. He joined Local 510 in the 1970s and is now a Local 6 life member.

Freddie Hendrix (Trumpet)

 Over the past two decades, Freddie Hendrix has become one of the most in demand trumpeters in Jazz, and beyond. Also an accomplished composer, arranger and educator, the Teaneck, New Jersey native’s skill and versatility has resulted in him working with a wide array of performers that range from the Count Basie Orchestra and The Christian McBride Big Band, to Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys.

Gerald Brown (Bass)

Los Angeles native Gerald “Get-Down” Brown is a by-product of the Locke H.S. Msingi Workshop Jazz Band that featured the brilliant pianist Patrice Rushen  and saxophonist Gerald Albright. Having studied under jazz bassist Ray Brown and Thelonius Monk bassist Larry Gales he further his musical education by attending the U.S.C. School of Music, performed in the Symphony Orchestra , and studied String Bass under Professor Milton Kestenbaum. Having played all genres of music in his formative teen years he was well equipped to garner the bass chair for Marvin Gaye through an  audition and recorded The Live At The London Palladium album in 1976. Other artist for whom he has performed with are: Michael Jackson, Maurice White(EW&F), Hubert Laws, Freddie Hubbard, Willie Bobo, The Emotions, Ronnie  Laws, Norman Connors, Kenny Burrell, Doug Carn, Harold Land Sr., Gene Chandler, Nancy Wilson, Stephanie Mills,Diane Reeves, and the Big Bands of Gerald Wilson, Teddy Edwards, Oliver Nelson and Joe Williams.

Henry Franklin (Bass)

In 1968, after a year-long tour of the East Coast playing with Willie Bobo and working gigs on his days off with Archie Shepp, Lamont Johnson, Beaver Harris and Roswell Rudd, Hugh Masekela heard Henry play and made him an offer. Three and a half years later the two would collaborate on Grazing in the Grass.  He continued touring over the next few years, working internationally with singer O.C. Smith, The Three Sounds, Freddie Hubbard and Count Basie. Franklin collected another gold record with Stevie Wonder on Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants.  Franklin appears on more than 100 albums, with many of them produced under his leadership, and has also published a method book for all bass players entitled, Bassically Yours.

Jeff Watts (Drums)

Jeff Watts, the drummer they call “Tain,” spent his formative years with Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Watts was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship Award in 2017.   Jeff joined the Wynton Marsalis Quartet in 1981 and proceeded to win three Grammy Awards with the ensemble: Black Codes From The Underground, J Mood and Marsalis Standard Time. Watts has worked with George Benson, Harry Connick. Jr. and McCoy Tyner.  He has won Grammy’s for I Heard You Twice the First Time and Contemporary Jazz.  In the film and television industry Jeff has appeared as both a musician on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and as an actor, Rhythm Jones in Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues“. Jeff has also worked with Danilo Perez, Michael Brecker, Betty Carter, Kenny Kirkland, Courtney Pine, Geri Allen, Alice Coltrane, Greg Osby, McCoy Tyner, Steve Coleman, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Harry Connick Jr, and Ravi Coltrane.

Lawrence Shaw (Bass)

Born and Raised in the heart of Los Angeles, Shaw was the product of a musical family. He grew up listening to Jazz artists such as Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal, Jackie Mclean to name a few.  At 8 years old he picked up the bass thru Kids helping Kids. Music has taken him everywhere from playing local festivals such as Coachella to traveling internationally to Brazil, Cuba, after graduating from LACHSA he formed the duo Black Nile with Aaron Shaw. He has been able to work and play with many different artists including: Herbie Hancock, Elle Varner, Jackson Brown, Wayne Shorter, Sheila E, Raphael Saadiq, John Legend, Michael Sessions, Michael Buble, Amine, Booker T & the MG’s.

Lenny White (Drums)

Lenny White is a three-time Grammy Award-winning American jazz fusion drummer, White has been described as “one of the founding fathers of jazz fusion.  A versatile drummer, he is still best known for being part of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever in the 1970’s.  White was self-taught on drums and he largely started his career on top, playing regularly with Jackie McLean (1968) and recording “Bitches Brew” with Miles Davis in 1969.  Lenny was soon working with some of the who’s who of jazz including Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henerdson, Woody Shaw, Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans,Stanley clarke and Stan Getz among others.

Mahesh Balasooriya (Piano)

Mahesh Balasooriya is an accomplished and very seasoned pianist.  He performed at the White House with Arturo Sandoval in 2014.  He also has played with Natalie Cole, Stanley Clarke, Ravi Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, just to name a few and is the music director for Engelbert Humperdinck.  Mahesh comes from a great tradition of amazing musicians from the Greater Los Angeles area and the University of Southern California.

Masumi Yamamoto (Piano)

Pop Star Masumi was born in Niigata, Japan. She started piano lessons in YAMAHA Music School starting at age 4.  Her first single “Slow Down”, which had Japanese and English lyrics, went to #4 on the Hip-Hop, R&B chart in Billboard Magazine. She has composed film score music and programmed music for some TV Shows, such as America’s Got Talent, The Little Big Shot and many more. She plays the piano in her own trio and Trevor Lawrence’s Quartet. She went on a tour with them to the East Coast in 2015.

Michael Bowie (Bass)

Michael Bowie indeed has worked with some of the giants in jazz and R&B. The list of artists includes Patti Labelle, James Ingram, Jeff Majors, Abbey Lincoln, Angie Stone, and Isaac Hayes. He has shared his talents in the recording studio and on the stage with Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, Abbey Lincoln, Manhattan Transfer, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House Orchestra, Della Reece, Michel Camilo and Ricky Skaggs. He has appeared on countless television shows such as Black Entertainment Television, Austin City Limits, Charlie Rose, Radio One, as well as major venues and festivals such as Carnegie Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival, Playboy Jazz Festival, DC Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival, and most other major festivals worldwide.

Michael Hunter (Trumpet)

Michael Hunter is an accomplished Trumpet player who has recorded with many artists, such as Lenny Kravitz, James Brown, Teena Marie and Rick James. He has toured with Boz Scaggs, Lenny Kravitz, Al McKay & The LA All-Stars and many more.

Munyungo Jackson (Percussion)

Despite his youthful appearance, Munyungo is no newcomer: in his over thirty years of playing, he has developed an awesome versatility & became a well-respected & much requested session, concert & tour player. He has performed with Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Kenny Loggins, Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves, the Zawinul Syndicate, George Howard, Ronnie Laws, The Temptations, Four Tops, The Supremes, Bennie Maupin, Bill Summers, Marcus Miller, & dozens of others, including numerous ethnic music & dance troupes.

Neil Clark (Percussion)

Neil Clarke has had performing, touring and recording relationships with many notable artists over the years.   He has had ongoing collaborations with Randy Weston and fellow African Rhythms sideman Alex Blake, Benny Powell.  Neil has enjoyed long-standing relationships with such notable artists as Harry Belafonte, Onaje Allen Gumbs, Dianne Reeves, David Sanborn, Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu, Carlos Garnet, Paul Winter, the Spirit Ensemble, Tulivu Donna Cumberbatch, the late Noel Pointer, the late Arthur Prysock, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the International African American Ballet, and many others.

Roy McCurdy (Drums)

Before joining Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet in 1965, Roy  had played with Chuck and Gap Mangione in the Jazz Brothers , as well as with Bobby Timmons, Betty Carter and Sonny Rollins , appearing on the classic 1963 album Sonny Meets Hawk!  He has also played and/or recorded with Count Basie, Wes Montgomery, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Joe Williams, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Art Pepper, and the jazz rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Steve Turre (Trombone)

Steve Turre’s career picked up momentum when Ray Charles hired him to go on tour. A year later Turre’s mentor Woody Shaw brought him into Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. After his tenure with Blakey, Turre went on to work with a diverse list of musicians from the jazz, Latin, and pop worlds, including Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, J.J. Johnson, Herbie Hancock, Lester Bowie, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Van Morrison, Pharoah Sanders, Horace Silver, Max Roach, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The latter introduced hum to the seashell as an instrument. Soon after that, while touring in Mexico City with Woody Shaw, Turre’s relatives informed him that his ancestors similarly played the shells. Since then, Turre has incorporated seashells into his diverse musical style. In addition to performing as a member of the Saturday Night Live Band since 1984

Tateng Katindig (Piano)

Kateng has performed with some of the world’s jazz players like Lou Rawls, Richie Cole, Carl Saunders, Teddy Edwards Bill Henderson, Earl Palmer, Sam Most, Eric Marienthal, Kevyn Lettau, Hubert Laws, Debra Laws, Eloise Laws, Alphonse Mouzon. He was also the musical director for Martin Nievera, Ogie Alcasid, Becca Godinez and Dessa’s Hollywood Bowl performance with the Apl de Ap Foundation which was a great success.

Theo Crocker (Trumpet)

In 2013 Croker returned to the United States after a seven-year stay in Shanghai, China, where he broadened his concept of jazz to encompass other complementary genres such as salsa, fusion-rock, R&B, hip hop and blues. While in Shanghai, he held a five-month residency at Shanghai’s House of Blues.  Soon after that he was hired as the house band for Asia Uncut Star Network, a late-night television show modeled on the Tonight Show  where Theo served as music director, bandleader .

Theo Saunders (Piano)

Theo Saunders has performed and recorded with dozens of jazz luminaries and worked extensively in the bands of Freddie Hubbard, Carla Bley, Sonny Fortune, Bob Brookmeyer, and John Klemmer, as well as Azar Lawrence.   He participates in the historic album, “Living Time” on Columbia Records which brought together the writing of composer George Russell and pianist Bill Evans. Theo played electric piano and clavinet and the band consisted of a pantheon of great jazz musicians, including Joe Henderson, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez,  Sam Rivers, Jimmy Guiffre, Snooky Young and Howard Johnson. His latest recording, “Trane Stories” with Teodross Avery, Dwight Trible, Henry Franklin, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith also features Azar Lawrence as a guest on “Afro Blue”. This recording marks his ninth as a leader and he has been a sideman on more than 50 jazz recordings.

Tony Austin (Drums)

 Drummer, Composer and Producer Tony Austin is one of the most versatile and sought-after artists in the United States. He is known for combining the artistry of drumming with his vast knowledge of sound recording and music production to make him a preferential component in numerous musical projects.  Carlos Santana, India Arie, Erykah Badu and Roy Hargrove count themselves among the many who have hired him for his technical and physical gifts.   He has also performed, recorded and collaborated with a wealth of talented artists including Gwen Stefani, Charles Lloyd, Billy Childs, Willow Smith, Jon Brion,Kamasi Washington, Daniel Bedingfield, Salvador Santana, Solomon Burke, John Avila (Oingo Boingo), and Meyer Hawthorne.

Trevor Ware (Bass)

Trevor Ware is well recognized as one of the most supportive jazz bassists in Los Angeles.  His style focuses not only on producing a supportive bass tone with impeccable intonation, but also features long, creative, well developed bass lines. Developing his love for music at The World Stage Performance Gallery.  After being offered his first professional gig by legendary pianist and composer Horace Tapscott & New York saxophonist Sonny Fortune, Ware developed as sense of musical adventure playing in Tapscott’s quartet and Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra Having appeared on over 40 recordings, Ware’s current musical associations include Kenny Burrell, Molly Ringwald, Jeff Goldblum & The Count Basie Orchestra.

Windy Barnes Farrell (Vocals)

Windys’ luxurious vocals move effortlessly from Jazz to Pop, to R&B and Gospel. It’s easy to see why she is one of the most sought after singers around the globe. Windy has been featured extensively on tour with the highest grossing balladeer in the world, Julio Iglesias. She has traveled the world many times over with one of the most imitated, respected and endearing singer/songwriter/musician of the 21st century, Stevie Wonder. She has also performed with  Michael Bolton.  It stands to reason why the unique vocal styling’s of Windy Barnes is recognized all over the world.

Yayo Morales (Drums)

Yayo Morales after spending many years of international acclaim, living and working in Europe, performing with top Jazz, Latin Jazz and Flamenco stars, moved and is now situated in L.A. Drummer, Composer, Producer, Arranger and Educator, Yayo has played with an array of talent, such as:, Jerry González, Chano Domínguez, “Tomatito”, Jorge Pardo, Carles Benavent, and many other artists including Rita Marley, La Barbería del Sur, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin, Azar Lawrence, Bobby Bradford, Steve Cotter, Theo Saunders, Benn Clatworthy and Ron Stout to mention a few.  His own project entitled “Los Andes Jazz Project” parts one and two, based on rhythms and folkloric styles from Bolivia and the Andes fused with jazz was awarded a diploma from the Honorable Alcaldía Municipal de La Paz (Bolivia) and the Oficialía Mayor de Culturas for his work, in recognition for his contribution to the development of Bolivian contemporary music.