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A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, KNKX and Jazz24 celebrate highly regarded jazz creators who continue to inspire.

Hubert Laws brings passion and prowess to the flute across genres

Musician Hubert Laws performs at the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Awards Ceremony and Concert held in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.
Charles Sykes
FR170266 AP
Musician Hubert Laws performs at the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Awards Ceremony and Concert held in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.

Hubert Laws is another one of those ubiquitous players whose work can be found everywhere, but whose name you may need to search for.

Unless you’re deeply entrenched in the world of soul jazz players, pop music sidemen or highly accomplished woodwind players, you might not recognize his name. Then again, if you’ve listened to pop, popular spoken word or Black opera singers in the last 50 years, then you’ve definitely heard him play.

In 1960, he won a scholarship to Julliard, where he studied with master flautist Julius Baker. Throughout the '60s and '70s, Laws would go on to play with both the New York Metropolitan Opera orchestra and the New York Philharmonic orchestra while also doing recording session work with some of the most recognized names in music, including Paul McCartney and Paul Simon.

Laws is listed as a bandleader on over 25 albums for CTI, Atlantic, Sony, Columbia and Music Masters Jazz records, just to name a few. He's played a delicious mix of soul jazz with topical '70s flare and reimagined some of classical music’s most romantic and popular themes, such as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.

The listener can find themselves both in a breathtaking romantic trance while taking part in an authentic roller disco setting where “Roll and Bounce” dreams can come true.

If you’ve ever heard “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by jazz poet, singer and musician Gil Scott-Heron then you’ve heard Laws in the recording. That’s him on flute, right out front there, from 1971 to eternity.

Laws also played on songs with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, guitarist Melvin Sparks, and pianist Joe Sample. Not to mention his collaborations with visionaries like Quincy Jones and Chick Corea, including playing Bach, Mozart and Scarlatti during the “Ultimate Classical + Improvisation Collaboration" tour.

In addition, Laws has recorded with prominent Black opera singers Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman on their 1991 release Spirituals in Concert, conducted by James Levine.

In 1993 and '94, he released two albums - My Time Will Come and Storm Then the Calm. The first opens with a sumptuous retelling of the popular flamenco tune “Malaguena,” arranged by composer Don Sebesky.

This 10-minute song opens slowly and deliberately with a focus on the flute part itself. Later, with vocalists and familiar rhythms, the piece travels across the mind of the listener at the speed of passion.

Laws was a recipient of the 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award. He has nominated for three Grammys and been named "Number One Flutist" over a dozen times in DownBeat magazine's annual readers' poll.

In 2023, Laws took the stage with his quintet at the Portland Jazz Festival. One reviewer wrote that, even at age 83, Laws "was nimble as an elite athlete on his instruments."
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Stephanie Anne Johnson