True Legends of Jazz

Feat. Norman Connors and the Starship Orchestra, Ronnie Laws, Lonnie Liston Smith, Jean Carne & Marva King

 

Norman Connors and the Starship Orchestra

Norman Connors is an American jazz drummer, composer, arranger, and producer who has led some influential jazz and R&B groups. He also achieved several big R&B hits of the day, especially with love ballads. He is possibly best known for the 1976 hit, “You Are My Starship” on which lead vocals were sung by Michael Henderson.

Like Roy Ayers, George Benson, and Patrice Rushen, Norman Connors is best known for his major R&B hits but started out as a jazz improviser. The drummer/composer was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he lived in the same neighborhood as Bill Cosby and became interested in jazz when he was only a child. As a kid in elementary school, Connors was exposed to jazz extensively thanks to such schoolmates as drummer Lex Humphries and the younger brother of bassist and Jazz Messenger-to-be Spanky De Brest. Connors was in junior high when he began sneaking into jazz clubs and sat in for Elvin Jones at a John Coltrane gig. At 13, he first got to meet his idol, Miles Davis, and started expressing his admiration for the famous trumpeter by dressing like him. Connors went on to study music at Philly’s Temple University and the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Gigs with Jackie McLean, Jack McDuff, and Sam Rivers followed, and he was first recorded as a sideman when Archie Shepp employed him on his 1967 Impulse! session Magic of Ju-Ju.

After touring with Pharoah Sanders and playing on several of his albums, Connors signed with Buddah’s Cobblestone label in 1972 and recorded his first album as a leader, Dance of Magic and its follow-up, Dark of Light. A few more jazz-oriented Cobblestone and Buddah dates followed, and it was in 1975 that Connors made R&B his main priority with Saturday Night Special (which included the number ten soul hit “Valentine Love”). The rest of the 1970s found Connors featuring R&B singers prominently (including Michael Henderson, Jean Carn, and the late Phyllis Hyman) and scoring such R&B hits as “We Both Need Each Other,” “Once I’ve Been There,” and the lovely “You Are My Starship.” Connors, who signed with Arista in 1977, wasn’t as popular or as visible in the 1980s, although he would make a comeback in the 1990s by signing with Motown’s MoJazz label and focusing on both urban contemporary and crossover. The 21st century found him moving along similar lines, releasing Eternity on Starship Records in 2000 and Star Power in 2009 on Shanachie Records.

 

Ronnie Laws

Ronnie Laws was born in Houston, Texas in 1950, where he taught himself to play alto saxophone when he was 11. He comes from a musical family. His older brother is noted Jazz Flautist Hubert Laws, and he occasionally tours with his sister Debra Laws, a vocalist. Ronnie Laws left college early and moved to Los Angeles to make it as a musician in 1970 and worked with the Jazz Crusaders and Hugh Masakela, among others. He played saxophone and flute with Earth, Wind & Fire for two years, appearing on their 1972 album Last Days and Time.
His first solo record was Pressure Sensitive on Blue Note Records in 1975 and it yielded his biggest hit Always There. Over the years Ronnie Laws has performed and recorded with an A list of musicians including Howard Hewitt, Brian Culbertson, Ramsey Lewis, Jeff Lorber, Alphonse Mouzon, Sister Sledge and many others. Atlanta’s Jazz Station 91.9 WCLK played Always There in 1975 and we’ve played his music ever since. He joined us in the WCLK studio last month when he was in town with Debra to play live at Suite Food Lounge.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas Laws is the fifth of eight children. He started playing the saxophone at the age of 11.
He attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, for two years.
During 1971 Laws journeyed to Los Angeles, California to embark upon a musicial career. He started off by performing with trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Within 1972, Laws joined the band Earth, Wind & Fire where he played saxophone and flute on their album Last Days and Time. After 18 months with EWF he went on to become a solo artist.[2]
During 1975 Laws issued his debut album entitled Pressure Sensitive on Blue Note Records. The album reached No. 25 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart. In 1976, Laws went on to release his second LP Fever. The album reached No. 13 on the Billboard Top Soul LPs chart.
Laws’ fourth studio LP, entitled Flame was released in September 1978 on United Artists Records. The LP reached No. 16 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums.

 

Lonnie Liston Smith

Lonnie Liston Smith, Jr. is an American jazz, soul, and funk musician who played with such jazz artists as Pharoah Sanders and Miles Davis before forming Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes, recording a number of albums widely regarded as classics in the fusion, smooth jazz and acid jazz genres

Lonnie Liston Smith is one of contemporary music’s most versatile musicians. In a career that spans some 40 years, he has been heard in a variety of context as a featured sideman for some of Jazz music’ most illustrious leaders before stepping out to reveal his own original concepts as a band leader in the mid 70’s. He is a keyboardist of the first rank and has influenced a generation of young players that have acknowledged his rhythmic urgency (swing), harmonic acumen and composing skills.

Lonnie was born in Richmond, Virginia into a musical family. His father was a member of the Gospel Group, “The Harmonizing Four”. In 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt invited “The Harmonizing Four” to sing at the White House following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lonnie remembers such gospel groups as “The Dixie Humming Birds” and “The Soul Stirrers” with Sam Cooke, being frequent visitors at his family’s home.

There was a piano in the house and he began investigating it before formal instructions a few years later. It was during high school that Lonnie became infatuated with modern Jazz through hearing alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, one of the creative geniuses in music. It was not long before he was listening to Miles Davis (a future employer) and John Coltrane. Lonnie also began listening to great pianist geniuses, such as: Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Earl “Father” Hines, Erroll Garner and the many other piano geniuses.

After graduating from Armstrong High School, Lonnie entered Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, where he majored in music education and earned his B.S. degree. While attending Morgan State University, Lonnie became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and also a member of the music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

Lonnie began performing in the Baltimore area where he became adept at backing vocalists such as Ethel Ennis and visiting dignitaries like Betty Carter. While attending Morgan State University, he began performing with his peers, Gary Bartz (alto saxophonist), Grachan Moncur (trombonist), and Mickey Bass (on upright bass). After college, Lonnie moved to New York City and began performing with the top vocalists, such as, Betty Carter and Joe Williams. Soon after, Lonnie joined Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers and after The Jazz Messengers, he got a call to perform with drummer, Max Roach, which was unusual because Max rarely used a pianist in his ensemble. Unfortunately, his year with Roach was not documented on vinyl, but these gigs did elevate his status as one of the up and coming players on the scene. He then enjoyed a 2 year stay with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and recorded 2 records with Rahsaan entitled, “Please Don’t Cry Beautiful Edith” on Verve Records and “Here Comes the Whistleman” on Atlantic Records.

Lonnie’s next 3 jobs were perhaps the most important stepping stones in his career. He got the call from Pharaoh Sanders in 1968 and made his mark in one of the most visible ensembles of the day. Pharaoh who had worked with John Coltrane until his death in 1967, was (and still is), an intense creator who was extending the boundaries of improvised music. Lonnie and Pharaoh created spontaneously at every moment. Lonnie, also began to experiment with electric keyboards and created a rich Cosmic sound to support Pharaoh’s impassioned tenor saxophone flights.
Lonnie composed a COSMIC 21st Century 12 bar Blues entitled, “Astral Travelling”, which appeared on Pharaoh’s “Thembi” CD. Lonnie’s compositions for Pharaoh’s other CDs “Upper Egypt”, “Karma”,

“The Creator Has a Master Plan”, “Summum, Bukmun, Umyun”, and “Jewels of Thought” were essential to the band’s sound. Argentinean, saxophonist, Gato Barbieri, heard Lonnie performing with Pharaoh and asked Lonnie to record with him and Lonnie recorded the following CDs with Gato:
“The Third World”, “El Pampero”, “Bolivia”, “Fenix” and also “Under Fire”. Also on these same CDs were such talented artists as: Ron Carter, Bernard Purdie, Stanley Clarke, Airto, John Abercombie and Nana Vasconcelos. In late 1971 or early 1972, Lonnie and Gato were performing in Rome, Italy and one night the movie director, Bernardo Bertolucci, stopped by to discuss the sound track for the movie, “Last Tango in Paris”.

Lonnie composed a COSMIC 21st Century 12 bar Blues entitled, “Astral Travelling”, which appeared on Pharaoh’s “Thembi” CD. Lonnie’s compositions for Pharaoh’s other CDs “Upper Egypt”, “Karma”,
“The Creator Has a Master Plan”, “Summum, Bukmun, Umyun”, and “Jewels of Thought” were essential to the band’s sound. Argentinean, saxophonist, Gato Barbieri, heard Lonnie performing with Pharaoh and asked Lonnie to record with him and Lonnie recorded the following CDs with Gato:
“The Third World”, “El Pampero”, “Bolivia”, “Fenix” and also “Under Fire”. Also on these same CDs were such talented artists as: Ron Carter, Bernard Purdie, Stanley Clarke, Airto, John Abercombie and Nana Vasconcelos. In late 1971 or early 1972, Lonnie and Gato were performing in Rome, Italy and one night the movie director, Bernardo Bertolucci, stopped by to discuss the sound track for the movie, “Last Tango in Paris”.

In 1974, Producer, Bob Thiele, signed Lonnie to a solo recording contract. “Astral Traveling” and “Cosmic Funk” were Lonnie’s first 2 CDs. However, it was his album (CD) , “Expansions” that broke Lonnie into the major leagues as a worldwide leader. The CD was a breath of fresh air in 1975 as it combined solid Jazz playing with creative crossover elements that did not dilute the music. While many of Lonnie’s contemporaries were making records that were artistically bankrupt, (fusion music at this time had become big business), his CDs retained warmth and fire. He recorded several more albums in this vein, including “Visions of a New World” and “Renaissance” before he was approached by CBS. Lonnie continued to make good records for them as well, “Loveland”, “Exotic

In 1973 Lonnie received the important call to join the Miles Davis ensemble. Lonnie recorded 2 CDs with Miles, “On The Corner” and “Big Fun”. Lonnie said working with Miles Davis was his greatest experience and joy. Miles was a genius on stage and off stage because Miles has produced more band leaders than any other musician in the history of creative music. Mysteries”, “Song for the Children” and “Love Is The Answer”.

Years later Lonnie renewed his association with Bob Thiele again, who had a distribution deal with CBS, and once again recorded well received albums, “Silhouettes”, “Rejuvenation”, and “Dreams of Tomorrow”. Also, during this time period, Lonnie discovered a young, 16 year old bassist, Marcus Miller. Lonnie also appeared on the Jazz Explosion All Star Tours with Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Ayers, Jean Carne, Angela Bofil, Stanley Clarke, Gato Barbieri, Tom Brown, Wayne Henderson, Jon Lucien and Ronnie Laws, and kept his audience through incessant roadwork. In the 90’s, Lonnie got involved with “Guru Jazzmataz Volume One” (Rap meets Jazz) and was discovered by an all new young audience. Lonnie also has had two hit singles with Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z . Mary J. Blige sampled Lonnie’s composition “A Garden of Peace” in her Grammy winning single, “Take Me As I Am” and Jay -Z also sampled, “A Garden of Peace” in his hit sample, “Dead Presidents”
Early in Lonnie’s musical career, he recognized the magical and healing power of music. Using the medium of music, he has expanded the consciousness and raised the moral values of humanity on the planet Earth. Lonnie said his greatest desire and hope in life is that the human race learns to live in peace and harmony and not make war.

 

Jean Carne

Jean has recorded and shared the stage with some of music’s most prolific Artists, Producers and Songwriters over the years, including Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls, The O’Jays, Phyllis Hyman, among other stellar Performers.

Carne has also acted as vocal coach for numerous Singers in the music fraternity including the Supremes’ Mary Wilson and Michael Jackson.

Born Sarah Jean Perkins in Columbus, Georgia, Jean Carn and was raised in Atlanta. Georgia. Her singing ability was so striking that at age four she sang solo with her church choir. Encouraged by her parents, Carn became proficient on the piano, organ, clarinet, English horn, oboe and bassoon.

Jean attended Booker T. Washington High in Atlanta, participating in an experimental course of study which emphasized Russian, advanced mathematics and sciences. Upon graduation she accepted a scholarship to Morris Brown College, where, she not only continued to study Russian but performed every genre from musical theater to grand opera. Carn dashed her plans to attend Juilliard School of Music in New York when she met and married Jazz pianist, Doug Carn (now divorced) and partnered with him in what would become a trend setting jazz- fusion tradition. The couple based themselves in Hollywood, California, where they were invited by Earth Wind And Fire leader, Maurice White to appear on the groups first 2 recordings “Earth Wind And Fire” and “The Need Of Love”. Doug and Jean soon released the first of three early albums – “Infant Eyes,” followed by “Spirit Of The New Land,” and “Revelation” on Black Jazz/Ovation Records. Jean’s vocal interpretations of instrumental classics brought by Jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner and Horace Silver, expanded the display of her musical abilities to Jazz Lovers, worldwide. As feature Singer and vocal arranger for Norman Connors, Jean recalls with fondness, vocal coaching and producing Glen Jones, Phyllis Hyman and Michael Henderson, with whom she recorded 1975 hit “Valentine Love”.

In 1976, Jean signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. Her debut album in 1977, Jean Carn was a classy affair that merged the best of ’70s soul and jazz with solid songwriting and tight instrumental support (MFSB, Instant Funk). The debut single “Free Love” became a tremendous international dance anthem. Several of the album’s tracks received massive radio airplay. In June 1978, her second album for the label, Happy to Be With You was released and included the hit single “Don’t Let It Go to Your Head”, which was covered by numerous artists including, The Brand New Heavies and rap group The Brand Nubian. Carn’s third Philadelphia International album, When I Find You Love, was produced by Dexter Wansel, Gamble and Huff and The Iceman – Jerry Butler. The album rates as one of Jean’s best and most enthusiastically received efforts. The smooth and haunting “My Love Don’t Come Easy”, written and produced by O’Jays – Walter Williams, Eddie Levert and Conductor – Dennis Williams and co-arranged by Dexter Wansel wooed music aficionados in five continents the summer of 1979.

1981 brought Sweet and Wonderful which featured a duet that introduced singer, Glenn Jones. It contained a stunning and sultry remake of the Spinners’ “Love Don’t Love Nobody,” on which Jean sang all the backgrounds. With artistic and critical successes in tow, Carn moved to Motown Records in 1982, making her label debut with the album Trust Me. The single “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” a cover of the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes hit with backing vocals by The Temptations received rave reviews. Her career continued and thanks to what she describes as her “devoted following,” Carn continued to perform internationally.

In 1987, before signing with the Omni/Atlantic label, Jean added an “e” to her last name on the advice of numerologist, Lloyd Strayhorn. To reward her name change, Closer Than Close, produced by and featuring saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. was released in July of that year and the title track went to number one R&B. Her 1988 album You’re a Part of Me included a hit cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” produced by Nick Martinelli. Carne later signed with Place One Entertainment, which reunited her with former Omni/Atlantic president, Steve Bernstein, yielding her Love Lessons album. By popular demand of Jean’s European audiences, Expansion Records released Collaborations, an album compiled by label founder, Ralph T and journalist/vocalist David Nathan featuring Carne’s various musical pairings with artists such as Grover Washington Jr., Billy Paul, Michael Henderson, Roy Ayres, The Temptations over the years.

Jean has recorded and shared the stage with some of music’s most prolific Artists, Producers and Songwriters over the years, including Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls, The O’Jays, Phyllis Hyman, among other stellar Performers. Carne has also acted as vocal coach for numerous Singers in the music fraternity including the Supremes’ Mary Wilson and Michael Jackson. In 2008, she was among the Philly Artists featured in the two-part PBS television special “Love Train, The Sound of Philadelphia” which celebrated the musical legacy of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff and Philadelphia International Records.

The movie Precious, released in November 2009, produced by Lee Daniels, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, starring Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and comedienne Mo’Nique, features Jean Carne’s disco single “Was That All It Was.” In 2011, Expansion Records released #1 UK singles “Whatever It Takes” (Joey Negro Club Mix and “Tell Me What’s Wrong” (Cool Million Remix). Whether you happen to be fortunate enough to catch Jean Carne performing a gospel classic in Church on Sunday, a Puccini Aria in a Concert Hall, her number one recording before a packed stadium crowd, or perhaps a Disco Classic in a Hit Movie; your musical hunger is sure to be more than quenched.

 

Marva King

Best known for her starring role as Helen in the Tyler Perry’s 60 plus mega-million dollar grossing DVD “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”.

She also spent 4 years as a vocalist, dancer & percussionist with Prince and the New Power Generation,

Marva King is a true multi-media sensation whose talents and ambition continue to expand with every new creative endeavor.

King’s mesmerizing delivery inspired Larry Flick to write in Billboard, “Marva King is a supreme diva, and her name will go down in history as one of the best.” In 1997, Prince took her on the road, under his wing, and made her a member of his group, New Power Generation (NPG)—a stint that included recording on his New Power Soul album. In 2007, recorded Shania Twain’s Hit song “Still the one” which Prince re-titled “Ure still the One”.

Marva reunited with Prince for another series of arena and intimate venue concerts, which included the record breaking “21 Nights Concerts” at the 02 Arena in the UK, as well as recording on his Lotus Flower recording in 2009; she also made several appearances in his bestselling coffee table book “21 Nights.” King managed 15 shows of her own in between the Prince dates. “Those two years were intense,” she says. “I was exhausted the entire time, yet it was so exciting. I learned a lot about performing from Prince.”

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