News Column

Trumpet, sax pair for concert

June 13, 2013

YellowBrix

June 13--Trumpeter Tom Browne, from North Carolina by way of New York, and saxophonist Ronnie Laws, from Los Angeles by way of Houston, didn't have to go far to find musical influences.

"I got started on trumpet through my dad. He was a closet musician. I found a trumpet in the closet," Browne said, laughing. "I started on piano, but I was always attracted to the sound of the horn. My parents gave me exposure to a lot of music."

Laws grew up in the big middle of a musical family that includes his older brother, saxophonist/flutist Hubert Laws; his older sister, singer Eloise Laws; and his younger sister, singer Debra Laws.

"Music was always part of our daily thing," Laws said. "Our mom was a piano player and the director of a church choir. Rehearsals were always in our home, so, at a very young age, I got to witness very good singers. My mom also kept music flowing on the radio, B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington.

"And my dad loved country music. When it was rodeo time in Houston, we'd be dressed up in our hats and boots. It was a very eclectic upbringing, and I appreciated that."

Laws and Browne will team Saturday in the Jo Long Theatre at the Carver Community Cultural Center.

Browne went to the High School of Music and Art/Performing Arts in New York City.

"It was a great balance of music and academics, but I left there in my last year because there were budget cuts and the science budget was cut," he said. "Flying was my first love. That's why I was going for a science-based education. Music was not intended to be a career. Music was intended to be a dominant hobby."

Browne became an in-demand sideman with Weldon Irvine and Sonny Fortune. A stint at the Breezin' Lounge in New York City led to recordings as a leader on labels including GRP. And Browne did not turn his back on aviation. He became a commercial pilot, flew as a captain for FedEx, and now pilots charter flights.

When he was 11, Laws taught himself to play saxophone.

"I got a method book and I learned my fingerings and my scales," he said.

His sister Eloise sang with Kenny Rogers. Laws made his alto-sax debut at 12 onstage with Rogers. He honed his music knowledge giving an assist to Houston tenor sax legend Arnett Cobb.

Because of spinal surgery and an auto accident, Cobb used crutches. Laws carried his horn and set up the stage for Cobb. Laws also went the sideman route, working with Earth, Wind & Fire, Quincy Jones and Ramsey Lewis. Laws started recording as a leader in the mid-'70s, mixing jazz, R&B and funk.

Browne also has played an array of music, from traditional jazz to the spiritual side of the music.

"I've always believed music should not be compartmentalized," he said. "I started out as a classical trumpeter. Whatever vein I find myself in, I think, 'What's appropriate here? What sound?' The marketplace has changed so much. When I was working with David Grusin as my producer at GRP, I did a little bit of everything, from straight-ahead to funk. Now everything is so pigeonholed."

There will be no compartmentalization of music Saturday.

"Ronnie and I have been touring for two years and it's interesting," Browne said. "Musically, we kind of come from the same background playing everything from straight-ahead (jazz) to funk."

"It's a generational thing," Laws said. "The time period we come from clicked. I've been out there and Tom expressed to me he wanted to get out there more, so we pooled our resources. I'm going to do my classics, such as they are, and he's going to do his 'Jamaica Funk.' And we'll do some other things. The trumpet/tenor sax front line is kind of rare these days and kind of exciting."

"This is not a show where we appear at separate times," Browne said. "We come out together and we stay out there together."

Laws is deep into the music. Not only does he perform, he presents concerts at a California winery.

"It's about passion and love for the music," he said. "It's sharing the gift. I get joy from my fan base. It's a twofold experience. I inspire them and they inspire me. You have to demonstrate to the creator the gratitude for the gift. You were given the gift for a purpose."

jbeal@express-news.net; @jimbealjr on Twitter

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(c)2013 San Antonio Express-News

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