2006 Mississppi Jazz & Heritage Festival
Lifetime Acheivement Award Recipient
YAZ PLAYS JAZZ
By Jason Peterson
The Yazoo Herald Newspaper
Yazoo City, Mississippi
August 9, 2006
(Yazoo City, MS) - For four decades Chuck Lawson has been a bass playing ambassador around the world for Yazoo City. Lawson has enjoyed a prolific career as a professional jazz musician and he will be the recipientof the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 11th annual Mississippi Jazz and Heritage Festival on Labor Day weekend.
Lawson got the nickname “Yaz” early in his career from Buddy Rich, a man considered by many to be the greatest jazz drummer of all time. The unusual nickname caused many to inquire about his hometown.
“They gave us a tax form to fill out and the next day at rehearsal when it was time to kick of the tune he said, ‘Count it off Yazoo!” Lawson recalled. “He said later, ‘ I thought you were putting me on,’ because he didn’t believe I was really from Yazoo City.”
As a child growing up in Yazoo City Lawson said he wasn’t interested in much but music and baseball.
“That’s all I really cared about,” he said. “I didn’t really apply myself in school because I always knew I was going to play music for a living.”
Lawson credits Stanley C. Beers, his band director at Yazoo City High, for encouraging him to go after his dream.
“He is such a great teacher,” Lawson said. “He really helped inspire me to love music.”
Years later Beers would come to see his former student perform with the Glen Miller Band.
During this time Lawson hadn’t yet even wrapped his hands around a bass. In high school his instrument was the tuba. He said a trip to perform with the All-State band in Miami erased any doubts he might have had that his future was in the music business.
“That’s when I really knew that this was what I was going to do,” he said.
Lawson went to join the U.S. Navy and attend the Navy School of Music.
His destiny was shaped at this time. In the Navy tuba players had to also play bass because in addition to the marching band they also had a dance band.
“I didn’t know the first thing about playing bass,” Lawson said. “I didn’t like it at first, but I had a great teacher.”
Lawson was clearly a great student as well because by the time he left the Navy he was ready for a career as a professional musician. His first job was in Jackson performing at the old Subway Club.
His next stop was Atlanta and that’s where things really started to take off.
After getting his first recording job on a couple of albums with a country guitar player named Little Jimmy Dempsey, Lawson found himself with plenty of work in the studio.
One of the highlights during time included recording an album called “Downhome Cooking” with jazz legend Sammy Duncan.
“That was one tight band,” Lawson said.
Another was recording and album with jazz giant and trumpet virtuoso Harry James called “Sentimental Journey” that distributed by Reader’s Digest.
After Atlanta Lawson left for Las Vegas where he continued to enjoy a successful career. Lawson soon left for Orlando, Fla. where he performed as a member of the “Aristacats” for Walt Disney, but he quickly lost interest.
“I didn’t like the way Disney did business, so in four months I was back on the road.”
Lawson got back with the Glen Miller Band in 1968 and later ventured to New York City to perform with the Harry James Band.
In 1969 Lawson attended the Berklee music school in Boston. He said it wasn’t long before he needed money and he got back out on the road where he ended up back in Vegas.
One of the highlights from this time was performing a run at the Desert Inn with a group called Pizazz 70.
“It was a cast of over 100 players and everything was taped except the band,” Lawson said. “We had to be tight and we had to be right on time. My mother and father came out to visit me during that run.”
He also toured with Vic Damone and Julie London and spent a month working with Frank Sinatra Jr.
An unusual job Lawson got during that time was as a musician recording soundtracks for the cartoons “The Flintstones” and “Roadrunner.”
“It was a scream,” Lawson said. “We had to watch what was going on while we were playing. You’d be surprised at how many times the band leader had to stop because somebody was laughing.”
Lawson would continue to enjoy a career in which he would participate in countless recordings and travel the world, but the one thing he said he valued more than anything was the people he got to work with.
“The camaraderie that I had with all of the musicians I had the privilege of working with was unbelievable,” Lawson said. “For the most part they were world class and I was fortunate enough to be a part of that. I’ve been blessed.”