Like most youngsters of his generation (Black or White) Jaman Laws grew up under the sway of hip hop or rap, a musical genre, less than a half-century after its inception, which resounds with devotees across the globe. Unlike most of his peers, however, he was born under the mantle of a musical legacy. His family includes the preeminent flutist Hubert Laws (his uncle), vocalists Debra and Eloise Laws (his aunts), and his father, the chart-topping saxophonist Ronnie Laws.
The Laws clan hails from Houston, Texas, where Ronnie absorbed the rich rhythm and blues traditions of that cultural Mecca, along with other idioms (his first paying gig was with Kenny Rodgers). In the 1970s he relocated to Los Angeles to further pursue his career. He soon became a member of Earth, Wind & Fire before embarking on a solo act.
Given the enormous success of Earth, Wind & Fire, it was a bold move to leave that stability for the uncertainty of venturing out alone, especially with family being established (Jaman was born in Ladera Heights by then).
By the time Jaman was a toddler, his dad’s finances were solvent enough for the family to move to the affluent enclave of Malibu, where he grew up in the company of the offspring of Lou Gossett, Jr., Muhammad Ali, and others.
“It was great, we would go to the beach almost every day.”
“The celebrities there were pretty chill, they were low-key—-you wouldn’t even know who had money or not. They didn’t show off like that.”
Rounding out this idyllic milieu was the stability of an ever-present father, no mean feat considering the obligations of a thriving entertainment career, and the stress of maintaining that success.
“He was more of a parent than a musician,” he remembers of the choices made by Ronnie Laws in raising his children.
The desire to provide a healthy family atmosphere was offset by the pressures exerted by industry executives to embrace the endless grind of traveling and live performances to appease their fan base.
“He could have but he chose not to, and his record label was mad at him for that. He didn’t tour as much to make them money (or promote their product).”
Wake up call: the realities of intolerance
Jaman Laws looks back on his childhood as a period of tranquility. The almost entirely Caucasian population of this fabled celebrity community displayed none of the dysfunctional intolerance that is common in other parts of the county. And so it went until his teens when the Laws again relocated over the hill to another ritzy neighborhood, the city of Calabasas (“…unfortunately,” he says) in the San Fernando Valley.
The new digs introduced him to the realities of racial insensitivity, as Jaman and his brother endured ethnic slurs while visiting the local mall.
These indignities brought with them a silver lining, however, as they encouraged Jaman to immerse himself into the study of his instrument, which he’d picked up at 16. An early stab at basketball, while successful, convinced him that the family business of music was also his life’s path.
Choices: forging a musical identity
The reed family (so-called because the sound is made by the musician expelling air across a piece of material called the reed which is usually made of a type of grass called cane) is among the most diverse in the musical instrument canon. Generally in popular music, the instruments of choice are limited to the alto, soprano, and tenor saxophones. Of these, the tenor has traditionally had a prominent place in American and Black music.
“I play all horns, but I do play tenor a lot (more),” Jaman says.
The tenor, of course, is the instrument most associated with his father, but Jaman Laws feels an affinity for it for other reasons.
“The tenor matches my voice range,” he said.
“I’m already at that pitch (as far as how I talk), so it’s a little easier to match.”
In terms of technique, it is also a lot easier in terms of the physical demands needed. The player must maintain a tighter diaphragm to perform on an alto saxophone.
And so, his journey began, first at El Camino Real High School, then on to Pierce and Santa Monica colleges. The latter was liberating due to the more diverse ethnic population in that seaside community.
One of his inspirations was Gang Starr, a pioneering duo in the jazz rap subgenre comprised of producer DJ Premier and rapper Guru, which formed a “bridge” between two different African-American idioms by fusing the past (jazz instrumentation) with the present (the rhythms and repetitive phrasing of hip hop).
Jaman Law scored the opportunity to collaborate with his idols on 2018’s “Deep,” a digital recording in which Jaman improvised over a drum and guitar track. This early offering may be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwpJ9e89lHU.
“Aha moment”—a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Also known in various circles as an epiphany or the eureka effect.
Progress in an academic environment is all well and good, but the serious musician (regardless of genre) can only mature in the real world bastion of reality. For Jaman, this incident transpired when he began to frequent the neighborhood of Leimert Park. Originally a planned residential community, it had segued into an Afrocentric cultural hub by the time young Laws came of age. With its art walks, African drum circle, music venues, and spoken word events (and a popular gathering point for public protests), it is a veritable Black Bohemia, or, in the words of the late filmmaker John Singleton, the west coast version of a “Black Greenwich Village.”
In any event, the aspiring reed man found a fertile environment to hone his skills, network, and continue his artistic growth among kindred spirits.
Among the notables who might be found on any given night in the area were trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and an alto saxophonist named Terrence Martin. Today, Martin is more well known as a producer of mega artists, especially Kendrick Lamar.
The transition from solo practice at home to live performances was softened by the opportunity to join his father on the road. In keeping with the times (and the intrusion of the coronavirus into the live music industry), Jaman embarked on a series of internet-based concerts which may be viewed on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jamanlawssilk/).
Nowadays Jaman Laws crafts his art from his apartment/studio in the cozy confines of Inglewood, which suits his purposes well enough—aside from the encroaching menace of gentrification. His music may be sampled on any of the social media platforms like Spotify:
The next chance to hear Jaman Laws live is on Friday, June 25 at the 80-plus year old music euphonium Harvelle’s at 1432 Fourth Street in Santa Monica. This particular event will be a New Orleans-style soirée in the Mardi Gras tradition, as Jaman will be trading licks with The Damn Well Please Organ Trio. Doors will open at 5 p.m. (which is also the start of Happy Hour). All in all, a great time and place to break the COVID-19 quarantine, if you haven’t already done so.