Prince Lasha, photography by Ed Michel
©Ed Michel

Prince Lasha, Firebirds co-founder, short biography and discography

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William B. "Prince" Lasha (or Lawsha) was born September 10, 1929 in Fort Worth, Texas, the hometown of another free jazz pioneer, Ornette Coleman. Ornette Coleman was born a mere six months later, and both kids went to school together. They start on saxophone in their early teens (cca. 1944), in a school band which also produced great names as Charles Moffett and King Curtis. Lasha comes from a musical family : his uncle used to be an arranger for Count Basie in the 40's. His training years are somewhat similar to Sonny's : first forays into traditional, rural blues; first stints with dance orchestras, r&b, pop; only he is exposed to Parker at an earlier stage, and he and Coleman are already learning bop in high school. They form their first group in 1947. Their repertoire ranges from Louis Jordan tunes to Monk. They also work with the likes of Harold Land and Red Connors, the Godfather of modern southwestern saxophonists, who rounds off their education.

Having gained considerable experience, and a local reputation, he is to leave for New York, logically (whereas Coleman, oddly enough, joins a minstrel band, a circuit that will take him from the Mississipi to the West Coast - and legend). The venture proves to be short, though. He heads back to Texas, aiming at California where bop is veering to "advanced" directions more akin to his tastes. On his way to the West Coast he meets Sonny Simmons in Oakland - the year is 1954. From 1954 to 1960 they work together on and off. Their musical development, from be-bop to withdrawal of chord changes, is exemplary of the maturation at stake on the West Coast, which worked as a research laboratory before those very same players, Coleman, Don Cherry, Simmons, Lasha, imported the idiom they forged (barely consciously in the beginning) in New York, joining forces with local, but isolated individuals like Cecil Taylor for instance, or open-minded hard-boppers dissatisfied with the limitations of their art, like Dolphy, Coltrane or Rollins. (Yet they didn't necessarily share the same musical interests : Lasha and Simmons reluctantly stood away from the most radicals blow-out settings of the era, and rather stuck to traditional forms, a factor that may explain the frequent rejection of their music at subsequent stages of their careers. Too traditional for free music, too free for tradition...) It is significant that the cornerstones of early free jazz were recorded in Los Angeles in 1958 and 1959 : Ornette's Something Else !!! and Tomorrow Is The Question. Encouraged by such acceptance, Lasha and Simmons enlist Lester Koenig's services and record The Cry ! for Ornette's former label, Contemporary, in 1962. The record is highly influential and prepares a favorable ground for them on the East Coast.

From 1963 to 1965 Prince Lasha settles in New York. Along with Sonny Simmons (and Clifford Jordan on many occasions), he appears on seminal records, his own It Is Revealed, Eric Dolphy's Iron Man and Conversations, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison's Illumination !, the Bossa Tres' Jazz Tempo, Latin Accents, performs with Sonny Rollins, sits in with John Coltrane... Woody interludes created by Lasha's clarinet or Simmons' English horn, set against a deluge of multiphonics, are the trademark of this memorable front-line. But this partnership breaks up quickly (Simmons returns to the West Coast); Dolphy and Jordan follow Mingus in Europe; Rollins reverts to hard-bop; and Lasha doesn't really hook up with the new generation of freejazzmen that comes in the forefront in 1964, on the verge of the October Revolution in Jazz events and the radicalization of Coltrane's music. In 1965, CBS declines the release of a beautiful session with Herbie Hancock and Cecil McBee (Inside Story, finally released by Enja some ten years later) : Prince Lasha finds no "niche" for his music. Consequently, taking advantage of an engagement with the the Jazz Composers Orchestra in Hamburg, he relocates in Europe. He spends the end of the year 1965 in Kensington, England, teams up with local musicians (notably Stan Tracey), an experience which results in an underrated masterpiece, Insight, the perfect balance between classicism and the recent innovations. Again, not much work is available, and he returns to California in February 1966.

right photo : Prince Lasha during the Insight session

Prince Lasha recording "Inisght" at CBS studios in England, photo by Crescendo
©Crescendo

In spite of a brief reconciliation with Sonny Simmons, and renewed public and critical attention around the release of a second Koenig production, Firebirds (featuring Simmons, rising stars Bobby Hutcherson, Buster Williams, and Ornette's famous drummer, Charles Moffett), the increasingly unfavorable circumstances on the West Coast won't allow his career to take off again as he expected. Actually, Firebirds is to be his commercial swan song, and he will never again secure a contract with a major. Gigs with Joe Henderson and Harold Land keep his reputation alive. Though never a real working unit, the Firebirds are reunited for a one-time performance at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival, with the same formidable line-up present on the already three-year old album. Hadley Caliman replaces Simmons at Berkeley in May 1971. Now based in Oakland, Lasha will sustain various line-ups until 1975, for occasionnal appearances at the two aforementioned festivals. The May 1974 group with Ron Carter, Hubert Eaves and Kenneth Nash is immortalized on the record that launches Lasha's (who's name is now spelled Lawsha) legendary label, Birdseye : Live at the Berkeley Jazz Festival. In 1976, two more records are released through this input : both 1970 dates at Monterey and Berkeley, but they are poorly distributed and, as a consequence, sell poorly. Nothing will be heard from Lasha on record until 1983. - Nevertheless, these (especially the May '74 date, renamed Search For Tomorrow by Enja who makes it more widely available in the next decade) and his noted participation to a Michael White session for Impulse, Land Of Spirit And Light, will access cult status promptly and the flute-driven music subtly underlined by african percussions will help define the deep, spiritual jazz sound so popular nowadays.

Meanwhile, he had engaged on teaching and political activities. Allegedly involved with the Black Panthers, he will be ostracized like many others (starting with Simmons). He reportedly made a last attempt at touring Europe in the late 70's, before leaving his professional career aside and making a far more substantial living as a real estate agent throughout the 80's and the 90's.

However, he kept on playing and composing, and was seen locally in California and Texas (where trumpetist Dennis Gonzalez produced in 1983 And Now Music on his own Daagnim label, a strong effort featuring singer Webster Armstrong, and something of a nostalgia trip, packed with fond recollections of Dolphy, Monk, and achievements of the past, exemplified by two renditions of "Music Matador"), in 1980 in Italy (Pisa), in 1987 in France (at the Magnetic Terrace with his son, drummer Prince H. Lawsha), and from 1997 on with Odean Pope's various band, an association that will lead in 2005 to the release of his first album in 22 years, The Mystery Of Prince Lasha (thanks to Bob Rush and CIMP). As of 2005, Prince Lasha is enjoying a welcome ressurrection.


The following sources were used in the making of this biographical note : Okazaki MASAMICHI, liner-notes for Inside Story, Enja CD 9131-2, 2001, Germany; Jean-Loup AUVRAY and Christian BETHUNE, article for Dictionnaire du Jazz, "Bouquins", Robert Laffont publisher, 1988, France; Peter Niklas WILSON, Ornette Coleman, his life and music, Berkeley Hills Books publisher, 2001, USA; Clifford ALLEN, column for All About Jazz, Dec. 12, 2004, available at this adress : http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=15629.

 

Discography :

Prince Lasha quintet featuring Sonny Simmons : The Cry !

Prince Lasha Quintet feat. Sonny Simmons : The Cry !
(Contemporary 7610)

rec. 62.11.21
p. 1963


Congo Call - Bojangles - Green And Gold - Ghost Of The Past - Red's mood - Juanita - Lost Generation - A.Y.

Prince Lasha : flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Gary Peacock, Mark Proctor : bass. Gene Stone ; drums.
Rec. in Los Angeles, USA. Producer : Lester Koenig.

 

Prince Lasha, Sonny Simmons, Clifford Jordan, Don Cherry, Fred Lyman, Charles Moffett : It Is Revelead, Zounds L71863

Prince Lasha : It Is Revealed
(Zounds L71863)

rec. 63.05.??
p. 1963


Lost Generation - The Trane - Prelude To Bird.

Prince Lasha : flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Clifford Jordan : tenor sax. Don Cherry : trumpet. Fred Lyman : fluegelhorn. Bill Wood, Orwille Harrisson : bass. Charles Moffett : drums.
Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Fred Lyman.

 

The Bossa Tres, Sonny Simmons, Prince Lasha and Clifford Jordan : Jazz Tempo, Latin Accents
P. Lasha, C. Jordan, S. Simmons and the Bossa Tres : Jazz Tempo, Latin Accents
(Audio Fidelity AFSD 6111)
rec. 63.05.??
p. 1965


Bottles - Blue Monk - Love For Sale - Cutie - Moanin' - Well You Needn't - Dahoud - Epistle To Train - Days Of Wine And Roses - Whisper Not - Yesterdays - Minortory.

Prince Lasha : flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Clifford Jordan : flute, tenor and soprano sax. Luiz Parga : piano. Sebastião "Tião" Neto : bass. Edison Machado : drums.
Rec. in NYC, USA.

 

Eric Dolphy : Iron Man
Eric Dolphy : Iron Man
(Douglas International SD 755)
rec. 63.07.03
p. 1963


Burning Spear.

Eric Dolphy : bass clarinet. Woody Shaw : trumpet. Clifford Jordan : tenor sax. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Prince Lasha : flute. Garvin Bushell : bassoon. Bobby Hutcherson : vibes. Richard Davis, Eddie Khan : bass. J.C. Moses : drums.
Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Alan Douglas.

 

Eric Dolphy : Conversations (including Music Matador)
Eric Dolphy : Conversations
(Fred Miles FM-308)
rec. 63.07.03
p. 1964


Music Matador.

Eric Dolphy : bass clarinet. Clifford Jordan : soprano sax. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Prince Lasha : flute. Bobby Hutcherson : vibes. Richard Davis : bass. Charles Moffett : drums.
Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Alan Douglas.

 

Elvin Jones - Jimmy Garrison Sextet featuring Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons : Illumination ! (Impulse)
Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet : Illumination !
(Impulse AS-49)
rec. 63.08.08
p. 1963


Nuttin' Out Jones - Oriental Flower - Half And Half - Aborigine Dance In Scotland - Gettin' On Way - Just Us Blues.

Prince Lasha : clarinet, flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax, English horn. Charles Davis : baritone sax. McCoy Tyner : piano. Jimmy Garrison : bass. Elvin Jones : drums.
Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Bob Thiele.

 

Prince Lasha with Herbie Hancock and Cecil McBee : Inside Story
Prince Lasha : Inside Story
(CBS unreleased; Enja 3073)
rec. 65.??.??
p. 1974


Ethereal - Flight - Kwadwo Safari - Inside Story - Mary.

Prince Lasha : flute, alto sax. Herbie Hancock : piano. Cecil McBee : bass. Jimmy Lovelace : drums.
Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Prince Lasha.

 

The Jazz Composers Orchestra featuring Prince Lasha
The Jazz Composers Orchestra
(NDR radio broadcast)
rec. 65.10.25
broad. 1965


Slow Dance - Start - Cartoon - Communications No. 6.

Michael Mantler : trumpet. Steve Lacy : soprano sax. Prince Lasha : alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet. Hans Koller : tenor sax. Ronnie Ross : baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet. Attila Zoller : guitar. Carla Bley, Paul Bley : piano. Kent Carter : bass. Barry Altschul : drums.
Rec. in Hamburg, Germany.

 

The Jazz Composers Orchestra featuring Prince Lasha
The Jazz Composers Orchestra
(NDR radio broadcast)
rec. 65.10.29
broad. 1965


Touching - Isis - Cartoon - Both - Walking Batteriewoman - Communications No. 7 - Slow Dance - Closer - Doctor - Floater - Communications No. 6.

Michael Mantler : trumpet. Steve Lacy : soprano sax. Prince Lasha : alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet. Hans Koller : tenor sax. Ronnie Ross : baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet. Attila Zoller : guitar. Carla Bley, Paul Bley : piano. Kent Carter : bass. Barry Altschul : drums.
Rec. in Hamburg, Germany.

 

Prince Lasha Ensemble with Stan Tracey : Insight (CBS)
Prince Lasha Ensemble : Insight
(CBS BPG62409)
rec. 65.12.01
p. 1966


Nuttin' Out Jones - Out Of Nowhere - Body And Soul - Impressions Of Eric Dolphy - Everything Happens To Me - Just Friends.

Prince Lasha : flute, alto sax. David Snell : harp. Chris Bateson : trumpet. John Mumford : trombone. Stan Tracey : piano. Jeff Clyne, Dave Willis, Rick Laird : drums. Joe Oliver : drums.
Rec. in London, UK.

 

Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons : Firebirds
Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons : Firebirds
(Contemporary 7617)
rec. 67.09.28-29
p. 1968


The Island Song - Psalms Of Solomon - Prelude To Bird - The Loved Ones - Firebirds.

Prince Lasha : alto sax, flute, alto clarinet. Sonny Simmons : alto sax, English horn. Bobby Hutcherson : vibes. Buster Williams : bass. Charles Moffett : drums.
Rec. in Los Angeles, USA. Producer : Lester Koenig.

 

Prince Lawsha and Firebirds featuring Sonny Simmons : Live at Monterey Jazz Festival Vol.3 (Birdseye)
Prince Lawsha & Firebirds : Live At Monterey Jazz Festival Vol.3
(Birdseye series 99001)
rec. 70.09.20
p. 1976


Scarlet Ibis Birds - Journey To Zoar.

Prince Lasha : alto sax, flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax, English horn. Bobby Hutcherson : vibes. Buster Williams : bass. Charles Moffett : drums.
Rec. in Monterey, USA. Producer : Prince Lasha.

 

Prince Lawsha and Firebirds featuring Hadley Caliman : Live At Berkeley Jazz Festival Vol.1 (Birdseye)
Prince Lawsha & Firebirds : Live At Berkeley Jazz Festival Vol.1
(Birdseye series 99001)
rec. 71.05.??
p. 1976


April Showers - City Of Zoar.

Prince Lasha : alto sax, flute, clarinet. Hadley Caliman : tenor sax, flute. Bobby Hutcherson : vibes. Buster Williams : bass. Charles Moffett : drums.
Rec. in Berkeley, USA. Producer : Prince Lasha.

 

Michael White : Land Of Spirit And Light
Michael White : Land Of Spirit And Light
(Impulse AS-9241)
rec. 73.02.07-08
p. 1973


The Land Of Spirit And Light - Fatima's Garden - Fiesta Dominical - O Ancient One - Lament.

Michael White : violin. Bobby King : guitar. Prince Lasha : flute, piccolo. Ed Kelly : piano. Cecil McBee : bass. Kenneth Nash : percussions. Kenneth Jenkins, Stanley Nash : vocals.
Rec. in California, USA. Producer : Ed Michel.

 

Prince Lawsha and Firebirds featuring Ron Carter : Live At Berkeley Jazz Festival Vol.2 (Birdseye)
Prince Lawsha & Firebirds : Live At Berkeley Jazz Festival Vol.2
(Birdseye series 99001)
a.k.a. Search For Tomorrow (Enja 4008)
rec. 74.05.??
p. 1975


For The Child - Search For Tomorrow - Tracking Train (a.k.a. Mayflower).

Prince Lasha : flute, alto and baritone sax. Hubert Eaves : piano. Ron Carter : bass. Roy McCurdy : drums. Kenneth Nash : percussions.
Rec. in Berkeley, USA. Producer : Prince Lasha.

 

Prince Lasha featuring Webster Armstrong and Dennis Gonzalez : And Now Music (Daagnim)

Prince Lawsha feat. Webster Armstrong : And Now Music
(Daagnim 09)

rec. 83.??.??
p. 1983


Birdsong, One - Thelonious - Music Matador - Music Matador, Vocal - Birdsong, Two - Mary.

Prince Lasha : alto and baritone sax, flute. Webster Armstrong : vocals. Dennis Gonzalez : trumpet, baritone sax, zither, melodica. Ed Smith : vibes. Alex Camp : bass. Gerard Bendik : drums.
Rec. in Dallas, USA. Producer : Dennis Gonzalez.

 

Dennis Gonzalez featuring Prince Lasha : Witness (Daagnim)
Dennis Gonzalez : Witness
(Daagnim 08)
rec. 83.??.??
p. 1983


Hymn - Oasis - Witness - Beirut - Firefighter - The Biggest Liar In Asia.

Dennis Gonzalez : trumpet, pocket trumpet, baritone sax, misc. Burnett Anderson : trumpet, fluegelhorn. Prince Lasha : baritone and alto sax. Alex Coke : tenor sax. Jim Sangrey : tenor sax. Gary "Buho" Gazaway : flute, cuica. Mike Menikos : violin. Ed Smith : vibes. Buddy Mohamed : bass. Gerard Bendiks, Jamal Mohamed, Ken Grimes, James Zitro : drums, percussions.
Rec. in Dallas, USA. Producer : Dennis Gonzalez.

 

Prince Lawsha & Firebirds Live at Magnetic Terrasse 1987 (featuring Woody Shaw)
Prince Lawsha & Firebirds
(France Culture radio broadcast)
rec. 87.09.16
broad. 1987


6 tracks including Nuttin' Out Jones - Music Matador - Oriental Flower.

Prince Lasha : baritone and alto sax. Woody Shaw : trumpet, vocals. Mark Thompson : piano. Jack Gregg : bass. Prince Lawsha Jr. : drums.
Rec. at Magnetic Terrasse, Paris, France.

 

Prince Lasha with Odean Pope Trio : The Mystery Of Prince Lasha (CIMP)
Prince Lasha & The Odean Pope Trio : The Mystery Of Prince Lasha
(CIMP #330)
rec. 05.04.05
p. 2005

Coleman, Captain Hornblower - Many, Many, Many, Many Miles Away - Selmer - Dinka Man Warrior - Eric Dolphy - John The Gospel - Prince Lasha - Book Of John - Divine Message.

Prince Lasha : clarinet, flute, alto and soprano sax, piccolo. Odean Pope : tenor sax. Tyrone Brown : bass. Craig McIver : drums.
Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Bob Rusch.
 

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