Sarah McLawler - Hammond B-3 organ, vocals; Richard Otto - violin; Tommy "Bugs" Hunter - drums
Hammond B-3 organist Sarah McLawler and violinist Richard Otto took the Carnegie Hall stage with their regular drummer Tommy "Bugs" Hunter (later a member of Sun Ra's Arkestra) for this July 4th performance and immediately launched into a stirring instrumental rendition of Isaac Hayes' 1971 Academy Award winning "Theme From Shaft," a surprising entry from this husband and wife team which had distinguished itself through the '50s and '60s from elegant interpretations of Ellingtonia and other jazz classics. But their version of that soul anthem was indeed imbued with the sound of surprise, setting the proper tone for this Newport Jazz festival gig.
From that uncharacteristic opener, they settle into Erroll Garner's gorgeous ballad "Misty," with McLawler laying down a velvety cushion behind Otto's deliberately plucked pizzicato lines on the head. McLawler's manipulation of the tone bars on her B-3 is particularly effective on this moving number. From there, they segue right into Duke Ellington's "I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" with McLawler contributing soulful, gospel flavored vocals while simultaneously walking basslines on the B-3 and providing her own call-and-response with her syncopated, orchestral chordal work. They close their set with McLawler's ebullient uptempo jump blues number "Red Light," which gives both organist and violinist a chance to stretch out with some inspired solos.
Born in 1926, in Louisville, Kentucky, McLawler was raised in the church with gospel music. After her father, a Baptist minister, moved the family to Indianapolis, she began taking organ and piano lessons from the church's organist while also studying classical music at Crispus Attucks High School, which the Montgomery brothers (Wes, Monk, Buddy) also attended. McLawler broke into the secular music world in the late '40s with bandleader Lucky Millinder. After meeting Richard Otto, a classical violinist who also performed jazz, the two were married and spent many years together "jazzing up the classics" in concert and on record. They recorded frequently through the '50s for the King and Brunswick labels and scored success in 1960 with the album We Bring You Love. At age 84, McLawler continues to perform at venues in Manhattan, where she has resided since the 1950s. (Milkowski)