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Concert Preview - Horace Alexander Young

By Mark Towns
Published: March 27 1997, Houston Press

If you ever wanted proof of the benefits of education, Horace Alexander Young is it. Over the last decade, the Houston native and admired jazz flute virtuoso has found himself recording, touring the world and serving as musical director for the likes of B.B. King, Freddy Fender, the Chi-Lites, Regina Belle, the Temptations, Roberta Flack, Youssou n' Dour and many others. And much of that comes because he stayed in school.

Young's musical journey began when his sister introduced him to Hubert Laws records and Herbie Mann's Memphis Underground; from that point on, his sights were firmly set on becoming a jazz flute player. By the time he was 13, Young was good enough to become a member of the horn section of a small Houston band, Charlie and the Soul Cane, that he remembers as "a garage band, basically. We played some James Brown, some Beatles tunes." But a few years later, when he expressed an interest in joining the stage band at Yates High School, the band director told him they needed a saxophone player, not a flutist. So Young decided to add another instrument to his repertoire. "I just wanted to play the flute," Young shrugs. "I never really intended to play the sax."

Still, he borrowed a friend's alto sax and was in. He stuck with the saxophone through the rest of high school, then got into Texas Southern University on a marching band scholarship. In 1975, during his second year at TSU, he joined the TSU Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Lanny Steele, which resulted in his getting a little tutelage from legendary saxophonist Arnette Cobb as well. The next summer, he attended Bubbha Thomas's Summer Jazz Workshop. Thomas was impressed enough with Young's progress that he made him a member of his group, Bubbha Thomas and the Lightmen. Then from 1976 through 1981, they hit all of the local jazz venues, places such as Birdwatcher's, La Bastille, Las Brisas, Mum's, La Provence and Cody's -- remembering them, Young can't help but get nostalgic. At the time, all those venues featured live jazz four or five nights a week. There's nothing, Young laments, like that in Houston today.

After graduating from TSU, Young migrated west to Washington State University to pursue a master's degree. In Washington, he met a professor from San Francisco who got him some gigs in the Bay Area; Young ended up living there for a year and a half. In the early '80s, the jazz scene in San Francisco wasn't that different from the one in Houston, with a major exception: The San Francisco jazz locals also happened to be international jazz stars. The connections Young made playing with Bay Area artists added to his credibility when he finally made the move to New York, where he not only performed but became an instructor at Rutgers University.

In 1992, Young returned home to Houston and to full-time playing, recording and musical directing. Though Young has never been far from the classroom, he was never the sort of teacher who forgot what the real world was like. Easter Sunday, he's going to give fans a listen to what he's learned over the years. Backed by a quartet of friends -- Samuel Dinkins on drums, Darrell Johnson on keyboards, Keith Vivens on bass, Rick Marcel on guitar and vocals -- he's going to pull out his flute and saxophone for a catered jazz dinner. Though Young says he will never entirely abandon elements of traditional jazz, his own music now is in a more R&B, pop-jazz vein. Apparently, you're never too educated to try something new.

Horace Alexander Young and Friends perform at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 30, at Ovations, 2536 Times Boulevard. Tickets are $20. For info, call 526-7996.

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