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Sam Lazar (born 1933) was an American pianist and Hammond organist originally from St. Louis, Missouri. A mysterious figure who disappeared from the music scen in the early 1960s, he is best known for fronting a group that included early work from guitarist Grant Green.
Early career in music
The liner notes on his first LP on Argo Records approximates his birth year as 1933. Initially a pianist, Lazar played in Ernie Wilkins group before Wilkins left St. Louis to join Count Basie. This was followed by a stint in George Hudson's big band which also included Clark Terry and Jimmy Forrest at various times. After a tour with alto saxophonist Tab Smith, Lazar was in the army from 1951-1953. Upon discharge, he began studying medical technology.
Transition to organ
In 1958, Lazar saw the Jimmy Smith trio at the Peacock Alley club in St. Louis and was inspired to play the Hammond organ and return to music. His St. Louis-based organ combo later included guitarists Grant Green, Joe Diorio, George Eskridge, drummer Chauncey Williams and saxophonist Miller Brisker among others. Lazar's group played a variety of gigs from strip clubs to jazz clubs, and was reportedly one of the first interracial combos in the area.
Sam Lazar spent a week around Christmas, 1959, playing at the Holy Barbarian nightclub in St. Louis. He performed as part of a quartet with Grant Green, Chauncey Williams, and tenor saxophonist Bob Graf. Their performances at the club were recorded, but went unreleased for decades, until Uptown Records released the concerts as an album titled Grant Green: The Holy Barbarian, St. Louis, 1959. Lazar made his first recordings a few months later in 1960, a single on Cawthorn Records, and his first album, Space Flight on Chicago-based Argo Records. Space Flight was recorded in 1960 with bassist Willie Dixon, Williams Green. He went on to make several albums in the 1960s Argo, but they were not commercially successful.
- "Space Flight, Parts 1 and 2" (Cawthron 507, released c. 1959, with guitarist Grant Green)
- "Camp Meeting" / "I Ain't Mad At You" (Argo 5247, released 1962. Also issued as Checker single 1030)
- Space Flight (Argo, 1960)
- Playback (Argo, 1962)
- Soul Merchant (Argo, 1962)
- Grant Green: The Holy Barbarian, St. Louis, 1959 (Uptown Records, 2012)
- Owsley, Dennis. City of Gabriels: The History of Jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1973. St. Louis: Reedy Press, 2006. ISBN 1933370041. Google Books. Retrieved September 28, 2015.
- "The Sam Lazar discography." www.crownpeller.wordpress.com. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
- Porter, Bob. (Liner notes) to Oleo. By Grant Green. Blue Note Records. LP. 1980.
- "Sam Lazar: Space Flight." www.artistdirect.com. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
- Whitehead, Kevin. "Grant Green: The 'Holy Barbarian' Of St. Louis Jazz." Fresh Air, January 11, 2013. www.npr.org. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
- "Sam Lazar: Album Discography." www.allmusic.com." Retrieved December 2, 2016.
- Dryden, Ken. "AllMusic Review: Grant Green: The Holy Barbarian, St. Louis, 1959." www.allmusic.com. Retrieved December 2, 2016.