Lushes talk through the bass solos

(2008/2012)

Wow…. Here’s a Brick’s Picks  from June 2008, just a couple months before the economy finally tanked. There were so many clubs, so many shows, so much live music. Audiences had already peaked–the Recession had been on since late 2007–but it hadn’t quite sunk in with club owners yet. It wasn’t until the housing market imploded, Wall Street collapsed and banks began folding that audiences dried up. Some fans had lost their jobs, some people were terrified of their own credit cards, and a lot of people were doomed by mortgages. It was probably the last bit that doomed the clubs.  Jazz fans were heavy into real estate speculation.. You’d sit at the bar at Charlie O’s between sets and that is what they’d talk about. They were mature, over all, and knew a good thing when they saw one. They snapped up houses, ridiculously over priced houses, betting the future on a terrifying mortgage. That was their doom. If you figure the younger jazz fans tended to be highly paid internet savvy yuppies (remember them?) who racked up stratospheric credit card debt…well nobody was paying cash at jazz clubs. It was all plastic. The older dudes were sitting  on their real estate holdings, the younger ones knew they were gonna make a zillion dollars in the digital industry. When the real estate bubble burst and the stock market crashed (taking with it all that Silicon Valley venture capital) it was like a scythe went through the jazz audience. All that remained were the rich, the lucky and the cheap. There are only so many rich, even fewer lucky, and the cheap ain’t buying. Suddenly jazz became a very bad business model for a music venue. Now there are almost no jazz clubs left at all. Read this column from 2008 and weep.   

There’s good jazz all over town this week. Too bad this is such a big, wide town. But it is possible to actually club hop the LA jazz scene, if you time it right, even though the damn jazz clubs tend to finish up at midnight in this town, which makes absolutely no sense at all from a jazz hoppers point of view. But still, it is possible, if you keep an eye on your drinking and avoid the vipers outback. So let’s check out Friday for starters, where the very entertaining Jack Sheldon—a veteran of west coast bop—is at the Café 322 in Sierra Madre and avant saxist Vinny Golia is just down the 210 a tad at the Pasadena Jazz Institute (in the Paseo Colorado). Of course, that’s the kind of jarring genre change that will make your skull crack. But somewhere in between there stylistically will be saxist Chuck Manning at Café Metropol downtown, and Manning never fails to knock us out with his playing…when he’s leading his own quartet his horn is set so beautifully inside the understated arrangements that you can almost miss just how brilliant and even edgy his ideas can be. Now, because the Metropol has to stop at ten (the yuppie neighbors complain) you can check this one out first and then decide between Sheldon or Golia. It’s so simple. Logical even.

Now Valley-wise on Friday, saxist Pete Christlieb and trumpeter Carl Saunders do the Back Room out in Canoga Park, but to be honest the jams will be so good and the between set breaks so long you won’t want to leave which makes this a bad start for club hopping. Trumpeter Kye Palmer’s quartet at Spazio is a much better starting point for a set or two and he’s such a fine straight ahead player….then go to La Ve Lee in Studio City for an uproarious Poncho Sanchez set or head deep into the innards of the Valley to Charlie O’s for saxist Charles Owens. When Charlie O get’s cooking at Charlie O’s it just might turn intro some of the best jazz you’ve seen since gawd knows when—a Cole Porter standard segueing into some Eddie Harris funk into some deep Trane into a plain dirty blues…. Then again, the quintessentially swinging guitarist Kenny Burrell’s quintet is at Catalina Bar and Grill, but he’s there all weekend, which gives you options. So maybe on Saturday you can combine that with a wild couple sets by Justo Almario at Charlie O’s or combine it with the great jazz vocalist Jackie Ryan (with the Tamir Hendelman Trio) at Landings in the Airtel Plaza in Van Nuys. Alas, catching ex-Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman’s trio at the Rosalie & Alva Performance Gallery in San Pedro on Saturday at 8 p.m. rather limits your options. The Valley is out…that 405 is a club hop killer, and the easy thing would be to head into old town Pedro to the Whale and Ale on 7th where we once heard a saxman play some lazy Prez. But a determined hopper would split Rosalie’s after a set and do double nickels on a dime (or 75 without the dime) up the 110 and catch the last set of young bassist Mike Gurrola’s quartet at the Pasadena Jazz Institute on Saturday…. It’s a terrific space, the bar’s open till two and Gurrola has fine saxist Javier Vergara, pianist Austin Peralta and drummer Tony Austin so the hard bop will be happening.

Sunday starts grooving hard at 5 p.m. with the absolutely cooking CJS Quintet at Glendale’s First Lutheran Church at 1300 E. Colorado. Then head up the 134 into the Valley for a mellow double header. First, a very impressive, spacey, cool-toned Joe-Less Shoe (that’s tenor Matt Otto, guitarist Jamie Rosen and drummer Jason Harnell) celebrate their CD release at the Baked Potato. And at Charlie O’s bassist Luther Hughes presents a Nat King Cole tribute (John Proulx doing the Nat, Barry Zweig the Oscar Moore).

On Tuesday our pick is Med Flory’s Jazz Wave at Vibrato. This powerhouse big band has a line up that includes the likes of Pete Christlieb, Rob Stout, Steve Huffsteter, Jack Nimitz, Frank Capp and probably the sentimental core of the thing has to be the old Supersax charts (that is…Bird solos arranged for a big band) Flory puts the band through. Be bop tempos, blistering solos, smart ass commentary….what more could you want?

On Wednesday drummer Roy McCurdy brings his quartet to Sangria in Hermosa Beach, and Jack Sheldon is at the Westin LAX. Scott & Ginger Whitfield celebrate their take on the Great American Songbook, Dreamsville, at Catalinas, and the pianist Cyrus Chestnut is at the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday and Thursday. Fired up tenor Azar Lawrence will blow out the Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill on Wednesday and Vibrato on Thursday. And two of our finest local pianists lead trios Thursday, and both are highly recommended:  Tateng Katindig at Spazio (just a beautiful, advanced, swinging player), and Josh Nelson, who has Matt Slocum on drums, plays Red, White, and Bluezz in Old Town Pasadena (and Nelson’s latest, Let It Go, has been knocking us out lately.)

Of course, if you’re lazy or broke or live near Glendale, there’s a four night run of jazz quartets at Jax, beginning with pianist Alexandra Caselli on Monday (which often includes saxist Carol Chaikin); then multi-reedman Fred Horn on Tuesday (who shifts from Tower of Powery funk to straight bop); then Benn Clatworthy with the great pianist Theo Saunders on Wednesday (and Clatworthy’s playing here lurches from offhand craziness to pure beauty); and finally Jack Sheldon packs them in for his regular Thursdays. Go every night and see if they can tell a jazz fan from a lush. Here’s a hint: the lushes talk through the bass solos. (Just kidding…the sax players talk through the bass solos.)

A Love Supreme in a still, dark room describes the scene four months later.

Ya know, they call the jazz of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke and all their cohorts “Twenties Jazz”. It’s a whole style, a whole genre, that hot, loose, often frantic music that we associate with speakeasies and booze and gangsters and wanton women. There is no “Thirties Jazz”, really, and certainly no forties or fifties or seventies or eighties jazz. I’ve heard “sixties jazz” bandied about but it makes no sense as there was no singles “sixties jazz”, it’s just a lazy journalist’s term. But there was a Twenties jazz. Simply because it virtually ceased to exist by 1930. The Depression virtually destroyed the recording industry and hammered the venues. Very few people could afford to go hear it. Certainly not enough to make it viable. There were far too many musicians and too few gigs. A couple years later the big band era opened and jazz became a viable commodity again, something you could make a living at. Something that sold records and filled ballrooms. The audience was mostly kids, though. They probably didn’t do much for liquor sales. I’m not sure how jazz did in bars then.  But you could no doubt find the cats from the roaring twenties in a few of them blowing their asses off twenties style. They’d draw some of the old fans, too. A good time was had by all.  Just not like before.

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