John Altman plays with the Mark Z Stevens Trio tonite, Saturday Feb 2, at the Desert Rose in Los Feliz, corner of Prospect and Hillhurst. Music is 7 to 11. There’s no cover. That’s the bare facts. Everything below is just my usual charmingly humorous diatribe, but hell, if I were you I’d read it. Besides, Mark asked if I could spread the word about the gig. I said sure, Mark, anything for you babe. Because that’s the way we talk in show biz, and that’s the way we roll.
I’ve been kind of a creep about the Desert Rose here in Los Feliz. Treated the jazz there like it’s my little secret. That way I could always get a table. It’s that restaurant where Cap’n’Cork used to be, on Hillhurst at Prospect, across from the new and improved Cap’n’Cork. They built the new Cap’n’Cork and tore down the old one and put up the Desert Rose in its place. Word has it the ghost of Ernie Kovacs still stumbles around the place muttering and laughing out loud and ordering Jack Daniels by the case for the crew down at ABC. It’s a nice joint, the Rose. All outsidey outside, nice tables and heat lamps and torches and hookahs tucked away in the corner with hip Armenians sucking on them (no hash, tho’.) Beautiful people (and beautiful women) scattered around the patio, talking whatever it is they talk about and probably undertipping. Food’s good, not too high, great burgers and all, or prissy little veggie things and mildly ethnic Jonathan Goldesque whatevers. Great drinks (a happy hour after eleven p.m. even). Hot waitresses, though I never noticed. But inside, on Saturday nights, they have a terrific jazz trio.
Mark Z Steven’s is the leader, he’s one of those cats who’s played drums with everybody, and I mean everybody, sessions 24/7 except when he was touring 24/7. You’d never know that touring with Barbara Streisand was like Cocksucker Blues with a clean-cut audience. Chris Conner anchors the thing on bass, another one of those played with everybody jazz cats…I just found out he was in Chet Baker’s last band. So he’s got stories. Jon Mayer, who I just wrote a whole essay about is one of my very favorite pianists in this whole city, which is saying something. He’s out of the 1950’s-60’s NYC school, and maybe the very apogee of jazz that was, he even did a date with Trane that I used to plug to death in the LA Weekly. Basically these three cats have known everybody, played with everybody, and make beautiful, muscular jazz together. They’ve been a local secret for a while, a gem of a jazz band tucked away across the street from Cap’n’Cork. Tonite a good friend of mine joins them on sax. A teeny tiny curved soprano sax.* Like the one you saw Garth Hudson play in The Last Waltz (on “It Makes No Difference”, I think.) John wails on the thing…laying out bebop runs or beautiful melodic passages or just right down the middle hard bop stuff. He gets down. And John knows everybody, played with everybody. He’s from London, see, and there are like a dozen, maybe two dozen jazzmen in London. If you play a decent jazz horn you’ll wind up playing with everybody coming through town who needs a saxophone player. And he’s a nice guy. And dependable. And can sight read. And swing. Put all that together and he was first call over there, plus he was the guy they sent to carry Gerry Mulligan down the street. Gerry had a big chunk knocked out of his mouth piece. John asked if he needed a new one. Gerry said don’t worry about it, I’m playing for (he’s dead now so we’ll leave out the name) and he won’t notice the difference.. He didn’t. Which is all fine and good but you really don’t care about the jazz stuff, do you? You want the names, the rock’n’roll.
OK, John did the music for the Rutles. Arranged it all. Turned zany, silly ideas into actual tunes. John did the music for the Life of Brian. “Always Look on the Bright Side of LIfe”? That’s his arrangement. John turned alms for a leper into alms for a former leper and made the movie that much funnier. Really. John played with Jimi Hendrix at the UFO Club. John played with the MC5 at the UFO club, though he couldn’t hear anything. John helped arrange the music for the Concert for Bangladesh. John made a gazillion dollars doing the music for Titanic. John walked down the street with Keith Moon as Keith Moon did illegal, anarchistic things. John has weird stories about all the members of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, especially Neil Innes. John toured with Hot Chocolate and played a saxophone and wiggled funkily. John has nightmarish Van Morrison stories. John hung out with Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and Marlene Dietrich one night and gulped and blushed when they invited to dine with them. John had Muddy Waters play at his 18th birthday party and still doesn’t know how that happened. John was called by Chris Blackwell to show Bob Marley around the scene in London. All my John Altman anecdotes are blending together now, a mish mash of famous people and music legends and weirdness and the Beatles and I think Peter Sellers was his godfather or something. Really. And he’s the nicest guy I ever met. Way nicer than me. I can be an asshole sometimes. He can’t. Even if he could he is so perfectly English you couldn’t tell. He loves to talk, he’ll tell you any story you want to year, yes, even the Beatles ones, and on you of that he’ll play some terrific, swinging jazz. OK. That was for you rock’n’roll people. The things I’ll do to get you to jazz shows.
Oh, and there’s no cover. None. And if there’s a minimum I’ve never heard it mentioned.
ps: John Altman doesn’t know about the Ernie Kovacs ghost, though. I made that part up.
* I stole the teeny tiny bit from Chris Conner. He noticed.