Yeah, things are rough with the market down and unemployment up, mortgages defaulting and debates devolving ... what can a jazz fan do? You still need to hear music — maybe more now than ever — but your 401K just took all the Jazz Cruise money and left you sporting Hoover flags and no place to go. But jazz is very affordable, even for the guy who has to dash in and out of the liquor store to pick up this Weekly without buying anything. Here are a couple suggestions that won’t break you.
Friday afternoon the Thelonious Monk centennial kick-off, 51 weeks early with a whole herd of master pianists — Geri Allen, Jean Michel Pilc, Frank Kimbrough, Bill Cunliffe are some — at Ernst & Young Plaza at Seventh and Figueroa downtown between noon and 3 p.m. Buy an apple off some sad broker and dig the wide-ranging interpretations. And down Wilshire at LACMA a bit later: bassist Putter Smith’s West Coast play the straight-ahead grooves. Also free.
Real jazz junkies (metaphorically speaking) collect at Charlie O’s in the Valley; its purist crowd is half players and half jazzophiles. They demand the real stuff, three sets’ worth. There’s no cover (except on Big Band Mondays) and no minimum. Friday has Justo Almario, a Colombian whose impassioned sound is shot through with the wilder Trane. On Saturday it’s Don Menza’s big room-filling tone, and on Sunday Doug Webb’s passionate intensity nods to Trane and Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley and all the rest of those cats.
It’s a whole other vibe at the Foundry (on Melrose, of all places), where Fridays and Saturdays is about kids going nuts and pushing things. Bassist Matt Cory’s trio rules the room, with the astonishing imagination and sheer ballsiness of Zach Harmon on the traps. On Friday Gary Fukushima is at the upright and — get this — on Saturday it’s two veterans: Larry Goldings with the incredibly sympathetic Bob Sheppard on sax. These guys both have such advanced concepts about the things that can be done with a melody, but their music never screams or scares people. The crowd is young and mixed and there’s no minimum; the dinners are pricey but the bar menu’s cheap, so you broke jazz nerds ought to buy a drink and a grilled cheese, ferchrissakes. Help keep the happenings happening.
A lot of that newer jazz happens at Rocco’s latest spot, the Café Metropol. There’s a smallish cover, with great eats and a zillion beers. The room has a kind of intimacy that makes it ideal for, like, dating. Saturday’s a great bet: Nick Mancini can charm his way through the most intense arrangements — and man, what a vibes player. Also featuring live players downtown on Fridays (and occasionally Saturdays) is the high-ceilinged bar at the Biltmore; bands seem to dig the room and there’s a varied, friendly crowd. No cover, no minimum, but no eats either. Which just saves you more money. Trumpeter Elliott Caine is there on Friday, with a lot of Lee Morgan Blue Note in him.
A couple eateries serve reasonable fare and good jazz on occasion; if you’re into ’50s hard bop, you are in luck. Family-friendly Café 322 in Sierra Madre has the splendid Donavan Muradian Quintet; they’ve got that Jazz Messengers thing down, from Chuck Manning’s inventive distinctive tenor work to Kye Palmer’s gorgeous trumpet sound. Great stuff, great pasta, no cover. More good eats — American heavy — will accompany another local outfit with that ’50s thing down: the CJS Quintet. Chuck Johnson’s tenor is martini dry, while Texan Smitty Smith just oozes blues and pops. A great, if higher-calorie, follow-up to Friday’s dinner with Muradian’s quintet.
The further west you go in town, the emptier your wallet. A dinner might cost you a car payment, and the bar will be full of rich people crying into their fruity Belgian ales. But there’s no cover charge at Vibrato, so just grab a potent drink and a seat somewhere. After a set or two, the power diners’ chatter turns to boozy, overfed murmurs, and enough jazz fans have slipped in to transform the place into a serious gig. Chuck Manning is there Saturday, doing a lot more stretching than with the DMQ ... and, if you’re lucky, John Campbell’s on the piano. Man, does that cat swing in the classic sense. Sometimes for a minute it’s like Bud Powell (let alone Monk) never happened. Go listen for yourself.
And we just received word of some Thursday-night jazz craziness that’s erupted without warning at TiGeorges Chicken on Glendale Avenue (just south of Temple) in Echo Park. It’s Haitian, but instead of compas it’ll be the Tom McNalley Trio with saxist John Gross. No cover and no beer, but killer coffee (hey, a stimulant’s sometimes better than a depressant). And just goes to show there’s great affordable jazz all over town. It’ll do you good: soak in it, and hang onto every last note till they turn off the lights and clear everyone out. Take those last traces of melody home with you, floating around inside your head, to lullaby you to sleep. You can always worry about the end times in the morning.
(Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. See our online listings for complete lineups on the clubs mentioned above.)