We thought Raymond crossed the freeway. It doesn't. The 210 cut the once-proud street clean through. Swinging the car around in front of a huge church, we swore we heard a saxophone. We stopped. Sure enough, it was a tenor — sounding huge. So we parked in front of the place, this St. Andrew Catholic Church, with its enormous medieval bell tower, and when we opened the big wooden doors, out poured "Trane's Blues." It was a Carl Randall gig.
The place inside looked vast and ancient. Old Rome must have looked like this to the first saints. It sure hadn't sounded like this, though — not this huge tenor saxophone filling the place with a whole new holy spirit, this John Coltrane tone and those John Coltrane chords. Or Dexter Gordon dope-smooth with all the edges on. And what came before Dex — Coleman Hawkins? Some Lester Young? Is that where this sound comes from, the sound you hear all over town on a good night, that modern L.A. tenor saxophone sound? The drummer wailed, too. The keyboard sounded like a pipe organ in all this space, the bass was huge — everything was huge. When Elliott Caine began blowing trumpet, his notes stung. It was almost shockingly savage, so loud and brash and brass. Just how radical a thing jazz trumpet was way back then became clear, when Louis Armstrong shook up the Western world — a world where empires had vanished and revolution transformed civilizations to their very roots. Young men had been slaughtered in the millions, and survivors hobbled down the streets, wrecked. There'd been plague, even. Suddenly music was everywhere, this crazy jazz filling the airwaves and the record stores and the speakeasies. It came, it seemed, with wild drinking and dancing and sex and drugs. It raised hell, an unsettled frantic music for an unsettled frantic time. If it didn't alter the fundamentals of what we are — it was bouncing off these holy walls, and the saints weren't fazed a bit — it certainly shook up the cultural innards forever. We thought all this as we sat there, the hard bop washing over us. Afterward there was a party at the parish hall. Wine flowed till the wee hours, and people talked of jazz. Walking back to the car, we felt lifted, lighter, renewed.
So we want to hear more live jazz. Like Friday at LACMA, with the rarely heard big band of composer/arranger/curved soprano player John Altman. Its lineup bristles with heavy cats like trumpeter Bob Summers, trombonists Andy Martin and Scott Whitfield, saxists Rob Lockhart and Pete Christlieb, pianist Mike Lang, guitarist Grant Geissman and bassist Chuck Berghofer. Altman's stuff swings in the classic sense without being retro. He loves the old big bands and the new, and you'll swear you're hearing traces of Artie Shaw tunes, say, or Basie, and you are.
And Charlie O's is great all week. Friday has the smart, impassioned tenor Chuck Manning. On Saturday tenor Rickey Woodard lays it out hard, bluesy and swinging. Monday has bassist Chris Colangelo with pianist Otmaro Ruiz, drummer Jimmy Branly and guitarist Larry Koonse. Then Branly's own quartet is there on Tuesday with saxist Walter Smith — this will be fierce. Finally on Wednesday it's bop trumpeter Carl Saunders and quartet. His solos do extraordinary things, often with a single breath.
Also on Friday: the wonderfully old-school (as in Prez, say) tenor Gil Bernal is at Café 322 from 7-9 p.m. Trumpeter Steve Huffsteter plays a gorgeous trumpet — he's at Vibrato on Friday — while Poncho Sanchez tears up Vitello's. Violinist Michael White — yes, he of all those great Impulse! sets — is at the Blue Whale. Then Saturday at Vitello's is the thinking man's Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble, with pianist Childs and players like sax/flutist Bob Sheppard, guitarist Larry Koonse, harpist Carol Robbins, and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, plus strings. $35. And the stunning tone and subtle slide of trombonist Andy Martin is at Vibrato that night.
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You can praise the dawning Sunday morning at the Lighthouse when the classically West Coast Phil Norman Tentet celebrates its 15th anniversary from 11 a.m. Then later that night from deep inside — or maybe way outside — what jazz is comes the Larry Karush Quintet, with his piano and pair of percussionists (including master Brad Dutz) plus two highly creative players, bassist Chris Colangelo and flutist Daniel Lozano. Happens at 7:30 p.m. at Occidental College's Bird Recital Hall (1600 Campus Road at Bird Road in Los Angeles, 323-259-2785).
There's jazz all over downtown in little pockets downtowners know about but the rest of us don't. One such spot is Seven Grand (215 W. 7th downtown, between Grand and Olive, 213-614-0737), known for its vast array of whiskeys. They book jazz and blues on weeknights, and the Katisse Buckingham Quintet is there Monday.
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)