My favorite piece of writing Ive done in the L.A. Weekly was about saxophonist Herman Riley, who died last weekend. It was the result of an incredible half-hour interview during which Herman spun out his life story, an experience that was hard to boil down to its very essence. But then I thought about how he did just that in his playing, and the words rolled out.
When he read the short article, he told me it was one of the first times he had ever seen anything in print about himself just him alone. I couldnt believe that this man, this extraordinary saxophonist, had been ignored by the jazz media. He deserved reams of coverage, but getting 200 words and a picture made him happy.
This town never realized just how extraordinary Herman Riley was. How he could move you. How you could get utterly lost in his ballads. His notes fade away into memory. And when we go, the memories go. I once asked him when he was going to record again. He had only a single album, released sometime in the 80s and impossible to find. He said he was thinking about it, but wanted to wait until he was ready. Now, I can only listen to him in my head, stretching out the notes of a ballad, till nothing remains but air and a room stilled, feelings rising deep in my bones.
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But life and music goes on. Jazz was born, some say, in New Orleans funeral marches. It will be a bittersweet tribute when Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra perform New Orleans: Then and Now at UCLAs Royce Hall, Thurs., April 26. Blending Professor Longhair and Louis Armstrong, spirituals and blues, a little Ellington and trumpeter Mayfields own tunes, the NOJO remind us of the incredible creativity of their fearfully wounded city. Mayfields experience of the disaster is far from academic: He lost his own father in Katrinas wake.
Charles Owens digs Joe Henderson. One of the greatest sax players that ever passed through this universe, he says, in the same league as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. So for the excellent Luckman Jazz Orchestras season finale, guest conductor Owens has decided upon an evening of music from the Grammy-winning album Joe Henderson Big Band. Hendersons mix of relaxed cool and improvisational fireworks makes for terrific orchestral dynamics. An exciting concert, and a fine tribute to Henderson. At the Luckman Auditorium, Cal State Los Angeles, Sat., April 21.
Powerfully swinging saxist Don Menza celebrates a birthday, first at the Back Room (with trombonist Scott Whitfield) on Fri., April 20, and then at Charlie Os on Sat., April 21. Menzas muscular sound was entirely self-taught. No schooling, no instructors, no influences. Just pure Menza. And the effervescent pianist Alexandra Caselli brings her quartet (with saxist Steve Marsh) into Jax on Mon., April 23. Dont underestimate Jax... This joint is so small and the bar so noisy that players take chances here they wouldnt dare at more established clubs. When young drummer Bill Wysaskes hard-bop quartet plays here on Wed., April 25, downtown denizen Jason Goldman is on alto, and you never know who might sit in.
Downtown at Café Metropol, vibist Yotam Rosenbaum performs his eclectic compositions on Fri., April 20, and bari Adam Schroeder is there on Sat., April 21. At Land on 2nd, Vinny Golias Friday Nite Band go waaaaay outside on Mon., April 23; then, Wed., April 25, that edgy drummer Harris Eisenstadt and some out-jazz all-stars interpret Wayne Shorter to celebrate his new The All Seeing Eye + Octets. Also on this impressive bill is a group led by pianist Richard Sears and vibist Chris Dingman and a quintet led by trumpeter Phil Fiorio. If youd like to motor west, theres an interesting week at Vibrato, beginning with the advanced post-bop of the highly recommended Cecilia Coleman Quintet (with saxist Jerry Pinter) on Fri., April 20. Finally, on Tues.-Wed., April 24-25, Herb Alpert appears with Lani Hall. Youll remember her gorgeous singing on those Brasil 66 hits, and she still sounds great. Opening both nights is pianist Theo Saunders with Vibratos booker and house bassist, Pat Senatore, who played bass on all of Herbs TJB albums. And you know all those songs too.