Christmas falls on a weekend this year, which has certainly done a number on the jazz listings. This might be a good thing, else we'd be subjected to a helluva lot of very tired holiday standards complete with bass solos. Soprano saxes come out, too. Singers by the swarm. And those Santa hats.
As you can tell from the radio, there is only so much you can do with a Christmas tune that hasn't been done hundreds of times before. Of course, there are exceptions. Bill Cunliffe and trio did some things at a Vitello's show early this month that were pretty trippy. He must have interesting Christmas parties. And we went out and bought Matt Slocum's Tree-O (even with that pun) after reading a Kirk Silsbee review. We totally dig it. Imaginative craziness, sometimes way out there, even. Highly recommended, especially after two weeks solid of polite Christmas jazz.
And we love Christmas. Tree-trimming party, the whole bit. Even a stack of Christmas records (Wynton Marsalis, Dexter Gordon, Emmylou Harris, Rotary Connection so far today). Imagine what the hip Christmas haters go through every December. And the thing is, you don't go to a jazz club to listen to Christmas carols. That's real-world stuff. Jazz clubs are supposed to be otherworldly, way hip and devoid of cute. Plus have good Irish whiskey.
So let's find some.
Charlie O's is the quintessential jazz room. Outside is a nondescript stretch of the Valley, but you walk inside and it's dark, with a low stage at one end and a handful of players jamming their asses off. So leave it to this joint to book saxist Chuck Manning with John Heard's house trio when you're all supposed to be home with the eggnog and Andy Williams. Manning's intensity really comes out with John Heard behind him; there's a toughness to his sound at Charlie O's. He probably has that sound everywhere he plays, actually, it's just something you notice more at Charlie O's, the way you notice the chance-taking at the World Stage or new ideas at the Blue Whale. A great room has a vibe, and Charlie O's has that badass, nothing-but-straight-ahead vibe. Which makes it special. And not sappy on Christmas Eve.
Trumpeter Carl Saunders is there on Monday (a stunning player who doesn't suffer fools too gladly), and on Wednesday it's bassist Chuck Berghofer's Midnight Jazz Band with saxist Gary Foster, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Joe La Barbera. That's some quartet — Foster has maybe the best tone in town, and Ranier and La Barbera are both first-call. Then Joe La Barbera is at Vitello's on Thursday with the remarkable combination of tenor Bob Sheppard, pianist Larry Goldings, bassist Tom Warrington and, flying in from back East, the great trumpeter Clay Jenkins. It's $20, but that is one hell of a great bunch of jazz players and a terrific way to spend your New Year's Eve eve. Great room, too. You can even afford to eat there.
Saxist Don Menza is at Vibrato on Friday, and that's not a bad way to spend a Christmas Eve, either. And then on Thursday, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy has his quartet at the Blue Whale. We haven't seen the lineup, but he never plays with less than the best of the newer players (or the older players, for that matter). $10.
Ought to mention a couple vocal gigs as well, 'tis the season and all. Jane Monheit is at Catalina's on Tuesday (see Music Picks), while our own Janis Mann is at Charlie O's, and quite the superb jazz singer is she. And Christmas wouldn't be complete without Jack Sheldon's take on it. He must have had interesting Christmas parties, too. He has a trio on Tuesday from 8-11:30 p.m. at Typhoon Restaurant (3221 Donald Douglas Loop South at the Santa Monica Airport). He will play gorgeously and be funny and charming and it's free and what else could you want? He's at Jax in Glendale on Thursdays, too. And in our heart of hearts Jack is a pick every time.
And we got an e-mail from vocalist Sandra Booker, who has her trio playing on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. for free at Baxter Northup Annex (14534 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, 818-788-7510). She's says they're “neo-busking” to let the public know “how many great musicians live in Los Angeles and why the community's support of those musicians is vital to our cultural richness.” Which seems like a good idea. The monsoon permitting, of course.
Merry Christmas, people.
(Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)