There's a great gig to open your weekend on Friday at LACMA, when pianist Theo Saunders and quartet do a couple sets of Thelonious Monk. You watch Theo and you realize he is all over Monk (or is that the other way around?). The way his left hand sometimes hangs in midair over the keyboard, waiting to pounce. Or just the big, jagged chords he sometimes hurls into a melody — big, fat, heavy, beautiful things just this side of dissonant. To Theo, Monk is bedrock. And Monk tunes to jazz people are like Beatles tunes to rock fans: We know them inside out, but we never tire of them. So we love a night of Monk. Tenor Chuck Manningis with Saunders; he's a very creative saxist and ideal for Saunders' often complex variations. First set at the free event kicks off at 6 p.m.

On Monday the Theo Saunders Quartet is at Charlie O's. We imagine they're doing Monk again, but to be honest, club gigs are where jazz really happens, and always has, and always will. Three or four sets, a loose vibe, good booze, good food, a parking lot or alley to smoke funny cigarettes — that's the way it ought to be. That's the way it always has been. Forget the whole “America's classical music” thing. That implies something beautiful and way old that's been preserved a long time. That's a concert hall thing, which is OK but not us — not at all. Galleries and museums and “performance spaces” are nice, but smack a bit of salons — too many rich people and intellectuals and like that. The jazz thing is something we need to hear and watch and feel for real. We dig the jazz bars. Minton's was a bar. That's all you need to know. Google “Minton's” and dig.

Friday night over at the Radisson in Culver City, drummer Paul Kreibich leads a quartet with sax great Plas Johnson (of the Pink Panther theme) and one of our favorite (and Grammy-winning) pianists, Bill Cunliffe. We're thinking this should be all straight-ahead and bluesy, but ya never know — and we like the counterintuitive (to us anyway) Plas-Cunliffe combo. Over at Charlie O's on Friday, vocalist Denise Donatelli is with the John Heard Trio. Her When Lights Are Low has been getting some nice airplay on KKJZ. And at Vitello's on Friday, bassist Rufus Reid has a trio with pianist Steve Allee and Brazilian drum great Duduka Da Fonseca. Duduka's a master of both samba and jazz rhythms, which should give Reid's trio a much different feel. Speaking of things Brazilian, composer-singer-musician Djavan is at Club Nokia on Friday, doing his jazzy samba pop thing in style. Nice to see the steady stream of Brazilian acts that have been appearing in L.A.

Saturday options begin with alto Lanny Morgan at Charlie O's with the John Heard Trio. Had Morgan spent all these decades in NYC rather than L.A., he'd be a widely known jazz name, since he is an amazingly talented bebop alto sax player. But then the weather is so nice out here. … We're still digging his Six from last year, incidentally, with its solid straight-ahead and fiery bop and even a lovingly played bit of classic jazz (aka Dixieland).

On Sunday, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter's trio is at the Blue Whale. Huffsteter has a beautiful sound, cool, dexterous, the notes just right, and a trio format is pretty ideal for him (though we're fans of his big band, too). A nice wind-up for the weekend. Read the rest of our picks at


There's a completely different kind of jazz gig happening at the Blue Whale on Saturday night when vocalist Dwight Trible and pianist John Beasley duet. It's intense and beautiful and inevitably a tad outside, given Trible's extraordinary vocal approach and Beasley's ability to play in any direction, any direction at all, without ever lessening his own passionate approach. Bassist Dave Robaire's group is way down in San Pedro on Saturday, playing Alva's. He's got pianist Josh Nelson and drummer Dan Schnelle again, with guitarist Larry Koonse in place of a horn making one hell of a great quartet. Vocalist Vanessa Robaire is along, too. And the excellent baritone saxist Adam Schroeder is at Vibrato on Saturday.

Of course, the absolutely thrilling pianist Otmaro Ruiz's quartet at Charlie O's on Tuesday is essential. You have to experience this cat. And pianist Jon Mayer's trio (with bassist Chris Connor and drummer Roy McCurdy) at Café 322 on Wednesday also is highly recommended. As is the awesome western swing & bebop act CowBop, at the 322 on Thursday with guitar slinger Bruce Forman. And back at Charlie O's on Thursday, Chuck Berghofer's Midnight Jazz Band features a wonderful alto with a touch of Lee Konitz in his sound, Gary Foster. The nice weather must have kept him out here as well. What a player.

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