The many, worthy benefits for victims of the cataclysm in Japan reminded us that jazz itself needs funds. We're not talking about tip jars and cover charges — though it's good to toss in a few bucks there, too — but about the need to give promising kids the chance to further their jazz education. Like the Dolo Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation program — Coker himself played piano with everybody, all the names, here in L.A. He was a local jazz landmark. He died a bit too early, and a foundation was set up in his honor. This is the 28th of their annual bashes. The price isn't high — just $25, 10 bucks less for students — and the talent is great. Vocalist Ernie Andrews is back, and Betty Bryant answers him. The Art Hillery All Stars will be there, too, including one of our fave bassists, Nedra Wheeler, solid drummer Donald Dean and fine (if under-recognized) saxist George Harper. There's more, too, and James Janisse emcees. It all happens on Sunday, 3-6:30 p.m., at Founders Church Auditorium, 3281 W. 6th St., L.A. Details at dolocokerjazz.org.
Jazz at LACMA kicks off its 2011 season on Friday with one of the preeminent father-son pairings on the scene — bassist John Clayton and pianist Gerald Clayton. The music starts at 6 p.m. and it's free, with food and drink available, and the museum itself is no charge these nights. Such a deal.
You should be getting out of there with time for another gig, too. Pianist Michael Wolff is back at Vitello's that night, with trumpeter Mark Isham alongside, making for some good stuff. Or head to the Blue Whale for out-thinking trombonist Ed Neumeister, and the brilliant, thrilling pianist Otmaro Ruiz is at the Foundry. On Saturday trumpeter Carl Saunders is at Vibrato, with pianist Theo Saunders in the quartet. Pianist Matt Politano is at the Foundry Saturday night, always good. And on Sunday at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m., bassist Henry Franklin and quartet let loose.
The Steve Huffsteter Big Band is at Vibrato on Tuesday, and the trumpeter's material has a lot of subtle Kenton feel, very West Coast. Recommended (but keep in mind the $20 cover). And at Café 322 in Sierra Madre, the great CowBop do their take on western swing just rippling with Bruce Forman's guitar licks. Love it.
We're giving a big recommendation again to saxist Robby Marshall's Root System at the Blue Whale on Wednesday. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's Quartetto Fantastico shares the bill. Pretty state-of-the-art new jazz in L.A. and well worth your wide-open ears.
Vocalist Kurt Elling's new project is called The Gate, a collection of tunes by Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Miles, the Beatles and even King Crimson. We haven't heard the thing, but it's Elling, with pianist Laurence Hopgood arranging and a mess of great players. Their four-night Catalina's stand begins Wednesday. And on Thursday trombonist Steve Johnson's Jazz Legacy, with pianist Frank Strazzeri, tenor George Harper, bassist Jeff Littleton and drummer Kenny Elliott, is at Jax. That same night pianist Theo Saunders is at Charlie O's with a quartet including saxist Chuck Manning. As always, this is very highly recommended. Exciting, inspired stuff.
BONUS TRACKS: Now here's something off the wall for a jazz club, on a Saturday night no less. Vitello's calls it Improvisatory Minds: Chamber Music by Jazz Musicians, and the program includes works composed (and played) by pianist Bevan Manson, trombonist Ed Neumeister and guitarist Gernot Wolfgang. Billy Childs and Alan Broadbent have works on the bill as well. Will there be more of this? Has the Third Stream bubbled to life again? No idea, but we do know that the Maria Schneider Orchestra is playing the Ojai Music Festival in June.
Jazz players nerves were rubbed a little raw this past week. Apparently Neil Portnow and crew decided there were too many Grammy categories. They killed off several dozen, including Best Jazz Instrumental Album, which kind of cuts the jazz right out. (Nice museum the Grammys got, though. Saw a photograph in there of a van we got mellow in many years ago. Never seen that at the Getty.)
Funny how we were just going on last week about the heart and soul of the music being players improvising like mad in small clubs — well, Mr. Portnow and his accountants disagree. That's the music business. Of course, eliminating Latin Jazz seems a little harsh. Apparently as far as the Grammys go, it no longer exists. Past winners of that award took it like a kick to the stomach. Hard to blame them — being told your music doesn't exist is rough. Especially when you've got a row of the little statuettes up on your mantle.
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)