By Brick Wahl
Ya gotta love my buddy Dean, he's a nut. And inspired, brilliant, funny, knows everything and everybody Sicilian motormouth of a musician from New York City with a heart the size of Indiana. A place he probably hates. So Dean begins emailing and calling me at work on Monday morning (no kidding…it was a Monday morning) and starts in at turbospeed about some guy whose name I never did get except I think it sounded Slavic or Balkan, something central European and points east who’s a saxophone player from Cleveland and he's the best and yadda yadda freaking yadda. And something about a neighbor who gets his Sicilian heart and points south a-stirring, and they are new best buddies, and she's a sweetheart, and I'll love her, and she's an ex-dancer or something, and she comes from Cleveland, and she's a publicist now and has this new client who’s this saxophonist from Cleveland, and she's got him a gig or showcase at Catalina and you have to be there because I told her (in a drunken moment I am sure) that you are a “jazz journalist” for that weekly whatever it is you write for and I promised you'd be there.
OK….when is this?
But I can't be there…I have passes for Caetano Veloso. And I really really wanna see Caetano.
But this guy’s great and it's a big deal and there's even a red carpet.
A red carpet?
Yes, she got a red carpet from someone and some big stacked blonde starlet to escort people in and there'll be lights and cameras and people, beautiful people. It's a big deal. Showbiz.
Yes…and he began again with the showbiz and the carpet and the blonde with the big zambonis and this great tenor saxist from Cleveland.
This is a jazz gig?
Straight ahead baby!
Well, of course, no way I could make the gig. So Dean then arranges a cocktail party at his pad in Beverly Hills so I can meet this guy with the Slavic name I never did get. And there I was last nite, Tuesday, on a tony block just a few score yards from City Hall. It’s a really nice neighborhood. Which made his trashed building all the more incongruous. That little rainstorm that passed through last Columbus Day—the one that caught me outside Vibrato without a jacket—well, that storm happened to hit just about the time roofers were mid-roofing, and the water soaked the ceilings and walls and everything came down and people had to evacuate and the place was red tagged and oy what a mess. Dean’s living room survived but the bedrooms were trashed and now everything was being redone and there was plaster everywhere and that explains how several of us were sitting on a bed where the living room floor used to be drinking Hungarian wine and eating take out and listening to jazz.
The tenor player’s name is Ernie Krivda. It’s Slovak or Hungarian or something and looks really strange unless you’re from Cleveland or points adjacent. One of those Great Lakes ethnic things he explained. He’s shown up a few seconds before me….as I walked up there’s this dapper cat—and I mean looking sharp—in two tone shoes and a grey suit and royal blue sliky shirt with (best of all) a matching royal blue handkerchief in his breast pocket….like something outta “Chinatown” . I’m thinking this is Beverly Hills, and hey, people dress different here than in, say, the Valley. Still, it took me a couple minutes to figure out that this was the guy, even after we were introduced. I mean, no jazz players out here dress like that, certainly no saxophone players. Charles Owens can look pretty spiffy sometimes, duded up with a big hat and all, but ain’t nobody look like this cat. This guy actually matches L.A.’s art deco architecture. Amazing.
The wine flowed pretty freely, Hungarian, then Australian. The music talk was intense. And then someone put on this guy’s album, and my mind was blown. I was transfixed. This Ernie Krivda is a wonderful saxophonist. I just sat there in front of the speakers and listened. Getz came to mind, but then this was a Getz tribute. Maybe it was something kinda Art Peppery. For some reason Benny Carter flitted by. Warne Marsh, but not really. Maybe Pete Christlieb on the slower numbers? Maybe nobody? The brain stopped looking for comparisons and just soaked it in. It was obvious: this is just a brilliant and totally original saxophonist, making beautiful exciting music, where every solo seems new, no ideas are repeated, gimmickless. All these Eddie Sauter arrangements he was doing here were rendered so naturally, with strings, in a concert hall, and just sounding exactly right. This is the kind of stuff that is absolutely a joy to hear. So inspiring that you just need to sit down at the keyboard and just start riffing prose, letting it spin, till two pages later you finally get to the paragraph that says just how great this music is. And how four listens in a row I still get that vibe I’d picked up listening to the late and so lamented Herman Riley. It’s like that. It’s that good.
I felt like an idiot not knowing who the guy was. When I got home I checked the All Music Guide and there Scott Yanow raved about him, and all his albums…but pointed out that really no one knows who he is outside of Cleveland. A local secret, really…but we have our share of those too…these saxophone players that can break you heart on a ballad and blow your mind on a stretch, who sometimes get under your skin and into your bones where you feel what it is that they are getting at…Think Pete Christieb, Charles Owens, Benn Clatworthy, Chuck Manning…Herman Riley….no one knows who they are either besides the few of us who hit the L.A. jazz clubs In town. And Ernie Krivda is in that class too. Just an amazing player, and man does his music get under the skin and into the bones. It’s in their now. I can feel it.
A couple three hours into the evening, about halfway through their discussion of English classical composers—it got deep, many fathoms over my head—both Dean and Ernie began to lose out to the wine. Time to go. And that was all for me. I can’t make that show at Catalina’s tonight (Wednesday). Sigh…. But you can. There’ll be a red carpet and a blonde and show biz. And some incredible saxophone. So go see Ernie Krivda with his quartet, and tell me what I missed. You will dig this guy’s jazz.