Sometimes it must seem like we’re rattling off the same names here week after week, but what’s so special about jazz (or any improvisational music) is that you’re never seeing the same thing twice. That’s the whole point of the stuff. A player might call out the same damn tune every week, but it won’t sound the same as it did the week before, or the week before that, or the week coming up. And more than likely several players across town are calling out the same damn tune on the same night, but once past the head (that is, the patch of melody at the beginning that you’ll recognize) it’s all unexplored country. A more educated writer could explain how and why, but we’ll just say that while you need to know that stuff to play the things, you don’t need it at all to hear it, and to dig it. Just listen as a soloist spins a story through his horn. It might be the prettiest thing you ever heard, or the bluesiest, the saddest, the strangest, the most romantic, the most visceral. But if you listen, and then feel it .?.?. you’re on to something. You’re on to digging what is to be a jazz fan, and just how good it is to be moved by a solo, or be amazed at how players, whether on piano, bass, drums, the horns or whatever, make interweaving patterns, vibrant dynamics, sounds you can almost see unfolding before you, and how they all come back together again at the head, where the melody of the tune suddenly reasserts itself. And that is the coolest damn thing.
So if you like the sound of a very melodic trumpet (Miles played a melodic trumpet, Dizzy Gillespie a hotter one) Steve Hufstetter is at the Crowne Plaza on Wednesday, and Don Rader continues his string of local appearances with a couple of sets at Vibrato on Friday and a hard jam session with Don Menza’s Quartet on Thursday at Charlie O’s (and if you have any old Buddy Rich Big Band LPs, chances are Menza’s wailing on them). World-class tenor Pete Christlieb is at the Back Room on Friday, while the seriously intense tenor Benn Clatworthy jams with the excellent trio of pianist Nate Morgan, bassist Dave Carpenter and house drummer Roy McCurdy at Charlie O’s on Friday; the same trio will back the impassioned Justo Almario on Saturday. (He’s also at the Baked Potato on Friday.) The brilliant (and understated, compared to the last bunch) Chuck Manning is at Vibrato on Saturday, while the locally obscure tenor Fred Horn plays bop and some funk at Jax on Wednesday. And in a rare leader gig, Louis Van Taylor fronts a quartet at the Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill (in Gower Gulch) on Wednesday, and, man, this guy can blow some ferocious tenor sax. You can also catch a whole slew of the above in the ranks of the Frank Capp Juggernaut on Monday at Charlie O’s. And L.A. is awash in fine vocalists; just check the listings and take your pick. We’re a little partial to the unassuming Mark Miller with his excellent little quartet at Chaya.
It’s massive chops at Catalina this week — the Mike Stern Quartet with bassist Richard Bona (Friday through Sunday) and the Chick Corea Elektric Band with Dave Weckl (Tuesday through Thursday). You can take a breather in between on Monday at the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers fund-raiser with the ASMAC Holiday Trio — that’s the father-son team of Gerald Clayton on piano and John Clayton on bass with drummer Kevin Kanner. Your 50 bucks gets you hip company, a dinner and some excellent straight ahead, all kicking off at 6:30. And if you need more jazz piano, then the Jazz Bakery has the superb Kenny Barron Trio beginning Wednesday. You might remember his duets with Stan Getz. Perfection.
There’s just about always something interesting happening at the World Stage in Leimert Park. On Friday the singer Waberi rings in her nu-soul gospel spiritual jazz trip troupe. Among her players are molten tenor Azar Lawrence and the brilliant trombonist Isaac Smith (whose big band blew minds at their Bakery show a few weeks back). And at the World Stage on Saturday drummer-of-all-kinds Sunship Theus (whom you’ll remember from Horace Tapscott’s Arkestra), and who knows what he has planned, but it ought to be in the tradition of the house that Billy Higgins built. If you haven’t been yet, make it down sometime. It’s one of L.A.’s unique music places, the heart and soul of an astonishingly creative but underpublicized jazz scene.
There’s a pair of nice Xmas gigs on Thursday: The Secret of Christmas with Raquel Roberts, backed by some great players (Nick Mancini, Katisse Buckingham and Jimmy Branly among them) at the Pasadena Jazz Institute at the dolled up Paseo Colorado; and the Count Basie Orchestra performs (what else?) A Swingin’ Christmas at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday. Butch Miles is behind the kit, and the guy is a classic big band drummer.
And we’ve been hipped to a couple of books that’d make some cool Xmas gifts ideas. Bari-blowing/beatnik-looking/mystery-writing Skoot Larson’s The No News Is Bad News Blues is a fun read; his trumpet-playing, hard-drinking, weed-smoking, record-collecting accidental detective Lars Lyndstrom stumbles into a terrorist plot.Fans of Bill Moody’s Evan Horn books will dig it. Moody’s tighter and leaner, but Larson’s storytelling is like a free-ranging live jazz session. And if you know San Pedro (or Oslo) at all you will love the settings (details at www.skootsjazz.com). Peter Levinson’s Tommy Dorsey: Livin’ in a Great Big Way is a terrific read. The Big Band Era was a whole ’nother universe, and don’t fall for the “innocent times” stuff our parents/grandparents dropped on us. These guys lived hard, played hard, worked hard, fought hard and (in Dorsey’s case) died hard. The book bears up the legend: T.D. was not an easy man to know, let alone play for (or, worse yet, be married to), but he sure could play some pretty trombone. Those were amazing times, with the music, the arrangers, the tours, the War, the movie stars, the kids, the dancing, the partying, and the segregation and desperate poverty that so many players, white and black, Irish and Jew, rose from. Levinson’s energetic prose brings the era vividly back to life.