L.A. Jazz Scene 2008: Alive and Swingin'

Chuck Koton By

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Today, Azar Lawrence burns like a bright, hot flame at the altar of his muse. Given the ever-present fire danger in the Southland, a fire truck should remain on call when Lawrence blows.
The Los Angeles scene has often been referred to in patronizing terms by jazz lovers, musicians and writers. It has been said that the city's laid-back vibe deprives musicians of the energy that a New York audience can impart to the bandstand. Others complain that the growth of a hip jazz scene has been impeded by the region's decentralized nature. A jazz fan can burn up valuable fuel driving between Long Beach, the San Fernando Valley and all points in between to catch a show. In spite of these complaints, and there are others, the Los Angeles metropolitan area has, in fact, had an illustrious and significant jazz history.

As chronicled by Steven Isoardi, among others, jazz arrived in L.A. as early as 1908, when a Dixieland band led by Bill Johnson began an extended engagement at a local Central Ave. club. Jelly Roll Morton spent many of the early post-WWI years in the city and, by the 1940s, Central Ave. nightclubs like the Club Alabam were featuring the greatest East Coast be-boppers, Billie Holiday, as well as great local talent like Buddy Collette, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon. The late great Teddy Edwards is considered by many to have played the first recorded bebop tenor sax solo in "Up in Dodo's Room."
While the once vibrant jazz scene has had its ups and downs over the years, there is plenty of great jazz still being played here, at several hip venues where jazz junkies can count on getting their "fix." The reviews that follow are just a few personal highlights from 2008.
Professor Burrell Holds Class

Kenny Burrell

Catalina's Bar and Grill

Hollywood, California

January 10-14, 2008

For the last couple of years, winter in Los Angeles has been characterized by severe drought conditions, which should not be surprising as the city is situated in a desert. And like the flora and fauna in this often parched land, jazz aficionados here in Southern California often must endure extended dry periods, thirsting for world-class be bop, hard bop and post bop, as many of the top musicians (for some reason), choose to stay in New York, tour Europe or play in San Francisco, rather than perform here in Los Angeles. Fortunately, this past winter, intermittent restorative rains finally fell, dampening the dry, dusty land and nourishing ravenous roots from San Diego to Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley. A deluge of great music filled the azure skies as well, and the local jazz scene flourished like the Garden of Eden these past few months.

Kenny Burell Ushering in 2008 was the indefatigable, L.A.-based Kenny Burrell, literally and figuratively "Dean" of the jazz guitar, who brought his quintet to Catalina's, the Southland's premier jazz nightclub, from January 10-14. On this occasion, Burrell was joined by Tom Ranier on piano, Roberto Miranda on bass, Clayton Cameron on drums, recent college graduate, Tivon Pendicott, on tenor sax, clarinet and flute, and Mayuto Correa on percussion.

During the first set, Burrell introduced "Tenderly" with gentle caresses of his guitar. Professor Burrell then took the class (I mean the audience) to the land of Ellingtonia. Jazz lovers in the room sat mesmerized, absorbing every mellifluous sound his fingers made, as the master and the band played the classic, "Mood Indigo." Young Tivon Pendicott, playing reeds in place of the late, great Herman Riley, blew a bluesy clarinet solo that lingered languorously in the horn's lower register and then drifted throughout the club, intoxicating customers along the way. Surely, Herman was smiling up in jazz heaven. The tune ended with an intimate duet between Burrell and his long-time bassist and colleague in UCLA's Jazz Studies Department, Roberto Miranda. Miranda, an L.A.-based musician of prodigious talents deserving of greater recognition, passionately explored the entire range of the bass, and displayed a musical and spiritual connection with Burrell that only comes from years of rehearsing and performing together.

Highlights of the second set included the band's interpretation of Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa, " in which Correa's percussive madness on conga, bongos and assorted shakers and bells injected a little Latin spice into the rhythmic stew. KB then dedicated the next tune to Herman Riley, playing Riley's composition, "3/4 for the House." As the midnight blue hour approached, Clayton Cameron drove the band on this gut- bucket blues with a relentlessly pounding bass drum, shimmering cymbals, and shuffling brushes, before this multi-toned sound palette eventually gave way to a thunderous climax.

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