Saxophone Players

[c. 2008, from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly]

There are a pair of saxophonists bookending the weekend at Charles O’s that absolutely slay us every time. On Friday we got Charles Owens, fresh from a big LACMA appearance. A masterful player (and orchestra leader…the Luckman has done brilliantly under his direction), Owens plays just about every reed and woodwind ever made (just dig him on English horn) and plays a mean dirty flute; but it’s on tenor that he is on fire. At the World Stage we’ve seen him go what looked like utterly out of his mind, all Dolphy and Roland Kirk and late period Trane or a way gone Sonny running down East Broadway, you know, crazy clusters and Fulani scales and notes flying so fast, damn…. And at Charlie O’s we’ve heard the most soulful A Love Supreme, the crowd utterly silent, not a whisper or a stir till it fades on that final bass thrum…then hot damn it’s Charlie getting down with Eddie Harris, music so funky people are actually dancing at Charlie O’s, and so greasy they’re getting drunk. That’s Charlie Owens, delivering. And that’s part one. Part two is Benn Clatworthy, same stage on Sunday. You’d never think a foul mouthed Michael Cain-as-Alfie-sounding Brit would play saxophone as good as any Yank, even better than most. He’s got a voice on that thing, steeped in mid period Trane, in Booker Ervin, in lots of Sonny Rollins when Sonny was the greatest of them all. But that’s just the sound. But the ideas, the vision, the places he goes, pushing, daring…god damn. Nobody in LA does this. Maybe nobody nowhere. It can be the most radical. It can be the most hard bopping. It can be so gorgeous you will not draw a breath till that horn has expended his. His is an intense, radical, beautiful jazz playing and still completely in the tradition. So there ya go, two of LA’s most exciting saxophonists, just waiting for your ears. Oh…and who’s got the floor on the Saturday between them? Tenor Don Menza is who, and he can kick anybody’s ass. Don’t let no one tell you this town ain’t got great saxophone players.

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Thrift store jazz, Part 1

Listening to the incredible Buddy Rich Big Band LP Mercy Mercy I picked up when the annoying lady in the Santa hat wasn’t looking, and that Don Menza solo was so freaking good I had to listen to it again. And dig that little flurry by Art Pepper. Had to listen to that twice, too. (Lifting up the tone arm and dropping it again, guessing, almost got it right. CD’s are easier.) Buddy is soloing now, going nuts, and it’s 1968, and it’s no “Toad”.

Also got this great collection of sides by aggregations led (supposedly led) by Jack Teagarden and Max Kaminsky, Big T and the Mighty Max. One of the those Commodore reissue things from the ’70’s, with cheap creepy artwork. Aesthetics got very strange in the seventies. No one buys these things, not even for a buck–no one buys anything pre-be bop–and whenever grandpa dies and his beloved record collection gets dumped at the thrift store record bins, his beautifully maintained albums sit there unloved amid the beat up Mantovani and disco and Barbara Streisand. But I’m a sucker for the things. Now, all the older jazzers remember Jack Teagarden, of course, one of the greatest trombonists of all time, and a singer up there, almost, with Louis Armstrong. He was that good. (Check out their priceless duet on Old Rocking Chair to become an instant fan.) Kaminsky is better known to The Swinging Years listeners and he’s blowing hot on this LP. Great bands, in the Eddie Condon style, in fact Eddie is on some of the cuts, sounding old style slick on guitar, and you can imagine the drinking and carrying on. This is mostly World War Two era stuff, and the endless notes on the back cover by some expert or other points out how these barrelhouse jazz bands (I love that term, “barrelhouse jazz”) were stock full of refugees from swing bands who either couldn’t hack the road schedules or just wanted to blow instead of reading charts all night but couldn’t or just wouldn’t adapt to be bop. It’s a forgotten time, in between big band swing and small group bop, but the jazz on here swings like a mothereffer (this is a family blog) and I flipped it over a couple times and let the stuff rock as I prep the house to be trashed all over again. That Kaminsky, he’s on fire here, this must have been his moment. And Teagarden, well I can never get enough of him. Oh yeah, there was the torrid dirty clarinet solo instantly recognizable as Pee Wee Russell. One of the sad little greats, Pee Wee. If I remember right he even did a set with Monk–playing Monk’s music–at Newport. Can’t remember if I saw film of that or have it here in the piles of CDs somewhere, but it was a trip, Pee Wee playing his ass off and thinking in ways guys his jazz age never thought. We laugh but how many of us can do that? We sit surrounded by the past like it’s the present and bitch about the new. Anyway, I picked this up with a random selection of cool LPs at the Out of the Closet in Atwater Village while looking for a coffee table. Nada on the table but the LPs are fun. Considering I sold off so much of my collection to pay for epilepsy medicine before coverage kicked in, I actually have room for new LPs again. If only I had sold off more books. I keep buying them and they’re stacked up here on the floor, all these big thick wordy non-fiction tomes, mocking me. The absurdities of bohemian life.

Buddy at Timothy Leary's pad, grokking with the universe.

Buddy at Timothy Leary’s pad, grokking with the universe before he kicks some hippie trumpeter off the bus.