Jazz clubs, where musicians play for fun
When Hollywood performers are done recording soundtracks for film and singers, they are playing in big bands around town. They help give L.A. a vibrant music scene.
SHOWING PLENTY OF BRASS: Behind the trombones, trumpeters Chuck Findley, far left, Charlie Davis and Gary Grant add punch to John Daversa's band. (Tony Gieske)
FOR THE RECORD:
L.A.-area big bands: An article in the Arts & Books section elsewhere in this edition about the big-band music scene at Southland jazz clubs implies that trumpeter Buddy Childers has been playing in area bands. Childers died in 2007. Also, a caption that accompanied a photo with the article said that three brass players pictured are part of a band led by John Daversa. The band is led by Ron Jones. The errors were discovered after the section went to press. —
For their day job, these men and women record the soundtracks for films and singers. During occasions such as the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars, after hearing "the winner is," they play without a flaw the cues they're seeing for the first time.
But in their downtime, they take part in L.A.'s big band-orama, something not seen in that other entertainment capital, New York, or perhaps anyplace else in the world.
Their evening chairs can be in a handful of bands. Perhaps the one led by Ron Jones, a composer of film and TV soundtracks, or by Ron King, who leads the big band formed by Stan Kenton trumpet stalwart Buddy Childers. That's when King himself is not filling first chair in bands such as the radical one led by John Daversa, who has a doctorate from USC, where he teaches.
"Then there's the Clayton Brothers-Jeff Hamilton Jazz Orchestra," Daversa says. "There's [tenor sax stalwart] Bob Mintzer's big band now that he's out here in L.A., Kim Richmond's band … and there's Bill Holman's band, Pete Christleib's small big band." He forgot to mention the groups of Jack Sheldon, Gordon Goodwin, Bill Cunliffe, Wayne Bergeron, Gerald Wilson and Arturo Sandoval, to name just a few.
They fill such clubs as Vibrato Grill Jazz … etc., Herb Alpert's place at the top of the mountain at Beverly Glen near Mulholland, or Catalina's Bar and Grill on Sunset Boulevard, or Vitello's Italian Restaurant on Tujunga in the Valley, or the Baked Potato on Cahuenga Boulevard at the foot of Lankershim, or Charlie O's Jazz Club in Valley Glen. Not to mention Steamers Jazz Club and Cafe in Fullerton and the Crowne Plaza by LAX, or the Jazz Bakery Moveable Feast, Ruth Price's roving listening room.
sounds to come out of his little red trumpet like you never heard. The band itself ditto, as if Duke Ellington and Béla Bartók had come down from on high and written some brilliant 21st century music for a big band of Berklee post-graduate superstars.
His monthly appearances at the Baked Potato pack the house from wall to poster-covered wall.
What those audiences hear is Daversa's playing and writing that consist of bright little fragments, darling arpeggios within arpeggios, shall we say, key abutting key like the cubes in an early Picasso. He produces a full palette of color, usually pretty but occasionally astringent. The color comes in subtle washes and arresting dabs, you never know from where or when.
"I'm trying to push our format forward to some more fresh sounds, always to another level of complexity and even sound design, [respecting] a tradition toward which we still stay reverent."
"Nobody's really getting rich on these bands," says Daversa. "People are doing it because they love the music and they love getting to play in public."
Jones, who is perhaps a little more reverent toward the jazz tradition, concurs. He visits the clubs with a 22-piece group that includes French horns, to which he sometimes adds 30 strings, and usually draws full houses.
But before he started out, he says, "I was kinda surprised that when you go to the clubs, they don't have any money to [hire star-populated big bands.]
"So you gotta decide do you go forward and do it or you don't. And I did. And it's a labor of love.
"I pay my players double what the normal rate is, and even that doesn't quite cover it. We have [percussionist] Emil Richards and [trumpet player] Warren Leuning and [tenor saxophonist] Pete Christleib — like, everybody in the band is in the hall of fame of great players — and they should be out probably making a thousand for the night.
"It's been a challenge; I take a loss myself, because I just wanted to take these players that are always in this insulated environment at Fox or wherever and bring these guys out as a group to play before live audiences. But part of the thing is that we have so much fun."
"It's a writers' band too," says Jones, a composer who has scored "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Family Guy," "The Smurfs," "Scooby-Doo," "The A-Team" and "Magnum P.I." "In 3 1/2 years we have 400 charts ... that's a pretty massive accumulation."
Ron King, who plays trumpet in many of the big bands in town, including Daversa's, and who leads his own here and internationally, was asked if New York has the bevy of big bands that we enjoy here.
"Not to the extent that we have in L.A.," King says. "Big bands are very big out here.
"That's because we have the music industry out here, for one thing, and also because of our education system. From junior high to high schools in California, all the music programs have big bands, jazz ensembles, and so we have the very best ensemble players to start out with."