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Jazz Educators’ Meeting Lures a Hesitant Marsalis

This month’s National Assn. of Jazz Educators convention may give San Diego its biggest single shot of jazz in 1989.

Big-time talent will take to the stage at Town & Country’s Atlas Ballroom on three nights, but the nitty-gritty will be the more than 2,000 jazz educators, musicians and aficionados expected Jan. 12-15 for clinics, new product displays and the chance to mingle with influential jazz figures.

Among those who will make the scene is 28-year-old sax virtuoso Branford Marsalis, who decided, after initial reluctance, to become involved with the Southern Comfort “All That Jazz” Collegiate Competition. He’ll play a set with the winning jazz band Jan. 14.

Marsalis, brother of acclaimed trumpeter Wynton, isn’t performing because he thinks formal jazz education is essential.

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“Most of the people we idolize--Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins--didn’t go to music school. If they did go to school, they were trained in classical music.”

Nor is he coming to San Diego because he thinks Southern Comfort is the right sponsor for a black jazz musician.

“Being a black American, I was extremely hesitant to hook up with a liquor company. If you look at the situation in terms of advertisement, especially in the black community, the majority of things are cigarettes and liquor. But in the past five years, Southern Comfort has given $1 million to jazz education in America. That outweighs any stigmas that could be attached.

“There are so few people willing to do anything for jazz, we’ll take help from anywhere we can get it.”

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Marsalis just finished touring with rock star Sting. “In a half-hour jazz gig, I play more notes than during a 2 1/2-hour Sting concert,” he said. “Once you do a rock ‘n’ roll gig, it takes awhile to get your jazz chops back.”

Marsalis might jam when he’s here. His father’s coming for the convention, as is younger brother Delfeayo, who plays with one of the three collegiate competition finalist bands.

Jazz/blues greats Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff opened a two-week run at Elario’s last night. Alto saxman Crawford, who likes to play “as if I were singing a song,” got his big break in 1958 when he joined Ray Charles’ band on baritone sax. Even in high school, he backed up bluesmen like B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Junior Parker.

In 1986, he hooked up with fellow Milestone artist Jimmy McGriff, a master of the bluesy Hammond B-3 organ. McGriff and Crawford have Ray Charles in common. The organist scored a hit in 1962 with his instrumental version of Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman,” which made No. 5 on Billboard’s R&B; chart and 20 on the pop chart. Though he also plays several synthesizers, McGriff’s heart is with the blues and the B-3.

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A three-month gig has turned into a yearlong stint at the downtown Marriott for Los Angeles guitarist Ron Eschete. “The general manager, Joel Rothman, is a dear friend of mine, and a big jazz fan,” Eschete said. “I’ve known him for eight or nine years, since he used to manage the Anaheim and Newport Marriotts. He always told me he’d use me if he got the right room, and low and behold, last December he called after he’d just moved to the San Diego Marriott.”

Dave Pike, Gene Harris, Hampton Hawes, Warren Marsh, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie are among the talents that Eschete’s played--and recorded--with. In San Diego, he’s performing with locals Hank Dobbs (bass) and Ron Ogden (drums).

Eschete’s wife and son remain in L.A. while Eschete lives most of the week in a room at the hotel, where he plays Tuesday through Saturday evenings just outside of D.W.'s Pub. He’s recorded five albums, including two on the Muse label. A new album of Cole Porter classics (such as “Love For Sale,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” and “What Is This Thing Called Love”) should be out within the next few weeks. A typical set roams freely from Porter to Parker, from Jerome Kern to Antonio Carlos Jobim.

‘I’m a song person,” Eschete said. “I just like good songs.”

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Eschete expects to be at the Marriott for at least another three months.

RIFFS: Last Thursday’s KPBS-TV “Club Date” taping of jazz/blues singer Mose Allison marked the start of a series of six new shows. Also slated for taping are blues greats Hank Crawford with Jimmy McGriff, Tommy Flanagan with George Maraz, Joe Pass, and Cedar Walton with Billy Higgins . . . KPBS and Elario’s will celebrate the airing of the recently completed series of six shows on Jan. 18 at the restaurant, with a premier showing of the program featuring guitarists Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis. The show airs on KPBS Jan. 20 and 22. Kessel opens a run at the club the night of the party. So far, 70 cities have committed to air the six finished shows . . . Concert lineup for the National Assn. of Jazz Educators convention at the Town & Country: Jan. 12: SDSU Jazz Ensemble, Bill Watrous Quartet, Charles McPherson Quartet, U.S. Army Blues; Jan. 13: Rod Rodney Quartet, Rob McConnell, Count Basie Orchestra (playing the “Count Basic Jazz History Suite”) with special guests Joe Williams and Snooky Young; Jan. 14: Take Six, Branford Marsalis with the collegiate jazz band contest winner, Count Basie Orchestra (playing current material), Michael Brecker Band . . . Alto saxman Richie Cole, here for the educators’ convention, plays Diego’s Loft Jan. 13 and 14. He’ll lead a jam expected to include other big-name musicians in town for the convention. . . . Sax player Spike Robinson plays the Loft Jan. 19-21. His new album with trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison is about to be released.


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