Bennie Wallace learned his way around a saxophone by studying “practically all of the great jazz saxophone players: Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Lester Young.
“There’s been periods where, as all sax students do, I discovered a sax player and what made him great,” Wallace said. “One whole year, I was into Lester. At 19, it was Stan Getz, and I think everyone goes through their Coltrane period.”
At 35, Wallace, a native Tennessean who opens five nights at Elario’s on Wednesday, has merged jazz with New Orleans funk and blues to achieve a sound that soars freely over musical pigeon holes.
“Ballads are my favorite thing,” confided Wallace, who moved to Los Angeles from New York last February to get closer to the movie business. He composed music for the movies “Blaze” and “Bull Durham,” and is hoping to write more movie music soon.
Wallace’s debut was a 1977 trio album with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Eddie Moore. In 1985, his sax was sparked by the guitars of John Scofield and Stevie Ray Vaughan on the album “Twilight Time.” And Wallace fused jazz with the New Orleans roots of Dr. John on their 1988 collaboration album, “Border Town.”
Along the way, Wallace also played on albums with Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, Dave Holland and Tommy Flanagan.
At Elario’s, he is concentrating on music from his albums plus a few standard ballads. Wallace’s band includes drummer John Vidocavich (who also plays on Mose Allison’s newest album), bassist James Singleton and guitarist Steve Masakowski (also on Allison’s album). Music starts at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and at 9, 10:30 p.m. and midnight Friday and Saturday.
Pianist Jim Chappell gives hope to all young players looking for a break. In January, 1985, he released a self-produced album titled “Tender Ritual,” which he marketed in gift shops up and down the California coast near his home in Carmel.
The album, and his self-produced follow-up, “Dusk,” became regional cult hits and gained limited national exposure as tourists carried them eastward.
He was discovered by music buff Allan Kaplan, who founded the small independent label Music West in the mid-1980s and built its reputation on the tremendous success of Ray Lynch’s “Deep Breakfast.” Music West re-released the pianist’s first two albums, and recorded two more with Chappell in ensemble settings.
Chappell’s albums place high on New Age charts. And though he gets air time on light jazz radio, his roots aren’t in jazz.
“The people who have most influenced my writing are people like Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Carole King,” Chappell said. “I like to think my music has a lot of feeling in it. It’s less mental music than it is feeling music.”
His third and fourth albums are “Living the Northern Summer,” a musical reflection on his boyhood in Michigan, and “Saturday’s Rhapsody,” an upbeat tribute to the traditional R&B; days.
Chappell plays the “Rising Star” concert at the Catamaran Resort Hotel at 8 Wednesday night with his quartet.
If you’ve already missed the first three shows of the seven-part radio biography of Miles Davis in progress on KPBS-FM (89.5) and KSDS-FM (88.3), don’t delay.
The show probes the depths of Davis’ music with revealing comments and musical demonstrations by many of his peers.
Highlights from last week’s third installment: drummer Tony Williams humming a 30-year-old Davis solo note for note, segueing to Davis humming the part; critic-musician Stanley Crouch saying that Davis’ albums with arranger Gil Evans were “all garbage;” Davis’ ex-wife, dancer Frances Taylor, confessing how her fear of the trumpeter’s temper prompted her to give up a role in a Broadway production of “West Side Story” after Davis asked her to because “a woman should be with her man;” and Crouch, again, testifying that Davis’ 1959 “Kind of Blue” album is essential to any serious jazz collection: “If you don’t have that, you’ve got a hole in your bucket.”
Part 4 airs on KSDS on Thursday at 11 a.m. and on KPBS on Saturday at 2 p.m. Part 5 airs on KSDS on Sunday at 2 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 11 a.m. and on KPBS on Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.
Jazzman Jimmy Cheatham will put his UC San Diego charges through their paces Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the school’s Mandeville Auditorium.
The concert will feature most of his 60 jazz majors in a variety of sets, from solo to Big Band. Cheatham, who heads the jazz program at UCSD, said the evening will blast off to the sound of the jazz ensemble playing its adopted theme song, “Moten Swing.”
Each time a curtain rises and the band begins, Cheatham is reminded of his years with trumpeter and composer Gerald Wilson’s Big Band.
“I still get the same chills, the hair rises on the back of my neck,” he said. Cheatham admits that many of his students don’t have a good grasp of jazz history, but said several are fine musicians.
Andy Zarling, for example, is “a little sax player who sounds like Johnny Hodges.” In addition to the students, the two-hour program will feature a guest set by bassist Marshall Hawkins, guitarist Bob Boss and drummer John “Ironman” Harris. Admission is $5, $3 for students.
RIFFS: Trumpeter Red Rodney is the main man on KPBS-TV’s “Club Date” jazz concert program Saturday afternoon at 1, repeating Monday afternoon at 1:30. Meanwhile, KPBS continues to make new shows, including a taping of keyboardist Rob Mullins that marked the first time an artist with fusion leanings made the program. . . .
Nearly 500 voices will pull together in a spiritual direction tonight at 8 when UCSD’s gospel choir tackles traditional and contemporary gospel in the campus’s Mandeville Auditorium. Admission is free. . . .
Vocalist Kevyn Lettau and guitarist Peter Sprague team up this Friday and Saturday night at 8 at All That Jazz, next to the Wall St. Cafe in Rancho Bernardo. . . .
Pianist Harry Pickens continues his Wednesday duos with bassist Bob Magnusson at the Horton Grand this week, and on Dec. 5 and 19. Music starts at 8.