Bolivar in Tune With Mix of Music Styles


John Bolivar would be the first to admit he has multiple personalities--musically speaking, that is. He says he changes each time he picks up one of his various wind instruments.

“My appreciation for so many styles of music has caused me to play differently on different instruments,” says the 45-year-old dynamo musician who appears at Chadney’s in Burbank tonight.

“On alto sax, I’m a lot like the late Cannonball Adderley,” he says. “I don’t try to mimic him, but I still try to be as fluid as he is. It’s a great voice instrument, say for playing a Gladys Knight tune.


“Now on tenor sax, that’s the big horn,” he says, laughing. “There I’m more affected by John Coltrane and Charles Lloyd, by the speed and agility with which those guys play. But there’s also a spirituality associated with Coltrane’s music, and that spiritual realm made an impression on me.” Indeed, Bolivar’s sound on the tenor has the hue and cry that recall the passion of Coltrane.

As much as he likes his saxophones, Bolivar, a native of Houston, says he’s most at home when playing flute, where his major influence is Hubert Laws, who is also from Houston.

“My flute and I, we’re old friends,” he says. “It’s like eating with a fork; you don’t pay attention to how to do it. That way I can just concentrate on the music.”

Just as he shifts gears when he picks up a different horn, Bolivar--whose most recent release is “Bolivar” on Optimism Records--tries to approach each club he plays on an individual basis.

“I offer what the room wants, be it jazz or pop or R&B; or whatever,” he says matter-of-factly. “In this town, you have to do that or you don’t work. Unless, of course, you’re strictly a straight-ahead jazz player, but then there are only so many rooms to play and you can’t really make a living at it.”

Chadney’s, where he has been a regular performer for more than a year, calls for diversity, Bolivar says. “I might do anything at Chadney’s. I mix it up, a little Latin, some pop ballads, a lot of mainstream jazz. And the blues, you can’t forget the blues.”

Whatever he does there, it must be right. “John is one of our most consistent acts,” says Dennis Duke, who books the room. “He was here a couple of weeks ago and the people wouldn’t leave. Of course, neither would the band. John likes to entertain.”

Bolivar, who studied music in the Air Force band and later at San Jose State University and Los Angeles City College, admits that he didn’t always have the keys for reaching an audience.

But he learned valuable lessons on the subject when, shortly after arriving in Los Angeles after stays in Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area, he was working in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with such major blues figures as Big Joe Turner, Percy Mayfield and Wilbert Harrison.

“Those guys taught me how to get way inside of myself,” he says. “The main thing was to harness my energy because I was always a kind of explosive player, and Big Joe and the others, they taught me to hold back, don’t let your ideas run too fast. They also showed me that I should seek the melody when playing a song. Even if you’re not playing it, say in a solo, try to state it.”

The memory of those halcyon days finds its way onto bandstands at clubs like Chadney’s, Bolivar says. “Sometimes I’ll be playing there, and I’ll close my eyes and there’ll be Big Joe sitting down right next to me,” he says, wistfully.

John Bolivar plays at 9 tonight at Chadney’s, 3000 W. Olive Ave., Burbank. No cover, no minimum. Call (818) 843-5333.