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A Look Ahead: In jazz, little new on the horizon : What You Saw Is What You’ll Probably Get

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Looking for a theme song to describe the upcoming year in jazz in Orange County? With apologies to Duke Ellington, how about “Things Are What They Used to Be,” a variation on the Duke’s classic “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.”

Despite some promising club dates coming up later this month, the 1995 jazz scene in Orange County is, at this juncture, shaping up much like 1994.

Jazz fans will continue to haunt Randell’s in Santa Ana with its more contemporary bookings, the lounge at Kikuya Restaurant in Huntington Beach (which will feature jazz, both straight-ahead and contemporary, four nights a week beginning in February), and the bar inside Spaghettini, where bassist Bobby Haynes continues to book blues and jazz six nights a week.

Big-name contemporary acts will be infrequently scheduled at the Coach House and the new Galaxy Concert Theatre. If this sounds like the same old song, it is.

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Add to this scenario roughly the same concert and festival fare that occurred in ’94, and a sense of deja vu sets in. Scattered jazz attractions will keep fans something less than satisfied, and far from satiated.

“My sense is that aside from Randell’s, the Coach House, the Galaxy and some others,” says Terry Wedel, program director of the Saddleback College jazz radio station KSBR-FM (88.5), “there’s really not the scene you’d expect to have with a sophisticated crowd like you have in Orange County. And it’s hard to figure out why. I hear from a lot of frustrated musicians who are playing in Los Angeles and San Diego but can’t find a place to play here in between them in Orange County.”

So until some enterprising club owner begins offering music in the way the Cafe Lido did before it closed in 1994, or someone establishes a nonprofit concert space on the model of the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, we’ll have to be satisfied with the status quo.

But there’s no reason to be too blue. January, for example, holds promise for those who prefer the lush life of jazz clubs to the concert scene. Pianist Alan Broadbent, a member of Charlie Haden’s internationally honored Quartet West, will play dates at both Spaghettini (Jan. 15) and Kikuya (Jan. 19).

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Broadbent, a native of New Zealand, is a fine technician and a romantic at the keyboard. He’s worked with Woody Herman, among others, and has recorded under his own name for the Concord Jazz label. He was last seen in Orange County playing with Haden and Quartet West at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in February. The chance to see him in intimate surroundings is a treat, indeed.

On Jan. 17, pianist James Williams will visit Spaghettini in the company of bassist Richard Reid. The Memphis-born Williams came to the jazz world’s attention working in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and has since recorded albums of his own for several labels. His 1993 release, “Meets the Saxophone Masters,” found him paired with the likes of Joe Henderson, George Coleman and former-Jazz Messenger Billy Pierce. Williams’ Spaghettini date is a warm-up for an engagement at the Club Brasserie in West Hollywood’s Bel Age Hotel.

Both these appearances are of a caliber rarely seen in the county’s clubs, and both warrant support from the area’s fans. In the long run, it’s not the musicians or the club owners who keep the nightspots happening. It’s the fans.

As evidence, owner Wayne Chin of Kikuya says he’s been encouraged by the response to the jazz bookings he began last year and is expanding his program. The restaurant’s lounge, which has featured such mainstream artists as saxophonists Sam Most and Buddy Collette, pianist Ross Tompkins and bassist Art Davis, will make adjustments to its schedule beginning in February.

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Straight-ahead jazz will be aired Wednesday and Saturday nights by guitarist Doug MacDonald and guests. Thursday nights will continue to be vocalist Jack Wood’s “Jazz Party” nights. Fridays will be contemporary night, with keyboardist Rob Mullins tentatively scheduled for February. Sunday afternoons will be turned over to fusion, Latin and Brazilian sounds. Though there currently is no entertainment charge, Chin says he’ll institute a $10 food and drink minimum in February but will not levy a cover charge.

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This expansion of Kikuya’s schedule from three to five days a week is encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether it’s the beginning of a trend. In the meantime, those of us who favor more intimate presentations will have to amend our jazz diets with choices from the somewhat unimaginative concert scene.

One of the better offerings is pianist Dave Brubeck’s appearance at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Feb. 17, the last in the center’s three-concert “Jazz at the Center Series.” A center spokesman says that the OCPAC is “definitely” planning another jazz series to begin next fall, though the dates and artists have not been confirmed.

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Orange Coast College will close its 1994-95 jazz concert series at the Robert B. Moore Theatre with a diverse quintet of performances: trad-jazz with vocalist Banu Gibson & New Orleans Hot Jazz on Jan. 28, speed guitarist and one-time member of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Al DiMeola on Feb. 18, the Side Street Strutters Jazz Band on March 3, vocalist Micki Rhyne with the Marc LeBrun Trio on March 24 and timbale master Tito Puente and his Latin Jazz All Stars on April 30.

As was true last year, spring will be the season of jazz festivals in Orange County. The Southern California Jazz Festival, which had a strong emphasis on contemporary jazz in 1994, will feature “more of a mix of music” in 1995, says festival vice president of operations Rich Sherman. The event, held on the expansive Koll Center grounds in Irvine last year, is tentatively booked May 20 and 21 at the Hyatt Newporter hotel, a location that will provide a much more intimate atmosphere.

Scheduled for that same weekend is the Orange County Art & Jazz Festival, held on the grounds of the Fullerton Arboretum. The festival, now in its fourth year, will match professional jazz ensembles with local college bands playing with guest musicians, as in years past, according to Larry Anders, festival director. The family-oriented festival will expand with a second stage in 1995 and is tentatively scheduled to include such local favorites as saxophonists Eric Marienthal and Greg Vail and trumpeter Tony Guerrero.

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Jazz fans will face a dilemma of which event to attend that weekend, but Anders doesn’t see that as a problem.

“There are 2.5 million people in the county, and we’re presenting an entirely different event, with a $7-a-day admission, free to children under 12,” Anders said. “If they can beat that, more power to them.”

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In the same month is the annual KSBR Jazz Bash at the Dana Point Resort on May 13. A veritable gathering of the contemporary-music tribe, the Bash, which raises money for the station’s operation, is one of the year’s most popular events.

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And, of course, the Coach House and its sister location, the Galaxy, will host infrequent jazz shows, usually of the contemporary and world-beat variety (saxophonist Gato Barbieri is scheduled at the Galaxy on Jan. 27, the Rippingtons are at the Coach House on Jan. 12).

Later in the year, the Summer Jazz Series At the Hyatt Newporter will present 10 concerts of jazz, blues and pop acts, opening May 5 with the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band.

But often, it’s the late-booked, little-advertised or otherwise-unexpected events that offer jazz fans the greatest rewards. A perfect example is the International Assn. of Jazz Educators convention at the Anaheim Hilton & Towers, Thursday through Jan. 14.

Though the daytime events will be closed to non-members, evening concerts--featuring Roy Hargrove and the Yellowjackets on Thursday, Nancy Wilson and the American Jazz Philharmonic on Friday and Charlie Haden, Eddie Daniels and Louie Bellson on Jan. 14--will be open to the public.

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Now if we could just get that kind of talent to the area on a regular basis.


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