Music’s More Than a Night Job for Saxophonist Vieux : Jazz: The 23-year-old says he itches to play, and veterans like Art Davis--with whom he performs Sunday in Seal Beach--are grateful.


For saxophonist Phil Vieux, playing music is as essential a part of life as eating and sleeping.

“Music is like a mandatory extension of myself,” said Vieux, 23, who plays at Spaghettini on Sunday as a member of bassist Art Davis’ quartet. “I’m constantly itching to play.

“It’s been this way since I was 4 when I started piano,” Vieux continued, talking at a reporter’s home on Los Angeles’ Westside. “Then my parents would have to throw rocks at me to get me to stop playing and go to bed. Now I spend 15 hours a day practicing, teaching, rehearsing, gigging. It’s everything.”


Vieux’s absorption in music, especially modern post-bop jazz, has resulted in fiery performances with a number of bands. He leads his own quartet, the Hue of Blue, every Tuesday at Fifth Street Dick’s in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw district and is a member of the acclaimed Black/Note quintet and Davis’ ensemble.

Davis and saxophonist Doug Webb, who sometimes plays alongside Vieux when Davis expands his quartet to a quintet, are quick to praise the newcomer.

“He’s one of the finest young guys to come out of L.A.,” Webb said. “He plays with the kind of energy some players never get.”

Added Davis, with whom Vieux has played for a year and a half: “He has originality when he solos, doing things pretty much his own way. I feel he has the promise to develop into a major instrumentalist. He’s way ahead for his age. That’s why I got him.”

Vieux, in turn, finds Davis to be an ideal leader. “Art is very encouraging, very nurturing,” he said. “Musically, he’s always clearing a path for the others, looking to boost the band’s performance by opening doors to all kinds of possibilities.”

Davis’ band plays music that draws from jazz’s exuberant mid-1960s period, focusing its material on Davis’ originals and songs by John Coltrane, with whom the bassist performed and recorded. Vieux calls it “avant-garde” and says Davis provides a wide-open forum for expressing himself on several instruments: tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet, flute and piccolo.


In his own foursome, Vieux concentrates on “postmodern bop,” a style he describes as “based in swing which definitely hints at the blues, but where almost everything we play has chord changes and a definite form.”

Vieux’s band’s debut album, “Point of Vieux,” is just out on World Stage Records. It was produced by drummer Billy Higgins.

Vieux was born and raised in San Francisco and originally trained as a classical clarinetist and pianist. He came to jazz at age 15 when he heard a record by the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker.

“I was at a music camp in Stockton and was in an improvisation class,” recalled Vieux, who now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Rachel.

“We were working on playing the blues, and the instructor played this Bird record, saying, ‘This will give you a goal to aim for.’ I had never heard jazz before, and I was just amazed. The way his music was based in swing and blues was something that I felt. The result was that I went home and told my parents I wanted an alto saxophone immediately.” He got it.

After lessons with such Bay Area notables as saxophonist-bandleader Bennett Friedman, Vieux moved to Southern California in 1990. He studied at Cal State Northridge for two years, then transferred to Cal Arts in Santa Clarita. Vieux jammed with Black/Note regularly and joined the group in early 1993. He stayed a year, long enough to play on the band’s “Jungle Music” album and on another to be released soon.


Happy now working with his band, Davis and an R&B; band that just signed with Sony Records, Vieux finds himself fulfilled by the musical life.

“It’s like being at home,” he said.

* Saxophonist Phil Vieux plays Sunday with Art Davis’ quartet at Spaghettini, 3005 Old Ranch Road, Seal Beach. 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. No cover, no minimum. (310) 596-2199.