A year ago, things looked pretty good for jazz in the Valley.
They still do.
Stop and think: Where do most of the local jazz notables perform in Southern California? A quick peek at The Times' Sunday jazz listings answers the query: Of the 28 rooms located from Woodland Hills to Fullerton listed last week, 10 were in the Valley, a higher concentration than any other area.
The names of the rooms--some restaurant-lounges, some clubs, some coffeehouses--were almost the same as they were 12 months back.
Going alphabetically, there's the Baked Potato in North Hollywood, Ca' Del Sole in Universal City, Chadney's in Burbank, Common Grounds in Northridge, Jax in Glendale, J.P.'s Lounge in Burbank, La Ve Lee in Studio City, Monteleone's in Tarzana, Monty's Steakhouse in Woodland Hills and the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks.
Missing are Bjlauzezs Newscafe in Sherman Oaks, which closed in October, reportedly due to conflicts that owner Michael Koren had with his landlord, and New York West in Tarzana, which has opted for an international music policy.
The loss of Bjlauzezs was especially sad because it was home to some of the finest no-nonsense modern jazz played anywhere in L.A. Such ace artists as saxophonists Ralph Moore and Dale Fielder, pianists Greg Kurstin and Cecilia Coleman and drummer Ralph Penland worked there.
In the wake of Bjlauzezs' demise, though, two other rooms have blossomed.
The lounge at Monty's Steakhouse, where drummer Danny Pucillo's trio backs visiting horn players Thursdays through Saturdays, now offers piano trios on Wednesdays, with a possible piano-bass duo to come on Tuesdays. The guests are first rate: tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins (tonight through Saturday), alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan (New Year's Eve, Jan. 30-Feb. 1), and trumpeters Carl Saunders and Steve Huffsteter (both in January). Lou Levy, ex-Stan Getz colleague and charter member of Supersax, has often handled the Wednesdays.
In North Hollywood, vocalist Cathy Segal-Garcia has helped expand the singer-piano duo situation in the lounge of Ca' Del Sole from Fridays to Saturdays to Wednesdays to Saturdays.
Featured these days are such top jazz-based vocal talent as Segal-Garcia (Friday, all Saturdays in January), Dewey Erney (tonight, Jan. 30) and Stephanie Haynes (Wednesday and Jan. 9, 16, 23). The regular pianist is ex-Woody Herman bandmate Marty Harris, but among those helping out are Karen Hammack, Dick Shreve and Dave Mackay.
Two rooms remain the backbone of Valley jazz: the Baked Potato in North Hollywood, the oldest jazz club in Los Angeles, and Chadney's in Burbank.
The Baked was opened by pianist-owner Don Randi with his partner, the late Sheldon Slusman, in October 1968. Contemporary jazz, in its many varieties, has long been the staple there, with Randi performing most weekends.
Chadney's has been in the jazz business for about nine years, and its focus is on mainstream jazz. Dennis Duke, who books the room, says he must be doing something right if he has kept a jazz policy going for close to a decade.
"This is a rough market," he says. "Just look at the clubs that are gone. I was especially sad about Bjlauzezs. It was such a beautiful room."
Duke figures the success of Chadney's is due to two factors: cost and variety. "We've built up a name of having high-caliber entertainmemt with no cover. And I do like to mix it up," offering singers, modern-minded bands, those that play an older style and a Tuesday jam session hosted by drum great Earl Palmer. "If you go with just one segment of jazz, chances are you won't make it," Duke said.
December's calendar at Chadney's has been impressive. Earlier this month there were appearances by the splendid alto saxophonist Herb Geller, L.A. Jazz Quartet with guest Eric Reed, ex-Kenton/Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine's trio and trombonist Bill Watrous.
Tonight, you can hear two fine guitarists--Ron Affif and Ron Anthony--and Friday, it's tenor saxophonist Don Menza. In January, look for pianist Bill Cunliffe and guitarist Ron Eschete (Jan. 4), and cornetist Bill Berry (Jan. 11).
Jax, the Glendale spot that's home to many jazz stalwarts, includes pianists Cecilia Coleman and Frank Strazzeri, and up-and-coming bassist Kyle Eastwood. At La Ve Lee, owner Eddie Arby has found success with a mix of fusion and funk bands.
But at Monteleone's, singers are often on tap. Common Grounds gives a break to young players, while J.P.'s Lounge sticks mostly with jazz singers with some instrumentalists. For big bands, it's the Moonlight Tango Cafe on Tuesdays.