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For Noted Pianist, Jazz Is Addictive Art Form

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of Tom Ranier’s many assignments last year was playing piano on saxophonist Lanny Morgan’s soon-to-be-released album, “Pacific Standard Time.”

“I couldn’t get anybody,” Morgan said sarcastically, meaning that he had to “settle” for the undeniably top-drawer talents of Ranier, one of Southern California’s most in-demand jazz and studio musicians.

The pianist’s personal approach mixes aspects of Bud Powell’s complexity, Oscar Peterson’s ardent swing and Bill Evans’ exploratory harmonies.

It’s a coup for jazz lovers, and Valley jazz buffs in particular, that Ranier has opted for at least a month of Thursday-through-Saturday appearances at Monty’s in Woodland Hills, working with Danny Pucillo’s trio. He starts tonight, when--wouldn’t you know it--Morgan is the featured horn player.

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Ranier’s club appearances have been peripatetic. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he could be heard regularly at the now-defunct Hungry Joe’s in Huntington Beach, working with vibist Dave Pike, among others. Then for about 15 years, he cut back on club dates and focused on studio work, and became a first-call player. These days the 47-year-old plans to spend more time performing in public.

“I love to play,” said Ranier, who lives in Brea. “I just want to play with a good rhythm section and have a chance to back different horn players. I feel I have been given a gift and I want to develop that. I don’t know where it will go but the important thing is that I go ahead and do it.”

Playing jazz is more than an art to Ranier. He talks of it like an enthralling addiction.

“It’s a combination of both thinking and feeling,” he said. “The music is complex enough that there is a lot of thought going on. Your mind is open, reacting to all the things that are happening, and at the same time, you’re trying to project something, listening from deep within you.

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“When all these elements come together, it’s the most exciting and fulfilling thing; at its best, a sense of joy. You’re instantaneously alive in the moment, and when it happens, you savor it. The more it happens, the more you want to experience it,” he said.

At Monty’s, Ranier also will get to practice the art of accompaniment, another favored vocation.

“The challenge is to be able to make a musical contribution that ideally will enhance what the soloist is doing,” he said. “To do that, you have to really listen, to get inside their concept, so that you can play something behind them that will complement what they do without getting in the way.”

Ranier is in the midst of a period of high activity. Besides the Monty’s gig, he’s also putting together a recording for Contemporary Records that will be issued later this year.

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And he still makes time for the studios, working an average of four to five days a week on scores for such TV shows as “Diagnosis Murder,” starring Dick Van Dyke, and the film “Trial and Error,” starring Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”). He also played for Natalie Cole’s latest album, “Stardust.”

Surprisingly, for a man who has been a devoted jazz musician for over 30 years, Chicago-native Ranier really enjoys his time in the studios.

“It’s a craft that both keeps you fresh and makes you a better musician,” he said. “You’re consistently refining, working on technique, working on sight reading. When you’re playing synthesizers, you’re called upon to create sounds quickly, and that’s satisfying. And because you work on different projects with different composers, it broadens your scope.”

When he’s not performing or in the studios, Ranier can probably be found at UCLA, where he’s a part of the new jazz studies program headed by guitarist Kenny Burrell. This quarter, he teaches jazz piano and jazz theory, and said that working with students affords him an opportunity to share his knowledge and experience with those thirsty for it.

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“That gives me an immense sense of satisfaction,” he said.

* Tom Ranier plays with Danny Pucillo’s trio and guest alto player Lanny Morgan at Monty’s Steakhouse, 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. Show times: 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. tonight, 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. No cover, no minimum. (818) 716-9736. Ranier returns Feb. 6-8, 13-15, 20-22 and Feb. 27-Mar.1.

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Versatile Gal: The decidedly talented Karen Gallinger sings a lot of different styles: She can do blues, R&B;, hard-edged rock, or a softer version of that music, a la Bonnie Raitt. The San Clemente-based vocalist, though, has a warm place in her heart for jazz singing.

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“With jazz, you get to work in situations where everything can click, where it can be magic,” she said.

Gallinger found that type of atmosphere the night she recorded her latest album, “Live at the Jazz Bakery,” and she hopes to discover it anew when she appears Friday at Monteleone’s.

* Karen Gallinger with the Tony Compodonico trio at Monteleone’s, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. 8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday. No cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum. (818) 996-0662.


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