No Bone to Pick


Lloyd Hebert leads a double life and he loves it.

The native of New Iberia, La., plays piano and trombone with equal skill and zest. When people ask him which is his primary instrument, he offers a palms-up “I don’t know.”

“I tell them, you have to decide,” he said, smiling.

The musician plays the two instruments tonight at Casey’s Tavern in Canoga Park, then on Friday switches to strictly piano--with a vocal or two--when he arrives at Jax in Glendale. Trombone--"trum-bone” is the way he said it--came first, when he was about 10.

“My uncle, a jeweler, found a trombone slide at his store and gave it to me,” said Burbank resident Hebert, whose last named is pronounced Ay-bear. “For a while I walked around, just holding the slide” and pretending to make music, he recalled. Then a friend of his father’s, a saxophonist-clarinetist-pianist, gave him a bell and mouthpiece and he had a horn.

Two years later, under his father’s tutelage, Hebert began to play piano. “My father was a piano tuner as well as a musician, and we had two Steinways,” the spry Hebert, 65, recalled in an interview. “We used to spend a couple of hours a day playing the blues in all keys.”

When he eventually attended the University of Southern Louisiana in Lafayette, he majored in both instruments. Hebert does have his reasons for embracing each--well, at least for the piano.

“I like its textures,” he said. “It’s an orchestra, something you can think with. It’s expansive, not just one line. The trombone, I’m not sure why I love it, but I can’t get rid of it. I’m haunted. I have to play it.”

Hebert, who cites such influences as pianists Bud Powell, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner and trombonist Carl Fontana, delivers a nice mix of tunes in performance. At Casey’s, he offers more traditional sounds with a group that sports fine trumpeter Woody James and bassist Don Felix. The numbers range from Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque” to T-Bone Walker’s “Call It Stormy Monday.”

At Jax, Hebert favors a more modern approach, performing bebop items like Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” and popular standards such as Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s “Days of Wine and Roses.” This latter number might be done as a vocal.

How’s his voice? “Oh, funky,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’m not a great singer, not a belter. I just do the tunes, communicate and get out in one piece.”

Hebert began absorbing the basics literally at his father’s knee. “He’d take me to his gigs and put me on his lap when he played stride piano,” he said. By age 4, the youngster wanted to be a pro.

It didn’t take long--at age 12 he was sitting in on trombone with his dad’s band. “He’d given me some solos to memorize, and I’d play them with him,” he said. By age 14, he was working four nights a week.

Hebert taught school after he graduated from college, and moved to Los Angeles in 1979. He started with casual jobs, then worked a year with Harry James--"He told me I played pretty good for a bebopper"--and finally began to appear in jazz clubs. All along, he taught, focusing on jazz piano. He’s been at USC for over a decade, and he also instructs at home.

Teaching can be as fulfilling as playing, Hebert said. “I like seeing people develop,” he said. “One student, who was an absolute beginner, just did his first gig, playing Charlie Parker tunes. That’s fun.”

* Lloyd Hebert leads his Blue Lagoon Band at 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. tonight at Casey’s Tavern, 22029 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. No cover, no minimum. (818) 992-9362. On Friday, from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., he fronts his trio at Jax, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. No cover, no minimum. (818) 500-1604.

Some Things Don’t Change: Buddy DeFranco, who has been a star in jazz since the late ‘40s, was one of the first bebop clarinetists, and always one of the finest. A Bird devotee, DeFranco played like Parker, creating long, flowing garlands of melody that charmed both musicians and listeners.

DeFranco still does. The marvelous clarinetist makes a rare Los Angeles appearance, stopping off Tuesday, 8 and 10 p.m., at the Moonlight, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; $13 cover for 8 p.m. show, $9 cover for 10 p.m., $9.95 food or drink minimum. (818) 788-2000. There he’ll perform with his longtime associate, vibist Terry Gibbs. Expect a bebop anthem or two.