The jazz buffet table was overflowing on New Year's Eve with a bountiful menu of jazz sounds, styles and rhythms for every taste.
Whether it was the scat singing of Chris Williams at Steamers in Fullerton, the supple stylings of vocalist Karrin Allyson at Catalina's in Hollywood, the stretched out drive of saxophonist Don Menza at Charlie O's in the Valley or the swing revival sounds of Mora's Modern Rhythmists at the Satin Ballroom in Culver City, the joint was jumping.
With all this cornucopia of musical goodies, what was an eager jazz fan to do? In the halcyon days of New York's 52nd Street, it was easy to barhop from one jazz club to its next-door neighbor. Cruising around the Southland on New Year's Eve is an entirely different matter. The solution? Picking three prime locations, presenting first-rate programs, within manageable drive time of one another.
The choices: Oscar Brown Jr. with pianist Billy Childs at the Jazz Bakery; the Flora Purim/Airto Moreira Quintet at La Ve Lee; and, to cap off the night, a celebratory seven-piece swing band, featuring veterans Al Viola and Sam Most with singer Judy Chamberlain, at Spazio.
And the results: an evening of unusually diverse jazz, superbly illustrating the music's extraordinary capacity to embrace elements from past and present, from genres as diverse as Brazilian samba and American blues.
The latter was on full display, as it always is, with Brown. A good portion of his set was devoted to songs featuring lyrics he had written for such classic, blues-drenched songs as "Jeannine," "Dat Dere," "Work Song" and "Billy's Bounce," delivered with a characteristic blend of humor and irony. The appearance by Purim and Moreira had the feeling of an all-join-in party, a warm musical gathering enhanced by La Ve Lee's intimate setting. With Moreira's drumming serving the powerful engine driving the music, Purim and saxophonist Gary Meek romped through a series of fast-moving jazz lines leading toward the midnight hour.
When it arrived, "Auld Lang Syne" was quickly transformed into a stirring samba. For the next 15 magical minutes, the room resonated with the sounds of New Year's Eve in Rio, a time when candlelit offerings in paper boats are sent into the water to the accompaniment of all-night percussive rhythms of the samba.
Spazio, in the post-midnight hours, was swinging hard, with jitterbugs cavorting across the dance floor to the infectious beat of familiar swing tunes while guitarist Viola, saxophonist Most and clarinetist Steve Wilkerson tossed off a series of lively improvisations. But the spotlight mostly remained on singer Chamberlain, a fine, articulate performer, who moved easily from such obscure numbers as Don McLean's "And I Love You So" through a long list of the standards.