In The News
Where a ‘moribund’ genre is alive and grooving
by Don Heckman, Special to The Times
Los Angeles Times
September 27, 2004
Anyone who has the notion that jazz is in moribund condition should spend more time checking out what may be as close as a nearby restaurant or bistro. Take Spazio in Sherman Oaks, for example — one of a dozen or more spots around the Southland that program jazz seven nights a week.
On Friday night, the room featured guitarist Jackie King, a versatile, all-purpose player who has worked for the last few years in Willie Nelson’s backup band. On Saturday night, singer Judy Chamberlain celebrated her birthday with a program showcasing her encyclopedic knowledge of the tunes in the Great American Songbook.
King’s performance, on the first night of Yom Kippur, drew a modest audience; Chamberlain’s appearance, on the night after the holiday, drew a capacity crowd, the disparity reflecting the typical ebb and flow of attendance that has always been part of the jazz club scene. (Veteran listeners can recall Tuesday night club performances by Miles Davis in the ’50s before half-empty rooms.)
What was fascinating about both sets, however, was the extent to which they revealed the pervasive, too-little-acknowledged reach of jazz and jazz-based music.
Like many other visiting artists, King played with a local rhythm section (pianist Joe Bagg, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Harold Mason). Yet the dialects and the repertoire of jazz are familiar to so many musicians that the program unfolded with unerring musical togetherness. King’s guitar playing recalled the harmonic richness of Johnny Smith (especially on ballads such as “The Nearness of You”) as well as the articulate swing of Joe Pass (on a hard-driving “I’ll Remember April”). Occasionally, simmering beneath the surface, there were tiny allusions to the buoyant qualities of Western swing.
Chamberlain, whose voice can range from Sophie Tucker to Cass Elliot to Mabel Mercer, displayed the pleasures of jazz as entertainment, singing swing-driven renderings of material reaching from a grooving “Mack the Knife” to a tender “Two for the Road.” Her offerings, like King’s, solidly affirmed the music’s far-reaching, continuing vitality.