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'New Age' Gets Jazzed By Pianist

January 09, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

Pianist Sandy Owen has released six albums in the last four years that most record stores file in their "new age" music bin. So you would expect the Balboa Island resident to be as enthusiastic as anyone this side of Windham Hill Records about this style of mellow, quasi-jazz music.

But in discussing his performance Saturday at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo--a benefit for campus-based public radio station KSBR (88.5 FM)--Owen said: "If I did a whole concert of the soft stuff, it would put everybody to sleep, including me.

"That is a problem (with most new age music), but for us it's not a problem because of our variety. Because of my jazz background, I rely heavily on improvisation."

Among the recordings Owen has released on Ivory Records--a small label he and his wife, Donna, own--are three albums of solo piano music and three using jazz ensembles. The most recent, "Boogie Woogie Rhythm and Blues," which came out last spring, combined the two formats and featured more driving up-tempo piano workouts in the tradition of such influential New Orleans pianists as Meade (Lux) Lewis and Clarence (Pine Top) Perkins, both of whom Owen acknowledges in the record's liner notes.

"I'm not crazy about the 'new age' term. I think a lot of people feel the music isn't for them because they don't subscribe to a certain philosophy or eat in health food stores," said Owen, 35, during an interview at his residence overlooking one of the canals that runs through the waterfront community.

While much new age music is designed strictly as background music, Owen said he emphasizes melody and a more complex structure to keep more demanding listeners interested. "From the feedback I get, people tell me that it works well as background music and it also works well with melodic content."

Proceeds from Saturday's concert, one of numerous fund-raisers Owen plays each year, will raise money for the student-run station that is Orange County's only jazz station and which regularly features new age music in its programming.

"They've been through a lot of changes, but they are really doing a good job. And they've been very supportive of me ever since the first record," Owen said.

Having double-majored in computer science and philosophy at UC Irvine in the early 1970s, Owen turned his attention after graduating to his first love: music. He formed a jazz trio called Iliad that gained attention locally through two self-financed and produced records that picked up air play on Los Angeles jazz station KBCA-FM (now KKGO).

"At that time, nobody was starting their own labels. Everybody said we'd have to sell at least 30,000 copies to break even. But we printed up 1,000 (of the Iliad album), and for a while 960 of them were sitting in my living room. But after we started getting some air play, we did all right."

In 1984, Owen was pleasantly surprised while watching the Winter Olympics to hear some of his music in the background of special segments on athletes. Some of his recordings have since been used in ABC-TV's "Wide World of Sports," other network sports programs and even daytime soap operas.

With Ivory Records, which he and his wife started in 1980, Owen said his goal is to make just enough money to keep it afloat. Because he still works as a free-lance computer consultant, all revenues generated by the records can be recycled back into the record company.

"As long as we're making enough to keep going, I prefer to maintain total control. I had some discussions with a major label, and I could see little by little how the control slips away. They meant well, but it is their business, and they run it their way," he said.

While not yet ready to challenge the major label's revenue figures, Owen said that combined sales of his albums, plus one he released by pianist Tom Splitt, recently surpassed the 100,000 mark.

As of last summer, the label's releases have also been available on compact discs manufactured by Anaheim-based LaserVideo Inc. "We were all set to have them manufactured in Japan, but someone showed me an article about LaserVideo. They work real hard and are very cooperative with us. One reason we went with CDs is that we want the listeners to have the very best we can give them.

"It feels right to do it that way, even though that may not be the best business decision," he said. "But in the long run I think it is. In the short run, we could make a little more money by doing it cheaper. But it's important to us to have the best quality we can."

MUGSY LIVES: Mugsy Malone's in Anaheim will return to original music bookings next Friday with a concert by guitarist Michael Angelo.

The 300-capacity club, which booked local original bands for several months in 1983 before halting them because of complaints from neighbors, will be booked by independent promoter Ed Christensen, who formerly promoted concerts at Flashdance in Anaheim and Fender's Ballroom in Long Beach, among other halls.

Christensen said he hopes to avoid problems the club encountered previously by not booking hard-core punk groups. Also on the schedule are Broken Homes (Jan. 17), Foreplay (Jan. 24) and T.S.O.L. (Jan. 30).

In the future, concerts will be held Thursdays through Sundays, and Christensen said he hopes to bring bigger acts such as the Replacements and the Pogues to Anaheim.

LIVE ACTION: Steve Roach will be in concert at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo on Jan. 17. . . . The Kingston Trio returns to the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana on Jan. 19. . . . Big Bang Beat (formerly the Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra) will play the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Jan. 20. Meat Loaf will be at the Coach House on Jan. 29.

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