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Musician Laments Lack Of Recognition In S.d.

April 28, 1987|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

SAN DIEGO — Hometown boys, Charles McPherson says sadly, just don't get no respect.

In jazz circles all over the world, the 47-year-old alto saxophonist is generally regarded as a living legend.

From 1960 until 1972, McPherson toured, and recorded half a dozen albums with, the late Charles Mingus, who ranks right up there with other pioneering modernists like Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Bud Powell.

During those years, he was named best alto saxophone Player by Downbeat magazine, and his style was frequently likened to that of Charlie Parker in publications ranging from the New York Times to the Village Voice.

Since striking out on his own in 1972, McPherson has recorded more than two dozen solo albums--including his latest, "The Prophet"--for such respected national jazz record companies as Prestige, Mainstream and Discovery, his current label.

McPherson's sidemen in the studio--and on his yearly road trips to the East Coast and Europe--have included such notables as Lionel Hampton, Ron Carter and Art Farmer.

But here in San Diego, where he has lived since 1978, McPherson has a rough time even finding work.

At times, he concedes, that predicament is a bit hard to accept.

"San Diego is a weird town," McPherson said. "After being here for a certain length of time, people tend to treat you like a local musician, no matter how well-known you are elsewhere around the country.

"As a result, I don't play here as often as I would like. Most of the people who run jazz clubs don't know very much about jazz. So if I come to them to ask about a gig, I literally have to sell myself.

"They don't know who I am. I might as well be from Mars. And quite often, they expect me to play for local money--which I simply refuse to do."

Consequently, McPherson said, he spends most of the six months he's here each year soaking up sunshine or writing new songs. His only upcoming local appearance, in fact, is at an outdoor jazz concert July 4 at La Jolla Cove.

The other six months, McPherson said, are spent on the road or in the studio in New York, where his reputation continues to precede him.

"When I read that the San Diego Symphony had closed down, I realized that people here just don't appreciate culture the way they do in other parts of the country," McPherson said.

"I mean, if a city this large will let a symphony disintegrate, just like that, then how can you expect to find much support for the other arts?"

McPherson got his start in New York. At 21, he moved there from his native Detroit and soon landed a job in a Greenwich Village nightclub.

Within a matter of months, he was asked to join Mingus' band when the renowned bassist-composer, who at the time was just starting to gain recognition for his bold, innovative work, tabbed him to replace Eric Dolphy.

Before long, McPherson's star was burning nearly as bright as Mingus', with some of the most respected jazz critics in the country drawing comparisons between him and Parker.

Today, however, those comparisons are no longer accurate, McPherson maintains. Since embarking on a solo career in 1972, he said, he has developed a style all his own.

"After awhile, as a person continues to grow and his personality starts to develop, his style of playing develops along with it, because in music, personality and style are really the same thing," McPherson said.

"So the last few times I've been in New York, the press I've gotten still alludes to the fact that I've been influenced by Parker, but says I now have a voice of my own.

"And that makes me feel good. Charlie Parker did more than revolutionize alto sax playing; he revolutionized jazz in general."

Still, McPherson said, no musician wants to be known merely as a copycat, "so I'm glad I'm no longer being compared to Parker as often as I once was. It shows I'm growing."

"And as long as I can find as much work around the country and in Europe as I have been lately, I really don't mind the fact that I don't play very often out here," he added.

"The time off just gives me more time to write songs and continue developing my own style of playing. And in a town as beautiful as San Diego, I really couldn't ask for much more."

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