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Jazz Reviews : Jarvis, Newsom Highlight a Buoyant Quartet at Alfonse's

November 30, 1987|LEONARD FEATHER

Time was when Jane Jarvis played organ for the New York Mets games. After a long and successful career as a musician-businesswoman (one-time vice president of Muzak), she returned to her first love, playing jazz piano.

Visiting the Southland last week, Jarvis took over the keyboard at Alfonse's in Toluca Lake, leading an ad hoc quartet with Tommy Newsom on tenor saxophone.

This small, self-confident woman defies convention. The be-bop revolution did not affect her; instead of long strings of single-note lines and oblique harmonic references, she leans to incisive octaves and commanding chords in a style more reminiscent of such pioneers as Earl Hines, though it would be an injustice to classify her as old-fashioned.

Jarvis took charge from beat one of the first bar. True, the choice of material for her opening set was less than inspiring; it takes a considerable effort to derive new concepts from "Lady Be Good" or "Strike Up the Band." And, still, the upbeat tunes did swing contagiously, with drummer Good Time Jake Hanna and bassist Luther Hughes accentuating the sense of buoyancy.

Newsom all but stole the honors. Over the years his sound, phrasing and sense of continuity have improved consistently. He is at this point possibly the most underrated tenor soloist in jazz.

The second set found everyone even more at ease. Both Jarvis and Newsom established in "Mood Indigo" a groove so engaging that Duke Ellington himself would have been proud. Jarvis excelled not only in her own forays but also as a strongly supportive accompanist.

That she is now en route back to New York is as regretable as the failure of the record companies to offer her an album opportunity. That middle ground between the nostalgic and the progressive seems to be a hard sale in these stylistically fragmented times.

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