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JAZZ / DIRK SUTRO : Papa John Creach Is Alive, Going Strong at Elario's

San Diego Spotlight

April 06, 1989|DIRK SUTRO

Papa John Creach first electrified his violin in 1943. Since then, he's been electrifying audiences with his wide-ranging musical tastes.

Creach, who finishes his present stint at Elario's tonight through Sunday night, first gained acclaim when he hooked up with acid rock musicians like the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna in the '70s. But he never considered himself a rock 'n' roller.

"I hung out with horn players. I play lines like a horn," Creach said recently by phone from his room at the Summer House Inn, where Gretchen, his wife and manager, interrupted him from resting up for the night's performance to take the call. "I've been that way all along. I try to get a nice, rounded, big fat tone."

Creach plays the kind of melodic improvisations you'd expect from a trumpet or sax man. At Elario's, he is backed by San Diegans Bob Magnusson on bass and Mike Wofford on piano, plus L.A. singer and drummer Maurice Miller, who backed Lena Horne for several years. Creach has played often with Magnusson and praised both San Diego musicians. Are they as good as the best of L.A. or New York?

"Oh, my God, yes," Creach said.

He regrets that a new generation of young fiddlers isn't developing.

"I'd like to see some young rascals come up and really do something. I try to encourage them, but violin is not like sax. Kids go grab a sax, a horn, a guitar faster than a violin."

About to turn 72, Creach doesn't show signs of slowing down. At the end of May, he will be in the Soviet Union for some jazz dates and a possible reunion with a few former rock 'n' roll associates. He will also tour Europe during the spring and summer and plans to be back in the studio next fall, recording with a few of his favorite studio musicians.

Consider arriving early for his Elario's shows. Last weekend, the wait was 15 to 30 minutes for a table. The music starts at 9 each night.

Singer Mark Meadows migrated to San Diego from Cleveland in 1974 to escape the cold. Since then, he's graduated from making a living at Sears to playing music full time.

His Dad was a minister, and Meadows grew up singing Gospel. The social climate of the times influenced what he heard on the radio.

"I was raised on country and rock," Meadows said. "Black stations were only on three hours a day because they couldn't get enough sponsorship."

His repertoire is broad and depends on where he's playing. A recent set at the Reuben E. Lee on Harbor Island included "My Funny Valentine," the funky "Love Struck" and the even funkier Terence Trent D'Arby song "Wishing Well." His band is a crack unit with no weak links. It features Larry Logan on keyboards, Cecil McBee on bass, Mark Augustin on guitar and Cliff Almond on drums.

A big fan of jazz, Meadows is especially fond of such ballads as "Misty" and "The Shadow of Your Smile."

"That's the stuff that makes you come out with your own phrasing style," he said. Meadows is still searching for that style. The Commodores-era Lionel Richie, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye are among the influences you hear.

Singer Jeffrey Osborne, of the band LTD, also has provided inspiration for Meadows. Osborne's brother was so impressed with Meadows' act one night at the Catamaran in the early '80s, that he introduced the two singers.

"He tells me, 'The only difference between you and me is I've had my break and yours is yet to come,' " Meadows said.

During April, you can hear Meadows and the band every Tuesday night at Maxim's in La Jolla.

For the record: In March, a competitor of the San Diego Jazz Festival was quoted in this column as saying that the San Diego Jazz Festival had been "defunct for two years." Although the San Diego Jazz Festival did not present shows between July, 1987, and October, 1988, while it underwent financial and administrative changes, the organization (originally the La Jolla Jazz Festival) has operated continuously since 1979.

Bassist Curtis Ohlson, a staple of contemporary jazz stations, plays the Bacchanal Sunday. . . . The Palomar Jazz Ensemble hits the stage tonight at 7:30 in the college theater. Ensemble director Dick Harvey has recruited Big Band jazz veterans Toby Taubenson (trumpet for Stan Kenton), Charles De Pietro (bass for Tommy Dorsey) and Lee O'Connor (trombone for Harry James) to play with his young group this year. The music will include "Why Bother?," a classic Dizzy and Bird bop number adapted for Big Band, and a couple of Basie charts. . . . When a truck crash closed Interstate 5 last Saturday, it didn't stop Gato Barbieri from making his two sold-out Bacchanal shows. He and his band took the train down from L.A. and arrived just in time.

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