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San Diego Spotlight: JAZZ / DIRK SUTRO

Jazz Comes Alive at One of City's Best-Kept Secrets

December 14, 1989|DIRK SUTRO

D.W.'s Pub at the downtown Marriott Hotel is one of downtown's lesser-known jazz rooms. For several months early this year, the excellent L.A. guitarist Ron Eschete held court. Last August, San Diego singer Rita Moss took over, and she's been building a following of conventioneers, Arizona yachters and longtime local fans.

Moss considers herself a ballad singer, and she's most at home with moody standards like "Melancholy Baby" or Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?"

"I know a lot of Duke Ellington's tunes, and I get lots of requests for Billie Holliday, although I don't sing like her. But there's something in the timbre of my voice that is reminiscent of her."

Moss sings in the contralto/soprano range. Her voice is high and delicate, as opposed to the deeper, throatier pipes typical of some female jazz singers.

As she sings, she backs herself on piano, and she considers herself a "strong" pianist.

"I like to listen to Oscar Peterson. I would never become an Oscar Peterson, but I play orchestrally, I guess. I think of each finger as an instrument. I play melodically. When I'm improvising, I always try to identify the tune."

Moss has been singing since she was a child. She was born in New York but has lived most of her life in San Diego. She was a regular at the Hyatt Islandia in the late '60s and early '70s, and did stints in Reno and Las Vegas with her own group.

Bassist Chris Conner, the husband of local jazz singer Cath Eckert, backs Moss. The duo plays Tuesday through Saturday nights.

A year ago, Flight 7 released a self-produced album with the hope of following such San Diego bands as Checkfield and Fattburger to commercial success. The album's reception was encouraging to the 4-year-old group. Optimism Records picked up the album and redistributed it. At its peak, "Sky High" was being played in more than 100 radio markets across the country, according to Flight 7 drummer Don Schoenberger.

But then things soured, Schoenberger said. In several markets, including San Diego, fans who heard the album on the radio couldn't find it in music stores, and the band couldn't seem to get to the root of the problem.

Even though the album appeared to be enjoying some commercial success, the band wasn't receiving any money. To date, Flight 7 still doesn't know how many albums have been sold. The musicians grew frustrated and decided to break up the band. Their last date was Oct. 14 at La Casa del Zorro in Borrego Springs, at one of radio station KIFM's weekend jazz getaways.

At the end, three members remained from the original version of the five-man band: Schoenberger, keyboard man Barry Aiken and saxophonist Larry De La Cruz.

Aiken has moved to Portland, where he's a studio musician. De La Cruz is picking up gigs around San Diego. For the moment, Schoenberger is out of the music business and into plumbing. Contractual limitations will keep the band from doing another album soon.

But there is hope for a happy ending to all this.

"Flight 7 is not completely out of the picture," Schoenberger said. "We could do another album in a year."

The tiny Beach House restaurant at the foot of Pismo Court in Mission Beach continues to feature local jazz musicians at night in its cozy, ocean-view bar. Thursdays, guitarist Dan Papaila; Fridays, pianist Bob Hamilton; Saturdays (except Dec. 16), Brazilian-born pianist Elfredo Cardim.

The musical review "Heart Strings: The National Tour," which hopes to raise $4 million to help fight AIDS, will play Jan. 22 at Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego. Croce's, the restaurant and jazz club in the Gaslamp Quarter downtown, is playing host to a party for advance ticket sales this Sunday, with 10 local bands donating their time. Performers include the Joe Marillo Quartet, Romy Kaye and the Swingin' Gates, the Shep Meyers Quartet, Pieces (the a cappella trio), Jasper's Jam, the Jackie Bonaparte Quartet, the O. Morro Quartet, the Len Rainey Quartet and A.J. Croce. A $5 donation, which will benefit the AIDS fight, is requested for admission to the 5-to-midnight event. Tickets for actual "Heart Strings" event range from $25 for the performance to $250 for the performance plus a pre-performance black-tie dinner at Cafe Bon Appetit and a post-performance champagne dessert in the lobby of Symphony Hall. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 in San Diego.

RIFFS: Romy Kaye and the Swingin' Gates, with A.J. Croce on keyboards and occasional vocals, is one of three bands featured at "New Music Night" at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. The bluesy, soulful Croce opened one night for Vladimir Kuzmin and Dynamik during the Soviet rock band's string of appearances at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. . . . This Sunday from 10 p.m. to midnight, KIFM's (98.1) year-old "Mainly Mainstream" program, hosted by Paul Lavoie, will feature the best of '89, including excerpts of such musical guest co-hosts as Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Pass, Kirk Whalum, Joe Henderson, Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff. . . . Hollis Gentry's Neon plays next Wednesday in the Catamaran Hotel's Cannibal Bar, for Art Good's "Jazz Trax Nite". . . . Most Valuable Players appears tonight through Saturday night at the B Street Cafe & Bar in downtown San Diego. . . . Friday and Saturday nights at Diego's Loft in Pacific Beach: Latin jazz with Algo Caliente.

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