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Another McPherson Hitting Stride, This Time on Drums

April 21, 1992|DIRK SUTRO

La Jolla drummer Chuck McPherson, son of acclaimed alto sax player Charles McPherson, is growing into his own musical identity. The latest sign is a new six-song demo tape McPherson recorded with his group, the Modern Jazz Disciples, in Los Angeles last May.

The demo captures the spirit of many of McPherson's early influences, people who hung out with his well-known father when the McPhersons lived in Queens during the younger McPherson's teen-age years. It includes four catchy original songs by Los Angeles saxophonist Dale Fielder, who also proves himself a capable, hard-swinging player. The group is rounded out by L.A. pianist Dave Robbins and San Diego bassist Dave Marr.

Growing up in a musical family, McPherson met John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Dorham and other jazz legends. He embarked upon a career as a jazz drummer at 15 after hearing drummer Art Blakey at a New York club.

So it's no surprise that McPherson's drumming is aggressive and powerful. He likes a hard-driving lead role, not a strictly functional, timekeeping post.

McPherson uses his drums as an effective counterpoint to Fielder and Robbins' solos, accenting their every move with lightning cymbal work, quick little rolls and rim shots as he delivers a changing array of deft rhythmic combinations.

At 32, McPherson is hitting his stride and acknowledges he has never played better.

"Some people are late bloomers, some are early bloomers," he said. "They bloom early, and they decay early. I'm more of a late bloomer. I've always known what I want to do, it just takes time. I'm more proficient now because I've been more consistent, keeping the focus. I can feel myself getting better all the time."

McPherson named the group the Modern Jazz Disciples because he wants the music to embrace essential jazz traditions but also newer ideas.

"We're playing the modern version of what jazz is supposed to be," he said. "By modern, I mean for the 1990s. But this name makes it so we can play anything and get away with it."

This music is visceral acoustic jazz, but McPherson doesn't rule out electric jazz some day. And, although he worships the players he met and heard while growing up, he has broad tastes that encompass blues, assorted world music and even hip-hop.

In fact, before he moved from New York to San Diego in 1985 to live near his father and devote himself to jazz, McPherson worked for Sugar Hill Records, producing and playing on early rap records by the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Kool Moe Dee.

"I played drums, congas, bells, timbales," he said. "Then I got fed up with the rap thing because of the over-dominance of electronics. Drum machines became so important that they eventually phased me out, so I decided to focus on jazz."

McPherson said he turns to many different jazz drummers in his search for ideas.

"I go through phases," he said. "I try to listen to everybody. Right now, I'm listening to older guys like Sid Catlett, Jo Jones and Kenny Clarke. I like guys who are aggressors: explosive, vibrant, dynamic."

Since moving to San Diego, McPherson has matured steadily, playing with top musicians including his father and Harold Land Sr. He hopes the demo will be his ticket to a recording deal. In the meantime, he wants to sell enough cassettes to finance the recording of another six songs. He plans to put these together with the existing six on a demo CD. For information on the cassette, call 459-8158.

McPherson plays drums every Thursday evening at Croce's downtown with saxman Daniel Jackson's band, and you can catch the Modern Jazz Disciples at local clubs through spring.

San Diegans Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham were among many jazz notables who attended recent memorial services for bassist George (Red) Callender, who died March 8, two days after his 74th birthday. Callender was a member of the Cheathams' Sweet Baby Blues Band. His last appearance with the group was in December. He will be replaced in the band by Boston bassist Richard Reid, who has spelled Callender off and on during the past two years. Callender first recorded with Louis Armstrong in 1937 and eventually played with Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Lionel Hampton and many others.

RIFFS: Singer Vilayas Roberts has been getting favorable reviews from San Diego jazz musicians who have caught her act at Michael's Pub in the Hyatt Regency on La Jolla Village Drive, where she plays Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 10, through May, backed by pianist Clarence Bell. . . .

La Jolla-based saxophonist Charles McPherson has signed a deal with a New York distributor who promised to place his self-produced 1990 CD, "Illusions in Blue," in music stores around the world. . . .

Sue Mingus, widow of bassist Charles Mingus, will be interviewed on KSDS-FM (88.3) at 1 p.m. Friday. . . .

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