When they start to make a name for themselves, most young jazz musicians think about settling in New York City, the center of the acoustic jazz world. But not Mark Shelby and his band, Black/Note.
The bassist and founder of the group said he is glad to have made Los Angeles home for the band, which specializes in '60s style, post-be-bop renditions that often have a bluesy swagger.
"You can make something happen wherever you are. We're trying to maintain the tradition of this music, and yet be able to have some identifying voice of the West Coast," said Shelby, a Memphis, Tenn., native who resides in Hollywood and studies music at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. "We want to put together our experiences that we've had in Los Angeles and show them through our music."
The band--saxophonist James Mahone, 23; pianist Ark Sano, 29; trumpeter Gilbert Cartellanos, 19; drummer Willie Jones III, 24, and Shelby, 26--has been remarkably active for a unit that was only formed about two years ago.
They played from May, 1991, through last January at Jazz Etc., a Crenshaw club destroyed during the April-May unrest. The musicians now hold down regular stints at the Atlas Bar & Grill and Marla's Jazz Supper Club.
Shelby is enthusiastic about working at Marla's, which is owned by actress and community activist Marla Gibbs: "There's not a lot of jazz in the South-Central community, and Marla has a jazz club that's as elegant as any one you'll find."
Black/Note--whose first compact disc, "43rd & Degnan," has been released on World Stage Records--will remain at Marla's and the Atlas through December.
Shelby credited drummer Billy Higgins as being central to the group's success. Owner of the World Stage cultural complex and World Stage Records, Higgins gave Shelby complete access to his complex. "We practiced there every night for months," Shelby said. "Billy has been more than a friend. He's been an adviser, father and spiritual guide."