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Music That Swings : Writer-saxophonist Roger Neumann's acoustic, mainstream jazz-rooted Rather Large Band will appear Tuesday.

March 26, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times

In the mid-'70s, there was a brief big band revival in Los Angeles, and several ensembles popped up that continue to perform today. Of these, the Frank Capp Juggernaut (originally called the Capp-Pierce Jugger naut) is arguably the best known, followed by Bill Berry's L. A. Band and ensembles led by Bill Holman and Bob Florence.

The group with the lowest profile is probably Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band, which was founded in 1975 and works intermittently, at best. But Neumann, 52, is the kind of guy who would keep his band going just as a rehearsal unit even if he never got a single gig.

"I hate to use that trite phrase 'labor of love,' but that's what it is," he says, referring to his acoustic, mainstream jazz-rooted band, which appears Tuesday at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

There have been few financial rewards from the ensemble, which got its name when Neumann put it on a flyer as a joke and decided to stick with it. The group made one self-titled album in 1983 for Los Angeles-based Sea Breeze Records.

"I wish I could make a living with it, but the way things are these days, that's impossible," says Neumann, of Santa Clarita. "Still, money isn't why I started it."

Neumann supports his family--his wife, singer Madeline Vergari, who will work with him on Tuesday, and their children, Rico, 5, and Gina, 4--as a free-lance musician-writer. He plays saxophone with several big bands, from Ray Anthony and Bill Holman to Bob Florence and Les Brown, has worked with singer Anita O'Day and has written arrangements for Ray Charles, Buddy Rich and the Beach Boys.

This is good stuff, Neumann says. "Every job is different," he says. He particularly favors his chances to sub in Holman's band, for Holman was Neumann's idol when he first started writing.

Still, Neumann likes being at home, conjuring up a new number for his ensemble. The birth of an arrangement usually begins when Neumann hears music in his head.

"A tune, either an original or a standard, will stick, going around and around," says Neumann, who estimates that he's concocted close to 400 charts. "I keep hearing it in different ways, and I've found I can't get rid of it unless I write an arrangement. It kind of releases it."


Then there's the thrill of hearing his music played live by his band, Neumann says. "There have been many times that I've stayed up all night writing, and have gone to rehearsal the next morning and had the music come back to me immediately," he says. "That's a high. It really is."

Naming Holman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody Herman as chief inspirations, Neumann says that first and foremost, his band plays music that swings. "That's music that feels good, that makes you tap your foot," he says. "Now, most of the time, I prefer music that doesn't get so complex that it bogs down and can't swing, but I also like a lot of variety in my music."

Jack Coan, a trumpeter who has been with Neumann since the band's inception, says there are plenty of reasons to want to play his music.

"As a writer, Roger keeps getting better and better," Coan says. "He knows how to utilize everybody, keeping the music interesting by knowing what type of tunes a guy will sound good on."

Neumann started writing as a teen-ager in Iowa and took the vocation seriously when he studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the late '60s. After a stint as a saxophonist with Herman's band, Neumann arrived in Los Angeles.

His life here hasn't been boring, he says, but it would be nice to be a successful jazz artist and "just do my own thing all the time. But that only happens to a few people. There aren't many Miles Davises or Stan Getzes. I manage to keep afloat, though I still can't save any money," he adds, laughing.


What: Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band, with singer Madeline Vergari.

Location: The Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 8 and 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Price: $13 (8 p.m. show), $9 (10 p.m. show), $9.95 food and/or drink minimum.

Call: (818) 788-2000.

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