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Walking the Bar a la Woodard : The Burbank saxophonist finds jazz 'something spiritual, a part of me that I would never be able to stop doing.'

April 09, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about music for The Times

In the 1940s and '50s, saxophonists were often called upon to "walk the bar." This was a literal phrase--the horn man had to weave his way among the glasses on the bar, playing the kind of gritty, R & B-ish ideas that made the customers scream for more. And more drinks, naturally.

Saxophonist Rickey Woodard may never have performed that particular feat, but in his heart he has, for this jazzman knows how to move audiences. He offers the essentials: a solid selection of originals, jazz classics and classic standards on which he plays invigorating, crowd-pleasing statements that make listeners snap their fingers, tap their feet and look around the room with smiles.

"Rickey has enthusiasm that he displays in his music, which quickly transmits to his audiences," said Dennis Duke, who books the music at Chadney's in Burbank, where Woodard has appeared on numerous occasions and performs again tonight and Saturday. "As a matter of fact, enthusiasm , that's the one word you hear people say in relation to Rickey's playing."

Those statements draw no arguments from Woodard, 37, who lives in Burbank. "I love it so much when I'm playing," he said. "It's something spiritual, a part of me that I would never be able to stop doing. I feel it."

Like those bar-walkers, Woodard has an affinity for the blues, and for bluesy statements.

His father, a musician who gave him his first saxophone when Woodard was a teen-ager, played blues records in the house and led an R & B band in which the youngster performed. Later, from 1980 to '87, Woodard toured with Ray Charles, one of the greatest blues-based singers ever, when, he said, his personal approach began to jell.

"He showed me through his renditions that you should be comfortable with what you do, so that whatever you are, that will come out in the music," he said, describing his performing style as "his own," with touches of both '40s and '50s mainstream jazz, and more modern modes.

Naming saxmen Ben Webster, George Coleman, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt and Hank Mobley as primary influences, Woodard said they had one essential ingredient he feels he also possesses: a big sound.

"A warm sound reaches out and grabs you. Your sound comes first--everything comes after that," he said. "A big sound becomes more than just a sound; it becomes part of you. You can feel it while you're playing."

Woodard has lived in Los Angeles since 1978, and he's finally seeing his career get off the ground. His second solo recording, "Night Mist," was recently released on the Fresh Sound label, and he's appeared on recordings with the Clayton-Hamilton big band and drummer Frank Capp's trio. Last month, he returned from his second tour of Europe.

The saxophonist appears at Chadney's with pianist Larry Nash, bassist John Leitham, and drummers Harold Mason tonight and Ralph Penland on Saturday.

Asked about his future, Woodard said he looks forward to making more records and more music. "I want to contribute to jazz. That's my life," he said.

Where and When Who: Rickey Woodard and his quartet. Location: Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. Hours: 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. today and Saturday. Price: No cover, no minimum. Call: (818) 843-5333.

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