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John Wood--A Lucky Guy Just Living His Dream : 'The jazz scene here is very healthy,' says the melodic pianist turned talent booker.


"Jazz is my life," says pianist John Wood.

It seems like it. Wood--now a 43-year-old father of two--has been leading his own bands since the tender age of 16.

At a mere 17, the mainstream-based pianist made the first of 10 albums on his own L.A.P. label. His latest release, "405 South," is a tasty compilation package that spotlights the melody-conscious Wood in the solid company of drummers Billy Higgins and Joe LaBarbera, flutist Ray Pizzi and bassists Eric Von Essen and Jeff Littleton, among others.

These days, Wood is booming. He's amiably delivering his well-chosen repertoire of jazz and pop classics and originals every Thursday at Lunaria in Los Angeles and every Saturday at the Overland Cafe in Palms. For these felicitous occasions, he forms trios drawn from a coterie of a half-dozen bassists and drummers. "One of the great joys of jazz is interacting with these guys," he says. "I'm a lucky guy. I'm living my dream."

Wood is also working as the talent booker at Lunaria. "We're giving it a shot," says Wood, who set up July's schedule in the Westside eatery's lounge. "The program reflects my tastes. We're trying to send the lineup toward jazz."

Trios are on hand Tuesdays through Thursdays, with Cecilia Coleman, LaBarbera and Wood in charge on respective evenings. Weekends are devoted to female artists, either pianists or singers. Singer Jackie Ryan works with keyboardist Liz Kinnon tonight, while vocalist Angela Teek arrives Saturday.

More than 130 tapes have been sent to Wood in the past few weeks. He's happily surprised, he says, that much of the music is remarkably good.

"Based on this material, I'd have to say the jazz scene here is very healthy," he says. "I told my wife, 'Hey, we don't have to buy any new music. We'll just listen to these tapes.' "

Bassist Breaks Out: Robert Hurst, bassist with Branford Marsalis' "Tonight Show" orchestra and a member of the saxophonist's quartet, is jazz's newest leader. Tuesday through July 17, Hurst steps into the usually-reserved-for-singers ambience of the Cinegrill in Hollywood, fronting a fivesome. The players include Detroit-based trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, "Tonight" bandmates pianist Kenny Kirkland and drummer Jeff (Tain) Watts and a guest saxophonist (three guesses who that might be, and the first two don't count).

The bassist will offer a selection of propulsive, jaunty originals that meld intellectuality with musical sophistication. "Musically, these tunes are what my life has been like up until now," says Hurst, whose eponymously titled debut Columbia Records album has just been released.

Hurst has waited a while to emerge as a leader and he's glad he did. "A lot of young players are getting recording contracts and while I'm happy for them, musically I don't think it's in their best interests having to be a leader without that invaluable sideman experience," says the bassist. Hurst spent his 20s working with bands led by drummer Tony Williams and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, as well as appearing on one-nighters with such pianists as Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris.

Being both a band's bassist and its leader is not a problem, Hurst claims: "Most of the music is mine, so that's where I'm providing the direction, not by playing a lot of solos, though I do solo. For example, Charles Mingus had a personal musical vision beyond his instrument, and I see it the same way."

Critic's Choice: Phil Woods, the esteemed alto saxophonist who will definitely engage listeners at Catalina Bar & Grill Tuesday through July 18, is conceptually a be-bopper. But Woods goes beyond that melodically rich vein, seeking out contemporary material that presents intriguing challenges. His quintet is a dandy: Longtime associates Bill Goodwin on drums and Steve Gilmore on bass are abetted by hair-raising trumpeter Brian Lynch and protean pianist Jim McNeely.

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