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From Soft Pop to Be-Bop : About once a month, Jim Honeyman gets a respite from playing standards and modern numbers, cutting loose with acoustic jazz.

July 16, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times.

Jim Honeyman considers himself one lucky guy.

In an era when it gets tougher and tougher to earn a living as a performer, the saxophonist-bandleader with the pleasing tone and smooth instrumental dexterity works 250 days a year.

"I know a lot of good musicians who just sit at home," said Honeyman, 33, who lives in Brea with his wife and musical partner, singer Anita Cortez.

Most often, Honeyman and Cortez deliver everything from classic pop standards to current contemporary numbers in the lounge of the Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage. The pair work there Thursdays through Saturdays during the summer and six days a week during the fall and winter.

Honeyman also performs at weddings and parties, and, about one Tuesday a month, at Jax in Glendale, he leads a quintet through the music that first grabbed his heart: be-bop-based acoustic jazz. The group this Tuesday includes keyboardists Les Johnson and Chad Edwards, bassist Dean Taba and drummer Kendall Kay.

The music Honeyman offers at Jax is drawn mainly from the '50s and '60s, and among the selections are such classics as John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," Chick Corea's "The One Step," Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" and Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite," along with an occasional Honeyman original.

"I've been at Jax for about six years, and I see it as a really good chance to get out and blow a little bit," Honeyman said in musicians' jargon-- blow for improvise.

Playing a jazz gig after a monthlong menu of mostly soft pop standards is tough, Honeyman said. "After four hours, I'm exhausted. I'm wiped out," he said. "Everybody in the band really pushes."

But it's not always all stops out, said Kay, who has played for two years with Honeyman.

"We play ballads," he said. Kay, a South African drummer who has lived in Los Angeles since 1987, added: "Jim has a nice repertoire, which makes the job fun. And he's a good player, with a good jazz rhythmic feel."

In a jazz solo, Honeyman looks to make an original statement. "Since I compose, I really respect people who have written tunes that have become classics," he said. "I can imagine how hard it is to do that, so I try to take that tune to another place, put my own spin on it, while staying true to what the composer put down."

Great pop standards are favorites with Honeyman because they form an almost immediate link between the audience and the artist. "People have an emotional response. When you play even a couple of notes from a tune like 'As Times Goes By,' from the movie 'Casablanca,' they melt," he said. "You start to play, and people audibly sigh. That's pretty amazing."

Honeyman said he tries to approach every appearance, whether it be a jazz gig or a wedding, with musicality. "I try to play, I guess you'd say beautifully, in a way that people can understand and enjoy," he said. "So much of what I hear, in many respects, sounds angry, and that's never been a side I've ever gone toward in music. I've always been drawn to beauty, but that doesn't mean the music lacks energy or the ability to excite people. A lot of people equate beautiful with boring , but I've never seen it that way."

Born in Riverside, Honeyman started playing in his early teens and, at 14, discovered jazz. "I wanted to play be-bop. I was listening to Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon," he said, referring to the two saxophonists who emerged as dynamic stylists during the 1940s.

"But then as I went through high school, I found myself broadening musically," he went on. "Classical music, rock, R & B--I started finding all of these things that I was interested in. Like one music seemed so narrow."

After graduating from Cal State Los Angeles with a bachelor's degree in composition in the mid-1980s, Honeyman turned his energies toward Slow Burn, his jazz-fusion band, which is not currently active.

Working with his spouse makes the rigors of the musical life bearable, Honeyman said. "It's difficult to keep your sanity in this business," he said. "Appearing with Anita makes some of the playing the same tune night after night easier."

Where and When What: Jim Honeyman's quintet at Jax, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Hours: 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Price: No cover, no minimum. Call: (818) 500-1604.

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