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Change of Focus : When he started to relate to his listeners more, West Hills' Gary Meek said he began to get more acceptance.

September 03, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times.

These days, Gary Meek, who plays saxophone and keyboards with the band Fourth World and who has recorded with such contemporary jazz artists as Jeff Lorber, believes that his No. 1 priority is to make his music enjoyable--for the performers, certainly, but particularly for the audience.

"My attitude is like, 'You guys in the audience are invited to a party. Come on in,' " he said.

A few years back, Meek, 32, who lives in West Hills, said he had a different point of view. "I was going through a period where I was probably shutting out the crowd with an attitude like 'You're here to watch and shut up,' " he said. "I wasn't playing all that different, but I was thinking more about myself."

Meek found a self-centered approach didn't give him what he wanted. "I wasn't getting much recognition in the form of audience acceptance. When that happens, you just don't feel as good."

So he changed. "I just generally started relating to the audience more," said Meek, who plays tonight, Saturday and again Sept. 14 at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

"I mean, I didn't become a shill or a front man. I did things musically, like lead people into my solos more simply," he went on. "That way, I can be sure the people are with me, and then I can lead them on different trails, rather than come in with a blaze of technique and other stuff that a crowd just doesn't want to hear."

This same stance of "simplicity is better than difficulty" pretty much applies to his compositions, too, Meek said. "I'd rather play something simpler and have the listeners have a good time than play something that goes over their heads and have them think I'm an arrogant jerk."

But sometimes Meek goes counter to the "happy medium" style and writes a tune "that would be more sophisticated, that musicians would understand, their brain would get it. Then other times, I write something that's just for me, that makes me feel good personally, that I don't care what anybody thinks."

Meek is a contemporary jazz musician who favors Brazilian-flavored tunes, as well as upbeat jazz/fusion, the type of music in his new release on Lipstick Records. And that's mostly what he'll be playing Sept. 14 at Le Cafe, when he leads his own band.

Tonight and Saturday, however, Meek will front an all-star ad-hoc combo, featuring keyboardist Lorber, bassist Brian Bromberg and drummer Joel Taylor. The program will consist of "lots of Jeff's tunes, because we all know them, and some classic standards," Meek said.

The saxophonist looks forward to this two-nighter, primarily for the opportunity to interact with three of his favorite players.

"Jeff's a gas to play with," Meek said. "He's got great energy, he goes for things; he's not afraid, he's got a real attitude when he plays. Brian is just really musical, and he has unbelievable chops on acoustic bass. Joel is one of the most underrated drummers in town, a very tasty musician."

Meek gets that kind of kudos from his peers, said Dale Jaffe, an owner of Le Cafe who booked Meek. "Many musicians that I respect call Gary the best saxophone player in town," Jaffe said. "Gary can play anybody's music and get into that music. . . . He makes everyone look better."

Meek went to El Camino High School in Woodland Hills. He studied for a year at the now-defunct Dick Grove School of Music--"That was unbelievably good for me. It kicked me in the butt to start practicing"--and has been studying with noted teacher Phil Sobel for about 10 years.

Meek's first professional job was as singer Dionne Warwick's pianist. His first major-league jazz job was with percussionist Airto Moreira and Moreira's wife, acclaimed singer Flora Purim, who are also in Fourth World. Meek spends six months a year on the road with the group and has performed in Europe, Japan and Russia.

He does get tired of traveling and spending so much time away from home and his wife, Donna. "That's tough," he said.

Where and When Who: Gary Meek plays with Jeff Lorber, Brian Bromberg and Joel Taylor. Location: The Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Hours: 9 and 11 p.m. today and Saturday. Price: $10 cover, two-drink minimum. Also: Gary Meek and his band. Location: The Room Upstairs. Hours: 8:30 and 10 p.m. Sept. 14. Price: $5 cover, two-drink minimum. Call: (818) 986-2662.

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