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Music : Playing on Emotion : * Arlette McCoy Budwig says her ability to feel things deeply and perform with simplicity are her strongest musical suits.

September 24, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times.

BURBANK — Pianist Arlette McCoy Budwig figures the day she hooked her husband, the great bassist Monty Budwig, was the day she gave him the sack.

"It was 1970, our first time working together," Arlette Budwig recalled. "I had a casual job at the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall in Pasadena and had hired Monty. He had come over to the house and was playing while we waited for the drummer, Chuck Piscatello, to arrive.

"I was sitting there listening, and Monty sounded so great, I started to get scared. I thought, 'Well, I'll tell him I'm sick,' or 'I'll pretend the gig got canceled.' Then I just blurted out, 'You're fired!' He thought that was hilarious. So he went to the job with a fly swatter, to hit my hand when I made mistakes, and I took wire cutters, to clip his bass strings."

They got married in 1976, and had 16 happy years together. "It was a wonderful marriage," Arlette Budwig said. "We had a lot of fun, both had great senses of humor, and there was always the music. I always felt really young."

All that changed when Monty Budwig, who had played or recorded with musicians such as Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra, Shelly Manne and Woody Herman, died of cancer on March 9, 1992. "He died in his own bed, with my arms around him, with me kissing him," Arlette Budwig said, her voice firm yet conveying plenty of emotion.

To get through the pain of losing the man she adored, Budwig started working on "I Still Love You," a CD she recorded last October on her own Jazzabel Records label. The album sports guest appearances by the late sax man Bob Cooper and by trumpeter Conte Candoli, and spotlights a number of Arlette Budwig originals, among them the dedicatory title track.

Budwig, who lives in Eagle Rock, plays Wednesday at Chadney's in Burbank with drummer Nick Martinis, bassist Richard Simon, percussionist Ray Armando and guest vocalist Joe Sardaro. She figures making the album saved her life.

"I was able to steer my grief into something positive and creative, and it helped me get through the hardest times," she said. "Instead of spending all my energy grieving, which I spent a lot of time doing, and which, I think, might have destroyed me if all I did was grieve, I was able to concentrate on the music. That made it seem like I was still with him, and gave me a positive outlook at a very tragic time in my life."

Budwig, who works with an economical style that accents lyricism and solid rhythm, emphasized that she has not been influenced by Monty Budwig's death to start playing more: that agenda began 10 years ago. A native of East Chicago, Ind., she moved to Lincoln Heights with her family at age 12 and has been a professional pianist since she was 14.

"I had always played, had always worked, but I had never really taken music seriously for fear of failing. I sort of skimmed along," Budwig said.

After marrying Monty Budwig, "I got a job playing solo piano at the restaurant Pasta Michi, which is owned by Charlie Chiarenza, who also owned Alfonse's," she said. "I started practicing then, five hours a day. I was always Monty's rehearsal pianist at home, which was fantastic, but I got tired of the ache of watching him play on bandstands and wanting to be there with him. And as I got better, he played with me more and more. If he wasn't working, he'd often come by and play on my gigs."

The bassist also included his wife on three selections on his lone Concord Jazz CD, "Dig." "I was good enough for that," she said. "If I didn't sound good, he wouldn't have let me play."

These days, Budwig appears regularly at Miceli's in Hollywood and Jax in Glendale and about once a month at Chadney's. Dennis Duke, who books the last room, said Budwig is an artist you want to hear more than once: "She stands well on her own, and she grows on you."

Asked to name her strongest musical suit, Budwig replied, "emotion."

"I'm a very emotional person, and I feel things deeply. And I play with simplicity. I don't play a whole lot of notes," she said. It's not easy without her husband, but "things are getting better. And these jobs are definitely confidence-builders."

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