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A Welcome Guest : Everette Harp, who plays once a week on Arsenio Hall's show, enjoys be-bop and mainstream tunes as well as jazz's pop side.

January 28, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times

SHERMAN OAKS — "Everette Harp is in the house with the Posse," Arsenio Hall says with his trademark wide-mouth grin and pointing to the contemporary jazz-pop saxophonist.

Pony-tailed Harp, 32, whom many know from his performances with pop singers Anita Baker, Sheena Easton and Kenny Loggins, is a regular Thursday night guest on Hall's late-night talk show, performing with Michael Wolff's band, The Posse.

Chatting a few minutes later with the sax man, who's wearing a black T-shirt and pants, Hall asks him about upcoming appearances.

Harp mentions a concert, then a club performance tonight and Saturday night at the Room Upstairs at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

"We'll check you out, man," says Hall, beaming. "We'll come out and see you."

That night, neither the studio audience nor viewers at home have to wait to catch Harp. During the breaks, he's spotlighted, playing some high-energy alto sax at one point, some fat-toned tenor at another. He draws exuberant applause.

Harp, who since September has been a guest performer with the band, replacing saxophonist Dave Koz, says playing with Wolff and friends is a highlight of his week. "It feels great. It's a fun atmosphere and great exposure. The band is actually as loose as it seems on TV."

The Posse's approach to jazz, with the accent on catchy, pop-flavored, back-beat-driven numbers, mirrors the style that Harp follows when he leads a band, and that he selected for his debut Blue Note release, an album whose across-the-board appeal has resulted in sales of more than 100,000 albums.

"My music is strictly swinging jazz, not strictly commercial, but somewhere in between," Harp said. "Obviously, my album has some commerciality, but it has tunes that have sweet melodies that go somewhere, tunes that I can stretch out and that will keep me interested."

Harp, a Houston native who lives in Saugus with his wife, Jeri, and their daughter Tessa, 5, enjoys not only the pop side of jazz but highly melodic, and often highly complex, be-bop and modern mainstream tunes. And although he might play such a selection in person, as when he plays at Le Cafe, he won't yet put one on his albums.

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"I love to play tunes that you can go anywhere on, but I know they're not going to sell any records," he said. "As much as I like the purity of jazz and like to do what I want to do, I know this is a business."

Harp grew up singing as well as playing woodwinds, and sings in person and on his new album. And he says he also vocalizes internally as he plays. "My tunes lend themselves to vocal phrasing," he said. "I'll sing a solo inside, and that really helps me. It's like lyrics are coming out of the horn. And I see my album as a vocal album, only the songs are sung on the saxophone."

The success of his first recording has allowed Harp to experiment a bit on his new album, he says. "While there are a lot of tunes that are really commercial, there are some that aren't," he said. "Like a swing version of the Stylistics' hit, 'You Made Me Feel Brand-New.' And Branford Marsalis did a track and played his tail off."

Harp cites a wealth of influences, from such be-boppers as Sonny Stitt to more commercially minded fellows such as Grover Washington Jr. and David Sanborn. The latter has been a particularly strong model.

"For a long time, I was stuck sounding like David, but at some point, you have to break away and find your own identity," Harp said. "I'm trying to do that."

The saxophonist has developed a loyal following. Hall is definitely a Harp fan. "Everette possesses a funky and powerful sax sound that is very compatible with The Posse," Hall said. "I find myself mesmerized by his gift."

Dale Jaffe, owner of Le Cafe, is another aficionado. "I like his energy, his musicality," Jaffe said. "He always gets excited about his music."

Harp muses about his career, and says he knows that he's been blessed. "There are a lot of guys out there who are great players who haven't gotten the recognition I have," he said. "Sometimes I feel like I haven't worked hard enough for what I've gotten."

Where and When

Who: Everette Harp.

Location: The Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 9 and 11 tonight and Saturday night.

Price: $10 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 986-2662.

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