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Jazz Notes

'Virtuoso' Series Shows Pass at His Best : Jazz notes: The late guitarist's style of mixing songs familiar to listeners with improvisation made jazz more accessible.

May 27, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like jazz greats Charlie Parker and Stan Getz, guitarist Joe Pass, who died Monday of liver cancer at age 65, was no stranger to the recording studio. And while he made such albums in the mid-'60s as "For Django" for Pacific Jazz Records, it wasn't until the early '70s, when he was signed to Norman Granz's Pablo Records, that Pass' recording career began in earnest.

Unless he was backing a singer, as on the classic duet album with Ella Fitzgerald, "Take Love Easy," Pass mostly recorded as an unaccompanied soloist or in a small group context.

The solo stance was documented on Pablo as the "Virtuoso" series (there are five volumes, one done "live" at the Vine Street Bar & Grill in Hollywood), and in these performances, Pass reveals why he became an international jazz star. The guitarist with the soothing, ringing tone took all manner of tunes, from pop standards such as "I Can't Get Started" and "Autumn Leaves," to jazz anthems, from Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time" to John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," and imbued each number with sumptuous melody.

Pass' general approach was to play a phrase from the song's written line, interpreted with personality, of course, and then add an improvisational phrase of his own devising. This seesawing gave listeners not accustomed to the rigors of following a jazz solo something to cling to--that familiar melody--while his impromptu statements gave jazz devotees the deeper musical meat they crave.

In 1990, Pass returned to the format he used on "For Django," employing John Pisano as a rhythm guitarist and working with a bassist (first Monty Budwig, then Jim Hughart) and a drummer (Colin Bailey). This quartet aspect can be heard on three Pablo albums (among them "Appassionato") and one on Telarc, 1993's "My Song," where Tom Ranier is added on piano and reeds. In this quartet context, Pass, riding off the power of a backing rhythm section, drives harder, and while he is no less mellifluous, his playing has more of a propulsive sense of swing to it.

Other recommended Pass titles include "Quadrant" (with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown), "Chops" (with bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen) and "Take Love Easy" (with Fitzgerald), all on Pablo, and "Seven, Come Eleven" on Concord Jazz Records, a wondrous quartet date featuring guitarist Herb Ellis, on which the title track contains some of the fastest, cleanest jazz improvisations ever captured.

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Bakery on the Move: By the end of July, if not a bit sooner, Los Angeles will have a new six-night-a-week jazz club as the Jazz Bakery moves into new quarters.

The current 120-140 seat non-profit Bakery is housed in the old Helms Bakery building in Culver City; the new version will be located under the same roof a few hundred yards to the west.

The new space, custom built by the building's owner Wally Marx, will seat between 180 and 200 people, and will feature a larger stage and improved sight lines and sound system, according to Ruth Price, director of the Bakery.

"I'm going to try to book one person for six nights in a row as often as I can, but I also want to keep dates open for some of the wonderful local people we have been presenting," Price says. "I don't want to pass on them completely."

If all goes according to plan, the new Bakery will open July 28 with Kenny Barron's trio. Other upcoming artists include Phil Woods and McCoy Tyner, both planned for September.

This weekend at the present Jazz Bakery: trumpeter Terence Blanchard, with vocalist Jeanie Bryson.

Information: (310) 271-9039.

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Critic's Choices: The B Sharp Jazz Quartet has been around for about four years, and these fellows have really put in some work, as revealed by both increasingly vibrant live performances and a solid self-titled Mama Foundation album, due out June 15.

Expect intriguing, energetic wares from Randall Willis (reeds), Herb Graham Jr. (drums), Eliot Douglass (piano) and Reggie Carson (bass) when they take the stand Saturday at 5th Street Dick's.

Information: (213) 296-3970.

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