GLENDALE — A lot of times, bands are formed pretty much like interpersonal relationships: A couple of people bump into each other, feel they have some thing in common, and it kind of gets going from there.
Take the Lehman-Carr Project, a quartet led by pianist Sydney Lehman and saxophonist Steve Carr that performs every Thursday at Duet. The musicians played together on a number of commercial jobs, liked each other's playing and decided to take it a step further by forming a jazz group.
"We started playing seriously about six months ago," says Carr, who's in his 40s and lives in Tarzana. "We've been together long enough that we're getting to the point of playing something that's a piece of music from beginning to end, that starts out, evolves and grows, rather than that is a piece with just a bunch of solos."
The Project provides the performers with a rigorous musical atmosphere.
"Jazz forces you to think," Carr says. "If you want to do it well, you're constantly working on it, by, say, trying to improve your note choices or how you phrase."
The band--which features Kirk Smith on bass and Jack LeCompte on drums--plays a wealth of material, from originals crafted by the leaders to tried-and-true standards, like Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." The ever-present challenge is to reach higher levels of performance and interaction, and Lehman thinks the quartet succeeds.
"There's always a willingness to try something different and fresh," says Lehman, 35, who lives in Burbank. "There's the quest for adventure."
Lehman and Carr relish the process involved in composing. "I'm influenced by people like Bill Evans and Dave Grusin," says Lehman, who studied with veteran writer Hank Levy at Towson State University in Baltimore in 1979-80, then later studied film soundtrack writing at USC.
"My music tends toward the melodic, which you might find in Grusin or even Bob James, but maybe not Ornette Coleman," she says. "It's very listenable," but she hopes, not repetitive. "I know when I write, I try to listen" to the direction the music dictates. . . . It will tell me the life path it needs to follow, then you rely on education and awareness to smooth out the rough edges."
Carr, who holds a master's degree in composition and theory from UC-Riverside, is eclectic in his work. "I write jazz pieces with classical forms, I write Latin pieces, I write contemporary pieces," he says.
The saxophonist describes one work that can vary with the players. " 'Sorcerer' depends on the drummer," he says. "I tell him it's either a jazz tango, or it has a Cajun feeling" a la Dr. John, the renowned New Orleans pianist. "The drummer usually comes up with something."
The band is a featured aspect of the jazz policy at Duet, where music is on tap Thursdays through Saturdays. "Sydney and Steve are great musicians with great style," says David Archuleta, restaurant manager at Duet.
Lehman, a native of Santa Monica, started on piano at age 7 and discovered jazz at 13. In 1980, she joined the Airmen of Note, the Air Force's top performance ensemble stationed in Washington, D.C. Back in Southern California since 1985, she has done everything from writing music for the 1993 ABC-TV mini-series "Wild Palms" to playing with Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band.
"My life is sometimes financially terrifying, but musically and creatively, it's always been bliss," she said.
Carr was born in Seattle but raised in Van Nuys. He first took up piano at age 4, then added clarinet at 7 after seeing "The Benny Goodman Story." Currently focusing on composing for film and TV--he's written for National Geographic specials and the Playboy Channel--Carr says music "communicates what you can't say. . . . It's wonderful, and it gives you a reason for living."
Where and When
What: The Lehman-Carr Project.
Location: Duet, 900 N. Central Ave., Glendale.
Hours: 7:30 to 11 p.m. Thursdays.
Price: No cover or minimum.
Call: (818) 240-0808.