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MUSIC : Keeping the Jump in Jive : Jazz bassist Dave Carpenter enjoys the edge and surprise of live performance. He plays with a saxophonist and a drummer.

August 04, 1995|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times

BURBANK — The noted New Yorker magazine critic Whitney Balliet once called jazz "the sound of surprise," and the great drummer Art Blakey used to say, "Jazz is a mistake." Bassist Dave Carpenter knows what they both meant.

"The best jazz happens when nobody knows what's going on. That puts musicians on the spot to create and react," says Carpenter, 35, one of the busiest bassists in the Los Angeles jazz community. "To find out what's really happening with music, you have to go to a live performance and hear people screw up. Because it's the way you overcome the mistakes that's the essential thing."

Carpenter, who possesses a firm, round sound and a breathtaking technique, is very active in the Los Angeles recording studios, playing on numerous TV and film scores and albums. He says he wouldn't be able to deliver at those high-pressure sessions if he didn't perform live regularly.

"Live playing is where it's at for me," says Carpenter, who appears with his trio Thursday at Chadney's. "That keeps everything running smoothly, both physically and musically, and keeps me mentally sharp."

At Chadney's, Carpenter works with two of his favorite partners: saxophonist Bob Sheppard and drummer Peter Erskine. "The caliber of these guys is incredible," Carpenter says.

The threesome performs without the usual piano or guitar to provide a steady pulse of background chords. This gives the players great freedom, while requiring them to be really on their toes musically.

"The trio is a chance for everyone to play more the way they would like to, because a chording instrument can push you into playing things that you might not be hearing," Carpenter says. "Now you're able to do whatever comes to mind. At the same time, we're all responsible for the chording instruments, the melody, the rhythm. And the way Bob and Peter bring in different colors and textures, we don't miss the chording instrument."

The band's musical menu will include classic standards, originals and occasional free-form numbers. The last, like the trio itself, stretch musical horizons and allow plenty of room for the unexpected.

"I like free playing because no one knows what's coming next, and suddenly there's something that's valid and mysterious," the bassist says. "It's like a painter taking a blank canvas and throwing out unbridled expression, without any preconception, and in a few minutes, you have a piece of art."

Carpenter, who lives in Burbank with his wife, Valerie, grew up in Dayton, Ohio. He played the trumpet, but switched to bass at the age of 12 when he saw bassist Peter Cetera with the band Chicago on television. "That was so cool. This guy's having a great time playing great music, making money and being on TV," Carpenter says. "The TV part was probably more important than anything."

After musical studies at Ohio State University, Carpenter played with three giants of jazz: Buddy Rich, for several years starting in 1983; Maynard Ferguson in '85 and '86, and Woody Herman in '86 and '87. "Woody's band was the best, musically, because of the history that was in his repertoire, while Buddy was more like a life education," Carpenter says. "I got so much confidence working with him."


Carpenter moved to Los Angeles to get involved in the studio music scene, and he did. Recently, most of his activity has been on albums, including flutist Hubert Laws' "Storm Then The Calm," Toots Thielemans' "East Coast West Coast" and Bill Holman's "A View From the Side." But he's also spent a lot of time on bandstands with the likes of Lou Levy, Joe Pass, Frank Strazzeri, Kenny Kirkland, Holman and Jeff Beal.

Beal, a trumpeter, pianist and composer, says Carpenter, while being "comfortable in a lot of situations, really knows to be supportive without disrupting the music."

Another Blakey aphorism declared that jazz removed the "residue of everyday life." Again Carpenter concurs. "Jazz musicians take people out of their turmoil, their problems. We're like doctors or psychiatrists. We're in the business of healing."



Who: Dave Carpenter's trio.

Location: Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank.

Hours: 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday.

Price: No cover, no minimum.

Call: (818) 843-5333.

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