BURBANK — The baby grand piano takes up nearly the entire bandstand in the downstairs lounge at Chadney's Restaurant, the chummy jazz venue across the street from NBC Studios. That's where you can find keyboard player Jane Getz most Tuesday nights, as a regular member of drummer Earl Palmer's trio.
This particular night, Getz is working through a thoughtful rendition of "Body and Soul" as Palmer, whose drum kit sits next to the bandstand, accompanies with graceful brushwork. Her performance is met with applause and a few cheers from the mixed house of lounge regulars and musicians hoping for a chance to sit in with Palmer during the second set.
The trio follows with an upbeat version of "Alone Together"; Getz plays with characteristic lyricism, this time at a faster tempo. One can't help but be impressed by the even flow and relaxed feel of her music.
"She's one of the real unsung heroes around here," says the group's bassist, Ernie McDaniels. "I really enjoy just listening to her play."
The old truism "experience begets wisdom" goes a long way in explaining the smartness of Getz's work. Before she turned 20, she had worked with such jazz giants as Charles Mingus, Stan Getz (no relation) and Thad Jones. Tonight, she can be heard with saxophonist Steve Parque at Steamers Cafe in Fullerton.
Between sets at Chadney's, Getz, who says she is in her 40s, was asked how she came so far so fast. She'd begun classical training at age 3 but began to gravitate toward jazz before she was out of grade school.
"My mother took me to see Billie Holiday at the Hollywood Bowl when I was 9 or 10, and I just fell in love with the music," she recalls. "Then I heard some Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell recordings and just flipped out. It was so artistic. I wanted to be a part of that mysterious world, and, like children will do, I thought, 'I can do that.' "
But she had more determination than most children her age, and by the time she was 12, her mother was taking her around Los Angeles to sit in with such jazz musicians as drummer Billy Higgins, singer Gene McDaniels and saxophonist Norwood "Pony" Poindexter.
Then she decided that New York was the place to pursue her craft. She was all of 15.
"I was just one of those kids who were going to do what they were going to do," she explains.
She dropped out of high school, bought a bus ticket and moved in with cousins who lived in Manhattan. Things continued to move quickly. "I was gigging within the first few hours I was there. Somehow I ran into Pony in a phone booth, calling to find a replacement pianist. I tugged on his sleeve and told him, 'I can play that gig.' And I did."
Through Poindexter, Getz began meeting other musicians who began to utilize her talents and who recommended her to still more musicians. "In New York," she notes, "if you can play well, the word gets around. Chick Corea turned me on to a lot of different gigs. Mingus would call to have me substitute for Jaki Byard. I played with Herbie Mann at the Village Gate. Thad Jones would hire me for different quartet gigs. He was especially helpful and taught me a lot about writing and things."
But wasn't she too young to be working in the clubs? "I had a fake ID. I was just one of the guys. People would call me 'man'; they'd say, 'Hey, man, come play the piano.' People were very protective of me, and I never had a problem."
After eight hectic years in the city, Getz decided to move on. "I got tired of the living conditions in New York and the weather and was very burned out by the time I was in my early '20s. I had to do something else for a while."
Plus, "it was a hard thing for me, being so young, to play with these living legends. It was awesome, but it was a lot of pressure."
She moved back to L.A. and put jazz aside, doing studio work and writing and recording her own pop material. She can be heard on a number of Harry Nilsson albums, playing piano on projects produced by Don Henley and backing Ringo Starr on his "Stop and Smell the Roses." RCA released an album of her own music, "Mother Hen," in the late '70s.
"For 15 years, I didn't play jazz. But then, a few years ago, I started getting back into it, going around and getting into jam sessions. No one knew who I was."
They're beginning to learn. In addition to her weekly appearance with Palmer at Chadney's, Getz has been playing with saxophonist Louis Taylor and former "Tonight Show" trumpeter Sal Marquez. She is an integral part of saxophonist Dale Fielder's quartet and is heard on his new Clarion label recording "Dear Sir: Tribute to Wayne Shorter."
"I'm looking forward to leading my own band someday," Getz said, "and I'm writing tunes for it now."
* Jane Getz plays tonight with the Steve Parque Quartet and singer LaDee Streeter at Steamers Cafe, 130 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton. 8 p.m. No cover. (714) 871-8800.