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Pianist's Longtime Love Affair With Jazz Has Come Full Circle

VALLEY WEEKEND | PROFILE

By age 20, Jane Getz had played with Charles Mingus and Herbie Mann. Then she took a long break, but she's back--at Chadney's.

February 15, 1996|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

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 keyboardist 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.

The close of her performance is greeted with applause and a few cheers by a mixed house of lounge regulars and a host of musicians hoping for a chance to sit in with Palmer during the second set.

The group follows with an upbeat version of "Alone Together," and Getz responds with characteristic lyricism, this time delivered at a faster tempo. One can't help but be impressed by the even flow and relaxed feel of her play.

"She's one of the real unsung heroes around here," said the group's bassist, Ernie McDaniels, before the music began. "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 play. Before she turned 20, she had worked with such jazz giants as Charles Mingus, Stan Getz (no relation) and Thad Jones.

Between sets, Getz, now "somewhere around 42," sits down to explain how she came so far so fast. She began classical training at age 3, but began to gravitate toward jazz even 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 says. "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 Getz 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.

"Even though I was self-taught [as a jazz musician], I could always play; there were no barriers for me. Even then, I never lost any bars or turned the time around. I never thought I couldn't do it. I just knew I could."

Showing even more ambition, the aspiring pianist, like many young jazz musicians, decided that New York was the place to pursue her craft. She was all of 15.

"I was just one of those kids who was going to do what they were going to do," she explains. "I was kind of a latch-key child. My family was so busy with their own thing at the time, my mother was busy trying to make a living. So it was OK with her."

Getz 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," she recalls. "Somehow I ran into Pony [Poindexter] 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 utilized her talents and recommended her to other musicians. "In New York, if you can play well, the word gets around. Things are different there than they are here. It's cliquish, but not that cliquish.

"Chick Corea turned me on to a lot of different gigs. [Charles] Mingus would call to have me substitute for [pianist] Jaki Byard. I played with [flutist] 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 I.D. 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. I've always been the kind of person that people look out for. I elicit that kind of response."

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 burnt out by the time I was in my early 20s. I had to do something else for awhile.

"Though I always knew I could do it, 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 is heard on a number of Harry Nilsson albums, has played piano on projects produced by Don Henley and has backed Ringo Starr on his "Stop and Smell the Roses" project. RCA released an album of her 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."

But they're beginning to learn. In addition to her weekly appearance with Palmer at Chadney's, Getz has been seen playing with saxophonist Louis Taylor and former "Tonight Show" trumpeter Sal Marquez. She's an integral part of saxophonist Dale Fielder's quartet and is heard on Fielder's new Clarion label recording, "Dear Sir: Tribute to Wayne Shorter."

"I'm looking forward to leading my own band someday," she says, "and I'm writing tunes for it now." Judging by her accomplishments so far, there's no doubt that Jane Getz can do it.

DETAILS

* WHO: Jane Getz.

* WHAT: Jazz pianist with the Earl Palmer Trio.

* WHEN: 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Tuesdays.

* WHERE: Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive Ave., Burbank.

* HOW MUCH: No cover, one-drink minimum per set.

* CALL: (818) 843-5333.

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