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VALLEY WEEKEND

Duo Proves Musical Rapport Is Timeless

Ojai's Roger Kellaway and his younger cohort Tom Scott will renew their collaborative jazz talents at Wheeler Hot Springs on Sunday.

February 22, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When they first met in Los Angeles 30 years ago, pianist Roger Kellaway was a new, albeit older, kid in town and Tom Scott was a precocious teenage saxophonist. Both had spent time in the notoriously challenging Don Ellis group, and knowing a comrade when he heard one, Kellaway asked the young Scott, almost a decade his junior, to join his own quartet.

"We hit it off immediately," Scott recalled. "In fact, the first solo feature that I had on a record was on the Roger Kellaway 'Spirit Feel' album on Pacific Jazz. I was 19 at the time. He took me under his wing, and I was honored that he would ask me to play in a small group setting with him at that time.

"I felt that I had a great deal to learn from him," he said, laughing, "and I was not wrong."

Kellaway added, "In the ensuing years, depending on whether Tom got the gig or I got the gig, it was either the Tom Scott Quartet or the Roger Kellaway Quartet--the same personnel."

Call it a mentor-protege relationship or a collaboration on equal footing, but the pair definitely have a sense of musical rapport, which will no doubt be obvious when they reunite at Wheeler Hot Springs for a special dinner-concert this Sunday.

There is a local angle here. Kellaway moved to Ojai a couple of years ago, and has made his formidable musical presence known at Wheeler on a few occasions, including a reunion gig with guitarist Robben Ford a year and a half ago.

For this gig, he put the call in to Scott, as well as drummer John Guerin, also from Kellaway's '60s quartet and the L.A. Express. Bassist Bob Magnusson will round out the band Sunday.

Anyone coming to the show expecting a blast of the jazz-pop of the L.A. Express may be surprised. As Kellaway explained, the subject will be jazz standards, partly because rehearsal time is limited, and partly because the jazz ethos goes beyond just original tunes.

"It will be more what we did in the very beginning," said Scott, "going way back to when we first got together."

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Kellaway said that there are "a few originals that we might play that come from that time when we were all together years ago. Other than that, we'll just play some Miles (Davis) tunes and things that we have in common."

They recently had a taste of what's to come when Kellaway asked Scott to join his trio in a gig at the Bel Age Hotel in West Los Angeles. "I said, 'Why don't you come in? We'll have a rehearsal for Wheeler's.' So he came in and played two sets, and it was fabulous. We've never had any trouble playing together. He just jumped on the stand and tore it up."

After playing together and recording a few albums in the '60s, the two musicians went in separate directions--Scott going on to form the funk-fortified L.A. Express, and Kellaway experimenting with quasi-classical forms with his acclaimed Cello Quartet group.

The L.A. Express, along with the Crusaders--both featuring Joe Sample on keyboards--forged an easygoing, signature Southern California fusion sound.

"As I look back on it, I guess we were part of a larger movement going on in many musical circles, but of course, we didn't know it at the time," said Scott. "We were just doing what came naturally."

Scott had been playing a regular Tuesday-night gig at the Baked Potato in North Hollywood. He credits bassist Max Bennett with bringing R&B-ish tunes into the repertoire, which had up to that point consisted of more straight-ahead bebop.

"When I was playing the other music, the bebop stuff, we'd play for 25 people and it was fine," Scott said. "It never occurred to me that anything was wrong or that there was a problem that it wasn't popular. You didn't think about that stuff.

"But when we started bringing in these funkier tunes and then we added (guitarist) Larry Carlton to the band, I'm telling, after three or four months, you couldn't get into the place. They were lined up around the block.

"We were thinking, 'Wow, what happened here?' That instrumental music of any kind could attract this kind of attention was amazing. You have to remember that, except for guitar rock 'n' roll--heavy metal kind of stuff--and the Tijuana Brass, there wasn't much going on in instrumental music that was popular. So we were thrilled to be making all these people crazy for us. That's what launched the whole thing."

Scott and Kellaway next met under the aegis of Joni Mitchell's touring band. Mitchell had used the L.A. Express to back her up for the album "Court and Spark," and when it came time to tour, both Sample and guitarist Larry Carlton were tied up with the Crusaders. Scott turned to guitarist Robben Ford and his old cohort Kellaway.

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That band toured for six months during 1974, before Kellaway moved on to satisfy other muses. Scott went on to do more studio work, including such legendary sessions as Steely Dan's "Aja." One idea on Kellaway's mind was the Cello Quartet project, a seminal chamber jazz group that has been placed in various categories, including New Age.

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