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VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Venues Ask Musicians to Stop By, Sit In : Jam sessions at three Valley clubs are growing in popularity as beginners, as well as professionals, drop in for a few tunes.

February 22, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Ready?" Guitarist Rick Zunigar was directing the question to tenor saxophonist Dennis Berger last Sunday night at Bjlauzezs in Sherman Oaks.

Berger nodded, the guitarist softly snapped his fingers to indicate a beat and the saxophonist launched into a medium tempo version of the old chestnut "Out of Nowhere," playing the vintage melody with feeling. Berger then soloed, offering brief, punctuated sounds with rhythmic bite along with longer, flowing, distinctly melodic sounds of intricate design, like Chinese calligraphy.

The number continued with solos by trumpeter Dave Scott--whose breathy tone and nimble line work is most appealing--and guitarists Qin Williams and Zunigar, the latter playing one series of beautiful notes after another.

The performance, though extremely polished and creatively charged, was not done by an established band. Rather, this was a jam session where Berger, Williams and drummer Chris Blondal were all "sitting in," playing as guests with Zunigar, Scott and bassist Dave Enos--all members of Zunigar's house band.

Playing at ad hoc sessions was the way most players learned jazz in the '30s, '40s and '50s. But in the past couple of decades, such sessions have gone out of style. Lately, though, a number of jams have popped up in the Valley. Now players can sit in on Sundays--with Zunigar at Bjlauzezs and sax man Bobby King at Monteleone's West in Tarzana. On Tuesdays they can jam with ace drummer Earl Palmer at Chadney's in Burbank.

Musicians come and go at these sessions, and on Sunday at Bjlauzezs, Berger, Williams, trombonist Jacques Voyement and drummer Blair Sinta were among those on hand to play such tunes as "All the Things You Are," "It Could Happen to You" and "Bags Groove."

Zunigar, an intense, vibrant artist who has played with Stevie Wonder and Freddie Hubbard, is no stranger to fronting jam sessions. He is pleased with the one at Bjlauzezs, where he's been in charge for two months.

"It's working out," he said. "We get everyone from beginners to professionals. The guys have been very nice, most of them pretty good. Everybody gets a chance to play."

Dress was casual at Bjlauzezs on Sunday: Zunigar wore jeans, black sneakers, a Scotch plaid flannel shirt and a New York Yankees baseball cap; Berger was in a gray sweater with a humorous golf picture, jeans and white tennis shoes. But up at Monteleone's, things were different.

"Dress is emphasized," said King, who is getting exposure for his just-released 1983 Del-Fi recording, "Inside the Outer Kingdom." "The band wears suits and we like the players to wear jackets."

Whereas Zunigar and Palmer ask that players simply check in with them to play, King uses a sign-up sheet, then brings the guests up one by one. "We'll invite up a horn player, then maybe a singer, and so on," he said. "We've had a lot of very talented people.

Same goes for Chadney's, where Palmer--a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member who played on historic recordings by Little Richard, Fats Domino in New Orleans in the '50s--has been in charge for four years. Perhaps more than any jam, Chadney's draws the pros, and on any given Tuesday you might hear saxophonists Buddy Collette, John Bolivar and Rickey Woodard, trumpeters Sal Marquez and Jeff Elliott and drummers Roy McCurdy or Gregg Field.

"It's fun," Palmer has said. "I get to coordinate some decent combinations of musicians."

DETAILS

* RICK ZUNIGAR: Zunigar and his band host the jam session 6:30-10:30 p.m. Sundays at Bjlauzezs, 14502 Ventura Blvd., at Van Nuys Boulevard, Sherman Oaks. $5 cover without dinner. Information: (818) 789-4583.

* EARL PALMER: His jam session is 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Tuesdays at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, one-drink minimum per show. (818) 843-5333.

* BOBBY KING: His jam is 6-10 p.m. Sundays at Monteleone's West, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. No cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum. Information: (818) 996-0662.

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