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VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Lounge Rings a Bell With Bebop Vibraphonist

From the bandstand, it dawned on Dave Pike that in the '50s he had played the same Burbank location--as a dishwasher.

July 11, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When ace bebop-bent vibraphonist Dave Pike appears Saturday at J.P.'s Lounge in Burbank, he won't be going home, but it'll be close.

As a 12-year-old in 1950, Pike moved with his family from his native Detroit to Burbank, where he later went to high school. One of his after-school jobs was as a dishwasher at a joint called the Chicken Palace. These days, that same building houses J.P.'s Lounge. Not that Pike made the connection right away.

"I'd even eaten there a few years ago when it was a Chinese restaurant called the Bamboo Terrace, but I didn't recognize the room until I was up on the bandstand, playing," says Pike, who appeared there in June. "It was a gorgeous way to reenter" the music scene in Los Angeles, he said.

Pike, who in a recent interview jokingly referred to himself as "close to being the champion of the obscure" of jazz artists, has had a rich--if uneven--career. A jazzman since the mid-'50s, and most active in the '60s and '70s, Pike has made over 20 albums under his name, the last being 1988's "Blue Bird" (Timeless). Among the scores of fine jazz artists he's played or recorded with are Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman and Johnny Hartman.

In the past decade, though, the vibraphonist has been playing intermittently while living, variously, in Belgium; Key West, Fla.; New York City, and Las Vegas. He settled in Culver City last year, and prior to his gig at J.P.'s, he hadn't played anywhere in Southern California.

"I'd been ill," he said, admitting that overindulgence in alcohol had been a problem. "Then when I got better, I didn't feel like hustling club jobs. And I can't work in the studios because I sing when I play. So I halfway thought about hanging up playing. But I didn't. After all, it's what I do--I'm a bebop vibraphone player--though in terms of practicality, it's one step up from being a poet."

To secure steady income, Pike got a day job working at Piano Mart in West Los Angeles. There, he's been designing instructional manuals--"I've always loved to do illustrating and cartooning"--and he demonstrates and rents pianos. "There are worse things to be around than pianos," he quips.

Then through a longtime fan, writer Mal Sands of the L.A. Jazz Scene, word of Pike's local residence was passed on to Dennis Duke, who books J.P.'s. Duke arranged for Pike to play there last month.

"That first night felt pretty strange but pretty good," said Pike. "But by the second night I felt I was playing as good or better than I had in my life."

Pike performed at J.P.'s with guitarist Ron Anthony and bassist Chuck Berghofer, first-class musicians who will be with him on Saturday. The fellows will tackle selections from the classic pop and jazz standard repertoire, numbers on which Pike will offer his melodic yet aggressive style. "I try to articulate on the vibes what a horn or pianist would, playing with that kind of authority."

Pike picked up piano at age 4, then found an interest in percussion and studied drums. He turned to vibes, an instrument he seemed to have an immediate affinity for, at 15. He says jazz grabbed him at that age and has never let go.

"To me, disciplined improvisation is the most joyous form of expression, the most rewarding," he says. "It's life."

* Dave Pike plays 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Saturday at J.P.'s Lounge, 1333 Hollywood Way, Burbank. No cover, no minimum. (818) 845-1800.

*

Hot Scott: Grammy-winning saxophonist-composer Tom Scott knows a good way to enjoy a warm Valley Sunday afternoon: get folks into his distinctive brew of jazz and R&B. That's just what he'll do on Sunday, when he kicks off the Universal CityWalk's First Annual Jazz Series, a six concert series taking place outdoors at the CityWalk's Cinema Plaza, located in front of the Universal City Cinemas.

"Hey, those fans will provide me with the proper spirit to get a party atmosphere going. I don't mind that," said the jovial Scott. The musician will deliver selections from his new "Bluestreak" GRP album, as well as tunes from his days as leader of the L.A. Express.

Scott, musical director for this year's Academy Awards telecast, will be followed in the free series by saxophonists Everette Harp (July 21) and Eric Marienthal (July 28), keyboardist Dan Siegel (Aug. 4), percussionist Pete Escovedo (Aug. 11) and saxophonist Paul Taylor (Aug. 18).

* Tom Scott plays 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Universal CityWalk's Cinema Plaza, 1000 Universal Center Drive. Admission is free, parking, $6. Information: (818) 622-4455.

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