YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


A Jazz Pianist Looks for 'The Child Within'

Noted composer and performer will highlight tunes from his latest album this weekend at Bjlauzezs in Sherman Oaks.


Billy Childs, like one of his chief influences, Duke Ellington, has a drive to write and perform jazz, as well as to compose larger works.

"These two outlets of creativity are a necessity for me," said Childs, who many regard as a major contemporary jazz pianist and who also earned a degree in music composition from USC. "I wouldn't feel like I was alive if I only did jazz, or only did writing."

Los Angeles native Childs' most recent orchestral work is "The Distant Land," a piece for solo vocalist, African percussion and orchestra. Its 1995 premiere with singer Carmen Lundy and the Akron (Ohio) Symphony was recorded for Telarc Records and released last November.

Childs' newest small-group release, "The Child Within" on Shanachie Records, is due in stores Tuesday. Like his most successful recording, 1993's "Portrait of a Player" (Windham Hill Jazz), it is an all-acoustic, straight-ahead collection of Childs originals. The album features such top talents as bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jeff Watts and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

He'll play pieces from the recording with an all-star quartet--reed player Bennie Maupin, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Gary Novak--Friday and Saturday at Bjlauzezs in Sherman Oaks.

"The Child Within" differs from Childs' last solo album, 1995's "I've Known Rivers," which got little exposure as Stretch/GRP, the label Childs recorded for, dropped him two months after the session was released.

On "Rivers," the leader spotlighted both spoken word and hearty back-beat rhythms. "It was part jazz, part classical, part Brazilian, park funk," he said. Now, "all the tunes come from a swing tradition, which makes it a [pure] jazz record," said Childs, 39, speaking from the home in Altadena he shares with his wife, Holly, and his two children: Aaron, who turns 4 on Saturday, and Carson, who was born July 2.

Childs said he might play his new tunes this weekend, including the hard-driving "The Hunted," and "The Loneliest Monk," dedicated to Larry Gales, Thelonious Monk's bassist, who died recently of cancer. "I wouldn't want people to think that Larry was lonely, though," Childs said. "He was one of the most well-liked people on the Los Angeles jazz scene and I miss him."

These days, Childs works more as a sideman than a leader, playing both here and in New York with the likes of saxophonists Maupin, George Coleman and Ralph Moore and vibist Joe Locke. He often prefers sideman work "because then I can just play and don't have to worry about extra-musical activities like entertaining the audience, though I don't mind doing that," he said.

Between performances, Childs works on composing new pieces, and on being a father. (At one point during the interview, Aaron came into his Dad's office and asked, "Are you OK, Daddy?" Childs responded, in a tender voice, "I'm fine Aaron. I'll see you in about five minutes.") His "Piece for Percussion and Concert Band," commissioned by drummer Steve Houghton, was recently recorded, and Childs is beginning work on a new commission for the Akron Symphony, this one to feature orchestra and chorus.

Making music is easy, Childs said, but being in the music business isn't. "I have to do music," he said. "But the business is run by people who don't love music or understand it. They only understand how much money they can make off you. So the challenge for me is to see how I can operate in this system, or circumvent it."

* Billy Childs' quartet plays Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. at Bjlauzezs, 14502 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. $5 cover without dinner. Call (818) 789-4583.


Basie's Beat: Gregg Field will never get over the years from 1980 to '82, when he was the drummer in Count Basie's orchestra. "I still miss him, miss playing that music. And I guess that's the reason I have my big band, to relive that music a little," said Field, who brings his large ensemble to the Moonlight Tango Cafe on Tuesday.

Field just recorded an Ella Fitzgerald tribute with Mel Torme. He also will produce and play on a new album by pianist-composer Bob Florence, who'll be in the band at the Moonlight. Some other ex-Basie players will sit in, including trumpeters Snooky Young, Bob Summers and Frank Szabo, and singer Dennis Rowland, who was with the Count from 1977-84. "Dennis will do some of his new stuff, and some from the Basie era too," said Field.

* Gregg Field and his big band, Tuesday, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., at the Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; $13 cover for 7:30 p.m. show, $9 cover for 9:30 p.m., $9.95 food or drink minimum. Call (818) 788-2000.

Los Angeles Times Articles