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Jazzbirds of a Feather

VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

No-nonsense group with notable musical roots sticks to straight-ahead, feel-good scores without the frills.

September 26, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Broadside" was just one of several humorous names that was tossed around when Stacy Rowles and Betty O'Hara were starting their all-female jazz quintet in the early '80s.

It didn't stick.

"Broadside was so audacious. The others would have none of it," said O'Hara, who plays trombone, cornet and sings.

"It was a little too crazy," said Rowles, a fluegelhornist, trumpeter, vocalist and daughter of the great pianist Jimmy Rowles.

Eventually, they went for Jazzbirds, a name that seemed sensible.

"It told you we played jazz," said Rowles. "It was a middle-of-the-road, happy name."

The band, which also includes pianist Liz Kinnon, bassist Ida Bodin and drummer Jeanette Wrate, plays Friday at Chadney's in Burbank.

"We play happy music, music that's melodic, that's lighthearted, that makes me smile and others too," said Rowles.

O'Hara refers to the band's form of jazz as "straight-ahead."

"That means we're swinging and not too far out," she said. "Sometimes we have a little more modern edge, like my tune 'Vortex,' which is kind of funky jazz, though it's the only one like that. And we do some Latin. Liz arranged 'Samba de Orfeo' as well as 'Caravan' and 'Manteca.' "

There are other O'Hara originals, like "Armageddon," based on the chord changes to "I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You," and the group performs an occasional bebop ditty like Clifford Brown's "Daahoud." And there are duos and solos by vocalists O'Hara and Rowles, including Rowles' version of her father's "Frazier." This song is a lovely bossa nova written in collaboration with lyricist Johnny Mercer. It is about an aging lion who becomes a stud legend at the now-defunct Lion Country Safari.

Jazzbirds has had some top-drawer gigs, like a jazz cruise with Dizzy Gillespie a few years ago. But mostly the ladies work the occasional Chadney's engagement. Dennis Duke, who oversees the music there, is a fan.

"I have been booking them for five years, and at first they didn't draw too well because, I think, people thought they were an all-female novelty act. That's far from the case," he said. "They're five wonderful musicians. Betty and Stacy are in the front rank on the West Coast, and Liz is a very underrated keyboardist."

O'Hara, at age 71, may be 30 years older than Rowles, but she is a vigorous, nonstop artist. She hails from Earl Park, Ind., and took up the trumpet at age 9. She played in the Hartford, Conn., symphony, as well as other ensembles, before moving to Southern California in 1960, settling with her husband, Barrett, in Sunland.

Locally, O'Hara has been active in the jazz scene and has played on film and TV soundtracks. In the late '70s, she was a charter member of the big band that became Maiden Voyage, with which she continues to play, and she has a CD, "Horns Aplenty" (Delmark).

*

An intense Dodger fan, O'Hara recently wrote a humorous and complicated piece combining elements of the blues, a Japanese folk song, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and the great Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim's samba "No More Blues."

"I call it 'Nomo Blues,' for Hideo Nomo. I just love him. He's so shy," said O'Hara, who performed the piece in Japan in May while on tour with Maiden Voyage.

Rowles is also a charter member of Maiden Voyage, where she met O'Hara. She has impeccable musical genes. Her father, who died May 28 at age 77, was a songwriter and soloist, as well as the accompanist of choice for vocal giants such as Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

She started with piano, then moved on to drums, trumpet and finally fluegelhorn, her instrument of choice.

"I love that sound," she said. "On trumpet, I haven't really found a big, fat sound that I like, so I mostly play with a mute."

Rowles is active as a touring soloist, playing in both the United States and Europe. She has an album, "Tell It Like It Is" (Concord Jazz), and has appeared on several recordings with her father.

Both Rowles and O'Hara agree they have found perfect musical partners in one another.

"We have similar directions in that we both play melodically," said Rowles. "And we blend well, having an uncanny ability to relate to each other musically, like I had with dad."

* CONCERT

The Jazzbirds play 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, one-drink minimum per show. (818) 843-5333.

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