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In a Class of His Own

Trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez has made teaching kids as much a part of his career as improvising on his Latin-jazz style.


When trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez plays tonight at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks, the 30-year vet of the L.A. jazz scene will deliver a hearty brand of Latin/jazz that will invigorate listeners' ears and motivate their feet to move to the rhythm. Rodriguez's solos will no doubt dominate the proceedings.

"I love improvising," said the slim, muscular Rodriguez. "It makes me feel like a little bird flying free, able to turn at will and control my environment. That feeling is wonderful."

There's another feeling that Rodriguez also reveres, perhaps even more than playing: teaching young kids. For the past 10 years, he's been a trumpet instructor at the Los Angeles Music and Arts High School in East Los Angeles.

For five years, he's been leader of Jazz Adventures, a jazz history show run under the auspices of the Los Angeles Music Center that performs at schools throughout Southern California. And for three years, he's been director of jazz studies at Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, located at Cal State Los Angeles.

Rodriguez also performs for youngsters via his participation in the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science Foundation and with the Hispanic Musicians Assn. Salsa/Jazz Orchestra. He calls teaching the "most important thing I have been able to accomplish."

"I find I'm very good at it, giving back to the kids some of the experience I have," said Rodriguez. "I hope I'm able to get across to them that you have to have mental and spiritual toughness as well as education on your instrument and in life in order to compete in today's music market."

The trumpeter, who turns 46 next week, grew up in East L.A. and went to Our Lady of Lourdes elementary school and Salesian High School.

He riles when discussing the cutbacks in school arts programs that leave youngsters with no bands, no paint, no brushes. "The point is, if a child is in the practice room, he can't be in the streets," said Rodriguez, his voice rising.

Rodriguez got into teaching "by accident" when he was asked to help at Music and Arts High School.

"I had played for the groundbreaking of that school when I was at Our Lady of Lourdes," he said. "I had an affection for the neighborhood, so I started. I loved the one on one, the giving back. I saw kids with problems that I had had, and I felt a responsibility to help them."

Rodriguez's work with schools has led to other opportunities, like Jazz Adventures, in which he also performs at non-school functions. The trumpeter cites a recent engagement at a club in East Los Angeles where he had worked many years ago for $40 a night.

"This time, I was getting a decent leader wage and the performance lasted an hour," he said. "I was home by 9:20 p.m. I used to come home from a club after 2."

If it sounds like Rodriguez doesn't make the club scene much anymore, you're right. He says he's had it with the low pay and the late hours. Still, an engagement like tonight's at the Moonlight, where he is part of the first KLON-FM (88.1) Latin Jazz Club Caravan, is worth taking.

"The club has guaranteed me a fair wage for a night's work, and there will be advertising," he said.

At the Moonlight, the trumpeter will appear with a six-piece band and will perform a variety of Latin/jazz numbers, including some pieces from his recent CD, "Bobby Rodriguez Plays Duke Ellington."

Rodriguez began trumpet studies at age 10, became a pro when he was in his late teens and has worked with many of the greats, from Quincy Jones to Ray Charles. And while there were great times when he was completely immersed in the jazz world, in teaching he's found something that really suits him.

"I like my life better now," he says. "I get up in the morning, take my horn and briefcase and I'm off. I talk to kids, teach them. Hopefully I can be a role model to inspire them."

* Bobby Rodriguez plays at 8 tonight until 1 a.m. at Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, as part of the Latin Jazz Club Caravan. Tickets, which cover all clubs and bus transportation between venues, are $15. Call (310) 985-1686.


Quick Hits: There are other Valley venues hosting the KLON Latin Jazz Club Caravan, which runs at all locations from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. At the Baked Potato (3787 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-980-1615), Lava and the Hot Rocks; at Chadney's (3000 W. Olive St., Burbank, 818-843-5333), conga drummer Francisco Aquabella; at Jax (339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, 818-500-1604), trombonist-violinist Dan Weinstein and Viva.

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