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VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Old Tape Inspires Trio's Revival

The 30-year-old recording sounded so good, pianist Page Cavanaugh decided to reunite that threesome in addition to leading his regular band.

November 14, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Valley music legend Page Cavanaugh is feeling luxurious these days: He's one of the few pianists around who has the opportunity to lead two trios.

There's his long-standing threesome with guitarist Al Viola--a colleague of Cavanaugh's for nearly 50 years--and bassist Phil Mallory, a band that does concerts and private events. Then there's the outfit that appears Tuesdays at Monty's in Woodland Hills, where Viola steps down and drummer Warren Nelson steps in.

This two-band bounty is the result of a tape-recording Cavanaugh and his trio (featuring Nelson) made 30 years ago in Phoenix, at a place called the Island Restaurant. The pianist remembers the Island being "a big club with a dance floor, and there was all kinds of carrying on. A friend of mine named Tommy Mann taped the show, but I never did get a tape."

Somehow, another Cavanaugh buddy, Bill Wagner, did, and with the pianist's approval, released it as "The Page Cavanaugh Trio: The Live Phoenix Tapes." Cavanaugh, 74, is thrilled with what he hears. "It knocked me out. We did some good stuff," says the Van Nuys resident.

Indeed. There's a jack-rabbit fast version of "I Got Rhythm," a heartily swinging "Yesterdays," a robust "Samba de Orfeo," plus some vocals. On all of these, Cavanaugh reveals his essence as a tasteful swing-based pianist who keeps the melody in mind.

Sparked by the CD's issue, Cavanaugh sought out Nelson, who lives in Orange County and works regularly there. Having the drummer on board instead of Viola gives him a totally different sound, says the pianist.

"Warren plays just great. He's brilliant using the brushes. His time feeling in back of me gives me a chance to swing better, not be concerned about anything else," he says. "I can have more freedom to play chords without getting in anybody's way.

"On the other hand, I can do more interesting things with Al, like these cute arrangements we've developed over the years."

Bassist Mallory is a central cog in whatever wheel Cavanaugh finds himself. "He's wonderful," the pianist says simply.

Cavanaugh wants to play the same arrangements that can be heard on the CD when he performs at Monty's, but he says it won't be easy. "I play pretty good for an old poop, but I am going to have to relearn some of those tunes. I listen to 'Yesterdays' and I wonder, 'How in the hell did I do that?' It's the closest I ever came to sounding like Art Tatum."

The pianist has had a healthy career, which has included owning his own club--yep, Page Cavanaugh's in Studio City--recording for RCA Victor and Reprise Records; appearing in numerous movies in the '40s and '50s; and regular appearances at Valley haunts for about four decades. Despite solid senior-citizen status, he has no plans to quit.

"People say to me, 'Page, you're kinda old. When are you going to retire?' I say, 'Retire to what?' As long as I can keep working, I'm fine. When I don't have a place to go, I get bored."

* Page Cavanaugh's trio plays 7:30-11:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Monty's Steakhouse, 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. No cover, no minimum. (818) 716-9736.

*

Bowing Home: The sound of orchestral strings fascinated pianist Alan Broadbent when he was growing up in Auckland, New Zealand. Later, skilled at composing and arranging, he employed strings in a jazz context with such pieces as "Variations on a Scene" with Woody Herman's band in the early '70s.

Now he's living on the Westside and arranging lush string sections for the likes of Natalie Cole (five tracks on her latest album, "Stardust"); pianist Marian McPartland; and bassist Charlie Haden.

"Working with strings is like painting," says Broadbent. "The melody and basic chord changes of a tune are like a pencil sketch, and now it's up to me to make it into a canvas."

On Sunday at the Alex Theatre, Broadbent will conduct a 22-piece string ensemble that will play with Haden's Quartet West, of which he is a member. The strings will perform arrangements Broadbent has written for such recent Haden albums as "Now Is the Hour" and "Always Say Goodbye."

These string parts have more than just a background role.

"When there is an improvisation, the strings are there like a carpet, to support the solo," he says. "But when the quartet is playing the melody of a tune, then I write more contrapuntally, more classical in character. It's a way of fusing the jazz with the quartet and the classical with the strings without compromising either."

* Charlie Haden's Quartet West (including 22-piece string section), and Jacky Terrason's trio appear at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets, $22.50-$29.50, at the Alex box office or by calling Tele-Charge (800) 233-3123.

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