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Like the Bird

Tenor saxophonist Jay Migliori says playing with jazz great Charlie Parker proved pivotal to his career.

March 20, 1997|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's from the distance of recordings, books and films that most of us know jazz alto sax genius Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. Tenor saxophonist Jay Migliori was lucky enough to have encountered Parker up close and personal.

That interaction, during Parker's stand at the Hi-Hat club in Boston in 1954, lasted only three days and included a performance and some hanging out. Brief as it was, that encounter remains the highlight of Migliori's early career.

"I still think about that night," said Migliori, a solid veteran jazz tenor man who is capable of delivering fleet-fingered ideas that ring in the ear. "I think it really helped me over the years."

Migliori, who plays tonight through Saturday at Monty's Steakhouse in Woodland Hills, met Parker at an afternoon jam session. Then, when he went to hear Bird at the Hi-Hat, Parker told him not to return the following evening unless he brought his horn. Migliori did. They played several classic Parker tunes ("I knew all his songs," Migliori says) for a broadcast emceed by the noted disc jockey Symphony Sid Torin. At one point, Torin interviewed Parker about Migliori, and Bird said, "He sounds good. I like his style."

The tenor man knew he had played way over his head. "But Bird, who was a gentleman, was such a strong presence on the bandstand that he sort of took you along with him," Migliori said of the evening documented on "Bird in Boston: Live at the Hi-Hat, Vol. 2" on Fresh Sounds Records.

Migliori talked about Parker's impact. "I consider him to be the greatest improviser who ever lived," Migliori said in a phone interview from his home in Mission Viejo. (In the background was the convivial tumult of a dinner party. "Typical Sunday," said Migliori, sounding younger than his 66 years.)

"Bird was like a Mozart," said Migliori, whose latest album is "Smile" (Cexton Records). "He was the catalyst of the whole modern jazz thing. And he had a sound that went right through you, not loud but intense."

Parker's influence has been a fairly constant factor in Migliori's life. In the early '70s--after playing with the bands of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton and making pop records with the Beach Boys and Glen Campbell--Migliori joined Supersax, the ensemble built around a five-saxophone section that plays orchestrated Parker solos. And he tries to play Bird's music at each of his own performances, noting that "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Confirmation" will be on tap when he appears at Monty's with drummer Danny Pucillo's trio.

"Confirmation," with its complex chord structure and unique melody, is challenging, which Migliori likes. "I look forward to getting through it correctly. It's like running the rapids."

Jazz grabbed the Erie, Pa., native as a teenager and has never let go. "You have to compose at the same time you're playing," Migliori said. "The music goes by and it's like you're watching it, but you can't stop it. You have to fill in as much as possible. That still fascinates me."

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The Boys in Her Band: Pianist-composer Cecilia Coleman debuts her new quintet Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., at Jax (339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; no cover, no minimum; [818] 500-1604). On board are Gerry Pinter (saxes), Steve Huffsteter (trumpet--the only returnee), Dean Koba (drums) and Christoph Luty (bass). The leader felt she needed to re-form her group, "which had great peaks," to keep her performances fresh.

"Now we can play some of the first tunes I wrote, and they'll have a whole new sound," said Coleman, whose latest CD, featuring her prior band, is "Home" (Resurgent Music). "This is a hard-edged bop sound that I have been gravitating toward."

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A Time for Words: Singer Gracie Speranza has a thing for evergreen Broadway show tunes. "I love a really great lyric," said Speranza, who works Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., at J.P.'s Lounge (1333 Hollywood Way, Burbank; no cover, no minimum; [818] 845-1800). She'll back that up by including such classics as "Some Other Time" and "My Foolish Heart" in her performance.

BE THERE

Jay Migliori plays tonight through Saturday with Danny Pucillo's trio at Monty's Steakhouse, 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. Show times: tonight, 7:30-11:30 p.m.: Fri. and Sat., 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. No cover, no minimum. (818) 716-9736.

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