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Rusch Hour

Seasoned trumpeter is improvising again.

May 15, 1997|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's a recent Sunday night at the Cat and Fiddle Pub in Hollywood and the trumpeter Jerry Rusch is sitting in with Pat Britt's quartet, improvising on the old standard "If I Were a Bell."

Rusch measures a bit over 6 feet but stands so straight he looks taller. He plays with his eyes closed, his arms raised from his sides forming a triangle with his horn. He delivers his notes with his own sound--a bold, penetrating tone that has warmth at its core. His ideas, be they brief phrases or longer strands, are impressive in their fluidity, their melodic grace, their propulsive swing.

An outstanding and seasoned jazzman, Rusch comes from St. Paul, Minn., but has lived mainly in Southern California since 1966. Here, he has performed and recorded with many greats, from Gerald Wilson and Joe Henderson to Ray Charles and Willie Bobo. In the '70s, he was a regular in the L.A. recording studios, though he no longer does that type of work.

In fact, the once quite-active Rusch performs only occasionally these days, whatever the situation, and counts on a day job as an electrician to pay the bills. That makes his engagement tonight with his quartet at Chadney's in Burbank special, for it gives him a chance to explore his favorite pastime: improvising jazz.

He talks about the art in reverential terms.

"It's a type of communication I can't reach any other way," says Rusch, a young 54. "It's somewhat cerebral, but it's just as much animal, physical. If you're really into it, it's sort of like going into a dream state where you're not aware of your surroundings. Jazz is very euphoric. If you approach it with a good attitude, which is the key to the whole process of playing good music, you can reach some sublime feelings and thoughts. You can elevate your existence, go somewhere you've never been before."

At Chadney's, where he's appearing for the first time, Rusch will bring along a foursome of Hideaki Tokunagu on guitar, Louie Spearson bass, and Donald Dean on drums. The trumpeter has been performing with CalArts grad Tokunagu, who is often called simply "Hide" (He-day), at Dinner House M in Los Angeles, and plays with Spears as part of Britt's band at the Cat and Fiddle. Dean is another of his favorite players.

"These musicians are indeed special," says Rusch, whose latest album, "Native L.A.," is on his own Jeru Records. "Louie is almost like family, and Donald is such a compassionate person and musician. It's particularly interesting playing with Hide, because the guitar makes so much space available, as opposed to piano, that it frees my mind."

Rusch, who is from a musical family--his uncle Herman Straka has played violin under such esteemed conductors as Arturo Toscanini and Eugene Ormandy--began to play trumpet at age 8. "It was very natural for me. I could get a sound easily," he says. He came to Los Angeles after studying at the University of Minnesota and was soon heard with Wilson, Charles, Latin jazz innovator Arsenio Rodriguez and others. Then came the studio work. But no more.

The musician is content with a life split between music gigs and work as an electrician, his father's trade.

"It frees me from having to play bad music for a living," he says. "But if I could play jazz full time and make a good living, I would do it."

* Jerry Rusch plays tonight, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, one-drink minimum per show. (818) 843-5333.

*

Quick Hits

Dwight Tribble has a resounding tenor-baritone that can reach barrel-bottom low and rafter high. Tribble performs Sunday, 6:30 p.m., at the Jazz Vespers at First Lutheran Church in Glendale (1300 E. Colorado St., Glendale. Free, donations accepted. [818] 240-9000). . . .

Two local aces celebrate new albums out this week. Saxophonist/composer Dale Fielder's "Ocean of Love and Mercy," recorded in December at First Lutheran Glendale, is out now on Cadence Jazz. Fielder and crew, with pianist Jane Getz, play Friday at Chadney's. Barbara Morrison, that gritty, persuasive belter of blues, ballads and swing tunes, has released "I'm Gettin' 'Long All Right" on Chartmaker records. She appears with Bill Liston's big band on Tuesday, 8 and 10 p.m., at the Moonlight Tango Cafe (13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. $13 cover for 8 p.m. show, $9 for 10 p.m. $9.95 food or drink minimum. [818] 788-2000).

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