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Serious Sax

Benn Clatworthy proves practice makes perfect.

May 29, 1997|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Saxophonist Benn Clatworthy appeared at the 66 California Club in Ventura a couple of weeks ago and his performance went something like this:

He wore a dark, double-breasted jacket, a black turtleneck and a diamond stud in his left ear. He moved while playing, bending forward slightly, his left foot twisting as if continually putting out a cigarette. His tone was alternately pale as the moon's glow, robust as old cognac. His music could be complex, with notes as thick as a swarm of bees, or it could be simple, when he savored his note choices. He reached the audience, and warm applause greeted his solos.

Music, specifically modern mainstream jazz, is Clatworthy's life, and he treats it like a job. He thinks about music all the time and practices hard, from two to six hours every day. "I'm a slow learner, and it takes me a very long time to get things from practice into my playing. I don't go to a gig where I'm not nervous. That keeps you honest, keeps you working. There's nothing better than fear to keep you practicing."

The work is paying off for the saxophonist, who appears tonight at Jax in Glendale. Clatworthy's artistry boasts deep harmonic knowledge and superb technique, and he has developed an appealing style that's increasingly personal. This musical individualism wasn't always the case, as during a period some years back when the United Kingdom native was definitely emulating John Coltrane.

"A friend of mine told how I used to play Coltrane's 'Giant Steps' in 12 keys, but I don't remember," says Clatworthy, 42, a handsome, affable fellow whose most recent CD is "While My Lady Sleeps."

These days Clatworthy wants to play what's inside him, not someone else. "Coltrane is magnificent, and so is Sonny Rollins. He is one of my greatest loves," he says. "But I don't listen much to either of them because they take over, and you start to sound like them, which shows how powerful they are."

Asked what makes up his musical philosophy, he's direct. "I want to play beautiful," he says, his British accent distinct. "I want to play soft ballads that give people a chill, where I know the emotion is there. I want to play fast tunes that make you feel like you're on a roller coaster at Magic Mountain. We have a responsibility as musicians to move people, to give them some kind of feeling."

At Jax, Clatworthy will be joined by pianist David Goldblatt, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Jason Harnell, colleagues the leader cites for their dedication to the art of jazz. The musicians will play originals, some not-often-offered standards such as "Change Partners," and jazz classics, certainly a few by Thelonious Monk.

Monk "affects all kinds of people," says Clatworthy, who now lives in Whittier. "I'll be working in a restaurant with maybe just a pianist and we start to play some Monk, and people start smiling, people who wouldn't know who he was."

Jazz grabbed Clatworthy as a teenager in England. He was fascinated and became determined to learn it. "It's something that agrees with my system," he says, his voice soft. "It affects me and I want to affect it back. It's like falling in love with a woman. She gets to you and then you want to get to her. Then you're caught in the trap."

He laughs to lighten the statement. But you can tell: He's caught.

* Benn Clatworthy plays tonight, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m., at Jax, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. No cover, no minimum. Call: (818) 500-1604.

*

Singer Bows: Caecilie Norby, the Danish singer making her U.S. debut with a series of dates, likes to spread out her repertoire. On her latest Blue Note CD, "My Corner of the Sky," she delivers the standard "Just One of Those Things," Sting's "Set Them Free" and adds her own lyrics to Wayne Shorter's classic "Footprints," calling the number "African Fairytale."

"I've sung jazz, fusion and pop/rock, though now jazz draws me more," says Norby. She plays at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sam Goody at Universal CityWalk. No cover; $6 parking. (818) 763-4301 . . .

Spirited chanteuse Julie Kelly holds forth Saturday with an array of jazz material, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m., at J.P.'s Lounge, 1333 Hollywood Way, Burbank. No cover, no minimum. (818) 845-1800.

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