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He's Jammed With the Giants

Joy infuses the playing of Bob Maize, a bassist who has learned from some of jazz's best.

June 12, 1997|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bob Maize has a thing for jazz. You can hear it when he plays, the way his walking bass lines throb behind a soloist, how there's a decided arc and fall in his swinging solo ideas. You can also tell it when he talks about jazz, the way his voice rises, how his face flushes when he gets excited.

For instance, when Maize is asked what he learned in the '60s, playing night after night at after-hours jam sessions in the house trio at the Soulville Club in San Francisco, the bassist is decidedly emphatic.

"I learned passion, I learned to play, to really play," the San Diego native says, speaking louder as he goes on, leaning forward and grabbing the air with his hands.

"Fellow bassist John Heard used to say that our education was organic. I was on stage, playing with guys who were older than I was, and I had to deliver right then. There were no amps in those days. It was all acoustic music and you had to play the feeling."

Through the years, Maize's passion has grown, and so has his reputation. He has performed and/or recorded with many jazz giants, among them pianists Horace Silver and Hank Jones, singers Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day and Mel Torme and drummer Philly Joe Jones. He's currently a key member in Danny Pucillo's trio, with whom he plays Wednesdays through Saturdays at Monty's Steakhouse in Woodland Hills. Tonight the band backs alto sax marvel Lanny Morgan.

"I like Monty's because it's interesting playing behind different people each week, and often we get a nice audience," says Maize, 52, who lives in Burbank with his wife, Marie.

Maize describes the role of the bassist in a jazz trio: "You form the link between the rhythm of the drums and the notes from piano so it makes a unified whole like a platform that supports the soloist," he says. "You want to get it to swing. That's the feeling of happiness and joy, like you're having a party. My dad, who was a part-time pianist, always played '30s and '40s swing music around the house and that's what I liked about it: It always sounded like you were in the middle of a party."

One of the most facile and dynamic of jazz bass soloists, Maize says his goal in an improvisation is to play something musical. "I always wanted to play the same notes the other instruments were playing, those melodies," he says. "So that if you wrote it down and played it on the piano, it would sound like music."

Maize got off to an early start: He played piano at age 5, took up bass at 12 and worked his first job at 13, with his father. In high school, a trio he was in appeared for a few Sundays at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, where he heard such greats as Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie. He moved to San Francisco after high school and returned to Southern California in 1980. He's glad he did.

"Since I came back, I've traveled to Europe and Japan many times and have made a lot of records," he says, citing such artists as Silver, Phil Woods and Rosemary Clooney. It was also in our climes that he worked with Vaughan, whose voice Maize found fascinating. "She had a tremendous range, not only in notes but emotions," he says. "One minute she'd sound like a 10-year-old girl, the next a crusty old drummer."

Jazz has given Maize more than he could have asked, or expected. "I've gotten to play with so many people that were my idols, and in nearly all instances, I was not disappointed," he says, beaming. "It's been a tremendous fulfillment of my life. I never had the slightest idea I would do as well as I've done."

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

*

Bass Redux: Chuck Berghofer is an another superb bassist who is out and about this weekend. A Southern California standout since the late '50s, Berghofer's big, beefy tone and singing notes have been heard with Shelly Manne, Herb Ellis, Ray Charles, Vaughan and Pete Jolly, the pianist he first teamed up with in 1963. The bassist and drummer Nick Martinis, who's also been with Jolly for ages, join the pianist for very palatable outings on Friday, from 8:30 to 1 a.m., at Monteleone's (19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; no cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum; [818] 996-0662).

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