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MUSIC | SOUNDS

Love Songs

Married sax man and singer bring passion to music-making.

April 16, 1998|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ringo Starr had it right when he answered the musical question, "Would you believe in a love at first sight?"--in the Lennon-McCartney ditty, "A Little Help From My Friends"--by singing, "Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time."

Saxophonist Steve Wilkerson will definitely concur. When he was working as a musician in the pit band at the Miss Oklahoma pageant in Tulsa in the late '70s, he saw a lovely blond contestant and impulsively jumped out of his chair to introduce himself. Right time, wrong place.

"The bandleader said, 'Hey, sit down. The pit is not a dating game,' " Wilkerson recalled.

Wilkerson finally did meet the woman, a singer named Andrea Baker, but it took many dates over a two-year span for her to agree to marry him. The saxophonist's musical talent--when they met, he had played lead and solo jazz alto with Stan Kenton--helped.

"When I heard him, I knew I had to get to know him," Baker said.

The pair have been husband and wife, and musical partners, for 19 years, epitomizing the adage, "The family that plays together, stays together." Offering solid mainstream jazz, they appear on Friday at Chadney's in Burbank.

Bandstand compatibility is essential for such musical longevity, and these two have it, said Wilkerson.

"The chemistry is absolutely electric," said the saxophonist from the couple's home in West Covina. "I love the freshness of her voice. She's got her own thing. And the way she phrases on ballads reminds me of [the great tenor saxophonists] Lester Young and Stan Getz, she's so smooth."

"We're out of the same musicality," Baker said. "We both like energized performances, like to swing really hard. Even if it's a ballad, there's an intense, passionate approach."

Listen to the pair's "Classic Jazz" CD on their own Dane Records label, and you'll hear what Baker is talking about. A sumptuous ballad, titled "Variations on a Theme by Ellington," has a spark and drive as interpreted by Wilkerson, a vital alto saxophonist with a ruby-colored tone and immaculate execution.

On the flip side, Baker's up-tempo version of "Dearly Beloved," done in her clear, ringing alto voice, sizzles with rhythmic panache. On the bandstand, they draw from a broad repertoire, doing everything from the selections mentioned above to bebop anthems and engaging originals.

"We like to mix things up," said Baker.

Although they are best known as each other's musical partner, they also work separately. Wilkerson appears with Jack Sheldon's big band and recorded a warm solo on Frank Capp's Juggernaut's "Play It Again, Sam" CD. Baker, who has released her own album, "An Evening of Love Songs," has appeared with Sheldon, Capp and trumpeter Ray Anthony.

Wilkerson is from Iola, Kan. Baker was born in Muskogee, Okla. Each is a university grad--he has a B.A. in music education, she has a master's in voice--and they are both deeply involved in music education. Wilkerson heads the jazz program at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, and Baker teaches in the Monrovia Unified School District.

The saxophonist summed up their feelings about teaching when he said: "You take some of your knowledge, give it to the kids, and then turn them loose and let them play. It makes you smile."

Steve Wilkerson and Andrea Baker perform Friday, 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.

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QUICK HITS: Fully recovered from a serious illness that held him back a year ago, veteran saxophonist Bill Perkins is at it full tilt. The reed and woodwind artist, who for five decades has been a central cog in bands in the L.A. area, both as a leader and sideman, continues to find new things to say. Check him out on Friday, 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., at Jax (339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; no cover, no minimum; [818] 500-1604) . . .

In the mood for a few songs a la Ol' Blue Eyes? Well, it's Sinatra time when singer Vic Feniello and pianist Jerry Harrison get together Sunday (and April 21 and 26), 7 to 11 p.m., at Monteleone's West (19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; no cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum; [818] 996-0662) . . .

For a dandy array of contemporary tunes, some with a dash of Brazilian zest, go hear the vibrant singer Kevyn Lettau, who serenades listeners on Friday and Saturday, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., at La Ve Lee (12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; $10, two-drink minimum; [818] 980-8158).

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