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Top-Notch Talent

Home-grown musicians make Valley jazz spots their regular roosts.


Like any self-respecting jazz addict, I'm crazy about New York. Not living there, surrounded by all those jazz clubs, can sometimes get me down.

I live instead in Southern California, surrounded by orange trees and movie studios. Still, I need a regular hit of live jazz. Fortunately, I know I can get some pretty good stuff in the Valley.

The Valley takes a lot of jibes for being over the hill from Hollywood, from downtown, from Beverly Hills, from anywhere. But if you look in the directory for Local 47--the musicians union--you'll find that some of the best players around live in our climes. Saxophonists such as Pete Christlieb, Bob Sheppard and Lanny Morgan, pianists Claude Williamson and Terry Trotter and bassists Bob Maize and Dave Carpenter all live--and play--here.

It was with the idea of a year-end, year-beginning assessment of the Valley jazz scene, as well as a fun cruise, that I hit several clubs in blitz fashion, venturing out on a recent Thursday and the following Friday. It didn't take me long to find the ubiquitous Carpenter.

The thirtysomething bass master, who has played with Buddy Rich, Allan Holdsworth and Bill Holman, was working at La Ve Lee in Studio City where he appears regularly with guitarist Scott Henderson's band. (12514 Ventura Blvd.; $5 cover, two-drink minimum; [818] 980-8158, sets at 9:30 and 11:30 p.m.)

Henderson, who's at La Ve Lee tonight (and Jan. 8, 15 and 29), has played with such headliners as Jean-Luc Ponty and Joe Zawinul, and has plenty of jazz chops. On that Thursday, he and his band--Dave Witham on keyboards and Gary Novak, drums--lit into a steamy version of Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" that was as modern and inventive as anything you'd find in the Big Apple. And there was Carpenter, providing the big, fat bottom notes that buoyed his partners.

La Ve Lee is home to contemporary jazz and to Latin sounds as well. Take this Friday and Saturday, when you can hear that sweet popping sound that Poncho Sanchez gets when he whaps his conga drums. Sanchez, one of the most popular Latin artists in the United States, plays the room often; he'll be on hand Jan. 23 and 31.

For something of a quite different flavor, I went to Casey's Tavern (22029 Sherman Way, Canoga Park; no cover or minimum; [818] 992-9362). Here the fare is traditional jazz, which essentially means that the music is not too loud, played with great melodic feeling and swings. On that same Thursday, Lloyd Hebert's Blue Lagoon Band was taking care of business in the unpretentious joint.

Hebert, who is equally skilled as a trombonist and pianist, led his cohorts through tunes that included "Hindustan," a classic jazz number from the '30s, to "Samba de Orfeo," the upbeat Luis Bonfa piece from the film "Black Orpheus." Hebert, ace trumpeter Woody James (head of the music department at Los Angeles City College) and guest trombonist Jackson Stock each delivered juicy, heart-felt solos that had a foot-tapping feeling. I promised myself I'd come back to hear this band, which plays every Thursday, or Evie and All That Jazz, appearing each Saturday.

That night, I also popped into Monty's in Woodland Hills, which features music groups Thursdays through Saturdays. At Encino's Papashon there's music five nights a week, and things are really bustling at the Moonlight in Sherman Oaks where acts perform every night. Ca' Del Sole in North Hollywood presents top singers and pianists Wednesdays to Mondays.

The next night, I started by checking out the easy swinging sounds of pianist Pete Jolly's trio at Monteleone's (19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; no cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum; [818] 996-0662).

Working with his cohorts of almost 30 years--bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Nick Martinis--Jolly offered polite jazz to a packed house. "What Now My Love" and "That Old Black Magic" were among the gentle-on-the-ears selections. Jolly returns to the room Jan. 8.

Then came a quick peek into the Baked Potato, the tiny room owned by pianist Don Randi (3787 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood. $10 cover, two-drink minimum; (818) 980-1615). Contemporary guitarist Jeff Richman, who is a bit more into sound effects than Henderson, led a band that sported a resounding thump offered by drummer Tom Brechtlein. Earplugs weren't a bad idea.

Things were of a much more traditional nature at Chadney's (3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one-drink minimum per show; [818] 843-5333). Backed by a trio led by Jake Hanna, the great ex-Woody Herman drummer, Polly Podewell (an ex-Herman singer) laid out solid standards to a talkative crowd.

The lounge here is the Valley's top call for mainstream jazz, providing sounds six nights a week, including big bands on Mondays.

My last call of the evening was at Jax (339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; no cover, no minimum; [818] 500-1604). In the narrow restaurant-bar, pianist-composer Cecilia Coleman led her quintet through such originals as "Divine" and "Words of Wisdom."

Listening to the crackling solos by trumpeter Steve Huffsteter and tenor man Jerry Pinter, I felt as if I could have been in Manhattan. Only this was better. I didn't have jet lag and I could sleep in my own bed.

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