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Mixing It Up

Multitalented jazz musician plays the field of instruments.

March 19, 1998|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Saxophonist-clarinetist-flutist John Bolivar will reach a major milestone on his birthday in July: 40 years as a musician, and about 35 as a professional.

The hard-swinging, communicative Bolivar, who plays Friday at Chadney's in Burbank, got a clarinet for his 13th birthday. "I had been playing songs on bottles filled with different amounts of water, but it took so long to play a tune, my folks figured they had to get me something," said the Houston native. A few years later came his first jobs, playing straight-ahead jazz saxophone "as well as I could then."

From those humble beginnings, the well-liked Bolivar, who lives in North Hollywood, has added a raft of instruments and has played thousands of jobs, from R & B to gospel, Latin jazz to Dixieland. It's hard to pick a top 10 list of gigs, there have been so many, he said.

Friday at Chadney's will undoubtedly head toward a top 10'er. Helping Bolivar deliver plenty of solid jazz heat will be a fine trio: George Gaffney, who will be one of the first to play on the brand-new Kawai piano that was installed late last month; bassist John Heard; and drummer Frank Wilson. Bolivar extolled the virtues of his colleagues.

"George is like an orchestra," he said about the former accompanist to the great Sarah Vaughan. "His accompanying is like a warm blanket on a cold night: he just wraps himself around you."

Heard, who's played with Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, has "incredible precision," Bolivar said, "and great musical instincts." And of Wilson, who was once a traps man for Jimmy Smith, Bolivar said: "Frank's like a freight train: His time doesn't budge."

At Chadney's, the foursome will investigate the jazz repertoire, which means you might hear such classics as "Stella by Starlight" or "Nica's Dream." "Those kinds of tunes . . . give you a lot to work with," said Bolivar, whose two most recent albums, "Joy" and "Live All Night Long" (co-led with pianist Billy Mitchell), are on the USA label. "And when you play with brilliant people like George, Frank and John, you never know where the excitement or direction will come from."

One thing Bolivar likes to do on a jazz gig is mix things up, playing as slow ballads tunes normally heard at medium or fast tempos, say "Take the 'A' Train" or "Cherokee."

Bolivar fell for jazz as a youth. "While the other kids were outside, I'd be inside, spinning 78 rpm records of people like Harry James and Earl Bostic," he said. Choice influences, such as Hubert Laws and Pepper Adams, have helped Bolivar mold his craft, but he likes young musicians too. "I heard something by Joshua Redman that made me pull off the freeway and say, 'Who is that?' " he said.

Working a lot these days, Bolivar is most happy in music. "I get to do something I've loved all my life and make a pretty fair living at it," he said. "That feels really good."

* John Bolivar plays 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.

Quick Hits: Mike Campbell doesn't get out enough. Ensconced inside a classroom at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, or at his home-based studio in North Hollywood, the tenor shows youngsters and oldsters alike the keys to delivering a song. It's good news, then, that Campbell will share his considerable vocal charms with the rest of us, offering a breadth of delicious material tonight, 7 to 11 p.m., at Ca' del Sole (4100 N. Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood; no cover, no minimum; [818] 985-4669).

The L.A. Jazz Quartet is one of our town's better outfits. The members--guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, saxophonist Chuck Manning and drummer Kevin Tullius--are aces; I just wish they would play more often. The band celebrates the release of the just-out CD "Look to the East," offering music that has plenty of swing on Wednesday at Chadney's (also 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., no cover, one-drink-minimum per show).

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