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Saxophonist in Sync

Jazz Quartet musician finds L.A. provides the right setting for his sound. The group will play in Bel-Air.


What does Los Angeles offer a jazz musician that New York doesn't? Tenor saxophonist Chuck Manning has found L.A. to be a place where musicians nurture each other, where individualism is highly honored. That's why he chose to establish himself here after growing up in Maryland and attending the University of North Texas.

"In L.A., so many great players form a support network, and you can do your own thing without a lot of pressure to conform," said Manning, who has lived in the Los Angeles area since 1980 and now lives in Pasadena. "In New York, there's more competition, more push to be successful. Here, because there's less money in jazz, it's more of a breeding ground for creative individual expression. And there seems to be more humanity and warmth in the musicians, and that's carried over to the music."

Manning has been fortunate to form associations with many of the town's finest players, from avant-garde cornetist Bobby Bradford to guitarists Dave and Larry Koonse and bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz. He plays with the latter two in the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet and appears with Dave Koonse, Larry's father, on Friday at Rocco in Bel-Air.

The saxophonist appears with Bradford, the former colleague of innovative saxophonist Ornette Coleman, in the cornetist's Mo'Tet.

"Playing with Bobby has allowed me to believe in my own line of musical thought and follow it, even if it crashes headlong into whatever everybody else is doing," Manning said. "He has influenced me to take risks."

Manning knows Larry Koonse from gigs years ago at the defunct Pasadena club, Le Omelette. In 1993, with Oleszkiewicz and drummer Kevin Tullius, they formed the LAJQ, which plays Rocco on Oct. 16. The group will also release its third CD later this month, coinciding with a performance in Paris. In this setting, Manning feels completely at home. "We've been together for so many years, we all feel very confident," he said. "I think we're both very polished and, at the same time, loose and creative."

On Friday at Rocco, Manning steps into another comfortable environment. Here, the saxophonist investigates interesting standards, from "Embraceable You" to "Soul Eyes," with Dave Koonse, the veteran guitarist who played with George Shearing.

"Dave, who has such maturity and knowledge, plays in a very understated way," said Manning. "He's the kind of player I'd like to be in the audience listening to." Bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay will also perform.

Manning cites a range of players--from John Coltrane to Chet Baker ("He always seemed to be singing through his horn," he said of the latter)--as having influenced him. As for his own playing, he wants to have emotional impact, he said. "Whether I'm playing standards or totally abstract, I want to be emotionally uninhibited but with lots of thought as well."

Manning got into jazz at age 11 and never left. "It made me feel so excited, like it was a form of utopia," he said. "Jazz represented the way the world should be. As far as making a living at it, I've had my doubts, but I've never doubted the purpose, which is to provide a window to the soul and this utopia I see."

* Chuck Manning plays Friday, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Rocco, 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel-Air. No cover, no minimum. Call (310) 475-9807.


Quick Hits: Singer Julie Kelly, who can both swing hard and provoke emotions, joins the equally resplendent pianist Bill Cunliffe for an evening of sumptuous standards tonight, 7 to 11, at Monteleone's West (19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. No cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum; (818) 996-0662).

Benn Clatworthy is a solid tenor saxophonist whose tone has the pale glow of a full moon and whose improvisatory ideas reveal affection for the harmonic insights of John Coltrane. Expect not-often heard selections when Clatworthy leads a quartet on Wednesday, 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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