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Tabackin Road

Influential saxophonist finds the path smoother touring as part of a trio.


Rhythm sections du jour.

That's what the persuasive jazz tenor saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin played with for many years. He'd usually tour from his New York home as a single and work with a pickup local rhythm section in clubs from Los Angeles to Paris.

"Sometimes you get good guys, sometimes you get guys that can't play very well," he said. "But you always have to make adjustments. You can never relax and just play music."

A couple of years ago, Tabackin said enough's enough. Now he almost always travels with his piano-less trio of bassist Philippe Aerts and drummer Mark Taylor. There's an immense difference in playing with people who are familiar with your musical approach, the saxophonist said.

"You know it's going to be good," said Tabackin, who appears with Taylor and Aerts on Thursday at Rocco in Beverly Glen. He also plays with the pair Sept. 24-25 at Steamers in Fullerton. On Monday, Tabackin appears at the Japan American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, led by his wife.

"With your own guys, you just concentrate on the music," Tabackin said recently. "It's a much more natural situation. Mark's volume is always perfect to whatever room we're in, and Philippe has a great sound that catches your attention. They make me feel really comfortable."

Tabackin plays tenor on the straight-ahead numbers, like the blues, and flute on more exotic pieces, such as his own "Desert Lady." Over the years, he said, he's learned to deliver a show that's balanced and accessible.

"I've been playing trio without piano since 1967, and at first I was too self-indulgent," he said. "Now, I try not to take myself seriously, take the music seriously but not be too self-absorbed, to develop some kind of rapport with the audience by programming pieces that are very straight ahead with things that are tongue-in-cheek, like 'Me and My Shadow.' Humor is important in jazz."

Every Tabackin performance includes a slow ballad, of which he is a master, especially given his gorgeous tenor tone.

"I like each note to have different colors, different intensities," he said. "You can say more with less if you deal with expression through sound."

Noteworthy: Ross Tompkins, one of Los Angeles' finest mainstream jazz piano stylists, performs solo Monday from 7 to 11 p.m. at Ca' del Sole, 4100 N. Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood. No cover, no minimum. (818) 985-4669. At the same haunt, same time Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, hear the ever-appealing jazz vocalists Stephanie Haynes and Andrea Baker.


Lew Tabackin's trio plays Thursday from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Rocco, 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel Air. $8 cover, two drink minimum. Call (310) 475-9807.

Zan Stewart writes about jazz for the Valley Edition. Reach him at

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