The electric guitar has had its share of extroverted heroes, flailing with abandon and brandishing a sneer and belief in the instrument's mythology as some shamanistic thunder stick.
Larry Nass, who played in numerous bands during the last 25 years around Ventura County and beyond, was from a different camp. When he played, he would hunch over the instrument, focus intently and retreat into another world.
What came out, though, was hardly intellectual or dry. He stitched together riffs, played the blues with smart heat, and played jazz with a particular slant and swagger. He had a real sound, in other words, instantly identifiable, and a legion of fans.
When he died last week at his home in Ojai of a stroke at age 47, Nass left a big void in the realm of this area's guitar heroes. Starting in his early 20s, Nass played in a succession of bands that managed to mix infectious energy and cerebral turns, including Mr. Skin, swapping riffs with fellow broad-minded guitarist Jim Monohan, and the Little Big Band. But most important was the band called the Eraserheads.
It was a brilliant accident of a band, formed on a whim for the birthday of drummer Tony Moreno. Celebrated locals were called in, in what cohered into a witty, limber variant on the theme of jazz-rock fusion.
Bassist Steve Nelson was the glue, writing clever tunes and providing the unerring bottom, and the band included trumpeter Jeff Elliott, who went on to play with Les McCann for years; Kei Akagi, the keyboardist who hooked up with Miles Davis; and Nass, whose voice as a soloist was a critical charm in the band's mix.
The Eraserheads' unique power, ironically, paved the path of their undoing as a band. When Brazilian jazz notables Airto and Flora Purim moved to Santa Barbara in the early 1980s, they stopped by to see the band at the old Baudelaire's in Santa Barbara and were so dazzled that they ended up hiring virtually the entire band. It was with that band that Nass toured the world, playing Carnegie Hall and the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Despite the musicians' divergent career paths, they enjoyed playing together and had reunions at Joseppi's in Santa Barbara as recently as a dozen years ago. Moreno's death 10 years back spelled the certain end of that band. Nass played in numerous other projects over subsequent years, including the popular R&B Bombers, and the Elliott-Nass Band, again finding ways to intermarry jazz, rock and blues.
Thursday night, Nass would have debuted his newest band, Existentialada. Today at 1 p.m. the band is having an official memorial service at the Ted Mayr Funeral Home in Ventura. There will be a musical tribute gig at the Ojai Valley Women's Center on Tuesday.
Something's wrong with this picture. A fixture of local culture is missing in action. He is missed already.
JAZZ IN THE ART HOUSE: Oxnard's Carnegie Art Museum is a fine spot to hear jazz, as shown in its summer jazz series. Some natural link exists between jazz and art, a trend also seen with afternoon jazz programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art. Sunday afternoon, catch the locally based, widely respected Latin jazz favorites the Estrada Brothers when they play amid the Carnegie's current Pop Art show.
ACADEMY REPORT: The condensed, impressive Music Academy of the West program continues at its steady pace, with a break in the Saturday orchestra concerts this week. But the weekly chamber music series Tuesday night at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara offers an especially healthy and diverse menu of music, from Biber and Haydn to the 20th century fare of Shostakovich and Penderecki. These Tuesday affairs are invariably strong, featuring faculty members stretching out.
Of course, there are always reasons to head up to the idyllic Music Academy campus, for master classes or the weekly "picnic concert," tonight at 7:30.
Estrada Brothers, on Sunday, July 23, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Carnegie Art Museum, 424 South C St., Oxnard. Tickets are $7 for museum members, and $9 for nonmembers; 385-8157.
Music Academy of the West, "Tuesdays at Eight," at Lobero Theatre, 33 W. Canon Perdido, Santa Barbara. Tickets are $25; 963-0761.