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Interests Off the Scale


Bill Cunliffe is one of the busiest pianists in Los Angeles, a town gaining deserved recognition for a wealth of A-1 keyboardists.

Cunliffe's the man at the 88s in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the jazz arm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also plays with bassist John Clayton and his sibling, saxophonist Jeff Clayton, in the Clayton Brothers quintet. Like the orchestra, the quintet includes drum great Jeff Hamilton, who joins Cunliffe in his organ trio. The keyboardist has a long-standing duo with flutist Holly Hoffman.

Despite all this, Cunliffe felt the need to expand. He fronts a piano trio, but because he wanted to write for horns, he has started a sextet. The band, comprising trumpeter Clay Jenkins, trombonist Bruce Paulson, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Jeff D'Angelo and drummer Joe LaBarbera, debuts Saturday at Rocco.

"I'm on a quest for something that sounds different," said Cunliffe, whose latest group album is "Bill Plays Bud."

Cunliffe is writing some original tunes for the Rocco debut, as well as arranging a pair of tunes by Thad Jones and Thelonious Monk.

"There's an Ornette Coleman-kind of free tune, there's another that's more impressionistic sounding, delicate and airy," he said. "And there's the Thad tune that is more in the Blakey groove, with interludes and all kinds of written out sections."

In Brief: Classy fusion guitarist Wayne Johnson works with bassist Jimmy Johnson and keyboardist Don Grusin on Wednesday night at Cafe Cordiale in Sherman Oaks. (818) 789-1985).

Singers Kevyn Lettau and Katia Moraes, both of whom deliver Brazilian-tinged material with consummate zest, appear tonight and Saturday at La Ve Lee in Studio City. (818) 980-8158).


Bill Cunliffe's sextet plays Saturday, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m, at Rocco Ristorante, 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel-Air. $8 cover, no minimum. Call (310) 475-9807.

Zan Stewart writes about jazz for the Valley Edition. He can be reached at

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