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O.C. Jazz

Orange County's New Juice

Concert halls and neighborhood hangouts are drawing name performers and enthusiastic audiences.


It didn't take Ken Burns to pump up O.C.'s jazz scene, which has been growing of late with the addition of some noteworthy outlets for live music. But with the recent PBS "Jazz" series piquing the public's interest, there has hardly been a better time to go looking for the music in the county.

The launch of the Newport Beach Jazz Party at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Tennis Club this weekend, and solid lineups at the area's clubs the next several days, contribute to a delicious problem for jazz fans: Which, among many competing acts, should they go hear?

The Newport event hosts such world-class, mainstream stalwarts as the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, organist Joey DeFrancesco's trio, bebop-minded reed ensemble Supersax with the LA Voices, and the trombone ensemble Bone Soir.

Also featured are such internationally known musicians as saxophonist Harry Allen; pianist Pete Jolly; clarinetist Ken Peplowski; pianists Bill Cunliffe, Gerald Wiggins and Tom Ranier; vocalist Sue Raney; drummers Frank Capp and Kenny Washington; trumpeters Stacy Rowles and Conte Candoli; and flutist Holly Hofmann.

Over at the Jazz Club in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, New York-based violinist Regina Carter, cited in the Burns documentary as an emerging jazz talent, takes up shop Friday and Saturday with her quintet. The respected trombonist Bill Watrous, a veteran of the bands of Quincy Jones, Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman, performs Friday at Steamers in Fullerton and Saturday at Vanilla's Caffe in Orange. Vocal craftsman and Orange County regular Dewey Erney lends charm to the recently reopened Restaurant Kikuya in Huntington Beach tonight.

Mainstream not your thing? Keyboardist Rob Mullins and saxophonist Greg Vail explore the funky side of swing Friday at Spaghettini in Seal Beach and Saturday at Restaurant Kikuya. The Banda Brothers, longtime members of the Poncho Sanchez band, bring their brand of Latin jazz to Steamers tonight.

Also tonight, the House of Blues in Anaheim features swing revival band Royal Crown Revue.

Throw in such intimate, ongoing appearances as keyboardist and recording artist Ron Kobayashi at Oyster's Restaurant in Corona del Mar tonight and Friday, and swing saxophone legend Doc Anello at Maggiano's Little Italy every Monday in Costa Mesa, two of many such regularly scheduled performances at lounges and restaurants countywide, and you've got a broad cross-section of music that people in such reputed jazz hotbeds as Kansas City and St. Louis would envy.

"There's no question that there's a healthy appetite for jazz in Orange County," said bassist Luther Hughes, a Huntington Beach resident who has booked music into various Orange County venues over the last 15 years. "In Southern California, we have the greatest pool of top-notch musicians outside of New York, and if you can get the word out that somebody like [trombonist] Watrous is playing here, the people turn out."

As evidence of that talent pool, Hughes pointed out two upcoming tribute nights at Vanilla's that he's arranged, both focused on individuals central to Burns' documentary. The first, on March 2, pays homage to Duke Ellington, with an ensemble led by former Ellington trumpeter-arranger Bill Berry. The second, March 10, pays tribute to revered composer-pianist Horace Silver, with a group that includes trumpeter Ron Stout and saxophonist Rickey Woodard, both alumni of Silver's later ensembles. Silver, now a resident of Malibu, is scheduled to attend but not perform, Hughes said.

Terence Love, whose Steamers Cafe has been ground zero in the Orange County jazz explosion since opening in 1994, said the broadcast of Burns' documentary has spurred new interest in his club.

"Ken Burns raised the awareness of the jazz-uninitiated and sparked a fire under the dormant jazz lover. The inner circle has their criticisms and might be making fun of Wynton [Marsalis] saying, '[Jazz] is like gumbo.' But 'Jazz' was a very cool thing. It didn't hurt business. It just increased it."

So attractive is the state of jazz in Orange County that both Love, who noted that last year was by far his best, and the producers of the Newport Jazz Party said they draw considerable portions of their audience from outside the county.

"As much as 70%, maybe 80% of our audience comes from outside the area," said co-producer John McClure, noting that attendees at the last West Coast Jazz Party, held annually over Labor Day weekend at the Irvine Marriott hotel, came from throughout the U.S. as well as England, Australia and Brazil.

Cooperation among promoters in the county also fuels the revival. Case in point: Fans who can't make it to see headliner DeFrancesco's Friday performance at the Newport Beach Jazz Party--which was close to being sold out at press time--can catch the organist Saturday or Sunday night at Steamers.

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