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Valley Life | jazz riffs

Sax Tells the Story

George Harper delivers a rich, fluid sound playing 'about life.'

March 09, 2001|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tenor saxophonist George Harper caught the jazz bug when he was a teenager and has never recovered.

"Jazz? Oh man, I loved it when I first heard it," he said. "I love the hard drive of it, the beauty. It's timeless."

But Harper, who plays tonight at Charlie O's in Valley Glen, found out early on that most full-time musicians do not make much of a living. He eventually made his career in the aerospace industry while keeping his hand in music.

Only in the last five years has he exclusively been playing horn and with gigs such as touring with singers Ray Charles and Bobby Caldwell, and such jazz jobs as a week with organ great Jimmy Smith and one-nighters at Charlie O's.

"Your playing is about life, and the deeper you get, the more experiences you have, the heavier story you have to tell," said the musician, who was born in Savannah, Ga., and lives in Los Angeles.

A man with a rich sound who delivers fluid, melodic improvisations, Harper can handle any type of tune, but he likes ballads best.

"Up-tempos are challenging," he said. "You've got to know what you're doing if you're going to play fast. Medium tempos are great because you can swing. There's nothing like swinging. But I really love to play ballads because they are so beautiful and allow you to sing with your horn."

Backed by John Heard's trio at Charlie O's, Harper will investigate a variety of tunes from classic standards to jazz ballads such as Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes," which he recorded on an album in the 1970s with organist Doug Carn.

"I'm a spontaneous type of player, not a planner," he said. "It's exciting because you never know what's going to happen. Hopefully, it's all good."

Also noteworthy: L.A.'s king of Latin jazz, conga drummer Poncho Sanchez, plays tonight and Saturday night at 9:30 at La Ve Lee, 12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. $10, two-drink minimum. (818) 980-8150.

Lyrical fluegelhornist-vocalist Stacy Rowles holds forth Thursdays at 9 p.m. at the Money Tree, 10149 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake. No cover, two-drink minimum. (818) 752-8383.

Dale Fielder, a dynamic saxophonist and composer, plays Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Spazio, 14755 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. No cover, no minimum. (818) 728-8400.

BE THERE

George Harper plays tonight at 8 at Charlie O's Bar & Grill, 13725 Victory Blvd., Valley Glen. No cover, no minimum. Call (818) 994-3058.

*

Zan Stewart writes about jazz for the Valley Edition. He can be reached at zansky@AOL.com.

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