Joe Marillo (center): “You know, man, we’re in a new era."
Jazz finally seems to have come to San Diego. Just look at the last six months - Super Sax, Sarah Vaughan, Buddy Collette, Blue Mitchell and Harold Land with Bob Magnusson - or look at what’s coming — Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Mahavishnu, Newport Jazz Festival. The brainchild behind much of the new outpouring in this unlikely town is Joe Marillo, a pretty fair tenor saxophonist himself. He has been prudent enough in founding the non-profit Society for the Preservation of Jazz to keep his advertising bills to a minimum (non-profit status is a good toll in getting free publicity) and to get a place that allows him a stage rent-free (the Catamaran in Mission Beach makes enough off the drinks to provide a home for the Sunday night concerts). For five dollars a year one can become a (charter) member of the Society for a year, get a reduction on any Society-sponsored events, and congratulate himself on his new status as full-fledged supporter of jazz.
But maybe you’re like the lady on T.V. who says she hasn’t tried Food Basket beef and thinks she wouldn’t like it. You, too, should be assured that jazz fans in San Diego are neither blue-blooded, note-splitting snobs, nor underworld heavies; they really are just an assorted bunch of wholesome folk who have come across a good thing and like it. When you stop to think about it, where can you go and move around leisurely and look over the crowd and share a beer with the musicians when they take a rest?
It’s the informal, personal way the musicians play and talk with each other on stage and the way they experiment with new combinations of sounds that set the mood. Since you’re only a few feet away, you share in all of this directly. One wonders only how long the mood will last in San Diego.
Unlike the movies, some theatre, and most rock concerts, jazz entertainment is not pre-packaged. It’s closer to small, improvisational theatre where the players send out signals and need to decipher what comes back. Perhaps most of us are so suspicious and conservative about our fun-seeking - in sports, public media, and most music — because we are too removed from the performer - Curt Gowdy keeps droning, and we keep sighing.
It’s Sunday night several weeks ago, and Equinox is jamming with Joey Marillo at one of these aforementioned Sunday nights at the Catamaran. After finishing a Donald Birdker number, Marillo calls on the band members to run through short solos as fast as they can. Maybe this seems a little pedantic, but it’s a forced opportunity for the individual players to test their reflexes and ingenuity in front of strangers. (The quality of the efforts are mixed; it’s not something for the recording companies.) Then the band breaks up, people light up cigarettes, males stare at the cocktail ladies, everyone returns to their chatter. Two well-groomed men facing each other in a rear booth raise the volume of their conversation an octave. Their conversation is something about business, and they haven’t let up since the opening number. Mike Peed, the young scraggily-haired keyboardist with a distant look, meanders over to the piano, plops down on the corner of the stool, and tests a few notes. Now the corner conversation is something about money-lenders, credit, and a long-term lease. The piano notes bloom into bars, and one’s ears strain to hear a delicate, unfolding melody up and down the ivory. It requires work to tune in, stay tuned in, and log the progression. But it’s a pleasant task to put into order the sounds and movements in the room. The two young men.end their debate, and Mike plays on. He doesn’t seem to mind; he’s having a good time, too.
A visit with Marillo gives one the sense of a juggler trying to keep all the balls aloft. He’s a slight, wiry man, and when you first see him on stage, you wonder if he has trouble holding that big orange horn - until he starts playing it. He looks kind of like an Italian Sammy Davis, Jr. A closer look shows a well-traveled, even worn face, quite a contrast to the New York promo still perched on his living room mantle, “Joe Marillo and His Rockets,” with its short-clipped round heads, boyish smiles, and wide lapels.
“You know, man, we’re in a new era, people are really getting into the new music. The problem is jazz musicians know lots about playing, and not much about getting new people to listen to them .... that’s important, and that’s what we’re working on here.”
But why this new hunger for jazz, are people catching up to the music, or vice versa?
“What we’ve got going now is a mixture of the old and new - swing, bebop - what they call mainstream, and the newer stuff, like blues and rock. People were sitting around in the late Sixties and started hearing groups like Blood Sweat and Tears and Chicago – Hancock and Chick Corea have only been playing electric for a few years, you know; they got all their jazz training during the early rock years.”
If one talks to most hardcore fans, the charge of commercialism keeps popping up. Arguments rage over whether the wildly popular new jazz-rock is corrupting “real” jazz or whether people like Stanley Clarke, Alphonze Mouzon, and Billy Cobham are loosening things up, jumping the bridge for those who cut their teeth on rock music and now want more.
Chimes in Marillo: “I don’t think the current stars are hurting jazz. Remember, to be into jazz, you have to be able to play the instrument, and these people have the skill and discipline to get them where they are now — money and fame are okay, but that’s not what keeps them going. They’re professionals, their music is their lives, most of them don’t even think about it, it’s extraneous to their basic work, the practicing, the inspiration.”
Jazz also seems to be turning a younger audience on locally. Last month alone five local high schools and junior colleges sponsored big time jazz events. There’s 17-year-old Richard Upton at Southwestern College who is getting somewhat of a name for himself, and the Sprague Brothers in North County composing their own stuff. ,
“I heard Charlie Parker on the radio one day in Niagra Falls when I was seventeen and thought I’d like to do something like that. I played in New York, then the Atlantic City clubs, and finally Vegas. My music was bogged down at that last stop, and it took some time to realize what effect the town was having on my mental state. That’s when I moved to San Diego. It’s been great since.”
You can only hear jazzman Ron Gallon Saturday nights from 6 p.m. to I a.m. on KPBS-FM. 3ut he feels that jazz shouldn’t be relegated to horrible air times and magical night people.
Flashing Red Light: “Hi, Jack,how you doin’, man ... sure, I’ll play it for you .. .don’t give me that bullshit. Okay, take care ...”
“That guy calls up every week. He’s a blind musician, a little hard for him to get around, but we talk straight. ‘S got every reed instrument you can think of, gets upset with me if I play very much of the new stuff, but that’s all right. He’s my best critic.”
Ron says he gets a little tired of the job a lot of the jockeys pull on their audiences, especially on the younger ones. Kids are impressionable and all this cool-hype stuff just doesn’t let them develop their true personalities.
He has produced three live Saturday shows with the musicians jamming right in the studio. A group named Stream, with Butch Lacey, Steve O’Connor, and Bob Magnusson; the Daniel Jackson Group; and Jim Plank with Tripp and Peter Sprague. Another show is planned for June.
A few footnotes on what else is going on around San Diego in jazz:
The Crossroads, 4th and Market, downtown. A black and white crowd gets treated by Leroy Locke, sax and flute, and Equinox with Bruce Cameron, trumpet, Ronnie Stewart, drums, Mike Peed, keyboard, and James Hunt, bass. Friday and Saturday nights. Jam on Sunday, 6 to 10 p.m. Be sure to have California driver’s license - Chick Corea was kept out of here a few weeks ago because he only had an out-of-state I.D.
The Swan Song, 4287 Mission Blvd., Pacific Beach. Butch Lacey on keyboard, Steve O’Connor on guitar. Weekends. (Call first - they’ve been on vacation recently.)
The Safety. Good black music. Thursday through Sunday. 6323 Imperial. 263-4590.
Conception Bay Fish Co., Shelter Island. Total Spectrum. Very good jazz.
KSDS-FM, San Diego City College station. Jazz played 12 noon to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 12 to 12 on Friday. Local playing taped for broadcast.
KFSD-FM. Classical during the day. Jazz with Lee Mirabal, Saturday, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with Jay Morgan, Monday through Friday, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.