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Charlie Arbelaez, explosive bebop alto saxist

The liveliest of jazz jams happens on Friday nights in La Mesa. A chance move brought it here: “I lived just up the hill, off University Avenue,” says Charlie Arbelaez, 27. Recently out of the Marines, the Florida-raised Arbelaez spent his four years at MCRD in San Diego playing duty saxophone in government bands and orchestras. But he’s also an explosive bebop alto saxist, and as such is able to carry his own weight with any of the current crop of jazz “young lions.” Listening to him tear through melodic ideas over a colossal 64-bar stretch, one wonders if Arbelaez isn’t using the bandstand as a place to complete his metamorphosis to civilian life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“This summer, I went to the Rook Bar during the World Cup. They had nine TVs. The place wasn’t trashy at all. And then, there was the theme of chess. My father taught me chess when I was four.” It’s like a time-warp, the Rook is. The bar is a swirling half-round heavy-beamed visage out of the 1960s. The regulars here play chess. Arbelaez and the owner came to an agreement, and a jam reminiscent of those at the long-gone Lennox Lounge in Harlem was launched.

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Charlie Arbelaez Jazz Jam

What makes any such jam work is pure chance, meaning whoever shows up to perform enlivens a session. Arbelaez and his core trio anchor the first hour with jazz that was invented in the 1940s and ’50s, and then guest players get a chance to chop it up for the rest of the evening. That’s when the sparks tend to fly. Enjoy it while it lasts — a musician of Arbelaez’s stripe can’t stay here forever, and he knows that. “I’m bound to end up in New York at some point,” he says. “It’s where you learn.” But whatever it is that’s left for him to learn, he does not say.

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The liveliest of jazz jams happens on Friday nights in La Mesa. A chance move brought it here: “I lived just up the hill, off University Avenue,” says Charlie Arbelaez, 27. Recently out of the Marines, the Florida-raised Arbelaez spent his four years at MCRD in San Diego playing duty saxophone in government bands and orchestras. But he’s also an explosive bebop alto saxist, and as such is able to carry his own weight with any of the current crop of jazz “young lions.” Listening to him tear through melodic ideas over a colossal 64-bar stretch, one wonders if Arbelaez isn’t using the bandstand as a place to complete his metamorphosis to civilian life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“This summer, I went to the Rook Bar during the World Cup. They had nine TVs. The place wasn’t trashy at all. And then, there was the theme of chess. My father taught me chess when I was four.” It’s like a time-warp, the Rook is. The bar is a swirling half-round heavy-beamed visage out of the 1960s. The regulars here play chess. Arbelaez and the owner came to an agreement, and a jam reminiscent of those at the long-gone Lennox Lounge in Harlem was launched.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Charlie Arbelaez Jazz Jam

What makes any such jam work is pure chance, meaning whoever shows up to perform enlivens a session. Arbelaez and his core trio anchor the first hour with jazz that was invented in the 1940s and ’50s, and then guest players get a chance to chop it up for the rest of the evening. That’s when the sparks tend to fly. Enjoy it while it lasts — a musician of Arbelaez’s stripe can’t stay here forever, and he knows that. “I’m bound to end up in New York at some point,” he says. “It’s where you learn.” But whatever it is that’s left for him to learn, he does not say.

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