By Don Heckman
Bel Air, CA. Some of the best nights for jazz in Los Angeles take place on the week nights when the city’s prime jazz destinations – Catalina Bar & Grill, Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., the Blue Whale and beyond – schedule appearances by the Southland’s finest side men (and side women). By the players, in other words, who spend most of their time working as back-ups, rhythm sections and big band section players. Many of whom are also busy studio musicians, performing daily on the sound tracks for films and television, on recordings for everything from country music and the blues to jazz, pop and classical music.
Friday night at Vibrato was a good example. Bob Sheppard, a master of woodwind instruments of every shape and size, gave a full fledged display of his far-ranging jazz skills, backed by bassist Pat Senatore’s equally skillful trio of masterful instrumentalists (Senatore, bass; Tom Ranier, piano; Ramon Banda, drums).
At its best – which was throughout the entire set – the music had the laid back, spontaneous creativity of a jam session. And with good reason. Sheppard and the Senatore trio players have plenty of familiarity with each other, in all sorts of musical settings. And a relaxed, laid back gig in the amiable environs of Vibrato’s jazz-friendly setting allowed plenty of room for the music to flow freely.
With good reason, Sheppard was at the center of it all. And watching him proceed from one instrument to the other was not just a display of versatile technique. It was also an opportunity to enjoy the work of a masterful jazz artist – one who hasn’t yet received the widespread recognition that his talent deserves.
And there was another aspect as well. Sheppard played tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and clarinet. Many multi-instrument doublers, when they shift instruments, tend to play each from the same musical perspective (despite their inherent differences). But not Sheppard. Switching easily from soprano to tenor, for example, he was always firmly in touch with the unique qualities of each – and so, too, for his approach to the flute and the clarinet. The results were compelling, a fascinating display of imaginative versatility.
Sheppard and the Senatore Trio played their way through an appealing program: some floating bossa nova, airy flute sounds on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave”; lyrical soprano saxophone on “In Your Own Sweet Way”; hard driving tenor on “Easy Living”; a pairing of “Perdido” with “I Want To Be Happy.” And a lot more.
An evening, in other words, that was a reminder of how much fine jazz can be heard on any given week night in the Southland. Check the informative calendar of LA Jazz and you’ll find something appealing on virtually every night.