By Myrna Daniels
Of course I knew who Stix Hooper was. He was the drummer for the very popular group of musicians, The Crusaders. They were traveling all over the world, spreading the good vibes of jazz which was immensely popular. The crowds went crazy for their upbeat, joyous music. It made people get up and move! Each member was able to branch off to do their own pet projects. Today, Hooper produces his own CD’s and travels for work whenever he’s ready. He loves to fish and now lives in an area that provides him with opportunities to do that whenever he wants to. I would call him a very lucky man.
As I write this, the radio has announced that Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Magazine and the Playboy Jazz Festival has just passed away at the age of 91. Hefner loved jazz and promoted it from the start and I remember watching his TV show, which featured many well known jazz musicians. It was very cool for its time and I missed it when it was off the air.
By the time that the Playboy Jazz Festival took place at the Hollywood Bowl I was able to enjoy many jazz performers who were “new to me.” I knew nothing about jazz but I liked it. I liked what it offered, music that could swing like crazy then break your heart with tenderness. It created an experience that was pertinent, instantaneous, inclusive, tender and rowdy.
The Playboy Jazz Festival is the highlight of the year in Los Angeles for jazz fans All the greats have performed there and today it welcomes the newest stars of jazz. It’s a lot of fun for fans and performers alike. I assume that the 2018 festival next summer will honor Hugh Hefner’s dedicated support of jazz.
As a fan I was inspired to put together a small newsletter that I typed and copied and would drop off at a few jazz clubs. Soon after that small effort the decision was made to produce a jazz newspaper for the L.A. area. 28 years later we are no longer a jazz newspaper but rather a jazz website. Times change, the world moves along to new forms of entertainment and information.
Stix Hooper has followed his own path and still travels to meet new audiences and fans who have been with him for his entire career. He is a powerful drummer and for his concerts he hires the best musicians available. He knows who the stalwarts are, the reliable musicians who will perform with integrity and cooperation. He also knows the up and coming future stars of jazz, who will add a spark to his group.
I met Hooper in person when he invited me to have lunch at an Italian restaurant in Woodland Hills. The day was overcast and as I drove it started to rain. Soon the skies opened and I was barely able to see the road, because the sky was dumping tons of water all over the streets. It took me quite a while to cross the valley and find the restaurant. Finally! We had a leisurely lunch and I asked a lot of questions and took notes. We covered a lot of topics and I learned a lot about his years as a musicians with a popular group. At this time in his life he was going solo, managing his own career.
When in Los Angeles Hooper likes to perform at the Moss Theater, which is located on the campus of the Crossroads School in Santa Monica. The theater is a comfortable size with wonderful acoustics. The sound quality is so good, every note can be easily heard. The musicians feel “up close and personal.” The theater is one of those “hidden gems” that jazz fans would love.
LAJAZZSCENE: How are you feeling these days? Health-wise, work-wise?
HOOPER: I’m feeling generally great considering my age, experience and involvement on the planet. I don’t consider what I do work and I choose endeavors that are more or less an extension on my creativity. At this point I’m in control of most things and fortunately my music is an inspiration and a lot of fun.
LAJAZZSCENE: If you could go back in time, is there a musician you would have liked to work with? Why?
HOOPER: There are many musicians I would have enjoyed working with. A few are: Ben Webster, Benny Carter, Art Tatum, Phineas Newborn Jr., Jimmy Smith ,Wes Montgomery and Philip Catherine. I would have like to work with all of them and a few more because of their great musicianship, creativity and individuality . Because being involved in a cooperative, organized ensemble I didn’t have a lot of time and freedom to work with other musicians that I really would have loved.
LAJAZZSCENE: Of all the jazz icons you’ve seen throughout the years who affected you the most? Who inspired you the most?
HOOPER: There are three that really affected me the most: Max Roach, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. Max Roach defined the multiple roles of Jazz drumming with impeccable taste and his many overall Jazz contributions. Ray Brown, a premier bassist, could lock in any groove and he was an exceptional soloist with great business acumen. Shelly Manne rose to the occasion necessary in any given situation, way beyond the role of drummer. Oh, by the way, I would be remiss of me to forget my dear friend and fellow musician, Terry Gibbs. His longtime, historical mastering of the vibraphone is phenomenal, along with expanding the role of the musician as a performer, band leader (big band and smaller ensembles) and TV personality, while discovering and showing many talents. His legacy is musically and professionally unique.
LAJAZZSCENE: I think the Moss Theater I one of the best in L.A. The sound is so good, it’s a pleasure to hear each musicians individually. What do you think, as a professional musician? What other venues are good, in your opinion?
HOOPER: Yes, the Moss Theater is a great theater, with wonderful intimacy, exceptional sound and is an ideal place to listen to Jazz and other basically acoustic special music. There are a couple of Jazz venues, one that come to mind is Marians Jazzroom in Bern, Switzerland.
LAJAZZSCENE: What plans do you have for the new year? Any new projects coming up?
HOOPER: Several projects are on my agenda, however I have to keep some of them under wraps in order to surprise my fans and listeners. Many of these projects are somewhat of a departure from my usual musical approach and/or production and will be a new adventure for me.
LAJAZZSCENE: Can you sum up your philosophy of life in a few sentences?
HOOPER: Live life to the fullest. Take care of yourself, particularly your health. Establish goals and sound principles. Always be openhearted in supporting and relating to your fellow human beings. Be conscious and aware of the concern and needs of our Mother Earth.
Stix Hooper appears at the Herb Alpert Educational Village New Roads School-Moss Theater 3131 Olympic Blvd. Santa Monica 90404 on Friday, November 17 at 7:30 pm See ad elsewhere for more details.
By Myrna Daniels
The heat today is terrible! A kind of heat that suffocates, dries everything up, trees and vegetation wilts. Asphalt on the streets gets soft and there’s not enough pressure in the water lines. This is heat with a vengeance and there’s nothing to do but wait it out. Hydrate!
All we can do is look forward to cooler weather. The days are shorter but it’s still nice to be out and about. The big theaters in the Southland have already scheduled a huge array of top talent to perform at their venues The biggest names from all genres will be gracing the stages with the best in pop, jazz, classical, blues, world beat, the avant garde, Broadway shows, opera, children’s classics and much more. There will be surprises in store with new groups on stage. There truly is something for everyone!
In Costa Mesa the Segerstrom Center ifor the Performing Arts is ready for an array of performances on their campus, which has Segerstrom Hall, with a capacity for 2,994 guests and large orchestras. There is also the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall which seats 1,704 patrons, with a formal dining room and a café. The Samueli Theater is more intimate with 300-seat stadium seating or seating for 320 with cabaret-style tables and seating. The Judy Mohr Theater seats up to 269. The Arts Plaza is perfect for outdoor events, with a capacity of 500-2,000! This space can be configured to accommodate large gatherings, with tents, exhibits, alfresco dining and more.
The President of Segerstrom Center for the Arts is Terrence W. Dwyer, who has held his position since April, 2006. His focus has been to continue the artistic excellence of the center. Innovation and technology has created more community participation for all the residents of Orange County. Artistic and educational programs have attracted younger audiences with free or low cost tickets.
Dwyer holds a Masters Degree from the Yale School of Drama and University of Missouri and a B.A. from Notre Dame.
The Segerstrom campus was designed for institutional beauty, with the finest materials. Every detail has been thoughtfully designed for efficientcy; dressing rooms, public spaces for meetings, food service, box offices, etc. It is ready for enjoyment and lasting memories.
The programs for the new season are extensive There truly is something for everyone. Here are a few events to look forward to throughout the new season.
Concert Hall October 7, 2017
Amanda McBroom and Ann Hampton Callaway- “Divalicious” Samueli Theater Oct,5-7, 2017
Marinsky Ballet-Segerstrom Hall October 12-15 2017
Sing Along with The Muppet Movie-Samueli Theater October 14-15, 2017
Tango Buenos Aires-Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall November 18-19, 2017
American Ballet Theatre: The Nutcracker-Segerstrom Hall December 7-17, 2017
Dublin Irish Dance-Segerstrom Hall February 24-25, 2018
The Book of Mormon-Segerstrom Hall March 20-April 1, 2018
Chick Corea & Jazz at Lincoln Center- Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall March 25, 2018
Alvin Ailey-Segerstrom Hall April 19-22, 2018
Bill Charlap-Somewhere:The Songs of Leonard Bernstein-Samueli Thater April 28, 2018
Hamilton-Segerstrom Hall May 8-27,2018
On Your Feet Segerstrom Hall August 21-September 2, 2018
There is so much more to enjoy, all year long. For more information:
600 Town Center Drive Costa Mesa, Ca 92626.For info/tix (714) 556-2121.….SCFTA,org………
We are in the throes of the ever-rising temperatures of the Los Angeles summer swoon, when many jazz musicians (and wealthy jazz patrons) escape the heat by heading out of town for jazz festivals in exotic European locales such as Montreux, Umbria, Vienna, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Yet those without a touring gig, passport or cash can still have a first-rate (albeit sweaty) festival experience right in our little hometown of 4 million people.
The two signature events of the summer are the (already concluded) Playboy Jazz Festival and the Central Aveune Jazz Festival, with the Angel City Jazz Festival looming in the fall. In between those behemoths are a number of ongoing outdoor series, including the excellent shows at Grand Performances in Downtown L.A., Friday nights at the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art (LACMA), the JazzPOP series at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, and the Summer Jazz Nights at Hollywood and Highland.
The latter series is ensconced in perhaps the most popular tourist destination in California, the plaza outside the theater where movie stars receive Oscars, and just a few steps away from Grauman's Chinese Theater in the heart of Hollywood. Many current and future jazz stars have graced the outdoor stage, including latin jazz icons Pete Escovedo and Poncho Sanchez, organist Joey DeFrancesco, the late legendary pianist Cedar Walton, and a litany of impressive saxophonists, including Justo Almario, Bob Reynolds, and Kamasi Washington.
Washington has become one of the major stories of jazz in recent years, becoming the poster-man-child for Rolling Stone, Billboard, Pitchfork, and L.A. Weekly (which admits to, by one of their jazz writers, perhaps a little hometown bias in including the tenor saxophonist on their list of the greatest saxophonists of all time). All the good press has had a halo effect in highlighting the emerging youth movement in jazz here in Los Angeles, buoyed by the combination of burgeoning homegrown talent choosing to remain in the city rather than flee to New York, and the influx of outstanding players from New York, Boston, Chicago and elsewhere, looking to make their fortune and legacy in the Wild West.
One such émigré is Chicago native and alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, who moved to Los Angeles five years ago when he was selected to be one of seven musicians from around the world to join the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, based at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. In his time with TMI, Johnson travelled the world, performing with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Billy Childs among others, and upon graduating from the Institute, he continued his rapid rise to the surface of the bubbling jazz scene in L.A., playing with Benny Maupin, Billy Childs, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Mark DeClive-Lowe, and Jeff Parker. He is often on tour with trumpeter and fellow Chicagoan Marquis Hill, winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.
For a young man in a crowded field of hot young saxophonists, Josh Johnson is as cool as they come. He enters into many a solo with careful awareness, doling out beautifully crafted melodies in spacious, unpredictable portions. It’s enough to lull one into a false sense of secure reverie, unaware of the gradual, inexorable rise of intensity and heat until it’s too late, like a frog cooked to death in a slowly-heated pot of water. Johnson’s tremendous virtuosity always remains in servitude to the long arc of artistic justice. He makes you wait for it but it’s so worth it.
On Tuesday, Johnson graces the stage at Hollywood and Highland with his quartet, featuring pianist (and L.A.’s favorite son) Josh Nelson, Australian bassist Anna Butterss, and drummer Christian Euman, who like Johnson also hails from Chicago and is an alumni of the Thelonious Monk Institute.
Johnson was kind enough to answer a few questions, which he did with insight and thoughtfulness, very much in the manner by which he plays saxophone. Following is a transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity:
Gary Fukushima: Can you talk a little bit about your initial exposure to jazz, and how you ultimately got involved with the alto saxophone?
Johnson: I picked up the saxophone around age 10, and shortly after I remember asking my mom for some jazz recordings for Christmas. She and my dad got me a stack of about probably 6 or 7 CD’s, 5 of which I didn't really get into. One I did get into immediately was Lester Swings, a Verve compilation of a handful of Lester Young recordings. The other was the Monk compilation Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1.
I was drawn to the beauty of Lester's sound and his seemingly quiet, clever but cool attitude. His playing felt as direct as someone singing or speaking to me, and that deepened my curiosity. Saxophone sound is so deeply personal, and the range of feeling that can be expressed along with the mystery and beauty drew me in. There's a quote I love from a repairman named Matt Stohrer, talking about how the sound of a saxophone is the sound a cone of air vibrating. "So the saxophone is not the sound—the saxophone is the thing we wrap around the sound. It is the interface we need—with our two hands, ten fingers, mouth, lungs—to interact with this cone of air. Our abilities and limitations define it…it is the relationship between ourselves and the laws of nature, made visible.”
L.A. Jazz:Who were/are your mentors in shaping your musical biography? How did they impact you?
Johnson: There are so many people who have been willing to share their stories, wisdom, and experience with me, whether I was ready for it at the time or not. David Baker taught me so much about persistence, searching, giving, being yourself in all things, and navigating the world as a young black man. My friend and kindred spirit Jeff Parker has been a mentor to me over the past 10 years. He has broadened my perspective, both musically and otherwise, and I've looked up to him since I first heard his music in the early 2000’s. There are so many records I wouldn't have heard if I hadn't been lead by JP's signature question, "Man, have you heard this record…?”. I got to spend time with Wayne Shorter when I moved to LA for grad school, an experience which was invaluable to me. Wayne taught me about the width of imagination, expressing the entire range of emotion in music, playing beyond the instrument, and living and playing with deep intention.
L.A. Jazz:How would you describe your approach to improvising?
Johnson: This is a really difficult question to answer. One idea that has been fascinating me over the past 3-4 years is fluidity. I've always been drawn to the freedom with which great musicians perform ballads. To me there's a sort of multidimensional beauty and fluidity, the play of heart and intellect happening all at once. I've been interested in figuring out how to get that feeling and freedom in every context.
L.A. Jazz:What are the projects you are involved with currently, and what are some things we can look forward to?
Johnson: There are many things coming up which I'm super excited about. Holophonor, a band I co-lead, has a new record called Light Magnet which will be out later this fall on Alpha Pup/Worldwide Galaxy. The record was produced by Wayne Shorter, and after a bit of a journey we're happy to have found a home for it. I'm heading to New York right after this performance to perform Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's Suite For Ma Dukes at Damrosch Park. (Tenor saxophonist) Daniel Rotem and I did a standards record that should be out later this year. I'll be heading to Japan with Jeff Parker & The New Breed in August, and to Europe with Marquis Hill Blacktet in October. Joshua White and Josh Nelson both have records coming out in the fall, both of which I was excited to play on. Last but not least, I'm working on a bunch of new music for a record to be recorded later this year.