Los Angeles-based jazz trumpeter Carl Saunders, who worked with Stan Kenton, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and LA’s finest big bands, returns to the Santa Barbara Jazz Society gathering at SOhO, this time under his own name.
Carl Saunders Quartet
When: 1 p.m., Sunday
Where: SOhO, 1221 State St. (upstairs)
Tickets: $15 for Santa Barbara Jazz Society members, $25 for non-members, $5 for full-time students and local musicians with memberships
Information: 962-7776, www.sohosb.com
Among the virtues–and perhaps regional-cultural quirks–of the long-running and steadily forward-moving Santa Barbara Jazz Society is its tradition of hosting Los Angeles musicians deserving wider recognition. More to the point, many of these veteran jazz players, though not household names on their own, have graced high-profile projects in the side/session person role and have been “heard” by the masses, while their names and personal stories are mainly known to hardcore jazz fans.
LA jazz players worth their salt and with the requisite discipline and adaptability, can find themselves backing major musical entities, both in terms of film/TV studio work and direct work with singers and acts who very much household name status.
Take Carl Saunders, the much-acclaimed trumpeter who is making his first SBJS appearance under his own name on Sunday afternoon.
Now 76, the trumpeter boasts a resume includes a veritable who’s who of significant American musical allies and bosses. The Indianapolis-born musician teamed up with the Stan Kenton Band out of high school, worked in Las Vegas for several years with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Paul Anka, Robert Goulet and others. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1984, he folded easily into some of the LA jazz ensembles (often stocked with fellow session players), the Bill Holman, Bob Florence and Gerald Wilson big bands, Supersax and the Dave Pell Octet.
At SOhO, Mr. Saunders will be leading a quartet, with pianist Sam Hirsh, bassist Dave Stone and drummer Kevin Kanner, but he has already lent his strong, melodically-driven trumpet sound to past Jazz Society afternoons, as a player in Johnny Mandel’s big band and the “little big band” context of the Phil Norman Tentet. Here is a chance to give the trumpeter some more focused attention.
Mr. Saunders is known for his instrumental virtuosity, but also his innate musicality as a player, who plays to suit an occasion or gig rather than seizing opportunities to strut his instrumental prowess.
Among other things, he is celebrated for his ability to create intriguing, exploratory long phrases in his soloing. In an interview on his website, Mr. Saunders notes that “people have come up to me for years asking me if I circular breathe because I play such long phrases. My breathing concept, using the least amount of air to get the job done to its fullest, can result in long phrases too. When they come up and ask if I circular breath I always tell them that I breathe like a Republican and play like a Democrat.”
On his list of primary influences, one name that comes up readily is Kenny Dorham, who Mr. Saunders says “was called the uncrowned king. He would play beautiful lines. He was such a sensitive trumpet player. I loved his playing. I think my favorite solo of Kenny was on ‘Like Someone in Love’ on Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers ‘At the Cafe Bohemia’ (album).
“Then, of course, when Freddie Hubbard came around he was the heavyweight champion of jazz trumpet. Another influence on my soloing was Carl Fontana and the breathing concepts I picked up from him.”
In terms of the Saunders style, he is—like many in the LA jazz scene from his generation–“mainstream,” in the sense of adhering to solid old school jazz foundations. He also maintains an abiding belief in the importance of swing and a steady sense of groove in the forefront of his ideal jazz scenario.
The trumpeter bemoans the marginalized state of jazz, compared to the mass popularity of pop and the patronage-fueled world of classical music, but also blames factors other than an indifferent listenership.
According to Mr. Saunders, “some people drive by a club that has a sign out front that says, ‘Jazz.’ These people say, ‘Hey, let’s go in and see what jazz is all about.’ They go in and there’s a small band with an alto player and they’re playing (he sings a loose and lazy melodic part). Nobody is swinging; they’re just muttering through the changes or even playing some outside experimental stuff that even musicians themselves are scratching their head about. What do the people that came in to check out jazz say? ‘Check please.’
He adds, “this is what is going on in clubs everywhere because club owners don’t know music. Musicians go to the club owner and say, ‘I’m great, give me a gig.’ Most people who can talk their way into a gig via the gift of gab are usually not the better players.
“The better players are usually the more introverted people who don’t have that gift of gab, who can’t talk themselves into a gig, and who don’t have the nerve to do that. Those are the sensitive players and are the ones that should be out there representing jazz and good tasteful music.”
Expect good, tasteful music at SOhO on Sunday afternoon.