Jazz Lives Here
January 7, 2001
JAZZ LIVES HERE
Performers, fans in Tucson are passionate about the music
By Jim Purdy
Ken Burns found a challenge equal to his celebrated forays into the Civil War and baseball.
His documentary eye focuses on jazz in a 10-part series, starting at 9 tomorrow night on KUAT-TV,
Burns looks at a lot of jazz greats, but ignores a lot of modern players. He could have gotten the
up-to-date perspective by training his camera to Tucson, where strong jazz passions swirl.
Bassist Ed Friedland fills his tank with all kinds of jazz.
"Around here, I have the opportunity to play a lot of different kinds of jazz - straight-ahead jazz, electric
fusion, backing up a clarinet trio. I can do all that in the span of a month," he said.
The diversity of jazz shows makes up for a scarcity of them.
"That's what I like about the scene in Tucson. There's not a lot happening, but there are a lot of different
things going on," he said.
With 2,500 members, the Tucson Jazz Society is one of the largest jazz groups in America.
The society supports local performers, cultivates middle- and high-school jazz ensembles, and holds
many shows, such as its well-attended St. Philip's Plaza series.
"Except for the St. Philip's shows, it's hard to get an audience out," Friedland said.
While local jazz fans are often well-heeled and deep-pocketed, they just can't support every jazz effort.
Some great local talents live in obscurity because of few jazz arenas.
"There are some good cats around town, but you can never hear them play; it's one of those kind of
things," said Dickie Thompson, an eightysomething guitarist.
Bastions of live jazz do exist in Tucson.
The Greater Oro Valley Arts Council throws an outdoor jazz party every year. There's jazz to be found in
Green Valley. Local restaurants such as Ric's Cafe, El Parador, Gus & Andy's, Capriccio's and Plush
give jazz a night or two.
"You're not going to make a fortune booking jazz, but you can have a successful jazz night," said Steve
Hahn, music coordinator for KUAT-FM and jazz stations KUAZ-FM and KUAZ-AM.
Live jazz plays mostly at resorts, bookstores, coffeehouses, private events, spas and some clubs.
"I make a living totally doing that - but not a good living. I'm pretty poor," said Tucson guitarist Matt
"It ebbs and flows," said saxophonist Mike Hay, noting that jazz plays mostly in the early fall and holiday
Friedland frolics in Tucson's jazz scene.
"I think there's a healthy ground here to cultivate - a nice scene. To me, it feels like it's getting better all
the time because there are more and more opportunities to play," he said.
The Jazz Society shoulders the bulk of Tucson's jazz events, but it serves the mainstreamers. A smaller
organization, Zeitgeist, champions the "out there" jazz.
"Zeitgeist, that's one of the stronger voices in Tucson, but the Jazz Society in general is very helpful to
local musicians," Hay said.
The Jazz Society organizes about 40 events a year, while Zeitgeist manages about a half-dozen.
"There are definitely people in Tucson pushing for jazz and pulling for you," saxophonist Jeremy Patfield
Players and presenters share an intense love for the music.
"I feel compelled to do it, and I'm proud of it," Mitchell said.
Jazz passions spark in the strangest places.
"For me, it just sort of happened," Mitchell said. "I got heavy into classical guitar, but I'm not as
disciplined as I need to be to be a fine classical guitarist. I can find my muse with jazz."
Jazz sowed the musical seeds that grew into rock 'n' roll, funk, folk, soul and even country music in
Its children often end up feeding jazz in its current forms.
Mitchell, for instance, played heavy metal, rock and blues - from Metallica to Eric Clapton - before
throwing himself into jazz.
Tucson-born-and-bred saxophonist Sam Robles listened to grunge.
"I still love Nirvana and Soundgarden, that whole Seattle scene," Robles said.
"There are a lot of kids growing up who are into it - but it's hard to compete with Limp Bizkit," he said.
Tucson's sparse jazz landscape affects the availability of jazz players, too. They've got to give a lot of
themselves to make special events work.
At a recent Zeitgeist affair, for example, Mitchell ended up playing with three of the six jazz acts that night.
"I turned down a paying job to do it. You don't want to be giving up money, but you have to, to a degree,"
Tucson and particularly the University of Arizona - with professors such as Ed Ulman and Jeff Haskell
leading the charge - grow some fine players.
This town just can't hold onto them.
"Money's always tough, and money's always an issue," said Mitchell. "It's typical of the passion for jazz.
It's disappointing (financially), but it's what we love to do at the same time."
Respected bassist Brian Bromberg left for Los Angeles. Lee Gardener skedaddled to New York. Mike
Eckroth moved to Las Vegas. Robles was the latest wunderkind to depart.
"Everyone moves away, which is a trip," Mitchell said. "But it's understandable. Opportunities here are
Once they've scored a gig, it doesn't always satisfy the artists, who feel like wallpaper at some
"You get stuck playing at resorts, which is not progressing the music in any way, shape or form, which is
why I left," said Robles, who now plies his art at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.
"I owe just about everything to Tucson, but you've got to move on if there's nothing here," Robles said.
After graduating from the UA, Patfield is biding his time in Tucson until something else comes along.
"It's a good place to hone your craft without the pressure that would come along in New York or
Chicago," he said.
Of course, the ones who stay hold sway.
"If they make their contributions here, they are that much more important because we need it more
here," Hahn said.
Jazz passion is fuel enough for some.
"I'll always play jazz, and I'll always enjoy doing it," Patfield said. "If that means I have to work somewhere
else during the day, I'm OK with it."
`Smooth' style is gaining acceptance
"Smooth jazz" is getting its own category at the Grammys for the first time this year.
But many Tucson jazzmen turn a cold shoulder to the contemporary style.
"Contemporary jazz is a bridge between pop and jazz music," local jazz lover Steve Hahn said.
"A lot of people have found that to be an inviting music, but even the artists themselves don't call it jazz -
it's instrumental pop music," he said.
That's pretty much it, say the smooth jazz folks.
"Our format is well-accepted, but it's jazz that bows to the need to make money," said Erik Foxx, program
director and morning DJ at the Oasis, KOAZ-FM.
People will always listen to straight-ahead jazz - even the Oasis plays it on a Sunday night program - just
not lots of people.
"I don't think it can survive on its own for ratings and making money," Foxx said.
It's a product of the music.
"There's never going to be any monolithic jazz. There are too many different tastes and too many different
currents," Hahn said.
Most jazzmen traipse amongst the forms.
"I like mainstream music, primarily, but I also like to get weird, do the freaky stuff," bassist Ed Friedland
"I'm not ensconced in the avant-garde thing - it's not where I live - but it's a neat place to hang out."
Variations on a theme: from slave culture to instrumental pop
Jazz exults in freewheeling musical self-expression. That's why it's changing all the time.
Its players have woven it into many forms over the past 100-plus years. Here's a roundup of some jazz
Pre-Jazz (1850-1900) -- The freed-slave culture mixes African music with American pop, West European
music and music from the church to form jazz's groundwork.
Ragtime -- Jangling, melodious piano pop from the 1890s, sometimes called African-American polka.
Composer Scott Joplin stands out.
Dixieland -- A mix of rags, blues, two-steps, marches and pop tunes played with trumpet, clarinet and
trombone with piano, guitar, banjo, tuba, bass, and drums was born in New Orleans and moved to
Chicago. King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, among many others, stand out. F. Scott
Fitzgerald referred to the Chicago style when he talked about the "jazz age."
Tin Pan Alley -- In the 1850s, the music industry was born in this New York alley when salesmen started
peddling sheet music of this mix of jazz, blues and ragtime. Sales were tracked with "music charts."
Irving Berlin and his "Alexander's Ragtime Band" stand out.
Boogie-woogie (1930s-'40s) -- Jazz with blues sensibilities. The barrelhouse piano played the roll of
three guitars: one playing the chords, one melody and one bass. Pine Top Smith was among the greats.
Swing (born: 1930s) -- The stuff of big bands of at least 10 folks requires many saxophones, trumpets,
trombones, pianos, guitars, basses, violins and drums. Count Basie and Duke Ellington stand out.
Progressive swing (born: 1940s) -- Dissonant, rebellious swing of such folks as Stan Kenton.
Big band -- Many trumpets, trombones, saxophones, pianos, guitars, basses and drums that come
together in many jazz styles.
Scat -- These performers were perhaps the first human beat boxes, mimicking instruments with voice.
Ella Fitzgerald stands out.
Bebop (heyday: 1944-55) -- Swing bands got smaller during World War II, leading to bebop bands. It
was the first jazz not made for dancing. Dizzy Gillespie stands out.
Cool (born: 1947) -- A more relaxed, softer jazz form. Miles Davis stands out.
Hard bop (1957) -- A funky, rhythmic rebellion to cool jazz. Charles Mingus stands out.
Free jazz ('60s) -- Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler whipped up a little bit of chaos with this
stuff. Some tab John Coltrane as one of these guys.
Bossa nova ('60s) -- Brazil influences jazz.
Fusion (1965) -- Jazz fuses with rock 'n' roll. Miles Davis stands out.
Neo-bop ('80s) -- Modern artists reminisce. Wynton Marsalis stands out.
Afro-Latin -- A mix of African, Spanish, Portuguese and French music imported from the Caribbean,
Central and South America.
Acid jazz -- A marketing term for a jazz revival music that sounded much like free jazz, or fusion.
Straight-ahead/neoclassical -- A look back to hard bop.
Modern creative -- Bop, free, fusion mixed with pop, funk and rock.
Smooth jazz -- Instrumental pop that's gaining popularity. The Grammys recognize this category this year
for the first time.
* Source: The History of Jazz Music, www.jazzhistory.f2s.com.