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Keeping the Faith: The Larry Vuckovich Trio at SCA

Bob Jones - Sonoma West Time & News | January 30, 2019

It doesn't often happen anymore, but it happened a week ago Sunday in Sebastopol. I'm talking about a good session of straight ahead jazz. Actually a great session, with Vuckovich on piano, Kal Lyons on guitar and Jeff Chambers on bass. Bob Jones

It started at 4:30 in the afternoon, while a big football game was on TV. Didn't matter. A couple hundred of us were there, mostly of a certain age, but families with children too.

Vuckovich, who is 82, has played in and around the Bay Area for decades. Known for trying new things and performing the more obscure jazz tunes, he's played famous clubs and festivals all over the world. He smiles a lot while he plays, obviously enjoying what he does.

His current group is a throwback to Nat "King" Cole, whose trio featured piano, bass and guitar rather than piano, bass and drums. My friend, drummer Benny Barth of Monte Rio, is likely spinning in his grave at the thought of a trio without drums, and my drummer grandson Adam, to whom Benny gave his first lesson, is gigging in Los Angeles while immersed in the USC music program. But, as Vuckovich said, there's room for variety in jazz. Starting with Cole's "Sweet Loraine," we heard tunes done by other such trios down the years, including Oscar Peterson's and Vince Guaraldi's.

This took me back to the 1950s and the Coconut Grove Ballroom above the Penny Arcade on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Once a year, the Nat "King" Cole Trio played there with Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Miller (not the golfer) on bass. They made the most romantically mellow sounds there ever were, Moore playing warm, laidback chords behind Cole's scintillating piano. Cole became known for his singing, but he was one of the most influential jazz piano players of his time.

Kal Lyons is truly a find, as Vuckovich is quick to point out. Tall and just over 20 years old, he must have the longest fingers in music. And can he play. Time and again he improvised over and under the tune with exquisite timing and tone, his fingers flying but without a hint of strain. He, too, smiled a lot while he played.

Bassist Jeff Chambers has played alongside every jazz great you might name. For many years, he traveled with vibraharpist Buddy Montgomery, who was a founder of the Mastersounds with our Benny Barth on drums. It's amazing how the jazz community intertwines and changes around, everyone trying to make music in interesting and authentic ways. Chambers, we learned, is battling cancer and is out of money for the fight. People contributed on the spot, and others pledged to help through his website. I've long felt a good jazz gig is like being in church. There's a tie that binds jazz folks together like there is with church folks. It's so.

The last tune was the Ellington standard "Caravan." It rolls along like camels in the Sahara, but nobody ever heard it the way we did. Drummer Daniel Moreno opened a wooden chest and pulled out bells of all kinds, ringing them to the beat as he went. Then he put his bongo drums between his knees and began to play. He is an absolute master of that dynamic instrument. His wife, Awa Sangho, known as the "Golden Voice from Mali," came forth and sang, not lyrics but haunting tones, every sound just right. Fervent applause ended the day.

"Man," I said to myself, "all this right here in Sebastopol. Let there be more."

Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.

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