Last summer, I wrote about jazzman Noel Jewkes, who lives in downtown Larkspur and performs at the Sausalito Seahorse restaurant with a quartet most Tuesday evenings, when he isn’t recording or performing with the likes of John Hendricks, Wesla Whitfield, and Paula West. A lush and lyrical tenor sax player who also swings on soprano sax, clarinet, and occasionally bass, Jewkes is considered “one of the godfathers of Bay Area jazz,” in the words of the late San Francisco Examiner jazz critic Phil Elwood, who knew the scene better than anyone.
Elwood said of Jewkes, “I don’t know of a better contemporary modern saxman anywhere.”
I say, if jazz had the cachet and popularity it had in previous decades, Jewkes would be up there with Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon. Alas, jazz does not.
But some things don’t change, and one of them is that, financially speaking, musicians often lead underappreciated lives. They don’t tend to purchase “extras” like health insurance, which is why their friends frequently hold benefit performances for them when they’re ill or worse.
I’m sure you see where this is heading. I don’t actually know his health-insurance status, but Jewkes is having heart surgery in late January, followed by the long recovery period such surgery entails, and musician friends have organized a benefit show at the Sausalito Seahorse on January 9 to help with the medical bills. It is only $25, and all the money will go to Jewkes.
Performers include the Larry Vuckovich Trio, singer Jackie Ryan, and, as Jewkes says, “a host of others. I may even play, too!” I can’t wait. I’m guessing Noel will perform, the last time we’ll be able to see him do so for a while, and a plethora of stellar guests will be sitting in.
I saw Vuckovich, a premier San Francisco-based keyboard player (up there with Oscar Peterson, etc.), perform at Ondine last August in the sold-out show I previewed then, celebrating the release of the CD Vuckovich had made with his trio, Jewkes, and special guest Scott Hamilton. (Hamilton, a renowned tenor sax player who lives in Italy, flew in for that gig, and may be back in the coming year.)
Mill Valley’s Jackie Ryan sang that evening, too. Again, if we lived in jazz’s heyday, she would be giving Ella, Billie, and Sarah a run for their money. She sang the best version of “Skylark” (a song whose charms had previously eluded me) I’ve ever heard.
As jazz critic Don Heckman wrote in the Los Angeles Times a few years ago, “(Ryan's) singing places her in the top level of the jazz vocal art…. Add to that her remarkable vocal attributes: a timbre that reached from whiskey-and-honey chest notes to clear-as-air head tones; the capacity to slip and slide with ease across everything from gospel melismas to blues belting; [and] a sense of phrasing that managed the difficult feat of telling a lyrical story without interrupting the narrative flow with intrusive sidebar displays of vocal virtuosity….” The woman can do it all.
As can Jewkes, Vuckovich, and guests. (Backing Vuckovich on bass and drums for this event, according to event organizer Daniel Smith, will be “all the top Bay Area artists.”) It’s a bargain, folks.
IF YOU GO: Jan. 9, 6:30 - 9:30 p.m., Sausalito Seahorse, 308 Harbor Drive, Sausalito, (415) 331-2898. Tickets available at the door.