In the before time, you could catch the Jeff Elliott Jazz Jam at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club about once a month. Then it became one of those things you wished you could do just one more time, like seeing a departed loved one or riding your bike on the sidewalk with no hands. Well, it actually happened. On September 12, Elliott and a couple of handfuls of virtuoso musicians created the sweetest Sunday afternoon a music lover could hope for.
It was like being in an octopus’s garden. For one thing, Elliott was playing trumpet and keyboards at the same time; his simultaneous multi-instrumentalism always kicks off the magic.
Another way it’s like being in an octopus’s garden is the three-dimensional nature of the Jazz Jam experience. (Four-dimensional if you count time…). Elliott is also a rock musician, besides his considerable accomplishments in the jazz world, but here there’s no wall of sound, no stupefying full-body yang clang. The audience isn’t pressed flat against the stage. Musicians come and go between the stage and the tables, making the stage and floor one space, with really interesting music flowing around, between, and among you. Not much dancing but some conversation, some laughter, and a whole lot of intent listening going on.
The Jeff Elliott Trio — Randy Tico on bass and Darrell Voss on drums — played a set of original tunes by Elliott. Unfortunately, I only heard snatches of that part of the show because I forgot that you can’t use credit cards for tickets at the door at SOhO. (I did remember to bring my vaccination card, which was required for entry.) Jazz Society president Natalie Wilson reports that Elliott began by reading poetry by pianist and Santa Barbara restaurateur Peter Clark, who died recently. By the time I made it in, Eje Lynn-Jacobs was singing “Twilight Zone,” about an alcoholic trumpet player. It was stunning. Lynn-Jacobs is also a percussionist and the music director at Center of the Heart in Santa Barbara.
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Another reason Elliott’s shows are like an octopus’s garden is because of the way he reaches out and brings in other musicians. He’s been known to let people he doesn’t even know get up onstage and jam, with the caveat that they shouldn’t go for it unless they are really good musicians. It’s fun. But this Sunday, the jammers were all regular A-listers. And the audience consisted almost entirely of Jazz Society members, so the musicians already had the attention of sophisticated listeners and could do as they pleased. (Full disclosure: I don’t know much about jazz, but I’m a connoisseur of sounds and emotional expression in my own right — aren’t we all?)
Sandy Cummings of the band Jazz du Jour, acting as the afternoon’s emcee, introduced a succession of vocalists: Kim Collins, Debbie Denke, Donna Greene, and Kimberly Ford, whose delicate rendition of “East of the Sun” was positively dreamy. Also taking star turns were two wonderful pianists whose names I don’t know, tenor saxophonist Dennis Berger, guitarist Greg Loeb, and drummer Dave Bazinet.
Someone handed Elliott a small antique coronet that had belonged to the late, great Robin Frost; Elliott referred to Frost as a genius, but asked, “Would you put your lips to something someone had spit in for 100 years?” Nevertheless, he played “When the Saints Come Marching In.” Singer James Arnold, in from Los Angeles, got a standing ovation for his “Bye Bye Blackbird.” What a voice! Cummings closed the show with “L-O-V-E.”
Unfortunately, the show was only four hours long. It’s no wonder people come back time and again for the Jazz Jam, if only to hear how the pieces change according to which artists are onstage and what they decide to do with any given piece. Sadly for us, Jeff Elliott has moved to Santa Maria and is not planning to continue monthly jams at SOhO. However, rumor has it that he sometimes plays at the Madonna Inn. And happily, the Jazz Society will be hosting monthly shows at SOhO, with the entertaining Donna Greene next up on October 10. Jazz du Jour will also play at the SOHO one Sunday afternoon per month, their next show being September 26. Who could ask for anything more?