LA pianist George Kahn ... Los Angeles is often portrayed as a jazz wasteland, a huge, sprawling region where too many jazz musicians...
By Andrew Gilbert
Los Angeles is often portrayed as a jazz wasteland, a huge, sprawling region where too many jazz musicians are looking for lucrative studio gigs rather than honing their sound. The truth is that LA boasts an impressive array of world class improvisers, but like so many other artists, they often languish in the shadow of Hollywood, which soaks up so much media attention.
Pianist George Kahn is a player who is making the most out of the Southern California scene. He cites pianists such as Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, Joe Sample, Vince Guaraldi and Wynton Kelly as role models, though his own sound also incorporates elements of New Orleans funk and Afro-Caribbean flavors. After a sold-out debut at the Jazz & Blues Company in February, Kahn returns to the Eastwood building on Saturday with his LA Session Band, featuring trumpeter John Fumo, saxophonist Andy Suzuki, bassist Karl Vincent, drummer M.B. Gordy and special guest Courtney Lemmon on vocals.
Since he started recording as a leader in 1999, Kahn has released a series of albums that feature many of the finest players in Southern California. On Out of Time, he collaborated with the late trap set genius Billy Higgins. Freedom Vessel showcases the remarkable interplay between bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Joe LaBarbera, a supremely gifted drummer best known for his many recordings with pianist Bill Evans. On Midnight Brew, Kahn brought the powerful trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez into the mix, along with vocalist Tierney Sutton, who has done such impressive work for Telarc. His latest album, Compared To What?, came out last October, and it has garnered strong reviews. With Fumo and saxophonists Eric Marienthal and Justo Almario, bass master Brian Bromberg and drummer Alex Acuna, Kahn assembled an all-star cast, alongwith newcomer Lemmon, who makes her recording debut on the title track (made famous by Les McCann and Eddie Harris’s hit 1969 recording, Swiss Movement).
It’s a bracing advance by the gifted pianist, who has slowly but surely created a distinctive jazz identity separate from his thriving career as a composer for television. In the two decades he toiled in Southern California before he set out on his jazz journey, he contributed music to productions by BET, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Disney Animation, as well as various commercials. In addition to founding own label, Kahn has developed new avenues to distribute his music, regularly sending out MP3 files to fans who register on his Web site. Which isn’t to say he isn’t building an audience the old fashioned way.
Touring steadily over the past year, Kahn is quickly establishing himself as a regular presence on the Northern California scene, with repeat performances at San Francisco’s best jazz spot, Jazz at Pearl’s in North Beach, and the swanky Berkeley restaurant Downtown, which presents some of the region’s finest players. He’s forging relationships with veterans such as trumpeter Allen Smith, whose résumé includes stints with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan to Nat Cole and Duke Ellington. With his combination of ambition and talent, Kahn is clearly no surf-addled slacker. He’s making the most out of Southern California, and he’s doing his best to draw attention to the gifted players he finds there.