“Hip Pocket often sounds like a swinging big band….Megas’ music is usually forward-looking hard bop….the wit and color of the titles can also be heard in the music. …every musician gets a chance to solo and shows that both their musicianship and solo abilities are impressive. Hip Pocket is definitely a band that has a lot of fun when it plays although the musicians also take the music quite seriously. Blue Circle is a swinging, accessible and creative outing that makes one want to see the band live.”
---From Scott Yanow’s review of “Blue Circle” in the January 2009 “L.A. Jazz Scene”
“A perfect marriage of the full sound of a big band with the spontaneity of a jazz combo”, is probably a good way to describe Hip Pocket. With nine of the Inland Empire’s (about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles) most accomplished jazz musicians, Hip Pocket brings a fresh and uniquely personal treatment to many of the great jazz classics as well as a substantial body of original material. Inspired by Los Angeles-based composer/arranger Marty Paich’s Dectet (and the classic “Art Pepper + Eleven” recording), Hip Pocket utilizes an atypical combination of four saxes, one trumpet and trombone plus a rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. This allows Hip Pocket to deliver the full density of jazz harmony and orchestral color without the weight of the more traditional big band, all the while maintaining the soloist freedom to stretch and explore, something that is usually associated with the smaller setting of a quartet.
Hip Pocket officially came into being in August 1991, and quickly established a solid reputation within the area’s jazz community. On one memorable occasion, jazz dignitaries packed into a small venue to hear the band included Howard Rumsey, legendary jazz bassist and owner of famed jazz club The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and Lennie Niehaus, saxophonist and arranger for Stan Kenton and subsequently the composer of dozens of movie soundtracks, including most films by Clint Eastwood. Over the ensuing years Hip Pocket has played many of the major venues in the Inland Empire and beyond, and has backed some of the true legends of jazz such as world-renowned saxophonists Bill Perkins, Pete Christlieb, Gabe Baltazar, and Steve Wilkerson, trumpeters Bobby Shew, Bob Summers and Ron Stout, pianist Frank Strazzeri, guitarist Al Viola, vocalist Andrea Baker, and other accomplished artists.
In early 2008, the group felt that the time was finally right to record and release a CD showcasing the band’s performances of uniquely original compositions as well as its individual soloists. The recording was made over two sessions by Shantih Haast, an engineer with a long association with pianist David Benoit. Strong emphasis was placed on capturing Hip Pocket’s “live” sound; many selections on the disc are first or second complete takes, with the solos recorded live as well. A final touch was provided by Capitol studios and multiple Grammy-award winning engineer Ron McMaster, who mastered the disc using Capitol’s legendary echo chambers to give it a little of the famed “Capitol sound.”
The leader of Hip Pocket, composer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist Sandy Megas, refined his years of music writing experience by studying jazz composition extensively with the late great Dick Grove, and has since written and arranged for recorded performances by Steve Wilkerson, Joey DeFrancesco, Andrea Baker, and several top-tier bands of the U.S. armed forces, among others. Sandy continues to write constantly on a commission basis and sells his arrangements worldwide through his website, www.arrmegas.com.
In the sax section, lead altoist Jim Quam has been with the group since its inception, and has freelanced in the greater Los Angeles area for many years, as well as completed several international tours with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Second alto Matt Zebley (www.mattzebley.com) has toured and recorded with the Brian Setzer Orchestra for several years, has released a straightahead session under his own name as well as appeared on multiple other recordings, and is currently a member of several jazz groups in Los Angeles. Loren Weisbrod, tenor (www.lorenweisbrod.com) has played straightahead jazz in greater Southern California for well over 20 years. Playing bari on “Blue Circle” is Karl Hunter, the featured sax soloist (primarily on tenor) for the internationally-known swing group Big Bad Voodoo Daddy for well over the past decade.
Trumpeter Don Clarke has long been a featured soloist with the Les Brown band, and is a first-call veteran of decades’ worth of studio and freelance work. Alex Henderson, trombone, has been with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy for the past few years, following a long stint with Latin jazz giant Poncho Sanchez. Acoustic bassist Bill Casale freelanced in New York jazz clubs for years before moving to Southern California, where he remains in demand for both recordings and live performances. Jeff Olson on drums (www.jeffolson.net) toured and recorded with pianist David Benoit for several years, and currently freelances throughout Southern California in addition to regular studio work.