The Richard Glaser Trio Meets "The Legend" Clarence Webb
Clarence Webb's opening blasts declare the presence of a man who has seen it all. Strutting through Dexter Gordon’s famous 1963 introduction to the American chestnut “Willow Weep For Me,” Webb stands tall as a link to a long-past scene that was once teeming with honking tenor men like himself. Webb is old enough to remember when South Los Angeles’ Central Avenue still vibrated with the reputations of Gordon and Wardell Gray and Teddy Edwards and Harold Land and Big Jay McNeely. It was a time when a box of reeds and a mastery of the chord changes to “Cherokee” were enough to get you the attention of a beautiful woman. But it was also a world where flubbing a phrase could see your superficial sweetheart reconsidering her allegiance before you’d even reached the bridge.
Webb was born in Jackson, Mississippi, before moving to Buffalo, New York as a kid, moisturized by the mist of Niagra Falls. He eventually settled into humidity-free Los Angeles in 1950 while still in his teens and quickly set his sights on the Los Angeles jazz scene. He played his first paying gig shortly after graduating from high school and has happily made a sixty year career out of carrying his trusted horn to the ballrooms, nightclubs and concert halls of his far-reaching adopted hometown.
Pianist Richard Glaser, bassist Geoff Rakness and drummer Mark San Filippo missed the peak of South Los Angeles’ jazz scene by approximately fifty years but they would have fit right in had they been born a few generations earlier. All three are undying jazz disciples, dealing in efficient phrases and swinging soul. Glaser, a bop-oriented pianist, aside from his familiarity with the standard repertoire, has a singular approach to songwriting. If he hadn’t found a room that suited his desires on the Avenue, he would have been quite at home in the Brill Building, locked into a small office with a piano for a desk and a never-ending torrent of ideas, both romantic and playful. He would have happily spent his lunch hour hustling original tunes like “A Royal Presence” and “I Can See Your Sadness” to the star-makers and sheet music publishers who filled the booths of the streetside Broadway diners. Instead, as a twenty-first century man, he has released them on CDs under his own leadership with San Filippo keeping time all the way.
San Filippo can drive a lively band with a pair of chopsticks and a can of tuna if that was all he was allowed. He deals extensively in taste and rhythm, ensuring that anyone who plays with him is driven steadily along, following the clues of the form in his deft fills and persistent cymbal. The interplay between Glaser and San Filippo has been formed by thousands of hours on the bandstand over the course of nearly twenty years. They have a swinging telepathy that can’t be bought, only forged through friendship and a shared love of the groove.
Bassist Geoff Rakness quickly established his role with the band when he joined in 2006. His sturdy, low-end accompaniment helps to guide Webb and Glaser through the twisting patterns of the many jazz standards found on this recording. He had no trouble finding his place between San Filippo’s hi-hat and Glaser’s spiky left-handed rumble while taking the occasional moment in the spotlight to deal in his own tasteful ideas with a spry knowledge of the hulking instrument’s four coarse strings.
This recording is a tribute to the straight-ahead sounds of classic jazz. Immortal tunes like “Who Can I Turn To?” and “I Could Write A Book” get the love and respect they deserve in a relaxed blowing session environment. The generational blending of Webb with the Richard Glaser trio forms a tight bond that bends and swings with a palpable joy. There is no better trio in Los Angeles suited for Webb’s blissful horn. They call him "The Legend" and it is a fitting title. Webb has the history of jazz in his bellowing saxophone and the Richard Glaser trio stand by him with open ears and active fingers awaiting his next musical gem to delight them as much as it does the listener.
Sean J. O'Connell
Los Angeles, CA
Sean J. O'Connell is a Los Angeles-based music writer. His work has appeared in DownBeat and the LA Weekly. His book Los Angeles' Central Avenue Jazz Scene is available from Arcadia Publishing