Embassy Suites Jazz Jam

006From left, Dave Morwood, Phil Smith, Billy Bosch, Mike Lent & John Taylor

By Scott MacClelland

Hi there mister…new in town?

All right, so I was the last to discover the monthly ‘jazz jam’ at Embassy Suites in Seaside. Thanks to smooth-talking Lee Durley, a Monterey Peninsula musical ambassador without equal, I was made to feel welcome instead of foolish last Sunday afternoon amidst a swelling crowd of enthusiasts that included most of the best known jazz artists who live and work among us. Many of them also enjoy national and even international reputations. (I also owe thanks to Wies Norberg for her steadfast weekly Wies’ Notes that arrives in my email every Thursday.)

Our local jazzers can be found in clubs all over the Monterey Peninsula every week. But if you want to see and hear them all together, then calendar the last Sunday of every month, 2:30 to 5pm—and a little after—at Embassy Suites’ Cypress Lounge. (That would be Oct 26 next.)

On this occasion, the core ensemble consisted of David Morwood on drums, Billy Bosch on bass, and guitarist Michael Lent. Standing at the ready with unconditional love and consistent participation were saxophonist Phil Smith and John Taylor on flugel and trumpet. Taylor took the first solo in the Miles Davis classic Freddie the Freeloader followed by a fairly relaxed take on Coltrane’s Mr. P.C. Smith led the pre-bebop Gypsy charmer Small World Isn’t It.

Durley then stepped up as in-charge MC and soloist in a request for Ain’t Misbehavin’ followed by Come Rain or Come Shine, told in deep, resonant tones and seductive phrasing. As the late afternoon sun streamed in it looked like the program was heading toward musical comfort food. But then came Janice Perl with her crackerjack Cheek to Cheek, complete with sizzling scat. Focus was sharply restored.

In turn, Gail Cruse, Vicki Whittington and Ann Coffis, from Santa Cruz, went retro as the Andrews Sisters for Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, then the Duke’s Mood Indigo. Abruptly, Ruby Rudman, who admitted she didn’t “have perfect pitch,” got keyed into Jobim’s One Note Samba and set it ablaze, offering another shot of scat. Meanwhile, Durley noted that Gary Michaels, Ali Ryerson, Scotty Wright and Thelma Howard had entered the lounge.

Inevitably, the bl008ues demanded its due so Durley and Wright (left) stepped up for Aretha Franklin’s Muddy Water which, as the blues always does, found the strong arterial pulse of the room. Like Perl and Rudman, Wright is a force of nature.

During the break, more artists arrived, including Bob Phillips. At last it was time for the keyboard, starting with Bill Harris who began a two-part set playing and singing BB King’s Everybody Asks Me Why I Sing the BluesAli_Ryerson. Then came, for me, a real high point when Ali Ryerson (right) brandished her virtuoso, coloratura flute to set up the inimitable Scotty Wright and trombonist Craig Nordstrom for The Days of Wine and Roses. I didn’t put a clock on it but it seemed to be both the longest and shortest moment of the afternoon. Wright showed he could scat as good as the ladies.

Bill Spencer at the piano then joined Ryerson in Body and Soul. As with the other acts, the band continued to pour the foundation. I left at a quarter past 5 but, from Durley’s generous follow-up thanks to all, it appears I did miss hearing Bob Phillips. My bad.

By day, Dr. David Morwood lifts faces for a living. But on the last Sunday of every month he uses music to do exactly the same job.