Publication date: 06/27/2002
BY ANDREW GILBERT
Special to The Examiner
Versatility is the key to survival for most musicians, but in the
of Noel Jewkes, doing many things well may have detracted attention
fact that he also does some things brilliantly.
A prodigious multi-instrumentalist who has
been a mainstay on the San
Francisco jazz scene for almost 40 years, Jewkes is a compelling,
tenor player, and an accomplished clarinetist, flutist, and alto and
saxophonist. He's more than capable on several other instruments,
some, like trumpet and valve trombone, that he rarely plays in public.
also a skilled arranger and gifted composer. But he's best known as
soloist who can add a jolt of electricity to any musical situation.
Since Jewkes first settled in The City in 1964,
he's covered just about
every base, jamming till the wee hours at the legendary after-hours
Jimbo's Bop City and playing rock with Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites.
He participated in a pioneering psychedelic multimedia performance
the late '60s, and has been part of the swing revival with the Blue
Boys. A first-call sideman, he's been in particular demand among vocalists,
doing stints with Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Billy Eckstine, Mary
Stallings, Paula West and Lavay Smith.
"What I love about Noel is that he understands
the tradition, but is
completely original and modern in every way," says pianist Mike
who employed Jewkes on two albums with his wife, jazz/cabaret singer
Whitfield, and recorded a beautiful duo album with him, "American
"So many modern players have no idea what's
gone before, and a lot of
musicians versed in the swing tradition sound moldy and old-fashioned,"
Greensill continues. "I think he gets a little frustrated that
he's just playing old stuff, because he's so good at it he often gets
for those gigs. But his original music is Coltrane inspired, and in
groups he goes in that direction."
Jewkes celebrates the release of his new CD
"If And When The Stars ..."
at Jazz at Pearl's Friday and Saturday with pianist Matt Clark, drummer
Vince Lateano and bassists John Wiitala (Friday) and Peter Barshay
(Saturday). It's an impressive session recorded live in La Jolla with
strong young rhythm section that captures Jewkes in an expansive mood,
stretching out on standards like "Laura," "Body and
Soul" and his original
piece "The Letter 'E.' "
Jewkes also performs Sunday at Bistro 339 at
the Ramada Union Square
Hotel with longtime associate Larry Vuckovich on piano, Paul Breslin
and ace drummer Danny Spencer.
While Jewkes was born and raised in rural central
Utah, jazz was almost
a birthright. His family had come to the area in the late 19th century
Mormon pioneers, and he grew up playing in a family band that was
one of the
region's main sources of entertainment. Jewkes came by his love of
his father, who played trumpet, guitar and bass. (His father's brother,
Delos Jewkes, went on to Hollywood, where he performed in all eight
Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy's Depression-era musicals.)
"We had quite a rich musical heritage," Jewkes says from
his home in
Larkspur. "I was simply a part of it. There had been a Jewkes
Utah for years. My great-grandfather brought some of the first musical
instruments to the state ... . We had a little family swing band,
for dances, church parties, proms."
The area was hardly cut off from the jazz mainstream.
A resort outside
of Salt Lake City called Lagoon featured top bands making their way
cross-country playing strings of one-nighters, and while he was still
teenager Jewkes had the chance to see luminaries like Duke Ellington,
Armstrong, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Nat Cole, Dave Brubeck and Errol
By the time he started attending Brigham Young
University in the late
'50s, he learned his way around the piano, guitar, tenor saxophone
clarinet, which he studied with the principal clarinetist of the Utah
Symphony. Dropping out of BYU, he headed for California, landing first
Fresno, then in Sacramento, and finally settling in San Francisco
He quickly established himself on the Bay Area scene as part of an
adventurous quartet with his housemate, pianist Flip NuÒez,
Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli. Hired by the great vocalist Jon
Hendricks, Jewkes made his recording debut with the quartet on a classic
live session at a Sausalito jazzspot, "Jon Hendricks Recorded
in Person at
The group evolved in an avant-garde direction,
turning into a seminal
psychedelic multimedia project called Light Sound Dimension, featuring
painter Bill Ham, with whom the group ran a San Francisco theater
several years in the late '60s. "It
was far out," Jewkes says with a chuckle, reverting to the lingo
ofthe day. "It was a mind opening experience. We were on the
cutting edge, you might say, back then."
Disillusioned with the Bay Area jazz scene
in the early '70s, he moved
to Marin, where he played with rock bands led by guitarists Bloomfield
Gravenites. But it wasn't long before he began to hunger for more
challenging music, and when he came back to San Francisco he formed
quartet with the outstanding Vuckovich called Hues. The group never
recorded, but the two men have continued to collaborate frequently.
With more opportunities to present his own music in recent years,
has edged his way into the foreground. He's performed at a number
prestigious jazz festivals with his Legato Express septet and has
several albums, including 1998's "Vooti."
While he continues to work in a wide variety
of situations, he is
putting much of his energy into writing, drawing on his vast range
musical experiences. "I've always wanted to take the best of
it all, and find a way for me to express myself," Jewkes says.
"I'm not really concerned with being too
up-to-date a lot of the time. I like what I like. But I've had to
flexible and relate to a lot of different kinds of music."