Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Straight-ahead jazz covers unusual ground



Like a clip from Ken Burns' documentary, five musicians are playing jazz in a smoky club. The saxophone is just as smoky, and after his soloing during "My Funny Valentine," a woman near the front applauds. Oddly, this scene happened just a few nights ago, at Art's Café and Cigar Bar.

The band is King 'Tet. Led by Roger King Jr., one-time drummer for Swingerhead, the quintet fashions what's called straight-ahead jazz from traditional -- and unusual -- sources.

"I'm still trying to figure out what Journey song to do," says King, and he's not joking. Their self-named and self-produced CD features standards like "Stolen Moments," and tunes written by The Who and Sarah McLachlan, played as if they were contemporaries of Lester Young and Charlie Parker.

But it's not one of those "what if Mozart wrote the Beatles?" experiments. This is a group that, above all, digs music.

"There wasn't anywhere I could go to hear this music," King says over lunch, while tenor-sax player Tom Deitz and pianist Alex Clements discuss an arrangement of Alanis Morrisette's "Uninvited." King brooks no compromise in his choice of style. "The idea of playing well-written melodies, with a good band, is first."

Clements' desire to play jazz is partly a reaction to his day job in the house band at Cirque de Soleil, while Deitz rushes to play "real music" when he's not at gigs for Disney.

The thought of "jazz Alanis" should raise the John Tesh alert, but 'Tet's covers are of a much older school. "This is just like John Coltrane playing ‘My Funny Valentine,'" Deitz says. "Miles Davis did ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come' -- the popular music of the day."

These young(ish) lions have picked a tough course; while radio jazz is "cool" and the avant-garde of Sam Rivers is hot, the music that bridged bebop and smooth jazz isn't played much around here -- and that's exactly why the five-piece exists. "We want to reach a young audience," King explains, "let them say, ‘Hey, this is jazz? It's pretty cool.' Then we play the other stuff."

The recently released disc opens with "Invitation," a standard that's been done by everyone from Rosemary Clooney to Coltrane, before moving into The Who's "See Me, Feel Me." As interpreted by the trumpet of John Castleman, who's played with Rivers, Gary Burton and Chick Corea, it could be a Miles tune.

Playing piano on the CD is Christian Tamburr, who special guests onstage when he's not playing in Vegas or im-mersed in jazz studies at the University of North Florida. The 21-year-old über-kind first came to Orlando's attention playing vibes for Michael Andrew when he was 15. He was a talented youngster then; he's a monster now. Tamburr plays piano like a percussion instrument, thoughtfully choosing notes reminiscent of Bill Evans and Bruce Hornsby. During the Sting number "Consider Me Gone," he pushes against the rhythm until it ap-proaches the rock energy of the original.

Watching the band, you realize that King really likes to play. King is one of the band members who attended the Berklee College of Music (Clements is the other), and he drums with eyes closed, snapping an accent or adding a quick double rhythm, playing fat and mellow like the sound on old Dave Brubeck records. His solos are energetic, and during his swing days the crowd was known to hit the dance floor -- dancing, to a drum solo.

Bassist Tony Venturini, the quiet one, is the youngest full-time member and is still a student at University of Central Florida. His fingers are in constant motion, and he gets the quickest response from the audience with his tasty solo runs.

King 'Tet, or a portion of it, offers the "Be-Bop Jazz-Shop" Tuesday nights at the Bodhisattva Social Club. And the Central Florida Jazz Society hosts the group Sunday, June 17, at the American Legion Club.

"I'm living the jazz musician's life," he proclaims wistfully. "Which of course means I'm tapped out.

"But very happy."

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