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LA La Land: You never know who you will find at your neighborhood bar

You never know who you will find at your neighborhood bar.

By Patrick O’Heffernan

You never know who you will find at your neighborhood bar. Your local watering hole is warm, welcoming, full of friends, TV sets, sometimes music – a safe place, even though conversations about sports can sometimes get animated, it is always a great retreat.  Neighborhood bars are where you go when you don’t want to listen to the latest horror on the news, or get away from a job that seems to follow you home, or distractions at home that are not nearly as relaxing as settling back with a beer or cocktail and a whatever quartet or folk singer is on whatever stage may be jammed into the back of the bar.  You never know.

I was at loose ends last night.  I had no concerts or showcases or music industry events booked.  My wife was at a rehearsal for her musical, so rather than rattle around the house or pull up that stuff on my computer I have been meaning to do for weeks, I decided to go to my neighborhood bar.  Of course, this being LA, “neighborhood” includes anyplace within two freeway exits in any direction; my neighborhood bar is cozily close – only one freeway off-ramp, west on the I-10 before it ends at the Pacific Ocean and becomes the Pacific Coast Highway.  The bar is The Trip.

I have frequented the Trip for at least 5 years. On Lincoln Blvd, a few blocks from the I-10, across the street from a Jack-in-the-Box in the not-glitzy south end of Santa Monica, the Trip used to be a semi-biker bar with burlesque and garage rock. The walls were adorned with psychedelic posters, the pool table was busy, and the somewhat shopworn booths and Formica tables were occasionally sticky. But the bar itself was well-stocked and beautifully built.  In addition to a place for locals, afternoon drinkers and pool players, The Trip also was a meetup for Progressives, socialists and other activists who realized that politics went better with beer.

A couple of years ago, the Trip was overhauled. The posters were gone, replaced by guitars hanging artfully on the walls, the sound system was upgraded, the booths were converted to intimate red leather gathering spots and the tables and chairs spiffed up and arranged to allow friends to talk and see the bands.  And the bands improved a lot. The burlesque is still there, a big draw on Wednesday, the quality of the music has moved up several notches.

When I walked in the back door (still open to locals before 7 pm)  was greeted warmly by Amada Campbell, lead singer of the artisanal jazz band The Strands, and Laurie Reimer, local music promoter, Production Manager/Music Librarian/backup singer for the Tribe, and others I recognized from various music events.  It turns out that Reimer was programming a music event that night featuring The Strands as an opening act for the header, the Nick Mancini Collective.

I knew The Strands would be playing – I am a fan – but I knew nothing of the Nick Mancini Collective or even of the kind of jazz they play or even that they would be there.  This was my introduction and it was a great one. I was blown away.

Not being a  deep jazz fan  I was not familiar with the vibraphone, Mancini’s instrument of choice.  He also plays drums and piano and marimba and even congas and tambourines but last night it was the vibraphone.  I was fascinated by the instrument itself and by his proficiency with it. He held two mallets in each hand and practically danced while he played.  I was also fascinated by the percussion array behind him. Pete Korpela sat in the corner with a table that at first glance looked like it held the remains of a metal art project, but which soon became apparent was an arsenal of sophisticated sound makers which he tapped, shook, struck, beat, rattled and generally used to create both rhythm and a sonic environment. Korpela was joined in the back row by Scott Breadman on the congas and small hand drums.

Those two, combined with Mancini’s vibraphone artistry set the stage for extended solos and accompaniments by John Tegmeyer on the clarinet, Adam Ratner on the guitar, and Katisse Buckingham on the sax and flute, propelled along by Kevin van de Elzen on a jazz-infused drum kit.

Like I said, I was blown away.  I now have a new appreciation for the vast landscape of jazz, and for the vibraphone.  Mancini opened my ears and mind to a whole new world that I knew was there but never sat down and listened to. Seeing Mancini’s ballet on the vibraphone and feeling the blends and solos of the rest of the band was a new and enlightening experience.

What started out as a laid back evening with friends, a beer and maybe some music by a cool singer who I know and love turned into a night of hot jazz, new musical knowledge, a new appreciation for a slighted genre,  and maybe some new friends. Never know what you will find at your neighborhood bar.

Patrick O’Heffernan

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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