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'Jam Session' Helps Veteran LA Musicians  Keep in Practice - 2004-02-06

Musicians say they need to keep in practice between their music gigs, so every week some music industry veterans in Los Angeles get together for an informal jam session. Mike O'Sullivan reports, they squeeze a big band sound into a small rehearsal hall in Hollywood.

They meet in a soundproof room at the musicians' union building, with 18 to 20 musicians on trumpet, saxophone, drums, piano and bass, together creating more sound than the room was made for.

The younger players are in their 30s or 40s, like this sax player.

"My name is Rick Keller, and I play the saxophones and flutes and clarinets, and I'm a jazz musician," he explains.

Sid Bulkin has been around a lot longer. A musician since age 13, he was a drummer with the Benny Goodman band, before a successful career as a freelance musician.

"And I made a living out of playing with the movie stars. So I was with Vic Damone for over 20 years. I worked with Sinatra," he notes.

He also played with other music greats, including Dick Haimes and Ella Fitzgerald.

Saxophone player Pat Longo worked with the Harry James orchestra before creating his own big band 25 years ago. He says many musicians who practice here are part of his big band, when they're not recording for the movies, doing studio backup, or involved in other work in the music business.

"And we keep the band fine-tooth combed so that when an engagement comes up, we're on top of it," he says. "And you know, when you play an instrument, you've got to play every day, so sometimes instead of playing scales at home, you'd rather come here and play some music and enjoy it."

This week, along with some old favorites, the musicians are playing a new composition by trumpeter Bill Armstrong. It's called "Re-entry," and it is partly inspired by NASA's Mars program.

"I dedicated it to the space program in general and we're kind of tweaking it to make it a little more personal to Mars," he explains.

These musicians say that only in cities like Los Angeles, with its high concentration of professional musicians, can they find the opportunity for such intensive practice.

They play both recent and classic numbers, often with new arrangements. Musician Sid Bulkin says, traditional or contemporary, it's all part of the jazz tradition.

There is no such thing as old jazz and new jazz, just jazz. All that jazz.