The Jazzcat

George Cables at the Herbst Theater for the San Francisco Jazz Festival

by on Nov.05, 2005, under News


The orchestra section is full at the Herbst Theater for the

George Cable performance tonight. I have never seen George perform, though I

used to play a few of his albums when I worked at jazz radio station 88.1FM

KKJZ in Los Angeles.



I’m excited because I also see a vibraphone on stage. I could

take a peek at the program, but I would rather be surprised by the line-up. It

delights me to see the house full and know that jazz is truly being supported

in San Francisco.

These are special performances that Randall Klein and the people at the SF Jazz

organization have spent many hours handpicking to present the finest in jazz

and world music.


There are some people behind me talking and I heard the name

“Bobby” mentioned, so I guess the surprise is over, but my anticipation has

jumped to a new level. I peered around the room, as I always do to see if there

is any youth in the house. The percentage is mighty slim. It is our

responsibility to make sure that we do not alienate our youth. And, when it

comes to jazz, youth can be anyone from forty-five and below. So, the next time

that you go to see some jazz, make sure to also invite someone young that would

benefit from the jazz experience that we all know and love!


As we are all waiting in anticipation for the show to begin,

one of the greatest jazz producers in the world walks on the stage and up to

the microphone, Orrin Keepnews. You can’t say the word “jazz” without

experiencing some of the work of Orrin. He has worked with all of the legends

in the business during the time that he owned and operated Riverside Records

and well beyond that. This is an extraordinary band and as Orrin says, “We can

be proud of the SF Jazz Festival for being around twenty-three years,

presenting the best in jazz music.”


Orrin is not only a great producer, but he also has a witty

sense of humor. He has a deep admiration for three of these gentlemen tonight that

he has known, loved and worked with over the last forty years. They are George

Cables on piano, Gary

Bartz on alto and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Today’s generation of burners

rounded out the rhythm section with Eric Revis on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.


George Cables says that Bobby is one of his mentors and that

he is very happy to have him on stage tonight. He also remembers Gary from the old days,

playing together with Art Blakey. A reunion is one of the most wonderful things

to see, experience and revisit in live jazz music. You really feel the camaraderie

and have some sense of how these cats used to hang in the “old days”.



After the gentlemen’s speech from George, he proceeded to

play his own version of “I Care” which jumps out off the blocks and takes off.

I love when history meets youth. It adds to the exciting sense of old school

fueled with the octane of youth. This is how the music was born. Back in the

day, young musicians came onto the scene and joined existing bands that were already

legendary in the business. The youth were groomed in these bands with their

older counterparts, and even the elders learned something as they saw their new

band members excel.


The quartet burns without Bobby, who will be joining the

band as the special guest later on in the performance. There is a new CD available

that is called, “Looking for the Light,” which is a joyful, melodic piece. George

is so gracious when he speaks to the audience. In a respectful and humorous

demeanor, he does suggest that the new disc makes a great Halloween gift!


George caresses the keys with a medium light pressure that

floats and glides with such ease. “Effortless Mastery”, as Kenny Werner would

say. His hands are like a hovercraft on the piano. Eric’s bass sings on its

solo and communicates so clearly. I saw him perform at a jam session in the

evening after the Monterey Jazz Festival. You can really feel his enthusiasm to

play– like an NBA player before the game.


“Helen’s Song” was written right here in San Francisco on Mason and Pine for George’s

best friend. She must have a warm smile, be very loving and have a great stride

when she walks in her pumps on a hot and sunny summer day!



is hot and fluid on his alto. He flows just as much as George floats. They pass

the musical baton off to each other like Olympians and perfectly complement

each other. Tain jumps into all kinds of rifts– driving and supporting each of

his players with a healthy, nutritious dose of a garden of beats.



After a beautiful introduction and with a warm applause from

the audience, Bobby comes on stage. It is always fun to see him interact with

old musical friends from back in the day. George said that his friend Helen had

a nickname for him. She used to call him, “Mr. Baggy Pants” so that is what he

named the tune. Bobby’s sound is so classic! This is probably because, when it

comes to vibe players, he is on the all-star first team.

image image

For the second set, the band proceeds to burn an up-tempo

version of, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” that you would hardly recognize. Tain is

all over it. They also played another piece named after George’s sister-in-law

who nicknamed herself, “Spokerone!” The cats have some fun with this one: Tain

is the funniest as he makes spooky ghost sounds, Eric uses his bow to add to

the eeriness, Gary

screeches on alto and puts on a mask, while Bobby’s dissonant notes on the

vibraphone haunt everyone for Halloween. 


After the performance, backstage is just like a very joyful

get-together of old friends and family. Great performance, great friends and

good times at SF Jazz!


LeRoy Downs


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