John Beasley Is Crazy For Putting a Big Band Together in This Day and Age
Pianist John Beasley has been in Los Angeles for over 30 years, playing pianos in gin joints, movie studios and everywhere in between. He has been a steadily employed sideman since he was a teenager starting out with Sergio Mendes and has most recently released an LP under the name 3 Brave Souls, alongside funk kingpins Ndugu Chancler and Darryl Jones.
Photo: Tim Sassoon
For the last four Wednesdays in January at the Blue Whale, however -- starting tomorrow night -- Beasley will be offering up three completely different ensembles under his own leadership including, for the first time, his own big band.
Beasley will start his residency off in a familiar place, working two sets of duets with incomparable vocalist Dwight Trible. The following week, Beasley will play two trio sets of obscure Brazilian music, sidestepping the bossas and sambas of everyone's cocktail hour. It is the last two Wednesdays where Beasley will debut his most ambitious project, Monk'estra.
"People think I'm crazy for putting a big band together in this day and age," says Beasley in the backyard of his sun-soaked Venice home. "When I was a kid, my dad brought home these Thad Jones/Mel Lewis records and I just went ape over them."
From that point on there was no stopping him. His father, a teacher at North Texas State University and performer with the Dallas/Ft. Worth Symphony, nurtured his son's interest. "Once I got the bug, he showed me how to make a sketch. He would show me how to not make the trombones so muddy and where to put the saxophones." The tutoring paid off when he won a scholarship for a Stan Kenton clinic while still in junior high school.
"I got into playing jazz piano by wanting to be a big band guy. I've had glimpses of it, arranging for singers and of course doing TV work. It wouldn't necessarily be a big band but I've had that feeling of writing something and then hearing it played back by an orchestra. That's a great feeling."