‘Mr. Beautiful’ George Cables returns to Bay Area, where he has a rich history

Art Pepper, the late, great alto saxophonist almost as famous for his long, dark struggle with addiction as for his lyrical brilliance, recognized a luminous soul when he encountered one. Toward the end of his life, he made some of his most vulnerable and exquisite music in duet with pianist George Cables, whom he dubbed “Mr. Beautiful.”

A few years before Pepper and Cables recorded albums like “Goin’ Home” and “Tête-à-Tête,” 14-year-old Berkeley pianist Benny Green experienced an epiphany via a simulcast of the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival when hearing Cables perform with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. It led to Cables “instantaneously becoming my living piano hero,” Green recalls.

On a Facebook tribute a few years ago describing that first encounter, Green hailed Cables’ bountiful generosity on and off the bandstand. “An incredibly inclusive and kind man,” and a binding force on the jazz scene, Green wrote. “He makes us all feel like we’re a part of this.”

It’s no exaggeration to describe Cables as one of jazz’s most beloved musicians, and he makes a rare appearance in Berkeley Feb. 16-17 at the California Jazz Conservatory with a trio featuring bassist Jeff Denson and drummer Gerald Cleaver (Cables also gives a CJC masterclass Saturday afternoon). It’s his first time working with them, but he’s not particularly worried about what they’re going to play.

A highly regarded composer with at least half a dozen pieces in wide circulation, Cables is known for writing luminous melodies that stick in your ear, like “Helen’s Song,” “Morning Song,” and “Melodious Funk.”

“I’m a pretty melodic writer, and sometimes those pieces can almost play themselves,” said Cables, 79. “For bassists, I like to send the music ahead, because I do write a lot of bass parts that can get note-y. On ‘Helen’s Song’ the bass part is part of the song. That’s kind of how I write.”

Cables’ appearance in the CJC’s intimate Rendon Hall is part of the school’s JAMBAR series, which is underwritten by the organic energy bar company founded by drummer Jennifer Maxwell (who co-founded and later sold PowerBar). Over the past two years the JAMBAR concerts have featured jazz giants such as saxophonists Joe Lovano and Mark Turner and pianists Rachel Z and Billy Childs. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt follows Cables in the queue, with performances and a masterclass April 12-13.

Cables returns to the Bay Area Feb. 22 for a show at Yoshi’s with The Cookers, an all-star septet that boasts some of jazz’s most distinguished players, including drummer and NEA Jazz Master Billy Hart, saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Donald Harrison, bassist Cecil McBee, and tenor saxophonist Billy Harper.

Cables has deep creative relationships with just about every fellow Cooker dating back decades, but his ties to Cookers trumpeter Eddie Henderson run through the Bay Area. A medical doctor who gained renown as a member of Herbie Hancock’s San Francisco-based Mwandishi band in the early 1970s, Henderson “had a doctor’s office on Haight and I used to go by and see him,” Cables recalled. “Sometimes he’d …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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