Vibraphone virtuosos are one of jazz’s rarest breeds—they’re practically non-existent outside of America’s great indigenous art form—so the opportunity to catch two mallet masters at once is an occasion akin to a full lunar eclipse: extraordinary, beautiful and a wee bit scary.
The event bringing two vibes visionaries to the Sunset Center on Wednesday is a benefit performance for the JazzMasters Workshop, the program founded by jazz guitar ace Bruce Forman that provides free music lessons to students in schools and community centers around the region. Billed as “Mallet Magic,” the concert features vibraphonists Dave Pike and Ed Saindon, who will both play sets accompanied by a top-flight rhythm section with veteran pianist Mark Levine, bassist Dan Robbins, and the highly musical drummer Vince Lateano.
“With its new acoustics the Sunset Center will be a wonderful place for the vibes,” says Forman, who may sit in during the concert’s requisite all-hands-on-deck concluding number. “We’re really looking for people who will buy a block of tickets to give to kids. Getting kids in the Sunset Center creates an incentive to get them into our program and get them playing. We’ll even have some of the kids from the workshops play a short opening set and then join the jam at the end.”
While vibes aficionados will be familiar with Pike and Saindon’s work, they are something of underground legends in jazz circles. Pike first gained notice as a teenage phenomenon on the mid-1950s Los Angeles scene, playing with Southland stars like Harold Land, Dexter Gordon, and Paul Bley. He gained much more exposure touring and recording with flutist Herbie Mann in the early ‘60s, and then made a classic album of his own with 1965’s Jazz For the Jet Set.
A six-year stint in Europe lowered his profile here, and though he’s been active since returning to Los Angeles since the mid-’70s, he’s never gained fame equal to his tremendous gifts as an improviser. His command of the bebop idiom and fluency in Latin rhythms have been heard to advantage in recent years on recordings for Criss Cross and Timeless.
Saindon is an even better-kept secret than Pike. After graduating from Boston’s Berklee College of Music in the mid-’70s, he was immediately hired as a professor. He’s developed a ferocious four-mallet technique with a very different sound than his former Berklee boss Gary Burton. His lyrically sensibility and harmonic sophistication are evident on his 1998 album The Great American Songbook, which features gifted mainstream players such as trumpeter Warren Vache, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and trombonist Dan Barrett.
It’s worth noting that rhythm-section pianist Mark Levine is a superlative player and bandleader in his own right, whose album Isla, with his combo The Latin Tinge, has been nominated for a Grammy.
The fact that the concert’s proceeds go toward music education is simply gilding the lily. At a time when cash-strapped school districts are slashing already under-funded music programs, Forman is offering students a desperately needed creative outlet.
“We bring the instruments—piano, bass, drums, guitar and percussion—and there are two or three mentors at every session,” Forman says. “Every kid in this country needs a chance to play.”
Wednesday, 7:30pm. Sunset Center, San Carlos at 8th, Carmel. $20 for adults; $10 for students. presented by JazzMasters Workshop; 659-4654.