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Publication date: 06/27/2002
Jewkes Joint
BY ANDREW GILBERT
Special to The Examiner


Versatility is the key to survival for most musicians, but in the case
of Noel Jewkes, doing many things well may have detracted attention from the
fact that he also does some things brilliantly.

A prodigious multi-instrumentalist who has been a mainstay on the San
Francisco jazz scene for almost 40 years, Jewkes is a compelling, cool-toned
tenor player, and an accomplished clarinetist, flutist, and alto and soprano
saxophonist. He's more than capable on several other instruments, including
some, like trumpet and valve trombone, that he rarely plays in public. He's
also a skilled arranger and gifted composer. But he's best known as a fluent
soloist who can add a jolt of electricity to any musical situation.

Since Jewkes first settled in The City in 1964, he's covered just about
every base, jamming till the wee hours at the legendary after-hours spot
Jimbo's Bop City and playing rock with Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites.
He participated in a pioneering psychedelic multimedia performance group in
the late '60s, and has been part of the swing revival with the Blue Room
Boys. A first-call sideman, he's been in particular demand among vocalists,
doing stints with Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Billy Eckstine, Mary
Stallings, Paula West and Lavay Smith.

"What I love about Noel is that he understands the tradition, but is
completely original and modern in every way," says pianist Mike Greensill,
who employed Jewkes on two albums with his wife, jazz/cabaret singer Weslia
Whitfield, and recorded a beautiful duo album with him, "American Lullaby"
(Myoho Records).

"So many modern players have no idea what's gone before, and a lot of
musicians versed in the swing tradition sound moldy and old-fashioned,"
Greensill continues. "I think he gets a little frustrated that people think
he's just playing old stuff, because he's so good at it he often gets calls
for those gigs. But his original music is Coltrane inspired, and in his own
groups he goes in that direction."

Jewkes celebrates the release of his new CD "If And When The Stars ..."
at Jazz at Pearl's Friday and Saturday with pianist Matt Clark, drummer
Vince Lateano and bassists John Wiitala (Friday) and Peter Barshay
(Saturday). It's an impressive session recorded live in La Jolla with a
strong young rhythm section that captures Jewkes in an expansive mood,
stretching out on standards like "Laura," "Body and Soul" and his original
piece "The Letter 'E.' "

Jewkes also performs Sunday at Bistro 339 at the Ramada Union Square
Hotel with longtime associate Larry Vuckovich on piano, Paul Breslin on bass
and ace drummer Danny Spencer.

Pioneer days

While Jewkes was born and raised in rural central Utah, jazz was almost
a birthright. His family had come to the area in the late 19th century as
Mormon pioneers, and he grew up playing in a family band that was one of the
region's main sources of entertainment. Jewkes came by his love of jazz from
his father, who played trumpet, guitar and bass. (His father's brother,
Delos Jewkes, went on to Hollywood, where he performed in all eight of
Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy's Depression-era musicals.)
"We had quite a rich musical heritage," Jewkes says from his home in
Larkspur. "I was simply a part of it. There had been a Jewkes Orchestra in
Utah for years. My great-grandfather brought some of the first musical
instruments to the state ... . We had a little family swing band, playing
for dances, church parties, proms."

The area was hardly cut off from the jazz mainstream. A resort outside
of Salt Lake City called Lagoon featured top bands making their way
cross-country playing strings of one-nighters, and while he was still a
teenager Jewkes had the chance to see luminaries like Duke Ellington, Louis
Armstrong, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Nat Cole, Dave Brubeck and Errol
Garner.

By the time he started attending Brigham Young University in the late
'50s, he learned his way around the piano, guitar, tenor saxophone and
clarinet, which he studied with the principal clarinetist of the Utah
Symphony. Dropping out of BYU, he headed for California, landing first in
Fresno, then in Sacramento, and finally settling in San Francisco in 1963.
He quickly established himself on the Bay Area scene as part of an
adventurous quartet with his housemate, pianist Flip NuĂ’ez, bassist Fred
Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli. Hired by the great vocalist Jon
Hendricks, Jewkes made his recording debut with the quartet on a classic
live session at a Sausalito jazzspot, "Jon Hendricks Recorded in Person at
the Trident."

The group evolved in an avant-garde direction, turning into a seminal
psychedelic multimedia project called Light Sound Dimension, featuring light
painter Bill Ham, with whom the group ran a San Francisco theater for
several years in the late '60s.
"It was far out," Jewkes says with a chuckle, reverting to the lingo ofthe day. "It was a mind opening experience. We were on the cutting edge, you might say, back then."

Disillusioned with the Bay Area jazz scene in the early '70s, he moved
to Marin, where he played with rock bands led by guitarists Bloomfield and
Gravenites. But it wasn't long before he began to hunger for more
challenging music, and when he came back to San Francisco he formed a
quartet with the outstanding Vuckovich called Hues. The group never
recorded, but the two men have continued to collaborate frequently.
With more opportunities to present his own music in recent years, Jewkes
has edged his way into the foreground. He's performed at a number of
prestigious jazz festivals with his Legato Express septet and has released
several albums, including 1998's "Vooti."

While he continues to work in a wide variety of situations, he is
putting much of his energy into writing, drawing on his vast range of
musical experiences. "I've always wanted to take the best of it all, and find a way for me to express myself," Jewkes says. "I'm not really concerned with being too
up-to-date a lot of the time. I like what I like. But I've had to be very
flexible and relate to a lot of different kinds of music."