Get on the Legato Xpress


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Noel Jewkes brings his sax to CJC this month.

Photo courtesy Noel Jewkes

The esteem that Noel Jewkes inspires in his musical colleagues exists in reverse proportion to his diminutive discography. A prodigious multi-instrumentalist who’s been a mainstay on the Bay Area jazz scene for more than half a century, he’s a compelling, cool-toned tenor player and an accomplished clarinetist, flutist, alto, and soprano saxophonist.

Dubbed Dr. Legato for his long, fluid, Lester Young-inspired melodic saxophone lines, he’s also a skilled arranger and original composer. But Jewkes is best known as a graceful accompanist who can add a jolt of electricity to just about any musical situation. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, including his laid-back personality and a lack of indie jazz labels in the Bay Area, he’s a local legend whose reputation has been spread by word of mouth rather than recordings. Jewkes brings his talent-laden Legato Xpress septet to the California Jazz Conservatory on Nov. 17, featuring trumpeter Dave Bendikeit, fellow reed expert Charles McCarthy, trombonist Rob Ewing, pianist Keith Saunders, bassist Chris Amberger, and drummer Mark Lee.

Since Jewkes first settled in San Francisco in 1964, he has covered just about every base, from jamming ’til dawn at the storied after-hours spot Jimbo’s Bop City to playing blues rock with Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites. Over the years, he has carved out a niche as a particularly sympathetic collaborator with vocalists, which led to stints with Rosemary Clooney, Mel Tormé, Billy Eckstine, Mary Stallings, Paula West, and Lavay Smith. His long-running Tuesday night gig at the Seahorse in Sausalito features a regular rotation of excellent jazz singers, but for the CJC show he’ll be letting his horn do the crooning on a program on his lush original compositions and arrangements.

Noel Jewkes and the Legato Xpress, 8 p.m. Nov. 17, California Jazz Conservatory, Berkeley, $20, 510-845-5373, CJC.edu/concerts.

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