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Jazz master's career riffs on musical contrasts

Steve Trovato is performing at Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake every Sunday in September

August 31, 2012|By Jonny Whiteside
  • Guitarist Steve Trovato has been playing the guitar for more than 40 years. Trovato blends jazz, country and blues. He will be performing at Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake every Sunday in September.
Guitarist Steve Trovato has been playing the guitar for… (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff…)

Lucy's 51 is a classic Toluca Lake spot, one still haunted by the gently jiving spirits of high times and late nights long since past.

This room on Riverside Drive has a formidable history: Its previous incarnation was venerable jazz club the Money Tree, a legendary joint where Hollywood musical giants like pianist Page Cavanaugh, trumpeter Jack Sheldon and drummer Earl Palmer bewitched audiences decades ago. It's also the spot where actor-jazz fan Jack Webb schemed the scandalous romantic acquisition of singer Julie London away from her husband Bobby Troup, the legendary singer-pianist who composed “Route 66.” Atmosphere the place does not lack — the very air itself seems charged with a joyous spectral voltage.

Lucy's recently instituted a steady policy of live jazz and blues performances, and Sunday evenings have become the exclusive domain of acclaimed six-string pyro-technician, author and educator Steve Trovato. Known around the world as “The Country Jazzmaster,” Trovato's masterly technique, intoxicating spontaneity and mesmerizing choice of material never fail to dazzle, and these swinging Sabbaths have quickly become the premier local destination for winding down the weekend's frolic.

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At Lucy's, it's a pretty rough-and-tumble affair. Trovato's approach and demeanor seem very loose, casual, but he bears down on each number with a sweetly aggressive style. A request for Patsy Cline's “Walkin' After Midnight” evokes a raunchy, low-down instrumental workout, followed by a caustic throw-down with keyboardist Phil Parlapiano's cutting, funky vocals on the Bob Dylan “Music from Big Pink” enigma “Maggie's Farm.”

Trovato will next turn around and perform a hauntingly evocative, minor-keyed study in gypsy jazz atmospherics, the move onto a roaring country rocker in the vein of his friend and influence Albert Lee. The kaleidoscopic mixture and genre-hopping range is at once exhilarating and soothing, handily ranking him — along with Parlapiano, drummer Lynn Coulter and bassist Moses Sparks — as one of the most accomplished and emotionally affecting musical combos working in the area.

His distinguished career as a teacher, currently writing the curriculum for and serving as senior lecturer of Studio/Jazz Guitar and Popular Music at the prestigious USC Thornton School of Music, actually began as a fluke, one focusing on a style with which Trovato had little practical experience.

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