Tenor Saxophonist Keith Oxman Leads a Burning Organ Trio from Denver to East of the Village
Oxman’s 9th release for Capri Records, out Feb. 17, features drummer Todd Reid and Hammond B3 player Jeff Jenkins on a set of little-known standards and newly-penned originals
" If anyone still needs convincing that outstanding jazz players live and work in places other than on the East and West Coasts, they should check out Denver-based Keith Oxman… an excellent improviser with a fine sound, agile technique and sure harmonic sense. He also exhibits a thorough knowledge of the hard bop language and can swing like crazy." – David Franklin, JazzTimes
"[Oxman’s] tone on the tenor breathes a warm, coaxing fire that he moulds into each composition with flair and imagination.” – Jerry D’Souza, AllAboutJazz
From just east of the Rockies comes East of the Village, a burning taste of East Coast hip straight from the heart of the Mountain West. Tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman and his Denver-based trio –organist Jeff Jenkins and drummer Todd Reid – offer a well-honed set of Mile-High swing on this set of less-familiar standards and infectious originals, out February 17 on Capri Records.
Oxman’s ninth recording for Capri, East of the Village (named, incidentally, for the soulful Hank Mobley tune included herein, not for any geographical reasons) reconfigures Oxman’s longtime quartet as a deeply grooving organ trio, with usual pianist Jenkins switching over to the Hammond B3 for the occasion. The trio found its smoldering sound during a two-month residency at Denver’s Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club, an intimate space with an art deco bar that harkens back to the Five Points neighborhood’s jazz-rich past, when it was known as the “Harlem of the West.”
As carefree and finger-snapping as this music may be, it wasn’t achieved without its share of struggle. The trio’s first attempt at recording was marred by equipment mishaps and had to be scrapped. When they reconvened last April, less than a month had passed since the passing of Oxman’s mother, which almost precipitated another cancellation.
“My father encouraged me to proceed with it,” Oxman recalls. “I was barely in a frame of mind to play, but something happened when we got together. Six out of ten of those tracks are first takes.”
It helps that the three members of Oxman’s trio (which he only grudgingly takes leadership of, preferring to think of it as a collaborative effort) share histories that stretch back more than a decade and a half. In his liner notes for the CD, Nocturne owner Scott Mattson cites “honesty” as the trio’s defining quality, which shines vividly through every note on the album’s ten tracks. Oxman passed over the obvious repertoire choices for the album, searching for deserving but rarely-played pieces like Jule Styne’s “Bye Bye Baby,” the breezy swinger that opens the album, sung by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
“I did not want things that were typically played or recorded,” Oxman says. “That’s how we operate in the clubs. We’re always trying to find material that hasn’t been played to death.”
That includes album closer “(I’ve Got) Beginner’s Luck,” not one of George Gershwin’s better-known compositions though it was introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film Shall We Dance, perhaps overshadowed by the fact that “They All Laughed,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” all appear in the same movie.
Oxman is at his breathiest on Jimmy Van Heusen’s solemn “Deep in a Dream,” with Reid’s whispering brushes and Jenkins’ weeping organ, while Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky To Be Me” features the band at its most tender and winsome. Their strolling take on Fred Ahlert’s “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” is probably the best known piece on the album.
The trio’s originals fit snugly in with these undersung classics. Reid’s pun-titled “A Vaunt Guard” is driven by a zig-zagging, percussive head and features Oxman blowing an angular solo over the drummer’s rollicking foundation. Jenkins’ “The Shorter Route” is an anthemic tribute to Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note years, while the leader’s “Brothers, Michel and Jean-Marc” is an homage to a pair of French saxophonists, each represented by an alternating theme.
Keith Oxman’s burnished tenor sound is born of a love of classic players like Sonny Stitt and Charles McPherson, with both of whom he’s played, along with greats like Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Jack McDuff, Phil Woods and Dave Brubeck. Having learned directly from these masters, Oxman passes that torch along to his students at Denver’s East High School.
A native of Nebraska City, Nebraska, Jeff Jenkins headed east to New York City in the 1980s, where he studied with Richie Beirach, Kenny Barron and Fred Hersch while playing in Broadway pit orchestras. Now teaching at the University of Colorado and Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, Jenkins has worked with such notables as Phil Woods, Freddie Hubbard, David “Fathead” Newman, Bobby Hutcherson and John Abercrombie.
After studying at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Todd Reid moved to New York City and worked with Gerry Mulligan, Dr. Billy Taylor, Jim McNeely, Bucky Pizzarelli and others. Upon moving to Denver in 1992 he played drums in the house band at the famed jazz and blues club El Chapultepec and performed or recorded with the likes of Jon Hendricks, Mose Allison, Richie Cole, Bob Dorough, Curtis Fuller, Eddie Harris, Red Holloway and more. He’s currently the Percussion Area Coordinator at the University of Colorado Denver.