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Brilliant trumpet player John Worley shares his gift
By Andrew Gilbert
Special to the Mercury News
Saturday, December 20, 2003
A quick glance at John Worley's résumé seems to reveal a versatile musician with an impressive range of credits. But listen closely and you'll hear a brass player whose exhilarating music distills the most interesting elements of the Bay Area music scene.
One of the region's finest trumpeters, Worley has been heard to advantage in some of the Bay Area's most creative ensembles, including Jon Jang's Pan Asian Arkestra, Anthony Brown's Asian American Jazz Orchestra, Rebeca Mauleón's Round Trip and Wayne Wallace's Rhythm and Rhyme. As a first-call sideman he's worked with luminaries such as McCoy Tyner, Don Byron, Bobby Hutcherson, Wayne Shorter, Louie Bellson and Pete Escovedo.
``I've been a part of so many different aspects of the music scene, whether playing shows at the Venetian Room with James Brown and Mel Tormé, or backing heavyweight cats at the Monterey Jazz Festival like Don Byron,'' Worley says during a phone interview from his home in Daly City. ``I also learned a lot from guys, from Al Molina, Zane Woodworth and Rudy Salvini. They really taught about the Bay Area trumpet lineage, and I've tried to continue the standards they set.''
Worley performs on Monday in Hotel Valencia's sleek V Bar as part of the twice weekly series produced by the San Jose Jazz Society. Playing fluegelhorn, trumpet and a hybrid instrument that combines aspects of both horns, Worley will bring in a trio with bassist John Shifflett and guitarist Sebastien Lanson, both of whom are featured on his recently released debut CD ``Worlview.''
While the album encompasses a myriad of styles, from Latin jazz to the modal Blue Note sound to funk and straight ahead bop, there's a unified feel to the proceedings that reflects Worley's expansive musical vision. It's the work of an artist who knows exactly what he wants to say and who has found a group of like-minded improvisers who share his vision, such as saxophonist Jim Norton, pianist Murray Low, drummers Jason Lewis and Paul Van Wageningen and trombonist Wayne Wallace. Wallace also produced the album and contributed five arrangements.
``The thing about John is that he can go in so many different directions and still sound like John,'' says Wallace, who is on the music faculty at San Jose State. ``We were doing a school gig and he played Louis Armstrong's `Hotter Than That' solo from a transcription and he nailed it. That's some hard stuff! He can play in a 1940s-'50s style, and really evoke that kind of phrasing. And John really has his ear to Don Cherry with Ornette Coleman. No matter what context, he always gives the music first service. It's never about him.''
Wallace also points out that Worley has developed a highly distinctive voice on fluegelhorn, the slightly larger and mellower sibling of the trumpet. Glowing with warmth, his fluegelhorn lines almost seem tangible as they pour out of his horn.
``The fluegelhorn speaks to me. It always has,'' Worley says. ``The trumpet is fun to play. You get to punch it out there, but everybody knows what the trumpet sounds like. It's not really distinctive unless you have fine ears and know what to listen for. But the fluegelhorn is really different. People still haven't caught onto it. It's the horn that I always get feedback on.''
At the age of 9, the Daly City native was drawn to the trumpet by a Reader's Digest article on Louis Armstrong. After early lessons with Dick Snyder, he went on to study with Bay Area trumpet stars Allen Smith and Johnny Coppola. A veteran of the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton orchestras, Coppola has mentored several generations of jazz musicians and he helped launch Worley as a professional at 15.
Worley has continued the Bay Area trumpet tradition through his work as an educator, teaching clinics and master classes at high schools, colleges and festivals around the region. It's a role he plays even on the bandstand, where his vast range of experience and dedication to the music raises the level of the players around him.
``I always used to be the youngest guy in the band. Now I'm one of the older cats, like in the Collective West Jazz Orchestra,'' Worley says, referring to the band that plays Johnny Foley's in San Francisco on Tuesdays. ``One trumpeter is 23 and another is 28, and they're absolute monsters. I'll tell them `This is something we did in the past,' so they know the history, and bandstand etiquette, and about playing a particular style that's appropriate for the moment.''