Tuesday, March 4, 2014


© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“In 1998, Octobop founder Geoff Roach stayed involved in jazz, like so many musicians who
held full-time jobs outside the music business, by playing in rehearsal big bands.

This enabled him to keep his chops up, but also served as a source of frustration since
this activity afforded him little opportunity to satisfy his creative juices due to being buried
in the reed section, with limited solo opportunities, playing charts that were beginning to feel tired. Inspired by his affection for the mid-sized bands led by the likes of Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich and Dave Pell, as well as by the pianoless groups led by Gerry Mulligan, Roach conceived the idea of forming a group that combined these dual influences.

This group would require the players to exercise the discipline necessary to play in an ensemble and also allow them ample occasions for soloing. The result was Octobop. In addition to the benefits to the players in his group. Roach was also determined to have an ensemble that would attract an audience by playing arrangements that were accessible to listeners. He understood that too many jazz groups failed because they did not recognize the importance of communicating with their audience.”
- Joe Lang, Past President, New Jersey Jazz Society

Baritone saxophonist Geoff Roach has been quietly going back in time for the past fifteen years or so with an octet whose instrumentation and resulting music is very reminiscent of the cool style of Jazz that largely flourished in Los Angeles in the decade of the 1950’s.

But while acknowledging this earlier influence, Geoff’s group Octobop is very much expanding the dialogue by adding some new dimensions to these older sounds.

Since 1998, Geoff and his Octobop colleagues have put their own stamp on a style of Jazz pioneered by Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan and Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, by crafting arrangements that bring forth a heightened softness and lushness in the sonority of Cool Jazz.

They have also taken the lighter, bouncier and subtler rhythmic shadings of this style of Jazz and broadened its compositional base with the inclusion of tunes that were written outside this approach to Jazz including Charles Mingus’ Goodbye Porkpie Hat, Bob Mintzer’s Mosaic and Wayne Shorter’s El Gaucho.

In addition to these “new faces”  and Octobop’s reworking and of the compositions of West Coast Jazz stalwarts such as Rogers, Mulligan and Paich, it is also nice to see the group reaching out to the music of Henry Maincini with superb new rendering of Hank’s Dreansville, Pink Panther, and Baby Elephant Walk.

To his credit, because it is not an easy thing to do this day in age, Geoff has taken Octobop outside the recording studio and made it into a working group thanks to appearances at clubs and festivals in the greater San Francisco and San Jose area.

He believes in what he does and loves what he does to the point that he and the members of Octobop devote the personal time and support necessary to further the continuance of a style of music that his very little general recognition in current times.

Uniqueness notwithstanding, this is complicated music that requires great skill to perform. You can’t just drop it for a couple of months and then one day get up on the stand and play it. To get eight musicians to play as one voice demands great dedication and constant practice.

As someone who literally grew up in Los Angeles and played this music with some of its notables, it is such a treat to hear Geoff and the members of Octobop continuing the rich tradition of West Coast Jazz while finding their own expressiveness in it.

www.Octobop.com is the website on which you’ll find more information about the octet’s CD’s, upcoming appearances and reviews about its music.

Here’s what Ken Poston of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute had to say about Octobop in the sleeve notes to its After Dark CD.

© -Geoff Roach/Octobop/Ken Poston, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The West Coast Jazz sound rides again thanks to this third CD release by northern California based Octobop. The brainchild of saxophonist/arranger Geoff Roach, Octobop has successfully taken the essence of the mid-size West Coast ensembles of the 1950s and created a modern approach for the 21st century.

Octobop's musical influences begin with the legendary Miles Davis Nonet of 1949 and 1950. This East Coast Nonet was unique in both musical concept and instrumentation. From a composition standpoint, there is an equal emphasis on the written arrangements and the improvised solos. Appropriately, these recordings would come to be known as The Birth of the Cool. Surprisingly, when the first Davis Nonet records were released they didn't make much of an impact on the critics or the audience. They did, however, have a major impact on several young arrangers, many of whom ended up in Los Angeles during the 1950s.

By the end of 1951 Shorty Rogers had departed the Stan Kenton Orchestra and
settled in Southern California. He found regular work at The Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach,CA and joined saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre and bassist Howard Rumsey to form the nucleus of The Lighthouse All-Stars.

Shorty, once established in Los Angeles, was approached by impresario Gene Norman to organize a recording. In choosing the instrumentation for that session, Shorty decided to follow the Miles Davis Nonet format. The subsequent release, titled Modern Sounds, gave news that something new was brewing near the Pacific.

In the meantime, Gerry Mulligan had grown tired of the New York scene and began hitchhiking to Los Angeles. Gerry’s arrival, with the success of the house All-Stars and Shorty's Modern Sounds, led to the birth of West Coast Jazz.

In addition to Shorty and Gerry, a majority of young composers and arrangers migrated west to take part in the growing jazz scene. Opportunities provided via clubs and recordings enabled writers to try different combinations to create the new sounds. Gerry Mulligan continued exploring the mid-size format by creating a West Coast Tentette. Shorty Rogers did more recording with the 8-9 piece ensemble and both Shorty and Giuffre continued to come up with new ideas as members of the Lighthouse All-Stars.

Shorty, Gerry and Howard Rumsey opened the floodgates for a whole new generation of jazz artists on the West Coast. Dave Pell, Shelly Manne, Marty Paich, Jack Montrose and Lennie Niehaus all formed their own mid-size ensembles that helped establish the West Coast Jazz tradition.

Thanks to Geoff Roach and Octobop, that tradition is once again in full swing. …

The West Coast Jazz era left an amazing legacy and it’s very gratifying to hear Geoff Roach and Octobop not only continue that legacy but to add to it as well.”

- Ken Poston
Director, Los Angeles Jazz Institute
Long Beach, California

This video features Octobop’s performance of Henry Mancini’s Dreamsville.

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