People spend their whole lives perfecting their jazz chops. But for Santa Cruz pianist Alex Raymond, who fell in love with the genre only a year and a half ago, it’s been an accelerated process. Nowadays, he plays out with his trio, the Alex Raymond Band, five times a week at the Red Room (Wednesdays), the Blue Lagoon (Thursdays), Lulu Carpenter’s (Saturdays), the Tannery Arts Bar and Café (Sunday mornings), and Louie’s Cajun Kitchen (Sunday afternoons). The gigs started about the same time as his love affair for jazz began.
He met drummer Elijah Stoll, and the two of them started gigging as a duo for a while. A couple of months ago, Raymond met Dave Preston, who rounded out the combo with an upright bass. The trio adds additional guitarists, horn players and singers for certain shows. “We tell all of our jazz-inclined friends that they are welcome to join us. The gig that we normally have people play with us is at Lulu Carpenter’s on Saturday nights,” Raymond says. Raymond also took it upon himself to start studying jazz at Cabrillo College last year, right around the time he played that first gig at Louie’s. Preston studies jazz over at UC Santa Cruz.
The group currently plays covers and jazz standards, though Raymond says that originals are in the works. Some of the tunes they play include “St. James Infirmary Blues,” (made famous by Louis Armstrong) “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (a ’30s Broadway tune that has become a jazz standard), and Beautiful Love (a ’30s waltz). They also play several later tunes by jazz giants like Miles Davis. Depending on where someone sees the Alex Raymond Band playing, they also might catch them with Raymond’s street piano (which he wheels out to some shows). It has the front and top panels ripped off, which helps the sound carry farther, but they have other reasons for doing that. “There’s the visual charm of seeing the inner workings of the piano while I’m playing it,” Raymond says.