Twelve tones

Jacques Lesure and Hard Bop bring groove-based thing to History Center

For the jazz novice, the term "hard bop" could be daunting, suggesting a music even more challenging than the radical bebop of saxophonist Charlie Parker or trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Such an assumption would be incorrect.

Guitarist/bandleader Jacques Lesure describes hard bop as an era of post-bebop, groove-based jazz at Blue Note Records, beginning in 1958 and continuing through the 1960s. Propelled by drummer Art Blakey, saxophonist Dexter Gordon, guitarist Grant Green, pianist Herbie Hancock and many others, the music mixed hardcore swing with soul, funk, gospel and blues while remaining true to the instrumental language and approach of bebop.

For Lesure and his group, Hard Bop, the style proves both artistically legitimate and entertaining to the average listener. "A lot of times, we think we have to be deep and mystical or silly and trite to be entertaining," Lesure says. However, he says, jazz players who try too hard to impress audiences and each other with the depth of their musical talent often have the net effect of simply driving audiences away.

"When people go to clubs, particularly if they're not jazz heads, they want to feel good, they want to pat their feet. They don't really want to sit down and use introspection as to what you are doing and think about how deep you really are," Lesure explains. "We're just dealing with 12 [musical] tones, after all."

Upcoming Hard Bop shows feature guest tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, who has several Blue Note recordings to his credit. In addition to being a member of the final incarnation of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Jackson has worked with Elvin Jones, Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard and others.

Lesure came to Atlanta from Detroit in 1988, previously having studied jazz guitar at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His love for jazz stems from childhood, when he performed in the church band, which relied entirely on musical improvisation. That influence, combined with a taste of jazz from his father's record collection, and the hip appeal of jazz artists in general, sent Lesure on his way, musically speaking. He's been fortunate, he adds, to receive direction from Jerry Byrd, Kenny Burrell and George Benson.

Before forming his current group, Lesure and pianist Gary Motley anchored The Swing Association for four years, recording two albums. "The Swing Association was a collective," Lesure says. "Now, instead of everybody making all the decisions, it's one person, and the music is more into a groove-based thing."

Presently, Lesure has his own recording in the works, on the Jazz Is ... label. The CD, Jazz Is ... Presents the Jacques Lesure Quartet, should be out in early June.

Jacques Lesure and Hard Bop, featuring Javon Jackson, perform Fri., May 4, and Sat., May 5, at Churchill Grounds. For more information, call 404-876-3030.

The schedule has been released for the Atlanta Jazz Festival, May 20-28. Headliners for the weekend shows at Piedmont Park include: on Sat., May 26, Brian Blade; Medeski, Martin & Wood; and Shelia E; on Sun., May 27, Poncho Sanchez, Arturo Sandoval and Sonny Rollins; and on Mon., May 28, Chucho Valdes, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Terence Blanchard. The festival also includes a Chastain Park performance by Bob James, Michael Franks and Patti Austin Fri., May 25.

Other festival venues include Park Tavern, Club Kaya, Centennial Olympic Park, Justin's and Sambuca Jazz Cafe.

Look for free brown-bag lunch concerts at Woodruff Park throughout the week of May 21-25 and nightly jam sessions at Churchill Grounds. For more details, visit www.atlantafestivals.com or call the festival hotline at 404-817-6851.

Take Five is a monthly column on jazz and related subjects, with an emphasis on local artists, venues and events. Venues, performers, radio programmers and other interested parties are encouraged to e-mail or send jazz news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045-3156.??