Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Dec 10 16:16:47 EST 2007

Jazz community rallies behind beloved pianist
By Andrew Gilbert
for the Mercury News
Article Launched: 12/06/2007 01:39:37 AM PST

Art Pepper dubbed pianist George Cables "Mr. Beautiful" for his bright, 
sonorous sound and sublime melodic sensibility, but he could just as 
easily have been talking about the pianist's soul.

One of jazz's most beloved musicians, Cables has been at the forefront 
of the music's progressive mainstream for almost 40 years. Though based 
in his hometown, New York City, since 1989, he forged particularly 
strong ties with the Bay Area as the house pianist at Keystone Korner 
during the North Beach club's heyday in the 1970s.

But Cables has been a scarce presence on the West Coast in recent years 
because kidney disease tethered him to a dialysis machine. Since 
undergoing a kidney and liver transplant in October, he's been off the 
scene entirely, and probably won't get a doctor's clearance to perform 
until early spring.

In an outpouring of affection for Cables, a dazzling cast of friends and 
admirers is coming together on Saturday afternoon at Yoshi's in Oakland 
to raise funds for the pianist and his long-time partner, Helen Wray 
(the inspiration for Cables' lovely standard "Helen's Song"), who has 
left her job and home in San Francisco to help him recover.

"I've had a couple of bumps in the road since the transplants, things 
the doctors are trying to figure out," says Cables, 63, who taught at 
San Jose State University in the '80s. "I lost a lot of weight, and 
don't have the energy I'd like to have. I have to remind myself that 
this is going to take a while, you have to take it slow. But I've been 
really fortunate, getting lots of calls and support from friends and 
people I don't know. This kind of thing makes you more serious about 
waking up, opening your eyes and making use of the time."

Cables won't be able to travel to the Bay Area for Saturday's event, but 
his spirit will be represented by the players taking the stage in his 
honor, including his former employers, vibes legend Bobby Hutcherson and 
Bebop and Beyond saxophonist Mel Martin, saxophonist Gary Bartz (who 
played on Cables' most recent CD, 2003's "Looking for the Light"), 
drummers Jeff "Tain" Watts, Babatunde Lea and Vince Lateano, vocalists 
Mary Stallings and Denise Perrier, bassists Ray Drummond and Jeff 
Chambers, guitarist Calvin Keys and the Mo'Rockin Project with trumpeter 
Khalil Shaheed, /oud /master Yassir Chadly and saxophonist Richard Howell.

Jessica Felix, a longtime Bay Area jazz activist, is producing the event 
with the help of disc jockey/drummer Bud Spangler and KCSM's music 
director, Jesse "Chuy" Varela. Felix has been presenting Cables in 
various contexts since the early 1980s, including a decade-long run of 
New Year's Eve shows at San Francisco's Gallery 52. When she moved to 
Sonoma County in the late 1990s, she founded the highly regarded 
Healdsburg Jazz Festival, and Cables was on hand to get it off the ground.

"He said, 'Let's test the water,' " Felix says. "George is the one who 
helped me start jazz here, and he's come back every year since. He's a 
truly wonderful man. He's always ready to step up for other people, no 
questions asked. When I did two benefits for Billy Higgins after his 
liver transplant, or the benefit for Woody Shaw, or the tribute to Eddie 
Moore that turned into the Eddie Moore Jazz Festival, he was there."

Drummer Eddie Marshall, who played extensively with Cables in Bobby 
Hutcherson's band and the Keystone house rhythm section, is also 
participating in the benefit. Close friends for four decades, they 
bonded on and off the bandstand while accompanying a parade of jazz 

"Those were the best days of my musical life, playing with George and 
bassist James Leary at Keystone," Marshall says. "We had such a 
fantastic run. Art Pepper really stood out, as a character and a great 
player. But there were so many great players, Dexter Gordon and Charles 
McPherson and Stan Getz.

"Working with George was a thrill in itself," Marshall continues. "I 
just have to hear four bars, and I know it's him. Why is that? He's got 
amazing chops, brilliant ideas, and his sound is unique. He takes all 
these chances. That used to kill me. How's he going to get out of this? 
To me he's an extension of Bud Powell and Barry Harris. He brought it to 
another level. And he writes some of the most beautiful melodies, which 
seem to flow out of him. I'm just amazed at George's spirit, even in the 
darkest times. I call to cheer him up, and he cheers me up."George 
Cables fundraiser


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