Bruce Lofgren is a stone jazz cat. His guitar sidles along at a decidedly hep angle, with a warm, sensual tone and a strategically relaxed plan of attack, one that allows him to pull the listener in and really communicate some purely emotional psychic information.
"Emotional awareness. It's a quality that jazz needs," Lofgren said recently. "If you start writing with a concept that doesn't have that emotional content, you can put a lot of work into it but still get something that's just OK. If you don't make that good start with a composition, you won't end up with anything."
Lofgren, who appears Christmas Eve at Jax in Glendale, is a prolific composer and arranger and a guitarist of rare capability, skills he's steadily perfected since his start as a teenage rock 'n' roller in 1950's Seattle.
"In high school I was really into the blues, I'd play along to old blues records and teach myself Chuck Berry licks," Lofgren said. "Bill Doggett's guitar Billy Butler was a favorite of mine. And I heard Rick Dangel, from [seminal Seattle blues rockers] the Wailers, he was a great blues player. I had my own combo and we did some gigs, parties, dances.
"When I was in college, I heard [jazz great] Barney Kessel play one night — and that was a real eye-opener for me, he was a very humble and marvelous player. On the break, I went up and said hello and he was a very gracious person and took the time to chat with me. I was surprised to find that someone as important as he was — one of the best in the world — was also so nice. So many of the big names I'd encountered would present this sort of falsely egotistical front, as if being famous rendered them untouchable, but not Barney. After that, even though I was still playing teenage dance jobs, I had found my direction."
Lofgren's skill as an arranger and composer led to jobs with famed trumpeter-bandleader Ray Anthony, for whom he both played bass and provided original compositions; Anthony ultimately recorded an entire album of them.
Not long after Lofgren relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, he heard that legendary swing drummer Buddy Rich was down at the Hollywood Musician Union's Local 47 auditioning new material, and took a chance that the famously cantankerous Rich might like a piece he'd written the night before, "Three Day Suckers." Rich dug it, so much so, that at one point, he used it as both the opening and closing number of his live show.
From that point on, Lofgren kept very busy, both with his own musical career and writing and arranging for innumerable television shows (including "The Donny and Marie Show" and Doc Severinson's Tonight Show Orchestra), and pop acts like Loggins and Messina and Donna Summer.
"I still do around a least four shows a month," Lofgren said. "But I spend so much time writing, that it gets in the way of my guitar playing, which is how I started out and is what it's all about for me. But some days it seems I pick it up and I can't find the strings!
"At Jax, of course, we'll be doing some Christmas songs. It's always fun to do them when this time of year comes around. In fact, I just got a call from the club and they're putting me on the rotation there for Tuesday nights in January too, which is nice. It's a great little room, and I am really looking forward to it."
What: Bruce Lofgren with Mike Flick & Ron Wagner
Where: Jax Bar & Grill, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale
When: Tuesday, Dec. 24, 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.
More info: (818) 500-1604
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of "Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story."