Inspired by Los Angeles-based composer/arranger Marty Paich’s Dectet, HIP POCKET utilizes an atypical combination of four saxes, one trumpet and trombone plus a rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. This allows HIP POCKET to deliver the full density of jazz harmony and orchestral color without the weight of the more traditional big band, all the while maintaining the soloist freedom to stretch and explore, something that is usually associated with the smaller setting of a quartet. Within this context the soloists have a larger palette from which to work and develop musical ideas, leading to some truly remarkable moments of interplay between the individual and the ensemble.
HIP POCKET’S genesis dates back to 1989 when composer/arranger/pianist Sandy Megas became involved with music ensembles at San Bernardino Valley College. The members of one of these, a saxophone quartet, decided to strike out on their own and formed the Redlands Saxophone Ensemble. Shortly before this, the City of Redlands established what has now practically become a Thursday night institution, Redlands Market Night on State Street. Accordingly, residents attending Market Night could usually find the Redlands Saxophone Ensemble on a street corner playing for tips in the hope of making enough money for beer, and sometimes even pizza.
Shortly thereafter, the Inland Empire area became quite active with several rehearsal bands and performance venues. As a composer/arranger, Megas noticed that quite often the bands would not have enough players to cover all the parts in a big band, or there would be enough players, but many of them were not able to play their parts at a suitably proficient level. He started experimenting with musical ideas, first adding a rhythm section to the sax quartet. Finding success with that concept, he began to address the problem of the lack of available jazz literature for groups that couldn’t field the entire instrumentation needed for a big band, or that simply did not have enough experienced players. Something smaller was needed, but it still had to have the punch of a larger group.
As a long-time fan of the West Coast school of jazz and the arranging artistry of Marty Paich, Megas therefore penned a few of his own arrangements in this style to be played with any combination of six horns plus rhythm section. He finally settled on the combination of four saxes (two altos, a tenor and baritone sax), trumpet, trombone and rhythm section. The decision to utilize four saxes instead of three plus three brass (the typical set-up for this size of group) was made to allow “soli section” writing for the sax section, similar to the well-known jazz group Supersax. With this instrumentation, a little sleight of hand (and smoke and mirrors), Megas’ compositions and arrangements are able to achieve a remarkably dense, rich full sound.
HIP POCKET officially came into being in August 1991, playing for the 75th wedding anniversary of a local Redlands couple. Shortly thereafter, HIP POCKET became the “house band” at Gay 90’s Pizza on Orange St. (now Jersey’s) with the backing of owner and devoted jazz fan, the late Gus DeRoos. On one memorable occasion, jazz dignitaries packed into the small venue to hear the band included Howard Rumsey, legendary jazz bassist and owner of famed jazz club The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and Lennie Niehaus, saxophonist and arranger for Stan Kenton and subsequently the composer of dozens of movie soundtracks, including most films by Clint Eastwood. Over the ensuing years HIP POCKET has played many of the major venues in the Inland Empire and has backed some of the true legends of jazz. With guest artists such as world-renowned saxophonists Bill Perkins, Pete Christlieb and Gabe Baltazar, trumpeters Bobby Shew, Bob Summers and Ron Stout, pianist Frank Strazzeri, guitarist Al Viola, and others, HIP POCKET continues to carve out its own niche in the vast field of jazz.
Jim Quam-alto sax
Matt Zebley-alto sax
Loren Weisbrod-tenor sax
Karl Hunter-baritone sax
Sandy Megas leader/composer/arranger/piano
The group’s latest CD, “Blue Circle” is now available at CD Baby: HIP POCKET: Blue Circle.