An evening with a music legend

first_img “In teaching, you get to pass along what you love to do. Some of those rockers were never given chordal training because there aren’t a lot of chords in rock ‘n’ roll. I’m helping teach them the basics.” Picking up a guitar, she started to scat vocally while her fingers flew over the strings, picking out familiar licks from her days of working with Quincy Jones, Ritchie Valens, Sam Cooke and the Righteous Bros., as well as the clubs of South Los Angeles in the 1950s. “Back before rock ‘n’ roll, there were some hot jazz clubs in L.A. I felt safer on Santa Barbara Avenue than I did in North Hollywood,” she said. “It didn’t matter if you were black or white, if you could play jazz.” She said the Watts riots and peace marches of the 1960s – as well as the advent of surf music and rock ‘n’ roll – changed everything. Clubs closed up and the money trail turned to studio work. “I laid down tracks for Glen Campbell and Leon Russell and all sorts of young kids who were big singers that graduated into stars, but they couldn’t read music well,” she said. “None of us (studio musicians) really wanted to be stars, so the record companies wouldn’t show us, but the money was good. VALENCIA – K.C. Manji, head of the music department at College of the Canyons, can’t believe her luck. On Oct. 28, her childhood idol, legendary bass player Carol Kaye, will play with the college’s symphonic band and jazz ensemble. “The very first bass guitar book I got was one written by her,” Manji said. “She’s my hero. This woman is really a legend in her field. It’s simply an honor to have her perform with us.” Kaye, an upbeat 70-year-old grandmother now, lives in a quiet neighborhood in Newhall but shows no signs of slowing down. She answers an average of 150 e-mails a day from fans and musicians looking for advice or tips on their craft, information she willingly shares. “You have to give when you’re older,” she said. “I’m not slowing down. In fact, I’m speeding up. “They didn’t want to tell the people that there were a few old farts playing the music. All the cute young guys were in front, but we were the ones who cut the hits.” Her resume of bass, electric guitar and jazz hits is too long to fit on one legal-size piece of paper, but such names as Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, The Supremes, Henry Mancini, the Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder and Barbra Streisand jump off the page. She was the sound of the menacing truck in fledgling filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” just one of the hundreds of movies and TV shows she’s scored, making hers a nameless sound you’ve heard a million times. “If you have listened to the radio or watched TV since 1958, you’ve heard Carol Kaye,” reads her Web site. “A bunch of bad movies were saved by brilliant scores,” she said. “In those days, before synthesizers, we worked with live musicians and had great composers like Lalo Schifrin, John Williams and Billy Goldenberg. It’s just not the same anymore. Now each instrument comes in by themselves and lays down a track and everything’s mixed together.” Raised by musician parents, Kaye was working her craft at the age of 9, playing jazz and bebop guitar. “Jazz didn’t pay the bills, though, but studio work did,” she said. “I worked as a cost accountant, then technical typist during the day and played my music at night.” Married and divorced at an early age, she found herself with three children to raise. Despite an offer to go on the road with George Shearing, she chose to stay in the studio and work from gig to gig, fueled by caffeine and vending machine food, but making a decent living. “Working with the guys was the best thing in the world,” she said. “I grew up poor, but it’s easy for a woman if she has her act together. When you’re good at what you do, sex doesn’t matter.” Her dedication to studio work has left her with a lifetime of memories of working with other musicians that are legends in their own way. She recalls Valens’ silent warmth and the energy of Mel Torme and Joe Cocker. When she was ready to lay down tracks for a new TV show featuring Bill Cosby, she looked at the blank piece of paper composer Quincy Jones laid in front of her. “There’s nothing here, Q – what do you want me to do?” she recalled. “He told me, ‘I want you to play what you feel,’ and that led to the theme everybody knows. I’ll be doing that one at the concert at the college.” These days, she does studio work “once in a blue moon,” choosing to focus on club performances and other live appearances. But she yearns for the day when musicians filled the hall to combine their talents and passions to make a hit. “When you play hungry like we used to do,” she said, “you’re gonna have fantastic music.” For information on Kaye, visit For tickets to the Oct. 28 performance, call the college box office at (661) 362-5304. Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more