By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Blues for Pekar
I’ll bet most of you haven’t the foggiest idea who either “Pekar” or Ernie Krivda are.
Well, in one of my recent reviews of a Benny Green album, I noted that this wonderful jazz pianist grew up in the same time period that gifted us with Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson; as a result, although Green is a star in the jazz world, he’s almost unknown to the public. Fame has only so much room, at a given time, for superstars in a given medium and genre. Two additional factors can be involved, having nothing to do with talent: locale (where you’re born and raised) and what I’ll call “personal happiness” (say, an unwillingness to tour).
Which brings us to Blues for Pekar.
Tenor sax artist Ernie Krivda, along with writer/jazz critic Harvey Pekar, were residents of Cleveland, Ohio. Both were brought up in families and neighborhoods with very strong ethnic ties. They loved everything about home life, families and friends, and weren’t the least bit interested in leaving ... despite developed skills that offered opportunities to do so.
Krivda’s family was musical; his father was a professional, as were other relatives. Krivda began to play the clarinet when he was 6; before long, he was playing in Polish polka bands in neighborhood bars. It wasn’t the kind of music that he preferred, but the income couldn’t be ignored. He still was in high school when he switched to sax, at which point he began to head his own groups.
Many fine young musicians lived in Cleveland — Chuck and Bob Findley, Jiggs Wigham, for example — and the city was a “must stop” for the big bands and stage shows that toured continuously in those days. Krivda became a first-call musician for the backup orchestras required by these artists, and he was able to jam with visiting jazz artists. As a result, he had short stints with the likes of Cannonball Adderley, the Jimmy Dorsey “ghost” band and others, but he always went back to Cleveland.
And that’s where he is today.
Blues For Pekar is a memorial to Krivda’s good friend Pekar, who died not long ago; The writer rated Krivda as “one of the greatest jazz tenor sax players in the world,” and this album demonstrates that Pekar knew his business. Krivda’s group consists of piano, bass, drums and (on some tracks) trumpet. The combo swings wonderfully, and everyone’s obviously having a ball. Half the tunes are standards, while the rest are Krivda originals. The players’ enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s clear that the Cleveland jazz climate is alive and well!