JazzTimes

ATTACK OF THE KILLER BEAS

One night in L.A. in the early ’90s, a 30-something John Beasley found himself, improbably, occupying the “second keyboard” chair alongside Herbie Hancock, one of his idols, during a concert tribute to Jaco Pastorius at the Hollywood Bowl.

“I think we were playing a long tune like Jaco’s ‘John and Mary,’” the pianist, arranger, and composer told me recently on a Zoom call from Stuttgart, Germany. “I’m sitting next to him, playing clavinet, and I see him getting lost in the music. And when Herbie gets lost, he gets more excited; he was playing the most amazing shit. He kinda looked at me and winked and said, ‘I’m totally lost!’ And he smiled.”

Beasley shook his head at the memory. “He was just going for it and not thinking.” It was, he said, “one of those lessons … that really led me to Monk. Sort of being lost as an arranger, in a way. Just put it out there and edit later. Let my ideas flow. Arrange like an improviser.”

Bald, bespectacled, and garrulous, Beasley has an energy and drive that make him seem at least a decade younger than his 60 years. Based in L.A., he’s been a musical Zelig: a sideman for Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard; an arranger and musician for numerous TV shows and movies (American Idol, the James Bond films Spectre and Skyfall); and an in-demand musical director for major touring acts like Steely Dan and events such as International Jazz Day and Jazz at the White House. He has recorded or toured with many of the world’s leading jazz and pop stars.

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