Bend jazz series closes with Cow Bop

Western swing meets bebop under the guidance of jazz great Bruce Forman

By David Jasper / The Bulletin

If you go

What: Bruce Forman and Cow Bop

When: 8 tonight, 5 and 8:15 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Oxford Hotel, 10 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend

Cost: $39 plus fees, available at the website below

Contact: www.jazzattheoxford.com or 541-382-8436

The members of the band Cow Bop play “Western bebop” so effectively that, according to their leader, Bruce Forman, “I’ve got all these musicians banging down my door trying to get in the band.”

Forman, a Texas native and self-taught guitarist, is renowned in the jazz world for both his skills as a band leader and accompanist. He has 17 recordings under his belt and has appeared on recordings by, or performed live alongside, artists including Roger Kellaway, Bobby Hutcherson, Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, Freddie Hubbard and Richie Cole, to name just a few.

Forman’s a busy guy. His guitar abilities turned up in the film “Million Dollar Baby.” He has published a novel. He’s known for his philanthropy and he teaches in University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music’s Studio/Jazz Guitar department.

But Cow Bop, which closes this year’s Jazz at the Oxford concert series (see “If you go”), was of chief concern when Forman spoke to GO! Magazine last week while killing time in an airport before a flight.

He promised an entertaining concert for those heading to downtown Bend.

“Basically, it’s going to be a lot of swinging. The band’s hallmark is fun, if you had to distill it into one word,” Forman said. “But ‘fun’ to us is playing some really difficult, challenging, beautiful-sounding music that runs the gamut from hot to cool, from fast to slow, (from) old cowboy songs done in a completely new way to old jazz standards with a whole new twist.”

And all of it’s being performed by a band in cowboy costume.

“I like to call it ‘cowberet,’” he said.

Cow Bop formed in 2003 with a unique blending of cowboy and jazz sensibilities.

“It just sort of caught fire. It’s an idea that nobody’s had the cojones to try in public, I guess,” Forman said.

The group also consists of Forman’s wife Pam, or “Pinto Pammy” as she’s known in Cow Bop, on vocals, plus young musicians from the USC jazz department: drummer Jake Reed, horn player David Wise and bassist Alex Frank.

“I kind of plucked them right out of either just graduating school or being in school,” Forman said. “They’ve been in the band varying amounts of time. They’re all just emerging brilliant young jazz stars who got roped into something beyond their control.”

Being in Cow Bop presents the young players with an opportunity to tour in a working jazz band — something that’s become rare for up and coming musicians these days, Forman said.

“(In) a preponderance of bands … a guy goes and picks up a local rhythm section, or it’s really top-tier bands playing one-off concerts,” he said. “The whole idea of road work, which is really the premise model that jazz music has always gone by (has almost disappeared). With no training ground for the music, there’s not a lot of opportunities out there for young players, so I think they jumped at the chance.”

That’s how Forman learned to play jazz guitar, he said. He played classical piano as a child, then got his first guitar at 13.

“It was 1969 or so and in my first year of high school, I heard Charlie Parker,” he said. “A friend of mine, his father was a jazz musician. They played me this music and I just couldn’t believe how great it was. You can pretty much draw a straight line to today from that.”

He went on the road at age 18, playing in bands, “and have kind of been doing it ever since,” Forman said. “Like today, I’m on the road.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com