Rickey Woodard Swings Into Croce's

Veteran saxophonist leads all-star local band.

San Diego flute virtuoso Holly Hofmann isn’t just one of the world’s great musicians -- she’s also been curating jazz shows for many years and has begun spotlighting a series she calls First Thursdays at Croce’s Park West in Bankers Hill.

Hofmann uses her vast connections throughout the jazz world to convince players of national recognition to make the trek to San Diego, often pairing them up with the cream of local talent. Such was the case on March 5, when tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard blew into town.

Fronting a crack band that included Mike Wofford on piano, Rob Thorsen on bass and Richard Sellers on drums, Woodard’s set was all about good old-fashioned swing, with a heavy emphasis on the blues. Appropriate to that concept, the band opened with "In A Mellow Tone," with Woodard hitting the gates with gruff and gritty lines in the spirit of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Wofford followed with a delightfully logical treatise, shimmering over the pliant motion of Thorsen and Sellers.

"My Shining Hour" was all bopping energy -- even when Woodard's lines reached maximum complexity, there's always a dancing feel to his improvising. Thorsen’s solo was custom-fitted from the groove factory, drawing an equally ebullient response from Wofford, and Sellers drove it home with a volley of explosive 8's.

Woodard also proved that you can even make a ballad swing after Wofford's lush intro to "My One and Only Love" set the stage for breathy discourse and pointed storytelling. The saxophonist must have earned a doctorate from Blues University, based on the way he drains the gutbucket, and each demonstration seemed to inspire Wofford to new heights in tasteful motion.

Sellers began "Speak Low" with an irresistible Latin feel, which Woodard decorated with purring commentary while Wofford composed a virtual novel complete with compact logic and intricate plot twists -- he’s like the "Masterpiece Theater" of the black and white keys.

As long as there are masters of the tradition like this, jazz will continue to inspire. The opportunity to hear music at this level in a local restaurant/bar is a wonderful thing. Kudos to Holly Hofmann and Ingrid Croce for fighting the good fight.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.

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