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Gary Lefebvre: Ghost Great

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One of the finest saxophonists with the fewest number of jazz recordings was Gary LeFebvre. The San Diego musician died at age 74 last August, leaving behind a king-size reputation among musicians but only two leadership albums and just a handful of others. LeFebvre got his start in 1956 at age 17 playing with the San Diego Symphony and soon relocated to Los Angeels. But by the time he pivoted to jazz in the late 1950s and early '60s, there were more gig and sideman opportunities than recording sessions as a leader, and that's where LeFebvre spent much of his career—on bandstands or anonymous solo spots on other people's recordings. It's a mystery why he recorded so little and a tragedy, considering his immense talents. Had LeFebvre been born five years earlier, the story might have been different.

What little there is of LeFebvre captures a smooth, dynamic player who knew his way around a reed instrument. He also was a swift, well-balanced improviser on both up-tempo songs and ballads. Obits say he played with Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Kenton, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett and the Supremes, which I suspect meant live concerts in the Los Angeles area when local bands were assembled for events. To give you a sense of how tough the '60s and '70s were, one obit included Mrs. Miller in the list of performers LeFebvre accompanied.

Jazz isn't fair. It's impossibly hard and those who excel at it are extraordinary in many ways. But as exciting as jazz is, it's rarely rewarding. In all, Tom Lord's Jazz Discography lists only nine record dates for LeFebvre—just a few more than the number of instruments he doubled on. Adding insult to injurty, most of the recordings are hard to come by. I have only two of them—his 1962 date with Shorty Rogers for the Studio West label and Another Time, Another Place in 1985 on the Figueroa label, featuring Jeff Elliot (flhrn), Gary LeFebvre (ts,sop), Kei Akagi (p), John Patitucci (b), Tom Brechtlein (d), Ruben Estrada, Henry Estrada, Paul Rico, Jr., Tino Cardona (perc). On YouTube, there are scattered clips of recordings and LeFebvre's magnificent TV performance with Shorty Rogers on Oscar Brown Jr.'s Jazz Scene USA in 1962.

LeFebvre's work on both of the recording sessions I have is superb and the ones at YouTube are terrific as well. His fluidity and taut attack reflect an intense artist in full comand of the jazz idiom and determined to create his own sound. He just didn't have a champion in the recording studios or just didn't want to bother. Either way, the loss is ours.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Gary LeFabvre with Shorty Rogers in 1962 on The Shorty Rogers Quintet here (tracks 2 through 8 are with LeFabvre; the balance feature saxophonist Harold Land). You'll find LeFabvre's leadership date Another Time, Another Place here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Gary LeFabvre with Shorty Rogers (flh), Lou Levy (p), Gary Peacock (b) and Larry Bunker (d)...


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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