Hip Pocket
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Hip Pocket

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"Hip Pocket Blue Circle"

Hip Pocket was originally a saxophone quartet from a community college near Redlands,
California. Over time it became a professional nonet comprised of four saxophones, trumpet, trombone and three rhythm that performs the compositions and arrangements of its pianist
Sandy Megas.
On Blue Circle, Hip Pocket often sounds like a swinging big band. Megas’ music is usually forward-looking hard bop and includes such
humorous song titles as “I Got It Thad And That Ain’t Good” (which does sound like a Thad Jones
arrangement), “Legalize Van Nuys,” “You Ain’t The First,” and “A Total Waste Of Time And
Effort.” The wit and color of the titles can also be heard in the music. While the band members are not famous names, every musician gets a chance to solo and shows that both their musicianship
and solo abilities are impressive. Joe Bagg sits in with the band on the funky “Chicken Fat.”
Hip Pocket is definitely a band that has a lot of fun when it plays although the musicians also take
the music quite seriously. Blue Circle is a swinging, accessible and creative outing that makes one want to see the band live. Their CD is available from arrmegas.net/hippocket.htm.
- Scott Yanow in January 2009 L.A. Jazz Scene

"Hip Pocket Brings Big Sound to Bowl"

(Hip Pocket performed on August 12, 2008 as part of the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival in Redlands, California. The following Review summarizes the performance, which drew a capacity crowd of nearly 4,000 listeners, who also gave Hip Pocket a standing ovation at the end of the evening. Please see this EPK’s Video File for one of the selections from this concert).

REDLANDS - There was a lot of toe tapping and head bobbing going on at the Redlands Bowl Tuesday night. Big band jazz combo Hip Pocket set the Bowl a-rockin' with their big sound and jazzy spontaneity. Hip Pocket features an unusual arrangement of instruments that allows the artists to capture that big orchestra feel, while still maintaining the soloist freedom to stretch and explore that is so typical of jazz music. It was a delightful and fun combination to hear in the large, open-air setting of the Bowl.

Hip Pocket brought a refreshing casualness and light humor to a packed crowed at the Redlands Bowl. For a Tuesday night during the most televised Olympics in history, there was hardly an empty seat.

During the intermission presentation, Councilman Pete Aguilar thanked the crowd for TiVoing the Olympics and coming out to the Bowl.

Sandy Megas, leader/composer/arranger/pianist for Hip Pocket, introduced the third number with a story. While playing in a jazz festival over several days in Big Bear Lake, Hip Pocket met tenor saxophone player Steve Wilkerson. Tired and worn out after the hectic festival and surprised with a guest solo artist, Megas decided to test the party crasher's skills.

Setting a pace just "one click below light speed," Megas said, he took Wilkerson through the classic jazz piece "Take the 'A' Train." It was more like Wilkerson took Hip Pocket through the song, maintaining the breakneck pace through all the complicated riffs and rhythms.

Wilkerson was certainly impressive Tuesday night. The real fun began with his first solo performance in "Shaw 'Nuff." Shaw 'nuff, he was the real thing. But all the members of Hip Pocket were stellar solo performers and they were even better together.

Trumpet player Don Clarke had only a few short solo moments, but he made the most of them. He brought a bright, beautiful sound to "Sister Sadie," making that trumpet pop like it was chewing gum.

Hip Pocket also played "Star Eyes" as a tribute to playing under the stars at the Redlands Bowl. The song dripped with 1940s romanticism and was a fitting change of pace from Hip Pocket's lively, upbeat music.

"We do a lot of up tempo tunes, so get over it," Megas joked.

Wilkerson's wife, Andrea Baker, joined the group on vocals in several numbers, including "Table for One" and "How High the Moon." The way Wilkerson answered Baker's lonely call on the saxophone to have her table for one turned into a table for two was particularly entrancing. And Baker's vocal improvisations or "scat" in "How High the Moon" blew audience members away. To close out the number she matched Wilkerson's complicated riffs note for note with her voice, becoming an instrument herself to the surprise of the audience.

Like "Table for One" and "How High the Moon" Baker's vocals on the sultry "Black Coffee" turned the large, open-air Bowl into a small, quiet darkened cafe set somewhere in the heart of jazz country.

Should Hip Pocket return to the Redlands Bowl in a future season, this is certainly one show not to miss.
- Redlands Daily Facts


Hip Pocket released "Blue Circle" in August, 2008. The CD features 11 original compositions, and most if not all tracks have received airplay by multiple radio stations in Southern California, as well as Europe.



“A perfect marriage of the full sound of a big band with the spontaneity of a jazz combo”, is probably a good way to describe Hip Pocket. With nine of the Inland Empire’s (about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles) most accomplished jazz musicians, Hip Pocket brings a fresh and uniquely personal treatment to many of the great jazz classics as well as a substantial body of original material. Inspired by Los Angeles-based composer/arranger Marty Paich’s Dectet (and the classic “Art Pepper + Eleven” recording), Hip Pocket utilizes an atypical combination of four saxes, one trumpet and trombone plus a rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. This allows Hip Pocket to deliver the full density of jazz harmony and orchestral color without the weight of the more traditional big band, all the while maintaining the soloist freedom to stretch and explore, something that is usually associated with the smaller setting of a quartet.

Hip Pocket officially came into being in August 1991, and quickly established a solid reputation within the area’s jazz community. On one memorable occasion, jazz dignitaries packed into a small venue to hear the band included Howard Rumsey, legendary jazz bassist and owner of famed jazz club The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and Lennie Niehaus, saxophonist and arranger for Stan Kenton and subsequently the composer of dozens of movie soundtracks, including most films by Clint Eastwood. Over the ensuing years Hip Pocket has played many of the major venues in the Inland Empire and beyond, and has backed some of the true legends of jazz. With guest artists such as world-renowned saxophonists Bill Perkins, Pete Christlieb, Gabe Baltazar, and Steve Wilkerson, trumpeters Bobby Shew, Bob Summers and Ron Stout, pianist Frank Strazzeri, guitarist Al Viola, vocalist Andrea Baker, and other accomplished artists, Hip Pocket continues to carve out its own niche in the vast field of jazz.

In early 2008, the group felt that the time was finally right to record and release a CD showcasing the band’s performances of uniquely original compositions as well as its individual soloists. The recording was made over two sessions by an engineer with a long association with pianist David Benoit. Strong emphasis was placed on capturing Hip Pocket’s “live” sound; many selections on the disc are first or second complete takes, with the solos recorded live as well. A final touch was provided by Capitol studios and multiple Grammy-award winning engineer Ron McMaster, who mastered the disc using Capitol’s legendary echo chambers to give it a little of the famed “Capitol sound.”

The leader of Hip Pocket, composer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist Sandy Megas, refined his years of music writing experience by studying jazz composition extensively with the late great Dick Grove, and has since written and arranged for recorded performances by Steve Wilkerson, Joey DeFrancesco, Andrea Baker, and several top-tier bands of the U.S. armed forces, among others. Sandy continues to write constantly on a commission basis and sells his arrangements worldwide through his website, www.arrmegas.com.

In the sax section, lead altoist Jim Quam has been with the group since its inception, and has freelanced in the greater Los Angeles area for many years, as well as completed several international tours with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Second alto Matt Zebley (www.mattzebley.com) has toured and recorded with the Brian Setzer Orchestra for several years, has released a straightahead session under his own name as well as appeared on multiple other recordings, and is currently a member of several jazz groups in Los Angeles. Loren Weisbrod, tenor (www.lorenweisbrod.com) has played straightahead jazz in greater Southern California for well over 20 years. Playing bari on “Blue Circle” is Karl Hunter, the featured sax soloist (primarily on tenor) for the internationally-known swing group Big Bad Voodoo Daddy for well over the past decade.

Trumpeter Don Clarke has long been a featured soloist with the Les Brown band, and is a first-call veteran of decades’ worth of studio and freelance work. Alex Henderson, trombone, has been with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy for the past few years, following a long stint with Latin jazz giant Poncho Sanchez. Acoustic bassist Bill Casale freelanced in New York jazz clubs for years before moving to Southern California, where he remains in demand for both recordings and live performances. Jeff Olson on drums (www.jeffolson.net) toured and recorded with pianist David Benoit for several years, and currently freelances throughout Southern California in addition to regular studio work.