The Friday night jazz series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art draws a large and varied crowd. Some are there to hear the music and some — as Duke Ellington observed about the clientele of Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club — to fulfill their social aspirations. Pianist Frank Strazzeri led a band there last summer and a curious thing happened. Sound problems, a restless audience, and tentative musicians plagued the opening set. Strazzeri’s piano was under-miked, but by the second set, his piano — at once swinging and full of harmonic beauty — quietly brought the crowd to order and coalesced the rough spots on the bandstand. It was a subtle display of mastery by one of the great jazz masters in our midst.
The 81-year-old Strazzeri has been known as one of the great band pianists and singer’s accompanists in Los Angeles since his arrival in 1960. A Rochester native, he was trained at the Eastman School of Music. His tenure as leader of the house band at a local nightclub saw him accompanying visiting headliners like singer Billie Holiday and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Strazzeri was 18 when he took the job.