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Homegrown Jazz: a Couple’s Composition

From the garden teahouse to the art-filled interior, the Ojai home of musical legend Roger Kellaway and his wife, Jorjana, is in perfect tune for a spring fete

By Leslie A. Westbrook—Photos by Gary and Pierre Silva

Snazzy and jazzy. Jorjana and Roger Kellaway at home in Ojai.

 

ull disclosure: I have been a friend of Roger and Jorjana Kellaway for more than 15 years and I happen to love them dearly. Roger is one of the most kick-ass jazz pianists on the planet (the Wall Street Journal called him “the greatest unknown pianist in jazz”). He is also quirky and great fun, just like his vivacious redheaded partner of 45 years, Jorjana, an artist in her own right.

Jorjana and I first met at a Santa Barbara “jazz house party” where Roger was performing with the lyricist Gene Lees. While waiting in line to use the W.C., we struck up a conversation that has never stopped. Eventually, when he finished tickling the ivories, Roger joined in.

The gold record in Roger’s home studio is from “A Star is Born,” 1977.

Make that Dr. Kellaway, as Roger—along with another jazz legend, Quincy Jones—was recently anointed with an honorary doctorate from The New England Conservatory of Music. Kellaway is a small-town Massachusetts native and an alumnus of that illustrious institution.

The good doctor’s bio of folks he has jammed with reads like a who’s who of the music world. He has performed and/or worked with Elvis Presley, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Joni Mitchell, Henry Mancini, Lena Horne, Bobby Darin, Carmen McRae, Barbra Streisand, and Michael Tilson Thomas. Did I mention Kevin Spacey and Tony Bennett? That’s just the short list.

Pre-party, empty dishes await chicken tangine, basmati rice, and organic salads.

Kellaway also happens to be one of those rare artists who can cross over from jazz to classical. He’s composed a ballet for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet; orchestral pieces for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony, and the New American Orchestra; and a concerto, “Songs of Ascent,” for the New York Philharmonic, with Zubin Mehta conducting.

The main house at Casa Kellaway.

Roger’s list of national accomplishments goes on—including 26 film scores, one (Streisand’s “A Star Is Born”) that garnered an Academy Award nomination. Here at home he has regularly performed at and supported the Ojai Music Festival since 1993, when he and Jorjana moved to the area. (He actually first performed at the Festival in 1973, at the invitation of Michael Tilson Thomas.) And he recorded a lyrical album with the Ojai-based violinist Yue Deng, a classically trained musician who, remarkably, had never played jazz before this LP. Many of Roger’s recordings are done under his own label, Kellaway Lightworks, LLC, with Jorjana co-producing.

Jorjana’s father, Robert McIntosh, painted much of the artwork hanging at Casa Kellaway.

They say behind every great man there is a great woman—or one rolling her eyes! Jorjana McIntosh Kellaway grew up in Los Angeles, the only child of two accomplished artists, both of whom worked for Walt Disney in the early days. With that artistic DNA in her blood, she has created a nurturing nest by decorating their cozy Ojai home with many original oil paintings by her father, Robert McIntosh, a frequent and popular visitor to Ojai, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 94. Ceramic pieces by Jorjana’s well-known uncle, Harrison McIntosh, are also lovingly displayed, along with her own compelling clay sculptures, some inlaid with semi-precious stones.

“We moved to Ojai to be close to family in L.A. as they aged,” said Jorjana. “It’s the last place on the planet we thought we’d ever end up, but now there is no place we’d rather be.”

Guests dance off a Moroccan meal during a house party in March.

Roger riffed on his wife’s sentiments: “We finally found the place. We travel a lot, and it’s such a good feeling thinking about coming home to paradise. Ojai reminds me of the small town where I grew up. Waban (Massachusetts) had one bank, one market, and one cop. I went back to my roots.”

The teahouse, built by Sergio Cortes, provides an idyllic space for outdoor entertaining.

The couple’s wood and glass home is a welcoming place of tranquility. From the moment guests enter through redwood gates, the soft sounds of a fountain and gentle tinkling of outdoor bells create a sense of calm. For evening soirees, like the Moroccan fest the Kellaways hosted in March, candles and small lights glow throughout the garden grounds. The modest home is perfectly suited for two but can accommodate a crowd.

Appetizers were served in the teahouse before guests moved to the main house, a wood and glass affair where Jorjana spread out a buffet of Moroccan-inspired dishes.

Recently, the couple added a teahouse for entertaining in the garden. It’s a heavenly spot for al fresco lunches and pink moment dinners. For the recent Moroccan meal, guests gathered in the teahouse for appetizers before adjourning to the main house and a buffet dinner that included Jorjana’s chicken tangine with basmati rice and a bountiful organic salad. Free-flowing wine loosened the crowd for dancing in the living room after the food had settled.

The aquatic gurgle of a fountain and the gentle tinkling of bells lend the garden a utopian serenity.

Whether Roger is performing in a concert hall or club, or the couple is entertaining friends at their cozy home, you can always count on the Kellaways to create memorable performances. If you happen to be one of the fortunate friends of Ojai residents Barney and Kate Barnhart, you may get to hear Roger tickle, tease, and cajole some amazing sounds out of the ivories when he performs at the couple’s private luncheon party, held annually during the Ojai Music Festival. Next to a Kellaway production, it may well be the hottest ticket in town.

04-01-2011

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