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PRICELESS MUSIC SWINGING SOUNDS OF THE MARTINI KINGS STAND OUT AMONG L.A.'S FREE SUMMER CONCERTS.

Byline: Fred Shuster Music Writer

In the space of two recent weeks, the Martini Kings played private parties for first lady Laura Bush, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and exotic dancer Kitten DeVille - and appeared in the season-opener of HBO's ``Six Feet Under.''

That's how the retro-cool instrumental trio kicked off its summer schedule. And even though the group is quite comfortable playing for the champagne crowd, the Martini Kings look forward to a series of free outdoor shows this summer all over town, where the long-running threesome will play for hipsters of all ages.

You may have seen and heard the Kings - brothers Anthony and Frank Marsico and drummer Stuart Johnson - at work during the Malibu cliff-top wedding in ``Six Feet Under's'' season curtain-raiser. Those versed in the local pop scene might also recognize the Marsicos from tours with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Marianne Faithfull.

But the restrained, coolly calibrated, vibraphone-drenched sound of the Martini Kings is a space-age bachelor pad away from Faithfull's fraught delivery. The jazz trio's gauzy readings of, for example, Henry Mancini's ``Peter Gunn Theme,'' Thelonious Monk's ``Straight No Chaser'' or Horace Silver's ``Song for My Father'' are the perfect soundtrack to the dimming of the day - which is exactly when the Kings begin weekly sets at the Grove at Farmers Market from 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays through July.

``There are lot of kids and parents getting into the spirit of the music, running around, having fun,'' said Anthony Marsico, the trio's standup bassist, setting the scene. ``We play on a very grassy area and, for some reason, it brings out the child in grown-ups. One night, I brought a bubble machine, turned it on, and it reminded me of throwing fish food in a koi pond.

``About 100 people ran toward the machine and got drenched in the bubbles. I had to turn the thing off - I was afraid someone was going to choke on the bubbles.''

Free concert series around town in the warm months take place at Santa Monica Pier, Getty Center, Warner Center Park, Skirball Center and other locations.

Along with further outdoor gigs at the Third Street Promenade (11 a.m. Monday) and Skirball Center (July 16), the Martini Kings (www.martinikings.net) continue to redefine cool at clubs, tiki bars and burlesque shows. The Kings are one of many reasons this summer to get outside and soak up some sounds in the parks, amphitheaters and museum courtyards throughout the city.

``After years doing this, it seems the public has caught on to what we do,'' said Anthony, a Woodland Hills resident. ``Kids like it, and we get a kick when older folks call out song titles. They really dig it. People don't hear vibes anymore.''

The Marsicos began playing together growing up in Philadelphia. With Anthony on upright bass and Frank on vibes, the brothers developed an early appreciation for jazz, soundtracks and various pop music tributaries.

``I've loved instrumental music my whole life - whether it's surf or garage or jazz - there's something mysterious about it,'' said the bassist, who also wrote and directed a forthcoming 30-minute feature called ``Camp Burlesque'' (www.campburlesque.com). ``And it works a special magic when you hear it in the open air.''

Fred Shuster, (818) 713-3676

fred.shuster(at)dailynews.com

Free summer concerts

Besides being able to catch the Martini Kings around town, a wide menu of free concerts is on tap this summer, covering every point on the musical map from soul, hip-hop, Chicago blues and rock to Latin boogaloo, African disco, jazz, cabaret, classical, reggae, merengue, electronic, Algerian rhythms and even trance music. Here is a selected list along with some highlights.

SANTA MONICA PIER TWILIGHT DANCE SERIES

The popular Thursday-night series launches June 30 with ``Dub Side of the Moon,'' a reggae version of Pink Floyd's ``Dark Side of the Moon.'' Further highlights: Sounds of Mali with Tinariwen and African thrush Ramatou Diakite (July 14); Chicago Blues Reunion with Harvey Mandel, Nick Gravenites, Sam Lay and others (July 21); Suzanne Vega and Marc Cohn (July 28); Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band (Aug. 18); and Shonen Knife and the Knack (Sept. 1).

www.twilightdance.org

GRAND PERFORMANCES

Acclaimed world music series at downtown's California Plaza kicks off July 1 with Ozomatli. Notable dates: Khaled and Friends (July 8); Ladysmith Black Mambazo (July 15); ``Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey'' (July 22); Conga Masters featuring Carlos ``Patato'' Valdez, Francisco Aguabella and Milton Cardonas (Aug. 20).

Times vary. (213) 687-2159; www.grandperformances.org

JAZZ AT LACMA

Jazz at 5:30 p.m. Fridays. Of note: Judy Wexler Quintet (Friday); Theo Saunders Sextet (July 1); and Diane Hubka Quartet (July 22).

(323) 857-6010; www.lacma.org

SKIRBALL CENTER

Martini Kings play July 16. Sunset Concerts on Thursday evenings start July 21 with Jane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana; Italian dance combo Fiamma Fumana (Aug. 4); and the Warsaw Village Band (Aug. 18).

(310) 440-4500; www.skirball.org

WARNER CENTER PARK

From 6 to 8 p.m. Sundays through Labor Day weekend at the Lou Bredlow Pavilion at Warner Center Park, Woodland Hills. Free parking.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Sunday), Dennis P. Zine July Fourth Extravaganza with Captain Cardiac & the Coronaries and Don Sweeney & the SRO Big Band (July 4); Poncho Sanchez (July 10); Jack Mack & the Heart Attack (July 24); Young Dubliners (Aug. 7); and Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone and Ticket to Ride (Aug. 28).

www.valleycultural.org

GETTY CENTER

``Mexico Mixed,'' with Los Mocosos (July 9).

``Balkan Beats,'' with Eastern European band DeVotchKa (July 16).

``Contemporaneo Sudamericano,'' with Colombian singer Andrea Echeverri and Latin rockers Aterciopelados (July 23).

(310) 440-7300; www.getty.edu.

PERSHING SQUARE

Covers jazz, blues, rock, country, pop and world beat Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Sundays.

(213) 847-4970; www.laparks.org/pershingsquare/pershing.htm

LOS ANGELES COUNTY ARBORETUM AND BOTANIC GARDEN

California Philharmonic Family Night (July 15).

Arboretum, 310 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. (626) 300-8200; www.calphil.org.

SWINGIN' SOUNDS FROM DOWNTOWN BURBANK

Eight Thursday nights in July and August featuring swing, salsa and jazz, opening with Michael Andrew & Swingerhead (July 7), and taking in Royal Crown Revue (July 28), and Johnny Polanco y Su Conjunto Amistad (Aug. 11).

Events kick off at 6 p.m. with free swing or salsa dance classes. Bands strike up at 7 p.m.

AMC Plaza, Palm Avenue and San Fernando Boulevard, Burbank.

HENRY MANCINI INSTITUTE

Classical and jazz at various venues July 22 through Aug. 12, opening with Big Band Swing (July 22) at Beverly Hills Civic Center Plaza, followed by the HMI Orchestra featuring pianist Dave Grusin and saxophonist Tom Scott (July 23) at UCLA's Royce Hall, and the HMI Latin Big Band with percussionist Ray Barretto (Aug. 12) at downtown's California Plaza.

www.manciniinstitute.org.

COLBURN SCHOOL OF MUSIC/ZIPPER HALL

Accordionist Nick Ariondo performs a concerto for accordion and orchestra (3 p.m. Sunday).

200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; www.colburnschool.org

- F.S.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) GOOD VIBES

Martini Kings lead the cool acts playing free summer concerts

(2) Anthony, left, and Frank Marsico of the Martini Kings

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

(3) Music fans gather for free concerts at Warner Center Park, Sunday evenings through Labor Day.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer

(4) GORDON GOODWIN'S BIG PHAT BAND, AUG. 18, SANTA MONICA PIER

(5) WARSAW VILLAGE BAND, AUG. 18, SKIRBALL CENTER

Box:

Free summer concerts (see text)
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Date:Jun 21, 2005
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