Picks of the Week: July 21 – 27 In Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 21, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another warm Summer week, with many international jazz clubs shuttered in their annual July -August hiatus. But there’s still some fine music to be heard.

Los Angeles

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

- July 22. (Tues.) Strunz and Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah, showcase their irresistibly eclectic playing in one of their rare L.A. Appearances. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 22 & 24. (Tues. & Thurs.) Dudamel & Beethoven. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the kinetic conducting of Gustavo Dudmel illuminates a July evening with an all-Beethoven’s program featuring the classic Symphony No. 5 and the fascinating Triple Concerto. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- July 24. (Thurs,) Robert Davi. “Davi Sings Sinatra.” Actor/singer Davi’s association with Frank Sinatra dates back to the 1977 film Contract on Cherry St. Since then he has become the most musically convincing of the Sinatra-styled singers, applying his own creative imagination to the “Blue Eyes” style. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 24. (Thurs.) Noura Mint Seymali. The compelling voice of Mauritanian singer is featured in the opening event in the Skirball Cultural Center’s 18th Free Sunset Concert Series. The Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

- July 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.) The Ron Carter Trio. Ron Carter may well be the most recorded bassist in jazz history. But he’s also a fine composer and the leader of his own impressive trios. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

- July 25 – 26. (Fri. & Sat.) America & Americans Festival: Gloria Estefan. The L.A. Phil’s celebration of the music of North and South America continues with an appearance by Grammy-nominated vocalist Setefan with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Juy 26 (Sat.) Elliott Deutsch Big Band. Trumpeter/arranger/composer Deutsch leads his briskly swinging ensemble with the skills that have made him the arranger of choice for the likes of Cheryle Bentyne, Bill Watrous and others. Vitello’s.  (213) 620-0908.

- July 26 & 27. (Sat. & Sun.) The Central Ave. Jazz Festival. A spectacular assemblage of world class jazz in L.A.’s most memorable jazz setting. Featured artists include Kamasi Washington and Next Step, Patrice Rushen & Ndugu Chancler, Mongorama, The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Michael Session, Ernie Andrews, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez and more. Admission is free. The Central Ave. Jazz Festival.

- July 27. (Sun.) Peggy King and Corky Hale. She may be best known as “pretty, perky Peggy King” on the ’50s George Gobel television show. But in her later career, King’s matured into an impressive vocal artist. She performs with the superb accompaniment of pianist Corky Hale, who has been at the keyboard (or the harp) with everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

- July 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) Tierney Sutton. “Songs of Joni Mitchell.” A gifted vocalist with an emotionally rich style of her own, Sutton is one of the rare singers to have the musicality and the interpretive skills to handle the complex Mitchell catalof of songs. Click HERE to read an earlier iRoM review of Sutton singing Mitchell. An SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab. (866) 920-5299.

New York City

- July 22 – 26. (Tues. – Sat.) John Pizzarelli and the Swing Seven. Singer/guitarist Pizzarelli is in his most appealing medium when he’s digging into the pleasures of Swing, backed by an equally swinging bunch of players – as he is here. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Randy Brecker

Randy Brecker

- July 22 – 24. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Brecker Bros. Reunion Band. Trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Michael Brecker were one of the gifted brother acts in modern jazz. Since the death of Michael in 2007, Randy has kept the memories of the Brecker Bros. Band alive and well. He’s joined by his wife, Ada Rovatti, in the band’s saxophone chair. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

- July 24. (Thurs.) The Mike Stern & Bill Evans Band. Expect some blues grooves and fusion fireworks when Stern and Evans get together with drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Tom Kennedy. New Morning Paris.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 25 – 27. (Fri. – Sun.) Jose James. In his own unique way, vocalist James is searching for, and often finding, a blend between jazz, soul and hip-hop. Will it please the fans of each genre? Check him out and see. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


Live Jazz: “To Ella With Love” at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Patti Austin

July 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

The L.A. Philharmonic came up with a great celebration of the memory of Ella Fitzgerald at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night.

The evening began with a stirring big band salute from the always-exciting Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – an appropriate beginning, given the long association Ella had with big bands, from her early years with Chick Webb to frequent associations with the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Count Basie

Count Basie

It was additionally appropriate that most of the program was enlivened by the crisp, swinging backing of the current Count Basie Orchestra, now led by trumpeter Scotty Barnhart.

Add to that the stirring presence of singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Patti Austin. Not only are both ladies at the very top echelon of the current jazz vocalist world; they also are imaginative musical artists, fully capable of bringing the same sort of mesmerizing interpretations in their singing that were always present in Fitzgerald. Which is exactly what they did on this memorable evening.

Also present, adding the sort of musical versatility that Ella always favored,  contributing their own impressive skills, the evening’s guests included young Malaysian pop singer Yuna, the musically versatile singer Clint Holmes, pianist Shelly Berg (offering his authentic view of the Basie piano style) and drummer Gregg Field.

And, in one of the night’s most touching moments, singer Carmen Bradford tearfully recalled visiting Fitzerald’s home after Ella’s death, and discovering that her latest recording was present on Ella’s CD player. Still captivated by her feelings, Bradford then delivered an emotionally vibrant version of “I Love Being Here With You” – a highlight in an evening glowing with highlights.

Among the many other stellar moments, here are a few that will no doubt remain in the memory banks of the enthusiastic, near capacity audience:

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

- The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra only played four numbers, including “Cottontail” and “Basie/Ella Blues,” an improvised scat vocal transformed into a hard-driving big band number by John Clayton. But everything they offered provided convincing testimony of the still-vital big jazz band genre.

- The same could be said of the Count Basie Orchestra, repeatedly providing glorious memories of an era when big jazz bands and jazz vocalists represented marriages made in musical heaven.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

- Dee Dee Bridgewater, as always, was masterful with every phrase she sang. And she sang a bunch, from her solo renderings of “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Mack the Knife” “Tea For Two” and “Blues in the Night” to duet pairings with Holmes on songs from “Porgy and Bess” and a soaring, scat-filled duo with Austin on the Fitzgerald classic, “Mr. Paganini.”

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

- Patti Austin was equally versatile, equally articulate musically. In addition to her duet with Bridgewater, she paired with Holmes on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Her solo moments (with the Basie Orchestra backing) glowed on “Satin Doll,” “Them There Eyes” and “I’m Beginnig to See the Light.” And Austin was the chosen voice to recall Fitzgerald with the unforgettable classic, “A Tisket A Tasket.”

- The less familiar guest vocalists made their own engaging tributes to Ella. In addition to his duos, Holmes scatted with tons of swing and enthusiasm on “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” and Yuna added a personal touch to “You’ve Changed” and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me.”

As I said earlier, it was a memorable night, surely one that touched the heart strings (and the rhythm strings) of Ella Fitzgerald’s many fans.

So, kudos to the L.A. Phil for its marvelously entertaining tribute to the “First Lady of Song.”
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Picks of the Week: June 24 – 29

June 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

Summer has arrived, with all its distractions, and many of the music venues — in the U.S., Europe and beyond — are either closed or booking with reduced schedules.  But there’s still good music to be heard.

Los Angeles

Annie Trousseau

Annie Trousseau

- June 25. (Wed.) Annie Trousseau. Multi-lingual singer Trousseau is described in her press material as offering “some impressive musical reminders of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.” Which should make for an evening of eminently fascinating music. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 26. (Thurs.) “Tenors For Two” Tenor saxophonists Tom Peterson and Roger Neumann recall the jazz glory days of the “battling tenors.” Expect these two fine players to stretch the limits. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- June 26. (Thurs.) Heartbeat Brazil. They may be Los Angeles-based, but Heartbeat Brazil approaches classic Brazilian music with a convincingly authentic approach to bossa nova, samba, etc. And the highlight of the night may well be the presence of guest singer, Jason Gould, Barbra Streisand’s son. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Jack Jones

Jack Jones

- June 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Jack Jones. Jones’ mellow, baritone voice carried the torch for traditional pop music during the rock ‘n’ roll sixties. And the Grammy winner is still going strong, still recalling the glories of the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- June 27 & 28: (Fri.,  & Sat.)  Andrea Marcovicci. Actress, singer, and “Queen of Cabaret,” Marcovicci’s resume reaches from the White House and Carnegie Hall to films and television.  She returns to celebrate her 29th Anniversary at The Gardenia with a program of torch songs titled “Let’s Get Lost.”  The Gardenia.

- June 28. (Sat.) KJAZZ Summer Benefit Concert. Aways one of the most memorable musical experiences of the year, the annual KJAZZ Benefit concert features Steve Tyrell, Jane Monheit, Jason Moran and David Benoit. Don’t miss this one. Disney Hall.  (562) 985-2999.

- June 29. (Sun.) Moulin Russe. Cabaret meets jazz when the Moulin Russe performers bring the delights of traditional French music, in all its glories, to Los Angeles. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee Jones

- June 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat,) Rickie Lee Jones. Crossing comfortably from jazz to pop in the ’70s and ’80s, identifying herself as a high visibility star and winning Grammys along the way, Jones was one of the most signigicant artists of her generation. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

Boston

- June 26. (Thurs.) Sadao Watanabe. One of the rare Japanese to break into the national jazz arena, Watanabe thoroughly established himself as a significant player; and he’s still going strong at 80. Regatta Bar.  (617) 661-5000.

New York City

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

- June 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) The Tierney Sutton Quartet. “After Blue: The Joni Mitchell Project.” Sutton and her band have been creating some of the most impressive vocal jazz of the past decade. The stunning versions of Joni Mitchell classics featured on her most recent CD will provide the centerpiece for her current tour. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- June 25 – 28. (Wed. – Sat.) Stanley Jordan. Famous for his unique method of playing the guitar with a string tapping technique, Jordan creates some of the jazz world’s most appealing sounds. Iridium.  (212) 582-2121.

London

- June 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) Curtis Stigers. Singer/saxophonist continues to establish himself as one of the rare male jazz vocal artists on the current scene. Ronnie Scott’s.  (0)20 7439 0747.

Tokyo

- June 28 – 30. (Sat. – Mon.) Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra. Featuring Sheila E. It’s always family time when the Escovedos get together on stage. And anyone who hears them in action leaves with significant musical memories. The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: June 19 – 22

June 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

With Summer arriving in all its glory, I thought it would be helpful to concentrate the Picks for this long, mid-June weekend on the rich array of music to be heard here in the Southland.

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

- June 19. (Thurs.) Sally Kellerman. Sally’s back, and that’s great news for all fans of irresistible singing. Better known to many as “Hot Lips” from her role in the film version of Mash, Sal is a vocalist who brings vivid, story-telling qualities to every song. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of one of her recent Los Angeles performances. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 19 – 22. (Thurs. – Sun.) Marcus Miller. Multi-instrumentalist Miller, moving smoothly from bass clarinet, brings a sparkling array of jazz inventiveness to everything he plays. His current group includes saxophonist Alex Han, trumpeter Lee Hogans, keyboardist Brett Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and drummer Ronald Burneer, Jr. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

John Chiodini

John Chiodini

- June 20, (Fri,) The Denny Seiwell Trio. Drummer Seiwell’s resume includes gigs with an array of world class bands in genres of every style. This time he leads his own stellar group, featuring John Chiodini, guitar and Joe Bagg, keyboards. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- June 20. (Fri.) Chuck Manning and Steve Huffsteter. Two of the Southland’s most inventive jazz horn players, saxophonist Manning and trumpeter Huffsteter wrap their improvisational skills around every tune, stimulating each other’s creative imaginations. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) The John La Barbera Big Band. La Barbera’s Big Band hasn’t yet received the attention it deserves, and here’s a chance to see them in action in Sherman Oaks, on the broad stage of Jazz at the Cap.  (818) 990-2001.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. Here’s a rare, and not to be missed, display of jazz vocalese in the competent musical hands and soaring voices of this trio of world class singers. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 21. (Sat.) The Grand Reopening of the Alex Theatre.  Emmy and Tony award winning performer Martin Short joins Matt Catingub and the Glendale Pops Orchestra for a spectacular evening of song, dance, comedy and pure entertainment.  The Alex Theatre.  (818) 243-2611.

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

- June 21. (Sat.) Lee Hartley & the Les McCann All-Star Band. The appealing vocal team of Hartley and McCann are great on their own, and even better when their surrounded by the superb musical backing of guitarist John Chiodini, pianist Barney McClure, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Enzo Tedesco. Jazz at the Rad.  (310) 216-5861.

- June 21. (Sat.) “Nutty.” Jazz for Jetsetters. This always-intriguing jazz octet applies a broad stylistic array of jazz rhythms and styles to their interpretations of pop and rock classics. If you loved the ’60s, dopn’t miss these guys. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 21. (Sat.) Opening Night at the Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl kicks off a spectacular Summer season with the induction of Kristin Chenoweth, The Go-Go’s and Pink Martini into the . The celebration will climax with a spectacular fireworks display.  Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame (323) 850-2000.

 

 

 


Live Jazz: Highlights from the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl

June 17, 2014

By Devon Wendell

So it’s that time again folks; another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. As most of us know, the first rule when attending the festival is that we pissed off jazz enthusiasts must check our inner jazz- purist at the security gate before the festivities begin because you could actually count the number of true jazz acts on one hand at most over the two days.

Although looking for real jazz at The Playboy Festival has increasingly become like searching for sushi at a Southern barbecue restaurant, there was plenty of jazz-influenced music such as funk/fusion, jazz/fusion, Rock/fusion, jazz/funk/rock/fusion, Latin jazz, and even enough modern R&B and pop to make the Grammy people jump for joy.

So let’s get started. Here are my Playboy Jazz Festival highlights for both Saturday, June 14th, and Sunday, June 15th.

Saturday

Who would have thought that actor Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas could actually swing in a jump blues format? Not me until I heard Fargas’ The New Jump Blues Band perform as the opening act of Saturday’s program. Fargas and his band ran through such jump blues classics as “Keep On Churnin’,” “All She Wants To Do Is Mambo” and “Train Kept A Rollin’.” Fargas shared vocals with Adrian Battle and Airreal Watkins. The horn section consisting of Bill Ungerman on tenor sax, Jim Jediken on baritone sax and clarinet, and Javier Gonzales on trumpet swung hard enough that they would have made Jump blues pioneers Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, and Tiny Bradshaw proud. Fargas’ confident vocals, dance moves, and overall stage presence went perfectly with the music and mood.

This was pure jump blues delivered with love and dedication.

Allen Stone

Allen Stone

Although Allen Stone looked like another pseudo-hippie burn out on Venice Beach, this Washington State born son of a preacher delivered a powerful set of gospel-inflected soul and country rock. Stone could go from sounding like Prince on R&B burners like “Love,” and “Say So” to a more Black Crows Southern fried rock on songs such as “Voodoo” and “Mama.” Stone is an astoundingly powerful vocalist. Stone’s band rocked, especially Greg Ehrlich’s rollicking Hammond B3 chops, and Trevor Larkin’s screaming blues guitar leads. Stone is a fresh new presence in the rock world and proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The second Kenny Barron and Ravi Coltrane took the Bowl stage and started playing it was like a breath of fresh air. Finally some actual jazz! And this was the real thing from the first note of Barron’s “And Then Again” which was pure bebop in the realm of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” Ravi Coltrane’s tenor sax work was soulful, daring, and it was evident that he has done his homework and truly respects this music. This was certainly the case on the Thelonious Monk classic “Ask Me Now” which brought to mind Joe Henderson’s version.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Coltrane’s angular tenor lines unraveled in a beautiful and dynamic fashion. Barron’s masterful piano on Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” was closer to McCoy Tyner and the late great Cedar Walton than Monk’s approach to piano, though there were plenty of Monk-like voicings on the piece entitled “Calypso.” Jonathan Blake’s melodic bop drumming paid homage to Max Roach and Roy Haynes, and Kiyoshi Kittigawa was magnificent on bass. This was one of the festival’s finest moments. Everyone was swinging hard and having true musical conversations.

The Playboy Jazz Festival always includes some real New Orleans music in its program and nothing could be more authentic than seeing legendary New Orleans pianist Henry Butler with trumpeter Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9. This was the real deal. Bernstein and Butler got together to form this band after Butler moved from New Orleans to Brooklyn. I’ve never heard pure New Orleans music like this in a live setting, which combined big band swing, Dixieland jazz, blues, and New Orleans funk.

Henry Butler

Henry Butler

Hearing Henry Butler sing and play piano on the Jelly Role Morton classic “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” was a real treat and nasty in all the best ways. Bernstein on trumpet along with Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Charlie Burnham on violin, Doug Wieselman on E-flat clarinet and tenor sax, Peter Apfelbaum on tenor & soprano saxes, and Erik Lawrence on baritone and soprano sax, all demonstrated just how modern, adventurous, and endlessly valid composer’s like Fats Waller, and Jelly Role Morton still are today, long after their deaths.

Examples of this were the band’s performance of Jelly Role Morton’s “Viper Drag” and “Wolverine Blues” which sounded more avante-garde than any jazz that came out of the ‘60s.

Henry Butler played some of the greatest, most creative piano I’ve ever heard in any genre of music in my life. I could have listened to his constant flow of ideas and straight blues vocals all day long.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves is still the queen of jazz-soul. Her set at the festival was stellar. When Reeves covers another artist’s song, she owns it as she did on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” Reeves’ unique scat singing, in which she jumps from the lower register of her voice to the upper with ease and confidence, gave these classics a jazzier sultry appeal. Trumpeter Sean Jones’ was terrific, especially on the Marvin Gaye number. Reeves’ relaxed, funky sound was accentuated by her amazing band of Peter Martin on piano, Geoffrey Keezer on electric keyboards, Romero Lubanbo on guitar, and Nadia Washington on backing vocals.

Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band brought back a set of much needed jazz. Although many of the performances were marred by sound problems, Sandoval and his Big Band swung hard. Actor Andy Garcia added some tasty congas on a set which combined bebop and Latin jazz in a Big band setting with some of the finest musicians in Los Angeles.

Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron engaged in a swinging and powerful trumpet duel with Sandoval on a Dizzy Gillespie big band inspired blues. Both players were in top form, especially Sandoval who hit those high notes that players half his age struggle with.

Henry Mancini’s daughter Monica sang a few of her dad’s compositions with the band, including the Brazilian flavored “Perhaps, Perhaps.” Sandoval’s “Having Fun” was a highlight of the set. Ed Calle’s tenor sax solo weaved in and out of the arrangements by the amazing horn sections (Dan Higgins, Rusty Higgins, Bob Sheppard, Greg Huckins on saxophones, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Charlie Morrilas, Craig Gosnell on trombones, Wayne Bergeron, Gary Grant, Dan Fornero, and Jeff Bunnell on trumpets) beautifully while sticking with the thematic quality of the piece.

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

Patti Austin sat in for a few standards including an amazing reading of “Lady Be Good” in which she channeled Ella Fitzgerald’s voice in a delightfully frightening manner while the band swung hard behind her. On “Mambo Caliente” (From The Mambo Kings film) Sandoval played one of the most powerful trumpet solos I’ve ever heard him play, wailing away in the upper register with a virtuosity and command over the demanding instrument.

George Duke

George Duke

When I think of love, fun, and funk, I think of the late great George Duke. Keyboard extraordinaire and composer John Beasley put together a group of some of the greatest George Duke alumni players for an ultra-funky and loving tribute to the late master who passed away in August of last year. Although guest stars Al Jarreau, and Stanley Clarke sounded great on “Summer Breezing,” “Someday” (A duet between Al Jarreau and Dianne Reeves) and “Wild Dog,” it was the old school funk of “Dukie Stick” (With Ndugu Chancler) “Morning Sun” and “Reach For It” that were the most fun and got the Bowl crowd up and dancing. Keyboard legend Greg Phillinganes’ voice harmonized beautifully with singer Josie James on “Morning Sun” and a heartfelt version of Duke’s soul ballad masterpiece “Sweet Baby.” Bassist Bryon Miller held down the groove tightly throughout the set and Paul Jackson Jr. proved to everyone why he’s one of the best guitarists in the World on “Hot Fire.” This was truly a festival highlight.

Sunday

Kicking off Sunday’s program was the legendary James Cotton. Cotton is the greatest living legend of Chicago blues harmonica. Cotton and his band (Darrell Nulisch on vocals, Tom Holland on guitar, Noel Neal on bass, and Jerry Porter on drums) played a set of straight ahead, no-nonsense Chicago blues, including such classics as Cotton’s own “How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong,” plus Muddy Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow” and Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright,” both of which Cotton had played on the original recordings with Waters and Rogers.

Things really got jumping when Cotton and his band were joined by the great Big Jay McNeely. Although McNeely is in his 80s, he sounded stronger than ever, playing some now standard blues lines on tenor sax. His voice has aged in all the best ways for a blues singer; still smooth but raw and nasty. McNeely sang about his love of the bigger ladies on “Big Fat Mama.” McNeely and Cotton traded solos and a few laughs. Unfortunately as McNeely sang his classic blues ballad “There Is Something On Your Mind,” he and the band were cut off as the stage rotated for another act. This was one of the finest moments of the day and it was sad to see these legends disrespected by being given way less time than Fantasia from American Idol, or at least it felt much shorter.

At first I didn’t know what to make of actor Jon Batiste (Star of HBO’s Treme) and his group Stay Human, joined by members of the LAUSD Beyond The Bell All District Honor Marching Band. I could tell he was a magnetic front-man and vocalist inspired by Sly Stone but he started off all over the place, combining R&B with a solo piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and Benny Goodman’s theme song “Goodbye” and a little bit of Duke Ellington tossed in. And drummer Joe Saylor reciting Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks In Beauty” before a rock version of “Saint James Infirmary.” Yes folks, this started out messy but there was a refreshingly adventurous nature to Batiste and his band as they delivered one of the most exciting moments of the day. Batiste (on melodica) ascended onto the Bowl crowd while playing “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” with Ibanda Ruhumbika on tuba, Brad Allen Williams, on banjo, Eddie Barbash on alto sax, and Jamison Ross on tambourine. The combination of instruments created a wonderful, swinging harmony in a true New Orleans style. This was one of the day’s purest and most enjoyable moments.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Although there was a lot of funk throughout Sunday’s program, especially bad fusion and rock funk by artists I chose not to cover, Dr. Lonnie Smith is still one of the most sincerely funky beings on the planet. He brought his one of a kind James Brown meets Jimmy Smith Hammond B3 style to the Bowl with a perfectly relaxed arrogance that only a true funk master can get away with. His set consisted of originals such as; “Falling In Love”, “Track 9”, and “Mama Wailer.” The horn section (Andy Gravish on trumpet, John Ellis on tenor sax, Alan Ferber on trombone, and James Marshall on baritone sax) sounded just like the JB’s of the early ‘70s with those distinct Fred Wesley inspired horn hooks. Ed Cherry’s James Nolen meets Wes Montgomery electric guitar work was the perfect match for these compositions. Smith’s syncopated B3 solos were imaginative, in fact, his playing was more complex than his compositions and arrangements which, for the most part stayed on the one chord and rarely left.

After a long day of almost no jazz, it became clear that George Benson was as close as I was going to get by the end of the night. Benson was in particularly fine form Sunday evening. One of the highlights of the entire festival this year was Benson performing his hit originally written by Leon Russell “Masquerade.” He scat sang along with an extremely intense minor key guitar solo that was mesmerizing in every way.
George and his band also sounded great on his R&B hits “Living Inside Your Love,” “The Mambo Inn,” “Turn Your Love Around,” “Let Me Love You One More Time” and “Give Me The Night.” Benson’s energy was infectious, inspiring the festival audience to shake what they brought. Benson’s slick vocals sounded better than ever and he’s still a master guitarist in a class of his own.

George Benson and Earl Klugh

George Benson and Earl Klugh

Although Earl Klugh sounded good on a few instrumentals at the start of the set, it was his guitar duel with Benson on the colossal hit “On Broadway” that was the most enthralling moment between the two guitarists. Klugh’s harmonic explorations on acoustic guitar during this final number truly gave Benson a run for his money.

And so that’s it, the end of the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Sure the festival could’ve used some more authentic jazz acts but what else is new? The Festival is less about the music and more about partying it up on a beautiful sunny Los Angeles weekend. See you next year folks.

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Live Jazz: The 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl

June 16, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a Festival that loses its way?

It’s a question that kept running through my mind during the 36th annual Playboy Jazz Festival Saturday and Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl.

That’s not to challenge the quality of the sounds beamed from the Bowl stage to a capacity audience. Whatever the genre of music being offered from the rotating center stage, it was true to its essential identity.

But back to that question. Am I implying that the Playboy Jazz Festival lost its way in this latest installment?

Let’s take a look at the programming to see if it provides an answer.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

Saturday’s bill included pianist Kenny Barron and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, singer Dianne Reeves, singer/pianist Jamie Cullum, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band with vocalists Monica Mancini and Patti Austin, and vocalist Al Jarreau with Stanley Clarke in a tribute to George Duke.
On Sunday, the program featured bassist Dave Holland’s PRISM, and guitarist/singer George Benson with specical guest Earl Klugh.

Both days opened with stirring sets from a pair of Los Angeles High School jazz bands: the Beyond the Bell Jazz Band and the Esperanza High School Jazz Band.

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

No doubt that this list is a prime assemblage of authentic jazz artists, a list consistent with the Playboy Jazz Festival’s history of offering memorable jazz performances in every year’s programming.

But let’s take a look at the remaining line up:

The additional acts on Saturday’s program included: the New Jump Blues Band, saxophonist Tia Fuller, singer/songwriter Allen Stone, and the Hot 9 with singer/pianist Henry Butler and trumpeter Steven Bernstein.

The additional acts on the Sunday program included the James Cotton Blues Band, Juan DeMarcos & the Afro-Cuban all Stars, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, singer/songwriter Jose James and dynamic singer Fantasia, and Los Amigos Invisibles.

These latter two lists include a far-ranging assemblage of musical styles, all of it delivered with effective dedication to a color array of stylistic performances embracing the blues, funk, Latin rhythms, performance music and beyond.

Jamie Cullum

Jamie Cullum

Did it all – no matter how well it was done – belong on a program titled “Playboy Jazz Festival?

That’s an easy question to ask, and hard to answer. But my first response is “Not really.” Some of it was intriguing, some gripping, some annoying, some doing its best to include jazz influences here and there. But an overview of the entire program would have to identify the first artists I’ve listed above – from Jamie Cullum and Kenny Barron to Arturo Sandoval and Al Jarreau to Dave Holland and George Benson – as the most authentic jazz highlights of this year’s Festival.

To give credit to Festival 36 producers, it’s worth noting that the sort of iconic, stellar jazz artists (from Dizzy Gillespie to Ella Fitzgerald and beyond) who were available to past Festival programmers are no longer with us. In addition, this year’s Festival production has moved from Playboy to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And a glimpse at the overall program line-up seems to suggest a desire to reach an audience beyond the jazz demographic.

Nothing wrong with that, so long as the jazz roots that have been essential elements in past Festivals continue to be a vital, far-reaching presence. Which was not always the case with Saturday and Sunday’s program.

So, to wrap up with my first question, did the Festival lose its way this year, with its uneven programming?

And the answer is “No.”

But this listener, who has attended and reviewed many Playboy Festivals  over the past few decades, hopes that next year’s production – in the hands of the L.A. Phil – will pay closer attention to the dedication to jazz that has consistently made the Playboy Jazz Festival one of the year’s most memorable jazz experiences.

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 


Picks of the Week: May 27 – June 1

May 27, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

- May 27. (Tues.) Pat Senatore Trio. The stellar Senatore trio – bassist Senatore with pianist Josh Nelson and drummer Mark Ferber have been carrying the torch for solid jazz at its best for years. And their new recording, Ascensione, is a superb display of their effectiveness as a world class jazz trio. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 29. (Thurs.) Peter Smith. “Too Marvelous For Words: The Music of Nat “King’ Cole.” Singer/pianist Smith revives one of the most appealing jazz catalogs of song. Don’t miss it. Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

- May 30. (Fri.) Angela Parrish. Pianist/singer/songwrier Parrish has been soloing in Vitello’s dining room. But her appealing musical qualities will be on full display when she performs in the club’s warm and engaging upstairs music room. Vitello’s  (818) 769-0905.

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

- May 30. (Fri.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. A Casual Friday concert with Gustavo Dudamel conducting Mozart’s Symphony No.36 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with Helene Grimaud as piano soloist. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

- May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) Tom Culver’s “Cole Porter Uncorked explores some of the classic items in the Great American Songbook in a program backed by the Rick Hils Trio and directed by Marilyn Maye. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- May 31. (Sat.) LA Ballet “La Sylphide.” An irresistible evening of ballet at its finest. In addition to La Sylphide, the program features George Balanchine‘s “Serenade..” Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

Miki Howard

Miki Howard

- May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) Miki Howard. Comfortably expressive in jazz, r&b and pop, Howard had a string of hits in the ’80s and ’90s, and she’s still going strong. Expect to hear some catchy, appealingly familiar melodies. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- June 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with the Ron Jones Jazz Influence Orchestra. Multi-hyphenate MacFarlane balances his successful efforts as an actor, producer, director and comedian with his appealing efforts as a singer. He’ll be at his best with Jones’ briskly swinging Jazz Influence Orchestra. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- May 29 – June 1 (Thurs. – Sun.) Marc Ribot. Guitarist/composer Ribot displays his affection for film in a fascinating score for Charlie Chaplin‘s film, The Kid. An SFJAZZ concert at Miner Auditorium.  (866) 920-5299

Washington D.C.

- May 27 (Tues.) Nicole Henry. Comfortably expressing herself in soul/jazz/pop/r&b stylings, Henry’s charismatic qualities are present in every song she sings. Blues Alley (202) 337-4141.

New York City

Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli

- May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) John Pizzarelli and Jane Monheit with the Al Jackson Quintet. Among the most gifted of the younger generation interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli and Monheit are even better when they’re performing as a captivating vocal duo. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.(212) 258-9595.

- May 27 – 31. (Tues. – Sat.) BossaBrazil. A pair of Brazil’s finest musical artists – Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal – team up to showcase some of the finest blends of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

- May 30 & 31. Jean Luc Ponty & His Band.  Violinist Ponty, one of the leaders in the early stages of jazz fusion, continue to be one of the most intriguing of contemporary jazz performers. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747

Berlin

- May 27. (Tues.) Billy Hart Quartet. Always an appealing performer, drummer Hart is so popular in Berlin that this booking has been described as “Wegen Des Grossen Andrangs (“Back By Public Demand). A-Trane. 030 / 313 25 50.

Milan

Mayra Andrade

Mayra Andrade

- May 28. (Wed.) Mayra Andrade. Lovely Difficult A native of the musically rich environment of the Cape Verde isands, Andrade – who lives in Paris – has built an impressive career combining her Cape Verde roots with appealing touches of French music and American pop. The Blue Note Milano. +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- May 27 & 28. (Tues. & Wed.) Harvey Mason and “Chameleon.” Hard swinging drummer Mason, leads an especially appealing ensemble in “Chameleon,” featuring the unique musical gifts of Chris Turner, John Beasley, Philip Woo, Kamasi Washington and Jimmy Haslip. The Blue Note Tokyo. +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


Picks of the Week: May 19 – 25

May 19, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

- May 20. (Tues.) Carol Welsman. She sings with an utter mastery of jazz vocalizing. Add to that Carol’s equally impressive piano playing, always imaginative, always swinging. She doesn’t do a lot of club dates, so don’t miss this one. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 20. (Tues.) Guitar Night. With John Pisano and special guests guitarist Tim May, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Kendall Kay. Viva Cantina.  (818) 845- 2425.

- May 21. (Wed.) Lauren White with the Quinn Johnson Trio. Special Guests include Dolores Scozzesi and  Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. An evening of jazz vocals reaching from the superb soloing of Lauren and Dolores to the jaunty trio of Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. Catalina Bar & Grill. (223) 466-2210.

Bianca Rossini

Bianca Rossini

- May 21. (Wed.) Bianca Rossini. Brazilian singer/songwriter Rossini enhances her intimate bossa novas with the moves of a born dancer. Click HERE  to read a recent review of Rossini in action. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.+

- May 21. (Wed.) Jennifer Leitham Trio. With Rich Eames, piano and Randy Drake, drums. Leitham is a first call bassist with the versatility to perform in any setting. This time out, she does it her way, with her own trio. Jazz at the Cap.

 

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- May 22. (Thurs.) Robert Davi. In a music world becoming over populated with Sinatra wannabes, Davi is the real deal, intimately familiar with the Sinatra style. Blessed with a voice rich with operatic qualities, Davi uses it in memorable excursions through the Great American Songbook. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 22. (Thurs.) Billy Joel. It’s not often that one has the chance to hear Joel anywhere, much less the Hollywood Bowl. Don’t miss this chance to hear some of his classics. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- May 23. (Fri,) Kenny Burrell Quintet. One of the iconic jazz guitarists of his generation, Burrell, also an educator, takes a break from his UCLA responsibilities to remind us of his still potent playing skills. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- May 23. (Fri.) Azar Lawrence. Saxophonist Lawrence’s impressive resume reaches from Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner to Freddie Hubbard and beyond. Still a hard swinging, potent improviser, he should be heard at every opportunity. LACMA. (323) 857-6000.

- May 23 – 25. (Fri. – Sun.) Los Angeles Philharmonic. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the grand finale of the L.A. Phil’s Mozart/Da Ponte Trilogy – Cosi Fan Tutti. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- May 24. (Sat.) Mark Christian Miller. Although he spends a lot of time working in music management and guidance, Miller is a fine vocalist in his own right. The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

Cheryl Bentyne

Cheryl Bentyne

- May 24. (Sat.) Cheryl Bentyne. She’s back and all fans of world class jazz vocalizing should be delighted. After recovering from a serious illness, Bentyne is in the groove, singing with the imagination and the buoyant sense of swing that have always been essential to her art. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- May 24 & 25. (Sat. & Sun.) John Daversa’s Contemporary Big Band. Trumpeter/composer/arranger Daversa is producing some of the most fascinating big band writing on the current jazz scene. The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

San Francisco

- May 21 & 22. (Wed. & Thurs.) Jane Monheit Sings Judy Garland. The title of this performance alone tells us that it’s going to be a fascinating experience. And there’s more on the bill: in the lounge on Wed.: Pianist Gaea Schell. In the lounge on Thurs: the Karen Marguth Trio. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York City

- May 20 – 24. (Tues. – Sat.) Karrin Allyson. Always a musically intriguing singer, Allyson has matured into a creatively expressive vocal artist. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent L.A. Appearance by Allyson. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias

May 19 & 20. (Mon. & Tues.) Eliane Elias Quartet. Elias has been a superb jazz pianist since she first moved from Brazil to the U.S. But in recent years she’s displayed equally captivating skills as a singer, as well. Click HERE  to read a recent iRoM review of an Eliane Elias performance in Los Angeles. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0) 20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

- May 24. (Sat.) Fredrik Kronkvist. “The Cannonball Adderley Songbook.” Danish saxophonist Kronkvist displays the extent to which European jazz artists have convincingly proven themselves as world class performers. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

- May 21 (Wed.) Geri Allen. Name some iconic jazz artists of the past few decades, and pianist Allen has probably worked with them (Think Ornette Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Charles Lloyd, Betty Carter and more). Although she spends part of the time these days as a college professor, she continues to assert her status as one of the fine jazz artists of her generation. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette

- May 20 – 22. (Tues. – Thurs.) Jack DeJohnette Trio. With saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matthew Garrison. Drummer/percussionist DeJohnette is one of the current jazz world’s most creatively curious players. And, for this tour, he’s chosen to work alongside players with equally inquisitive creativity. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

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Photos of Bianca Rossini, Robert Davi, Cheryl Bentyne and Eliane Elias by Faith Frenz.

 

 

 


Live Jazz: Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center.

March 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra have been making regular appearances in the Southland for the past few years. And it’s always a musical delight to hear this stellar assemblage of jazz artists in action. On Sunday night they took the stage at the acoustically accurate environment of the Valley Performing Arts Center, once again reminding us of the great music that exists in the nearly century-old repertoire of big jazz bands.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Marsalis’ carefully planned programming reached from Duke Ellington to Count Basie, while making additional stops at the efforts of Benny Carter, Henry Mancini, Gerald Wilson and Charles Mingus. The results were extraordinary.

I’m tempted to name (and praise) the impressive soloists who stepped into the spotlight. But the fact is that virtually every member of the JLCO displayed world-class improvisational skills. Suffice to say that the combination of extraordinary ensemble playing, blended with superb individual artistry, led by Marsalis’ deep historical overview (which he offered between numbers) of the creative potential of the big jazz band, resulted in an incomparable evening of music.

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

And the thought that kept surfacing throughout the memorable two hour program was the JLCO’s far ranging capacity to remind us of the big bands’ historical role as the symphony orchestra of American music. Evolving over the decades from the ’20s to the present, the big bands have provided one composer/arranger after another with the instrumentation to express musical creativity comparable to the work of European symphonic composers.

In the hands of jazz artists such as Marsalis and the gifted members of the JLCO, performing some of the great, jazz-oriented big band works of the 20th century, the music left little to be desired. Add to that the opportunity to compare the big band works of such iconic composers as Ellington, Mingus, Carter and Wilson, among numerous others.

And the result, in this extraordinary performance, was a musical night to remember – a beautifully articulated, inventively played display of big band jazz at its finest.


Live Jazz: The Gerald Wilson Big Band at Catalina Bar & Grill

March 14, 2014

(Editor’s note)  Jazz critic, author and historian Scott Yanow joins the International Review of Music reviewing staff with this characteristically thoughtful commentary.  We look forward to more posts and essays from Scott’s thoughtful perspective.

By Scott Yanow

Gerald Wilson probably does not know it but he is the last survivor. The 95-year old bandleader-arranger-composer first recorded in 1939 when he was a 20-year old trumpeter with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Although a few other living performers preceded him onto records (including singer Herb Jeffries who is now 100, violinist Svend Asmussen and singer Kay Starr), they have all retired. Wilson stands alone as the only active jazz musician to have recorded before 1940. He outlasted everyone else.

Gerald Wilson

Gerald Wilson

At Catalina Bar & Grill, Wilson led his 17-piece orchestra through a long set of his arrangements. While Gerald Wilson’s recounting of his familiar stories to the audience found him occasionally forgetting names and details, he looked pretty healthy and, amazingly enough for someone in his mid-nineties, he did not sit down once during the entire two-hour set.

Inspired by his presence, Wilson’s big band played at their very best throughout the night. “Blues For The Count” had many solos including one from violinist Yvette Devereaux, who always adds a lot to the band’s power and ensemble sound.

Carl Saunders

“Blues For Yna Yna” included four choruses full of musical miracles from trumpeter Carl Saunders (who consistently plays the impossible flawlessly), and some enjoyable Stanley Turrentine moments from the soulful tenor-saxophonist Louis Van Taylor. Taylor and altoist Randall Willis starred on “Perdido” while many soloists (including the fine high note trumpeter Winston Byrd) were featured on a driving “Milestones.” John Coltrane’s “Equinox” was intense and had strong spots for Devereaux and tenor-saxophonist Kamasi Washington.  Other selections including “Viva Tirado,” the majestic “Carlos” (with Carl Saunders in the spotlight), and a closing medium-tempo blues.

Gerald Wilson

Gerald Wilson

Throughout the night, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra was inspired. Kamasi Washington on tenor was consistently fiery and inventive, creating his own version of sheets of sound. The trumpet section, led by Winston Byrd’s stratospheric notes, never let up, the trombonists (with Les Benedict often having the solos) had a unified sound, and the rhythm section, which included Wilson’s long-time pianist Brian O’Rourke, kept the music swinging.

Gerald Wilson’s last few recordings have found him leading an all-star group of East Coasters through some of his classic charts, but he should really document his real band, particularly after this recent performance. They kept him smiling and youthful for the full two hours.

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Scott Yanow (www.scottyanow.com) is the author of 11 books on jazz and over 750 liner notes. He can be reached at scottyanowjazz@yahoo.com.


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