Live Music: The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum in “Hooray For Hollywood”

August 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Pasadena, CA.  The warm months of summer always bring a luscious banquet of musical events, much of it presented in colorful outdoor venues. One of the best has begun to emerge in the performances of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra under the baton of Michael Feinstein, amid the gorgeous greenery of the L.A. Arboretum.

And Saturday night’s performance, titled “Hooray For Hollywood,” was a perfect blend of all those elements, brought to their peak under the guidance of Feinstein, who matched his appealing singing and precise conducting with a scholarly knowledge of the rich and diversified music of Hollywood, past, present and future.

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

Add to that the line-up of appealing performers that Feinstein, with the aid and support of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) also added to evening in an obvious quest to create an immensely enjoyable performance. Among the headliners: Debby Boone, Maureen McGovern, Kevin Earley, Alan Bergman, Paul Williams and much more.

The far-ranging tone of the performance began early, with Feinstein’s whimsical reading of (appropriately) “Hooray For Hollywood,” supplemented with some humorous new lyrics as well as Feinstein’s ever amusing sidebar comments.

“I wanted to grow up to be like Alan Ladd, and I did,” he noted, with a smile. (Although he did not look in Paul Williams’ direction when he said it.)

Michael Feinstein conducts the Pasadena Pops

The heart of the show, and the highlight of the vocal performances were energized by tunes from what might accurately be called The Great Hollywood Songbook. Consider the following:

Paul Williams singing “The Rainbow Connection,” a song he wrote for Kermit the Frog in Sesame Street.

Maureen McGovern‘s rich voice, soaring through a sequence of gripping interpretations, vividly bringing to life a medley of songs from”The Sound Of Music.”

Debby Boone‘s “You Light Up My Life,” a song classic from the film of the same name, still completely owned, in every musical manner, by Boone’s still-vibrant singing.

The talented young Kevin Early displaying his musical versatility with convincing versions of a pair of very different tunes: “The Way You Look Tonight” (from Swing Time) and “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe (from The Harvey Girls).”

And, perhaps best of all, Alan Bergman‘s stunning reading of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crown Affair, with lyrics by Bergman and his wife, Marilyn, music by Michel Legrand. I’ve heard Alan sing it many times, and been deeply moved by each performance.

The music of Hollywood is not just song, of course. Michael Feinstein’s “Hooray For Hollywood” \thoroughly explored that other area – the soundtracks that are essential to a film’s emotional flow. And with an orchestra as adept as the Pasadena Pops, the results could only be world class. As they were.

Among the numerous highlights, there were selections from such familiar film names as Johnny Green, Elmer Bernstein, the Sherman Brothers, Michael Giachino, Erich Korngold, and more:

- The overture to Mary Poppins. The Raintree County overture. Music from The Magnificent Seven. The Prologue to The Sound of Music. Themes from Silverado.(conducted by composer Bruce Broughten),l And the Overture to Funny Girl.

Call it an amazing evening of music, and fascinating glance at the role it plays in the creative workshops of Hollywood. And let me add a coda of thanks to Michael Feinstein, his gifted orchestra and line up of stars, all of whom provided one of the Summer of 2014’s most pleasant experiences.

While I’m at it, Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops, along with guest stars, return on Saturday, Sept. 6, for a show that promises to produce similar musical pleasures: “New York! New York!” I’d say don’t miss it. Especially if you’re an expatriate New Yorker.

 


Picks of the Week: July 29 – Aug. 3 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 29, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another hot week, with a lot of venues still in the midst of their Summer hiatuses.  But there’s still some fine, selective music to hear.

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

- July 29. (Tues.) Amanda McBroom and George Ball. Musical theatre and cabaret star Amanda McBroom and actor/singer George Ball present a program of classic songs. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- July 30. (Wed.) Lola Haag, Mark Massey and Friends. The sultry voice of Lola Haag is backed by the jazz piano stylings of Mark Massey and his stellar group. Steamers7.  (714) 871-8800.

- July 31. (Thurs.) Chuck Manning & Steve Huffsteter Quartet. A pair of Los Angeles’ world class jazz artists – saxophonist Manning and trumpeter  Huffsteter take a break from their busy bookings as sidemen to step into the spotlight.  They perform in a piano-less quartet with bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Matt GordyVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) “Hair.”  The classic rock musical of the sixties takes over the Bowl for a rare three night run. A must-see for all boomers. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

- Aug. 2. (Sat.) Strunz & Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah are back, making a second L.A. appearance in the past two weeks. Don’t miss them. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

(July 31 – Aug. 3.(Thurs. – Sun.) Vinicius Cantuaria Sings Jobim. Guitarist/singer Canturia, one of bossa nova’s most authentic interpreters, illuminates the Antonio Carlos Jobim catalog of songs. SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Melba Moore

Melba Moore

- Aug. 1 & 2. (Friday & Sat.) Melba Moore. Grammy-nominated, Tony-Award winning r&b, soul, and blues singer Moore is a master of contemporary pop music styles with hits reaching back to the ’70s. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

 New York City

- July 31 – Aug. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.) The legendary Count Basie Orchestra. The irresistible rhythms and big band classics of the Count Basie Orchestra live on, with trumpeter Scotty Barnhart leading the way. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

London

- July 28 – Aug. 2 (Mon. – Sat.) The Average White Band. Four decades after their hit-making years of the ’70s and ’80s, the Scottish Average White Band is still playing their soul, r&b and funk classics. Two original members – Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre – are still present, along with three new members from the U.S. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

Aug. 1 ;& 2. (Fri. & Sat.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Versatile trumpeter Hargrove steps away from his big band to lead a swinging quintet of jazz stars. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 29.  ( Tues.)  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The classic sounds of New Orleans jazz are alive and well in the swinging playing of the preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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