Live Music: Seth MacFarlane at Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc.

November 25, 2014

By James DeFrances

Bel Air.  Sunday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. one performer had the world on a string. That person was Seth MacFarlane and his name should ring a bell. MacFarlane has been the long time creator of Fox’s animated series Family Guy, as well as the brains behind the 2012 feature film Ted and the host of the 2013 Academy Awards telecast…for starters.

Seth MacFarlane

On this occasion, though, he was appearing in a different capacity, as a big band singer. Which wasn’t such a far cry for MacFarlane, who released his debut album Music is Better Than Words, a late ’50’s/early ’60’s style big band vocal record, in 2012. Recorded at Capitol Records studios in Hollywood he showcased his unique voice in a style very much like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. His TV show Family Guy also relies heavily on lush orchestral Swing style cues in between scenes and for the main theme song. His affection for this kind of music is ever apparent in all aspects of his career.

On Sunday night he was backed by the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra, which includes an A-list of Hollywood studio musicians.

Seth MacFarlane with Ron Jones and the Influence Jazz Orchestra

Crooning to a packed house of fans from all facets of his career, MacFarlane would have even made Frank Sinatra proud if he had been there. And speaking of Sinatra, there was plenty of his music in the set list. And it was quite a rare treat to actually hear the song choices, as they were not all necessarily chart-topping hits for Sinatra. Songs like: “It’s Always You,” “No One Ever Tells You” and “The Look of Love” stood out.

What was even more exciting was the fact that he used original Sinatra arrangements penned by such legendary orchestrators as Sy Oliver, Nelson Riddle and Billy May. MacFarlane’s voice was fully up to the task, as he cruised through each tune with a relaxed demeanor and plenty of power and vibrato on tap when it was needed.

Armed with a glass of scotch and a wired Shure microphone, he also explored many classics and standards from stage shows and films of days gone by. Among them were songs like “One For My Baby,” “Come Fly With Me” and “Just in Time.”

Seth MacFarlane sings with the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra

The show seemed to have gone by almost too quickly when MacFarlane announced the final number. In a Vegas-like move, he opted to close the night out with “Luck be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls featuring the iconic 1963 Billy May arrangement for Frank Sinatra.

For a few brief hours on Sunday night it really felt like 1966 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas with the whiskey flowing and the horns blowing. MacFarlane’s star shined bright at Vibrato and it seems as if the world is his oyster, he really can do it all!

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Photos by James DeFrances.


Live Music: “Vintage Masters of Swing” at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 24, 2014

By James M. deFrances

Last Thursday when I walked through the door at Catalina’s Jazz Club it felt as though I had just walked through a portal to a different time. The club beamed with old Hollywood, from the bandstand on stage to the many recognizable industry folk who dotted the room. As far as the big band, jazz and film music world are concerned this night was a “who’s who” event.

TIm Simonec

TIm Simonec

Produced by veteran orchestrator/conductor, Tim Simonec, “Vintage Masters of Swing” was a guaranteed hit, even on paper.  The concept was to bring together some of the greatest living legend Swing arrangers, composers and conductors in one room for one night, and it succeeded overwhelmingly.

Elliot Deutsch

Elliot Deutsch

First to take the baton was Elliot Deutsch, a bright young bandleader whose big band has been turning heads lately. Simonec chose Deutsch’s band to play as the house band for the evening with all the living legends conducting their respective tunes. The first selection was “Pure Imagination,” from Deutsch’s new album The Push.

Van Alexander

Next to take the stage was veteran arranger, perhaps the Grandfather of all modern arrangers, 99 year old Van Alexander. He delighted the audience with some comedy and reminisced about his long career before playing

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

“Blues in Twos” followed by “A Tisket, A Tasket” with vocals by jazz artist Tierney Sutton. Alexander concluded by providing some insight on living long, which he attributes to his policy of “never touching a cigarette, a glass of whiskey or a woman until he was 11 years old!”

Patrick WilliamsNext on deck was Patrick Williams who got up and exclaimed: “Why is it that everyone I care about is in this room right now?” a clear reminder of the sheer amount of talented individuals both on the evening’s playbill and in the audience. Williams talked mostly about Frank Sinatra, then proceeded to conduct his instrumental arrangement of “I’ve Got The World On A String” from his Sinatraland album.

Sammy Nestico

Sammy Nestico

After Williams took his bows, Sammy Nestico’s segment began, Deutsch conducted because he said Sammy had told him to “let a younger guy do it!” Nestico could be seen sitting with his wife Shirley, smiling and nodding as his songs “Two Sides Of The Coin” and “Blue Samuel” were played to his satisfaction. He did not address the audience after the set, but waved affectionately as they applauded. Simonec then returned to the stage to talk about Whiplash, the new film he scored which is in theaters now. He brought up JK Simmons, who stars in the film, to conduct the next piece entitled “Too Hip To Retire.”

Ralph Carmichael

Ralph Carmichael

Ralph Carmichael was up next and he stole the show with his new, never before heard arrangement of “Unforgettable.” He dedicated the love song to his wife and as the final bars were played the thunderous applause was a direct indication that this was a definite high point of the evening.

Unfortunately, renowned arranger Bill Holman  couldn’t attend but Deutsch picked up his conducting responsibility after Carmichael left the stage, playing Holman’s chart on “Stomping At The Savoy” and his closing theme for the Oscars. In the end the band closed with a supercharged, Ralph Carmichael arrangement of The Gershwins’ “Strike Up the Band.”

The audience roared as the legendary conductors came up to take their final bows. Simonec assured the patrons that this would indeed be happening again and soon if he could help it. To be certain, this was a golden aged Hollywood evening for the music history books.

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Photos by James M. DeFrances

 


Live Music: Cat Conner at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA.  Jazz vocalist Cat Conner‘s performance at Catalina Bar & Grill last week was clearly expected to be a special event, which is precisely how it turned out.

Cat Conner

It was, first of all, a release party for Cat’s new CD, appropriately titled Cat House. Add to that the fact that any of her performances are exciting events for fans of jazz singing. And, adding memorable jazz icing to the cake, she was accompanied by a collection of the Southland’s finest, most versatile jaz musicians.

The latter aspect was no surprise, since her stellar six piece band – saxophonist woodwind artist Gene “Cip” Cipriano, pianist Tom Ranier, guitarist John Chiodini, trumpeter Ron Stout, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera – are all present on Cat’s new album. And it was also no surprise that Cat – like all singers hosting a CD release party – devoted her program to a collection of songs from the CD.

The Cat Cpnner Band

The Cat Cpnner Band

Any of Cat’s many fans will attest to the fact that the Canadian-born songstress is always a joy to hear, regardless of the circumstances. And even more so when all the musical elements are firmly in place, as they were in this outing. Appearing comfortable, relaxed and completely at ease from the first moment she stepped on stage, Cat underscored the appealing musical empathy of her program with an equally engaging interaction with her audience.

Cat Conner sings with her band

Cat Conner sings with her band

The musical highlights of her performance were especially present in her choice of songs from the album. And especially so in such varied selections as a briskly swinging ‘How Much Do I Love You,” a vocalese version of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” and such varied American Songbook classics as “You Are My Everything,” “Baltimore Oriole” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”

Cat Conner

Cat Conner

Topping off her program, Cat added a poignant original song, “People Say (Song For Rob).” Written for the infant son she gave up for adoption many years ago, she introduced it as “a song to finally allow me to say how I felt for all the years of yearning for him.”

It was an extraordinary ending for a memorable musical evening, an evening glowing with convincing evidence of Cat’s ability to find the heart of a song – from jaunty swing tunes to richly emotional ballads.

All of which is equally present, as well, on her new CD Cat House. And fans of jazz singing who were not present to share the pleasures of her CD release party are hereby advised to check out the album for a full musical offering of Cat Conner’s vocal artistry.

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Photos by Faith Frenz


Live Music: Anna Mjoll At Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 13, 2014

By James deFrances

What do jazz standards, Iceland and Bel Air have in common? Simple…the answer is the dynamic blonde haired Iceland-born diva Anna Mjoll. Last Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., Mjoll crooned to a thoroughly filled house of diners and jazz enthusiasts alike. Only a day after Alpert and his wife Lani Hall played two sold out shows Mjoll managed to keep the blood flowing for a third consecutive night.

Her show ranged from light moving ballads to hard-driving bossa nova tunes. Impeccably supported by the #Pat Senatore trio, Mjoll did the Great American Songbook right.

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Her voice possesses an airy, relaxed quality which makes the music even easier to digest. Her vibrato (no pun intended) is on tap when she needs it and her phrasing is uniquely her own. In between songs she keeps the audience in check by telling stories, asking questions and cracking jokes.

She asked the audience to say hello to her mother from Iceland, who was seated in the first row and only in town for the weekend. “I wish you would move to California,” exclaimed Mjoll. Mother and daughter maintained a lighthearted banter throughout  the entirety of the show.

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Before singing “Taking A Chance On Love,” she reflected on her many marriages and philosophized on love. Perhaps the highlight of the evening, however, was when she sang “Nature Boy” with only bassist Pat Senatore’s accompaniment. She dedicated the song to Senatore, whom she said is the only man who never let’s her down. Also on the list Friday night were songs like “Come Fly With Me,” “Smile” and “Imagination.” For Mjoll who has a busy calendar it was just one of those nights and her closing tune appropriately enough was “Just One Of Those Things.”

But the large audience who remained long after she took her final bow was a sign of a job well done. Those who stayed late enough even got to hear the Senatore Trio play their “Sexy Late Night Set.” In the end, if you are looking for a night of Marilyn Monroe glamour and some hot straight ahead jazz Anna Mjoll with the Pat Senatore trio is your best ticket in town!

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Photos by James deFrances. 

 

 


Live Music: The Thelonious Monk 2014 International Jazz Competition Gala

November 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition came to a dramatic conclusion Sunday night in a All-Star Gala event at Dolby Hall in Hollywood. This year, the Competition was for trumpet players. And the three finalists each offered a display of their considerable skills in a setting that allowed each player to perform a pair of selections of their own choice. And it was no surprise that works by Thelonious Monk were popular choices.

Inevitably, there was a winner, a second and a third place finisher, as follows:

1st Place Winner: Marquis Hill from Chicago.

1st Place Winner: Marquis Hill from Chicago.

 

2nd Place Winner: Billy Buss from Berkeley

2nd Place Winner: Billy Buss from Berkeley

3rd Place Winner Adam O’Farrill from Brooklyn

But the prevalent thought that came to mind while hearing these fine young players in action was the firm belief that each of the prodigal musicians had displayed all the skills required for successful careers in the musical world in general and the jazz world specifically. And, win or place as a finalist, they all will benefit from the visibility associated with having placed so high in such a major competition.

In addition to the Competition finals, the Gala presented a concert clearly intended as a celebration of jazz itself, in its many shapes, sizes, styles, disguises and a lot more. As a result, much of the music was far more closely related to pop, blues, rock, soul and beyond. No problem there, except in the passages attempting to shoe horn those genres into a jazz setting.

In its best, moments, however – especially when singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves, and instrumentalists Herbie Hancock, John Beasley, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, Stefon Harris, Joshua Redman and others were on stage – the program’s jazz roots were ever present.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Taj Mahal

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Taj Mahal

The Gala concert was hosted by Kevin Spacey, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Don Cheadle, Goldie Hawn and Billy Dee Williams. It included performances by a multi-generational group of all-stars including Musical Director John Beasley, Pharrell Williams, John Mayer, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter, Queen Latifah, Jimmy Heath, Chaka Khan, Taj Mahal, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Kenny Burrell, Stefon Harris, T.S. Monk, Joshua Redman, Jon Faddis, Billy Childs, Vinnie Colaiuta, James Genus, Theo Croker, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Dontae Winslow, Melissa Aldana and others.

President Bill Clinton and Herbie Hancock

President Bill Clinton and Herbie Hancock

As if the presence of all the stellar names on that list wasn’t enough, the Monk Institute also honored President Bill Clinton with the Institute’s 2014 Maria Fisher Founder’s Award. Each year, the Founder’s Award is presented to an individual who has made major contributions to the Institute, the perpetuation of jazz, and the expansion of jazz and music education programs. President Clinton received the award from Herbie Hancock, Chairman of the Monk Institute, with a smile and a wave to the crowd. He did not, apparently, ask to sit in on tenor saxophone.

The Gala ended with a crowded backstage party for participants and friends of the Monk Institute, enlivened by conversations already speculating on possibilities for next year’s Monk Competition.

Which was good news for music education. Proceeds from the All-Star Gala Concerts support the Institute’s jazz education programs in public schools across America.

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Photos courtesy of Steve Mundinger/Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz


Pick of the Night in L.A.: Cat Conner at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Singer Cat Conner is one of the high visibility members of L.A.’s impressive assemblage of jazz vocal artists. She’s also another gifted Canadian jazz performer who’s brought her considerable jazz skills south of the border.

All of which will be self-evident tonight when Cat offers her warm, luxurious voice, convincing musical story telling and floating swing at Catalina Bar & Grill in the company of some of the Southland’s most masterful jazz instrumentalists: saxophone/woodwind artist Gene “Cip” Cipriano, guitarist John Chiodini, pianist Tom Ranier, trumpeter Ron Stout, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera.

 

The program celebrates the release of Cat’s new CD, Cat House. And Cat is quick to promise that it will be a big time launch party. “We are going to be playing,” she says,” with the joy of five year olds.” And singing, too.

Since most of the band of masters playing with her at Catalina’s are also on the new album, she’ll no doubt showcase selections from the CD. So expect some memorable moments. Who knows, maybe the versatile “Cip” Cipriano will also tell some of his stories and offer some amazing sounds on his bass oboe. How often do you get to hear that in a jazz club?

Don’t miss this one. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: Nov. 6 – 9

November 6, 2014

By Don Heckman

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

- Nov. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Steve Tyrell. Add an amiable Texas twang to a jaunty sense of swing and a convincing way with a lyric, and that still doesn’t add up to the magic that happens when Tyrell digs into the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill. http://www.catalinajazzclub.com (323) 466-2210.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

- Nov. 6. (Thurs.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. The veteran jazz trumpeter/painter/sculptor and his vocally superb wife are back again at their home base – Alpert’s jazz friendly, elegant Bel Air club. They’ll no doubt be working over material for their current touring. And that’ll be a musically captivating gift for anyone who can squeeze into what will no doubt be a full house crowd. But it’ll be worth the effort. Click HERE to read a review of the dynamic duo’s most recent appearance at.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 6. (Thurs.) David Ornette Cherry. He’s the son of trumpeter Don Cherry, who worked frequently with free jazz icon Ornette Coleman– thus David Ornette Cherry’s middle name. A keyboard player with his own unique approach to contemporary improvisation, he’s an imaginative jazz artist who deserves a hearing on his own right. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys. The mutiple Grammy-winning group from Los Angeles are one of the popworld’s most eclectic ensembles. Blending everything from Latin pop and Chicano rock to TexMex and Americana their music has a fascinating body-moving appeal. Opening the bill, Texas’ Los Lonely Boys follow a similar musical path. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) Dimitri Matheny Quartet. Matheny’s warm, engaging flugelhorn playing has thoroughly established him as one of the most emotionally expressive improvisers of his generation. He performs with the sterling backing of Joe Bagg, piano, Pat Senatore, bass, Dick Weller, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) Johnny Mathis. He doesn’t show up often any more in the Southland, so don’t miss this opportunity to hear the hit-maker of the ‘6os and 70s up close in action. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. Marcelo Lehninger conducts the gifted players of the NWS in Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, and the Dvorak Concerto in B minor for cello and orchestra, featuring cellist Lynn Harrell. The Cavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 449-2100.

HIGHLIGHT EVENT: SATURDAY AND SUNDAY NOVEMBER 8 & 9

The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and All-Star Gala Concert

Thelonious Monk

The annual jazz competitions produced by the Thelonious Monk Institute are among the most celebrated jazz events of the year. And the 2014 installment is no exception. This year’s competition again showcases a talented, ambitious group of young players. The semi-finalists will first meet at U.C.L.A.’s Schoenberg Hall on Saturday, Nov. 8. (The semi-final event is free and open to the public.)

The three finalists will then perform in the Competition’s Gala event on Sunday, Nov. 9 at Dolby Hall. The distinguished panel of judges for both stages of the competition includes trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Quincy Jones and Arturo Sandoval.

Following the finalists’ performances and the selection of this year’s winner, an All-Star Gala concert will feature Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ron Carter, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Heath, Marcus Miller, Dianne Reeves and others.

In another highlight of the Gala, the Institute will present its prestigious Founders Award to President Bill Clinton.

The Thelonious Monk Institute 2014 International Jazz Trumpet Competition  (310) 206-9700.


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