Picks of the Week: Sept. 18 – 22

September 18, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Gina Saputo

Gina Saputo

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) Gina Saputo. Emerging young jazz vocal star Saputo shares the stage with a talented group of L.A.’s finest singers — Courtney Lemmon, Dave Damiani and Mark Christian Miller. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) The Sammy Cahn-cert. Vocalist Kurt Reichenbach sings the marvelous far-ranging tunes from the Sammy Cahn songbook. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. It’s been nearly two decades since the Orquesta Buenta players began to enlighten the world about the great music of Cuba. And they’re still at it. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

Annie Trousseau

Annie Trousseau

- Sept. 19. (Thurs.) Annie Trousseau. Multi-lingual singer Trousseau sings in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and English, enlivening the tradition of international cabaret styles. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) The Bob McChesney Quartet. McChesney’s superb trombone playing has thoroughly established him as one of the instrument’s great jazz masters. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) The Bob Sheppard Group. He’s everyone’s first call saxophone and woodwind player and with good reason. Here’s a chance to hear him in action with the stellar aid of guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Kass. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

- Sept. 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway. The talented Callaway sisters get together to display talents reaching from jazz and pop to Broadway classics. Catalina Bar & Grill.  466-2210.

- Sept. 21 (Sat.) Sing-a-long Sound of Music. It’s an annual event, inviting enthusiastic audiences to sing along with the memorable songs from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 21. (Sat.) Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Swing music is still alive and well in the hard jiving hands of the Voodoo Daddys. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

Jeffrey Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane

- Sept. 21 & 22. (Sat. & Sun.) Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. The gifted players of the LACO begin their season with Jeffrey Kahane conducting a program of Beethoven, Mozart, Lutoslawski and Kodaly. Featured soloist is young violinist Benjamin Beilman. Sat: the Ambassador Auditorium; Sun. Royce Hall. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  (213) 622-7001.

- Sept. 22. (Sun.) Los Angeles Master Chorale. The extraordinary singers of the LAMC celebrate the ensemble’s 50th anniversary with a retrospective look at the highlights in their remarkable performance history. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- Sept. 19. (Thurs.) Amjad Ali Khan and Sons. Classical Indian master of the sarod, Khan has passed his skills on to a generation of gifted offpsring. SFJAZZ. Miner Auditorium. -(866) 920-5299.

Chicago

- Sept. 19 – 22 (Thurs. – Sun.) Miguel Zenon and Rhythm Collective. Alto saxophonist and winner of a MacArthur “genius:” award Zenon reveals the far-reaching range of his improvisational skills. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn

- Sept, 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.) Coltrane Revisited. Steve Kuhn, a veteran performer with Coltrane, leads a talented band of young players in a revisit to the Coltrane legacy. Birdland.  212) 581-3080.

London

- Sept. 18 – 19. Wed. & Thurs. Remembering Oscar Peterson. With pianists James Pearson and Dave Newton, Featuring selections from Peterson’s Canadiana Suite. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747 .

Copenhagen

- Sept. 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.) French Jazz Festival. Denmark celebrates the high quality of French jazz artists. Among the featured performers: violinist Didier Lockwood, guitarist Michael Felderbaum and saxophonist Lionel Belmondo. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) Jonathan Butler. South African singer Butler has been blending the music of his roots with a gift for crossing over into international pop, soul and blues. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music: Mozart and Beethoven at the Hollywood Bowl

September 5, 2013

By Don Heckman

The annual program of events at the Hollywood Bowl is filled with a far-ranging collection of musical delights. So far-ranging, in fact, that the performances – mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays – of classical music programs sans fireworks, dancers or marching bands, are among the uncomplicated pleasures of the Summer.

Tuesday night’s Los Angeles Philharmonic program – Mozart and Beethoven – was a perfect example. It couldn’t have been any more basic: a pair of Mozart works (the overture to Cosi Fan Tutti and the Sinfonia Concertante for Viola and Violin); and Beethoven’s Contradances and Symphony No. 1.

Nicholas McGegan

Nicholas McGegan

The balance was equally well-planned. The Cosi Fan Tutti overture and the Contradances displayed the lyrical melodicism and buoyant rhythms of both Mozart and Beethoven. And, as always, conductor Nicholas McGegan led the L.A. Philharmonic with the easygoing expertise he brings to music of the Baroque and Classical eras.

But the two highlights of the program revealed each of the great composers at the heights of their considerable powers.

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Viola and Violin is a work clearly inspired by his youthful attraction to both instruments. An expert violinist, he also expressed affection for the viola, often playing it in string quartets. The Sinfonia reflects both his affection and his expertise.

Nathan Cole

Nathan Cole

For the nearly 9,000 listeners in attendance at the Bowl on Tuesday, the work came vividly to life through the articulate fingers and rich musicality of violinist Nathan Cole, the L.A. Phil’s First Associate Concertmaster and violist Carrie Dennis, the L.A. Phil’s Principal Viola. Superb orchestral players, each is also a brilliantly expressive soloist.

Carrie Dennis

Carrie Dennis

The program’s second major highlight, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, was a work that introduced Beethoven’s considerable composition talents to Vienna in 1800. Composed a few years after Haydn’s last Symphony, and more than a decade after Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, its frequent departures from traditional symphonic forms announce the arrival of an important new addition to the pantheon of major composers.

Here, too, McGegan conducted with convincing effectiveness, finding the heart of Beethoven’s unique blend of wind instruments and strings. The results were extraordinary, an opportunity to hear Beethoven’s first symphonic effort, performed masterfully – the stellar climax to an evening of music to remember.


Picks of the Week: Sept. 4 – 8

September 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s a light, holiday week, with 100-plus temperatures here in L.A.  But there’s still some very fine music to hear in various parts of the world.

Los Angeles

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

- Sept. 4 – 8. (Wed. – Sun.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove has appeared frequently with his big band lately. But this time he fronts a straight-ahead quintet, showcasing his fine solo work. Catalina Bar and Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 4. (Wed.) Bruce Forman Quartet. Guitarist, novelist and educator Forman, a true multi-hyphenate, takes a break from his many activities to do a live performance. Don’t miss it. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 6. (Fri.) Richie Cole Quartet. Bebop is always on the loose when alto saxophonist is in the room. And especially so when he’s backed by the propulsive backing of pianist Lou Forestieri, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dick Weller. Jazz at the Radisson Hotel.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

- Sept. 6 & 7. (Fri.& Sat.) The Blue Man Group. The musically and visually eccentric members of the Blue Man Group have brought a new supply of unique instruments to an evening of new music with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 8. (Sun.) ABBA Fest. A non-stop evening of music by the hit-making Swedish band. First, via a competition of collegiate a cappella Abba groups; second via a performance by the great tribute band ABBA, the Concert. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

ABBA Fest

ABBA Fest

San Francisco

- Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.). Terence Blanchard is always in search of new musical adventures. This time out, his Sextet features saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and and African jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke. SFJAZZ. The SFJAZZ Center, Miner Auditorium.  (415) 398-5655.

Seattle

- Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs., – Sun.) Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House Reunion Band. Guitarist Coryell revives the music of the fusion band he led in the’70s. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

Washington, D.C.

- Sept. 6 – 8. (Fri. – Sun.) Patricia Barber. Singer/pianist Barber continues her quest to find new creative ways to approach the songs of the Great American Songbook. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

- Sept. 4. (Wed.) J.D. Walter. Jazz Standard. Walter is a singer who prefers to take adventurous musical pathways… which may explain why he hasn’t yet received the attention his singing deserves. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

Cassandra Wilson- Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.) Cassandra Wilson. The jazz vocal genre has largely been dominated lately by fast-arriving young female artists. But Wilson continues to be a pathfinder with her own inimitable style. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

- Sept. 7. (Sat.) Barbara Carroll. She was described in 1947 by Leonard Feather as the “first girl to play bebop piano.” And, at 88, she’s still going strong, performing here in duo with bassist Jay Leonhart. Birdland. http://www.birdlandjazz.com/event/350551-barbara-carroll-new-york (212) 581-3080.

Berlin

- Sept. 4 – 7. (Wed. – Sat.) Sommerwochenkonzert. Don Grusin and Chuck Loeb. Keyboardist Grusin and guitarist Loeb display their easygoing blend of mainstream and crossover jazz genres.. A-Trane.  +49 30 3132 ext. 550.

Copenhagen

- Sept. 6 – 7. (Fri. & Sat.) Dado Moroni, Reuben Rodgers, Alex Riel. The Art of the Trio. Italian jazz pianist Moroni has been delivering his authentic jazz perspectives since the ’80s. He’s backed here by American bassist Rodgers and Danish drummer Alex Riel. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

- Sept. 3 – 5. (Tues. – Thurs.) Bob James & David Sanborn. James and Sanborn have pioneered their swinging versions of contemporary jazz fusion and crossover for decades – and doing it in memorable fashion. They’re accompanied on this tour by the equally imaginative drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.

Gregory Porter

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- Sept. 6. (Fri.) Gregory Porter. At a time when the distaff side has been dominating most of the newly released jazz recordings, the warm baritone of Porter has been bringing impressive new interpretations to the the world of jazz vocalizing. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.


Live Music: Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl

August 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The 2013 jazz season at the Hollywood Bowl reached a peak Wednesday night with an 80th birthday celebration for saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The participants featured, of course, Shorter himself, playing in duo with his close friend and creative associate Herbie Hancock, with his own quartet, and with the woodwind ensemble the Imani Winds. Other performers included the Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Quintet and the trio A.C.S. (with pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding).

Shorter himself did not actually arrive on stage, however, until the program was well underway. His connection with the opening act — the Lovano/Douglas quintet — seemed elusive, despite the fact that the band has reportedly been influenced by Shorter.  In fact, the seemingly random improvising that was a prominent element in the Lovano/Douglas set often leaned more in the direction of the wide open free jazz ’60s style associated with Ornette Coleman.  Although it was delivered with considerable skill, it often displayed more technical virtuosity than inventive imagination.

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

One of the evening’s creative highlights actually traced to the Hancock/Shorter duo, with Shorter playing soprano saxophone. Very much in the mold of the duet performances and recordings they explored two decades ago, the playing had the inventive flow of symbiotic improvising. Too bad more time wasn’t allocated for the always musically fascinating encounters between these two gifted players.

The A.C.S trio took a somewhat more straight ahead jazz approach than the Lovano/Douglas group. But the improvising was no less ebullient, with Allen’s soaring piano lines underscored by the propulsive bass of Spalding and the irresistibly dynamic percussion of Carrington.

Shorter had two more principal appearances after his duo segment with Hancock. Each had its own appeal. The first was illuminated by the highly engaging, compatible interaction between Shorter’s ever-adventurous playing and the spontaneous responses from the group he’s worked with frequently in recent years: pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

The second showcased another aspect of Shorter’s far-ranging creative skills via the selections he composed for the Imani Winds woodwind quintet. Here, too, the evening provided yet another perspective of Shorter’s iconic status as one of the most gifted members of his jazz generation.

What was missing from Shorter’s 80th birthday celebration, however, was any on-stage acknowledgment of the event. Grant the fact that it was a pleasure to see and hear Shorter’s still potent musical artistry in action. But why couldn’t the production of the program also have included a host – possibly a celebrity host – with a thorough introduction of Shorter’s long career and superb accomplishments.

And, too, there could have been something acknowledging the birthday and providing an opportunity for the more than 8,000 audience members to share the celebration. A singalong of “Happy Birthday” to Wayne? Why not? I’m guessing Shorter would have enjoyed it immensely, especially if the musical accompaniment had been led by Hancock’s always imaginative piano playing.

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Photos courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl.


Live Music: The Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Nicholas McGegan with violin soloist Ray Chen perform “Magnificent Mendelssohn” at the Hollywood Bowl

August 24, 2013

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA.  Felix Mendelssohn was well served Thursday night at the Hollywood Bowl by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Nicholas McGegan with violin soloist Ray Chen. “Well served,” that is, by technical virtuosity and – most of the time, but not always – by expressive illumination.

The three works on an all-Mendelssohn program subtitled “Magnificent Mendelssohn” included the Hebrides Overture, the Violin Concerto in E minor and the Symphony No. 3. (Scottish)s. No surprises there.  It would be hard to imagine any significant Mendelssohn program that didn’t include at least one of his prime catalog items.

The Hebrides Overture came first. Conceived by Mendelssohn as an expression of his frequent trips to England and Scotland, the work is a mid-19th century tone poem rich with thematic content suggestive of early Impressionistic similarities. McGegan is well known for his early music credentials, but his more contemporary creative shaping of Hebrides led the responsive Philharmonic players into compelling aural passages calling up convincing atmospheric imagery of Scotland, from rocky coasts to rugged hillsides.

Nicholas McGegan and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

For many listeners, however, the highlight of the program seemed to focus on Chen and the Violin Concerto. And understandably so. A showcase piece for violinists for a century and a half, the work offers a blend of technical demands and melodic lyricism beautifully shaped to display a violinist’s most persuasive musical skills. Which is, to a large extent, precisely how Chen approached the work.

Ray Chen

Ray Chen

In doing so, however, the balance of elements tended to be over-weighted by Chen’s masterful technical virtuosity. Largely because his fast-fingered displays too often took precedence over the Concerto’s rich potential for emotional expressiveness. Nor was his performance aided by the general lack of warmth in his sound, which tended to surrender its potential for emotional coloration – especially on the higher strings – to showcase technique.  A gifted violinist, he nonetheless still seems to be in the early stages of a potentially significant career.

The final work of the evening, the Symphony No. 3, was inspired – like the Hebrides Overture – by Mendelssohn’s fascination with Scotland. But here, he largely set aside the impressionistic qualities of the Overture in favor of classical, mid-19th century symphonic structuring. And there was no denying the appeal of Mendelssohn’s dynamic capacity to bring all those qualities together in utterly plausible fashion. Just as there was no lapse in McGegan’s leadership – which was conducted by hands, arms and body movements, sans a baton. By the time the Symphony concluded, its four movements performed in cumulative dramatic fashion, the program’s subtitle – Magnificent Mendelssohn – had been fully justified.

Despite some of the glitches mentioned above, the music itself could not be denied. And the only final complaint traced to McGegan’s surprising decision – despite the insistent audience applause – not to offer an encore for either Chen or the orchestra.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Blues: Buddy Guy, the Funky Meters and Quinn Sullivan at the Hollywood Bowl

August 23, 2013

By Michael Katz

Hollywood, CA. “I’m 74 years young,” sings Buddy Guy, “and there ain’t nothin’ I haven’t done.” After a few verses, Buddy admits to being 77, but the extra few years haven’t diminished anything, most importantly his ability to engage an audience. Dressed in his trademark polka dot shirt, Guy’s voice is clear and his tone assured. His fingers are nimble, whether picking out Delta blues or raging through fiery Chicago licks. Most of all, he is a great story teller, modulating his performance to suit his mood, carefully controlling the thermostat. While so many other players start out at a high volume and never let up, Buddy Guy has moments when you can hear a pin drop. He stands at the front of the stage, the blues guitar resonating, at first quietly, then insistently, growling out some of the classic lines:

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Got a few good tricks up my sleeve
I know everything that a good woman needs
I show respect and I treat ‘em right
They all keep coming back night after night

When it come to loving, I ain’t never done
I’m 74 years young.”

Buddy had lots of help Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. His band featured Marty Sammon on keyboards, parlaying a strong right hand into some wonderful honky-tonk rhythms. Tim Austin commanded the drums and Orlando Wright provided a steady pulse on base, while veteran Chicago bluesman Ric Hall added a terrific second blues axe. There was plenty of familiar material, beginning with “I Got The Blues,” after which Guy proceeded to march into the crowd, to the delight of the box seat patrons. If there was any justice in the world he would have made it into the Bowl’s upper reaches, but I suppose if there was justice, we wouldn’t have the blues.

There was an extended version of “Five Long Years,”  with Guy alternating lightning blues licks with the plaintive lyrics. (“Lord I work five long years for one woman, And she had the nerve to kick me out…Lord, have you ever been mistreated?”)

Somewhere in that scenario was a segue to “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In,” which seemed completely appropriate. Then there was a bow to Buddy’s newest double CD, Rhythm and Blues, with the rousing “Meet Me In Chicago.” As a native Chicagoan, I want to salute the courage of guitarist Ric Hall, who wore a White Sox jersey throughout the evening. Given the team’s current rate of deconstruction, he was lucky to make it through the show without being traded for a player to be named later.

There is something magnetic about Buddy Guy’s blues playing. He’s come from the fields of Louisiana, through the South Side of Chicago, and there he is on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, the crowd top heavy with expensive box seat patrons. But he reaches out to everyone, whether nodding to Jimi Hendrix or celebrating his own classics, including “Hoochie Coochie Man” and variations on “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Always there is a laconic, if sometimes profane, sense of humor. (Though he admitted, compared to hip hop, his lyrics are almost tame.)

Quinn Sullivan

Quinn Sullivan

Late in the concert, tweener phenom Quinn Sullivan joined the band with “Getting There,” from his own album. I hope it isn’t damning Sullivan with faint praise to say that he is pretty good for a 14 year-old. The kid really does have some chops. He seems more at home in the Clapton/Hendrix camp, but then you can’t really expect him to be singing, “I gotta job in a steel mill, I been shucking steel like a slave.” (Unless he moves to China). He’s been performing with Guy and other blues pros for several years now, and it is good for the music to have an exciting young talent out front.

The Funky Meters

The Funky Meters

The evening opened with a fine set by the Funky Meters, the latest incarnation of the Meters group that dominated recording sessions in the late sixties and seventies. Founding member Art Neville was the backbone of the group on the Hammond organ, along with fellow original George Porter Jr. on bass. Guitarist Brian Stoltz and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. rounded out the funk driven quartet. They played a combination of Meters hits like “FiYo” and “Cissy Strut” and had the crowd dancing in the aisles with the New Orleans standard “Hey Pocky Way.” Mixed into the middle of a mostly nonstop hour was a nod to Bob Dylan, with a few choruses of “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

All in all, a stellar evening of funk, rhythm and blues, led by the irrepressible Buddy Guy.

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Check out Michael Katz’s new novel, Dearly Befuddled, available at Amazon.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.



Live Music; Natalie Cole and Chucho Valdes at the Hollywood Bowl

August 15, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s no mystery that singer Natalie Cole has followed in the musical footsteps of her extrordinary father, pianist/singer Nat “King” Cole. Along the way, she’s won nine Grammy Awards after 21 nominations. Her 1991 album Unforgettable, which included an interactive duet, with her late father, on the song “Unforgettable,” triggering the granting of Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Performance.

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

All that was in mind Wed. night at the Hollywood Bowl, as Cole offered a performance overflowing with her superbly adept singing. Although she’s come through numerous difficult periods, personal and otherwise, Cole has survived, still capable of capturing the affections of a packed house of enthusiastic listeners at the Bowl.

Cole’s performance was driven by dynamic musical energies. Whether she was singing standards such as “Stardust,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Smile,” or some of the Latin songs that have captured her attention recently, she displayed the consummate entertainment abilities that have characterized her work for decades.

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Arriving on a stage as a bundle full of confident excitement, her skills were functioning at a velocity that never diminished. Backed by the rich timbres of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Gail Deadrick, as well as the rhythmic grooves of her own instrumental sextet and the empathic vocals of her trio of backup singers, Cole didn’t miss a beat along the way, finding the inner musical and emotional heartbeats of everything she sang.

True, there were a few selections with arrangements that tapped a bit too deeply into the soul and r&b stylings that have occasionally characterized Cole’s work over the years. And one can’t argue that she handles the genre with considerable effectiveness. But she was at her best when she was working in the arena of the Great American Songbook, preferably when her performances were brightened by the jazz tinges that she – like her father before her – does so well. No wonder her entranced listeners seemed captivated by everything she did.

The evening was opened by Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes. Much revered as one of his country’s most gifted musical artists, multiple Grammy-winning Valdes was also the founder of the honored Cuban jazz band, Irakere.

Chucho Valdes

Chucho Valdes

For this appearance, however, he played with the accompaniment of his five piece group, with bass and three percussionist-vocalists. And the setting was just right for the full range of Valdes’ rhapsodic piano style, applying lush classical passages to the more lyrical passages in his constantly intriguing improvisations. Add to that his irresistible rhythmic montunos, powerfully driven by his mesmerizing piano lines.

By the time he was finished, Valdes – as in all his performances – underscored the intimate linkages that have long existed between jazz and Cuban music.

As one of the climactic high points of the program, Valdes and Cole performed as a duo on a couple of numbers. Together, they brought a convincing array of jazz, in some of its many forms, to the far-ranging stylistic varieties of the Bowl’s Wednesday night jazz series.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett at the Hollywood Bowl

August 11, 2013

By Don Heckman

An extraordinarily well-planned performance at the Hollywood Bowl Friday night opened with a delightful appearance by Lyle Lovett and his Large Band.  Lovett’s far-ranging career has reached from acting to music, with a variety of stops in between.

Lyle Lovett

Lyle Lovett

But heard in a wide open, Hollywood Bowl setting, driven by the jazz  rhythms and crisp arrangements of his Large Band, the appealing essence of his music was crisp and clear.

Each of Lovett’s numerous musical characteristics — from his stellar songwriting to the settings he’s chosen, to the sardonic, between-songs remarks – were at the heart of his vividly alive performance. Listening to – and immensely enjoying – every moment of Lovett’s set triggered the desire to hear this too rarely heard artist in action again, at every opportunity.

The evening’s headliner, Willie Nelson, brought a similarly appealing program of songs to the Bowl.

Examples of well-established pop and rock artist turning to the pleasures of the Great American Songbook for new material for expression haven’t exactly been uncommon in recent  years.  (Think Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney and others.)

But they were preceded as long ago as the late-‘70s by Nelson’s Stardust, a platinum album that hit the charts in genres reaching from country music to pop.

At the Bowl on Friday, a highly enthusiastic packed house audience had the singular opportunity to hear Nelson perform a program of songs from the entire album, assisted by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by David Campbell.

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson

It would be hard to ask for a better brief collection of classic songs than Nelson chose for the album – and for this performance.  Some had special meaning.  “Georgia On My Mind,” for example, is a song already favored by both country and r&b artists.  “September Song,” with its poetic references to the time between “May and December” was a perfect vehicle of expression for the 80 year old Nelson.

Other tunes – the poignant “Moonlight in Vermont,” followed by “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Someone To Watch Over Me” provided lush orchestral settings for Nelson’s sometimes gravelly, always deeply interpretive vocals.

And when he concluded the Stardust part of the program, Nelson added another entertaining group of his own songs, including such familiar items as “Crazy” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”  And climaxing with a Nelson tune whimsically – but perhaps pointedly – titled “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Nelson sang in such a charming manner that the combination of his unique vocal timbres with a collection of such familiar, much-loved songs should have resulted in a memorable evening of music.  And to some extent, it did, largely because of the superb orchestral backing, arranged by Campbell.

The only problem in the Nelson set was largely created by his own interpretive ambitions.  Presumably eager to approach the lyrics in a poetically expressive manner, he often jumped quickly to the end of a phrase.  Occasionally the technique produced the pointed lyric results he was seeking.  More often, however, it positioned a song’s melody in an inaccurate relationship to its harmonic progression.

That said, there’s no argument with Nelson’s overall performance, nor with the charismatic qualities he brought to his unique view of the Great American Songbook.


Live Music: Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Preservation Jazz Band and Madeleine Peyroux at the Hollywood Bowl,

August 9, 2013

 By Don Heckman

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Madeleine Peyroux

When singer Madeleine Peyroux opened Wednesday night’s jazz show at the Hollywood Bowl there was at least a mild sense of actual jazz in the air. Peyroux has had considerable success in the jazz world, even though she has ranged across different genres with varying degrees of success.

A far more powerful jazz vibe followed with the arrival of the Preservation Jazz Band, with its deep roots in traditional New Orleans jazz and an impressive ability to mix dynamic jazz rhythms with engaging jazz vocals.

So far, so good, creating an authentic link to the music one expects to hear in the Bowl’s Wednesday night jazz shows.

But the climactic set of the night made it very clear that the real orientation of the Wednesday series is broader than jazz, and perhaps best viewed as a far-ranging evening of American music in many forms.

Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Raiders

Steve Martin and Banjos

Steve Martin and Banjos

Which only partially describes what happened when Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and the North Carolina- based Steep Canyon Rangers. Martin, of course, has had a hugely successful career as a comedian, actor and TV star. But his occasional appearances over the years as a banjoist gradually made it clear that he was a serious musician as well. And improving with each banjo-playing performance.

It was no surprise that Martin sprinkled his performing passages with numerous examples of his whimsical, and often bizarre humor. And given the audience’s ebullient responses, it was easy to sense that many had been drawn to this Bowl program by Martin’s presence rather than the potential to hear some prime jazz.

Still, there was no faulting the empathic musical interaction between Martin and the Rangers, with the frequent addition of Brickell’s soaring vocals. And, listening to the irresistible rhythmic swing of the blue grass rhythms and the imaginative melody-making,something that possessed qualities very close to jazz began to seem present in the air.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The jazz heads in the crowd may have hoped for a more predictable mainstream jazz event, with more performance time for the inimitable Preservation Band.  But what they experienced was even more fascinating, as Martin, the Rangers and the Preservation Hall musicians presented a consistently compelling presentation of the musical dialect – via improvisation and rhythmic propulsion – that is the common expressive language of so much American music. Call it a fascinating evening of musical Americana at its best.

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Preservation Hall Band photo by Bonnie Perkinson

All other photos by Faith Frenz


Live Music: Tony Bennett at the Hollywood Bowl

August 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

Any night one hears Tony Bennett in action is a night to remember.  And his performance Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl was no exception, made even more memorable by the fact that it was taking place the day before his 87th birthday.

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Hearing mature artists in performance at the Bowl is not unusual.  But hearing an artist approaching 90, in complete mastery of his skills, doesn’t happen often.  And Bennett’s performance, lasting nearly an hour and a half, singing more than two dozen hits – most of them tracing to his extraordinary, multi-Grammy winning career – was an event for the memory books of the packed house, enthusiastic audience.

In fact the songs, as always in a Bennett performance, were the heart of the program.  No distractions, no complicated stage settings, no orchestra.  Only Bennett, backed superbly by the sterling accompaniment of pianist/music director Lee Musiker, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones, singing a collection of great song classics magnificently.

Tony Bennett with Lee Musiker, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood and Harold Jones

Tony Bennett with Lee Musiker, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood and Harold Jones

Bennett, like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat “King” Cole and others, came to maturity as a musical artist at a time when popular music meant the classics – from Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern and other song-writing giants – of the Great American Songbook.

But the key aspect of any Bennett appearance, including this one, traces to his remarkable ability to combine the warmth and intimacy of his rich, baritone voice with his utterly convincing musical storytelling.  Whether he was singing upbeat songs such as “Watch What Happens” and “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” or darker musical tales such as “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” or “Who Can I Turn To,” Bennett displayed his masterful capacity to reach into the deepest heart of a song.  And that quality was present whether he was singing such unlikely tunes as Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” or such familiar Bennett hits as “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” or “The Good Life.”

Tony and Antonia Bennett with bassist Marshall Wood

Tony and Antonia Bennett with bassist Marshall Wood and a birthday cake

The musical pleasures of the evening wound up with anther familiar song,  “Happy Birthday,” offered by the audience in an all-join-in interpretation led by Bennett’s daughter, Antonia Bennett.  A jazz oriented singer in her own right, she had thoroughly revealed her excellent musical legacy by opening the evening with her versions of Songbook classics ranging from “Too Marvelous” to “From This Moment On.”

Call the evening a memorable performance by a veteran musical artist still very much at the peak of his powers.  Whatever elixir – or vitamins — Tony Bennett is taking these days should be made universally available.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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