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.

 

 

 


Live Music: The 2014 Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl

June 22, 2014

By Don Heckman

The Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Wilkins, offered another Hall of Fame, season-opening program Saturday night. And once again did it with the class and creativity that have characterized these annual events. I’ve been covering the season-opening nights at the Hollywood Bowl for years now and each succeeding presentation gets better and better.

Wilkins and the HBO set the stage with performances of Elmer Bernstein’s Fanfare for the Hollywood Bowl and Prokofiev’s March in B-fat Major, opening the way for a program once again glowing with star quality performers.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this richly entertaining evening was the presence of a stunning array of female artists. And extraordinary female artists at that – from The Go-Gos and Pink Martini to Kristin Chenoweth, all of whom were this year’s inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

Add to that the fact that each of the inductees was introduced by high visibility female performers: Taraji P. Henson introduced Pink Martini; Carol Burnett introduced Kristin Chenoweth; and Natasha Bedingfield introduced The Go-Gos.

In addition, Helen Hunt led a tribute to YOLA (The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles); and singer Lea Michele joined Chenoweth in a portion of her performance.

Kristin Chenoweth

Kristin Chenoweth

Emmy and Tony Award winner Chenoweth may be best known for her roles in Wicked, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown and the TV series Glee. But her far-reaching performing skills, all on full display in her relatively brief but exhilarating appearance, were the stuff of legends. Singing, strutting, dueting with Michele, interacting whimsically with the enthusiastic audience, the diminutive but energetic Chenoweth thoroughly affirmed the wisdom of inducting her into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

The Go-Gos

The Go-Gos

The Go-Gos, the first all-female rock band to write their own songs and play their own instruments, startled the music world by reaching the top levels of the Billboard charts in the ’70s and ’80s. Amazingly, they’ve lost none of their skills or their musical panache. Still rocking, still dominating the stage, they once again underscored the capacity of female musicians to be completely competitive in a male-dominated music world. And they did so again on this creatively dynamic evening, romping through some of their most familiar hits.

China Forbes and Tom Lauderdale of Pink Martini

China Forbes and Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini

The final inductees were the gifted players in Pink Martini. Led by pianist Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes, the group’s skills have included collaborations with the likes of Carol Channing, Jimmy Scott, Michael Feinstein, and many more. And it’s not surprising that their international, multi-lingual skills, on full display in this performance, have made them one of pop music’s true boundary-less ensembles.

The Grand Finale of Opening Night 2014 at the Hollywood Bowl

Appropriately, of course, the program came to a typical Hollywood Bowl grand climax with all the inductees on stage together to sing “I’ve Got Rhythm” with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, brightly illuminated by a characteristically spectacular fireworks display, enhanced by beaming laser effects.

It was, in sum, one of the most unforgettable finales of recent memory, showcasing the induction of three perfectly chosen musical artists and ensembles into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.


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

June 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

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

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

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

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

John Chiodini

John Chiodini

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

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

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

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

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

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

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

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

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

 

 

 


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

June 17, 2014

By Devon Wendell

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

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

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

Saturday

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

This was pure jump blues delivered with love and dedication.

Allen Stone

Allen Stone

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

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

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

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

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

Henry Butler

Henry Butler

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

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

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

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

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

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

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

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

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

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

George Duke

George Duke

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

Sunday

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

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

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

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

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

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

George Benson and Earl Klugh

George Benson and Earl Klugh

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

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

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

June 16, 2014

By Don Heckman

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

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

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

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

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

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

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

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

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie Cullum

Jamie Cullum

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

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

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

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

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

And the answer is “No.”

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

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 


Live Music: Lynda Carter at Catalina Bar & Grill

April 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA.  A full house doesn’t completely describe the crowd that was virtually overflowing the room at Catalina Bar & Grill Saturday night. But it wasn’t surprising, given the fact that the headliner was Lynda Carter. And that was exciting news for anyone who was a television fan back in the seventies.

Why? Because Lynda Carter was Wonder Woman. Add to that, she also won the Miss World USA Pageant in 1972 and appeared in numerous television specials, as well.

Lynda Carter

Lynda Carter

Carter did not, of course, take the stage at Catalina’s wearing her Wonder Woman costume. (Although it would have pleased a substantial number of fans – especially males – if she had.) But the truth is that many in the full house crowd seemed pleased to see and hear Lynda Carter the singer, rather than Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman.

And with good reason. Although she continues to draw value out of her past Wonder Woman identity, Carter has become a world class performer who moves with impressive musicality through genres reaching from pop and r&b to country music.

Lynda Carter and her band

Lynda Carter and her band

Backed by a stellar band and an equally skilled group of back up singers, she was also a convincing entertainer. Gracing the stage with her lithe movements, communicating warmly with her listeners between numbers, she convincingly affirmed performing skills that reached well beyond her role as a superhero.

Lynda Carter and her back up singers

Lynda Carter and her back up singers

Carter’s program underscored the range of her many abilities. Among the richly varied tunes she included The Black Peas’s “Lonely Boy,” a new Sam Cooke song, Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and Christina Aguilera’s “Candy Man.”

Lynda Carter

Lynda Carter

Add to that such familiar items as “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Fever,” and “God Bless The Child,” capping her show with “Let the Good Times Roll.”

Carter and her fine musicians and singers handled the varied styles with an ease that generated enthusiastic audience responses all the way to the final encore.

No, it wasn’t Wonder Woman. But when Lynda Carter stepped to the microphone, it was all music, and memorable music at that.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Blood, Sweat & Tears at the Saban Theatre.

March 23, 2014

By Don Heckman

Beverly Hills. They’re back. That’s right. Blood, Sweat & Tears, one of American popular music’s great iconic ensembles of the ’60s, ’70s and beyond.

After decades of uncertainty about B,S&T’s future, the new millenium did not initially appear to offer high visibility for a band who, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, was one of the most popular, best selling musical acts in the world.

Bobby Colomby

Bobby Colomby

Enter Bobby Colomby. As one of the original founders of Blood, Sweat & Tears, as well as the band’s drummer and producer in its early, high visibility years, he felt that it was time for the New Blood, Sweat & Tears to make an appearance. And, last Saturday night at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Colomby introduced Los Angelenos to a brand new version of the band designed to play a visible and vital role in the 21st century.

“We’re not trying to target just one generation,” says Colomby.,. “That would be a mistake. With this updated version, I want to gain a wider audience. I want people of all ages to come and say, ‘Next time I’m bringing more friends to the show; they gotta see this band.”

Blood, Sweat & Tears

Blood, Sweat & Tears

And that’s pretty much what Colomby and the gifted players of the New Blood Sweat & Tears offered in their Saturday night show.

Most pop music acts who have reached beyond their prime years often depend completely upon their greatest hits, or similarly crafted material, to carry them through a performance. Which is not surprising. But Colomby’s wide pop music experience and creative devotion to the band he founded have always led him to more imaginative ambitions.

“We’re not just looking for songs that sound like they’d be good for Blood, Sweat & Tears,” he says, “but looking for really great songs. Period. The original B,S&T,” he continues, “was designed to introduce jazz elements to pop music. That was my passion… it still is. Always, of course, done in an entertaining way.”

And there was no lack of Colomby’s view of the band’s entertainment capacity in their high energy Saturday night performance at the Saban Theatre. And it was especially valuable as an opportunity for the overflow crowd to meet the stellar instrumental sound richly reminiscent of B,S &T’s most memorable jazz big band qualities.

The band, man for man, pound for pound, is better than the original B, S & T.,” says Colomby. “Without a doubt.They’re a ridiculously talented bunch,The drummer’s better than I am, or was.”

Bo Bice

Bo Bice

Equally important, maybe even more so, new lead singer Bo Bice provided captivating performances, calling up images of David Clayton-Thomas’s B,S &T’s hard driving vocals at their best. No one can really top David C-T, but Colomby’s discovery of Bice’s impressive singing added the final touch that the new Blood, Sweat and Tears needed to establish its relevance as a pop music act with a potential similar to the successes of the band’s ’60s and ’70s’ accomplishments.

So let’s call the band’s Saturday night performance a captivating introduction to a band that combines the memory of a brilliant musical past with a wide open potential for a brand new future.

Don’t forget the name: Blood, Sweat & Tears.

* * * * * * * *

Full Disclosure: For what it’s worth as a reference point, I co-produced the last big Blood, Sweat & Tears album, “B,S&T 4” with Bobby Colomby and engineer Roy Halee.


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