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

June 17, 2014

By Devon Wendell

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

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

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

Saturday

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

This was pure jump blues delivered with love and dedication.

Allen Stone

Allen Stone

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

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

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

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

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

Henry Butler

Henry Butler

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

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

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

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

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

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

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

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

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

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

George Duke

George Duke

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

Sunday

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

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

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

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

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

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

George Benson and Earl Klugh

George Benson and Earl Klugh

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

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

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

June 16, 2014

By Don Heckman

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

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

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

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

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

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

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

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

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie Cullum

Jamie Cullum

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

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

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

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

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

And the answer is “No.”

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

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 


Picks of the Week: June 10 – 15

June 9, 2014

By Don Heckman

Summer is upon us, and the live performance schedules around the world are largely dominated by the irresistible big venue festivals. But there’s still a lot of compelling music to be heard in smaller venues, as well.

Los Angeles

Strunz & Farah

Strunz & Farah

- June 10. (Tues.) Strunz and Farah. Jorge Strunz, born in Costa Rica and Ardeshir Farah, from Iran, has been exploring every imaginable area of guitar duo music since they first got together in 1980. Constantly in search of new improvisational territory, they’re always a pleasure to hear. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 10. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night. It’s one of the musically dependable picks of every week. And this week, once again, offers some memorable guitar jazz, with Pisano hosting Howard Alden and John BelzaguyViva Cantina. (818) 845-2425.

- June 12 & 13. (Thurs. & Fri.) Taylor Eigsti. A jazz prodigy as a teen-ager, pianist Eigsti has matured into a world-class musical artist. He performs solo on Thurs., with his trio on Fri. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

- June 12 – 14. (Thurs. – Sat.) Jane Monheit Duo. Musically versatile singer Monheit is a pleasure to hear regardless of the setting. This time out, she performs songs of Frank Wildhorn with Clint Holmes. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Gina Saputo

Gina Saputo

- June 13. (Fri.) Gina Saputo. Still emerging as a gifted young jazz vocalist, Saputo is just beginning to reach the enthusiastic audience that her impressive talents deserve. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 13. (Fri.) Allison Adams Tucker. She likes to describe her vocal style as “World Jazz,” and her far-ranging programs – emphasizing her mastery of languages and her fascination with various world musics transform her performances into memorable experiences. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Mark Copeland

Mark Copeland

- June 14. (Sat.) Mark Copland. At a time when Frank Sinatra-inspired male singers are surfacing in venues across the country, it’s good to hear – among the Sinatra wannabes – a vocalist who brings authenticity and enthusiasm to his fondness for Old Blue Eyes. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 14 & 15. The Playboy Jazz Festival. Always the jazz event that kicks off the summer season, this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival continues its quest to provide two days of non-stop, hard swinging, imaginative jazz.

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau

Among the headliners: Al Jarreau, Arturo Sandoval, Kenny Barron, Dianne Reeves, Dr. Lonnie Smith, George Benson, Earl Klugh, James Cotton, Jose James, as well as a tribute to George Duke. George Lopez is once again the Master of Ceremonies. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850.2000.

- June 15. 21st Annual Brazilian Summer Festival. The annual Brazilian festivals produced by Brazilian Nites are always compelling events. This year, the performances celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup competition currently taking place in Brazil. The Ford Amphitheatre (323) 461-3673.

New York City

- June 10 – 14. (Tues. – Sat.) Stacey Kent. Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Kent has been living in the U.K., building a dedicated English fan base. She selebrates the release of her new, Brazilian-tinged album, The Changing Lights. Birdland. (212) 581-3080/.

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

- June 10 – 15, (Tues. – Sun.) Anat Cohen Trio. The gorgeous, Israel-born Cohen has thoroughly established herself as one of the most imaginative jazz instrumentalists of her generation, while returning the clarinet to the top echelon of jazz expressiveness. Her trio also includes Martin Wind, bass, and Matt Wilson, drums. The Village Vanguard.  (212) 255-4037.

Boston

- June 13. (Fri.,) Diane Schuur. “Deedles,” as she is known to friends and fans alike, continues to enliven the soaring, lyrical vocal style first established by Sarah Vaughn, now the trademark of Deedle’s imaginative singing. The Regatta Bar.
(617) 661-5000.

London

Courtney Pine

Courtney Pine

- June 11 – 13. (Wed. – Fri.) Courtney Pine. Saxophonist and multi-woodwind player Pine’s adventurous playing has taken him to the top of the English jazz world and beyond, playing a blend of styles embracing merengue, ska, calypso with a solid jazz imagination. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0) 20 7439 0747.

Tokyo

- June 11 – 15 (Wed. – Sun.) Tak Matsumoto. A Grammy-winning guitarist/composer/singer/producer and more, Matsumoto moves freely and convincingly across musical genres of every hue. The Blue Note Tokyo.  03-5485-0088.

 

 

 

 


Picks of the Week: Oct. 28 – Nov. 3

October 29, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

- Oct. 30. (Wed.)  Amanda McBroom.  The singer, actress and songwriter (“The Rose” is one of her songs) takes a break from her busy acting career to make a rare musical appearance in Los Angeles.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Oct. 31. (Thurs.)  Kate Reid and Larry Koonse Duo.  Guitarist Koonse, who is at the top of everyone’s rhythm section list, has a strong musical connection with singer/pianist/educator Reid. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Vivaldi with Perlman.  Violinist Itzhak Perlman conducts and solos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of Vivaldi, Weber and Berlioz.  Walt Disney Hall. /2013-11-01  (323) 850-2000.

- Nov. 1. (Fri.)  Bob Sheppard Trio. He’s a prime, first-call tenor saxophonist, but Sheppard is also a versatile woodwind (clarinet, flute and other saxophones) artist as well.  Hear him in the warm acoustic ambiance of Herb Alpert’s elegant jazz club.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson

- Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) Karrin Allyson.  Multiple Grammy nominated Allyson performs superbly in genres reaching from folk to cabaret to jazz to bossa nova and beyond. Her L.A. performances are rare, and always worth attending.    Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Nov. 2. (Sat.)  Joanne Tatham.  “Soundtrack New York: Music from Movies Made in Manhattan.  It’s a fascinating idea for a program of songs, with dozens from which to chose.  And Tatham delivers it well, via her warm, seductive sound and musical story-telling skills.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

- Nov. 3. (Sun.)  The Pat Senatore Trio.  With Josh Nelson, piano and Mark Ferber, drums.  Bassist Senatore leads a stellar group of players in a CD release party celebrating the release of the Trio’s new album, AscensioneVibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Oct. 30 & 31.  (Wed. & Thurs.)  The Four Freshmen.  Their history dates back to the late ‘40s, when the Freshmen were creating harmonically lush, jazz-driven jazz vocalizing, accompanied by their own multiple instrumental skills.  This is a younger version of the Freshmen, but their music continues to be richly compelling.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

- Oct. 31 – Nov. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Gerald Albright. He’s well known as a much-admired, contemporary jazz saxophonist, but Albright is also a multi-instrumentalist who brings genre-crossing sounds to all his performances.   Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

- Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Arturo Sandoval.  Every performance by Cuban-born Sandoval is a stunning display of his musical range and instrumental eclecticism.  Whether playing Dizzy Gillespie-influenced trumpet, rhapsodic piano, dynamic drumming, or singing, he does it all with complete musical mastery.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Oct., 31 – Nov. 3.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Vijay Iyer Trio.  Pianist Iyer’s Grammy-nominated Trio is an engaging vehicle for his playing, which incorporates aspects of his Indian heritage with his dynamic piano style.  Jazz Standard.

- Oct. 29 – Nov. 2. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Ron Carter Nonet. Carter has performed as everyone’s favorite bassist on more than 2500 albums.  But he’s less-known as a composer and band leader in his own right, who should be heard at every opportunity.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

Dave Holland

Dave Holland

- Nov. 2 & 3.  (Sat. & Sun.)  Dave Holland Prism.  Prism is the latest in bassist Holland’s numerous ensembles.  And like all his musical efforts, it leads his listeners through inventive musical adventures.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

- Nov. 1 & 2. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Ben Sidran Quartet.  “Don’t Cry For No Hipster.”  The versatile Sidran, a Renaissance jazz man, moves comfortably from performing jazz, rock and beyond to work as a producer, educator and radio host.  Here, he’s on piano and vocals, backed by Bob Rockwell, tenor saxophone, Billy Peterson, bass and Leo Sidran, drums.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

- Oct. 30 & 31. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Jack DeJohnette Group.  Drummer DeJohnette, always creatively curious, leads an ensemble that features the equally inventive clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron Blue Note Milano.     +39.02.69016888.


Live Jazz: Dr. John, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval, Marcus Belgrave and Wendell Brunious Celebrate the Life and Music of Louis Armstrong at the Hollywood Bowl

August 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

The first cold night of the summer at the Hollywood Bowl made for a chilly celebration last Wednesday of the life and music of Louis Armstrong.  Fortunately, with Dr. John, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Blind Boys From Alabama and an all-star line-up of jazz trumpeters there was plenty of heat on stage, much of it reaching out into a near capacity crowd of enthusiastic listeners.

Focusing on Armstrong, less than a week before what would have been his 103rd birthday was an appropriate choice for the third event in the Bowl’s summer jazz schedule.

Dr. John and drummer Reggie Jackson

Dr. John and drummer Reggie Jackson

As one of the principal headliners, Dr. John was at the center of the rhythm section for virtually the entire program. And there’s no denying the New Orleans essence of both his inimitable singing and the funk-driven rhythms of his piano playing.

He was matched on several tunes, note for note and groove for groove, by the equally incomparable vocalizing of Dee Dee Bridgewater.  Bringing her stylish swing and stage-dominating persona to tunes such as “Blues in the Night” and “The Nearness of You,” she provided some of the evening’s most illuminating jazz moments.

Dr. John and Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dr. John and Dee Dee Bridgewater

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

And it was equally fitting that many of the highlights of the performance were provided by a stellar group of trumpeters: Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval, Marcus Belgrave and Wendell Brunious.

Each, in his own unique way, illustrated the influence that Armstrong had upon his playing, from the bop roots of Blanchard and Payton, the versatile style of the veteran Belgrave and the New Orleans authenticity of Brunious to the Latin jazz high notes of Sandoval (who, on one number, also found his way to the percussion section).

Intriguing in a very different way, the Blind Boys of Alabama offered their gospel driven harmonies and foot-tapping rhythms to every note they sang.

One might have hoped for a more direct connection with Armstrong – in both song selection and interpretation.  But memories of Satchmo are so strong that his presence coursed through the program, enhanced by the affection that was constantly expressed by each of this evening’s gifted artists.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Week: July 30 – Aug 4

July 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dr. John

Dr. John

- July 31. (Wed.)  Props to Pops: Dr. John’s Tribute to Louis Armstrong. An entertaining blend of old and new jazz, tinged with a New Orleans touch.  Featured guests include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terence Blanchard, Arturo Sandoval and more.  The Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- July 31. (Wed.)  Tom Ranier Trio.  Pianist Ranier takes a break from his busy studio work to showcase his impressive jazz skills.  He’ll be backed by Abe Laboriel, bass and Steve Schaeffer, drums.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Aug. 2. (Fri.)  Chicago, The Band. The Grammy winning, multi-platinum band from the ‘60s is going strong.  Expect to hear such hits as “Just You ‘n’ Me,” “25 Or 6 To 4,” “Saturday In The Park,” “You’re The Inspiration” and more.  The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

- Aug. 2. (Fri.)  Tony Bennett.  Bennett’s in his ‘80s, but he is still one of the great performers, singing at the top of his game. Don’t miss this one. Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Arturo Sandoval Big Band.  He plays magnificent trumpet, exciting percussion, impressive piano and sings, as well.  Hopefully he’ll be doing all that with his stellar big band. Catalina Bar & Grill.(223) 466-2210.

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Julie Esposito.  The versatile Ms. Esposito takes a break from her attorney responsibilities to sing an autobiographical program of songs written in her lifetime.  The selections embrace pop, Broadway and contemporary jazz, from Sondheim to Nilsson and beyond.  The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Diana Ross.  Like Tony Bennett, Ross – on the cusp of 70 — continues to sing superbly.  She, too, is an artist who should be heard at every opportunity.  Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Gary Foster Quartet.  Alto saxophonist Foster has been a first call player for decades.  But he’s also a jazz artist of the first rank. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.) Trevor McShane.  Ssinger/songwriter McShane, aka Neville Johnson, is an attorney who has been pursuing his musical ambitions since the release of his first album in 2000.  Witz End.  (310) 395-4792.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Gipsy Kings.  They’ve been developing their unique approach to new flamenco music, spiced with pop, salsa and rumba since the ‘70s. The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

Cheryl Bentyne

Cheryl Bentyne

- Aug. 4. (Sun.)  Cheryl Bentyne Trio.  Back in action after some difficult medical problems, Bentyne displays her far-reaching musical skills with her own trio before heading back to her long-time gig with the Manhattan Transfer.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

- Aug. 2 – 4. (Fri. – Sun.)  John Pizzarelli Quartet with Bucky Pizzarelli. Here’s a rare opportunity to hear talented father and son in action.  Dad Bucky has been a much-admired guitarist for decades; son John continues to follow in Dad’s footsteps, adding his own fine vocal skills to the mix.   Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

- July 30 – Aug. 3.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Pablo Ziegler’s “Tango Conexio with Special Guest Stefon Harris should result in the discovery of some intriguing connections between jazz and tango. Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Aug. 1. (Thurs.)  Susan Werner. Singer/songwriter Werner applies her wry humor and passionate voice to a celebration of her new CD, Hayseed – a collection of songs dedicated to her parents, grandparents and great grandparents, paying tributes to farmers everywhere.  Joe’s Pub.  (212) 539-8778.

Paris

Joao Bosco

Joao Bosco

- Aug. 1. (Thurs.)  Joao Bosco.  Guitarist/composer Bosco’s playing has been described – with good cause – as among the most auspicious in Brazilian music.” Paris New Morning.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Copenhagen

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Kenny Barron and George Mraz.  It’s a rare and promising musical encounter between two of the jazz world’s most gifted, veteran artists.  They’re not together often, so don’t miss this one.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

Joyce

Joyce

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- Aug 1 & 2. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Joyce. Singer/songwriter Joyce (who occasionally performs using her last name – Moreno – as well) has been pioneering the amiable linkages between jazz and Brazilian music since the late ‘60s.   Tokyo Blue Note.   +81 3-5485-0088.

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Dr. John photo by Tony Gieske.

Arturo Sandoval photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Cheryl Bentyne photo by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: The Lado B Project at Vitello’s

May 17, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Brazilian music nights are not uncommon in Los Angeles.  Not with the city’s substantial population of world class Brazilian players – along with the American musicians who have developed considerable competence with Brazilian music over the years.

The Lado B Project is a combination of both, blending a collection of players who brought a full palette of musical perspectives to a compelling musical evening.  Their performance at Vitello’s on Wednesday night was a magical display, underscoring the rich, panoramic qualities of Brazilian music.

Catina DeLuna

It could only have been done this way by some of L.A.’s most versatile musical artists.

Start with Brazilian-born singer/pianist/composer Catina DeLuna, whose many diverse activities include the founding in Sao Paulo of Serenata Braxileira, which specialized in classic Brazilian songs from the ‘20s and ‘30s.  Singing solo, playing hand percussion, occasionally moving to the piano to accompany herself, she was the central focus for most of the songs.

Otmaro Ruiz

Otmaro Ruiz

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Add the eclectic Venezuelan pianist/accordionist/arranger Otmaro Ruiz, whose resume, overflowing with credits reaching from Herb Alpert and John McLaughlin to  Arturo Sandoval and John McLaughlin, underscores his remarkable, genre-crossing skills. In addition to his solid piano accompaniment, he brought some atmospheric accordion playing to a few of the selections.

The guitar is an essential element in Brazilian music, and one couldn’t have asked for a more skilled player than guitarist Larry Koons, who is at the top of the list for virtually all music contractors, largely because he brings so much musicality to whatever genre of music he plays.  On this night, he used acoustic guitar, roving freely across the many Brazilian rhythms filling the evening’s program.

Larry Koonse and Catina DeLuna

The rhythm team added their own appealing qualities. Aaron Serfaty was a first call drummer in his native Venezuela before he moved to Los Angeles.  And bassist Edwin Livingston, also with an impressive resume, lists the Marsalis brothers, David “Fathead” Newman, Natalie Cole and Stanley Jordan among his many associations.

Directed by DeLuna’s informative musical guidance, with Ruiz’s arrangements, Koonse’ authentic guitar work, and the propulsive rhythms of Serfaty and Livingston, the music came vividly to life.  Much of it, reaching back to songs of the ‘20s and ‘30s, was unfamiliar to American audiences.  But there was no denying its appeal – or, for that matter, the appeal of more easily identifiable songs from Antonio Carlos Jobim, among others.

The only thing missing was some background on the earlier musical selections.  Printed programs are rarely present in night club performances.  But a list of song titles, composers’ names and genre descriptions of the selections from the pre-WWII years would have further enhanced this otherwise fascinating evening.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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