Live Jazz: Alan Broadbent at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The stage was almost empty Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  Almost, that is, except for one notable exception.

Seated at the club’s large concert grand, pianist/arranger/composer Alan Broadbent performed several generous sets over a memorable three hours.  Originally scheduled as a duo with bassist Pat Senatore, it became a solo night for Broadbent when Senatore had to remain at home to fight the flu.

All of which made for a considerably different musical evening, one that was completely focused on Broadbent’s gifted, far-ranging talents as a pianist, an improviser, a composer and arranger.  All those skills were present, as Broadbent framed each tune – fast or slow with spontaneous arrangements, embraced the melodies, dug into improvised passages, and brought every song he touched vividly to life.

Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent

A master of the diverse music in the Great American Songbook, Broadbent filled his sets with classic items, thoughtfully shaping songs such as “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Spring Is Here,” “They Asked About You,” “You Go To My Head,” “Sophisticated Lady” and more.  Some of the ballads were offered with soaringly lyrical melodic phrases; some were tinged with rhapsodic classical touches.  And some were propelled forward via Broadbent’s laid-back, easy-going sense of swing. An occasional bebop line such as Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” moved intriguingly from forward-driving bop to a reminder of the ragtime which is at its roots.

There were offbeat choices, as well: Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” called up memories of its role as the theme song of the Benny Goodman orchestra. A medley of film themes focused on the atmospheric sounds of “Laura.” And John Lewis’ “Django,” a tribute to the great Gipsy jazz guitarist, was played with a sensitive awareness of its roots in J.S. Bach.

A Grammy nominee and a Grammy winner, the New Zealand-born Broadbent had been, until very recently, one of L.A.’s busiest first call musicians.  In addition to his briskly swinging, straight ahead jazz skills, singers such as Irene Kral, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and others have deeply valued his ability to provide the perfect settings for their very different styles.  And his work with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West has produced some extraordinarily musical recordings and live performances ranging from Broadbent’s imaginative instrumental settings, some of them orchestral, to his compelling vocal arrangements on recordings such as Sophisticated Ladies.

Pianists performing either solo or in duos or trios at Vibrato have been known to be overwhelmed by audience noise, especially from the bar.  But on this evening, Broadbent’s playing was so musically mesmerizing that his listeners seemed completely in tune with the magic he brought to each song.

And, as the evening got thoroughly underway, there was no sense of emptiness on the stage. Operating on his own, with no back up players, Broadbent – on his own — nonetheless filled Vibrato with an irresistible sense of imaginative musical completeness.

Broadbent’s performance at Vibrato was a rare Southland appearance since his move to New York City a year or so ago.  But this listener (and no doubt many others) will happily welcome any future Broadbent L.A. visits – either on his own, or blending with the right compatible players, backing a singer, or displaying the rich complexities of his extraordinary arranging and composing skills.  He is truly one of a kind.

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Photo by Faith Frenz.  To see more of her photos click HERE.


Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at Vitello’s

June 10, 2012

By Michael Katz

If  you have never seen Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band in a Small, Close Room, it is an experience I would heartily recommend. For sheer excitement, it is about the closest thing to actually being in the band – if you are a musician or just an air saxophone player, you will be tempted to stand up and take a solo.  Friday night, the eighteen musicians occupied every nook and cranny of the stage at Vitello’s. The guitarist seemed to be sitting in your  lap. The conga player was wedged between Goodwin’s piano and the back wall — his rhythms floating unseen from the direction of Laurel Canyon. The baritone sax player was perched just in front of the curtained stage entrance; one step backward and he could have been the Wizard of Oz. The drummer, Bernie Dresel, sat smack in the middle of  all this, cool and hip in black-rimmed glasses, looking like Steve Allen reincarnated in an argyle sweater.

If you are an acoustic purist, this may not be for you. There are just too many sounds colliding and reverberating between the low ceiling and around the walls. But that is hardly the point. This is a musical Funhouse. It’s a chance to get up close to precision section playing and scorching solos, not to mention a few young players who have infiltrated the roster of Goodwin’s veteran group of LA session men.

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

Goodwin, who handles the arrangements and plays mostly piano now,  started this band a decade ago. He’s developed a rousing, hard swinging sound that borrows liberally from all points of the American jazz scene – over two sets Friday night there were nods to Benny Goodman, George Gershwin, Diz, Herbie and even Elmer Fudd. It’s all done with panache, humor and Goodwin’s trademark in-the-pocket groove, dominated by a front line of saxophones that doubles impressively on flutes and clarinets.

The first set featured tunes from the BPB’s most recent album, That’s How We Roll, opening up with the title cut. A typical foot-stomping Goodwin piece, it featured Francisco Torres, best known for anchoring the trombone section of the Poncho Sanchez Band, and Willie Murillo,  the lead trumpet soloist most of the night. “Howdiz Songo” followed with a lilting piano riff by Goodwin,  Joey De Leon’s congas bubbling up from behind. A couple of newer names made their presence felt: Katisse Buckingham is a fine young saxophonist who doubled on flute and Andrew Synoweic showed his versatility on guitar.

Goodwin won a 2012 Grammy for his shape-shifting arrangement of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Another young reed player, Kevin Garren, opened it up with a stirring clarinet solo. The tempo shifted to an aggressive swing, featuring Bob Summers on trumpet, then laid back for a Dorsey-like trombone burst from Charlie Morillas. Finally Murillo took over on trumpet as the tempo assumed a rollicking strip tease tone, perhaps not exactly what Gershwin had in mind, but who’s to say?

Singer Becky Martin, who I’d heard with Arturo Sandoval last month, stepped in for two numbers. It is especially hard belting out a tune over an 18 piece band in such a small room, but Martin carried an up-tempo version (was there anything else?) of “Cheek To Cheek” and followed with a persuasive interpretation of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia,” augmented by Murillo’s homage to Diz.

There were only two ballads over the evening, placed in penultimate  positions of each set. Guitarist Synowiec had a nice casual feel to “Everlasting” in the first set with Goodwin accompanying him gracefully on the piano. The same spot in the second set brought Goodwin back on tenor sax with a samba-like rendition of “I Remember,” from the BPB’s first album. Bob Summers delivered some soulful work on the flugelhorn   with harmonic support from the woodwinds, alternating from an all flute background to a medley of saxophones. And speaking of stellar section work, the trombones, who had carried less solo work most of the night, performed beautifully in “It’s Not Polite To Point” with Jason Thor and Craig Gosnell joining Torres and Morillas in a perfect blending of the four horns.

Mostly, though, it was the rip-roaring numbers that had the capacity crowd on their feet. There was “Hunting Wabbits III,” the third variation of Goodwin’s salute to the Warner Brothers cartoon themes. “Sing Sang Sung,” which opened up the second set, is based on Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” and featured more great clarinet work by Kevin Garren. Lead tenor man Brian Scanlon, after losing a pad on his horn, borrowed Goodwin’s and blew through “Rippin’ N Runnin’ from the new album.  By the time the Big Phat Band finished off the night with “The Jazz Police,”  highlighted by percussionist Joey DeLeon and drummer Bernie Dresel tearing things up, the audience and band alike were on the edge of exhaustion.

Which is the way it ought to be. The next time I see this band it will be opening the main stage show at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September. I’m sure it will be great, but I won’t be sitting two feet from the band, trading eights in my mind with the horn section.

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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 Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at Vitello’s

February 5, 2012

By Don Heckman

The performance by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at Vitello’s Friday night was a hearty reminder of the decades when big bands were the stars of popular music.  Some of those bands – Count Basie, Duke Ellington – were firmly rooted in jazz.  Others – Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo – played music primarily for dancing.  And still others – Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller – did both.  Something for most musical tastes, in other words, during an era in which jazz qualities were so strongly present in the music – with even the Kayes and the Lombardos occasionally dipping into jitterbug-pleasing swing rhythms – that jazz and pop music were virtually synonymous.

But no more, of course, at least since the arrival of the electric guitar.  To saxophonist/pianist Goodwin’s credit, however, he continues to keep a band alive – via the attractions of his writing and the qualities of the Phat Band’s players – that remains firmly in touch with the appealing qualities of the big Swing bands.  And thoroughly receptive to its contemporary surroundings, as well.Friday’s opening set provided an impressive display of all those qualities.  Among the highlights: Goodwin’s Grammy-nominated arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue and his original composition – also Grammy-nominated – Hunting Wabbits 3 (Get Off My Lawn).

The Gershwin classic was rendered with a rhythmic panache that energized all its inherent jazz qualities, especially aided by the clarinet work of Sal Lozano and the stunning trumpet of Wayne Bergeron.  One suspects that Gershwin would have been pleased.

So, too for Wabbits, Goodwin’s third installment of this cartoon-inspired theme, a quirky, musically whimsical reminder of how much the animation world of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker was inspired by jazz.  Here, as elsewhere throughout the set, the band’s ever-present rhythmic vitality was propelled by the dynamic drumming of Bernie Dresel.

Another Goodwin original, “Race To the Bridge,” was a kind of jazz concerto grosso featuring each of the band’s stellar sections.  The result was a display of sheer musical excitement.

The evening’s only hiccup took place during the guest artist section, which featured singer Becky Martin and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.  Martin was ebullient and assertive in a lively version of “Cheek To Cheek,” and Sandoval offered some of his familiar Dizzy Gillespie recollections in “Night in Tunisia.”  Neither piece, however – with the exception of a saxophone section harmonization of Charlie Parker’s famous high speed break in “Night in Tunisia” – did enough to sustain the spirited qualities of the Big Phat Band in action.

But that’s a small carp for an evening of memorable musical pleasures.  If anyone’s looking for a convincing template of how to bring the big bands back to the center of American music…check out Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.   

Picks of the Week: Nov. 15 – 20

November 15, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Carol Welsman

- Nov. 15. (Tues.)  Carol Welsman.  Pianist/singer Welsman makes her last L.A. area performance of the year, which makes it one not to be missed.  Hopefully she’ll play a few tunes from her soon to be released latest CD.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.)  Jane Harvey.  Veteran singer Harvey, whose extensive resume begins with the Benny Goodman Band in the mid-40s, is still a remarkable performing artist.  To read Tony Gieske’s recent iRoM review of a Harvey performance, click HERE. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  They’ve been a jazz/pop power couple for a long time.  But what really makes Alpert and Hall special is the charmed intimacy of the way they make music together.  Here, they perform in their very own jazz club. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 17. (Thurs.)  Doug Webb.  Master reed and flute player Webb concentrates on tenor saxophone and flute, but he is equally adept at numerous other instruments.  No matter what he plays, however, he does it with style, substance and imagination.  Crowne Plaza LAX Jazz Club.  (310) 642-7500.

Lainie Kazan

- Nov. 17 – 19. (Thurs. – Sat.) Lainie Kazan. Lainie’s done it all – stage, screen, night clubs and recordings — always with the attractive blend of emotional intensity and sardonic wit that are among her many attributes.  And when she applies it to a song…look out.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  Riffat Sultana.  The daughter of the great Pakistani singer Salamat Ali Khan, Sultana ranges from traditional and classical ghazal and qawwali to fascinating cross-cultural blends.  The Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra. Saxophonist, educator and clinician, Dr. Bruce is also the leader of a big band whose music reflects his quest to create music that blends rhythmic excitement and compelling ensemble textures. LACMA.    (323) 857-6000.

Song of the Angels Flute Orchestra

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  David Shostac and the Song of the Angels Flute Orchestra.  Shostac, principal flutist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra leads one of the music world’s most unique entities – an ensemble made up of the full range of flutes, from the familiar concert C flute to the extremely rare double contrabass flute.  Cypress Recital Hall at the Valley Performing Arts Center.   (818) 677-3000.

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. – Sat.)  The Spirit of Django.  Gypsy jazz is at its finest in the hands of Dorado Schmitt, a guitarist with a deep understanding of the irresistible music of the legendary Django Reinhardt.  Segerstrom Center For The Arts.   (714) 556-2787.

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. – Sat.)  Sketchy Black Dog. The off center blend of string quartet with piano jazz trio led by pianist Misha Piatigorsky is liable to play their own take on anything from Jimi Hendrix and Elton John to their own inimitable originals.  Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Barbara Morrison

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. – Sat.)  Barbara Morrison.  One of the Southland’s vocal treasures, Morrison has moved beyond her profound medical problems by staying in touch with the expressiveness that has always been at the heart of her music.  Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

- Nov. 19. (Sat.) Wu Man“Return to East – Ancient Dances.”  A virtuoso player of China’s lute-like pipa, and a member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road ensemble, Wu Man plays selections from the traditional repertoire, as well as the specially commissioned multi-media work, Ancient Dances.  UCLA Live at Royce Hall.    (310) 825-4401.

San Francisco

Miguel Zenon

- Nov. 15. (Tues.)  Miguel Zenon.  MacArthur grant genius award winner Zenon has been playing a lot in other bands lately.  Here’s a chance to hear this imaginative saxophonist on his own.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.) Kiran Ahluwalia. Singer/composer Ahluwalia blends poetic ghazals and traditional Punjabi songs with contemporary sounds and rhythms generated by her guitarist husband, Rez Abbasi.   Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- Nov. 16 – 20. (Wed. – Sun.)  Diane Schuur.  Deedles, as she is known and loved by fans and friends alike, has been reviving her jazz roots lately.  But that doesn’t mean that she can’t find the heart of any other style she decides to explore.  Don’t miss this rare chance to hear her up close and live.  The Rrazz Room.   (415) 394-1189.

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  The Anonymous Four.  This female a cappella quartet has produced some of the most extraordinary examples of pre-1600 vocal music.  Heard in the Grace Cathedral, with its remarkable 7-second reverberation, their singing will produce an authentic display of the polyphonic sound and substance of early music.  Grace Cathedral.    (866) 920-5299.


Nov. 18 – 20. (Fri. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit. Blessed with one of the most luxurious vocal instruments in jazz, Monheit isn’t often properly appreciated for the rhythmic lift and imaginative phrasing she brings to her performances.  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.


- Nov. 17 – 20 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Kenny Barron Trio. He’s every jazz artist’s favorite pianist to have in their rhythm section.  And with plenty of good reasons – all of which are especially apparent when Barron takes the spotlight with his own music.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

Jim Hall

- Nov. 15 – 19. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Jim Hall Quartet.  At a time when the guitar has been making a major comeback in jazz for a decade or two, Hall – whose credentials reach back to the ‘50s – continues to be one of the instrument’s major masters.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Nov. 15 – 20.  (Tues. – Sun.)  Chick Corea continues his epic, month long banquet of music from his long, storied career.  Tues. – Thurs: From Miles, with Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnette, Wallace Roney and Gary Bartz; Fri. – Sun: Flamenco Heart, with a new band of world-class Latin musicians.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.) John Coltrane’s Ascension. A stellar aggregation of contemporary players, led by Joe Lovano, take on one of the classic works of the adventurous jazz of the ‘60s.  The group includes Donny McCaslin, Sabir Mateen and Vincent Herring, saxophones; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Josh Roseman, trombone; James Weidman, piano; Ben Allison, bass; Billy Drummond and Matt Wilson, drums;   Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.)  Denny Zeitlin.  The psychiatrist/jazz pianist from San Francisco makes one of his infrequent stops in New York.  This time around, his considerable talents will on full display via an evening of solo piano (on Friday) followed by a trio performance with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson (on Saturday).  The Jazz Lounge in the Kitano Hotel.   (212) 885-7119.


Sheila Jordan

- Nov. 17. (Wed.)  Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn Duo.  Both Jordan and Kuhn are veteran jazz artists with careers reaching back for decades.  And an especially attractive part of that history is represented by the recordings and live performances they’ve done together.  Call it a symbiotic jazz connection.  The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.


- Nov. 19. (Sat.)  A Portrait of Jaco.  The Laurence Cottle Big Band performs material from Jaco Pastorious’ “Word of Mouth” band. Celebrating what would have been Jaco’s 60th birthday on Dec. 1. Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.

Sheila Jordan photo by Tony Gieske.

Live Jazz: The Eddie Daniels Quartet at Vitello’s

October 22, 2011

By Don Heckman

Clarinetist Eddie Daniels’ masterful performance at Vitello’s Friday was – as his appearances often are – a gripping reminder of his instrument’s adventurous jazz past, present and future.

Eddie Daniels

For the first half of the jazz century, the clarinet was one of the music’s key voices.  Vital to the New Orleans style, a virtual celebrity instrument in the hands of Swing bandleaders such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman, its presence remained high, until it ran into hard times – and diminished interest — with the arrival of bebop in the ‘40s and beyond.

A few hardy souls labored on through the forests of bop, with Buddy DeFranco one of the principal pathfinders.  Others arrived over the next few decades, with the numbers of adroit clarinetists increasing in recent years.

Daniels, who was celebrating his 70th birthday two days earlier, has been producing memorable work – on tenor saxophone, as well as clarinet – since he arrived on the scene with the Thad Jones–Mel Lewis Orchestra in the mid-‘60s.  An authentic classical artist as well as a superb improvising musician, the only thing missing from his Vitello’s performance would have been his own unique take on something such as the Larghetto from the Mozart Clarinet Quintet.

Tom Ranier, Eddie Daniels, Darek Oles

But no matter.  What renaissance man Daniels did play was largely astounding, sometimes even more than that.

Joe LaBarbera

Start with his utter mastery of an instrument whose technical demands more often produce mediocre results than the sort of articulate clarity that Daniels tossed off with almost casual ease.  Backed by the confident, interactive support of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Joe LaBarbera, he concentrated upon clarinet – except for a pair of jovial jaunts on his tenor saxophone through “They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful” and an original Daniels piece that somehow managed to convincingly blend tango with bossa nova.

Tom Ranier

Among the clarinet highlights: Ranier’s delightfully re-invented version of the old Benny Goodman classic, “Stealin’ Apples”; and a wildly audacious flight through an equally new-view version of Charlie Parker’s “Bye-Bye Blues.”

And ultimately it was Daniels’ clarinet soloing that dominated the spotlight – as it should.  One fleet solo after another, rendered with an irresistible flow of swing, affirmed his consummate blend of dexterous technical skills and vivid improvisational inventiveness.

No wonder that, with Daniels in the forefront, the clarinet once again seems to be finding its rightful place in the jazz hierarchy.

Photos by Bob Barry.  To view more of his jazzography, click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Oct. 4 – 9

October 3, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Patti Lupone

- Oct. 4. (Tues.) Patti Lupone. The versatile, two-time Tony Award winning artist presents “Gypsy in My Soul,” a set of songs illuminating her life on and off stage.  Royce Hall.    (310) 825-2101.

- Oct. 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Further (Phil Lesh and Bob Weir)  The spirit of the Grateful Dead still lives in the playing of Lesh and Weir.  Expect to hear familiar classics and experience an irresistible Grateful Dead jam.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

- Oct. 6. (Thurs.) Patty AscherBossa, Jazz ‘n’ Samba.  Sao Paulo’s Ascher lays it all out in the title of her approach to Brazilian music.  Richly experienced in both Brazilian music and jazz, she combines the two in her own uniquely appealing fashion.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave. Trombone Shorty (who also plays scintillating trumpet) has brought Hollywood Bowl crowds to their feet at Playboy Jazz Festivals.  Here’s a chance to experience that energy up close and personal.  The El Rey.    (323) 936-6400.

- Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Fabiana Passoni. It’s a great night for Brazilian music in L.A.  Passoni has survived challenging health problems to establish a fascinating, utterly unique blend of Brazilian and American musical forms.   Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Tamela D’Amico with the Pat Longo Big Band.  Multi hyphenate D’Amico – a jazz singer, actress, director and producer – takes a break from her other activities to display her appealing interpretations of American songbook classics, backed by Longo’s stirring big band charts.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson

- Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.  A pair of country music’s iconic figures get together for a rare and, no doubt, wonderful tour through their well known classics.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

- Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Kevin Mahogany.  At a time when male jazz singers have been in relatively short supply, Mahogany continues to apply his rich sound and easygoing swing to everything he sings.  Culver’s Club for JazzAt the Double Tree L.A. Westside Hotel.   (310) 649-1776 Ext. 4137.

- Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Amanda McBroom and Lee Lessack.  A classic night of cabaret, at its very best.  McBroom’s expressive storytelling finds the inner heart of everything she sings; Lessack adds appealing interpretations from his own, different, but appealing perspective.  Ford Amphitheatre.  (323) 461-3673.

- Oct. 9. (Sun.)  Josh Nelson & Pat Senatore Duo.  An intriguing cross generational encounter, between pianist Nelson’s vibrant, thoughtful style and Senatore’s richly mature foundation.  Call it an evening of deep musicality. Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Oct. 5. (Wed.)  Mingus Amungus.  Bay area-based Mingus Amungus continue to be one of the most effective celebrants of Charles Mingus’ music, bringing it to life in a way that would surely have pleased Mingus himself.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Baaba Maal

- Oct. 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Baaba Maal.  Senegalese master Maal performs an unplugged and impromptu set of his music, after a discussion of his life and times with music journalist Chris Salewicz.  Yoshi’s Oakland.  /show/2112  (510) 238-9200.


- Oct. 6 – 9.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Family Stone.  Original members of Sly & the Family Stone revive some of the biggest hits of the seventies – “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Everyday People” and “Dance to the Music” among them.  Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.


- Oct. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Eric Alexander with the Harold Mabern Quartet. Hard-driving, intensely articulate saxophonist Alexander finds the right backing for his powerful style in pianist Mabern.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Oct. 4 – 9. (Tues. – Sun.) Italian Jazz Days.  The Anthony Ciacca Quintet. One of the highlights of a weeklong celebration of the prominent role Italian jazz musicians have played in the expansion of contemporary jazz.  With trumpeter Dominic Farinacci, saxophonist George Garzone, guitarist Steve Kirby and Special GuestsDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

- Oct. 7 – 9. (Fri. – Sun.)  Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart. An All-Star Organ trio would be the proper label for this impressive group of young players, as they bring new delights to one of jazz’s classic instrumental formats.  Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

Washington D.C.

Roy Hargrove

- Oct. 5 – 9. (Wed. – Sun.)  The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Grammy-winning trumpeter Hargrove’s busy schedule reaches from his big band to solo outings.  And, especially, to his excursions across the length of contemporary jazz with his own quintet.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.


- Oct. 7 & 8. (Fri. & Sat.)  Robert Glasper. Pianist Glasper has established himself as a musical voice capable of reaching across genre boundaries to attract young audiences to jazz.  His current group features Derrick Hodge, bass, with Mark Colenburg, drums.  The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.


- Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Pat Martino. Guitarist Martino had to literally learn to play his instrument again after a brain aneurysm in 1980.  Incredibly, he did so with astonishing success, thoroughly establishing himself as one of the principal creative voices among the large array of contemporary jazz guitarists.  New Morning.  01 45 23 51 41.


Carol Welsman

- Oct. 4. (Tues.)  Carol Welsman with Ken Peplowski and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Pianist/singer Welsman is a superb jazz artist in her own right. Here, she takes a different role, performing many of Peggy Lee’s familiar Swing Era hits with the Goodman Orchestra.  Nakano Sun Plaza.   03 3388 2893.

- Oct. 6 – 8. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Tania Maria.  Grammy-nominated, Brazil-born singer/pianist Maria has been a dynamic figure in the crossover area between jazz and Brazilian music since the ‘70s.  And she’s still going strong.  Blue Note Tokyo.    03 5485 0088.

Live Jazz: Jane Harvey at Catalina Bar & Grill

May 20, 2011

By Tony Gieske

No need to add encomia to the already overloaded resume of  the great Jane Harvey,  who transformed Catalina’s into a hip little branch of the Apple the other night.

She probably could have gotten by with just singing her resume, this lady. (Lorraine Feather could have written the music.)

Harvey might have started the job list with her employment on the Benny Goodman band back in the 1940s. Her version of  “He’s Funny That Way,” recorded with Goodman’s sextet (Slam  Stewart on bass!) as the war clouds departed, still gives off plenty of steam in the version  you can still hear on the net.

Then she could put down the band of  Desi Arnaz before he met Lucy,  when he worked with Bob Hope.

There’d be a subhead for television, headed by Steve Allen on “The Tonight Show” and proceeding to Jane Pauley on “The Today Show”; a Broadway section (”Bless You All” with Pearl Bailey); and a long stretch of recordings as they advanced from 78 rpm to mp3.

At Catalina’s, Harvey did  utterly convincing, if not transformative, performances of tunes from her newly re-released CD,  “Jane Harvey Sings Sondheim.” Not too many gals in their 80s are out there pushing their latest sides, right?

I was struck by the unusual skill with which she sang, and with her adroitly supportive trio of piano, bass and drums.  Her time and her pitches were kept precise.  That, of course, got her carefully weighed phrasing working. Each lyric became a moving little drama — tragic, comic, anecdotal… no sweat.

The savvy old chanteuse kept the program moving right along. For every “Send in the Clowns” tear dropper there was a sarcastic “Could I Leave You.” She made “Send in the Clowns” quite palatable; she even saved the inevitable “I’m Still Here” with a touch of weariness that proved moving, even to the sated L.A culture  quaffers — present company excepted — who came to listen to this remarkable artist.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE.

Live Jazz: Toots Thielemans at the Kennedy Center

April 7, 2011

By Norton Wright

Last Saturday night, I had one of those once-in-a-lifetime jazz experiences at the Kennedy Center’s small Terrace Theater as 89-year-old Toots Thielemans, supported by Kenny Werner’s arm, walked gingerly onstage, ensconced himself onto a stool, and then just blew everybody away. Amazingly, his harmonica embouchure is as strong as ever and with Kenny Werner’s sympathische piano, they gave us an hour of heartbreakingly beautiful jazz.

Toots Thielemans

I’ve been listening to Toots for over a half century but had never heard him in person, so to encounter this icon so late in life was immensely moving. As with so many of those recordings with Stephane Grappelli, the sound of Toot’s harmonica always evokes for me that brave melancholy of times gone by – the Lost Generation of post-World War I, the 1938 Spanish Civil War, World War II and “we’ll always have Paris” from “Casablanca.”

The extraordinary highlight of the evening was Toot’s regaling with the tale of his Green Card arrival in America from Belgium to temp with the Benny Goodman Band, his finally winning U.S. citizenship, and his ongoing love for America.  And then, to crown the story musically, he said he wanted to play a tune by Irving Berlin – with a touch of  Milton Nascimento. And Toots then launched into a bossa nova blues take on “America The Beautiful.”

By the end of the number, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The guy behind us was sobbing, Suzie and I were likewise teared up, and the ensuing standing ovation for Toots and Kenny was so well deserved!

Ain’t jazz great!

Q & A: Bill Holman — Composer, Arranger, Bandleader

January 31, 2011

By Don Heckman

Bill Holman – Willis to his friends – is making one of his too-rare performances with his big band tonight in the up close and personal environs of Vitello’s. For fans of big band jazz, it’ll be an opportunity to hear some music from a composer/arranger who is arguably one of the unique masters of large jazz ensemble writing.  It would be a fair bet, in fact, to say that virtually every arranger/composer of big band music who has arrived on the scene in the past five decades displays, to a greater or lesser extent, some influence from the Holman canon of airy, linear, instrumental textures.  Last week, Holman – whose conversational style is as relaxed and occasionally wry as his music – talked about the course of his six decade career.

DH: Let’s start with the Willis connection.  Your fans obviously know you as Bill.  But most of your friends and acquaintances use Willis.  What’s that all about?

BH: Well, I didn’t like Willis when I was a kid, so I just let everyone assume my name was William.  And I went by Bill.  When I went in the Navy I had to use Willis for the first time.  But I still went by Bill.  Then one of the other players in this band I was with found out it was Willis, and he used to call me that to tease me.  It gradually spread.  And now it’s the name that most of my friends use.  But I like it either way.

DH: You were pretty young when you went into the Navy around the end of World War II.  But you’d already taken your first steps into the music world, right?

BH: Sort of.  In junior high school, they gave everybody a musical aptitude test, and I did well on it.  So in a few weeks the band director came around and said would you like to play clarinet in the band.  I said sure, and that’s when it started.  I had lessons on sax, but the ranking music teacher in Santa Ana was a trumpet player, so he gave me some bad information.  But he was the only guy around at that time.

DH: Around Santa Ana, that is?  So you’re a southern California native.

BH: Yeah. From Olive, actually, which is a little town in Orange.  Not exactly a hotbed of jazz.

DH: Did the jazz bug get you when you went into the Navy?

BH: Well, I’d been toying with the idea of a music career, for all the wrong reasons, while I was in the Navy. I’d been studying engineering at Colorado, so when I was discharged in ’46, I went to UCLA to continue the engineering thing.  But all the time music was in the back of my head.  And one semester at UCLA studying engineering decided me.  I’d gone down to Central Avenue a couple of times to a place called Jack’s Basket Room.  The second time we went down there, I took my horn, and got to play and started meeting some of the guys.  And I heard about this music school that Britt Woodman was going to, and so I went and checked it out.  And then I had to convince the Veteran’s Administration that I wanted to change from engineering to music.  It was a struggle, but I finally prevailed.  I got into the Westlake College of Music, met some more people, started getting some work.

DH: That’s when the writing and arranging began?

BH: Yeah.  I’d been listening, from when I was a kid, to all the radio disc jockey shows.  They were all big bands and I got interested in them.  But I wasn’t inquisitive enough, or ambitious enough to start writing on my own.  I figured I just didn’t know how.  So when I went to school, I learned a few things that had stopped me, and I started writing a lot, right away.  Because I had this big band vocabulary stuck in my head.

DH: What did you like that you heard?

BH: Eddie Sauter.  Fletcher Henderson for the Goodman band.  And a lot of other guys whose names I didn’t know.  I used to wonder who wrote the Basie charts, until I found out that a lot of them were head arrangements, from the late thirties and early forties.  And I was pretty impressed by the Claude Thornhill band, even before they started doing the bebop things that Gil Evans wrote.  When I went out to hear that band, I flipped out.  I’d never heard a band sound like that.

DH: And your own writing?  Where were you going with that?

BH: I was writing Latin charts for several Latin bands in town.  They were all swinging at the time.  And I was writing them for ten dollars, copied.  This was ’49, ’50.  And writing swing charts for rehearsal bands.  But mostly I was just kind of hanging out, and doing a lot of playing.  Then I got a chance to go with Charlie Barnet, which I jumped at, because I’d always liked his band.  He had all his old things, and things from his bebop band and some newer things.  Great charts by Neal Hefti and one by Al Cohn.  And it was fun to play that music, even though the band wasn’t the greatest.  It got me out traveling.  I made my first trip to New York with that band.

DH: But the breakthrough really came with Stan Kenton.  How did that come about?

BH: When I was going to Westlake College I’d done a thing ‘12 Tone Blues.’  I guess every young guy writes a 12 tone blues, just to prove it can be done. So I made a demo of it.  I played it as a gag for Gene Roland, because he’s such a meat and potatoes guy. I thought he’d find it funny.  But he said, ‘My God, this is what Stan is looking for.’  Because Kenton had been talking to him about a more linear approach for the band rather than that up and down stuff they’d been doing.  So he took the record to Kenton while I was on the road with Barnet.

DH: Not exactly what you expected when you played it for Roland.

BH: Right.  But Stan liked it, so Gene set up an appointment.  I went up and talked to Stan.  He said, ‘This is great.  You doing anything more like this?’  And I said, ‘Uh, no.  I’m trying to write more swinging, real jazz charts.’  And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you write a couple of things for the band.’  So I did.  He was putting together a new band at the time.  I did a couple of things, took them down to rehearsal, and they were terrible.

DH: Terrible!?

BH: Terrible. I was just overreaching something terrible.  The charts got dumped and never heard from again.  But then he needed a tenor player for the section.  And Dick Meldonian, who was going to be the lead player, recommended me.  And I got on the band as a player.

DH: So you came at it from the inside the next time?

BH: Sort of.  Stan kept encouraging me.  ‘When you gonna write something, Holman,’ he’d say.  But I didn’t know what to write for his band.  I didn’t know how to do the stuff that they had been doing.  And I knew he didn’t want straight out jazz charts, because he kept harping about not wanting to sound like Tommy Dorsey.  Gerry Mulligan had written some nice charts – 8 or 10 – for him at the same time.  Some of them Stan liked, some of them he didn’t.  But I learned a lot from playing those charts.  As far as learning how to put together a professional artistic chart.  Voicings and changes and forms.  So, after about eight or nine months, I started writing again.  Stan liked the first two things, encouraged me to do more.  In the meantime, I’d written a chart on “Star Eyes”  And it was so full of lines and everything, that Stan said it sounded like a merry go round.

DH: But those ‘lines,’ that linear quality, that contrapuntal feeling, has been one of the characteristics most associated with your writing.  How did it come about?  Mulligan’s writing had some similar qualities.

BH: For me, writing lines for jazz charts just seemed to happen.  The things that Mulligan brought in for the band were his typical style.  He hadn’t brought in ‘Youngblood’ yet.    But by the time he did, I had already embarked on this linear kind of writing.  I think Gerry went to the end thinking I had gotten it from him.  And I did get a lot from him, but not necessarily that.

DH: Did you have any sense that what you were doing was something new, something different from the usual big band jazz writing with their thick chording?

BH: Actually, I was kind of surprised when people began saying this was another way to approach jazz band writing.  Because to me, until somebody pointed it out, I didn’t think it was that different.

DH: But it was.  And even though you’ve done a lot of writing in different areas – for pop groups like the Fifth Dimension and the Association, to mention just a few – it’s still your big band writing that keeps grabbing people’s attention.  Not just for Kenton, but for Woody Herman, Terry Gibbs, Buddy Rich, even Basie.  And, of course, your own band.

BH: Yeah, aside from the pop stuff, it’s pretty much been the main thing.

DH: Do you feel there’s still life in the big bands’ instrumentation?  In the big bands themselves?

BH: Hard to say.  There’s no opportunity to make a living. That’s for sure.  The only people who have bands now are writers.  I could conceive of a smaller band – the eleven or twelve piece bands eventually coming around.  But for me there’s still interest in what I’ve been doing.  I get feedback from that big band instrumentation.

DH: So the bottom line here is that, after writing big band music for more than sixty years, it’s still what fascinates you the most.

BH: Yean.  And not just me.  Guys keep writing for that big band instrumentation, so it keeps on living.  Even though no one’s saying the big bands are coming back.  But, I’ve got a big library of music for the big band I have, so what am I going to do, dump it?  I don’t think so.

DH: Let’s hope not.  And let’s hope there’ll be a lot more opportunities to hear you, the band and that book in action.  Great talking with you, Willis.

Photos by Tony Gieske.

In addition to tonight’s performance, the Bill Holman Big Band will also appear at the All Star Spring Jazz Fest at Vitello’s on Sunday March 13.

Live Jazz: Louis Prima Gets His Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

July 27, 2010

By Devon Wendell

Musical Renaissance man Louis Prima would have turned 100 this year, and maybe that’s why he finally received his star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sunday July 25, 2010, in front of The Montalban Theater in Hollywood, some 32 years after his death.

Prima’s incredible legacy began in the 1930’s when he headed to New York City from his New Orleans home, and soon landed a contract for his band to play on CBS radio twice a week. His “Swing, Swing Swing” was a major hit for Benny Goodman in the ‘30s.  Later, his own twenty two piece orchestra delivered such top selling tunes as “Angelina,” “Please No Squeeza Da Banana” and “Josephina.”  And in the ‘50s, with partner (and then wife) Keely Smith, backed by Sam Butera and the Witnesses, Prima produced such chart topping, Vegas-era hits as “Jump, Jive, Wail,” “Just A Gigolo” and “That Old Black Magic.”  Prima started his own record company, Prima Magna Groove, in 1963, and his smoky voice and tender wit was added to such children’s films as The Jungle Book, and The Rescuers.  Prima’s signature smooth vocals, and his limited but effective trumpet stylings, have made him one of the music world’s most unique and memorable entertainers.

But at times, the event Sunday seemed to have more to do with the 50th anniversary of The Hollywood Walk Of Fame than it did with Prima, the honoree.  Los Angeles City councilmen Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge, along with Sam Smith of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, led the ceremony, which inexplicably kicked off with an Aztec drum ritual of fire and dance. Thankfully, the star of the ceremony finally became Prima’s son, Louis Prima, Jr.

Louis Prima Jr. and his band

After receiving the star for their father with his sister Lena, Prima Jr. performed a short set of his father’s classics, opening with “Jump, Jive, Wail.”  Although many of Louis’s stage antics and mannerisms mimicked those of his father’s, the band had a loud and progressively unique sound — loud being the operative word, meaning that much of the subtle nuances of the original music got lost in the shuffle.  The horn section, consisting of trombonist Phil Clevinger, trumpeter Ted Schumaker, and tenor saxophonist, Marco Palos, were the standout members of the band. This was especially evident on “Angelina Buona Sera.”

Singing with Prima, Jr., Sarah Spiegal may have looked and dressed the part of Keely Smith, but sadly she lacked the vocal skills and charismatic stage presence. Her voice was often off key and brash, especially when paired up with Prima Jr.’s soft, laid back sound, disrupting the easy swing of “Old Black Magic.” Fortunately, the resemblance between father and son was especially apparent on the group’s reading of “Just A Gigolo,” with some energetic young swing dancers stimulating the enthusiastic fans to move along in rhythm.  Sister Lena Prima did a duet with her brother on “When the Saings Go Marchin’ In,” and proved to have a stronger voice and more natural stage appeal than Spiegal. Cousin Jimmy Prima’s drumming also stood out, but the rock guitar wailing of Joey Sykes didn’t always fit the compositions.

The energy of Prima Jr. and the contemporary Witnesses had the sort of modern and aggressive approach that might have prompted Louis Sr. to give them the old “cut” throat sign at times. That loss of dynamics and subtlety, failing to contrast high energy with soft and low points, was a statement to the understated power of Prima Sr.’s whole generation — gone but not forgotten.

* * * *

Before the big ceremony began, I had a brief conversation with Prima Jr. about the significance of the big day:

DW:  How does it feel to have your father honored with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame?

LP,Jr:  We feel very proud and honored. We’ve been working on this for 20 years. Especially with this being my father’s 100th birthday makes it very special.

DW: What were the greatest lessons you learned from your father’s music?

LPJr.: I feel my father had a joyful lesson to teach everyone. He never did a sad or slow song. He believed that life is too short and anything can happen, so music should make you happy and tap your foot. There are enough problems in the world.

DW:  How would you like today’s as well as future generations to remember your father’s legacy?

LPJr.: People tend to narrow down his career to the few years in Vegas and not his years in New Orleans. My father wrote “Sing, Sing, Sing,” and was a viable hit-making entity for decades, maintaining a style that is accessible, good time music. We just found out that — before he took ill — he was in the process of adding three songs and voice-overs for the film The Rescuers.  Then you also have his hits from the ‘60s. Fifty years of influence. He influenced everyone from David Lee Roth to Brian Setzer in the ’80’s and ’90’s. If he were alive today, he’d still be up on stage swinging with that energy. He never looked back, never stopped moving. Louis Prima remains important because he played pretty for the people.   This is a great day.


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