Picks of the Week: Dec. 26 – 29

December 26, 2013

By Don Heckman

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always light on performances. And this week is no exception. But numerous events, nonetheless, are well worthy of listeners’ attention. Here’s a selective group of some of the many highlights.

Los Angeles

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- Dec. 26. (Thurs.) Robert Davi. Actor/singer Davi has thoroughly established himself as a Sinatra-inspired vocalist, when he isn’t building an impressive career as a film actor, as well. But he’s also a gifted singer who has created an engaging style of his own. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 26. (Thurs.) Vocalist Peggie Perkins, a Los Angeles jazz favorite for decades, performs with the Llew Matthews Quartet, featuring tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard, bassist John B Williams, guitarist Doug MacDonald and drummer Jimmy Ford. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905

- Dec. 27. (Fri.) The Midnight Jazz Band. A quartet of veteran jazz all-stars, Gary Foster, alto saxophone, Tom Ranier, piano, Chuck Berghofer, bass and Peter Erskine, drums have been among the Southland musical aristocracy for decades. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Dec, 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat. ) Broadway on Ice. An impressive holiday presentation, featuring a dynamic creative partnership between Olympic Gold Medalist skater Ekaterina Gordeeva and Broadway singing star Davis Gaines. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8510.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

 - Dec. 27 – 31. (Fri. – Tues.) Jane Monheit. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of her recording career, Monheit has thoroughly established herself as a uniquely gifted jazz artist with deep roots in the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

 Washington, D.C.

- Dec. 27 – 31. (Fri. – Tues.) Monty Alexander. Jamaica’s Alexander, a prime jazz artist, enlivens much of his music with the appealing rhythms of the Caribbean. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-414.

New York City

Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein

- Dec. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat.) Michael Feinstein. The master of the Great American songbook, singer/pianist Feinstein is also a superb entertainer, leading his audiences through the expressive intimacies of every song he offers. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Dec. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Carmen Lundy. Vocalist Lundy has a full range of creative skills, a rare example of a jazz singer who is also a gifted songwriter. Catch her in action. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.


Chris Botti

- Dec. 26 – Jan. 5. (Thurs. – Sun.) Chris Botti. Trumpeter Botti, a stellar performer in his own right, leads an equally world class jazz ensemble in an extended holiday run. Expect to hear some extraordinary music. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.


- Dec. 26 – 31. Angels in Harlem Gospel Choir. The touring ensemble of the Harlem Gospel Choir, one of the world’s most prominent gospel groups, the Angels offer a special blend of high spirited gospel music at its finest. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.





Dec. 28 – 31. (Sat. – Tues.) Hiromi Trio Project. The highly imaginative keyboardist returns to her home country in the company of bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.

Live Jazz: Roberta Gambarini and Kenny Burrell at Catalina Bar & Grill

September 14, 2013

By Don Heckman

Roberta Gambarini didn’t waste any time establishing her impressive jazz credentials at Catalina Bar & Grill Thursday night. Relying on her perfect pitch and her brilliant interpretive skills, she strolled on stage, picked up a microphone and began to sing a stunning version of Cole Porter’s “So In Love” without a whisper of accompaniment from her stellar trio (pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Willie Jones III). Nor was anything other than her mesmerizing voice required in an interpretation that thoroughly introduced Gambarini’s extraordinary talents.

Roberta Gambarini

Roberta Gambarini

And it was just the beginning of a night that – for the lucky folks who’d turned out for the show – thoroughly introduced her full range of vocal skills. Singing a capella, romping through swinging up tempos, scatting with the clarity and harmonic accuracy of an instrumentalist, finding the heart of ballads with her trio, dueting with her guest, Kenny Burrell, she gave a performance to remember.

The highlights came one after another: continuing with a high speed romp through “Nobody Else But Me,” followed by Gambarini’s take on the Dizzy Gillespie version of “Sunny Side of the Street”; a deeply moving blend of ”Porgy, I Is Your Woman” and “I Loves You Porgy” from Porgy and Bess.

The arrival of Burrell opened the way to more far-ranging selections of material, starting with a brisk “Just Squeeze Me,” followed by an exquisite Portuguese version of the classic bossa nova, “Chega De Saudade.” Shifting gears, Gambarini offered emotionally intimate renderings of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” called up memories of Billie Holliday with “Good Morning Heartache,” and followed with a steaming “Day In, Day Out,” delivered in another up-tempo display of her versatility.

Roberta Gambarini, Kenny Burrell and Chuck BerghoferChuck Kenny FFH

Gambarini then gracefully turned the stage over to Burrell. And the veteran guitarist, always a pleasure to hear whenever he takes a break from his multitude of responsibilities running the U.C.L.A. Jazz program, used the opportunity to offer a colorful medley of Duke Ellington songs reaching from “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” and “Prelude To A Kiss” to “A Sittin’ and a Rockin’.”

Appropriately, Gambarini returned to call up images of her native land with the lovely Italian song “Estate” (“Summer”). Finally, the musical banquet wrapped up with another hard-driving offering, this time the familiar blues of “Lester Leaps In.” Along the way, Gambarini used the microphone to create a convincing trumpet sound for a climactic improvised solo once again displaying her extraordinary musical inventiveness.

At a time when the jazz vocal world is overflowing with rapidly arriving young female talent, Gambarini stands well above the crowd. A third place finisher in 1998′s Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal competition, Grammy-nominated Gambarini still hasn’t begun to receive the recognition her remarkable talents fully deserve.

She performs at Catalina Bar and Grill again tonight (Saturday) with Burrell and her world class band. Don’t miss this too-rare opportunity to experience the pleasures of Roberta Gambarini’s music in full living color.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.

Live Music: Deana Martin at Vitello’s

May 5, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Second, even third, generation careers in show business aren’t exactly uncommon in the entertainment world.  And singer Deana Martin’s name alone indicates a legacy powerful enough to open the right doors.

But Martin, who began a three night run at Vitello’s on Friday night, has the skills to build a career on, regardless of her lineage.

That said, however, she titled this presentation – which she’s been doing in locations across the country –  “Deana Sings Dino” honoring her father, “The King of Cool”  And she was introduced from the stage, by her father’s video announcement.

Deana Martin

Deana Martin

She further underscored the connection by performing such songs identified with Dean Martin as  “Memories Are Made of This,” “That’s Amore,” ”You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You,” “Ain’t That A Kick in the Head,” “Everybody Loves Somebody” and “Volare.”  And she topped off the paternal references with a video duet on “True Love” that included a fascinating montage and photos of Martin family life.

Inevitably, one couldn’t help but listen to Deana’s interpretations with distant, but recurring, memories of how they were sung by her father.  Memories that were further revived by the arrangements played by her world class group – led by pianist and music director John Proulx, and featuring bassist Chuck Berghofer and guitarist John Chiodini.  Often emphasizing a gently swinging groove, the charts were reminiscent of those used by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and the other partners in the Rat Pack.

John Proulx and Deana Martin

John Proulx and Deana Martin

Add to that Deana’s amiable and laid back manner in her between songs commentaries.  Quick jokes came one after the other, interspersed with personal recollections of Dean Martin and such Rat Pack “uncles” as Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Observing her father and the “uncles” in action as she grew up in a show biz environment, Deana has clearly mastered all the entertainment elements that work for her as a performing artist.  To her credit – and unlike some of the singers in her generation – her performance overflowed with the confident, communicative manner of an utterly engaging entertainer.

Beyond all the legacy elements emphasized by the “Deana Sings Dino” aspects of the performance, there was the appealing musicality and interpretive lyricism present in everything she sang – nostalgic or otherwise.  In songs such as “Beyond the Sea,” “The Lady Is A Tramp” and “I’d Love To Get You On A Slow Boat To China,” she displayed the very special qualities that are uniquely her own.

And one suspects that Dean Martin, had he been present at Vitello’s, would have been proud of the fine, convincingly imaginative artist that his daughter has become.

Deana Martin and “Deana Sings Dino” continues at Vitello’s tonight.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Bob Barry

Live Jazz: Cat Conner’s “Birthday Bash” at Vitello’s

April 26, 2013

By Don Heckman

Jazz singer Cat Conner gave a birthday party to remember at Vitello’s Thursday night.  Actually, a “Birthday Bash,” as she described it, in which she and her close friend, Lee Hartley, sang their way through a delightful evening of song.

Christian Jacob. Cat Conner, Chuck Berghofer

Christian Jacob. Cat Conner, Chuck Berghofer

Cat Conner

Backed by the stellar trio of pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Ray Brinker, with creative contributions from saxophonist/clarinetist Gene “Cip” Ciprano, Conner and Hartley were clearly enjoying each of the numbers they sang in a nearly two hour program.

After the trio’s opening romp through “Stella By Starlight,” Conner dug into a jaunty “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” following it with “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and Dave Frishberg’s whimsical blues, “I Can’t Take You Nowhere” (which she dedicated to her mother.)  Here, as elsewhere, Conner displayed her warm, intimate way with a song.

Cat Conner and Lee Hartley

Cat Conner and Lee Hartley

Hartley, an impressive jazz artist in her own right, added her gently swinging “I Love Being Here With You” and an original song inspired by Nat “King” Cole.

There was much more to come, including “My Wish For You,” an intriguing version of a lovely Luis Bonfa melody from the film, Black Orpheus, with lyrics by Peggy Lee.  And a romp through “Mr. P.C.” featuring Berghofer’s articulate soloing.  Along with the occasional pairing of Conner and Hartley on tunes such as “I Mean You” and a lyrically revised “Girl Talk.”

Cat Conner, Gene "Cip" Cipriano and Lee Hartley

Cat Conner, Gene “Cip” Cipriano and Lee Hartley

Cipriano, playing clarinet (and calling up images of Artie Shaw), joined Conner and the rhythm section to duet on “Moonglow” and “Squeeze Me.”  Conner was also especially on target, continuing to focus on her musical storytelling via warm interpretations of “How Deep is The Ocean?” and “Embraceable You.”  She wound up the celebration with a high spirited romp through Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomsas.”

The birthday party climaxed with, appropriately, some birthday cake, and a lot of celebratory hugs between Conner and her listeners, most of whom seemed to be close friends and musical acquaintances.

Which wasn’t exactly what one expects from a mid-week gig.  But on this enjoyable evening, Conner, Hartley and their back-up trio found all the pleasant linkages between the music and the birthday celebration.  And, as oten happens at Vitello’s, the performance had the relaxed feeling of a living room jam session among close friends.

No wonder Cat was smiling for most of this night to remember.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.

Live Jazz: The Johnny Mandel Big Band

March 18, 2013

By Don Heckman

Johnny Mandel was at Vitello’s again Saturday night, leading a big band at the venue for the third time in a year.  Despite the familiarity of the music – or, perhaps, because of it — one couldn’t ask for better evidence of the long term quality of his achievements, as a composer, an arranger and a songwriter.

As in the previous appearances, the program was largely divided into two sets, with the first including most of the best-known Mandel classics, the second exploring some of his less familiar works.  In both sets, the music was utterly compelling, performed in dynamic fashion by an enthusiastic assemblage of Los Angeles’ finest players.

Johnny Mandel

Johnny Mandel

At 87, leading the musicians from behind a music stand positioned in front of the saxophone section, Mandel touched upon the many high points of his extraordinary career.  They came in engaging fashion, one memorable melody after another: “The Shadow of Your Smile,” played lyrically by trumpeter Carl Saunders; the theme music from “I Want To Live,” featuring the baritone saxophone of Bob Efford; the lovely film song, “Emily”; “Suicide is Painless” (the theme song from “M*A*S*H”).

Add to that Mandel’s fiery flag waver, “Not Really the Blues,” originally written for the Woody Herman Band, a quirky chart for the Artie Shaw Band inspired by the Crazy Cat cartoon show, and an equally hard swinging arrangement of “Centerpiece.”  And let’s not forget Mandel’s gift for writing classic song melodies: including a gorgeous arrangement of his “Close Enough For Love, written with Paul Williams, performed here with saxophonist Steve Wilkerson in the solo role; and an equally lyrical “Where Do You Start,” composed with the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Looking back over my previous reviews of the Mandel big band appearances at Vitello’s, I can see the potential for redundancy in my comments.  But there was no redundancy in the music.  Mandel’s originals, along with his arrangements, sound fresh and new each time they’re played.  And the pleasures of hearing them were aided by a stellar array of world class musicians.

Johnny Mandel leads his band

I won’t make a simple list of them.  But, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned, I can’t overlook the fine solo and section efforts of trumpeters Ron Stout, Bob Summers and Adolfo Acosta, trombonists Ira Nepus, Scott Whitfield, Phil Teele and Ryan Porter, and the extraordinarily versatile offerings of saxophonists/flutists/clarinetists Carol Chaikin, Keith Fiddmont and Ricky Woodard.  And, of course, the propulsive foundation provided by pianist John Campbell, guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Zach Albetta (playing the Mandel book for the first time).

So, as it turned out, three performances in a year were not too many. Not for Mandel’s music, which is always a delight to experience in bold, living colors.  Here’s looking forward to his next Vitello’s appearance with his Big Band – hopefully as a celebration of Johnny Mandel’s 88th birthday in November, along with the publication of his biography, which is reportedly in the works.

Photos by Faith Frenz.

Live Music: Deana Martin at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 25, 2012

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA.  As if her name wasn’t enough to identify her, Deana Martin was introduced in her Christmas show at Catalina Bar & Grill Friday night by a big screen video projection of her father.  That’s right, the late Dean Martin.

2nd and 3rd generation celebrity performers are nothing new in Los Angeles (and New York, for that matter).  Some have built successful careers on their own, despite (or because of?) their well-known names.  Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Natalie Cole come to mind among numerous others.

Deana Martin

But the enhanced visibility generated by names and lineage isn’t enough to create a career as a performer. It takes talent, as well.

A quality that Deana Martin has in abundance.

Performing with a sterling quartet – pianist/singer John Proulx, bassist Chuck Berghofer, guitarist John Chiodini and drummer M.B. Gordy – she was a non-stop dynamo of musical energy.

Blessed with a warm, intimate vocal quality, a gifted lyrical story-teller, Martin convincingly found her way into the musical heart of everything she sang.  Although one could detect – in an occasional tune – the timbres or the phrasing of her father, she clearly had her own interpretations of everything she sang.

Since it was her Christmas show, the seasonal items blossomed in abundance: “Silver Bells,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” “Let It Snow,” “It’s Christmas Once Again.”  And one of the high points of the show, reserved for the final segment, was an audio/video presentation of Martin singing “White Christmas” with the late Andy Williams..

Between songs, she was an engaging raconteur, telling tales about growing up in Beverly Hills, about greeting – and participating in — celebrity carol singing groups going from door to door at Christmas time.

Martin also sang numbers associated with her father or his friends.  Among them: “Come On-A My House” (Rosemary Clooney); “I Won’t Dance” (Frank Sinatra and/or Fred Astaire).  As well as – from her father’s songbook — “Volare,” “That’s Amore” and “Memories Are Made of This” (done with a Dean Martin video).

Further widening her presentation, she teamed up, humorously, with a few performers who had worked with her father, and sang a warm duet with pianist Proulx.  Her final song, appropriately, was her father’s signature “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

Well-planned, well-crafted and well-delivered, the show was the work of a performer whose talents reach well beyond her celebrity roots.  Entertaining as it was, however, one couldn’t help but wish to hear Martin some time in a setting that has nothing to do with her lineage, singing songs unrelated to her father or the Rat Pack, thoroughly revealing the unique talents that are her own.

Photo by Faith Frenz.

Picks of the Week: Nov. 21 – 25

November 21, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Nov. 23. (Fri.)  Chuck Manning-John Daversa Quartet.  Saxophonist Manning and trumpeter Daversa get together for an evening of adventurous improvisation.  They’re backed by Pat Senatore, bass and Dick Weller, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 23. (Fri.)  Deana Martin.  Yes, she’s Dean Martin’s daughter.  But Deana has transformed her musical inheritance into an appealing style of her own.  Catalina Bar & Grill  (323) 466-2210.

Ahmad Jamal

- Nov. 24. (Sat.) Ahmad Jamal.  The great jazz pianist, admired by Miles Davis, as well as  his legions of fans, makes a rare Southland appearance.  Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.    (714) 556-2787.

- Nov. 25. (Sun.)  Harry Allen and Larry Goldings.  Tenor saxophonist Allen combines a mainstream style with a contemporary imagination.  Keyboardist Goldings provides ideal backing, along with Chuck Berghofer, bass and Roy McCurdy, drums.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 25. (Sun.)  “A Tribute To Dinah Washington: Queen of the Blues.  Barbara Morrison with the BMPAC All Stars Band conducted by John Stephens. Who better than the versatile blues mistress Barbara Morrison to honor the Dinah Washington musical memory. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.


Roberta Gambarini

- Nov. 21 – 25. (Wed. – Sun.)  Roberta Gambarini. Italian native Gambarini has thoroughly established herself as one of the world’s finest jazz singers, regardless of origin. Hear her whenever you can.  Jazz Showcase.  http://www.jazzshowcase.com  (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Nov. 21 – 24. (Wed. – Sat.) Cyrille Aimee. With a French gypsy background and Dominican roots, Aimee – a runner up in the Thelonious Monk vocal competition – enhances her jazz skills with world music seasoning.  Birdland.     (212) 581-3080.

- Nov. 21 – 25.  (Wed. – Sun.)  Jason Moran and the Bandwagon. Currently one of the most critically praised jazz pianist/composers, Moran performs in a classic trio setting with  Taurus Mateen, bass, and Nasheet Waits, drums.  Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

Maria Schneider

- Nov. 20 – 25. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Maria Schneider Orchestra.  Schneider’s far-reaching musical imagination has brought compelling new timbres and adventurous performances to the classic big band setting. Jazz Standard.    (212) 889-2005.


- Nov. 22 – 24. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Sinne Eeg.  One of Denmark’s – and Europe’s – most admired jazz singers, Eeg celebrates the release of her new album, The Beauty of Sadness, recorded with a Danish national orchestra and her own quartet.   Jazzhus Montmartre.  (+45) 70 15 65 65.


Ravi Coltrane

- Nov. 23. (Fri.) The New Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  John Coltrane’s gifted, saxophone playing son Ravi is keeping the creative legacy of his father alive and well.  Paris New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.


- Nov. 21 – 24. (Wed. – Sat.)  Al Di Meola. Master guitarist Di Meola has an impressive  resume, reaching from his electric jazz fusion with Return to Forever to his superb solo acoustic outings.   Blue Note Milano.   02.69016888.


Nov. 22 – 25. (Thurs. – Sun.) and Nov. 27 & 28. (Tues. & Wed.)  Natalie Cole.  Nat ‘King” Cole’s daughter is a major star in her own right, singing with the authentic jazz inflections characteristic of her father’s finest work.  Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.

Live Jazz: John Proulx at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 9, 2012

By Don Heckman

It’s no news that female singers have been arriving on the jazz scene in the past few decades with far greater frequency than males.  Which makes it worth noticing when a male jazz singer with credentials as an instrumentalist makes an appearance.

John Proulx isn’t exactly a new jazz artist, either as a pianist or a singer.  In the decade or so since he arrived in Los Angeles, he has rapidly established himself as a first-call pianist with wide-ranging skills.  More recently, he’s won a Grammy award for a song he composed for Nancy Wilson.  And he’s begun to showcase his singing in his albums.

On Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill he introduced selections from his latest album, The Best Thing For You Would Be Me. In fact, he sang and played virtually all of the album’s selections.  Backed by most of the participants on the album – saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Ron Stout, drummer Joe La Barbera, bassist Chuck Berghofer and singer Sara Gazarek, with the added aid of guitarist John Chiodini (who was not on the album) – Proulx made an ambitious presentation of his diverse skills as pianist, singer and songwriter.

The John Proulx Band

Proulx opened the program with a sequence of tunes from a variety of sources: a pair of standards (his album title — “The Best Thing For You Would Be Me” and the Jimmy McHugh classic “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”); Cannonball Adderley’s “Wabash;” Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes;” and Joe Raposo’s Sesame Stree song, “Sing”).

That’s a challenging group of songs, dissimilar enough to call for vocal skills that are lyrically interpretive, rhythmically driven and aurally appealing.

John Proulx

At times, Proulx’s readings touched on all those qualities.  And on the up side, there was always a strong, propulsive swing in his vocals, ranging from a brisk articulation of melody to inventive scat singing.

The second half of the program, broadened to feature six Proulx originals, followed similar patterns.  Here, the interpretations were aided by the beautifully articulate vocal contributions of Gazarek, whose presence on Sarah McLachlin’s “Angel” and  Proulx’s “Love Is For Dreamers” and “Before We Say Goodnight” brought authenticity to each.

The final selections, climaxing with originals, were also enhanced by instrumental contributions from Sheppard, Stout, La Barbera and Chiodini.  One of the most appealing, “Here’s To the Chuckster,” featured Berghofer and Proulx together, in a song dedicated by Proulx to the veteran bassist.

Ultimately, one was left with a view of a musician/singer still working to find the most effective focus for his considerable skills. For that to be achieved, Proulx might consider the application of those skills in more musically expressive directions.  To emphasizing the telling of a musical story, remembering that a song is a musical tale.  To reducing his use of long, sometimes edgy notes (Checking out the master of musical phrasing, Frank Sinatra, might not be a bad idea).  To finding a better balance in his music between sounds and silences, recalling Miles Davis’ classic phrase, “The notes I don’t play are as important as the notes I do.”  It’s a thought that Chet Baker – whom Proulx clearly admires – understood well.

But the potential is already amply visible in Proulx’s work. When he gets all the right pieces together, that potential will reach skyward.

Photos by Bob Barry

Live Jazz: Roberta Gambarini at Catalina Bar & Grill

September 7, 2012

By Don Heckman

Anyone with a more than passing interest in world class jazz singing should make a reservation for tonight or tomorrow night at Catalina Bar & Grill.

Why? To hear Roberta Gambarini offer a set that is an entertaining display of jazz singing at its finest.  Add to that the virtual seminar in the techniques of jazz vocalizing that her performances offer.

Roberta Gambarini

Gambarini may have been born in Italy, but she grew up surrounded by jazz recordings.  Gifted with a magnificent sounding voice, a 3 to 4 octave range and perfect pitch, her natural skills could easily have led her into an operatic career.  But, to the benefit of jazz fans, she chose the improvisational art, and mastered it, on all counts – from inventive scatting, expressive storytelling and the phrasing of a jazz instrumentalist to an irresistible sense of swing.

And all of it was on stunning display at Catalina’s last night – Friday – the opening of a three night run.

Backed by pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Harvey Mason, Gambarini sang a program of surprisingly diverse songs, at a variety of tempos, in English, Italian, French and Spanish.

Looking gorgeous in a shimmering white beaded dress, she started her program with an immediate announcement of the scope of her abilities by singing a completely solo, a cappella version of the hit song from the musical Oliver, “Where Is Love?”  Then, spreading her creative net wide, she signaled Mason to kick off a drum intro, and dug into a high speed romp through Jerome Kern’s “Nobody Else But Me.”

A deeply grooving rendering of “No More Blues,” the English language version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega De Saudade,” came next.  Followed by her vocally brilliant version of a recording of Jimmy McHugh’s “Sunny Side of the Street,” including Gambarini’s vocalese versions of solos by Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins.

And that was just the beginning. The balance of the evening was a sumptuous banquet of music.  To mention just a few: a lovely version of a song by Astor Piazzolla, sung in French; a tender interpretation of Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low”; her intriguing take on Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade”; a thoroughly authentic Italian reading of “Estate.”

Add to that one of the program’s high points – a dramatically rendered pair of songs from the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: “Porgy You Are My Man” and “I Loves You Porgy.”  Listening to the way she brought the Gershwin tunes to life, I couldn’t help but hope to hear Gambarini invest her inner jazz sensibilities into more musical theatre pieces in the future.

The backing provided by Wofford, Berghofer and Mason was first rate.  And without a rehearsal.  It’s true, no rehearsal.  World class veterans all, they made the most of Gambarini’s charts and her occasional gestures of guidance.  They watched her approvingly in her ballad work, and responded with occasional glances of astonishment when she took off on one of her high flying vocal excursions.

As I said earlier, “jazz singing at its finest.”  And that’s rare.  Very simply, Roberta Gambarini – true jazz artist that she is, should be heard at every opportunity – by fans and students, as well as her colleagues in the jazz vocal art.

Photo by Faith Frenz.

Roberta Gambarini appears tonight, Sept. 7 and tomorrow night, Sept. 8, at Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Picks of a Holiday Week: July 4 – 8

July 4, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Barry Manilow

- July 4.  (Wed.)  Barry Manilow and July 4 Fireworks Spectacular.  A high energy celebration of the 4th.  With one soaring Manilow hit after another, a lot of patriotic music from the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Sarah Hicks.  And the usual spectacular pyrotechnics.  Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2040.

- July 6 & 7 (Fri. & Sat.)  Rodger Fox’s Wellington Jazz Orchestra.   A big jazz band from New Zealand?  They’re in town to make a recording, while giving Angeleno jazz fans a taste of jazz from the other side of the world.  Should be interesting. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Deana Martin

- July 6 & 7 (Fri. & Sat.)  Deana Martin.  Yes, she’s Dean Martin’s daughter, and the musical inheritance is obvious.  But it’s the way Deana  transforms that inheritance into her own expressiveness that makes her such an intriguing singer.  She’s backed by the stellar trio of Mike Lang, Chuck Berghofer, Jim Fox and Steve SchaefferCatalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- July 7. (Sat.)  Pete Christlieb Quartet.  Saxophonist Christlieb is at the top of everyone’s first call list – for big band jazz, small group, whatever.  And with good reason.  Here’s a chance to hear him in the spotlight, backed by Tom Ranier, piano, Pat Senatore, bass and Kendall Kay, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

- July 8. (Sun.)  Hiroe Sekine.  Pianist/composer/singer Sekine celebrates the release of her new CD, After the Fall.  With Larry Koonse, guitar, Bob Sheppard, saxophones, Edwin Livingston, bass, Aaron Serfaty, drums.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

- July 6 – 8. Fri. – Sun.)  Roy Ayers.  Vibraphonist Ayers moved quickly beyond his bebop roots into early jazz funk and, more recently, into funk, house music and other pop/jazz crossovers.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

New York

Carmen Lundy

- July 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Carmen Lundy.   Lundy is not only a gifted jazz singer, she’s also a talented songwriter, approaching both skills with a rich palette of musical creativity. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-89592.

- July 6. (Fri.)  Mark Helias: The Parlance of Our Times.  Bassist Helias leads alto saxophonist Tim Berne, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and drummer Mark Ferber in an exploration of “the lexicon of composition and improvisation practices presented over the last few decades.”   Cornelia St. Cafe.    (212) 989-9319.


- July 6 & 7. (Fri. & Sat.)  Jimmy Cobb, Joey DeFrancesco and Larry Coryell Trio.  A tribute to Jimmy Smith by a great trio of all-stars.  It would be hard to imagine three guys who could do it better.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.


John Scofield

- July 6. (Fri.)  John Scofield’s Hollowbody.  In his Hollowbody bands, guitarist Scofield sparks the creativity by juxtaposing his unique skills against other guitarists.  This time out, he’s working with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, as well as bassist Ben Street and drummer Bill StewartNew Morning Paris.   01 45 23 51 41.



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