Live Jazz: Diana Krall at the Greek Theatre

September 22, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, CA. One of the great pleasures of reviewing music is the rare opportunity to observe the creative evolution of a gifted artist. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, as it did at Diana Krall’s concert at the Greek Theatre Saturday night, it’s an experience to remember.

Diana’s Los Angeles concerts of the past few years have generally showcased her mastery of the classics in the Great American songbook, performed with backing ranging from the intimacy of her own quartets to the lush orchestral accompaniment of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Each of those events displayed her growing creative maturity. Always a natural musical story teller, she brought a heightening level of interpretive magic to every song she touched, adding new perspectives to music long familiar as part of the soundtrack of American life.

Diana Krall

Diana Krall

On Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, however, she revealed an even more compelling desire to expand the potential of her art. She did so while still retaining her deep connections with many of the songs her dedicated audiences love to hear her sing and play. While also adding intriguing, early ’20s selections from her latest album, Glad Rag Doll.

And that was just one aspect of this memorable performance.

Start with the fact that virtually all the music was illuminated by huge video projections of vintage film clips, all selected by Krall. Among the many highlights in the non-stop images: Groucho Marx romancing Margaret Dumont; George Raft dancing elegantly with Carole Lombard; and dozens of others, embracing everything from classic cartoons to black and white masterpieces.

Diana has often referred to a Canadian childhood in which she was introduced by her parents to the music and films of the ’20s, `30s and ’40s. And her long program – delivered without a break, and with a four-song encore — honored that influence by her choices of music and film clips, while positioning one of her father’s old gramophones on the front of stage left, and including a segment in which she sang while playing an old upright piano.

Add to that a selection of repertoire that included such Songbook classics as “We Just Couldn’t say Goodbye,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Just You, Just Me,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” and more. While including tunes associated with Nat “King” Cole and Bing Crosby, and adding songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Band, and Tom Waits. All of it delivered by Krall with convincing understanding of each of the song’s musical stories.

Diana Krall and her Band

Diana Krall and her Band

Krall was backed in her artistically ambitious endeavors by a superb group – guitarist Aram Bajakian, bassist Dennis Crouch, ukulele player Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren. Well-tuned to the eclectic styles her program demanded – hard swinging jazz, simmering rock and intimate balladry – they were the perfect choice to support her musical goals.

But the most fascinating subtext of the evening was the emergence of Diana Krall as a mature, evolved performer whose growing artistry has become balanced by equally magnetic skills as a communicator and an entertainer. It’s a rare combination, and Krall now expresses those skills with a convincing believability that firmly places her in the rarified group of Olympian artists she honored in her mesmerizing evening of music and visuals.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


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.

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Preview: The Monterey Jazz Festival 56

April 6, 2013

By Michael Katz

MFor those of us in love with the Monterey Jazz Festival, the longest six months of the year are the time between the final note of the last Sunday night show at the fairgrounds and the April 1 announcement of artists for the next MJF. That wait ended Monday morning with the lineup for MJF 56, on September 20-22. Putting together a festival of this repute is no small task for Artistic Director Tim Jackson. He’s got to book enough legitimate headliners to satisfy a sometimes prickly Arena ticket base, while maintaining the diversity and inventiveness that makes MJF such a treasure.

My immediate reaction: good news for Arena season ticket holders, with jazz virtuosos at every stop; good news for Grounds attendees, with the usual mix of big names and intriguing new performers visiting the four smaller venues, and challenging news for those of us who like to float between stages. There are just too many shows that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

The three evening Arena lineups are especially loaded.  For those of us who caught part of vocalist Gregory Porter’s rousing set at the Night Club last fall and wished we had seen more, wish granted. Porter will be opening the show Friday night. Next up is the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, playing a specially commissioned tribute to the late Dave Brubeck. Filling out the usual Latin jazz spot capping the Friday night program is Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club. That is quite an opening night slate.

Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano

Saturday evening promises to be one of the most creative in recent memory. Leading off is Artist-In-Residence saxophonist Joe Lovano, teaming with trumpeter Dave Douglas, performing Sound Prints, music inspired or composed by Wayne Shorter. The middle slot is led by bassist Dave Holland, an MJF favorite. He brings his quartet, Prism, featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks, pianist Craig Taborn and superb drummer Eric Harland. Closing out the show is Bobby McFerrin, touring with his Spirityouall release.

Diana Krall

Diana Krall

The Sunday show is opened by Wayne Shorter, celebrating his 80th birthday, with his all-star quartet featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blades. Closing the festival is Diana Krall. There’s little need to embellish; you clearly wouldn’t want to miss any of these shows. And yet…

And yet, check out a few of the artists performing at the Grounds venues: Friday night has pianist Uri Caine playing three sets at the Coffee House and vocalist Carmen Lundy at the Night Club, as well as a reprise performance by Gregory Porter, and separate ensemble appearances by Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas. Saturday night has the Brubeck Brothers quartet with a tribute to their dad; Ravi Coltrane, the Charlie Hunter-Scott Amendola duo, pianists Marc Cary and Craig Taborn, the Douglas-Lovano Sound Prints band, and classic vocalist Mary Stallings.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Sunday features perhaps the festival’s greatest dilemma.  You wouldn’t dare miss Wayne Shorter or Diana Krall, but the annual B-3 organ blowout at Dizzy’s Den opens with guitarist Anthony Wilson’s trio featuring Larry Goldings and Jim Keltner,  and closes with the great Dr. Lonnie Smith. Meanwhile, over in the Night Club, alto player Lou Donaldson opens, and pianist Cedar Walton brings his latest Eastern Rebellion to close the show.  Usually music fans are too exhausted to be running between venues by Sunday night, but MJF 56 may prove to be the exception.

The two afternoon schedules offer their own pleasures: an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, kids, world music and a few things that defy description.  The Saturday line-up has morphed over the years from blues to roots music, to none-of-the-above. This year The Relatives, a gospel-funk group, leads off the Arena show and also gets the 5:30 slot at the Garden Stage. If you haven’t heard them before the festival, don’t worry, you will — along with the hundreds of fans hanging from tree limbs and lined up behind the bleachers.

George Benson

George Benson

George Benson has the headline billing at the Arena.  Benson was on the short list of great post-Wes Montgomery guitarists in the seventies before changing his orientation to R and B type vocals, but he can still “play this-here guitar,” as evidenced by his recent Guitar Man CD. Out on the grounds, the Saturday Garden Stage show is always a blast from start to finish, even if you aren’t familiar with any of the acts. And if you are looking for some straight ahead jazz amidst all the blues-funk-whatever, bari sax and flutist Claire Daly has a Monk-influenced program at 4 pm in the Night Club. And, as per the last several years, one of our favorite vocalists, Judy Roberts, will be performing with sax man Greg Fishman throughout the festival on the Yamaha AvantGrand stage.

David Sanborn

David Sanborn

Sunday afternoon features college and high school bands, highlighted by the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, which will feature a guest appearance by the ubiquitous Mr. Lovano. As usual, I warn all of you not to miss this band – these kids will amaze you. Bob James and David Sanborn are the headliners for the Sunday afternoon show. I’ve always loved Sanborn’s blues and funky rock-tinged tenor sax, and James has done some great work as a composer and keyboardist. They have sometimes tailed off into the Ooze of Smooth, but their band, featuring drummer Steve Gadd, is hitting the major jazz festival circuit this summer, including the Playboy Jazz Festival in LA and the Blue Note Festival in New York, so here’s hoping for some classic jazz riffs from these guys.

I know I’ve left out a few highlights.  There are always acts I haven’t heard of that turn out to be knockouts, and new combinations that enthrall. Add that in with the usual mix of festival food, lovely Monterey weather and the camaraderie of new and old friends, and you’ve got an unforgettable experience.

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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 at the Hollywood Bowl: Diana Krall and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

August 26, 2012

By Don Heckman

Diana Krall

Diana Krall just keeps getting better.  She strolled across the stage at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night with all the confident panache of the major musical star she has become.

What a difference from the Diana I knew nearly two decades ago.  The Diana who then sometimes remarked about her recurrent fantasy that she might trip on the hem of her gown and fall to the stage if she took more than two steps away from the safety of her piano bench.

But that’s all gone now.  Saturday night’s Diana, a musical gem in the elegant setting of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by her close friend Alan Broadbent, positively glowed in a performance embracing the full range of music – vocal, instrumental and both – that her art now possesses.

In addition to the Philharmonic, she was also in the company of her regular creative associates, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Kariem Riggins.  Together and individually they played with the full range of swing, subtlety and sophistication that Krall’s interpretations demand, with Wilson’s soloing serving as both a catalyst and a counter to her vocals.

In her early years, Krall’s singing often seemed driven by the rhythms and the flow of her piano playing rather than the lyrics of a song.  Since then, she has become a convincing musical story teller, finding the heart and expressing the inner meanings of songs via the phrasing and rhythms of jazz.

The Diana Krall Quartet

Those qualities were especially apparent in her renderings of “I Just Found Out About Love,” “Let’s Face the Music” (including the verse), “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face” and Gordon Jenkins’ emotionally rich “Goodbye,” done as an encore with the Philharmonic.  Add to that her atmospheric version of Jobim’s bossa nova classic, “Corcovado” and a pair of briskly swinging takes on “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Pick Yourself Up.”  Her unexpected shift, at one point, into a delightful version of the Beatle’s “Come Together,” suggested a whole new area of repertoire for her to explore

Anthony Wilson

And there was a lot more: Wilson’s soloing on “Love Letters,” “I Was Doing All Right” and “Cheek To Cheek”; Hurst’s bass solo on “Do It Again”; and Riggins’ sturdy, propulsive drumming throughout.

The orchestral arrangements performed by the Philharmonic were mostly provided by Broadbent and German arranger Claus Ogerman – settings exquisitely designed to provide rich texture for Krall’s voice while capturing the mood and the meaning of a song.  Broadbent also opened the performance with several of his own impressive works for orchestra.

Four years ago, I reviewed a Krall concert at the Hollywood Bowl with virtually all the same participants (except for drummer Riggins).  I had a carp or two to make then about some of her vocal tonal qualities.  But no more.  Her work now is admirable in every aspect.  A mature, imaginative and assured musical artist, she has accomplished the rare feat of balancing  multi-layered creativity with an abundant capacity to entertain and illuminate.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson.


Picks of the Week: Aug. 20 – 26

August 21, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Alison Balsom

- Aug. 21. (Tues.)  McGegan conducts Haydn.  Nicholas McGegan conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of Papa Haydn’s finest, including the Alleluia Symphony and the Drumroll Symphony.  Add to that an appearance by the brilliant British trumpeter Alison Balsom performing the Haydn Trumpet Concerto.  The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 22. (Wed.) Anita Baker.  Esperanza Spalding.  A pair of the finest jazz/pop/r&b crossover singers in the world make a rare Bowl appearance.  Baker will no doubt perform her  new hit digital single, “Lately,”  “Sweet Love” and “Giving You the Best That I’ve Got” and Spalding will display some of the dynamic singing and bass playing that brought her a Grammy new star award.  (323) 850-2000.  The Hollywood Bowl. 

- aug. 22. (Wed.) Annie Sellick.  I once described singer Sellick as “an utterly unique personality.”  And she’s accomplished that by transforming influences — such as Janis Joplin — toher own personal (and personable) style.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Aug. 22. (Wed.) Kofi Baker’s Tribute to Cream.  Up close and personal with one of the great rock bands.  Baker (son of Ginger Baker), drums.  Fran Banish, guitar, Rick Fierabracci, bass.  Baked Potato.    (818) 980-1615.

- Aug. 23. (Thurs.)  Midsummer Mozart.  Nicholas McGegan again conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of delightful summer music — this time by Mozart.  The featured solo artist will be Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud, making his debut Bowl appearance in a performance of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4.  (323) 850-2000.  The Hollywood Bowl.

Christian McBride

- Aug. 23 – 26. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Christian McBride Quartet.  He was everybody’s first call bassist when he was barely out of his teens.  But McBride’s ambitions have reached out to embrace big band writing (and leading) and wide activities as an educator, curator and administrator.  Here, he’s back to basics, leading his own fine trio.  Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- Aug. 24. (Fri.)  The Kevin Toney 3.  The “New American Suite” tour.  Composer/pianist Toney introduces selections from the classically-inspired compositions in his new recording.  He’ll be backed by bassist Michael Bradford and drummer Chris Coleman.  Vitello’s.

Diana Krall

- Aug. 24 & 25. (Fri. & Sat.)  Diana Krall.  It’s been less than two decades since jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall released her first album, at a time when she was honing her skills in L.A. — much admired, but with low visibility.  Since then, she’s become an international star, selling albums in the millions, maturing into one of the finest jazz vocalists of this, or any, generation.   Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 25.  (Sat.)  Dale Fielder Quartet.  Saxophonist Fielder’s versatility reaches across saxophones  from the baritone up to the soprano.  But his versatility is not simply technical, it’s enhanced by a rich musical understanding of the qualities of each instrument, combined with an inventive musical imagination.  He’ll perform with bassist Pat Senatore, pianist Theo Saunders and bassist Ramon BandaVibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Aug. 24 – 26. (Fri. – Sun.)  A Tribute to Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgmery.  Organ jazz trios and quartets never got any more exciting and imaginative than they did in the hands of Smith and Montgomery.  But this ensemble, celebrating the masters, comes close.  And how could it be otherwise, with Joey DeFrancesco, Jimmy Cobb, Larry Coryell and Steve Cotter.  Yoshi’s Oakland.  http://www.yoshis.com/oakland/jazzclub/artist/show/2768  (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

- Aug. 21 – 26. (Tues. – Sun.)  Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin.  A pair of the path-finding masters of the music generally grouped under the titles of smooth jazz, funk, crossover and instrumental pop get together for one of their many musical encounters.  Expect to be hugely entertained by a pair of guys who have never abandoned their straight ahead roots. Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

- Aug. 23 – 26. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Ira Sullivan Quartet.  81 year old Sullivan is a truly iconic jazz figure — a superb player on trumpet, saxophone and flute, whose playing career has reached from gigs with Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Roy Eldridge to Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and beyond.  Still a remarkable improvisational artist, he should be heard at any opportunity.   Jazz Showcase.     (312) 360-0234.

New York

Michael Brecker

- Aug. 21 – 23.  (Tues. – Thurs.)  Celebrating Michael Brecker.  The music of the late, great saxophonist is featured in all its far-reaching glories by a band with all the skills to do it right: Joey Calderazzo, piano and musical director, Ravi Coltrane, saxophones, James Genus, bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums.  With special guests.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

- Aug. 21 – 26. (Tues. – Sun.)  Trio Da PazThe Music of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto.  The Trio Da Paz — guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka da Fonseca reach back into the roots of bossa nova with the spendid aid of saxophonist Harry Allen, vibist Joe Locke  and singer Maucha AdnetDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  (212) 258-9595.

London

- Aug. 25. (Sat.)  A Portrait of Jaco”  The Laurence Cottle Big Band.  Bassist Laurence Cottle, a world class instrumentalist in his own right, showcases the influences — both instrumental and compositional — that have impacted him from the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius.  Ronnie Scott’s. (0) 20 7439 0747.

Berlin

Celine Rudolph

- Aug. 21 – 25. (Tues. – Sat.  Celine Rudolph.   Singer Rudolph’s urban oriented jazz  blurs the boundaries between musical styles, finding common ground where little seems to exist.  Appropriately, her musicians come from locations such as Lisbon, Paris and Berlin.  She’ll no doubt feature songs from her CD, Salvador. A-Trane.    030/313 25 50.


Live Jazz: The Gerald Wilson Big Band at Catalina Bar & Grill

May 7, 2012

By Michael Katz

Gerald Wilson took a near-capacity crowd at Catalina’s on a Tour De Jazz Thursday night. The 93 year old composer/arranger/leader,  possessed of undiminished enthusiasm, spun musical and verbal tales that began with his days in the Jimmie Lunceford Band and included Basie and Ellington, with deft nods to Stravinsky, Puccini and Miles Davis, not to mention two more generations of his own family.

Gerald Wilson

The opening number, “Blues For The Count,” mixed in tributes to Basie and Lunceford, starting with Brian O’Rourke’s bouncy piano intro and opening splashes by Randall Willis on alto sax and Jeff Kaye, the first of three trumpeters to solo during the evening. Anthony Wilson kept up the rhythm, Freddie Green-like, and the band featured a new wrinkle with violinist Yvette Devereaux. Amplifying a violinist to stand up to an 18 piece band is a challenge; while the first go around was a bit strident, Devereaux adapted as the show progressed, with some splendid work later in the evening.

Wilson’s 18 piece band has a rhythm backbone that features his son, Anthony, well-established on the national scene by now as guitarist for Diana Krall, and  O’Rourke, for two decades his regular pianist.  The dominant section of the band, though,  is the saxophones, a Wilson trademark, blending harmonies over a six man group. Kamasi Washington was the lead voice on tenor with Carl Randall close behind; Willis and Mike Nelson split up the alto duties, with Nelson doubling on flute; and Louis Taylor and Terry Landry filled out the bottom on baritones.

Anthony Wilson took over the band’s direction for his composition, “Virgo,” written for his father’s 90th birthday. It began with a lovely intro by O’Rourke, backed by muted trumpets, then gave way to Wilson’s upbeat soloing. The sax front line took over from there, featuring dueling altoists Nelson and Willis.

Gerald Wilson’s latest album, Legacy (Mack Avenue), features several adaptations of classical works. “Variations on a Theme by Stravinsky” is based on “Firebird.” The performance had an intense, urban feel to it, reminiscent of some of the film scores of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Kamasi Washington provided the fire on tenor sax and Ron Barrows contributed a piercing trumpet solo.

Wilson then handed the baton over to the third generation of his family, grandson Eric Otis, whose paternal grandfather was R&B great Johnny Otis. Eric led his composition, “September Sky,” a soft-toned elegy that featured Mike Nelson on flute, as well as the third trumpet soloist Harry Kim.

Wilson, weaving stories from his days with Basie and Ellington, held forth for nearly two hours, only stepping aside the two aforementioned times. The breadth of his work is enormous. There was another classical piece, “Variations on a Theme by Puccini,” which featured violinist Devereaux, now comfortably adapted into the sound mix, as well as the two bari sax players, Taylor and Landry.  There were a couple of standards, brought to life by Wilson’s arrangements. “Perdido,” by Ellington and Juan Tizol, was ushered in by O’Rourke and the sax section, with some rousing solos by Nelson and Carl Randall. The trombone section, led by Les Benedict, didn’t get a lot of soloing this evening, but provided stout section playing throughout. Then there was “Milestones,” another Wilson arrangement which turned the Miles Davis tune into a terrific big band piece, featuring some great give and take with tenors Washington and Randall, and Anthony Wilson breaking loose on guitar.

Wilson closed with “Viva Tirado,” which he wrote in 1962 and was turned into a top forty hit by El Chicano in 1970. For the Wilson band it remains a signature, blow-the-roof-off –the-joint finale. It started with the familiar theme, then Jeff Kaye delivered a trumpet burst and Kamasi Washington belted out another funky tenor solo. Anthony Wilson and Yvette Devereaux took over from there with a down and dirty string duel that had the audience howling. By the end, all the horns were standing, drummer Mel Lee was maintaining some type of order in the back, and the crowd was on their feet as well.

Gerald Wilson presided over it all, a living testament to the vibrancy of Jazz Past, Present and Future.

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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.


Katz of the Day: Reflections on Mountain Dew

March 9, 2012

By Michael Katz

The revelation that Stephen Colbert is really a folkie at heart wasn’t all that surprising, if you follow his show. Still, as a retired camp counselor, it was a kick to see him with Don Fleming, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello last night, listening to old reel to reel tape recordings from the collection of folklorist Alan Lomax. Being the possessor of innumerable Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary albums, I was well aware of Lomax and the roots of the music that extend back to Woody Guthrie and beyond. But when they returned from a commercial break to actually sing, it was an old Appalachian folk tune that was way up on the North Star Camp hit list of the 60’s and ‘70s: “Mountain Dew.” I won’t say that Emmylou and Elvis sang it in the same way that a bunch of kids from mostly well-to-do Jewish homes did around the campfire, but still:  Gimme some of that good old mountain dew, mountain dew, and them that refuse it are few (Are few!) You’ll feel no pain, while it drives you insane…

Okay, you get the picture.

Stephen Colbert

If I were to pick the three songs that we sang most from that genre, I would go with “Mountain Dew,” “Shanty Town” (It’s only a shanty, in old Shanty Town… The roof is so slanty, it touches the ground…) and “Goodnight Irene.” The latter, written by Leadbelly, became a sort of emblem for us in the mid-seventies, thanks to one particular counselor with a large collection of Woody Guthrie albums – I’ll just call him “Tom” — and to this day when I hear “Goodnight Irene” I still think of a couple hundred campers and counselors on the last night of camp, holding hands, rocking gently in the cool Wisconsin night.

So of course, when Colbert and friends came back from the last commercial break, they were singing “Goodnight Irene,” with Costello on the uke and Colbert along on guitar and vocals. You can hear the whole song:

Diana Krall

Now I have to admit I’m still a little sore at Elvis Costello for up and marrying Diana Krall, extinguishing a torch that I’d been carrying since I’d seen her on a Tuesday night at a half-empty Jazz Bakery in 1995, singing from her Only Trust Your Heart CD, long before anyone knew of her. I flashed forward to a night at Catalina’s in Hollywood, not too long after that. I’d come to see pianist Benny Green’s group. It was Ray Brown’s birthday, and he was in the crowd. The great bassist being one of Diana’s mentors, she had slipped in unannounced for the celebration. She was sitting alone at the bar for what seemed to be the longest time, and I tried to gather enough courage to walk over and introduce myself. If I had only known she would eventually fall for a guy who could sing all the verses of “Mountain Dew.”  And play “Goodnight Irene” on the ukulele. I could do that! (Well, not the ukulele part.)

Well, the rest is history. Diana and Elvis got married in a castle in England. I now envision them sitting in front of the hearth, on a foggy, windswept night, sipping imported moonshine and singing the chorus to Shanty Town: I’d give up a palace, if I were a king. It’s more than a palace, it’s my everything…

Okay, maybe not.

But I can still do all the verses to “MTA,” if anyone’s listening.

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

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s new personal blog, Katz of the Day.


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