Live Music: Robert Davi at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

July 26, 2014

By Don Heckman

Robert Davi was back at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Thursday night. And that was great news for fans of the Great American Songbook – as well as fans of Great American pop singing, which Davi does brilliantly.

A highly visible actor, Davi is one of the most memorable tough guys since the era of Humphrey Bogart. In his first film, Contract On Cherry Street, he shared the spotlight with Frank Sinatra, a forecast of a connection that would unfold in his music career. He was also seen as the villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond film, License To Kill. Add to that his presence in the TV series, Profiler and dozens of other pictures, ranging from Diehard, Showgirls and The Goonies to the more recent films The Iceman and The Expendables 3.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Musically, he’s one of the most authentic successors to the Sinatra style. His recent album, Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance, hit #6 in Billboard‘s Top 10 Jazz Chart.

But his achievements as an actor and a singer – despite their stylistic orientation – cannot be described as type-casting. Whatever assignment Davi takes on, in both arenas, he makes his own. And his Thursday night performance at Vibrato was a definitive example of how he has transformed his affection for the Sinatra style into a uniquely engaging musical expressiveness. And he has done so while including a substantial number of Sinatra related songs in his catalog.

Singing to a packed house at Vibrato, Davi was backed by the stellar ensemble of pianist/music director Randy Waldman, vibist Emil Richards, guitarist Mitch Holder, saxophonist/flutist Gene “Cip” Cipriano and drummer Dave Tull.

Robert Davi and his band at Vibrato

Robert Davi and his band at Vibrato

As in any Davi performance, the first aspect one noticed was the rich, warm intensity of his voice. Trained operatically, blessed with a superb natural instrument, he used his remarkable vocal assets at the service of his equally impressive interpretive skills.

The program sparkled with Sinatra-related tunes, among them the opening “I’ve Got The World On A String,” as well as “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Tender Trap,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and a lot more. Davi sang most of them while roving among the tables with a wireless microphone, delighting his enthusiastic listeners by delivering his songs with up close musical intimacy.

There were other intriguing moments in the program, as well. Shifting into his humorous mode, Davi – who recently returned from working on a film in Moscow – described meeting the “Russian Sinatra.” Imitating what he heard, Davi sang “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else” with his version of a Russian accent.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

In a very different mode, he offered a dedication to Maya Angelou before singing “Old Man River,” with the full range of his remarkable voice, then following it with “River Stay Away From My Door.” Interestingly both songs were performed by both Sinatra and Paul Robeson.

Add to that the rarely heard Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart song (which was also performed by Sinatra) “I Love My Wife.” In addition, Davi included a touching version of “Send In the Clowns,” yet another example of his expanding catalog of songs.

There was one more aspect to this extraordinary evening which was, in addition to its entertainment, a benefit for the organization “America’s Mighty Warriors.” Davi has long been a supporter of the men and women in America’s armed forces. And, midway through the performance actor Jon Voigt introduced Debbie Lee, founder of the organization, whose son, Marc Allen Lee, was killed in action in Iraq while defending his companions.

To Find Out More about “America’s Mighty Warriors” click HERE.

Appropriately, Davi also sang “The House I Live In,” from the short 1946 film of the same name (which featured Sinatra) opposing anti-semitism and racial prejudice.

In sum, the Thursday night performance at Vibrato was memorable in many ways. And Robert Davi deserves full credit for bringing all its elements together. More than a singer and an actor, he is an artist with his own growing, creative vision.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Here, There & Everywhere: The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts

May 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Describing Herb Alpert as a philanthropist doesn’t accurately identify the full generosity of his activities over recent decades. Many of his awards have been institutional, to UCLA, USC, CalArts and beyond. And in each of those cases, his generosity has had a significant impact upon the effectiveness of their music education programs.

But Alpert has done much more. For the past twenty years, his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has annually given $75,000 prizes each to five mid–career, risk–taking artists in dance, film/video, music, theatre, and visual arts.

“Over the last twenty years,” says Alpert, “we’ve been lucky enough to have given a boost to choreographers, musicians, visual and media artists, and theatre makers, those who keep on searching, and making powerful, spirited work. For all of us to enjoy…or not.”

Last Friday, Alpert and his wife Lani Hall hosted the announcement of his year’s awards at an annual award lunch. And, once again, the line up of winners included an impressive array of creative artists.

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, DAniel Joseph Martinez

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, Daniel Joseph Martinez

Here are the winners in the various categories, along with comments from Irene Borger, Director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, regarding the reasons for their selection:

- Dance: Tap dancer Michelle Dorreance. Chosen for her “inventive sophistication and transporting the field into radically new places.”

- Music: Composer, avant-garde saxophonist and sound artist Matana Roberts. Chosen for her charismatic, powerful renderings of sound.”

- Film/Video: Documentary Filmmaker Deborah Stratman. Chosen for her “important body of films, and the ways she grapples with tough issues.”

- Theatre: Theatre artist Annie Dorsen. Chosen for her “audacious investigations, unrelenting pursuit of ideas, and new theatrical forms.”

- Visual Arts: Post-conceptual artist Daniel Joseph Martinez. Chosen for his “his fearless, continually evolving practice, unwavering commitment to art and politics, to the field, and to Los Angeles.”

Alpert summed up the significance of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts in a final comment, perfectly reflecting the adventurousness of his own long career as an imaginative, improvising jazz artist always in search of new ideas:

“What happens,” says Alpert, “when you support artists with that special spark? You don’t know — and that’s exactly part of the magic.”

It’s a magic that Alpert has either been creating or supporting – and sometimes both – over the course of the music he’s been making from the early days of the Tijuana Brass to his most recent recordings and performances with his wife Lani Hall Alpert.

Add to that the equally magical works Alpert has been producing in his remarkable career as a highly regarded painter and sculptor. No wonder he relates so empathically with the simlarly imaginative winners of his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.

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Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision courtesy of the Herb Alpert Foundation.

 

 


Live Jazz: Ariana Savalas at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill, Jazz…etc.

April 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA. Ariana Savalas. The name may have a familiar ring to it. Especially the surname “Savalas” which will be familiar to most fans of television and movies. And especially familiar when a first name is also included, adding up to “Telly Savalas,” the late actor best known for playing the title role in the ’70s crime drama Kojak and numerous villains in dozens of films.

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas is Telly Savalas’ daughter (the youngest of six siblings), and a rapidly emerging actress and musical star in her own right. Her performance at Vibrato on Thursday night – one of her too rare appearances in the Southland – was an impressive display of her creative skills. Not only is Ariana a musical artist who delivered her songs with the gripping qualities of a born musical story-teller. She also engaged her audiences between songs with a warm blend of wit and humor.

Backed by the stellar ensemble of Joe Bagg, Andy Senasi and Steve Venz, Ariana made the most of a program of songs reaching from standards to her own originals. Kicking off her set with the Yiddish classic, “Bei Mir Bistu Shein,” she opened with a dynamic interpretation, clearly pleasing the overflow crowd.

Ariana Savalas and her band

Ariana Savalas and her band

Ariana followed with one appealing standard after another: “You and the Night and the Music,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “I See Your Face Before Me,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Making Whoopie” and more. Each was interpreted with her unique creative view.

Corky Hale

Corky Hale

Some of the additional intriguing moments of the evening took place when veteran singer/pianist/harpist Corky Hale – who has been an avid supporter of Ariana’s rising star – moved from her seat in the audience on stage to the piano bench. Backing Ariana’s intimate renderings of several tunes, Corky also added a brief but appealing vocal interpretation of her own.

Ariana followed with an expanded display of her versatility, singing several of her original songs, as well as  the intriguing “Mechanical Man,” and accompanying herself on both piano and ukulele.

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

No wonder the restless audience insisted upon warming up in the glow of Ariana Savalas’ musical artistry, asking for as many encores as she would provide. The result was another of the many nights to remember at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Let’s hope that, in future weeks and months, there’ll be more frequent performances by this gifted young talent.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. 

 


Live Music: James DeFrances at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

April 3, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

The line kept coming to mind Tuesday night at Herb Alpert’s elegant restaurant and jazz club Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc, while we were listening to singer James DeFrances.  No, not because DeFrances was thinking – or even singing – about New York. He’s actually from the Philadelphia area.

James DeFrances

James DeFrances

But the fresh-faced, ambitious young vocalist (he’s 24) performed with the sort of enthusiasm present in the classic Kander/Ebb song about the Big Apple. Except that – for DeFrances – the line applied to his rapidly accelerating career in Los Angeles.

His performance at Vibrato also had another “New York, New York” connection. And that, of course, was the impact that Frank Sinatra has had upon DeFrances’ musical vision.

It’s not surprising that a talented young male singer would choose Sinatra as a model – especially when such highly successful performers as Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr. have preceded him in his affection for Ol’ Blue Eyes.

On Tuesday night DeFrances, appropriately tuxedoed, sang a program of songs overflowing with Sinatra references. Starting with “The Girl From Ipanema” he shifted quickly into a hard-driving “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Pat Senatore and James DeFrances

Pat Senatore and James DeFrancis

He followed with “The Way You Look Tonight,” “ They Can’t Take That Away From Me” before winding up with “All The Way” and “Just In Time.”

DeFrances sang the ballads – especially “All The Way” – with warm musicality. And rhythm tunes such as “Witchcraft” and “It Had To Be You” were done with propulsive, briskly swinging energy.

The Sinatra inspiration was present in most of the tunes. At his best, DeFrances made the most of the connection, usually shaping his interpretation well within the templates of the original Sinatra versions.

But the finest moments came in the passages in which his own warm, youthful sound and lyrical expressiveness took charge of his singing. And one could sense the impressive future that DeFrances faces, especially as he moves beyond the Sinatra references into his own mature interpretations.

Still relatively unfamiliar to the wider pop audience, DeFrances’ performance clearly showcased his growing skills as one of the significant male artists rapidly emerging into the arena of jazz and big band oriented pop music.

Pat Senatore, James DeFrances and Tina Raymond

He was superbly backed by the trio of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Tina Raymond. Filling in before the show opened and on the set breaks, the trio romped through their own program of standards, bringing dynamic enthusiasm to songs reaching from “Emily” and “Autumn Leaves” to “The More I See You.”

Working closely with the solid musical embrace of Ranier, Senatore and Raymond, DeFrances clearly established his future potential, thoroughly underscoring his ability to “make it anywhere.”

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 20, 2014

By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert

Herb Alpert

Bel Air, CA. It was another rare performance to remember Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. On stage, veteran jazz trumpeter, band leader and club owner Herb Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall, were backed by their fine rhythm team: pianist/keyboardist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Offering a program reaching from jazz classics and Songbook standards to a medley of tunes from the hit recordings of Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, the performance took place at the center of the rich, colorful environment Alpert has been creating for Vibrato since he first bought the Bel Air club and transformed it into his perspective of what a fine jazz club/restaurant can be. In the process, his paintings and sculptures – abstract but visually gripping – combined with the re-designing of the room to provide the perfect setting for his always-engaging music.

There were no real surprises in the program for anyone who’s heard Herb and Lani in their recent performances at Vibrato. But no worries there. Whether Herb was playing “A Taste of Honey” or singing “This Guy’s in Love with You”; whether Lani was singing Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance” or the bossa nova delight “O Pato,” the results were always fascinating.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Hearing repetitions of familiar songs can be less than appealing from artists who basically play their “hits” like living juke boxes. With Herb and Lani, however, hearing them perform over the years –singing and playing together — has provided unique opportunities to experience a pair of gifted artists bring new interpretive perspectives to everything they played and sang. As they did on this memorable evening.

Herb has always had a gift for melodic paraphrasing in his solos, and recent years have seen him find even more expressiveness in his improvising, often suggesting the sort of clear-cut, lyrical melody-making long associated with Miles Davis.

Lani Hall

Lani Hall

Lani has been a fine musical story teller since the release of her first album Sundown Lady in the ’70s. In reviewing that album for the New York Times, I referred to her “mix of drama, song, soul and universal emotion that uncovers the real pathos in the lyrics of a song.” Which is precisely what she did in this performance with a deeply emotional interpretation of “Fly Me To The Moon.”

Add to that the superb support of the rhythm section of Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro, creating a warm setting for Herb and Lani, with Cantos contributing a briskly rhythmic scat version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and Jiffry offering some guitar-like bossa nova backing on his bass.

In sum, call it a mesmerizing musical offering performed with dynamic creativity. No wonder that the overflow audience responded enthusiastically to every song, demanding and getting encores, and wishing for more.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 5, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s always a pleasure to hear Herb Alpert and Lani Hall up close and personal. The veteran showbiz couple, whose prolific careers reach back to the ’60s, are still at the peak of their considerable creative powers.

On Thursday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., the elegant, Bel Air night club founded by Alpert, they celebrated the release of their new album, Steppin’ Out, with one of their too-rare Southland appearances.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

And the results were memorable – as they so often are when Alpert and Hall are on stage, especially in their own room, working before an enthusiastic, supportive crowd, backed by the stellar accompaniment of pianist/singer Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro.

Lani Hall

Lani Hall

The selections reached across the Great American Songbook, providing an especially gripping set of classic tunes for Hall to display her mesmerizing story-telling skills. Among the most compelling interpretations, her songs ranged from “Moondance,” “Fever,” “Fly Me To the Moon” and “Let’s Face the Music” to “All In the Game” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (brightened by a hard grooving scat contribution from Cantos).

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Herb Alpert

On some pieces, Alpert played burnished trumpet solos before joining Hall in intimate vocalizing. On “This Guy’s In Love with You,” he sang (and played) the 1968 Burt Bacharach/Hal David song that resulted in Alpert’s first #1 single. Both his trumpet playing and his singing affirmed the lyricism – vocally and instrumentally – that is at the heart of his music. Gifted with a knack for melody, he applied it to every song he touched, whether singing with a warmly intimate vocal interpretation or arching through his characteristically embracing trumpet lines.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

I’ve been writing about this remarkable couple – individually, paired and collectively (Alpert with the Tijuana Brass, Hall with Brazil 66) – since the late ’60s. And each performance I’ve experienced, live and on recording, was the work of a pair of gifted musical artists. As recently as last July they opened the Hollywood Bowl’s summer jazz schedule on a brilliant program with Sergio Mendes’ Brazil 66.

This time out, more than six months later, they played much of the repertoire heard at the Bowl. But there was no resisting the appeal of whatever they played, however familiar it may have been.

The unforgettable performance ended with an entertaining selection from the new Alpert album, Steppin’ Out, scheduled for release on November 19.  On either side of the stage, big screen projections displayed the album’s prime video, “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” with the music performed live, in perfect sync with the video images. It was the perfect closure for an evening of superb offerings from a pair of the music world’s most creative practitioners.

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Video courtesy of Herb Alpert.

Photos by Faith Frenz.  To see more photos by Faith Frenz click HERE.


Live Music: Robert Davi at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

August 19, 2013

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA.  Robert Davi’s appearance at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Sunday night was my third opportunity to hear the talented actor/singer in action. Once again, the program was devoted to his Frank Sinatra tribute. And no one does the Sinatra catalog, in all its entertaining essence, as well as Davi.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

But the Sinatra catalog, for all its appeal, is only one aspect of a Robert Davi performance. As in past appearances, he sang most of the Sinatra classics – from “Fly Me To The Moon” and “I’ve Got the World On A String” to “My Way” and “It Was A Very Good Year.” Each was delivered with prime musicality by Davi’s warm and pliable baritone voice.

And he didn’t stop there, singing a wide ranging program of Great American Songbook tunes – “Day In, Day Out,” “Nice and Easy,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” “At Long Last Love,” “”Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and topped off his nearly two hour set with the less familiar, bu equally compelling “Summer Wind,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and “What Is America To Me?”

If that looks like a long list of tunes, that’s exactly what it was. And Davi spent a substantial amount of time moving into the audience, singing through a wireless microphone, engaging the enthusiastic crowd with up close and personal phrases from each of the songs. That’s a fairly common technique among experienced singers. But in Davi’s hands, combined with humorous exchanges with his six piece band, along with his between-songs tales about working and hanging out with Sinatra, the impact was enormously effective.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Davi’s acting skills, enhanced by his irresistible abilities as a born story-teller, were even more on target with songs driven by rich inner emotions.

When he sang a song such as “New York, New York,” for example, his interpretation was enough to bring tears to the eyes of New York emigres in the audience. So, too, for the dramatic qualities of “My Way,” the believable patriotism of “What Is America To Me?” and the poignant passions of “It Was A Very Good Year,“ And, perhaps most unexpected of all, there was Davi’s stunning reading of “Old Man River,” an impressive vehicle for the full range of his baritone voice.

Each of Davi’s past appearances at Vibrato have had their memorable moments. This performance, however, stepped up to a higher, utterly convincing level of musical communication. Davi will no doubt continue to showcase his convincing versions of songs associated with Sinatra. But he’s well on the road to thoroughly establishing his own appealing creative identity.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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