Live Music: Seth MacFarlane at Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc.

November 25, 2014

By James DeFrances

Bel Air.  Sunday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. one performer had the world on a string. That person was Seth MacFarlane and his name should ring a bell. MacFarlane has been the long time creator of Fox’s animated series Family Guy, as well as the brains behind the 2012 feature film Ted and the host of the 2013 Academy Awards telecast…for starters.

Seth MacFarlane

On this occasion, though, he was appearing in a different capacity, as a big band singer. Which wasn’t such a far cry for MacFarlane, who released his debut album Music is Better Than Words, a late ’50’s/early ’60’s style big band vocal record, in 2012. Recorded at Capitol Records studios in Hollywood he showcased his unique voice in a style very much like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. His TV show Family Guy also relies heavily on lush orchestral Swing style cues in between scenes and for the main theme song. His affection for this kind of music is ever apparent in all aspects of his career.

On Sunday night he was backed by the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra, which includes an A-list of Hollywood studio musicians.

Seth MacFarlane with Ron Jones and the Influence Jazz Orchestra

Crooning to a packed house of fans from all facets of his career, MacFarlane would have even made Frank Sinatra proud if he had been there. And speaking of Sinatra, there was plenty of his music in the set list. And it was quite a rare treat to actually hear the song choices, as they were not all necessarily chart-topping hits for Sinatra. Songs like: “It’s Always You,” “No One Ever Tells You” and “The Look of Love” stood out.

What was even more exciting was the fact that he used original Sinatra arrangements penned by such legendary orchestrators as Sy Oliver, Nelson Riddle and Billy May. MacFarlane’s voice was fully up to the task, as he cruised through each tune with a relaxed demeanor and plenty of power and vibrato on tap when it was needed.

Armed with a glass of scotch and a wired Shure microphone, he also explored many classics and standards from stage shows and films of days gone by. Among them were songs like “One For My Baby,” “Come Fly With Me” and “Just in Time.”

Seth MacFarlane sings with the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra

The show seemed to have gone by almost too quickly when MacFarlane announced the final number. In a Vegas-like move, he opted to close the night out with “Luck be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls featuring the iconic 1963 Billy May arrangement for Frank Sinatra.

For a few brief hours on Sunday night it really felt like 1966 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas with the whiskey flowing and the horns blowing. MacFarlane’s star shined bright at Vibrato and it seems as if the world is his oyster, he really can do it all!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

Live Music: Anna Mjoll At Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 13, 2014

By James deFrances

What do jazz standards, Iceland and Bel Air have in common? Simple…the answer is the dynamic blonde haired Iceland-born diva Anna Mjoll. Last Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., Mjoll crooned to a thoroughly filled house of diners and jazz enthusiasts alike. Only a day after Alpert and his wife Lani Hall played two sold out shows Mjoll managed to keep the blood flowing for a third consecutive night.

Her show ranged from light moving ballads to hard-driving bossa nova tunes. Impeccably supported by the #Pat Senatore trio, Mjoll did the Great American Songbook right.

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Her voice possesses an airy, relaxed quality which makes the music even easier to digest. Her vibrato (no pun intended) is on tap when she needs it and her phrasing is uniquely her own. In between songs she keeps the audience in check by telling stories, asking questions and cracking jokes.

She asked the audience to say hello to her mother from Iceland, who was seated in the first row and only in town for the weekend. “I wish you would move to California,” exclaimed Mjoll. Mother and daughter maintained a lighthearted banter throughout  the entirety of the show.

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Before singing “Taking A Chance On Love,” she reflected on her many marriages and philosophized on love. Perhaps the highlight of the evening, however, was when she sang “Nature Boy” with only bassist Pat Senatore’s accompaniment. She dedicated the song to Senatore, whom she said is the only man who never let’s her down. Also on the list Friday night were songs like “Come Fly With Me,” “Smile” and “Imagination.” For Mjoll who has a busy calendar it was just one of those nights and her closing tune appropriately enough was “Just One Of Those Things.”

But the large audience who remained long after she took her final bow was a sign of a job well done. Those who stayed late enough even got to hear the Senatore Trio play their “Sexy Late Night Set.” In the end, if you are looking for a night of Marilyn Monroe glamour and some hot straight ahead jazz Anna Mjoll with the Pat Senatore trio is your best ticket in town!

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Photos by James deFrances. 



Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: Nov. 6 – 9

November 6, 2014

By Don Heckman

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

- Nov. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Steve Tyrell. Add an amiable Texas twang to a jaunty sense of swing and a convincing way with a lyric, and that still doesn’t add up to the magic that happens when Tyrell digs into the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

- Nov. 6. (Thurs.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. The veteran jazz trumpeter/painter/sculptor and his vocally superb wife are back again at their home base – Alpert’s jazz friendly, elegant Bel Air club. They’ll no doubt be working over material for their current touring. And that’ll be a musically captivating gift for anyone who can squeeze into what will no doubt be a full house crowd. But it’ll be worth the effort. Click HERE to read a review of the dynamic duo’s most recent appearance at.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 6. (Thurs.) David Ornette Cherry. He’s the son of trumpeter Don Cherry, who worked frequently with free jazz icon Ornette Coleman– thus David Ornette Cherry’s middle name. A keyboard player with his own unique approach to contemporary improvisation, he’s an imaginative jazz artist who deserves a hearing on his own right. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys. The mutiple Grammy-winning group from Los Angeles are one of the popworld’s most eclectic ensembles. Blending everything from Latin pop and Chicano rock to TexMex and Americana their music has a fascinating body-moving appeal. Opening the bill, Texas’ Los Lonely Boys follow a similar musical path. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) Dimitri Matheny Quartet. Matheny’s warm, engaging flugelhorn playing has thoroughly established him as one of the most emotionally expressive improvisers of his generation. He performs with the sterling backing of Joe Bagg, piano, Pat Senatore, bass, Dick Weller, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) Johnny Mathis. He doesn’t show up often any more in the Southland, so don’t miss this opportunity to hear the hit-maker of the ‘6os and 70s up close in action. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

- Nov. 8. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. Marcelo Lehninger conducts the gifted players of the NWS in Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, and the Dvorak Concerto in B minor for cello and orchestra, featuring cellist Lynn Harrell. The Cavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 449-2100.


The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and All-Star Gala Concert

Thelonious Monk

The annual jazz competitions produced by the Thelonious Monk Institute are among the most celebrated jazz events of the year. And the 2014 installment is no exception. This year’s competition again showcases a talented, ambitious group of young players. The semi-finalists will first meet at U.C.L.A.’s Schoenberg Hall on Saturday, Nov. 8. (The semi-final event is free and open to the public.)

The three finalists will then perform in the Competition’s Gala event on Sunday, Nov. 9 at Dolby Hall. The distinguished panel of judges for both stages of the competition includes trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Quincy Jones and Arturo Sandoval.

Following the finalists’ performances and the selection of this year’s winner, an All-Star Gala concert will feature Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ron Carter, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Heath, Marcus Miller, Dianne Reeves and others.

In another highlight of the Gala, the Institute will present its prestigious Founders Award to President Bill Clinton.

The Thelonious Monk Institute 2014 International Jazz Trumpet Competition  (310) 206-9700.

Live Brazilian Music: Teka at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 22, 2014

By James M. DeFrances

Bel Air, CA. Teka Penteriche’s performance at Vibrato last Sunday night had the approval of everyone in the crowd, including veteran crooner Tom Jones.



The smooth sounds of the Brazilian born singer-guitarist and her New Bossa Band filled the air of Herb Alpert’s cozy and elegantly appointed club in Bel Air. Her song choices too were apparently just what the doctor ordered for the late night weekend patrons in West LA.  Over a glass of white wine and a bowl of the club’s extraordinary Cream of Mushroom soup I too was able to experience first hand what everyone had told me about,

Teka is sensational. Her set list offered a wide variety of Brazilian jazz with songs sung in both Portuguese and English. Teka’s arrangements and adaptations are uniquely her own and her voice and the band synced up the way every band hopes for. Highlights of the evening included her renditions of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classics — including a beautifully done version of “Aguas de Marco” and the song that the audience seemed to appreciate the most “Summer Samba” the crowning achievement of Brazilian composer Marcos Valle.

Teka and her New Bossa Band

Teka and her New Bossa Band

She was backed superbly by her New Bossa band – saxophonist/flutist Doug Webb, pianist Tom Zink, bassist Randy Tico and percussionist Kevin Winard.

Teka and her husband Paris had to make quite the trip down from Santa Barbara but it was a trip well taken as the audience was ready for more, even at the conclusion of her second and final set. Many audience members purchased a CD from Teka’s collection of albums as they left the club – a solid indication that her performance was a hit!

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Photos by James M. DeFrances.

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

October 9, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. became a very special place when Herb Alpert took it over a few years ago, transforming a small venue in a mini-mall at the top of Beverly Glen into a fine food connoisseur’s delight and a world class showcase for jazz.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

And it becomes even more special when Alpert, his wife, vocalist Lani Hall, and their all star band put in an appearance. As they did Tuesday night.

The fact is that there’s nothing quite like hearing Alpert perform in his own club. There’ve been musician club owners over the years – Shelly Manne, Ronnie Scott, Igor Butman, to name a few – all of whom played in their own venues from time to time.

Herb Alpert

But when Herb Alpert plays in Vibrato, he’s not just on stage at his own elegant Bel Air bistro. He’s performing in a virtual art gallery, surrounded by walls displaying his large, colorful abstract expressionist paintings and his sculptures of musicians in the act of playing. Add to that the remarkable collection of repertoire that he brings to his performances – selecting material reaching from his latest albums to hit songs from his Tijuana Brass successes of the ’60s.

At the center of his music, Alpert – at 79 – reminded us that he is still a remarkable trumpeter and a gifted improviser. Not often given sufficient credit for the quality of his instrumental skills, he once again displayed his Miles Davis-inspired ability to bring a song vividly to life.

And let’s not overlook Alpert’s unspoken, but significant subtitle of “philanthropist” in recognition of the large generous funding he has bestowed upon University music programs and gifted young artists in many genres.

All those elements and more were present Tuesday night when Alpert and Hall – backed by pianist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro – celebrated the release of their new album, In the Mood.

The Herb Alpert Band

When Alpert noted that the performance was the start of a tour introducing the album, he also added, whimsically, that they did not include the classic Glenn Miller hit “In The Mood” on the CD, or in their set of the night. But no problem there. After romping through “Chatanooga Choo Choo” the band also dug into “Blue Moon,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Let it Be Me” and more from an album displaying all the signs of presenting Alpert with his next Grammy Award.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Other highlights included entertaining looks at both Alpert’s and Hall’s stellar pasts. The Tijuana Brass medley called up stirring memories of the Alpert band that topped Bob Dylan and the Beatles on the Billboard charts in the mid-’60s. And an Antonio Carlos Jobim medley showcased Hall’s mastery of bossa nova songs (and Portuguese), reaching back to her stint with Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 as she applied her warm, intimate contralto to songs such as “The Waters of March,” “Corcovado” and “”Samba de Uma Nota Só.”

As always, Alpert and Hall were superbly backed by Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro who consistently found the perfect balance between energizing the rhythm while supporting the headliners’ many interpretive subtleties. And Cantos, a versatile singer/instrumentalist in his own right, has recently added colorful synth textures to his fine piano work, as well as his own back up vocals on a few tunes.

In sum, call it one of the most notable musical experiences of the year. All of the Vibrato appearances of Alpert and Hall have been memorable. As was this one. And I (along with, I suspect, the many members of the packed house) look forward to many more.

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Photos by Faith Frenz


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.




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