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.

Picks of the Week: Mar. 12 – 17

March 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

- Mar. 12. (Tues.) Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  Marsalis and his JLCO players continue to bring life to the past, the present and the future of big band jazz.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

Mar. 12. (Tues.) Allison Adams Tucker.  “Women in Jazz.”  Jazz singer Tucker performs with a gifted, all-female ensemble – Kait Dunton, piano, Sherry Luchette, bass, Tina Raymond, drums and Lori Bell, flute.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Mar. 13. (Wed.)  Lou Marini.  New York-based veteran saxophonist Marini makes a rare L.A. appearance backed by a stellar array of players.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Lynda Carter

Lynda Carter

- Mar. 14. – 16.  (Thurs. – Sat.)  Lynda Carter. She’ll probably always be known as Wonder Woman, but Carter is an appealing singer, as well, with a convincing interpretive style.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Mar. 15 – 17. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ambrose Akinmusire.  Trumpeter Akinmusire has been receiving critical accolades and winning polls lately.  Here’s a great opportunity to hear him in action and make your own evalulation.  Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

- Mar. 16. (Sat.)  Johnny Mandel Big Band. Veteran arranger/composer Mandel showcases selections from his rich collection of classic arrangements and original works for big jazz band. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers

- Mar. 17. (Sun.)  An Evening with Kenny Rogers.  Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the music of Grammy-winning, hit-making veteran singer/actor/songwriter Rogers.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-8800.

- Mar. 17. (Sun.)  Carol Robbins, Larry Koonse and Pat Senatore. An all-strings evening of music, featuring the fascinating timbres and jaunty swing of Robbins’ harp, Loonse’s guitar and Senatore’s bass. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Mar. 12 & 13.  (Tues. & Wed.)  “Miles Smiles”  A super-group of Davis alumni, including trumpeter Wallace Roney, organist Joey DeFrancesco, guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim, recall the Miles era.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.


Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke

- Mar. 12 & 13. (Tues. & Wed.)  Leo Kottke. Virtuosic, finger-picking guitarist intersperses his 6- and 7-spring playing with humorous, between-tunes monologues.  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.

New York City

- Mar. 13 – 17. (Wed. – Sun.)  Brazilian Jazz All-Stars.  Bossa nova and the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim will be authentically performed by an all-star aggregation of Brazilian artists: Duduka Da Fonseca, percussion, Romero Lubambo or Vic Juris, guitar, Claudio Roditi, trumpet, Helio Alves, piano, Maucha Adnet, voice, Hans Glawishnig, bass.  Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

- Mar. 15 & 16. (Fri. & Sat.)  Charlie Musselwhite.  Blues harmonica player Musselwhite, a veteran of the fertile blues and rock happenings of the ‘60s, is still going strong at 69.  He is alleged to be the model for Dan Aykroyd’s character in The blues Brothers.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.   (212) 258-9595.


- Mar. 14. (Thurs.)  “Birth of the Cool.”  The Richard Shepherd Nonet celebrates the music from Miles Davis’ iconic Birth of the Cool recording, plus classics from Kind of Blue and Milestones.  Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 20 7439 0747.


Brad Mehldau

Brad Mehldau

- Mar. 15 & 16. (Fri. & Sat.)  Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana.  Mehldau steps away from his classically oriented acoustic jazz with Mehliana – an electric funk duet project with drummer Guiliana.  Blue Note Milano.   +39 02 6901 6888


- Mar. 12 & 13. (Tues. & Wed.) Kenny Barron Trio. High on the list of every major jazz artist’s first-call pianists, Barron is also a compelling, musically adventurous player in his own right – especially when he’s working with his trio.  Blue Note Tokyo.    +81 3-5485-0088.

Live Jazz: The Ron Jones Jazz Influence Orchestra with April Williams at Vitello’s

December 18, 2012

By Don Heckman

On the way home from Disney Hall Sunday, the traffic on the 101 magically – and unexpectedly –  opened up, and we suddenly realized we could reach Vitello’s just in time to catch the second set by the Ron Jones Jazz Influence Orchestra.

Call it an unusual sequence – from the Christmas music of Bach and Vivaldi, performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, to a big jazz band in action.  And “big” is precisely the right word for this organization, which expands the usual 17 to 18 piece big band instrumentation to 22 players, including a French horn section.

Add to that the announcement the evening would include an extremely rare performance by singer April Williams, whose management of Vitello’s Upstairs Jazz Room has established one of the Southland’s important new jazz venues.

April Williams with the Ron Jones Jazz Influence Band

April Williams with the Ron Jones Jazz Influence Band

Combined, it was all too good to miss.

Vitello’s was jammed when we arrived, the tables and booths overflowing with listeners, as the Jones players filled the stage from one side of the room to the other. Fortunately we found a nook where we could sit, drink some wine, and prepare to expand our evening of Christmas music from Baroque to bebop.

Not all bebop, that is.  But plenty of it in the vigorous soloing of players such as saxophonists Fred Selden, Pete Christlieb, Doug Webb and Gene Cipriano, pianist Alan Steinberger, trumpeter Bob Summers and trombonist Bob McChesney.

Most of the music in the set, however, was dedicated to Christmas songs, arranged to apply the rich tonal resources and jazz-driven rhythms of the 22 piece ensemble to the familiar canon of Christmas classics.,

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” arrived in a lushly harmonized medley with “Silent Night.”  Contrastingly, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” surfaced with a briskly jaunty rhythmic underpinning, driven by Dave Tull’s energetic drumming.

Thad Jones’ lovely “A Child Is Born” was next.  It hasn’t become a Christmas classic yet, but it should.  Especially via the beautifully arranged version by the Jones Influence Orchestra, with musically touching contributions from pianist Steinberger.

Johnny Mandel’s Grammy- and Academy Award-winning “The Shadow Of Your Smile” generated yet another perspective. Not exactly a Christmas item, it added a unique touch to the fascinating program via an arrangement featuring the fine French horn playing of Tawnee Lillo and Jean Marinelli.

The performance peaked with the arrival of April Williams on stage with a puckish smile on her face, clearly in the mood to have fun.  And she did, singing Steve Allen’s “Cool Yule,” making the most of lyrics announcing the arrival of St. Nick:

           “From Coney Island to The Sunset Strip
           Somebody’s gonna make a happy trip
          Tonight, while the moon is bright.”

Clearly enjoying every moment she had with the backing of the Jones Jazz Influence Band, April topped off the number with a call for everyone to:

“Have a Yule that’s cool
Yeah, a cool Yule.”

It was the perfect climax to an evening that had begun with Bach and Vivaldi and wound up with big band jazz, all of it illuminating the far-ranging musical inspiration that Christmas has created over the centuries.  And there’s still another week and a half to hear even more Christmas music before the joyous day arrives.

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To read the iRoM review of the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall click HERE or scroll up.

Live Jazz: Cat Conner and Gene “Cip” Cipriano at the Out Take Bistro

December 16, 2012

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Jazz performances don’t get any more up close and personal than the bi-weekly appearances of Cat Conner and Gene “Cip” Cipriano at the Out Take Bistro in Studio. City.  At their performance on Friday night, singer Conner and saxophonist/clarinetist Cipriano, with the aid of guitarist Jim Fox, were comfortably ensconced in a convenient corner of the venue’s main room, surrounded by clustered tables and enthusiastic listeners positioned virtually within an arm’s reach of the musicians.

The trio made the most of the intimacy, singing and playing with the sort of rich expressiveness one might experience at a living room jam session.  And with less than two weeks until Christmas, Cat and Cip further enhanced the mood of musical intimacy with a program overflowing with holiday songs.

Cat Conner and Gene ("Cip") Cipriano

Cat Conner and Gene (“Cip”) Cipriano

Among the highlights: Cat’s fun-loving take on “Merry Christmas, Baby,” her warm reading of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and the whimsically instructional behavioral warnings of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”  Add to that Irving Berlin’s classic “White Christmas,” sung with the too-rarely heard, scene-setting verse.

Here, as elsewhere in a pair of generous sets, Cat’s interpretations were rich with musical eloquence.  The sweetness of her sound, combined with her gently swinging rhythmic phrasing, recalled some of the big band girl singers of the ‘40s and ‘50s –  Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney and Dinah Shore among them.  But always done from Cat’s unique creative perspective.

She sang Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” accompanied only by Fox’s fluent guitar lines.  On other tunes – “Caravan” among them – she dueted with the laid back, woody tones of Cip’s persuasive clarinet lines.  The far-ranging program also featured her equally engaging interpretations of a pair of  familiar Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini items – the film song, “Charade” and the Academy Award winning “Days of Wine and Roses” – as well as an unusual view, with lyrics, of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.”

Cat Conner, Gene "Cip" Cipriano, Jim Fox and Dick Nash

Cat Conner, Gene “Cip” Cipriano, Jim Fox and Dick Nash

And there was more, all of it done with Fox’s guitar work providing  superb, on the spot arrangements.  Add to that Cip’s atmospheric counterlines on clarinet and tenor saxophone.  Further enhancing the program, the group was joined – halfway through the set — by trombonist Dick Nash, whose buoyant style was a dynamic addition to the evening’s instrumental versions of tunes such as “Georgia On My Mind” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

Call it an appealing way to hear first rate jazz artists in a cozy, appropriately spontaneous setting.  Cip and Cat’s performance schedule calls for appearances at the Out Take Bistro every other Friday night.  And if you can’t wait another two weeks to hear them in action with their gifted musical associates, check out Cat’s debut CD, Cat Tales, which also features the presence of the gifted pianist/producer, the late George Mesterhazy in one of his last performances.

Live Jazz: The Johnny Mandel Big Band at Vitello’s

November 18, 2012

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  It wasn’t quite Johnny Mandel’s birthday last night.  Not yet.  But it was close enough to the actual date – November 25 – to celebrate the 87th anniversary of the great composer and arranger.

And the packed crowd at Vitello’s enthusiastically joined in a group singing of “Happy Birthday.”  The gift giving of the evening, however, came from Johnny, who pleasured his fans with a grand selection of his music, performed by a big band collective of the Southland’s finest players.

Over the course of the evening’s two sets, the music – all of it arranged and/or composed by Mandel – offered a fascinating overview of the many rich, diverse accomplishments in his more than six decade career.

Mandel led his big band from a position in front of the saxophones, music stand positioned in front of him as he stood, laid back and relaxed, between two guests’ tables.  Introducing each song, he recalled many of the circumstances behind the composing or arranging of many pieces.

Johnny Mandel

The opening number, “Centerpiece,” immediately illustrated Mandel’s ability to impart a big band arrangement with all the loose-limbed swing of a small ensemble.  And he was particularly aided in that accomplishment by the Basie-like groove of the rhythm section – pianist Bill Cunliffe, guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Dave Stone and drummer Bernie Dresel.

A pair of follow-up pieces added more slants on the Mandel musical perspectives: First, “Not Really the Blues,” an irresistible big band firestorm originally written for the Woody Herman band. Next, shifting gears completely, a gorgeously orchestrated rendering of his classic movie theme, “Emily.”

The Johnny Mandel Big Band

More film themes surfaced with “Black Night Gown” and “I Want To Live” from the Susan Hayward film of the same title (the latter featuring the baritone saxophone of Bob Efford).  Add the unforgettable ballad, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” featuring the mellow trumpet of Carl Saunders, and “Suicide is Painless,” the theme song for M*A*S*H, and a briskly swinging “Cinnamon and Cloves,” written by Mandel and Alan Bergman.

And let’s not overlook the impressive soloing from all sections of the Mandel band: a tenor saxophone battle between Pete Christlieb and Steve Wilkerson; stellar alto saxophone and flute work from Carol Chaikin and Sal Lozano; some superb trombone soloing from Bill Watrous and the entire trumpet section – including Saunders, Bob Summers, Ron Stout and Pete De Siena; pianist Cunliffe’s crisp comping and the propulsive but subtle drumming of Dresel.

As an added attraction, Wilkerson, playing clarinet, his wife Andrea Baker playing guitar and singing, offered jazz-tinged readings of “I Cover the Waterfront” and “Avalon.”

In addition to the Happy Birthday finale, the big band wrapped with a beautifully textured version of Mandel’s Academy Award-nominated “A Time For Love.”  It was an appropriate ending to a memorable evening, from an artist whose creative accomplishments have profoundly affected – and continue to affect – the world of music, in the U.S. and beyond.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson.

Live Music: Alan Bergman at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 16, 2012

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CAAlan Bergman made one of his too-rare club appearances Wednesday night in an utterly captivating performance at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   It’s always a pleasure to hear songwriters do their own music.  And even more fascinating when the songwriter is as fine a performing artist as Bergman.  In his mid eighties, his voice is still young and warm, his phrasing alive with interpretive expressiveness.

Alan Bergman

Of course it helps that Bergman and his wife Marilyn have written some of the most extraordinary song lyrics of the past few decades.  Working with such stellar composers as Michel Legrand, Marvin Hamlisch, Johnny Mandel, Dave Grusin and others, the couple has produced Academy Award and Golden Globe Award songs.  In 1983 three of their songs were included among the five Academy Award nominees.

Performing before a packed house crowd sprinkled with music and film world celebrities, Bergman presented the same relaxed demeanor he usually displays in his occasional live appearances.  Backed by the superb accompaniment of pianist Bill Cantos and bassist Kevin Axt, he led an intriguing musical tour through the far-reaching Bergman songbook (as well as the offbeat addition of a hilarious Cantos song, “Everybody’s on the Phone,” sung by its composer.)

Starting the set, Bergman noted that it would be an evening of love songs – of love in all its many manifestations.  And he delivered on the promise — not surprisingly, since love is the primary topic of so many of the Bergman songs.  But there was more, too – much more.

The first two songs, the jaunty “Nice and Easy,” followed by the poignant intimacy of  “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?, ” immediately revealed the creative depths of the Bergman’s love lyrics.

Alan Bergman

Other, equally far ranging tunes included the cri de coeur of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” the stunning sequence of images in “The Windmills of Your Mind” and the unabashed expressiveness of “That Face” (actually written by Alan Bergman as a love song to Marilyn Bergman).

Add to that such breakout hits as “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and “Memories (The Way We Were).”

And there was some new material as well, including the whimsical description of the Bergmans’ working relationship – “One Washes, One Dries” – the rap style of “The Lord Made Woman,” and a gorgeously melodic partnership with composer Roger Kellaway on “A Place That You Want To Call Home.”

Mentioning some of the gifted composers he and Marilyn have worked with, Alan offered a brief but illuminating thought about their process, as lyricists.  “The words are on the tips of the notes,” he said.  “And we have to find them.”

That they’ve done precisely that was amply clear in the program of songs he sang.  While each of those songs is fully capable of standing on its own, his readings – for this listener – are the definitive versions.  I’ve heard Alan do a similar program several times in the past.  But on this night his performance was exquisite, lovingly grasping the fullness of each song, finding the magic linkages between the words and “the tips of the notes.”

Photos by Bobby Colomby.

Picks of the Week: Nov. 14 – 18

November 14, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

David Sanborn

- Nov 14. (Wed.)  David Sanborn.  Alto saxophonist Sanborn is the star of pop jazz, r & b and crossover.  But at the heart of his playing is a deep involvement with the essential elements of straight ahead jazz.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 14. (Wed.) Alan Bergman.  In partnership with his wife, Marilyn Bergman, Alan has written the lyrics for some of the most memorable songs of the past five or six decades.  And they’re often best heard in his own quietly lyrical interpretations.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 14. (Wed.) Barbara Cook. Tony Award-winning singer/actress Cook celebrates her long, productive career – she was 85 in October – with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of great American song. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- Nov. 15 – 18. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Steve Tyrell.  A highly successful producer before he embarked on a singing career of his own, Tyrell has emerged as a vocalist with an appealing, jazz-driven style enhanced by the warmth of his Texas roots. Catalina Bar & Grill  (323) 466-2210.

Janis Paige

- Nov. 16. (Fri.)  Janis Paige. If you remember the movie musicals of the ‘50s, then you’ll remember Paige from such films as Silk Stockings and Please Don’t Eat The Daisies.  Decades in musical theatre and television followed, and the 90 year old Paige is still a delightfully effective vocal artist.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 16. (Fri.) Cip & Cat.  Saxophonist Gene Cipriano (Cip) and  vocalist Cat Conner (Cat), backed by guitarist John Chiodini with special guest trombonist Dick Nash celebrate their fifth anniversary together and their first anniversary at the venue.  Out Take Bistro.       (818) 760-1111.

- Nov. 16 – 18. (Fri. – Sun.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic.  An evening rich with musical variations.  The Phil, conducted by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, performs Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 and Cello Concerto in C, Albeniz’s Suite Espanola and Ravel’s Bolero Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

Johnny Mandel

- Nov. 17. (Sat.) Johnny Mandel Big Band.  Composer, arranger, band leader and songwriter, Mandel’s resume includes stints with Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee and many more.  At 86, Mandel is now best heard leading his own band, playing his own well-crafted arrangements and compositions. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 17. (Sat.)  Buika.  Spanish singer Buika, a native of Equatorial Guinea, who sings flamenco with an appealing blend of soul music and jazz rhythms, makes a rare Southland appearance.  Luckman Fine Arts Complex.    (323) 343-6610.

- Nov. 18. (Sun.)  Quattro.  The four talented members of Quattro – cellist Giovanna Clayton, violinst Lisa Dondlinger, guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno and percussionist Jorge Villanueva (all of whom also sing) – have written and arranged all the diverse works they describe as Popzzical music. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 18. (Sun.)  Jackson Browne. He’s been writing memorable songs since the ‘70s, still producing prime selections.  He’s joined in this performance by Sara Watkins, Jonathan Wilson and other special guests.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000.

- Nov. 18. (Sun.) The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs Monteverdi’s Vespers.  This will be a concert to remember, with the gorgeous voices of the LAMC applying their magical touch to the lush vocal lines of Renaissance polyphony.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

Ornette Coleman

- Nov. 17. (Sat.) Ornette Coleman.  Since his arrival on the international jazz scene in the late ‘50s, Coleman’s compositions and alto saxophone playing have been among the music’s most persistently exploratory voices.  An SFJAZZ event at the Herbst Theatre.   (866) 920-5299.

New York

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Sun. & Mon.)  An Intimate Evening with Stanley Jordan Solo. Jordan’s remarkable mastery of the guitar tap-on style has provided him with a virtual orchestral instrument.  And he makes the most of it.  The Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

- Nov. 19. (Mon.)  Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn Duo. Their history together goes back decades.  And they continue to make music together with a symbiotic creative togetherness.  The performance celebrates Sheila’s 84th birthday.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

Washington  D.C.

- Nov. 15 – 18. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Tuck & Patti.  Guitarist Tuck and singer Patti have been together for nearly three decades.  And their deeply intimate musical and personal relationship seems to improve and mature like fine wine.  Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.


- Nov. 16. (Fri.)  John Scofield Trio.  Always on the search for new ideas, guitarist Scofield gets down to the absolute jazz basics with his current trio.  New Morning  01 45 23 51 41.


Judy Niemack

- Nov. 16. (Fri.)  Judy Niemack & Jay Clayton2 Voices Flying.  Niemack, a constantly captivating singer, bringing musicality, imagination and interpretive excellence to everything she touches, teams up with the equally adventurous and inventive Clayton.  A-Trane.    030/313 25 50.


- Nov. 16. (Fri.)  Tony Levin.  “Stick Men”.  Bassist Levin, who’s worked with a stellar list of artists in virtually every genre, steps out front with his own vocals.  He’ll be backed by drummer Pat Mastelliotto and touch guitarist Markus ReuterBlue Note Milano.    +39.02.69016888.


- Nov. 18 & 19. (Sun. & Mon.)  Michel Camilo and Tomatito. The dynamic duo of pianist Camilo and flamenco guitarist Tomitito come together with a magical blend of jazz and traditional Spanish music.  The Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.

Picks of the Week: May 29 – June3

May 29, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- May 30. (Wed.)  Gene Cipriano.  “The World According to ‘Cip”  Veteran saxophonist Cipriano, backed by a band of L.A.’s veteran jazz artists, in an evening of stories and song.  His stellar band includes trombonist Dick Nash, pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ralph Humphrey Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- June 1 & 2. (Fri. & Sat.) Steve Smith and Vital Information.  Former Journey drummer Smith has been leading the crossover jazz ensemble Vital Information for nearly three decades.  And the band continues to be one of the most accomplished musical pathfinders in contemporary jazz.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Chris Botti

- June 2. (Sat.)  Chris Botti.  Trumpeter Botti is the world’s best selling jazz artist and with good reason.  Not only is he a player with a uniquely personal sound, inventive ideas and a brisk sense of swing – he’s also a performer who knows how to create a connection with his audience.  The Greek Theatre.     (323) 665-5857.  Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of a Botti performance. 

- June 2. (Sat.)  John Daversa Quartet.  Versatile trumpeter Daversa channels his impressive abilities as a composer/instrumentalist into the improvisational setting of his quartet.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

- June 2. (Sat.) Grupo Falso Baiano.  The San Francisco based group cruises through traditional and contemporary choro music, blending their dynamic interpretations with a cross-genre seasoning of jazz, flamenco and beyond.  LACMA.   (323) 857-6000.

Johnny Mandel

- June 2. (Sat.)  Johnny Mandel Big Band.  The great composer/arranger/songwriter makes one of his rare appearances, leading a stageful of L.A.’s finest players in a program of his lush, atmospheric charts. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.  Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of a Mandell performance. 

- June 3. (Sun.)  Phil Norman Tentet.   Little/big band West Coast jazz of the ‘50s is alive, in briskly swinging contemporary fashion, in the music of the Tentet.  Pasta Sunday at Vitello’s.     (818) 769-0905.  Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of a Tentet performance. 

San Francisco

- May 31. (Thurs.)  Eliyahu & the Qadim EnsembleNey flutist Eliyahu leads an ensemble performing music ranging across the entire Middle East: Arabic, Jewish, Turkish Sufi, Armenian, Ladino, Moroccan and beyond.  The Qadim’s players include Rachel Valfer Sills on oud and vocals, Faisal Zedan on Arabic percussion, and Gari Hegedus on Turkish saz and oud.   Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.    (510) 644-2020.


- May 31 – June 3. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Pat Martino Trio. Guitarist Martino’s remarkable recovery from a near fatal brain aneurysm in 1980 has been astonishing.  His most recent album, Undeniable: Live at Blues Alley hit #1 on the jazz charts.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

Dee Dee Bridgewater

- May 29 – June 2. Tues. – Sun.)  Dee Dee Bridgewater.  The superb jazz vocalist has had seven Grammy nominations and three wins, as well as a Tony award for her appearance in The Wiz. This time out she shares a celebration of her 62nd birthday with her listeners.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

- June 3. (Sun.)  Jane Ira Bloom“All Ballads.”  Bloom, who has been quietly defining an appealing use of the soprano saxophone in contemporary jazz, offers an evening of instrumental balladry.  Cornelia St. Café.    (212) 989-9319.


- May 31 – June 2. (Thurs. – Sat.)  The Ronnie Laws/Tom Browne band.  A pair of veteran players who know all the ins and outs of jazz with a funk accent.  They’re backed by pianist Jason Rebello, bassist Karl Rasheed and drummer Will Calhoun.   Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.


- June 1. (Fri.)  Joan Armatrading.  British born, three time Grammy nominee Armatrading has been working the crossover areas between pop, jazz and the blues since the late ‘60s.  And she’s still doing it impressively.  New Morning.    01 45 23 51 41.


Jim Hall

- June 3 – 6. (Sun. – Wed.)  Jim Hall Trio.  He’s every guitarist’s favorite player – and a lot of other instrumentalists’ favorite, as well.  Pat Metheny has described Hall, and with good reason, as “the father of modern jazz guitar.  He performs with Scott Colley, bass and Joey Baron, drums.  Blue Note Tokyo. 03-5485-0088.

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Photos of Chris Botti, Johnny Mandel and Dee Dee Bridgewater by Tony Gieske

Live Jazz: The Johnny Mandel Big Band at Vitello’s

March 19, 2012

By Don Heckman

Vitello’s was packed to the gills Saturday night.  And with good reason.  Johnny Mandel was making one of his rare appearances, leading an assemblage of Southland jazz all-stars in an evening surveying his long, productive career as a composer, arranger and songwriter.

At 86, recovering from hip problems and walking with a cane, Mandel nonetheless was a dynamic bandleader, conducting from a cramped position directly in front of the saxophones, standing between two tables full of guests.   His whimsical sense of humor was switched on, and he introduced many of the pieces with a wry, occasionally sardonic, recollection.

Johnny Mandel

The familiar Mandel items were on full display: “Emily,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Suicide Is Painless” (the theme from M*A*S*H), several selections from his score for the film, I Want To Live. Most featured the band’s many stellar soloists – tenor saxophonists Pete Christlieb and Steve Wilkerson, baritone saxophonist Bob Efford, trombonists Scott Whitfield and Alan Kaplan, trumpeters Bob Summers, Ron King and Carl Saunders, pianist John Campbell, among others..

And there was more, reaching across decades of composing and arranging for films, television, recording and big bands: a hard swinging piece he wrote for the Woody Herman band in the ’40s – “Not Really The Blues”; a bossa nova done for Sergio Mendes: “Cinnamon and Cloves”; a muscular arrangement of drummer Tiny Kahn’s “T.N.T.”; a tune inspired by the Krazy Kat cartoon, written for the Artie Shaw Band.  All of it, individually and in sum, providing a fascinating gallery of musical portraits from an extraordinarily creative career.

Sue Raney

Interestingly, the band didn’t pick up their instruments for one of the evening’s most mesmerizing moments.   With no advance notice, Mandel introduced singer Sue Rany to sing “Where Do You Start?” backed only by Campbell’s quietly intimate piano accompaniment. The song, with music by Mandel and lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, is a stunning example of lyrical musical/poetic songwriting at it finest.  And so, too, was Raney’s exquisite, story-telling interpretation, capturing the essence of the song’s poignant tale.

Other contributions added to the non-stop pleasures of this memorable musical evening.  Start with Carol Chaikin’s fine lead alto playing, driving Mandel’s richly harmonized saxophone section passages with ease.  Add to that the energetic drive of the rhythm section – with the firm flow of bassist Chuck Berghofer, the energetic drive of drummer Ray Brinker, the Freddie Green-like strumming of guitarist John Chiodini and the all-purpose comps and fills of Campbell.

And don’t forget the collective participation of every member of the Band (including those whose names I haven’t mentioned).  Most are among L.A.’s A-list studio players.  Given an opportunity to play an evening-full of superb music, they not only provided their unerring craftsmanship, they made every note come alive.

No wonder Johnny Mandel was smiling so much.

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Johnny Mandel photo by Tony Gieske.

Sue Raney photo by Bob Barry.

Picks of the Week: Mar. 13 – 18

March 13, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Willie Nelson

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  Willie Nelson and Family. Legendary is a word that actually has some veracity when applied to the music and the career of superstar Nelson.  He makes his first appearance at Disney Hall on a bill that also includes his family members, as well as a group led by his son, Lukas NelsonDisney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar NightPat Kelley’s the guest guitarist, celebrating his birthday in Guitar Night’s loose and swinging format.  Bassist John Belzaguy and drummer Kendall Kay lay down the heat that will keep the music cooking.  Lucy’s 51. Toluca Lake.  (818) 763-5200.

Janicey Brar/Billie Holiday

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  Janicey Brar. Tribute to Billie Holiday  “Tribute” performers – singers and musicians who take on the persona, the performing style and the image of famous artists – are far more rare in jazz than they are in popular music.  But Milwaukee’s Brar, who spent years impersonating Tina Turner, is one of the exceptions.  The simulation of Billie Holiday that she’s doing for this performance has been praised for its impressive musical and visual qualities.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Mar. 14. (Wed.)  Otmaro Ruiz.  Venezuelan-born pianist/composer Ruiz moves comfortably and authentically across stylistic and genre boundaries, playing straight ahead jazz, Latin jazz, pop, rock, salsa, fusion and beyond.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Mar. 15. (Thurs.) Julie Kelly and Stephanie Haynes. A pair of veteran jazz singers, each with her own unique style, get together for an evening of vocal jazz magic. Neither is heard in the Southland as often as they should be, so don’t miss this chance to check out their engaging skills.  LAX Jazz Club at the Crowne Plaza.  (310) 258-1333.


- Mar. 15. – 17. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Casablanca.  Here’s the formula for a truly fascinating evening.  Max Steiner’s memorable score for Casablanca performed by the Pacific Symphony under Richard Kaufman, live in sync with a big screen projection of the cinematic masterpiece.  Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.  (714) 556-2787.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  The T.S. Monk Sextet.  Drummer Monk, blessed with the genetic heritage of his father, Thelonious Monk, has established himself as a solid musical talent in his own right.  Carpenter Performing Arts Center.    (562) 985-7000.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.) Jose Rizo’s “Mongorama.” Jose Rizo’s knack for assembling solid musical aggregations continues with the nine-piece Mongorama’s exciting explorations of Mongo Santamaria’s charanga-jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Frankie Valli

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  Frankie Valli. The ‘60s teen heartthrob, lead voice of the Four Seasons, revisits some of the iconic group’s hits – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” “Sherry,” and more. Segerstrom Hall.   (714) 556-2787.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.) Mingus Dynasty. More than 30 years after the passing of Charles Mingus, his music is still being kept vividly alive in the hands of the seven piece Mingus Dynasty Band.  Expect to hear such classics from the large Mingus catalog as “Better Git It In Your Soul, “ “Haitian Fight Song” and Pithecanthus Erectus.”  Royce Hall.  A UCLA Live concert.    (310) 825-2101.  To read Michael Katz’s Reflections on Charles Mingus click HERE.

- Mar. 16 – 18. (Fri. – Sun.)  Chuck Loeb Quartet. Guitarist Loeb celebrates the release of his CD, Plain and Simple, hewing to the title with a program of lively, hard swinging music, baked by the stellar ensemble of  Mitchel Forman, keyboards, Lionel Cordew, drums and Eric Marienthal, saxophones. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Johnny Mandel

- Mar. 17. (Sat.) Johnny Mandel Big Band. One of the true treasures of contemporary American music – reaching from jazz to film to song and beyond – Mandel makes one of his too rare club appearance, leading a band of all-stars in a program that will be filled with familiar melody and irresistible rhythm.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Mar. 17. (Sat.)  Spectral Scriabin. Georgian pianist Eteri Andjaparidze and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton enliven composer Alexander Scriabin’s desire to blend the spectrum of colors with the full panorama of musical pitches.  The performance includes excerpts from Scriabin’s Poeme Languide in B Major and the Feuillet d’Album in F-sharp Major.  The Broad Stage.    (310) 434-3200.

San Francisco

Dave Grisman

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  The Dave Grisman Quartet.  Mandolinist Grisman has been one of the primary shapers of contemporary acoustic music for decades. And he’s still finding new expressive methods – currently with a group that includes bassist Jim Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, percussionist George Marsh and guitarist Grant GordiYoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

- Mar. 18. (Sun.)  The Uri Caine Trio. Mention an area of musical expression – from early classical to contemporary electronics to staright ahead jazz –  and pianist/composer  Caine has been there at one time or another.  His current interest focuses on his acoustic jazz piano trio, with John Hebert, bass and Ben Perowsky, drums.  The San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  An SFJAZZ 2012 Spring Season Event.     (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Stanley Jordan

- Mar. 15 – 18.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  Stanley Jordan.  Solo guitar.  The master of the tap-on style of jazz guitar playing Jordan is always at his best in a solo setting that allows his improvisational imagination to roam freely.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.

New York

- Mar. 13 – 18.  (Tues. – Sun.)  The Heath Brothers.  Jazz history comes alive when Jimmy Heath, saxophones, Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums get together to recall the high points of their decades of jazz prominence.  They’ll be backed by Jeb Patton, piano and David Wong, bass.  The Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

- Mar. 13 – 18. (Tues. – Sun.)  Eddie Palmieri.  The veteran pianist/composer/bandleader celebrates  his 75th birthday.  A musical pioneer virtually from the time of his appearance on the scene in the ‘50s, Palmieri has been one of the principal creative forces in the growth of Latin jazz.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

Mira Awad and Noa (Achinoam Nini)

- Mar. 15. (Thurs. )  Noa and Mira.  Israeli singers Noa (Achinoam Nini) and Mira Awad are superb artists, dedicated to peaceful coexistence in their country.  Singing in Hebrew, Arabic and English, Israel’s top Jewish (Noa) and Arab (Mira) singer/songwriters perform together on behalf of the Abraham Fund.      The Rose Theatre at Lincoln Center. (212) 258-9800.


Mar. 17. (Sat.) Betty Buckley.  Tony Award winner (for her role in Cats), Buckley also has a resume listing performances reaching from Broadway musicals to film, television and recordings.  And she is especially compelling when she’s in an up close and personal night club setting, bringing utter believability to every musical story she tells.    The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.


Iain Mackenzie

Mar. 18. (Sun.)  Iain Mackenzie & Swing City.  Mackenzie, one of the U.K.’s favorite jazz singers uses his strong baritone and brisk sense of swing to carry the torch for the vocal tradition of Mel Torme, Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra and more.  He’ll be backed by the solid drive of the eight piece Swing City band.  He’ll do a pair of matinee shows – at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.


Mar. 15. (Thurs.)  Miroslav Vitous.  Czech-born Vitous was one of the ground breaking acoustic bassists of the ‘70s, often grouped with the likes of Scott Lafaro, Dave Holland and others. Emphasizing his compositional interests in recent years, he makes one of his rare club appearances.  He’ll perform with Robert Bonisolo, saxophone and Aydin Esen, piano.  Blue Note Milan.


Mar. 14 – 16.  (Wed. – Fri.)  Billy Childs Quartet. Pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his Chamber Ensemble performances and his role in Chris Botti’s band to stretch out with the world class companionship of Steve Wilson, alto saxophone, Scott Colley, bass and Brian Blade, drums.  Blue Note Tokyo.  03-5484-0088.


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