Jazz CD Review: John Pizzarelli “Rockin’ In Rhythm”

March 13, 2010

John Pizzarelli

Rockin’ In Rhythm (Telarc)

By Don Heckman

John Pizzarelli’s recordings have almost always reached well beyond the level of simply jamming a few tunes with his quartet.  His thematically oriented tributes to Richard Rodgers, Nat “King’ Cole, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Bossa Nova, among others, have been superb settings for his singing, his guitar playing and his imaginative musicality.

With Rockin’ In Rhythm, a tribute to Duke Ellington, he does it again and the results are extraordinary.  One simply couldn’t have asked for a better production than what Pizzarelli has assembled – true to the spirit of its subject while remaining completely alive, unique and spontaneous.

Start with the fact that there’s not a moment in which there’s a whisper of doubt that this is a jazz album, through and through.  Pizzarelli’s singing is a significant element, as it should be.  But so, too, are the hard-swinging, Ellington/Strayhorn-tinged arrangements by Don Sebesky, and the lively ensemble playing by the seven piece band he calls his Swing Seven.  Add to that the individual soloing by virtually everyone in the band, along with the added contributions of singers Kurt Elling and Jessica Molaskey (Pizzarelli’s wife), guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (his Dad), violinist Aaron Weinstein and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen.  The sense of high spirited joie de vivre that was clearly present in the studio brings every track vividly to life.

The opening “In A Mellow Tone” sets the mood for what is to come.  Pizzarelli sings the line vibrantly before dipping into his vocal-with-guitar-line improvising (which surfaces on many other tracks, as well).  Next up is the first of two tracks in which a pair of Ellington tunes are combined in intimate musical medleys.  This one uses the old instrumental line “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” as a background for Pizzarelli’s vocal version of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”  The album’s last track similarly links “Cottontail” and “Rockin’ In Rhythm” into an ineffably swinging finale.

Other highlights abound: Pizzarelli’s gorgeously lyrical balladry on “In My Solitude” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”; his lush, but articulate solo guitar version of “Squeeze Me”; the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross-like version of “Perdido” by Pizzarelli,  Molasky and Elling; Harry Allen’s stirring tenor saxophone solos – hard-romping on “C Jam Blues, late-night-romantic on “I Got It Bad”; and pianist Larry Fuller’s brilliant work throughout – especially the buoyant stride solo on “Rockin’ In Rhythm” that nearly steals the record.

There’s not a track that doesn’t demand the enjoyment of repeated hearing.  Although it’s still very, very early in the qualification year, Rockin’ In Rhythm already makes a convincing case for its inclusion in the nominations for Best Jazz Vocal album in the 2010 Grammy awards.

Live Jazz: The Laurence Hobgood Trio at Cafe Metropole

February 6, 2010

By Michael Katz

Laurence Hobgood provided a perfect antidote to a rainy weekend at Café Metropole Friday evening, displaying his panoply of talents as musician, composer and arranger over two sets of intriguing and engaging music. Hobgood is best known as pianist and arranger for Kurt Elling; his presence in LA over the past two weekends was centered around the Grammy awards. Elling’s Dedicated To You won for Best Jazz Vocal, and Hobgood was nominated for his superb arrangements on that album. Ably abetted by two outstanding young musicians, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Kevin Kanner, Hobgood presented a program almost entirely of his own compositions.

“When The Heart Dances,” the title song from his most recent CD, started as an elegy, reminiscent briefly of Bill Evans, though Hobgood’s playing isn’t clearly derivitive of anyone. He weaves rich chordal structures into his pieces, dashing off   archipeggios and then folding them back into the lyrical structure. Hamilton Price had a crisp bass solo in the opening number, and Kevin Kanner established himself as the   composition picked up pace.

Hobgood transitioned into his only borrowed tune of the set, a brooding, off-minor interpretation of the fifties’ hit song, “Que Sera, Sera.” Hobgood’s soulful playing fit snugly into the surroundings of Café Metropole’s spare brick backdrop, with comic book and cartoon art on the walls suggesting a touch of whimsy.

Hobgood followed with two more originals, “The Princess and the Gentle Giant,” a piece from the ‘80s, and “Sanctuary” from the new CD. It’s worth noting that composition on the jazz spectrum can run anywhere from a single infectious line surrounded by a combo’s solo flights to the complex orchestrations of an Ellington or Mingus. Hobgood’s music, taking full advantage of the trio format, is richly complex, launching his listeners on a journey, keeping them rapt as he moves from dark, percussive beginnings, sliding into bright side canyons like a rafter searching for a line through tumultuous rapids. “Sanctuary” was done as a solo piece on the new album, but as Hobgood noted, working  with the trio gave him the opportunity to explore the piece in a fresh way.

The second set, all original compositions except “Esperanza” by Vince Mendoza, featured mostly tunes from a less recent CD, Crazy World. The opening number, “Window Man,” began quietly, ballad-like, simmering into a more percussive tone and  proceeding into dynamic interplay with bassist Price. “Prayer For The Enemy” was a waltz that segued into a bluesy tone.

Bassist Price and drummer Kanner were sparkling throughout. Having had only one previous set to work out these lengthy, layered compositions with Hobgood, they were remarkably efficient and creative in their own soloing. Price, particularly as the second set continued,  exhibited a tone and dexterity that recalled Eddie Gomez, excelled in the playful “Smuggler,” named for a mountain bike trail in Aspen.  Kanner contributed his own bright rhythms, with creative use of brushes in the sets’ quieter moments.

With the continuing success of Kurt Elling, Laurence Hobgood will clearly have plenty of challenging work in front of him. But audiences should leap at the chance to hear him leading a trio in these richly engaging compositions. He’ll continue tonight at Café Metropole with special guest Ernie Watts.

Here, There & Everywhere: The Jazz Winners at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards

January 31, 2010

By Don Heckman

The jazz Grammys have been awarded and – Surprise! – there are no surprises.  Which, given the nominations, is not particularly surprising.

Even so, that’s not to question the worthiness of winners such as the Joe Zawinul album 75, (recorded a couple of months before the composer/keyboardist’s death) – despite its peculiar presence in the “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” category.  Kurt Elling’s award in the “Best Jazz Vocal Album” was richly deserved; it was his ninth nomination and first win.  So, too, for the Bebo and Chucho Valdes award for “Best Latin Jazz Album.” The father and son Cuban piano stars have been instrumental in bringing first rate Cuban jazz to wide audiences.  And as an addendum in other categories, it was good to see pianist Bill Cunliffe receive a “Best Instrumental Arrangement Award” for West Side Story Medley (Resonance), and Claus Ogerman win the “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists” for Diana Krall’s Quiet Nights (Verve).

It was, on the other hand, unfortunate to see younger talent – Julian Lage, Gerald Clayton, Miguel Zenon – overlooked.  But they’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future.

The real problems lay, as they have for the past few years, in the nominations and the definitions for the categories.  Too often – the “Best Jazz Vocal Album” category was a good example – fine recordings from lesser known talent were ignored in favor of familiar faces.  Other categories – “Best Contemporary Album,” “Best Latin Jazz Album,” ”Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” – are catch-alls, pitting dissimilar nominees against each other, reflecting the Recording Academy’s seemingly diminishing knowledge and interest in jazz.  And the “Best Improvised Solo” category continues to be an absurd grouping.  One wonders what definitions a voting member uses to compare, say, an improvised solo by Martial Solal to a solo by Terence Blanchard.

Getting back to the “Surprise” (or lack of same) factor, it wasn’t surprising that the jazz awards were given in the afternoon, relegated to the non-televised segment of the Awards.  But it was startling to see the Grammys handed out by pop singer/songwriter Colbie Cailiat and Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood.  It wasn’t clear what, exactly, their connection with jazz might have been.  Maybe the Academy knows something I don’t.

Here are the nominations and the winners:

Best Contemporary Jazz Album

WINNER: Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate 75 (Heads Up International)

Stefon Harris & Blackout Urbanus (Concord Jazz)

Julian Lage Sounding Point (Emarcy/Decca)

Philippe Saisse At World’s Edge (E1 Music)

Mike Stern Big Neighborhood (Heads Up International)


Best Jazz Vocal Album

WINNER: Kurt Elling Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane and Hartman (Concord)

Randy Crawford No Regrets (PRA Records)

Roberta Gambarini So In Love (Groovin’ High/Emarcy)

Luciana Souza Tide (Verve)

Tierney Sutton Desire (Telarc Jazz)


Best Improvised Jazz Solo

WINNER: Terence Blanchard “Dancin’ 4 Chicken” from Jeff ‘Tain” Watts CD, Watts (Dark Key Music)

Gerald Clayton “All Of You” (ArtistShare)

Roy Hargrove “Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey” (Groovin’ High/Emarcy)

Martial Solal “On Green Dolphin Street” (CamJazz)

Miguel Zenon “Villa Palmeras” (Marsalis Music)


Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group

WINNER: Chick Corea & John McLaughlin Five Peace Band Five Peace Band – Live (Concord Records)

Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow & Antonio Sanchez Quartet Live (Concord Jazz)

Clayton Brothers Brother To Brother (ArtistShare)

John Patitucci Trio Remembrance (Concord Jazz)

Allen Toussaint The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch)


Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

WINNER: New Orleans Jazz Orchestra Book One (World Village

Bob Florence Limited Edition Legendary (MAMA Records)

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside)

Sammy Nestico And The SWR Big Band Fun Time (Hanssler Classic)

University Of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band Lab 2009 (North Texas Jazz)


Best Latin Jazz Album (Vocal or Instrumental)

WINNER: Bebo Valdés And Chucho Valdés Juntos Para Siempre (Sony Music/Calle 54)

Chembo Corniel Things I Wanted To Do (Chemboro Records)

Geoffrey Keezer Aurea (ArtistShare)

Claudio Roditi Brazilliance X 4 (Resonance Records)

Miguel Zenón Esta Plena (Marsalis Music)

Live Jazz: “A Night at the Beats” with Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman, John Handy, Kurt Elling, Michael McClure, Exene Cervenka and others at Disney Hall

December 9, 2009

By Michael Katz

Disney Hall and the LA Phil continued their West Coast Left Coast series Tuesday night with A Night at the Beats, featuring two fine jazz ensembles, two classic West Coast poets and two singers from divergent backgrounds. A slight disclaimer before I go further: I was seated in the so-called “Orchestra View” Section of Disney Concert Hall, a section above and directly behind the stage.  I suppose these seats — when a full orchestra is present and you can actually see some of the musicians’ faces — might provide a reasonable alternative to, say, video streaming.  But they are wholly inadequate for a small jazz ensemble backing a program of poetry readings. I’m sure those who saw the program actually facing the stage had a different experience.

Charles Lloyd

The first set featured the Charles Lloyd Quartet with poet Michael McClure reading what I assumed was his own poetry, as the program was unannounced. Lloyd opened on an alto flute.  He has one of the most lovely tones on both flute and tenor of anyone I know, but unfortunately they sounded muffled and muted. The rhythm section fared much better — a world class trio, with Jason Moran playing beautifully on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums.  McClure’s poetry was animated and expressive, but again the sound was mangled, and though you could make out some of the words, it had to be appreciated more as performance art.

During intermission it was clear that the technical staff was working  on the sound, and the improvement was noticeable when David Meltzer took the stage, more so after someone in the crowd yelled “Louder!” and the volume was increased. Meltzer was backed by a terrific ensemble anchored by Christian McBride on bass, Peter Erskine on drums and the inimitable Alan Broadbent on piano. The second act moved crisply, with   preparation between poets and musicians evident and material enunciated for the benefit of the audience.

Alto saxophonist John Handy and tenor Joshua Redman, both with Bay Area backgrounds, filled in the front line and complimented Meltzer’s spirited readings. Handy was featured in Meltzer’s reading of Alan Ginsburg’s America, 1956,  one of the evening’s many poems that resonated strongly in today’s political atmosphere.  Redman took the lead for the next reading, Meltzer’s No Eyes, an ode to Lester Young in his final days. Redman started with a plaintive “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” segueing into more lovely Young ballads in support of Meltzer’s haunting lines.

Exene Cervenka

Exene Cervenka followed, and I’ll admit to not being aware of her oeuvre in punk rock, but I was surely impressed by her presentation in this venue. She had prepared a series of shorter poems, including The Secret by Denise Levertov, Hay For The Horses by Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s I am Waiting. Against spare but witty accompaniment, especially by Broadbent and McBride, her reading was bright and fully expressed the probing intelligence as she read: “I am waiting for the rebirth of wonder.”  She finished with Michael McClure and Janis Joplin’s “O Lord, Won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,” with McBride and Erskine providing a slapping, slamming rhythmic back-up, melting into Miles Davis’ “So What.”

Kurt Elling

Michael McClure returned, this time to better acoustics, and read a lengthy interlude from Jack Kerouac’s “Mexico City Blues.”  A special nod to McClure, the only performer who actually recognized us folks behind him and directed some poetry our way.   He finished with a Jim Morrison reflection on LA.

Kurt Elling closed out the show with more Kerouac, a poem by Gregory Corso and a wonderful rendition of a work by (and in the voice of) William Burroughs. Elling, whose persona never drifts very far from beat era hipster anyway, was a real treat for most of the audience that hung around for the end.

All in all, an energetic and inspiring evening, which deserves a repeat performance. I’d love to see it next time from the front.

Picks of the Week: Dec. 7 – 13

December 8, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Dec. 8. (Tues.)  Dominick Farinacci.  Trumpeter Farinacci’s debut U.S. CD, Lovers, Tales and Dances, announced the arrival of an impressive new young jazz artist.  He makes one of his rare Southland appearances for one night only.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 8. (Tues.) Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman, Exene Cervenka, Michael McClure, Kurt Elling, others.  A compelling line-up of artists have been gathered together for one of the most intriguing evenings in the Philharmonic’s  West Coast, Left Coast series: A Night of the Beats. Disney Hall.

- Dec. 9. (Wed.)  The Irish Tenors. Holiday Show.  What better way to celebrate the holiday season than with the soaring voices of the three Irish tenors singing holiday songs.    The Cerritos Center.   (562) 916-8501.

Bebel Gilberto

- Dsec. 9. (Wed.)  Bebel Gilberto with DJ Lara Gerin.  The daughter of  Joao Gilberto — who virtually invented the sound and the rhythm of bossa nova — and singer Miucha,  Bebel Gilberto has carved out an impressive career in her own right, bringing her contemporary, Brazilian-tinted  vision to international pop music.   Music Box @ the Fonda. (323) 464-0808.

- Dec. 9. (Wed.)  Flexible Reality.  The instrumentation alone makes this a fascinating musical ensemble.  The players — Richard Todd, French Horn, Charlie Bisharat,  violin, Frank Marocco, accordion, Michael Valerio and Abraham Laboriel, basses and Alex Acuna, drums – make it even better.  Red Carpet Jazz Serries.  Upstairs at Vitellos. (818) 769-0905.

- Dec. 9 – 13. (Wed. – Sun.)  Roy Hargrove Quintet.  Versatile trumpter Hargrove, who’s been leading a big band lately, shows up this time with his briskly swinging quintet.   Catalina’s. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

- Dec. 10. (Thurs.)  Alan Pasqua, Peter Erskine, Darek Oles, Bob Mintzer.  The Pasqua/Erskine trio with the late Dave Carpenter was one of the Southland’s finest jazz ensembles.  With the excellent bassist Oles now in the group, the tradition of world class jazz continues, this time with the sturdy tenor saxophone of Bob Mintzer.  Red Carpet Jazz Series Upstairs at Vitellos. (818) 769-0905.

- Dec. 11. (Fri.)  Scotty Barnhart.  Trumpeter /educator Barnhart, a veteran of the Count Basie band, takes a break from his academic chores to jam with  with John Heard, bass, Roy McCurdy, drums, Andy Langham, piano.  Charlie O’s(818) 989-3110.

Molly Ringwald

Dec. 11. (Fri.)  Molly Ringwald and Plus 4. Yes, it’s the same Molly Ringwald who you remember from Pretty in Pink and Secret Life of the American Teenager.  And, yes, she can sing, too, having started from an early age with her jazz pianist father, Bob Ringwald.  Spazio.  (818) 728-8400

- Dec. 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.)  C.A.B. World class fusion from the guys who do it best, with Frank Gambale, guitar, Otmaro Ruiz, keyboards, Bunny Brunel, bass, Tom Brechtlein, drums.  The Baked Potato. (818) 980-1615.

- Dec. 12. (Sat.)  Bruce Forman Quartet.  Guitarist Forman brings strikingly new perspectives to the contemporary art of jazz guitar.  He plays with  Joe Bagg, organ, Pat Senatore, bass, drums tbd.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 12. (Sat.)  Jazz Compass.  Holiday Concert & Jazz Party from a collective of L.A.’s A-list players.  Featuring Larry Koonse, Clay Jenkins, Tom Warrington, Joe La Barbera, Bill CunliffeUpstairs at Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

- Dec. 12. (Sat.)  Los Angeles Master ChoraleMessiah Sing-along.   The annual must-do event for everyone who ever sang in a choir: the chance to join voices sith the extraordinary artists of the Master Chorale.  2 p.m.  Disney Hall. http://www.laphil.com

- Dec. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  “Colors of Christmas” One of the annual holiday season’s most pleasant musical interludes, with Peabo Bryson, Sheena Easton, Jennifer Holiday and Maxi Priest.  The Cerritos Center.  (562) 916-8501.

Bill Holman

- Dec. 13. (Sun.) Marathon Jazz Party.  It’s an event to benefit the relocation of the L.A. Jazz Institute.  Three rooms of continuous music, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with dozens of musicians — including the big bands of Bill Holman, Steve  Huffsteter, Med Flory, Kim Richmond and others — as well as raffles, auctions, door prizes, CD sales, etc.    Los Angeles Jazz Institute. LAX Marriott. (562) 985.7065.

- Dec. 13. (Sun.)  Holiday Jazz Vespers ServiceEric Kertes and Friends, with Aaron Hernandez’s hip hop commentary on today’s world.  Free will offering.  Bring a can, box or bag of food for donation to Food Pantry LAX to help those in need.  Welcoming people of all faiths, and those with no faith.  Episcopal Church of the Holy Nativity. (310) 670.4777

San Francisco

- Dec. 8 & 9. (Tues. & Wed.)  Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks.  With special guest Bob Dorough.  “Holidaze in Hicksville”  Featuring Hicks’ holiday classics “My Main Man Santa,” “A Yule That’s Cool” and “Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Christmas Card.”  As well as Dorough’s “Blue Xmas” (written with Miles Davis.  (510) 238-9200.

- Dec. 10 – 13. (Thurs. – Sun.) Guitarist Mike Stern fronts a band of world class players, as adept with tradition as they are with fusion: trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummer Dave Weckl and bassist Tom KennedyYoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200.

Ahmad Jamal

- Dec. 10 – 13. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Ahmad Jamal.  A unique jazz artist, pianist Jamal influenced Miles Davis’ view of phrasing, established himself as an iconic figure, and is still out there doing his thing.  Don’t miss the chance to hear and see him in action.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.


-Dec. 10 (Thurs.)  The Chicago Jazz Ensemble and Jon Faddis continue the 11th annual American Jazz Heritage Series with a program honoring the music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis.  Special guests David Sanchez and Steve Wilson.  The Harris Theatre.  The Chicago Jazz Ensemble.  (312) 369-6270.

New York

- Dec. 8 – 12. (Tues. – Sat.)  Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Brad Mehldau. Several generations of great jazz improvisers in an adventurous search for common musical ground.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

- Dec. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Eddie Palmieri y La Perfecta.  A 73rd birthday celebration for the master keyboardist of Latin Jazz,  leading his irrepressible La Perfecta.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

- Dec. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Dave Douglas Quintet.  Trumpeter and musical explorer Douglas works with ensemble equally capable of journeying into new territory.  With Uri Caine, piano, Donny McCaslin, sax, James Genus, bass, Clarence Penn, drums.  Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

Dec. 10 – 12.  (Thurs. – Sat.)  Red Hot Holiday Stomp.  A New Orleans perspective on some classic holiday favorites.  With Wycliffe Gordon, Victor Goines, Don Vappie, Herlin RileyRose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  (212) 258-9800.

Kim Burrell

- Dec. 10 – 13. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Tango Meets Jazz Festival.  The marriage of a pair of musical genres with a surprising number of common elements.  With pianist Pablo Ziegler and saxophonists Miguel Zenon (12/10 and 12/11) and  David Sanchez ((12/12 and 12/13).  The Jazz Standard. (212) 447-7733.

Dec. 11 – 12.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Kim Burrell, The divine diva of gospel brings the spirit of Christmas alive with her soulful, spiritual stylings.  The Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. (212) 258-9800.

Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival (I)

September 23, 2009

By Michael Katz

What happens when the world’s greatest jazz festival meets the era’s worst economy? The recession made its presence felt at the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival, with arena seats available at curtain time for the first time in memory. Even the official program was slimmed down by about 20 pages. But by any other measure the Festival was a stunning success, a cornucopia of diverse musical formats and virtuosity unmatched in the decade or so I’ve been attending. From the opening warmth generated by saxophonist Roger Eddy, floating Brazilian melodies over the Garden Stage, to the closing chords of Chick Corea’s acoustic trio, the festival was a series of highlights, spread over 6 stages, far too much for one person to take in.

Esperanza spaulding Monterey

Esperanza Spalding

The Friday arena show opened with Esperanza Spalding, the young singer/ bassist who’s been causing such a stir. Tall and willowy, her hair styled a la Billie Holliday, Spalding presented a set full of verve and sensuality. Alternating between stand-up and electric bass, she bridged the territory between Wayne Shorter-inspired jazz funk and the lush Brazilian melody of Milton Nascimento’s “Ponta de Areia.” Though I’m partial to her upright, her vocals often seem more effective when she was playing the more compact electric bass, as on her bouncy hit, “Sunlight.” There is such a disparity in octaves between her alto voice and the deep, rich tones of the stand-up that they sometimes seem to compete, or at least give the illusion there-of. There were times when it might have been a better idea, especially on ballads, just to put the bass aside. Still, it was an appealing set that got the arena series off to a rousing start.

Russell Malone Monterey

Russell Malone and Kiyoshi Kitagawa

The second set was a breathtaking performance by the 2nd edition of the Monterey All Stars. Anchored by pianist Kenny Barron’s trio with Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, the band featured violinist Regina Carter, Russell Malone on guitar and vocalist Kurt Elling. The fact that most of this group had played with one another previously in one shape or form more than made up for lack of rehearsal time. Starting with a swinging rendition of “When I Get Too Old To Dream,” with everyone providing an introductory solo, they moved on to the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain,” featuring first Barron and then a heart-tugging violin solo by Carter. Malone took over with a nod to Wes Montgomery on “Road Song,” Kenny Barron chiming in with a spirited riff. Then Kurt Elling nearly stole the show with a Kerouc-inspired free-poetic reading of Barron’s “What If.” Everyone in the band was burning at this point, but there was more to come, with Barron’s composition “Calypso” featuring Malone and Carter, and then Elling with a nod to Jon Hendricks on “Soul Food.” Russell Malone is always terrific on up-tempo tunes, but when he does a ballad, the earth stops. He described the advice he had been given, that a ballad should be “like a kiss, sweet, deep and slow” and proceeded to show why with an achingly beautiful “Time After Time.” They closed with an Elling-led romp through “Nature Boy.” This group will be touring in the winter, and hopefully will release a CD of this performance, as did the first edition of the All Stars. They are not to be missed.

Conrad Herwig Latin side

Conrad Herwig's Latin Side All-Stars

Friday’s arena program closed with trombonist Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side All Star Band, with veteran East Coasters including Bill O’Connell on piano, supplemented by the Festival’s featured artist Joe Lovano and Randy Brecker. It was Herwig who was the real revelation here, at least for those of us on the West Coast who hadn’t seen him. His tone is authoritative, his style swinging and technically brilliant, whether on ballads or Latin-peppered riffs. His band started with a salute to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, with Joe Lovano in fine form on the title tune and “Cousin Mary.” The band then moved to a Kind Of Blue tribute featuring Randy Brecker on “Flamenco Sketches” and a Latin funk version of “So What.” Brecker has a hard bop sound, closer in spirit to Freddie Hubbard than Miles Davis, and though the music was engaging, it seemed farther afield from its source than the Coltrane tunes. But no one could complain about the final number, “All Blues,” which has stood up to anything and everything over the years. Lovano returned to supplement the front line with Herwig and Brecker, and the three of them soared through to the conclusion. All in all, it was the most exciting opening night of a festival in I can remember. It was past one AM when the last stragglers cleared out of the fairground, and the festival was only beginning.

Photographs © Craig Lovell courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival

Picks of the Week: July 13-19

July 13, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- July 13. (Mon.) Big Band 2000. Give Terence Love, the proprietor of Steamers, credit for keeping the tradition of Big Band Monday nights alive. This week, Bill Strout‘s Big Band 2000 recalls the glories and the hits of the Swing Era. Steamers. (714) 871-8800.

- July 14. (Tues.) Rickey Woodard Quartet. Saxophonist Woodard, one of the Southland’s great jazz treasures, performs with the equally valuable backing of pianist Art Hillary, bassist Richard Simon and drummer Roy McCurdy. Bar Melody. (310) 670-1994.


Smokey Robinson

- July 14. (Thurs.) Andy Martin Quartet. Trombonist Martin takes a night off from his busy schedule of performing with virtually every large jazz ensemble in town, to front his own quartet. Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

- July 15. (Wed.) Smokey Robinson. The Motown legend celebrates the release of his latest album, Time Flies When You’re Having Fun. The Pacific Amphitheatre.

- July 15 – 19. (Wed. – Sun.) Kurt Elling, with the aid of Ernie Watts and Laurence Hobgood, revives songs from the iconic recording match-up of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- July 16. (Thurs.) Grant Geissman. Versatile guitarist Geissman’s quintet showcases selections from the new CD, Cool Man Cool, with saxophonist Brian Scanlon, pianist Emilio Palame, bassist John Belzaguy and drummer Ray Brinker. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- July 16. (Thurs.) Issa Bagayogo. The fast-fingered Malian master of the lute-like n’goni blends traditional sounds with rock, funk, dub and electronica. The Skirball Center. (310) 440-4500.



- July 16. (Thurs.) Sgt. Garcia. Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca. The grooves will be flying across one border after another, with Garcia’s salsamuffin and Lemvo’s irresistible blend of salsa, rumba and soukous. The Twilight Dance Series at the Santa Monica Pier. HYPERLINK “http://www.twilightdance.org” http://www.twilightdance.org. (310) 458-8901.

July 17. (Fri.) Céu. One of the leaders of a new generation of female Brazilian singers who are creating a 21st century version of the stylistically inclusive MPB and Tropicalia of Brazil’s sixties and seventies. And when Céu is good, she’s very good, indeed. Get there early enough to hear some of the other acts, especially the superb — and not yet well-known in this country — Italian singer/songwriter  Patrizia LaquidaraThe Roxy. (310) 276-2222.

- July 18. (Sat.) Suzy Williams sings Literature in The Lit Show. Songs based on the words of Kurt Vonnegut, Dorothy Parker, Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote and more. Suzy’s 4th annual celebration of the linkages between songs and literature. Beyond Baroque, Venice. (310) 822-3006.

- July 18. (Sat.) Albita. Cuban-born Albita’s unique musical perspective reaches from the irrepressible rhythms of her native land to the boundary-less sounds of the contemporary dance floor. She’s truly one of a kind. Grand Performances. (213) 687-2159

- July 19. (Sun.) Houston Person Quartet. The soulful sound and blues-driven phrases of Person, backed by pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Richard Simon and drummer Ralph Penland — all of it in a delightful, Hollywood Hills setting. A-Frame Jazz. (310) 659-9169

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton


- July 19. (Sun.) “The Grammy Museum Salutes the Jazz Bakery.” The Jazz Bakery lives via the first of several Bakery-branded programs leading up (hopefully) to a re-opening in a new location. All artists are Grammy winners or nominees. Kenny Burrell, Hubert Laws, Alan Bergman, Alan Broadbent Trio, Tierney Sutton, Bill Henderson and Mike Melvoin Hosted by Jeff Garlin. Grammy Museum Sound Stage at the corner of Olympic Blvd. and Figueroa St. Jazz Bakery. (310) 271-9039.

July 19 (Sun.)  Shaila Durcal. “Descarga en CityWalk” — the annual free outdoor concert series produced by Telemundo and Mun2 kicks off its third season with the unnique song stylings of Shaila Durcal — daughter of lagendary vocalist Rocío Durcal.  Also on the bill — Mariachi Imperial and Beto Cortez.  The Citywalk at Universal Studios.  Descarga en CityWalk.

San Francisco

- July 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.) Renee Olstead and Paula West. Olstead has been wowing audiences since — in 2003 at the tender age of 13 — she brought an afternoon crowd to their feet to cheer her unannounced appearance at the Playboy Jazz Festival in the Hollywood Bowl. But she needs to be in her best form with the superb, but still too little known West on the same bill.  Yoshi’s has also announced half priced tickets for the 10 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday.  Check with the club for destails.   Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

chuck mangione

New York City

- July 14 – 19. (Tues. – Sun.) Chuck Mangione. The cat in the hat, the always lyrical trumpeter/flugelhornist and the crafter of a collection of memorable jazz melodies, doesn’t make many club appearances. So don’t overlook this one. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Picks of the Week: July 6 – 12

July 6, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- July 8. (Wed.) Sergio Mendes, Eddie Palmieri, Poncho Sanchez. Three views of the colorful spectrum of Latin jazz – from samba and bossa nova to Afro-Cuban and salsa –are featured in the first entry in the Hollywood Bowl’s summer jazz programming. The Hollywood Bowl.

Luba Mason

Luba Mason

- July 8 & 9. (Wed. & Thurs.) Luba Mason. Singer/actress Mason applies her impressive voice to selections from her “Krazy Love” CD, backed by bassist Jimmy Haslip, drummer Marco Costa and pianist Sandro Albert, as well as her husband, actor/musician Ruben Blades. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- July 9. (Thurs.) Chris Botti w. special guest Renee Olstead. Trumpeter Botti’s accomplishing the rare task of gathering large audiences while continuing to expand his creative horizons. Olstead, just turned 20, is already a veteran songstress with a style all her own. The Greek Theatre.

- July 9. (Thurs.) Bern. It’s drummer Bernie Dressel’s “12-piece, supercharged horn funk band.” With four vocalists, horns and rhythm doing the music of Tower of Power, Funkadelic, the Beatles, Miles Davis and beyond. Café Cordial. (818) 7891985.

- July 9. (Thurs.) Joan Baez. The one and only, still performing with the power, the magic and the musicality that have been essential to her art for nearly five decades. The Santa Monica Twilight Dance Series. (310) 458-8901.



- July 9. (Thurs.) Teka and the NewBossa Trio. (w. Otmaro Ruiz, Tony Dumas and Ami Molinelli.) Singer/guitarist Teka’s “NewBossa” applies her lyrical voice and irresistible rhythms to songs rooted in classic bossa, blossoming in the new century. She spends most of her time around Santa Barbara, so hear her while you can. The Crowne Plaza Hotel. (310) 642-7500.

- July 10. (Fri.) Heart. The summer’s Golden Oldies series kicks off with Heart and the Wilson sisters But that’s just the beginning. Saturday features Duran Duran, followed by Rick Springfield on Sunday. And if that’s not enough, the following week showcases Smokey Robinson, Joan Jett, Tears For Fears, Anita Baker and the B-52s. The Pacific Amphitheatre. (714) 708-1500.

- July 10. (Fri.) The Rickey Woodard Quartet with special guest Jasmyn Roe. The always-engaging saxophonist Woodard leads a sterling ensemble –- pianist Joel Scott, bassist Luther Hughes, drummer Roy McCurdy – in a set brightened by the intimate vocalizing of the rapidly rising jazz star Jasmyn Roe. The Culver Club at the Radisson. (310) 649-1776.

- July 10. (Fri.) Dr. Richard Allen Williams. How in the world does Dr. Williams maintain his position as a highly regarded professor of medicine at U.C.L.A. while keeping his chops together as a prime jazz trumpeter? Hard to say; but he does it. This time out he’ll be laying down his articulate trumpet and flugelhorn lines with the solid backing of tenor saxophonist George Harper, Jr., pianist Harold Land, Jr., bassist Jeff Littleton and drummer Lorca Hart. Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

barbara morrison

Barbara Morrison

- July 10 & 11. (Fri. & Sat.) Barbara Morrison. She’s a consummate blues singer, but that’s just the beginning for the magnificent Ms. Morrison, who convincingly covers all the other areas of the jazz vocal art. Steamers. (714) 871-8800

- July 10 – 12. (Fr. – Sun.) Oleta Adams. Everything Adams touches – from ballads to covers to high spirited rhythm tunes — is illuminated by the soulful qualities at the heart of her singing. She’s right on target when she says she “tries to allow the righteousness to shine forth through the music. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- July 11. (Sat.) Buika and Perla Batalla. It’s one of the Southland’s best summer bargains: more than two months of free performances by artists from around the world, presented in the atmospheric, open air setting of the California Water Court. This week; the passionate jazz/bolero/funk sounds of Spanish singer Buika, and the extraordinary ballads, blues and traditional mestiza of Perla Batalla (let’s hope she sings her stunning rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”). Grand Performances. (213) 687-2159.

- July 12. (Sun.) Bruce Eskovitz, Charlie Shoemake, Luther Hughes and Pul Kreibich. A Southern California all-star quartet, performing at the ocean view setting of the Hamlet at Moonstone Gardens in the beautiful central coast village of Cambria. Moonstone Gardens. (805) 927-3535.


Ernie Andrews

- July 12. (Sun.) Jazz Explosion III A Fundraiser to Benefit California Jazz Musicians in Need. The all-star line-up includes Ernie Andrews, Llew Matthews, Richard Simon, Roy McCurdy, Bill Cunliffe, Bennie Maupin and his 20 piece Ikeda Kings Orchestra, Janis Mann, Gerry Gibbs and others. 2 – 6 p.m. The California Jazz Foundation. All Saints Church, Pasadena.

San Francisco

- July 9 – 12. (Thurs. – Sun.) Kurt Elling with Ernie Watts and Laurence Hobgood revive songs from the iconic recording match-up of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600

- July 10 – 12. (Fri. – Sun.) Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A chance to hear South Africa’s inimitable, high spirited vocalizing in a club setting. Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200

New York City

- July 7. (Tues.) Steve Kuhn, with saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist David Finck and drummer Billy Drummond celebrates the release of new CD, “Mostly Coltrane” (ECM Records). Pianist Kuhn has assembled an all-star band to revisit his early playing years, when – at 21 – he performed with the player was already beginning to transform the future of the jazz saxophone. Birdland. 581-3080


Ron Carter

- July 7 – 12. (Tues. – Sun.) The Ron Carter Nonet. Bassist Carter’s musical curiosity has always had unlimited horizons. And his Nonet – which features a rhythm section, a cello quartet and his own piccolo bass is one of his more adventurous musical explorations. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear it. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8502.

- July 9 – 12. (Thurs. – Sun.) Generations: a band that reaches across four decades to seek – and find — generational common ground. Including saxophonists Frank Wess, Eric Alexander and Andrew Speight, trumpeter Jim Rotundi, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Ray Drummond, drummer Kenny Washington. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2252

Butte, Montana

- July 10 – 12. (Fri. – Sun.) The 71st Annual National Folk Festival. It’s the oldest multi-cultural festival in the nation, and it’s free. Expect to experience music, dance, workshops, crafts, ethnic foods, children’s activities and more. The long colorful list of performers includes Thomas Mapfumo, Michael Doucet, Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Melody of China, Bob French’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, Texas Shorty and numerous others. The 71st Annual Folk Festival. Butte Montana.

Live: 51st Monterey Jazz Festival

September 25, 2008

By MIchael J. Katz

Ryan Shaw

Ryan Shaw

It’s 6:35 p.m. and the first few strains of music are flowing over the Garden Stage, a small outdoor amphitheatre adjacent to the main arena at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. The main stage show doesn’t start for two hours, but the fans are already flowing in, filling up the funky metal benches. Lawn chairs sprout up in the green space in front of the bleacher sections, and by tomorrow there will be folks perched in the surrounding oaks. The crowd is listening to George Young, a sixtyish tenor player who opens the festival with a program of Billy Strayhorn tunes.  Young’s renditions of Take The A Train and Rain Check seem the perfect backdrop as old friends reunite and plot strategy for three days of jazz and blues spread over five stages of music.

Although the big names are centered on the Arena, I’ve always thought the Garden Stage is the soul of the festival. Its smaller size promotes intimacy, yet the outdoor setting gives it a raucous environment.  Good vibes spill out over the grounds, across the midway, where the smell of barbecue wafts over wooden picnic tables; fans of all ages and backgrounds find themselves thrown together, comparing the virtues of Ghanaian salmon and Texas ribs.

I duck into the Coffee House, the smallest of the indoor venues, to catch a young Israeli pianist, Yaron Herman and his trio. Herman plays with a furious virtuosity, all his own compositions, in a free form whirlwind that will be book ended late in the festival by Wayne Shorter’s soaring performance at the arena. Shorter’s legion of fans will take flight with him anywhere, whereas Herman hasn’t found his audience yet. People wander in and out, and I wonder if sprinkling his repertoire with a few identifiable tunes wouldn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, at the arena, a dense fog has settled in, and some in the crowd who thought last year’s downpour on opening night was an anomaly are beginning to mutter about the effects of global warming.  By the time Cassandra Wilson finishes an adventurous set with a nod to Sarah Vaughn in A Day In The Life of A Fool and Til There was You, the fog has turned into light rain and many folks don’t stay for the final act, flutist Maraca’s Cuban Lullabies. That’s a shame, because they miss an exhilarating performance, augmented by sax players David Sanchez and Miguel Zenon.  Three days hence, Zenon will be awarded a $500,000 MacArthur grant – one can only imagine the Monterey crowd partying over that news.

Saturday afternoon is the blues show, and I am back at the Garden Stage where Ryan Shaw, a young R and B singer from Georgia, simply tears up the place. Singing a mixture of his own songs and gospel-tinged covers from the Beatles (Let It Be) to Otis Redding (Try a Little Tenderness), Shaw has the crowd standing and cheering.  Aided by superb bassist Michael “Tiny” Lindsey, Shaw encores for half an hour, causing me to miss Maceo Parker at the Arena. That is the joyful serendipity of Monterey.

The biggest splash of the festival is made Sunday afternoon by young Brit Jamie Cullum. Hyped as the next  Harry Connick, Jr,  or maybe the third coming of Sinatra, Cullum wins over skeptics from the start with a foot stomping (in this case on his own keyboard) version of I Get A Kick Out Of You. Cullum has the jazz chops.  His Twentysomething is a brightly funny take on leaving the nest, set against the altered chords of Charles Mingus’s Haitian Fight Song.  He bounces around the stage, leaping on his piano — his vertical leap would make NBA scouts drool, were it not for the fact that he is about half the size of a standup bass.  It’s the best main arena debut I can recall since Diana Krall knocked everybody out in 1997.

A few words about jazz education, the principal mission of the Monterey Jazz Festival. The kids in this festival, supported generously by Verizon, are stunningly talented. A Latin Jazz septet from the Berklee College of Music, its members hailing from Israel to Peru, played to packed houses at both the Garden Stage and the Coffee House. I caught the winning High School vocal groups from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and Folsom High School, both of whom played crisp arrangements with outstanding young voices.  A combo of high school students from the Jazz School Advanced Workshop in Berkeley was equally outstanding. When you listen to these kids and see the enthusiastic crowds that support them at Monterey, it’s hard to accept the slight recognition jazz gets in the broader media, or the widespread belief that the music isn’t healthy.

There is way too much going on at Monterey to do justice to everyone. My favorites this year included Kurt Elling’s tribute to the Coltrane/Hartman collaboration, with saxman Ernie Watts and the ETHEL string quartet; Christian McBride’s straight ahead jazz quintet with Steve Wilson on woodwinds and Eric Reed on piano, and Maria Schneider’s lush, symphonic jazz compositions, also featuring Wilson,  highlighted by Willow Lake, her commissioned piece.

When it was all over, Herbie Hancock launching into an electrified encore of Chameleon at the arena, the crowd emptied out, taking the joys of music and camaraderie back to the workaday world.


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