A Remembrance: Horace Silver

June 18, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When I think of Horace Silver I think of how challenging it must have been to bring that old style of blues and gospel back into jazz during the heyday of bebop. Sure the blues was a part of bop; Bird, Dizzy, Miles, and Monk loved it, played it, and used it in their compositions but in a more abstract and modern fashion. Silver’s blues, even when mixed with Latin jazz and bebop was more “old timey” or “back home” blues that many lovers (and some of the players) of the newer jazz sound veered away from and even felt ashamed of.

Horace Silver

Horace Silver

I first heard Horace Silver in high school on the album A Night At Birdland By The Art Blakey Quintet on Blue Note Records with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, Curley Russell, and Blakey of course. His style jumped out at me. A young Clifford Brown was playing much like Fats Navarro and Donaldson was using up all of his stock Bird licks. Russell and Blakey too were in that bebop groove but then this aggressive, cocky, and percussive blues piano sound came in and it was like a left hook to the face.

I was so used to straight-up bebop players like Bud Powell, Dodo Marmarosa, Al Haig, John Lewis, and Barry Harris. Although I heard remnants of Teddy Wilson and Count Basie, Silver’s approach, reminded me more of the Chicago blues pianists I had grown up on like Otis Spann, Little Johnny Jones and Eddie Boyd. But the purity of Silver’s blues/gospel style somehow fit perfectly in the bop idiom. It complimented it and brought more of the blues out in the soloists in his many groups or artists he backed up on a countless number of classic sessions.

After my encounter with the live Blakey album, I sought out other recordings by Silver such as Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers, Blowin’ The Blues Away, 6 Pieces Of Silver, Finger Poppin,’ and Song For My Father.

Horace silver

Horace silver

I also heard Silver’s piano work on Sonny Rollins Vol.2 (With two pianists consisting of Silver and Thelonious Monk) and Miles Davis’ Bags Groove. No matter what the musical setting or with whom he was swinging with, Silver let it be known that pure blues and gospel are and will always be valid in jazz. It helped to create the music. It’s the heartbeat of jazz that makes everything swing.

Silver (along with drummer and collaborator Art Blakey) wanted jazz to be more accessible and danceable to people and less of a secret society of highly skilled players who may have seemed harmonically, rhythmically, and socially unapproachable to the masses. And so hard-bop was born and many of its greatest practitioners played and honed their skills in Silver’s bands – players such as Junior Cook, Hank Mobley, Louis Hayes, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Blue Mitchell, Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, and James Spaulding to name only a few. Silver schooled musicians back into the blues at a time when many players were studying Ravel and Schoenberg looking for something new outward.

Silver’s style changed jazz. Even though he isn’t on the recording, Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers Moanin’ was a direct reaction to Silver’s influence. Bobby Timmons who wrote the hard- bop anthem was a descendant of Silver’s style. Silver’s classic composition “Song For My Father” continues to reach audiences of all ages, even many of whom aren’t jazz geeks like myself. For me, Horace Silver’s sound will always be synonymous with Blue Note Records.

Horace Silver passed away Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at his home in New Rochelle N.Y. at the age of 85. From now on, whenever jazz musicians try to ditch the blues and gospel roots — as has happened many times throughout the music’s history– I hope the ghost of Horace Silver will come down from Heaven, kick their tight butts and remind them where the swing came from. Goodbye “Senor Blues.”

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.





A Twist Of Doc: Hank Mobley – The Unsung Hero Of Bop.

February 7, 2014

By Devon Wendell

For tenor sax players, the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were a time for hard blowing, fitting in as many notes as possible within a few bars, and trying to break free from familiar patterns.

Sonny Rollins was the reigning king of articulation and might on tenor sax until Coltrane’s second stay with Miles. Although his was more of a cult-like following at the time, and there were plenty of people who didn’t like what he was playing, Coltrane would change the direction of the instrument forever. Rollins was still loved and began to play even harder and faster as a result of Coltrane’s impact on jazz.

Rollins, Coltrane and Johnny Griffin were considered to be the fastest tenor men in the game. Although these men were genius players and writers, many other fantastic contributors were left in the shadows. It’s always been difficult for music journalists and the media to pay attention to more than a few groundbreaking artists at once.

Hank Mobley

Hank Mobley

One such artist who never seemed to get his fair due during his time was Hank Mobley, who died in 1986 at 55. Mobley’s round tone and nimble, melodic blues based phrasing helped define the entire hard-bop genre.

Not only was Mobley a member of the original Jazz Messengers led by Horace Silver, he recorded and composed some of the most original, hard swinging compositions in the entire history of jazz. He also recorded with the top musicians of the day, both new on the scene like Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Freddie Hubbard, as well as older legends such as Art Blakey, Art Taylor, and Kenny Dorham.

His two most heralded albums, Soul Station and Roll Call, both recorded in 1960 on Blue Note are among the most sophisticated and thoughtful albums recorded for the label.

The albums consist mostly of Mobley originals. And the most amazing thing about compositions like “Cattin’,” “B For B.B.” (recorded in 1956 with Donald Byrd on The Jazz Message Of Hank Mobley on Savoy Records), or “Take Your Pick” and “The Breakdown,” both from the Roll Call album, is that one can easily hear these as big band arrangements. Which is hard to say about many of Mobley’s contemporaries, especially as the ‘60s drew near. That sense of the blues that swung all night long that Count Basie, Duke Ellington, as well as Monk, and Dizzy kept with them when composing and playing, were present in Mobley’s writing and blowing. And his sound is immediately identifiable.

Someone could blind fold me and play me a Mobley composition that I’ve never heard, covered by an artist that I’ve never heard and I’d know it was his within the first four bars. There’s still something sweet and endearing to Mobley’s “High And Flighty” tone and his big, bright arrangements. I first noticed it on “Hankerin’” from Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers and Curtain Call (Both on Blue Note) which were given to me by a friend when I was 14.

Leonard Feather may have penned Mobley as “The middleweight champion of the tenor sax,” but I don’t think Feather meant it as a put down. Stan Getz was great and he played softer than Rollins or Coltrane. What’s great about jazz is that there’s room for many styles and sounds. The media may not grab onto it at first or ever, but the musicians and music lovers do. Mobley could and did play hard throughout different periods of his career. Check out his bold, angular lines on Freddie Hubbard’s Goin’ Up album on Blue Note from 1961 or “Hank’s Shout” from Introducing Lee Morgan With Hank Mobley’s Quintet on Savoy. Hank comes out swinging and never stops.

Mobley stayed true to the game until he retired with respiratory problems in the mid-’70s but his music continues to grab the attention of new jazz aficionados’ and keep the love of longtime, loyal fans like myself.

Thanks Hank.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Live Jazz: Alan Broadbent at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The stage was almost empty Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  Almost, that is, except for one notable exception.

Seated at the club’s large concert grand, pianist/arranger/composer Alan Broadbent performed several generous sets over a memorable three hours.  Originally scheduled as a duo with bassist Pat Senatore, it became a solo night for Broadbent when Senatore had to remain at home to fight the flu.

All of which made for a considerably different musical evening, one that was completely focused on Broadbent’s gifted, far-ranging talents as a pianist, an improviser, a composer and arranger.  All those skills were present, as Broadbent framed each tune – fast or slow with spontaneous arrangements, embraced the melodies, dug into improvised passages, and brought every song he touched vividly to life.

Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent

A master of the diverse music in the Great American Songbook, Broadbent filled his sets with classic items, thoughtfully shaping songs such as “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Spring Is Here,” “They Asked About You,” “You Go To My Head,” “Sophisticated Lady” and more.  Some of the ballads were offered with soaringly lyrical melodic phrases; some were tinged with rhapsodic classical touches.  And some were propelled forward via Broadbent’s laid-back, easy-going sense of swing. An occasional bebop line such as Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” moved intriguingly from forward-driving bop to a reminder of the ragtime which is at its roots.

There were offbeat choices, as well: Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” called up memories of its role as the theme song of the Benny Goodman orchestra. A medley of film themes focused on the atmospheric sounds of “Laura.” And John Lewis’ “Django,” a tribute to the great Gipsy jazz guitarist, was played with a sensitive awareness of its roots in J.S. Bach.

A Grammy nominee and a Grammy winner, the New Zealand-born Broadbent had been, until very recently, one of L.A.’s busiest first call musicians.  In addition to his briskly swinging, straight ahead jazz skills, singers such as Irene Kral, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and others have deeply valued his ability to provide the perfect settings for their very different styles.  And his work with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West has produced some extraordinarily musical recordings and live performances ranging from Broadbent’s imaginative instrumental settings, some of them orchestral, to his compelling vocal arrangements on recordings such as Sophisticated Ladies.

Pianists performing either solo or in duos or trios at Vibrato have been known to be overwhelmed by audience noise, especially from the bar.  But on this evening, Broadbent’s playing was so musically mesmerizing that his listeners seemed completely in tune with the magic he brought to each song.

And, as the evening got thoroughly underway, there was no sense of emptiness on the stage. Operating on his own, with no back up players, Broadbent – on his own — nonetheless filled Vibrato with an irresistible sense of imaginative musical completeness.

Broadbent’s performance at Vibrato was a rare Southland appearance since his move to New York City a year or so ago.  But this listener (and no doubt many others) will happily welcome any future Broadbent L.A. visits – either on his own, or blending with the right compatible players, backing a singer, or displaying the rich complexities of his extraordinary arranging and composing skills.  He is truly one of a kind.

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Photo by Faith Frenz.  To see more of her photos click HERE.


Live Jazz: Cat Conner’s “Birthday Bash” at Vitello’s

April 26, 2013

By Don Heckman

Jazz singer Cat Conner gave a birthday party to remember at Vitello’s Thursday night.  Actually, a “Birthday Bash,” as she described it, in which she and her close friend, Lee Hartley, sang their way through a delightful evening of song.

Christian Jacob. Cat Conner, Chuck Berghofer

Christian Jacob. Cat Conner, Chuck Berghofer

Cat Conner

Backed by the stellar trio of pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Ray Brinker, with creative contributions from saxophonist/clarinetist Gene “Cip” Ciprano, Conner and Hartley were clearly enjoying each of the numbers they sang in a nearly two hour program.

After the trio’s opening romp through “Stella By Starlight,” Conner dug into a jaunty “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” following it with “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and Dave Frishberg’s whimsical blues, “I Can’t Take You Nowhere” (which she dedicated to her mother.)  Here, as elsewhere, Conner displayed her warm, intimate way with a song.

Cat Conner and Lee Hartley

Cat Conner and Lee Hartley

Hartley, an impressive jazz artist in her own right, added her gently swinging “I Love Being Here With You” and an original song inspired by Nat “King” Cole.

There was much more to come, including “My Wish For You,” an intriguing version of a lovely Luis Bonfa melody from the film, Black Orpheus, with lyrics by Peggy Lee.  And a romp through “Mr. P.C.” featuring Berghofer’s articulate soloing.  Along with the occasional pairing of Conner and Hartley on tunes such as “I Mean You” and a lyrically revised “Girl Talk.”

Cat Conner, Gene "Cip" Cipriano and Lee Hartley

Cat Conner, Gene “Cip” Cipriano and Lee Hartley

Cipriano, playing clarinet (and calling up images of Artie Shaw), joined Conner and the rhythm section to duet on “Moonglow” and “Squeeze Me.”  Conner was also especially on target, continuing to focus on her musical storytelling via warm interpretations of “How Deep is The Ocean?” and “Embraceable You.”  She wound up the celebration with a high spirited romp through Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomsas.”

The birthday party climaxed with, appropriately, some birthday cake, and a lot of celebratory hugs between Conner and her listeners, most of whom seemed to be close friends and musical acquaintances.

Which wasn’t exactly what one expects from a mid-week gig.  But on this enjoyable evening, Conner, Hartley and their back-up trio found all the pleasant linkages between the music and the birthday celebration.  And, as oten happens at Vitello’s, the performance had the relaxed feeling of a living room jam session among close friends.

No wonder Cat was smiling for most of this night to remember.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

A Twist of Doc: The 2013 NAMM Convention Performance Highlights

February 1, 2013

 By Devon “Doc” Wendell

The 2013 NAMM (National Association Of Music Merchants) convention took place in Anaheim California between Thursday, January 24th and Sunday, January 27th. Despite throngs of inebriated metal heads roaming the Anaheim streets, instrument booths in the convention hall, and thousands of music merchants packed into the Anaheim Convention center like sardines, there were several stellar musical performances by some legendary names and innovators in the music industry, especially in the jazz and blues categories.

Here are some of 2013 NAMM’s many concert highlights:

On Friday night, Hammond Organ presented its two-plus hour “Hammond Soul Summit” Concert at The Anaheim Marriot, which featured some of the instrument’s greatest and most influential practitioners.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Kicking off the show was the legendary jazz and funk Hammond B3 pioneer, Dr. Lonnie Smith performing with the incredible Chester Thompson (Tower Of Power and Santana) and Larry Goldings (Al Jarreau, Maceo Parker, John Mayer).  The three organ titans performed a loose and funky rendition of Smith’s classic “Keep Talkin’.”  Backed by a dynamic rhythm section (Jay Didimo on drums and Jack Maher on electric guitar), Smith and Thompson began swapping bluesy organ licks, trying to upstage one another, pushing the exchanges to ecstatic heights. The energy was electric and took the predominately rock loving NAMM audience back to school. Goldings soloed on an acoustic piano preset on his electric keyboard, playing jazz-fueled gospel chops while Thompson and Smith comped rhythm changes and walking organ bass lines behind him. Unfortunately, they were only allotted time to play one number.

Marty Grebb

Marty Grebb

Up next, Marty Grebb (Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Etta James) took the stage, backed by some of the greatest session players in the world (Reggie McBride on bass and Alvino Bennett on drums) with special guest, 12 year old blues guitar virtuoso, Ray Goren.  After a Jimmy Smith-esque blues shuffle showcasing the young Goren’s fiery electric blues guitar runs and Grebb’s down-home B3 style, another guest was introduced — Marty Grebb’s old musical partner from the Buckinghams,  Dennis Tuffano, on vocals.  Together, Tuffano and Grebb sang The Buckinghams’ 1967 hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”

Though it was hard for Tuffano to come close to topping Grebb’s soulful, Ray Charles- inspired vocals, he proved to still have the fire. This was the most nostalgic and exciting moment of the convention. Goren played some tasteful B.B. King style licks with the maturity of a musician 3 times his age, proving that he’s definitely someone to watch out for.

Larry Goldings

Larry Goldings

Larry Goldings returned to the stage with his trio (Jack Maher: guitar, Jay Didimo: drums), performing a brilliantly original arrangement of the Sonny Rollins classic “Doxy.” Golding’s imagination, fluidity, and inspiring skills incorporated many of Rollins’ saxophone lines in his organ solo and made it look easy.

Although many hard-rock acts dominated the main stage throughout the convention, Nick Smith And Friends performed a set of pure jazz at 4:00pm on Saturday.  Tonight Show keyboardist Smith was joined by an all-star band consisting of Marvin “Smitty” Smith: drums, Cory Jacobs: keyboard, Trevor Ware: Upright bass, James Manning: Electric bass, Antonio Julius: trumpet, Ray Fuller: guitar, and Kamasi Washington on tenor sax.

Nick Smith

Nick Smith

Performing a set of hard-bop originals such as “Alternative Way,” “Slow But Surely” (a masterful tribute to Thelonious Monk), and “Tony Williams” (a salute to jazz drum legend Tony Williams), Nick Smith And Friends proved to be one of the most consistently brilliant jazz bands around today.  Amazingly (believe it or not), Nick Smith played with the syncopation and humor of Monk and virtuosic energy and fluidity of McCoy Tyner in what I can already predict will be among my top ten performances of 2013. Marvin “Smitty” Smith’s bombastic drumming pushed the entire band to play beyond their comfort zone, which is what true improvised jazz is all about. And Kamasi Washington’s playing brought to mind the adventurous spirit of a young Wayne Shorter or mid-60s Joe Henderson.

Even the band’s final tune, “Yeah” (which was a slight venture into funk/fusion) felt fresh and fun without the typical clichés of those genres. Nick Smith And Friends’ too short set was filled with an understanding and love of the history of hard-bop, modal jazz, with just a hint of fusion.  Later that evening Muriel Anderson’s “All Star Guitar Night” was presented by Yamaha guitars, and a benefit and silent auction for The Music For Life Alliance took place at The Anaheim Marriot’s Platinum Ballroom.

Though the big name acts like Stanley Jordan, Robben Ford (who received The Guitar Player Certified Legend award at the event) and host and performer Muriel Anderson were the big name draws of this “exclusive” event, it was some of the lesser known names who were the most interesting of the long showcase.

Mimi Fox

Mimi Fox



Jazz guitarist Mimi Fox performed elegant and thoughtful versions of Wes Montgomery’s “Four By Six” and Chic Corea’s “Five Hundred Miles High,” using open harmonics and sweeping arpeggios, all while playing lead and rhythm simultaneously. It was easy to see why Fox has been sought after by Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, and Branford Marsalis, among others.


Ian Ethan Case

Ian Ethan Case


Ian Ethan Case is a young guitarist with a style that is both sonically and visually original and unorthodox in all the best ways. Case’s performance at this showcase surely had many six-stringers rethink the possibilities of the guitar. Case plays a double neck acoustic guitar in a unique and percussive manner, strumming the six string side of the guitar with one hand, while fretting chords and lead sequences on the 12 string side with the other hand, over the neck of the guitar while occasionally thumping his fists on the instrument’s body, creating polyrhythms. One must see this to believe it. His ideas were endless, playing a style that had elements of country, acoustic rock, and bluegrass, but is a completely unique sound nonetheless.

Case’s ballad “Anthony’s Lullaby”, dedicated to his infant son, had a dream-like, dissonant yet dark, melodic quality to it. It was refreshing to witness a guitarist who has created his own style and is not emulating a host of other players.

Vocalist Toots Hibbert and guitarist Carl Harvey are know for their work in the prolific reggae band Toots And The Maytals, but their acoustic, Delta Blues renditions of the Maytals’ classics “Reggae Got Soul” and “54-46 Was My Number” was a brilliant departure for these two men from the reggae world.  As both men strummed acoustic guitars, with Harvy playing an occasional piercing lead, Hibbert’s vocals sounded like a cross between the late Reverend Gary Davis and Richie Havens.  Their country blues arrangements gave the songs new fire and soul. This was pure blues without any of the affectations that many guitarists of other genres who try to conquer the blues are often guilty of falling back on.

James Hill

James Hill

Ukulele master James Hill and bassist Bakithi Kumalo (bassist on Paul Simon’s Graceland album) brought some much needed humor to this event, performing a witty reading of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” with Hill singing and playing the chord changes on ukulele and Kumalo playing the funky bass line on a small, short scale bass.  The sound of Hill playing those syncopated minor ninth chords on a ukulele made his performance one to remember for a long time. Although Hill is a skilled musician, it’s rare and refreshing to see an artist at an event like this who doesn’t take himself too seriously and isn’t afraid to show it.

So that’s it for my NAMM 2013 highlights. At a huge event like this, it’s quality over quantity as there were hundreds of performances during the four day convention.

Like most of the NAMM attendees, I’m exhausted yet already curious about next year’s lineup of showcases and events.

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To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

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 Bill Holman Big Band Upstairs at Vitello’s

November 4, 2012

By Don Heckman

Bill Holman and his big band made one of their rare but always welcome Southland appearances Friday night at Vitello’s.  And, with a packed house listening avidly to every note, Holman once again displayed his remarkable mastery of the big band format.

One could make a good case for big band instrumentation – trumpet, trombone and saxophone sections supported by a three or four person rhythm section – as the symphony orchestra of America’s twenty century jazz and pop music, reaching from the Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Paul Whiteman bands of the ‘20s and ‘30s through Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Stan Kenton and Oliver Nelson into the present. Whether it was performing music for dancing, for backing singers, for sheer jazz excitement or for movie soundtracks, classic big band sounds have been (and continue to be) an assemblage of tonal textures and rhythms with a seemingly limitless array of possibilities.

And Bill Holman has explored the full fledged expression of those qualities for six decades with a seemingly limitless range of inventive creativity.  As he did at Vitello’s.

The Bill Holman Big Band

Standing amid the tables to implement his characteristically modest conducting, he led his assemblage of world class L.A. master players in a stunning collection of classic big band arrangements and originals.

Holman’s unique style, first heard during his early writing for Stan Kenton in the ‘50s, has remained one of the most uniquely original big band arranging techniques.  Combining contrapuntal methods rarely heard in big jazz band arranging, often interlacing individual instruments from different sections, Holman does so while still retaining deeply intimate contact with the propulsive rhythmic swing essential to jazz.

Given both the challenges and the pleasures of performing his charts, it’s no wonder that Holman’s band was a stellar gathering, glittering with the presence of some of the finest, most musically sophisticated musicians in Los Angeles (or anywhere).

Pete Christlieb and Doug Webb

The program of Holman arrangements and originals kept offering one fascinating piece after another.  Among the many high points:

- A hard-driving, entertaining tenor battle between saxophonists Pete Christlieb and Doug Webb.

- An unlikely, but delightfully offbeat new view of the ‘30s Dorothy Lamour hit, “The Moon of Manakoora.”

- “No Joy In Mudville,” a jaunty Holman original inspired by the popular baseball-inspired poem, Casey at the Bat.

- Holman’s atmospherically perfect interpretations of several jazz classics, including Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso” and Sonny Rollins” “St. Thomas” and “Airegin.”

- A rendering of “Lover Man” featuring Bruce Babad’s superb, bebop-driven soloing.

- Along with prime solo contributions from, among numerous others, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders and Bob Summers

But, as always, it was the combination of Holman’s uniquely stylistic writing, performed by an impressive array of players, that made the program so memorable.  Which is usually the case when the Holman Big Band performs.

Reminding us of the importance of hearing the live music of a jazz giant – Holman, in this case – whenever the opportunity arises.

To read an iRoM Q & A with Bill Holman, click HERE.  http://irom.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/q-a-bill-holman-composer-arranger-bandleader

Photos by Faith Frenz.

The Playboy Jazz Festival: The First Ladies of the Skins

June 14, 2012

The 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival, which takes place at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend, features the rare presence of three world class female jazz drummers.  Writer/musician Devon Wendell describes his reaction when he first saw the Festival line up.  

By Devon Wendell

Growing up, I always thought of the drums as being this potent symbol of masculine power.  I’d listen to Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, and Roy Haynes.  These men sounded tough, pissed off, strong and as if they possessed boundless energy.  Bird, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, or Miles could be playing the sweetest melody you’ve ever heard and then this bombastic force would enter in a way that felt like Zeus throwing thunder bolts from the heavens – and at the same time it always complimented the music perfectly.

The initial experiences of that drum sound were so wild that it made me giggle as if I were listening to something forbidden.  It was a similar feeling that I had when sneaking off with my high school chums, smoking and listening to Richard Pryor albums when no adults were present.

Although I could play guitar, bass, harmonica, and some keys by my mid-teens, the drums always intimidated me. I felt too weak and geeky to be a drummer.  It was Max Roach with Bird on those classics Verve sides that scared me away from picking up those sticks.  Once I had second thoughts and was going to give it a go, I heard Philly Joe Jones’ drum solo behind Miles Davis on Miles’ version of the Dizzy Gillespie classic “Salt Peanuts” from those incredible Prestige recordings of 1956.  Once again I felt like the scrawny kid watching the jocks slamming into each other on the football field.

I knew that I could be lethargic, lazy and fake self confidence with an electric guitar but not with drums. Unless you’re playing an electric kit like that dreadful sound Phil Collins was selling to the public in the 80s, there’s nothing to hide behind on the drums. To me, this was a tough guy’s instrument.

My perception of drummers quickly shifted when I first saw Sheila E. performing with Prince on TV.  She bashed away at the kit, creating polyrhythmic bliss.  All of my sexist, preconceived notions of what a woman could and couldn’t do vanished like all my dreams and aspirations did in high school.  Sheila E. appeared just as confident and energetic as Elvin Jones playing with John Coltrane.

Sheila E.

Many years later I saw Sheila E. perform with her father – the brilliant and legendary percussionist and composer Pete Escovedo.  There must have been six or seven percussionists up their on stage, and they all seemed to be having a hard time keeping up with Sheila E., who had this ferocious look on her face. Her teeth were gritted as she stared down her father and his comrades.  I could imagine her saying, “Take that boys!”  I found this confidence to be extremely sexy.

Cindy Blackman

One night while I was attending college, I ventured down to the Knitting Factory in NYC to see Pharoah Sanders.  Although he was great in his own right, it was his drummer that got my attention.  Here was this slender woman with big, wild hair tossing back and fourth on her head, and her arms flailing all over the drums. She looked totally relaxed but played as aggressively as Tony Williams. I rushed over to the sound man to find out who she was and he told me, “Man, that’s Cindy Blackman.”

At times, her facial expressions revealed possible shyness, which I could not match with her total control and mastery of the drum kit.  Her ideas kept flowing.  She played the top and bottom of the kit while taking risks and never missing a beat.  I instantly had a crush on Blackman, whose appearance was that of a modern day, elegant, psychedelic goddess. But I wasn’t cool enough to approach her, not even close.  I barely saw Sanders and whoever else was in the band that night. I knew that this drummer was someone who was going to get a lot of attention.

The next time I saw Blackman play was a year later with Lenny Kravitz at some God awful rock festival in New Jersey.  Behind Kravitz, she played a funkier, more subordinate roll, but the effect was just as compelling.  She gave Lenny some much needed groove.

In 2003, I was in Atlanta and went to see Herbie Hancock, who was set to play with fellow legend, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.  This was one of the greatest performances I’ve ever witnessed.  Once again, the drummer caught my ears and eyes.

Terri Lyne Carrington

Hancock introduced her, and the name Terri Lyne Carrington has stayed with me ever since.  What struck me about Carrington was her sense of dynamics.  Amazingly, she could play soft and hard all at once, using high hat flourishes with the bass drum in a way that was completely unique.  Herbie may have been the band leader, but Carrington was the driving force, taking the band way up and then down to where you could hear “A rat piss on cotton,” as Ella Fitzgerald used to put it.  It was as if Carrington was aware of what Hancock, Hutcherson, and bassist Scott Colley were going to do before they did. She played melodically the way Art Taylor did behind Jackie McLean. The jazz dork in me was in love again.

All three women let it be known that they are proud and strong and can give any male drummer a run for their money. Cindy Blackman (now Cindy Blackman Santana) has said, “I wouldn’t care if Art Blakey was pink with polka dots wearing a tutu or if Tony Williams was green.  Me being a female drummer has nothing to do with anything except for the fact that I wear bras and panties and guys don’t.”  (Well, some guys.)

Terri Lyne Carrington says of her latest musical venture (and fifth album as a bandleader) The Mosaic Project: “This particular project really is to celebrate women artists, women musicians, and women instrumentalists and singers.” Like bassist Esperanza Spalding, (who has also proven to be a great innovator on a male dominated instrument), Carrington is also a uniquely soulful vocalist.  The Mosaic Project won a Grammy this year in the Best Jazz Vocal category.  The album not only celebrates woman musicians and artists but features such great ladies as Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, Gerri Allen, and Sheila E.  All the musicians on the album are women. Sheila E. said about the project, “I dare any man to come and try to do this!”

You can see all three artists perform at The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival this weekend.

Sheila E. will be playing a set with her own band on Saturday, June 16th, the opening day of The Festival.

Cindy Blackman Santana appears on Sunday’s program with her latest band, Spectrum Road, which is a tribute to Tony Williams (featuring Vernon Reid: guitar, John Medeski: keyboards, and Jack Bruce on bass) performing music from their self-titled debut album Spectrum Road on Sunday.

And Terri Lyne Carrington and her Mosaic Project – with Gretchen Parlato, Carmen Lundy, Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Helen Sung, Linda Taylor, Mimi Jones, Patrice Rushen, Angela Davis (and some surprise guests) are also on the Sunday Playboy Festival line up.

I can visualize Max, Elvin, Philly Joe, Art Blakey, and Billy Higgins all standing together, dressed to the nines, looking down from heaven at these three women playing and then slapping each other five and saying, “Yeah, they got it covered,” and maybe even looking somewhat envious at what they see and hear.

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For information about the 34th Playboy Jazz Festival, call the Festival hot line –  (310) 450-1173 — or click HERE.

To read more posts and reviews by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Humor: The Top Ten Words And Phrases Over Used By Rock/Pop Journalists.

May 19, 2012

By Devon Wendell

Growing up as an aspiring musician, besides practicing the guitar, bass and harmonica obsessively like a geek, I also read a lot of books, articles, reviews, and interviews on all kinds of music. In doing so I found myself most aggravated by the writing in the “major” music publications like Rolling Stone, Spin, etc. There were always historical inaccuracies, poor grammar and — most bothersome — overly used cliches in describing an album, performance, or artists.

Years later, I still read the stuff churned out by many publications and find the same old catch phrases. I see images of Lester Bangs’ ghost looking bored as he reads many of the obits on artists like Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston.  I find much of today’s music journalism as derivative and repetitive as the music of today, but maybe we writers are not completely to blame? Maybe we need better inspiration or, conversely, maybe we just to be annoyed by the work of several artists for a few months.

I do admit I’m a bit of a snobby-nerd and appreciate jazz and blues journalism over mundane, pseudo-hippie rock writing.  But its time for a change in all those areas.  So I’ve compiled a top ten list of overused phrases and words in the music journalism world that I feel should no longer be permitted. And I’ll admit that I’m just as guilty of falling back on these innocuous cliches as anyone on the staff of Rolling Stone. Especially when I’m overly tired, or just being lazy, a condition that both musicians and writers are familiar with.

But maybe I’m doing this to cleanse myself and push my intellectual barrier much further. I got an A+ in advanced Chekhov in college, so why can’t I find some new and more creative adjectives for Leonard Cohen’s latest music? I know he’s expecting more, so here you are Leonard. Let the exorcism begin.

1) “Prolific Artist”: This has been used way too liberally in reference to musicians who are simply down right lazy in regard to their body of work. It would seem most musicians are prolifically under-productive, even those considered the most brilliant. So let’s be prolific writers by continuing not to use these words.

2) “Pivotal Recording”: Here’s another one that’s been used way too much. Not every recording by, say, Bob Dylan, Sonny Rollins, or Prince can be called “Pivotal.”  In fact, this term doesn’t always have to be used as a positive.  How about trying it as a negative.  Like, for example: “That new Justin Bieber recording is a pivotal recording in the world of crap?”

3) “Scorching, burnin’,” or “blistering”: These are frequently used in reference to an instrumental solo, mainly guitar.  But we journalists should be trying our best not to sound like Jack Black or Beavis And Butthead.

4) “Eccentric,” “esoteric” or “weird”: Come on journalists, these go-to, cop-out terms are just another way of saying you don’t understand a lyric, a chord progression, or a musical style. It’s perfectly OK to say “What the Hell is this?” Or “Screw you Donald Fagen, I only got my GED or writing gig after my stint as roadie for Grand Funk Railroad!”

5) “Jazzy”: Rock journalists who know nothing about jazz will often use this one too freely when they hear a chord progression with flatted 5th, 7th, and 13 chords, basically anything more sophisticated than 3-chord rock. Sorry to break it to countless rock journalists, but there was nothing “jazzy” about the Grateful Dead. Just because you improvise on a pentatonic scale past the twenty minute mark doesn’t make you a jazz player, just self-indulgent, really stoned, or both.

6) “Poet-Rocker”: Just because a rocker writes a lyric a little more sophisticated that “Yeah, baby, baby,” doesn’t make him a poet. Many ambitious rockers may rip-off some Shakespeare or Rimbaud and I applaud their efforts in obtaining a library card, but they really should find their own language.  Sure, Dylan, Cohen, Waits, and Springsteen get a pass in this area, but even with these artists, those two labels have been overused.  I’d like to hear something more along the lines of Polka-Poet or Klezmer-Poet. This also goes back to number four. It seems many music journalists refer to a musician as a “Poet” when the lyrics are over their heads. If a lyric isn’t understood, it’s usually assumed it’s about drugs.  But that’s only right half of the time. Come on folks, it’s rock not rocket surgery.

7) “Pseudo-Pop”: Isn’t this redundant?

8) “Retro-Rock”: Again, isn’t this redundant?

9) “Groundbreaking”: I’ve heard this in reference to people artists like Kanya West, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Sorry but that’s just wrong. These musicians may be groundbreaking in terms of how much money they make for their record companies, but artistically? I’m not saying these artists haven’t entertained millions or that they lack talent.  But where will their albums be in five to ten years. Come on writers, let’s try not to sound like snotty purists stuck in the past.  And let’s not lower the bar any more than we already have.   There’s got to be a balance.

10) “Beautifully haunting”: These words together make more sense in terms of silence or a description of a really attractive stalker or an apparition. A song, an album, a performance, or even a note can of course be beautiful, too.  But if it’s haunting you, talk to your shrink.

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To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

An Appreciation: Jimmy Bond 1933 – 2012

May 10, 2012

Mike Lang has been a busy member of the Los Angeles musicians’ community for most of his adult life.  He’s been an accompanist for performers reaching from Ella Fitzgerald to John Lennon.  He’s recorded more than 2000 film scores And he’s written songs for Stan Getz, Fourplay, Herb Alpert and numerous others.  On many of those dates, he worked musically hand in hand with his good friend, Jimmy Bond.

By Mike Lang

Jimmy Bond left us on April 26th. He was and is arguably as close a friend as I could ever wish for, always on the lookout for ways to help others…. in music, in laughter, in living a full vibrant life of which he was “the benchmark” (!). I was a major recipient of his warmth, extraordinary generosity and humor…. Hanging out with “007” was special!

Jimmy was mentored in Philadelphia, a jazz mecca, and the purity and swing of his bass playing was the result we’ve all enjoyed throughout the years. Jimmy made some historic recordings with Chet Baker, including the special presence of Bobby Timmons… his star was rising….

Jimmy Bond

When Jimmy came to LA, he quickly became in demand for all kinds of work…. live and recorded jazz, and then…. freelance recording gigs with an incredibly diverse list of artists in so many fields:  jazz, pop, rock, folk, gospel, R&B and more (!)….. Here’s a sampling:

Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, The Crusaders, Johnny Griffin, Maya Angelou, George Shearing, Paul Horn, Eric Dolphy, Chico Hamilton, Nina Simone, Randy Newman, Frank Zappa (Lumpy Gravy), Jimmy Witherspoon, Gerry Mulligan, Harry Nilsson, Lou Rawls, Quincy Jones, Tim Buckley, Sam Cook, Sonny Rollins, Tony Bennett, B B King, Don Shirley, Leon Russell, Terry Gibbs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Brownie McGhee, Johnny Hartman, The Stone Poneys, Ike and Tina Turner. He was the “standup bass” fixture in many of Phil Spector’s recording sessions (now labeled “The Wrecking Crew”), and, if I’m not mistaken, that’s about when we met…. (two “Jazzers” on a rock date… perfect!)

As time evolved, Jimmy became busy as an arranger, working for producers Nick Venet, David Axelrod, Ed Michel and others with artists Linda Ronstadt, The Turtles, The Knickerbockers, Linda Ronstadt, Fred Neill and others.  Also, he was active as a composer and arranger of national jingles for Herman Edel, with film and television opportunities to follow.

His playing career continued to flourish, as he got busier and busier in film and television recording work… playing for the major studio orchestras including Alfred Newman at Fox, Joseph Gershenson at Universal and many others. At a time when very few African-American musicians were established in this field, Jimmy’s incredible grace, warmth, humor and skill opened all doors.

I am grateful to have shared so much with this incredible friend and musician. I miss him in all ways…. Thanks, Jimmy…. for all that you have done…

A memorial service for Jimmy Bond will take place at the Skirball Cultural Center on Saturday, May 26.  For more information, click HERE. 


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