Live Jazz: Cat & Cip and More at Jazz at the Cap

April 26, 2014

By Don Heckman

Sherman Oaks, CA. Call it a welcome double value for jazz fans Wednesday night at Jazz at the Cap.

Why? First of all because it offered a performance by a group of the Southland’s prime jazz artists. And second, because they were appearing at an attractive new jazz venue.

Let’s start with the music. Cat & Cip – perhaps better known as singer Cat Conner and multi-woodwind artist Gene “Cip” Cipriano – have become one of L.A.’s most appealing musical duos. Their performances are usually enhanced by the presence of such fine veteran players as pianist Tom Ranier, guitarist John Chiodini and bassist Chuck Berghofer. All of whom were present Thursday night. And, with the solid support of drummer Sinclair Lott (more on him later) they delivered another of their memorable evenings of music.

Tom Ranier, Cat Conner, Chuck Berghofer, Gene “Cip” Cipriano and Dick Nash

A good part of the program was devoted to standards – “Indiana,” “After You’ve Gone,” “What Is This Thing Called Love?” “Body and Soul” and “How Deep Is The Ocean?” among them.

Cat Conner

Cat Conner

But there was a lot more, in a program of songs that was enhanced by a blending of less familiar, but equally engaging material such as Peggy Lee’s “Sans Souci,” Dave Frishberg and Alan Broadbent’s “Heart’s Desire,” Cole Porter’s rarely heard “Everything I Love,” a version of “Pretty Girl” rewritten by Cat and Chiodini as “Handsome Man” and more.

Cat cruised through everything she sang with the soaring vocals, interpretive magic and enthusiastic musicality that are essential aspects of her vocal art.

Add to that such high points of the evening as a briskly swinging, two clarinet instrumental romp through “After You’ve Gone” featuring Cip and Ranier (taking a break from the piano to display his licorice stick chops), a guest appearance by trombonist Dick Nash in a high spirited “What Is This Thing Called Love?” more solid clarinet from Ranier on “Body and Soul,” the unexpected sounds of a bass oboe from Cip. And, among Cat’s many offbeat selections, her welcome decision to offer stellar versions of “Baltimore Oriole” and a driving “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”  Between musical numbers, Cip added his hilarious stories about life as a professional musician,.

Tom Ranier and Gene "Cip" Cipriano

Tom Ranier and Gene “Cip” Cipriano

And I can’t overlook another vocal highpoint – the unexpected, delightfully whimsical “The Three Bears,” wittily sung by bassist Berghofer.

In sum, it was one of the most rich and varied, beautifully performed collection of songs I’ve heard in recent memory. Would that more jazz artists planned their sets this well.

But I can’t overlook part 2 of the evening’s double value. At a time when jazz clubs in L.A. have come and gone in the past years, it was a distinct pleasure to spend an evening in a new room – Jazz at the Cap — with its large, theatrical stage and up close seating. And the credit for bringing the room to life goes to the drummer I mentioned above – Sinclair Lott – who brings his musician’s knowledge and skill to the challenging task of making a new jazz room happen.

Jazz at the Cap’s programming, at the moment, is limited to only a few nights (or less) a week. But the bookings have been well chosen.

And it’s up to us, as fans of live jazz and beyond, to give Jazz at the Cap the support and the turnout that it deserves. Tonight (Sat.), Jazz at the Cap features Brazilian star Katia Moraes & Brazilian Hearts in a celebration of renowned Brazilian artist Maria Bethania. Next Tuesday, percussionist Ignacio Berroa showcases “Afro-Cuban Jazz and Beyond.”

Jazz at the Cap is in the Cap Studio Theatre at 13752 Ventura Blvd. (818) 990-2001.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

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

April 3, 2014

By Don Heckman

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

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

James DeFrances

James DeFrances

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

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

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

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

Pat Senatore and James DeFrances

Pat Senatore and James DeFrancis

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

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

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

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

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

Pat Senatore, James DeFrances and Tina Raymond

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

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

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

Picks of the Week: Dec. 26 – 29

December 26, 2013

By Don Heckman

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always light on performances. And this week is no exception. But numerous events, nonetheless, are well worthy of listeners’ attention. Here’s a selective group of some of the many highlights.

Los Angeles

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- Dec. 26. (Thurs.) Robert Davi. Actor/singer Davi has thoroughly established himself as a Sinatra-inspired vocalist, when he isn’t building an impressive career as a film actor, as well. But he’s also a gifted singer who has created an engaging style of his own. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 26. (Thurs.) Vocalist Peggie Perkins, a Los Angeles jazz favorite for decades, performs with the Llew Matthews Quartet, featuring tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard, bassist John B Williams, guitarist Doug MacDonald and drummer Jimmy Ford. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905

- Dec. 27. (Fri.) The Midnight Jazz Band. A quartet of veteran jazz all-stars, Gary Foster, alto saxophone, Tom Ranier, piano, Chuck Berghofer, bass and Peter Erskine, drums have been among the Southland musical aristocracy for decades. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Dec, 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat. ) Broadway on Ice. An impressive holiday presentation, featuring a dynamic creative partnership between Olympic Gold Medalist skater Ekaterina Gordeeva and Broadway singing star Davis Gaines. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8510.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

 – Dec. 27 – 31. (Fri. – Tues.) Jane Monheit. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of her recording career, Monheit has thoroughly established herself as a uniquely gifted jazz artist with deep roots in the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

 Washington, D.C.

- Dec. 27 – 31. (Fri. – Tues.) Monty Alexander. Jamaica’s Alexander, a prime jazz artist, enlivens much of his music with the appealing rhythms of the Caribbean. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-414.

New York City

Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein

- Dec. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat.) Michael Feinstein. The master of the Great American songbook, singer/pianist Feinstein is also a superb entertainer, leading his audiences through the expressive intimacies of every song he offers. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Dec. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Carmen Lundy. Vocalist Lundy has a full range of creative skills, a rare example of a jazz singer who is also a gifted songwriter. Catch her in action. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.


Chris Botti

- Dec. 26 – Jan. 5. (Thurs. – Sun.) Chris Botti. Trumpeter Botti, a stellar performer in his own right, leads an equally world class jazz ensemble in an extended holiday run. Expect to hear some extraordinary music. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.


- Dec. 26 – 31. Angels in Harlem Gospel Choir. The touring ensemble of the Harlem Gospel Choir, one of the world’s most prominent gospel groups, the Angels offer a special blend of high spirited gospel music at its finest. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.





Dec. 28 – 31. (Sat. – Tues.) Hiromi Trio Project. The highly imaginative keyboardist returns to her home country in the company of bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.

Picks of the Week: July 30 – Aug 4

July 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dr. John

Dr. John

- July 31. (Wed.)  Props to Pops: Dr. John’s Tribute to Louis Armstrong. An entertaining blend of old and new jazz, tinged with a New Orleans touch.  Featured guests include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terence Blanchard, Arturo Sandoval and more.  The Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- July 31. (Wed.)  Tom Ranier Trio.  Pianist Ranier takes a break from his busy studio work to showcase his impressive jazz skills.  He’ll be backed by Abe Laboriel, bass and Steve Schaeffer, drums.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Aug. 2. (Fri.)  Chicago, The Band. The Grammy winning, multi-platinum band from the ‘60s is going strong.  Expect to hear such hits as “Just You ‘n’ Me,” “25 Or 6 To 4,” “Saturday In The Park,” “You’re The Inspiration” and more.  The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

- Aug. 2. (Fri.)  Tony Bennett.  Bennett’s in his ‘80s, but he is still one of the great performers, singing at the top of his game. Don’t miss this one. Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Arturo Sandoval Big Band.  He plays magnificent trumpet, exciting percussion, impressive piano and sings, as well.  Hopefully he’ll be doing all that with his stellar big band. Catalina Bar & Grill.(223) 466-2210.

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Julie Esposito.  The versatile Ms. Esposito takes a break from her attorney responsibilities to sing an autobiographical program of songs written in her lifetime.  The selections embrace pop, Broadway and contemporary jazz, from Sondheim to Nilsson and beyond.  The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Diana Ross.  Like Tony Bennett, Ross – on the cusp of 70 — continues to sing superbly.  She, too, is an artist who should be heard at every opportunity.  Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Gary Foster Quartet.  Alto saxophonist Foster has been a first call player for decades.  But he’s also a jazz artist of the first rank. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.) Trevor McShane.  Ssinger/songwriter McShane, aka Neville Johnson, is an attorney who has been pursuing his musical ambitions since the release of his first album in 2000.  Witz End.  (310) 395-4792.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Gipsy Kings.  They’ve been developing their unique approach to new flamenco music, spiced with pop, salsa and rumba since the ‘70s. The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

Cheryl Bentyne

Cheryl Bentyne

- Aug. 4. (Sun.)  Cheryl Bentyne Trio.  Back in action after some difficult medical problems, Bentyne displays her far-reaching musical skills with her own trio before heading back to her long-time gig with the Manhattan Transfer.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.


- Aug. 2 – 4. (Fri. – Sun.)  John Pizzarelli Quartet with Bucky Pizzarelli. Here’s a rare opportunity to hear talented father and son in action.  Dad Bucky has been a much-admired guitarist for decades; son John continues to follow in Dad’s footsteps, adding his own fine vocal skills to the mix.   Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

- July 30 – Aug. 3.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Pablo Ziegler’s “Tango Conexio with Special Guest Stefon Harris should result in the discovery of some intriguing connections between jazz and tango. Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Aug. 1. (Thurs.)  Susan Werner. Singer/songwriter Werner applies her wry humor and passionate voice to a celebration of her new CD, Hayseed – a collection of songs dedicated to her parents, grandparents and great grandparents, paying tributes to farmers everywhere.  Joe’s Pub.  (212) 539-8778.


Joao Bosco

Joao Bosco

- Aug. 1. (Thurs.)  Joao Bosco.  Guitarist/composer Bosco’s playing has been described – with good cause – as among the most auspicious in Brazilian music.” Paris New Morning.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.


- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Kenny Barron and George Mraz.  It’s a rare and promising musical encounter between two of the jazz world’s most gifted, veteran artists.  They’re not together often, so don’t miss this one.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.





- Aug 1 & 2. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Joyce. Singer/songwriter Joyce (who occasionally performs using her last name – Moreno – as well) has been pioneering the amiable linkages between jazz and Brazilian music since the late ‘60s.   Tokyo Blue Note.   +81 3-5485-0088.



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Dr. John photo by Tony Gieske.

Arturo Sandoval photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Cheryl Bentyne photo by Faith Frenz.

Live Jazz: Aaron Weinstein at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

July 17, 2013

By Don Heckman

The full house crowd at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Tuesday night may not have had a great deal of familiarity with Aaron Weinstein, the headline act.  But it’s a fair bet that by the end of the gifted young violinist’s 90 minute set, a good portion of the audience felt they had just seen an intriguing new jazz star in the making.

Weinstein, still in  his twenties, has already established considerable visibility in his New York City home.  But he’s been virtually unknown on the West Coast – a situation which is hopefully in the process of changing with future bookings.

However, to describe Weinstein as a “violinist” doesn’t completely grasp the unexpected range of his talents, which illuminated his music with a Woody Allen-like sense of humor and one whimsical tale after another.

Aaron Weinstein bow tie FFComing on stage at Vibrato, wearing a suit and a bowtie, looking as though he’d just come from his Bar Mitzvah, Weinstein opened his set with a threat to perform some Schoenberg 12-tone compositions, a threat fortunately unfulfilled before he dug into a program of Songbook standards, introduced with amusing commentaries.

The first was “Cheek to Cheek,” followed by “Easter Parade,” which he dedicated to “My people, the Jews.”  Before he played “I Want To Be Happy,” he noted his difficulty with the song’s “disconnect between the lovely melody and the co-dependent lyrics.”  On ‘Sleeping Bee,” he introduced the Truman Capote/Harold Arlen song with a Capote line describing a character “as out of place as a violinist in a jazz band.”

Weinstein played each of these tunes – as well as others such as “Georgia On My Mind,” “Til’ There Was You,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Somebody Loves Me” – with style and imagination.  At times, his slower phrasing recalled the jazz violin of  Stephane Grappelli.  But in the faster tunes he applied his virtuosic technical skills to stunningly inventive improvising, often delivered at Autobahn-speed tempos.

Further displaying his abilities, he occasionally switched to violin pizzicato lines.  And, in mid-set, he moved from violin to mandolin to play “Over the Rainbow” and “Paper Moon.”  Here, too, he revealed a remarkable musical range of abilities.

Weinstein was backed with warm creative empathy by pianist Tom Rainier and bassist Pat Senatore.  Both are veteran accompanists, providing intimate interaction in the ensemble passages and impressive soloing of their own.

By the time Weinstein had finished a set overflowing with clever wit and memorable music, he had thoroughly tamed Vibrato’s usually noisy crowd.  And he’d also convincingly introduced himself to Los Angeles as a talent with a sky’s-the-limit future.

Aaron Weinstein has one more performance at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. tonight.  Don’t miss it. This young man is one of a kind.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. 

Live Jazz: Sue Raney at Vitello’s

December 31, 2012

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Sue Raney was at it again last night at Vitello’s, offering a pre-New Year’s Eve seminar in jazz singing.  And, yes, I know the word “seminar” has an academic inference that doesn’t really capture the full quality of her performance.  But there was no denying the effectiveness of Raney’s demonstrations of how to bring a far-ranging variety of songs fully to life.

Singing with the prime accompaniment of pianist Tom Ranier’s trio, with bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker, she offered a program overflowing with classic songbook items, seasoned with a few rarely heard songs.  Over the course of her twenty or so selections, she chose songs rich with emotions, both romantic and otherwise, that favored her stylistic blend of expressive feelings and lyrical phrasing.

Sue Raney

Sue Raney

There were many musical highpoints, beginning with the Ranier trio playing a briskly swinging “If I Were A Bell,” before Raney embarked on her evening’s fascinating musical journey.  Along the way, she spent time with one classic after another: “Here’s To Life,” “Some Other Time,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (both done in unexpectedly rhythmic renderings), “It Could Happen To You” and, appropriately, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Add to that the less often heard but no less appealing “Emily,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You,” “Time Was” and “Don’t Look Back.”

Occasionally, Raney combined pairs of songs with similar subjects into medleys.  The pairing worked well with “Once Upon A Summertime” and “The Summer Knows,” in part because of Michel Legrand’s atmospheric melodies.   Another pairing – “When the World Was Young” and “Young and Foolish” – was a less successful blend of songs with very different lyrical and musical orientations.

There were more, but regardless of what Raney sang, it resonated with the qualities that have made her a classy performer since her first album When Your Lover Has Gone (produced by Nelson Riddle) was released in 1958: a warm, richly-timbred voice soaring freely over a good three or four octaves; articulate phrasing; communicative, lyrical story-telling; and a brisk sense of swing.

Not bad for a singer who turned 72 in June.  But Raney is still in prime creative form, with many songs and much music still to go.  Don’t miss her next appearance.

Photo by Faith Frenz.

 To read an iRoM review of a previous Sue Raney performance click HERE.

Live Jazz: Eddie Daniels Upstairs at Vitello’s

October 28, 2012

By Don Heckman

Eddie Daniels

Eddie Daniels’ reputation as a gifted jazz clarinetist and saxophonist is secure. Always respected for his remarkable, genre-crossing clarinet abilities, his multi-woodwind work (especially tenor saxophone and clarinet) established him, as far back as the ‘60s, as a player at ease as a sideman and a soloist, comfortably expressive in jazz, classical music and beyond.

Some, but not all, of those attributes were on display Friday night Upstairs at Vitello’s.  Making one of  his infrequent trips to the Southland from his Santa Fe home, Daniels was performing with the backing of the sterling L.A. trio of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Schaeffer.  Despite minimal rehearsal time, the cohesion between the players was an impressive display of prime, improvisational music making.

Starting with a briskly rhythmic arrangement of “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” Daniels played with the high flying pyrotechnics that have stamped him as one of the very few world class practitioners of the jazz clarinet.  Other tunes followed in a similar pattern, with Daniels’ fast fingers setting the pace.

When he switched to tenor saxophone for a few numbers, only the instrument changed; his style, with its emphasis on virtuosic technique, remained constant.

Tom Ranier, Eddie Daniels, Mike Valerio, Steve Schaeffer

Ranier’s soloing often provided an attractive counterpoint, especially in those passages in which he opened his lines to allow space for his improvising to breathe.  So, too, for Valerio and Schaeffer, working as a solid team.  Like Ranier, they provided textures that were supportive, airy and rhythmically alive.

But there was no denying Daniels’ extraordinary mastery of the clarinet.  Classically trained, frequently performing classical pieces, his improvisational range seems limited.  One could wish, however, for him to not make every solo into a note-filled excursion across the entire range of the instruments.  Instead, it would have been intriguing to hear him offer more of the sort of warm sensitivity provided by the woody timbres of the clarinet’s chalumeau register.

Given the rarity of his L.A. performances, however, it was a distinct pleasure to hear Daniels in action, especially with such superb backing.  Hopefully, there will also be an opportunity in the near future to hear him classically, as well.  A presentation of the Copland Clarinet Concerto with, say, the L.A. Philharmonic or the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra would be a great start.

Photos by Bob Barry


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