By Michael Katz
Perhaps you came from a musical family. Perhaps you remember those holiday dinners, when your mother would proudly call you and your siblings to gather around the piano and sing, strum or toot what you’d recently studied when the other kids were out playing ball. Now, close your eyes and pretend that your sister is Tierney Sutton and your brother is Hubert Laws and that legendary uncle who went off to the Coast to write music for the movies makes an appearance, and it’s Alan Bergman. Now you’re getting an idea of the atmosphere at the Grammy Museum Sunday night, when Ruth Price’s extended musical family gathered in support of her impending autumn relocation of the Jazz Bakery (location TBD). Ten musicians, working in a variety of settings, jamming with familiar tunes and vamping with impromptu lines, put on a memorable show in the Grammy Museum’s terrific, small theatre setting at the Nokia/LA Live complex.
Jeff Garlin, best known for his role as Larry David’s manager on the HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” was an amiably goofy host, tying the program together with amusing stories and references to himself as a jazz comedian (“If I was a rock comedian, I wouldn’t be available, I’d have a gig somewhere”). First up was the Alan Broadbent Trio, with Putter Smith on bass and Paul Kreibich on drums. Broadbent, a native New Zealander who has written and arranged for everyone from the Woody Herman band to Diana Krall, began with his trademark, elegantly swinging style on “How Deep Is The Ocean.” He then welcomed Alan Bergman to sing a trio of his compositions, beginning with “The Windmills Of Your Mind.”
The Grammy Museum, with its intimate 200 seat theatre and pristine acoustics, was the perfect setting for Bergman, whose voice carried perfectly and whose stories were a gentle accompaniment to the familiar lyrics. He followed with “Nice and Easy,” a song originally performed by Frank Sinatra, and augmented by a wonderful solo by Broadbent. The evening’s first of several indelible moments occurred next, when Bergman called Tierney Sutton and Hubert Laws to join him for “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life.” They had heard the brief rehearsal and asked to sit in, Sutton alternating the lyrics with Bergman while Laws improvised beside them on flute. Moments like these are rare even in a city as full of virtuosity as LA; the audience responded with a standing ovation.
Tierney Sutton stayed on and asked Hubert Laws to do the same. She started her own segment with “Lullaby Of The Leaves,” establishing the melody and then vamping, scatting, changing tempos, with Laws matching her riff for riff. She then did a duet with Alan Broadbent, singing “Heart’s Desire,” a lovely tune composed by Broadbent with lyrics by Dave Frishberg. When Sutton sang “Dream your dream and make it grow, you’re luckier than most you know…” it seemed especially poignant in the circumstances, and the opportunity to perform it with Broadbent was another highlight of this night. She finished up with a rousing, up tempo version of “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).”
The next segment brought up pianist Mike Melvoin and vocalist Bill Henderson. Melvoin may be one of LA’s most under-appreciated talents. His performance with Henderson was less an accompaniment than a duet of voice and piano. Their set opened with “All The Things You Are,” the two of them trading choruses, with Henderson in fine voice despite having sustained a fall at home that afternoon. Melvoin and Henderson have performed together for over forty years, and their versatility was in evidence as they covered material from Elton John’s “Sorry Is The Hardest Word,” to a Melvoin original ballad, to the highlight of the set — a rousing rendition of Johnny Mandel’s “Vacation From The Blues.”
Next up was a remarkable duet performance by Kenny Burrell and Hubert Laws. Burrell has been an anchor of jazz in LA, through his stellar guitar work, his teaching presence at UCLA and his status as Dean of all things Ellington. Hubert Laws, for many of us who first started listening to jazz in the late sixties/early seventies, defined the jazz flute. He was ubiquitous during the CTI years, both as leader and sideman to Freddie Hubbard, George Benson and others, then seemed to be drowned out by the disco years and faded from the scene for much of the 80’s and 90’s. Happily he has been much more visible of late, and his duets with Burrell were inspired. After opening with a JJ Johnson tune, Kenny Burrell led the audience with a rhythmic “Jazz Bakery” chant, which served as the backdrop for an entirely improvised blues line, with Burrell and Laws trading licks. It wouldn’t be a Burrell set without an Ellington number; they followed with “Sophisticated Lady,” Burrell introducing the theme and Laws exploring the melody, building his solos with staccato bursts. The audience reacted with long and sustained applause.
The program ended with Mike Melvoin back at the piano and Putter Smith and Paul Kreibich rounding out the rhythm trio, with Laws and Burrell out front in a swinging version of “Summertime.” All in all it was a reminder of the panoply of remarkable talent in this community, and the spirit generated by Ruth Price that can bring it all together for a night like this.
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