Picks of the Week: Dec. 28 – Jan. 2

December 26, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Gerald Clayton

– Dec. 28. (Tues.)  Gerald Clayton Trio. Grammy nominated pianist Clayton has moved rapidly from being an upcoming L.A. prodigy to an emerging new jazz star.  He’s based in New York City now, so don’t miss this fairly rare opportunity to hear him back in the Southland.  Steamers. (714) 871-8800

– Dec. 28. (Tues.)  Mitchel Forman Quartet. Versatile keyboardist Forman’s credits reach from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Wayne Shorter to Manhattan Transfer, Pat Metheny and beyond.  But it’s always fascinating to hear him leading his own musical aggregation. Vibrato.  (310)  474-9400.

– Dec. 28 – Jan. 2. (Tues. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit.  What better time to hear the gorgeous voice of Monheit than during the holiday season, especially when she’ll be singing songs from her lovely new album, Home. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Dec. 30. (Thurs.)  Joe La Barbera Quintet. The drummer everyone likes to hear in the rhythm section, LaBabera steps out front to lead the stellar ensemble of Bob Sheppard, Clay Jenkins, Tom Warrington and John Campbell.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Dec. 30. (Thurs.) Janis Mann Quartet.  Mann’s latest album, Blow Away, is a compelling display of classic standards sung in richly atmospheric interpretations.  Here’s a chance to hear them performed live.  Charlie O’s. (818)  994-3058.

San Francisco

Fee Waybill

– Dec. 29. (Wed.)  The Tubes.  The wildly theatrical band of the ‘70s and ‘80s is still breaking out of the envelope, with the unique voice of Fee Waybill leading the way.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

– Dec. 29. (Wed.)  Roberta Donnay Jazz Trio.  Singer Donnay takes a break from her gig  as a member of Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks to showcase her impressive jazz vocal skills.  The Union Room at Biscuits and Blues.   (415) 292-2583.

New York.

– Dec. 27 – Jan. 2. Chris Botti.  Trumpeter Botti’s holiday month musical marathon continues.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Dec. 28 – 31. (Tues. – Fri.)  The Bad Plus.  Contemporary, cutting edge piano jazz is alive in the hands of this musically vibrant trio.  Village Vanguard. (212) 255-4037.


(Fri., Dec. 31)

Los Angeles

Baked Potato. Don Randi & Quest bring in the New Year at their home base with a line up of special guests.  (818) 980-1615.

Jane Monheit (Photo by Tony Gieske)


Catalina Bar & GrillJane Monheit. Continuing her week-long run (through Sunday) with a holiday celebration.  (323) 466-2210.

Charlie O’s. Don Menza, Tom Ranier, John Heard and Roy McCurdy.  Saxophonist Menza fronts a stellar ensemble of L.A. jazz veterans.   (818) 994-3059.

Chateau Ballroom.   Susie Hansen Latin Jazz Band. Hansen’s electric violin and rhythm happy ensemble provide the perfect setting to salsa in the New Year. 213-746-4490

Chaya Brasserie. “Roaring 20’s New Year’s Eve.” John Reynolds and the Blue Four, featuring singer Molly Ryan.   (310) 859-8833.

Culver Club Radisson Hotel. Ernie Andrews struts his inimitable musical way into the New Year.  (310) 649-1776.  Ext. 4137.

Steamers. The Chris Williams Sextet.  Canadian-born singer/percussionist Williams leads his rhythmically energized sextet in a holiday celebration.  (714) 871-8800.

Barbera Morrison

Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Barbara Morrison keeps the blues and everything else alive, this year and every year.  (310) 474-9400.

Vitellos. Nutty. An evening of classic Frank Sinatra Ratpack frivolity and jazz to bring in the New Year.    Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Walt Disney HallKristin Chenoweth. Emmy and Tony award winner Chenowith celebrates the arrival of 2011 with a back up crew of singers, dancers and musicians, performing selections from Glee, Promises, Promises, Wicked and a lot more.  (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

Yoshi’s Oakland. Lalah Hathaway. Soulful stylist Hathaway brings emotional life to everything she sings.  Hopefully she’ll include her Grammy-nominated “Forever, For Always, For Love.”  (510) 238-9200.

Yoshi’s San FranciscoDianne Reeves. Reeve’s sumptuous voice will be ably backed by the superb ensemble of Peter Martin, Romero Lubambo, Reginald Veal and Terreon Gully.   (415) 655-5600.

New York

Hilary Kole

BirdlandThe Birdland Big Band directed by Tommy Igoe and featuring the warm-toned vocals of Hilary Kole top off a rare week-long run with a climactic, bring-in-the-New-Year set.   (212) 581-3080.

Blue Note. Chris Botti.  Trumpeter Botti heads toward the climax of his annual holiday run at the Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. “Celebration in Swing” It’s an apt title for a performance by the all-star ensemble of Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Green, Jimmy Heath, Nicholas Payton, Dezron Douglas and Willie Jones, III.  (212) 258-9800.

Iridium. The Mike Stern Band with Victor Wooten, Dave Weckl and Bob Malach.  And here’s another all-star ensemble determined to celebrate the New Year in hard swinging fashion.  (212) 582-2121.

Jazz StandardDr. Lonnie Smith Big Band.  Dr. Lonnie, who usually works in trio format, displays his dynamic style in a roaring, big band setting. Jazz Standard.   (212) 447-7733.

Village Vanguard. The Bad Plus.  The trio of Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King continue to expand the envelope of the jazz piano trio.   (212) 255-4037.

Quotation of the Week: Ebenezer Scrooge

December 24, 2010



“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”

Ebenezer Scrooge (in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”)

Live Jazz: The Bob Mintzer Big Band at Vibrato

December 24, 2010

By Tony Gieske

From all the things I’d been hearing about the Bob Mintzer Big Band — a New York guy!  — a Yellowjacket! — I thought I should bring my mind-plugs to Vibrato Tuesday to keep my head from bursting.

The Bob Mintzer Big Band at Vibrato

But no! On first acquaintance, Mintzer turned out to have a gentle tenor saxophone voice and his charts were more like Claude Thornhill than Stan Kenton, not that there weren’t plenty of fortissimi. But the best of the charts — a slow blues that I think was called “Lester Swings Out” — did not include a lot of  intricate invention. Rather, it left plenty of room for the soloists.

Bob Mintzer and Keith Fiddmont

And they were awesome. Keith Fiddmont, who plays Charlie O’s regularly, was overflowing with intricate and irregular invention on his alto saxophone. But then so was another familiar Los Angeles bandstand figure, Bob Sheppard, on his rarely heard alto instrument.

I also liked the big band veteran Bruce Fowler, a Frank Zappa alumnus, on bass trombone, and the great bandleader and professor Dr.  John Daversa on trumpet, who started out twisted and got involuted.

Peter Erskine

The exceptionally versatile Peter Erskine played  drums with vigor and accuracy, dropping accents and guiding momentum as he read intently from the Mintzer score, and fellow Yellowjacket Russell Ferrante came out with some stone bebop when he soloed on piano.

Naturally, it was the individualism of the ad lib players that redeemed the industrialized writing from the pen of a writer who created a jazz version of Brian Wilson.

Welcome to L.A., Bob Mintzer.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE

Live Jazz: The Johnny Vana Big Band Alumni at Las Hadas Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

December 22, 2010

By Don Heckman

Every Tuesday morning, at an hour in which jazz is rarely heard, a remarkable event takes place in Northridge, in the upper reaches of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley.  At  Las Hadas Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, the Johnny Vana Big Band Alumni play a program of hard-swinging, big band classics for an audience of listeners and dancers.  That’s right, dancers.  Because Hadas’ large dance floor, surrounded by tables and booths, is filled with lively Lindy Hoppers and joyous jitterbuggers, grooving to every number in the Vana Band’s set.

That alone would make the programs fairly unique, at a time when dancing and jazz are not words one often sees in the same sentence — or in the same room. But they’re finding common cause at Las Hada’s every Tuesday at the odd time of 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  And yesterday’s celebratory Christmas program, filled with buoyantly swinging holiday classics, offered a prime remembrance of the deep connections that have in fact always existed between jazz and dancing.

The Big Band Alumni group is aptly named.  Virtually every member of the seventeen piece ensemble has credits reaching from Jimmy Dorsey and Glen Miller to Stan Kenton, Count Basie and beyond.  Despite their silver hair, however, they played such jazz staples as “One O’Clock Jump” and “String of Pearls” with an irrepressible blend of easygoing familiarity and high spirited youthfulness.

The soloists, especially tenor saxophonist Dave Pell – a bandleader in his own right – delivered with similar effectiveness.  Like many of the Alumni’s arrangements, their phrasing and rhythmic accents traced to Swing era roots that had grown to maturity in the rich blossoms of bebop.  At their best, the Alumni were offering music that offered far more than nostalgic re-creations of the past.

Singers Bonnie Bowden and Bill A. Jones provided the perfect vocal balance for the driving instrumentals.  Bowden’s airy timbre, soaring range and convincing versatility were at their best in everything from a gently swinging rendering of Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You” to a rollicking take on Fats Waller’s “This Joint Is Jumpin’.”  And on Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings,” she virtually became a member of the band, applying her focused soprano to the high note, lead trumpet line.

Jones’s warm baritone, brisk rhythmic flow and easygoing phrasing brought life and substance to everything he sang.  In his version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” sung to Nelson Riddle’s memorable arrangement, he found the Sinatra magic and applied it in his own unique fashion.

The floor, meanwhile, was filled with dancers of every imaginable age and shape.  Many were as silver haired as the Big Band Alumni, but both the skill and the intensity level of their dancing seemed to have a lot more to do with sheer enthusiasm than it did with longevity.  More to the point, there was a feeling of togetherness in the room, a feeling of sharing the life and the spirit of the music, that was everywhere present, among dancers and non-dancers, young and old.

And that, as much as anything, is what made this seemingly unlikely, brunch-time performance by Vana’s Big Band Alumni into such an enjoyable experience.  No wonder so many in the crowd were repeat visitors.  If the word gets out, one day a week may not be enough to accommodate all the lovers of dance and jazz out there.

Picks of the Week: Dec. 21 – 26

December 21, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Bob Mintzer

– Dec. 21. (Tues.)  Bob Mintzer Big Band.  Saxophonist Mintzer is also a masterful big band arranger and composer.  Expect fireworks from his assemblage of L.A.’s finest players.  Click HERE to read an earlier review of the Mintzer Big Band.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Dec. 21. (Tues.)  The Manhattan Transfer “Christmas Show. The Transfer singers are a joy to hear, no matter the setting or the circumstances.  But when they’re doing holiday songs, it’s sheer musical magic.  Don’t miss this one.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

– Dec. 21. (Tues.)  Jennifer York Quartet and Friends. Bassist and television personality York leads her solid contemporary jazz group in an evening of seasonal songs.  Special guest Jonathan Dane adds his soaring trumpet lines to the mix.  Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

– Dec. 21. (Tues.) Chris Colangelo Quartet.  Bassist Colangelo’s group invests hard driving jazz improvisations with irresistible rhythmic swing.  Featuring Benn Clatworthy, tenor saxophone, Otmaro Ruiz, piano, Alex Acuna, drums.  Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

– Dec. 22. (Wed.)  Tony Guerrero Quartet.  Trumpeter Guererro leads a stellar ensemble in an evening of holiday classics in a briskly swinging jazz setting.  With saxophonist Robert Kyle, drummer Matt Johnson and Dave Siebels on the B-3 organ.  Steamer’s. http://www.steamerscafe.com (714) 871-8800.

April Williams

– Dec. 23. (Thurs.) Eileen Ivers  ”An Noillag: An Irish Christmas”.  Ivers and her blue fiddle celebrate the holiday in true Irish fashion with a stageful of musicians, singers and dancers.  Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Dec. 23. (Thurs.)  “Holiday Hang” with the Williams – Williams & Berghofer Group.  Singer April Williams joins Don Williams, drums, Chuck Berghofer, bass, Larry Koonse, guitar, Bob Sheppard, saxophones and flute, and various guests in a laid-back, jam session evening of holiday jazz. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Dec. 24. (Fri.)  Christmas Eve at Vibrato is a non-stop banquet of solid jazz.  From 6:30 to 8:30, pianist/singer Gaea Schell leads her trio in an engaging blend of vocals and instrumentals.  At 9p.m., veteran saxophonist Don Menza takes the stage for a straight ahead jazz romp, backed by the Pat Senatore TrioVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Dec. 22. (Wed.)  Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks. The unique Hicks musical gumbo of  jazz, pop, rock, blues and musical fun has been entertaining audiences for several decades.  To read a recent iRoM review of Hicks and the Licks, click HEREYoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

– Dec. 22 – 24. (Wed. – Fri.)  Pharoah Sanders.  Tenor saxophonist Sanders is viewed by many as an inheritor of the envelope-stretching John Coltrane style of the mid-‘60s.  But Sanders offers much more, as well, amplifying the style with his own adventurous musical ideas. Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

New York

– Dec. 21 – 25. (Tues. – Sat.) It’s “A Swinging Birdland Christmas” with the delightful voice of Hilary Cole, the stylings of  Jim Caruso, and the backing of pianist Billy Stritch and violinist Aaron Weinstein enlivening a program of traditional holiday songs.  Birdland. (212) 581-3080.  To read a recent iRoM review of a Hilary Cole performance click HERE.

– Dec.. 21 – 26. (Tues. – Sun.)  Chris Botti.  Hard working, musically imaginative, always entertaining trumpeter Botti continues his marathon, 21-straight day run at the Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

– Dec. 22 – 26. (Wed. – Sun.)  4 Generations of Miles.  A quartet of players, all of whom have been with Miles Davis in past decades, get together to celebrate their musical legacy.  Featuring Mike Stern, Sonny Fortune, Buster Williams, Jimmy CobbIridium.   (212) 582-2121.

– Dec. 23. (Thurs.) Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O.  Drummer Wilson leads his trio in a performance of selections from their new Palmetto album of the same title.  Wilson is joined by Jeff Lederer, saxophones and Paul Sikivie, bass.  Cornelia Street Café (212) 989-9319

Bob Mintzer photo by Tony Gieske.

The Holidays

December 20, 2010

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s underway, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast soon ends, and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the final medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”

Live Music: Inner Voices at Vitello’s

December 18, 2010

By Don Heckman

A group of world class singers appearing on the same stage can often be a recipe for rampant egomania.  But not when the singers – Morgan Ames, Julie Delgado, Deborah Dietrich, Shelby Flint, Sheri Izzard and Michael Mishaw — are the members of the vocal ensemble Inner Voices.  The performance of this gifted collective Vitello’s Friday night was a sterling display of vocal togetherness in all its manifestations – from superb soloing to rich-textured harmonic artistry.

Given the busy schedules of each of the singers, their live performances together are rare, and one of the pleasures of the Southland holiday season is Inner Voices’ annual Christmas performance.  This year, it was enhanced by the recent release of their latest album, Valentine, which provided some newly written and arranged tunes to accompany the more familiar seasonal items.

Deborah Dietrich, Shelby Flint, Sheri Izzard, Morgan Ames, Michael Mishaw

The program was a non-stop banquet of musical goodies, often enhanced by the presence of such guest singers as Jim Gilstrap and Randy Crenshaw’s vocal ensemble Cleanup Crue.  Appropriately, the first few numbers had a holiday orientation: the spiritual rhythms of “De King Is Born Today” featuring Flint and Mishaw; Flint’s crystalline soprano on “Carol of the Bells”; and Mishaw’s tender baritone on “This Time of the Year.”

A musical shift of gears led to a high spirited romp through Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” “Quietly There” (a lovely song written by Ames and Johnny Mandel) and Delgado’s spirited reading of “Come On Back Where You Belong” (by Ames and Dave Grusin).

If that sounds like a lot of music, in a lot of compelling styles, that’s exactly what it was.  And it was just the beginning of a set that added much more.  Among the many highlights: Izzard’s plaintive “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”; a hilarious “Hawaiian Christmas Song” featuring sliding, steel guitar-like vocal sounds and faux Hawaiian chants; Flint’s lovely version of her song, “Paper Boat”; Dietrich leading the way in “Oj Jabuko,” a Croatian carol; another high comedy moment with Cleanup Crue’s “Christmas In L.A. Again”; and the touching, ancient, Christmas-evocative “Cherry Tree Carol.”

All that and more in this memorable holiday performance, enhanced by Ames’ beautifully crafted arrangements.  And as with previous Inner Voices appearances, the only regret is that this superb congregation of artists offers so few live performances.  So, with an album titled, Valentine, can we expect to see them again around mid-February?  The happy answer is “yes.”  Inner Voices return to Vitello’s on Saturday, February 12.  Expect to hear “My Funny Valentine” and a lot more.


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