By Norton Wright
New to the L.A. jazz scene is the all-singing, intensely swinging, dynamic duo of “Bonnie & Bill.” That’s Grammy-nominated Bonnie Bowden and songster Bill Jones of Fox TV’s Glee staging their own jazz show of over 20 songs backed by Pat Longo’s Hollywood Big Band last weekend at the Leisure Village Auditorium in Camarillo. It’s rare to have a boy-girl twosome singing front and center for an entire show. John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey come to mind, but Bonnie & Bill perform on a larger scale in that they have a gigantor-sounding, big, swing band fueling their singing for over 75-minutes of up-tempos and ballads from the Great American Songbook.
In the past, it was always an exciting change of pace when a big jazz orchestra brought out a star singer to do one or two numbers in a set. Think of the Stan Kenton band bringing out Chris Connor for “Jeepers Creepers” or Count Basie punctuating his set with Joe Williams wailing “Every Day I Have The Blues”.
What makes the Bonnie Bowden-Bill Jones duo different and unique is that they’re the stars of their show throughout, constantly gracing the stage and leading their big-band pals through jazz vocals at their best.
With vivacity and movie-star looks, Bonnie & Bill kicked off their show with “Ain’t We Got Fun”, segued into “Till The End Of Time” (Bill singing in English, Bonnie countering in Spanish), and Bonnie tagged the medley with “I Love Being Here With You.” Taking a cue from Andrea Marcovicci’s cabaret chats, Bowden introduced her songs with some choice historical tid-bits:
Was it really Dinah Washington who first had the hit, “I Just Found Out About Love And I Like It” (some of us thought it was Deedles and Basie!). Was Doris Day really only 19-years-old when she sang “Sentimental Journey” with the Les Brown Band — back in 1944! ).
And Bowden paced herself well, swinging with ease through “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” and “Just Friends” and then wrapping up both with her torrid and signature scatting into the musical stratosphere.
Bill Jones is a Renaissance Man, deftly handling master of ceremonies patter, delivering ballads like “Come Rain Or Come Shine” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (and melding this rendition with a fine trombone solo by the band’s Jack Redmond). Belting Bobbie Darin-fashion through “Mack The Knife.” Giving the Longo Band its own solo on Sy Oliver’s “Opus One” with powerhouse breaks by trumpet ace Carl Saunders and tenor saxist Dean Roubicek. And joining Bowden in a well-chosen closing duet of “Something’s Gotta Give” and a rollicking “Just A Gigolo” recalling another dynamic singing duo, Louis Prima and Keely Smith. In addition, Jones was the producer of the show, bringing Pat Longo’s high-energy band to the festivities and adding a giant projection screen adjacent to the proscenium stage to provide close-ups of the performance to all 600 seats in the auditorium.
Though it may be that there are only a few venues in Los Angeles large enough to host the “Bonnie & Bill” show with its big-band entourage, there are markets that enterprising L.A. jazz groups can find if they are willing to foray out to auditoriums, community centers, senior villages, and other locales such as Leisure Village in Camarillo, The American Legion Post in Woodland Hills, The Gardens Of The World in Conejo Valley, The Arthur Newman Theater in Palm Desert, The Mission Courtyard in San Juan Capistrano, and the like.
HAVE JAZZ, WILL TRAVEL! is the idea.
P.S. Plaudits to bandleader Pat Longo and his Hollywood Big Band all of whom swing with exactitude and passion and who soared right along with “Bonnie & Bill”. The band members are:
Pat Longo, Dr. Thom Mason, Dean Roubicek, Lanny “Pete” Aplanalp, saxophones, Carl Saunders, Jeff Kaye, Ira Pete DeSiena, trumpets, Ira Nepus, Jack Redmond, Robbie Hioki, trombones, Ben DiTosti, electric piano, Jeff Takiguchi, bass, Steve Pemberton drums, Rob Holt, band assistant and roadie.
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