Radio Jazz: Time To Get Sirius?

July 29, 2013

By Michael Katz

There is nothing like driving around in a remote area to underline the virtues of good music. So I’d like to say a few kind words about Sirius XM. And also Avis, whose rental car was equipped with it. I recently spent a week in Yellowstone National Park, the setting for my new novel, Dearly Befuddled.

Yellowstone is a driver’s paradise or nightmare, depending on the vagaries of bison and elk, and the tourists who want to photograph them. A typical day checking out the geyser basins, waterfalls and hiking trails involves at least several hours on the road. Thanks to Sirius, I was able to share them with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and many others.

I’m sure those of you with functioning long term memories can remember when driving across lonesome stretches of the West meant searching through the vast emptiness of AM radio, where the choices were country music, country music, Jesus, Jesus en Espanol, country music en Espanol, and a fading baseball game from Mars. Sirius offers something for everyone, and multiple versions of it. There are several jazz channels, but Channel 67 (Real Jazz) seemed to be more Straight Ahead, as the late, great DJ Chuck Niles would have said. In addition to Miles and Stan and Freddie, my relatively brief sampling had favorites such as Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley, Dave Brubeck, as well as current names like Warren Wolf, Marcus Miller, the Clayton Brothers and Roy Hargrove.   The DJs, including Miller and Mark Ruffin, are knowledgeable, although chat is at a minimum. There are live recordings of concerts, too, from Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center.

I’ve got to admit it is pretty amazing to walk  away from the eruption of Giant Fountain Geyser and listen to Shirley Horn sing “I’ve Got The World On A String.”

Giant Fountain Geyser

Or drive away from the Black Sand Basin as Jackie Terrason plays “Smile.”

Black Sand Basin

Then there is the question, what do you do while you are stuck in traffic, while, unknown to you, a bison is playing Grand Marshal to the Road To West Yellowstone Parade.

I am somewhere behind the bison.

The answer is, you switch to B.B. King’s Bluesville on Channel 70 and listen to Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Doug MacLeod. “Got them Wanderin’ Bison, Rubberneck Tourist Blues.” The time just flies by, really.

This begs the question, should I pay up and subscribe at home. I’ve tried to be loyal to our local station, KJazz 88.1. I understand the importance of a local station, promoting local players and events (if only…). In Kjazz’s defense, they cannot run separate channels for blues and smooth jazz as Sirius does. But in the end, we all vote with our feet (or our index fingers). And Kjazz needs to spend more time with current and/or local artists, and less time recycling the same hackneyed playlist over and over.

In the meantime, if you are hitting the road, don’t leave home without Sirius.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Live Music: 2012 in Review

January 1, 2013

By Michael Katz

Los Angeles, CA.  Looking back over the year’s worth of live performances I covered, mostly in jazz, is a bittersweet experience. There are surely enough terrific moments to fill a column, but in a city with L.A.’s diversity of talent, you can’t help wishing for more. Our club scene is struggling, with only Catalina Bar & Grill consistently booking major touring acts for extended stays. In the Valley, Vitello’s  has done a nice job of showcasing the best of our local talent and the occasional national stars, and downtown the Blue Whale has presented an intriguing mix of fresh talent and local mainstays. As for the Westside, the best news was that the light rail Metro Line finally made it to Culver City.

Now, if I could only get to Culver City.

On the concert side, the Hollywood Bowl brought lots of talent to its band shell on summer Wednesday evenings, mostly in combinations for retro theme nights, but its directors don’t  seem to trust anyone on the current scene to headline a show. UCLA Live (newly renamed the Center For The Art of Performance) presented an eclectic program that included the Mingus Dynasty septet, Bill Frisell and Hugh Masekela.

How anybody finds out about this music is another problem. (Unless, of course, you visit iRoM). Our local newspaper covers only a scant sampling of the jazz spectrum, while our jazz radio station has narrowed its daily programming range to the Old, the Dead and the Smooth.

But enough grumbling. Here’s a few of the superb performances that still resonated in my mind, months after the last note had died out.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I never saw a full set of Dee Dee Bridgewater, but when she stepped onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl during the Ray Charles tribute last summer, she simply took over.  She began with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by the great Houston Person and finished with “I Got News For You,” her ringing, soulful vocals augmented by Terence Blanchard and George Duke. A few months later I caught her in the closing set of the Monterey Jazz Festival with an all-star group that featured Christian McBride, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash and Chris Potter . She opened the set in a nimble duet with McBride on “Do What You Want To Do” and brought the crowd to pin drop silence with “Don’t Explain.” This group will be at the Valley Performing Art Center on January 23, so don’t miss them.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

I saw a number of outstanding big bands this year, but the most memorable was led by Arturo Sandoval, in support of Dear Diz, his Grammy nominated CD and my favorite disc of the year. I caught them at The Federal, which hopefully will expand its presentation of jazz in 2013. Sandoval is clearly one of the world’s elite trumpet players, his tones piercing and his leadership swinging and joyful. His collection of mostly Dizzy Gillespie tunes featured sharp new arrangements, including a wonderful take on “Bee Bop” by Gordon Goodwin and a rollicking “Night In Tunisia.”

John Pisano

John Pisano

LA is the home of some of the world’s great guitarists, and I was lucky enough to catch a few of them live. At the top of the list is John Pisano’s Guitar Night. He keeps moving it farther away from my digs on the Westside, but I did manage to catch one of his last shows at Vitello’s with Anthony Wilson. Watching the two of them riff through two sets, testing their imaginations and dancing around familiar standards  reminded me that Guitar Night remains one of LA’s great treats.  I hereby resolve to make it out to Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake to see Pisano and friends in 2013.

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

Meanwhile, there were other great guitarists, including Dori Caymmi presenting a night of Brazilian music at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in what we hope is a prequel to the new Jazz Bakery, still in the planning stages next door. For jazz deprived Westsiders, it cannot come soon enough.  Pat Metheny played two sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, my favorite being a trio performance with bassist McBride and percussionist Jack DeJohnette.  And then there was Mimi Fox, who we don’t hear nearly enough of, doing a lovely Saturday matinee duet at MJF with flutist Ali Ryerson.

Mads Tolling

Mads Tolling

As usual there were some unheralded performers that caught my attention. Here’s to a couple of fiddlers: Sara Watkins and Mads Tolling. Watkins, late of Nickel Creek, shone during an LA performance of Prairie Home Companion, dueting with host Garrison Keillor on “Let It Be Me” as they strolled through the crowd, and later burning it up in a fiddle showdown with Richard Kriehn. Tolling, a veteran of the Turtle Island Quartet, fronted his own group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage at MJF. Whether plucking in tandem with his guitarist or racing through a tribute to Jean Luc Ponty, Tolling was a revelation. His live CD, A Celebration of Jean Luc Ponty, was another of my favorite discs.

Monterey, as usual, had lots of highlights for me, including some wonderful trio work by pianist Mulgrew Miller, a rousing vocal performance by Gregory Porter and a Cal Tjader tribute led by pianist Michael Wolff, featuring Warren Wolf on vibes.

Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza

And finally, there was Luciana Souza, opening the season at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, singing warm renditions from her two CDs that would later be nominated for Grammys, Duos 3 and The Book of Chet.

So what are my resolutions for 2013? For one, I resolve to catch Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl. For another, I resolve to brave the traffic (and the absence of chairs) at the Blue Whale and see what is happening downtown. And finally, it is long past time for me to get to New York and check out the great jazz scene there. Perhaps if we can avoid the fiscal cliff, I can get some federal funding for a trip East. Sort of a reverse Lewis and Clark Expedition culminating in a week or so in the Big Apple. I plan to get it tacked on to an appropriations bill. I’m sure no one will notice.

Happy New Year to all.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, Katz of the Day.

Arturo Sandoval and John Pisano photos by Bob Barry

Live Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival Notebook; Day #2

September 23, 2012

By Michael Katz

Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival is an Olympian feast, with just about everything you can imagine, from the blasting steel pedal of Robert Randolph to the nuanced guitar of Mimi Fox, the cult-like dominance of Trombone Shorty to the indomitable Tony Bennett. Not to mention the ear-splitting Thunderbirds flyover, courtesy of the nearby Salinas Air Show.

Robert Randolph

There was a chill in the air Saturday morning – you would think after so many years at this festival I wouldn’t be fooled, though it should have served as a reminder that the evenings can get downright cold. Once into the Arena, the sun was searing as usual – and so were Robert Randolph and his Family Band. The blues, for years the staple of the Saturday afternoon shows, has taken a back seat lately to the Treme-inspired New Orleans gumbo/funk, but Randolph played with a fury, cutting through the afternoon heat on his steel pedal guitar. He occasionally eased into a soulful funk of his own, but mainly he was sending stratospheric riffs into the autumn air.  This is a treat if that’s your kind of blues, but after about a half hour I sought some refuge, as well as the typical Saturday afternoon fun at the Garden Stage.

The Blues Broads

There are few things that beat the ambience of standing under the shade of California live oaks, feeling a breeze float through the air as the crowd occupies every nook and cranny of the Garden Stage’s small amphitheatre. The Blues Broads, who are everything that the name implies, were belting out Texas blues with panache. Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Sampson supplied the vocals from the Austin-based group, and the band was pushed by a two-keyboard combination of Mike Emerson and Deanna Bogart, who doubled on tenor sax. Under normal circumstances I might have been content to stretch out in the shade and take in the remainder of their ninety-minute show, but I was drawn to the Night Club venue for an event I’d been looking forward to since the schedule came out.

Ali Ryerson and Mimi Fox

It may seem counter-intuitive to be seeking quietude on the one afternoon that the MJF is bursting with fervor; I suppose Tim Jackson could have scheduled the duo of flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox at some other time. Perhaps the crowd might have been a little larger – by the end it probably was around 60% of capacity at a festival where crowded venues were the norm – but those who were there couldn’t have been more appreciative.  Mimi Fox is a splendid player – she has an air of confidence, like a tennis player striking one well-placed rally after another, never a false step or a wasted note. She isn’t recorded nearly enough – her Perpetually Hip double CD of 2006 is the latest. And she found a perfect duet partner in Ryerson, who has worked in many formats, alternating between the standard flute and the alto. Fox set a bluesy tone in the opening, her composition “Blues For Two,” and from there Ryerson picked up the alto for a sparkling “Summertime.”  Their interweaving on “Alone Together” brought memories of the famous Jim Hall/Ron Carter duo. Fox alluded to some personal challenges in her composition “This Bird Still Flies,” and you could only hope they had waned – certainly her playing still shines. Ryerson took the lead on a stunning “My One And Only Love,” punctuated by the Thunderbirds F-16 flyover.  Most of the crowd knew this was coming, but by the sixth one, it took the consummate grace of Ryerson and Fox to rescue the intimacy of the moment. They closed with Jobim’s “Triste,” with Fox artfully tapping chordal backdrops to Ryerson’s melodic riffs.

Trombone Shorty

So I missed the first half of Trombone Shorty’s triumphant return to the Arena, where he had laid waste to the entire festival two years ago, starting a campaign that ended at the Garden Stage far into the afternoon. He was feted with Caesarian affection by the packed arena. When I walked in he was in the midst of an extended visit to “St. James Infirmary,” leading his band, featuring guitarist Pete Murano and bassist Mike Ballard. Combined with the horns of Mike McFatter and Dan Ostreicher, it is an awe-inspiring combination of funk and showmanship. Shorty, aka Troy Andrews, played a piercing trumpet solo as he segued into Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman,” which had some great tenor work by McFatter. But mostly it was supreme showmanship, with Shorty out front and drummer Joey Peebles maintaining the groove.  If the Monterey Jazz Festival was a small country, Trombone Shorty could be Emperor without much trouble. (We should keep him away from Kurt Vonnegut novels).

Judi Roberts

A short interlude before the evening performances brought me to the tiny Courtyard Stage, where pianist/vocalist Judy Roberts and tenor/flutist Greg Fishman held forth for a series of half-hour performances. If you are a Chicagoan wondering where your fellow country-people have been, stop by because they all show up for Judy.  I am admittedly biased here, but listening to her and Greg’s spirited version of “Centerpiece,” or her wonderful interpretation of “Night Moves,” brings back memories of the Backroom, and the non-Chicagoans shared in the delight.

Michael Wolff

The evening brought three much anticipated performances, and apologies to Bill Frisell, whose commissioned piece I missed. But I have been a huge Cal Tjader fan from the first time I heard his rich vibes tone incorporating the Afro-Cuban and Latin rhythms of Dizzy Gillespie and Mongo Santamaria. When Tjader died suddenly in 1982, the music seemed to go with him, despite a nice legacy album from conguero Poncho Sanchez. So when superb pianist Michael Wolff, who played with Tjader at the age of 19 in the early 70’s, got the go ahead to put together a Cal Tjader Tribute Band, I knew it would be something special. The band was superb, with a rhythm section of John Santos and Pete Escovedo on congas and timbales, Vince Lateano on percussion and Robb Fisher on bass. Warren Wolf took the Tjader chair on vibes and did a terrific job. No one can really imitate Cal Tjader – if it was that easy, someone would have done it by now.  Wolf’s style is slightly more percussive, but he has the zest and passion for the music that comes out with every stroke of the mallets. The group began with Ray Bryant’s “Cuban Fantasy,” with Wolff and Escovedo trading solos in back of Warren Wolf’s bright melodic line.  So much of this material is treasured by Tjader fans that you simply sit back and listen to this group take off and fly with it. Warren Wolf shone on Mongo’s “Afro-Blue,” and Michael Wolff took the lead on his own combination “Sad Eyes,” from the Tambu album with Charlie Byrd.  Wolf’s vibes are clearly the dominant force in a Tjaderized setting, but Michael Wolff’s piano was bubbling throughout. Everything shone in this set – the classic “A Night In Tunisia” featured a blazing crescendo by Warren Wolf. At about this time I realized time was fleeting, and the group wouldn’t get through the entire agenda. They closed with Tjader’s classic “Soul Sauce,” Michael Wolff slipping over to the Fender Rhodes for a Joe Zawinul-inspired solo before handing the baton back to Warren Wolff for the familiar vibes roll that became Cal’s signature. It was clearly an unforgettable set.

Jac DeJohnette

I moved back to the Arena for the last two sets of the evening, which were both triumphant in their own way. Jack DeJohnette led (if that’s the word) a trio with Pat Metheny and Christian McBride. The three of them explored rhythms and melodies – no titles were announced — and by this time my mind overloaded as I tried to sort out familiar lines. It was improvisational jazz at its best, kind of an acoustic avant-garde, wandering off here and there but never inaccessible. DeJohnette has a crisp style that keeps your attention, and Metheny has a unique presentation. Even when he is not playing any of his well-known pieces, his presence is clearly felt. McBride, of course, is the perfect foil, pulsating from behind, and then moving in front when the mood strikes. The one tune I could put a label on was Miles Davis’ “Solar,” which they wove into an expressive piece that Miles would surely have appreciated (though that is always assuming a lot).

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett closed the show and all I can say is, Google “sublime” and you ought to get his name for the first ten pages. At 86 he makes few concessions to age – he speaks a few lyrics that he used to croon, that’s about it – but his interpretive powers and rich tone haven’t diminished. The standards seem fresh as the Monterey breeze (albeit there was a distinct chill in the air).  You can reel them off as he did: “They All Laughed,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” just to name a few.  Lee Musiker is a terrific pianist and Musical Director, the great Harold Jones was on drums, Marshall Wood on bass and Gary Sargent on guitar was wonderful as the featured soloist. Bennett kept the songs mostly short with the occasional bow to his sidemen. The audience was adoring, and when he closed the set with Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” and “Fly Me To The Moon,” he had accomplished much the same as Trombone Shorty, and if it wasn’t the exact same crowd, there was plenty in common.

Photos courtesy  of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Traveling Music: Five For The Road

July 22, 2012

By Michael Katz

Summertime has always meant the opportunity for long road trips, the most notable joy of which is putting my favorite music on the stereo and cranking it up as I cruise into what Ed Abbey called the Back of Beyond. In the old days I would spend untold hours in preparation, transferring my favorite record albums onto cassette tapes. The trips back then were longer, most prominently the one from Chicago to Hayward, Wisconsin, and the musical menu a bit different. It might range from singing along with The Kingston Trio, to Canned Heat, to whatever jazz greats I could slip into the playlist for the benefit of the uninitiated among my fellow camp counselors.

Now, as I prepare for a visit to Tuolumne Meadows in the Yosemite High Country, my requirements have been modified, somewhat. I still like to crank it up, sing along, or just get carried along by the groove. The main thing nowadays, is that I have to stay awake. As much as I love Stan Getz and Bill Evans, they are not going to get me through the vast nothingness that is Rte. 395 from Mojave to Lone Pine. And just loud isn’t enough, either. Monotony can put you to sleep as easily as a lullaby. The music has to be engaging.

Technology has altered the picture, of course. CDs and iPods have eliminated the need for home taping systems, although anyone who has seen me try and navigate my iPod through the radio dials might feel safer if I was asleep. And then there are cell phones. Let me make it clear that I consider the Freedom of the Open Road to be a freedom from this blight upon mankind. The only thing I want to hear less than my cellphone ringing is YOUR cellphone ringing. The unspeakable rudeness of having a passenger turn the volume down on my Bonnie Raitt CD to yak on the phone with someone (other than me) makes me yearn for an “eject” button.

Seriously. Don’t even think about it.

Here, then, is a short list of albums, for those of you not into assembling your own playlist or tuning in Sirius, or unable to find a baseball game as you hurtle through the desert, or across the Interstate. Yes, it reflects my personal, jazz-oriented tastes, and I know you’ll substitute the Dead, or Willie Nelson, or whomever. But this is my Sort of Top 5 For The Road, with the same type of leeway you give to the speed limit.

5A: Dear Diz, Arturo Sandoval. If Sandoval’s stratospheric trumpet can’t keep you awake, not much can. The newest CD on the list, Sandoval’s big band features terrific arrangements of Dizzy Gillespie tunes, plus cameos by Eddie Daniels, Gary Burton, Bob Mintzer and Joey DeFrancesco.

5B: Brotherhood, Gene Harris. Actually, practically anything by Gene Harris will do. His funky tremolo will keep you going for miles without need of caffeine. Brotherhood was one of the many CDs Gene made with his quartet for Concord after bassist Ray Brown coaxed him out of his Idaho retirement. His gigs with the Ray Brown Trio work equally well.


4: The Very Best of the Kingston Trio. You will never nod off singing along to “MTA” or “Tijuana Jail.” This has been proven by years of experience over thousands of miles from our tested drivers.

3: Road Tested, Bonnie Raitt. This is a double CD made from live performances and has been road tested personally many times. It includes highlights from the post-Nick of Time years, plus songs for those of us who go way back with Bonnie, including “Angel From Montgomery,” “Louise,” “Three Time Loser” and more. (Take along her new one, Slipstream, too.).

2: Bop For Kerouac, Mark Murphy. What better than to go on the road with On The Road? Vocalist Mark Murphy is at his best here, interweaving the writings of Jack Kerouac with the bebop that inspired him. Bebop lives!

2A: Que Viva Mingus, The Mingus Big Band. Mix the compositional genius of Charles Mingus with a Latin-tinged big band and keep your eyes on the road. From the opening of “Cumbia & Jazz Fusion” to the closing “Ysabel’s Table Dance,” this will keep you riveted, with a band that includes Randy Brecker, David Sanchez, Chris Potter and a terrific rhythm section.

1. MF 4 and 5, Live at Jimmy’s, Maynard Ferguson. I suppose this is my guilty pleasure. I loved Maynard’s bands of the early ‘70s, and this double album was the best of that period. Freed from the commercial restrictions Columbia put on his other albums, Live at Jimmy’s featured mostly original jazz compositions like “Nice and Juicy” and “Stay Loose With Bruce,” which spotlighted the other star of this band, baritone sax player Bruce Johnstone. The combination of Maynard’s piercing horn and these great arrangements will keep you awake and alert.

Well, that ought to do it. Now if I can just figure out where the bathrooms are between Mojave and Lone Pine…


Postscript: Special Bonus Choice! The Soundtrack from the Motion Picture Remembering Phil.


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To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

The Playboy Jazz Festival 2012: Saturday’s Program at the Hollywood Bowl

June 18, 2012

By Michael Katz

I told myself I had finally come to terms with the Playboy Jazz Festival. This year I would enjoy it for what it was: an eight hour party at the Hollywood Bowl, a sort of Bar Mitzvah/Quinceanera for grown-ups, with perhaps half of it (on a good day) dedicated to actual jazz, or what Stephen Colbert might call “jazziness.” It turns out, though I’m appreciative of some of the fine things I heard,  that I am not as prepared to settle as I’d thought. For starters, the Festival’s format, in which continuous music is presented on the rotating stage for eight hours, could use some alterations after thirty-four years. There is no opportunity for the audience to take a breath between acts, to reflect on the music, and most importantly, to converse with each other without talking over the music or ignoring it completely. Not surprisingly, folks will pick a moment of relative quiet to mingle and nosh – more and more, those moments coincide with the appearance of an actual jazz band onstage, which means that the best moments for many of us are drowned out or obstructed.

Would it harm anyone to have a fifteen minute break here and there, so the audience can absorb the performances, uncork the wine bottles and acclimate themselves for a change in tempo?

With that off my chest, here’s a report on some of the jazzier aspects of Day 1. Early arrivers walked into a pleasant performance by Louie Cruz Beltran, the first of a talented contingent of Latino percussionists. Beltran’s emphasis was on Latin jazz. His ensemble featured Onaje Murray on vibes, which gave it a Cal Tjader-like sound, much appreciated by LA jazz fans. Jose Gomez on saxes and flute, Javier Gonzales on trumpet and Eric Jorgensen wielding a candy apple red trombone added to the ambience. You’d have liked to have heard this band at night with a dance floor, but it was a relaxing way to start the day on a sun-kissed afternoon.

Bill Cosby was emceeing for the last time, after thirty years fronting the Festival, and of all his contributions,  his Cos of Good Music bands may be missed the most. This year’s group was notable for an all female front line of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Tia Fuller and Erena Terakubo on alto saxes, all three of them talented enough to headline.

Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Irina Terakubo

The first medley, though slightly disorganized at the segues, featured some blistering work by Terakubo, who established the main line of “Cherokee,” then did an homage to Charlie Parker that wowed the jazz aficionados in the crowd. Jensen, who was featured previously in one of Cos’s bands, slowed the tempo down with “Back Home In Indiana,” settling into a comfortable groove that showed her mastery of the horn’s middle register. Tia Fuller then took over with some hard swinging on alto. Having seen her leading her own group at Monterey last year, I was prepared to see her step out and dominate, but she was content to be a team player with this talented group.

Next, pianist Farid Barron slid lithely from the percussion intros of Babatunde Lea and Nndugu Chancler into the familiar chords of “Poinciana.”  Barron wove in creative variations on the theme, then gave way to Fuller, Jensen and Terakubo for some gently swinging solos. The next tune was a hard bop nod to the late Freddie Hubbard, Ingrid Jensen underlining her lead trumpet chops with some powerful, growling charges. Bill Cosby had joined the band by now; this hard bop material clearly to his liking. He then contributed some vocals to the Lieber/ Stoller classic “Searchin,” which had the whole band in a joyous funk. Let’s hope that the festival finds a way to keep the “Cos of Good Music” (or something like it) in the program as a way to bring talented and under-heard musicians to the Bowl.

Alfredo Rodriguez

The Global Gumbo All-Stars took the stage following a raucous set by Ivan Neville’s Soul Rebels.  With the crowd still buzzing and the funky New Orleans horns reverberating, Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriquez’s opening chords could barely be discerned – at first I wondered whether the piano was miked at all. Rodriguez, a prodigy of Quincy Jones, who had been heard with these players at last year’s tribute to Quincy at the Bowl, is carving his own path in the wake of countrymen Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcabo. He navigated through the opening number with an off-minor riff,   augmented by guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin, Africa.

Lionel Loueke

Loueke, who has worked with Terence Blanchard, Jack DeJohnette and Herbie Hancock, among others, can move easily between lilting African rhythms and acid-tinged solos. In the group’s second number, he shared an instrumental and vocal duet with bassist Richard Bona. Bona, from Cameroon, has long, lithe fingers that pluck his electric bass like it was a banjo. His voice, which can seamlessly explore the higher ranges, is a perfect counterpoint to his bass playing.  He performs with a joyous energy that can captivate a crowd — I’ve seen him fronting his own band on several occasions.

Driving the rhythms behind all this was percussionist Francisco Mela, also from Cuba. Mela didn’t show off much, but he provided an infectious backdrop for the quartet, especially when Bona and Loueke were riffing with each other. They followed a Rodriguez solo with a funky combination of R&B chords and vocals, then moved into one of Bona’s originals from his Tiki album. By this time, the crowd had put down their dinner plates and figured out that something exciting was going on. This was a group that you would have wanted to extend into multiple sets if you were in a club. As it was, pianist Rodriguez closed things out with a riveting mambo, and the Global Gumbo All Stars rotated off into the night.

Christian McBride brought his touring big band to the bowl, following R&B singer Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

The Christian McBride Big Band

A driving big band ought to put a charge into the house, but again, they were following a group that had amped up the volume, and it took about half the set to engage the audience. This, despite a rousing first number, a McBride composition, “Shake and Blake,” which featured trumpeter Ron Blake. He and fellow sax player Steve Wilson were the best known names in the band, which featured mainly east coast guys that we don’t see often. Other standouts included Steve Davis on trombone, Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and Loren Schoenberg on tenor sax. McBride took the melody on a pretty big band arrangement of “I Should Care,” then brought  his wife, vocalist Melissa Walker onto the stage for three numbers.

Walker has a tender voice that dropped down into the middle registers for a lovely version of “When I Fall In Love.”     Her reading of “The More I See You,” had an engaging swing that closed out her contribution to the set. It was the final two numbers, though, that brought the crowd to their feet. McBride brought Bill Cosby up front to sing his signature “Hikky-Burr,” the theme from “The Bill Cosby Show” that was originally recorded by Quincy Jones. Despite the short rehearsal time, the performance was crisp, Cosby was delighted and the crowd picked up on it from the opening notes. The excitement spilled over to the band’s final number, “In A Hurry,” one of McBride’s best original compositions. Drummer Ulysses Owens, whom McBride gushed over in a post-concert interview, showed why with a terrific solo to close out the set.

And, though it was only a little past nine o’clock, that was about the end of the jazz for Day One. That is not to slight Sheila E, whose set provided the standard for energy and showmanship.

Sheila E.

She came on, escorted by the plumed Samba Funk dancers, and went straight to the timbales, where she performed with abandon. Her dad, Pete Escovido, came out for a brief interlude, singing a Latin tinged “Fly Me To The Moon,” and contributing a timbale solo of his own before turning the show back to his daughter. Sheila E led her horn-fronted band in a performance reminiscent of Trombone Shorty at last year’s festival, leaving the audience cheering and dancing in the aisles.

At the end of the day, you could be thankful that the Playboy Jazz Festival had brought a bunch of talented musicians that we don’t hear often to play for a capacity crowd. Still, you had to wonder if there was a single instrumentalist other than bassist McBride who could be counted upon to headline an act. The hand-picked groups are fun to watch, but I miss the virtuosity of a current jazz star like Roy Hargrove or Nicholas Payton, Miguel Zenon or Eric Alexander, who can lift a crowd over a fifty minute set. Despite the constant dirges about the death of jazz, there is no shortage of talent out there.

All it takes is a little faith in the music.

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Photos of Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen and Irina Terakubo, the Christian McBride Big Band and Sheila E. by Bonnie Perkinson.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Katz of the Day: Reflections on Charles Mingus

March 13, 2012

By Michael Katz

 This Friday night’s appearance of Mingus Dynasty in a UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall brings to mind the first and only time I saw Charles Mingus perform.  It was at a small club called the Good Karma, in the basement of a health food store in Madison, Wisconsin, circa 1976.  I’d guess that Mingus was presenting work from the Changes One and Changes Two albums that were released around then, though Sue Mingus suggests he might have been performing Cumbia and Jazz Fusion, which I recall most distinctly from the Mingus Big Band’s Que Viva Mingus.  What I do remember was getting there early and seeing Mingus sitting alone in front of his bass, going over music that would be played that night, the rest of the band nowhere in sight. He was a large man in a small room – it couldn’t have seated more than a hundred folks, if that. I had seen other big jazz names there — Mose Allison, Eddie Harris, George Benson – but none of them would fill the place like Mingus and his band.

I didn’t know, as Sue Mingus related recently, that he had just been given the key to the city. If that seems a little incongruous to someone performing in the basement of a health food store, consider that the mayor was (and currently is again) Paul Soglin. In 1975, Soglin would have been barely 30, having arisen from the anti-war movement that swept over Madison to become mayor in 1973. The Changes albums had songs titled “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” and “Free Cell Block F, Tis Nazi USA,” so it’s not surprising that Soglin – whatever his level of jazz sophistication — would have considered Mingus a kindred spirit.

The fusion of jazz and politics was an essential part of the Mingus ouevre, but it shouldn’t obscure the fact that he was one of the great composers of our time. He could be growling, or soulful, or bluesy, often all at the same time. His more contemplative, elegiac work, most notably “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the homage to Lester Young, as well as “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” were stirring and memorable. His compositions featured complex weavings of the horns and piano in his basic quartet or quintet, but they were engaging and immensely listenable.

Some of the more overtly political themes were clearly reflected in the music.   “Haitian Fight Song,” suggests the undercurrents of struggle and darkness in that historically beset land. (Though it also showed up in a VW Jetta commercial a few years ago). “Medititations on a Pair of Wire Cutters,” is similarly brooding and conspiratorial as it builds to a crescendo.

In other tunes, such as the above-mentioned titles from the Changes albums, it’s harder to see the connections, or maybe the issues have just lost currency over the years. “Rockefeller” and “Cell Block F” are bright, aggressive compositions that still sound great, if somewhat disconnected from their original source. And of course there is no shortage of gospel and blues. “Mingus Ah Um,” which was recorded in 1959, leads off with “Better Git It In Your Soul” and includes, in addition to “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,”  “Fables of Faubus” and “Pussy Cat Dues.” The recent reissue CD, which also includes the albums The Clown and Pithecanthropus Erectus is a must for anyone’s desert island list.

All this leads up to Friday night’s Royce Hall concert by the Mingus Dynasty septet. By supporting groups such as Mingus Dynasty and the Mingus Big Band, Sue Mingus has kept alive the legacy of her husband, who was diagnosed with ALS in 1977 and died in 1979 at the age of 56. Here in LA we don’t get the weekly exposure to the music that the Mingus Big Band provides in New York, though they have toured here on occasion. The smaller Dynasty is closer in size to the classic Mingus groups, and features stellar personnel. Alex Foster on reeds and Boris Kozlov on bass are co-leaders, along with fellow Mingus Big Band stalwarts Seamus Blake on tenor, Ku-umba Frank Lacy on trombone and vocals, Donald Edwards on drums and David Kikoski on piano. Rounding things out is emerging trumpet star Avishai Cohen. The opportunity to see this group playing Charles Mingus’s compositions is sure to be a rare treat.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, Katz of the Day.


Katz of the Day: Reflections on Mountain Dew

March 9, 2012

By Michael Katz

The revelation that Stephen Colbert is really a folkie at heart wasn’t all that surprising, if you follow his show. Still, as a retired camp counselor, it was a kick to see him with Don Fleming, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello last night, listening to old reel to reel tape recordings from the collection of folklorist Alan Lomax. Being the possessor of innumerable Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary albums, I was well aware of Lomax and the roots of the music that extend back to Woody Guthrie and beyond. But when they returned from a commercial break to actually sing, it was an old Appalachian folk tune that was way up on the North Star Camp hit list of the 60’s and ‘70s: “Mountain Dew.” I won’t say that Emmylou and Elvis sang it in the same way that a bunch of kids from mostly well-to-do Jewish homes did around the campfire, but still:  Gimme some of that good old mountain dew, mountain dew, and them that refuse it are few (Are few!) You’ll feel no pain, while it drives you insane…

Okay, you get the picture.

Stephen Colbert

If I were to pick the three songs that we sang most from that genre, I would go with “Mountain Dew,” “Shanty Town” (It’s only a shanty, in old Shanty Town… The roof is so slanty, it touches the ground…) and “Goodnight Irene.” The latter, written by Leadbelly, became a sort of emblem for us in the mid-seventies, thanks to one particular counselor with a large collection of Woody Guthrie albums – I’ll just call him “Tom” — and to this day when I hear “Goodnight Irene” I still think of a couple hundred campers and counselors on the last night of camp, holding hands, rocking gently in the cool Wisconsin night.

So of course, when Colbert and friends came back from the last commercial break, they were singing “Goodnight Irene,” with Costello on the uke and Colbert along on guitar and vocals. You can hear the whole song:

Diana Krall

Now I have to admit I’m still a little sore at Elvis Costello for up and marrying Diana Krall, extinguishing a torch that I’d been carrying since I’d seen her on a Tuesday night at a half-empty Jazz Bakery in 1995, singing from her Only Trust Your Heart CD, long before anyone knew of her. I flashed forward to a night at Catalina’s in Hollywood, not too long after that. I’d come to see pianist Benny Green’s group. It was Ray Brown’s birthday, and he was in the crowd. The great bassist being one of Diana’s mentors, she had slipped in unannounced for the celebration. She was sitting alone at the bar for what seemed to be the longest time, and I tried to gather enough courage to walk over and introduce myself. If I had only known she would eventually fall for a guy who could sing all the verses of “Mountain Dew.”  And play “Goodnight Irene” on the ukulele. I could do that! (Well, not the ukulele part.)

Well, the rest is history. Diana and Elvis got married in a castle in England. I now envision them sitting in front of the hearth, on a foggy, windswept night, sipping imported moonshine and singing the chorus to Shanty Town: I’d give up a palace, if I were a king. It’s more than a palace, it’s my everything…

Okay, maybe not.

But I can still do all the verses to “MTA,” if anyone’s listening.

* * * * *

To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s new personal blog, Katz of the Day.


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