The Central Avenue Jazz Festival This Weekend

July 25, 2015
Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

By Brick Wahl

In my heart of hearts, my favorite jazz festival ever has always been the one held every year on Central Avenue in the shadow of the Dunbar Hotel. It’s close to the roots of jazz in this town, it has band after swinging band, the musicians play like their lives depended on it, and the crowd is serious jazz loving people. Not college kids or rich westsiders or hipsters or tourists or even jazz critics, just people. Jazz people.

And it’s back again this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, for the twentieth time. Not sure how many I’ve been to but enough that I keep bumping into people I remember on the street there. I’m gonna run through the acts and time and location and incredibly groovy parking set up (Secure lots! Shuttles! Free!) but if you’re already bored by my banter you can head straight through this link to the Central Avenue Jazz Festival itself and read the same thing but with less words and better graphics.

First, where is it? It takes place on Central Avenue, the epicenter for all that was glorious in west coast jazz in the thirties and forties and even into the fifties, between Vernon Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Take the 110 to the MLK exit and head east to Central Avenue. You’ll run right into it.

Parking info is linked here and it’s dreamy. A block shy of Central Avenue on Martin Luther King is Wadsworth Elementary School. It’s free, secure, plentiful and best of all there’s a regular air conditioned shuttle service to carry you the three city blocks to the Festival. It winds you through the charming neighborhood and then stops and the doors open and the sounds of pure jazz fill the bus. You are there. And there’s even another elementary school–Harmony Elementary–that is the same thing. Secure, free and only a block away from the grounds. There’s even a shuttle from there as well, though you can walk the block faster. It’s up to you and your aging knees.

Food and non-alcoholic drink galore, all of it good, some awesome. Peach cobbler to die for. The bean pie man. All that soul food your doctor warned you about. Who knows what else. Plus fruit drinks you are not allowed to pour anything stronger into by law. You read it here first.

There is lots of seating, lots and lots, but never enough. Feel free to bring your own. It is so casual and live-and-let-live no one will care. While people listen here, seriously listen, the vibe is more like the very back of the Hollywood Bowl during the Playboy Jazz Festival, but without the inflatable furniture. Or spliffs. Or smooth jazz.

The Central Avenue Jazz Festival

Because there will be no smooth jazz at the Central Avenue Festival. None that I can see on the schedule this year. Evil types had forced some bogus stuff on the bill the last couple years but from the looks of the schedule this year, all those evil types have been purged. There is not an act this year that is not 100% the real thing. If I am wrong, I will eat my hat, and it’s a big hat.

There are two stages, one at either end, and acts will be appearing in shaded comfort in the lobby of the Dunbar Hotel as well. One stage has more of the main acts, the other more of the newer acts. That varies a bit but that is the gist. Let’s look at the line up on Saturday:

MAIN STAGE 

Saturday, July 25 

11:45 am   LAUSD Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band–the newest jazz generation cooks.
1:00 pm  Henry Franklin: The Skipper and Crew–They call him Skipper (dig the hat) and he has a kicking quintet that wails in a mid-period kind of John Coltrane way. This crowd brings out the best in them.
2:30 pm Alfredo Rodriguez Trio A phenomenal young pianist from Cuba (if I remember right), he puts on a ferocious show of virtuosity and energy and is a blast to watch. Nice guy, and another of Quincy Jones’ discoveries, and lets hope Quincy is there to dig the scene as well.

 4:00 pm Gerald Wilson Orchestra—We just lost Gerald who would be a ninety-something dervish in front of the most exciting big band on the planet, and between tunes he’d regale the crowd of his days living at the Dunbar hotel seven decades ago and playing at the Club Alabam just next door. It never got more magical than that for me. His extraordinarily talented son Anthony Wilson is leading the band now, and the talent on stage are all superstars, even if the jazz world isn’t yet aware of it. Kamasi Washington–a genuine star–should be there too, just erupting in molten tenor flight the likes of which you have not heard in a long time. (And then he’s over at California Plaza the same night!)

5:30 pm And Poncho Sanchez takes us out, and my guess is he’ll really be working the Stax soul and bugulu as well as his signature Latin jazz sound. Groovin’ to say the least.
And that’s only one stage, there’s another:

 2ND STAGE

  Saturday, July 25

There’s three great sounding saxophonists in a row here. I’ve written about the astonishing talent of Glendale’s own Christopher Astoquilca, and caught Aaron Shaw and Braxton Cook on YouTube. All three are highly recommended so tear yourself away from the main stage for a spell and check some of each. I love how the Festival is booking these brand new jazz artists like this. And the crowd pleasing teenaged bluesman Ray Goran plays some searing guitar to finish out the day on the second stage.

12:00 pm saxist Aaron Shaw Quintet
1:00 pm Christopher Astoquilca A-Tet
2:20 pm Saxophonist Braxton Cook Quartet
3:40 pm 15 years old blues guitarist Ray Goran

And then inside The Dunbar Hotel there are two acts, both featuring community programs nurturing the youngest jazz player:

 Saturday, July 25
  A Place Called Home’s band

2:00 pm Beyond the Bell Combo (LAUSD jazz with I believe Ndugu Chancler directing)
OK, that was all just Saturday. Sunday is just as brilliant:

 MAIN STAGE

Sunday, July 26
11:30 am Jazz America–more of the scary talented young people

12:45 pm  Barbara Morrison The indomitable singer–one of LA’s best ever–will lord it over the stage and owning every song she performs, no matter who did it first. Essential viewing.

2:15 pm John Beasley & MONK ‘estra It’s hard to say too much about how great this band is. It’s pure John Beasley, in that’s he’s taken all the Monk compositions, rendered them new without reducing their Monkishness one iota, and the result is thrilling. State of the art jazz that never gets bogged down by art…this is maybe the best new big band on the planet. Not that I’ve heard every new big band on the planet, but I’d be shocked as hell to hear anything better than Beasley’s mad contraption. Basically, ya gotta be there.

3:40 pm Arturo O’Farrill Quintet The son of NYC latin jazz legend Chico O’Farrill, he had been leading an orchestra doing his pop’s arrangement. Can’t wait to see what this five piece will do.

5:10 pm  Kenny Burrell Big Band You’ve heard of this absolutely legendary jazz guitar player (who, if I remember right, was Duke Ellington’s favorite guitarist). This band recently did a wildly successful show at the John Anson Ford and here he is repeating that success. As you might have guessed, when an icon is leading a band, the ranks are filled with incredible players. What a way to finish he weekend on the main stage.
Of course, there’s a whole other stage:

2ND STAGE

Sunday, July 26 

12:00 pm Saxist Tony White Quintet. Apparently this outfit cooks. Old pals of mine Gary Fukushima (on piano) and Mike Alvidrez (bass) are in the ranks so I will be down there taking notes and making them nervous.

1:25 pm Excellent young pianist Jamael Dean and his quintet.

2:50 pm I’ve seen violinist Dayren Santamaria steal the show at a couple Mongorama gigs and here she is with her own band  Made In Cuba. Can’t imagine this being less than great.

4:20 pm Trombonist Ryan Porter and his group shook the festival to the foundations last year.You’ve seen him with Kamasi Washington, and Kamasi and much the same crew should be back for this one, grooving massively.

And then inside The Dunbar Hotel on Sunday: 

12:00 pm Very talented, very young saxophonist Devin Daniels

2:00 p  A Place Called Home group back one more time.
OK….be there. Hell, it’s free, the parking is there, there’s a freaking shuttle, and the jazz should be absolutely wonderful. Get off the couch and go. OK, gotta run, I’m late for a klezmer gig. (I am, seriously.)

See ya down there people. It’ll be good to see so many of you again….
Brick


Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band At Walt Disney Concert Hall

June 29, 2015

Norton Wright

By Norton Wright

Los Angeles, CA.  It was SHOWTIME at Disney Hall on Saturday night as Gordon Goodwin’s 18-piece Big Phat Band performed like an inextinguishable stick of dynamite, exploding number after number in its featured hour-long set marking KJazz Radio’s third annual benefit concert.
The recipient of the 2015 GRAMMY Award for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble,” this band is ignited by its larger-than-life bandleader/composer/arranger /performer, Gordon Goodwin, who doubled as a voluble, high-energy Master Of Ceremonies clearly aiming to put on an entertaining show for the sold-out audience in the elegant and spacious Disney Hall. Goodwin combined his own good-humored anecdotes about his band, about the night’s “Swinging Tribute to Count Basie,” and about the star talents in his band who, in the old, big-band tradition, stride downstage to microphones to solo.

Gordon Goodwin and The Big Phat Band

When a band has the likes of Andy Martin’s trombone, Wayne Bergeron’s trumpet, Brian Scanlon’s tenor, Bernie Dressel’s drums, and Kevin Axt’s bass, the soloing is fiery and precise. Sal Lozano’s clarinet on “Rhapsody In Blue” put the audience away, and alto saxist Eric Marienthal’s solos built beautifully from the soulful and unhurried to the electrifying and urgent.

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

An array or surprises helped shape the show. Grammy Award winning guitarist icon, Lee Ritenour, dropped in halfway into the band’s performance. His opening comments, “This band is burning!” said it all.

And he said even more, playing with incredible dexterity his newest composition titled “L.P.”, a tribute to the old, guitar master, Les Paul.

Gregg Field, the producer of The Big Phat Band’s last two recent records, sat in on drums for a couple of numbers, driving the band with a hard-swinging command and reminding us that great, jazz musicianship can also make for great jazz CD producers.

Building toward his show’s finale, Goodwin had some fun. He explained that the band was going to try a “head arrangement” and that he had no idea what riffs the woodwind section, the trombone section, and the trumpet section might have in their heads and  would choose to play behind the soloists. The musicians in each section, ham actors all!, made a big show of their supposed confusion in deciding what riff each section would undertake.

Gordon Goodwin

Gordon Goodwin

Needless to say, their selections were well chosen and the blues number proceeded, as one after another, each section kicked in its selected riff neatly dovetailing their selection with those of the other sections backing the soloists who in turn were having a wailing good time!

For the finale, Goodwin joked that the chemistry of musicians in a big band is rife with competition. As an example, the band’s entire trumpet section — Dan Forneo, Wayne Bergeron, Willie Murillo, and Dan Savant — came downstage to a set of microphones and battled each other in a cut session, with each appearing to want to outdo the others with furious fingering and stratospheric notes. The result was a display of dazzling improvisations that had the crowd on its feet. But when these trumpeters, understandably proud of their display of chops, turned to return to their section seats, they discovered that the entire woodwind section — Brian Scanlon, Kevin Garren, Adam Schroeder, Sal Lozano, and Eric Marienthal – were all playing flutes and piccolos in a riff clearly designed to outdo the trumpets. The trombone section — Craig Gosnel, Francisco Torres, Ryan Dragon, and Andy Martin – followed suit with their own bone licks challenging the trumpet section’s  show of force. The trumpeters in mock dismay returned to their seats, and the crowd in Disney Hall went wild!

The night had been more than the performance of a great band – it had been a genuine SHOW shaped by a first-class showman, Gordon Goodwin.

Sara Gazarek

Sara Gazarek

It should also be mentioned that the evening had opened with jazz songstress, Sara Gazarek and her trio, the always amazing pianist Geoff Keezer, fine bass soloist, Dave Robaire, and Dan Schnelle’s tastily discreet drums.

An emerging star, Gazarek radiates good-natured likeability. On this night, however, her ever-smiling rendition of her song selections could have benefited from a more varied and thoughtful approach. Her medley of “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” was sung jazzily and happily. But lyrics from the former: “Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go, Singing low, Bye bye blackbird” — and  from the latter:“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life” – suggest an interpretation with more gravitas, soul, and emotional unease than Gazarek chose to undertake.

Though Gazarek is very pretty, especially in her short-skirted dress revealing legs rivaling those of Betty Grable, such stage presence can detract from what is most important – that is, her approach to the song, her take on its lyrics, why the song is important to her. There were times on Saturday night when the ever-happy Gazarek gave the impression that she was presenting great jazz pipes and phrasing – but with little meaning.

And a final bug-a-boo for this writer. When an artist is on stage, every visual moment counts with the audience. The growing practice of singers these days to guzzle bottled water after completing a portion of a song can indeed break the mood of a piece and the audience’s emotional commitment to the singer and the song. In opera, if the diva upon completing “Un bel di” breaks out of character to gurgle a bottle of water on stage, the meaning and mood of the aria will surely be damaged.
In her performance Saturday night, Gazarek took on-stage water breaks several times to the detriment of her performance… If a singer needs water on stage, Judy Garland had a good answer: pre-position a big, water-filled wine glass on the nearby piano and use it as needed. The wine glass has a touch of class and allows the performer to drink while staying in character, perhaps even toasting her band or toasting the audience.

On stage, visual class matters.

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To read more posts by Norton Wright and view his jazz-inspired paintings, click HERE.


Live Jazz: Highlights From the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl.

June 16, 2015

By Devon Wendell

It’s hard to believe it’s that special time of year again. Yet another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. And with it, memories of drunken conga lines, the smell of cheap weed in the summer air, and a plethora of musical acts ranging from actual jazz, r&b, rock, and even gospel.

It’s already been stated many times and by many journalists that the Playboy Jazz Festival isn’t for jazz purists so let’s skip all of that and get started with my highlights of the two days.

Saturday

The Los Angeles County High School For The Arts Vocal Jazz Ensemble ( Abigail Berry, Lee Anilee, Jordyn Warren, Sofie Thurston, Crisia Regalada, Keana Peery, Ezra Behem, Haley Carr, Griffin Faye, Pedro Ramirez, Wesley Tani, Henry Tull, Caleb Collins, Isaac Sims Foster, and Evan Wright on vocals, Dornell Carr, piano; Julian Gomez, bass and Alec Smith on drums. Directed by Pat Bass) kicked off Saturday’s program and they were marvelous.

The vocal harmonies that these kids produced were complex, soulful, and mature. The band’s rendition of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” was one of the high points of Saturday’s program. Soloists Evan Wright, Henry Tull, and Caleb Collins scat sang with total mastery. These kids could easily be the next Manhattan Transfer.

Chilean born Melissa Aldana is one of the most unique tenor saxophonists in the jazz world today. Although you can hear hints of influences like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins in her playing, Aldana already has her own distinct voice on the tenor sax at the tender age of 25. Aldana and her solid trio (Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums) played a set of all originals such as the mellow “New Points,” the bop flavored “Bring Him Home,” and the Latin swinging “Desde La Lluvia.”

Aldana plays mostly in the upper register sounding more like an alto sax than a tenor. And she has an original sense of harmony and texture. The highlight of Aldana’s set was her original tribute to Sonny Rollins called “Back Home.” On this piece, Aldana sounded a little like Sonny Rollins’ early 60’s playing on the RCA/Victor label but for the most part she stuck to her own style with confidence and ease.

Aldana is definitely an artist to watch out for.

Try to imagine John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” being performed by a loud, gritty, gospel-rock steel guitar band from the Deep South. That is exactly what A Sacred Steel Love Supreme: The Campbell Brothers “A Love Supreme” sounded like during their performance at The Bowl on Saturday. The Campbell Brothers performed all four suites of “A Love Supreme”: “Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.” This wasn’t your typical Coltrane tribute by any means but his message of love, unity, and spirituality are what gospel music is all about so this soulful experiment made perfect sense. And this music brought the Bowl crowd right to the heart of American “roots music.”

Chuck and Derrick Campbell’s Steel Guitars produced an eerie, hypnotic, and psychedelic effect like blues you would hear from Mississippi’s Northern Hill Country. And the rhythm section (Carlton Campbell on drums, and Daric Benettt on bass) was sublimely funky. This is something you have to see to believe. Legendary jazz composer and arranger Gerald Wilson passed away on September 18th, 2014 at the age of 96. Wilson’s son Anthony Wilson and The Gerald Wilson Orchestra (Anthony Wilson, conductor and guitar; Carl Saunders, Winston Byrd, Chris Gray, Bobby Rodriguez: trumpets; Les Benedict, Francisco Torres, George Bohanon, Robbie Hioki: trombones; Scott Mayo, Randall Willis: alto saxophones; Rickey Woodard, Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophones;Terry Landry, baritone: sax; Brian O’Rourke: piano; Reggie Carson: bass; Mel Lee: drums; Yvette Devereaux: violin; and Eric Otis on guitar) celebrated the master’s illustrious legacy with a fantastic set of real big band jazz.

The set included some of Wilson’s most inspirational compositions and arrangements, such as “Triple Chase” with a burning tenor sax solo by Kamasi Washington, “Blues For Nya Nya” and Wilson’s incredible arrangement of ‘Perdido.” The entire band was swinging beyond belief and the arrangements were true to Wilson’s original charts.

On “Nancy Jo,” trumpeter Winston Byrd played one of the most original trumpet solos I’ve heard in years, demonstrating true range, imagination, and originality.

Anthony Wilson not only conducted, but also played some Kenny Burrell style electric guitar on “Blues For The Count” (Wilson wrote this piece for Count Basie in 1945) and the legendary George Bohanon’s trombone solo cooked.

On “Viva Tirado,” Bobby Rodriguez played an amazingly melodic trumpet solo and Yvette Devereaux’s violin solo was reminiscent of Ray Nance’s work in Duke Ellington’s Band.
This was a warm and loving tribute to Gerald Wilson and it’s always refreshing to hear true big band jazz at the Playboy Jazz Festival or anywhere else for that matter.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Whenever Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock get together, you never can predict what they are going to do but it’s always something special. Shorter and Hancock were joined by The Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble, consisting of Michael Mayo on vocals, David Otis on alto sax, Daniel Rotem on tenor sax, Ido Meshulam on trombone, Carmen Staaf on piano, Alex Boneham on bass, and Christian Euman on drums.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The set began with The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble performing an ethereal arrangement of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” The young players in The Monk Institute Band were phenomenal. Daniel Rotem’s tenor sax work was original and flowed with countless ideas. Vocalist Michael Mayo’s voice floated magically over the instrumentalists as they all soloed.

After this number, Shorter and Hancock joined the band for Daniel Rotem’s “Who Is It?” which showcased Rotem’s originality as a composer as well as tenor sax player. Wayne Shorter played soprano sax. His lines were sparse and perfectly placed. Hancock shared solos with the wonderful Carmen Staaf who gave Herbie a run for his money.

After a brief version of Hancock’s classic “Cantaloupe Island,” The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble exited the stage, leaving Shorter and Hancock alone. What happened next was one of those truly magical moments between two giants who have played together for over half a century.

On Hancock’s “Speaks Like A Child’” the two men had a beautiful musical conversation through their instruments. Hancock played big block chords on his synthesizer while Shorter improvised some powerful syncopated lines on the soprano sax. It was like they could read each other’s minds.

The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble returned to the stage after this number, performing Carmen Staaf’s composition “New April.” Staaf’s elegant but swinging piano chops went with the theme of the composition perfectly and Rotem, Otis, Meshulam, and Shorter all traded solos. It’s was “true democracy” to quote Shorter. Each band member was supportive of one another without any egos getting in the way.

Next, a true festival highlight. Eddie Palmieri is a true genius and master on all levels. His performance on Saturday night with his Afro-Caribbean Jazz Band (Eddie Palmieri, leader, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero, congas; Anthony Carrillo, bongo, and Carmen Molina on timbales.) was one of the great moments of the entire weekend.

Palmieri and his band were joined by some very special guests. On the funky classic “Coast To Coast,”
Palmieri and company were joined by the amazing Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. Cuber’s baritone lines danced gleefully with the percussionists and with the instantly identifiable Eddie Palmieri percussive piano accompaniment.

The highlight of the set and of the Saturday program was “Samba De Sueno.” Joe Locke was the guest soloist. Locke played all of Cal Tjader’s original vibe parts (Palmieri originally recorded this piece with Tjader) and Palmieri played one of the greatest piano solos I’ve even heard him play. His one of a kind sense of space, dynamics, and syncopation on piano swung harder than life itself. Palmieri just gets better and better with age.

Alfredo De La Fe danced across the stage as he played his red violin along with Palmieri and the band. De La Fe’s virtuosic skills and showmanship had Palmieri grinning from ear to ear. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison sat in on “VP Blues.” Harrison was on fire, playing a wonderfully original alto sax solo. Palmieri’s piano solo was totally different but equally as brilliant as on “Samba De Suneo.” This time Palmieri played softly and gently, showing what a dynamic musician he truly is. This was Latin jazz at its best.

Sunday
Sunday’s program started off with The LAUSD/Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band (Steve Murillo, Jamir Pleitez, Ashton Sein, Ellis Thompson, Max Kim, saxophones; Anna Menotti, Harshpreet Suri, Karl Wylie, Rene Cruz, Christopher Vargas, trombones; Andrea Palacios, Nathan Serot, Mark Trejo, John Morillas, trumpets; Giancarlos Arzu, Gabe Feldman-Franden, Keelan Walters, Tyler Kysar, James Morgan, Cameron Evans, rhythm section. Under the direction of Tony White and JB Dyas.)

These kids may be young but they played some amazing original big band arrangements of John Scofield’s “I’ll Take Les,” Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins Con Carne” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” These weren’t just kids forced to play this music in school. You could feel their love of jazz and knowledge of big band swing. These kids surely have a bright future ahead of them.
The Jones Family Singers came all the way from Texas to perform a set of no-nonsense, gospel music that was truly one of the most electrifying sets of the festival.

On originals such as “I Am,” “Bones In The Valley” and ‘Down On Me,” lead singer Alexis Jones belted out some of the most powerful tenor vocals I’ve ever heard. The call and response between Alexis, Bishop Fred A. Jones, and the backing vocalists were mesmerizing. And they were backed by the tight yet funky rhythm section of Kenneth Freeman on bass and Mathew Hudlin on drums. You couldn’t help but shake something or get up and dance to this music. The Festival people should have put them on much later, when there were more people in the audience to take part in the joy of this music. The Jones Family singers danced across the stage in unison and urged the crowd to get up, dance, and rejoice. Those who got to the Bowl early enough did just that.

I cannot think of many musical things better in life than seeing tenor sax master Jimmy Heath play with The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. That is exactly what went down as The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band (Jimmy Heath, tenor sax; Sharel Cassity, tenor sax, flute; Antonio Hart, alto sax; Mark Gross, alto sax, vocals, and flute; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Frank Greene, lead trumpet; Caludio Roditti, Freddie Hendrix, Gregory Gisbert, trumpets; Jason Jackson, lead trombone; Steve Davis, Jeff Nelson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Abelita Mateaus, piano; John Lee, director, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums; Roger Squitero, congas, percussion.) performed on Sunday afternoon.

The big band arrangement of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (popularized by Gillespie in 1945.) swung beautifully. Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax solo was elegant, soulful, and inventive, as was Antonio Hart’s alto solo. On “Beboppin Too,” Mark Gross sang Gillespie’s vocal parts followed by a fine trombone solo by Jason Jackson. The highlight of the set was hearing all of the trumpeters trade solos on Gillespie’s masterpiece “Things To Come.” Claudio Roditi’s trumpet style sounded closest to Gillespie’s. Although the band added some new twists to these compositions, the arrangements were respectful to the originals and performed with love of this amazing, timeless music. I would have come to the festival just for this.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Mark Braud, trumpet, vocals; Charlie Gabriel, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Rickie Monie piano; Joe Lastie Jr., drums; Clint Maedgen, saxophone, vocals; Ronell Johnson, trombone; Ben Jaffe, bass sousaphone.) delivered a set of fun New Orleans jazz that delighted the Bowl crowd. The band took the Bowl straight to Bourbon Street on tunes like “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Think I Love You,” and “Rattlin Bones.” Braud, Gabriel, and Maedgen all shared the lead vocal spots. The horn lines danced around each other with joyful precision and by the time the band got to the funky “It’s Your Last Chance To Dance,” the entire bowl crowd was forming conga lines and dancing through the isles. New Orleans Jazz is about having a good time and this was one of the most delightfully fun moments of the weekend, capturing the true spirit of The Playboy Jazz Festival.

Blue Note’s 75th Anniversary Presents: Our Point Of View (Robert Glasper, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Marcus Strickland, tenor sax; and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet) was an interesting tribute to the Blue Note Records sound of the early to mid ‘60s.

The band opened with Wayne Shorter’s “With Hunt” with fantastic solos by Strickland, Loueke, Glasper, and Akinmusire. Glasper’s piano solo was reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s on the original recording but with a little more blues to it. Akinmusire sounded more like Woody Shaw than Freddie Hubbard, and Kendrick Scott definitely paid homage to Elvin Jones on this post-bop classic.

As fine as this performance was, it was the band originals that were harmonically most fascinating. Kendrick Scott’s “Cycle Through Reality’ and Marcus Strickland’s “The Meaning” had a modal feel with a dash of the avant-garde to them. Glasper’s piano work was stellar on both pieces. Unfortunately towards the end of the set, the band started to venture too far into overused funk/fusion clichés which distracted from the originality of the first three numbers.

Third World is a legendary reggae band. Maybe it was the contact high I was getting from all of the weed smoke around me but these guys kept sounding better and better. They performed their hits “96 Degrees,” “Try Jah Love” and “Now That We Found Love.” But the biggest surprise of their set was the bands pure reading of Andrea Boccelli’s “Time To Say Goodbye.” The band’s lead singer AJ Brown not only sang this song in operatic style but he sang it in both Italian and English. This won the band a standing ovation. Neither I nor the other audience members saw this coming. It was great to see a rock fueled reggae band with such range.

Well that’s all folks. That’s my highlights from the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. There were some spectacular moments followed by some not so inspiring ones but everyone was having a blast under the warm Southern California sun and that is the whole point of the festival. See you next year.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 


Picks of the Weekend: June 5 – 7 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, London, Paris and Milan

June 4, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Eddie Daniels

June 5. (Fri.) Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway. The clarinet hasn’t been one of the lead jazz instruments since before the bebop era. But when it’s in the masterful hands of Eddie Daniels, lucky listeners have a chance to hear the full potential of the instrument that Mozart loved so much – and with good reason. Add to that the presence of the incomparable pianist/composer Roger Kelllaway and you can expect to hear a transformative evening of musical invention. Vittello’s E Spot Lounge.  (818) 769-0905.

June 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sa. The Oz Noy Trio. Israeli guitarist Oz Noy is a true stylistic virtuoso. With the number of elements active within any given performance it’s no wonder he says “It’s jazz; it just doesn’t sound like it.” But it’s always worth hearing, especially when the trio includes drummer Dave Weckl and bassist James Genus . Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

June 6. (Sat.) The Doobie Brothers. The Doobies have been entertaining us since the ’70s, and they’re still at it. But this’ll be a special event, with the participation of Pat Simmons, Jr., the son of founder Pat Simmons, along with the Eagles’ Don Felder. Be prepared for a show to remember. The Greek Theatre. (323) 665-5857.

Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli

June 7. (Sun.) Andrea Bocelli. The Hollywood Bowl. The great Italian singer, at home with everything from opera to Broadway classics, performs at the Bowl in a lease event, a production of
Andrew Hewitt and Bill Silva Presents. (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller

– June 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.) Marcus Miller. Bassist/bass clarinetist Miller is a uniquely compelling musical pleasure to hear — and always a creative surprise, as well. Yoshi’s  (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

– June 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) Spyro Gyra. Expect to be captivated by the groove when Spyro Gyra’s in action; but there’s also a hard-swinging undercurrent of straight ahead traditional jazz. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

New York City

Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider

– June 5 – 6. (Fri. & Sat. ) The Maria Schneider Orchestra celebrates the release of a new CD, the first in a decade, titled The Thompson Fields. Birdland.

– June 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.) Tootie Heath 80th Birthday Celebration. Drummer Tootie Heath will star in his own party in a jam with bassists Ben Street (Friday) and David Wong (Sat & Sun); pianists Ethan Iverson (Friday) and pianist Jeb Patton (Sat & Sun); and special guest saxophonist Jimmy Heath (Sun).  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212) 258-9800.

Hiromi

– June 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.) Hiromi: The Trio Project. Always beyond definition in her pianistic encounters, keyboardist Hiromi is especially intriguing in the wide open environment of her trio, with drummer Anthony Jackson and bassist Simon Phillips. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

– June 8. (Mon.) A Celebration of the Life and Music of Lew Soloff. The New York City jazz community assembles to honor the memory of Lewie Soloff, whose superb trumpet playing was matched by his warmth, amiability and deep capacity for life-long friendships. The celebration takes place at the Borden Auditorium in the Manhattan School of Music. Participating musicians include Wynton Marsalis, Randy Brecker, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Owens, Cecil Bridgewater, Steve Tyrell, Chris Potter, Ray Anderson, Gil Goldstein, Danny Gottlieb, Mark Egan, Sammy Figueroa, Manhattan Brass, Jeff Berlin, Fred Lipsius, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Pete Levin and Jesse Levy. This event is free to the public and begins at 7:00 p.m.   Doors open at 6:15pm for early seating.

London

– June 5. (Fri.) Jacky Terrasson Trio. French pianist Terrasson is a jazz classicist, keeping the mainstream vividly alive, and even more so, with the sterling rhythm team of Thomas Bramerie, bass and Lukmil Perez, drums. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.

Paris

– June 7. (Sun.) Jazz Pour Le Nepal. A gathering of France’s finest jazz artists perform in an effort to raise support for the survivors of the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Call it a jazz version of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. Jazz for Nepal. Paris New Morning.

Milan

– June 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.) New York Voices. The remarkable five part harmonies of the New York Voices are among the most appealing of the many jazz vocal ensembles. Don’t miss one of their rare appearances in Europe. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


Live Jazz: Ken Peplowski and the Ed Dunsavage Trio in a Siskiyou Music Project Concert

May 30, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. In a fast happening program Wednesday night, a full collection of jazz perspectives were showcased in an entertaining evening of music reaching from small groups to the Rogue Valley All-Star Big Band. Topping it off, there was the stellar presence of veteran, award-winning clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski and the briskly swinging playing of the Ed Dunsavage Trio (guitarist Dunsavage, basist Joe Cohoon and drummer Gary Hirsch).

The Rogue Valley All-Star Big Band was all that and more, alternating their hard-driving big band sounds with various smaller groupings in groove-driven, solo-filled selections reaching from Count Basie to Cannonball Adderley.

The Rogue Valley All Star Big Band

The Rogue Valley All Star Big Band

The young, student-level players were mostly at the stage of finding themselves as improvisers. But they were doing so with high-spirited enthusiasm, eager to find their way in fascinating offerings articulately played under the adept guidance of the group’s conductor, Martin Behnke.

Ken Peplowski and the Ed Dunsavage Trio

Ken Peplowski and the Ed Dunsavage Trio

The evening’s musical high point began with the arrival of Peplowski and the Dunsavage Trio. In an era in which the clarinet has not been

Ken Peplowski and Ed Dunsavage

one of the primary jazz wind instruments, Peplowski is one of the few clarinetists working to keep the instrument’s remarkable creative potential alive and well. And he kept its roots vividly alive in this set by playing “Let’s Dance,” the Benny Goodman theme song and Artie Shaw’s “Moon Ray.”

Peplowski was backed superbly by the Dunsavage Trio, dynamically driving Peplowski’s finger-busting up-tempos, and finding the lyricism in a set of Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington tunes climaxing with a romp through “A-Train.”

Ken Peplowski

Ken Peplowski

And Peplowski didn’t stop there. On a few numbers he displayed his warm engaging adeptness as a tenor saxophonist.

Add in the whimsical, wry sense of humor in his between tunes commentaries. And equally important for the evening’s young jazz players, there were Peplowski’s warm, supportive efforts to personally interact with various collections of players. Simultaneously an inspiration, a mentor and a fatherly leader, he gave the young players an evening of musical memories that will be with them for many years.

For the numerous players’ parents who were in the audience, as well as the dedicated jazz fans, it was the best sort of musical evening – one which underscored the timelessness of America’s improvisational art.

All best to Ed Dunsavage for having created another memorable Siskiyou Music Project. The Summer Series 2015 begins June 6 & 7. Click HERE for more information.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. To see more photos by Faith Frenz click HERE.


Live Music: The Best Memorial Day Party Ever! Paul McDonald’s Big band at the Typhoon Jazz Restaurant.

May 28, 2015

By Norton Wright

Santa Monica, CA. One of the unique experiences on today’s jazz scene is “Big Band Night” at Typhoon Restaurant at Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles. On Memorial Day evening listeners are ready to experience a veritable bacchanal as the band on stage is Paul McDonald’s big, powerhouse, 17-piece orchestra.

The band hits at 8 p.m. but you should get to the Typhoon as early as 6 p.m. not just for the scenic view of the flight line’s airplanes from the restaurant’s top floor, because it is you who are about to fly. The excitement is palpable – and wow, does it ever grow!

McDonald is already there in the working togs of shorts and a t-shirt setting up the band’s music stands, laying out the charts for each band member, positioning eleven microphones with their maze of cables leading to the sound mixing board of Typhoon’s indefatigable audio engineer, Toro. These two gents have worked together before and move deftly through the all-important sound check under the watchful eye of Typhoon’s owner, Brian Vidor.

Vidor has run this massive, jazz room for twenty-five years, his crowd of regulars is already piling in to the bar and the restaurant’s thirty tables. The conversation level begins to boom! Lots of gleeful greetings, talk of jazz, what’s going to happen tonight? You get the feeling that this jazz ritual has been going on forever. Evocations of Shelley’s Manne-Hole, Donte’s, The Lighthouse, maybe even Toulouse Lautrec’s Bal Taberin. Lautrec always surprised, so like him, what has McDonald got up his sleeve tonight?

7 p.m. – one hour to show time, but already the band members are arriving. They’re old friends, gathering early, clearly enjoying one another’s company. Adjusting the lights on their music stands, organizing their charts, unpacking their instruments, their pace leisurely like cool gunslingers again prepping for a night at the O.K. Corral.

7:30 p.m. – Paul McDonald reappears in sartorial splendor, dark suit, necktie, neat handkerchief in his breast pocket. He’s mellow but also keenly attentive to any missed details in readying for the band’s 8pm start. He greets his band members, then moves about the restaurants saying hi to old friends, but he’s regularly checking his wristwatch. This is a genteel producer and showman at work. He sees his band settling into their seats and holds up ten fingers to them. Ten minutes before start time. The crowd is quieting in anticipation. Five fingers to the band, five minutes to go!

Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald

8 p.m. – McDonald at his electric piano counts off the up-tempo beat for the opening number  – and the band explodes into “This Can’t Be Love”! The sax section puts you away, drummer Steve Pemberton drives the band up and over, and the night flight takes off! Paul Young is 200 pounds of roaring trombone solo, Ron Barrows, super casual in a baseball cap, answers with his own sizzling trumpet solo, and you start to remember that all theses musicians are solo stars in their own right.

The Paul McDonald Big Band

The band quickly propels through the applause into the second number, the Cubop standard “Mambo Inn,” and you hear why McDonald has added a second percussionist to the band. MB Gordy’s array of conga drums, bongos, and timbales absolutely crackle with polyrhythmic intensity.

About now you may be thinking that the guys in this band are awesome – but wait till  you hear the band’s two lady musicians. There are all kinds of ways of being beautiful, and Barbara Loronga’s trumpet and Lori Stuntz’ trombone are just outrageously gorgeous! Loronga’s soloing throughout the night (deftly using a mute on some numbers) reminds of Lee Morgan’s blazing yet note-perfect virtuosity – and in the night’s most poignant moment, as the classically-trained trombonist Stuntz is soloing through her beautiful take on West Side Story’s “Tonight, Tonight,” the hushed crowd is so moved that from the back of the room some start to reverently sing the lyrics.

In the audience, Susan Watson, one of the original performers in 1958’s production of West Side Story, is so taken by the by the grace of Stuntz solo that she gets outright weepy!

A word about composer/arranger/pianist/bandleader Paul McDonald’s consummate showmanship and his West Side Story medley that closes the first set. In this first hour, you’ve already been treated to the amazing speed of Gary Herbig’s alto and Dean Roubicek’s tenor on every solo they take. (Eric Morones is in the hunt too, joyously jousting with Roubicek as to who’s the fastest sax in the West). Mike Parlett is at home with the entire array of woodwinds from alto sax to flute, and young Caesar Martinez equally impresses, doubling on baritone sax and clarinet.

So adding some of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story score to this hot mix heralds a heart-thumping finale! McDonald kicks it off on electric keyboard with a dazzling solo, Ken Wild switches from acoustic bass to electric bass propelling the band into overdrive. The familiar themes of  “I Want To Be In America,” “Maria,” and “Tonight, Tonight” rise up in McDonald’s arrangement joyfully reminding of Bernstein’s jazz heart, — and in the last bars of this West Side piece Tony Bonsera’s trumpet goes stratospheric! What a way to end the first set!

Now what can McDonald do to top this in the upcoming second set? And he’s got the additional challenge that during the intermission the packed crowd is now roaring in conversation. But if Leonard Bernstein was a good choice to end the first set, how about another American musical icon, Aaron Copeland, to start the second set?

And so it is that without any introduction, the band just blasts off the second set with the opening of Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, the four-person trombone section (Young, Stuntz, Duane Benjamin, and Robbie Hioki) sounding the profound gravitas of the fanfare as the trumpet section soars atop, all in a display of brass firepower so awesome that it immediately quiets the reveling crowd. McDonald moves the number into a jazz groove with a keyboard solo evidencing what an exceptionally intense, soloing artist he is, and again MB Gordy’s congas – and tambourine! –  add wicked, hard-throbbing grooves to the fanfare. It all would have made Aaron Copeland kvel!

Next, the night would be incomplete without a blues number, and McDonald gets into it at the keyboard with his own composition, “Forget About The Past,” so down that it poses the question, “Why do the blues make listeners so happy?

The crowd has been waiting for Steve Pemberton’s drum solo and he does not disappoint, starting with brushes on snare and cymbals, then letting that soft touch escalate into dynamite drumstick work and kicking off the tune “Seven Steps” with trumpeter Jeff Jarvis burning the joint down with his fast and fiery solo.

So is there another surprise that showman McDonald can call forth in this last set to top off the evening? Yes, and she arrives in the person of the lissome songstress, Marianne Lewis. If you’re not acquainted with Lewis you may wonder how she is going to fare in a big-band context given that her website credits include her choir directing, leading of spiritual, consciousness-raising, empowerment groups, and listing CD’s of her own song compositions sung with gentle jazziness. You may be expecting Mother Teresa — but you are blissed out when Lewis arrives on the bandstand in a sexy, slinky, black-lace evening dress! With three excellent background singers, Jacquelyn A. Brown, Ramon Pratt, and Valerie Chevanaugh Fruge – she launches into “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and a jazzy, funky take on Earth Wind & Fire’s “In The Stone.” Clearly Lewis is bringing it tonight, and you’re in for a very good time.

Later after a quick costume change into a short white lace dress, she spots heartthrob singer, Dave Davis, in the audience and gets him to join her on stage for an impromptu and flirtatious duet on “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me.” During the song, Davis fixes on Lewis’s come-hither dance moves and short dress as if hoping for a wardrobe malfunction. Clearly this wolf is appreciating the swan in more ways than one, and the crowd just loves them.

As the evening heads for the finish line, the band and Lewis run through “Stormy Weather,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” – and by the time the band hits its  arrangement of Tower of Power’s  song, “A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing,” everyone in the crowd is up and DANCING!

It’s an exuberant finale — and what a memorable way to end a Memorial Day weekend!

P.S. The Paul McDonald Big Band is such a celebration of jazz music , soloing stars, and genuine surprises that this orchestra merits bookings at the likes of the Playboy Jazz Festival, the KJAZZ Radio Summer Benefit Concert, and other major jazz venues.

And L. A.’s Chamber of Commerce, City Council, and Mayor Eric Garcetti should be proud to have the legendary Typhoon Restaurant as “Big-Band Central” in Los Angeles. In just the last month this attractive and spacious location has hosted the jazz orchestras of Emil Richards, Clare Fischer (directed by Brent Fischer), Steve Spiegel, Mark Hix, Tim Davies, Mike Price, and Charles Owens.

For anyone coming to visit our city, of course Disney Philharmonic Hall, the fountains of the California Center, the New Getty Museum, and the like are must-sees.  But no visit to Los Angeles is complete without catching Big-Band Night at Brian Vidor’s Typhoon Restaurant so aptly located at Santa Monica Airport where the great American art form, jazz, proudly takes flight every week.

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To read more posts by and about Norton Wright click HERE.


Picks of the Weekend on the Left Coast

April 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, California

 

Damien Rice

Damien Rice

 

– April 24. (Fri.) Damien Rice.  Highly praised Irish singer/songwriter Rice celebrates the release of his latest CD, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, already receiving rave international reviews. The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

– April 24. (Fri.) Pete Christlieb Quartet. Saxophonist Christlieb has been a first call player for the full run of his stellar career. Here he is up close and in action, backed by some of the Southland’s prime rhythm section artists. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Billy Cobham

Billy Cobham

– April 24 – 26. (Fri. – Sun.) Billy Cobham’s Spectrum 40. Percussionist Cobham’s diversity of musical interests are fully present in the eclectic playing of his Spectrum 40 band, with Ric Fierabracci,
Dean Brown and Gary Husband.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

Carol Bach-y-Rita

– April 26. (Sun.) Carol Bach-y-Rita. Fluent in several languages, engagingly musical in everything she sings, Bach-y-yRita is especially appealing with the music of Brazil, Spain and Portugal. She’ll be superbly backed by Bill Cantos, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar, John Leftwich, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– April 26. (Sun.) Esperanza Spalding. Grammy-winning bassist, singer and songwriter Spalding presents a program of works performed by her Chamber Music Society and Radio Music Society. , Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco, California

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

– April 24 – 26. Fri. – Sun. Charles Lloyd Quartet. One of the great, iconic players of the jazz saxophone. His remarkable accomplishments reach back to the edgy sixties, and Lloyd continues to be one of the cutting edge jazz artists of the new millenium. Don’t miss this rare chance to hear and see him. SFJAZZ. . (866) 920-5299.

Santa Cruz, California

April 23. (Thurs.) Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy. Drummer Igoe’s funk-driven Groove Conspiracy has been labeled – accurately as “a rock band in a jazz band’s body.” Expect an evening of irresistible rhythmic excitement. Kuumbwa Jazz 40. If you don’t make this one be sure to catch their next appearance. (831) 427-2227.

Ashland, Oregon

Christofuren Nomura– April 24. (Fri.) Christopheren Nomura. The rich baritone voice of classical singer Nomura meets the challenge of a versatile program of Schubert, Mahler and Ravel. Chamber Music Concerts in the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall. (541) 552-6154.

Seattle, Washington

– April 24 – 26. (Fri. – Sun.) Sergio Mendes He’s been one of the international voices of Brazilian music in general and specifically the bossa nova, reaching back to his breakthrough Brazil 66 band of the sixties. And he’s still at it.  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729,


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