Picks of the Week in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, London, Copenhagen and Tokyo

March 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer

– Mar. 23 & 24 (Mon. & Tues.) Manhattan Transfer and Take 6.  The two most masterful vocal ensembles of the past few decades get together for the first time. No wonder it’s called “The Summit” as they perform at the start of a national tour. Catalina Bar & Grill .

(323) 466-2210.

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) The London Philharmonic conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with pianist Yuja Wang. Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Bitten’s Four Sea Interludes. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Sue Raney. She’s been receiving accolades for her singing sine she was a teen-ager, and Sue Raney is as dynamic and musically compelling as she was shen she first stepped on stage. Sue’s celebrating the release of her album, Late in Life.        Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

– Mar. 27 (Fri.) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio. A musical encounter not to be missed. Sheppard is one of the jazz world’s most versatile,saxophonists, and equally gifted on clarinet and flute. He’ll be backed by bassist Senatore’s equally adept rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400

–  Mar. 27. (Fri.) George Benson. Hitmaker singer/guitarist Benson is always entertaining, always disovering new jazz territories. Expect to hear some familiar songs. Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

Art Pepper

Art Pepper

– Mar. 27. (Fri.) An All Star Celebration of Art Pepper. With Richie Cole, Doug Webb, Don Shelton, Gaspare Pasini, the Art Pepper Quartet Reunion and more. Presented by Ken Poston’s West Coast Jazz Heritage Series. Hermosa Beach Community Theatre. Reservations: (562) 200-5477.

Seattle

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Great Guitars! Featuring Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pisano and Mundell Lowe. “Great Guitars” doesn’t begin to describe this encounter between such Olympian players. Don’t miss this one; it’s a true musical rarity. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.

New York City

 

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– Mar. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.) James Moody 90th Birthday. Saxophonist/singer Moody was a much loved and honored jazz artist. He was also a friend to almost everyone he met. So it’s no surprise that this tribute has attracted such stellar participants. Featured peformers include Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Carter, Antonio Hart, Russle Malone, Randy Brecker, Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, Janis Siegel and more. Call the club for schedules. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

London

– Mar. 24 – 26. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Bireli Lagrene Gypsy Project. Gypsy jazz at its best. Calling up memories of Django Reinhardt and the unque, swinging improvisational style he brought to the jazz world. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

– Mar. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat. Rosa Passos Quartet. Passos is one of the true blenders of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. She’s been doing it a long time, and she still does better than most. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94

Tokyo

Gerald Albright

Gerald Albright

 

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) Gerald Albright. Name a jazz genre and Gerald Albright can play it convincingly.  And he’s equally adept as an instrumentalist, moving easily from world class saxophone playing to bass, keyboards,, vocals and more.  Don’t miss him in action.  Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Opera: LA Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

March 23, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles.  Before there was Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, before Renoir’s Rules of the Game or Sturges’s The Lady Eve, there was Mozart and Da Ponte’s The Marriage of Figaro. Through beautifully delineated characterizations, both musically and poetically, Mozart’s tender and often hilarious opera reminds us what it is to be human – to love, to rage, and to accept our weaknesses.

Though we may marvel at the machinations of the plot, which contains more confusion, deception, and disguises than an episode of I Love Lucy, like all heartfelt comedy, love and reason finally prevail: Figaro, Susanna, and Countess Almaviva foil the count’s attempted seduction of Susanna on the night of Figaro and Susanna’s wedding; the lustful Cherubino escapes punishment to love another day; and Rosina and the count reconcile.

The cast of “Marriage of Figaro”

A gifted cast, assembled for LA Opera’s revival of an earlier production, was supported by the sublime colors and textures fashioned by James Conlon and his musicians. The evening was a true symbiosis of voice and orchestra.

Though the opera’s title bespeaks Figaro as the driving force behind the chicanery, it is really the two women, Susanna and Countess Almaviva, who unite to bring about the happy conclusion they so richly deserve.

Guanqun Yu as the Countess and Pretty Yende as Susanna.

Nowhere else in the opera is the class equality that Beaumarchais advocated so apparent as in the relationship of the two women. For all Figaro’s intelligence and interference, Almaviva still remains the master – Figaro and the household tiptoeing around him at every turn. However, between Susanna and the countess Rosina there is no power struggle but rather sisterhood. They deeply understand the workings of the human heart and it is their alliance that makes all things right.

Pretty Yende as Susanna.

In her debut as Susanna, Pretty Yende, first impressing LA audiences as Micaëla in Carmen in 2013, brought a warmth and richness to her singing, which underscored the humor and intelligence of her characterization. With her agile voice, she was particularly beguiling in her Act Four aria, “Deh, vieni, non tardar.”

Guanqun Yu, as Rosina, appeared here this season as the same character in Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles. Affecting in both operas, she was a lustrous presence capable of soaring top notes contrasting with the darker harmonies needed to express her pain over her husband’s philandering, so keenly illustrated in her second aria “Dove sono.” And together Yende and Yu melted hearts in the Act Three letter duet.

Renee Rapier as Cherubino and Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro.

A bass baritone working primarily in Europe, Roberto Tagliavini’s warm, shaded, and expressive instrument had the power to convey all of Figaro’s dynamics from smooth patter to simmering rage. His acting, however, could use some fine-tuning in a role where one expected wily grace and a bit of swagger.

Ryan McKinny, however, never falls short in the acting department (apparent also in his portrayal of Stanley in Streetcar Named Desire seen here in 2014). He is all the arrogant, entitled count – handsome, sensual, and duplicitous – which made his comic sequences all the funnier. Nor did his singing disappoint with his pleasing, lyrical baritone.

As Cherubino, Renee Rapier was appropriately lustful, bringing a goofy, awkward, adolescent quality to the role and was affecting in her Act Two canzone, “Voi che sapete.”

Setting the piece in the 1950’s neither detracted from nor added to the opera’s enjoyment, though one felt a slight uneasiness when Almaviva donned a military uniform. Was he a member of Franco’s regime? The circle skirted dresses of Rosina and Susanna, and the highly styled, extravagant ensembles of Marcellina were certainly a nod to the fifties and in keeping with their characters. The attractive interior sets of Act One, Two, and Three, gave way to the sparse outdoor set of Act Four. The lack of a lush garden was compensated for by the colorful fireworks display both vocal and pyrotechnic at the opera’s conclusion.

Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio, Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Doctor Bartolo.

As Marcellina, who is foiled in her attempt to wed Figaro when she discovers he is none other than her lost child, Lucy Schaufer (seen here as Berta in The Barber of Seville and as Susanna in The Ghosts of Versailles) proved again that she is a marvelous comedic actress and singer of considerable power and finesse. The rest of the cast, including Kristinn Sigmundsson as Doctor Bartolo, Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio, So Young Park as Barbarina, and Philip Cokorinos as Antonio, were delightful.

With The Marriage of Figaro LA Opera, under the superb direction of Maestro Conlon, has completed its Figaro trilogy, an enlightening and warmhearted gift to Los Angeles.

The LA Opera production of The Marriage of Figaro continues through April 12.

Cast:
Figaro: Roberto Tagliavini
Susanna: Pretty Yende
Count Almaviva: Ryan McKinny
Countess Almaviva: Guanqun Yu
Cherubino: Renée Rapier
Doctor Bartolo: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Marcellina: Lucy Schaufer
Don Basilio: Robert Brubaker
Don Curzio: Joel Sorensen
Barbarina: (3/21 – 4/4) So Young Park
Barbarina: (4/9 – 4/12) Vanessa Becerra
Antonio: Philip Cokorinos

Production:
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo Da Ponte
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Ian Judge
Scenery Designer: Tim Goodchild
Lighting Designer: Mark Doubleday
Costume Designer: Deirdre Clancy
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Original Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Choreographer: Chad Everett Allen

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Photos by Craig T. Mathew courtesy of LA Opera.

To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 

 

 


Backstage Magic Tricks at LA Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro”

March 13, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

If you like a little flash and dazzle with your Marriage of Figaro, Los Angeles Opera’s production, opening March 21, has it. After all who wouldn’t enjoy a pyrotechnical display at the end of one’s wedding festivities? And that’s exactly what Figaro and his bride Susanna have in store. Following the scheming to keep Susanna out of the clutches of Count Almaviva, following the disguises, the flirting, the jealousies, and the mistaken identities, and after the moment when everyone is restored to their rightful partners, we have Mozart’s touching conclusion followed by the onstage landscape ablaze with the light, color, and thunderous crackling of fireworks.

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Members of the press were treated to a preview on Friday morning courtesy of LA Opera’s Technical Director Jeff Kleeman and Pyrotechnician Tom Newman. According to Newman, the fireworks at the finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro are similar to those sports fans see at Dodger Stadium. At the stadium, aerials can rocket to one hundred feet. On the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion amidst the topiary and cypress trees, which dot Count Almaviva’s estate, the aerials shoot a more modest twenty-five feet. Nevertheless, it should be enough to please the roughly three thousand spectators in the audience and rouse the hearts of the forever scheming and always-exuberant Figaro and Susanna on the evening of their nuptials.

Timed to the musical finale, two dozen pyrotechnic devices are set to explode at the back of the Pavilion’s stage. With a sharp perspective created by lining the stage with dramatically receding cypresses and topiary, and with a large full moon beaming down on the Count’s villa, the fireworks erupt as if on the distant grounds of the estate. So move over Hollywood Bowl and the 1812 Overture, and make room for the sparkling sound and light show of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

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Photos By Bonnie Perkinson

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 

 


Highlights of the Weekend: In Los Angeles

February 27, 2015

By Don Heckman

Stanley Clarke

 

– Feb 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Stanley Clarke and Friends. Bassist Clarke’s “Friends” aren’t identified in the program for this gig. But Clarke, a world class artist with a stellar resume, can be counted on to surround himself with players capable of functioning at his Olympian jazz levels. In other words, expect the best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Bel Air Wine Festival’s Celebration Day of Wine, Music and Eight Charities. The afternoon gala starts at 1pm and finishes at 5pm. The evening portion of the day is 6pm – 10pm and will include a delectable dinner. The wine festival features wines from all corners of the globe, food prepared by Vibrato’s chefs and world class live entertainment. Hang Dynasty, whose members have worked with everyone from the Steve Miller Band , Stevie Wonder and Elton John to Pink Floyd and Ringo Starr will perform. There will also be a live auction during the evening gala. 100% of the Festival’s proceeds go to eight charities. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Ballet performs one of the great classics in their repertoire, The Sleeping Beauty. Valley Performing Arts Center. . (818) 677-8800.

The LA Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty"

The LA Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty”

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Venice Baroque Ochestra with mandolin soloist Avi Avital. Call it an evening of Vivaldi, performed by an ensemble, and a soloist adept at the special demands of Baroque era music. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. One of the Southland’s great large ensembles, the NWS once again displays its far-ranging stylistic mastery in a program featuring Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27, Saint-Sean’s Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Piano and Orchstra Opus 22, and Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 For Small Orchestra. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  (805) 449-2100.

Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) Wilson Phillips and Billy Ocean. It’s an offbeat combination, but one with a lot of apeal. The hit-making vocal sounds of Wilson Phillips and the r&b grooves of English born singer Billy Ocean. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

Julian Lage

Julian Lage

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Julian Lage Trio.  Guitarist Lage, a prodigy as a teen-ager, has matured into a world class jcazz artiat.  And here’s a booking not to miss, in which he’s backed by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Eric HarlandThe Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

– Mar. 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with The Ron Jones Jazz influence Orchestra. Entertainment world multi-hphenate MacFarlane is an actor, writer, producer, animator and, in recent years, a singer. He’s backed by the lush sound and solid swing of Ron Jones jazz Influence Orchestra. Click here to read a recent iRoM review of a MacFarlane vocal performance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.


Opera: UCLA Opera’s “The Two Figaros” at Freud Playhouse

February 22, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles is in the midst of a citywide celebration of all things Figaro. Courtesy of the LA Opera we have The Ghosts of Versailles, soon to be followed by The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Even LA Theaterworks jumped into the mix with a semi-staged production of The Guilty Mother, Beaumarchais’ lesser-known sequel to his two more famous creations. But the delightful surprise of this feast of Figaro is a little known opera by Saverio Mercadante, The Two Figaros (I due Figaro) as performed by the students and faculty of Opera UCLA and the UCLA Philharmonia.

Figaro, following in the scheming footsteps of Hermes, the trickster god and his protégé Harlequin, immediately became an iconic character. It’s no wonder that Mozart and Rossini tried their hands at Beaumarchais’ material. In fact, Figaro was so potent a creation that a French actor and author, Honoré Richard Martelly, penned a sequel to the plots set by Rossini and Mozart. The play was so full of mirth and cunning that it was ripe source material for yet another opera.

Saverio Mercadante took to the challenge, employing the talents of librettist, Felice Romani. Mercadante, who composed fifty-nine operas, was as highly regarded as his contemporaries, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi. Unfortunately his reputation plummeted after his death in 1870 and today his works are rarely performed. But there is plenty to admire in this opera buffo, which was composed in 1826 and premiered in 1835. Though some passages seem extracted directly from Rossini’s operas, there are a number of arias of bel canto beauty, fiery cabalettas, and thunderous ensembles, along with Spanish touches à la Boccherini, which lend charm.

"Two Figaros"

“The Two Figaros (I due Figaro)”

The usual suspects are here: Count and Countess Almaviva, Figaro and his wife, Susanna, and the always lovesick, Cherubino. Rosina and her husband, the count, have a daughter, Inès. Figaro, in league with Don Alvaro, has persuaded the count to give Inès’ hand and dowry to Alvaro, who has promised to divide the spoils with Figaro. Inès, however, is in love with Cherubino, no longer a teenager and now a colonel. Cherubino sneaks into the household, presenting himself as a servant whose name he says is also Figaro – hence two Figaros.

 Joanna Lynn-Jacobs as Countess Almaviva, Annie Sherman as Inès, Terri Richter as Susanna

Joanna Lynn-Jacobs as Countess Almaviva, Annie Sherman as Inès, Terri Richter as Susanna

With the three women in the household plotting together to wed Inès to Cherubino, and Almaviva and Figaro favoring Alvaro, a battle of wits ensues. The outcome? After whispered conversations, characters hiding in closets, multiple disguises, feigned tears, and stolen kisses, Cherubino prevails. It turns out Alvaro is none other than Cherubino’s servant in disguise. With the ruse revealed, Count Almaviva relents and gives his blessing to the young couple, even forgiving the deceitful Figaro. With the addition of Plagio, a young playwright, to document the goings-on, we have all the ingredients of a satisfying opera-buffo.

On the stage of the intimate Freud Playhouse, a whimsical interpretation of Almaviva’s villa and courtyard outside Seville was prettily brought to life with tiled staircases, stuccoed walls, potted palms, floating clouds in a Mediterranean sky, and period costumes worthy of any grand opera house. The winning cast of students (and a handful of professionals) both on stage and in the pit, conducted by Joseph Colaneri, conveyed the exuberance of Mercadante’s score with surprising artistry. And under Peter Kazaras’ able direction, the comedic hi-jinks were delivered with spot-on timing.

Teri Richter was both piquant and imposing all at once, her character as the imperturbable Susanna sung with a bright and flexible coloratura. The count was superbly performed by LA Opera tenor, Arnold Geis, his supple voice able to navigate both highs and lows. In the second act, we moved into Donizetti territory and the duet sung by Geis and Richter shone with complexity both musically and dramatically and was, perhaps, the highlight of the evening.

As Figaro, Gregorio Gonzalez was a winning trickster, infectiously conspiratorial in his recitatives and robust in the cabalettas, though the lower end of his baritone was often overpowered by the orchestra. Annie Sherman as Inès was consistently adorable, funny, and musically adept at the intricacies of the soprano role. Meagan Martin’s Cherubino had all the necessary swagger and guile, but she had difficulty projecting in the lower registers. The Countess of Joanna Lynn-Jacobs sung her mezzo part with warmth and color. The part of Plagio, well sung by an endearing Ian Walker, had a guileless sincerity to it, making me wonder if someday he might make an engaging Papageno.

Take a group of young, talented, and enthusiastic musicians and singers, add a good director and a sensitive conductor, then set the opera on an intimate stage. It’s a recipe for a delightful evening well spent.

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Cast (for Feb.15 and 20, alternate cast Feb. 13 and 22)
Count Almaviva: Arnold Geis
Countess Almaviva: Joanna Lynn-Jacobs
Inès: Annie Sherman
Cherubino: Meagan Martin
Figaro: Gregorio Gonzalez
Susanna: Terri Richter
Don Alvaro: Gregory Sliskovich
Plagio: Ian Walker
Servo: Myron Aguilar

Production:
Composer: Saverio Mercadante
Librettist: Felice Romani
Conductor: Joseph Colaneri
Director: Peter Kazaras
Scenic Designer: Adam Alonso
Lighting Designer: Ginevra Lombardo
Choreographer: Kevin Williamson

Photos by Jeff Lorch courtesy of U.C.L.A. Opera.

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 


Live Chamber Music: The Hugo Wolf String Quartett at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall

February 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. The utterly irresistible appeals of string quartet music returned to Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall on Friday night and Saturday afternoon in another prime presentation by Chamber Music Concerts.

The program was delivered by the extraordinarily gifted players of Vienna’s Hugo Wolf String Quartett. In the two hours of the Friday night performance, they offered an exemplary overview of more than two centuries of string quartet music at its most intriguing.

The Hugo Wolf players – violinists Sebastian Gurtler and Regis Bringolf, viola player Thomas Selditz and cellist Florian Berner – each a virtuosic artist in his own right, have been together as an ensemble for more than two decades, performing in major venues around the world. And their musically symbiotic relationship, combined with virtuosic technique and interpretive excellence, produced convincing versions of works reaching from Franz Joseph Haydn to Franz Schubert, climaxing with the premiere of a contemporary quartet commissioned by the Wolf Quartett from Austrian composer Gerhard Winkler.

The Hugo Wolff Quartet

The Hugo Wolff Quartet

The program began with Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 33, often described as “the Joke Quartet.” And with good reason. Haydn was one of the important founders of the Classical string quartet structures. With this composition, however, he chose to insert some atypical, intentionally humorous twists in the harmonic scheme, clearly hoping to surprise his listeners. Add to that his use of long pauses and sudden bursts of a brief, repetitious melodic fragment. The result, for his 18th century audiences, as well as Friday night’s listeners, was amused bursts of laughter. “Don’t take everything too seriously,” he seemed to be saying in this immensely entertaining work, which was performed by the Wolf Quartett with vigorous enthusiasm.

Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, subtitled Death and the Maiden offered a far different musical mood. Composed in 1824, a few years before his death in 1828, its subtitle traces to a song he wrote in 1817. Both the quartet and the song reflect the illnesses Schubert was experiencing, along with his obsession with what he viewed, correctly, as the approaching end of his life at the early age of 31.

Understandably, his D minor Quartet is a work filled with emotional density, often juxtaposing dark, intense passages with unexpected moments of soaring lyricism. The Wolf Quartett players’ interpretation was gripping, capturing the diverse emotions with a convincing blend of affective expression and technical mastery.

The Winkler composition, identified only as String Quartet offered far different challenges. The concert’s program guide refers to his frequent use of multi-media interaction in his works, often using electronic media. In this work, however, the Wolf Quartett instrumentalists are asked to create the sort of complex textures and dense dissonant sounds often provided by electronics along with the spontaneity associated with indeterminate notation. The result was a stunning collage of sounds, played with brilliant technique by the Wolff Quartet. While the piece offered none of the Classical musical structures usually associated – even in many contemporary works – with string quartets, it was nonetheless a fascinating showcase for the Hugo Wolf String Quartett.

It’s worth noting that the Gerhard Winkler identified in the program guide as the composer of String Quartet, presumably is not the German composer, Gerhard Winkler, who was born in 1906 and died in 1977.  It’s unclear, either in the program guide or in Google, whether or not they’re related.

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Photo by Nancy Horowitz courtesy of the Hugo Wolff Quartet.


Live Music and a Lot More: MY DAY AT THE NAMM SHOW

January 28, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

Anaheim, CA.  For anyone who appreciates music, the NAMM show is a scene you simply must make once in your life, maybe more. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convenes twice annually, once in the winter at the Anaheim Convention Center and once in the summer, in Nashville. It has become more than a convention, and is now a four day event attended by thousands, with awards given to distinguished artists and manufacturers, concerts all day outdoors on a huge stage, celebrity signings, ongoing celebrity jams, intriguing food trucks, plenty of free stuff, and a whole lot of entertaining people to watch.

I was struck by how many people appeared to be dressed in their rock star costumes. These folks must look like they are on or near a stage every day. The multi-color hair and bizarre tats and piercings are a long-term proposition, a commitment. Of course, that’s rock and roll and we do love it. There were even people in costumes running around simply to provide photo ops, but that felt schticky, a little like Hollywood and Highland.

NAMM floor is a busy place, man!

Entry to NAMM is exclusive. Everyone who gets in must apply for and receive a badge to get through the doors. Physically getting to those doors isn’t so easy, either, as parking is at a premium. I had to park about a mile away from the site, and hoof it in. But it was a gorgeous day and I was with many other like-minded souls so it was cool…and free. Inside the convention center, vendors build a four story musical city, a multi-tiered grid of all conceivable music gear. And sometimes getting from one side of an aisle to the other is not unlike jaywalking in New York City. One must be alert as there are throngs of folks in constant motion on the NAMM floor.

Since so many manufacturers are represented under one roof, you can explore any curiosity on the spot, at the source. This worked out well for me. I cruised into the plush-carpeted Rickenbacker display, giddily strummed several of the shiny guitars, and inquired as to how pros actually deal with restringing their (in)famous 12-strings. These beautiful beasts are a well-known source of aggravation because the whole guitar must be unstrung and laboriously restrung even when one only string is a problem. But I was let in on the masking tape and long nose pliers solution to make things more efficient. Still, the ultra inconvenient “R” tailpiece will endure, as its design is classic and a part of an enduring image. Of course, the equally cool Ricky basses, have a much more string friendly design and will also stay the same.

The Rickenbacker 12 String

Before going to the NAMM show I wasn’t aware that guitar straps actually come in sizes like shirts do. So within a short exchange of dialogue I had learned about strap sizing. I also learned that there are several names for the extension adjustment strap on a leather guitar strap (“tongue” was the best that I heard), that they are sold separately, and can extend a strap by as much as 12 inches. The big idea was that huge vendors only carry some of many things. There is more variety available if one goes straight to the manufacturer, online or in person, than if one goes to a big distributor.

I had a feeling there would be some pleasant surprises nestled into the NAMM grid. Would you believe that somebody developed a product that allows you to actually be heard playing air drums? Yes, a special high-speed camera program gauges your movements, anticipating which drums you are reaching for and attaches sound. Voila, you can be heard. It was uncanny to watch, like some sort of illusion.

Fenders at NAMM. Surf all day, record all night… sounds like a plan!

One thing about the NAMM show, it borders on a muted din most of the time. There are so many displays where you can pick up an instrument to play and whether it was pianos, trumpets, or drums, there were usually a good dozen artists and regular folks just bashing away ecstatically. It’s a great way to make that much noise. The drum neighborhood at the end of the day was particularly lively. Big jam sessions up and down the block at every booth.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the NAMM show is that there are small concerts going on all the time in the booths. And a lot of these gigs are phenomenal. Sometimes it’s one person playing over a pre-recorded backing track. Other times it’s a whole ensemble.

Albert Lee bringing it at Music Man

These jams can get crowded but wow, if you have a good spot you’re in for a treat. I got lucky three times. Albert Lee was tearing it up at Music Man, and then I happened over to Godin guitars where Jose Roberto Hernandez and his friends were doing a sublime job of it. Beautiful guitar work from Hernandez, violin, acoustic bass guitar, and three hand percussionists made for some amazing, layered, poly-rhythmic music. Words won’t do it justice. On the other hand, I really couldn’t get a view of John Popper at Fender or of Doug Wimbash at Burgera.

All star jam in honor of Slash with Skunk Baxter, Richie Sambora, and Orianthi.

The best jam I saw was by far at the Mark Bass booth. If you can believe it, about thirty of us got to watch as guitarist Frank Gambale and six string bass ace Alain Caron strutted their chops and soared into the stratosphere together. The grin on our faces, and on theirs, was ear to ear. One person in the crowd actually had to steady the keyboard from falling off the corner of the amp it was perched upon. It was that casual, and yet that good.

Up on the third floor the heavy hitters of guitar set up shop with lavish booths and lots of decor. This would be Fender, Gibson, ESP, Schecter, and Paul Reed Smith. ESP in particular, had some sculpted guitars that looked as impressive as they were close to unplayable for more than an encore…or a photo session. Paul Reed Smith exhibited some wild inlay work, too.

Elaborate inlay work at Paul Reed Smith

Gibson had a whole table of headphones and Les Pauls to play privately, much like you would see in the Apple store. They seemed to be pushing their self-tuning guitar heads, but hey, the one I played just got confused and like in some silly sci-fi movie, the tuning heads spun about, taking the guitar nowhere close to being tuned. Hmm…

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar ...to ourselves.

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar …to ourselves.

At the big name booths I saw a whole lotta desks in sound-proof offices for making deals. People were here to deal and there was plenty of that going on. You literally couldn’t walk across the Martin Guitar booth without an obstacle course of office furniture. And interestingly enough, when I played one of their $6000 guitars, there was so much general commotion that I could scarcely hear what I was playing. It happens.

At six o’clock the lights dimmed as I was being serenaded with Norteno music and learning about Bajo Sextos and Bajo Quintos. That was a great little session. The show was over and it was time for most of us to trudge to our cars, while in the banquet rooms the VIP’s were just warming up for a night of music and awards. Just another day at the NAMM show. I was happily drained on the way home.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Mike Finkelstein. 

To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


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