Live Music: The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum in “Hooray For Hollywood”

August 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Pasadena, CA.  The warm months of summer always bring a luscious banquet of musical events, much of it presented in colorful outdoor venues. One of the best has begun to emerge in the performances of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra under the baton of Michael Feinstein, amid the gorgeous greenery of the L.A. Arboretum.

And Saturday night’s performance, titled “Hooray For Hollywood,” was a perfect blend of all those elements, brought to their peak under the guidance of Feinstein, who matched his appealing singing and precise conducting with a scholarly knowledge of the rich and diversified music of Hollywood, past, present and future.

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

Add to that the line-up of appealing performers that Feinstein, with the aid and support of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) also added to evening in an obvious quest to create an immensely enjoyable performance. Among the headliners: Debby Boone, Maureen McGovern, Kevin Earley, Alan Bergman, Paul Williams and much more.

The far-ranging tone of the performance began early, with Feinstein’s whimsical reading of (appropriately) “Hooray For Hollywood,” supplemented with some humorous new lyrics as well as Feinstein’s ever amusing sidebar comments.

“I wanted to grow up to be like Alan Ladd, and I did,” he noted, with a smile. (Although he did not look in Paul Williams’ direction when he said it.)

Michael Feinstein conducts the Pasadena Pops

The heart of the show, and the highlight of the vocal performances were energized by tunes from what might accurately be called The Great Hollywood Songbook. Consider the following:

Paul Williams singing “The Rainbow Connection,” a song he wrote for Kermit the Frog in Sesame Street.

Maureen McGovern‘s rich voice, soaring through a sequence of gripping interpretations, vividly bringing to life a medley of songs from”The Sound Of Music.”

Debby Boone‘s “You Light Up My Life,” a song classic from the film of the same name, still completely owned, in every musical manner, by Boone’s still-vibrant singing.

The talented young Kevin Early displaying his musical versatility with convincing versions of a pair of very different tunes: “The Way You Look Tonight” (from Swing Time) and “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe (from The Harvey Girls).”

And, perhaps best of all, Alan Bergman‘s stunning reading of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crown Affair, with lyrics by Bergman and his wife, Marilyn, music by Michel Legrand. I’ve heard Alan sing it many times, and been deeply moved by each performance.

The music of Hollywood is not just song, of course. Michael Feinstein’s “Hooray For Hollywood” \thoroughly explored that other area – the soundtracks that are essential to a film’s emotional flow. And with an orchestra as adept as the Pasadena Pops, the results could only be world class. As they were.

Among the numerous highlights, there were selections from such familiar film names as Johnny Green, Elmer Bernstein, the Sherman Brothers, Michael Giachino, Erich Korngold, and more:

– The overture to Mary Poppins. The Raintree County overture. Music from The Magnificent Seven. The Prologue to The Sound of Music. Themes from Silverado.(conducted by composer Bruce Broughten),l And the Overture to Funny Girl.

Call it an amazing evening of music, and fascinating glance at the role it plays in the creative workshops of Hollywood. And let me add a coda of thanks to Michael Feinstein, his gifted orchestra and line up of stars, all of whom provided one of the Summer of 2014’s most pleasant experiences.

While I’m at it, Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops, along with guest stars, return on Saturday, Sept. 6, for a show that promises to produce similar musical pleasures: “New York! New York!” I’d say don’t miss it. Especially if you’re an expatriate New Yorker.


Picks of the Week: May 27 – June 1

May 27, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

– May 27. (Tues.) Pat Senatore Trio. The stellar Senatore trio – bassist Senatore with pianist Josh Nelson and drummer Mark Ferber have been carrying the torch for solid jazz at its best for years. And their new recording, Ascensione, is a superb display of their effectiveness as a world class jazz trio. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– May 29. (Thurs.) Peter Smith. “Too Marvelous For Words: The Music of Nat “King’ Cole.” Singer/pianist Smith revives one of the most appealing jazz catalogs of song. Don’t miss it. Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

– May 30. (Fri.) Angela Parrish. Pianist/singer/songwrier Parrish has been soloing in Vitello’s dining room. But her appealing musical qualities will be on full display when she performs in the club’s warm and engaging upstairs music room. Vitello’s  (818) 769-0905.

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

– May 30. (Fri.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. A Casual Friday concert with Gustavo Dudamel conducting Mozart’s Symphony No.36 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with Helene Grimaud as piano soloist. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) Tom Culver’s “Cole Porter Uncorked explores some of the classic items in the Great American Songbook in a program backed by the Rick Hils Trio and directed by Marilyn Maye. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

– May 31. (Sat.) LA Ballet “La Sylphide.” An irresistible evening of ballet at its finest. In addition to La Sylphide, the program features George Balanchine‘s “Serenade..” Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

Miki Howard

Miki Howard

– May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) Miki Howard. Comfortably expressive in jazz, r&b and pop, Howard had a string of hits in the ’80s and ’90s, and she’s still going strong. Expect to hear some catchy, appealingly familiar melodies. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– June 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with the Ron Jones Jazz Influence Orchestra. Multi-hyphenate MacFarlane balances his successful efforts as an actor, producer, director and comedian with his appealing efforts as a singer. He’ll be at his best with Jones’ briskly swinging Jazz Influence Orchestra. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– May 29 – June 1 (Thurs. – Sun.) Marc Ribot. Guitarist/composer Ribot displays his affection for film in a fascinating score for Charlie Chaplin‘s film, The Kid. An SFJAZZ concert at Miner Auditorium.  (866) 920-5299

Washington D.C.

– May 27 (Tues.) Nicole Henry. Comfortably expressing herself in soul/jazz/pop/r&b stylings, Henry’s charismatic qualities are present in every song she sings. Blues Alley (202) 337-4141.

New York City

Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli

– May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) John Pizzarelli and Jane Monheit with the Al Jackson Quintet. Among the most gifted of the younger generation interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli and Monheit are even better when they’re performing as a captivating vocal duo. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.(212) 258-9595.

– May 27 – 31. (Tues. – Sat.) BossaBrazil. A pair of Brazil’s finest musical artists – Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal – team up to showcase some of the finest blends of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.


– May 30 & 31. Jean Luc Ponty & His Band.  Violinist Ponty, one of the leaders in the early stages of jazz fusion, continue to be one of the most intriguing of contemporary jazz performers. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747


– May 27. (Tues.) Billy Hart Quartet. Always an appealing performer, drummer Hart is so popular in Berlin that this booking has been described as “Wegen Des Grossen Andrangs (“Back By Public Demand). A-Trane. 030 / 313 25 50.


Mayra Andrade

Mayra Andrade

– May 28. (Wed.) Mayra Andrade. Lovely Difficult A native of the musically rich environment of the Cape Verde isands, Andrade – who lives in Paris – has built an impressive career combining her Cape Verde roots with appealing touches of French music and American pop. The Blue Note Milano. +39 02 6901 6888.


– May 27 & 28. (Tues. & Wed.) Harvey Mason and “Chameleon.” Hard swinging drummer Mason, leads an especially appealing ensemble in “Chameleon,” featuring the unique musical gifts of Chris Turner, John Beasley, Philip Woo, Kamasi Washington and Jimmy Haslip. The Blue Note Tokyo. +81 3-5485-0088.




Live Music: Steve Tyrell at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 29, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air.  Mention an area of the music world and Steve Tyrell has been there and done that. Whether it’s from a business perspective, running a record company or producing albums by major artists, or if it’s in the creative arena, clearly establishing his own identity as a performer Tyrell knows how to do it.

On Wednesday night at Herb Alpert’s Bel Air club – Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. – Tyrell displayed the vocal artistry he has developed as a master interpreter of the Great American Songbook.

The Songbook, of course, with its extraordinary collection of works reaching from Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern and beyond, has been the foundation for the careers of numerous singers. But Tyrell’s far-reaching interpretive skills have brought new perspectives to this rich catalog of material.

Performing with the skillful backing of a stellar band of players, Tyrell was at his best.

Steve Tyrell and his Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz...etc.

Steve Tyrell and his Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

Among the rich list of songs he sang, every selection was memorable. Starting with “I’ll Take Romance,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” he proceeded with classics such as “I Can’t Get Started,” “I Get A Kick Out of You” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “This Guy’s In Love With You” and a climactic “Stand By Me.”

He introduced most of the songs with a few insightful comments about the songwriters. On some, he often included the usually omitted verses of the songs. And he frequently added fascinating anecdotes providing intriguing insight into a song’s history.

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

But the real evaluation of Tyrell’s performance has to mention what he brought to both the music and the lyrics of every song he sang. Tyrell is often praised for the appeal of his warm, Texas accent, brisk rhythmic swing and easygoing on stage manner.

Add to that, however, his innate skills as a musical story teller. In song after song, he blended his jazz-driven phrasing with a thoughtful interpretive ability. The result was the opportunity to experience a musical poet in action, finding the most gripping lyrical moments in every song he touched.

So call it an evening showcasing the best of American song, rendered with complete creative authenticity. And listening to Steve Tyrell’s performance one couldn’t help but imagine how delighted the legion of American Songbook composers might have been to hear their musical brilliance evoked with such care and enthusiasm.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.



Live Jazz: Alan Broadbent at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The stage was almost empty Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  Almost, that is, except for one notable exception.

Seated at the club’s large concert grand, pianist/arranger/composer Alan Broadbent performed several generous sets over a memorable three hours.  Originally scheduled as a duo with bassist Pat Senatore, it became a solo night for Broadbent when Senatore had to remain at home to fight the flu.

All of which made for a considerably different musical evening, one that was completely focused on Broadbent’s gifted, far-ranging talents as a pianist, an improviser, a composer and arranger.  All those skills were present, as Broadbent framed each tune – fast or slow with spontaneous arrangements, embraced the melodies, dug into improvised passages, and brought every song he touched vividly to life.

Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent

A master of the diverse music in the Great American Songbook, Broadbent filled his sets with classic items, thoughtfully shaping songs such as “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Spring Is Here,” “They Asked About You,” “You Go To My Head,” “Sophisticated Lady” and more.  Some of the ballads were offered with soaringly lyrical melodic phrases; some were tinged with rhapsodic classical touches.  And some were propelled forward via Broadbent’s laid-back, easy-going sense of swing. An occasional bebop line such as Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” moved intriguingly from forward-driving bop to a reminder of the ragtime which is at its roots.

There were offbeat choices, as well: Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” called up memories of its role as the theme song of the Benny Goodman orchestra. A medley of film themes focused on the atmospheric sounds of “Laura.” And John Lewis’ “Django,” a tribute to the great Gipsy jazz guitarist, was played with a sensitive awareness of its roots in J.S. Bach.

A Grammy nominee and a Grammy winner, the New Zealand-born Broadbent had been, until very recently, one of L.A.’s busiest first call musicians.  In addition to his briskly swinging, straight ahead jazz skills, singers such as Irene Kral, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and others have deeply valued his ability to provide the perfect settings for their very different styles.  And his work with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West has produced some extraordinarily musical recordings and live performances ranging from Broadbent’s imaginative instrumental settings, some of them orchestral, to his compelling vocal arrangements on recordings such as Sophisticated Ladies.

Pianists performing either solo or in duos or trios at Vibrato have been known to be overwhelmed by audience noise, especially from the bar.  But on this evening, Broadbent’s playing was so musically mesmerizing that his listeners seemed completely in tune with the magic he brought to each song.

And, as the evening got thoroughly underway, there was no sense of emptiness on the stage. Operating on his own, with no back up players, Broadbent – on his own — nonetheless filled Vibrato with an irresistible sense of imaginative musical completeness.

Broadbent’s performance at Vibrato was a rare Southland appearance since his move to New York City a year or so ago.  But this listener (and no doubt many others) will happily welcome any future Broadbent L.A. visits – either on his own, or blending with the right compatible players, backing a singer, or displaying the rich complexities of his extraordinary arranging and composing skills.  He is truly one of a kind.

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Photo by Faith Frenz.  To see more of her photos click HERE.


Live Music: Steve Tyrell at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 17, 2012

By Don Heckman

Hollywood CA.  Steve Tyrell is back at Catalina Bar & Grill this week.  No surprise there, since the veteran singer has become a regular at the Hollywood jazz room, frequently drawing overflow crowds to his performances of familiar standards.

Which is what he did on Thursday night, with a program largely dedicated to the songs of Sammy Cahn, before an audience glittering with song writing associations.  Among his listeners – Cahn’s widow, Tita, Jimmy McHugh’s granddaughter, Judy McHugh, as well as the songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and songwriter Mike Stoller.

The Steve Tyrell Band:Bob Mann, Lyman Medeiros, Steve Tyrell, Lew Soloff

Tyrell’s extensive background as a producer taught him, early on in his career, that singers are always deeply reliant upon the quality of their instrumental support.  And he has wisely assembled an impressive seven piece band – featuring stellar work from guitarist Bob Mann, saxophonist Jeff Driscoll and trumpeter Lew Soloff – that provided consistently solid backing.  Soloff’s trumpet work, moving from plunger-muted soloing to far ranging, high note ensemble leads, was a particularly vital contribution to the colorful sounds and rhythms curling around Tyrell’s vocals.

Add to that the beautifully crafted arrangements by Mann, Don Sebesky and Alan Broadbent.  And, of course, there was the amazing catalog of Cahn’s music, overflowing with the sort of catchy lyrics perfectly appropriate for Tyrell’s jauntily expressive singing style.

Steve Tyrell

Working with barely a break, moving smoothly from one Cahn classic to another he hit many of the high points in this remarkable catalog, dealing with each in appropriately atmospheric fashion: “Call Me Irresponsible,” “Time After Time,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “Come Fly With Me,” “It’s Magic, “Teach Me Tonight,”  “It All Depends on You,” “I’ve Got the World On A String” and “All the Way.”  (Note that there are a couple of Academy Award winners in that list.)

Tyrell also acknowledged some of the other songwriter presence in the audience by adding Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and the Bergmans’ “Nice and Easy.’  Topping it all off, he also included a pair of Bacharach and David tunes – “The Look of Love” and “This Guy’s In Love With You” – dating back to his youthful association, as a producer, with the great songwriting team.

Call it a well-crafted show.  Tyrell’s ebullient singing style, tinged with a good guy Texas accent and briskly rhythmic phrasing, was the centerpiece in an evening that was as entertaining as it was well-crafted.  Chatting amiably between numbers, telling a story or two, acknowledging celebrities in the crowd, he offered a virtual seminar in how to showcase the Great American Songbook.

There will be two more opportunities to experience Tyrell in action, with shows tonight (Saturday) and tomorrow at Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210 for reservations.

Photos by Bob Barry.

Live Music and Film: Bill Frisell and “The Great Flood” at Royce Hall

October 15, 2012

By Michael Katz

One of my regrets from the Monterey Jazz Festival was missing guitarist Bill Frisell’s commissioned piece.  So Saturday night’s performance in support of the Bill Morrison film The Great Flood at UCLA’s Royce Hall gave me the opportunity to experience another facet of Frisell’s diverse musical oeuvre

The 75 minute film, presented in conjunction with the newly named CAP UCLA program and the Angel City Jazz Festival, is a documentary about the 1927 Mississippi flood which submerged 27,000 square miles and spurred the migration of thousands of Delta residents, including many of the blues musicians who ended up in northern cities, especially Chicago. Morrison relies on footage from the National Archives and the Fox Movietone Newsreel Archive, dividing his story into visual and musical “movements” with no narrative other than introductory titles.

Bill Frisell

For audiences used to the Ken Burns documentary style – broad themes enhanced by individual stories, narrated by letters or diaries or biographical accounts — Morrison’s overview can seem lacking in focus. Even the Biblical Flood, after all, would be considerably less compelling without Noah. The film’s opening is effective enough, with a map of the Mississippi superimposed on the rising floodwaters. Frisell’s score is ominous with a hint of the Delta Blues. The accompaniment of percussionist Kenny Wollesen on vibes provided an unexpected layer of foreboding. Given the nature of the material, the music was bound to be elegiac, and the main voice through much of it belonged to trumpeter Ron Miles. His playing throughout was graceful, reminiscent of the thematic scoring and performance we’ve often heard from Mark Isham.

Still, without the individual stories to hang a theme on, it was hard to separate the   compositions from one movement to the next. About a quarter of the way into the film, Morrison presented an extended look at the 1927 Sears Roebuck Catalogue, which gave Frisell the opportunity to up the tempo and present a diversionary theme,  but there were few such segments in the performance.

The Great Flood of 1927

It’s impossible to view this film without making references to Hurricane Katrina, and it’s clear that, with all the changes in technology and communication, there was precious little difference over eighty years in the treatment of rich and poor. Morrison presents an effective overview early in the film of sharecroppers, working the field with horse and plow. When the floods rise, the evacuations stand in stark contrast: the well-to-do dressed in their Sunday best boarding trains north, while the mostly black sharecroppers huddle in tents like war refugees, watching the waters rise around them.

When the word “Politicians” flashed onscreen for the opening of the ninth segment,  snickers arose from the Royce Hall gathering. That in itself was as trenchant a commentary as what followed: white officials in suits and ties, trolling for photo ops, with looks that suggested they couldn’t wait for these moments of noblesse oblige to be over. You kept trying to read lips, waiting for someone to say “Heckuva job, Brownie.” Frisell again took advantage of the change in tone to present a more sardonic musical accompaniment, augmented by the fourth member of the quartet,  Tony Scherr, working on a variety of electric basses.

The latter part of the film dealt with the Diaspora that ensued. One segment, entitled “Friendship Baptist Church, Chicago,” simply used footage aimed at the front door of the church, as a seemingly endless surge of parishioners flowed out onto the street following a service. It was such an effective metaphor that the following segment, “Migration,” hardly seemed necessary.

The final segments of the film focused on the musical evolution of the blues, from its Delta origins to the urban streets of Chicago and other cities. Close-ups of blues players showed the progression from acoustic guitar to electric, steel and slide. Frisell chose not to mimic the sounds or present a blues digression of his own. Instead he adapted Jerome Kern’s “Ol’ Man River.” The fact that the arrangement worked so well underlined both his own strengths and the overall problems of the film. There was no shortage of passion, but it lacked the individual stories and themes that connect the audience with the material.

Great Flood of 1927 photo courtesy of Movietone. 

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 at the Hollywood Bowl: John Williams — “Maestro of the Movies” — conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an Evening of Film Music.

September 2, 2012

By Don Heckman

The high point of the John Williams: Maestro of the Movies concert at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night didn’t actually arrive until the encore, when the “Maestro” conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in his stirring music for Star Wars.  And that was no surprise to many members of the capacity – more than 17,000 – crowd.  They had either come prepared, or had made a stop in the Hollywood Bowl store to pick up exactly what they needed for that final piece.

When the familiar brass fanfare began, the Bowl suddenly erupted into a panorama of flashing lights.  Flashing light sabres, that is, because the audience was filled with reproductions of the famous light sabres from the film, colorfully swinging in time to the memorable music from the film. (Bought for $10.88 from the Bowl store.)

Here’s what a small section of the Bowl looked like when Williams kicked off the Star Wars encore.

Star Wars is played at the Hollywood Bowl

But there was much more on the program than Star Wars.  Williams has been criticized in the past for including too many of, so to speak, his “Greatest Hits” in his yearly Hollywood Bowl appearances.  That would mean all the Star Wars  flicks, so too for the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman. Harry Potter and E.T., to name only a few.  And he may, as a result, have decided with this show to also emphasize some less well-known works, and include mostly brief selections from the scores of his high visibility films.

John Williams

And it was fascinating to hear the far-ranging extent of his creative imagination.  It was a great pleasure, for example, to hear the emotionally stirring music Williams composed for the Olympic games.  For the highlight selection, The Olympic Spirit, NBC provided a powerful montage of extraordinary athletic scenes from the games to combine with the brilliantly atmospheric music.

Equally entertaining in a completely different way, Williams conducted his high spirited music for “The Duel,” from The Adventures of TinTin.  Once again, a montage of film clips, this time from generations of duel sequences in Hollywood feature films, provided utterly engaging video.  Among the highlights, clips from Scaramouche, Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, The Mark of Zorrow, Black Swan and others, with prominent appearances from such film icons as Tyrone Power and Stewart Granger.

Gil Shaham

The guest artist performer, violinist Gil Shaham, also added some compelling musical moments to the mix in a trio of works.  The first, Carlos Gardel’s “Por Una Cabeza,” from Scent of a Woman, arranged by Williams, triggered Shaham’s dramatic way with a melody.  The poignant “Rememberances” from Williams’ score for Schindler’s List followed.  And Shaham and the Philharmonic wrapped it up with William’s arrangement of lively excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof.

The second half of the program was all Williams, with selections from his scores for Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amistad and “Ðuel of the Fates” from Star Wars Episode i.

Then, before the Star Wars encore, Williams conducted the Philharmonic in the complete music for the last reel of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”as the synchronized video was shown on large screens.

It was an impressive evening of music, as has been the case with Williams’ past Bowl performances. Listening to his ever appropriate and well-crafted contributions to such very different films raised the question of why so many producers and directors (including Stephen Spielberg) have turned to him over the course of his decades long career.  And the answer seemed clear to me.  Williams, like all the finest film composers, is a master of mood and atmosphere, as well as a brilliant composer of memorable melodies.

No wonder he’s been awarded five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and 21 Grammys.  When the history of 20th century music is written, it may well be the works of film composers that will surge to the foreground, transforming our definitions of “classical music.”  Expect the music of John Williams to be in the vanguard of that surge.


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