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.


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.

 


Picks for a Long Weekend: Oct. 9 – 12 in Los Angeles, New York City and London

October 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

– Oct. 9. (Thurs.) Scott Snapp and Sally Kellerman. It’s an offbeat booking, with Snapp, who defines his singing/songwriting as Theatrical Pop, as the headliner, and Kellerman as “special guest.” But any appearance by Sally is stellar, and everything she sings deserves top billing. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Oct. 10. (Fri.) The Emerson String Quartet. Performing an all-Beethoven program of quartets from the early, late and middle stages of his remarkable works for string quartet. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Oct. 10. (Fri.) The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Vladimir Jurowski conducts a program of Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. The Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

Maceo Parker

Maceo Parker

– Oct. 10 & 11. (Fri. & Sat.) Maceo Parker. Perhaps best known for his long association with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, saxophonist Parker has also established himself as a major funk, soul and groove artist in his own right. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– Oct. 11. (Sat.) Mary Chapin Carpenter. Country singer/songwriter Chapin has won five Grammy awards in a career studded with songs hitting the top of the country music charts. And with good reason, given the memorable quality of her work. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. 6 (805) 449-2100.

– Oct. 12. (Sun.) Paula Poundstone, Lily Tomlin and guest MC Fred Willard. A rare evening of comedic pleasures, and with this line up expect the best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

New York City

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera

– Oct. 9 – 11. (Thurs.- Sun.) “Chita’s Back.Chita Rivera. The versatile artistry of Chita Rivera, from music to dance takes center stage. She doesn’t often make club appearances, so don’t miss this one. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

 

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

– Oct. 7 – 12. (Tues, – Sun.) Lee Ritenour. He used to be called “Captain Fingers” for his extraordinary technical virtuosity, But Ritenour has also added creative interpretations to his imaginative, swinging playing. The Blue Note. Residency. (212) 475-8592.

London

– Oct. 7 – 12. (Tues. – Sun.) Ronnie Scott’s. Stacey Kent. New Jersey-born jazz singer Kent has been living in the U.K. since the early ’90s, establishing herself as one of Europe’s finest jazz artists. Ronnie Scott’s +44 20 7439 0747.


Picks of the (Valentine) Week: Feb. 12 – 16

February 12, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

– Feb. 13 – 16. Thurs. – Sun. Steve Tyrell. Four days to enjoy Valentine’s Day at L.A.’s primo jazz room, captivated by Tyrell’s warm voice and engaging musical storytelling. Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

– Feb. 13 & 14. (Thurs. & Fri.) The Moscow Festival Ballet showcases a trio of ballets perfectly chosen for Valentine’s Day: Giselle, Chopiniana and Romeo & Juliet. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800

– Feb. 14. (Fri.) Dream Street. Led by guitarist/arranger Stan Ayeroff, Dream Street brings superb musicality to all their compelling interpretations.  However, singer Bobbi Paige, a regular member, will not be present, due to a family emergency and will be replaced by “fill-in” vocalists.. Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

Anna Mjoll

Anna Mjoll

– Feb. 14. (Fri.) Anna Mjoll. Icelandic jazz vocalist Mjoll celebrates the romance of Valentine’s Day with a program of love songs from the Great American Songbook. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 14. (Fri.) Maria Rita. Brazilian singer Rita,the daughter of the iconic Brazilian vocalist, Elis Regina, has become a vocal star in her own right. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000

– Feb. 15. (Sat.) Clint Black. Grammy-winning, country male vocalist of the year, puts a unique country twist on a program of ballad classics. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

New York City

– Feb. 12 – 15. (Wed. – Sat.) Cyrille Aimee. French-born jazz singer Aimee has been described, accurately, by Will Friedwald as “one of the most promising singers of her generation.” Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

– Feb. 13. (Thurs.) Tierney Sutton. One of L.A.’s finest jazz pleasures, Sutton has lately been bringing her many skills to compelling, jazz-driven interpretations of Joni Mitchell songs.  Click HERE to read a recent review of a Sutton performance in Los Angeles.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. (212) 258-9595.

Copenhagen

– Feb. 13 – 15. (Thurs. – Sat.) Warren Wolf. Vibist Wolf has been bringing new, imaginative ideas to his instrument. He’s backed in his Danish appearances by American drummer Billy Williams, Danish pianist Jacob Christoffersen and bassist Kaspar Vadsholt. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94.

 London

All Jarreau

All Jarreau

– Feb. 16. (Sun.) Al Jarreau. The seven-time Grammy award winner and all around versatile jazz artist celebrates the 30th anniversary of his album, Jarreau the Album. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Milano

– Feb. 13 – 15. (Thurs. – Sat.) Ray Gelato and the Giants. Vocalist Gelato and his European jazz masters describe their music in the all-inclusive label of “Swing + Rhythm ‘n’ Blues + Jive.” Expect to be well-entertained. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 28 – Nov. 3

October 29, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

– Oct. 30. (Wed.)  Amanda McBroom.  The singer, actress and songwriter (“The Rose” is one of her songs) takes a break from her busy acting career to make a rare musical appearance in Los Angeles.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– Oct. 31. (Thurs.)  Kate Reid and Larry Koonse Duo.  Guitarist Koonse, who is at the top of everyone’s rhythm section list, has a strong musical connection with singer/pianist/educator Reid. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Vivaldi with Perlman.  Violinist Itzhak Perlman conducts and solos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of Vivaldi, Weber and Berlioz.  Walt Disney Hall. /2013-11-01  (323) 850-2000.

– Nov. 1. (Fri.)  Bob Sheppard Trio. He’s a prime, first-call tenor saxophonist, but Sheppard is also a versatile woodwind (clarinet, flute and other saxophones) artist as well.  Hear him in the warm acoustic ambiance of Herb Alpert’s elegant jazz club.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson

– Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) Karrin Allyson.  Multiple Grammy nominated Allyson performs superbly in genres reaching from folk to cabaret to jazz to bossa nova and beyond. Her L.A. performances are rare, and always worth attending.    Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– Nov. 2. (Sat.)  Joanne Tatham.  “Soundtrack New York: Music from Movies Made in Manhattan.  It’s a fascinating idea for a program of songs, with dozens from which to chose.  And Tatham delivers it well, via her warm, seductive sound and musical story-telling skills.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

– Nov. 3. (Sun.)  The Pat Senatore Trio.  With Josh Nelson, piano and Mark Ferber, drums.  Bassist Senatore leads a stellar group of players in a CD release party celebrating the release of the Trio’s new album, AscensioneVibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Oct. 30 & 31.  (Wed. & Thurs.)  The Four Freshmen.  Their history dates back to the late ‘40s, when the Freshmen were creating harmonically lush, jazz-driven jazz vocalizing, accompanied by their own multiple instrumental skills.  This is a younger version of the Freshmen, but their music continues to be richly compelling.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

– Oct. 31 – Nov. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Gerald Albright. He’s well known as a much-admired, contemporary jazz saxophonist, but Albright is also a multi-instrumentalist who brings genre-crossing sounds to all his performances.   Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

– Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Arturo Sandoval.  Every performance by Cuban-born Sandoval is a stunning display of his musical range and instrumental eclecticism.  Whether playing Dizzy Gillespie-influenced trumpet, rhapsodic piano, dynamic drumming, or singing, he does it all with complete musical mastery.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Oct., 31 – Nov. 3.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Vijay Iyer Trio.  Pianist Iyer’s Grammy-nominated Trio is an engaging vehicle for his playing, which incorporates aspects of his Indian heritage with his dynamic piano style.  Jazz Standard.

– Oct. 29 – Nov. 2. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Ron Carter Nonet. Carter has performed as everyone’s favorite bassist on more than 2500 albums.  But he’s less-known as a composer and band leader in his own right, who should be heard at every opportunity.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

Dave Holland

Dave Holland

– Nov. 2 & 3.  (Sat. & Sun.)  Dave Holland Prism.  Prism is the latest in bassist Holland’s numerous ensembles.  And like all his musical efforts, it leads his listeners through inventive musical adventures.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

– Nov. 1 & 2. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Ben Sidran Quartet.  “Don’t Cry For No Hipster.”  The versatile Sidran, a Renaissance jazz man, moves comfortably from performing jazz, rock and beyond to work as a producer, educator and radio host.  Here, he’s on piano and vocals, backed by Bob Rockwell, tenor saxophone, Billy Peterson, bass and Leo Sidran, drums.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

– Oct. 30 & 31. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Jack DeJohnette Group.  Drummer DeJohnette, always creatively curious, leads an ensemble that features the equally inventive clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron Blue Note Milano.     +39.02.69016888.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 14 – 20

October 15, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Josh Nelson

– Oct. 17. (Thurs.) All Star Quartet. Pat Senatore, bass, Josh Nelson, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, Mark Ferber, drums. “All Star” is the right label for this quartet of four of the Southland’s finest players. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Oct. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun. Steve Gadd Band. Drummer Gadd has played with everyone from pop and rock stars to jazz headliners. This time he’s backed by the equally stellar ensemble of Michael Landau, Larry Goldings, Walt Fowler, & Jimmy Johnson). Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

– Oct. 18 – 20. (Fri. – Sun.) Disney Hall 10th Anniversary Celebration. Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to a familiar podium to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a celebratory program of Debussy, Bartok and Lindberg, with cello soloist Anssi Karttunen and the women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

– Oct. 19. (Sat.) Carol Welsman. “Reflections of Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman.” Pianist/singer Welsman applies her many talents to a program of Swing band classics. She’s joined by versatile saxophonist/vocalist Don Shelton. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 19 (Sat.) Eva Ayllon. Multiple Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, one of Peru’s most honored musicians, makes a rare L.A. Appearance. CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-.2101.

– Oct. 19. (Sat.) Bernadette Peters. Musical theatre star Peters’ many talents reach from film and television to the stage, where her many starring roles include Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy, Into the Woods and more. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

– Oct. 20 (Sun.) The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Jeffrey Kahane conducts the LACO in works by Britten, Haydn, Mozart and Bruce Adolphe, featuring cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras. CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.  (310) 825.2101.

Brian Wilson

– Oct. 20. (Sun.) Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck. It’s a rare combination of pop music greats, joining with Wilson’s former bandmates, Al Jardine and David Marks in a program that includes a great deal of the Beach Boys classic catalog of songs. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

– Oct. 19 & 20 (Sat. & Sun.) Michel Camilo, solo. The Dominican Republic’s gift to jazz piano playing performs a rare solo display of his rich improvisational skills. An SFJAZZ concert at Miner Auditorium. (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

– Oct. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) Fourplay. Together for more than two decades, the members of Fourplay – Bob James, Nathan East, Harvey Mason and Chuck Loeb continue to lead the way in finding the roots of contemporary jazz. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

Russell Malone

– Oct. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) Russell Malone Quartet. Guitarist Malone has demonstrated his considerable versatility with the likes of Diana Krall, Harry Connick, Jr. and Jimmy Smith, and he continues to be a player adept with all seasons of jazz styles. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

– Oct. 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Phil Woods Quintet. Still one of the definitive bebop players, veteran alto saxophonist Woods is one of the trune jazz originals. Here he’s joined by the world class backing of Brian Lynch, trumpet, Bill Charlap, piano, Bill Goodwin, drums, Steve Gilmore, bass. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

London

– Oct. 16 – 19. (Wed. – Sun.) Wayne Henderson’s Jazz Crusaders. Trombonist Henderson works hard to keep the classic jazz/funk/soul of the Crusaders alive and well. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Milan

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander

– Oct. 15. (Tues.) Monty Alexander Trio. Jamaican-born pianist Alexander successfully manages to blend the sounds and rhythms of Jamaica with his extraordinary, Oscar Peterson-influenced jazz stylings. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

– Oct. 20 – 22. (Sun. – Tues.) John Scofield’s “Uberjam.” Always in search of new creative ideas, veteran jazz guitarist Scofield’s Uberjam band explores linkages with contemporary pop styles. Blue Note Tokyo. Tokyo Blue Note.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Pop Music: The Rascals “Once Upon A Dream” at the Greek Theatre

October 13, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

On a brisk Thursday evening none other than the Rascals presented their autobiographical stage show, Once Upon a Dream, at the Greek Theatre. It comes as a pleasant and uplifting surprise to know that all the original members are alive and well, and sounding quite good, indeed. With a strong push from longtime fan, New Jersey disciple, and powerful shaker and mover, Steve Van Zandt, the Rascals have pieced together a fast-paced and engaging narrative centered on their stay at the top of the pop charts. Their career absolutely flourished during the craziest and most turbulent times the mid/late sixties had to offer.

It has been 40 years plus since the Rascals were in their heyday, but on Thursday the music was intact. It was tight and crisp. The guys have aged, of course, and all but Brigati wore hats for this show. Brigati, has put on a fair amount of girth and no longer resembles the striking picture of youth he once was. Who could? But to watch him sing and sway with two tambourines was to see the connection with the past.

For OUAD the entire back wall of the Greek was outfitted with a huge projection screen. Silhouetted in front of the screen were the Rascals, with Cornish and Brigati standing in front, and Cavalliere and Danelli on cool circular risers. This vivid and enormous look delivered a vibe that appropriately evoked a 60’s TV show, perhaps Ed Sullivan.

The Rascals in Action

The Rascals in Action

The key to the success of OUAD lies in its pacing. None of the songs included goes much beyond three minutes and many are less than that. Because their material was tailored to the AM radio-friendly format, very little of it needed to be pared down. The show contained 30 songs over a course of two hours. Spliced with topical footage of the times (psychedelic Sgt Pepper-ish images, plenty of shots of hippie youth communing) and the narrative pieces, the presentation presses a great many memory buttons as it rolls along at a light but very entertaining clip. The shots of Central Park for “Groovin’,” were perfect, just as I had always pictured it.

The show plays up the band’s east coast New York/New Jersey roots skillfully, cutting together the live tunes with vignettes of the band and their accomplices recounting how it all came together and went down. Each member of the group sits on a chair and reminisces. In heavy accents, they told us short but intriguing stories that move the show along. Then the band played another song or two. At other times, younger actors reenacted key moments in the band’s history. The story of the count-in to “Good Lovin’,” was winsome, “Why don’t all three of youse count it in?” But, the long view is that The Rascals’ development began as an amazing covers band, moving into interpreting songs written just for them, and finally testing their wings writing their own tunes with huge success.

We learned that Felix Cavaliere had already been a college student when he hit the east coast bar band club circuit, that guitarist Gene Cornish was hugely influenced by rockabilly cats like Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore and James Burton. Drummer Dino Danelli winsomely recalls how, at age fifteen, he would sneak into clubs and watch drumming legends like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. He was actually allowed to live at one of these clubs for a while. And we also learn of singer Eddie Brigati’s bizarre route into the Rascals, including singing on a hit record with his brother Dave in Joey Dee and the Starliters, being shot by his brother Dave as a kid, routinely upstaging other singers on the circuit by singing convincingly “black,” and entering a three day coma after a traffic accident – as legend has it, all he remembered was how to sing the Rascals repertoire of covers.  We even learned that in 1963 the Beatles opened for them in Sweden, when both bands were in the business of playing “blue-eyed soul” (white guys playing black music-soul and R&B).

The Rascals in Rehearsal

The Rascals in Rehearsal

On Thursday night you couldn’t help but be impressed with how many of these songs were just instantly recognizable. If any band provided a running soundtrack to American popular culture between 1965 and 1970, it would have to be the Rascals as they became a prominent voice of the Love Generation. They were four enormously talented guys making great music and developing as young men in some of the more intense times this country has seen.

The band’s songs were ubiquitous on the radio then, on a level with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In fact, the show points out that the Rascals were not finished off by the British Invasion.  The Brits’ success with their own music actually opened the door for bands like the Rascals to do the same.

Many of the most memorable songs were ones that they wrote. Gems like “Lonely Too Long,” “You Better Run,” “See,” “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “It’s A Beautiful Morning,” and “People got to Be Free,” transported us all back to where we were when they were current. The footage was icing on the cake.

Though they were classified as blue-eyed soul, it was not that simple with the Rascals. They looked white but they were first generation Americans of Italian descent. As kids, they and their families had experienced the humiliation and injustice that come with the prejudice often directed at immigrants. This was nothing like Pat Boone covering Little Richard. They had a large black and white fan base, and it was band policy to make sure that their shows also featured top-notch black acts from the local area of each gig.

If you try to put your finger on what it is about any Rascals’ tune that gets you, it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing. Vocally, Brigati and Cavaliere had something tremendously unique, and combined with the Hammond organ sound it was usually perfection. Cornish’s guitar parts were deceptively great, serving up power and subtle dynamics in the right measures for hit after hit. Danelli’s drumming, busy as it may get at times, is remarkable for the expression and clarity he gets from a light touch. It’s never cluttered.  He certainly learned from watching the masters.

Once Upon A Dream confirms that The Rascals’ music was and still is a truly special blend of the best elements of soul singing, gospel, rock ‘n roll, and pop. Their MO was to capture a vibe and build it into a 3-minute radio-ready send-up that would become timeless. When you hear their songs, you still remember to listen for those special hooks. Uncanny.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


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