Live Impressions: Rich Little at the Laugh Factory

July 21, 2015

By James DeFrances

Las Vegas. Last week, veteran master impressionist Rich Little premiered his new show at the Laugh Factory in the Las Vegas Tropicana Hotel and Casino.

The brand new show “Rich Little Live” tells his life story through a series of archived video clips, live impressions and music. Often billed as the greatest impressionist of all time, Little soared through plenty of his most famous impersonations.

On the bill were his impersonations of legends such as Jack Benny, Jack Lemmon, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson, Ronald Reagan and more. In a career that spans over five decades Little had the privilege to call many of the stars he impersonates his personal friends.

Rich Little as Jack Benny

Rich Little as Jack Benny

An enthralled capacity level crowd beamed at the impressive video montage being shown on the large monitors. Excerpts shown included Little guest hosting The Tonight Show (which he did 12 times), The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts (of which he appeared in 24), The Judy Garland Show (his first television appearance) and The Dinah Shore Show to name a few. One of the highlights of the night was Little singing an updated parody version of Judy Garland’s “The Man That Got Away” as Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and Willie Nelson.

An excellent singer in his own right, Little went on to perform Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore,” Frank Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town” (with the original seldom heard verse) and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The musical segments were directed superbly by Little’s personal arranger and conductor Chuck Hoover who played every instrument on his synthesized keyboard.

Rich Little as Richard Nixon

Rich Little as Richard Nixon

Most famously known for his impersonation of Richard Nixon, Little also portrayed a re-enactment of the Ronald Reagan White House press conference (which he filled in for) and Bill Clinton, who Little explained was “a man who wrote a lot of material for me.”

In an hour long show that ended almost too soon, Little closed by thanking the audience for their support over the years and sang the self-penned torch song “I’ll Be Here Till The Bitter End” sitting on a bar stool accompanied by just a piano.

Little appears in the Laugh Factory theatre every night at 7PM except for Mondays and Fridays and will be performing his “Jimmy Stewart and Friends” show at The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on July 31st.

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Photos by James DeFrances. To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances 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,

Live Music: Robert Davi at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air. Robert Davi was back at Herb Alpert’s elegant Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. at the top of Beverly Glen last night. And, as always happens in his performances, he spent most of his program demonstrating his belief in the Great American Songbook as “America’s Shakespeare.”

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Davi, whose acting career began in a film starring Frank Sinatra, has been one of the most convincing Sinatra-influenced vocal stylists for most of his career. But, unlike the growing cadre of Sinatra wannabees, he’s never been an imitator. Inspired by Ol’ Blue Eyes, he has instead invested the lyrical expressiveness and rhythmic swing of the style with his own considerable interpretive skills.

As he did Thursday night at Vibrato. Backed by a solid, six piece band led by his music director, pianist Andy Waldman, Davi offered a program mixing Sinatra classics with an intriguing range of tunes from a variety of other sources.

For many responsive listeners, the Sinatra songbook items – “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “That Old Black Magic,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “That’s Life” among them – were the high points. And there’s no disputing the fact that they were brought vividly to life within a Sinatra framing shaped by the Davi imagination.

Roberto Davi and his band.

Roberto Davi and his band.

Other songs were equally persuasive: a warmly intimate reading of “Moonlight In Vermont”; a stunning medley of “Old Man River” and “River Stay Away From My Door,” thoroughly displaying the rich timbres of Davi’s mellow baritone voice; a Broadway stage-worthy version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns”; and a rendering of “New York, New York” deeply touching the heart of every former New Yorker (including this one) in the room.

Robert Davi walking the room

Robert Davi walking the room

Davi enhanced lengthy segments of many songs with tours through Vibrato’s forest of tables, using a wireless microphone to create an informal, living room setting. And he was typically humorous, as well, often jokingly arguing with some of his show biz friends in the crowd about the correct identities of various songwriters. In one especially amusing segment, he recalled meeting “Russia’s Frank Sinatra” during a concert program in Russia. Imitating what he heard, Davi sang “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else” with what can best be described as a hilarious Russian accent.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

As he has done in past performances, Davi also sang “The House I Live In,” from a mid-’40s short film, featuring Sinatra. The film, rare for the time, offered powerful opposition to Anti-Semitism and racial prejudice. And Davi, always a strong supporter of the best characteristics in American culture, underscored the song’s contemporary value at a time when those characteristics are most needed.

In sum, Davi’s performance was a virtual seminar in how to bring imagination, creativity, musicality and the sheer pleasures of entertainment to a beautifully expressed evening of song. And it was done so well that it aroused – for this listener – a feeling I’ve occasionally had at past Davi performances: the desire to hear his extraordinary skills at the service of a even wider repertoire of songs.

Among the possibilities: more works by the incomparable Alan and Marilyn Bergman; more songs by Leonard Bernstein; and Davi is more than versatile enough, as well, to find some offbeat musical riches in the singer/songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s.

That said, Davi’s performance was another musical night to remember. And when he returns to the Vibrato stage, we’ll be there once again, packing the house, along with his legions of enthusiastic fans.

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Photos by Faith Frenz

Live Music: Charles Aznavour at the Greek Theatre

September 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a 90 year old French singer/songwriter with the ability to mesmerize a packed house at the Greek Theatre? Not much that Charles Aznavour didn’t himself say at the Greek on Saturday night. Not just in his words, although there were plenty, in both French and English. What Aznavour had to say was based on musicality, lyricism, emotion and warmly intimate communication.

There may come a time when the vision of a nonagenarian singing a nearly two hour long program, strolling, sometimes dancing, across the stage, interacting humorously with his listeners and his musicians and winding up seeming as energetic as when he began, won’t be a rarity. But until that enlightened time, anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see and hear Aznavour in action – Saturday night at the Greek and elsewhere – will surely remember the experience as the rare and remarkable event that it was.

Sometimes described as France’s Sinatra, Aznavour performed with the kind of dynamism associated with Ol’ Blue Eye’s live performances. But Aznavour, who is also a brilliant songwriter, with a thousand or more songs to his credit, in four different languages had a more far ranging set of creative skills to offer.

Add to that his extraordinary ease on stage. At one point he paused in singing to address the age old question directed at songwriters – What came first, the words or the music? And on one song, he was joined in a delightful duet by one of his daughters.

The program of Aznavour originals ran the gamut of his grand catalog of works. Among them, such Aznavour classics as “Mon Ami, Mon Judas,” “La Boheme,” “She,” “Je Voyage,” his remarkably touching “Ave Maria,” one of his most-covered songs, “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “What Makes A Man,” the song that triggered some of the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.

But the central, most mesmerizing aspect of this memorable performance was the still potent quality of Aznavour’s captivating vocals. Soaring across octaves, from a rich baritone to penetrating head tones, he brought each phrase vividly to life, applying his stunning musicality to the story-telling enhancement of every song.

Rumors of Aznavour’s retirement were heard over the past year in Europe and the U.S. But he has repeatedly denied them. One can only hope that he will in fact return again to Los Angeles, and the many other cities on his usual itinerary before he actually does write finis to his incomparable performance career. Charles Aznavour is, has been and will always be one of a kind.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Live Music: “Stradivarius Fiddlefest” by members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Broad Stage

March 30, 2014

by Don Heckman

Santa Monica, CA. The opportunity to hear an actual Stradivarius violin in action is the sort of rare musical event that would be a delight to most classical music fans. But the opportunity to hear five of the legendary instruments, played by a group of superb violinists from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, is a memorable, one of a kind music event.

And that’s what we experienced on Friday night at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica in a LACO program titled “Stradivarius Fiddlefest.” The program was a virtual definition of violin compositions at their finest, some classic, some contemporary. The first half of the program included works by Telemann, Moszkowski, Kreisler, Brahms, Corigliano and Franck. The second half was equally compelling, featuring compositions by Saint-Saens, de Sarasate, Ravel, Kreisler, Piazzolla and Bartok.

The Serdet Stradivarius

The Serdet Stradivarius

The focus of the evening, of course, was on the instruments themselves. Dating from the early 1700s, they were crafted by Stradivari himself during his “Golden Period.” And it didn’t take a violin aficionado to fully appreciate the qualities of the instruments – from the lush, richness of their sound to the articulateness of their virtuosity.
But the program, in its fullness, was at its most compelling in the dramatic interfacing between the magnificence of the instruments and the extraordinary skills of the violinists.

Jeffreyi Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane

Accompanied by the expressive piano playing of LACO’s Music Director, Jeffrey Kahane, the violinists – Margaret Batjer (the LACO’s concertmaster), Chee-Yun, Cho-Liang Lin, Philippe Quint and Kiang Yu – approached their instruments with a stunning blend of enthusiasm, creative intimacy and musicality.

Each violinist found a way to express his or her unique artistry in a fashion that balanced the very special qualities of the Stradivari instruments with the individual demands of the compositions.



As the program unfolded, two soloists displayed especially appealing qualities. Chee-Yun captured listeners with her passionate interpretations of the Saint-Saens and de Sarasate works.

Phillipe Quint

Phillipe Quint

And Philippe Quint was equally intense in his renderings of the Corigliano piece, and joined Chee-Yun in several works calling for two-violin interaction.

In sum, it was yet another memorable evening with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. And, like so many past LACO performances, the “Fiddlefest” offered an immensely entertaining introduction to music not often heard, performed on rare period instruments.

All plaudits, then, to the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for once again offering a unique and engaging program of classical music at its finest.

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Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.


Live Music (and More): Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion at the Greek Theatre

June 11, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

On Friday night Garrison Keillor and the cast of A Prairie Home Companion descended upon the Greek Theater ostensibly to record the latest installment of their delightfully entertaining radio show for public radio.    It was a beautiful evening as the sun started to set over Griffith Park.   You couldn’t imagine a more intimate feeling in a gathering of thousands.

As I headed to my seat, there seemed to be some commotion in front of me…and this was because Keillor had made his entrance by sauntering up in song from the stage and arriving all the way at the top of the theatre to savor the view.

A Prairie Home Companion is a unique slice of radio entertainment these days.  The show’s format is a throwback to old time radio variety shows.   It relies on the engaging voices of its host and cast to bring cleverly worded scripts to warm life.  True to the old radio tradition, listeners can’t help but let their imagination run with it to concoct their own vision of what they hear.   That’s a lost art in these times of nonstop video gratification. But the sound of it was vintage radio, even with the modern references.   How would it be with no need to imagine the proceedings?  I’m happy to say the results were thoroughly entertaining.

The Cast of A Prairie Home Companion

The rear of the stage had, naturally, a life size façade of a narrow two-story Minnesota prairie style house, as well as the logos of several of the mock sponsors of the show.    The 7-piece Shoe band, led by pianist Rich Dworsky and guitarist Pat Donohue, sat in several layers in front of the house.  Whether they were featured or setting up the atmosphere with background music, their blend of jazz, folk, and boogie was a perfect fit with the rest of the program.

To the side of the stage we had the fascinating table of gizmos and knick-knacks that Fred Farrell uses for sound effects.   His crop duster impression was perfection, as were his one-man cocktail party, flushing toilets, breaking branches (Styrofoam plate) and flapping wings.  Next to Farrell stood Tim Russell and Sue Scott.

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor

At center stage there was Garrison Keillor, moving the whole thing along so very smoothly.  The guests for the night included Martin Sheen reading scripted characters, Lily Tomlin reading scripts and making conversation, Paula Poundstone doing standup and also reading scripts and conversing.

It’s fun to watch actors and comedy artists do something formatted like reading a radio script as you can see their personalities leap forth while they read.  Ah, the lost art of simply reading aloud with panache.   Lily Tomlin got to deliver the line, conversationally, “What is reality but a collective hunch?” and Tim Russell got on a roll with his impressions of George W. Bush, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, and even Henry Kissinger.

The musical guests included semi-regular PHC members, the singing sisters Jearlynn and Jevetta Steele.   They gave the music a gospel feel when they sang, very up beat and just as joyous.  Colin Hay, formerly of Men at Work, performed solo.  He is an engaging storyteller, a man with different guitar for each song, and he has a big, rich voice.  It’s been a while since I’ve heard “Overkill,” but I remembered how good the lyrics were when I first heard them.

Between the skits, monologues, musical numbers, and mock ads, one becomes aware that there is a prodigious amount of material and coordination that goes into putting these shows together on a weekly basis.   Whoa!   In one monologue Keillor told us about the descent into LAX and filled us in on fine details of places like Whittier, Southgate, and who is buried in the Inglewood Cemetery.  Speeches like this take a fair amount of research every week.

There was so much beautiful rhyme woven into the night’s dialogue.   It was also there in the lyrics of the songs, the ads, and even in a touching poem that Keillor wrote for a neighbor’s cat (“they are God’s beauty”).   Well, the show was sponsored by P.O.E.M (the Professional Organization of English Majors).

"The Adventures of Guy Noir"

“The Adventures of Guy Noir”

No PHC show would be complete without an episode of Guy Noir, private eye.  This installment featured erudite flirtations between Keillor and Tomlin, plenty of alliteration, and an amusing dissection of the lyrics to doo wop songs like “Who Put The Bomp,” and “Who Wrote The Book Of Love.”   The actors were clearly enjoying the humor in the written words and riffing a bit with it, too.

During this two and a half hours show there were a whole lot of ideas touched upon.  Many times we noticed how little time it took to get a pretty deep observation about people over to the audience.  Near the end of the show Keilor told us about the time he was asked to give the commencement speech at his high school.  He went on to describe how he didn’t speak about the lifelong bonds that we make with people from our youth (that they are our tribe), but about instead about success.   It turned into a heartfelt reminiscence of his youth — and then the principal mentioned how hard it is to get a good graduation speaker.

But I’m guessing Garrison Keillor actually gave a great speech at Lake Wobegon High School.

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Photos courtesy of the Prairie Home Companion.

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

Live Music: The Tenors at the Greek Theatre

June 3, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, The Tenors – all four of them – surged onto the Greek Theatre stage Saturday night with all the panache and enthusiasm of the hot music act they have become.  There have been various installments of the quartet since they were originally formed as The Canadian Tenors.  But the current members —  Fraser Walters, Clifton Murray, Victor Micallef and Remigio Pereira – have mastered the musicality, the humor and the appealing blend of rich, ensemble singing and stylish soloing that are the essence of the Tenors’ identity.

Over the course of two sets, the music roved freely across genres, fully illuminating the Tenors’ far-reaching versatility.  Many of the tunes traced to their latest album, Lead With Your Heart.  They sang their hit version of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” and countered it with a sort of Elvis Presley imitation on “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

The Tenors: Fraser Walters, Remigio Pereira, Victor Micallef and Clifton Murray

And there was much more: a delightfully passionate reading of the Spanish classic, “Granada”; the Italian love song, “Caruso”; a song from “Les Miserables”; “Lead With Your Heart,” the title song from the Tenors’ new album, as well as their PBS special.

Add to that a three song medley in which they featured the fine players in their backup group; a Tenors’ reworking of the song “A Woman In Love,” from a male perspective; a soaring “Amazing Grace”; “Anchor Me”; and a climactic “Nessun Dorma.”  Nor were they allowed to leave the stage without performing their memorable interpretation of  Leonard Cohen’s “Hallellujah.”

The melodic leads passed from one singer to another, alternating with the lush harmonic textures of all four voices together.  And, because each of the tenors has an individual vocal texture, the solo passages were filled with emotional variation, and the ensemble segments came vividly to life via the colorful blending of sounds.

In addition to their impressive individual and collective musicality, the four tenors also emerged as appealing individuals.  Each had a solo segment in which to introduce his background and fully display his individual voicess.  They did so with wit and an engaging interaction with their audience.  And their listeners, understandably, seemed to respond with even more applause and cheers as they came to know each of the quartet members – beyond their obvious vocal mastery.

They also included a pair of guest artists to their program: singer Rita Wilson and producer/composer/pianist David Foster, both of whom made their unique contributions.

But the evening belonged to The Tenors. To their singing, to their musicality, to their entertaining collection of songs, and to their warm and irresistible amiability.


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