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: Caesar Jazz Balladeer at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

February 12, 2015

By James DeFrances

Los Angeles.  Last Thursday at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Caesar Jazz Balladeer caught the attention of clubbers in a new way. His angle on the standards was as unique as his proximity to Los Angeles. Only in town for Grammy festivities, Caesar – who lives in Rhode Isand – left his mark on the Southland in the form of three separate performances throughout the course of the Award show weekend.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Pat Senatore

He kicked off his weekend of musical happenings with this night at Vibrato. At first the crowd was thin, but the room filled up quickly and the audience was ever attentive.

Caesar began by explaining on stage how this night almost actually didn’t happen due to a cold medicine snafu he encountered the night before which resulted in an emergency room visit. But ever a resilient fighter, Caesar managed to make a full and speedy recovery with the help of epinephrine. And everyone seemed pleased that he not only was feeling better, but was up on stage doing his favorite thing, performing.

Speaking of the performance, I just couldn’t help but think of how much Nat “King” Cole must have inspired Caesar. There were hints of Cole in Caesar’s body language, his phrasing and above all his set list. Songs like “Nature Boy”, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Mona Lisa” and “Unforgettable” were just a few of his odes to the memory of the late, great Cole.

As my date Bria and I dined on some tasty pine nut-infused bow tie pasta, we watched Caesar accelerate through some of the great classics and standards from the Great American songbook of the 20th century. And with the help of his wireless microphone he was able to make close contact with all corners of the room, a tactic I have only ever seen Robert Davi employ at Vibrato.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Tom Ranier, Pat Senatore, Kendall Kay and Alex Otey.

Caesar’s warm and friendly vocals and permanent smile made him hard to resist. Backed up by Tom Rainier at the piano, Pat Senatore on bass, Kendall Kay on drums and Alex Otey on trumpet, the only direction for him to go was up. And that was what he did!

It was a night of positivity, fine music, great food and looking ahead to the Grammy festivities. Caesar’s new album which is on sale now — titled “Jazz Standards for Today’s Audience” – is a must have for your collection!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


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.

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Photos by Mike Finkelstein. 

To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


Live Music: Sally Kellerman at Catalina Bar & Grill

January 17, 2015

By James DeFrances

Hollywood, CA. The Sally Kellerman show came to town in a big way last Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill. The multi-talented Academy Award nominated actress, singer and artist extraordinaire wowed the capacity crowd as they watched her soar gracefully across the stage and through the music with her trio.

SONY DSCIt may have been a while since she brought Hot Lips Houlihan to life in the film M*A*S*H in 1970 and her first album was released in1972. But she’s as dynamic as ever. Stage presence is a word that comes to mind when watching Kellerman perform. She employs every square inch of the platform, leaving no side of the audience unattended to. As I glanced around the room I could see that all eyes were glued on Sally at almost every point of the evening.

In fact, it would have been virtually impossible to avoid being captivated by the magic she was generating at Catalina’s in this mesmerizing performance.

The packed house show’s patrons included notables such as legendary songsmith Mike Stoller, and Kellerman dedicated a segment of the show to his songs with Jerry Lieber. Difficult as it was to single out a high point I would have to say it came when the Leiber-Stoller set began. All of a sudden her otherwise entranced listeners began snapping their fingers and mouthing the words along with Kellerman.

SONY DSCShe sang tunes such as “Love Potion #9,” and what was easily the most poignant song of the night, the heart wrenching Peggy Lee staple, “Is That All There Is?” You could hear a pin drop at the end of the Lieber and Stoller classic, a song whose rich emotional narrative is a challenge to the finest vocalists. But this was where Kellerman’s acting talents were on full display.

On this engaging evening some of the greatest songs from the last half century were on tap, and Sally made sure to pour a tall glass. Other noteworthy tunes in this musical libation included songs like Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By” and “The Look of Love” and an Atlanta Rhythm Section reminiscent “Spooky.”

When the end finally came, no one was ready to leave, with the instant standing ovation demanding an encore. And Kellerman responded with an additional offering, concluding the show by performing Peter Cetera and David Foster’s 1986 power ballad “Glory of Love.”

Sally Kellerman’s uniquely textured voice, energetic stage presence and undeniable charms are just a few of the many reasons that fans have been sold on her throughout her long, stellar career. And after seeing this show, I too am buying in!

Photos by James DeFrances.

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To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


Live Jazz: The John Proulx Trio at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

January 10, 2015

By James DeFrances

Bel Air, CA.  Piano legends from years gone by came to mind during John Proulx’s show Tuesday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc. If you’d have blinked you may have thought Art Tatum or Thelonious Monk were caressing the mighty grand piano on that stage.

Proulx’s emotive playing style is a quality that few other pianists possess today. It’s as if each lick he played had a deeper meaning attached. Such grace was on display and supported superbly by Pat Senatore on stand up bass and Matt Gordy at the drum kit.

John Proulx

John Proulx

At times Proulx even lent his soft and mellow tenor vocals to certain tunes, but more often than not the songs were sans lyrics. And I’m talking straight ahead jazz here, applied to songs such as Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” and Van Heusen and Mercer’s “I Thought About You.” If Quincy Jones were reviewing this show he’d probably have said that Proulx was “in the pocket, man.”

Perhaps the crowd favorite of the evening, one shared by myself as well, was “The Frim-Fram Sauce,” a cover of the Nat “King” Cole Trio’s famous jazz standard. Proulx had fun with Frim-Fram and really swung it enthusiastically while playfully tossing around the comedic lyrics, much to the crowd’s delight. Another notable part of the show occurred during “My Funny Valentine,” when each band member had a chance to play an elongated solo.

John Proulx, Pat Senatore and Matt Gordy

Bassist Senatore got creative during his segment and played what may well have been the best solo I’ve seen him play to date on a unique looking, all black wooden bass, which even appeared to have a suede material on the front! The longest tune of the night was undoubtedly “Alone Together” with Proulx’s expert arrangement exploring many different concepts within the song seamlessly, and it may well have ended too soon.

Proulx’s elegant playing style, confident demeanor and well picked set list of rare jazz gems made this night something to write home about. This being my first time seeing John Proulx live I can certainly say I will be jumping at the chance to see him again, as I’m sure everyone in the audience would do as well!

Photos by James DeFrances.

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To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


Picks of the Week: January 5 – 11

January 6, 2015

As we move into the first weeks of 2015, the iRoM Picks of the Week will begin to reach beyond the Los Angeles-centric choices of the past few years. We will, of course, continue to survey L.A.’s ever-changing banquet of musical pleasures. But we will also begin to highlight and emphasize a broad range of choices reflecting the International perspective which is at the heart of our mission and our name.

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Michael Tilson Thomas celebrates his 70th birthday by conducting the L.A. Phil. and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a spectacular, world premiere production of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with video and lighting design. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Lee Ritenour Band. He’s been called “Captain Fingers” for his impressive guitar technique, but Ritenour is also an imaginative, hard swinging jazz artist. He performs here with the fine backing of Dave Weckl, drums, Tom Kennedy, bass and pianist Makoto Ozone. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 6. (Tues.) John Proulx Trio. Proulx is on many first-call lists for his fine piano work. But Proulx is an engaging vocalist as well, building a career as a prime entry in the slowly growing cadre of male jazz singers. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

Carol Bach-y-Rita

– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Carol Bach-y-Rita. A singer with a voice to remember, Bach-y-Rita (her name is Catalan) brings convincing interpretations and rhythmic ease to songs reaching from samba and salsa to crisp jazz rhythms, often in 4 or 5 languages. She’s especially worth seeing and hearing in the elegant setting of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Jan. 8 – 11, (Thurs. – Sun.) Pharoah Sanders. The far-reaching jazz explorations of the avant-garde ’60s are still alive and well in Sanders’ adventurous tenor saxophone. An SFJAZZ event at Miner Auditorium (866) 920-5299.

- Jan. 9. (Fri.)  The San Francisco Symphony and The Godfather.  Justin Freer conducts the Symphony in a live orchestral performance of Nino Rota’s film score in sync with a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s film masterpiece.  Davies Symphony Hall.  (415) 864-6000.

Oregon

Portland – Jan. 7. (Thurs.) The Mel Brown B3 Organ Group has been playing at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland for more than 16 years. No wonder George Benson once said “if this band played in New York City, they’d be a sensation.” Jimmy Mak’s.  (503) 295-6542.

Ashland – Jan. 9 & 10. (Fri. @ 7:30 p.m. & Sat. @ 3 p.m.) The Tesla Quartet. The stellar young artists in the Tesla Quartet have established themselves as a significant international chamber ensemble in the few years since they graduated from Julliard. They’ll perform works by Bartok, Dvorak, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Webern, Beethoven and others. Chamber Music Concert Series at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall.  (541) 552-6154.

New York City

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

– Jan. 6 – 11. (Tues. – Sun.) The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour. Here’s a rare chance to experience some of the impressive music from what is arguably one of the finest jazz festivals in the world. The featured players in this stellar aggregation include trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and the Gerald Clayton Trio. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 8 – 10. (Thurs. – Sat.) The 2015 NYC Winter Jazzfest. The three day Jazzfest, which takes place at theatres and clubs across Greenwich Village offers a rare display of jazz eclecticism. With talent ranging from iconic names to new arrivals, with stylistic explorations of every jazz genre, it provides a brilliant survey of jazz in all its irresistible shapes and forms. The 2015 Winterjazz Fest.

-Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lisa Hilton. Composer-pianist Hilton debuts new compositions from her album Horizons in a live performance with saxophonist J.D. Allen, drummer Rudy Royston, bassist Ben Street, and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn. Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall).

London

– Jan. 5 – 7. (Mon. – Wed.) Scott Hamilton Quartet. Jazz history, past and present is vividly alive in Hamilton’s buoyant tenor saxophone work. The Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho.

Tania Maria

Tania Maria

Milan

- Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) Tania Maria. The loving partnership between Brazilian music and American jazz is on full display with everything the versatile Tania Maria sings and plays. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Switzerland

– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lang Lang. The gifted young Chinese pianist makes one of his rare European appearances. Stadt-casino – Hans Huber Saal, Basel.

Andorra

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

– Jan. 9. (Fri.) Joshua Bell and his violin take center stage with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields European Tour: Andorra. The dynamic program reaches from Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. The tour also includes performances in Mannheim (Jan. 14), Vienna (Jan. 15) and Hamburg (Jan. 16).

 

Moscow

– Jan. 5 – 11. (Mon. – Sun. The Nutcracker: A Ballet in Two Acts. The Bolshoi Ballet accompanied by the Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra.

The Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Ballet

What will surely be a memorable performance in the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera Theatre.

Tokyo

Richard-Bona

Richard-Bona

– Jan. 10 & 11. (Sat. & Sun.) The Richard Bona Group. Bassist Bona, born in Cameroon, burst onto the New York jazz scene in the mid-’90s, quickly establishing his uniquely original style with the likes of George Benson, Branford Marsalis, Chaka Kahn Randy Brecker and others. Since then he’s led a sequence of his own musically compelling ensembles. Tokyo Blue Note.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music for the Holidays: The Manhattan Transfer at Walt Disney Concert Hall

December 19, 2014

By James DeFrances

As Janis Siegel sang “the sun is shining, the grass is green, there’s never been quite a day in Beverly Hills LA” (the verse to Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”) it became apparent that the Manhattan Transfer singers are just as comfortable in LA as they are back home in New York.

Walt Disney Concert Hall lit up Tuesday night with the holiday spirit as audience members hummed and swayed along with the familiar tunes. Members of the legendary quartet were outfitted in green and red accessories with red Santa hats. The scene was set and with that their sleigh ride of musical wonderment was underway.

Of course things were a little different this time around since the recent and untimely passing of Tim Hauser, the group’s founder and patriarch. It was with joy and sadness that each remaining member of the group – Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Alan Paul – expressed their gratitude for all that Hauser had done and what a great friend he had been to them over the years.

The Manhattan Transfer (Trist Curless, Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul)

His role for these holiday shows was covered seamlessly by the young vocalist and voice actor, Trist Curless. In Hauser’s honor the group dedicated “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Groovin’.” Felix Cavalieri of The Young Rascals had actually phoned Paul just days before the concert, asking him to perform the songs in homage and they were undoubtedly the high points of the evening.

A great rhythmic change of pace followed when they rolled out a lively and engaging salsa version of “Frosty the Snowman.” Most of the other holiday songs were sourced from the Transfer’s 1992 hit record The Christmas Album. which in and of itself is worthy of mention. Other tunes on the table this evening were “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This wasn’t only a holiday show, though. A handful of non-holiday songs made their way to the set list. Most notably was Paul’s tender and moving rendition of “All The Way” (the Van Heusen and Cahn hit popularized by Frank Sinatra). Paul dedicated the song to Angela and Arielle his wife and daughter. The group followed the ballad with the energetic 1975 megahit “Operator,” a tune which they cannot leave out regardless of the theme of the show.

After a standing ovation and minutes of thunderous applause, the Transfer reappeared for an encore to perform “The Christmas Song.” Finishing with a vamping reprise of “Happy Holidays,” they took their final bows and wished everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

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To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.


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