The Central Avenue Jazz Festival This Weekend

July 25, 2015
Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

By Brick Wahl

In my heart of hearts, my favorite jazz festival ever has always been the one held every year on Central Avenue in the shadow of the Dunbar Hotel. It’s close to the roots of jazz in this town, it has band after swinging band, the musicians play like their lives depended on it, and the crowd is serious jazz loving people. Not college kids or rich westsiders or hipsters or tourists or even jazz critics, just people. Jazz people.

And it’s back again this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, for the twentieth time. Not sure how many I’ve been to but enough that I keep bumping into people I remember on the street there. I’m gonna run through the acts and time and location and incredibly groovy parking set up (Secure lots! Shuttles! Free!) but if you’re already bored by my banter you can head straight through this link to the Central Avenue Jazz Festival itself and read the same thing but with less words and better graphics.

First, where is it? It takes place on Central Avenue, the epicenter for all that was glorious in west coast jazz in the thirties and forties and even into the fifties, between Vernon Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Take the 110 to the MLK exit and head east to Central Avenue. You’ll run right into it.

Parking info is linked here and it’s dreamy. A block shy of Central Avenue on Martin Luther King is Wadsworth Elementary School. It’s free, secure, plentiful and best of all there’s a regular air conditioned shuttle service to carry you the three city blocks to the Festival. It winds you through the charming neighborhood and then stops and the doors open and the sounds of pure jazz fill the bus. You are there. And there’s even another elementary school–Harmony Elementary–that is the same thing. Secure, free and only a block away from the grounds. There’s even a shuttle from there as well, though you can walk the block faster. It’s up to you and your aging knees.

Food and non-alcoholic drink galore, all of it good, some awesome. Peach cobbler to die for. The bean pie man. All that soul food your doctor warned you about. Who knows what else. Plus fruit drinks you are not allowed to pour anything stronger into by law. You read it here first.

There is lots of seating, lots and lots, but never enough. Feel free to bring your own. It is so casual and live-and-let-live no one will care. While people listen here, seriously listen, the vibe is more like the very back of the Hollywood Bowl during the Playboy Jazz Festival, but without the inflatable furniture. Or spliffs. Or smooth jazz.

The Central Avenue Jazz Festival

Because there will be no smooth jazz at the Central Avenue Festival. None that I can see on the schedule this year. Evil types had forced some bogus stuff on the bill the last couple years but from the looks of the schedule this year, all those evil types have been purged. There is not an act this year that is not 100% the real thing. If I am wrong, I will eat my hat, and it’s a big hat.

There are two stages, one at either end, and acts will be appearing in shaded comfort in the lobby of the Dunbar Hotel as well. One stage has more of the main acts, the other more of the newer acts. That varies a bit but that is the gist. Let’s look at the line up on Saturday:

MAIN STAGE 

Saturday, July 25 

11:45 am   LAUSD Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band–the newest jazz generation cooks.
1:00 pm  Henry Franklin: The Skipper and Crew–They call him Skipper (dig the hat) and he has a kicking quintet that wails in a mid-period kind of John Coltrane way. This crowd brings out the best in them.
2:30 pm Alfredo Rodriguez Trio A phenomenal young pianist from Cuba (if I remember right), he puts on a ferocious show of virtuosity and energy and is a blast to watch. Nice guy, and another of Quincy Jones’ discoveries, and lets hope Quincy is there to dig the scene as well.

 4:00 pm Gerald Wilson Orchestra—We just lost Gerald who would be a ninety-something dervish in front of the most exciting big band on the planet, and between tunes he’d regale the crowd of his days living at the Dunbar hotel seven decades ago and playing at the Club Alabam just next door. It never got more magical than that for me. His extraordinarily talented son Anthony Wilson is leading the band now, and the talent on stage are all superstars, even if the jazz world isn’t yet aware of it. Kamasi Washington–a genuine star–should be there too, just erupting in molten tenor flight the likes of which you have not heard in a long time. (And then he’s over at California Plaza the same night!)

5:30 pm And Poncho Sanchez takes us out, and my guess is he’ll really be working the Stax soul and bugulu as well as his signature Latin jazz sound. Groovin’ to say the least.
And that’s only one stage, there’s another:

 2ND STAGE

  Saturday, July 25

There’s three great sounding saxophonists in a row here. I’ve written about the astonishing talent of Glendale’s own Christopher Astoquilca, and caught Aaron Shaw and Braxton Cook on YouTube. All three are highly recommended so tear yourself away from the main stage for a spell and check some of each. I love how the Festival is booking these brand new jazz artists like this. And the crowd pleasing teenaged bluesman Ray Goran plays some searing guitar to finish out the day on the second stage.

12:00 pm saxist Aaron Shaw Quintet
1:00 pm Christopher Astoquilca A-Tet
2:20 pm Saxophonist Braxton Cook Quartet
3:40 pm 15 years old blues guitarist Ray Goran

And then inside The Dunbar Hotel there are two acts, both featuring community programs nurturing the youngest jazz player:

 Saturday, July 25
  A Place Called Home’s band

2:00 pm Beyond the Bell Combo (LAUSD jazz with I believe Ndugu Chancler directing)
OK, that was all just Saturday. Sunday is just as brilliant:

 MAIN STAGE

Sunday, July 26
11:30 am Jazz America–more of the scary talented young people

12:45 pm  Barbara Morrison The indomitable singer–one of LA’s best ever–will lord it over the stage and owning every song she performs, no matter who did it first. Essential viewing.

2:15 pm John Beasley & MONK ‘estra It’s hard to say too much about how great this band is. It’s pure John Beasley, in that’s he’s taken all the Monk compositions, rendered them new without reducing their Monkishness one iota, and the result is thrilling. State of the art jazz that never gets bogged down by art…this is maybe the best new big band on the planet. Not that I’ve heard every new big band on the planet, but I’d be shocked as hell to hear anything better than Beasley’s mad contraption. Basically, ya gotta be there.

3:40 pm Arturo O’Farrill Quintet The son of NYC latin jazz legend Chico O’Farrill, he had been leading an orchestra doing his pop’s arrangement. Can’t wait to see what this five piece will do.

5:10 pm  Kenny Burrell Big Band You’ve heard of this absolutely legendary jazz guitar player (who, if I remember right, was Duke Ellington’s favorite guitarist). This band recently did a wildly successful show at the John Anson Ford and here he is repeating that success. As you might have guessed, when an icon is leading a band, the ranks are filled with incredible players. What a way to finish he weekend on the main stage.
Of course, there’s a whole other stage:

2ND STAGE

Sunday, July 26 

12:00 pm Saxist Tony White Quintet. Apparently this outfit cooks. Old pals of mine Gary Fukushima (on piano) and Mike Alvidrez (bass) are in the ranks so I will be down there taking notes and making them nervous.

1:25 pm Excellent young pianist Jamael Dean and his quintet.

2:50 pm I’ve seen violinist Dayren Santamaria steal the show at a couple Mongorama gigs and here she is with her own band  Made In Cuba. Can’t imagine this being less than great.

4:20 pm Trombonist Ryan Porter and his group shook the festival to the foundations last year.You’ve seen him with Kamasi Washington, and Kamasi and much the same crew should be back for this one, grooving massively.

And then inside The Dunbar Hotel on Sunday: 

12:00 pm Very talented, very young saxophonist Devin Daniels

2:00 p  A Place Called Home group back one more time.
OK….be there. Hell, it’s free, the parking is there, there’s a freaking shuttle, and the jazz should be absolutely wonderful. Get off the couch and go. OK, gotta run, I’m late for a klezmer gig. (I am, seriously.)

See ya down there people. It’ll be good to see so many of you again….
Brick


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York City

July 10, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison

– July 10 and 11. (Fri. & Sat. Barbara Morrison. She’s been busy around town lately, but Barbara Morrison is always a musical pleasure to experience. Here’s another welcome opportunity to hear her up close in action. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

– July 10 and 11. Fri. & Sat. Jack Jones. Grammy winner Jones, still sounding great in his late seventies, delivers songs in the classic pop and jazz style of the ’60s. Catalina Bar and Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Macy Gray

Macy Gray

– July 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.) Macy Gray. Multiple Grammy award winner singer/songwriter Gray celebrates her latest album The Way. Yoshi’s.  (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

– July 10 -12. (Fri. – 12.) Boney James. Jazz Alley. Smooth jazz acts don’t often make the Picks of the Week here at iRoM. But if we’re going to choose one, there’s none more popular in ths genre than saxophonst Boney James.  (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

Pharez Whitted

Pharez Whitted

– July 10 – 12`. 9Fri. – Sun.) Pharez Whitted Quintet. Chicago’s trumpeter Whitted doesn’t yet have the visibility his skills deserve, but he’s doing his best to keep hard bop alive. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234

New York City

– July 12 (Sun.) The Cast of Phantom Sings Andrew Lloyd Webber. The current Phantom on Broadway, James Barbour joins the hit show’s cast in a tribute to the show’s composer. Birdland.

Washington D.C.

Jean Carne

Jean Carne

 

– July 10 – 12. (Fri. – Sun.) Jean Carne. ‘The 40 Year Tour). Veteran singer Carne celebrates a career that reaches across jazz, blues, pop and beyond. Blues Alley.   337-4141.

 

 


Live Music: The Great American Songbook is Alive and Well at Catalina Bar & Grill with Barbara Morrison, Stephanie Haynes and Jackie Ryan

July 3, 2015
Roger Crane

Roger Crane

 By Roger Crane

Los Angeles.  In 2013 jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett, who issued a series of albums that featured the standards, was asked “What do standards mean to you and why have you recorded so many?” Jarrett replied, “First of all, they are anything but standard by today’s standards. But they are exceptional.” These exceptional songs as Jarrett observed “came rushing in from the 1920s through the early 1950s” but, most intensely in a 2-decade span, 1925 – 1945. The cream of the standards are said to make up the Great American Songbook (GAS). Although pervasive, the origin of this term is uncertain. It was first used as a title of a live 1972 Atlantic album by singer Carmen McRae. In that same year, composer and musicologist Alec Wilder published a successful book titled American Popular Song (Oxford Press), perhaps the first book to definitively assess the standards as worthy of serious discussion.

Catalina Popescu

Catalina Popescu

On last Tuesday night at Catalina Popescu’s long-running Hollywood jazz venue, Catalina’s Bar and Grill, over twenty of those exceptional GAS songs were performed by three very talented vocalists.

Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison

 

The delightful Barbara Morrison kicked off the show with a series of Harold Arlen songs, beginning with his spare, hymn-like “My Shining Hour.” She sang “Stormy Weather” accompanied beautifully by only John Clayton’s bass. She closed with another Arlen ballad, the remarkable ”Last Night When We Were Young,” which Frank Sinatra liked so much he recorded it twice. In the mix, of course, Morrison included some swinging Arlen tunes such as “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” demonstrating all the vivacious flare needed to make an audience happy. She is bottled sunshine, a visual delight as well as aural and. if you don’t find yourself smiling in her presence – well, check your pulse.

Stephanie Haynes

Stephanie Haynes

I have often thought of Stephanie Haynes as a well-kept secret and she is too talented to be so overlooked. She has graced Southern Californians with her warm, luxuriant alto for many decades, but has not recorded half – or even a third – as often as her talents dictate. Haynes chose the songs of composer Harry Warren, who probably wrote more well-known songs than either Gershwin or Kern. But, although many listeners know his songs, they do not know his name. Haynes’ Catalina segment was an impressive  demonstration of how the familiar can be made fresh and how the arcane can appear familiar. For example she sang the lesser-known “Friendly Star” (from the movie Summer Stock) as a waltz, although it was written in four. “Summer Night” (from the movie Sing Me a Love Song) is perhaps even more neglected but Haynes’ rendition makes one wonder why this song, one of Warren’s more pure and beautiful melodies, never became a standard. It deserves much more recognition. Although Fats Waller had fun with Warren’s “Sweet and Slow,” the song is mostly ignored. Thankfully, Haynes sang it both sweet and slow as dictated by Al Dubin’s sexy lyrics. Many other Warren songs were performed of course, including “This Is Always,” and each was a gem. Haynes was in superb voice and, once again – as she does each time she performs – proved that she is one of the finest jazz singers.

Jackie Ryan

Jackie Ryan

Jackie Ryan lives in the Bay area but, on occasion, blesses Angelinos with her deep, honey-rich contralto. For the show’s third and final segment, she selected songs written by or associated with Duke Ellington. Ryan is a master of ballads and mesmerized the Catalina patrons with that famous song about the weary diva “Sophisticated Lady,” performing it in a medley with Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” Ryan’s smoky voice and flexibility make her a natural fit for torch songs but she is the complete singer and can handle rhythm tunes with ease and she also romped at a swinging beat on such tunes as “Duke’s Place.” Thankfully, Ryan introduced the audience to two lesser known Ducal songs, “Kissing Bug” and the even more obscure “You Better Know It,” two songs kept alive by such vocalists as Nina Simone and June Christy.

Morrison, Haynes and Ryan were given sympathetic support by their musical director Doug McDonald. In addition to his own guitar work, the band included pianist Josh Nelson, bassist John Clayton, and Paul Kreibich at the drum set. The arrangements and accompaniment were, to fall back on a cliché, exemplary. They were also apposite and unobtrusive and, since this was a night to focus on the song, let the songs and the singers take center stage as they should. Collectively, the Great

American Songbook constitutes one of the great cultural achievements of the twentieth century. A warm thanks to Merle Kreibich for continuing to present the very best in jazz and thanks to the Catalina staff and the patrons for their courtesy and attentiveness. The room was full and for a Great American Songbook event that was encouraging. The GAS flame was alive and burning bright for one stellar night in Hollywood.

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Photos Bob Barry/Jazzography

 


Vocal Jazz Highlight of the Week In Los Angeles: Eliane Elias in a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast Tonight

June 18, 2015

By Don Heckman

Eliane Elias is back in L.A. tonight, performing at the Moss Theatre in Santa Monica.  And that’s great news for lovers of fine jazz vocalizing. And lovers of fine jazz piano. And lovers of both talents in the same artist. Which is what audiences experience at an Eliane Elias performance.

Wish we could be there, but we’re in Oregon, and I’m sure our L.A. jazz friends will turn out for a memorable evening.

I’ve written numerous times about how impressed I was the first time I heard a youthful Eliane, decades ago, when she was barely out of her teens. Her Brazilian roots were already bringing a uniquely mesmerizing richness to her brilliant improvising. And this was before she added jazz singing to her resume. But her solo piano playing was on the verge of astonishing.

And it has only improved over the years, its impact supplemented with her singing. In the process, she has matured into a world class vocal/pianistic artist. In recent decades, she has firmly established her valid inclusion in the iconic list of singing jazz pianists reaching from Shirley Horn, Barbara Carroll, Carmen McRae, Nat “King” Cole, Diana Krall and beyond.

Eliane performs in Southern California once a year or so. Which really isn’t enough. So don’t miss this Jazz Bakery Movable Feast appearance at the Moss Theatre, in which she’ll be playing with bassist Marc Johnson (her husband), guitarist Rubens De La Corteo and drummer/percussionist Rafael Barata. No doubt she’ll offer some selections from her latest album, Made In Brazil.

Click HERE to read our review of a recent L.A. appearance by Eliane.

And here’s a video taste of Eliane Elias in action. Which is great. But don’t miss this – or any – opportunity to experience her performances up close and alive.

Eliane Elias performs in a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Moss Theatre in Santa Monica.  Click HERE for information.


Live Jazz: Occidental Gypsy at Paschal Winery in Talent, Oregon

June 16, 2015

By Don Heckman

The Siskiyou Music Project is offering a continuing flow of high level talent in the final weeks of its Summer schedule. On SMP’s Sunday night event at the Paschal Winery in Talent, Oregon, a packed house enthusiastically greeted the oddly titled but musically memorable jazz quintet Occidental Gypsy.

In fact, the title was right on target. As the group came on stage in the Winery’s warm, welcoming environment, with the early evening sunlight beaming across the surrounding vistas of mountains and vineyards, the first thought that came to mind was the memory of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. Although the quintet instrumentation was slightly different (Occidental Gypsy consisted of two guitars, bass, drums and violin; the Hot club instead had an additional rhythm guitar instead of a drummer.), the similarities resonated through much of the program

Occidental Gypsy (Eli Bishop, Jeff Feldman, Erick Cifuentes, Jeremy Frantz and Brett Feldman

When Occidental Gypsy began to play, the link with the Hot Club, as well as a convincing association with much of the pre-bebop era of jazz became vividly apparent.

Start with the playing, especially when it emphasized the hard swinging similarities between the Occidental Gypsy togetherness of violinist Eli Bishop, bassist Jeff Feldman, drummer Erick Cifuentes, guitarist/singer Jeremy Frantz and guitarist Brett Feldman and the classic Hot Club interaction between guitarist Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. The results were irresistible, a virtual definition of an era when jazz was often described as “hot” music. And when Occidental Gypsy’s rhythm section, usually driven by the surging rhythm guitar of Brett Feldman, hit one irresistible rhythmic groove after another, “hot” was the best applicable adjective.

Jeremy Frantz and Brett Feldman

The soloing was equally sizzling. Both of the Occidental Gypsy guitarists soloed with a stunningly effective blend of high speed technique and inventive inspiration. Violinist Eli Bishop frequently added an even more fervent rapidity to his lines. And the exchanges between Bishop and Brett Feldman repeatedly called up audio imagery of Reinhardt and Grappelli.

Eli Bishop, Jeremy Frantz and jeff Feldman

Add to all that the program of songs, reaching back to a time when pop music, musical films and Broadway theatre were producing the material that became the primary source material for jazz artists. Occidental Gypsy’s set list overflowed. Among some of the more memorable, period-invoking titles:
“It Don’t Mean A Thing,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Shine,” “Dark Eyes,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “Over the Rainbow” and many more, Including a unique Occidental Gypsy interpretation of the far more contemporary “Thriller.”

Further enhancing the group’s presentation, many tunes were sung in a warm, lyrical, richly interpretive manner by guitarist Jeremy Frantz.

In sum, it was yet another Siskiyou Music Project to remember. No wonder we’re looking forward to the remaining stellar events on the SMP’s summer schedule.

For more information about SMP’s schedule, click HERE.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. To see more photos by Faith Frenz click HERE.


Live Jazz: Highlights From the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl.

June 16, 2015

By Devon Wendell

It’s hard to believe it’s that special time of year again. Yet another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. And with it, memories of drunken conga lines, the smell of cheap weed in the summer air, and a plethora of musical acts ranging from actual jazz, r&b, rock, and even gospel.

It’s already been stated many times and by many journalists that the Playboy Jazz Festival isn’t for jazz purists so let’s skip all of that and get started with my highlights of the two days.

Saturday

The Los Angeles County High School For The Arts Vocal Jazz Ensemble ( Abigail Berry, Lee Anilee, Jordyn Warren, Sofie Thurston, Crisia Regalada, Keana Peery, Ezra Behem, Haley Carr, Griffin Faye, Pedro Ramirez, Wesley Tani, Henry Tull, Caleb Collins, Isaac Sims Foster, and Evan Wright on vocals, Dornell Carr, piano; Julian Gomez, bass and Alec Smith on drums. Directed by Pat Bass) kicked off Saturday’s program and they were marvelous.

The vocal harmonies that these kids produced were complex, soulful, and mature. The band’s rendition of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” was one of the high points of Saturday’s program. Soloists Evan Wright, Henry Tull, and Caleb Collins scat sang with total mastery. These kids could easily be the next Manhattan Transfer.

Chilean born Melissa Aldana is one of the most unique tenor saxophonists in the jazz world today. Although you can hear hints of influences like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins in her playing, Aldana already has her own distinct voice on the tenor sax at the tender age of 25. Aldana and her solid trio (Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums) played a set of all originals such as the mellow “New Points,” the bop flavored “Bring Him Home,” and the Latin swinging “Desde La Lluvia.”

Aldana plays mostly in the upper register sounding more like an alto sax than a tenor. And she has an original sense of harmony and texture. The highlight of Aldana’s set was her original tribute to Sonny Rollins called “Back Home.” On this piece, Aldana sounded a little like Sonny Rollins’ early 60’s playing on the RCA/Victor label but for the most part she stuck to her own style with confidence and ease.

Aldana is definitely an artist to watch out for.

Try to imagine John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” being performed by a loud, gritty, gospel-rock steel guitar band from the Deep South. That is exactly what A Sacred Steel Love Supreme: The Campbell Brothers “A Love Supreme” sounded like during their performance at The Bowl on Saturday. The Campbell Brothers performed all four suites of “A Love Supreme”: “Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.” This wasn’t your typical Coltrane tribute by any means but his message of love, unity, and spirituality are what gospel music is all about so this soulful experiment made perfect sense. And this music brought the Bowl crowd right to the heart of American “roots music.”

Chuck and Derrick Campbell’s Steel Guitars produced an eerie, hypnotic, and psychedelic effect like blues you would hear from Mississippi’s Northern Hill Country. And the rhythm section (Carlton Campbell on drums, and Daric Benettt on bass) was sublimely funky. This is something you have to see to believe. Legendary jazz composer and arranger Gerald Wilson passed away on September 18th, 2014 at the age of 96. Wilson’s son Anthony Wilson and The Gerald Wilson Orchestra (Anthony Wilson, conductor and guitar; Carl Saunders, Winston Byrd, Chris Gray, Bobby Rodriguez: trumpets; Les Benedict, Francisco Torres, George Bohanon, Robbie Hioki: trombones; Scott Mayo, Randall Willis: alto saxophones; Rickey Woodard, Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophones;Terry Landry, baritone: sax; Brian O’Rourke: piano; Reggie Carson: bass; Mel Lee: drums; Yvette Devereaux: violin; and Eric Otis on guitar) celebrated the master’s illustrious legacy with a fantastic set of real big band jazz.

The set included some of Wilson’s most inspirational compositions and arrangements, such as “Triple Chase” with a burning tenor sax solo by Kamasi Washington, “Blues For Nya Nya” and Wilson’s incredible arrangement of ‘Perdido.” The entire band was swinging beyond belief and the arrangements were true to Wilson’s original charts.

On “Nancy Jo,” trumpeter Winston Byrd played one of the most original trumpet solos I’ve heard in years, demonstrating true range, imagination, and originality.

Anthony Wilson not only conducted, but also played some Kenny Burrell style electric guitar on “Blues For The Count” (Wilson wrote this piece for Count Basie in 1945) and the legendary George Bohanon’s trombone solo cooked.

On “Viva Tirado,” Bobby Rodriguez played an amazingly melodic trumpet solo and Yvette Devereaux’s violin solo was reminiscent of Ray Nance’s work in Duke Ellington’s Band.
This was a warm and loving tribute to Gerald Wilson and it’s always refreshing to hear true big band jazz at the Playboy Jazz Festival or anywhere else for that matter.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Whenever Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock get together, you never can predict what they are going to do but it’s always something special. Shorter and Hancock were joined by The Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble, consisting of Michael Mayo on vocals, David Otis on alto sax, Daniel Rotem on tenor sax, Ido Meshulam on trombone, Carmen Staaf on piano, Alex Boneham on bass, and Christian Euman on drums.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The set began with The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble performing an ethereal arrangement of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” The young players in The Monk Institute Band were phenomenal. Daniel Rotem’s tenor sax work was original and flowed with countless ideas. Vocalist Michael Mayo’s voice floated magically over the instrumentalists as they all soloed.

After this number, Shorter and Hancock joined the band for Daniel Rotem’s “Who Is It?” which showcased Rotem’s originality as a composer as well as tenor sax player. Wayne Shorter played soprano sax. His lines were sparse and perfectly placed. Hancock shared solos with the wonderful Carmen Staaf who gave Herbie a run for his money.

After a brief version of Hancock’s classic “Cantaloupe Island,” The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble exited the stage, leaving Shorter and Hancock alone. What happened next was one of those truly magical moments between two giants who have played together for over half a century.

On Hancock’s “Speaks Like A Child’” the two men had a beautiful musical conversation through their instruments. Hancock played big block chords on his synthesizer while Shorter improvised some powerful syncopated lines on the soprano sax. It was like they could read each other’s minds.

The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble returned to the stage after this number, performing Carmen Staaf’s composition “New April.” Staaf’s elegant but swinging piano chops went with the theme of the composition perfectly and Rotem, Otis, Meshulam, and Shorter all traded solos. It’s was “true democracy” to quote Shorter. Each band member was supportive of one another without any egos getting in the way.

Next, a true festival highlight. Eddie Palmieri is a true genius and master on all levels. His performance on Saturday night with his Afro-Caribbean Jazz Band (Eddie Palmieri, leader, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero, congas; Anthony Carrillo, bongo, and Carmen Molina on timbales.) was one of the great moments of the entire weekend.

Palmieri and his band were joined by some very special guests. On the funky classic “Coast To Coast,”
Palmieri and company were joined by the amazing Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. Cuber’s baritone lines danced gleefully with the percussionists and with the instantly identifiable Eddie Palmieri percussive piano accompaniment.

The highlight of the set and of the Saturday program was “Samba De Sueno.” Joe Locke was the guest soloist. Locke played all of Cal Tjader’s original vibe parts (Palmieri originally recorded this piece with Tjader) and Palmieri played one of the greatest piano solos I’ve even heard him play. His one of a kind sense of space, dynamics, and syncopation on piano swung harder than life itself. Palmieri just gets better and better with age.

Alfredo De La Fe danced across the stage as he played his red violin along with Palmieri and the band. De La Fe’s virtuosic skills and showmanship had Palmieri grinning from ear to ear. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison sat in on “VP Blues.” Harrison was on fire, playing a wonderfully original alto sax solo. Palmieri’s piano solo was totally different but equally as brilliant as on “Samba De Suneo.” This time Palmieri played softly and gently, showing what a dynamic musician he truly is. This was Latin jazz at its best.

Sunday
Sunday’s program started off with The LAUSD/Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band (Steve Murillo, Jamir Pleitez, Ashton Sein, Ellis Thompson, Max Kim, saxophones; Anna Menotti, Harshpreet Suri, Karl Wylie, Rene Cruz, Christopher Vargas, trombones; Andrea Palacios, Nathan Serot, Mark Trejo, John Morillas, trumpets; Giancarlos Arzu, Gabe Feldman-Franden, Keelan Walters, Tyler Kysar, James Morgan, Cameron Evans, rhythm section. Under the direction of Tony White and JB Dyas.)

These kids may be young but they played some amazing original big band arrangements of John Scofield’s “I’ll Take Les,” Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins Con Carne” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” These weren’t just kids forced to play this music in school. You could feel their love of jazz and knowledge of big band swing. These kids surely have a bright future ahead of them.
The Jones Family Singers came all the way from Texas to perform a set of no-nonsense, gospel music that was truly one of the most electrifying sets of the festival.

On originals such as “I Am,” “Bones In The Valley” and ‘Down On Me,” lead singer Alexis Jones belted out some of the most powerful tenor vocals I’ve ever heard. The call and response between Alexis, Bishop Fred A. Jones, and the backing vocalists were mesmerizing. And they were backed by the tight yet funky rhythm section of Kenneth Freeman on bass and Mathew Hudlin on drums. You couldn’t help but shake something or get up and dance to this music. The Festival people should have put them on much later, when there were more people in the audience to take part in the joy of this music. The Jones Family singers danced across the stage in unison and urged the crowd to get up, dance, and rejoice. Those who got to the Bowl early enough did just that.

I cannot think of many musical things better in life than seeing tenor sax master Jimmy Heath play with The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. That is exactly what went down as The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band (Jimmy Heath, tenor sax; Sharel Cassity, tenor sax, flute; Antonio Hart, alto sax; Mark Gross, alto sax, vocals, and flute; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Frank Greene, lead trumpet; Caludio Roditti, Freddie Hendrix, Gregory Gisbert, trumpets; Jason Jackson, lead trombone; Steve Davis, Jeff Nelson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Abelita Mateaus, piano; John Lee, director, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums; Roger Squitero, congas, percussion.) performed on Sunday afternoon.

The big band arrangement of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (popularized by Gillespie in 1945.) swung beautifully. Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax solo was elegant, soulful, and inventive, as was Antonio Hart’s alto solo. On “Beboppin Too,” Mark Gross sang Gillespie’s vocal parts followed by a fine trombone solo by Jason Jackson. The highlight of the set was hearing all of the trumpeters trade solos on Gillespie’s masterpiece “Things To Come.” Claudio Roditi’s trumpet style sounded closest to Gillespie’s. Although the band added some new twists to these compositions, the arrangements were respectful to the originals and performed with love of this amazing, timeless music. I would have come to the festival just for this.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Mark Braud, trumpet, vocals; Charlie Gabriel, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Rickie Monie piano; Joe Lastie Jr., drums; Clint Maedgen, saxophone, vocals; Ronell Johnson, trombone; Ben Jaffe, bass sousaphone.) delivered a set of fun New Orleans jazz that delighted the Bowl crowd. The band took the Bowl straight to Bourbon Street on tunes like “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Think I Love You,” and “Rattlin Bones.” Braud, Gabriel, and Maedgen all shared the lead vocal spots. The horn lines danced around each other with joyful precision and by the time the band got to the funky “It’s Your Last Chance To Dance,” the entire bowl crowd was forming conga lines and dancing through the isles. New Orleans Jazz is about having a good time and this was one of the most delightfully fun moments of the weekend, capturing the true spirit of The Playboy Jazz Festival.

Blue Note’s 75th Anniversary Presents: Our Point Of View (Robert Glasper, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Marcus Strickland, tenor sax; and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet) was an interesting tribute to the Blue Note Records sound of the early to mid ‘60s.

The band opened with Wayne Shorter’s “With Hunt” with fantastic solos by Strickland, Loueke, Glasper, and Akinmusire. Glasper’s piano solo was reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s on the original recording but with a little more blues to it. Akinmusire sounded more like Woody Shaw than Freddie Hubbard, and Kendrick Scott definitely paid homage to Elvin Jones on this post-bop classic.

As fine as this performance was, it was the band originals that were harmonically most fascinating. Kendrick Scott’s “Cycle Through Reality’ and Marcus Strickland’s “The Meaning” had a modal feel with a dash of the avant-garde to them. Glasper’s piano work was stellar on both pieces. Unfortunately towards the end of the set, the band started to venture too far into overused funk/fusion clichés which distracted from the originality of the first three numbers.

Third World is a legendary reggae band. Maybe it was the contact high I was getting from all of the weed smoke around me but these guys kept sounding better and better. They performed their hits “96 Degrees,” “Try Jah Love” and “Now That We Found Love.” But the biggest surprise of their set was the bands pure reading of Andrea Boccelli’s “Time To Say Goodbye.” The band’s lead singer AJ Brown not only sang this song in operatic style but he sang it in both Italian and English. This won the band a standing ovation. Neither I nor the other audience members saw this coming. It was great to see a rock fueled reggae band with such range.

Well that’s all folks. That’s my highlights from the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. There were some spectacular moments followed by some not so inspiring ones but everyone was having a blast under the warm Southern California sun and that is the whole point of the festival. See you next year.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 


Picks of the West Coast Weekend: June 12 – 15

June 12, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Peter.Frampton

Peter.Frampton

– June 12. (Fri.) Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick. A pair of rock icons turn up the juice when Grammy winner Frampton encounters the high voltage of Cheap Trick. Click HERE to read a previous iRoM review of Frampton in action. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

– June 12. (Fri.) The Dafnis Prieto Sextet. “Triangles and Circles. One of the Southland’s favorite drummers applies his strong instrumental skills alongside his role as a powerful band leader, as well. A Jazz Bakery event at Zipper Concert Hall.  (310) 271-9039.

Maude Maggart

Maude Maggart

– June 12 & 13. (Dei. & Sat.  Maude Maggart.  She comes from a show biz family (her sister is Fiona Apple, her parents Broadway veterans), but cabaret singer Maggart has found her own identity as a musical artist.  No wonder her dedicated fans insist that her performances are not just heard — they’re experienced.  Tom ROlla’s Gardenia. On Facebook as Gardenia Arts and Entertainment.  (323) 467-7444.

– June 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) The Ojai Music Festival. As always, Ojai has a boundless array of music taking place throughout the Festival. For a complete schedule click here: The Ojai Music Festival.

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

– June 12 & 13. (Fri. & Sat.) Strunz & Farah. The guitar playing team of Costa Rican Strunz and Iranian Farah have been in the international vanguard of world music for more than three decades. And they’re still at their best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

 

Herbie Hancock

– June 13 & 14 (Sat. & Sun.) The Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and young players from the Monk Institute of Jazz Performance are featured on both days.

 

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Click HERE to read iRoM’s Q&A with Wayne Shorter about his performance with the young Monk Institute players.

Other highlight artists performing in the 37th Playboy Jazz Festival include Jason Moran, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra under the direction of Anthony Wilson, Eddie Palmieri, Tower of Power, Alowe Blacc, Snarky Puppy and more. For a complete schedule click here: The Playboy Jazz Festival.  (323) 850 – 2000.

– June 13 (Sat.)Vintage Masters of Swing. The Musicians at Play Foundation presents a high voltage evening of music, featuring an all-star big band, led by Tim Simonec, performing new arrangements of old favorites. The list of arrangers is a virtual collection of iconic figures: Van Alexander, Sammy Nestico, Bill Holman, Ralph CarMichael and Pat Williams. Vocalists include Tierney Sutton, Sue Raney and Janene Lovullo. 7:30 p.m. at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.MusiciansAtPlay.org. (818) 994-4661.

Sue Raney

Sue Raney

– June 14. (Sun.) Sue Raney Sings the Music of Henry Mancini. A fine jazz vocalist who doesn’t always get the attention her talents deserve, Raney is a convincing interpreter for the lyrical, story-telling Mancini catalog of songs.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

June 14. (Sun.) The Family Stone. http://www.yoshis.com/event/816713-family-stone-oakland/ The 50th anniversary of Sly and the Family Stone is celebrated in a joyous evening of memorable music. Yoshi’s. (510) 238-9200.

Santa Cruz

– June 12. (Fri.) Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge. Two fine young guitarist test their imaginative ideas against each other. / Kuumbwa. (831) 427-2227.

Ashland, Oregon

– June 14. (Sun.) Occidental Gypsy. The Siskiyou Music Project showcases an evening of music performed by Rhode Island’s Occidental Gypsy, illuminating the worldwide  popularity of Gypsy music in all its forms. The Siskiyou Music Project at the Paschal Winery.  (541) 488-3869.

Seattle

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

June 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) Arturo Sandoval. Multi-talented, musically versatile Sandoval is likely, on almost any given performance, to play brilliantly on trumpet, piano and drums, along with his impressive vocalizing. This time out he’ll display his wares backed by a quintet. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.


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