Live Music: Sasha’s Bloc at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc

March 25, 2015

By James DeFrances

Bel Air, CA. Last Thursday evening at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc. Sasha’s Bloc launched their new album – Heart On Fire – with a send off party in style.

Alex Gershman’s jazz super group pulled out the stoppers during the second night of festivities for their release party bash. Complete with limousines, red carpet, photographers, a custom interior set design and an all star cast, this was indeed Mr. Gershman’s Opus.

Sasha’s Bloc with guest star Jane Monheit

To commemorate the Heart on Fire album release, celebrity guest vocalists Jane Monheit, Alvin Chea, Nora Rothman and Tony Galla joined bandleader and bassist Gershman on stage and each performed a short set.

Sashas Bloc man and woman Seth

Sasha’s Bloc Guest Stars Alvin Chea and Glynis Leflore

The 8-piece small group which is Sasha’s Bloc sounded nothing short of amazing as they dazzled the capacity level VIP crowd. Songs like “Feels Like Jazz” and “Breakfast” were guest favorites, along with the sweet and melodic duet “Black and Blue.” Speaking of the songs, they are Gershman originals. And from my perspective, his writing is right up there with some of the classic songsmiths of the first part of the 20th century.

Alex Gershman

Alexander Gershman is not a jack of all trades; rather he is a master. He wears many hats and wears them all well: physician, surgeon, philanthropist, bandleader, songwriter and bassist to name a few.

My weather forecasts for the days ahead of Sasha’s Bloc look bright and sunny with no cloud cover. The band is a musical tour de force and has definitely turned the right heads. Look for Hearts of Fire,  currently available on iTunes music, and experience what I and so many others have already concluded: That Alex Gershman and Sasha’s Bloc are on a fast track to making musical history.

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


Picks of the Week in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, London, Copenhagen and Tokyo

March 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer

– Mar. 23 & 24 (Mon. & Tues.) Manhattan Transfer and Take 6.  The two most masterful vocal ensembles of the past few decades get together for the first time. No wonder it’s called “The Summit” as they perform at the start of a national tour. Catalina Bar & Grill .

(323) 466-2210.

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) The London Philharmonic conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with pianist Yuja Wang. Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Bitten’s Four Sea Interludes. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Sue Raney. She’s been receiving accolades for her singing sine she was a teen-ager, and Sue Raney is as dynamic and musically compelling as she was shen she first stepped on stage. Sue’s celebrating the release of her album, Late in Life.        Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

– Mar. 27 (Fri.) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio. A musical encounter not to be missed. Sheppard is one of the jazz world’s most versatile,saxophonists, and equally gifted on clarinet and flute. He’ll be backed by bassist Senatore’s equally adept rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400

–  Mar. 27. (Fri.) George Benson. Hitmaker singer/guitarist Benson is always entertaining, always disovering new jazz territories. Expect to hear some familiar songs. Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

Art Pepper

Art Pepper

– Mar. 27. (Fri.) An All Star Celebration of Art Pepper. With Richie Cole, Doug Webb, Don Shelton, Gaspare Pasini, the Art Pepper Quartet Reunion and more. Presented by Ken Poston’s West Coast Jazz Heritage Series. Hermosa Beach Community Theatre. Reservations: (562) 200-5477.


– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Great Guitars! Featuring Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pisano and Mundell Lowe. “Great Guitars” doesn’t begin to describe this encounter between such Olympian players. Don’t miss this one; it’s a true musical rarity. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.

New York City


Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– Mar. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.) James Moody 90th Birthday. Saxophonist/singer Moody was a much loved and honored jazz artist. He was also a friend to almost everyone he met. So it’s no surprise that this tribute has attracted such stellar participants. Featured peformers include Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Carter, Antonio Hart, Russle Malone, Randy Brecker, Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, Janis Siegel and more. Call the club for schedules. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.


– Mar. 24 – 26. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Bireli Lagrene Gypsy Project. Gypsy jazz at its best. Calling up memories of Django Reinhardt and the unque, swinging improvisational style he brought to the jazz world. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 20 7439 0747


– Mar. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat. Rosa Passos Quartet. Passos is one of the true blenders of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. She’s been doing it a long time, and she still does better than most. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94


Gerald Albright

Gerald Albright


– Mar. 24. (Tues.) Gerald Albright. Name a jazz genre and Gerald Albright can play it convincingly.  And he’s equally adept as an instrumentalist, moving easily from world class saxophone playing to bass, keyboards,, vocals and more.  Don’t miss him in action.  Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

Live Jazz: Tierney Sutton at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts

March 17, 2015

By Kathy Schwarz

Brookville, New York. Tierney Sutton has frequently received accolades such as “a singer’s singer” and a “musician’s singer.” But she’s also a listener’s singer, and all three of those descriptions were on full display in her Friday night performance in the TiIles Center for the Performing Arts.

She was backed by the superb playing of guitarist Serge Merlaud, who was also with her on Tierney’s Grammy-nominated Paris Sessions album. As well as cellist Mark Summer, a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet.

And it was a remarkable combination, one that would reveal its unique qualities from the moment they walked on stage, greeted by gentle but enthusiastic audience applause.

Seated at stage center between her two musical companions, Tierney asked Serge for a key and the evening began – an hour and a half in which her listeners, with this writer included, would be mesmerized by Tierney’s exquisite vocal artistry.

Throughout the evening there was a beautiful blend of songs from Tierney’s After Blue: The Joni Mitchell Album and Paris Sessions album, as well as some jazz standards.

The show opened with a mix of “April in Paris/Free Man in Paris” from her Mitchell album. Tierney’s vocals were the third instrument on the stage. Pure and effortless, she sang to perfection. It was as if I were listening to these songs for the first time. Though I have heard Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris” many, many times, Tierney’s version and arrangement were definitely her own.

The evening hit an especially memorable highlight when the trio — Serge, Tierney and Mark — played “Court and Spark.” The arrangement was brilliant and Tierney’s sultry jazz vocals gave this classic a whole new meaning for me.

One of the standards was “I Remember You,” done as a duo with Serge on guitar. Tierney’s range on the Johnny Mercer classic was unbelievable. This was the performance that really brought to light the proof that her voice is indeed a musical instrument. Her vocals are effortless and she plays her voice like an instrument, never pushing, just letting it resonate with beauty.

I feel very privileged to have experienced this performance. Being relatively unfamiliar with Tierney’s artistry, I was grateful and I truly felt my musical horizons had been widened. Her gentle and laid back way with every song made it especially enjoyable for me.

At the end of the evening she paid tribute to her fellow musicians and it was evident that there was tremendous mutual respect among the three artists.

And with good reason. Tierney Sutton is an exquisite performer with a beauty that lies deep beyond her voice, touching the soul of who she is.

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To read more reviews by Kathy Schwarz click HERE.

Live Music: Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson at the Artistic Piano Gallery

March 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Medford, Oregon. The creative interaction between a jazz vocal artist and his/her accompanist is one of the most sensitive encounters in the entire musical world. All of which was on fascinating display Friday night in the performance of singer Sara Gazarek and pianist Josh Nelson at Medford’s Artistic Piano Gallery.

The talented young artists have already had a long musical relationship. And the far-reaching, irresistible musical quality of their performance called up memories of such classic jazz singer/accompanist connections as Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Tony Bennett and Bill Evans.

But the Gazarek/Nelson duo made it clear – as they do in all their performances – that their linkage is founded upon interactive, musically exploratory adventures.

Josh Nelson and Sara Gazarek

Start with the fact that Nelson is a superb arranger/pianist who founds his interpretive interaction upon the classical view of the piano as an orchestra in itself. Gazarek has her own arranging ideas, blending them with Nelson’s vision, adding her gripping story-telling qualities to the lyrics of every song she touches.

All of which resulted in a compelling performance within the Artistic Piano Gallery’s warm and intimate setting.

The Gazarek/Nelson program was a combination of evergreens from the Great American Songbook sprinkled with original songs by both artists. The first half of the program was enhanced by such classics as “Without A Song,” “No Moon At All,” along with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and “Single Petal Of A Rose.” Add to that the Bonnie Raitt hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Joao Gilberto’s bossa nova tribute to a duck, “O Pato” and Nelson’s “Petit Papillon.” The set was topped off by a high velocity romp through “Sunny Side of the Street,” featuring a set of bebop variations sung and played in unison by voice and piano.

The second set was shorter, but no less engaging, featuring – among its many highlights – “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” and a group of songs covering various aspects of love. Among them: the original, “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “Where Is Love?” and “Love You Madly.”

A performance with half those songs would be impressive for most vocal artists. But in the talented hands (and voice) of Nelson and Gazarek it offered an evening of the jazz vocal art at its best.

Call it a high point in this season’s Siskiyou Music Project, which continues from April 2 through May 27 with programs reaching from jazz (Ken Peplowski) to country music (Tim & Myles Thompson) and more. Click HERE for details about the rest of the Project’s programs.

A Highlight of the Week: James DeFrances at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 10, 2015

By Don Heckman

Wednesday March 11. Bel Air.  Call it nepotism if you like for iRoM to be plugging James De Frances’ gig at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. tomorrow night.

Yes, he’s a frequent and thoughtful reviewer here, but – fine singer that he is – he’s also an impressive performer in his own right, who deserves attention for his own skills.  And this is a rare opportunity to hear him in action, in a setting that provides an appropriate musical backdrop.

James calls it his Suit and Tie Release Party, and it will feature a live performance of “Suit and Tie,” the lead single off his debut album Pop Swings. Limited edition autographed CD’s will be available for purchase.

The pre-show begins at 6:30 p.m. with red carpet and photo opps. Expect a celebrity crowd. Call (310) 474-9400 for reservations.

Don’t miss this one.

Click HERE to read iRoM’s review of James first L.A. performance.

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Photo by Faith Frenz.


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.



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