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

 


Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band At Walt Disney Concert Hall

June 29, 2015

Norton Wright

By Norton Wright

Los Angeles, CA.  It was SHOWTIME at Disney Hall on Saturday night as Gordon Goodwin’s 18-piece Big Phat Band performed like an inextinguishable stick of dynamite, exploding number after number in its featured hour-long set marking KJazz Radio’s third annual benefit concert.
The recipient of the 2015 GRAMMY Award for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble,” this band is ignited by its larger-than-life bandleader/composer/arranger /performer, Gordon Goodwin, who doubled as a voluble, high-energy Master Of Ceremonies clearly aiming to put on an entertaining show for the sold-out audience in the elegant and spacious Disney Hall. Goodwin combined his own good-humored anecdotes about his band, about the night’s “Swinging Tribute to Count Basie,” and about the star talents in his band who, in the old, big-band tradition, stride downstage to microphones to solo.

Gordon Goodwin and The Big Phat Band

When a band has the likes of Andy Martin’s trombone, Wayne Bergeron’s trumpet, Brian Scanlon’s tenor, Bernie Dressel’s drums, and Kevin Axt’s bass, the soloing is fiery and precise. Sal Lozano’s clarinet on “Rhapsody In Blue” put the audience away, and alto saxist Eric Marienthal’s solos built beautifully from the soulful and unhurried to the electrifying and urgent.

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

An array or surprises helped shape the show. Grammy Award winning guitarist icon, Lee Ritenour, dropped in halfway into the band’s performance. His opening comments, “This band is burning!” said it all.

And he said even more, playing with incredible dexterity his newest composition titled “L.P.”, a tribute to the old, guitar master, Les Paul.

Gregg Field, the producer of The Big Phat Band’s last two recent records, sat in on drums for a couple of numbers, driving the band with a hard-swinging command and reminding us that great, jazz musicianship can also make for great jazz CD producers.

Building toward his show’s finale, Goodwin had some fun. He explained that the band was going to try a “head arrangement” and that he had no idea what riffs the woodwind section, the trombone section, and the trumpet section might have in their heads and  would choose to play behind the soloists. The musicians in each section, ham actors all!, made a big show of their supposed confusion in deciding what riff each section would undertake.

Gordon Goodwin

Gordon Goodwin

Needless to say, their selections were well chosen and the blues number proceeded, as one after another, each section kicked in its selected riff neatly dovetailing their selection with those of the other sections backing the soloists who in turn were having a wailing good time!

For the finale, Goodwin joked that the chemistry of musicians in a big band is rife with competition. As an example, the band’s entire trumpet section — Dan Forneo, Wayne Bergeron, Willie Murillo, and Dan Savant — came downstage to a set of microphones and battled each other in a cut session, with each appearing to want to outdo the others with furious fingering and stratospheric notes. The result was a display of dazzling improvisations that had the crowd on its feet. But when these trumpeters, understandably proud of their display of chops, turned to return to their section seats, they discovered that the entire woodwind section — Brian Scanlon, Kevin Garren, Adam Schroeder, Sal Lozano, and Eric Marienthal – were all playing flutes and piccolos in a riff clearly designed to outdo the trumpets. The trombone section — Craig Gosnel, Francisco Torres, Ryan Dragon, and Andy Martin – followed suit with their own bone licks challenging the trumpet section’s  show of force. The trumpeters in mock dismay returned to their seats, and the crowd in Disney Hall went wild!

The night had been more than the performance of a great band – it had been a genuine SHOW shaped by a first-class showman, Gordon Goodwin.

Sara Gazarek

Sara Gazarek

It should also be mentioned that the evening had opened with jazz songstress, Sara Gazarek and her trio, the always amazing pianist Geoff Keezer, fine bass soloist, Dave Robaire, and Dan Schnelle’s tastily discreet drums.

An emerging star, Gazarek radiates good-natured likeability. On this night, however, her ever-smiling rendition of her song selections could have benefited from a more varied and thoughtful approach. Her medley of “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” was sung jazzily and happily. But lyrics from the former: “Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go, Singing low, Bye bye blackbird” — and  from the latter:“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life” – suggest an interpretation with more gravitas, soul, and emotional unease than Gazarek chose to undertake.

Though Gazarek is very pretty, especially in her short-skirted dress revealing legs rivaling those of Betty Grable, such stage presence can detract from what is most important – that is, her approach to the song, her take on its lyrics, why the song is important to her. There were times on Saturday night when the ever-happy Gazarek gave the impression that she was presenting great jazz pipes and phrasing – but with little meaning.

And a final bug-a-boo for this writer. When an artist is on stage, every visual moment counts with the audience. The growing practice of singers these days to guzzle bottled water after completing a portion of a song can indeed break the mood of a piece and the audience’s emotional commitment to the singer and the song. In opera, if the diva upon completing “Un bel di” breaks out of character to gurgle a bottle of water on stage, the meaning and mood of the aria will surely be damaged.
In her performance Saturday night, Gazarek took on-stage water breaks several times to the detriment of her performance… If a singer needs water on stage, Judy Garland had a good answer: pre-position a big, water-filled wine glass on the nearby piano and use it as needed. The wine glass has a touch of class and allows the performer to drink while staying in character, perhaps even toasting her band or toasting the audience.

On stage, visual class matters.

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To read more posts by Norton Wright and view his jazz-inspired paintings, click HERE.


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.


Ballet: Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg Performs “Rodin” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

June 16, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Famous artists in torment are a subject of fascination in the popular imagination. Make it two tormented artists in a romantic relationship and the appeal doubles. Biographies, films, and even novelizations of the lives of, for example: Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre abound.

In this vein, Boris Eifman, the Russian choreographer known internationally for his heavily plotted, narrative ballets explores the intense relationship of the sculptor Auguste Rodin with the artist Camille Claudel. It is a subject ripe for the Eifman technique, which interweaves classical ballet movement, modern dance, and in the choreographer’s words, “ecstatic impulses” all at the service of psychological dance theatre.

In Rodin, we travel back and forth in time, largely between the mental asylum where Camille was incarcerated and Rodin’s workshop. Architecturally, the set by Zinovy Margolin is a marvel of lines and planes reminiscent of Russian Constructivist theatre sets of the early twentieth century. The angles, multi-levels, and platforms provide the backdrop for the workshop, the asylum, and various other locations such as the dance hall of Act Two.

Set to a selection of late nineteenth, early twentieth century French music by Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Debussy, and Satie, which is woven seamlessly throughout, the ballet has many moments of breathtaking beauty, imaginative choreography, and penetrating insight, all superbly danced by Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin, Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille, and Yulia Manjeles as Rodin’s lifelong companion, Rose Beuret.

Like the clay with which Rodin and Camille sculpt their forms, the choreography in Act One is tied to the earth, reminiscent of Martha Graham’s elemental movements. Echoes of Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography also haunt the piece, and awareness of his declining mental state adds another layer of meaning.

Art and sensuality seem inextricably mixed, particularly in the sensuality of the clay as depicted in Rodin’s “modeling” of form. In a mesmerizing scene, Rodin stands before a group of semi-nude male figures crouching on a rotating circular table. As Rodin pushes, twists, and strokes these figures, he seems to draw form out of this mass of bodies. Slowly a limb extends or a knee juts out, until the figures stand erect, becoming Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. The magic is achieved by Eifman’s choreography, Gabyshev’s raw physical power, and the sculptural lighting of Gleb Filshtinsky.

Notable in Act One is a dance for the asylum inmates, women dressed in cream colored nightdresses and lace sleeping caps, who dance holding pillows, which in turn become babies cradled in their arms, toys they play with, or a repository for their tears. At some moments one thinks of the spectral Willis of Giselle, the victims of their sweethearts’ indifference, at another, the children at play in The Nutcracker, rocking their dolls or frolicking about the Stahlbaum house. Both instances help in heightening dramatic tension.

In a dream sequence, which serves as a counterpoint to the earthier and more tortured dancing of Act One, couples dressed in silky charcoal grays, beautifully conceived by costume designer Olga Shaishmelashvili, dance with classical elegance to Saint-Saëns Dance Macabre. More confused however is the dance of the workshop assistants at the beginning of the act, which looks like a nod to the cowboys of Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo or the sailors of Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free – cute and lively, but a bit out of place in a French sculptor’s workshop.

All in all, Act One is a gem of dance drama. Even the tortured, angst driven dancing manages to stay just on the right side of romantic sentimentality. Gabyshev’s Rodin as consumed artist and sexual predator has an iconic reality to it. Andreyeva’s Camille as Rodin’s ambitious, sensual, yet unstable student and fellow artist is a passionate performance. And Manjeles is majestic as the long-suffering Rose.

Act Two begins with another striking effect: Rodin creating the Gates of Hell. On metal scaffolding representing an immense doorway, dancers configure into positions reflecting Rodin’s famed relief sculpture.

Unfortunately, problems arise as Act Two progresses when the proverbial kitchen sink syndrome derails the ballet. What had been a precisely structured examination into the life of art, tackling issues of creativity, recognition, fame, love, and madness turns into a pastiche of nineteenth century dance references and an unnecessary heightening of the angst ridden choreography. A harvest wine dance à la Giselle, with girls in brightly clad peasant dresses, grows out of nowhere (justified by Rodin’s dreaming of his first meeting with Rose), followed a bit later by a Parisian dance hall cancan scene when Camille leaves Rodin for the bright lights of the big city. Both are crowd-pleasers, no doubt, but Eifman’s showmanship here gets in the way of his artistry. Further compromising Act Two is the overstated tension within the love triangle of Rodin, Camille, and Rose. The tortured dancing grows repetitive and dilutes the undeniable power of the first act.

Where Eifman succeeds in Act Two is in turning the hammering of stone, done first by Camille, and then in the ballet’s final scene by Rodin, into blazing dance movement. His back towards us and bare chested, Gabyshev works away at the stone, his body torqueing side to side; and we are left with the image of the artist as Hephaestus forging life out of the furnace of human will and desire.

Photos by Gene Schiavone courtesy of Eifman Ballet.

Dancers:

Rodin: Oleg Gabyshev
Camille: Lyubov Andreyeva
Rose Beuret: Yulia Manjeles

Production:

Choreography: Boris Eifman

Music: Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie
Sets: Zinovy Margolin
Costumes: Olga Shaishmelashvili
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky, Boris Eifman

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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children

 


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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