HIGHLIGHT OF THE NEW YORK WEEKEND: SINGER/SONGWRITER/PIANIST ELLA LEYA PERFORMS SUNDAY NIGHT AT JOE’S PUB

July 31, 2015

By Don Heckman

Singer/songwriter and pianist Ella Leya makes her New York debut at Joe’s Pub on Sunday night.  It’s a rare performance by a gifted artist who should not be missed.

“It’s the voice of Ella Leya that first grabs you,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in reviewing her first album releases. “Simmering with a dark timbre, its velvet surface is occasionally tinged with flashes of sunlight.”

Add to that gently floating rhythms, and the story telling phrases which bring every song she sings vividly to iife.

Ella Leya

Ella Leya

Ella, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and emigrated to the U.S. in 1990, eventually reaching the current identity she describes humorously as a “Russian/Californian living in London.”

All of which is true, as well as a creative history which reaches from a career as a well-known Russian jazz singer to more jazz singing in the U.S., followed by a sequence of albums that includes such well reviewed titles as Queen of Night, Secret Lives of Women and Russian Romance., film and television music for Ocean’s Twelve, Dirty, Sexy Money and more.

Her recent album, Russian Romance showcases one of the most irresistibly passionate Russian art song forms, often described as “Russian blues.” The album features combinations of  the lyrical music she has composed to the passionate, often erotic, poetry of some of her favorite Russian poets, including Alexander Pushkin, Anna Akhmatova and others.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Ella’s first novel, The Orphan Sky — which takes place in Communist Baku of the ’70s and ’80s — was described by the New York Journal of Books as “visceral and exotic as any spy novel and as authentically convincing as The Kite Runner.”

Ella Leya’s performance at Joe’s Pub will touch upon the full range of her creative life, including her captivating vocals, songs and piano stylings as well as a brief reading or two from The Orphan Sky.

Her set will also include a special guest artist: Janina Gavankar, star of True Blood and the Mysteries of Laura.

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Ella Leya sings her song “I Wish I Could” (from The Secret Lives of Women) in a video featuring Janina Gavankar.


Live Impressions: Rich Little at the Laugh Factory

July 21, 2015

By James DeFrances

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

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

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

Rich Little as Jack Benny

Rich Little as Jack Benny

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

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

Rich Little as Richard Nixon

Rich Little as Richard Nixon

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

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

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

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

 

 


Picks of the Weekend 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

 


Live Music: Janis Ian At the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts

March 8, 2015

By Kathy Schwarz

Patchogue, N.Y. Friday evening, once again, I had the privilege of witnessing the artistry of Janis Ian. This being her sixth decade, she has evolved into a masterful singer/songwriter/musician. Janis has successfully perfected her craft as well as grow in her artistry. It was quite evident that she is content and comfortable in her own skin. Her voice was on pitch perfect and her musicianship has evolved to the point that she can now be considered among the elite.

She opened her set at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts with “Society’s Child.” Her rendition was both haunting and bone chilling. There has been an evolution of this song and it has taken on a completely different “face,” making it relevant to the times in which we live.

There were many stand out performances in the show, but the one that stands alone, was her beautiful rendition of “Bright Lights and Promises.” It was powerful and her voice soared, piercing through the stillness of the theatre. I’ve seen and heard this song performed many times, but this by far was the best. This is the performance that will stay etched in my being for all time. Her vocals and musicianship on guitar were beyond anything I had ever heard; following the second chorus she mesmerized herself and her audience in an eleven minute soulful, jazz guitar solo….then gently brought us back to “Bright Lights and Promises.” Simply amazing performance.

Another noteworthy moment in the show was her performance of the anthem, “At Seventeen.” It was definitely a crowd pleasing favorite to which the audience gave a standing ovation, one of several through the night. “At Seventeen” took on an entirely different feel. Her comfort with herself at this stage in her life made the song seem lighter than it ever had. She sang it with a conviction of the past, just that, the past.

“Through the Years,” an all time favorite of mine, was sung and played to perfection. It touched to my core and won’t soon be forgotten.

The show closed with “I’m Still Standing.” It summed up six decades of an ever evolving artist who has been true to herself and her craft.

“See these lines on my face
They’re a map of where I’ve been
and the deeper they are traced
the deeper life has settled in….

And I would not trade a line make it smooth and fine
or pretend that time stands still
I want to rest my soul
Here where it can grow without fear
Another line, another year

I’m still standing here

Skin just covers who I am”

As I looked around me, I observed the audience. The greying hair and the lines on the faces of those who were there for the performance and I said to myself…”this is quite a different audience from the first time I saw Janis Ian in 1975.”

And I realized…”Yes, I too, wouldn’t trade a line or pretend that time stands still.”


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: Sally Kellerman at Catalina Bar & Grill

January 17, 2015

By James DeFrances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by James DeFrances.

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

 


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