Highlights of a Long Weekend: Oct. 1 – 4 in Los Angeles

October 1, 2015

By Don Heckman

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

Oct. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.) IMMORTAL BEETHOVEN. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a remarkable, four night tour de force program devoted to all nine of the Beethoven symphonies: #1 and #2 on Thursday; #3 and #4 on Friday; #5, #6, #7 and #8 on Saturday; and a climactic #9 on Sunday. Walt Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Oct. 1. (Thurs.) Duran Duran. Stars of the ’80s, this high visibility English rock band was among the leaders of the “Second British Invasion.” At the Hollywood Bowl in a lease event.  (323) 850-2000.

Emily Bear


– Oct. 1. (Thurs.) Emily Bear. Only 14, this talented pianist/composer – a Quincy Jones discovery – has already been applauded on stages around the world. And with good reason. Emily’s at the early stage of what will surely be a memorable career. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.



– Oct. 1 – Oct. 3. (Thurs. – Sat.) Roy Hargrove.

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

Trumpeter Hargrove has every reason to be included at the top echelon of contemporary jazz. But he doesn’t always receive the attention and the accolades that his talents deserve. Don’t miss this chance so see him with his quintet in action. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Lisa Fischer

Lisa Fischer

– Oct. 2. (Fri.) Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton. Great voices and gripping interpretations don’t always combine in a single singer. But they do with Fischer, who has one of the music world’s most remarkable vocal instruments. And Fischer makes the most of it in programs that also illustrate an equally extraordinary musical versatility. She’s backed intensely by the boldly supportive trio, Grand Baton. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

– Oct. 2. (Fri.) Yosvany Terry and the Ancestral Memories Quartet. Cuban-born saxophonist Terry is in the foreground of leading a new wave of compelling Cuban jazz. A Jazz Bakery event at the Moss Theatre in Santa Monica.

– Oct. 2 & 4. (Fri. &o Sun.) Van Halen. Another revival of the rock ’70s this week. This time it’s the incomparable Van Halen, with singer David Lee Roth leading the way. Holllywood Bowl in a lease event. http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/lease-event-van-halen/2015-10-02 (323) 850-2000.

Randy Newman

Randy Newman

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) An Evening with Randy Newman. No problem with what to decide about this performance. Basically, every opportunity to hear Randy Newman in performance should be taken. He is, simply, one of a kind, as a songwriter a performing artist and a philosopher. A CAP UCLA event at Royce Hall.

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) Mavis Staples and Joan Osborne. It’s a rare musical booking: Staples, the diva of soul, r&b and gospel music, sharing a stage with Osborne, a singer-songwriting mistress of Americana song. And it should make for a rare musical blending. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

– Oct. 4. (Sun.) Paris Chansons. “From Paris With Love.” Catalina’s is L.A.’s prime jazz destination. But occasionally the spacious but warm room is the host to an unusual but engaging musical evening. Like this one, in which the Paris Chansons will surely transport listeners to a memorable stroll down the Champs d’Elysee. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Live Music: Snarky Puppy and Kneebody in a CAP UCLA Concert at Royce Hall

September 29, 2015

Mike Finkelstein

By Mike Finkelstein

On Thursday night in a Center for the Art of Performance concert at Royce Hall, Snarky Puppy and Kneebody played a sold out show of what might best be called jazz fusion or simply eclectic music, though trying to label music is probably not a great idea. Still, both units had a similar approach and sound and it made for a good match on the bill. And would you believe, both acts were greeted with the enthusiasm one usually sees for rock ‘ n rollers and pop stars? The audience was clearly familiar with the material and from the moment the lights went down people were pumped up for both sets.

The evening began about half an hour behind schedule with parking traffic outside as thick as molasses, coupled with a similarly long line of ticket holders to enter Royce. But, by the time Kneebody came out to open the show, every one was happily in place, and primed to receive. The anticipation hung in the air for this show.

In the fusion medium one sure thing is that there won’t be much, if any, singing to speak of. The tunes aren’t sung, but in the absence of lyrics and a voice to deliver them, they are advanced by stellar musicianship, and precision changes in tempo and texture. In a musical world that sees most of the focus on guitars, fusion is a place where bands often carve their identities without guitars. That was largely true Thursday.



Kneebody is a 5-piece band with only one stringed instrument, the bass, in their lineup. But they do have Ben Wendel (sax), Shane Endsley (trumpet), and Adam Benjamin (keyboards) to mix things up. They used delay units and a good sense of dynamics to keep the music fresh from moment to moment. In fact, they had a nicely authentic early 70’s sound. This may have been due in part to the prominent voice of Benjamin’s Fender Rhodes. Many of the band’s textures evoked 70’s prog bands like Gentle Giant, early Genesis, and the Soft Machine. While nobody in the band blew the doors off with any one solo, the band instead took us for a nice ride with their dynamics and by regularly changing a tune’s atmosphere.

With the absence of a guitar out front of the mix, the horns had room to experiment and play off one other. In 2015 we are some 40 years past the 70’s. But bassist Kaveh Rastegar took advantage of the advances in bass effects technology, and his bass sound evokes a lot of the mid range of an electric guitar. He also went in and out of guitar mode to let the bass growl and hum as needed. And, Rategar was also a pretty funny guy when filling us in on the band’s background and the program of tunes. He even threw in a Rich Karlis (the Bronco’s barefoot kicker) reference for those in the know.

Drummer Nate Wood also turned in an animated performance in the vein of a light touch jazz drummer. Though he used sticks and not brushes, his accents were subtle and even golden, providing a refreshingly light contrast to some of the heavier changes in the tunes.

Snarky Puppy is on a rising curve. They won a Grammy Award last year for Best R & B Performance and this year has been very busy for them. They played over 200 dates in 2014, and were headed to Japan Friday morning. In LA their path of venues is telling – from the Mint, to the Troubador, to the Hollywood Bowl for the Playboy Jazz Festival, and headlining Royce Hall. They actually have a rotation of players they use to keep up with the demands of their tour schedule.

Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy

Their set was a crisper sounding production than that of Kneebody. The horns in particular were remarkably brighter. Same basic instruments, but a different mix through the PA made for much clearer sound. For wind instruments that’s crucial.

Snarky Puppy went with a 3 piece horn section on Thursday. They swelled, muted, and flowed with impressive ease, of course, but could these guys ever solo! … and in the end, that’s what people were waiting for. The Puppies did not disappoint, either. In particular, Jay Jennings, who was just joining the tour and heading to Japan, took several choice intricate and articulate trumpet solos.

The onstage dynamics between drummer Robert “Sput” Searight and both Mike Maher on trumpet and keyboardist Shaun Martin were the highlights of the evening. What we got to see was musical communication on a very high level. Searight had a separate musical dialogue with both players. He would speed up and slow down, get loud and soft, and each nuance and tempo shift of his was heard and responded to. Searight simply drew the best out of the guys in his band, and they drew it out of him. Shaun Martin started the evening subdued at his B-3 organ but by the end of the evening he let it all hang out, and Searight certainly pushed him towards that musical euphoria.

Oddly enough the leader of Snarky Puppy, Michael League, had his bass nearly submerged in the mix. He played interesting lines and accents all night, and he grimaced like a rock n roller might. But it didn’t sound nearly as clear as, say, those horns just to his right did. Because this genre of music is so much about the playing, one has to reflect on where these guys got such amazing chops and the ears to guide them. Of course, they were born with the aptitude and refined it impressively in conservatories, and that is a beautiful thing. The resources for becoming a strong and inspired instrumentalist are there. Being active in music education is a large part of what Snarky Puppy does away from touring and recording. They give back what they got on their way up. But for the night, we left feeling lucky to have caught two rising stars in the field at a perfect venue for this sort of thing. It was an electric couple of hours.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Sept. 21 – 27 in Los Angeles, Oregon, Chicago, New York, London, Copenhagen, Milan and Tokyo.

September 21, 2015

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Laura Dickinson

Laura Dickinson

– Sept. 23. (Wed.) Laura Dickinson. She’s probably your nine year-old daughter’s favorite singer, her voice familiar from the Disney Channel’s animated hits Phineas and Ferb and Sofia The First. But Dickinson’s vocal skills also include far-reaching jazz abilities, as well. She will offer them in an evening that celebrates her birthday with the introduction of her new big band. In addition, the opening set will be provided by the Eliot Deutsch Big Band. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Denise Donatelli


– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) Denise Donatelli. Grammy-nominated Donatelli – with her warm, embracing voice, her lively sense of swing and her irresistible musical storytelling – celebrates the release of her new CD, Find A Heart, in a performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) :Gianni Schicci. LA Opera presents a rare opportunity to experience Placido Domingo in a prime production of Puccini’s one act comic opera based on an incident in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Music Center. The LA Opera at the Music Center.  (213) 972-0777.

Bob Sheppard

Bob Sheppard

– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) Bob Sheppard. Straight Ahead. The Southland music world’s busiest, most in demand saxophonist steps to the front of the stage in a rare evening as a front man. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear and see Sheppard in the spotlight with keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Christian Euman. The Baked Potato. . (818) 980-1615.

– Sept. 25 – Oct. 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Angel City Jazz Festival. Rapidly establishing itself as one of the jazz world’s most creatively ambitious events. The ACJF justifiably prides itself as the expanding stage for the discovery of new, gifted talent. This year’s program takes place in such varied locations around Los Angeles as Barnsdall Art Parker, Blue Whale, LACMA, REDCAT and more. For more information and a list of artists, click HERE. / (323) 573-2110.

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Master Chorale. The gifted vocal artists of the L.A. Master Chorale bring their vocal versatility to a performance titled “The Russian Evolution.” The program encompasses a century of great Russian works from composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Grechaninov, Ilyashenko and more. Walt Disney Hall.  (877) 689-2356.

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) The Isley Bros. One of the great veteran r&b groups, the Isleys’ stellar career reaches back to the early ’60s. Don’t miss this rare chance to hear the current line up of brothers Ronald and Ernie.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. (562) 916-8500.

Carmen Lundy

Carmen Lundy

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) Carmen Lundy. Carmen is a jazz vocalist who much deserves her frequent rave reviews. But she’s also a gifted songwriter, arranger, actress and painter. Like all imaginative musicians, she’s always a pleasure to hear in a live setting. Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.


Sept. 23. (Wed.) Ashland. The Parisian Musette Trio. “Musette Explosion.” French musette music is an irresistible blend of French folk and cabaret, American jazz and Italian instrumentation. The result is utterly compelling. And the Parisian Musette TrioWill Holshouser on accordion, Ron Horton on trumpet and tuba and David Phillips on bass – have made the most of all those elements. “Musette Explosion,” noted Down Beat, “has respectfully reclaimed 1930’s Paris for the 21st century.” The program is another prime entry in the 2015 Siskiyou Music Project series. It takes place in the unlikely elegance of Ashland’s Old Siskiyou Barn. The Parisian Musette Trio at The Skiskiyou Music Project.  (541) 488-3869.

New York City

Steve Kuhn

– Sept. 22 – 26. (Tues. – Sat.) Coltrane Revisited. What would have been Coltrane’s 89th birthday is celebrated by a band led by his former pianist, Steve Kuhn, along with Coltrane-influenced saxophonist Eric Alexander, drummer .Steve Smith, and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.


– Sept. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Ravi Coltrane Quartet. Tenor saxophonist Coltrane has convincingly taken his impressive skills well beyond the far-reaching shadow of his iconic father. The Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.


– Sept. 21 & 22. (Mon. & Tues.) The Music of Charlie Parker. Gilad Atzmon. Israeli alto saxophinst Atzmon revives the classic Parker with Strings performances. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.


Ronnie Cuber

– Sept. 24 & 25. (Fri. & Sat.) Ronnie Cuber and the Nikolaj Bentzon Trio. American baritone saxophonist Cuber gets together with Danish pianist Bentzon’s Danish/Hungarian trio. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.



Bebel Gilberto

Bebel Gilberto

– Sept. 23 – 26. (Wed. – Sat.) Bebel Gilberto. The daughter of Brazilian bossa nova master Joao Gilberto, Bebel has built a major career on her own impressive vocal skills. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


– Sept. 23 & 24. (Wed. & Thurs.) Dave Weckl with Makoto Ozone lead a band underscoring the truly international qualities of contemporary jazz. Featuring Tom Kennedy and Gary Meek. Tokyo Blue Note. +81 3-5485-0088.

Musical Theatre: “A Night With Janis Joplin” at the Pasadena Playhouse

August 10, 2015
Mike Finkelstein

Mike Finkelstein

By Mike Finkelstein

If you have even a kernel of curiosity about the legend of Janis Joplin or if you simply want to see some great rock-related live musical theater, you will want to get to the Pasadena Playhouse and see A Night with Janis Joplin before it closes on August 23. Putting this production into this beautifully restored venue in Old Towne Pasadena is a superb match.

They nailed the hippie esthetic — a classy set in a classy theater. The stage was covered with some of the snazziest hippie tapestries available, an iconic Egyptian-styled chair that Janis made famous, several very groovy, fringed lamps, and of course the velvet, boas, fringes, and beads in the costuming.

This production, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson, is signed, sealed and delivered with the uncanny performance by Tony-nominated Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin.

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin

To say she becomes Janis Joplin for the role may sound clichéd, but it was downright mesmerizing to watch Davies nail all of Janis’ mannerisms, quirks, and nuances in speech, song, and posture. Her speaking voice had the same giggling, twang and her hair even hung down from her temples just the way Janis’ did when she bent down to belt out a phrase. It seemed to me that Davies didn’t need to stretch much to carry the role of Janis Joplin.

And Davies was hardly in a talent bubble with a supporting cast of similarly powerful girl singers surrounding her as the Joplinaires. The girls also played the part of the girl group the Chantels, whose haunting gem “Maybe” was a huge influence on young Janis’ appreciation of how well music can put across powerful emotions. Yvette Cason (Aretha Franklin/Nina Simone), Sylvia MacCalla (Bessie Smith/Odetta), and Jenelle Lynne Randall (Etta James) all did justice to the luminaries they portrayed.

A Night With Janis Joplin is not a plot heavy show. In fact, the format is more or less like a VH1 Storytellers show, where the performer chooses material, introduces it anecdotally, and then performs it with a band. In A Night With Janis Joplin, Janis affably welcomes us into her life and presents us with the songs and the emotions that powered them for her. Because it’s musical theater, we get to see her talk about Etta James, Nina Simone, Odetta, Aretha Franklin and Bessie Smith, and then have these characters come out and proceed to lay down exactly what Janis is talking about.

The script is cleverly written to allow Davies to welcome us with stories from Janis’ vantage point. She leads with stories like when she and her siblings made their house cleaning chores into a production, performing Porgy and Bess and other musicals to records supplied by their mother as they worked. Following this lead-in is a great comparison of “Summertime,” sung bluesy and powerfully by Jenelle Randall and then rearranged by Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band’s version of this ubiquitous song was an early glimpse of the possibilities in interpreting traditional tunes with a rock slant. The elegantly busy bass lines, the beautiful harmony guitar lines, and the wonderful dynamics of the new version were an innovative high water mark at the time. Janis’ vocal on it was classic and to watch Davies sing it Friday was to know that she has been doing it for most of her life. She owned it. The band gave “Summertime” a real workout as they also did to “Piece of My Heart,” and “Cry Baby.”

A Night with Janis Joplin - Photo by Joan Marcus

A Night with Janis Joplin – Photo by Joan Marcus

Janis brought up the notion that songwriters ask so many good questions…but don’t answer them. The choices of songs like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Down on Me,” and “Tell Mama,” give us a sense of what rang true to Janis in other people’s music. One major theme of Janis Joplin’s life was that though she yearned for real love, she also needed to be on stage to be whole. And these considerations were often at odds with each other. She made the point that she just might not choose a good man over a good audience. This was a person who would not hesitate to go against the grain if it meant being true to herself.

It’s impossible to think about Janis Joplin without confronting the fact that alcohol and drug abuse led to her untimely death at the young age of 27. There’s no way around the fact that she was one of the founding members of the “27 club,” which also tragically includes mega-talents like Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. Though she casually picks up a bottle once in the show, the subject of booze, drugs, and self-medication are just not part of the program. It would have been fun to listen to the spunky and insightful rationale for this behavior that Davies’ Janis could surely have supplied.

Towards the end of her abruptly shortened career, Janis severed ties with Big Brother and took on Full Tilt Boogie as her backing band. It was with them that she made some of her most appealing and tastefully arranged music. Songs like “Half Moon,” and “Move Over,” and “Get It While You Can” would have been worthy of making the cut in the production, even though “Kozmic Blues,” and “Bobby McGee” did. Still it’s six of one and half dozen of the other. The material in the production is top flight, and it’s played and sung impeccably. Davies is a true dynamo as Janis, and transcended the show into something very special.

A NIght With Janis Joplin, photo by Earl Gibson III

A NIght With Janis Joplin, photo by Earl Gibson III

Walking out of the Pasadena Playhouse, I felt like I’d gotten to experience more of Janis than I had anticipated, both musically and spiritually. As I watched people sporting flowers in their hair, bell bottoms, and headbands like it was a costume party, I had to once again realize that the hippie days were, at their purest, a very creative time in history, and Janis Joplin was as iconic a hippie personality as there ever will be. But those days are long gone and a show like this is the closest most people will probably come to connecting with it. I’m delighted to have known her music years before she died and to know that a show like this one does real justice to her legacy. And what could be more important than that?

A Night With Janis Joplin continues at the Pasadena Playhouse through August 23.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

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:


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:


  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:


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:


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….

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop and Beyond with Roland Kirk’s “Rip, Rig, And Panic” (Emarcy)

July 22, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

By the mid 1960s, Roland Kirk had already established himself as one of the most unique forces in jazz. Being blind and able to play up to 3 horns simultaneously (and even a nose flute) was enough to get people’s attention. But aside from the visual stage performance, Kirk’s music was texturally and harmonically distinct. Kirk played tenor saxophone, manzello and flute and his compositions are still special and timeless.

On January 13, 1965, Kirk was joined by pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Richard Davis, and the great Elvin Jones on drums at Rudy Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, New Jersey to record Rip, Rig, and Panic. This highly experimental album combines hard bop, post bop, and avant-garde jazz in a delightfully peculiar manner that is impossible to forget.

Roland Kirk

Roland Kirk

The album’s opening track, “No Tonic Press” is a tribute to Lester Young. The track has no tonic in the “head” or melody line. Kirk starts out on tenor sax alone, but soon is playing tenor and manzello at the same time. Jaki Byard’s stride piano solo swings beyond belief. Elvin Jones drives this track’s rhythm with some of his typically brilliant drumming.

Kirk and the band’s rendition of “Once In A While” is almost a note for note tribute to Clifford Brown’s own masterful trumpet version from his performance on the live album Art Blakey At Birdland from 1954 on Blue Note.

“From Bechet, Byas, And Fats” is dedicated to Sidney Bechet, Don Byas, and Fats Waller. Kirk’s love of the history of jazz is prevalent throughout this track and the album. You can hear faint traces of Bechet at first when Kirk plays the melody line on soprano sax, and just a dash of Byas when he switches to tenor sax. But mostly you hear Kirk’s own style. There is the influence of John Coltrane in some of Kirk’s tenor lines but most tenor players were heavily inspired by Trane in 1965.

“Mystical Dream” showcases Kirk’s beautifully melodic flute playing. Byard’s solo is short but perfect. Elvin Jones starts off softly but is driven to more aggressive heights by the middle of this piece. Like Eric Dolphy and Yusef Lateef, Kirk brought atonality to the flute, making the instrument swing in new directions.

The title track is an exploration in sound and color. Kirk plays some hard but swinging microtones on the tenor sax until you expect to hear the sound of a glass breaking. The band then takes off, improvising around an ascending melody line. Kirk and the band venture “out” into the avant-garde here. Kirk eventually is playing tenor sax, manzello, and stritch all at once. Byard’s solo sounds like an odd mixture of Cedar Walton and early Cecil Taylor, and Elvin Jones just cooks. Davis’s subtle bass line is perfect for this sonic adventure.

“Black Diamond” is a modal ballad in the style of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” It sounds more like Brubeck on acid. Kirk’s manzello floats atop Byard’s piano comping and the pulsating rhythms of Davis and Jones. Kirk’s lines are harmonically brilliant.

“Slippery, Hippery, Flippery” is another sonic journey that feels slightly like Pharoah Sanders’ music of that time. Eastern music influences are definitely present here. The music is harsh, chaotic, and beautiful.

Roland Kirk’s music becomes even more important with time. Although this may not be one of his most popular releases, Rip, Rig, And Panic is one of his greatest; a true gem on all levels. Do not miss out on this one.

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

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.




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