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: Musette Explosion, A Parisian Musette Trio at Ashland’s Old Siskiyou Barn

September 24, 2015

Don Heckman

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. The Siskiyou Music Project performance at the Old Siskiyou Barn Wednesday night was an unlikely combination of elements on several counts – all of them musically fascinating.

Start with the group: Musette Explosion, – which included Matt Munisteri on guitar, Will Holshouser on accordion and Marcus Rojas on tuba. An instrumentation that is both unusual and aurally challenging.

Will Holshouser

With Holshouser’s accordion leading the way, Musette Explosion’s music, at least part of its essence suggested by the word Musette in their name, was equally a rare blend of sources, reaching from Parisian cabaret, musette and dance hall to American jazz. And finding common creative territory among them all.

The evening’s program delved into traditional repertoire via songs such as “Automne,” “La Sorciere,” “Douce Joie” and Flambee” as well as original works by the group members. But the element that was consistent throughout was a danceable, buoyant rhythmic swing, often in ¾.

Musette Explosion

Add to that the way in which inventive improvising flowed from one instrument to another. Holshouser’s accordion provided the essential stylistic timbre, recalling the sound of a musette dance hall, enlivened with occasional swinging improvisations.

Matt Munisteri

Guitarist Munisteri was a virtual rhythm section in himself. Alternating lush harmonic textures with strumming powerful enough to produce the drive of a drum set, he too offered inventive passages of his own.

Marcus Rojas

It was tuba player Rojas, however, who was the most unexpectedly ingenious participant. Usually laying down a flowing melodic bottom to the music, he also frequently embarked upon remarkable solos. Ranging the full extent of his seemingly cumbersome instrument, he ran the gamut of improvisational sounds – roaring, jiving, thumping and sometimes even producing echoey shrieks.

All together it was a remarkable musical assemblage. True to their name, Musette Explosion recalled the musette dance hall tradition, while adding a lot more, inspired by their jazz roots, and delivering another one of the Siskiyou Music Project’s creative musical evenings.

* * * * * * * *

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


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.

* * * * * * * *

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

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….

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: 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.


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’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.

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



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