Highlights of the Long Weekend: In Los Angeles

April 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter

– April 16. (Thurs.) The Mutter Bronfman Harrell Trio. Three international virtuosi – violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianist Yefim Bronfman and cellist Lynn Harrell – apply their remarkable skills to a program of classic piano trios: Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 “Archduke” and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800.

Pat Senatore

– April 16. (Thurs.) The Pat Senatore Trio. A cross-generational performance, with veteran bassist Senatore finding common creative ground with rising young stars Josh Nelson, piano, and Dan Schnelle, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– April 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Neeme Jarvi, perform an evening of Brahms: Symphony No. 4 and the Tragic Overture. Violinist Martin Chalifour is aso featured on Suk’s Romantic Reverie. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Kevin Bachelder and Jason Lee Bruns

Kevin Bachelder and Jason Lee Bruns

-April 17. (Fri.) Jason Lee Bruns Jazz Collective. Drummer Bruns and singer Kevin Bachelder celebrate the release of their dynamic new CD, Cherry Avenue. The E-Spot at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– April 18. (Sat.) An Evening With Gilberto Gil. The great Brazilian singer/songwriter makes a rare Southland appearance. Center for the Art of Performance at U.C.L.A.  (310) 825-0768.

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

-Apil 18. (Sat.) Judy Wexler. Convincingly singing and swinging her way across pop through jazz, Judy is a uniquely original artist.  This time out, she celebrates her “Surreal 60th Birthday Bash.” The E-Spot at Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– April 18. (Sat.) The Martha Graham Dance Company. The great dance company performs a set of Graham classics: Appalachian Spring, Lamentation Variations, Errand and Echo-Foniadakis. Valley Performing Arts Center.
(818) 677-8800.

– April 19 (Sun.) Omar Sosa. For years, Sosa has been finding fascinating creative connections between jazz and many other areas of the world’s music. He’s backed by Leandro Saint-Hill, saxophones, flute; Ernesto Simpson, drums; Childo Tomas, electric bass. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Denise Donatelli

Denise Donatelli

– April 19. (Sun.) Denise Donatelli. Listening to Denise’s warm embracing voice and the buoyant swing she brings to every performance — recorded and live — inevitably raises the question as to why this gifted vocalist still hasn’t received a Grammy. But, awards or not, she continues to offer performances that are always memorable events. Don’t miss this one. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Highlight of the Mid-Week in L.A.: Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill at the Gardenia

March 31, 2015

by Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. No April Foolin’ around on this April 1st at the Gardenia, Hollywood’s musically rich cabaret room. The arrival of Bay area singer Wesla Whitfield and her pianist/husband Mike Greensill is a guarantee that Wednesday night will showcase a memorable evening of classics from the Great American Songbook.

Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill

Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill

I first wrote about Wesla in a Los Angeles Times 1988 Review, describing her “as a singer who not only tells a story with the dramatic sensitivity of a superb actress, but who has evolved into a marvelously subtle, jazz-based interpreter.” In the intervening decades I heard Wesla many times and wrote more reviews. And in each, I had to stretch my vocabulary of praise in an effort to describe the growing expressiveness and musicality of her art.

Wesla and Mike are based in the Bay area, performing in major venues across the U.S. and beyond. But her appearances in the Los Angeles area are rare, making Wednesday’s performance at the Gardenia – a room with the intimacy to see and hear Wesla up close and personal – an opportunity not to be missed.

** * * * * * *

So How Great Were Wesla and Mike In Their Performance At The Gardenia?

Here’s a brief review by a member of the audience.

By Bruce Lohman:

Wesla’s performance was extraordinary.  She really has it all—a truly lovely timbre, perfectly placed pitch, sustained pianissimo high notes that make your heart stop, fresh compelling takes on standards that you don’t want to end, compelling takes on not-so-standards that you don’t want to end, endings that suspend in mid-air leaving you holding your breath,  a gifted husband who provides piano support that is not only arresting in and of itself, but is perfectly matched to her style and grace.

And I have to say, the combination of Mike Greensill, Wesla, and the sweetness of the Gardenia piano, along with the stars, were simply in perfect alignment.  It wasn’t just a performance—it was a musical experience.  Mike even sang himself—yet another ear-opening revelation in this memorable night.

The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood. (323) 467-7444.


Live Chamber Music: The Daedalus Quartet

March 9, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. It was string quartet time again Friday and Saturday at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall. The spotlight was on the Daedalus Quartet, with violist Martin Beaver added for the final piece on the program.

Like the season’s previous string quartet programs presented by Chamber Music Concerts, the evening offered a compelling view of the far ranging compositional creativity that the seemingly minimal quartet instrumentation (two violins, viola and cello) has inspired in composers over the course of three centuries.

This time, two works from the Romantic period – one by Robert Schumann, another by Felix Mendelssohn – book-ended a 20th century piece by Russian/Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Each provided its own interpretive challenges to the Daedalus players (violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Thomas Kraines), who responded with an impressive blend of technical virtuosity and interpretive excellence.

Daedalus Quartet: Matilda Kaul, Min-Young Kim, Jessica Thompson, Thomas Kraines

Schumann’s String Quartet in F Major, Op.41 opened the program. The piece’s vibrant opening Allegro Vivace and closing Allegro Molto Vivace are definitive examples of Schumann’s dedication to the rich emotionalism of the Romantic era.

Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann

Both a critic and a composer, he was that rare example of a music commentator who could match musical recommendations with accomplishments of his own. The Daedalus players perfectly captured the vibrant enthusiasm that Schumann invested in the Quartet. Playful at times, deeply emotional elsewhere, they began the evening with a performance perfectly indicating the musical pleasures that were yet to come.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

It would, however, be a stretch to use the word “pleasures” in the context of Weinberg’s String Quartet No. 10, OP. 85. Weinberg lived a troubled life in Stalin’s Soviet Union, surviving as a composer because of his friendship with Shostakovich. His affection for dissonance caused problems, yet he refused to modify his creative vision. And it was vividly present in his String Quartet, which was, from beginning to end, a virtual primer in half tone dissonances.

To the credit of the Daedalus players, they played Weinberg’s difficult music, despite its demanding pitch relationships, with alacrity. More than a technical achievement, it was a remarkable display of collective musical togetherness.

Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn

By the time the program reached the final work, Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1 in A Major, it was received as a welcome glance back to Romanticism. And the Quintet (with the addition of violist Beaver) made the switch from Weinberg, happily embracing Mendelssohn’s captivating work. Interestingly, it too included technical challenges. But Mendelssohn positioned them within delightfully amiable blends of melody and rhythm. Given the far ranging aspects of the evening’s music, the Mendelssohn provided the perfect ending.

All kudos then, to Chamber Music Concerts and its Executive Director Jody Schmidt. For this music fan, along with many others, CMC’s thoughtfully chosen programs are among the many pleasures of living in Ashland.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of Daedalus Quartet by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Live Music: The Bill Frisell Quartet at the Ashland Armory.

January 31, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. It’s been considerably more than two decades since I first wrote about a Bill Frisell program – a review in 1989 for the Los Angeles Times. I covered several other Frisell events for the Times in the interim, as well. And, although there were a few performances that aroused some disapproving responses, most of what I heard was consistent with a comment I made in that first review: “Frisell may well become one of the most provocative voices of the ’90s.”

Which he did, and which he has continued to do, well into the new century. And his performance at the Ashland Armory Thursday night was a good example of another comment I made in that early review, describing Frisell as “an artist with serious intentions.”

Intentions that were fully on display in the hour and a half set offered by Frisell and his creatively supportive associates, steel guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scheer and drummer Kenny Wollesen.

Greg Leisz, Tony Scheer, Kenny Wollesen and Bill Frisell

The performance was consistent with the approach Frisell has taken in recent years – a musical collective impressively blending pre-planned arrangements with vividly alive, improvisational spontaneity. The impact was enhanced by an almost non-stop flow of music. A few numbers concluded with lengthy, emotionally layered endings. More often, one piece after another blended amiably together without a break, handled with ease by Frisell and his world class musical companions.

This fascinating approach was applied to Frisell’s characteristic interest in a wide stylistic range of material. And he touched most of his interests – from country and Americana to blues, groove and beyond. Some of the instantly compelling moments were provided by a ¾ country tune juxtaposed against some country swing, a touching version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the Americana classic, “Shenandoah” and a few compelling excursions into blues and rock.

Typically, Frisell had almost nothing to say to the enthusiastic, packed house crowd, clearly preferring to let the music speak for itself, a wise choice. Suffice to say that Frisell and his world class players were in rare form, individually and collectively.

And, as this captivating evening came to a close, I couldn’t help but feel pleased that my decades-old comments about the future potential of Frisell’s artistry had accurately forecast the extent of his remarkable, still growing career.

* * * * * * * *

Photo by Paul Moore courtesy of Bill Frisell.

* * * * * * * *

It’s also worth noting that this was my first review of a performance at the Ashland Armory. And, despite the venue’s large, open space, its acoustics were surprisingly good. I look forward to doing more reviews in this musically friendly space.

Picks of the Weekend: January 23 – 25 in Los Angeles

January 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

It’s a slow week for music venues around the world, but there’s always a lot happening in L.A. Here’s a sampling for this weekend.

Tango Buenos Aires

Tango Buenos Aires

Jan. 23 (Fri.) Tango Buenos Aires. The Argentinian dance ensemble applies the erotic dance movements of the tango to “The Song of Eva Peron,” a work inspired by one of Argentina’s most memorable historical figures. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800.

Emanuel Ax

Emanuel Ax

   – Jan. 23 – 25 (Fri – Sun.)   Emanuel Ax Plays Chopin. The revered veteran pianist Ax performs Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya. And there’s more – the Phil, conducted by Harth-Bedoya, also offers a performance of Prokofiev’s rarely heard Suite from the ballet Cinderella. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 23 (Fri.)  Tony Galla.  His warm baritone voice sets the mood all over television in shows such as The L Word, The Wedding Planner and more.  Here’s an opportunity to hear Galla’s eclectic balladry up close and personal.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Jan. 23 & 25. (Fri. & Sun.) The Jazz Ministry. The father and son team of drummer Abraham Laboriel, Jr. and bassist Abraham Laboriel, Sr. join up with keyboardist Greg Mathieson and guitarist Michael Landau in an inspiring exploration of the soulful roots of jazz. The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

Lauren Chipman

Lauren Chipman

Jan. 24. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. Conducted by Boris Brott, one of the Southland’s most adventurous ensembles takes on a far reaching program that includes Respighi’s Pines of Room, Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien and Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. Also on the bill – Mike Garson‘s newly comissioned Viola Variations on a Theme of Paganini, featuring violist Lauren Chipman. The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. . (805) 449-2100.

Tom Scott

Tom Scott

Jan. 24. (Sat.) Tom Scott with the Ron Kobayshi Trio. Grammy Award winner Scott, always a compelling improviser, will be at his best in the sterling company of the Kobayshi players. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

Jan. 25. (Sun.) The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra plays Vivaldi and Schubert. The ensemble’s deeply descriptive interpretive skills are at their most impressive in a program reaching across a century of classical genres. A CAP UCLA concert at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2210.

Jan. 25. (Sun.) Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra and singer Seth MacFarlane. Catalina . (323) 466-2210. Animation producer, director and creator (of show such as Family Guy and American Guy) MacFarlane also has ambitions to display his creativity as a singer, as well. Click HERE.To read an iRoM review of a previous performance by MacFarlane and the Jones Orchestra.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Here, There & Everywhere: the 2015 Grammy Jazz Nominations

December 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s that time of year again, when the Grammy nominations are posted for members of the Recording Academy to vote for their favorite performances of the previous year.  After decades of membership, I’m no longer a member of the Academy.  But it’s always fascinating to check out the nominations.  And, although it’s interesting to see who wins the awards, it’s even more compelling to check out the surprises (or lack of same) in the choices for nominees in the various categories.

So here are the nominees in the five jazz categories.  And I suspect that most jazz listeners and observers would suggest that there are few surprising entries in the lists.  That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the choices.  Any of these nominees would be a worthy winner of the Grammy award in their category.  But, as with most annual lists of Grammy nominees there’s little to suggest real interest in encouraging the efforts of new, young talent.

That said, here’s a list of the choices (not forecasts) I would vote for in the five categories:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo: Always the most difficult category of all, given the question of how one judges the “Best” of a group of improvisations.  Anyhow, my choice would be Chick Corea, who never fails to surprise me in a solo, and he’s in fine shape in this one.  It’s also worth mentioning that his playing sounds even more impressive in the context of the stellar competition of three other superb pianists and the tenor saxophone styings of Joe Lovano.

Best Jazz Vocal album:  Why in the world does the Academy group all jazz vocal artists — male, female and ensembles — into one category.  I’m musically pleased by all these artists.  But I think Tierney Sutton’s remarkable tour de force with guitarist Serge Merlaud is a brilliant performance, as unique a vocal effort as I can recall since Sheila Jordan’s first recordings with solo bass accompaniment.


Best Jazz Instrumental Album: As with the Best Improvised Solo category it’s difficult to determine what standards of excellence to use in choosing a winner.  Note, as well, that both Chick Corea and Fred Hersch have nominations in both categories — a temptation for winners to split their ballot to vote for one or the other in one of the categories.  I, however, favor Jason Moran’s illuminating tribute to Fats Waller.


The Best Large Ensemble is overflowing with enough big jazz group sounds to delight those of us who will always be delighted by the big jazz ensemble in its many forms and sounds.  But I was especially pleased by the Clayton-Hamilton’s tribute to some of the memorable talent in the L.A. jazz world. Always — in the gifted writing and playing of John Clayton — a superb ensemble, they’re once again at their finest in this outing.  As an alternative, I could easily have chosen the briskly swinging performance by Gordon Goodwin’s always listenable Big Phat Band.

The Best Latin Jazz Album: As in the Large Ensemble category, I’ve found myself having to choose between two entries: Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Conrad Herwig’s The Latin Side of Joe Henderson.  Ultimately I couldn’t resist the presence of Joe Lovano playing Joe Henderson tunes.  But it was a tough call.


And here are all the jazz nominees.  Make your own choices.

* * * * * * * *

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

The Eye Of The Hurricane
Kenny Barron, soloist
Track from: Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio) (Whaling City Sound)

Chick Corea, soloist
Track from: Trilogy (Chick Corea Trio) (Concord Jazz)

You & the Night & the Music

Fred Hersch, soloist                                                                                                                           Track from “Floating” (Fred Hersch Trio) (Palmetto Records)

Recorda Me

Joe Lovano, soloist
Track from: The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano) (Half Note)

Sleeping Giant (Nonesuch)
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Mehliana: Taming The Dragon (Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana) (Nonesuch)

Best Jazz Vocal Album

Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Masterworks)
(Billy Childs & Various Artists)

I Wanna Be Evil (Motema Music)
René Marie

Live In NYC (Obliqsound)
Gretchen Parlato

Beautiful Life (Concord Records)
Dianne Reeves

Paris Sessions (BFM Jazz)
Tierney Sutton


Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Landmarks (Blue Note Records)
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

Trilogy (Concord Jazz)
Chick Corea Trio

Floating (Palmetto Records)
Fred Hersch Trio

Enjoy The View (Blue Note Records)
Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco Featuring Billy Hart

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller (Blue Note Records)
Jason Moran


Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

The L.A. Treasures Project (Capri Records, Ltd.)
The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

Life In The Bubble (Telarc International)
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (Motema Music)
Rufus Reid

Live: I Hear The Sound  (Archie Ball)
Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra

OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer (Planet Arts Recordings)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra


Best Latin Jazz Album

The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Half Note)
Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano

The Pedrito Martinez Group (Motema Music)
The Pedrito Martinez Group

The Offense Of The Drum (Motema Music)
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Second Half (Emilio Solla Music)
Emilio Solla Y La Inestable De Brooklyn

New Throned King (Label: 5Passion)
Yosvany Terry


Live Music: Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 5, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood. Any evening of music with the names of Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at the top of the program is pretty much guaranteed to offer plenty of memorable moments. Which is exactly what happened Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.

The overflow crowd of enthusiastic fans, filling virtually every table in Catalina Popescu’s large, but still warm and cozy venue, were there because of their awareness of the stellar qualities of the two headliners.

Corky Hale

Corky Hale



The versatile Hale is a remarkable multi-hyphenate, doubling impressively on harp and piano, and a first call studio player on both instruments, singing with her own uniquely interpretive vocal qualities and a frequent discoverer and supporter of new young vocal talent. (Add to that her year round efforts to support candidates of the Democratic Party – more evidence of the vitality that has been present over the course of Hale’s long dynamic career.)




Eloise Laws

Eloise Laws



Laws is, of course, a member of the remarkable Laws family – which also includes flutist Hubert Laws, saxophonist Ronnie Laws and singer Debra Laws. But her lengthy and busy career – reaching back to the ’70s is her own. Although she has demonstrated prime talents as a back up singer, she has firmly established herself as master of crossover styles reaching across pop, blues, r&b and jazz. Nor can we overlook her skills as a producer, actress and writer for the stage.


The performance by Hale and Laws – titled “Sister! A Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – provided an excellent opportunity for each to display her various talents. Hale moved frequently from piano to harp, pausing on a few occasions to take the vocal microphone herself. Laws, occasionally interacting humorously with her listeners, displayed her stylistic range with a rich program of songs.

Each also dealt with some occasional uncertainty about which song was coming next, transforming the confusion into improvisational banter. Although it may have seemed disorienting from the performers’ on stage perspective, it was – for the audience – another of the evening’s many delights.

Add to that, the music itself. Among the numerous highlights:

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Laws quickly dug into the theme of the show – “Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – with a a briskly swinging romp through “How High the Moon” recalling the classic Ella Fitzgerald version. And she followed with other salutes – to Billie Holiday with “God Bless the Child,” Peggy Lee with “Fever,” and Shirley Horn with “Here’s To Life” (accompanied by pianist Artie Butler, who composed the song with lyricist Phyllis Molinary), and more. Further displaying her interpretive range, she offered a lyrical reading of “Send in the Clowns” and dueted with Hale’s harp accompaniment on “My Ship” and guitarist John Chiodini’s backing on “I’m Old Fashioned,”

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Hale was the dynamo for the entire performance. Moving from the piano to the harp and back to the piano, energizing the backing of the rhythm section and keeping track of the program, she only had the opportunity to sing a few vocals. When she did – especially on “I Want To Be Happy” and “S’Wonderful” – she left the audience (and this listener) wishing for more. Hale’s generosity with other singers, often present in her performances, was an essential part of this evening, as well. And the results made for a program overflowing with entertaining musicality.

Still, as I’ve written in past reviews of Hale’s appearances, I hope that she will also continue to find – amid her immensely busy life – time to express her own musical creativity, as well.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.


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