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.


Picks of the West Coast Weekend: June 12 – 15

June 12, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles



– June 12. (Fri.) Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick. A pair of rock icons turn up the juice when Grammy winner Frampton encounters the high voltage of Cheap Trick. Click HERE to read a previous iRoM review of Frampton in action. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

– June 12. (Fri.) The Dafnis Prieto Sextet. “Triangles and Circles. One of the Southland’s favorite drummers applies his strong instrumental skills alongside his role as a powerful band leader, as well. A Jazz Bakery event at Zipper Concert Hall.  (310) 271-9039.

Maude Maggart

Maude Maggart

– June 12 & 13. (Dei. & Sat.  Maude Maggart.  She comes from a show biz family (her sister is Fiona Apple, her parents Broadway veterans), but cabaret singer Maggart has found her own identity as a musical artist.  No wonder her dedicated fans insist that her performances are not just heard — they’re experienced.  Tom ROlla’s Gardenia. On Facebook as Gardenia Arts and Entertainment.  (323) 467-7444.

– June 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) The Ojai Music Festival. As always, Ojai has a boundless array of music taking place throughout the Festival. For a complete schedule click here: The Ojai Music Festival.

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

– June 12 & 13. (Fri. & Sat.) Strunz & Farah. The guitar playing team of Costa Rican Strunz and Iranian Farah have been in the international vanguard of world music for more than three decades. And they’re still at their best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.


Herbie Hancock

– June 13 & 14 (Sat. & Sun.) The Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and young players from the Monk Institute of Jazz Performance are featured on both days.


Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Click HERE to read iRoM’s Q&A with Wayne Shorter about his performance with the young Monk Institute players.

Other highlight artists performing in the 37th Playboy Jazz Festival include Jason Moran, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra under the direction of Anthony Wilson, Eddie Palmieri, Tower of Power, Alowe Blacc, Snarky Puppy and more. For a complete schedule click here: The Playboy Jazz Festival.  (323) 850 – 2000.

– June 13 (Sat.)Vintage Masters of Swing. The Musicians at Play Foundation presents a high voltage evening of music, featuring an all-star big band, led by Tim Simonec, performing new arrangements of old favorites. The list of arrangers is a virtual collection of iconic figures: Van Alexander, Sammy Nestico, Bill Holman, Ralph CarMichael and Pat Williams. Vocalists include Tierney Sutton, Sue Raney and Janene Lovullo. 7:30 p.m. at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Tickets can be purchased at (818) 994-4661.

Sue Raney

Sue Raney

– June 14. (Sun.) Sue Raney Sings the Music of Henry Mancini. A fine jazz vocalist who doesn’t always get the attention her talents deserve, Raney is a convincing interpreter for the lyrical, story-telling Mancini catalog of songs.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

June 14. (Sun.) The Family Stone. The 50th anniversary of Sly and the Family Stone is celebrated in a joyous evening of memorable music. Yoshi’s. (510) 238-9200.

Santa Cruz

– June 12. (Fri.) Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge. Two fine young guitarist test their imaginative ideas against each other. / Kuumbwa. (831) 427-2227.

Ashland, Oregon

– June 14. (Sun.) Occidental Gypsy. The Siskiyou Music Project showcases an evening of music performed by Rhode Island’s Occidental Gypsy, illuminating the worldwide  popularity of Gypsy music in all its forms. The Siskiyou Music Project at the Paschal Winery.  (541) 488-3869.


Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

June 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) Arturo Sandoval. Multi-talented, musically versatile Sandoval is likely, on almost any given performance, to play brilliantly on trumpet, piano and drums, along with his impressive vocalizing. This time out he’ll display his wares backed by a quintet. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

Picks of the Week: June 12 – 16

June 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– June 12. (Wed.)  Julian Coryell.  He’s received an impressive guitar-playing legacy from his father, Larry Coryell.  But Julian has thoroughly developed a creative style of his own.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Cindy Lauper

Cindy Lauper

– June 13. (Thurs.)  Cindy Lauper.  30th Anniversary: She’s So Unusual Tour.  The inimitable Cindy Lauper celebrates the anniversary of her debut album.  She’ll be joined by the all-girl alternative rock band, Hunter ValentineGreek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

June 13. (Thurs.)  Upright Cabaret’s LEATHER & LACE: Music of Don Henley, Stevie Nicks & Neil Young!  An entertaining evening of some unusual songs.  Starring Yvette Cason, Jake Simpson and more.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– June 13. (Thurs.)  Annie Trousseau offers some impressive musical reminders of the legendary Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– June 14 – 16. (Fri. – Sun.)  Barry Manilow.  It may be Southern California, but Manilow revives his critically acclaimed “Barry Manilow on Broadway” concert, with all its hit songs, to Southland listeners.  The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– June 15 & 16. (Sat. & Sun.)  Playboy Jazz Festival.  The 35th installment in Playboy’s annual tribute to jazz arrives with its usual stellar line-up of talent.  Among the highlights on Sat.: Gregory Porter, Angelique Kidjo, Gordon Goodwin with Lee Ritenour, Naturally 7 with guest Herbie Hancock and George Duke.  On Sunday: the Brubeck Brothers, Taj Mahal, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Bob James and David Sanborn, India.Arie, Sheila E. and Trombone Shorty Hollywood Bowl.     (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

– June 13. (Thurs.)  Enrico Rava Tribe.  Featuring Gianluca Petrella.   Veteran Italian jazz trumpeter Rava leads his band Tribe, a European collection of some of Europe’s finest young players, including trombonist Petrella.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

Washington D.C.

Patrice Rushen

Patrice Rushen

– June 13 – 16 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Buster William’s “Something More Quartet.”  And a pretty impressive quartet it is, with keyboardist Patrice Rushen, saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Cindy Blackman-SantanaBlues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

New York City

– June 12 & 13. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Kenny Werner Coalition.  Pianist Werner, always in search of new ideas, plays with the versatile, adventurous aid of guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Benjamin Koppel, and drummer Ferenc NemethThe Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Ravi COltrane

Ravi COltrane

– June 12 – 15. (Wed. – Sat.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Saxophonist Coltrane is another second generation jazz artist.  And, like his father, the iconic John Coltrane, he is an imaginative, cutting edge performer.  He’s backed by  Adam Rogers, guitar, Dezron Douglas, bass, Johnathan Blake, drums.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080


– June 15 & 16. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The veteran New Orleans brass band keeps the incomparably high spirited New Orleans jazz tradition alive. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.


Eddie Palmieri

Eddie Palmieri

– June 14. (Fri.)  Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra.  Pianist Palmieri, sometimes described as the Thelonious Monk of Latin jazz, is an irresistibly appealing jazz artist.  Paris New Morning.    +33 1 45 23 51 41

A Twist Of Doc: Devon “Doc” Wendell’s Musical Highlights of 2012

January 3, 2013

By Devon Wendell

Now I must push through those big barriers that keep a thinking/nerdy musician like myself stagnant and trapped in one or two musical eras or genres, far from today and far from this exact moment in history. I must dissolve the bitterness and the frustration, and the notion that it’s all nothing more than blurry, recycled fragments of musical shades and rudiments created so long ago. The nothing new today but newly done old music is so easy to live in, to cocoon myself in the warmth of familiarity and sentimentality.  2012 was a concrete year like all others behind us with its own unique fingerprint in time, so I look back at some of my favorite moments in the music of 2012.


Let’s start where it all begins: the blues. This past year Shemekia Copeland released one of the most powerful and poignant blues albums I’ve ever heard. Copeland’s 33 1/3 (Telarc) not only displayed Copeland’s confident tenor blues vocals, and stellar arrangements — which combine not only blues, but also country, funk, gospel, and rock —  it also showed she is a true blues poet. The lyrics on 33 1/3 deal with such topics as poverty on the loud and angry “Lemon Pie” and domestic violence on the chilling “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo” (Which features slashing blues guitar leads by Buddy Guy.)

The blues began as a poetic art form as heard in the early country blues of Bukka White, Skip James, and Blind Willie McTell, but those elements got lost for the most part in modern blues, so it’s a refreshing sign to hear an artist as popular as Copeland help bring it all back.  33 1/3 has received a Grammy nomination for best blues album of 2012.


In the jazz category, innovative pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal returned to the studio with a bright new quartet (Reginald Veal: bass, Herlin Riley: drums, and 22 year old percussionist Jamal “Conguero” Manolo Badrena) on Blue Moon (Jazz Village).  The quartet on Blue Moon has that tightness, focus and groove demonstrated by Jamal’s trio (Jamal: piano, Israel Crosby: bass, and Vernell Fournier on drums) on his classic album Ahmad Jamal: But Not For Me: Live At The Pershing Lounge, 1958 (Originally issued on Argo).  Jamal’s sense of dynamics, discipline, harmony and space (which transformed jazz forever in the late to mid 50s, influencing everyone from Miles Davis and Red Garland to Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock) is more prevalent now than ever before.

He and his quartet enhance the one-of-a-kind Jamal sound with new twists to such classics as Johnny Mercer’s “Laura,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody’ N You” (which Jamal had recorded on the But Not For Me album 54 years ago), as well as some originals: “This Is The Life” and “Invitation.” Jamal’s wonderfully transformative adaptation of Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon,” like a Thelonious Monk cover, shows how this jazz master can take a standard and make it his own with the use of syncopation, strong pedal points, and altered harmonies, which alone makes the album worth purchasing. The track earned Jamal a Grammy nomination for best jazz instrumental.

 Rock ‘n’ Roll

In Rock ‘n’ Roll, Bob Dylan’s Tempest (Columbia) deals with violence, rage, mortality, and lost love. Although these universal themes have been used time and time again by Dylan since the beginning of his career, he always makes his misery and anger feel fresh to the masses. This is certainly the case on Tempest. It is also important to note that his band swings hard.  From the jump blues of “Duquesne Whistle,” the Delta blues of The Mississippi Sheik’s “Narrow Way,” and the Celtic rhythms of “Tempest,” Dylan’s band (Tony Garnier: bass, Donnie Herron: steel guitar, banjo, violin, mandolin, David Hidalgo: guitar, accordion, violin, Stu Kimball: guitar, George G. Receli: drums, and Charlie Sexton: guitar) proves that they can follow the man anywhere he wanders while adding strong melodic texturing to every phrase and song.  This may not be a musical romp through the park but it’s pure Dylan, attitude and all.

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The release of Carole King’s Legendary Demos (Hear Music/Concord Music Group) was the most shocking hidden treasure to surface this past year.   This collection consists of demos recorded in New York City’s Brill building both with her ex-writing partner and ex- husband Gerry Goffin in the early to mid 60s, all the way through her infamous Tapestry sessions in 1970. King was writing hits for such artists as the Monkees, The Turtles, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Vee, the Righteous Brothers, Gene Pitney, and dozens of others.

There’s a mournful intimacy to the sound of King, both alone with her piano and with studio session players. This is especially true on the demos for Tapestry. King has every phrase and nuance figured out for the multitude of artists who will be recording her songs. But the power of King’s warm vocals and her gospel-fueled piano playing makes classics like “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “So Goes Love,” “Take Good Care Of My Baby” and “Yours Until Tomorrow” feel as if they should only have been recorded by King, which most of us would not have expected. Before hearing the demos, it was hard for me to even imagine her singing these songs at all. There’s none of the schmaltz on King’s demos that many of the 60s pop bands would later add to her songs.  This compilation gives an insight to King’s genius as a writer, arranger, and most of all, as a brilliant musician in her own right.

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Another highlight in the category of rock is Donald Fagen’s Sunken Condos (Reprise) and I say this not because I once worked for the man, but because Fagen’s fusing of hip/sly lyrics with slick funk and jazz harmonies has an irresistible groove throughout the entire album. There’s a more dissonant sonic quality to this album than Fagen’s work with Steely Dan and this sounds nothing like Fagen’s three previous solo recordings.

Steely Dan trumpeter Michael Leonhart co-produced the album with Fagen as well as playing drums (under the alias of Earl Cook Jr.) plus adding keys and even contributing to the crisp engineering.  And Kurt Rosenwinkel’s guitar solo on “Planet D’Rhonda” sounds like Kenny Burrell on acid, which every guitar player must check out.

 Live Performance

I’ve include one exhilarating live performance on my list of highlights: Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra At The Hollywood Bowl on August 17th.  Although Palmieri’s set was painfully short (under 45 minutes), in order to give way for the more pop oriented Ruben Blades, this master of Latin jazz got cooking from the second he took the Bowl stage. Palmieri and his Orchestra performed such classics as “La Liberta Logica,” “Pa La Ocha Tamba,” and his biggest hit, “Azucar Pa Ti.” Palmieri was joined by the stellar jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch, whose frenetic style was the perfect counterpoint to Palmieri’s sparse, percussive, and syncopated piano playing – a style that has earned him the title; “The Latin Thelonious Monk.”

Palmieri lit a fire under the band on this hot August night. On his first solo during “La Liberta Logica,” he played very few notes but they were more brilliantly executed than a thousand notes could ever be played by anyone else. The energy from this solo spread to the percussionists (Joes Clauselle: timbales, Little Johnny Rivero: congas, Joseph Gonzalez: maracas, and Orlando Vega on bongos) who generated a tidal wave of polyrhythms and Afro-Cuban hooks that felt as if they had always been a part of my entire being.  This was a performance not only to remember in 2012, but for a lifetime.

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These are my musical highlights of 2012. I know what many of you are asking after reading this or anything else I’ve written for The International Review Of Music: “No Justin Bieber, No Chris Brown or Katie Perry?” “What’s Up Doc?!” Well, don’t hold your breath, and there’s always 2013, so stay tuned folks.

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

Live Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival Notebook; Day #1

September 22, 2012

By Michael Katz

At about a quarter to eight last night, a line snaked down the midway at the Monterey Fairgrounds leading to the Coffee House, the smallest of the grounds venues at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I have been attending this festival since the mid-nineties, and as much as I love the sound and feel of the small combos that are staged there, I can’t remember such a line for the Coffee House opener.  Then again, Mulgrew Miller had never fronted a trio there before.

Mulgrew Miller

Miller commanded the stage from the opening notes. There was an undercurrent of blues in his crisp, clear tones, as he launched into a standard, “If I Should Lose You.” It was more evident in the next number, one of his own  compositions, “When I Got There.” Not recognizing the tune, I could sense a Monkish spirit, with a little bit of Fats Waller oozing out. The trio, with Ivan Taylor on bass and Rodney Green on drums, was tight throughout, bouncing between Jobim’s “O Grande Amor” and Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Dream.” It was just classic piano trio music, a perfect way to kick off the festival. An homage to Charlie Parker, “Relaxin’ At Camarillo” finished off the set, and then it was back off into the evening.

Tammi Brown

And it was a chilly evening. Layers came on as early as the opening set at the Garden Stage, where Santa Cruz singer Tammi Brown kicked off MJF 55 with a soulful set, fronting a group full of Bay Area musicians, leading off with her version of a couple of Hal David/Burt Bacharach tunes, “What The World Needs Now” and “Look of Love,” before wowing the early arrivals with an extended jam session. In the backdrop was a gorgeous Monterey sunset, the clouds turning a deep pink behind Brown and her group.

Jack DeJohnette

Every MJF presents strategic options, given the four basic grounds venues and the main Arena show.  Last night I spent little time with the headliners, which is not to slight the Arena line-up. I heard the Big Phat Band was great, but I’ve seen them plenty in LA. After the Mulgrew Miller set, I dropped in for about twenty minutes of Jack DeJohnette’s eclectic group featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto and David Fiuczinski on guitar. I caught most of an extended flight into Shorter-like territory, noteworthy for DeJohnette’s spatial patter on the drum set. It was thoroughly enjoyable, but I’ll catch the drummer at least once more over the weekend; I was eager to hear Gregoire Maret’s set across the way at the Night Club, so off I went.

Gregoire Maret

To say that harmonica player Maret’s sound bears a resemblance to Toot’s Thielemans makes it distinctly different than anyone else. It’s a haunting sound, full within the limited confines of the instrument. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself in a small club in Paris, the sound wafting into a summer’s night. At first I thought Maret had trouble making the sound heard above his quartet, with Matt Brewer starting on electric bass and Clarence Penn on drums.  I sensed a little uncertainty from the audience as well. Maret was the least-known performer of anyone I heard Friday, and the venue was only about half full to start. But as the set progressed, the sound balance was solved, and Maret seemed to find his audience – more people were sifting in, and more people were staying than leaving.

I thought the quartet worked best when pianist Shedrick Mitchell was given some room to stretch out. The harmonica is a small instrument; even Toots doubles on guitar (and he whistles, too). Stevie Wonder, whose “Secret Life of Plants” was the second number, sings and plays keyboards, among other things. So the more Mitchell expounded, the more Maret had to riff against. You could see the quartet working better on “The Man I Love,” and things really started cooking on the last two numbers. Brewer had switched to acoustic bass, and Penn had an effective drum solo on the penultimate number, with Maret soaring now, splashing riff after riff towards the growing audience. I don’t know what it would have been like to see Toots when he was in his twenties, but I surely got a sense that Maret was someone who will be a dominating voice on jazz harmonica for years to come.

Gregory Porter

I thought I would settle nicely into Eddie Palmieri’s closing set at the Arena, given the reports I’d heard from his concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He had a terrific band that included trumpeter Brian Lynch and trombonist Conrad Herwig. But somehow I just felt restless, or maybe I just needed to hear something new and different. A little voice inside was saying, “You really ought to hear Gregory Porter.” Now I am of an age where hearing little voices is not necessarily a good thing.  But I wanted to find out what the fuss about Porter was all about – I’d heard him a little on the radio, mostly ballads that had a Johnny Hartman feel to them. But I was in for a revelation, if only for the last third of a set. I walked into a packed Night Club to hear him finish a rousing version of “Skylark.” Wearing what is apparently a trademark cap with earflaps, Porter has a vocal timbre that is somewhere between Hartman and Joe Williams. He had complete command of the audience, and he performed with a soulful funkiness that brought to mind Les McCann. His closing number was a recall of the Detroit riots, “1960 What” – yes, definitely a McCann influence here – which had the audience on its feet. There was no way they were going to let him leave, so back he came with a soulful “Water,” from his most recent CD.

That concluded a wonderful first night. More tomorrow with Trombone Shorty,  Michael Wolff’s Cal Tjader band, Pat Metheny, Tony Bennett and more.

Photos courtesy  of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Live Jazz: Mike Katz’s Monterey Jazz Festival Top Ten

September 13, 2012

By Mike Katz

Every year the Monterey Jazz Festival program features a Top Ten list from Artistic Director Tim Jackson, and I always think that’s interesting, but what does he tell everybody else? And how can he not mention (your favorite here). So I figured I’d take a stab at my own Top Ten, but with a slightly different angle, for this year’s Festival, which begins Fri. Sept. 21.  Here in LA we get to see a good deal of the major touring names (Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, Eddie Palmieri) as well as others who live or have lived here (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Tierney Sutton, Gerald Clayton, among others.)

I always look forward to new configurations of talent, and introductions to new players, as well as a few familiar names that we don’t see too often on the Left Coast. So here’s my list, in order of appearance, with a special effort to highlight most of the festival’s venues.

1. Mulgrew Miller,  Coffee House.  8, 9:30, 11, Friday night.   Every year I promise myself I will get to see at least one set in the cozy Coffee House, which features small groups playing before appreciatively quiet audiences. What better way to start off  the festival than with Mulgrew Miller, whose bright, swinging touch belies his impressively large physique.

Jack DeJohnette

2. Jack DeJohnette, Dizzy’s Den. 8:30 Friday night; Arena w/ Pat Metheny and Christian McBride, 9:20 Sat. night; Dizzy’s Den, Sunday night, 7:30 with Bill Frisell. The Festival’s Showcase artist, DeJohnette’s multi-faceted talents are reflected in these three different settings. I don’t know yet who the personnel will be in the Friday night  group but it is bound to be interesting; the Metheny trio can’t help but be great and I hope to catch at least part of the duet with guitarist Frisell on Sunday.

3. Gregoire Maret Quartet, Night Club, 9:30 Friday night. When you think about the harmonica in jazz, Toots Thielemans comes to mind, and then there is a long pause. Maret, from Geneva, Switzerland, has been getting some attention as Toots’ heir apparent, so here’s a chance to check him out.

Ali Ryerson and Mimi Fox

4. Ali Ryerson-Mimi Fox Duo, Night Club, 2:30 Saturday Afternoon. Take a break from the raucous atmosphere at the Arena and check out flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox, both of them notable for exquisite phrasing. You’ll still have time to get back for most of Trombone Shorty’s set.

5. Tribute To Cal Tjader, Dizzy’s Den, 8  Saturday night.  Pianist Michael Wolff, who played with Tjader in the ‘70s, has assembled an all-star group that features Warren Wolf on vibes, along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Robb Fisher and Vince Lateano.

Bill Frisell


6. Bill Frisell Big Sur Quintet, Arena, 8  Saturday night.  Night Club, 10:30 p.m. I know, you can’t be two places at once. Frisell’s commissioned piece promises to be a highlight. Visit the special Cloning Tent right next to the funnel cake stand.7.

Pat Metheny


7. Pat Metheny, Arena, 9:20 Saturday night (See above) and 7 Sunday night. Unity Band with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ben Williams. Two arena appearances for Metheny. The trio appeals to me the most, but you can’t lose with either one.


8. Tony Bennett, Arena, 10:50 Saturday night. Need we say more?

9. Next Generation Band, Arena, 1:10 Sunday Afternoon. Yes, you have tickets for Esperanza Spalding. Don’t think it’s cool to skip the opening student groups. Last year’s NGB knocked everybody out. Artist-in-Residence trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire sits in.

10.  Mads Tolling Quartet. Garden Stage, 4 Sunday afternoon. The mid-afternoon sets at the Garden Stage are always great fun. Turtle Island Quartet violinist Tolling fronts his own group.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

11.  MJF ALL-STARS w/ Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chris Potter. Bennie Green, Christian McBride, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash, Arena, 9  Sunday night and Dizzy’s Den, 11 Saturday Night. This super group closes out the festival at the Arena, but you might have just as much fun seeing them Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.

Okay, that’s 11. And I didn’t even mention Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman at the Courtyard Stage throughout the Festival.

But…but…what about…Melody Gardot, Christian Scott, Robert Randolph?….excuse me, I’ve got to run. See ya next week.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Sept. 4 – 9

September 4, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

B.B. King

– Sept. 5. (Wed.)  Blues Night: B.B. King and the Tedeschi/Trucks Band.  A great program, with a banquet of blues running the gamut from the masterful B.B. King to the Tedeschi/Trucks Band, with their spicy servings of blues, soul, rock and funk.  The Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

– Sept. 5. (Wed.)  Jennifer Leitham Trio. Bassist Leitham’s career has reached across the full panorama of the music business.  But she may be at her best, both playing and singing in a trio setting, especially with high quality players such as Andy Langham, piano and Dave Tull, drums.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Sept. 5. (Wed.)  Pat Senatore Trio.  Bassist Senatore’s versatility is on display many nights as the bassist in the house rhythm section at Vibrato. Here, he’ll work with a challenging trio of rising young players: Josh Nelson, piano and Zach Harmon, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

WRoberta Gambarini

– Sept. 6 – 8. (Thurs. – Sat.) Roberta Gambarini. Italian-born singer Gambarini sings jazz with spirit and  authenticity, moving comfortably from lush balladry to high speed scat singing.  She’ll be backed by Mike Wofford, piano, Chuck Berghofer, bass and Harvey Mason, drums.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 6 – 9.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  Cage 100 FestivalJohn Cage, Henry Cowell, Erik Satie,   Thurs: First Presbyterian Santa Monica.  Fri: Miles Playhouse in Reed Park.  Sat: Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club.  Sunday: Annenburg Community Beach House.  Jacaranda: Music at the Edge.  (323) 483-0216.

– Sept. 7. (Fri.)  Crosby, Stills & Nash.  What is there to say about this classic trio of gifted artists?  Forty three years after Woodstock, they’re still going strong, with the old songs and with the new.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see and hear them in living color.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– Sept. 7 & 8. (Fri. and Sat.)  The Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks.  The Los Angelesl Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey.  This annual program, matching a spectacular set of works by Tchaikovksy with the Bowl’s pyrotechnic geniuses.  The Grand Finale will feature the Philharmonic, with dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, the L.A. Children’s Chorus and the USC Trojan Marching Band performing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 OvertureThe Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000,

– Sept. 8. (Sat.)  The Gilbert Castellanos Quartet. Trumpeter Castellanos has a musical resume reaching from Dizzy Gillespie and Natalie Cole to Willie Nelson and Michael Buble.  He’s been in such demand because of his ability to illuminate a song with everything he possesses. Castellanos performs with pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Ramon BandaVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Billy Childs

– Sept. 8. (Sat.)  Billy Childs Trio.  Pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his chamber jazz with strings, and digs into the piano trio format with the world class support of John Clayton, bass and Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Sept. 8. (Sat.) Anthony Wilson Nonet.  First call guitarist on every jazz promotors’ list, Wilson is also a first rate composer.  And the Nonet – a kind of big/little (but very versatile) band format – is the perfect vehicle for the expression of his far ranging imagination.  Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

– Sept. 9. (Sun.)  Pink Martini.  Call their music retrospective or call it old-fashioned, it’s still an eminently listenable pastiche of pop, standards, blues, cabaret and beyond.  This will be a debut for Pink Martini and China Forbes, who will be making their first appearances at the Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857

San Francisco

– Sep. 5 – 9. (Wed. – Sun.)  The Jack DeJohnette Trio featuring Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke.  It would be hard to find a more engaging jazz evening than this one.  Three world class players who move with utter ease from straight ahead jazz across genre lines.  It doesn’t get any better than this. Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.


Halie Loren

– Sept. 4 & 5. (Tues. & Wed.)  Halie Loren.  The rave reviews keep coming in about the extraordinary jazz skills of this gifted young singer.  To read more about Halie Loren, read iRoM’s revew of her latest CD by clicking HERE.    Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.


– Sept. 5. (Wed.)  Cyrille Aimee.  She has one of the great voices among her twentysomething jazz generation.  And Aimees’ work – as a singer and a writer – is rapidly establishing her as a voice to watch in her generation.  Scullers  Jazz Club.  Also on Sept. 7 & 8 at the Iridium jazz club.    (617) 562-4111.

New York

– Sept. 3. (Mon.)  Amram & CoDavid Amram.  He plays a lot of instruments – French Horn, flute, keyboards, hand percussion.  But Amram’s six decade career took him through waves of newly emerging music and ideas.  And it’s all there in his performances.  Amram will be backed by Kevin Twigg, drums, John de Witt, bass and Adam Amram, percussion.  Cornelia St. Café.    (212) 989-9319.

– Sept. 4. (Tues.) David Binney. Adventurous alto saxophonist Binney is always in search of the newest sound, melody or rhythm,  This time out, he’s exchanging all three of those elements with keyboardist Jacob Sacks, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Dan Weiss55 Bar.   (212) 929-2883,

– Sept. 4 – 8. (Tues. – Sat.)  Oregon. It’s a band that has been together for four decades, and is still bringing new musical seasoning to various combinations of jazz and world musics.  The results are always utterly compelling.  Birdland.     (212) 581-3080.


Claire Martin

– Sept. 4. (Tues.)  Claire Martin with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. Martin’s been called, with good reason, “England’s finest jazz singer.”  It should make for a compelling musical evening to hear her with Bennett, a veteran composer/musician with a lots of jazz experience. Ronnie Scott’s. (0) 20 7439 0747.


–  Sept. 4. (Tues.)  Chieli Minucci Trio.  A-Trane Jazz.  I addition to his visibility in smooth jazz, guitarist Minucci also has a busy career as a film and television composer.  He’ll be performing with the stellar rhythm team of bassist Gerald Veasley and drummer Dennis Chambers. A-Trane Jazz   030/313 25 50.


– Sept. 7 (Fri.) – Sept. 11 (Tues.)  Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra.  The great keyboardist and composer takes his swingingly authentic Salsa Orchestra on a tour that should produce many more Japanese fans. To read a recent iRoM review of Eddie Palmieri at the Hollywood Bowl, click HERE. The Blue Note Tokyo.


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