Live Music: Freda Payne at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

December 27, 2014

By James DeFrancis

Bel Air, CA. Last Tuesday night Pat Senatore, artistic director of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc…, sardonically told me, “Christmas week is a big time for malls, not jazz clubs.” But as the lights dimmed and I looked around the room it occurred to me that something was altogether different about this holiday night’s show. Why?

Enter Freda Payne. Payne is the warmly toned r&b vocalist often remembered for her 1970 Billboard chart-topping mega hit “Band of Gold.” Payne and her entourage drew capacity level crowds for both shows on this temperate evening in Bel Air. The well-attended shows even drew industry heavyweights such as Motown Records’ founder Berry Gordy Jr. and actor Billy Dee Williams.

Payne was a bold presence in her bright red gown and fantastically done golden brown hair. On this night she was backed by a trio led by veteran pianist Christian Jacob. She employed a diverse set list ranging from holiday tunes and jazz standards to rhythm and blues numbers from decades gone by.  She opened the show with a punchy, forward moving version of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to.” Clearly inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, Payne went on to sing a heart-wrenching rendition of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.” Also on the agenda were jazz mainstays“Aurora Borealis” and “You Don’t Know Me.”

Later in the program she said “It’s almost Christmas and we should do something for the holidays,” thereby bringing her sister Scherrie Payne (of the Supremes) up to the stage to sing two holiday duets, including the tender, crowd pleasing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

In my opinion, the musical pinnacle of the evening took place when Payne pulled a song out of her repertoire that she had done some years ago for an actor’s benefit at the Pantages Theatre.

The song is called “Fifty Percent” (from the musical Ballroom). And it belongs to the longer category of tunes, very much a story-like soliloquy for the audience. Payne poured all of her vocal caresses into the number and it really showed. “She’s still got the pipes!” muttered a man standing next to me as he applauded.

As the evening began to draw to a close anxious fans were shouting “Band of Gold!” to which Payne fired back “You wanna hear Band of Gold, huh?” But she wasn’t quite ready. First she needed to address the crowd’s adoration by aiming a song directly at them, choosing “How Sweet It Is.” In the end she wrapped it with an extended version of “Band of Gold” stopping near the final phrases to thank everyone in the audience for coming out, before proceeding into a climactic chorus.

The roaring crowd couldn’t get enough. And, if Vibrato had a large enough seating capacity, I’m sure most patrons would have stuck around for both shows. And, really, what more can a performer ask of an audience? Freda Payne was a musical delight.

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Photos by James DeFrances.

Live Music: Tony Galla at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 29, 2014

By James DeFrances

What do you call a blues version of Tony Bennett…? Simple, call him Tony Galla. Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc. Galla kept the Holiday energy going as he shifted from swinging jazz tunes to soulful blues ballads and literally everything in between. Galla and his trio have been a recurring act at Vibrato over the years and he has no problem packing the house with fans of like minded musical tastes.

Tony Galla

Tony Galla

Wearing a contemporary black suit and holding his classic Gibson Les Paul guitar, Galla explained how he couldn’t leave out one particular song. That song was a duet actually, but Galla claimed he would sing both parts and that the audience had heard it before. I, of course hadn’t, being that it was my first time seeing his show, and I couldn’t quite figure what to expect. He went on to describe a duet between James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti and immediately a light bulb went off in my head…it was “This is a Man’s World.”

Based on a live recording from 2005, Galla proceeded to perform the song stating that his trio would be “imitating a symphony.” It was certainly one of the more obscure musical happenings I had ever heard up to this point with Galla playfully mimicking both Brown’s and Pavarotti’s vocal stylings and the trio playing about as large as possible. He was right, the crowd did know it and they liked it too.

Tony Galla with his trio

Tony Galla with his trio

It was an evening played by feel and not by form, with Galla trying to accom0date as many audience requests as possible, much to their approval. After quite a few Sinatra themed requests Galla said: “OK now we are going to do a 40 minute medley of Frank Sinatra and over every song he ever recorded!” His humor was well received and his talents were apparent to everyone in the room. Galla is dynamic and can play a lot of angles.

When you see his show, you are basically seeing a 3-in-one deal and each part is done well. Other notable tunes of the evening were his renditions of “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Witchcraft” and his closing number, the B.B. King classic “The Thrill is Gone.” With his high energy on-stage antics and his wide variety of song selections, Galla’s show is sure to find a common ground with almost every listener!

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Photos by James DeFrances.


Live Music: Seth MacFarlane at Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc.

November 25, 2014

By James DeFrances

Bel Air.  Sunday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. one performer had the world on a string. That person was Seth MacFarlane and his name should ring a bell. MacFarlane has been the long time creator of Fox’s animated series Family Guy, as well as the brains behind the 2012 feature film Ted and the host of the 2013 Academy Awards telecast…for starters.

Seth MacFarlane

On this occasion, though, he was appearing in a different capacity, as a big band singer. Which wasn’t such a far cry for MacFarlane, who released his debut album Music is Better Than Words, a late ’50’s/early ’60’s style big band vocal record, in 2012. Recorded at Capitol Records studios in Hollywood he showcased his unique voice in a style very much like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. His TV show Family Guy also relies heavily on lush orchestral Swing style cues in between scenes and for the main theme song. His affection for this kind of music is ever apparent in all aspects of his career.

On Sunday night he was backed by the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra, which includes an A-list of Hollywood studio musicians.

Seth MacFarlane with Ron Jones and the Influence Jazz Orchestra

Crooning to a packed house of fans from all facets of his career, MacFarlane would have even made Frank Sinatra proud if he had been there. And speaking of Sinatra, there was plenty of his music in the set list. And it was quite a rare treat to actually hear the song choices, as they were not all necessarily chart-topping hits for Sinatra. Songs like: “It’s Always You,” “No One Ever Tells You” and “The Look of Love” stood out.

What was even more exciting was the fact that he used original Sinatra arrangements penned by such legendary orchestrators as Sy Oliver, Nelson Riddle and Billy May. MacFarlane’s voice was fully up to the task, as he cruised through each tune with a relaxed demeanor and plenty of power and vibrato on tap when it was needed.

Armed with a glass of scotch and a wired Shure microphone, he also explored many classics and standards from stage shows and films of days gone by. Among them were songs like “One For My Baby,” “Come Fly With Me” and “Just in Time.”

Seth MacFarlane sings with the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra

The show seemed to have gone by almost too quickly when MacFarlane announced the final number. In a Vegas-like move, he opted to close the night out with “Luck be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls featuring the iconic 1963 Billy May arrangement for Frank Sinatra.

For a few brief hours on Sunday night it really felt like 1966 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas with the whiskey flowing and the horns blowing. MacFarlane’s star shined bright at Vibrato and it seems as if the world is his oyster, he really can do it all!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

Live Music: Anna Mjoll At Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 13, 2014

By James deFrances

What do jazz standards, Iceland and Bel Air have in common? Simple…the answer is the dynamic blonde haired Iceland-born diva Anna Mjoll. Last Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., Mjoll crooned to a thoroughly filled house of diners and jazz enthusiasts alike. Only a day after Alpert and his wife Lani Hall played two sold out shows Mjoll managed to keep the blood flowing for a third consecutive night.

Her show ranged from light moving ballads to hard-driving bossa nova tunes. Impeccably supported by the #Pat Senatore trio, Mjoll did the Great American Songbook right.

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Her voice possesses an airy, relaxed quality which makes the music even easier to digest. Her vibrato (no pun intended) is on tap when she needs it and her phrasing is uniquely her own. In between songs she keeps the audience in check by telling stories, asking questions and cracking jokes.

She asked the audience to say hello to her mother from Iceland, who was seated in the first row and only in town for the weekend. “I wish you would move to California,” exclaimed Mjoll. Mother and daughter maintained a lighthearted banter throughout  the entirety of the show.

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Before singing “Taking A Chance On Love,” she reflected on her many marriages and philosophized on love. Perhaps the highlight of the evening, however, was when she sang “Nature Boy” with only bassist Pat Senatore’s accompaniment. She dedicated the song to Senatore, whom she said is the only man who never let’s her down. Also on the list Friday night were songs like “Come Fly With Me,” “Smile” and “Imagination.” For Mjoll who has a busy calendar it was just one of those nights and her closing tune appropriately enough was “Just One Of Those Things.”

But the large audience who remained long after she took her final bow was a sign of a job well done. Those who stayed late enough even got to hear the Senatore Trio play their “Sexy Late Night Set.” In the end, if you are looking for a night of Marilyn Monroe glamour and some hot straight ahead jazz Anna Mjoll with the Pat Senatore trio is your best ticket in town!

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Photos by James deFrances. 



Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: Nov. 6 – 9

November 6, 2014

By Don Heckman

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

– Nov. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Steve Tyrell. Add an amiable Texas twang to a jaunty sense of swing and a convincing way with a lyric, and that still doesn’t add up to the magic that happens when Tyrell digs into the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

– Nov. 6. (Thurs.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. The veteran jazz trumpeter/painter/sculptor and his vocally superb wife are back again at their home base – Alpert’s jazz friendly, elegant Bel Air club. They’ll no doubt be working over material for their current touring. And that’ll be a musically captivating gift for anyone who can squeeze into what will no doubt be a full house crowd. But it’ll be worth the effort. Click HERE to read a review of the dynamic duo’s most recent appearance at.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Nov. 6. (Thurs.) David Ornette Cherry. He’s the son of trumpeter Don Cherry, who worked frequently with free jazz icon Ornette Coleman– thus David Ornette Cherry’s middle name. A keyboard player with his own unique approach to contemporary improvisation, he’s an imaginative jazz artist who deserves a hearing on his own right. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys. The mutiple Grammy-winning group from Los Angeles are one of the popworld’s most eclectic ensembles. Blending everything from Latin pop and Chicano rock to TexMex and Americana their music has a fascinating body-moving appeal. Opening the bill, Texas’ Los Lonely Boys follow a similar musical path. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Dimitri Matheny Quartet. Matheny’s warm, engaging flugelhorn playing has thoroughly established him as one of the most emotionally expressive improvisers of his generation. He performs with the sterling backing of Joe Bagg, piano, Pat Senatore, bass, Dick Weller, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Johnny Mathis. He doesn’t show up often any more in the Southland, so don’t miss this opportunity to hear the hit-maker of the ‘6os and 70s up close in action. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. Marcelo Lehninger conducts the gifted players of the NWS in Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, and the Dvorak Concerto in B minor for cello and orchestra, featuring cellist Lynn Harrell. The Cavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 449-2100.


The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and All-Star Gala Concert

Thelonious Monk

The annual jazz competitions produced by the Thelonious Monk Institute are among the most celebrated jazz events of the year. And the 2014 installment is no exception. This year’s competition again showcases a talented, ambitious group of young players. The semi-finalists will first meet at U.C.L.A.’s Schoenberg Hall on Saturday, Nov. 8. (The semi-final event is free and open to the public.)

The three finalists will then perform in the Competition’s Gala event on Sunday, Nov. 9 at Dolby Hall. The distinguished panel of judges for both stages of the competition includes trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Quincy Jones and Arturo Sandoval.

Following the finalists’ performances and the selection of this year’s winner, an All-Star Gala concert will feature Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ron Carter, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Heath, Marcus Miller, Dianne Reeves and others.

In another highlight of the Gala, the Institute will present its prestigious Founders Award to President Bill Clinton.

The Thelonious Monk Institute 2014 International Jazz Trumpet Competition  (310) 206-9700.

Live Brazilian Music: Teka at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 22, 2014

By James M. DeFrances

Bel Air, CA. Teka Penteriche’s performance at Vibrato last Sunday night had the approval of everyone in the crowd, including veteran crooner Tom Jones.



The smooth sounds of the Brazilian born singer-guitarist and her New Bossa Band filled the air of Herb Alpert’s cozy and elegantly appointed club in Bel Air. Her song choices too were apparently just what the doctor ordered for the late night weekend patrons in West LA.  Over a glass of white wine and a bowl of the club’s extraordinary Cream of Mushroom soup I too was able to experience first hand what everyone had told me about,

Teka is sensational. Her set list offered a wide variety of Brazilian jazz with songs sung in both Portuguese and English. Teka’s arrangements and adaptations are uniquely her own and her voice and the band synced up the way every band hopes for. Highlights of the evening included her renditions of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classics — including a beautifully done version of “Aguas de Marco” and the song that the audience seemed to appreciate the most “Summer Samba” the crowning achievement of Brazilian composer Marcos Valle.

Teka and her New Bossa Band

Teka and her New Bossa Band

She was backed superbly by her New Bossa band – saxophonist/flutist Doug Webb, pianist Tom Zink, bassist Randy Tico and percussionist Kevin Winard.

Teka and her husband Paris had to make quite the trip down from Santa Barbara but it was a trip well taken as the audience was ready for more, even at the conclusion of her second and final set. Many audience members purchased a CD from Teka’s collection of albums as they left the club – a solid indication that her performance was a hit!

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Photos by James M. DeFrances.

Live Music: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 9, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. became a very special place when Herb Alpert took it over a few years ago, transforming a small venue in a mini-mall at the top of Beverly Glen into a fine food connoisseur’s delight and a world class showcase for jazz.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

And it becomes even more special when Alpert, his wife, vocalist Lani Hall, and their all star band put in an appearance. As they did Tuesday night.

The fact is that there’s nothing quite like hearing Alpert perform in his own club. There’ve been musician club owners over the years – Shelly Manne, Ronnie Scott, Igor Butman, to name a few – all of whom played in their own venues from time to time.

Herb Alpert

But when Herb Alpert plays in Vibrato, he’s not just on stage at his own elegant Bel Air bistro. He’s performing in a virtual art gallery, surrounded by walls displaying his large, colorful abstract expressionist paintings and his sculptures of musicians in the act of playing. Add to that the remarkable collection of repertoire that he brings to his performances – selecting material reaching from his latest albums to hit songs from his Tijuana Brass successes of the ’60s.

At the center of his music, Alpert – at 79 – reminded us that he is still a remarkable trumpeter and a gifted improviser. Not often given sufficient credit for the quality of his instrumental skills, he once again displayed his Miles Davis-inspired ability to bring a song vividly to life.

And let’s not overlook Alpert’s unspoken, but significant subtitle of “philanthropist” in recognition of the large generous funding he has bestowed upon University music programs and gifted young artists in many genres.

All those elements and more were present Tuesday night when Alpert and Hall – backed by pianist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro – celebrated the release of their new album, In the Mood.

The Herb Alpert Band

When Alpert noted that the performance was the start of a tour introducing the album, he also added, whimsically, that they did not include the classic Glenn Miller hit “In The Mood” on the CD, or in their set of the night. But no problem there. After romping through “Chatanooga Choo Choo” the band also dug into “Blue Moon,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Let it Be Me” and more from an album displaying all the signs of presenting Alpert with his next Grammy Award.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Other highlights included entertaining looks at both Alpert’s and Hall’s stellar pasts. The Tijuana Brass medley called up stirring memories of the Alpert band that topped Bob Dylan and the Beatles on the Billboard charts in the mid-’60s. And an Antonio Carlos Jobim medley showcased Hall’s mastery of bossa nova songs (and Portuguese), reaching back to her stint with Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 as she applied her warm, intimate contralto to songs such as “The Waters of March,” “Corcovado” and “”Samba de Uma Nota Só.”

As always, Alpert and Hall were superbly backed by Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro who consistently found the perfect balance between energizing the rhythm while supporting the headliners’ many interpretive subtleties. And Cantos, a versatile singer/instrumentalist in his own right, has recently added colorful synth textures to his fine piano work, as well as his own back up vocals on a few tunes.

In sum, call it one of the most notable musical experiences of the year. All of the Vibrato appearances of Alpert and Hall have been memorable. As was this one. And I (along with, I suspect, the many members of the packed house) look forward to many more.

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Photos by Faith Frenz



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