Live Jazz: A Busy Friday Night at Vitello’s and the Out Take Bistro

February 10, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Sometimes a music reviewer just has to do a lot in a single night – often unexpectedly.  As I did on Friday.  Even though it hadn’t actually started out that way.

My schedule for the evening originally included a stop at Vitello’s  to hear the Bill Cunliffe big band in action.  I”d written about the band fairly recently, but with Cunliffe nominated for a Grammy in today’s 2013 Awards (after winning a statuette in the 2012 Grammys), it seemed a good time to give another listen to his richly textured big band writing.  Add that the fact that he’d promised to include more selections from his jazz interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and it was a performance that clearly offered some fascinating musical attractions.

The most gripping big band arrangements and compositions are usually well crafted combinations of inspired writing and inventive soloing.  And Cunliffe’s composing and arranging have always blended those qualities into irresistibly appealing musical banquets, enhanced by the playing of a world class assemblage of Southland players.

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

On this night, as always, the Cunliffe band was overflowing with fine artists.  All deserve mention for their ensemble and solo playing.  But I have to highlight the especially impressive work of Bob Sheppard, playing lead alto (and lead soprano) in the saxophone section, the strong tenor saxophone soloing of Rob Lockart and Jeff Ellwood, the always superb trumpeting of Bob Summers and Carl Saunders, the equally sterling trombone work of Bob McChesney and Andy Martin, and the propulsive rhythm section work of drummer Joe LaBarbera, bassist Jonathan Richards and guitarist Larry Koonse.

Bill Cunliffe

Bill Cunliffe

The first part of the set was mostly dedicated to Cunliffe’s originals, which roamed freely across a gamut of styles, delivering them with convincing jazz authenticity.   Next, a pair of vocals added a different perspective: first, Dawn Bishop soaring through “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”; next, April Williams – who, as Vitello’s jazz producer, has transformed the club into a major jazz venue – sang a delightfully evocative version of “You Can Always Count On Me” from the musical City of Angels.  Listening to her, one couldn’t help but wish that she would make more singing appearances in the room, especially with the musical theatre material she does so well.

There was also an unexpected, but welcome performance by a guest artist – trombonist/composer Chris Brubeck.  Nominated (with his late father, Dave Brubeck) for a Grammy in the same category as Cunliffe, Chris was invited to share the stage the day before the Awards.  Chris responded with a warmly ingratiating trombone solo on the lovely ballad written by his father and mother, “In Your Own Sweet Way.”

The Cunliffe Band’s set closed with his re-imagining of the Bach Goldberg Variations, which he has re-titled The Goldberg Contraption.  But it was far more than a “Contraption” – more like a smoothly functioning Swiss watch, with Cunliffe’s transformation of Bach’s flowing harmonies and shifting counterpoint into an utterly believable jazz framework.

And there was more on the Vitello’s agenda before we could leave.  When the Cunliffe Band set concluded in the upstairs room, more jazz sounds were heard downstairs, where pianist John Campbell was playing for late diners and bar-hoppers in the club’s just-added musical setting, “Downstairs Piano Nights.”  No one interprets the Great American Songbook with more imaginative readings than Campbell.  And, even in a room filled with chatting listeners, he easily managed the demanding task of entertaining his audience, while approaching each song with fascinating creativity.

Cat Conner

Cat Conner

But we had another stop to make before our evening was over.  Leaving Vitello’s, heading straight down Tujunga to a right on Ventura Blvd., we quickly arrived for the last few tunes at the Out Take Bistro.    It’s a Friday night gig usually featuring “Cat & Cip” — the vocals of Cat Conner and the saxophone and clarinet of Gene “Cip” Cipriano.

On this night, however, they were joined by a stellar array of players in a virtual jam session format.  The group included trombonist Dick Nash and guitarist John Chiodini (frequent partners of Cat and Cip), as well as clarinetist Alex Budman, soprano saxophonist John Altman and trumpeter Brian Swartz.

Gene Cipriano and John Chiodini

Gene Cipriano and John Chiodini


We arrived just in time for an all-join-in jam on “Take the A Train” allowing plenty of space for the talented crew to stretch out.  And the final wrap up reached out to feature Cat’s warm, engaging vocal in a jaunty song reaching back more than a hundred years – “Hello, Ma Baby.” It was the perfect ending to a musical evening embracing everything from big band jazz and the music of J.S. Bach to the Great American Songbook, ragtime, and beyond.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.

Picks of the Week: May 10 – 15

May 10, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Perla Batalla

– May 11. (Wed.)  Perla Batalla.  Blessed with a rich-toned voice, fascinated with a broad range of music, Batalla tells an engaging story with everything she sings.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.     (562) 916-8501.

– May 11. (Wed.)  Julia Gottlieb.  Emerging young singer Gottlieb does a showcase performance with a the scintillating backing of guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker.   Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– May 11. (Wed.)  Annie Trousseau.  Colombian-American singer Ana Maria Lombo leads her curiously-titled ensemble in a collection of multi-lingual world music reaching from Edith Piaf to Antonio Carlos Jobim.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– May 12. (Thurs.)  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and The Del McCoury Band.  UCLA Live begins to wrap its 2010-2011 season with a typically fascinating blend of musical genres – the traditional jazz of the Preservation Hall players and the buoyant bluegrass of the McCoury Band.  A UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall.    (310) 825-4401.

– May 12. (Thurs.)  John Altman Quartet.  British saxophonist Altman takes a break from his busy career as composer/arranger/conductor/film scorer for an evening of straight ahead jamming in the relaxed environment of Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

– MaY 12. (Thurs.) Dances and Music from Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijani dancers and musicians celebrate the ancient cultural traditions of the Caucasus, blending the traditional mugham with the contemporary rhythms of jazz.  The National Dance Ensemble of Azerbaijan, performing with jazz pianist Emil Afrasiab and Masters of Mugham make their only performance in Los Angeles.  A rare and fascinating musical event. The Wilshire Ebell.  (310) 650-9054

Stanley Clarke

– May 12 – 14. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Stanley Clarke.  By any measure, Clarke is one of the most admired musicians in jazz.  And with 40 albums, 60 film scores a Grammy award for his most recent album, and the foundation of his own record label – The Roxboro Entertainment Group, he’s also one of the music world’s most eclectic Renaissance men  He celebrates his 60th birthday in the company of his own crisply swinging band and some surprise guest artists.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210. .

– May 13 & 14. (Fri. & Sat.)  Bill Charlap Trio with special guest Freddy Cole.  Nothing but the best from the Great American Songbook when these two masters of song get together.  Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– May 14. (Sat.)  The Rova Saxophone Quartet. More than three decades together, the four members of Rova continue to adventure through musical areas encompassing free jazz, contemporary classical music, rock, traditional and pop music.  Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

Mamak Khadem

– May 14. (Sat.)  Mamak Khadem & Ensemble.  The gorgeous voice and stunning musical virtuosity of singer Khadem explore the compelling sounds of Persian classical music and beyond.  She performs in the company of the far-ranging sounds of Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek and the lithe dancing of Sharokh Moshkinghalam. Wilshire Ebell Theatre.     (310) 650-9054.

– May 14. (Sat.)  Billy Childs Chamber Ensemble.  The ever imaginative pianist/composer/arranger is back, continuing to find new expressive adventures with his jazz chamber ensemble.   Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– May 14. (Sat.)  The 3rd Annual Jazzy Jam 2011.  What better way to spend a Spring weekend than in a Pasadena Park, listening to the attractively melodic sounds of Everette Harp, Johnny Polanco, Karen Briggs, Freddie Fox, the Pasadena Citywide Gospel Choir, Rapid Response and a lot more.   Hosted by the irrepressible Bubba JacksonJazzy Jam 2011.  Old Pasadena Central Park.

Taylor Eigsti

– May 15. (Sun.)  Taylor Eigsti Quartet. A jazz prodigy at age 12, pianist Eigsti – now in his mid-‘20s – has matured into a significant talent.  He performs with singer Becca Stevens, an extraordinary singer/composer who is too little known beyond her New York base. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.


May 11 & 12. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Denise Donatelli.  L.A.’s Grammy nominated Donatelli takes her lush sound, propulsive swing and intimate story telling style on the road, building her audience wherever she goes.  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.  Donatelli also performs at Yoshi’s Oakland on May 15 (see below).

San Francisco

– May 13 & 14. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman.  One of the definitive smooth jazz/instrumental pop bands to emerge in the ‘80s, the Rippingtons, with a revolving array of players – except for Freeman – continue to produce melodically entertaining sounds.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

– May 15. (Sun.)  Denise DonatelliYoshi’s Oakland   (510) 238-9200.  Donatelli also performs at Seattle’s Jazz Alley on Wed. & Thurs  (see above).

 New York

– May 10 – 15. (Tues. – Sun.)  The George Duke Trio. Pianist Duke, always masterful with singers, works with a pair of the best. With Al Jarreau on Tues, Wed., Sat. & Sun.  And with Brenda Russell on Thurs. & Fri.  The Blue Note.    (310) 475-8592.

– May 10 – 15. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Music of Count Basie. The Julliard Jazz Orchestra. Some of the important, still-vital works in the jazz repertoire are brought vividly to life by the J.J.O.  The presence of special guest Frank Foster, who composed some of the classics, brings even more authenticity to the program.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.   (212) 258-9800.


Claire Martin

– May 14. (Sat.)  Claire Martin.  Often described as England’s finest jazz singer, Martin as that and more, with performances that reach out to add interpretations of other musical forms to the jazz vocal canon.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.


– May 14. (Sat.)  The Harold Lopez Nussa Trio with David Sanchez.  Rising young Cuban pianist Lopez-Nussa may be best known as the pianist for Omara Portundo’s band.  But he’s showing all the signs of being the next vital jazz pianist to emerge from the island nation.  He’s joined here by Puerto Rican saxophonist Sanchez in a program of Latin-oriented jazz.  New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.

Stanley Clarke photo by Scott Mitchell.

Picks of the Week: Feb. 8 – 14

February 8, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Daversa

– Feb. 8. (Tues.)  The John Daversa Progressive Big Band. Trumpeter/composer/arranger  Daversa takes the big band instrumentation into fascinating new musical areas.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 8. (Tues.)  Lianne Carroll.   BBC Jazz Award winner Carroll, who accompanies her vibrant vocals with equally dynamic piano playing, makes her North American debut. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 9. (Wed.)  The Clare Fischer Voices and Latin Jazz Group. A fascinating blend of vocal and instrumental jazz from Clare Fischer’s prolific musical imagination.  Brent Fischer directs the ensemble.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 9. (Wed.)  The John Altman Quartet.  Busy alto saxophonist Altman takes a break from his composing, arranging and producing for laid back jazz jam with Mike Lang, piano, Frank De Vito, drums, Putter Smith, bass.  Charlie O’s.

Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg

– Feb. 9. (Wed.)  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with the New Century Chamber Orchestra. Now the conductor of the NCCO, violinist Salerno-Sonneberg joins with the ensemble in a diverse program of Bartok, Piazolla and Tchaikovsky.  The Broad Stage.   (310) 434-3200.

– Feb. 9 & 10. (Wed. & Thurs.) Oz Noy.  Israeli-born guitarist Noy leads a jazz/rock/fusion trio with Dave Weckl on drums and Darryl Jones (of the Rolling Stones) on bass. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 10. (Thurs.)  Kodo.  The entertaining Japanese percussion collective bring their colorful collection of instruments and irresistible rhythms to Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Lorraine Feather

– Feb. 10. (Thurs.)  Lorraine Feather.  Singer/songwriter Feather writes songs in which jazz is the root and poetry the blossom.  There’s no one quite like her, and she should be heard at every opportunity.  Backing her: Russell Ferrante, piano and Mike Valerio, bass.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 10 & 11. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Natalie Cole. She’s a beyond definition artist, as comfortable with jazz as she is with the blues and classic pop songs.  No doubt she’ll be unforgettable (and probably sing it, as well) with the Pacific Symphony, conducted by Richard Kaufman. Segerstrom Concert Hall (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 10 – 13. (Thurs. – Sun.)  and Feb. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Who’s “Tommy. It’s one of the classics of the sixties, still a compelling work of musical art.  This version is a Chance Theatre Production. Segerstrom Concert Hall Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 11 (Fri.)  Tessa Souter.  Souter’s warm sound and intimate interpretive style are backed in this pre-Valentine’s Day celebration, by the solidly supportive playing of guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Steve Haas.  Musicians Institute. A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.  (310) 271-9039.

Larry Karush

– Feb. 11 & 12. (Fri. & Sat.)  Larry Karush Solo & Quartet. Pianist/composer Karush, ever in search of new musical horizons, displays his creative adventures in both a solo and an ensemble setting.  The Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

– Feb. 11 – 14. (Fri. – Mon.) and Feb. 17 – 20 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Steve Tyrell.  Singer Tyrell’s nouveau-pop style, with its traditional pop echoes, is successfully aimed at finding the life in great American song.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 12. (Sat.)  Inner Voices“An A Cappella Valentine Show.” The Southland’s masterful a cappella ensemble apply their extraordinary vocal magic to a program of Valentine standards. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Jazz at Lincoln Center OrchestraLeonard Slatkin conducts Gershwin’s An American In Paris, Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.1 and the West Coast premiere of Wynton MarsalisSwing Symphony (commissioned by the LAPA).  Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Feb. 13. (Sun.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  The music world’s ultimate power couple.  And they can still deliver it.  Hall has been, and remains, one of the underrated jazz singers.  And trumpeter Alpert knows how to find both the space and the center in an improvisation. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Charmaine Clamor

– Feb. 14. (Mon.)  Charmaine Clamor.  .  Jazz vocalist Clamor is rapidly establishing herself as one of the uniquely creative, rising vocal stars.  The equally incomparable Bubba Jackson hosts.  KJAZZ Valentine’s Day Jazz Dinner The Twist Restaurant in the Renaissance Hollywood \Hotel.  (562) 985-2999.

San Francisco

Maria Volonte

– Feb. 8. (Tues.) Maria Volonte.  Argentine singer/songwriter/guitarist Volonte’s music is an appealing blend of traditional roots rhythms – tango, candomble, etc. – with the sounds of contemporary jazz, pop and funk.  The Rrazz Room. (415) 394-1189. To read an earlier iRoM review of Volonte click HERE.

– Feb. 8 & 9 (Tues. & Wed.) Kenny Garrett Quartet. Grammy award-winning alto saxophonist Garrett has a resume reaching from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis.  This time out, he offers his envelope-stretching sounds at the front of  his own quintet.  Yoshi’s Oakland (510) 238-9200.

– Feb. 10 – 14. (Thurs. – Mon.)  Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra.  Pete Escovedo and the Escovedo family have been energizing Latin jazz since the ‘60s.  And they’re all still at it.  This time out, the band includes special guests Sheila E. and Peter Michael EscovedoYoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

New York City

Gato Barbieri

– Feb. 10 – 12 (Thurs. – Sun.) Gato Barbieri.  Tenor saxophonist Barbieri’s long, checkered career has reached from the avant-garde years of the ‘60s through his Grammy-winning score for The Last Tango In Paris to more recent smooth jazz outings.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

– Feb. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Chris Potter Trio. Tenor saxophonist Potter takes on the familiar Sonny Rollins challenge of performing with only bass and drums as a rhythm team.  His companions: bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

– Feb. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Freddy Cole “Valentine Swing” with Harry Allen.  Cole’s sound and style are clearly, and unabashedly, influenced by his big brother Nat.  But Cole has a way of adapting those qualities to his own engaging musical identity.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (212) 258-9800.

– Feb. 8 – 14. (Tues. – Mon.)  Hilary Kole.  Jazz singer Kole, who usually hosts Birdland’s Sunday Jazz Party, does a full week’s run at the club.  And her rich way with a ballad is the perfect lead-in to Valentine’s Day.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Denise Donatelli

– Feb. 11 & 14. (Fri. & Mon.). Denise Donatelli.   Grammy-nominated singer Donatelli makes a pair of too-rare Manhattan appearances which will inform New York jazz fans about what Angelenos have known for years — that she is a singer with the sound, the skill and the imagination to be included at the top levels of the jazz vocal art.  Donatelli is backed by the Geoff Keezer arrangements and quartet featured on the Grammy-nominated “When Lights Are Low.”  Fri.: Coca-Cola Circle of Fashion Lounge, Time Warner Center, 6:30 p.m.  Mon.: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, 7:30, p.m.  (212) 258-9800.

Picks of the Week: Nov. 16 – 21

November 15, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Johnny Mandel

– Nov. 16. (Tues.)  Johnny Mandel Big Band. Multiple Grammy winner, gifted composer/arranger/songwriter Mandel is one of the Southland’s true musical treasures.  This rare appearance with a big band serves as an early celebration of his 85th birthday on November 23.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400. 

– Nov. 16. (Tues.)  Tamir Hendelman Trio.  Versatile pianist Hendelman – a favorite of Barbra Streisand’s – celebrates  the release of his new Destinations CD.  With Ryan McGillicuddy, bass, and Dean Koba, drums.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Nov. 16. (Tues.)  Le Kat.  “Jazzy, bluesy and a lil’ naughty” is the way Le Kat’s ultimate cabaret act – with its mix of swing, blues and bohemian sophistication – is described.  Ivan Kane’s Café Was. (323) 466-5400.

– Nov. 17. (Wed.)  Bill Cantos.  Pianist/composer Canto’s skills reach from primo accompaniment and solid solo work to the writing of songs with the distinct qualities of the Great American Songbook.  He appears with his wife, singer Mari FalconeVibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Nov. 17. (Wed.)  Jair Oliveira. The son of Brazil’s singer Jair Rodrigues, Oliveira is a gifted singer/songwriter/instrumentalist in his own right, bringing a contemporary touch to classic Brazilian rhythms.   The dynamic, always exciting singer/dancer Katia Moraes opens the show.   Conga Room. (213) 745-0162.

Lainie Kazan

– Nov. 18 – 20.  (Thurs. – Sat.)  Lainie Kazan. Name an area of the entertainment business and Kazan’s been there, as a star, from Broadway and cabaret to films and television.  But there’s nothing quite like hearing her bring songs to life in an intimate jazz setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Nov. 18. (Thurs.)  Grand opening of the LAX Jazz Club.  The jazz room at the Crowne Plaza LAX is transformed into the Southland’s newest .  The Dee Dee McNeil QuintetWith Rickey Woodard, saxophone, Theo Saunders, piano, Richard Simon, bass and Quentin Denard, drums.  LAX Jazz Club.   (310) 258-1333.

– Nov. 19. (Fri.)  The John Altman Big Band. Alto saxophonist Altman’s resume also includes a long list of genre-crossing successes as a composer and arranger.  This time out, he fronts a group of L.A.’s finest players performing a collection of his swinging big band charts.  LACMA.   (323) 857-6000.

Richard Thompson

– Nov. 19. (Fri.)  Richard Thompson with Harry Shearer and Judith Owen “Cabaret of Souls.” Thompson’s musical satire — direct from London’s Royal Festival Hall — is a collection of new songs and music by the veteran guitarist, songwriter and former member of Fairport Convention.  With other guests, as well as the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra.   UCLA Live at Royce Hall. (310) 825-2101.

– Nov. 19 & 20. (Fri. & Sat.)  Renaud Garcia-Fons.  Bassist Garcia-Fons takes his five-string instrument on a tour of music embracing jazz, classical, flamenco, new musette and stops in between.  Samueli Theatre OCPAC.  (714) 556-2787.

– Nov. 20. (Sat.)  Menahem Pressler and Richard Stoltzman with the New York Chamber Soloists Orchestra.  An evening of piano and clarinet classics from Mozart and Brahms.  Pianist Pressler performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major. Stoltzman displays Mozart’s magical touch with the clarinet in the Clarinet Concerto in A Major. And together, they perform Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 for Clarinet and Piano. UCLA Live at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

Billy Childs

– Nov. 20. (Sat.)  Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble.  Childs continues his adventurous exploration of the common ground between jazz and classical with the Sonus String Quartet and his own group of regulars — Bob Sheppard, saxophones and flute, Larry Koonse, guitar, Carol Robbins, harp and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Nov. 21. (Sun.)  Sylvia Brooks.  The elegant Ms. Brooks applies her dark sound and sophisticated style to songs from her latest album Dangerous Liaisons.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Nov. 21. (Sun.)  Tom Scott. Saxophonist Scott takes a break from his busy career as an arranger, composer and conductor to reaffirm his impressive chops as an adventurous jazz player.   KJAZZ Sunday Champagne Brunch.    (323) 491-1000.

San Francisco

– Nov. 16 & 17. (Tues. & Wed.)  Nnenna Freelon. Six-time Grammy nominee Freelon is one of the uniquely original voices in the growingly crowded field of female jazz singers.   Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

– Nov. 17. (Wed.)  Kyle Eastwood.  Bassist and film composer Eastwood leads a sterling quintet of rising jazz artists.  Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

Denny Zeitlin

– Nov. 20. (Sat.)  Denny Zeitlin.  Solo jazz piano.  Musician/psychiatrist Zeitlin is always a pleasure to hear.  But never more so than when he’s playing solo, exploring the outer limits of his far-reaching improvisational imagination.  Piedmont Piano Company, Oakland.  

– Nov. 21. (Sun.) Dave Mason.  Founding member of Traffic and a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, guitarist Mason is out there, affirming his credentials as a rock star.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

Sheila Jordan

– Nov. 16 & 17. (Tues. & Wed.)  Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn82nd Birthday Celebration. Numbers don’t mean a thing when it comes to the birthdays of Sheila Jordan.  Still vivacious and full of spunk, she continues to define the meaning of great jazz singing.  And with long time associate Steve Kuhn at the piano, it gets even better.  Jazz Standard. (212) 447-7733.

– Nov. 16 – 20.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Phil Woods Quintet.  Veteran alto saxophonist Woods has surrounded himself with a group of the finest contemporary players: Brian Lynch, trumpet, Bill Mays, piano, Steve Gilmore, bass and Bill Goodwin, drums.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

– Nov. 18 – 21. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Paul Bley and Charlie Haden.  Pianist Bley and bassist Haden have a history going back to the ‘60s.  Their empathic musical connections will be apparent in every fascinating note they play.   The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Billy Childs photo by Bobby Colomby.

Picks of the Week: Jan. 19 – 24

January 19, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Victor Wooten

– Jan. 19 – 20. (Tues. – Wed.)  Victor Wooten Band.  Award winning bassist Wooten’s performances with the Bela Fleck Band have always been impressive feats of musical magic.  Here he conjures up his own creative surprises.   Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 19. (Tues.)  John Pisano Guitar Night.  Now firmly established at Vitello’s Guitar Night begins its duo performances.  This time, Pisano gets together with former Oscar Peterson standout, Swedish guitarist Ulf WakeniusVitellos. (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 21. (Thurs.)  Simplexity.  The innovative electronic jazz group celebrates the release of their CD “Extreme Measures.” With  John von Seggern, Gary Novak, Steve Tavaglione and John Beasley ResBox at the Steve Allen Theatre.

– Jan. 21. (Thurs.)  John Altman Quartet.  English alto saxophonist and multi-hyphenate composer/arranger/songwriter Altman makes one of his too-infrequent Southland appearances. Charlie O’s (818) 989-3110.

Kenny Burrell photo by Bob Barry

– Jan. 21. (Thurs.)  Gerry Gibbs Quintet.  Inventive drummer Gibbs leads a stellar ensemble — accordionist Frank Marocco, multi-instrumentalis Rob Hardt, pianist Llew Matthews and bassist Lyman Medieros.     Crowne Plaza LAX Hotel.  (310) 642-7500.

– Jan. 21 – 23.  (Thurs. – Sat.)  Kenny Burrell Quartet.  One of the icons of jazz guitar, Burrell spends most of his time in educationsl settings these days.  So don’t miss this relatively rare chance to hear him in action.   Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 22. (Fri.)  Julie Esposito.   She has an enviable blend of skill, training and natural ability.  But what really makes Esposito special is her interpretive ability to find the heart of a song.   Café 322 (626) 836-5787.

Anna Mjoll

– Jan. 22. (Fri.)  Tom Peterson with the Pat Senatore Trio.  Saxophonist Peterson has played with just about everyone at one time or another.  Here he is up front, doing it his own way with Senatore’s solid backing.    Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Jan. 22. (Fri.)  Anna Mjoll.  The Icelandic singer moves easily across traditional pop and jazz genres with upbeat swing and an engaging on stage manner.  She performs with the John Heard TrioCharlie O’s. .  (818) 989-3110.

– Jan. 22. (Fri.)  Lincoln Mayorga.  “Chopin and the Piano.”  A discussion of the composer’s life and a performance of all of the 24 Preludes, the Grande Polonaise in A flat, the Scherzo in C sharp minor and selected mazurkas, etudes, and waltzes.  At the new Steinway Piano Gallery.  314 N. Robertson Blvd. (near Beverly Blvd.)  Information: (310) 476-6735

– Jan. 23. (Sat.)  Madeline Eastman.  San Francisco-based Eastman has skills too rarely heard in most alleged jazz singers — the ability to paraphrase, the implicit understanding of how a song is constructed, and a deep understanding of the relationship between words and music.  She sings with the Randy Porter Trio.  The Red Carpet Jazz Series.  Upstairs at Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

– Jan. 23. (Sat.)  Carol Bach-y-Rita.   Jazz, Brazilian music and Salsa are, says Bach-y-Rita says, her “great loves.”  And she sings them with the affection that only a true lover can express.   Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

– Jan. 23. (Sat.)  Doug MacLeod and Lawrence Lebo. Here’s a typically entertaining, typically eclectic McCabe’s program: the traditional blues and soulful guitar and vocals of MacLeod, and the jaunty swing and blues stylings of the inimitable Lebo.  McCabe’s. (310) 828-4497. 

– Jan. 24. (Sun.)  Ron McCurdy and the Vocal Collective.  Trumpeter (and educator) McCurdy interacts with the superb harmonies and briskly swinging vocals of the Vocal Collective.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

Ann Hampton Callaway

– Jan. 18. (Mon.)  Kat Parra and The Sephardic Experience.  Parra’s beguiling voice expressively blends traditional elements with contemporary sounds and rhythms.  Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

– Jan. 19. (Tues.)  Ann Hampton Callaway.  The busily traveling Callaway makes a too brief, one-night stop.  Too brief because her singing and her piano playing are always as entertaining as they are illuminating. Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

– Jan. 19 – 31. (Tues. – Mon.) Andrea Marcovicci.  Always an insightful interpretive artist, the “Queen of Cabaret” applies her dramatic musicality to “Skylark: A Centennial Tribute to Johnny Mercer.”    The Rrazz Room (415) 781-0306.

Kenny Garrett

– Jan. 21 – 24. (Thurs. – Sun.)  “Django Reinhardt at 100.” There will be numerous celebrations this year of the Reinhardt centennial.  Here’s one that brings together a pair of stylistically diverse guitarists:  Dorado Schmitt with special guest Dave Grisman Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

– Jan. 22 – 24.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Kenny Garrett Quartet.  Alto saxophonist Garrett continues to stretch the envelope of contemporary jazz improvising.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

New York

– Jan. 19. (Tues.)  Groove CollectiveD J Logic, Bernie Worrell, Dr. Lonnie Smith, among others, perform in a Benefit for Haiti.  100% of ticket proceeds go to Haiti Action and Hands Together.  At Le Poisson Rouge.   (212) 228-4854.

– Jan. 19 – 23 (Tues. – Sat.)  M’Boom Percussion Ensemble meets the World Sax Quartet in a spectacular musical encounter.  Featuring percussionists Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Ray Mantilla, Eli Fountain and Steve Berrios and saxophonists David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake & James Carter. Birdland. (212) 581-3080.

Lee Konitz

– Jan. 19 – 24. (Tues. – Sun.) Lee Konitz Trio. The great alto saxophonist, one of jazz history’s true originals, is still — at 82 — in rare form.   W. Dan Tepfer, piano, Matt Wilson, drums. Village Vanguard. (212) 255-4037.

– Jan. 19 – 24. (Tues. – Sun.) Frank Wess 88th Birthday Celebration. A week long birthday musical gala for the veteran saxophonist, featuring his Nonet with special guests Mulgrew Miller, Renee Rosnes, Bill Charlap, Billy Taylor, Mike Ledonne and Hank Jones. Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212)  258-9595.

– Jan. 19 – 31. (Tues. – Mon.)  Winter Latin Jazz Festival. This year’s Festival touches a far-ranging set of jazz styles with the starry line-up of Dave Valentin, Candido, Arturo Sandoval, Gato Barbieri, Poncho SanchezBlue Note.  NYC.  (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 21 – 24. (Thurs. – Sun.)  FLY.    Mark Turner, tenor saxophone, Larry Grenadier, bass and Jeff Ballard, drums.  The combination of saxophone, bass and drums is both a challenging and an invigorating instrumentation.  These guys handle it with spirit and imagination.   The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

Picks of the Week: Nov. 16 – 22

November 16, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Nov. 16. (Mon.) Devon Wendell, Kevin Kelly and Tyler Kidd.    Blues on the loose, featuring iRoM’s own “Doc” Wendell playing electric and acoustic guitars and harmonica.  A chance to hear the reviewer in action.   The Viper Room.  (310) 652-7869.

– Nove. 16. (Mon.)  Elvis Schoenberg’s Orchestre Surreal.  Schoenberg’s large collective of L.A. studio players claims to perform music that “fuses classical, jazz, rock, hip hop, world music and just about anything else.”  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.


Charlie O

– Nov. 17. (Tues.)  Remembering  Charlie OThe Bill Cunliffe Trio.  Charlie Ottaviano passed away a year ago.  But his widow Jo-Ann has made sure that the club that bears his name continues to be the Southland’s ultimate jazz bar and restaurant, presenting world-class music seven nights a week.  There will undoubtedly be a few tears and a lot of jamming taking place to celebrate his memory.  Charlie O’s. (818) 989-3110.

– Nov. `17. (Tues) Charlie Haden Family & FriendsRambling Boy.  Bassist Haden, one of the jazz world’s most versatile artists, recalls his early years in country and bluegrass music.  Family members, bluegrass players and Jack Black join the party.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

– Nov. 19. (Thurs.)  John Altman.  Sixtieth Birthday Party. Alto saxophonist/composer/arranger and humorist Altman celebrates a milestone birthday. Charlie O’s (818) 989-3110.

Lainie Kazan

Lainie Kazan

– Nov. 19. (Thurs.)  Thom Rotella Quartet.  Guitarist Rotella performs with the sterling backing of pianist John Beasley, bassist Kevin Brandon and drummer Roy McCurdy.  Crown Plaza Brasserie Jazz Lounge.  (310) 642-7500.

– Nov. 19 – 21. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Lainie Kazan.  The star of stage, screen, television and beyond is also a jazz-oriented, always engaging vocalist.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Nov. 20. (Fri.)  Graham Dechter Trio performs with guest star trumpeter Gilbert CastellanosSpazio. (818) 728-8400.

– Nov. 20 – 21. (Fri. & Sat.)  Joey DeFrancesco Trio.  The master of the B-3 keeps alive the tradition of big, blues-driven, irresistibly swinging jazz organ music. Steamers. (714) 871-8800.

– Nov. 21. (Sat.)  The Kronos Quartet, Terry Riley, Matmos and Michael Einziger“Eureka” The opening event in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s West Coast, Left Coast Festival features four artists whose skills were honed in the cultural environment of California.  The evening’s works are frequently interrlated, especially during a combined version of a piece titled “For Terry Riley,”  performed by the Kronos Quartet and the electronica of Matmos.  Walt Disney Concert Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Nov. 21. (Sat.)  Tommy Tune and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings: “Steps In Time” Dancer, choreographer and director Tune recalls some of the classic, high-stepping moments in Broadway musical history.  CSUN Performing Arts Center (818) 677-5768.

– Nov. 21. (Sat.)  Bernadette Peters. The Broadway musical star, who can command a stage with a sultry phrase and a playful twist of her hips, stars in the 15th Anniversary Celebration of the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza.   (805) 449-2700.


Hubert Laws

– Nov. 21. (Sat.)  Hubert Laws, Larry Koonse and Tierney Sutton. The Jazz Bakery continues its Moveable Feast series of concerts with a Holiday Celebration featuring veteran flutist Laws, versatile guitarist Koonse and jazz vocalist Sutton.    Fowler Museum.  UCLA.   (310) 271-9039

– Nov. 21. (Sat.)  Bob Sheppard.  Name the style you want to hear from a saxophonist, and Sheppard can deliver it in A-class style.  This time out, he’s doing things his own way, backed by the sturdy support of bassist Pat Senatore’s TrioVibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Nov. 21. (Sat.)  Hans Groiner & Larry Goldings Quartet.  Here’s an intriguing two-fer.  Pianist and humorist Groiner, making his West Coast debut is allegedly a “Thelonious Monk scholar.”   Goldings is a solid talent, one of the Southland’s most imaginative keyboardists.  The Red Carpet Jazz Series.  Upstairs at Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

– Nov. 22. (Sun.) Suezenne Fordham Chamber Jazz LA. Fordham’s expands upon the lineage of avant-garde jazz reaching back to the ‘60s.  South Pasadena Music Center and Conservatory (626) 403-2300

San Francisco

– Nov. 18. (Tues.)  Fred Hersch.  Solo piano.  Gersh is always a pleasure to hear, but never more so than when he plays alone.  Hopefully he’ll include some selections from his recent album of music by Antonio Carlos Jobim.  Yoshi’s Oakland )510) 238-9200.

– Nov. 20 – 22. (Fri. – Sun.)  Wallace Roney Quintet.  Trumpeter Roney’s playing style flows from the Miles Davis wellspring, but what he does with it is uniquely his own.  Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

Savion Glover

Savion glover

– Nov. 20 – 22.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Patti Austin.  Who will show up this week?  The Jazz Patti, the Blues Patti, the Soul Patti.  Doesn’t matter.  All of Austin’s musical manifestations are great.  With any luck she’ll include something from all her sources.  Yoshi’s  San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

– Nov. 17 – 22. (Mon. – Sun.)  Savion Glover“Jamming with the Masters” The brilliant tap artist performs with special guests McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, Eddie Palmieri, Jack DeJohnette and others TBA.  Check with club for schedules.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

– Nov. 17 – 22.  George Wein & the Newport All-Stars.  At 84, Wein – a swinging pianist as well as jazz’s most successful impresario – still loves to get up on the stage and do it himself.  He performs with the true all-star backing of saxophonist Lew Tabackin, trumpeter Randy Sandke, guitarist Howard Alden, drummer Winard Harper and others.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212) 258-9595.

. – Nov. 21. (Sat.)  Mariza and Friends.  The Portuguese diva and her passionate fado interpretations are joined, in a diverse program, by Peru’s Eva Ayllon and Cuban jazz pianist Gonzalo RubalcabaCarnegie Hall

– Nov. 22. (Sun.)  Jean-Michel Pilc Quartet. French pianist is one of the most adventurous members of the new generation of players taking their music beyond the powerful influence of Bill Evans. 55 Bar (212) 929-9883.

Live Jazz: Barbara Morrison’s 60th Birthday Celebration at the Ford Amphitheatre

September 14, 2009

By Devon Wendell

The pure and joyful celebration of the life that exists in the blues was the central element of a most special performance for Barbara Morrison’s 60th birthday Saturday at the Ford Amphitheatre, when she was joined by a wide array of artists from the world of jazz, blues, and soul.

After a loving introduction by the event’s host, KPFK’s James Jannise,barbara morrison Morrison took the stage with a childlike, gleeful enthusiasm, joined by the Larry Curtis Big Band, who have been accompanying her for the past 22 years. “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face” was the perfect beginning, with Morrison appearing confident, relaxed and fully in command of the vocal skills that have characterized her 35 years in show business.

Well-coiffed jazz crooner Alistair Tober was the first special guest of the evening, doing a rather bland and tame rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me.” Though the vocal delivery was lackluster, Larry Curtis’s big band shined, with the brass section, in particular, delivering soulful, swinging hooks. Morrison then returned with an invigorated punch on “Every Day I Have The Blues.” Although every blues and jazz artist under the sun has covered this Memphis Slim classic, Morrison tapped into the heart of the blues, shaking her hips, singing with a sassy, boastful confidence reminiscent of Big Mama Thornton (whom she portrayed in the play Howlin’ Blues & Dirty Dogs), Koko Taylor, and Etta James, without losing her own, one-of-a-kind warmth and delightful stage presence.

The Stuart Elster Trio, consisting of Elster on piano, bassist Richard Simon and drummer Lee Spath, took over as the house band, and 16 year old R&B newcomer, Mercedes York delivered a heartfelt rendition of Etta James’s “At Last,” despite an occasional flat passage when she was reaching for the high notes. Elster’s trio was then joined by soprano saxophonist John Altman and the stellar Andre Earles on vibes. Earles led the trio through a brilliant version of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” demonstrating his uniquely fluid and soulful technique in a performance that was one of the show’s highlights.

Morrison protégé Yvette Stewart was next on the bill, joined by the legendary Houston Person for the Adolph Green/Jules Styne standard “Just In Time.” Morrison’s influence was clearly present in Stewart’s vocal styling and witty stage presence. But it was Person who stole the spotlight with his Lester Young-esque vocal tone and hard-bop-to-soul tenor work that sounded as fresh as it did 40 years ago.

Person and the Elster Trio were then joined by Doctor Bobby Rodriguez on trumpet and Albert Alva on tenor saxophone as Filipino vocalist Charmaine Clamor sang “Hindi Kita Malimot” with what she calls her “Jazzipino” phrasing and sensual appearance — all of it coming together into a refreshingly original performance. Rodriguez, Alva, and Person added an atmospheric sense of texture and mood.

LA jazz veteran Kathy Segal Garcia’s performance, with her tasteful scat singing — backed by Rodriguez’s masterful trumpet work on “Willow Weep For Me” — was another standout moment of the show. Person added his own unique touches, seeming to sound even more energized with every new guest vocalist — and there were quite a few. Tierney Sutton performed a thoughtful and impressive version of “S’Wonderful.” Since 2005 Sutton has proven to be an original force to be reckoned with amongst jazz vocalists. And she, like many of the singers, included phrasing that was an obvious nod to Morrison, who looked on adoringly from the side of the stage.

Morrison couldn’t stay on the sidelines for long, though. When she swung into “Exactly Like You,” her singing, her demeanor and her banter were filled with a delightful blend of humor and irony. John Altman added a tasty soprano solo as well, but the appearance of the Barbara Morrison Swing Dancers half way through the song seemed distracting, though well intentioned. She closed the jam-packed first half of her birthday bash by conjuring up a parade of the dominant female empresses of the blues with a slow, sexy, and soulful rendition of “Candy,” capturing all the subtle nuances of Big Maybelle’s hit version from 1956 in her finest performance of the evening.

After a brief intermission, vocalist Billy Valentine’s birthday gift to Morrison was “Barbara” in which Valentine lyrically revamped the lyrics to the old standard, “Georgia,” to pay homage to Morrison’s illustrious career. R&B/jazz trailblazer Freda Payne (also celebrating her birthday), performed “Easy Living” with a fantastic, bluesy call-and-response set of exchanges between Payne’s superb, near-falsetto vocals and Gordon’s talking, muted trombone. At this point, all eyes were on the surprise guest of the evening — tenor saxophonist James Moody — who joined the band on “Honeysuckle Rose.” Although he seemed at first to struggle with his mouthpiece, he eventually brought out the warm, rich tone and syncopated bop lines that justifiably have made him one of the most influential jazz artists of all time.

As Payne exited the stage, the band dug into “Lullaby of Birdland.” Oddly, it started off a little out of tune; but Moody quickly dipped back into his days with Dizzy, inspiring the other soloists to great heights, taking Hollywood all the way back East to 52nd Street. Morrison then persuaded Nikki Harris, who was in the audience, to join her on Percy Mayfield’s blues classic “Send Me Someone To Love.” Both ladies demonstrated what the blues is all about with the soulful nostalgia and grace that have made this such a timeless piece. Next up in this amazing parade of talent, Yve Evans sat at the piano as the band cleared the stage, performing “Love Is Beautiful,” stopping after a few verses to deliver some humorous jabs and loving memories of her long camaraderie with Morrison.

At this point, the show took a surprise twist with the arrival of tap dancer Chester Whitmore. dancing with astonishing flexibility, elegance, rhythm, and imagination (at one point using a pair of drumsticks on his body while dancing). Gloria Hendry provided yet another off-beat contribution, reciting a a poem to Morrison about friendship and love. But her performance of Ella Fitzgerald’s arrangement of “Make Love To Me,” though traditional and tight, only suggested the sort of power that Morrison would have brought to this chestnut.

For the big finale, Morrison gathered her special guests on stage to clap, sing along, and dance with the Barbara Morrison Swing Dancers, all backed by The Bu Crew — pianist Ron Bishop, drummer Peter Buck, bassist Rickey Taylor, guitarist Charles Small and harmonica player Glen Doll — in a a funky, Memphis blues style takeover of “Summertime.” Morrison was having a blast, imitating both Michael Jackson and James Brown with her dance moves, and belting out the blues with her honored guests.

As everyone on stage segued into “Happy Birthday,” Morrison thanked all her friends, both on and off the stage, including Gerald Wilson who shared the same birthday and was present. Her birthday bash was a celebration of uptown blues, jazz, dance, and all things happy, with an original and bold choice of artists both young and old. All shared the same love and enthusiasm for a true class act, whose boundless energy made it feel as though she could easily be entertaining us for another 60 years.

Read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell here.


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