Live Jazz: Jackie Ryan at Vitello’s

April 24, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City CA.  Jackie Ryan’s appearance at Vitello’s Monday night was one of the most musically gripping performances of recent memory.  Listening to her two extended sets of songs before an enthusiastic, packed house crowd, I found myself wishing that the entire evening had been videotaped.

Why? In part for the pleasure of Ryan fans who couldn’t make the gig (or those who, like me, did but who would love to have a video for future enjoyment).  And in part because a video of her performance could well have served as a virtual seminar in song for vocal classes in university jazz programs around the world.

Jackie Ryan and Graham Dechter

None of all this, of course, was in Jackie’s mind as she kicked off the evening with a light hearted romp through the often-covered Bob Dorough/Ben Tucker tune, ‘Comin’ Home Baby.”  Music, not video, was clearly her focus – music reaching across the spectrum from blues to ballads to bossa nova, with a lot of other enchanting stops along the way.

Beyond that, and at the heart of all her interpretations, it was Jackie’s musical story-telling gifts – as a singer and an actress — that brought her songs vividly to life, regardless of their style or substance.  More than almost any other jazz singer I’ve seen lately, she is an irresistible communicator.

Jackie was superbly supported by the world class ensemble of tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard, trumpeter John Reynolds, guitarist Graham Dechter, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton.  Most of the players (with Reynolds replacing Gilbert Castellanos and Hamilton replacing Obed Calvaire) were present on Jackie’s highly regarded CD, Listen Here.  And her program was completely dedicated to a live, in-performance look at some of the musically and dramatically rich collection of songs on the album.

Rickey Woodard, John Reynolds, Jeff Hamilton, John Clayton and Gerald Clayton

The highlights came, one after another.

A lovely bolero, “La Puerta,” chosen to honor Jackie’s Mexican mother, was done as a musically intimate duet between Jackie’s voice and Dechter’s guitar.  Dechter also played an equally vital role in “Chega de Saudade” (“No More Blues”), sung in English and Portuguese.  The piece was wrapped up with a delightful coda in which Jackie did a stunning vocal simulation of Brazilian percussion.

Gerald and John Clayton

Gerald and John Clayton

Pianist Gerald Clayton played with similar finesse on several tunes, including some full-out gospel piano accompaniment as Jackie preached her way through “Accentuate the Positive,” done with the verse.  And Clayton’s subtle touch, a vital element in almost every number, was especially well crafted in his accompaniment for Jackie’s poignant rendering of “I Loves You Porgy.”

In some of the more lively songs, the horn players provided dynamic instrumental backing, often soloing between vocal choruses, with trumpeter Reynolds delivering in laid-back Chet Baker style and saxophonist Woodard dipping into the warm seductiveness of Ben Webster-like phrasing.  Bassist Clayton and drummer Hamilton meanwhile served as the dependable rhythmic engine, keeping everything on track.

And there was more: standards such as “How Little We Know” and “The Gypsy in My Soul,” more offbeat items including “How Long?” “To the Ends of the Earth” and Dave Frishberg’s “Listen Here” (the album title song).  Add a pair of relatively new songs: “Rip Van Winkle” by Jon Mayer and Mark Winkler, and a new tune with lyrics by the Bergmans and music by John Clayton – “Before We Fall In Love.”

Finally, Jackie wrapped this remarkable evening with a romp through “Red Top” featuring both her scatting and her vocalese in another vivid display of her extraordinary abilities.

Reveling in this climactic ending, one could only hope that she will increase the number of her too-rare appearances in the Southland.  Either that, or start providing some videos for her fans who would like to have more frequent contact with Jackie Ryan and her music.

* * * * * * * *

Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of Jackie Ryan’s new album, “Listen Here.”

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: The Jon Mayer Trio at H.O.M.E.

January 10, 2013

By Brick Wahl

Beverly Hills, CA.  Saw Jon Mayer Tuesday in Beverly Hills at a club called H.O.M.E.  A trio gig, with rock solid down the middle Chris Conner on bass, always good, and Roy McCurdy on drums. They don’t make drummers like Roy anymore. All that power. Not Elvin Jones power, but metrical power, swinging like he swung everybody, Cannonball Adderley and everybody. Jon was playing a huge piano that was last tuned in 1967 or thereabouts but he didn’t seem to have much trouble with it.

I was at Charlie O’s one night — might have been this very same trio — and I was sitting with John Heard back at the bar. Heard was digging Mayer’s playing, totally digging it, and said Mayer was the real thing. “That’s the way they used to play” he told me, “trying stuff on the fly, taking big risks like that. Just pure creativity. They don’t do that anymore.” He said something like that, anyway, back at the bar downing a brandy, me a whiskey. We listened to Mayer working through whatever it was he was aiming at, and I got it.  Heard what John Heard was hearing.  Saw in Jon Mayer’s face that creative process Heard was marveling at.

Jon Mayer

Jon Mayer

Sometimes an idea wouldn’t pan out and Jon would curse to himself and strain a second to rebuild it into something that would work. Fearless improvisation, falling back on nothing but the centrifugal force of pure jazz improvisation to carry it along. It’s like Mayer doesn’t see a beautiful lattice of possible patterns, nothing he learned in school, nothing somebody else did before. That doesn’t even seem to exist to him. He’s not making art, like pianists tend to do anymore, he’s making jazz. Pure jazz.

At H.O.M.E., it was jazz the way it was played in NYC in the 1950′s, when Jon was first gigging. You can imagine the heavy cats he had to play with, play for — hell, there was a session with Trane, even — back when jazz was at its absolute apogee. Those were the days that all jazz musicians look back at now as Olympian, as something jazz players now would give anything to be part of, and Jon Mayer was there, really was. You can hear it in those crazy clustered chords of his, these sensitive yet almost dissonant things he drops in where almost everyone would lay out a straight melodic line. I mean not dropping any huge Monk clomps, not even dropping one handed bombs like McCoy Tyner, but instead turning the melody into pieces, oddly shaped pieces he lays out with spaces between them that distill into single notes that splash on the keys like drops of rain water. He does this even in the most gorgeous tunes, a magnificent “Green Dolphin Street” or something by Tadd Dameron, or something he’s drawn up himself.

I dunno, I find writing about jazz piano impossible, absolutely impossible, and I flail around looking for ways to explain something that I don’t even understand. I wrote about jazz in the LA Weekly for seven years and never did learn how to write about jazz piano. I failed again with this. But Jon Mayer’s piano playing affects me like no other, I just listen in disbelief wondering how his musical thought process works. And I wonder if anyone else in town realizes what a treasure this jazz player is, and why they aren’t lining up to see him. He’s that good.

To read more posts by Brick Wahl on his personal website click HERE.


Picks of the Week: June 27 – July 1

June 27, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Miles Davis

- June 27. (Wed.)  A Celebration of Miles Davis. Herbie Hancock hosts a trio of Davis tributes: Miles’ Electric Band, Marcus Miller leading  “Tutu Revisited” and Jimmy Cobb leading his “So What” band in  “Kind of Blue.” Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- June 28. (Thurs.)  Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Boz Skaggs.  The Dukes of September. Three rock greats get together once again to touch musical high points reaching from the O’Jays to the Doobie Brothers and the Steely Dan catalog. To read an earlier iRoM review of the Dukes of December click HERE.   Gibson Amphitheatre.  (818) 622-4440.

Judy Wexler

- June 28. (Thurs.) Judy Wexler.  The versatile Ms. Wexler’s admirable jazz vocal skills embrace everything from standards and jazz classics to singer/songwriter tunes from the ‘70s – all done with style and imagination.  LACMA.  .

- June 28. (Thurs.)  Ray Brown, Jr.  The adopted son of the great bassist Ray Brown and the equally inimitable Ella Fitzgerald, Brown was raised in a high level musical environment.  No wonder that he became first a drummer, then a singer, adding contemporary qualities to the musical sounds and substance of his youth.  Crown Plaza.  (310) 258-1333.

- June 29. (Thurs.) Sascha’s Bloc Band.  Led by musician/surgeon Alex Gershman (Sascha), the Bloc Band includes players from Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and beyond, performing  an eclectic blend of European roots music, gypsy jazz, flamenco and much more.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Bob Sheppard

- June 29. (Fri.) Bob Sheppard.  Saxophonist Sheppard, one of the Southland’s prime jazz artists still doesn’t receive the critical attention his far-reaching skills deserve.  He’s backed by Theo Saunders, piano, Pat Senatore, bass and Ferenc Nemeth, drums.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- June 29. (Fri.)  The Arte Café opens in the Town Center Plaza in Cerritos with another great Los Angeles saxophonist, Rickey Woodard, leading the way.  He’ll perform with pianist Jon Mayer, bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Roy McCurdy.  For information, call In-House Music at (310)216-5861.

- June 29. (Fri.)  Summerland.  The first ever Summerland tour features an impressive assembly of hit-making bands: Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit and Marcy PlaygroundGreek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

Dave Frishberg

- June 30. (Sat.)  Dave Frishberg.  The Stephen Sondheim of jazz songwriters brings his memorable catalog (“Peel Me A Grape,” “Do You Miss New York?” “My Attorney Bernie,” etc., his engaging vocal style and his crisply swinging piano to town for a too-rare L.A. appearance.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. .  (310) 271-9039.

- June 30. (Sat.) B52s and Squeeze.  With over 20 million albums sold in their 35 year career, it’s no surprise that the B52s are called the “World’s greatest party band.”  Expect to feel the pulse when the  hits, old and new, begin.  The popular U.K. band Squeeze opens the performance. Greek Theatre.     (323) 665-5857.

- July 1. (Sun.)  Chuchito Valdes Latin Jazz Band.  Son of the great Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes, Chuchito has followed in his father’s musical foosteps, finding fascinating new territories in the world of Latin jazz. Featured artist with Valdes will be the versatile, multi-saxophone player Laksar Reese.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Ben Harper

- July 1. (Sun.)  Ben Harper, Fitz and the Tantrums, Vieux Farka Toure. The World Festival 2012 series begins with a trio of unique artists demonstrating the linkages between the blues, soul music and dynamic African rhythms.   Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- June 28. (Thurs.) Paul McCandless and Antonio Calogero.   A keystone member of the band Oregon and the Paul Winter Consort, McCandless’ wind instrument versatility is one of the unique sounds of the jazz and world music blend.  He appears with the talented young Italian guitarist, Calogero. Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse.   (510) 644-2020 Ext. 20.

Seattle

- June 28 – July 1. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Diane Schuur. Singer Schuur’s long career has seen her perform  effecttvely in several cross genre styles, from jazz to pop.  More recently, she’s blended all those styles into a unique expressiveness of her own making.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

- June 29. (Fri.)  The Ben Monder Theo Bleckmann Duo.  Grammy-nominated singer/composer Bleckmann and pianist Monder have spent nearly two decades shaping a vocal form that might best be described as “jazz art songs.”  The results are extraordinary.  Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 989-9319.

Harry Allen

- June 29 & 30. (Fri. & Sat.)  Harry Allen Quartet. At a time when the influence of John Coltrane and/Sonny Rollins dominates the tenor saxophone world, Allen – a dedicated traditionalist – strives convincingly to keep the pre-bop styles of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and others vividly alive. Smalls.

- June 29 – July 1. (Fri. – Sun.) Charlie Watts: “The A, B, C and D of Boogie Woogie.”  Watts, best known as the drummer with the Rolling Stones, yet always a stalwart fan of jazz, has just released the first album of his Boogie Woogie Band.  They’ll celebrate the release with a live performance of some of the album’s selections.  The band consists of Axel Zwingenberger, piano, Dave Green, bass and Ben Waters, piano and vocals.  The Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

London

- June 27 – 29. (Wed. – Fri.)  Curtis Stigers.  Saxophonist/singer Stigers had all the look of a rare, break out jazz vocalist in the ’90s.  His visibility has dimmed somewhat since then, despite his still attractive style.  Give credit to listeners in the U.K. for continuing to recognize his appealing qualities. Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.

Tokyo

Hilary Kole

- June 26 & 27. (Tues. & Wed.)  Hilary Kole. The sound alone of Kole’s warm, embracing voice would almost be enough to make anything she does listenable.  But she raises the bar much higher with a combination of attractive musicality and compelling story telling. Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.

- June 28 – July 1. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Sadao Watanabe. One of the first Japanese jazz artists to break through to international fame, saxophonist Watanabe, at 79, is still a master of the bebop genre. Blue Note Tokyo. 03.5485.0088.


Brick Wahl: Keeping It Real 2

February 26, 2012

By Brick Wahl

Just realized there are still comments bouncing around on this. Don Heckman’s got clout….

My whole point in that original rant is that if things continue as they are there will be no place left to play. The jazz scene has shrunk by at least two thirds in the past ten years. Clubs literally cannot afford to book the stuff. It not only does not draw people, but it literally drives them away. People leave. They listen a bit, get bored, pay their tab and leave. More leave than don’t leave in many, if not most cases. You book jazz and you will have empty rooms. The exception is the Blue Whale, but that exists because USC is nearby and has such a strong jazz program. It’s the hang for all those kids and their friends, and for jazz fans who can’t believe there is a club booking such cool crazy shit like you can see at the Blue Whale. The downside of that is that those kids don’t buy a lot of drinks and even less food. College kids are broke, and college kids who study jazz are, um, bookish….and party they don’t. If people don’t party the club doesn’t make any money. And if clubs don’t make money they close….or change music. Even the Blue Whale complains about a lot of lousy turn outs (though they seem to be doing well whenever I’m there.) .

Brick Wahl

And, oh yeah….the Movable Feasts are big successes…but they are concerts…. They are presented as concerts, marketed as concerts, structured as concerts. Concerts have always done much better than clubs. They feature well known names from NYC or Europe. Plus the place has, I believe, student rush tickets. And most importantly of all…the Jazz Bakery does not rely on bar tabs and door money for its funding. It is supported by patrons. That’s how it stayed open all those years when no one was showing up a lot of nights. But as far as genuine jazz clubs — not performance spaces but clubs that try to feature jazz a few nights a week — well, those are disappearing fast. Vibrato makes its money off its menu. Blue Whale by being a hip college joint with a vast pool of young talent to feature.. And there’s scattered other spots that have the weekly jazz night that does well. But they are few and far between, and certainly not part of any city-wide jazz scene, a scene that existed a few years ago.

So players can say that they play for themselves and don’t worry about whether people like it or not (and I think that is the general attitude)…..but that means that within a couple years there will be virtually nowhere to play And certainly almost nowhere to play for pay. I used to fully support that attitude, I loved it. Then I noticed that all the clubs were gone.

Btw…one of the signs of the shrinking jazz scene is its fragmentation….there’s a young experimental scene that’s centered at the Blue Whale; there’s a very white mainstream jazz scene that finds a home at Vitello’s, and the black cats hang on at Nola’s and a couple other small spots. There always was a young cat-old cat divide and a white cat-black jazz divide in LA, certainly in the seven or eight years I was writing things up. I was always trying to get the scenes together more. To mix ideas, influences, players. But the opposite has occurred. I don’t know what to say about that. Except that I don’t think it’s a good thing.

Incidentally, saw Jon Mayer at a bare Desert Rose a couple Saturdays ago. He was brilliant as ever. Highly recommend seeing him there if you’re near Los Feliz on a Saturday night. And Ben Wendel and combo at a very packed Blue Whale a couple weeks ago was a thrill, man. Loved every second of it. And so sorry to see that Mssrs. Melvoin and Holloway slipped away this past week. Oh well.

OK…..I’ve run outta words…..take care everybody….

To read Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1 click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 4 – 8

January 3, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Jan. 4. (Wed.)  Kris Bowers.  22 year old pianist Bowers, a graduate student at Julliard, was the winner of the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition in 2011.)  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Jon Mayer

- Jan. 5. (Thurs.)  Jon Mayer Quintet.  Veteran pianist Mayer, whose resume includes gigs with the likes of Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane and the Manhattan Transfer, leads the all-star assemblage of saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Roy McCurdy.  LAX Jazz Club in the Crowne Plaza Hotel.  (310) 258-1333.

- Jan. 5. (Thurs.  Alan Ferber Quartet.  Versatile trombonist/educator Ferber, a Down Beat poll winner, makes a rare Southland appearance.  He performs with pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Pat Senatore and his twin brother Mark Ferber on drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Tierney Sutton

 

- Jan. 6. (Fri.)  The Tierney Sutton Band.  Together for nearly two decades, the Sutton Band, with Tierney’s rich-hued voice surrounded by an irresistible instrumental embrace, is one of the jazz world’s most musically appealing ensembles.  Expect to hear some selections from the TSB’s remarkable new album, American Road.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

 

 

- Jan. 7 & 8. (Sat. & Sun.)  Barbara Morrison.  Despite her recent medical difficulties, Morrison is courageously back in action, bringing insightful musical versatility to everything she sings. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

San Rafael

- Jan. 5. (Thurs.)  Roberta Donnay Jazz Quartet.  Donnay’s stylish jazz vocalizing will be the opening entry in a newly established jazz policy at San Rafael’s sleek, 40ish night club.  George’s Nightclub.    (877) 568-2726.

Washington D.C.

- Jan 5 – 8.  (Thurs – Sun.)  Mose Allison. The sage of the bayou, always fun to hear, balances sardonic wisdom with an infectious rhythmic swing. Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

New York

Cassandra Wilson

 

- Jan. 4 – 7. (Wed. – Sat.)  Cassandra Wilson. Grammy winner Wilson’s dark, seductive sound and intuitive way with a song are applied to material ranging from straight ahead jazz to pop, always delivered with fearless musicality.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

 

 

- Jan. 4 – 8.  (Wed. – Sun.) Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project. Trumpeter Jimmy Owens takes on the challenging music of Thelonious Monk in the company of a world-class musical ensemble: trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, tuba and baritone saxophonist Howard Johnson, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Kenny Davis, and drummer Winard HarperDizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

- Jan. 4 – 8. (Wed. – Sun.)  Nicholas Payton.  Trumpeter Payton puts his far-reaching musical versatility on full display, leading his stellar quartet on Tues. – Thurs. as well as the Nicholas Payton Television Studio Orchestra on Fri. and Sat.    Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Brad Mehldau

- Jan. 4 – 8. (Wed. – Sun.)  Brad Mehldau Trio.  Always musically compelling, regardless of the setting, pianist Mehldau kicks off the new year in the familiar creative environment of his trio, with Larry Grenadier, bass and Jeff Ballard, drums.  Village Vanguard.    9212) 255-4037.

- Jan. 5 & 6. )Thurs. & Fri.)  Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble.  Veteran trumpeter Harrell leads an octet that supplements his jazz quintet with flute, violin and cello to explore the subtle connections between jazz, Debussy, Ravel and beyond. The Jazz Standard.    (212) 447-7733.

Tokyo

- Jan. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Lalah Hathaway. Donny Hathaway’s “First Daughter of Soul” continues to produce chart-topping r & b and soul classics in the idiom of her gifted father.  The Blue Note Tokyo.    03. 5485. 0088.

Brad Mehldau photo by Tony Gieske


Picks of the Week: May 3 – 8

May 3, 2011

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Leon Russell

- May 3. (Tues.)  Leon Russell.  One of the great iconic figures of the golden era of rock makes a rare local appearance in a relatively small venue.  There’ll also be a special performance by Booker T. JonesThe El Rey.   (323) 936-6400.

- May 3. (Tues.)  Emil Richards, Mike Lang, Abraham Laboriel, Joe Porcaro.   A quartet of L.A.’s finest, veteran jazzmen get together to provide a few effortlessly swinging lessons in the benefits of bebop and beyond.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– May 4 & 5. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Josh Nelson’s “Kansas City-L.A Project.  Pianist Nelson leads  Hermon Mehari, trumpet, Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone, Ben Leiffert, bass and Zack Albetta, drums in a colorful musical excursion.  Wed. at Steamers in Fullerton (714) 871-8800
and on Thursday at the Blue Whale Bar in Los Angeles.   (213) 620-0908.

Roy Hargrovw

- May 4 – 8. (Wed.- Sun.)  Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove is playing in every imaginable setting these days, but it’s always a special pleasure to hear him in a straight ahead, jazz quintet performance.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- May 5. (Thurs.) Cinco de Mayo at the Conga Room.  For the sheer joy of music and movement, there’s no better place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than the Conga Room.  And it’s especially sizzling this year with the electro music of Maria Daniela y Su Sonido Lasser, the three piece, electro-pop party band, Cosmopolitan and L.A.’s own Son Jarocho collective, Las CafeterasThe Conga Room.    (213) 745-0162.

- May 5. (Thurs.)  Jon Mayer.  Here’s another performance by a quartet of the Southland’s finest veteran jazzers.  Expect the mood to be swinging and the sounds to be memorable. With Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone, Chris Conner, bass, Roy McCurdy, drums.   LAX Jazz Club at the Crown Plaza LAX.  (310) 258-1333.

- May 5 – 7. (Thurs. – Sat. )  Ravel with the Pacific Symphony.  Conductor Carlos Miguel Pietro leads the Pacific Symphony in a journey across the Iberian peninsula via the music of Albeniz (Iberia), Sarasate (Carmen Fantasy), De Falla (The Three Cornered Hat) and Ravel (Bolero and Tzigane.  Violinist Philippe Quint solos.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.   (714) 556-2787.

Shirley MacLaine

- May 6. (Fri.)  Shirley McLaine.  It’s hard to know what to expect from any given appearance by the fascinating Ms. McLaine.  But there’s no doubt she’ll share some of her film moments with some revelations about her life, career and interests in spirituality.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-8800.

- May 6 & 7. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Mikado. One of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most entertaining musical delights, performed by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

- May 7. (Sat.)  Ceu.  Brazilian singer Ceu comfortably steps across genres – Brazilian music, pop, rock, jazz – in a single bound.  El Rey.     323) 936-6400.

- May 7. (Sat.)   Wavefest.  The 15th annual Wavefest has morphed into something more than music to relax to.  There’ll be a lot more energy than that, and a lot more interest, too, in a program featuring Roberta Flack, KEM, Macy Gray and Sheila E. & the E. FamilyThe Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

- May 8. (Sun.)  Alan Broadbent and Pat Senatore.  Pianist Broadbent and bassist Senatore have played with just about everyone in their long productive careers.  Here’s a chance to hear them exchanging musical ideas in an elegant, laid back setting.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Cameron Carpenter

- May 8. (Sun.)  Cameron Carpenter.  Carpenter isn’t just a brilliantly virtuosic organist, he’s also a charismatic entertainer who understands how to balance his astonishing technical displays with interpretive authenticity.  In this performance he finds the heartbeat of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture  and Prelude and Fugue in G minor.  Disney Hall.  (323) 650-2000.

 San Francisco

- May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The CrusadersJoe Sample, Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder, three of the original Jazz Crusaders, revive their unique blend of jazz, soul, bop, blues and groove.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- May 7. (Sat.)  Yanni.  One of the most popular international artists in the world, Yanni’s lyrical piano playing, combined with his warm and fuzzy orchestrations have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide.  The Warfield.    (415) 345-0900.

 Seattle

May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Keiko Matsui.  Keyboardist Matsui was one of the first artists to make the most of the fertile territory between smooth jazz, fusion and New Age, and do so with a subtly appealing undercurrent of swing.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

- May 3 – 8. (Tues. – Sun.)  Omar Sosa.  Cuban pianist/composer Sosa’s Afri-Lectric Quintet finds fascinating common ground with special guest Benin-born guitarist Lionel LouekeThe Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- May 3 – 8. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Julliard Jazz Quintet.  A cross-generational jazz quintet that balances scholarly know-how with inventive swing.  With Ron Carter, bass, Rodney Jones, guitar, Frank Kimbrough, piano, Carl Allen, drums and Ron Blake, saxophone. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

Danny Aiello

- May 4. (Wed.)  Danny Aiello.  He’s given one memorable film performance after another – including a pair of Academy Award nominations along the way.  But Aiello’s singing chops are every bit as impressive.  The New York Times called it right when it said “Aiello has the bounce of his idols Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and Louis Prima, and the throaty lyricism of another idol, Tony Bennett.”  The Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

Washington, D.C.

- May 6 & 7. (Fri. & Sat.)  Azar Lawrence Quintet.  Tough tenor Lawrence applies his muscular style to an encounter with the equally dynamic Eddie Henderson, trumpet, Benito Gonzalez, piano and Billy Hart, drums.  Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

Boston

- May 5. (Thurs.)  The Mahavishnu Project. Drummer Gregg Bendian leads his sturdy band of players in the performance of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra’s complete Visions of the Emerald Beyond.  John McLaughlin offers his support: “To hear you guys playing those tunes in such an unbelievable way is quite amazing.”   The Regatta Bar.   (617) 395-7757.

 Chicago

- May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Eric Alexander/Harold Mayburn Quartet. Fiery saxophonist Alexander combines his hard driving, fast fingered skills with the veteran bop chops of pianist Mayburn.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

London

PHaroah Sanders

May 2– 4. (Mon. – Wed.)  Pharoah Sanders Quartet. Adventurous, Grammy-winning tenor saxophonist Sanders continues the exploratory journeys he began in the avant-garde ‘60s.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020.7439.0747

May 8. (Sun.) The Atomic Mr. Basie.  Led by Pete Long,the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, with its stellar assemblage of U.K. jazz talent, performs the complete program from Basie’s classic 1957 album.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020.7439.0747

 Paris

May. 6. (Fri.)  The Kora Jazz Trio.  Keyboardist/composer Abdoulaye Diabate, kora player Djeli Moussa Diawara and percussionist Moussa Sissokho are creating a compelling fusion of the Mandinka tradition and the free flying, improvisational qualities of jazz.  New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.


Picks of the Week: Nov. 30 – Dec. 5

November 30, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Dec. 1. (Wed.) A Celtic Christmas.  Irish Storyteller Tomaseen Foley creates a traditional night before Christmas, filled with dancing, music-making and holiday joy.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. (562) 916-8501.

John McLaughlin

- Dec. 1. (Wed.)  John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. The ever-exploratory guitarist performs with a group reaching across genres, styles and generations: multi-instrumentalist Gary Husband on percussion and keyboards, Mark Mondesir on drums and Etienne Mbappe, a young Cameroonian, on bass.  A UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.

- Dec. 1 & 2. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Raga Bop Trio.  With Steve Smith, drums, George Brooks, saxophone and Prasanna, guitar and vocals.  The name says it all for this high octane trio that cruises convincingly in the territory between Indian ragas and bebop.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

Jackie Ryan

- Dec. 3. (Fri.) Jackie Ryan.  She’s one of a kind, a vocal artist who’s traveled her own musical path, escorting her many fans through one unique musical adventure after another.  Making one of her too-rare performances in the Southland, she sings with pianist Jon Mayer, bassist Carlito Del Puerto and drummer Dean KobaThe Culver Club for Jazz at the Radisson L.A. West Side Hotel.   (310) 649-1776 Ext. 4137.

- Dec. 3 & 4. (Fri. & Sat.)  6th Annnual Filipino-American Jazzfest. The list of impressive jazz artists with Filipino roots grows longer every year.  Highlight of this year’s Jazzfest is a CD release celebration on Saturday for jazz singer Charmaine Clamor’s stellar new CD, Something Good. Also on the schedule, Abe Lagrimas, Annie Brazil, Johnny Alegre, JP Maramba, Bo Razon and introducing Carlo David Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- Dec. 4. (Sat.)  “Holiday on Broadway” Raymond Saar, Diane Ketchie, Valerie Perri and Scott Harlan celebrate the holidays with a program of festive music from Broadway, film and television, with a few whimsical twists and seasonal classica.  CSUN Valley Performing Arts Center.  Plaza del Sol Performance Hall.  (818) 677-3000.

- Dec. 4 (Sat.)  “Music and Conversations” A convivial interface between classical music, jazz and interesting people.  Featuring Susan Greenberg, flute, Alyssa Park, violin, Timothy Loo, cello, Delores Stevens and Alan Broadbent, piano, Putter Smith, bass.  Performing the music of Ravel, Brahms and Jane Brockman, with jazz improvisations by Broadbent and Smith.  Music and Conversations.  High Profile Productions, Culver City.  (310) 876-1188.

Bill Cunliffe

- Dec. 4. (Sat.)  Bill Cunliffe.  At 8 p.m.: “A Jazz Compass Christmas” featuring Cunliffe’s piano with drummer Joe LaBarbera, guitarist Larry Koonse and bassist Tom Warrington playing selections from their Jazz Compass CD Snowfall.  At 9 p.m.  The Bill Cunliffe Big Band, playing holiday and jazz selections, including the Grammy-winning West Side Story. With special guest vocalist, Daniela SpagnoloVitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Dec. 4 (Sat.)  Tapestry.  The elegant sound of the four voices of Tapestry soars through a collection of music illuminating the common ground between Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Tibetan cultures.  Presented in the atmospheric setting of the St. Basil Catholic Church. Chamber Music in Historic Sites.   (213) 477-2929.

- Dec. 4 & 5. (Sat. & Sun.) Symphonic Mariachi ChristmasJose Hernandez and Latin Grammy nominated Mariachi del Sol join with Sinfonia Mexicana in an evening of grand arrangements of Mexico’s holiday classics.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

Alice Coltrane

- Dec. 5. (Sunday) Alice Coltrane Tribute.  The life, music and philosophy of the late pianist and musical and spiritual explorer is celebrated by a diverse line up of musical artists: McCoy Tyner, Kyp Malone, Nels Cline, Han Bennink, Daniel Carter, Michael White & Leisei Chen, Radha Botofasina, Flying Lotus and special guests.   A UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.

- Dec. 5 & 12. (Sundays) Los Angeles Childrens’ Chorus.  The 25th Annual Winter Concert by an enthusiastic collection of children, aged 6 to 18, singing the music of 20 composers from 10 nations.  Pasadena Presbyterian Church.  http;//http://www.lachildrenschorus.org.  (626) 793-4231.

San Francisco

- Dec. 3 – 5. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Saxophonist Coltrane has moved far beyond the shadow of his iconic father, into an expressive and adventurous musical world of his own making.Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

- Dec. 3 – 5. (Fri. – Sun.)  Mike Stern Band. Guitarist Stern, one of his instrument’s most eclectic stylists, performs with a group of equally enterprising players: trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Anthony JacksonYoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

- Nov. 30 – Dec. 4. (Tues. – Sat.)  Frank Wess Quintet.  Approaching his 88th birthday, Wess is still one of the flute’s most masterful practitioners, as well as a tenor saxophonist who keeps the spirit of early bebop alive.  He performs with special guest Kenny Barron and Roni Ben Hur, guitar, Victor Lewis, drums, Santi Debriano, bass.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Fred Hersch

- Nov. 30 – Dec. 5 (Tues. – Sun.)  Fred Hersch, solo piano. After enduring a life threatening two months in a coma in 2008, Hersch literally had to work his way back to playing the piano again.  And he did so magnificently, as his listeners will realize in these evenings of challenging, but expressive, solo performances.  Village Vanguard.  (212) 255-4037.

Dec. 2 – 5 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Tango Meets Jazz Festival. The tenth annual celebration of the linkages between American jazz and the music often called Argentina’s blues.  Featuring Latin Grammy winning Pablo Ziegler with his Quartet.  With guest stars tenor saxophonist Prometheus Jenkins (you’ll immediately know who it is when you see him) and violinist Regina Carter. Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2232.


Picks of the Week. Nov. 24 – 29

November 23, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Bob Mintzer

- Nov. 24. (Tues.)  Bob Mintzer’s Big Band.  Mintzer’s a high visibility saxophonist with the Yellowjackets, but he’s also a first rate big band arranger and composer.  All those skills will be on display in this rare appearance with a full ensemble.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 24. (Tues.)  John Pisano.  “Brazil Night” — with Federico Ramos, guitar, Jose Marino, bass, Enzo Todesco, drums — offers an entertaining variation on Pisano’s weekly Guitar Night programs.  Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

- Nov. 24. (Tues.)  Jon Mayer Trio and Pete Christlieb.  Pianist Mayer and saxophonist Christlieb are stellar members of the Southland’s world class array of jazz artists.  They perform with Chris Connor, bass, Roy McCurdy, drums.  Charlie O’s. (818) 989-3110.

April Williams

- Nov. 25. (Wed.)  April Williams & Friends.  “The Night Before Thanksgiving Hang” – a laid-back evening of briskly swinging jazz to kick off the holiday weekend.  With April Williams, vocals, Andy Langham, piano, Dave Stone, bass, Don Williams, drums and Bob Sheppard, reeds. Upstairs at Vitellos.   (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 25. (Wed.)  The Banda Brothers. Latin jazz meets Thanksgiving at the Brothers’ 10th Annual Turkey Bash. Steamers. (714) 871-8800.

- Nov. 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.)  Jack Sheldon Big Band.  Sheldon celebrates his birthday with an evening of his inimitable trumpet and vocals, backed by his swinging collection of big band all-stars.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 28. (Sat.)  Dr. Richard Allen Williams Quintet.  A physician and a college professor, Williams nonetheless finds time to play the trumpet with probing musical inventiveness. (818) 728-8400.  Spazio.

- Nov. 29. (Sun.)  Alan Broadbent and Pat Senatore Duo. Broadbent’s piano playing, with its rich compositional foundation and lyrical touch blend superbly with the steady foundation and solid swing of bassist Senatore.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

Tuck & Patti

- Nov. 27 – 29. (Fri. – Sun.)  Joe Sample and Lalah Hathaway. The veteran pianist and founder of the Jazz Crusaders reaches across the generations to musically blend with singer/songwriter (and daughter of Donny Hathaway) Lalah Hathaway. Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

- Nov. 27 – 29. (Fri. – Sun.)  Tuck & Patti. The guitar and vocal duo’s deep musical intimacy has been producing irresistible sounds for decades. Yoshi’s  San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

- Nov. 27 -  29.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Loretta Devine:” Night Devine.” One of the original stars of Dreamgirls, Devine’s acting career has embraced a wide array of films (among them, Waiting To Exhale, Crash) and television roles (including Grey’s Anatomy and Boston Public).  Here’s a rare chance to hear this dynaimc singer in an up close club setting.   The Rrazz Room at the Hotel Nikko.  (415) 394-1189.

New York

- Nov. 24. (Tues.)  Terese Genecco and Her Little Big Band.  Genecco’s quest to keep the jaunty rhythms of swing alive is enhanced by the guest star presence of veteran trumpeter Lew Soloff Iridium.   (212) 582.2121.

- Nov. 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.)  The New York Voices celebrate their 20th anniversary with a collection of lush vocal harmonies and upbeat swing.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Renee Rosnes

- Nov. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.)  Renee Rosnes Quartet. A musicians’ musician, pianist Rosnes has played with almost everybody over the past twenty years.  But she still doesn’t receive the acknowledgement her impressive talents deserve  She performs with Jimmy Green, sax, Sean Smith, bass, Lewis Nash, drums.  Village Vanguard.  (212) 255-4037.

- Nov. 24, 25 and 26 – 29. (Tues, Wed. and Fri. – Sun.)  Maria Schneider Orchestra. Schneider’s compositions continue to expand the palette of the large jazz ensemble, and they’re performed by an A-list musical aggregation.  The Jazz Standard.  (212) 447-7733.

Dave Brubeck

- Nov. 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) Bucky Pizzarelli/Ken Peplowski Quintet.  Mainsream jazz at its best, with the master of the seven string guitar and the guy who’s helping keep the jazz clarinet alive.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212) 258-9595.

- Nov. 27 – 29. (Fri. – Sun.)  Dave Brubeck Quartet. A rare opportunity to hear one of jazz’s iconic figures, in action in a club setting.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.


Picks of the Week: July 20 – 26

July 20, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Patricia Talem - web

Patricia Talem

- July 21. (Tues.) Patricia Talem. The musical talent never seems to stop flowing from the rich, creative culture of Brazil. But the musically eclectic newcomer Talem, who is celebrating the release of her self-titled CD, is something special. Blessed with a warm, intimate, whisper in your ear voice, she uses it with the communicative qualities of a born story teller. She’ll be backed by the impressive skills of pianist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip, guitarist Sandro Albert and drummer Marco DaCosta. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323)466-2210.

- July 21. (Tues.) Jon Mayer Trio. Mayer has been quietly delivering one classy performance after another for decades — from the intimate jazz of his own trio to deeply empathic backing for a wide range of other artists. This time out, he’s celebrating the release of his new CD “Nightscape,” backed by bassist Chris Conner and drummer Roy McCurdy. Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

- July 23. (Thurs.) Mike Marshall, Darol Anger and Väsen. The strings will be flying in what promises to be a fascinating encounter between the bluegrass mastery of Marshall’s mandolin, Anger’s boundary-less fiddle and the nyckelharpa, viola and guitar of the dynamic Swedish trio, Väsen. The Skirball Center. (310) 440-4500.

- July . (Thurs.) The Squirrel Nut Zippers. It’s a real night for dancing on the Santa Monica Pier, with the retro jumping jive of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the authentic big band swing of Johnny Vanus and the Big Band Alumni. All of it taking place on the 85th anniversary of the opening of the La Monica Ballroom. The Twilight Dance Series. (310) 458-8901.

- July 23. (Thurs.) Philip Glass and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Michael Riesman, in the world premiere performance of a new arrangement of Glass’ score for Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance. The Music will be played in sync with a video projection of Godfrey Reggio‘s 1982 wordless film, Koyaaniqatsi. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000

The .

Roberta Donnay

Roberta Donnay

- July 23. (Thurs.) Roberta Donnay Quartet. Donnay’s one of the real originals in the latest wave of female jazz vocalists. Although there are traces of Blossom Dearie in her sound and Madeleine Peyroux in her phrasing, Donnay transforms everything she touches into her own unique musical vision. Crowne Plaza Hotel. (310) 642-7500.

- July 25. (Sat.) The Mike Melvoin Trio. Is there such a thing as the “Mike Melvoin Songbook?” The veteran jazz pianist says, “yes.” And Mike, with the incomparable assistance of bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Ralph Penland, will sing and play its pleasures and its secrets. With scheduled guest appearances by Keith England, Theresa Russell and possibly others. Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

gerald wilson

Gerald Wilson

- July 25. (Sat.) “Music and Monologues — Harmony and Humor.” An evening of fun, satire, hi-jinks and some pretty good music, too. Featuring Teresa Tudury, Vicki Juditz and Jonathan Solomon. Parlor Performances. Steinway Hall. (310) 476-6735.

- July 25 & 26. (Sat. & Sun.) The Central Ave. Jazz Festival. The Southland’s most authentic jazz festival — at last in terms of location — situated across from the Dunbar Hotel, at the center of what was once the heart of jazz in Los Angeles. On the schedule — Sat.: The CJS Quintet; Raya Yarbrough; The Eric Reed Trio; The Adonis Puentes Band; Bill Henderson. Sun: Jazz America; The Littleton Bros.; Kalil Wilson; Kamasi Washington; The Gerald Wilson Orchestra; The Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars. The Central Avenue Jazz Festival. (213) 743-8738.


San Francisco

- July 22 (Wed.) “A Musical Tribute to Buddy Montgomery.” Friends, former associates and admirers of the late vibist/pianist (who passed away in May) celebrate his memory. Featuring Marlena Shaw, Mary Stallings, John Handy, David Hazeltine, Brian Lynch, Jeff Chambers and many others. Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

- July 25 & 26. (Sat. & Sun.) “Hawaiian World Festival” reaches across the broad spectrum of Hawaiian music. Featuring the versatiel group Hapa, slack key and ukulele master Led Kaapana and singer/songwriter John Cruz. Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200.

New York City

hjf_2008-charlie_haden-2

Charlie Haden

- July 21 – 26 (Tues. – Sun.) The Charlie Haden Invitation Series. Bassist Haden measures his considerable versatility against a world class line-up of pianists. With Ethan Iverson (Tues,) Steve Kuhn (Wed.), Kenny Barron (Thurs. & Fri,.), Paul Bley (Sat.) and Bill Charlap (Sun.). (212) 475-8592. The Blue Note.

- July 22 – 25. (Wed. – Sat.) The Lee Konitz Quartet. Konitz should be on everyone’s must-hear list whenever he’s in town. And even more so when he’s in the company of drummer Paul Motian and pianist Dan Tepfer. Birdland. (212) 581-3080.

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To contact Don Heckman with information regarding performers and/or performances for possible inclusion in Picks of the Week click here.


Live Jazz: Chris Botti, Renee Olstead and more at the Greek Theatre

July 11, 2009

By Devon Wendell

Renee Olstead

Renee Olstead

As flocks of devoted Chris Botti fans scurried to find their seats at the Greek Theatre Thursday night, they were first greeted by 20 year old singer, Renee Olstead. Although she may be best known as a TV star — appearing as a regular on the CBS sitcom Still Standing, and other family oriented programs — she has been tackling jazz and pop standards since her 2004 self-titled debut album. And her appearance as the opener for Botti was a natural, given their teaming up for his 2005 album To Love Again, and in 2006 for his highly acclaimed DVD Chris Botti- Live With Orchestra And Special Guests.

Olstead ran through familiar chestnuts such as “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” “Taking A Chance On Love” and “A Sunday Kind Of Love.” Backed by pianist Tommy King, keyboardist Ruslan Sirotta, bassist Dominic Thiroux and drummer Donald Barrett, her timing and her breathy, sultry voice worked well for many of the chosen ballads (though she did hit a few sharp notes when attempting to go beyond her vocal comfort range). In the weaker moments her overtly pop-styled arrangements, country twang, and pop star image often seemed like a doing-the-standards episode of American Idol. Interestingly, Olstead’s most impressive performance took place on her original composition “Nothing But The Blame” from her latest CD, Skylark, with its bluesy feel and exceptional drumming by Donald Barrett.

Chris Botti Boston 2

Chris Botti

When Botti arrived on stage to thunderous applause, he wasted no time getting down to business with the brilliant Billy Childs on piano and Geoff Keezer on synthesizer, in a highly focused, poignant medley of “Ave Maria” and “When I Fall In Love.” Botti’s love of Miles Davis was felt in the latter, directly quoting Miles’s 1956 version of the tune, but with Botti’s distinct, reverb-laden tone. As the mood was set, the rest of Botti’s impressive band of top notch veterans — drummer Billy Kilson, bassist Tim Lefebvre and guitarist Mark Whitfield — fell in, adding ease and soul to the proceedings.

Continuing the Davis thread, Botti addressed the audience with humor and gratitude as he spoke lovingly of the classic album, Kind Of Blue, before gently launching into his own rendition of “Flamenco Sketches.” The performance easily put to rest the objections of anyone who might try to dismiss Botti as some sort of pop/smooth jazz sensation. He has done his homework and there were echoes of Miles, Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong, and even some Lee Morgan-esque slurred bends, as he alternated between playing open and with a mute. Instead of performing this classic note for note as it appeared on the original, Botti and the group sped up the tempo in some parts, slowed down and diminished the intensity in others. The wonderful interplay and phrasing between Botti and Whitfield was another highlight of the evening, most notably in Botti’s rendition of “Caruso,” which Botti described as a tribute to the tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Even with the lush arrangement of this piece, the symmetry between the two was awe-inspiring, highlighted by Whitfield’s Grant Green-like solo.

“Emmanuel” was included on the program as a tribute to violinist Lucia Micarelli, who usually performs on this piece and would have appeared this evening but had recently injured her hand in Italy. In her place was Caroline Campbell, who has recorded with a bevy of popular artists ranging from Josh Grobin and Andrea Bocelli to Garth Brooks. Despite some technical problems with her microphone, Campbell’s fluid playing, with its spot on intonation and strong vibrato, fit perfectly into the piece’s romantic qualities, as she and Botti traded solos. Campbell returned to the stage later for the evening’s most delicate and heartfelt number, the lovely theme from the film Cinema Paradiso. Billy Childs’ sparse but brilliant piano accompaniment fueled Campbell and Botti to great heights, with some audience members weeping at the gentility and grace of the performance.

Sy Smith

Sy Smith

The next guest in what was becoming an all-star evening, was popular R&B vocalist Sy Smith (Cousin of Mark Whitfield), who sang three numbers: a slow, funk rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “The Look Of Love,” Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” and Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” Smith’s sly, laid back style brought to mind Erika Badu and Me’shell NdegeOchello at their jazziest, as the band fell right into the groove of post HipHop-flavored, soul fusion. Botti stood at the helm, often taking very short solos, then standing at the side of the stage, enjoying Smith and the band as they let loose. Billy Childs played the most laid-back supportive role, with Whitfield, Lefebvre, and Keezer taking the most leads behind the vocals.

In a change of pace, Botti introduced the next number by humorously telling the crowd about how he went from being an active member of Sting’s band, to opening up for him and then acquiring his drummer Billy Kilson – whose fearless, bombastic style then took flight into a free-form rock-jam version of “Indian Summer.” Whitfield cranked up the volume and fuzz, having fun with Kilson, who sounded like a younger, louder Dennis Chambers as they quoted familiar riffs from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It was obvious that everyone – players and audience — were having fun.

John Mayer

John Mayer

But the big surprise of the evening was the arrival of guitarist/singer John Mayer, who joined Botti and the band gang for a loungey, gleeful nod to Frank Sinatra on “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Wisely, Mayer didn’t try to sound like Ol’ Blue Eyes, and he didn’t have to. As one of the male music stars of this generation, his presence alone was enough to excite the captivated audience.

To end this long, entertaining evening, first Botti described his two-week stint in Sinatra’s band, joking about how he earned only $200, then led his own band into what he called a “saloon song” reading of Frank’s “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).” In it, he played his best solo of the evening as he walked into the crowd, playing for a row of adoring fans. It was a prime display of the simple fact that Chris Botti – with his diverse choice of material, his engaging stage presence, and fine selection of guest artists — is a consummate musician who also knows and cares about what his audience wants to hear.


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