Live Jazz: Highlights From the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl.

June 16, 2015

By Devon Wendell

It’s hard to believe it’s that special time of year again. Yet another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. And with it, memories of drunken conga lines, the smell of cheap weed in the summer air, and a plethora of musical acts ranging from actual jazz, r&b, rock, and even gospel.

It’s already been stated many times and by many journalists that the Playboy Jazz Festival isn’t for jazz purists so let’s skip all of that and get started with my highlights of the two days.


The Los Angeles County High School For The Arts Vocal Jazz Ensemble ( Abigail Berry, Lee Anilee, Jordyn Warren, Sofie Thurston, Crisia Regalada, Keana Peery, Ezra Behem, Haley Carr, Griffin Faye, Pedro Ramirez, Wesley Tani, Henry Tull, Caleb Collins, Isaac Sims Foster, and Evan Wright on vocals, Dornell Carr, piano; Julian Gomez, bass and Alec Smith on drums. Directed by Pat Bass) kicked off Saturday’s program and they were marvelous.

The vocal harmonies that these kids produced were complex, soulful, and mature. The band’s rendition of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” was one of the high points of Saturday’s program. Soloists Evan Wright, Henry Tull, and Caleb Collins scat sang with total mastery. These kids could easily be the next Manhattan Transfer.

Chilean born Melissa Aldana is one of the most unique tenor saxophonists in the jazz world today. Although you can hear hints of influences like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins in her playing, Aldana already has her own distinct voice on the tenor sax at the tender age of 25. Aldana and her solid trio (Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums) played a set of all originals such as the mellow “New Points,” the bop flavored “Bring Him Home,” and the Latin swinging “Desde La Lluvia.”

Aldana plays mostly in the upper register sounding more like an alto sax than a tenor. And she has an original sense of harmony and texture. The highlight of Aldana’s set was her original tribute to Sonny Rollins called “Back Home.” On this piece, Aldana sounded a little like Sonny Rollins’ early 60’s playing on the RCA/Victor label but for the most part she stuck to her own style with confidence and ease.

Aldana is definitely an artist to watch out for.

Try to imagine John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” being performed by a loud, gritty, gospel-rock steel guitar band from the Deep South. That is exactly what A Sacred Steel Love Supreme: The Campbell Brothers “A Love Supreme” sounded like during their performance at The Bowl on Saturday. The Campbell Brothers performed all four suites of “A Love Supreme”: “Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.” This wasn’t your typical Coltrane tribute by any means but his message of love, unity, and spirituality are what gospel music is all about so this soulful experiment made perfect sense. And this music brought the Bowl crowd right to the heart of American “roots music.”

Chuck and Derrick Campbell’s Steel Guitars produced an eerie, hypnotic, and psychedelic effect like blues you would hear from Mississippi’s Northern Hill Country. And the rhythm section (Carlton Campbell on drums, and Daric Benettt on bass) was sublimely funky. This is something you have to see to believe. Legendary jazz composer and arranger Gerald Wilson passed away on September 18th, 2014 at the age of 96. Wilson’s son Anthony Wilson and The Gerald Wilson Orchestra (Anthony Wilson, conductor and guitar; Carl Saunders, Winston Byrd, Chris Gray, Bobby Rodriguez: trumpets; Les Benedict, Francisco Torres, George Bohanon, Robbie Hioki: trombones; Scott Mayo, Randall Willis: alto saxophones; Rickey Woodard, Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophones;Terry Landry, baritone: sax; Brian O’Rourke: piano; Reggie Carson: bass; Mel Lee: drums; Yvette Devereaux: violin; and Eric Otis on guitar) celebrated the master’s illustrious legacy with a fantastic set of real big band jazz.

The set included some of Wilson’s most inspirational compositions and arrangements, such as “Triple Chase” with a burning tenor sax solo by Kamasi Washington, “Blues For Nya Nya” and Wilson’s incredible arrangement of ‘Perdido.” The entire band was swinging beyond belief and the arrangements were true to Wilson’s original charts.

On “Nancy Jo,” trumpeter Winston Byrd played one of the most original trumpet solos I’ve heard in years, demonstrating true range, imagination, and originality.

Anthony Wilson not only conducted, but also played some Kenny Burrell style electric guitar on “Blues For The Count” (Wilson wrote this piece for Count Basie in 1945) and the legendary George Bohanon’s trombone solo cooked.

On “Viva Tirado,” Bobby Rodriguez played an amazingly melodic trumpet solo and Yvette Devereaux’s violin solo was reminiscent of Ray Nance’s work in Duke Ellington’s Band.
This was a warm and loving tribute to Gerald Wilson and it’s always refreshing to hear true big band jazz at the Playboy Jazz Festival or anywhere else for that matter.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Whenever Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock get together, you never can predict what they are going to do but it’s always something special. Shorter and Hancock were joined by The Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble, consisting of Michael Mayo on vocals, David Otis on alto sax, Daniel Rotem on tenor sax, Ido Meshulam on trombone, Carmen Staaf on piano, Alex Boneham on bass, and Christian Euman on drums.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The set began with The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble performing an ethereal arrangement of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” The young players in The Monk Institute Band were phenomenal. Daniel Rotem’s tenor sax work was original and flowed with countless ideas. Vocalist Michael Mayo’s voice floated magically over the instrumentalists as they all soloed.

After this number, Shorter and Hancock joined the band for Daniel Rotem’s “Who Is It?” which showcased Rotem’s originality as a composer as well as tenor sax player. Wayne Shorter played soprano sax. His lines were sparse and perfectly placed. Hancock shared solos with the wonderful Carmen Staaf who gave Herbie a run for his money.

After a brief version of Hancock’s classic “Cantaloupe Island,” The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble exited the stage, leaving Shorter and Hancock alone. What happened next was one of those truly magical moments between two giants who have played together for over half a century.

On Hancock’s “Speaks Like A Child’” the two men had a beautiful musical conversation through their instruments. Hancock played big block chords on his synthesizer while Shorter improvised some powerful syncopated lines on the soprano sax. It was like they could read each other’s minds.

The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble returned to the stage after this number, performing Carmen Staaf’s composition “New April.” Staaf’s elegant but swinging piano chops went with the theme of the composition perfectly and Rotem, Otis, Meshulam, and Shorter all traded solos. It’s was “true democracy” to quote Shorter. Each band member was supportive of one another without any egos getting in the way.

Next, a true festival highlight. Eddie Palmieri is a true genius and master on all levels. His performance on Saturday night with his Afro-Caribbean Jazz Band (Eddie Palmieri, leader, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero, congas; Anthony Carrillo, bongo, and Carmen Molina on timbales.) was one of the great moments of the entire weekend.

Palmieri and his band were joined by some very special guests. On the funky classic “Coast To Coast,”
Palmieri and company were joined by the amazing Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. Cuber’s baritone lines danced gleefully with the percussionists and with the instantly identifiable Eddie Palmieri percussive piano accompaniment.

The highlight of the set and of the Saturday program was “Samba De Sueno.” Joe Locke was the guest soloist. Locke played all of Cal Tjader’s original vibe parts (Palmieri originally recorded this piece with Tjader) and Palmieri played one of the greatest piano solos I’ve even heard him play. His one of a kind sense of space, dynamics, and syncopation on piano swung harder than life itself. Palmieri just gets better and better with age.

Alfredo De La Fe danced across the stage as he played his red violin along with Palmieri and the band. De La Fe’s virtuosic skills and showmanship had Palmieri grinning from ear to ear. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison sat in on “VP Blues.” Harrison was on fire, playing a wonderfully original alto sax solo. Palmieri’s piano solo was totally different but equally as brilliant as on “Samba De Suneo.” This time Palmieri played softly and gently, showing what a dynamic musician he truly is. This was Latin jazz at its best.

Sunday’s program started off with The LAUSD/Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band (Steve Murillo, Jamir Pleitez, Ashton Sein, Ellis Thompson, Max Kim, saxophones; Anna Menotti, Harshpreet Suri, Karl Wylie, Rene Cruz, Christopher Vargas, trombones; Andrea Palacios, Nathan Serot, Mark Trejo, John Morillas, trumpets; Giancarlos Arzu, Gabe Feldman-Franden, Keelan Walters, Tyler Kysar, James Morgan, Cameron Evans, rhythm section. Under the direction of Tony White and JB Dyas.)

These kids may be young but they played some amazing original big band arrangements of John Scofield’s “I’ll Take Les,” Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins Con Carne” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” These weren’t just kids forced to play this music in school. You could feel their love of jazz and knowledge of big band swing. These kids surely have a bright future ahead of them.
The Jones Family Singers came all the way from Texas to perform a set of no-nonsense, gospel music that was truly one of the most electrifying sets of the festival.

On originals such as “I Am,” “Bones In The Valley” and ‘Down On Me,” lead singer Alexis Jones belted out some of the most powerful tenor vocals I’ve ever heard. The call and response between Alexis, Bishop Fred A. Jones, and the backing vocalists were mesmerizing. And they were backed by the tight yet funky rhythm section of Kenneth Freeman on bass and Mathew Hudlin on drums. You couldn’t help but shake something or get up and dance to this music. The Festival people should have put them on much later, when there were more people in the audience to take part in the joy of this music. The Jones Family singers danced across the stage in unison and urged the crowd to get up, dance, and rejoice. Those who got to the Bowl early enough did just that.

I cannot think of many musical things better in life than seeing tenor sax master Jimmy Heath play with The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. That is exactly what went down as The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band (Jimmy Heath, tenor sax; Sharel Cassity, tenor sax, flute; Antonio Hart, alto sax; Mark Gross, alto sax, vocals, and flute; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Frank Greene, lead trumpet; Caludio Roditti, Freddie Hendrix, Gregory Gisbert, trumpets; Jason Jackson, lead trombone; Steve Davis, Jeff Nelson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Abelita Mateaus, piano; John Lee, director, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums; Roger Squitero, congas, percussion.) performed on Sunday afternoon.

The big band arrangement of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (popularized by Gillespie in 1945.) swung beautifully. Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax solo was elegant, soulful, and inventive, as was Antonio Hart’s alto solo. On “Beboppin Too,” Mark Gross sang Gillespie’s vocal parts followed by a fine trombone solo by Jason Jackson. The highlight of the set was hearing all of the trumpeters trade solos on Gillespie’s masterpiece “Things To Come.” Claudio Roditi’s trumpet style sounded closest to Gillespie’s. Although the band added some new twists to these compositions, the arrangements were respectful to the originals and performed with love of this amazing, timeless music. I would have come to the festival just for this.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Mark Braud, trumpet, vocals; Charlie Gabriel, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Rickie Monie piano; Joe Lastie Jr., drums; Clint Maedgen, saxophone, vocals; Ronell Johnson, trombone; Ben Jaffe, bass sousaphone.) delivered a set of fun New Orleans jazz that delighted the Bowl crowd. The band took the Bowl straight to Bourbon Street on tunes like “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Think I Love You,” and “Rattlin Bones.” Braud, Gabriel, and Maedgen all shared the lead vocal spots. The horn lines danced around each other with joyful precision and by the time the band got to the funky “It’s Your Last Chance To Dance,” the entire bowl crowd was forming conga lines and dancing through the isles. New Orleans Jazz is about having a good time and this was one of the most delightfully fun moments of the weekend, capturing the true spirit of The Playboy Jazz Festival.

Blue Note’s 75th Anniversary Presents: Our Point Of View (Robert Glasper, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Marcus Strickland, tenor sax; and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet) was an interesting tribute to the Blue Note Records sound of the early to mid ‘60s.

The band opened with Wayne Shorter’s “With Hunt” with fantastic solos by Strickland, Loueke, Glasper, and Akinmusire. Glasper’s piano solo was reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s on the original recording but with a little more blues to it. Akinmusire sounded more like Woody Shaw than Freddie Hubbard, and Kendrick Scott definitely paid homage to Elvin Jones on this post-bop classic.

As fine as this performance was, it was the band originals that were harmonically most fascinating. Kendrick Scott’s “Cycle Through Reality’ and Marcus Strickland’s “The Meaning” had a modal feel with a dash of the avant-garde to them. Glasper’s piano work was stellar on both pieces. Unfortunately towards the end of the set, the band started to venture too far into overused funk/fusion clichés which distracted from the originality of the first three numbers.

Third World is a legendary reggae band. Maybe it was the contact high I was getting from all of the weed smoke around me but these guys kept sounding better and better. They performed their hits “96 Degrees,” “Try Jah Love” and “Now That We Found Love.” But the biggest surprise of their set was the bands pure reading of Andrea Boccelli’s “Time To Say Goodbye.” The band’s lead singer AJ Brown not only sang this song in operatic style but he sang it in both Italian and English. This won the band a standing ovation. Neither I nor the other audience members saw this coming. It was great to see a rock fueled reggae band with such range.

Well that’s all folks. That’s my highlights from the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. There were some spectacular moments followed by some not so inspiring ones but everyone was having a blast under the warm Southern California sun and that is the whole point of the festival. See you next year.

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


Q&A: Wayne Shorter and Daniel Rotem At The Playboy Jazz Festival

June 10, 2015

By Devon Wendell

On Saturday, June 13th; Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and young players from The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble will be performing at the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival taking place Saturday and Sunday at The Hollywood Bowl.

playboy jazz logo

I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview Wayne Shorter on his upcoming performance at the Bowl. Shorter is a master improviser, not only in music but in conversation as well. Instead of the typical Q&A with questions 1-15, I let Shorter take the helm and share his priceless wisdom with me freely.

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Devon Wendell: Hello Wayne.

Wayne Shorter: Hello.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

DW: I first wanted to let you know what an honor it is to be interviewing you. You’re one of my biggest idols both musically and intellectually.

WS: Well, Thank you very much.

wayne shorterDW: You’re going to be performing at the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock and The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble. Can you tell me about the kind of music you’ll be performing at the festival?

WS: I think what’s interesting beyond the music is people seeing the performers on stage, Just seeing them. There’s so much stuff going on in the pop world, people moving and dancing and all of that. A lot of the younger generation that will be there will be seeing people who they have never encountered in a night club. A lot of people thought we were dead.


WS: They wonder “how did you last this long?” or “How come you didn’t get swept under the rug amid the nightlife of all those years of touring?”Or “How come you’re not in the hospital?”


WS [continuing]: But you’ll see some people just looking. Not with their mouths open but saying “Hey, I never saw you guys. I heard about you guys from my father.” That’s a big one you hear a lot.

DW: Oh yeah, my dad’s record collection.

WS: Exactly. Playing with the young Monk Institute guys. Now that’s going to be something. And that’s what that whole thing is about. The next wave of poetry that’s coming out of The United States and around the world. But some people don’t even believe it’s still going on. I’m glad that the young people at The Bowl in the audience will see people dealing with and getting into music that has more than three chords.

DW: Exactly, something to challenge their notions of where music can go.

WS: I like what Einstein said about the simple and the complex. He said “We need simple. Of course there’s complex in every day things and the simplicity really sells and we have simple but no simpler.”


DW: Yes, that certainly pertains to all art forms today.

WS: That’s what I hope some of the young people in the audience will get out of the music. Those who may be looking for the fast way, the instant gratification way of doing what they want to. It could be anything. They may want to be the quick doctor [laughter] or the quick psychiatrist or audience or in politics. They might see what’s coming from the stage and realize that it’s great to study as an individual and not to get satisfied with something that feels easy or keeps you in that comfort zone.

DW: Exactly. Your music has always had that quality of enlightening the audience beyond preconceived notions of what they think they should like or feel comfortable with. Pushing the boundaries.

WS: The whole world is pushing. Nations are pushing each other. So many start at the word pushing.

DW: Yeah and they get stuck there.


WS: As far as interviews are concerned, for me to talk about what tunes I’m going to play or what kind of mouthpiece that I use, well that kind of interview to me is like a basketball player doing an interview. You know Stephen Curry on The Golden State Warriors?

DW: Yes, great player.

WS: Well he had his little girl with him while they were interviewing him on TV and she was cute and they thought that was distracting. Well I thought that talking about basketball was distracting.


DW: Yes, that human element gave it a greater purpose.

WS: The interviewer is just following the contract and if he doesn’t do the interview he gets fired. [laughter.] But it’s his daughter that he adores. But they want to know what kind of scalpel the doctor uses and so on. Even another basketball player said that the media guys spend more time with the basketball players than with their families when they’re on season. And Curry said that someone asked him “Don’t you think it’s kind of annoying for your daughter to be with you in interviews?” And Curry said “Well do you think I should get another daughter?”


WS: [continuing] When people watch us at The Hollywood Bowl, they’re watching behavior. The behavior of someone who chooses the road less traveled. That road can take you more places than the one most traveled. I mean, that more traveled road is crowded with wannabees, and instant gratificationers, and those who believe that if they study something, they’ll lose their flow or their groove. Like “I’m going to lose my groove if I study teaching.”


DW: Yeah, my generation was pretty much programmed to believe that.

WS: I was told that to get to my destination, catch that train before it leaves the railroad station. To grab that opportunity like American Idol. Oh yeah, I can be an instant singer. Go ahead! [Laughter]

WS: [continuing] The thing with The Monk Institute kids is that they can’t take that two year course at UCLA unless they’ve already gotten a four year bachelor’s degree. I think there’s going to be a xylophone player from Chile. When we auditioned this guy, (Herbie, myself, and Jimmy Heath) he came and played Duke’s “Sophisticated Lady” on xylophone and Jimmy was like “Damn! You mean he didn’t get nothing from Milt Jackson, or Terry Gibbs or someone like that? He’s got his own thing. Where did he learn all of that stuff?” [laughter]

WS: [continuing] The trombone player walked in for his audition, dressed in a formal suit. One of the auditioners said “Wow, he looks like an insurance man?” [laughter] When he started playing we said “Uh Oh!” He came through Al Grey who played trombone in Duke Ellington’s band, plus Kai Winding, Jay Jay Johnson, and he came through all of that stuff himself.

DW: Wow. That’s pretty amazing. He was really swinging hard huh?

WS: Yes. We worked with another group that’s going to graduate in another year. There’s a girl playing piano and there’s a vocalist who writes really good stuff. And he doesn’t try to sound like a horn or other instruments when he sings. He doesn’t try to scat all over the place. The instrumentalists try to sound like him! He’s really a well ranged guy.

WS [continuing] What you’re going to see is that the young musicians on that stage all respect each other. They’re demonstrating what true democracy can be. The whole thing about improvisation and jazz and competition, like when someone plays across somebody else, they see it as an opportunity. Like in a relay race when someone passes the baton on to the other guy so he keeps going and doesn’t slow down because of ego. In other times, that might cause a fight. A guy would say “You interrupted my solo!” or “I’m not playing with you anymore because you stole my thunder.” [laughter) In a way they’re transcending this whole thing about show business. I hope they show some of that stuff to the so-called go-getters in the audience. A lot of people are trained or bullied in unseen ways into becoming go-getters. It’s done almost subliminally. So it’ll be good to see all of those differences.

A lot of people can’t get along because of their differences. The differences are what we have in common. Before it’s all over, I hope the noble spirits of humanity reveal the truth of the performance and reaching beyond the point of divinity and beyond the craft. So that’s the kind of interviews I’ve been doing. Just having fun with human beings. Are you enjoying it?

DW: It’s wonderful. I am. I threw my note pad out the window.


WS: It is what it is. It’s like democracy. Well how do you spell democracy? C R E A T I V E. Creative living. We can surpass and transcend all of the labels and living under names of things. People use the words and the words become a weapon. If you get stuck with a word, the meanings of the word can be open season. [laughter]
There’s this book in which the first sentence says “Human beings are the only entity who like to name things.” [laughter]

DW: It does restrict everything, like all of these different names for music, and types of art. People like to get trapped by categorization.

WS: What I would like for people to experience when watching a performance is seeing things happen on stage that they would like to happen in everyday life. You know those people who are no longer here, like Charlie Parker? Some of what they did is in the art of never giving up the spirit. And that no one person is just one thing. There are many dimensions to a person.

DW: So is every aspect of existence made up of a series of improvisations?

WS: To me, in improvisation it’s very hard to lie. You can fantasize, but fantasy is not necessarily a lie. We hope that the business world hears again creative stuff that comes from an improvisational idea in the moment and the difficulty in lying. You have to do more business from the heart. Even when dealing with the unknown. How do you negotiate the unknown by lying?                                                                    The thing is I’m 81. Some people that I’ve known for a long time, when they get old and look at a friend or someone in the family or someone they’ve know a long time they can say “You know, I never did like you?”


WS: They say what’s on their mind.

DW: Yes, no more explanations needed. I respect that indeed sir.

WS: To say what’s on your mind, you need a lot of wisdom and validity to back it up.
I’m watching young people today. I saw on television this young woman who is a transgender and her name is jazz. A lot of wisdom coming from her. I’m really learning a lot from younger people in what they have to say.
I was at Lincoln Center last week with Wynton Marsalis and there was this little boy, 15 years old who came out of the orchestra with a saxophone strapped across his back. He didn’t say I like the way you were playing or I like the music, he said “I like your writing and I like the philosophy.”

DW: Wow!

WS: Oh, and there’s one more thing people can expect from my performance at The Bowl and that’s a reversal of Whiplash!! There was some good acting in it, but I mean historically speaking. [Laughter]

DW: Sounds great. Thank you for your time Wayne. This has truly been an enlightening experience. I’ll see you at The Bowl.

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Q&A: Daniel Rotem Performs With Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter And The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble.

After my interview with Wayne Shorter, I had a brief chat with tenor saxophonist Daniel Rotem about his upcoming performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble. Rotem is one of the gifted students at The Monk Institute, with a bright future ahead of him.

Devon Wendell: Tell me how it feels to be playing at the Festival in the Hollywood Bowl with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and the other Monk Institute players.

Dan Rotem: I grew up listening to and studying the music of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, so it still seems surreal to be sharing the stage with both of them this weekend. I remember buying Mr. Shorter’s album Speak No Evil, one of the first jazz albums I bought, and shortly afterwards The Soothsayer. Every time I listened to them, the music took me on a journey. I used to watch the movie ‘Round Midnight a lot (Mr. Hancock won an Oscar for the best score), and I remember listening to his playing on some of Miles Davis’ records thinking that this must be some of the most beautiful music ever created. Later on in high school I got to know more of Mr. Hancock’s albums like Empyrean Isles and Speak Like a Child. I feel like in some ways the music by both of these legendary artists is part of who I am, like certain memories that I have growing up are connected to Wayne’s sound, or Herbie’s sensitivity. It is an absolute honor and I am very excited to be making music with them, as I am to be sharing the moment with the Monk Institute Ensemble, that by now feels like family.

Daniel Rotem

Daniel Rotem

Devon Wendell: You’re already quite an accomplished tenor saxophonist. You’ve studied at Rimon School Of Jazz And Contemporary Music in Tel Aviv. You were the youngest to win first place at Rimon’s Outstanding Jazz Player competition. You graduated from The Berklee College Of Music with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance after receiving a full scholarship there. You’ve also studied with such jazz icons as David Liebman, Peter Erskine, Lionel Loueke, and Jeremy Pelt, to name a few. Tell me some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from playing with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.

DR: One of the early lessons I learned from my family is to be a human being, respectful, kind, and attentive, care for the well being of others as a way of life. Working with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter reinforces these values, especially since I had the chance to see the people behind those legendary musical figures. Both of them are so kind and caring, involved and invested in the time they spend with us, sharing their experience and perspective with us in the most honest, humble way. I remember the first time we worked with Mr. Shorter, and one of the songs we played for him was one that I wrote. When we finished playing, from the way he commented (he said my song sounded to him like the desert, like the kibbutz) you could tell that he was truly listening attentively. Wayne Shorter, one of the greatest jazz composers of all times is taking the time to mentor us and share his thoughts with us, I am so grateful for that.

We recently had the privilege of going on a US State Department Tour to Morocco, performing with Mr. Hancock and vocalist extraordinaire Dee Dee Bridgewater. There was a moment in one of our performances that I will remember for the rest of my life. For me, when the music is truly happening, borders or boundaries of differentiation dissolve: there is no more me, you, the audience, there is only the music, that connects us all. Performing with Mr. Hancock in Morocco was the best manifestation of everything I love and wish to do in music. As soon as the music started we were no longer “Herbie Hancock” and “The Monk Ensemble”. It was as if we’d known each other for years and met each other for the first time, at the same time. The way Mr. Hancock plays, each note a moment in time and a lifetime, and to create music in the moment with him… it was truly an amazing experience.. Truly an inspiration.

I was fortunate enough to be living in Boston the year Mr. Hancock was a guest speaker at Harvard. I went to every single one of his lectures; each was more interesting and inspiring than the previous one. I remember what struck me the most was not only what an amazing, accomplished musician he is, but what an honest, kind human being he is.

DW: Tell me about your role in the Thelonious Monk Institute For Jazz Performance and how it’s helped you to grow as a musician.

DR: What I love about the Monk Institute Ensemble is that by now it feels like family. The first time we met was at the auditions for the program and most of us had never met before (Ido the Trombone player and I went to the same high school in Israel and lived together in Boston for two years while we were both studying at Berklee). As soon as we played the first note together as a band for the jury (consisting of Hancock, Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Burrell, and James Newton) it felt like something else; the energy, the communication, there was a seed that felt amazing from the very first moment. As if it was meant to be. Every member of the band is not only an improviser and instrumentalist, but we all compose our own music as well. Being able to write regularly, and have such amazing musicians in the band to play the music, has been very beneficial to my development.

The fact that we each come from a different background, with different musical education and preferences really contributes to the learning process as well. Its like mixing 7 different ingredients, each with its own flavor, feeling, and characteristics, they are each unique on their own, but mix them together, and the options are endless. Since we started working together as a band, we also had the privilege to take part in educational outreach programs. It is truly rewarding and satisfying to be able to give back to the community, and support other students who are starting out, like I was supported when I started. In life, we are each a student and a teacher, and I have been learning so much from working with the kids that we got to work with.

DW:: Where do you hope to see your career as a jazz musician in the future?

DR: As a human being and a jazz musician I would hope to be able to inspire and contribute to those around me in this world. There is so much we still have to learn as a species, and I would like to take my part in the learning process. I hope to be able to touch people through music, and advance mutual respect and understanding. Musically speaking, I hope to be able to keep learning, keep developing. Having had the privilege to speak and play with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter, if I could ever come even close to doing what these two men do, and in the way they do it, I would be a very fulfilled and happy person.

DW: Thank you so much for your time Daniel. You are a insightful person and I look forward to seeing you perform at the festival with Wayne, Herbie, and The rest of The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble.

DR: Thank you. I too look forward to it.

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





Picks of the Week: Sept. 4 – 8

September 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s a light, holiday week, with 100-plus temperatures here in L.A.  But there’s still some very fine music to hear in various parts of the world.

Los Angeles

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

– Sept. 4 – 8. (Wed. – Sun.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove has appeared frequently with his big band lately. But this time he fronts a straight-ahead quintet, showcasing his fine solo work. Catalina Bar and Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 4. (Wed.) Bruce Forman Quartet. Guitarist, novelist and educator Forman, a true multi-hyphenate, takes a break from his many activities to do a live performance. Don’t miss it. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Sept. 6. (Fri.) Richie Cole Quartet. Bebop is always on the loose when alto saxophonist is in the room. And especially so when he’s backed by the propulsive backing of pianist Lou Forestieri, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dick Weller. Jazz at the Radisson Hotel.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

– Sept. 6 & 7. (Fri.& Sat.) The Blue Man Group. The musically and visually eccentric members of the Blue Man Group have brought a new supply of unique instruments to an evening of new music with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

– Sept. 8. (Sun.) ABBA Fest. A non-stop evening of music by the hit-making Swedish band. First, via a competition of collegiate a cappella Abba groups; second via a performance by the great tribute band ABBA, the Concert. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.



San Francisco

– Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.). Terence Blanchard is always in search of new musical adventures. This time out, his Sextet features saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and and African jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke. SFJAZZ. The SFJAZZ Center, Miner Auditorium.  (415) 398-5655.


– Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs., – Sun.) Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House Reunion Band. Guitarist Coryell revives the music of the fusion band he led in the’70s. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

Washington, D.C.

– Sept. 6 – 8. (Fri. – Sun.) Patricia Barber. Singer/pianist Barber continues her quest to find new creative ways to approach the songs of the Great American Songbook. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

– Sept. 4. (Wed.) J.D. Walter. Jazz Standard. Walter is a singer who prefers to take adventurous musical pathways… which may explain why he hasn’t yet received the attention his singing deserves. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

Cassandra Wilson– Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.) Cassandra Wilson. The jazz vocal genre has largely been dominated lately by fast-arriving young female artists. But Wilson continues to be a pathfinder with her own inimitable style. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

– Sept. 7. (Sat.) Barbara Carroll. She was described in 1947 by Leonard Feather as the “first girl to play bebop piano.” And, at 88, she’s still going strong, performing here in duo with bassist Jay Leonhart. Birdland. (212) 581-3080.


– Sept. 4 – 7. (Wed. – Sat.) Sommerwochenkonzert. Don Grusin and Chuck Loeb. Keyboardist Grusin and guitarist Loeb display their easygoing blend of mainstream and crossover jazz genres.. A-Trane.  +49 30 3132 ext. 550.


– Sept. 6 – 7. (Fri. & Sat.) Dado Moroni, Reuben Rodgers, Alex Riel. The Art of the Trio. Italian jazz pianist Moroni has been delivering his authentic jazz perspectives since the ’80s. He’s backed here by American bassist Rodgers and Danish drummer Alex Riel. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.


– Sept. 3 – 5. (Tues. – Thurs.) Bob James & David Sanborn. James and Sanborn have pioneered their swinging versions of contemporary jazz fusion and crossover for decades – and doing it in memorable fashion. They’re accompanied on this tour by the equally imaginative drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.

Gregory Porter


– Sept. 6. (Fri.) Gregory Porter. At a time when the distaff side has been dominating most of the newly released jazz recordings, the warm baritone of Porter has been bringing impressive new interpretations to the the world of jazz vocalizing. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.

Picks of the Week: June 12 – 16

June 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

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

Cindy Lauper

Cindy Lauper

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco

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

Washington D.C.

Patrice Rushen

Patrice Rushen

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

New York City

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

Ravi COltrane

Ravi COltrane

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


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


Eddie Palmieri

Eddie Palmieri

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

Picks of the Week: Oct. 16 – 21

October 16, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Judy Carmichael

– Oct. 17. (Wed.)  Judy Carmichael Trio.  Pianist/singer and all around dynamic entertainer Carmichael can bring a room to life with her powerful stride piano and deeply interpretive vocals.  Click HERE to read a review of Carmichael in her last L.A. appearance.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 17. (Wed.)  The Dale Fielder Quintet Plays the Music of Pepper Adams.  Special guests Gary Smulyan and Eric ReedCatalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.   Also performing Thursday (10/18) with his Quintet at Crowne Plaza, Friday (10/19) at SOKA Performing Arts Center , and Sat. (10/20) at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

– Oct. 17 & 24. (Wed. & Wed.) Andras Schiff.  Hungarian pianist, and widely respected interpreter of Bach, performs Book 1 of The Well Tempered Clavier. This will be the first in a multi-season survey by Schiff of Bach’s solo keyboard works.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

Babbie Green and John Boswell

– Oct. 18. (Thurs.)  Babbie Green and John Boswell. Green and Boswell are a songwriting team who merit far wider attention than either their songs or their engaging performances have yet received.  Don’t miss this chance to hear them offer some of the delightful material from their two-CD collection of originals and standards: How Should I Remember You?  The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

– Oct. 18 – 20. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Delfeayo Marsalis Octet.  Yet another member of the gifted Marsalis family of New Orleans arrives to display his talents as producer, band leader and trombonist.  Expect to hear selections from his CD tribute to Ellington and Shakespeare, Sweet Thunder.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Oct. 19. (Fri.)  The Mavericks.  The Grammy Award-winning Mavericks have spent the last two decades cooking up their inimitable brew of rock, pop, Tejano, Mariachi and a sprinkling of rockabilly.  They’ll play some selections from a new CD, In Time. Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000.

– Oct. 19. (Fri.)  Sascha’s Bloc Band.  Vitello’s.  The mostly Russian and Eastern European players and singers in the Bloc Band have thoroughly mastered their jazz, swing and groove abilities. Click HERE to read a review of Sascha’s talented players in their most recent appearance at Vitello’s.     (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 19 – 21. (Fri. – Sun.)  “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”  The superb National Ballet of Canada presents the U.S. debut of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s modern classic.  Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center.    (213) 972-7211.

Lionel Loueke

-Oct. 20. (Sat.)  Lionel Loueke.  Born in the West African country of Benin, Loueke quickly applied his impressive guitar skills to a style blending his roots with a broad understanding of jazz.  Rarely heard in Los Angeles, this is a rare opportunity to hear a uniquely individualistic jazz talent in action.Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 21. (Sun.)  Lou Forestieri Duo. Pianist/composer Forestieri is always a pleasure to hear, especially for the spontaneous compositional crafting he applies to his free swinging solos.  He’ll be accompanied by the equally thoughtful bassist Pat Senatore. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

– Oct. 21. (Sun.)  Joanne O’Brien. Versatile singer O’Brien moves casually from classical to pop to jazz, doing it all with great authenticity.  A cancer survivor, O’Brien titles her one night performance “Alive and In Concert.” Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

– Oct. 17 & 18. (Wed. & Thurs.) Spyro Gyra.  The ever appealing pop jazz group Spyro Gyra showcases their new album A Foreign Affair, with its sounds and rhythms from around the world.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

Eliane Elias

– Oct. 19. (Fri.)  Eliane Elias.    A fine jazz pianist, Elias was well known for  her instrumental skills before she displayed equally engaging abilities as a singer.  Her current band includes guitarist Rubens de la Corte, drummer Rafael Barata and bassist (and husband) Marc Johnson.   An SFJAZZ event at the Herbst Theatre.  (866) 920-5299.

New York

– Oct. 17. (Wed.)  Judy Wexler.  Her beautifully articulated vocals are among the great pleasures of Southland jazz.  Now the Big Apple has a chance to hear Wexler in action.  The Kitano.   (212) 885-7119,

– Oct. 18. (Thurs.)  Barbara Cook. The veteran singer/actress Cook – her career reaching comfortably from stardom in Broadway musicals to cabaret to classical art song singing – is still, at 84, a remarkably appealing performer. Carnegie Hall. (Perelman Stage)    (212) 247-7800.

Jacky Terrasson

– Oct. 18 – 21. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jacky Terrasson Trio.  French pianist Terrasson has thoroughly established himself as an authentic jazz artist, with a style that embraces his full musical history as a European and an international jazz artist. He performs with Burniss Travis, bass and Justin Faulkner, drums.   The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

– Oct. 19. (Fri.)   The Manhattan School of Music Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Justin DiCioccio, performs “The Symphonic Ellington,” showcasing rarely heard selections of Duke Ellington’s music for orchestra transcribed by David Berger.   The Manhattan School of Music. (917) 493-4428.

– Oct. 19. (Fri.)  Opera Shorts.  The Remarkable Theater Brigade brings back their off-beat, but popular evening of ten 10-minute operas. The Opera Shorts include works by Carlisle Floyd, Seymour Barab, Ben Bierman, Richard Burke, Bern Herbolsheimer, Randolph Coleman, Graham Robb, Patrick Solluri, Christian McLeer and David Morneau.  Eight of the operas in this remarkable line-up will be world premieres.  Carnegie Hall (Zankel).   (212) 247-7800.


– Oct. 18. (Thurs.)  The Either/Orchestra.  The ten piece band – approaching its 27th anniversary, is led by founder and primary composer Russ Gershon in a program of music leaping across genre lines through jazz from swing to bop to electric, from Ethiopian jazz to Latin music.  Regatta Bar. (617) 661-5000.


Becca Stevens

– Oct. 16. (Tues.)  Becca Stevens Band.  Singer, guitarist, songwriter Stevens moves confidently from jazz and pop to folk and beyond, doing so in a blending of instrumental and vocal timbres that identify her as one of the most musically adventurous vocal artists of her generation.   Jazz Club Soho.    020 7437 9595.

– Oct. 18 & 19. (Thurs. & Fri.)  “Sound Prints.”  Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Make somewhat of an odd couple as the leaders of their own Quintet.  But they’ve found a way to blend Lovano’s sturdy, straight ahead tenor saxophone with Douglas/ cutting-edge trumpet style.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.


– Oct. 20. (Sat.)  Grace Kelly Quartet. She’s just turned 20, but Asian/American Kelly has already released seven albums, displaying impressive skills as an alto saxophonist, singer, songwriter and band leader.   A-Trane Jazz.  030/313 25 50.


Lee Konitz

– Oct. 18 – 20. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Lee Konitz Quartet.  A true jazz original, alto saxophonist Konitz frequently appears in European club and festival events.  This time out he leads an international ensemble, featuring Danish pianist Florian Weber, American bassist Jeff Denzon and Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 15 65 65.


– Oct. 16 – 19. (Tues. – Fri.)  The Duke Ellington Orchestra.  Yes, it’s a so-called “ghost band,” carrying on the music of a great historical jazz ensemble…. And these guys handle the great Ellington collection of works with convincing ease,      Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.

The Playboy Jazz Festival 2012: Saturday’s Program at the Hollywood Bowl

June 18, 2012

By Michael Katz

I told myself I had finally come to terms with the Playboy Jazz Festival. This year I would enjoy it for what it was: an eight hour party at the Hollywood Bowl, a sort of Bar Mitzvah/Quinceanera for grown-ups, with perhaps half of it (on a good day) dedicated to actual jazz, or what Stephen Colbert might call “jazziness.” It turns out, though I’m appreciative of some of the fine things I heard,  that I am not as prepared to settle as I’d thought. For starters, the Festival’s format, in which continuous music is presented on the rotating stage for eight hours, could use some alterations after thirty-four years. There is no opportunity for the audience to take a breath between acts, to reflect on the music, and most importantly, to converse with each other without talking over the music or ignoring it completely. Not surprisingly, folks will pick a moment of relative quiet to mingle and nosh – more and more, those moments coincide with the appearance of an actual jazz band onstage, which means that the best moments for many of us are drowned out or obstructed.

Would it harm anyone to have a fifteen minute break here and there, so the audience can absorb the performances, uncork the wine bottles and acclimate themselves for a change in tempo?

With that off my chest, here’s a report on some of the jazzier aspects of Day 1. Early arrivers walked into a pleasant performance by Louie Cruz Beltran, the first of a talented contingent of Latino percussionists. Beltran’s emphasis was on Latin jazz. His ensemble featured Onaje Murray on vibes, which gave it a Cal Tjader-like sound, much appreciated by LA jazz fans. Jose Gomez on saxes and flute, Javier Gonzales on trumpet and Eric Jorgensen wielding a candy apple red trombone added to the ambience. You’d have liked to have heard this band at night with a dance floor, but it was a relaxing way to start the day on a sun-kissed afternoon.

Bill Cosby was emceeing for the last time, after thirty years fronting the Festival, and of all his contributions,  his Cos of Good Music bands may be missed the most. This year’s group was notable for an all female front line of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Tia Fuller and Erena Terakubo on alto saxes, all three of them talented enough to headline.

Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Irina Terakubo

The first medley, though slightly disorganized at the segues, featured some blistering work by Terakubo, who established the main line of “Cherokee,” then did an homage to Charlie Parker that wowed the jazz aficionados in the crowd. Jensen, who was featured previously in one of Cos’s bands, slowed the tempo down with “Back Home In Indiana,” settling into a comfortable groove that showed her mastery of the horn’s middle register. Tia Fuller then took over with some hard swinging on alto. Having seen her leading her own group at Monterey last year, I was prepared to see her step out and dominate, but she was content to be a team player with this talented group.

Next, pianist Farid Barron slid lithely from the percussion intros of Babatunde Lea and Nndugu Chancler into the familiar chords of “Poinciana.”  Barron wove in creative variations on the theme, then gave way to Fuller, Jensen and Terakubo for some gently swinging solos. The next tune was a hard bop nod to the late Freddie Hubbard, Ingrid Jensen underlining her lead trumpet chops with some powerful, growling charges. Bill Cosby had joined the band by now; this hard bop material clearly to his liking. He then contributed some vocals to the Lieber/ Stoller classic “Searchin,” which had the whole band in a joyous funk. Let’s hope that the festival finds a way to keep the “Cos of Good Music” (or something like it) in the program as a way to bring talented and under-heard musicians to the Bowl.

Alfredo Rodriguez

The Global Gumbo All-Stars took the stage following a raucous set by Ivan Neville’s Soul Rebels.  With the crowd still buzzing and the funky New Orleans horns reverberating, Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriquez’s opening chords could barely be discerned – at first I wondered whether the piano was miked at all. Rodriguez, a prodigy of Quincy Jones, who had been heard with these players at last year’s tribute to Quincy at the Bowl, is carving his own path in the wake of countrymen Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcabo. He navigated through the opening number with an off-minor riff,   augmented by guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin, Africa.

Lionel Loueke

Loueke, who has worked with Terence Blanchard, Jack DeJohnette and Herbie Hancock, among others, can move easily between lilting African rhythms and acid-tinged solos. In the group’s second number, he shared an instrumental and vocal duet with bassist Richard Bona. Bona, from Cameroon, has long, lithe fingers that pluck his electric bass like it was a banjo. His voice, which can seamlessly explore the higher ranges, is a perfect counterpoint to his bass playing.  He performs with a joyous energy that can captivate a crowd — I’ve seen him fronting his own band on several occasions.

Driving the rhythms behind all this was percussionist Francisco Mela, also from Cuba. Mela didn’t show off much, but he provided an infectious backdrop for the quartet, especially when Bona and Loueke were riffing with each other. They followed a Rodriguez solo with a funky combination of R&B chords and vocals, then moved into one of Bona’s originals from his Tiki album. By this time, the crowd had put down their dinner plates and figured out that something exciting was going on. This was a group that you would have wanted to extend into multiple sets if you were in a club. As it was, pianist Rodriguez closed things out with a riveting mambo, and the Global Gumbo All Stars rotated off into the night.

Christian McBride brought his touring big band to the bowl, following R&B singer Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

The Christian McBride Big Band

A driving big band ought to put a charge into the house, but again, they were following a group that had amped up the volume, and it took about half the set to engage the audience. This, despite a rousing first number, a McBride composition, “Shake and Blake,” which featured trumpeter Ron Blake. He and fellow sax player Steve Wilson were the best known names in the band, which featured mainly east coast guys that we don’t see often. Other standouts included Steve Davis on trombone, Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and Loren Schoenberg on tenor sax. McBride took the melody on a pretty big band arrangement of “I Should Care,” then brought  his wife, vocalist Melissa Walker onto the stage for three numbers.

Walker has a tender voice that dropped down into the middle registers for a lovely version of “When I Fall In Love.”     Her reading of “The More I See You,” had an engaging swing that closed out her contribution to the set. It was the final two numbers, though, that brought the crowd to their feet. McBride brought Bill Cosby up front to sing his signature “Hikky-Burr,” the theme from “The Bill Cosby Show” that was originally recorded by Quincy Jones. Despite the short rehearsal time, the performance was crisp, Cosby was delighted and the crowd picked up on it from the opening notes. The excitement spilled over to the band’s final number, “In A Hurry,” one of McBride’s best original compositions. Drummer Ulysses Owens, whom McBride gushed over in a post-concert interview, showed why with a terrific solo to close out the set.

And, though it was only a little past nine o’clock, that was about the end of the jazz for Day One. That is not to slight Sheila E, whose set provided the standard for energy and showmanship.

Sheila E.

She came on, escorted by the plumed Samba Funk dancers, and went straight to the timbales, where she performed with abandon. Her dad, Pete Escovido, came out for a brief interlude, singing a Latin tinged “Fly Me To The Moon,” and contributing a timbale solo of his own before turning the show back to his daughter. Sheila E led her horn-fronted band in a performance reminiscent of Trombone Shorty at last year’s festival, leaving the audience cheering and dancing in the aisles.

At the end of the day, you could be thankful that the Playboy Jazz Festival had brought a bunch of talented musicians that we don’t hear often to play for a capacity crowd. Still, you had to wonder if there was a single instrumentalist other than bassist McBride who could be counted upon to headline an act. The hand-picked groups are fun to watch, but I miss the virtuosity of a current jazz star like Roy Hargrove or Nicholas Payton, Miguel Zenon or Eric Alexander, who can lift a crowd over a fifty minute set. Despite the constant dirges about the death of jazz, there is no shortage of talent out there.

All it takes is a little faith in the music.

* * * * * * * * * *

Photos of Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen and Irina Terakubo, the Christian McBride Big Band and Sheila E. by Bonnie Perkinson.

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

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

Picks of the Week: July 12 – 17

July 11, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– July 12. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar Night.  With Mundell Lowe and bassist Jim Hughart.  Guitar Night’s always a pleasure, but here’s one not to miss – a pair of veteran jazz guitarists in action with the support of a fine bassist.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Chris Botti

– July 13. (Wed.)  Chris Botti and Bobby McFerrin with the Yellowjackets.  One of the highlights of the Hollywood Bowl summer jazz schedule.  Botti’s trumpet playing, delivered with surging rhythms and an elegantly expressive melodic flow have currently established him as the best-selling American instrumentalist.  McFerrin is always a wonder and even more so when he’s having fun with the dynamic Yellowjackets players.  The Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000

– July 13. (Wed.)  Alex Iles and Bill Reichenbach Quintet.  A pair of primo trombonists get together with a sound and style that will hopefully recall the delights of Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– July 14. (Thurs.)  The Bill Cunliffe Quartet.  “Bill in Brazil The ever-versatile pianist displays his love of the irresistible rhythms and soaring melodies of Brazil.    Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Della Reese

– July 14. (Thurs.)  Della Reese.  “I’m still here, celebrating my 80th birthday,” says the ever energetic Ms. Reese.  And indeed she is, still singing up a storm, bringing imagination and entertainment to everything she does.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– July 15 & 16. (Fri. & Sat.)  Sarah McLachlan with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkens conducting.  Multi-Grammy winning McLachlan makes her Hollywood Bowl debut in her first tour with an orchestra.  She’ll sing songs from her recent CD, Laws of Illusion.  Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

– July 16. (Sat.)  Golden Boys: Frankie Avalon, Fabian Forte, Bobby Rydell.  Three of the teen idols of the ‘50s and ‘60s appear in the Cerritos season opener.  The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

– July 16. (Sat.)  An Evening with the Monkees. Forty five years after they first hit the television screens original members Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork revisit their catalog of hits.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– July 16. (Sat.)   Rickey Woodard with the John Heard Trio.  Saxophonist Woodard’s hard swinging, harmonically and melodically adventurous improvisations are among the Southland’s great jazz delights.  Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

– July 16. (Sat.)  “From California With Love”  CD release party.  The CD and the performance benefit Japanese disaster relief.  Among the stellar list of performers are Jim Cox, Michael Dees, Sue Raney, Diane Hubka, Pinky Winters and many more.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Freda Payne

– July 17. (Sun.)  Freda Payne.  The gorgeous Ms. Payne applies her far reaching interpretive skills to a Tribute to the Great Ladies of Jazz: Ella, Lena and Sarah Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

– July 17. (Sun.)  Shahrzad Sepanlou.  The lovely Iranian singers warm, expressive voice moves freely from traditional songs to intimate contemporary balladry.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

– July l5 & 16.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Charlie Hunter/Scott Amendola Duo. Hunter’s seven string guitar virtuosity has a chance to fully express itself in the company of Amendola’s subtle drumming.  Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.    (510) 644-2020.


– July 14 – 17. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Steve Turre Quartet with pianist Willie Pickens. Jazz trombonist and remarkable conch shell player Turre explores colorful jazz territory with Chicago jazz great Pickens.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

– July 13. (Wed.)  Jane Bunnett and Hilario Duran.  Soprano saxophonist/flutist Bunnett and pianist Duran display some of the unusually eclectic Cuban material on their new album, Cuban Rhapsody.  Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

July 14 – 17. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Airto.  The great Brazilian percussionist, fascinating with a group or as a soloist, plays with the all-star aggregation of  Mark Egan, bass, Jose Neto, guitar, Helio Alves, piano, and Lew Soloff, trumpet.  D Booker, the daughter of Airto and Flora Purim, will sing.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.


Charlie Parker

– July 12 & 13. (Tues. & Wed.)  “The Music of Charlie Parker”  Alto saxophonist Gilad Atzmon evokes the spirit and the soul of the great bebop alto saxophonist, performing – with a string ensemble – selections from Bird’s classic “with strings” recordings.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.


– July 12. (Tues.) Ceu. Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Ceu is an intriguing songwriter and a compelling performer, blending her unique skills with her admiration for Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Lauryn Hill.    New Morning.    01 45 23 51 41.


– July 15. (Fri.)  Return To Forever IVChick Corea, Lenny White, Stanley Clarke, Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Gambale.  The latest incarnation of Return to Forever may well be the best one yet.  With Ponty and Gambale bringing their fiery skills to the dependable platform provided by Corea, White and Clarke, the results are musically irresistible.The Blue Note Milano.


– July 13 & 14. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Lionel Loueke and Raul Midon, the Duwala Malambo Projekt. A pair of uniquely idiosyncratic guitarist/singers find common ground in a wide open arena of improvisational adventuring they call the Duwala Malambo Projekt.  A-Trane International Jazz Club.   030/313 25 50.

Chris Botti photo by Tony Gieske.


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