Live Blues: Buddy Guy, the Funky Meters and Quinn Sullivan at the Hollywood Bowl

August 23, 2013

By Michael Katz

Hollywood, CA. “I’m 74 years young,” sings Buddy Guy, “and there ain’t nothin’ I haven’t done.” After a few verses, Buddy admits to being 77, but the extra few years haven’t diminished anything, most importantly his ability to engage an audience. Dressed in his trademark polka dot shirt, Guy’s voice is clear and his tone assured. His fingers are nimble, whether picking out Delta blues or raging through fiery Chicago licks. Most of all, he is a great story teller, modulating his performance to suit his mood, carefully controlling the thermostat. While so many other players start out at a high volume and never let up, Buddy Guy has moments when you can hear a pin drop. He stands at the front of the stage, the blues guitar resonating, at first quietly, then insistently, growling out some of the classic lines:

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Got a few good tricks up my sleeve
I know everything that a good woman needs
I show respect and I treat ‘em right
They all keep coming back night after night

When it come to loving, I ain’t never done
I’m 74 years young.”

Buddy had lots of help Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. His band featured Marty Sammon on keyboards, parlaying a strong right hand into some wonderful honky-tonk rhythms. Tim Austin commanded the drums and Orlando Wright provided a steady pulse on base, while veteran Chicago bluesman Ric Hall added a terrific second blues axe. There was plenty of familiar material, beginning with “I Got The Blues,” after which Guy proceeded to march into the crowd, to the delight of the box seat patrons. If there was any justice in the world he would have made it into the Bowl’s upper reaches, but I suppose if there was justice, we wouldn’t have the blues.

There was an extended version of “Five Long Years,”  with Guy alternating lightning blues licks with the plaintive lyrics. (“Lord I work five long years for one woman, And she had the nerve to kick me out…Lord, have you ever been mistreated?”)

Somewhere in that scenario was a segue to “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In,” which seemed completely appropriate. Then there was a bow to Buddy’s newest double CD, Rhythm and Blues, with the rousing “Meet Me In Chicago.” As a native Chicagoan, I want to salute the courage of guitarist Ric Hall, who wore a White Sox jersey throughout the evening. Given the team’s current rate of deconstruction, he was lucky to make it through the show without being traded for a player to be named later.

There is something magnetic about Buddy Guy’s blues playing. He’s come from the fields of Louisiana, through the South Side of Chicago, and there he is on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, the crowd top heavy with expensive box seat patrons. But he reaches out to everyone, whether nodding to Jimi Hendrix or celebrating his own classics, including “Hoochie Coochie Man” and variations on “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Always there is a laconic, if sometimes profane, sense of humor. (Though he admitted, compared to hip hop, his lyrics are almost tame.)

Quinn Sullivan

Quinn Sullivan

Late in the concert, tweener phenom Quinn Sullivan joined the band with “Getting There,” from his own album. I hope it isn’t damning Sullivan with faint praise to say that he is pretty good for a 14 year-old. The kid really does have some chops. He seems more at home in the Clapton/Hendrix camp, but then you can’t really expect him to be singing, “I gotta job in a steel mill, I been shucking steel like a slave.” (Unless he moves to China). He’s been performing with Guy and other blues pros for several years now, and it is good for the music to have an exciting young talent out front.

The Funky Meters

The Funky Meters

The evening opened with a fine set by the Funky Meters, the latest incarnation of the Meters group that dominated recording sessions in the late sixties and seventies. Founding member Art Neville was the backbone of the group on the Hammond organ, along with fellow original George Porter Jr. on bass. Guitarist Brian Stoltz and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. rounded out the funk driven quartet. They played a combination of Meters hits like “FiYo” and “Cissy Strut” and had the crowd dancing in the aisles with the New Orleans standard “Hey Pocky Way.” Mixed into the middle of a mostly nonstop hour was a nod to Bob Dylan, with a few choruses of “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

All in all, a stellar evening of funk, rhythm and blues, led by the irrepressible Buddy Guy.

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Check out Michael Katz’s new novel, Dearly Befuddled, available at Amazon.

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

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



Live Jazz: The Chick Corea/Stanley Clarke Trio with Hubert Laws at Catalina Bar & Grill

April 11, 2013

By Michael Katz

Let’s start with this: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, an acoustic jazz trio, a nightclub appearance. Fill out the trio with an energetic young drummer, Marcus Gilmore, grandson of Roy Haynes, no less.

Enough?

Hardly. Make it a quartet with Hubert Laws sitting in on flute. Jam an appreciative overflow crowd into the sprawl of Catalina Bar & Grill on a Tuesday night. Sprinkle in good vibes from all the players. Shake, stir, and Voila! One of those nights you won’t soon forget.

Chick Corea

Chick Corea

Chick Corea has cut such a wide swath in his career that it rightly took him several weeks and ten concerts to celebrate his 70th birthday in New York in 2011. For the opening of a weeklong gig here in LA, he presented a mini-tour of his acoustic work, in the splendid company of Clarke and Gilmore (to begin with), touching on his early trio work with the opening Steve Swallow tune, “Eiderdown.” Corea made it a point a few times during the show to thank the audience for attending a “rehearsal,” and although the players know each other quite well, there are always some bugs to be worked out in an opening show. I thought the piano sounded a tad muffled during the early going, though that may have come from sitting in the extended wing that reaches behind the piano and towards the bar area. On the other hand, it presented an excellent perspective for Clarke’s lithe bass work – at 61, he looks like he could step in and play defensive back somewhere.

“Bud Powell,” a Corea composition from Chick’s Remembering Bud Powell CD, had all the musical dexterity of Powell’s signature tunes: the darting ebbs and flows that fill up a space like a tidal pool, then whoosh back out, leaving Clarke and Gilmore to fill in the void, while Corea moves on, looking for musical eddies to stir up.

Hubert Laws

Hubert Laws

Hubert Laws joined the trio for the rest of the set, starting with Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica.” For those of us who discovered jazz in the late sixties and early seventies, Laws’ playing defined the jazz flute.  Re-united with Corea and Clarke he sounded every bit in his prime, full of the lilting riffs, tinged with classical arpeggios that have always characterized his playing. Following Chick’s intro, Laws entered with the Monk line crisp and clear, leaving the others room for solos in an atmosphere that was casual and cool.

And then there was “Windows.”  I suppose we all  have our favorite songs, but “Windows” is unabashedly one of mine.  It’s not just one of Chick Corea’s best compositions, but a perfect construction for Hubert Laws’ expressive tones. From the plaintive opening notes, to the improvisational flights that follow and the dovetailing denouement, it still captivates. Simply put, hearing Laws perform it with Corea, Clarke and the young Gilmore behind him was, for me, a singular musical moment.

Stanley Clarke

Stanley Clarke

There was much more, in a set that stretched over ninety minutes. “Captain Marvel” is a tune from Return To Forever’s second LP, but I first heard it on Stan Getz’s album of the same name, with Corea and Clarke as sidemen. Laws introduced the theme, giving it a soulful boost, then let the rhythm section take the forefront. Stanley Clarke would be in dynamic mode the rest of the evening.  Here, sandwiched between two terrific drum explorations by Gilmore, he took command of the acoustic bass,  while Corea laid out harmonic layers behind him.

That was nominally the end of the set, but the crowd wasn’t ready to disperse, not by any means, and the band continued with Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me.” Again, Clarke was out front, perhaps most noticeable because he had laid back earlier, but by this time it was four great musicians swinging separately and together. Young Gilmore provided a verve and youthful enthusiasm that kept the others on their toes. Hubert Laws reminded us that after all this time, no one plays the flute better.

And then there’s the leader of this group, Chick Corea, who has hit every musical touchstone imaginable, getting right to the heart of the matter: a piano, a melody, the intrinsic syncopation of swing, a classic trio plus one. The Corea/Clarke Trio will play through Sunday with Hubert Laws sitting in tonight.

This is an event you don’t want to miss.

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

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


Live Jazz: The Wolff and Clark Expedition at Vitello’s

April 8, 2013

By Michael Katz

I’m going to tell you about the second set at Vitello’s Saturday night, featuring the Wolff & Clark Expedition, led by pianist Michael Wolff and drummer Mike Clark. Not that there was anything wrong with the first set. It was, in fact, quite wonderful. It’s just that some of you were no doubt at the first set, and I don’t want to be redundant. The second set, I believe, is my exclusive. A scoop, even.

I know, I know. The second Final Four game didn’t end until nine o’clock or so. That pretty much took care of your evening. And you’ve got lots to do on Sunday morning. LA is just not a late night town, not a great sign for a late night art. So here’s a little of what you missed.

Michael Wolff meandered to the stage while the rest of the band was still milling around, bidding adieu to a few first set stragglers.  He treated the scattered crowd to some lovely solo piano, breathing life into his composition “Portraiture,” until Mike Clark joined him with some textured backing and turned it into a duet. By this time bassist Tony Dumas and guest soloist Bob Sheppard had come back to the stage. Sheppard stepped into a robust tenor introduction to “Song For My Father.” The Horace Silver standard is one of the featured songs on the new Wolff & Clark Expedition CD, which artfully mixes standards like “What Is This Thing Called Love,” and “Hummin’” with original compositions. It’s a trio album, and in the first set it took Sheppard some time to find his way into the arrangements. But “Song For My Father” was a perfect vehicle for him. Perhaps because we’re familiar with the Leon Thomas vocal version, the sound of the tenor feels both familiar and specific to Sheppard’s improvisations. Wolff, meanwhile, countered with his own dark underpinnings, taking the narrative back, while Dumas set the tone behind him.

Michael Wolff and Mike Clark

Michael Wolff and Mike Clark

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” is a staple in the Wolff oeuvre, dating back to his mid-seventies days with the Cannonball Adderley band. For the CD, he and Clark added an insistent counter tone to the intro, giving the line some extra verve, and freeing up Mike Clark to do some pulsating stick work behind the groove. Like the Lennon-McCartney song “Come Together,” which they performed in the first set, it’s such a recognizable line that it keeps your mind occupied while the players improvise around it, though “Mercy” has that added Zawinul funk that keeps it fresh after all this time.

It’s fun listening to Wolff, Clark et al turn these standards inside out and still bring them home in more or less one piece, but I do want to point out the compositional skills, particularly of Michael Wolff. There are several originals of his on the new CD, including “Elise,” written for his mother, which he performed in the first set.  It’s a brief, lilting melody, extended nicely in live performance with sensitive support from Clark and Dumas.

But I digress. The band has been bringing in guests throughout their tour, and Mike Clark recounted Jimmy Heath’s date with them at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York. They played Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” there, and recreated it here with Bob Sheppard on soprano sax.  It was a fitting recipe for closing out a late night set. Sheppard soared through hard bop lines on the soprano, completely in control of the instrument’s tonal challenges. Clark, the former Headhunters drummer, agile and inventive as always, had plenty of room to stretch out, driving the pace from the opening downbeat. Tony Dumas, with an insistent bass, kept things alive from underneath. And then there was Michael Wolff with riff after riff, darting through his arpeggios, taking the theme home.

So that was it, not a lengthy set but a memorable one, the kind of thing that happens when a couple of touring stars combine with the type of local talent available in few places outside of LA. It’s what happens when the musicians have an extra hour to find their way with compositions and arrangements new to some and familiar to others.

It is why some of us always stick around.

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

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


Live Jazz: Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Disney Hall

March 13, 2013

By Michael Katz

When Wynton Marsalis led his star-studded Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra onto the stage at a sold-out Disney Hall last night, he was greeted so warmly that you could sense the mutual appreciation before the first note was played. That feeling lasted throughout a memorable evening, underpinned by the band’s roots in Ellingtonia and bolstered by a combination of new compositions and fresh arrangements of material by Gerry Mulligan, Chick Corea and more.

The talent in this orchestra is staggering. Consider the trumpet section, led by Ryan Kisor  and featuring the terrific Marcus Printup and Mingus Big Band alum Kenny Rampton.   Not to mention Marsalis, himself, who picked his spots in several riveting choruses. Then there’s the front line of saxophones, with tenors Walter Blanding and Victor Goines anchoring the flanks, Ted Nash and Sherman Irby in the middle, playing alto and flutes, and a rising star, Paul Nedzela on baritone.

Wynton Marsalis and the brass of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

I was less familiar with the trombone section, but they staked out their territory early, with section leader Chris Crenshaw’s composition “Creation.” After an opening fanfare from Printup and some gently swinging tenor work from Victor Goines,  Crenshaw and his cohorts, Vincent Gardner and Elliot Mason, took over. The Ellington influence was clear in Crenshaw’s composition – not just in the harmonics, but in the idea of the jazz orchestra as an organic conduit for the range of human emotions. If that seems to oversell the idea a little, it does provide a heartbeat for the diverse menu that followed.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Marsalis led JLCO to the Count Basie book for Frank Foster’s “Blues in Hoss Flat,” which featured Wynton’s first turn with a muted horn, and another spirited run by Goines on tenor. But it was pianist Dan Nimmer who stole the number. With all the fine section playing in this band, Nimmer often gets the best opportunities for expansive solos (there is, after all, no piano section). He has a deft touch, subtly shifting moods and tempos. Marsalis wisely gives him room in this powerful ensemble to establish himself.

If their overall oeuvre seemed a little retro at that point, the next segment, a nod to the late Gerry Mulligan, brought the band squarely into the hearts of this LA crowd. The first Mulligan tune, “Over The Hill And Out Of The Woods,” epitomized Mulligan’s swing and grace. Nimmer carried the melody along, joined by  Nash and Irby on flutes and a muted trumpet section behind them. There was lovely solo work by Kisor and Crenshaw. Oddly enough, the tune featured everything except the baritone sax. That was remedied quickly as Paul Nedzela and Dan Zimmer teamed up for a gorgeous version of “Lonesome Boulevard.” It is impossible to duplicate Mulligan’s lithe, almost effortless handling of the bari sax, but Nedzela did a splendid job of being reminiscent of the style without resorting to mimickry. The crowd was captivated by this extended performance, and rewarded him with a sustained ovation.

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton, in the meantime, was comfortably ensconced with the trumpet line in the back row. In this age of megalomania, it is a revelation to see this band work without anyone standing out front. The pace is set subtly, with Sherman Irby sometimes counting things out from his front row center perch. But Marsalis is in charge, and last night he seemed particularly at home in the den-like atmosphere of Disney Hall. His reflections were witty and heartfelt, with the occasional spontaneous quips from the band. Following the Mulligan tribute, he introduced an Ellington line called “Braggin’ In Brass,” which he described as so difficult for the featured trombone section that Ellington only performed it once. The chorus indeed was a challenge, a burst of staccato playing by Crenshaw, Gardner and Mason, thankfully (for them) brief, abetted by some great brushwork by Ali Jackson on drums. As if to apologize for putting his ‘Bones through the wringer, Marsalis responded with an extended riff, rolling off brilliant cadenzas while the trombones caught their breadth.

The next two numbers featured the woodwinds of Ted Nash. First was a new arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Windows.” The song, which became a signature tune for flutist Hubert Laws, provided ample opportunities for Nash. He designated the theme to the trombone section, led  by Vincent . They provided a lush backdrop,  leaving Nash to explore the nuances with some lilting flute work before handing the melody back to Dan Nimmer for a gentle coda.  After a brief anecdotal interlude by Wynton, there was a special treat. Dick Nash, the 85 year-old father of Ted, came on stage. With a tambourine intro by Ali Jackson and another piano flourish by Nimmer, Nashes pere et fil performed “All The Things You Are.” Dick Nash’s tones were as full and sweet as ever, his lanky frame a visual delight as well, maneuvering the slide trombone.

Sherman Irby took the spotlight for the next two numbers. His elegiac composition “Insatiable Hunger,” featured a Walter Blanding solo on his curved soprano sax and some nice muted trombone work by Crenshaw, as well as Irby’s dramatic alto. Then there was his muted brass arrangement of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,”  which featured Vincent Gardner on the vocals. It also featured a joyful bass solo by Carlos Henriquez, who had been steady throughout the evening, but began to find some solo room as the concert reached its conclusion.

The nominal end to the evening was Kenny Dorham’s “Stage West,” which gave some solo work to a few of the players from whom we hadn’t heard enough: Ryan Kisor, Eliot Mason, more great stick work from Ali Jackson and a terrific turn from Walter Blanding. Of course, the audience wouldn’t let the band leave, and they returned with a spirited Ellington extravaganza.

***** ***** *****

At this point, your critic puts his pen down and simply stands with the crowd, enjoying the romp. When it is over, the band leaves but Wynton stays, along with the rhythm section. He rewards the crowd with a brief quartet turn, a Satchmo-drenched blues, before trailing off into the night.

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.

Photos by Tony Gieske.


Live Jazz: John Pisano’s Guitar Night with Graham Dechter

February 28, 2013

By Michael Katz

There were generations bumping into each other Tuesday night, both on the stage and in the crowd at Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake, the current home of John Pisano’s Guitar Night.  Much of that is by design. For fifteen years, Pisano has been bringing guitarists from anywhere and everywhere to share an evening with him. Last night one of the best young players around, 26 year-old Graham Dechter, joined forces, along with an equally young rhythm section, Katie Thiroux on bass and Matt Witek on drums.

The setting at Lucy’s 51 is an eclectic mix. It’s a neighborhood bar and restaurant, the food tasty and affordable, the service friendly.  The usual Pisano following of first-call guitarists and guitar lovers inhabits the closer tables, while a younger, definitely non-poseur bunch fills in from the back, only vaguely aware that there are some world class talents at the other end of the room.

John Pisano

John Pisano

The two headliners started off with a gently swinging intro to “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” Pisano’s plump chords inviting the audience in, while Dechter teased the melody, then slipped into a bluesy theme. Before long he was giving an overture for the evening, including a taste of Wes Montgomery-like fingerings, abetted by some nice bass work from Katie Thiroux.

Pisano’s Guitar Nights work from a book of standards, and if you attend often enough you’ll hear versions of some his favorites: “Just Friends,” “Yesterdays” and “I’ll Remember You” were three that popped up last night, and the fun is watching how the guitarists hone in on the themes, play with the tempos, banter back and forth, tossing in quotes from other tunes.

Graham Dechter

Graham Dechter

Pisano seemed content to play rhythm early on and let Dechter show off, and you couldn’t blame him. It’s hard to quantify what separates the best jazz guitarists from the crowd, especially at an early age. There’s enough technical ability to go around, but in this setting you look at how Dechter plays with tempo and phrasing. It’s a little bit like a running back searching for holes, suddenly changing direction and darting through.

The highlight of the first set was Tadd Dameron’s “Good Bait,” and, yes, I’ll admit that anything that even remotely suggests fishing will get my attention. Pisano established the friendly theme and Dechter took off from there, his left hand flying over the frets. Thiroux, raven-haired and lithe of hand, plucked a chocolate-colored bass while Witek kept a steady patter on the drums.

By the time the group launched into a blues to end the first set, you could sense a musical awareness that was filtering forward from the stage.  The noise level behind the Guitar Night regulars had dropped, more heads at the middle and back tables were riveted toward the players, more applause greeted the solos. As some of the front row regulars departed, a bunch of the back-of-the-room crowd migrated toward the empty seats and took in the second set at close hand.

After a brisk run through “I’ll Remember April,” Pisano weaved his way into the opening of “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” You could feel the spirit of Ray Charles inhabiting the space – he would have felt right at home. The tempo morphed from laid back to Dechter’s insistent drive, again with some Wes-influenced riffs. Fingers tapped, heads nodded.

“I Should Care,” the penultimate tune of the second set, was exquisite, with John Pisano carrying the melody beautifully before Graham Dechter caught up with him, the two of them circling around the theme for the appreciative crowd. Finally, there was “Cotton Tail,”  wherein Pisano and Dechter more than made up for the lack of a saxophone player, bouncing riffs off each other, Pisano clearly saving his best for last. Thiroux deftly worked her bass solos in between the two guitarists, and Matt Witek stood out with some superb stick work as the group bowed out for the evening.

So I have kept up with John Pisano’s Guitar Night, from Rocco’s to Spazio’s to Vitello’s and now to Lucy’s 51. The cuisine has shifted from pasta to burgers and salads, but the music is still pure gourmet.

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.

John Pisano photo by Bob Barry.


Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival All Stars at the Valley Performing Arts Center

January 25, 2013

By Michael Katz

Northridge, CA.  There were lots of good vibes, not to mention some friendly apparitions, circulating through the Valley Performing Arts Center Wednesday night, as the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars brought their tour to the campus of Cal State Northridge. The sextet, which had closed the curtain on the 55th MJF last September, featured vocalist  Dee Dee Bridgewater, the world class rhythm section of Benny Green, Lewis Nash and musical director Christian McBride, and a front line of Chris Potter on tenor sax and young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

As they did at Monterey, Dee Dee Bridgewater and McBride opened with a duet, this time Billie Holiday’s “My Mother’s Son-In-Law.” Bridgewater lithely covered McBride’s fingerings, giving the song an intimate, conversational feel that invited the audience into the performance.  Throughout the evening the group would split into various permutations – duets, trios, a stunning piano solo to open the second set by Green – as they explored the many nuances of improvisational music.

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

In a “Super Group”  of this sort, you never know who will stand out on any given night, and on this evening it seemed Benny Green was charged up right from the start.  His work on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tanga,” the group’s first trio presentation, was inspired.  He subtly shifted tempos, his right hand dancing over the keyboard, while across the stage Lewis Nash was pulsating with sticks and brushes.  As for McBride, we sometimes forget, for all his versatility, what a terrific trio anchor he is, and he would turn the format on its ear later in the evening.

Chris Potter and Ambrose Akinmusire provided robust counterpoints for the group,  giving Bridgewater some added oomph (not that she needed much) on “All of Me” and Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty.” Potter, who can reach out to the edges of Coltrane-inspired territory, stayed mostly straight ahead with this group. Akinmusire, the ascending star who was the MJF Artist-In-Residence in 2012, provided some spirited riffs, and teamed with Potter on his haunting composition “Henya” in the second set.  The trumpeter had some terrific soloing as the concert progressed, but it would have been nice to see him take command of another  tune on his own, whether a more familiar ballad or a hard charger, just to give the audience a taste of his potential as a leader.

As readers of this space know, I think Dee Dee Bridgewater is on the short, short list of the best vocalists around. Last night she did a lovely version of Thad Jones’s “A Child Is Born,” softly modulating the rarely heard lyrics, with the trio backing her up in spare accompaniment. Later, in the second set, she reached for the opposite end of the spectrum, interpreting “God Bless The Child” with a gospel verve that would have made Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples proud.  The audience, which had a substantial and appreciative segment of CSUN students, (many of them no doubt from their award winning big band) was on its feet.

Benny Green, as noted earlier, walked out alone to start the second set. He set up his extended solo with the chords of “The Man I Love,” and dived into an improvisational mode, tossing in quotes from “I Can’t Get Started,”  among others, gathering steam and moving to a crescendo before pulling back for the denouement and gently bowing out.

I mentioned a couple of apparitions. The first would be the late, great bassist Ray Brown, whose wife, Cecelia, was in the audience.  The rhythm trio has all played with Brown and their adoration was evident. On “East of The Sun, West of the Moon,” Christian McBride took the main line on the bass, his notes clear, crisp and swinging. He segued from melody to improvisation, setting the stage for more great stick work behind him from Lewis Nash.  In a night full of highlights, the virtuosity of McBride and the trio was a delight.

The other apparition was the recently departed Dave Brubeck, who meant so much to everyone at the Monterey Jazz Festival. After blazing through Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty” to nominally close the show, the group reassembled and chose one of Brubeck’s less familiar tunes,  “Mr. Broadway.” It was a perfect choice to honor his memory, one that avoided the trap of mimicking “Take Five” or “Blue Rondo.” It provided a swinging framework for the front line to go out charging – I thought Akinmusire’s trumpet solo was one of his best moments of the evening. And Dee Dee Bridgewater provided some tender vocalizing, slipping into the lines of “Take Five” at the end, a perfect coda to the performance.

As difficult as it is to transfer the ambience and spirit of the Monterey Jazz Festival to another performance venue, the MJF All Stars managed to do it.

Now, only eight more months to MJF 56.

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

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


Live Music: 2012 in Review

January 1, 2013

By Michael Katz

Los Angeles, CA.  Looking back over the year’s worth of live performances I covered, mostly in jazz, is a bittersweet experience. There are surely enough terrific moments to fill a column, but in a city with L.A.’s diversity of talent, you can’t help wishing for more. Our club scene is struggling, with only Catalina Bar & Grill consistently booking major touring acts for extended stays. In the Valley, Vitello’s  has done a nice job of showcasing the best of our local talent and the occasional national stars, and downtown the Blue Whale has presented an intriguing mix of fresh talent and local mainstays. As for the Westside, the best news was that the light rail Metro Line finally made it to Culver City.

Now, if I could only get to Culver City.

On the concert side, the Hollywood Bowl brought lots of talent to its band shell on summer Wednesday evenings, mostly in combinations for retro theme nights, but its directors don’t  seem to trust anyone on the current scene to headline a show. UCLA Live (newly renamed the Center For The Art of Performance) presented an eclectic program that included the Mingus Dynasty septet, Bill Frisell and Hugh Masekela.

How anybody finds out about this music is another problem. (Unless, of course, you visit iRoM). Our local newspaper covers only a scant sampling of the jazz spectrum, while our jazz radio station has narrowed its daily programming range to the Old, the Dead and the Smooth.

But enough grumbling. Here’s a few of the superb performances that still resonated in my mind, months after the last note had died out.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I never saw a full set of Dee Dee Bridgewater, but when she stepped onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl during the Ray Charles tribute last summer, she simply took over.  She began with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by the great Houston Person and finished with “I Got News For You,” her ringing, soulful vocals augmented by Terence Blanchard and George Duke. A few months later I caught her in the closing set of the Monterey Jazz Festival with an all-star group that featured Christian McBride, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash and Chris Potter . She opened the set in a nimble duet with McBride on “Do What You Want To Do” and brought the crowd to pin drop silence with “Don’t Explain.” This group will be at the Valley Performing Art Center on January 23, so don’t miss them.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

I saw a number of outstanding big bands this year, but the most memorable was led by Arturo Sandoval, in support of Dear Diz, his Grammy nominated CD and my favorite disc of the year. I caught them at The Federal, which hopefully will expand its presentation of jazz in 2013. Sandoval is clearly one of the world’s elite trumpet players, his tones piercing and his leadership swinging and joyful. His collection of mostly Dizzy Gillespie tunes featured sharp new arrangements, including a wonderful take on “Bee Bop” by Gordon Goodwin and a rollicking “Night In Tunisia.”

John Pisano

John Pisano

LA is the home of some of the world’s great guitarists, and I was lucky enough to catch a few of them live. At the top of the list is John Pisano’s Guitar Night. He keeps moving it farther away from my digs on the Westside, but I did manage to catch one of his last shows at Vitello’s with Anthony Wilson. Watching the two of them riff through two sets, testing their imaginations and dancing around familiar standards  reminded me that Guitar Night remains one of LA’s great treats.  I hereby resolve to make it out to Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake to see Pisano and friends in 2013.

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

Meanwhile, there were other great guitarists, including Dori Caymmi presenting a night of Brazilian music at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in what we hope is a prequel to the new Jazz Bakery, still in the planning stages next door. For jazz deprived Westsiders, it cannot come soon enough.  Pat Metheny played two sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, my favorite being a trio performance with bassist McBride and percussionist Jack DeJohnette.  And then there was Mimi Fox, who we don’t hear nearly enough of, doing a lovely Saturday matinee duet at MJF with flutist Ali Ryerson.

Mads Tolling

Mads Tolling

As usual there were some unheralded performers that caught my attention. Here’s to a couple of fiddlers: Sara Watkins and Mads Tolling. Watkins, late of Nickel Creek, shone during an LA performance of Prairie Home Companion, dueting with host Garrison Keillor on “Let It Be Me” as they strolled through the crowd, and later burning it up in a fiddle showdown with Richard Kriehn. Tolling, a veteran of the Turtle Island Quartet, fronted his own group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage at MJF. Whether plucking in tandem with his guitarist or racing through a tribute to Jean Luc Ponty, Tolling was a revelation. His live CD, A Celebration of Jean Luc Ponty, was another of my favorite discs.

Monterey, as usual, had lots of highlights for me, including some wonderful trio work by pianist Mulgrew Miller, a rousing vocal performance by Gregory Porter and a Cal Tjader tribute led by pianist Michael Wolff, featuring Warren Wolf on vibes.

Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza

And finally, there was Luciana Souza, opening the season at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, singing warm renditions from her two CDs that would later be nominated for Grammys, Duos 3 and The Book of Chet.

So what are my resolutions for 2013? For one, I resolve to catch Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl. For another, I resolve to brave the traffic (and the absence of chairs) at the Blue Whale and see what is happening downtown. And finally, it is long past time for me to get to New York and check out the great jazz scene there. Perhaps if we can avoid the fiscal cliff, I can get some federal funding for a trip East. Sort of a reverse Lewis and Clark Expedition culminating in a week or so in the Big Apple. I plan to get it tacked on to an appropriations bill. I’m sure no one will notice.

Happy New Year to all.

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

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, Katz of the Day.

Arturo Sandoval and John Pisano photos by Bob Barry


Live Music and Film: Bill Frisell and “The Great Flood” at Royce Hall

October 15, 2012

By Michael Katz

One of my regrets from the Monterey Jazz Festival was missing guitarist Bill Frisell’s commissioned piece.  So Saturday night’s performance in support of the Bill Morrison film The Great Flood at UCLA’s Royce Hall gave me the opportunity to experience another facet of Frisell’s diverse musical oeuvre

The 75 minute film, presented in conjunction with the newly named CAP UCLA program and the Angel City Jazz Festival, is a documentary about the 1927 Mississippi flood which submerged 27,000 square miles and spurred the migration of thousands of Delta residents, including many of the blues musicians who ended up in northern cities, especially Chicago. Morrison relies on footage from the National Archives and the Fox Movietone Newsreel Archive, dividing his story into visual and musical “movements” with no narrative other than introductory titles.

Bill Frisell

For audiences used to the Ken Burns documentary style – broad themes enhanced by individual stories, narrated by letters or diaries or biographical accounts — Morrison’s overview can seem lacking in focus. Even the Biblical Flood, after all, would be considerably less compelling without Noah. The film’s opening is effective enough, with a map of the Mississippi superimposed on the rising floodwaters. Frisell’s score is ominous with a hint of the Delta Blues. The accompaniment of percussionist Kenny Wollesen on vibes provided an unexpected layer of foreboding. Given the nature of the material, the music was bound to be elegiac, and the main voice through much of it belonged to trumpeter Ron Miles. His playing throughout was graceful, reminiscent of the thematic scoring and performance we’ve often heard from Mark Isham.

Still, without the individual stories to hang a theme on, it was hard to separate the   compositions from one movement to the next. About a quarter of the way into the film, Morrison presented an extended look at the 1927 Sears Roebuck Catalogue, which gave Frisell the opportunity to up the tempo and present a diversionary theme,  but there were few such segments in the performance.

The Great Flood of 1927

It’s impossible to view this film without making references to Hurricane Katrina, and it’s clear that, with all the changes in technology and communication, there was precious little difference over eighty years in the treatment of rich and poor. Morrison presents an effective overview early in the film of sharecroppers, working the field with horse and plow. When the floods rise, the evacuations stand in stark contrast: the well-to-do dressed in their Sunday best boarding trains north, while the mostly black sharecroppers huddle in tents like war refugees, watching the waters rise around them.

When the word “Politicians” flashed onscreen for the opening of the ninth segment,  snickers arose from the Royce Hall gathering. That in itself was as trenchant a commentary as what followed: white officials in suits and ties, trolling for photo ops, with looks that suggested they couldn’t wait for these moments of noblesse oblige to be over. You kept trying to read lips, waiting for someone to say “Heckuva job, Brownie.” Frisell again took advantage of the change in tone to present a more sardonic musical accompaniment, augmented by the fourth member of the quartet,  Tony Scherr, working on a variety of electric basses.

The latter part of the film dealt with the Diaspora that ensued. One segment, entitled “Friendship Baptist Church, Chicago,” simply used footage aimed at the front door of the church, as a seemingly endless surge of parishioners flowed out onto the street following a service. It was such an effective metaphor that the following segment, “Migration,” hardly seemed necessary.

The final segments of the film focused on the musical evolution of the blues, from its Delta origins to the urban streets of Chicago and other cities. Close-ups of blues players showed the progression from acoustic guitar to electric, steel and slide. Frisell chose not to mimic the sounds or present a blues digression of his own. Instead he adapted Jerome Kern’s “Ol’ Man River.” The fact that the arrangement worked so well underlined both his own strengths and the overall problems of the film. There was no shortage of passion, but it lacked the individual stories and themes that connect the audience with the material.

Great Flood of 1927 photo courtesy of Movietone. 

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

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


Live Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival Notebook; Day #2

September 23, 2012

By Michael Katz

Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival is an Olympian feast, with just about everything you can imagine, from the blasting steel pedal of Robert Randolph to the nuanced guitar of Mimi Fox, the cult-like dominance of Trombone Shorty to the indomitable Tony Bennett. Not to mention the ear-splitting Thunderbirds flyover, courtesy of the nearby Salinas Air Show.

Robert Randolph

There was a chill in the air Saturday morning – you would think after so many years at this festival I wouldn’t be fooled, though it should have served as a reminder that the evenings can get downright cold. Once into the Arena, the sun was searing as usual – and so were Robert Randolph and his Family Band. The blues, for years the staple of the Saturday afternoon shows, has taken a back seat lately to the Treme-inspired New Orleans gumbo/funk, but Randolph played with a fury, cutting through the afternoon heat on his steel pedal guitar. He occasionally eased into a soulful funk of his own, but mainly he was sending stratospheric riffs into the autumn air.  This is a treat if that’s your kind of blues, but after about a half hour I sought some refuge, as well as the typical Saturday afternoon fun at the Garden Stage.

The Blues Broads

There are few things that beat the ambience of standing under the shade of California live oaks, feeling a breeze float through the air as the crowd occupies every nook and cranny of the Garden Stage’s small amphitheatre. The Blues Broads, who are everything that the name implies, were belting out Texas blues with panache. Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Sampson supplied the vocals from the Austin-based group, and the band was pushed by a two-keyboard combination of Mike Emerson and Deanna Bogart, who doubled on tenor sax. Under normal circumstances I might have been content to stretch out in the shade and take in the remainder of their ninety-minute show, but I was drawn to the Night Club venue for an event I’d been looking forward to since the schedule came out.

Ali Ryerson and Mimi Fox

It may seem counter-intuitive to be seeking quietude on the one afternoon that the MJF is bursting with fervor; I suppose Tim Jackson could have scheduled the duo of flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox at some other time. Perhaps the crowd might have been a little larger – by the end it probably was around 60% of capacity at a festival where crowded venues were the norm – but those who were there couldn’t have been more appreciative.  Mimi Fox is a splendid player – she has an air of confidence, like a tennis player striking one well-placed rally after another, never a false step or a wasted note. She isn’t recorded nearly enough – her Perpetually Hip double CD of 2006 is the latest. And she found a perfect duet partner in Ryerson, who has worked in many formats, alternating between the standard flute and the alto. Fox set a bluesy tone in the opening, her composition “Blues For Two,” and from there Ryerson picked up the alto for a sparkling “Summertime.”  Their interweaving on “Alone Together” brought memories of the famous Jim Hall/Ron Carter duo. Fox alluded to some personal challenges in her composition “This Bird Still Flies,” and you could only hope they had waned – certainly her playing still shines. Ryerson took the lead on a stunning “My One And Only Love,” punctuated by the Thunderbirds F-16 flyover.  Most of the crowd knew this was coming, but by the sixth one, it took the consummate grace of Ryerson and Fox to rescue the intimacy of the moment. They closed with Jobim’s “Triste,” with Fox artfully tapping chordal backdrops to Ryerson’s melodic riffs.

Trombone Shorty

So I missed the first half of Trombone Shorty’s triumphant return to the Arena, where he had laid waste to the entire festival two years ago, starting a campaign that ended at the Garden Stage far into the afternoon. He was feted with Caesarian affection by the packed arena. When I walked in he was in the midst of an extended visit to “St. James Infirmary,” leading his band, featuring guitarist Pete Murano and bassist Mike Ballard. Combined with the horns of Mike McFatter and Dan Ostreicher, it is an awe-inspiring combination of funk and showmanship. Shorty, aka Troy Andrews, played a piercing trumpet solo as he segued into Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman,” which had some great tenor work by McFatter. But mostly it was supreme showmanship, with Shorty out front and drummer Joey Peebles maintaining the groove.  If the Monterey Jazz Festival was a small country, Trombone Shorty could be Emperor without much trouble. (We should keep him away from Kurt Vonnegut novels).

Judi Roberts

A short interlude before the evening performances brought me to the tiny Courtyard Stage, where pianist/vocalist Judy Roberts and tenor/flutist Greg Fishman held forth for a series of half-hour performances. If you are a Chicagoan wondering where your fellow country-people have been, stop by because they all show up for Judy.  I am admittedly biased here, but listening to her and Greg’s spirited version of “Centerpiece,” or her wonderful interpretation of “Night Moves,” brings back memories of the Backroom, and the non-Chicagoans shared in the delight.

Michael Wolff

The evening brought three much anticipated performances, and apologies to Bill Frisell, whose commissioned piece I missed. But I have been a huge Cal Tjader fan from the first time I heard his rich vibes tone incorporating the Afro-Cuban and Latin rhythms of Dizzy Gillespie and Mongo Santamaria. When Tjader died suddenly in 1982, the music seemed to go with him, despite a nice legacy album from conguero Poncho Sanchez. So when superb pianist Michael Wolff, who played with Tjader at the age of 19 in the early 70’s, got the go ahead to put together a Cal Tjader Tribute Band, I knew it would be something special. The band was superb, with a rhythm section of John Santos and Pete Escovedo on congas and timbales, Vince Lateano on percussion and Robb Fisher on bass. Warren Wolf took the Tjader chair on vibes and did a terrific job. No one can really imitate Cal Tjader – if it was that easy, someone would have done it by now.  Wolf’s style is slightly more percussive, but he has the zest and passion for the music that comes out with every stroke of the mallets. The group began with Ray Bryant’s “Cuban Fantasy,” with Wolff and Escovedo trading solos in back of Warren Wolf’s bright melodic line.  So much of this material is treasured by Tjader fans that you simply sit back and listen to this group take off and fly with it. Warren Wolf shone on Mongo’s “Afro-Blue,” and Michael Wolff took the lead on his own combination “Sad Eyes,” from the Tambu album with Charlie Byrd.  Wolf’s vibes are clearly the dominant force in a Tjaderized setting, but Michael Wolff’s piano was bubbling throughout. Everything shone in this set – the classic “A Night In Tunisia” featured a blazing crescendo by Warren Wolf. At about this time I realized time was fleeting, and the group wouldn’t get through the entire agenda. They closed with Tjader’s classic “Soul Sauce,” Michael Wolff slipping over to the Fender Rhodes for a Joe Zawinul-inspired solo before handing the baton back to Warren Wolff for the familiar vibes roll that became Cal’s signature. It was clearly an unforgettable set.

Jac DeJohnette

I moved back to the Arena for the last two sets of the evening, which were both triumphant in their own way. Jack DeJohnette led (if that’s the word) a trio with Pat Metheny and Christian McBride. The three of them explored rhythms and melodies – no titles were announced — and by this time my mind overloaded as I tried to sort out familiar lines. It was improvisational jazz at its best, kind of an acoustic avant-garde, wandering off here and there but never inaccessible. DeJohnette has a crisp style that keeps your attention, and Metheny has a unique presentation. Even when he is not playing any of his well-known pieces, his presence is clearly felt. McBride, of course, is the perfect foil, pulsating from behind, and then moving in front when the mood strikes. The one tune I could put a label on was Miles Davis’ “Solar,” which they wove into an expressive piece that Miles would surely have appreciated (though that is always assuming a lot).

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett closed the show and all I can say is, Google “sublime” and you ought to get his name for the first ten pages. At 86 he makes few concessions to age – he speaks a few lyrics that he used to croon, that’s about it – but his interpretive powers and rich tone haven’t diminished. The standards seem fresh as the Monterey breeze (albeit there was a distinct chill in the air).  You can reel them off as he did: “They All Laughed,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” just to name a few.  Lee Musiker is a terrific pianist and Musical Director, the great Harold Jones was on drums, Marshall Wood on bass and Gary Sargent on guitar was wonderful as the featured soloist. Bennett kept the songs mostly short with the occasional bow to his sidemen. The audience was adoring, and when he closed the set with Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” and “Fly Me To The Moon,” he had accomplished much the same as Trombone Shorty, and if it wasn’t the exact same crowd, there was plenty in common.

Photos courtesy  of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

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

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


Live Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival Notebook; Day #1

September 22, 2012

By Michael Katz

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

Mulgrew Miller

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

Tammi Brown

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

Jack DeJohnette

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

Gregoire Maret

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

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

Gregory Porter

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

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

Photos courtesy  of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

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

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


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