Live Jazz: A Christmas Card to the Sensational Sidemen of Paul McDonald’s Big Band

December 20, 2012

By Norton Wright

A jazzhead pal living in Europe just e-mailed me asking if he could find some big-band jazz in America when he comes vacationing this summer. Without hesitation I replied that lucky for us Los Angelinos, L.A. has become the nation’s showplace center for an abundance of jazz orchestras. Our treasures include Gerald Wilson, Gordon Goodwin, Johnny Mandel, Bill Holman, Poncho Sanchez, Tom Kubis, Bob Mintzer, Bill Cunliffe, Ron Jones, Johnny Vana, Pat Longo, et al. So it was no surprise a week or so ago that Vitello’s was ground zero for the explosive ensemble output of Paul McDonald’s Big Band playing both a 2pm and 5pm set.

In a show saluting the works of great jazz arrangers, this 13-piece orchestra was so swinging and exact in handling the array of challenging charts that it makes this writer question the accuracy of the sometimes-used phrase “sidemen.” With the Paul McDonald Big Band, “all-stars” would be a more appropriate description.

Every one of these band members delivered extraordinary performances in both ensemble work and soloing, and the result was the groovy, multi-layered jazz tapestry of sound and tempos that marks the excellence of a BIG band’s brass, woodwind, and percussion sections.

The Paul McDonald Big Band

The Paul McDonald Big Band

Kicking off the show, the multi-talented bandleader & pianist Paul McDonald led his troops through a rousing, 7-minute intro with his own up-tempo arrangements of “This Can’t Be Love” and “Sink or Swim”. Showmanship was at the fore as Eric “The Viking” Jorgensen, brandishing his Chinese-red trombone, rose and soloed with abandon, his challenge answered by a ferocious trumpet section headed by Jon Papenbrook and featuring  crackling-fast soloing by Jeff Jarvis (so reminiscent of the powerful exactitude of the late Lee Morgan!).  Then Barbara Loronga put us all away with a flugelhorn solo so mellow it sounded like a mix of  bourbon and honey.

Singer Bonnie Bowden, lissome in black glitter and tights, joined the set with her up-tempo “I Love Being Here With You.” Up next, the Nelson Riddle arrangement of the ballad, “Unforgettable,”featuring the blissed-out tenor sax soloing of Dean Roubicek, who later doubled on clarinet with his compatriots, first alto sax and flute Gary Herbig and second alto & flutist Darrell Winseman, for a romp through “Here Comes Santa Claus” anchored by baritone saxist, Ken Fisher. What a woodwind section!

One of the joys of Vitello’s is that there are so many jazz greats in the audiences, as well as on stage.  At this performance, legendary saxophonist Dave Pell was nodding knowing approval of the band’s sax section; Jack Redmond toe-tapped along to the band’s trombone leader Paul Young and the intense chops of the band’s bass trombonist Paul Rivera; and Roger Kellaway was so into the show’s groove that he joined Bowden on stage to accompany her on piano in his new composition, “A Place You Want to Call Home” with lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman.

The McDonald Band continued on, lighting up arrangements by Tom Kubis (“Let It Snow”), Patrick Williams (“Cry Me A River” and  “Livin’ The Canary Life”), and John Clayton (“You Are So Beautiful”).  The charmingly casual Bowden then joined the audience to just enjoy the show, as Paul McDonald took his band through his own arrangement of “West Side Story” tunes driven by the band’s powerhouse drummer, Dave Tull, as at home in 4/4 as in the wiggy, mixed 6/8 & 3/4 meter of Leonard Bernstein’s semi-habanera, “I Like To Be In America”:

Finally, no big band can cook without a solid and inventive bass player, and it was young, acoustic bassist, Cooper Appelt, who provided a mainstay of rhythmic and harmonic support for his McDonald Big Band colleagues – and especially in his unison accompaniment of Bowden’s stratospheric scatting on Don Menza’s arrangement of “I Just Found Out About Love” and Sammy Nestico’s chart for “Just Friends.”

The set ended with the timely finale of a jazzy  arrangement by Dave Wolpe of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and the audience rose in standing ovation for this all-out, 80-minute show, not by sidemen, but by the best in the business. Los Angeles is fortunate to have such and wishes each and every one of them a Happy and Much Appreciated New Year!

To read more posts by Norton Wright, click HERE.

Live Jazz: Bonnie Bowden and Bill Jones at Leisure Village, Camarillo

October 19, 2012

By Norton Wright

New to the L.A. jazz scene is the all-singing, intensely swinging, dynamic duo of “Bonnie & Bill.” That’s Grammy-nominated Bonnie Bowden and songster Bill Jones of Fox TV’s Glee staging their own jazz show of over 20 songs backed by Pat Longo’s Hollywood Big Band last weekend at the Leisure Village Auditorium in Camarillo. It’s rare to have a boy-girl twosome singing front and center for an entire show. John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey come to mind, but Bonnie & Bill perform on a larger scale in that they have a gigantor-sounding, big, swing band fueling their singing for over 75-minutes of up-tempos and ballads from the Great American Songbook.

Bonnie Bowden

In the past, it was always an exciting change of pace when a big jazz orchestra brought out a star singer to do one or two numbers in a set. Think of the Stan Kenton band bringing out Chris Connor for “Jeepers Creepers” or Count Basie punctuating his set with Joe Williams wailing “Every Day I Have The Blues”.

What makes the Bonnie Bowden-Bill Jones duo different and unique is that they’re the stars of their show throughout, constantly gracing the stage and leading their big-band pals through jazz vocals at their best.

With vivacity and movie-star looks, Bonnie & Bill kicked off their show with “Ain’t We Got Fun”, segued into “Till The End Of Time” (Bill singing in English, Bonnie countering in Spanish), and Bonnie tagged the medley with “I Love Being Here With You.” Taking a cue from Andrea Marcovicci’s cabaret chats, Bowden introduced her songs with some choice historical tid-bits:

Was it really Dinah Washington who first had the hit, “I Just Found Out About Love And I Like It” (some of us thought it was Deedles and Basie!). Was Doris Day really only 19-years-old when she sang “Sentimental Journey” with the Les Brown Band  — back in 1944! ).

And Bowden paced herself well, swinging with ease through “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” and “Just Friends” and then wrapping up both with her torrid and signature scatting into the musical stratosphere.

Bill A. Jones

Bill Jones is a Renaissance Man, deftly handling master of ceremonies patter, delivering ballads like “Come Rain Or Come Shine” and  “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (and melding this rendition with a fine trombone solo by the band’s Jack Redmond).  Belting Bobbie Darin-fashion through “Mack The Knife.”   Giving the Longo Band  its own solo on  Sy Oliver’s “Opus One” with powerhouse breaks by trumpet ace Carl Saunders and tenor saxist Dean Roubicek.  And joining Bowden in a well-chosen closing duet of “Something’s Gotta Give” and a rollicking “Just A Gigolo” recalling another dynamic singing duo, Louis Prima and Keely Smith. In addition, Jones was the producer of the show, bringing Pat Longo’s high-energy band to the festivities and adding a giant projection screen adjacent to the proscenium stage to provide close-ups of the performance to all 600 seats in the auditorium.

Though it may be that there are only a few venues in Los Angeles large enough to host the “Bonnie & Bill” show with its big-band entourage, there are markets that enterprising L.A. jazz groups can find if they are willing to foray out to auditoriums, community centers, senior villages, and other locales such as Leisure Village in Camarillo, The American Legion Post in Woodland Hills, The Gardens Of The World in Conejo Valley,  The Arthur Newman Theater in Palm Desert, The Mission Courtyard in San Juan Capistrano, and the like.

HAVE JAZZ, WILL TRAVEL! is the idea.

P.S. Plaudits to bandleader Pat Longo and his Hollywood Big Band all of whom swing with exactitude and passion and who soared right along with “Bonnie & Bill”. The band members are:

Pat Longo, Dr. Thom Mason, Dean Roubicek, Lanny “Pete” Aplanalp, saxophones, Carl Saunders, Jeff Kaye, Ira Pete DeSiena, trumpets, Ira Nepus, Jack Redmond, Robbie Hioki, trombones, Ben DiTosti, electric piano, Jeff Takiguchi, bass, Steve Pemberton drums, Rob Holt, band assistant and roadie.

To read more posts by and about Norton Wright, click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 4 – 9

October 3, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Patti Lupone

– Oct. 4. (Tues.) Patti Lupone. The versatile, two-time Tony Award winning artist presents “Gypsy in My Soul,” a set of songs illuminating her life on and off stage.  Royce Hall.    (310) 825-2101.

– Oct. 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Further (Phil Lesh and Bob Weir)  The spirit of the Grateful Dead still lives in the playing of Lesh and Weir.  Expect to hear familiar classics and experience an irresistible Grateful Dead jam.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– Oct. 6. (Thurs.) Patty AscherBossa, Jazz ‘n’ Samba.  Sao Paulo’s Ascher lays it all out in the title of her approach to Brazilian music.  Richly experienced in both Brazilian music and jazz, she combines the two in her own uniquely appealing fashion.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave. Trombone Shorty (who also plays scintillating trumpet) has brought Hollywood Bowl crowds to their feet at Playboy Jazz Festivals.  Here’s a chance to experience that energy up close and personal.  The El Rey.    (323) 936-6400.

– Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Fabiana Passoni. It’s a great night for Brazilian music in L.A.  Passoni has survived challenging health problems to establish a fascinating, utterly unique blend of Brazilian and American musical forms.   Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Tamela D’Amico with the Pat Longo Big Band.  Multi hyphenate D’Amico – a jazz singer, actress, director and producer – takes a break from her other activities to display her appealing interpretations of American songbook classics, backed by Longo’s stirring big band charts.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.  A pair of country music’s iconic figures get together for a rare and, no doubt, wonderful tour through their well known classics.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Kevin Mahogany.  At a time when male jazz singers have been in relatively short supply, Mahogany continues to apply his rich sound and easygoing swing to everything he sings.  Culver’s Club for JazzAt the Double Tree L.A. Westside Hotel.   (310) 649-1776 Ext. 4137.

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Amanda McBroom and Lee Lessack.  A classic night of cabaret, at its very best.  McBroom’s expressive storytelling finds the inner heart of everything she sings; Lessack adds appealing interpretations from his own, different, but appealing perspective.  Ford Amphitheatre.  (323) 461-3673.

– Oct. 9. (Sun.)  Josh Nelson & Pat Senatore Duo.  An intriguing cross generational encounter, between pianist Nelson’s vibrant, thoughtful style and Senatore’s richly mature foundation.  Call it an evening of deep musicality. Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Oct. 5. (Wed.)  Mingus Amungus.  Bay area-based Mingus Amungus continue to be one of the most effective celebrants of Charles Mingus’ music, bringing it to life in a way that would surely have pleased Mingus himself.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Baaba Maal

– Oct. 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Baaba Maal.  Senegalese master Maal performs an unplugged and impromptu set of his music, after a discussion of his life and times with music journalist Chris Salewicz.  Yoshi’s Oakland.  /show/2112  (510) 238-9200.


– Oct. 6 – 9.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Family Stone.  Original members of Sly & the Family Stone revive some of the biggest hits of the seventies – “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Everyday People” and “Dance to the Music” among them.  Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.


– Oct. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Eric Alexander with the Harold Mabern Quartet. Hard-driving, intensely articulate saxophonist Alexander finds the right backing for his powerful style in pianist Mabern.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

– Oct. 4 – 9. (Tues. – Sun.) Italian Jazz Days.  The Anthony Ciacca Quintet. One of the highlights of a weeklong celebration of the prominent role Italian jazz musicians have played in the expansion of contemporary jazz.  With trumpeter Dominic Farinacci, saxophonist George Garzone, guitarist Steve Kirby and Special GuestsDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

– Oct. 7 – 9. (Fri. – Sun.)  Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart. An All-Star Organ trio would be the proper label for this impressive group of young players, as they bring new delights to one of jazz’s classic instrumental formats.  Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

Washington D.C.

Roy Hargrove

– Oct. 5 – 9. (Wed. – Sun.)  The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Grammy-winning trumpeter Hargrove’s busy schedule reaches from his big band to solo outings.  And, especially, to his excursions across the length of contemporary jazz with his own quintet.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.


– Oct. 7 & 8. (Fri. & Sat.)  Robert Glasper. Pianist Glasper has established himself as a musical voice capable of reaching across genre boundaries to attract young audiences to jazz.  His current group features Derrick Hodge, bass, with Mark Colenburg, drums.  The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.


– Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Pat Martino. Guitarist Martino had to literally learn to play his instrument again after a brain aneurysm in 1980.  Incredibly, he did so with astonishing success, thoroughly establishing himself as one of the principal creative voices among the large array of contemporary jazz guitarists.  New Morning.  01 45 23 51 41.


Carol Welsman

– Oct. 4. (Tues.)  Carol Welsman with Ken Peplowski and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Pianist/singer Welsman is a superb jazz artist in her own right. Here, she takes a different role, performing many of Peggy Lee’s familiar Swing Era hits with the Goodman Orchestra.  Nakano Sun Plaza.   03 3388 2893.

– Oct. 6 – 8. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Tania Maria.  Grammy-nominated, Brazil-born singer/pianist Maria has been a dynamic figure in the crossover area between jazz and Brazilian music since the ‘70s.  And she’s still going strong.  Blue Note Tokyo.    03 5485 0088.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers