Picks of the Week in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, London, Copenhagen and Tokyo

March 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer

– Mar. 23 & 24 (Mon. & Tues.) Manhattan Transfer and Take 6.  The two most masterful vocal ensembles of the past few decades get together for the first time. No wonder it’s called “The Summit” as they perform at the start of a national tour. Catalina Bar & Grill .

(323) 466-2210.

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) The London Philharmonic conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with pianist Yuja Wang. Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Bitten’s Four Sea Interludes. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Sue Raney. She’s been receiving accolades for her singing sine she was a teen-ager, and Sue Raney is as dynamic and musically compelling as she was shen she first stepped on stage. Sue’s celebrating the release of her album, Late in Life.        Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

– Mar. 27 (Fri.) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio. A musical encounter not to be missed. Sheppard is one of the jazz world’s most versatile,saxophonists, and equally gifted on clarinet and flute. He’ll be backed by bassist Senatore’s equally adept rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400

–  Mar. 27. (Fri.) George Benson. Hitmaker singer/guitarist Benson is always entertaining, always disovering new jazz territories. Expect to hear some familiar songs. Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

Art Pepper

Art Pepper

– Mar. 27. (Fri.) An All Star Celebration of Art Pepper. With Richie Cole, Doug Webb, Don Shelton, Gaspare Pasini, the Art Pepper Quartet Reunion and more. Presented by Ken Poston’s West Coast Jazz Heritage Series. Hermosa Beach Community Theatre. Reservations: (562) 200-5477.

Seattle

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Great Guitars! Featuring Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pisano and Mundell Lowe. “Great Guitars” doesn’t begin to describe this encounter between such Olympian players. Don’t miss this one; it’s a true musical rarity. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.

New York City

 

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– Mar. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.) James Moody 90th Birthday. Saxophonist/singer Moody was a much loved and honored jazz artist. He was also a friend to almost everyone he met. So it’s no surprise that this tribute has attracted such stellar participants. Featured peformers include Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Carter, Antonio Hart, Russle Malone, Randy Brecker, Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, Janis Siegel and more. Call the club for schedules. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

London

– Mar. 24 – 26. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Bireli Lagrene Gypsy Project. Gypsy jazz at its best. Calling up memories of Django Reinhardt and the unque, swinging improvisational style he brought to the jazz world. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

– Mar. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat. Rosa Passos Quartet. Passos is one of the true blenders of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. She’s been doing it a long time, and she still does better than most. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94

Tokyo

Gerald Albright

Gerald Albright

 

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) Gerald Albright. Name a jazz genre and Gerald Albright can play it convincingly.  And he’s equally adept as an instrumentalist, moving easily from world class saxophone playing to bass, keyboards,, vocals and more.  Don’t miss him in action.  Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music: Caesar Jazz Balladeer at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

February 12, 2015

By James DeFrances

Los Angeles.  Last Thursday at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Caesar Jazz Balladeer caught the attention of clubbers in a new way. His angle on the standards was as unique as his proximity to Los Angeles. Only in town for Grammy festivities, Caesar – who lives in Rhode Isand – left his mark on the Southland in the form of three separate performances throughout the course of the Award show weekend.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Pat Senatore

He kicked off his weekend of musical happenings with this night at Vibrato. At first the crowd was thin, but the room filled up quickly and the audience was ever attentive.

Caesar began by explaining on stage how this night almost actually didn’t happen due to a cold medicine snafu he encountered the night before which resulted in an emergency room visit. But ever a resilient fighter, Caesar managed to make a full and speedy recovery with the help of epinephrine. And everyone seemed pleased that he not only was feeling better, but was up on stage doing his favorite thing, performing.

Speaking of the performance, I just couldn’t help but think of how much Nat “King” Cole must have inspired Caesar. There were hints of Cole in Caesar’s body language, his phrasing and above all his set list. Songs like “Nature Boy”, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Mona Lisa” and “Unforgettable” were just a few of his odes to the memory of the late, great Cole.

As my date Bria and I dined on some tasty pine nut-infused bow tie pasta, we watched Caesar accelerate through some of the great classics and standards from the Great American songbook of the 20th century. And with the help of his wireless microphone he was able to make close contact with all corners of the room, a tactic I have only ever seen Robert Davi employ at Vibrato.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Tom Ranier, Pat Senatore, Kendall Kay and Alex Otey.

Caesar’s warm and friendly vocals and permanent smile made him hard to resist. Backed up by Tom Rainier at the piano, Pat Senatore on bass, Kendall Kay on drums and Alex Otey on trumpet, the only direction for him to go was up. And that was what he did!

It was a night of positivity, fine music, great food and looking ahead to the Grammy festivities. Caesar’s new album which is on sale now — titled “Jazz Standards for Today’s Audience” – is a must have for your collection!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


Live Jazz: The John Proulx Trio at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

January 10, 2015

By James DeFrances

Bel Air, CA.  Piano legends from years gone by came to mind during John Proulx’s show Tuesday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc. If you’d have blinked you may have thought Art Tatum or Thelonious Monk were caressing the mighty grand piano on that stage.

Proulx’s emotive playing style is a quality that few other pianists possess today. It’s as if each lick he played had a deeper meaning attached. Such grace was on display and supported superbly by Pat Senatore on stand up bass and Matt Gordy at the drum kit.

John Proulx

John Proulx

At times Proulx even lent his soft and mellow tenor vocals to certain tunes, but more often than not the songs were sans lyrics. And I’m talking straight ahead jazz here, applied to songs such as Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” and Van Heusen and Mercer’s “I Thought About You.” If Quincy Jones were reviewing this show he’d probably have said that Proulx was “in the pocket, man.”

Perhaps the crowd favorite of the evening, one shared by myself as well, was “The Frim-Fram Sauce,” a cover of the Nat “King” Cole Trio’s famous jazz standard. Proulx had fun with Frim-Fram and really swung it enthusiastically while playfully tossing around the comedic lyrics, much to the crowd’s delight. Another notable part of the show occurred during “My Funny Valentine,” when each band member had a chance to play an elongated solo.

John Proulx, Pat Senatore and Matt Gordy

Bassist Senatore got creative during his segment and played what may well have been the best solo I’ve seen him play to date on a unique looking, all black wooden bass, which even appeared to have a suede material on the front! The longest tune of the night was undoubtedly “Alone Together” with Proulx’s expert arrangement exploring many different concepts within the song seamlessly, and it may well have ended too soon.

Proulx’s elegant playing style, confident demeanor and well picked set list of rare jazz gems made this night something to write home about. This being my first time seeing John Proulx live I can certainly say I will be jumping at the chance to see him again, as I’m sure everyone in the audience would do as well!

Photos by James DeFrances.

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To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


Live Music: Freda Payne at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

December 27, 2014

By James DeFrancis

Bel Air, CA. Last Tuesday night Pat Senatore, artistic director of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc…, sardonically told me, “Christmas week is a big time for malls, not jazz clubs.” But as the lights dimmed and I looked around the room it occurred to me that something was altogether different about this holiday night’s show. Why?

Enter Freda Payne. Payne is the warmly toned r&b vocalist often remembered for her 1970 Billboard chart-topping mega hit “Band of Gold.” Payne and her entourage drew capacity level crowds for both shows on this temperate evening in Bel Air. The well-attended shows even drew industry heavyweights such as Motown Records’ founder Berry Gordy Jr. and actor Billy Dee Williams.

Payne was a bold presence in her bright red gown and fantastically done golden brown hair. On this night she was backed by a trio led by veteran pianist Christian Jacob. She employed a diverse set list ranging from holiday tunes and jazz standards to rhythm and blues numbers from decades gone by.  She opened the show with a punchy, forward moving version of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to.” Clearly inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, Payne went on to sing a heart-wrenching rendition of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.” Also on the agenda were jazz mainstays“Aurora Borealis” and “You Don’t Know Me.”

Later in the program she said “It’s almost Christmas and we should do something for the holidays,” thereby bringing her sister Scherrie Payne (of the Supremes) up to the stage to sing two holiday duets, including the tender, crowd pleasing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

In my opinion, the musical pinnacle of the evening took place when Payne pulled a song out of her repertoire that she had done some years ago for an actor’s benefit at the Pantages Theatre.

The song is called “Fifty Percent” (from the musical Ballroom). And it belongs to the longer category of tunes, very much a story-like soliloquy for the audience. Payne poured all of her vocal caresses into the number and it really showed. “She’s still got the pipes!” muttered a man standing next to me as he applauded.

As the evening began to draw to a close anxious fans were shouting “Band of Gold!” to which Payne fired back “You wanna hear Band of Gold, huh?” But she wasn’t quite ready. First she needed to address the crowd’s adoration by aiming a song directly at them, choosing “How Sweet It Is.” In the end she wrapped it with an extended version of “Band of Gold” stopping near the final phrases to thank everyone in the audience for coming out, before proceeding into a climactic chorus.

The roaring crowd couldn’t get enough. And, if Vibrato had a large enough seating capacity, I’m sure most patrons would have stuck around for both shows. And, really, what more can a performer ask of an audience? Freda Payne was a musical delight.

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Photos by James DeFrances.


Live Music: Anna Mjoll At Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 13, 2014

By James deFrances

What do jazz standards, Iceland and Bel Air have in common? Simple…the answer is the dynamic blonde haired Iceland-born diva Anna Mjoll. Last Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., Mjoll crooned to a thoroughly filled house of diners and jazz enthusiasts alike. Only a day after Alpert and his wife Lani Hall played two sold out shows Mjoll managed to keep the blood flowing for a third consecutive night.

Her show ranged from light moving ballads to hard-driving bossa nova tunes. Impeccably supported by the #Pat Senatore trio, Mjoll did the Great American Songbook right.

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Her voice possesses an airy, relaxed quality which makes the music even easier to digest. Her vibrato (no pun intended) is on tap when she needs it and her phrasing is uniquely her own. In between songs she keeps the audience in check by telling stories, asking questions and cracking jokes.

She asked the audience to say hello to her mother from Iceland, who was seated in the first row and only in town for the weekend. “I wish you would move to California,” exclaimed Mjoll. Mother and daughter maintained a lighthearted banter throughout  the entirety of the show.

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Before singing “Taking A Chance On Love,” she reflected on her many marriages and philosophized on love. Perhaps the highlight of the evening, however, was when she sang “Nature Boy” with only bassist Pat Senatore’s accompaniment. She dedicated the song to Senatore, whom she said is the only man who never let’s her down. Also on the list Friday night were songs like “Come Fly With Me,” “Smile” and “Imagination.” For Mjoll who has a busy calendar it was just one of those nights and her closing tune appropriately enough was “Just One Of Those Things.”

But the large audience who remained long after she took her final bow was a sign of a job well done. Those who stayed late enough even got to hear the Senatore Trio play their “Sexy Late Night Set.” In the end, if you are looking for a night of Marilyn Monroe glamour and some hot straight ahead jazz Anna Mjoll with the Pat Senatore trio is your best ticket in town!

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Photos by James deFrances. 

 

 


Live Jazz: Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 2, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA.  Some of the best nights for jazz in Los Angeles take place on the week nights when the city’s prime jazz destinations – Catalina Bar & Grill, Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., the Blue Whale and beyond – schedule appearances by the Southland’s finest side men (and side women). By the players, in other words, who spend most of their time working as back-ups, rhythm sections and big band section players. Many of whom are also busy studio musicians, performing daily on the sound tracks for films and television, on recordings for everything from country music and the blues to jazz, pop and classical music.

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

Friday night at Vibrato was a good example. Bob Sheppard, a master of woodwind instruments of every shape and size, gave a full fledged display of his far-ranging jazz skills, backed by bassist Pat Senatore’s equally skillful trio of masterful instrumentalists (Senatore, bass; Tom Ranier, piano; Ramon Banda, drums).

At its best – which was throughout the entire set – the music had the laid back, spontaneous creativity of a jam session. And with good reason. Sheppard and the Senatore trio players have plenty of familiarity with each other, in all sorts of musical settings. And a relaxed, laid back gig in the amiable environs of Vibrato’s jazz-friendly setting allowed plenty of room for the music to flow freely.

With good reason, Sheppard was at the center of it all. And watching him proceed from one instrument to the other was not just a display of versatile technique. It was also an opportunity to enjoy the work of a masterful jazz artist – one who hasn’t yet received the widespread recognition that his talent deserves.

Bob Sheppard

Bob Sheppard

And there was another aspect as well. Sheppard played tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and clarinet. Many multi-instrument doublers, when they shift instruments, tend to play each from the same musical perspective (despite their inherent differences). But not Sheppard. Switching easily from soprano to tenor, for example, he was always firmly in touch with the unique qualities of each – and so, too, for his approach to the flute and the clarinet. The results were compelling, a fascinating display of imaginative versatility.

Sheppard and the Senatore Trio played their way through an appealing program: some floating bossa nova, airy flute sounds on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave”; lyrical soprano saxophone on “In Your Own Sweet Way”; hard driving tenor on “Easy Living”; a pairing of “Perdido” with “I Want To Be Happy.” And a lot more.

An evening, in other words, that was a reminder of how much fine jazz can be heard on any given week night in the Southland. Check the informative calendar of LA Jazz  and you’ll find something appealing on virtually every night.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Week: October 27 – November 2

October 27, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Pisano

John Pisano

– Oct. 28. (Tues.) Guitar Night with John Pisano. Like all of John Pisano’s Guitar Nights, this week’s features a world class assemblage of players: in addition to Pisano, you’ll hear guitarist Barry Zweig, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Tim Pleasant. Viva Cantina.  (818) 845-2425.

– Oct. 28,. (Tues.) The Hagen Quartet. The much honored string quartet, which includes three siblings, makes a rare Southland appearance. They’ll perform quartets by Mozart, Shostakovich and Brahms. The Samueli Theatre in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Oct. 28. (Tues.) Julie Kelly celebrates the release of her new CD Happy To Be backed by an all star band featuring Bill Cunliffe, Joe La Barbera, Anthony Wilson and Bob Sheppard with guest vocalist John Proulx. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz

– Oct. 31. (Fri.) Something Cool: Celebrating Jazz Sounds of the Cool School. The Los Angeles Jazz Institute presents another of their immensely entertaining vistas of broad areas of jazz, This time the event encompasses four areas of cool jazz: Woody Herman and the Four Brothers sound: the music of Lennie Tristano and his Disciples; The Birth of the Cool and its participants; and West Coast Cool. The stellar list of participants is topped by the iconic Lee Konitz as Special Guest of Honor. The programs take pace at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. Something Cool. The L.A. Jazz Institute  (562) 200- 5477.

– Oct. 30. (Thurs.) John Proulx Trio. Pianist Proulx is a prime instrumentalist. And he is now matching that skill with his engaging work as a jazz vocalist. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Oct. 30. – Nov. 2.) (Thurs. – n. ) The Los Angeles PhilharmonicMozart and Beethoven, Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Oct. 31. (Fri,) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio featuring Josh Nelson. In a week in which Southland music stages are filled with stellar instrumentalists, here’s one not to miss, with an up front saxophone stylings from Sheppard, and briskly swinging rhythm section work from Senatore’s Trio (featuring Nelson). Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Jackie Ryan

Jackie Ryan

– Nov. 1. (Sat,) Jackie Ryan featuring saxophonist Rickey Woodard. Although she’s one of the finest of vocal artists in the contemporary jazz scene, Jackie’s appearances in Southern California are far too rare. And she’ll be backed by Rickey Woodard’s fine tenor work. So don’t miss this one. A Jazz Bakery event at the Musicians Institute. (310) 271-9039.

– Nov. 1 & 2. (Sat. & Sun.) Helen Reddy. Australian-born Reddy was called “Queen of Pop” in the ’70s for her success in releasing hit songs. Two of the best-known are “I Am Woman” and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” She’ll no doubt perform those and more of her dozens of memorable hits. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Washington D.C.

– Oct. 29 (Wed.) Maria Muldaur. Singer Muldaur’s warm voice was one of the appealing sounds of the folk revival of the early ’60s, followed bv her ’70s hit single, “Midnight at the Oasis.” And she continues her work as a contemporary exponent of all forms of Americana and roots music. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

– Oct. 28 – Nov. 1 (Tues.. – Sat.) Ron Carter Nonet. Carter’s one of the most (perhaps the most) recorded bassist in history. But he’s not often recognized for his prime skills as a composer and arranger. Here’s a chance to experience those skills up close and personal. Birdland. . (212) 581-3080.

Kenny Garrett

Kenny Garrett

– Oct. 30 – Nov. 1/ (Thurs. – Sat.) Kenny Garrett Quintet. Grammy-winning alto saxophonist Garrett has cruised the challenging territory from bop to post bop to avant-garde, playing with Duke Ellington and Miles Davis along the way. In the world of contemporary jazz saxophone, he’s the real deal. The Iridium.  (212) 582-2121.

Paris

– Oct. 31 (Fri,) Spyro Gyra. They’ve been in the vanguard of fusion and smooth jazz since they first arrived on the scene in the ’70s. But their award winning recordings are also rooted in solid mainstream skills. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

Becca Stevens

Becca Stevens

– Oct. 28. (Tues.) Becca Stevens. Eclectic singer Stevens is often identified as a jazz artist. But her considerable abilities also include a convincing facility in pop and blues, often supported by her guitar playing, A-Trane Jazz. +49 30 3132550.

Copenhagen

Ernie Wilkins Almost Big Band. Featuring vocalist Charenee Wade. St. Louis-born saxophonist/arranger/composer Wilkins spent the last decades of his life in Copenhagen, where he formed a mid-sized band., Called the “Almost Big Band” it was big enough (12 pieces) to serve as a vehicle for his adventurous arranging and composing. Since his death, the Band has continued under the direction of Nikolaj BentzonJazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

Stanley Carke– Oct. 30 & 31 (Thurs. & Fri.) The Stanley Clarke Band. Versatile bassist/bandleader Clarke has always led great ensembles of his own (when he wasn’t pairing up with Chick Corea). And he’s always been receptive to helping new talent along the way. This time out, his band features the impressive piano work of 16 year old prodigy Beka Gochiashvili from Tbilisi, Georgia. The Blue Note Milan.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

– Oct. 31 – Nov. 2. (Fri. – Sun.) Goastt (The Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger), featuring multi-instramentalists Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, was formed by Lennon (John Lennon’s son) and musician/model Muhl in 1908. But they consider Midnight Sun, released in early 2014 to be their first significant album. The duo also describe their working relationship as singers and songwriters as similar to the working relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


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