Live Jazz: “To Ella With Love” at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Patti Austin

July 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

The L.A. Philharmonic came up with a great celebration of the memory of Ella Fitzgerald at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night.

The evening began with a stirring big band salute from the always-exciting Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – an appropriate beginning, given the long association Ella had with big bands, from her early years with Chick Webb to frequent associations with the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Count Basie

Count Basie

It was additionally appropriate that most of the program was enlivened by the crisp, swinging backing of the current Count Basie Orchestra, now led by trumpeter Scotty Barnhart.

Add to that the stirring presence of singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Patti Austin. Not only are both ladies at the very top echelon of the current jazz vocalist world; they also are imaginative musical artists, fully capable of bringing the same sort of mesmerizing interpretations in their singing that were always present in Fitzgerald. Which is exactly what they did on this memorable evening.

Also present, adding the sort of musical versatility that Ella always favored,  contributing their own impressive skills, the evening’s guests included young Malaysian pop singer Yuna, the musically versatile singer Clint Holmes, pianist Shelly Berg (offering his authentic view of the Basie piano style) and drummer Gregg Field.

And, in one of the night’s most touching moments, singer Carmen Bradford tearfully recalled visiting Fitzerald’s home after Ella’s death, and discovering that her latest recording was present on Ella’s CD player. Still captivated by her feelings, Bradford then delivered an emotionally vibrant version of “I Love Being Here With You” – a highlight in an evening glowing with highlights.

Among the many other stellar moments, here are a few that will no doubt remain in the memory banks of the enthusiastic, near capacity audience:

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

– The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra only played four numbers, including “Cottontail” and “Basie/Ella Blues,” an improvised scat vocal transformed into a hard-driving big band number by John Clayton. But everything they offered provided convincing testimony of the still-vital big jazz band genre.

– The same could be said of the Count Basie Orchestra, repeatedly providing glorious memories of an era when big jazz bands and jazz vocalists represented marriages made in musical heaven.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– Dee Dee Bridgewater, as always, was masterful with every phrase she sang. And she sang a bunch, from her solo renderings of “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Mack the Knife” “Tea For Two” and “Blues in the Night” to duet pairings with Holmes on songs from “Porgy and Bess” and a soaring, scat-filled duo with Austin on the Fitzgerald classic, “Mr. Paganini.”

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

– Patti Austin was equally versatile, equally articulate musically. In addition to her duet with Bridgewater, she paired with Holmes on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Her solo moments (with the Basie Orchestra backing) glowed on “Satin Doll,” “Them There Eyes” and “I’m Beginnig to See the Light.” And Austin was the chosen voice to recall Fitzgerald with the unforgettable classic, “A Tisket A Tasket.”

– The less familiar guest vocalists made their own engaging tributes to Ella. In addition to his duos, Holmes scatted with tons of swing and enthusiasm on “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” and Yuna added a personal touch to “You’ve Changed” and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me.”

As I said earlier, it was a memorable night, surely one that touched the heart strings (and the rhythm strings) of Ella Fitzgerald’s many fans.

So, kudos to the L.A. Phil for its marvelously entertaining tribute to the “First Lady of Song.”


Live Jazz: Highlights from the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl

June 17, 2014

By Devon Wendell

So it’s that time again folks; another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. As most of us know, the first rule when attending the festival is that we pissed off jazz enthusiasts must check our inner jazz- purist at the security gate before the festivities begin because you could actually count the number of true jazz acts on one hand at most over the two days.

Although looking for real jazz at The Playboy Festival has increasingly become like searching for sushi at a Southern barbecue restaurant, there was plenty of jazz-influenced music such as funk/fusion, jazz/fusion, Rock/fusion, jazz/funk/rock/fusion, Latin jazz, and even enough modern R&B and pop to make the Grammy people jump for joy.

So let’s get started. Here are my Playboy Jazz Festival highlights for both Saturday, June 14th, and Sunday, June 15th.


Who would have thought that actor Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas could actually swing in a jump blues format? Not me until I heard Fargas’ The New Jump Blues Band perform as the opening act of Saturday’s program. Fargas and his band ran through such jump blues classics as “Keep On Churnin’,” “All She Wants To Do Is Mambo” and “Train Kept A Rollin’.” Fargas shared vocals with Adrian Battle and Airreal Watkins. The horn section consisting of Bill Ungerman on tenor sax, Jim Jediken on baritone sax and clarinet, and Javier Gonzales on trumpet swung hard enough that they would have made Jump blues pioneers Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, and Tiny Bradshaw proud. Fargas’ confident vocals, dance moves, and overall stage presence went perfectly with the music and mood.

This was pure jump blues delivered with love and dedication.

Allen Stone

Allen Stone

Although Allen Stone looked like another pseudo-hippie burn out on Venice Beach, this Washington State born son of a preacher delivered a powerful set of gospel-inflected soul and country rock. Stone could go from sounding like Prince on R&B burners like “Love,” and “Say So” to a more Black Crows Southern fried rock on songs such as “Voodoo” and “Mama.” Stone is an astoundingly powerful vocalist. Stone’s band rocked, especially Greg Ehrlich’s rollicking Hammond B3 chops, and Trevor Larkin’s screaming blues guitar leads. Stone is a fresh new presence in the rock world and proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The second Kenny Barron and Ravi Coltrane took the Bowl stage and started playing it was like a breath of fresh air. Finally some actual jazz! And this was the real thing from the first note of Barron’s “And Then Again” which was pure bebop in the realm of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” Ravi Coltrane’s tenor sax work was soulful, daring, and it was evident that he has done his homework and truly respects this music. This was certainly the case on the Thelonious Monk classic “Ask Me Now” which brought to mind Joe Henderson’s version.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Coltrane’s angular tenor lines unraveled in a beautiful and dynamic fashion. Barron’s masterful piano on Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” was closer to McCoy Tyner and the late great Cedar Walton than Monk’s approach to piano, though there were plenty of Monk-like voicings on the piece entitled “Calypso.” Jonathan Blake’s melodic bop drumming paid homage to Max Roach and Roy Haynes, and Kiyoshi Kittigawa was magnificent on bass. This was one of the festival’s finest moments. Everyone was swinging hard and having true musical conversations.

The Playboy Jazz Festival always includes some real New Orleans music in its program and nothing could be more authentic than seeing legendary New Orleans pianist Henry Butler with trumpeter Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9. This was the real deal. Bernstein and Butler got together to form this band after Butler moved from New Orleans to Brooklyn. I’ve never heard pure New Orleans music like this in a live setting, which combined big band swing, Dixieland jazz, blues, and New Orleans funk.

Henry Butler

Henry Butler

Hearing Henry Butler sing and play piano on the Jelly Role Morton classic “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” was a real treat and nasty in all the best ways. Bernstein on trumpet along with Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Charlie Burnham on violin, Doug Wieselman on E-flat clarinet and tenor sax, Peter Apfelbaum on tenor & soprano saxes, and Erik Lawrence on baritone and soprano sax, all demonstrated just how modern, adventurous, and endlessly valid composer’s like Fats Waller, and Jelly Role Morton still are today, long after their deaths.

Examples of this were the band’s performance of Jelly Role Morton’s “Viper Drag” and “Wolverine Blues” which sounded more avante-garde than any jazz that came out of the ‘60s.

Henry Butler played some of the greatest, most creative piano I’ve ever heard in any genre of music in my life. I could have listened to his constant flow of ideas and straight blues vocals all day long.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves is still the queen of jazz-soul. Her set at the festival was stellar. When Reeves covers another artist’s song, she owns it as she did on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” Reeves’ unique scat singing, in which she jumps from the lower register of her voice to the upper with ease and confidence, gave these classics a jazzier sultry appeal. Trumpeter Sean Jones’ was terrific, especially on the Marvin Gaye number. Reeves’ relaxed, funky sound was accentuated by her amazing band of Peter Martin on piano, Geoffrey Keezer on electric keyboards, Romero Lubanbo on guitar, and Nadia Washington on backing vocals.

Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band brought back a set of much needed jazz. Although many of the performances were marred by sound problems, Sandoval and his Big Band swung hard. Actor Andy Garcia added some tasty congas on a set which combined bebop and Latin jazz in a Big band setting with some of the finest musicians in Los Angeles.

Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron engaged in a swinging and powerful trumpet duel with Sandoval on a Dizzy Gillespie big band inspired blues. Both players were in top form, especially Sandoval who hit those high notes that players half his age struggle with.

Henry Mancini’s daughter Monica sang a few of her dad’s compositions with the band, including the Brazilian flavored “Perhaps, Perhaps.” Sandoval’s “Having Fun” was a highlight of the set. Ed Calle’s tenor sax solo weaved in and out of the arrangements by the amazing horn sections (Dan Higgins, Rusty Higgins, Bob Sheppard, Greg Huckins on saxophones, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Charlie Morrilas, Craig Gosnell on trombones, Wayne Bergeron, Gary Grant, Dan Fornero, and Jeff Bunnell on trumpets) beautifully while sticking with the thematic quality of the piece.

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

Patti Austin sat in for a few standards including an amazing reading of “Lady Be Good” in which she channeled Ella Fitzgerald’s voice in a delightfully frightening manner while the band swung hard behind her. On “Mambo Caliente” (From The Mambo Kings film) Sandoval played one of the most powerful trumpet solos I’ve ever heard him play, wailing away in the upper register with a virtuosity and command over the demanding instrument.

George Duke

George Duke

When I think of love, fun, and funk, I think of the late great George Duke. Keyboard extraordinaire and composer John Beasley put together a group of some of the greatest George Duke alumni players for an ultra-funky and loving tribute to the late master who passed away in August of last year. Although guest stars Al Jarreau, and Stanley Clarke sounded great on “Summer Breezing,” “Someday” (A duet between Al Jarreau and Dianne Reeves) and “Wild Dog,” it was the old school funk of “Dukie Stick” (With Ndugu Chancler) “Morning Sun” and “Reach For It” that were the most fun and got the Bowl crowd up and dancing. Keyboard legend Greg Phillinganes’ voice harmonized beautifully with singer Josie James on “Morning Sun” and a heartfelt version of Duke’s soul ballad masterpiece “Sweet Baby.” Bassist Bryon Miller held down the groove tightly throughout the set and Paul Jackson Jr. proved to everyone why he’s one of the best guitarists in the World on “Hot Fire.” This was truly a festival highlight.


Kicking off Sunday’s program was the legendary James Cotton. Cotton is the greatest living legend of Chicago blues harmonica. Cotton and his band (Darrell Nulisch on vocals, Tom Holland on guitar, Noel Neal on bass, and Jerry Porter on drums) played a set of straight ahead, no-nonsense Chicago blues, including such classics as Cotton’s own “How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong,” plus Muddy Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow” and Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright,” both of which Cotton had played on the original recordings with Waters and Rogers.

Things really got jumping when Cotton and his band were joined by the great Big Jay McNeely. Although McNeely is in his 80s, he sounded stronger than ever, playing some now standard blues lines on tenor sax. His voice has aged in all the best ways for a blues singer; still smooth but raw and nasty. McNeely sang about his love of the bigger ladies on “Big Fat Mama.” McNeely and Cotton traded solos and a few laughs. Unfortunately as McNeely sang his classic blues ballad “There Is Something On Your Mind,” he and the band were cut off as the stage rotated for another act. This was one of the finest moments of the day and it was sad to see these legends disrespected by being given way less time than Fantasia from American Idol, or at least it felt much shorter.

At first I didn’t know what to make of actor Jon Batiste (Star of HBO’s Treme) and his group Stay Human, joined by members of the LAUSD Beyond The Bell All District Honor Marching Band. I could tell he was a magnetic front-man and vocalist inspired by Sly Stone but he started off all over the place, combining R&B with a solo piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and Benny Goodman’s theme song “Goodbye” and a little bit of Duke Ellington tossed in. And drummer Joe Saylor reciting Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks In Beauty” before a rock version of “Saint James Infirmary.” Yes folks, this started out messy but there was a refreshingly adventurous nature to Batiste and his band as they delivered one of the most exciting moments of the day. Batiste (on melodica) ascended onto the Bowl crowd while playing “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” with Ibanda Ruhumbika on tuba, Brad Allen Williams, on banjo, Eddie Barbash on alto sax, and Jamison Ross on tambourine. The combination of instruments created a wonderful, swinging harmony in a true New Orleans style. This was one of the day’s purest and most enjoyable moments.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Although there was a lot of funk throughout Sunday’s program, especially bad fusion and rock funk by artists I chose not to cover, Dr. Lonnie Smith is still one of the most sincerely funky beings on the planet. He brought his one of a kind James Brown meets Jimmy Smith Hammond B3 style to the Bowl with a perfectly relaxed arrogance that only a true funk master can get away with. His set consisted of originals such as; “Falling In Love”, “Track 9”, and “Mama Wailer.” The horn section (Andy Gravish on trumpet, John Ellis on tenor sax, Alan Ferber on trombone, and James Marshall on baritone sax) sounded just like the JB’s of the early ‘70s with those distinct Fred Wesley inspired horn hooks. Ed Cherry’s James Nolen meets Wes Montgomery electric guitar work was the perfect match for these compositions. Smith’s syncopated B3 solos were imaginative, in fact, his playing was more complex than his compositions and arrangements which, for the most part stayed on the one chord and rarely left.

After a long day of almost no jazz, it became clear that George Benson was as close as I was going to get by the end of the night. Benson was in particularly fine form Sunday evening. One of the highlights of the entire festival this year was Benson performing his hit originally written by Leon Russell “Masquerade.” He scat sang along with an extremely intense minor key guitar solo that was mesmerizing in every way.
George and his band also sounded great on his R&B hits “Living Inside Your Love,” “The Mambo Inn,” “Turn Your Love Around,” “Let Me Love You One More Time” and “Give Me The Night.” Benson’s energy was infectious, inspiring the festival audience to shake what they brought. Benson’s slick vocals sounded better than ever and he’s still a master guitarist in a class of his own.

George Benson and Earl Klugh

George Benson and Earl Klugh

Although Earl Klugh sounded good on a few instrumentals at the start of the set, it was his guitar duel with Benson on the colossal hit “On Broadway” that was the most enthralling moment between the two guitarists. Klugh’s harmonic explorations on acoustic guitar during this final number truly gave Benson a run for his money.

And so that’s it, the end of the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Sure the festival could’ve used some more authentic jazz acts but what else is new? The Festival is less about the music and more about partying it up on a beautiful sunny Los Angeles weekend. See you next year folks.

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.








Picks of the Week: Sept. 25 – 29

September 25, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Joe Pass

Joe Pass

– Sept. 25. (Wed.)  A Joe Pass Tribute.  The great jazz guitarist’s life is celebrated with a screening of the jazzumentary, A Not So Average Joe, followed by a live performance featuring Frank Potenza, John Pisano, Jim Hughart and Colin BaileyCatalina Bar & Grill.

– Sept. 26. (Thurs.) Pat Senatore Trio. Veteran bassist Senatore plays with a different band almost every night at Vibrato. This time he applies his versatility to the jazz trio setting with Josh Nelson, piano and Mark Ferber, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Isabel Rose

Isabel Rose

– Sept. 26. (Thurs.) Isabel Rose. Jazz/cabaret singer Rose has been compared to everyone from Peggy Lee to Ann-Margret and Bette Midler. She’ll introduce some new songs from her album Trouble in Paradise. The Mint.  323) 954-9400.

– Sept. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart. Expect a great jazz evening listening to this trio of world class players in action. Vitello’s.

– Sept. 27. (Fri.) Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Singer Harris and guitarist/songwriter Crowell first got together as musical associates in the mid-’70s. Here, they revive their long creative partnership. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800

– Sept. 28. (Sat.) Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Peacock. They’re one of jazz history’s great ensembles, continuing to bring imaginative ideas to the classic piano jazz trio. Royce Hall.  (310) 825-0768.

Gerald Wilson

Gerald Wilson

– Sept. 29. (Sun.) The Gerald Wilson Orchestra. Composer/arranger/bandleader Wilson may be 95 years old, but he’s still going strong, still a masterful model of jazz creativity. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 29. (Sun.) Symphonic Jazz Orchestra Free Family Concert. The far-reaching skills of the SJO are on full display in a free concert aimed at all ages. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center.  (310) 876-8130.

 San Francisco

– Sept. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun,) Regina Carter. Jazz violinist Carter performs a four day sequence of far ranging music. On Thurs. with Jenny Scheinman and Sara Caswell. On Fri. with the Pablo RZiegler Quartet. On Sat. with Kenny Barron. And on Sun. with Carla Cook & SFJAZZ High School All-Stars. SFJAZZ Miner Auditorium.  (866) 920-5299.


Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

– Sept. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Ravi Coltrane Quartet. Following in the footsteps of his father – John Coltrane – saxophonist Ravi has gradually, and successfully, begun to establish his own independent creative style. Jazz Alley.  (312) 360-0234.

 New York City

– Sept. 25 – 29. (Wed. – Sun.) Chick Corea and the Vigil. After seasoning his new band in an international tour, Chick showcases it for American audiences. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

– Sept. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Vinicius Cantuaria Quintet. Brazilian guitarist /singer Cantuaria started out as a percussionist, and his rhythmic skills continue to bring propulsive swing to his guitar work. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2232.


– Sept. 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat,.) The Rebirth Brass Band. Thirty years after they were founded, New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band continues to sustain the musical memories of the classic jazz brass band style. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.


Patti Austin

Patti Austin

– Sept. 27. (Fri.) Patti Austin. A protege of Quincy Jones, who was her godfather, the musically eclectic Austin brings imaginative perspectives to whatever style she’s singing.  Blue Note Milano. +39 02 6901 6888.


– Sept. 28. (Sat.) Eddie Gomez Trio. Bassist Gomez, a prominent musical associate of Bill Evans in the ’60s and ’70s, sustains the piano jazz trio style on an international basis with Swedish pianist Stefan Karlsson and American drummer Billy Drummond. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

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Alessandra Belloni’s Rhythm is the Cure Percussion Workshop

By Faith Frenz

Alessandra Belloni

Alessandra Belloni

Alessandra Belloni is an Italian shaman dancer, singer, performer and healer extraordinaire. This week, she’s in Los Angeles for one of her biannual visits. Among her various activities, she will share — by instruction and performance — her unique talent and understanding of the ancient rituals of the tarantella Spider Dance. Alessandra presents the chants and songs sung as devotion to the Black Madonna (tracing to the ancient rites for the Earth Goddess Cybele), an ancient female healing tradition which uses a powerful tambourine style combined with singing and dancing.

I had the pleasure of taking her brief workshop last week at the North Hollywood Remo Recreational Center, where she has her own line of signature series tambourines made by Remo. Alessandra is a small, intensely sensual and beautiful woman, devoted to her goal of sharing these ancient devotionals around the world for their healing gifts. She is a gifted teacher of a very challenging ritual which taps into the essence of femininity.

 Alessandra has a packed schedule here in Los Angeles with numerous opportunities to experience her passionate performance and healing energy. And I urge everyone who reads this to choose an opportunity to witness her up close and personal: 

– Sept. 27. (Fri.) Tarantata at the Goddess Temple Orange County.  (949)651-0564 or (714) 392-0558.

– Sept. 28 (Sat.) DAY OF THE DRUM, WATTS TOWERS FESTIVAL,11:30 a.m. Los Angeles Watts Towers.   213.847.4646

– Sept. 29. (Sun.)  Tarantata at Hollywood Feast of San Gennaro  12:00 p.m.

– Oct. 1. (Tues.) Rhythm is the Cure Percussion Workshop at CalArts.  (661) 255-1050

We will be doing an iRoM Q&A with Alessandra during her stay this week, so look for it in the next few days. There is so much to learn from this amazing woman.

For more information about Alessandra Belloni click HERE to check her website.


Live Music: Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl with Patti Austin, John Legend, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry

June 24, 2013

By Don Heckman

Pop and rock music ruled Saturday at the Opening Night of the Hollywood Bowl season with the introduction of the 2013 inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame – Patti Austin, John Legend, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Nothing wrong with that line-up for music fans with a pop/rock orientation.  And the enthusiastic response of the crowd to the climactic fireworks finale, featuring Tyler and Perry in the company of Thomas Wilkins and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, underscored the value of the Aerosmith rockers on the program.

Each of the inductees also had their own showcase opportunities. Austin, introduced by Arsenio Hall, displayed her remarkable versatility with a richly emotional rendering of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” followed by a rocking “Lean on Me.”  And her jaunty, scatting version of “How High the Moon,” was a deeply rhythmic tribute to Ella Fitzgerald’s classic take on the tune.

Legend, who was introduced by Stevie Wonder, applied his sweet-toned voice and easygoing piano style to a string of his love song hits.  And, surprisingly, he added his own focused version of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

The program’s second half was largely dominated by the rock concert-like intensity of Tyler and Perry.  Using the entire Bowl stage, along with the ramp that reaches out into the garden boxes, they dug into their hits, with Tyler – at one point – climbing on top of a piano to make his musical points.  And, as noted above, the crowd loved every minute of their shenanigans.

Fortunately, the program also recognized the other far-ranging musical choices that are available, night after night, at the Bowl.  Thomas Wilkins, conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, presented a stirring interpretation of the Sacrificial Dance from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  One could have done without the psychedelic videos accompanying the performance, although the few brief clips of Stravinsky conducting the work were fascinating to see.

Add to that an even more stirring performance of the Finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird by the talented young players of YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), and the presence of the Powerhouse Show Choir, singing and dancing with actor/singer Darren Criss.  The performances by so many young artists underscored the beneficial results of the L.A. Phil’s continuing education and community engagement programs.

Reportedly, the concert raised $1million in support of those programs.  Aside from the evening’s colorful entertainment, that alone was an accomplishment to remember.

Picks of the Week: July 31 – Aug. 5

July 31, 2012

 By Don Heckman

Los Angeles


– July 31. (Tues.)  Overtone.  This impressive sextet of a cappella singers from South Africa are on the verge of breaking onto the international music scene.  Discovered by Clint and Dina Eastwood, they’ve got the right support to match their extraordinary potential.  Let’s hope they have a few more dates in the Southland. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

– Aug. 1. (Wed.)  Bob McChesney Quintet.  If there’s a better trombonist than McChesney – technically, creatively and inventively – I’d like to hear him (her).  In the meantime, here’s a chance to hear Bob in action, backed by the fine support of pianist Andy Langham, saxophonist Rob Lockart, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Peter ErskineVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

The Neville Bros.

– Aug. 1. (Wed.)  The Neville Bros. Farewell Tour.  The inimitable Neville’s celebrate their more than three decades of prominence as a New Orleans icon.  Also on the bill, the funky exuberance of Trombone Shorty and the Crescent City roots-rock of Roddie RomeroThe Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 1. (Wed.)  Miles Evans Big Band.  Trumpeter Evans is the son of the legendary arranger/composer Gil Evans.  The mission of his band, he says, is to “pick up where Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorious and Rashied Ali left the notes on the page.”  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Aug. 2. (Thurs.)  All Beethoven.  The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lionel Bringuier conducting, perform Beethoven’s lively Symphony No. 7.  And violinist Renaud Capucon joins the ensemble for Beethoven’s only Violin Concerto. The Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 2. (Thurs.)  The Alaev Family.  The Tajikistani Alaev Family, with eight, multi-generational musicians and drummers, performs the music of Central Asia, Turkey, Persia and Russia, along with the Jewish music of Bukhara.  Expect a party atmosphere. Skirball Center Sunset Concerts.   (310) 440-4500.

Ravi Coltrane

– Aug. 2 – 5.) Thurs. – Sun.  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  The son of the iconic jazz great, John Coltrane, Ravi Coltrane – also playing the tenor and soprano saxophones – has carved out a uniquely inventive style of his own.  His playing deserves to be heard at every opportunity.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Aug. 3. (Fri.) Sony Holland.  Her singing has been critically praised, but Holland has not yet received the popular response that she deserves.  She’ll be performing with the prime ensemble of pianist Andy Langham, bassist Hussain Jiffrey, drummer Kendall Kay and her husband, guitarist Jerry HollandVitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Aug. 3 – 5. (Fri. – Sun.)  Pixar in Concert.  The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins presents an evening of music and video celebrating characters from such memorable Pixar films as Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E and more.  The Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

Strunz & Farah

– Aug. 4. (Sat.)  Strunz and Farah.  Niyaz.  A pair of superb groups – early leaders in the emergence of the World Music genre appear on the same stage.  Strunz and Farah with their remarkable 2-guitar excursions; Niyaz led by the soaring vocals of Azam Ali.  Grand Performances.    Niyaz also appears Aug. 9 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Orange County.

– Aug. 4. (Sat.)  “Cosmic Oscar” The Music of Oscar Brown, Jr.  One couldn’t ask for a more entertaining and illuminating program than the songs of Oscar Brown.  Add that the presence of precisely the right performers: Dwight Trible & Co., with Trevor Ware, bass; Breeze Smith, percussion and soundscape artist; Paul Lagaspi, drums; John Beasley, piano.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at Boston Court. (310) 271-9039.

San Francisco

– Aug. 4 & 5. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Family Stone. Still keeping alive the memory and the music of one of the great groups of the ‘60s and ‘70s, some of the original members revive the great Stone classics.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.


– Aug. 2 – 5. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  More than three decades since they arrived on the New Orleans seen, the DDBB is continuing to prove that traditional New Orleans style has plenty of room to encompass bebop, funk and beyond.  Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

New York

Jane Monheit

– Aug. 1 – 5. (Wed. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit. The mellow-voiced Monheit celebrates her first decade as a performer a five night run, singing selections from the 10th anniversary album, Home. The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

– Aug. 2 – Sat. (Thurs.- Sat. )  Irabagon Fest. Irabagon, winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk saxophone competition, demonstrates his creative versatility on three  consecutive nights, with three different ensembles: Thurs., Jon Irabagon Trio; Fri.,, the Barry Altschul Group; and Sat., the Jon Irabagon Jazz Quartet.    Cornelia St. Café.  (212) 989-9319.

– July 31 – Aug. 4. (Sat.)  The Masters Quartet.  For the line up of Steve Kuhn, Dave Liebman, Steve Swallow and Billy Drummond, “Masters” is the only appropriate title.  Expect to hear music as rich and bracing as a vintage bottle of Chateau Lafitte Rothschild..  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.


– Aug. 3 & 4. (Fri. & Sat.)  Legends of Latin Jazz.  The Classic Jazz Series, celebrating the 1012 Olympics, features two evenings of great Latin jazz, performed by the U.K.’s top jazz artists.    Ronnie Scott’s.    (0) 20 7439 0747.


Patti Austin

– Aug. 2 (Thurs.)  Patti Austin Group.   Versatile Patti Austin can sing anything from pop to soul to r&b, blues and jazz.  And do so with authenticity, swing and sheer entertainment panache.  She may not be a huge name, but she’s a great vocal artist.  New Morning.    01 45 23  51 41.


– Aug. 5 – 7. (Sun. – Tues.)  The Count Basie Orchestra.  Yes, the Count Basie Orchestra still lives – with vibrancy and rhythm, performing some of the most memorable big band classics in the history of jazz.  Don’t miss this one.  Blue Note Tokyo.   03. 5485.0088.

Live Music: A Ray Charles Tribute at the Hollywood Bowl

July 13, 2012

By Michael Katz

When you consider the arc of Ray Charles’ career – jazz, blues, R&B, country, it’s no surprise that it took a village Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl to pay tribute to him. There was an all-star jazz band, in addition to the Count Basie Band, strings, a choir, headliners from all the touchstones of Charles’ music, plus a loaded version of the Raelettes (Patti Austin!), all tied up in a ribbon by Tavis Smiley. If it only occasionally matched the searing genius of Brother Ray Himself, it did keep everyone on their toes.

Ray Charles’ voice was unmistakable – not just for the raw soulfulness mixed with lyric grace, but for the pain that was never far from the surface. There is a certain courageousness in that for a male singer, and  it’s not surprising that the women on the program seemed to channel Charles’ spirit most effectively, with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ms. Austin exhibits A and 1A. More on that later.

The first half of he show was anchored by an all-star band led by drummer and musical director Gregg Field. The front line featured Terence Blanchard and Scotty Barnhart (Barnhart also led the trumpet section of the Basie band), with Dave Koz on alto sax, Houston Person on tenor and Tom Scott on baritone. George Duke sparkled throughout the concert on piano and electric keyboards, with Shelly Berg’s Hammond B-3  percolating underneath it all.

R&B singer BeBe Winans was the opening vocalist, smoothly working through “I Got A Woman” and a more expressive “Drown In My Own Tears.” Perhaps that is damning with faint praise, but the raw power of Ray Charles was lurking in the background, and anything short of that can’t help but be noticed. The band had “Them That Got” to themselves, featuring Dave Koz  on alto and Tom Scott picking up his soprano. Koz is a star on the smooth jazz scene and dominated the sax solos during the show — this inevitably left less room for Houston Person, which was regrettable. That big tenor sound, exemplified by the late David “Fathead” Newman, whose name never came up during the evening, was a major part of the Charles sound.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

And then came Dee Dee Bridgewater. Head shaven, clad in a stunning gold dress, she took over the show from the first note. She started with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by Houston Person in his one soulful excursion of the night. She followed with “I Believe In My Soul” and the rousing “I Got News For You,” which brought Blanchard out front on trumpet and Duke alternating from keyboards to piano. Dee Dee Bridgewater simply has it all – the booming voice in perfect pitch, the sassiness in her presentation, the hurt and tenderness when she needed to reach back for it. All of it flows naturally, not a note forced. Thankfully she wasn’t done for the night.

Patti Austin

The next section of the show featured Ray Charles’ foray into Country and Western music. It started with a standout version of the Raelettes, with Patti Austin and Siedah Garrett. Garrett led Charles’ smoldering version of “You Are My Sunshine,” then Patti Austin took center stage. Austin is just too much of a presence to keep in the background. Her intro to “Come Rain or Come Shine” seemed effortless, but before you knew it  she had you in her grasp – her version of the ballad stood right there with Ray Charles’s.

Country music singer Martina McBride closed the first half of the program.  If you are mainly a jazz or R&B fan with a tangential knowledge of country, McBride’s voice fits in solidly with the post-Loretta Lynn/Patsy Cline tradition.  Producers Gregg Field and the legendary Phil Ramone  were smart to give her a variety of settings, instead of just covering Charles’ C&W oeuvre. “Bye Bye Love” had the Raelettes behind her, then a combination of strings and the Fred Martin/Levite Camp of Urban Entertainment Institute choir filled up the stage for “You Don’t Know Me” and “Take These Chains.” Finally,  trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval came onstage and joined McBride for the Hank Williams standard “Hey, Good Lookin’.” Cuban Country Soul…you just don’t get that everywhere.

The second half of the show was anchored by the Count Basie Big Band,   featuring the aforementioned Barnhart on trumpet and Reggie Thomas on piano. The main vocalist for much of the set was Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. He’s an appealing singer, his voice pitched a little higher than Winans, but he just doesn’t have the visceral appeal to carry this music. “Let The Good Times Roll” was a good vehicle to start his segment. There were Charles standards to follow like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Crying Time,” which featured Monica Mancini stepping out in front of the Raelettes.

Bebe Winans

But the real fireworks came as the program concluded. There was BeBe Winans reaching back for a little extra on “How Long Has This Been Going On?” Then Dee Dee Bridgewater came back out and tore the place up again with “Busted.” Before the final numbers, the video screens flashed a clip of Ray Charles as a guest on Saturday Night Live, Year 2, with Murray, Belushi, Gildna Radner et al playing a cover group, “The Young Caucasians.” It was at once hilarious and a reminder of how far Ray Charles’ music had brought us. It set the stage for “Georgia On My Mind,” which brought back Babyface as well as Patti Austin and the Raelettes, and then the whole production returned for “America The Beautiful.”

Despite the effort to sprinkle the program with all sorts of pop stars, the attendance was only around 10,000. Which makes me wonder, since it is supposed to be a jazz series, why not just give the microphone to Dee Dee Bridgewater, Houston Person, Patti Austin et al and let them try and fill the place up instead of relying on retro themes? I don’t think Ray Charles would have objected.

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

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

Picks of the Week: April 25 – April 30

April 24, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Freda Payne

– April 25. (Wed.)  Corky Hale and Freda PayneA Salute to Billie Holiday’s Birthday.  Lovely Freda Payne has a convincing way with the musical riches of the Holiday legacy.  And  the versatile pianist/harpist Hale, once Lady Day’s accompanist, provides the perfect setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– April 25. (Wed.)  Anthony Wilson residency Part 4. Guitarist Wilson wraps up his residency with special guests Donald Vega, Mark Ferber, Dave Robaire, Gilbert Castellanos, Matt Otto, Matt Zebley and Adam SchroederThe Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

– April 25. (Wed.)  The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell. The rightly much-honored violinst Bell performs the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the accompaniment of the Academy’s superb ensemble.  Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.         Bell and the Academy perform a similar program Thursday, 4/26 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.    (818) 677-8800.

– April 26, 27 & 29.  (Thurs., Fri. & Sun.)  Pepe Romero and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Veteran classical/flamenco guitarist Romero performs Rodrigo’s great Concierto de Aranuez with the L.A. Phil under the baton of Christoph Konig.  Also on the program: Dvorak’s Scherzo Capriccioso and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.  Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

Della Reese

April 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.)  Della Reese. She may have reached her largest audience as a star of the hit ‘90s television series, Touched By An Angel, but Reese has been an eminently listenable singer since the ‘50s.  And she’s still going strong.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– April 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.)  Nnenna Freelon and Earl Klugh.  Jazz vocalist Freelon and guitarist Klugh are at the top of their form, skilled jazz individualists and engaging performers.  Samueli Theatre at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.   (714) 556-2787.

– April 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.  The 15-member Cedar Lake company concentrates on the works of innovative choreographers.  For this performance they’ll feature works by Regina van Berkel, Crystal Pite and Alexander Ekman.  A UCLA Live event at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-4401.

– April 28. (Sat.) Nailah Porter and Billy Childs.   Porter’s been a Capitol Hill attorney as well as a singer/songwriter. Currently working on a new album, she’ll no doubt be trying out some of the material with her producer – pianist/composer Childs.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.


 – April 30. (Mon.)  1st International Jazz Day Celebration.  Herbie Hancock’s first initiative as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador was to create International Jazz Day – the climactic event celebrating April as Jazz Appreciation Month.  Concerts will take place in Paris, New York, New Orleans and dozens of other countries.  In Los Angeles, Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. has stepped up with a major jazz event featuring an all-star line-up of the Southland’s finest players in an evening of continuous jazz.  The stellar list of names is too long to include here – check the Vibrato web site for the full line-up: Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

* * * * *                                                     * * * * *

San Francisco

Anat Cohen

– April 29. (Sun.)  The 3 Cohens and the Gilad Hekselman Trio.  It’ll be a celebration of the impact jazz has had on young Israeli musicians – and vice versa.  With Cohen siblings Anat, clarinet and tenor saxophone, Yuval, soprano saxophone, and Avishai, trumpet, as well as guitarist Hekselman’s Trio. SFJAZZ at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.    (866) 920-5299.


Jon Faddis

April 25 – 28.  (Wed. – Sat.)  Jon Faddis.  Arguably one of the most virtuosic trumpeters of his generation, Faddis’ performances are virtual seminars in the length and breadth of jazz trumpetry.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.

New York

– April 24 – 28.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Bossabrasil.  Featuring Marcos Valle and Paula Morelenbaum.  Fifty years after the girl from Ipanema, keyboardist Valle and singer Morelenbaum get together to explore the broad connections Brazilian music has established with pop, jazz, world music and beyond.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

– April 25 – 29.  (Wed. – Sun.)  “Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter.”  It may not actually be endangered, but Shorter’s works  surely deserve more attention than they’ve received in recent years.  And there’s no better collection of interpreters than Ravi Coltrane, Jeremy Pelt and Marcus StricklandDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  (212) 258-9800.


– April 25 & 26. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Clare Teal. BBC Jazz Singer of the Year in 2006, Teal’s busy career includes a pair of Radio 2 weekly shows featuring her eclectic vocal stylings.   Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.


David Sanchez

– April 27. (Fri.)  David Sanchez.  Puerto Rican born saxophonist Sanchez enlivens his solid jazz skills with occasional seasonings of Caribbean rhythms.  New Morning.  01 45 23 51 41.


– April 29. (Sun.)  Vijay Iyer Trio. Starting out as violinist, while absorbing some Carnatic music along the way, holder of a PhD in music cognition, Iyer has brought a rich creative perspective to his art as a jazz pianist.  A-Trane.  030 / 313 25 50.


– April 27. (Fri.)  Patti Austin.  Few singers can match Austin’s remarkable stylistic versatility, her ability to move with great authenticity from jazz to pop to rock to r & b and beyond.  Blue Note Milano.


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