Live Music: Gilberto Santa Rosa and Sheila E. in an Americas & Americans Performance at the Hollywood Bowl

July 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

The L.A. Phil’s entertaining Americas & Americans series came up with a stellar musical double-header Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Which was not surprising, given the headlining onstage presence of Sheila E. and Gilberto Santa Rosa. Both of whom are major figures in the Latin music world – and beyond.

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

It’s no mystery that Sheila E., the highly visible offspring of the talented Escovedo family, is a startlingly gifted percussionist, and she displayed her drumming skills throughout her program in various areas of the stage, opening her segment with a set that began in high velocity and continued to build until its final climactic ending.

She’s also a gifted vocalist, dancer and extraordinarily talented entertainer. Add to that her ability to create a show reaching across the full gamut of the contemporary music world.

Her program unfolded in a series of escalating segments, spotlighting her far-ranging musical gifts in the company of a similarly talented group of musicians and dancers. Surrounding her with break-dancing, hip-hop and rap, crisply rhythmic back-up vocals and a rich mosaic of sound and emotion, her players and dancers provided the perfect setting for her eclectic creativity.

Call it a remarkable performance, one which continually elicited enthusiastic responses from a crowd that seemed to adore every move and every sound she made.

Puerto Rican singer Santa Rosa was greeted by an equally delighted audience esponse. And understandably so, for a performer who has been awarded five Grammys, had 14 number 1 hits on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart, and released numerous gold and platinum albums.

Gilberto Santa Rosa

Gilberto Santa Rosa

Like Sheila E., Santa Rosa delivered a non-stop performance surrounded by a cadre of performers who combined to produce a musical and visual extravaganza. Remaining largely in center stage, occasionally strolling – with a dance step or two – from one side to the other, he frequently acknowledged the contributions of his hot-stepping back-up singers and high flying horn players.

Given the hits he’s delivered in his more than three decade career, Santa Rosa, sometimes called “El Caballero de la Salsa,” had plenty of familiar items to sustain his lengthy set. Understandably, most were supported by fiery salsa rhythms, dynamically delivered by his 12 piece ensemble.

At 51, Santa Rosa’s voice is still an appealing instrument, and his warm vocals soared lyrically through his numerous salsa hits, with an occasional pause to offer a romantic bolero.

Americas & Americans?” Yes, indeed. Santa Rosa and Sheila E. offered all that and a lot more.

The only problematic aspects of this extraordinary pair of performances traced to the decibel level of the sound system. Both Santa Rosa and Sheila E. are brilliant performing artists. And each is capable of delighting an audience without having the sounds of their singing amplified to the edge of pain.

That complaint aside, kudos to the L.A. Phil for presenting an appealing entry in the Americas & Americans series. Another follows on Friday and Saturday in the appearance of singer Gloria Estefan and YOLA (Youth Orchestra LA).

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Sheila E. photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Picks of the Week: June 24 – 29

June 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

Summer has arrived, with all its distractions, and many of the music venues — in the U.S., Europe and beyond — are either closed or booking with reduced schedules.  But there’s still good music to be heard.

Los Angeles

Annie Trousseau

Annie Trousseau

– June 25. (Wed.) Annie Trousseau. Multi-lingual singer Trousseau is described in her press material as offering “some impressive musical reminders of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.” Which should make for an evening of eminently fascinating music. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– June 26. (Thurs.) “Tenors For Two” Tenor saxophonists Tom Peterson and Roger Neumann recall the jazz glory days of the “battling tenors.” Expect these two fine players to stretch the limits. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– June 26. (Thurs.) Heartbeat Brazil. They may be Los Angeles-based, but Heartbeat Brazil approaches classic Brazilian music with a convincingly authentic approach to bossa nova, samba, etc. And the highlight of the night may well be the presence of guest singer, Jason Gould, Barbra Streisand’s son. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Jack Jones

Jack Jones

– June 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Jack Jones. Jones’ mellow, baritone voice carried the torch for traditional pop music during the rock ‘n’ roll sixties. And the Grammy winner is still going strong, still recalling the glories of the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– June 27 & 28: (Fri.,  & Sat.)  Andrea Marcovicci. Actress, singer, and “Queen of Cabaret,” Marcovicci’s resume reaches from the White House and Carnegie Hall to films and television.  She returns to celebrate her 29th Anniversary at The Gardenia with a program of torch songs titled “Let’s Get Lost.”  The Gardenia.

– June 28. (Sat.) KJAZZ Summer Benefit Concert. Aways one of the most memorable musical experiences of the year, the annual KJAZZ Benefit concert features Steve Tyrell, Jane Monheit, Jason Moran and David Benoit. Don’t miss this one. Disney Hall.  (562) 985-2999.

– June 29. (Sun.) Moulin Russe. Cabaret meets jazz when the Moulin Russe performers bring the delights of traditional French music, in all its glories, to Los Angeles. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee Jones

– June 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat,) Rickie Lee Jones. Crossing comfortably from jazz to pop in the ’70s and ’80s, identifying herself as a high visibility star and winning Grammys along the way, Jones was one of the most signigicant artists of her generation. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.


– June 26. (Thurs.) Sadao Watanabe. One of the rare Japanese to break into the national jazz arena, Watanabe thoroughly established himself as a significant player; and he’s still going strong at 80. Regatta Bar.  (617) 661-5000.

New York City

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

– June 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) The Tierney Sutton Quartet. “After Blue: The Joni Mitchell Project.” Sutton and her band have been creating some of the most impressive vocal jazz of the past decade. The stunning versions of Joni Mitchell classics featured on her most recent CD will provide the centerpiece for her current tour. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

– June 25 – 28. (Wed. – Sat.) Stanley Jordan. Famous for his unique method of playing the guitar with a string tapping technique, Jordan creates some of the jazz world’s most appealing sounds. Iridium.  (212) 582-2121.


– June 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) Curtis Stigers. Singer/saxophonist continues to establish himself as one of the rare male jazz vocal artists on the current scene. Ronnie Scott’s.  (0)20 7439 0747.


– June 28 – 30. (Sat. – Mon.) Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra. Featuring Sheila E. It’s always family time when the Escovedos get together on stage. And anyone who hears them in action leaves with significant musical memories. The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.




Live Jazz: the 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl (Day #2)

June 18, 2013

Review by Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood, CA.  For the most part, it’s not just the music that has made The Annual Playboy Jazz Festival a Los Angeles summer tradition, but instead, it’s the music combined with the ever present party atmosphere.  And this year was no different. Amidst the clouds of pot smoke and spilled beer on the ground, The 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival featured an eclectic blend of artists in the genres of jazz, funk, pop, blues and more.

Before getting to my highlights of Sunday’s program, I thought I’d include just a few exciting additions from Saturday’s show to follow up on Mike Katz’s coverage.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

From pop to bop, the amazing 21 year old saxophone titan Grace Kelly played a stellar set which included be-bop and pop influences, playing bop style instrumentals and catchy pop infused jazz vocal tunes.  Kelly proved to be one of the most original and fascinating new faces in jazz. Her childlike vocals on “Nighttime Star,” fused with her vast knowledge of both bop and post-bop saxophone playing was astounding.  When she plays alto sax, you can hear Bird, Art Pepper and Jackie Mclean, but with a new, youthful, feminine and energetic swing to it.

Kelly was joined by the legendary Phil Woods (also a major influence on her alto sax playing) for “Man With The Hat,” which the two had recorded together in 2011.

Woods was in strong form and Kelly played like a waterfall, with endless ideas and a superb technique. This was easily one of the finest moments of the festival.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter’s performance at the festival demonstrated why he has received so many accolades from all over the world. This time out, Porter focused more on his gospel and R&B influences than jazz during his brief set, which made it all the more interesting.

This was the case on Porter’s rendition of Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song,” in which Porter opened the song with a few verses of Leadbelly’s “Alberta.” Porter’s controlled and carefully crafted phrasing along with his magnetic stage presence brought the Bowl crowd to church.

Sunday’s program had a lot more fire and electricity than Saturday’s.

It’s hard to imagine combining jazz and rock piano with a dance ensemble but acclaimed pianist Elew (joined by Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble) did just that and made it work.

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew stood up while playing, looking like a mad scientist while he stared intensely at the audience. The Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble did graceful, ballet interpretations of Elew’s readings of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside.”

Elew fused the stride piano styles of James P. Johnson with Horace Silver. Though asking a lot of the festival audience, this was a fascinating experiment both visually and sonically.

Chris and Dan Brubeck

Chris and Dan Brubeck

One of the purest jazz acts of the festival was The Brubeck Brothers, lead by Dave Brubeck’s sons, Chris Brubeck on bass and trombone, and Dan Brubeck on drums.

The two were joined by Mike Demicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano, making up a tight, focused, and dynamic quartet. The brothers paid a warm, heartfelt Father’s Day tribute to their legendary father, Dave Brubeck who passed away on December 5, 2012.

Their set included many Brubeck classics such as; “Kathy’s Waltz,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and “Take Five.” The group performed these songs with elegance, dynamics, and devotion. Pianist Lamb’s use of well spaced block chords were reminiscent of the late Brubeck’s piano style and Chris’s fusion style electric bass locked in tight with Dan’s soft and melodic drumming. Demicco’s guitar solos were tasteful and served the compositions perfectly.  Altogether, they produced a terrific performance – one that Dave Brubeck would surely have been proud of.

Taj Mahal

Very few artists know the history of American blues like Taj Mahal. At The festival, Mahal was joined by The Real Thing Tuba Band which consisted of four tuba players (Earl McIntyre, Howard Johnson, Bob Stewart, and John Daley) with Mahal playing acoustic guitar, dobro and harmonica. John Simon played keyboard, with Buddy Williams on drums and Larry Fulcher on guitar.

If anyone else tried this format, it would be a cluttered mess but Mahal had the brilliance and wit to pull it off.

The Mahal set consisted of country blues standards that he has been performing for decades – tunes such as his own, “Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blues,” “EZ Rider,” as well as Fats Dominos’ “Hello Josephine,” Charlie Patton’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond” and “Way Back Home.”  The tubas played the harmony parts that would normally be sung by background singers, while occasionally soloing tastefully.  Mahal and the band’s set brought some much needed blues to the festival, taking the audience on a journey back down South to the true roots of American music.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

To celebrate Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra performed a set of such Jones big band classics as “The Birth Of A Band,” “G’Wan Train,” “Nasty Madness” (which Jones had written for Count Basie) and Jones’ arrangement of  Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’.”

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, conducted by John Clayton, was superb on these big band swing blues classics. After a proud Jones took a bow from his Bowl seat, The great jazz flutist Hubert Laws (who’s known and worked with Jones since 1969) joined the Orchestra on “Hello” and “Killer Joe.” Laws’ fluid and melodic style danced over the slick and funky rhythms with syncopation and ease.  This was not only a touching tribute to Jones but a wonderful insight into big band arrangements which were inspired by Count Basie, and Jay Mcshann’s earliest works.

Very few artists can combine traditional forms of jazz with pop and fusion like Bob James and David Sanborn. Together with James Genus on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums, James and Sanborn brought their smooth and soulful sound to the festival.

Bob James and David Sanborn

Bob James and David Sanborn

James’ fluid and inventive piano style blended perfectly with Sanborn’s confident, melodic playing and it’s always great hearing Steve Gadd on drums in any setting. The high point of the set was Sanborn’s composition “In The Weeds.” Here, Sanborn broke free from many of his smooth jazz clichés and played some hard-bop tenor sax in the vein of John Coltrane and Joe Henderson.



India.Arie brought her unique style of “acoustic soul” to the festival. Arie’s songs, such as “Because I Am Queen,” “I Am Light” and “I Am Not My Hair, were filled with self empowering lyrics and a sound that fused vintage soul with gospel, hip-hop, and even folk rock and reggae. Arie’s vocals were at moments sweet and delicate, then tough and preachy. Her graceful stage presence and physical beauty provided a perfect match for her songs of inner strength and spirituality.  Unlike so many female R&B artists of the day, Arie has a style of her own with soulfully crafted arrangements and poignant lyrics.

Sheila E rocked The Playboy Jazz Festival last year. Although her set this year felt a little more laid back and less focused than last year, no one puts on a show like Sheila E.

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Her set opened with The USC Trojan Drumline marching onto the stage, followed shortly by Sheila, who raced to her drum kit in a short black leather skirt. After several long drum and conga solos, she welcomed her father Pete Escovedo to the stage for a Father’s Day jam on Tito Puente’s classic “Oye Como Va.” Escovedo played timbales while his daughter pounded furiously on congas.

Sheila E

Sheila E

Pop Escovedo departed, and Sheila dug into some of her biggest hits of the ‘80s: “Love Bizarre,” “Holly Rock,” “Koo Koo” and a steamy version of “Erotic City”, written by her longtime collaborator Prince.

Though Sheila E’s set consisted of too many over indulgent jams with drum solo after drum solo, followed by the guitar hysterics of her bandmate, Nate Mercereau, it was Sheila’s sensual stage presence and magnetism that had the entire Bowl crowd on its feet.

She brought audience members up onstage to dance and engaged in many crowd pleasing sing alongs, as she danced suggestively from her drum kit, to her congas and her timbales.

And, as the final act, Sheila E’s success at getting everyone on their feet was the best way to end the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival.

And so another Playboy Jazz festival has come and gone. Though there were no conga lines going through the crowd this year, the lineup had something for everyone, a little jazz, rock, pop, blues, funk, Salsa, fusion, but most importantly, a lot of fun.

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

Picks of the Week: Dec. 26 – 31.

December 26, 2012

By the iRoM Staff

With only a few short days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and with numerous clubs (especially in Europe) closed for the holiday week, we’ve decided to concentrate this week’s Picks on the celebratory musical pleasures of bringing in 2013.


Los Angeles

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

– Dec. 26 – 31. (Wed. – Mon.) Jane Monheit.  Monheit’s glorious voice and briskly swinging style make a welcome return holiday visit to the club that perfectly showcases her many talents.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Dec. 31. (Mon.) Frank Stallone.  Grammy and Golden Globe nominated actor/singer Stallone is an entertaining performer, with material reaching from standards to his own originals.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Dec. 31. (Mon.)  Idina Menzel.  Tony Award-winning singer/actress Menzel, the star of Broadway’s Wicked, was also in the original production of Rent.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

– Dec. 31. (Mon.) Don Randi and Quest.   Keyboardist Randi – who also owns the Baked Potato – has played on hundreds of recording sessions and numerous hit recordings.  Here he celebrates the holiday with his own band, in  his own venue, with many special guests.  The Baked Potato.    (818) 980-1615.

Anna Mjoll

Anna Mjoll

– Dec. 31. (Mon.) Anna Mjoll.  Iceland’s gift to jazz continues to affirm her vocal jazz authenticity with every performance.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Dec. 31. (Mon.)  Vardan Ovsepian Chamber Ensemble with special guest David Binney. Armenia-born pianist Ovsepian brings a view to jazz that is colorfully enhanced by his classical and Eastern European background.  Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

San Francisco

– Dec. 28 – 31. (Fri. – Mon.)  Pete Escovedo & Sons Latin Jazz Orchestra. Expect musical fireworks and an exciting transition to 2013 while enjoying the irresistible rhythms of the Escovedo family.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

– Dec. 28 – 31. (Fri. – Mon.)  Maceo Parker’s Funky New Year’s Party.  James Brown and the Funkadelics wouldn’t have been quite the same without the funk-driven saxophone of Parker.  He’s doing it on his own now, but he’s no less soulful than he was four decades ago.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.


Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

– Dec. 26 – 31. (Wed. – Mon.)  The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove continues to display his versatility in a busy touring schedule featuring his various groups.  This time it’s his always exciting quintet.  Jazz Showcaset  (312) 360-0234.

New York

– Dec. 26 – 31.  Wed. – Mon.) (Continuing through Sun. Jan. 6.)  Chris Botti. Trumpeter Botti – whose dedicated following has made him one of the world’s most popular jazz artists – continues his annual long holiday run at the Blue Note.  Don’t miss the chance to hear him up close and personal.   Click HERE.To read iRoM’s review of Chris’s New Year’s Eve performance at the Blue Note in 2012    The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

– Dec. 31.  (Mon.)  The Mingus Big Band.  What better way to celebrate the newly arriving year than with the ever-appealing music of Charles Mingus, performed accurately by the ensemble that continues to keep his classic jazz catalog alive.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

– Dec. 31.  (Mon.)  Wynton Marsalis Meets Vince Giordano.  Trumpeter Marsalis honors one of his great influences with The Louis Armstrong Continuum – Music of the Hot Fives and the Hot Sevens.   Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

Washington D.C.

– (Dec. 27 – 31).  Thurs. – Mon.)  Monty Alexander.  Jamaican-born pianist Alexander brings it all together – convincing bebop, a solid blues foundation and gently floating Caribbean rhythms.  Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

Live Jazz: Mike Katz’s Monterey Jazz Festival Top Ten

September 13, 2012

By Mike Katz

Every year the Monterey Jazz Festival program features a Top Ten list from Artistic Director Tim Jackson, and I always think that’s interesting, but what does he tell everybody else? And how can he not mention (your favorite here). So I figured I’d take a stab at my own Top Ten, but with a slightly different angle, for this year’s Festival, which begins Fri. Sept. 21.  Here in LA we get to see a good deal of the major touring names (Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, Eddie Palmieri) as well as others who live or have lived here (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Tierney Sutton, Gerald Clayton, among others.)

I always look forward to new configurations of talent, and introductions to new players, as well as a few familiar names that we don’t see too often on the Left Coast. So here’s my list, in order of appearance, with a special effort to highlight most of the festival’s venues.

1. Mulgrew Miller,  Coffee House.  8, 9:30, 11, Friday night.   Every year I promise myself I will get to see at least one set in the cozy Coffee House, which features small groups playing before appreciatively quiet audiences. What better way to start off  the festival than with Mulgrew Miller, whose bright, swinging touch belies his impressively large physique.

Jack DeJohnette

2. Jack DeJohnette, Dizzy’s Den. 8:30 Friday night; Arena w/ Pat Metheny and Christian McBride, 9:20 Sat. night; Dizzy’s Den, Sunday night, 7:30 with Bill Frisell. The Festival’s Showcase artist, DeJohnette’s multi-faceted talents are reflected in these three different settings. I don’t know yet who the personnel will be in the Friday night  group but it is bound to be interesting; the Metheny trio can’t help but be great and I hope to catch at least part of the duet with guitarist Frisell on Sunday.

3. Gregoire Maret Quartet, Night Club, 9:30 Friday night. When you think about the harmonica in jazz, Toots Thielemans comes to mind, and then there is a long pause. Maret, from Geneva, Switzerland, has been getting some attention as Toots’ heir apparent, so here’s a chance to check him out.

Ali Ryerson and Mimi Fox

4. Ali Ryerson-Mimi Fox Duo, Night Club, 2:30 Saturday Afternoon. Take a break from the raucous atmosphere at the Arena and check out flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox, both of them notable for exquisite phrasing. You’ll still have time to get back for most of Trombone Shorty’s set.

5. Tribute To Cal Tjader, Dizzy’s Den, 8  Saturday night.  Pianist Michael Wolff, who played with Tjader in the ‘70s, has assembled an all-star group that features Warren Wolf on vibes, along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Robb Fisher and Vince Lateano.

Bill Frisell


6. Bill Frisell Big Sur Quintet, Arena, 8  Saturday night.  Night Club, 10:30 p.m. I know, you can’t be two places at once. Frisell’s commissioned piece promises to be a highlight. Visit the special Cloning Tent right next to the funnel cake stand.7.

Pat Metheny


7. Pat Metheny, Arena, 9:20 Saturday night (See above) and 7 Sunday night. Unity Band with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ben Williams. Two arena appearances for Metheny. The trio appeals to me the most, but you can’t lose with either one.


8. Tony Bennett, Arena, 10:50 Saturday night. Need we say more?

9. Next Generation Band, Arena, 1:10 Sunday Afternoon. Yes, you have tickets for Esperanza Spalding. Don’t think it’s cool to skip the opening student groups. Last year’s NGB knocked everybody out. Artist-in-Residence trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire sits in.

10.  Mads Tolling Quartet. Garden Stage, 4 Sunday afternoon. The mid-afternoon sets at the Garden Stage are always great fun. Turtle Island Quartet violinist Tolling fronts his own group.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

11.  MJF ALL-STARS w/ Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chris Potter. Bennie Green, Christian McBride, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash, Arena, 9  Sunday night and Dizzy’s Den, 11 Saturday Night. This super group closes out the festival at the Arena, but you might have just as much fun seeing them Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.

Okay, that’s 11. And I didn’t even mention Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman at the Courtyard Stage throughout the Festival.

But…but…what about…Melody Gardot, Christian Scott, Robert Randolph?….excuse me, I’ve got to run. See ya next week.

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: Bonnie Bowden at Vitello’s

May 8, 2012

By Norton Wright

It was such a class act, it reminded me of those sophisticated nights long ago at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City where the ballroom shows were graced by the likes of Lena Horne and Peggy Lee.

So it was no surprise that jazz songstress Bonnie Bowden’s date on Sunday afternoon at Vitello’s was sold out a week in advance and the waiting list went on forever.  Elegant, sexy, and engaging, Bowden dished up a clinic on how to present a musically delicious show. Here were some of the ingredients:

How to achieve a compelling start?  Enlist a great quartet like Llew Matthews (piano and arranger), Ricky Woodard (tenor sax), Luther Hughes (acoustic bass), and Ralph Penland (drums) and then turn them loose all by themselves to hot up the audience with an opening seven-minute, up-tempo take on the standard “Day By Day.”  And have Ricky Woodard do some great and serious blowing so all in the jam-packed room know it’s time to stop lunching and talking and do some serious listening. This opener was so good, we thought we could have just listened to the band for the rest of the afternoon. I mean, could things get any better? YOU BET!

The star’s entrance:  Quickly and from the very back of the house so everyone in an instant caught the flash of her dramatic crimson blouse, black slacks, and blonde hair pulled back into a diamond clip, Bowden made her way through the audience, up onto the stage, and into her first number. The lyrics told the audience exactly what the ebullient Ms. Bowden wanted them to know, “I Love Being Here With You!”

What’s the show about? Bowden’s easygoing intros to her songs are brief and tell her listeners something about the composers and lyricists and why the songs are special to her. We’re amazed that she’s self-taught in a broad range of music from coloratura opera to country to Broadway, but she loves jazz best, and we’re going to be treated this afternoon to The Great American – and sometimes Great Brazilian — Songbook  by composer/lyricist icons like Jimmy McHugh, Frank Loesser, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gus Kahn, Hal David/Burt Bachrach, Edu Lobo, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, and the list was to go beautifully on and on as the afternoon progressed.

Variety: Bowden has the rare capacity to convincingly turn her song renditions on an emotional dime, and so she paces the running order of her tunes so the moods do change quickly and with lots of surprises. “You Are So Beautiful” by Billy Preston & Bruce Fisher was given a soulful jazz treatment, and the audience figured Bowden was talking directly to them. Her take on “Ain’t We Got Fun” was humorous and satiric, the lyric, ‘The rich get rich and the poor get children’ as biting today as it was when penned by Gus Kahn back in 1922. And in a hot, hip-swivelin’, honkey-tonkin’ surprise, the lissome Ms. Bowden laid a jazz take on Willie Nelson’s country tune, “Crazy,” and risked prompting all the males in the audience to immediately lust after her — and this on a Sunday afternoon!

What can a singer do during the instrumental breaks in the songs she’s singing? Sometimes singers today seem to forget they’re still on stage, and during their band’s instrumental breaks they often search for something to do — like reaching down for a water bottle, publicly gurgling the H20, and then awkwardly regarding their surroundings until it’s time to resume singing… Bonnie Bowden answers the problem by turning to listen intently to each member of her band, genuinely enjoying them and in doing so, becoming at one with her audience. There’s something outright communal in a group of listeners sharing their appreciation of a band’s grooving, and Bowden doesn’t hide the fact that she digs listening to her guys.

Spontaneity: Finally, if the opportunity is there, go for it! Bowden’s affection for Brazilian jazz springs from her singing with Sergio Mendes’ Brazil ’77, and at Vitello’s by mid-set she got into an Ipanema groove singing Edu Lobo’s haunting ballad “Adeus” (“To Say Goodbye”) in perfect Portuguese and then in English. Maybe it was time then to return to the American Songbook, but spotting in the audience the legendary percussionists Paulinho Da Costa from Brazil and Mexican-American Pete Escovedo, she invited them to join with her on stage for composer Jorge Ben’s high-energy, bossa nova song, “Mais Que Nada.” The result was a gas! These two gents can play at least 200 different percussive instruments but with only shakers in Escovedo’s hands and a tambourine in those of Da Costa, they tagged Bowden’s song with such a feast of polyrhythmic accents that she and the audience just loved the fun and surprise of it. Good guys, Bowden gave them kisses, and her band and the audience gave them a great big hand.

Closing out the show were the love songs: “Why Did I Choose You” during which Bowden found a warm and beautifully textured timbre almost indistinguishable from that of Doris Day.  Then a quick change of pace to Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson’s  “I Just Found Out About Love”  which Bowden ended on a stratospheric note toward the top of her amazing four-octave range.  And for a finale, Jerome Kern &  Otto Harbach’s  “Yesterdays” in an unconventional and swinging tempo that gave the audience something happy to end on and propelled them to their feet. To see a crowd of 120 people of all ages spontaneously erupt into a standing and joyous ovation was enough to make you believe that Dionysus lives!

Given that competing with Bowden’s show for afternoon attention were the NBA playoffs, various Cinco de Mayo weekend celebrations, a host of tentpole movies, and a Dodger home game, Vitello’s jazz entrepreneur April Williams deserves plaudits for courageously expanding her jazz programs into daytime hours.  And on this particular Sunday afternoon, the sunshine outside Vitello’s was niftily matched inside by the bright glow of Bonnie Bowden, a jazz artist and consummate entertainer whom we’ll be seeing a lot more of.

Congratulations to both Bowden and Williams for trying something new and succeeding. Encore, encore!

* * * * *

Photos by Bob Barry.

To read more reviews and posts by Norton Wright click HERE.

Picks of the Week: July 25 – 31.

July 25, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Justo Almario

– July 26. (Tues.)  Justo Almario Quartet.  Saxophonist/flutist Almario is one of the Southland’s great jazz treasures, a player who moves convincingly across every jazz arena. Vibrato.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 27. (Wed.)  Gladys Knight and James Ingram.  The one and only Grammy-winning Empress of Soul shares the stage with the smooth sounds of balladeer Ingram.   Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2040.

– July 28. (Thurs.)  David Angel’s Saxtet.  Angel continues his quest to showcase the jazz saxophone in all its glories.   Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

– July 28. (Thurs.)  Red Baraat.  The band that has convincingly married the Punjabi bhangra percussion rhythms with spunky New Orleans brass makes its West Coast premiere appearance.  The Skirball Cultural Center.   Free.  Seating on first come basis.  (310) 440-4500.

Ann Hampton Callaway

– July 28 – July 30.  (Thurs. – Sun.) Ann Hampton Callaway.  Blessed with one of the jazz vocal world’s most gorgeous, emotionally pliant voices, Callaway is also a convincing pianist and a masterful musical storyteller. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– July 29. (Fri.)  Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos.  One of the major pop music breakthroughs of the past decade, the Grammy winning, platinum producing Lonely Boys share the stage with the older, more established, but no less compelling Los Lobos. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

– July 29. (Fri.)  John Proulx, Kristin Korb and Dave Tull. Trio’s like this don’t come along very often.  Pianist Proulx, bassist Korb and drummer Tull are all first rate instrumentalists  But each of them is also an appealing jazz vocalist.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– July 29 & 30. (Fri. & Sat.) Michael Feinstein and the Singing Stars of Television.  Pianist/singer Feinstein, who matches his musical adroitness with a dedication to the glories of American song, performs with Wayne Brady, Florence Henderson, Cheyenne Jackson and Dick Van Dyke.   Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2040.

– July 30. (Sat.)  Trouble in Tahiti. The too-rarely seen Leonard Bernstein one-act opera receives a rare and unusual performance in a night club setting.  Jessica Marney and Phil Meyer star.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– July 30. (Sat.)  Shoghaken Ensemble and Tigran.  An evening overflowing with the colorful, far-reaching melodies and rhythms of Armenia.  Grand Performances.

(213) 687-2159.

– July 30. (Sat.)  Chuck Manning Quartet.  Versatile tenor saxophonist Manning brings an inventive point of view to his bop-influenced, straight ahead style.  His stellar backing includes Jay Daversa, trumpet, Pat Senatore, bass and Jimmy Branley, drums.  At 6:30 and 10:30, the Otmaro Ruiz duo.   Vibrato.  (310) 474-9400.

Peter Frampton

– July 30. (Sat.)  Peter Frampton.  One of the icons of classic rock, Frampton was a co-founder of the group Humble Pie when he was only eighteen.  Still a star, this time out he performs his multi-platinum album Frampton Comes Alive! in its entirety.  Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

– July 30 & 31. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Central Avenue Jazz Festival.  The 16th annual festival, always a showcase for the Southland’s finest, takes place in one of the founding places of Los Angeles jazz.  This year’s line up includes: on Saturday: Pete Escovedo, Kamasi Washington, the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra, Karen A. Clark Project, Ashley Siris, Dorian Holley, The LAUSD All-City High School Jazz Band.  On Sunday: The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Katia Moraes and Sambaguru, Deacon Jones with Ray Goren, Ernie Andrews, Jazz America tribute to Buddy Collette.  The Central Avenue Jazz Festival takes place on Central Ave. between 42nd and 43rd streets.  Free.  (213) 473-2309.

San Francisco

New West Guitar Group

– July 27. (Wed.)  New West Guitar Group. A trio of gifted young guitarists – John Storie, Perry Smith and Jeff Stein, the New West players have thoroughly authenticated their ability to move freely and imaginatively across jazz, rock, folk and beyond.  Freight & Salvage.  (510) 644-2020.

– July 29. (Fri.)  Lavay Smith’s Crazy in Love with Patsy Cline.  The one and only sultry siren finds entertaining common ground between jazz, blues and country.  Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.   (510) 644-2020.

– July 31 – 31. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Fab Four.  Tribute bands seem to be proliferating in every direction.  But none do a more entertaining job of it than the Fab Four’s ear and eye catching versions of the Beatrles. Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

New York

– July 26 – 30. (Tues. – Sat.)  Leny Andrade“From Rio With Love.”  The title is great, but it doesn’t say it all.  Andrade, in fact, has for years been one of Brazil’s most proficient jazz vocal artists, combining her deep understanding of Brazilian rhythms with an equally inventive jazz style.  Birdland.     (212) 581-3080.

– July 26 – 31. (Tues. – Sun.)  Fourplay. Guitarist Chuck Loeb joined founding Fourplay members Bob James, keyboards, Nathan East, bass and Harvey Mason, drums in 2010.  The result has been a further musical enhancement of a group that has always had the ability to find the creative heart of whatever style they elect to play.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Claudia Acuna

– July 26 – 31. (Tues. – Sun.)  Claudia Acuna.  In a jazz world overflowing with talented female vocal artists, Acuna continues to soar freely at the highest levels of the art.  Chilean born, she mastered the basics quickly, but what makes her special is the way she has shaped her version of those basics into her own mesmerizing musical story telling. (212) 258-9800.   Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.


– July 29. (Fri.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Tenor and soprano saxophonist Coltrane has successfully accomplished the difficult task of creating his own convincing musical identity, expanding inventively from year to year, inspired but undistracted by the greatness of his father.  New Morning.    01 45 23 51 41.

Justo Amario photo by Tony Gieske.


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