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.








Live Jazz: The 60th Anniversary of Jazz at Massey Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival at Disney Hall

March 16, 2014

By Don Heckman

A pair of memorable jazz celebrations filled Disney Hall Saturday night with an enthusiastic crowd of listeners. Both segments of the performance were dedicated to 60th anniversaries. The first was a rare musical re-imagining of the 1953 Massey Hall (Toronto) performance that featured the brilliantly iconic quintet of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.

That’s as classic a bebop ensemble as has ever been heard, anywhere. And the challenge facing anyone attempting to simulate the classic Massey Hall performance (which is available on recordings) was to recall the original without falling into mimickry.

Jon Faddis

Jon Faddis

To the credit of the Massey Hall-revisited band at Disney – trumpeter Jon Faddis, alto saxophonist Jesse Davis, pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington – they performed a dynamic set of numbers vividly bringing the bebop era to life.

Faddis’ long-time relationship with Gillespie was present in everything he played. There were passages in which Faddis, like Gillespie, explored the trumpet’s full range of pitch and expressionism, often dominating the stage with ear-tingling high notes and storm clouds of fast-fingered riffing.

Saxophonist Davis brought both an affection for Charlie Parker, as well as a similarity of sound and phrasing, to his full-toned improvisations. Standing side by side with Faddis, ripping through such bebop classics as “Groovin’ High,” “Salt Peanuts,” “All the Things You Are,” “Hot House,” “Night In Tunisia” and more, propulsively driven by the strong rhythm team, he partnered in an effective recalling of one of contemporary jazz’s most memorable musical excursions.

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

The second half of the bill celebrated the 60th anniversary of the start of the Newport Jazz Festival. This ensemble, with saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen serving as musical director, offered an equally appealing array of players: Cohen, pianist Peter Martin, trumpeter Randy Brecker, singer Karrin Allyson, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Clarence Penn.

Here, however, there was no special effort to offer contemporized versions of the bebop past. Instead, the ensemble, in its natural diversity, recalled the ever-appealing range of music that has always been an essential element in the colorful history of the Newport Festival.

The first numbers showcased the trumpet virtuosity of Brecker, ably supported by the band’s dynamic rhythm team.

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson

But as the program continued, a different musical direction took over, guided imaginatively by the two women in the ensemble: Cohen and Allyson.  Always as improvisationally expansive as an instrumentalist, Allyson was at her best in a performance of “’Round Midnight” that showcased the full range of her expressive powers.

The highlight of the set, however, as well as the entire evening, was a reading of “La Vie En Rose” featuring Allyson’s lush-toned voice in tandem with the emotionally rich clarinet of Cohen. Singing and playing with expansive creative intensity, often moving with the subtle gestures of dancers, both brought a rarely heard feminine jazz expressiveness to the French classic — and the balance of the program.

In sum, there was a vital appropriateness in the qualities that were constantly present in the efforts of Cohen and Allyson, beautifully enlivening the transformative gender qualities that have become part of the jazz lexicon over the past 60 years.

Live Music: George Benson Salutes Nat “King” Cole at the Hollywood Bowl

September 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. George Benson’s tribute to Nat “King” Cole at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night was a major musical effort. He could have simply performed a program of Cole-related songs with a small group comparable to the classic Cole Trio. Instead, Benson and the L.A. Phil elected – as Cole occasionally did – to produce a musical setting with a 50+ piece orchestra and a six voice choir.

The results were well worth the effort. Benson has always had an appealing baritone voice, comfortable in Cole’s vocal range and equally rich with the rhythmic flavoring of jazz. And his affection for Cole’s music was fully apparent in the more than an hour long program he devoted to most of the many highlights in the Cole song catalog.

George Benson

George Benson

Benson opened the set with a characteristically brisk and swinging “Walking My Baby Back Home” before digging into “Nature Boy,” a song strongly associated with Cole, and one of his major hit releases.

Other hits followed: “Too Young,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons,” “Mona Lisa,” “Ramblin’ Rose” and more, all of it convincingly true to the Cole musical canon.

Add to that some special items: the too rarely heard, “That Sunday That Summer,” accompanied by the choir and the string section; a beautiful duet with soprano and choir director Janey Clewer on “When I Fall In Love”; equally touching Benson versions of “Mona Lisa” and the inevitable “Unforgettable”; gripping takes on “Route 66” and “Smile”: and a climactic interpretation of the major Cole hit, the Grammy-nominated “Ramblin’ Rose.”

One couldn’t help but sense the presence of Cole’s musical identity in Benson’s readings of each of the songs. Often, the vowels in his lines, as well as his song phrasing itself, seemed deeply affected by Benson’s obvious familiarity with the sound and textures of the original Cole versions.

But Benson is no imitator. Like Cole, he is a major vocal artist, as well as a significant instrumentalist in his own right. And a good portion of the pleasures in this intriguing musical event traced to the performance’s subtext – which was the interfacing between the comparable talents of two gifted creative artists.

It’s worth mentioning, as well, that Benson was superbly served by a stageful of world class musicians, playing superb arrangements by pianist/musical director, Randy Waldman. Like everything else in this memorable evening all the elements surrounding Benson came together with a blend of precise accuracy and stunning musicality.

One suspects Nat “King” would have loved it.

The evening opened with a high spirited performance by the L.A. Philharmonic’s first Creative Chair For Jazz, singer Dianne Reeves.

Every performance by Reeves is a spontaneous musical adventure, and this one was no exception.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

She was backed by an impressive ensemble, which prominently featured keyboardists Peter Martin (also Reeves’ Musical Director) and Geoff Keezer, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully.

Reeves’ vocal melodies were the lead lines soaring above this remarkable musical collective. And, as always, her phrases reached well beyond the songs she was singing, adding her own spontaneously improvised passages. And she finished her set with one of her frequent inventive touches, creating a spontaneous song in which she musically introduced each of her musicians by name.

The contrasts between Benson and Reeves were many. But there were unique musical similarities as well. Together they provided a perfect climax to the colorful array of musical happenings in the Hollywood Bowl’s 2013 summer jazz season.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

Picks of the Week: Mar. 22 – 27

March 21, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Lisa McClowry

– Mar. 22. (Tues.)  Lisa McClowry.  Eclectic singer McClowry –nominated for International Vocalist of the Year in the 2011 Wave Awards — ranges freely across pop, rock, jazz and folk boundary lines.  She’ll be backed by a group that features guitarist/singer/Grammy winning songwriter Jim Peterik. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Mar. 22. (Tues.)  Alfredo Rodriguez Trio. The brilliant young Cuban pianist, a protégé of Quincy Jones, returns to Vibrato a year after he made his first impressive debut at the Bel Air club.  Click HERE to read an iRoM review of that performance.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Mar. 22. (Tues.)  Barry Manilow in Concert.  Singer/pianist/songwriter Manilow, one of the icons of American pop, performs on a program supporting the work of the Reprise Theatre Company.  Royce Hall (310) 825-2101.

Andre Watts

– Mar. 23. (Wed.)  Andre Watts. A prodigy at the age of nine, pianist Watts has matured into a gifted artist, especially adept at interpreting the dramatic piano repertoire of Franz Liszt.  In this performance, he concentrates completely upon Liszt compositions. Performing a program of Liszt.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. (562)  916-8501.

– Mar. 23. (Wed.)  Chuck Berghofer’s Midnight Jazz Band. Bergohofer  could easily have included “All-Star” in the name of this stellar ensemble. With Berghofer, bass, Gary Foster, saxophones, Terry Trotter, piano, and Joe LaBarbera, drums, expect to hear imaginative jazz improvising at its best.  Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

– Mar. 24. (Thurs.)  The Lori Bell Quartet.  Flutist Bell leads her group in a celebration of pianist Dave MacKay’s birthday.  They’re backed by the solid rhythm team of  Bob Magnussen, bass and Paul Kreibich, drums.  LAX Jazz Club at the Crown Plaza LAX.  (310) 258-1333.

– Mar. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Christian McBride Quartet. The versatile, musically imaginative bassist makes one of his rare L.A. club appearances in the company of  Steve Wilson, alto saxophone, Warren Wolf, vibes, Peter Martin, piano and Carl Allen, drums.  Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

Sarah Chang

– Mar. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Kurt Masur, Sarah Chang and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Masur’s sturdy, dependable baton leads the L.A. Phil in a program of 19th century classics by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Dvorak.  The gifted young violinist Sarah Chang performs the Brahms Violin Concerto. Disney Concert Hall.  (213) 972-7211.

– Mar. 25. (Fri.) Michael Wolff Quartet.  Pianist Wolff’s adventurous career resume includes a long run as the bandleader on the Arsenio Hall Show, a co-starring role with his two sons on The Naked Brothers television series and the leadership of his musically eclectic Impure Thoughts group.  This time out, he displays his solid, straight ahead jazz talents in the solid company of Bob Sheppard, saxophones, John B. Williams, bass and Mike Clark, drums.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Mar. 25. (Fri.)  Tord Gustavsen Ensemble. Norwegian pianist Gustavsen, bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad illuminate the piano trio lineage reaching through Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett with a unique blend of European subtleties and classic improvisational drive.  The Skirball Center.  (310) 440-4500.

– Mar. 25. (Fri.) David Crosby and Graham Nash.  The classic sounds of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young simmer with strikingly engaging authenticity in the still enchanting singing and playing of two iconic musical figures of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Long Beach Terrace Theatre.   (562) 436-3636.

– Mar. 26. (Sat.)  Jim Hall Quartet.  The veteran guitarist celebrates his 80th birthday (a few months late) in a far too rare appearance in Los Angeles.  He’ll be backed by a generation crossing ensemble: alto saxophonist Greg Osby, bassist Steve Laspina and drummer Joey Baron.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast concert at Musicians Institute Concert Center.  (310) 271-9039.

Leni Stern

– Mar. 26. (Sat.)  Leni Stern. Singer guitarist Stern has been described as “Marlene Dietrich borrowing Billie Holiday’s phrasing.”  And that doesn’t begin to fully portray the far-reaching musical interests of Stern, who also brings a rich affection for African roots music to her own inventive vocal and instrumental explorations. The Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

– Mar. 26. (Sat.)  Tom Peterson and Don Rader Quartet.  Saxophonist Peterson and trumpeter Rader are first call players for every kind of jazz setting, from small groups to big bands.  But here they step to the front of the stage to stretch out in their own musical setting. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Oliver Mtukudzi

– Mar. 26. (Sat.)  Acoustic AfricaHabib Koite, Oliver Mtukudzi. Afel Bocoum. The return of Acoustic Africa in a second incarnation showcases the imaginative sounds of the guitar in African music.  Koite, a superstar from Mali, Mtukudzi, the best-selling artist in Zimbabwe, and Bocoum, a Malian traditionalist perform with the companionship of a traditional African band.  A UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall (310) 825-2101.

– Mar. 27. (Sun.) “Awakening: Spring and Otherwise.” Singer  Susan Krebs hosts an afternoon of music & song, poetry & spoken word.  With Rich Eames, Jerry Kalaf, Ken Wild and special guests Chuck Manning, Cory O’Brien and projectionist Marc RosenthalThe Skylight Theatre. 3 p.m.   (702) 582-8587.

New York

– May 22 – 27. (Tues. – Sun.) The Bill Charlap Trio.  Scion of a musical family, pianist Charlap has taken his family’s creative torch and carried it into ever-fascinating new musical territories.  He performs with Peter Washington and Kenny WashingtonDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  (212) 258-9800.

– May 22 – 27. (Tues. – Sun.) Charlie Haden’s Quartet West with Haden, bass, Ernie Watts, saxophones, Alan Broadbent, piano and Rodney Green, drums, celebrates its 25th anniversary, as well as the release of their new CD, Sophisticated Ladies. Birdland (212) 581-3080.

Jeff Lorber

– Mar. 23 & 24. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Jeff Lorber Fusion.  When keyboardist Lorber formed his group Fusion in the late seventies, he created a model that eventually led to contemporary jazz and smooth jazz.  But Lorber himself has always retained his connection with the solid jazz skills at the heart of his music. Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

– Mar. 25. (Fri.)  Jon Irabagon.  Saxophonist Irabagon, winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition has been fully authenticating that achievement in the past two years, forging an impressive personal musical pathway.  He performs in the demanding bass and drum format, backed by bassist John Hebert and drummer Mike Pride.  Cornelia St. Café. (212) 989-9319.

– Mar. 27. (Sun.)  Jazz Guitars Meet Hendrix. Jimmy Hendrix has always been an inspiration and a challenge to jazz guitarists.  Here, a pair of guitarists deeply inspired by Hendrix — Sheryl Bailey and Vic Juris – take on the incendiary challenges of  his music.  They’re backed by Lincoln Goines, bass and Anthony Pinciotti, drums.  55 Bar.  (212) 929-9883.

San Francisco

– Mar. 24. (Thurs.)  “How Sweet the Sound” With Jane Siberry, Barbara Higbie and Linda Tillery.  “Sweet” will only begin to describe the sounds, rhythms and emotions produced by this extraordinary trio of musicians:  Siberry, the hit-making (“Calling All Angels”) singer/songwriter; Grammy-nominated pianist and long-time Windham Hill star Higbie; and Tillery, leader of the Cultural Heritage Choir, percussionist and a masterful blender of soul, blues, gospel and jazz.  Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

Picks of the Week: Dec. 28 – Jan. 2

December 26, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Gerald Clayton

– Dec. 28. (Tues.)  Gerald Clayton Trio. Grammy nominated pianist Clayton has moved rapidly from being an upcoming L.A. prodigy to an emerging new jazz star.  He’s based in New York City now, so don’t miss this fairly rare opportunity to hear him back in the Southland.  Steamers. (714) 871-8800

– Dec. 28. (Tues.)  Mitchel Forman Quartet. Versatile keyboardist Forman’s credits reach from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Wayne Shorter to Manhattan Transfer, Pat Metheny and beyond.  But it’s always fascinating to hear him leading his own musical aggregation. Vibrato.  (310)  474-9400.

– Dec. 28 – Jan. 2. (Tues. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit.  What better time to hear the gorgeous voice of Monheit than during the holiday season, especially when she’ll be singing songs from her lovely new album, Home. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Dec. 30. (Thurs.)  Joe La Barbera Quintet. The drummer everyone likes to hear in the rhythm section, LaBabera steps out front to lead the stellar ensemble of Bob Sheppard, Clay Jenkins, Tom Warrington and John Campbell.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Dec. 30. (Thurs.) Janis Mann Quartet.  Mann’s latest album, Blow Away, is a compelling display of classic standards sung in richly atmospheric interpretations.  Here’s a chance to hear them performed live.  Charlie O’s. (818)  994-3058.

San Francisco

Fee Waybill

– Dec. 29. (Wed.)  The Tubes.  The wildly theatrical band of the ‘70s and ‘80s is still breaking out of the envelope, with the unique voice of Fee Waybill leading the way.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

– Dec. 29. (Wed.)  Roberta Donnay Jazz Trio.  Singer Donnay takes a break from her gig  as a member of Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks to showcase her impressive jazz vocal skills.  The Union Room at Biscuits and Blues.   (415) 292-2583.

New York.

– Dec. 27 – Jan. 2. Chris Botti.  Trumpeter Botti’s holiday month musical marathon continues.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Dec. 28 – 31. (Tues. – Fri.)  The Bad Plus.  Contemporary, cutting edge piano jazz is alive in the hands of this musically vibrant trio.  Village Vanguard. (212) 255-4037.


(Fri., Dec. 31)

Los Angeles

Baked Potato. Don Randi & Quest bring in the New Year at their home base with a line up of special guests.  (818) 980-1615.

Jane Monheit (Photo by Tony Gieske)


Catalina Bar & GrillJane Monheit. Continuing her week-long run (through Sunday) with a holiday celebration.  (323) 466-2210.

Charlie O’s. Don Menza, Tom Ranier, John Heard and Roy McCurdy.  Saxophonist Menza fronts a stellar ensemble of L.A. jazz veterans.   (818) 994-3059.

Chateau Ballroom.   Susie Hansen Latin Jazz Band. Hansen’s electric violin and rhythm happy ensemble provide the perfect setting to salsa in the New Year. 213-746-4490

Chaya Brasserie. “Roaring 20’s New Year’s Eve.” John Reynolds and the Blue Four, featuring singer Molly Ryan.   (310) 859-8833.

Culver Club Radisson Hotel. Ernie Andrews struts his inimitable musical way into the New Year.  (310) 649-1776.  Ext. 4137.

Steamers. The Chris Williams Sextet.  Canadian-born singer/percussionist Williams leads his rhythmically energized sextet in a holiday celebration.  (714) 871-8800.

Barbera Morrison

Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Barbara Morrison keeps the blues and everything else alive, this year and every year.  (310) 474-9400.

Vitellos. Nutty. An evening of classic Frank Sinatra Ratpack frivolity and jazz to bring in the New Year.    Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Walt Disney HallKristin Chenoweth. Emmy and Tony award winner Chenowith celebrates the arrival of 2011 with a back up crew of singers, dancers and musicians, performing selections from Glee, Promises, Promises, Wicked and a lot more.  (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

Yoshi’s Oakland. Lalah Hathaway. Soulful stylist Hathaway brings emotional life to everything she sings.  Hopefully she’ll include her Grammy-nominated “Forever, For Always, For Love.”  (510) 238-9200.

Yoshi’s San FranciscoDianne Reeves. Reeve’s sumptuous voice will be ably backed by the superb ensemble of Peter Martin, Romero Lubambo, Reginald Veal and Terreon Gully.   (415) 655-5600.

New York

Hilary Kole

BirdlandThe Birdland Big Band directed by Tommy Igoe and featuring the warm-toned vocals of Hilary Kole top off a rare week-long run with a climactic, bring-in-the-New-Year set.   (212) 581-3080.

Blue Note. Chris Botti.  Trumpeter Botti heads toward the climax of his annual holiday run at the Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. “Celebration in Swing” It’s an apt title for a performance by the all-star ensemble of Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Green, Jimmy Heath, Nicholas Payton, Dezron Douglas and Willie Jones, III.  (212) 258-9800.

Iridium. The Mike Stern Band with Victor Wooten, Dave Weckl and Bob Malach.  And here’s another all-star ensemble determined to celebrate the New Year in hard swinging fashion.  (212) 582-2121.

Jazz StandardDr. Lonnie Smith Big Band.  Dr. Lonnie, who usually works in trio format, displays his dynamic style in a roaring, big band setting. Jazz Standard.   (212) 447-7733.

Village Vanguard. The Bad Plus.  The trio of Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King continue to expand the envelope of the jazz piano trio.   (212) 255-4037.

Live Jazz: Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield, Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal at the Hollywood Bowl

July 22, 2010

By Michael Katz

There was a pleasing aura of comfort that emanated over the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night, the result of a group of musicians closely associated with L.A. that turned the sometimes imposing amphitheatre into their own personal living room on a chilly mid-summer’s night. From former L.A. resident and recent director of the Bowl’s jazz program Dianne Reeves, to native Lee Ritenour (celebrating 50 years on the guitar) and Dave Grusin, with enough movie and TV scores to qualify as an honorary native, the performers had a perfect rapport with the audience, who in turn lent them their attention in ways not always evident at L.A.’s largest venue.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves opened the show with a rousing, blues-tinged “Today Will Be A Good Day,” which featured Romero Lubambo on guitar, showing that his skills go far beyond his native Brazilian rhythms. Though Reeves has been best known for her lush interpretations of standards, especially since her work on the film “Goodbye and Good Luck,” there was nary a jazz standard in the program, and for this night it showed off her versatility with crisp, swinging versions of her own compositions and jazz-tinged versions of classic r&b numbers. Most impressive was an improvised vocalese tango, delivered in sultry fashion, abetted again by Lubambo, as well as a sterling rhythm section with Peter Martin on piano, Reginald Veal on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. Equally stirring was her dramatic reading of the ballad, “Goodbye,” which had the Bowl audience pindrop silent. Reeves used a continual vocalese patter to communicate with the crowd, urging them to join in the chorus on a soulful version of  “Just My Imagination,” and a later nod to Michael Jackson to close the set.

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

Taj Mahal

Lee Ritenour led off the second half of the program by introducing the conceptual  6 String Theory highlighted in his latest cd and immediately yielded the stage to bluesmen Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal. With Taj on acoustic guitar and Keb on an understated electric, their vocals took precedence on “Government Cheese” and “Honky Tonk Woman.” Blending in Taj Mahal’s slightly crustier voice, the two had a folksy, roadhouse feel,  reminiscent of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Taj picked up the harmonica as Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin joined in, backed up by Marvin Lee Davis on bass and Sonny Emory on drums, for a rollicking “Am I Wrong.”

Keb' Mo'

Ritenour featured his jazz chops on the next couple of tunes, starting with “Wes Bound,” his tribute to Wes Montgomery from the album of the same name. Up to this point, pianist Grusin had been lurking in the background, but he took center stage for the beginning of a Jobim medley, soloing beautifully in “Fotografia.” Ritenour then kicked in with “Stone Flower” from his Twist of Jobim CD, which has become a signature piece in his live shows.

John Scofield

John Scofield joined the group for the next three numbers, showing off an astonishing versatility. First he joined Ritenour on a tribute to Les Paul entitled “LP,” the two of them trading riffs with a Nashville accent, ably filled out by Grusin who was now manning a candy apple red electric organ. Next came “Lay It Down”, a rock-funk burner with Scofield and Ritenour bringing the crowd to its feet with one sensational lick after another.  Finally, Ritenour stepped back and let Scofield lead the quartet in another highlight of the evening,  a searingly beautiful version of “My Foolish Heart,” his acid-tinged tones reverberating in heartbreak.

Dave Grusin stepped in next with an equally compelling turn, playing solo piano on “Memphis Stomp,” from his solo piano soundtrack for Sydney Pollack’s film of John Grisham’s The Firm. Grusin combines a classic jazz swing style with his  western roots – fans of his recognize it most memorably in his hit “Mountain Dance” – and his work, particularly in this score, showed off his ability to evoke a sense of place.  You could almost see the backdrop of Grisham’s novels in his performance.

From there the show fell into an easy listening pop-jazz groove, featuring Ritenour and the band in “Getup Standup” and finally “Smoke N’ Mirrors,” which featured a rousing extended percussion solo with some terrific stick work by Sonny Emory. The whole crew, including Dianne Reeves, came back for “Why I Sing The Blues,” with an L.A. down home feel that had the crowd up in the aisles, stamping their approval.

To read Lee Ritenour’s Q & A about the making of  “6 String Theory” click here.

To read more reviews by Michael Katz click here.


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