Picks of the Week: Feb. 5 – 10

February 5, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles 

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

– Feb. 6. (Wed.)  Sally Kellerman.  The inimitable Ms. Kellerman is back, this time with an evening of Valentine’s Day songs in a program titled, appropriately, “Love.”  Don’t miss it.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Robben Ford. Guitarist Ford, who moves easily across boundaries from blues to jazz and beyond, celebrates the imminent release of his new album, Bringing It Back Home.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– Feb. 8. (Fri.)  Bill Cunliffe Big Band“Bach to the Future.”  Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated pianist/composer/arranger Cunliffe leads his big band in his jazz imagining of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  Later, starting at 9:30 p.m., pianist John Campbell will perform in a new Vitello’s weekly event — Piano Night in the downstairs dining room.   Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.)  Rhythm of the Dance.  Irish step dancing in all its colorful variations, delivered by an expert company of dancers.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts  (562) 916-8501.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

– Feb, 9. (Sat.)  Wayne Shorter Quartet with Esperanza Spalding and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Saxophonist/composer Shorter presents the world premiere of a work for Esperanza and the L.A. Phil, commissioned by the Philharmonic.  Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.  www.laphil.com

– Feb. 9. (Sat.)  Rob Lockhart Quartet.  Versatile saxophonist Lockhart, an A-list sideman, steps into the spotlight.  He’s backed by pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Mark FerberVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 9 & 10. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Russian National Ballet Theatre. One of Russia’s finest ballet companies presents a pair of classics.   Sat.: Sleeping Beauty.  Sun.: CinderellaValley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000.

– Feb, 10. (Sun.)  Ann Hampton Callaway.  “The Streisand Songbook”  Pianist/singer Callaway, who moves easily from jazz to pop to cabaret, offers a program of songs associated with Barbra Streisand.  Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

– Feb. 7 – 10 (Thurs. – Sun.).  Dave Holland.  Bassist Holland displays his far-reaching musical versatility in four unique programs.  Thurs: Solo.  Fri.: Duo with Kenny Barron.  Sat.: Quintet.  Sun.: Dave Holland PrismSFJAZZ at Miner Auditorium.     (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman

– Feb. 7 – 10 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Joshua Redman.  The always adventurous, Grammy-nominated saxophonist stretches the musical genre-boundaries in search of new and compelling improvisational ideas.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.

New York City

– Feb. 5 – 9.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Lou Donaldson Organ Quartet.  He’s one of the still active iconic jazz saxophonist, performing this time in the grooving environment of an organ quartet.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

– Feb. 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)  Ron Carter Quartet.  Carter is not only a brilliant bassist and composer, he’s also a stimulating leader who knows how to assemble an imaginative jazz group.  This time out, he’s with pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Payton Crossley and percussionist Rolando Morales-MatosThe Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.


Marianne Faithfull

Marianne Faithfull

– Feb. 9. (Sat.)  Marianne Faithfull and Bill Frisell.  It’s a fascinating combination.  Pop star/actress Faithfull has been an iconic figure since the ‘60s.  Versatile guitarist Frisell seems determined to try something new in every outing.  The combination should be intriguing.   New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.


– Feb. 7 & 8. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Leszek Mozdzer/Lars Danielsson Duo.  The names may be unfamiliar to English-speaking jazz fans, but pianist Mozdzer and bassist Danielsson play together with a spirit of jazz togetherness that reaches beyond the limits of languages. Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 263 267.


– Feb. 7 – 9.  )Thurs. – Sat.)  Billy Cobham. Veteran drummer Cobham has assembled a band of players from France and England into a collective of true international jazz.   Blue Note Milano.    02.690 16888.


Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander

– Feb. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.)  Monty Alexander: The Harlem-Kingston Express.  It’s a perfectly named band, with Jamaica-born pianist Alexander blending his impressive jazz playing with the traditional sounds and rhythms of his roots. Blue Note Tokyo.   03-5485-0088.

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Sally Kellerman, Wayne Shorter and Joshua Redman  photos by Tony Gieske.

A Twist of Doc: The 2013 NAMM Convention Performance Highlights

February 1, 2013

 By Devon “Doc” Wendell

The 2013 NAMM (National Association Of Music Merchants) convention took place in Anaheim California between Thursday, January 24th and Sunday, January 27th. Despite throngs of inebriated metal heads roaming the Anaheim streets, instrument booths in the convention hall, and thousands of music merchants packed into the Anaheim Convention center like sardines, there were several stellar musical performances by some legendary names and innovators in the music industry, especially in the jazz and blues categories.

Here are some of 2013 NAMM’s many concert highlights:

On Friday night, Hammond Organ presented its two-plus hour “Hammond Soul Summit” Concert at The Anaheim Marriot, which featured some of the instrument’s greatest and most influential practitioners.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Kicking off the show was the legendary jazz and funk Hammond B3 pioneer, Dr. Lonnie Smith performing with the incredible Chester Thompson (Tower Of Power and Santana) and Larry Goldings (Al Jarreau, Maceo Parker, John Mayer).  The three organ titans performed a loose and funky rendition of Smith’s classic “Keep Talkin’.”  Backed by a dynamic rhythm section (Jay Didimo on drums and Jack Maher on electric guitar), Smith and Thompson began swapping bluesy organ licks, trying to upstage one another, pushing the exchanges to ecstatic heights. The energy was electric and took the predominately rock loving NAMM audience back to school. Goldings soloed on an acoustic piano preset on his electric keyboard, playing jazz-fueled gospel chops while Thompson and Smith comped rhythm changes and walking organ bass lines behind him. Unfortunately, they were only allotted time to play one number.

Marty Grebb

Marty Grebb

Up next, Marty Grebb (Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Etta James) took the stage, backed by some of the greatest session players in the world (Reggie McBride on bass and Alvino Bennett on drums) with special guest, 12 year old blues guitar virtuoso, Ray Goren.  After a Jimmy Smith-esque blues shuffle showcasing the young Goren’s fiery electric blues guitar runs and Grebb’s down-home B3 style, another guest was introduced — Marty Grebb’s old musical partner from the Buckinghams,  Dennis Tuffano, on vocals.  Together, Tuffano and Grebb sang The Buckinghams’ 1967 hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”

Though it was hard for Tuffano to come close to topping Grebb’s soulful, Ray Charles- inspired vocals, he proved to still have the fire. This was the most nostalgic and exciting moment of the convention. Goren played some tasteful B.B. King style licks with the maturity of a musician 3 times his age, proving that he’s definitely someone to watch out for.

Larry Goldings

Larry Goldings

Larry Goldings returned to the stage with his trio (Jack Maher: guitar, Jay Didimo: drums), performing a brilliantly original arrangement of the Sonny Rollins classic “Doxy.” Golding’s imagination, fluidity, and inspiring skills incorporated many of Rollins’ saxophone lines in his organ solo and made it look easy.

Although many hard-rock acts dominated the main stage throughout the convention, Nick Smith And Friends performed a set of pure jazz at 4:00pm on Saturday.  Tonight Show keyboardist Smith was joined by an all-star band consisting of Marvin “Smitty” Smith: drums, Cory Jacobs: keyboard, Trevor Ware: Upright bass, James Manning: Electric bass, Antonio Julius: trumpet, Ray Fuller: guitar, and Kamasi Washington on tenor sax.

Nick Smith

Nick Smith

Performing a set of hard-bop originals such as “Alternative Way,” “Slow But Surely” (a masterful tribute to Thelonious Monk), and “Tony Williams” (a salute to jazz drum legend Tony Williams), Nick Smith And Friends proved to be one of the most consistently brilliant jazz bands around today.  Amazingly (believe it or not), Nick Smith played with the syncopation and humor of Monk and virtuosic energy and fluidity of McCoy Tyner in what I can already predict will be among my top ten performances of 2013. Marvin “Smitty” Smith’s bombastic drumming pushed the entire band to play beyond their comfort zone, which is what true improvised jazz is all about. And Kamasi Washington’s playing brought to mind the adventurous spirit of a young Wayne Shorter or mid-60s Joe Henderson.

Even the band’s final tune, “Yeah” (which was a slight venture into funk/fusion) felt fresh and fun without the typical clichés of those genres. Nick Smith And Friends’ too short set was filled with an understanding and love of the history of hard-bop, modal jazz, with just a hint of fusion.  Later that evening Muriel Anderson’s “All Star Guitar Night” was presented by Yamaha guitars, and a benefit and silent auction for The Music For Life Alliance took place at The Anaheim Marriot’s Platinum Ballroom.

Though the big name acts like Stanley Jordan, Robben Ford (who received The Guitar Player Certified Legend award at the event) and host and performer Muriel Anderson were the big name draws of this “exclusive” event, it was some of the lesser known names who were the most interesting of the long showcase.

Mimi Fox

Mimi Fox



Jazz guitarist Mimi Fox performed elegant and thoughtful versions of Wes Montgomery’s “Four By Six” and Chic Corea’s “Five Hundred Miles High,” using open harmonics and sweeping arpeggios, all while playing lead and rhythm simultaneously. It was easy to see why Fox has been sought after by Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, and Branford Marsalis, among others.


Ian Ethan Case

Ian Ethan Case


Ian Ethan Case is a young guitarist with a style that is both sonically and visually original and unorthodox in all the best ways. Case’s performance at this showcase surely had many six-stringers rethink the possibilities of the guitar. Case plays a double neck acoustic guitar in a unique and percussive manner, strumming the six string side of the guitar with one hand, while fretting chords and lead sequences on the 12 string side with the other hand, over the neck of the guitar while occasionally thumping his fists on the instrument’s body, creating polyrhythms. One must see this to believe it. His ideas were endless, playing a style that had elements of country, acoustic rock, and bluegrass, but is a completely unique sound nonetheless.

Case’s ballad “Anthony’s Lullaby”, dedicated to his infant son, had a dream-like, dissonant yet dark, melodic quality to it. It was refreshing to witness a guitarist who has created his own style and is not emulating a host of other players.

Vocalist Toots Hibbert and guitarist Carl Harvey are know for their work in the prolific reggae band Toots And The Maytals, but their acoustic, Delta Blues renditions of the Maytals’ classics “Reggae Got Soul” and “54-46 Was My Number” was a brilliant departure for these two men from the reggae world.  As both men strummed acoustic guitars, with Harvy playing an occasional piercing lead, Hibbert’s vocals sounded like a cross between the late Reverend Gary Davis and Richie Havens.  Their country blues arrangements gave the songs new fire and soul. This was pure blues without any of the affectations that many guitarists of other genres who try to conquer the blues are often guilty of falling back on.

James Hill

James Hill

Ukulele master James Hill and bassist Bakithi Kumalo (bassist on Paul Simon’s Graceland album) brought some much needed humor to this event, performing a witty reading of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” with Hill singing and playing the chord changes on ukulele and Kumalo playing the funky bass line on a small, short scale bass.  The sound of Hill playing those syncopated minor ninth chords on a ukulele made his performance one to remember for a long time. Although Hill is a skilled musician, it’s rare and refreshing to see an artist at an event like this who doesn’t take himself too seriously and isn’t afraid to show it.

So that’s it for my NAMM 2013 highlights. At a huge event like this, it’s quality over quantity as there were hundreds of performances during the four day convention.

Like most of the NAMM attendees, I’m exhausted yet already curious about next year’s lineup of showcases and events.

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

Picks of the Week: March 27 – April 1

March 27, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Keith Jarrett

– Mar. 27. (Tues.)  Keith Jarrett Solo. It’s improvisation at its most illuminating whenever Jarrett takes one of his remarkable excursions into the world of total creative spontaneity. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.  There will also be two additional solo dates as part of this Spring tour.  The first is Sunday, April 1,  at U.C. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.  The second is Wed., April 4 at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center.

– Mar. 27. (Tues.) SFJAZZ Collective plays the music of Stevie Wonder.  The all-star SFJAZZ Collective finds the elusive links between jazz and the the unique Wonder catalog. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-3000.

– Mar. 29. (Thurs.) Slumgum with the Bob Sheppard Trio. Cutting edge group Slumgum roves freely across territory reaching from jazz and classical to world music and wide open improvisation.  They share a stage with the equally adventurous saxophonist Sheppard. Curve Line Space.  (323) 478-9874.  www.slumgum.com

Larkin McLean

– Mar. 29. (Thurs.)  Larkin McLean.  She’s a singer/songwriter with a style, an imagination and a wicked sense of humor.  Click HERE to check out an iRoM review of McLean’s new CD, If You’re A Wild Girl, Say AyeGenghis Cohen  (323) 653-0640.

– Mar. 29. (Thurs.) Ute Lemper and the Vogler Quartet with Stefan Malzew.  Cabaret, reaching from the decadence of Weimar to the brand new decadence of century 21, is alive and well in the musically adept persona of the gorgeous Lemper.  A UCLA Live Event.  Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2102.

– Mar. 29 & 30 (Thurs. & Fri.)  Carmen Lundy,   Versatile Carmen Lundy is that rarity – an engaging jazz singer who also writes songs that often are as memorable as the standards she sings.  She celebrates release of her new CD, Changes. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905

– Mar. 29 – 31. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Robben Ford. His roots are firmly embedded in the blues, but guitarist Ford has also firmly established his versatility, moving comfortably across the various jazz fusion areas.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Mar. 30. (Fri.)  Don Menza Quartet. Saxophonist Menza is in the top echelon of everyone’s first-call list.  But it’s great to hear him up front and personal, on his own, as he will be here, backed by pianist Ed Czach, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Kendall Kay. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Billy Childs

– Mar. 31. (Fri.) Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble. With the Calder String Quartet. He’s one of the most creatively eclectic artists in the contemporary jazz world.  And Childs is especially fascinating when he displays his far-reaching compositions for his Chamber Jazz Ensemble and string quartet. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Mar. 30. (Fri.)  National Children’s Chorus “Journey of Song,” The talented young voices of the National Childrens’ Chorus take on a combination of old and brand new classical works, reaching over five time periods and two world premieres.  The Broad Stage.   (310) 434-3200.

– Mar. 31. (Fri.) Chano Dominguez.  Spanish pianist Dominguez plays a fascinating blend of jazz and flamenco via selections from his new album, Flamenco Sketches.  He’s backed by Omer Avital, bass, Blas Cordoba, vocals and percussion and Dafnis Prieto, drums.   Zipper Hall.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.  (310) 271-9039

– March 31 & April 1. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion. The LAMC is joined by the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra in a performance designed to replicate Bach’s original conception.  Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.



– Mar. 29 – April 1. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Hiromi and the Trio Project. After spending some time with Stanley Clarke, keyboardist is back on her own, showcasing her fabulous technique and free-flowing imagination, backed by bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon PhillipsJazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

San Francisco

– Mar. 31 – April 1. (Sat. & Sun,)  Patrice Rushen & Friends. Expect a little bit of every kind of jazz from keyboardist Rushen and her friends, who navigate every area of the art with ease.  Ndugu Chancler, Doc Powell, Everette Harp, Freddie WashingtonYoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

– Mar. 27 – April 1. (Tues. – Sun.)  Enrico Pieranunzi Trio.  Veteran Italian jazz pianist Pieranunzi – who has played with everyone from Chet Baker to Charlie Haden (among dozens of others) — offers selections from his new CD,    Permutation, with Scott Colley, bass, Antonio Sanchez, drums.  The Village Vanguard. (212) 255-4037.

Andrea Wolper

Mar. 31. (Sat.)  Andrea Wolper Trio.  Still not as well known as she should be Wolper is a singer who brings songs to life, whatever their source, working in a milieu that begins with jazz and reaches out to embrace an expressive area that is uniquely her own. With long time partners Michael Howell, guitar and Ken Filiano, bass.  55 Bar.   (212) 929-9883.

– April 1. (Sun.)  Sara Serpa. Vocalist/composer Serpa has been described by pianist Ran Blake as “the magical voice” for a  style that is opening new areas in jazz vocal improvisation. The Cornelia St. Cafe.   (212) 989-9319.

– April 1. (Sun.)  The New York City Chamber Orchestra and Festival Choruses. The forces of two superb ensembles combine for an Easter week performance of the Mozart Requiem.  Carnegie Hall.  (212) 247-7800.

Live Jazz: The Playboy Jazz Festival (Sunday) at the Hollywood Bowl

June 14, 2011

By Devon Wendell

It becomes more apparent each year that the annual Playboy Jazz Festival has less to do with pure jazz programming and more to do with people of all ages and races coming together for a good time.  This was certainly the case this year during the Festival’s second day show on Sunday, in which the lineup include a high percentage of funk/jazz and blues acts.

Many jazz “purists” may balk at this but the crowd didn’t seem to mind at all.  The crowd danced, drank, and did little fretting over the lack of flatted 5th chords being played.  Even an artist as beloved in the jazz world as John Scofield chose to play a set of pure blues with fellow guitarist Robben Ford (who’s more known as a blues player), resulting in one of the many festival highlights.

Robben Ford and John Scofield

Scofield and Ford were backed by Andy Hess on bass and Anastasio Panos on drums.  Their brief set consisted of mostly well known blues classics such as Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Mornin’ Little School Girl,” and Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf’s standard “Spoonful,” with Ford on vocals.  Oddly enough, Scofield’s guitar playing was much bluesier and tasteful in a traditional sense compared to that of Ford’s. Where Ford would fly across the fret board with lightning speed, sounding more like a mid ‘70’s Jeff Beck, Scofield played sweet and slow string bends with a more economic sense, bringing to mind the late great Albert King.

When the two ax men weren’t dueling solos, they were making some soulful and original guitar harmonies — as on their instrumental rendition on Ray Charles’s “Busted.”   And it was especially refreshing to see Scofield set aside his jazzier chops and play some low-down blues, especially given the fact that many of his fans might thumb their noses at blues players.

Although the youthful vocal acappella group Naturally 7 offered a set list that didn’t differ much from that of their big Playboy Festival debut last year, their impact was equally strong and entertaining. Lead by Roger Thomas, Naturally 7’s ability to vocally mimic instruments from guitar, drums, bass and electric guitar to harmonica, trombone, and DJ scratches, while creating smooth and precise vocal harmonies, is astounding.

Naturally 7

Warren Thomas’ vocal simulation of Eric Clapton’s guitar solo on their reading of the Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sounded better than many of the actual guitarists who performed during the festival.  And Garfield Buckley’s ability to capture Sly Stone’s wah-wah drenched harmonica phrasing on Sly And The Family Stone’s “Sex Machine” was frightening in its accuracy.  The group’s performance was further proof that Naturally 7 isn’t just relying on a limited gimmick, but is, instead, one of the most creative and innovative ensembles in the music world.

Another stellar moment in the festival was the arrival of former James Brown horn section players and arrangers Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone) and Fred Wesley (trombone).  Together again, their new project was titled “Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute To James Brown.”

Unfortunately, the African vocalists — Vusi Mahlasela and Cheik Lo — were a distraction from the JB sound laid down at the opening number, Brown’s “I’ve Got That Feeling.”  But even so, the magic between Ellis and Wesley made this a most special performance. Their funky horn hooks and the symmetry between the two men that helped change music forever sounded as fresh as it did 40 years ago.  The only element that would have made this tribute a lot stronger would have been the inclusion of Maceo Parker, whose absence was especially felt on  JB’s “Pass The Peas.”

The most electrifying set of the day, however, took place when headliner Buddy Guy took the Bowl stage accompanied by his dynamic and attentive touring band: Ric Hall, guitar, Orlando Wright, bass; Tim Austin, drums; and Marty Sammons, keyboards.

Buddy Guy

Guy arrived like Zeus, throwing lightening bolts into the audience via a furry of twisted string bends and wailing guitar runs, then suddenly turning the volume down and playing sweet and softly.  His set consisted of blues classics like Muddy Water’s “Hoochie Coohie Man,” Freddie King’s “Love Her With A Feeling,” and Albert King’s version of O.V. Wright’s “Drowning On Dry Land.”  Guy did his usual stage antics — playing the guitar with his shirt while strapped backwards, playing wild blistering solos into the audience, using Austin’s drum stick as a slide, accompanying it all with his witty and warm stage banter.

As amazing as Guy’s energy was, it was paralleled by a special guest — 12 year old Quinn Sullivan, whom Guy brought to center stage. The pre-teen’s playing sounded like a well rehearsed combination of Guy and Eric Clapton.  Singing about his “Master Buddy Guy,” he even played a white Stratocaster like Guy’s.  But Guy and the audience enjoyed every second of Sullivan’s enthusiastic playing and singing.

With the exception of dynamic sets by Geri Allen’s Timeline Band (featuring the amazing tap dancing of Maurice Chestnut), Terence Blanchard’s band, Bill Cunliffe with the stirring sounds of the Resonance Big Band (showcasing fast-fingered pianist Marian Petrescu), and Harmony 3 (with Ronnie Laws, Walter Beasley and Stanley Jordan ) – jazz took a back seat to the blues on the last day of the 33rd annual Playboy Jazz Festival.

In the long run, it felt as though much of  Sunday’s music had been leading up to Buddy Guy’s performance.  At the forefront of modern electric blues, rock, funk, and even jazz, his playing displayed the power to cement it all together in completely natural, compatible fashion.  And to do so in a way that revealed how much the blues has inspired the jazz world.

Here, There & Everywhere: Guitars Galore at The Playboy Jazz Festival

June 8, 2011

By Don Heckman

The Playboy Jazz Festival returns to the Hollywood Bowl this weekend for the 33rd time with another celebration of America’s great musical art.  And the Festival’s long, remarkable  string of successes, over the course of more than three decades, is best described by Playboy’s founder, Hugh Hefner.

“I’ve had a lot of things to be proud of in my life,” says Hef.  “But nothing more, quite frankly, than the Jazz Festival.”

Most people see the Festival from one or both of two perspectives: As a non-stop parade of world class jazz (and beyond) talent.  And as a similarly continuous party in the Southern California outdoors, reaching from bright afternoon sunlight to cool night breezes.  Combine the two, with the music, the wine coolers, the feasting and the occasional dancing in the aisles, and it’s no wonder why the Festival has been packing the Bowl for so many years.

It’s seems to me, however, that there are other aspects to the weekend that are also intriguing.

Some of those aspects are always present.  Like, for example, the sociology of the Festival.  What do I mean by that?  Take a walk around the entire perimeter of the venue, from bottom to top and down again.  And you’ll see a shifting array of listeners and activities: the up close garden boxes with their catered lunches and fine wines; the devoted jazz fan groups who purchase entire blocks of seats to be together; the folks in the garden chairs, coolers and umbrellas at the very top, viewing the proceedings mostly on the large video screens.

Other aspects are unique to the programming of each Festival.  This year, for example, Sunday’s schedule includes the presence of no less than four extraordinary guitarists, whose styles embrace the full range of the instrument’s jazz identity.

John Scofield

Start with John Scofield, who’s performing in a duet format with Robben Ford halfway into Sunday’s program.  Sco, as he’s called by friends and fans, has been a visible presence on the jazz scene since the ‘70s, performing with everyone from Charles Mingus and Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny.  But he’s also crossed over comfortably into genres.  His website notes, correctly, that his “music generally falls somewhere between post-bop, funk-edged jazz and R & B.”

Robben Ford

Robben Ford’s career also dates back to the ‘70s.  And he’s been crossing boundaries comfortably ever since the beginning.  His blues credentials were established early, backing blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon.  From there he went to Tom Scott’s L.A. Express, backing both George Harrison and Joni Mitchell.  After that, a stint with Miles Davis followed by his own numerous bands.

Buddy Guy

The great, veteran blues guitarist Buddy Guy is in the spotlight for the headliner position on Sunday night.  Although his early career was largely spent in the shadows, backing the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Junior Wells, he finally came into his own in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Since then, his uniquely personal blues style, which can at any time verge into soul music, rock and even a touch of avant-garde, has firmly established him as one of the great blues guitarists.  To read a recent iRoM Q & A with Buddy Guy click HERE.

Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan, performing in Harmony 3 with Ronnie Laws and Walter Beasley, is one of the guitar world’s most unusual artists.  Using a two-handed tapping technique on the strings (rather than the plucking or strumming) he has the capability of playing the guitar with the melodic fluency and harmonic textures of a keyboard instrument.  The results are extraordinary, enhanced by the compositional imagination Jordan brings to every solo he takes.

Chuck Loeb

And it’s not just on Sunday that the Festival is showcasing jazz guitarists.  On Saturday’s program, the group Fourplay is now featuring guitarist Chuck Loeb as a vital ingredient in their mix of jazz, pop and r & b elements.  A veteran of Stan Getz’s band, Michael Brecker’s Steps Ahead and his own jazz fusion band, Metro, he has also been a busy studio musician, leading his own groups for a couple of decades before joining Fourplay.

That’s a lot of different views of the jazz guitar over a two day period.  And it’s another example of the many engaging levels of interest present in the programming and the performances at this year’s — and every year’s — Playboy Jazz Festival.

For information about the Playboy Jazz Festival click HERE.  Or call the information line:    (310) 450-1173.

Picks of the Week: June 6 – 12

June 5, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– June 6. (Mon.)  Candi Sosa: Bolero Meets Jazz.  Cuban born singer Sosa finds surprisingly compatible musical linkages between jazz and the lyrical Latin ballad style. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– June 7. (Tues.)  Jennifer Leitham Trio.  Bassist/singer Leitham celebrates the release of her DVD, The Real Me Live!, the chronicle of an extraordinary talent and an amazing life.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Sally Kellerman

– June 8. (Wed.) Sally UnpluggedSally Kellerman.  Hot Lips returns with a bundle of songs reaching from jazz and blues to country and pop.  And she does them all with utter authenticity, finding the heart of the story in everything she sings. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– June 9 – 11. (Thurs. – Sat.)  “Rhapsody in Blue.”  The Pacific Symphony conducted by James Gaffigan, performs a program of Gershwin (the Rhapsody in Blue and Variations on I Got Rhythm) and Rachmaninoff (Symphony No. 2).  Orion Weiss is the piano soloist for the Rhapsody.  Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.   (714) 556-2787.

– June 9 – 11. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Diane Schuur.  Deedles, as she is known to friends and fans alike, makes a few of her too-rare appearances in the Southland, celebrating the release of The Gathring, her debut album on Vanguard.  On Thurs. she’ll be at the Grammy Museum.    And on Fri. and Sat. at Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– June 10. (Fri.)  Julie Kelly.  Versatile in everything from atmospheric Brazilian music to jazz balladry and lively scatting, Kelly’s singing is always a pleasure to hear.  She’s backed by the John Heard Trio.   Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

– June 11. (Sat.)  Jethro Tull.  More than four decades since Ian Anderson first demonstrated the potential for the flute as the lead instrument in a rock group, he’s still romping with Jethro Tull.  The band will perform their Aqualung album in its entirety, with a sampling of other hits, as well. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 554-5857.



– June 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Playboy Jazz Festival.  The Hollywood Bowl.  It’s that time again.  The weekend that jazz fans anticipate with pleasure.  A two day jazz party in the sun, filling every nook and cranny of the Hollywood Bowl with all the amazing sounds grouped under the broad colorful umbrella of contemporary jazz.  This year’s program includes:


Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves, The Roots with Terence Blanchard, Fourplay, Eddie Palmieri’s Salsa Orchestra, the SFJAZZ Collective, A Night in Treme with the Rebirth Brass Band (and guest artists Donald Harrison, Jr., Kermit Ruffins, Dr. Michael White and Big Sam Williams), Bill Cosby’s Cos of Good Music (featuring Geri Allen, George Bohanon, Dwayne Burno, Ndugu Chancler, Anat Cohen and Babatunde Lea), The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet and the LASUD All City HS Big Band (directed by Tony White and J.B. Dyas).


Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy, the Lee Konitz New Quartet, John Scofield and Robben Ford, Naturally 7, Harmony 3 with Ronnie Laws, Walter Beasley and Stanley Jordan, Geri Allen’s Timeline Band, Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown (featuring Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley and Vusi Mahlasela), Bill Cunliffe with the Resonance Big Band in a Tribute to Oscar Peterson, featuring Marian Petrescu, Carlos Varela and the Pullum HS Jazz Big Band (directed by Fernando Pullum).  The Playboy Jazz Festival.     (310) 450-1173.


– June 12. (Sunday)  Gerald Wilson Orchestra.  One of the great masters of large ensemble jazz composition and orchestration, ninety-two year old Wilson still knows how to lead a band with enviable dynamic energy.  Don’t miss him in action.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

– June 10 & 11. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Yellowjackets with special guest Robben Ford.  Fusion, funk, groove masters the Yellowjackets team up with the equally blues-driven guitarist Ford.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Karrin Allyson

– June 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.)  Karrin Allyson Quartet.  A singer who brings musicality, believability and a gorgeous vocal instrument to all her songs, Allyson appears on the crest of her new album, ‘Round Midnight.  Pianist Bruce Barth is featured in her fine back-up group. Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.


Denny Zeitlin

– June 6 – 12. (Mon. – Sun.))  The Healdsburg Jazz Festival continues with its presentation of world class jazz in delightful settings.  Among the highlights: Mon: John Stowell Guitar Trio; Tues.: SF Jazz High School All-Stars; Wed.: Sandy and Natalie Cressman.  Thurs: Geri Allen, solo piano; the Babatunde Lea Quintet in a tribute to Leon Thomas.  Friday: Sangam with Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland.  Saturday: Denny Zeitlin, solo piano; the John Heard Trio; George Cables All Stars.  Sunday: Charlie Haden and Allen Broadbent.  At the Raven Theatre and other locations in Healdsburg, CA.  The Healdsburg Jazz Festival.  (707) 433-4633.


– June 9 – 12 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Earl Klugh.   One of Detroit’s finest products, guitarist Klugh’s articulate style brings life and substance to the smooth jazz/fusion genre.  Jazz Alley.    (206)441-9729

New York

Ron Carter

– June 6. (Mon.)  Jim Hall and Ron Carter Duo“Alone Together, Again.”  A pair of the great jazz masters in action.  One only hopes that they continue to do these “Alone Together” gigs – again and again.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

– June 7 – 12. (Tues. – Sun.) The Joe Lovano Nonet.  Saxophonist Lovano’s Grammy winning Nonet admirably carries the torch lit by the Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool band.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

– June 9 & 10. (Thurs. & Fri.)  The Steve Cropper Band.  Guitarist, songwriter and producer Cropper has backed the likes of Booker T., Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and many others, while writing tunes good enough to trigger his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

Washington D.C.

– June 12. (Sun.)  Jazz on the National MallClaudia Acuna Quartet, Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Eddie Palmieri All-Star Orchestra, Frederic Yonnet, Toby Foyeh and Orchestra Africa.  A free, live performance of world class jazz, presented by the D.C. Jazz Festival.  Jazz on the Natonal Mall.    The National Mall, Washington, D.C.  (202) 457-7628.



– June 9 & 11. (Thurs. & Sat.) Noa.  Israeli/American singer Noa (her full name is Achinoam Nini) is as comfortable and effective with a symphony orchestra as she is with the guitar of her frequent musical companion, Gil Dor.  But no matter what she’s singing, whether it be rock, blues, Yemenite or folk, in Italian, French, Hebrew or Arabic, she’s one of the world’s great vocal artists.  Here, she performs with Dor, as well as the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, celebrating the release of her new album, The Israeli Songbook.  The Henry Crown Hall, Jerusalem.    1-700-70-4000.


– Jan 7 – 9. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Michel Legrand.  The French pianist/composer combines an appealing jazz performance style with a catalog of superb, memorable songs.  He’ll be backed in this relatively rare night club performance by Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars.   Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747 4000.


Dervish Aziz

– June 9. (Thurs.)  Yuval Ron Ensemble.  Oud master Yuval Ron has assembled a remarkable array of musicians for  “A Concert For Peace in the Middle East.”  The participants include whirling Dervish Aziz, qawwali master Sukhawat Ali Khan, Armenian woodwind master Norik Manoukian, Israeli-Yemenite singer Maya Haddi, and Virgine Alimian, playing kanoun, Jamie Papish and David Martinelli on percussion.  FREE but reservations for the free tickets are required. Please email for the free tickets to: sevdearpaci@gmail.com. “A Concert For Peace in the Middle East.”   Sultanahmet Square AmpheTheatre. Istanbul.


– June 8 – 11. (Wed. – Sat.)  The Mike Stern Band featuring Randy Brecker.  Guitarist Stern, a six-time Grammy nominee, leads the solid ensemble of bassist Tom Kennedy and drummer Dennis Chambers in a multi-layered set of sounds reaching across the spectrum from groove blues to straight ahead jazz.  The Blue Note Tokyo.

Sally Kellerman, Dianne Reeves, Buddy Guy and Ron Carter photos by Tony Gieske.

Here, There & Everywhere: The 33rd Annual Playboy Jazz Festival Artist Line-Up

February 11, 2011

By Don Heckman

It’s no mystery that producing the Playboy Jazz Festival – a two day event for 18,000 listeners (each day) with eight straight hours of music – is a different task from what it was thirty or forty years ago.  After all, at that time it was possible to program schedules including the likes of Count Basie, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald (to name only a few of the available icons).

More recently, as times (and availabilities) have changed, Producer Darlene Chan, has brought a new perspective to her programming choices.  Like many other jazz festival impresarios, she clearly tries to bring star power to her schedules by featuring the contemporary jazz world’s most visible, high level jazz artists as headliners.  But she also works to emphasize the great stylistic and thematic diversity of contemporary jazz, as well as explore the expansion of jazz into the big international umbrella it has become.

Anat Cohen

This year’s line-up moves even farther in its quest for diversity and globalization.  Take, for example, the presence of veteran Latin jazz bandleader Eddie Palmieri, Israeli saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen, Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Varela, South African singer/songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez, Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon, Swedish guitarist Andreas Oberg and Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu, and the global reach of jazz at the Festival quickly becomes clear.

Television rears its head with the presence of a pair of high visibility ensembles:  The Roots are the hip hop-driven house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. And A Night in Treme draws upon the Rebirth Brass Band music featured in the HBO series Treme.

Rebirth Brass Band

All-star assemblages are all over both days of the Festival.  Fourplay, more than two decades together, arrive with a new member, guitarist Chuck Loeb.  The SFJAZZ Collective will devote its program to a celebration of the music of Stevie Wonder.  Emcee Bill Cosby’s Cos of Good Music will, once again, revive the inspiration and the fun of a jam session format.  John Scofield and Robben Ford illustrate the range of the guitar in jazz.  And Harmony 3 partners saxophonists Ronnie Laws and Walter Beasley with tap-on guitarist Stanley Jordan.

Geri Allen's Timeline Band

Thematic groupings are also present.  Geri Allen’s Timeline Band explores jazz and dance with tap dancer Maurice Chestnut.  The a cappella group Naturally 7 returns for a second year with its startling vocal simulations of jazz instruments.  And “Still Black, Still Proud” is an African tribute to James Brown featuring Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, Mahlasela and other African stars.

Lee Konitz

Add to that, the presence of talented young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.  And pianist/arranger Bill Cunliffe leading the Resonance Big Band with Romanian pianist Petrescu.

What about those headliners?  They’re there too.  At the top of the list, veteran alto saxophone master Lee Konitz, amazingly making his Playboy Festival debut at 83.  As well as blues great Buddy Guy, singer Dianne Reeves and trumpeter Terence Blanchard (performing with The Roots.)

Here’s the line-up by day.

Saturday June 11, 2011. 3 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Bill Cosby

Dianne Reeves

The Roots with special guest Terence Blanchard


Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra

SFJAZZ Collective

A Night In Treme: The Rebirth Brass Band

The Cos of Good Music

Ambrose Akinmusire

The LAUSD All City High School Big Band

Sunday, June 12, 2011.  3 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Lee Konitz New Quartet

John Scofield and Robben Ford

Naturally 7

Harmony 3

Gerry Allen Timeline Band

Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown

Bill Cunliffe and the Resonance Band with Marian Petrescu

Carlos Varela

Pullum High School Jazz Big Band

Bill Cosby, Master of Ceremonies


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