Picks of the Weekend: December 13 – 15

December 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Mike Stern

Mike Stern

– Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun.) Mike Stern Quartet. Guitarist Stern moves convincingly across jazz styles with ease. And he’s backed by a band – featuring Randy Brecker, Anthony Jackson and Dave Weckl – that is equally versatile – and swinging. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun) “Christmas with Gustavo.” The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays the Nutcracker Suite (complete), under the celebratory baton of Musical Director Gustavo Dudamel. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Dec. 13. (Fri.) Don Menza Quartet. Saxophonist Menza is high on the list of first call players, regardless of style. This time out, she steps into his own musical spotlight. Vibrato. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Dec. 13. (Fri.) The Oak Ridge Boys. Christmas Time’s A Comin’” with the iconic country group presenting their own warm and fuzzy Christmas celebration. Valley Performing Arts Center (818) 677-8800

April Williams

April Williams

– Dec. 15. (Sun.) The Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra and April Williams. “It’s A Big Band Holiday.” Christmas music in a big jazz band setting, with Ron Jones 21 piece big band, featuring holiday classics sung by tuneful April Williams. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

– Dec. 13 & 14. (Fri. & Sat.) Sheila E. Birthday Celebration. Singer/percussionist Sheila Escovedo is a compelling performer who is as musically gripping as she is entertaining. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.


– Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun.) The Fred Hersch Trio. Pianist Hersch’s playing recalls the engaging aspects of the jazz piano trio style that reaches back to Bill Evans. The Jazz Showcase. (312) 360-0234.

 New York City


– Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun) Fourplay. With Bob James, keyboards, Chuck Loeb, guitar, Harvey Mason, drums, Nathan East, bass, Fourplay continues to maintain its well-deserved reputation as a world class contemporary jazz ensemble. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.


– Dec. 15. (Sun.) Love & Peace. The Music of Horace Parlan. Bop piano stylist Parlan has had medical problems intruding on his playing in recent years. But his music is being keep alive in Copenhagen by the American/Danish ensemble of Bob Rockwell, tenor saxophone and Doug Raney, guitar, from the U.S. and Jesper Lundgaard, bass, Henrik Gunde, piano and Aage Tanggaard, drums, from Denmark. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94.


Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack

– Dec. 14 & 15. (Sat. & Sun.) Roberta Flack. Singer/songwriter Flack may be in her mature years, but she’s still singing with the vitality of a gifted young artist. Hopefully she’ll include “Killing Me Softly” and ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in her program. The Blue Note Tokyo.+81 3-5485-0088.

Q&A: Gregory Porter at the Playboy Jazz Festival

June 6, 2013

By Devon Wendell

On Saturday, June 15, Gregory Porter will be headlining the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival at The Hollywood Bowl. The trailblazing jazz vocalist and songwriter has become one of the most important male jazz singers to come along in decades since the release of his debut album Water (Motema) in 2010, which was nominated for best jazz vocal album at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards.  His sophomore album Be Good (Motema) (released in 2012) earned him a Grammy nomination for best traditional R&B performance last year.

We recently discussed Porter’s rapidly growing career.

 * * * * * * * *

 Devon Wendell: Tell me how it feels to be headlining the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival this year?

Gregory Porter: Very exciting, I’m honored.  I went to see Joao Gilberto at The Hollywood Bowl many years ago and I thought, “Wow, this place is big with such a grand stage!” I remember wondering if I’d ever make it to a place like this one day.  And now I’m going to be there at the Playboy Festival!

DW: That’s really something.  And in addition to that, you were recently signed to Blue Note Records, one of the great historical jazz labels. How does that feel?

GP:  Pretty amazing. I got more congratulations from my friends on Facebook than I did for my Grammy nominations. (laughter) The importance of that record label to black American music history is incredible. The documentation, style, and record cover design. And the most encouraging thing about Blue Note is that they told me to stay doing what I’m doing.

DW: Let me congratulate you as well.

GP: Thank you.

DW:  Who are some of the jazz musicians who inspired you when you were growing up and what was your first introduction to the world of jazz?

GP: Well the first artist who spoke to me in an emotional way was Nat “King” Cole.  The music was extraordinary and my mother used to say “Boy you sound like Nat ‘King’ Cole!” (Laughter)  Plus Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s recording together, Joe Williams, Leon Thomas, Andy Bey, Carmen McRae. But I’ve been inspired by so many artists, jazz and not: Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, The Beatles and Stevie Wonder, A lot of soul and gospel because that’s what was around a lot when I was a kid in both L.A. and Bakersfield and my mother was a minister.  The preachers I grew up around really impacted me.  Minister Ted Johnson sounded like Leadbelly and Pastor Richardson sang like Sam Cooke.  Elder Duffy had an almost James Brown style (Laughter) Growing up in Bakersfield, Black people moved there from The South because of the agriculture, working in the fields and so on. That generation had songs that they brought with them so when we convened in church, we sang this old music, country, gospel, blues. It was not sophisticated, not new, not mass choir, just hands clapping and (Singing) Bless that wonderful name of Jesus.  The gospel blues.

DW: Did you appreciate what it was all about then?

GP: No. I didn’t appreciate that sound at the time because I thought, “Oh, I’m around these old people singing these old songs,” and “It’s hot in church, I’d rather be out playing with my friends.”  But at the same time, it’s the basis of where I come from when I go to that spiritual place in things like “Work Song,” and “1960 What?” I blur the lines between gospel, soul, and jazz. It’s all given me license to have a more soulful expression in jazz.

DW: You’re such a powerful and imagistic songwriter. Tell me about your songwriting process. Let me ask you the old question: Do you come up with the lyrics or melody first?

GP:  The melody and the lyrics come together and the bass line and rhythm follow shortly. It may sound strange but maybe they’re working themselves out in my subconscious mind before they come to my full attention. When I wrote “Be Good,” (Singing) She said lions are made for cages to look at in delight. That just came to me just like I’m singing to you. I don’t spend a lot of time reworking something I’ve written initially based on something I felt. Sometimes it just comes to me and feels right.

DW: Musically and philosophically speaking, tell me about the differences between your debut album Water and the latest album, Be Good.

GP: I think they’re extensions of each other. Be Good is as much about love, protest and songs about culture and family as Water is with its mentioning of Harlem and “Real Good Hands.” There’s more family and love stories in Be Good.  If I look at both as self analysis, the themes reappear, the vulnerability. The man that’s singing “Illusions” is also the person who is singing “Hey Laura.” But the protest in Be Good is more subtle. It’s a conversation that comes out of neighborhoods that feel squeezed by gentrification, the people that were there unable to afford the rent now because it’s the new hot property.  Love is really what I’m trying to get across in the music in all of its forms. I’m trying to talk about the full spectrum of the human experience.

DW: You grew up in California but currently live in Brooklyn. How has the energy in New York influenced your songwriting in comparison to California?

GP: In New York, the streets outside of the people’s homes are extensions of their living rooms. If I walk to my coffee shop, I’m saying “Hi” to 20 people who feel like they have some ownership in the neighborhood. The thought of family and neighborhood comes together between my house, the coffee shop, and the few blocks near where I live in New York. Watching people’s lives and their ups and downs has had a profound affect on my writing.  On the other hand, California’s great, the air’s fresh and sweet, there’s space between houses.  But there’s something about hearing somebody next door arguing about a check that bounced. (Laughter)

DW: Which compositions of yours best reflect your own life experiences and personality?

GP:  There’s a song on the upcoming album called “When Love Was King.”  Some of the lyrics are: “When love was king, he lifted up the underneath and all is well he did bequeath. To all those who toil without a gain so they would remember his reign. The hungry children first he think to pull their lives from the brink. Beside him stood his mighty queen of equal force, wise and keen.” In these themes, I mention feeding hungry children, gender equality, and eradicating poverty. The idea is not to write a political song to beat people over the head with, it’s to lay it down for them to agree with or not. There’s one song on my upcoming album that I don’t agree with. But I’m singing it.   “Water” is one that reflects me, the redeeming and regenerating qualities of it fascinate me. That theme comes up on all of my albums.

DW: Songs of yours, such as “1960 What?” and “On My Way To Harlem,” paint a clear and educational picture of African American history, culture and experience.  Was it your intention, when you were writing the songs, to educate listeners of other cultures?

GP:  Yes, If it’s a curiosity that wells up in me, then I assume that someone else may want to feel that energy too.  The whole world has been supplied by the art, writing, and political thought that’s come out of Harlem, so I felt a connection and ownership to it even when I was a little boy. Like films on The West Coast, or the great songwriting that comes out of Memphis or Nashville, Harlem is a special place. If we don’t preserve and protect the things that create energy, the world will be worse for it.

DW: Lyrically, you’re also one of the best storytellers to come along in music in a long time. Tell me about some lyricists and writers in general who have impacted you as a songwriter.

GP: I realized when I started to write that the more personally you write, the more universal it can be. We all have those direct stories that make us human, then more humans get it. (Laughter)  I was thinking of an album Jobim recorded where he’s singing with his grandchildren and he’s singing in the words that his grandchildren would sing. I read the beautiful lyrics of Milton Nascimento. And as far as the American book of standards is concerned, it’s just genius after genius.

DW: You’re labeled as being a “jazz vocalist.”  Are you content with that label or do you find it limits your ability to reach a broader audience?

GP: No. I’m a jazz singer for sure. I even felt like that when I was primarily singing gospel. I would always deviate from the melodies and look for other harmonies to play around with while I’m singing songs that had been in the canon of gospel music for a hundred years.  So I’m a jazz singer formed by gospel, blues, soul music, and anything else I want to add. That’s truly the tradition of the music.

DW: Can you mention some examples?

GP:  Sure. The purest of jazz vocals for me: Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, all extended the bounds to include other genres of music. And it’s not a slight to say that my style has also been influenced by classic ‘70s R&B. If you hear a piece of Donny Hathaway in me, good, God almighty!

DW: Sounds great.  Thank you so much Gregory, for your time and wisdom.  I’ll see you at The Bowl.

GP: Thank you, looking forward to it.

* * * * * * * *

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

An Appreciation: Ross Barbour

August 27, 2011

 Ross Barbour, last original singer of the ionic jazz vocal ensemble, Four Freshmen, died last Saturday at 82, at his home in Simi Valley.  Mr. Barbour, who arranged and sang with the group, described his long, lush voicings as “purple chords.”

By Bill Eaton

I will raise a glass tonight for Ross Barbour. His passing is a heart-wrench. The one time I was in his presence, I was 25 and too addled to speak. The Freshmen meant more to me than any individual or entity in my swim upstream into jazz waters. I loved the Modernaires, admired the Hi-los and have been dazzled by Take 6. But I wanted to be IN the Freshmen, to sing just like that, to sound just like that, and to be a part of creating that feeling.

I never came close to that feeling with any other vocal group. Their magic came from the fact that they sounded like guys; guys laced with vulnerability and yearning. That was the secret of the Four Freshmen’s appeal: the Y chromosome festooned with tendrils of vulnerability; a yearning from a place so deep as to make tears the price of admission. A thing so true, so filled with the moist breath of real life, that Barbour never used nor needed embellishments to pull you in. You wanted in.

There is no more mysterious, fascinating and appealing vulnerability than that of the male animal. Females carry theirs in a clutch purse. It must always be available for their offspring, and embracing it makes them more powerful than their mates can ever be. Before men can dig theirs out the chasm in which it’s stored, they have to acknowledge its existence, and that acknowledgement always comes with a pain for which there is no epidural. Ferreting it out and embracing it is a lifelong rite of passage. Men who create great art are awash with it, but it remains a stone in the shoe.

100 years from now there may still be an edition of the Four Freshmen, still singing Ross Barbour’s arrangements of those wonderful songs, still sounding like guys with their hearts on their sleeves. Never the most brilliant, but always, the most irresistible.

 Bill Eaton is a respected New York arranger-conductor, composer of the jingle “Charlie,”  and well known for his work with Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Ralph MacDonald and many others.

Op Ed Commentary: Morgan Ames on Millennium Women and A Cappella

June 17, 2011

Morgan Ames apprenticed with Quincy Jones; sang/contracted singers for Queen Latifah for opening of 2010 Super Bowl; sang backgrounds on 2011 Oscar telecast and with Celine Dion for 9/11 telethon, conducted singers onstage for Paul McCartney at a Green Peace concert at the Hollywood Bowl (“Hey Jude”); has written songs with Johnny Mandel, Bob James, Dori Caymmi; co-wrote “Baretta’s Theme” (“Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow”) with Dave Grusin (now a popular ringtone); has had songs recorded by Roberta Flack, Peggy Lee, Djavan; co-produced Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra which was #1 for 33 weeks and garnered two Grammys;  has performed with Chaka Kahn, Mariah Carey, John Williams and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra; sung in “King Kong,” “Spider-Man,” “Matrix Reloaded” and “Revolutions,” “Sister Act” I and II, etc.; has sung and/or written vocal arrangements on recordings with David Foster, David Benoit, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, etc.  Here, Morgan’s comments about vocalists and vocal arrangers include insights broad enough to reach across the full breadth of creative activities.

By Morgan Ames

I have been the leader/arranger of an a cappella group (Inner Voices) for over 20 years and the music environment never sits still.  For instance, clever vocal work with choreography is currently in fashion, thanks to TV’s Glee.  Smirk-free a cappella is heard regularly on TV talent shows and schools everywhere.  Group singing will go out of favor again, you watch.  No point worrying about it and I don’t think most vocal arrangers do.  When you love voices suspended by their own weight, all alone, a cappella, you just do.

The path of women vocal arrangers follows the path of evolution for women generally.  If you think you can do it, you do it.  But good vocal arranging is an art that comes slowly.  You have to acquire a taste for heartbreak, which is to say, hang onto your sense of humor.  Most important, build up your craft skills.  My experience as a music professional all these years is that in certain areas of music there is no mercy relative to craft skills, not for women.

Skill breeds respect and without it, professional work is sparse and not much fun once you’re out of your 20s — your early 30s if you’re really cute.  It’s a good thing too.  You spend a lot more time in your career older than younger. The lion’s share of artistic satisfaction comes later.  It deepens as you do.  When I hear groups at a vocal faire or whatever, I often wish they would rethink their arrangements, or think them at all.  Vocal percussion is omnipresent and some groups think that if someone has a microphone in his mouth, the song is arranged.  It isn’t.  Another trap is the wall-of-sound approach.  Someone in the group picks a time feel, often repetitive (thank you, acid jazz), falls into a familiar chord pattern and just keeps cycling.  Someone else scats like a balloon losing air.  Then: end big and stop.  But there is an ocean of difference between finishing an arrangement and stopping because it’s long enough.  A stop happens and a finish is earned.

If you’re a woman musician out there now, believe me, craft skills are the secret.  They build your confidence and neutralize intimidation – especially from the guys.  Music schools and classes are everywhere.  If you’re a singer, and the majority of vocal arrangers are, you already have a good start.  Of course, the music style of your particular group impacts your arranging choices, but even styles which appear relatively simple, doo wop or folk, for instance, are not.  The work of great groups just sounds simple.  The era of doo woppers hanging out on the front porch in Philly is pretty much played out.  On the other hand, if you don’t know what you’re doing, arrangements can get ridiculously over-complicated, driving everyone in the group crazy, and sucking energy out of the song.

I never start writing an arrangement until I see it in my head.  I kind of meditate on the song, in silence.  For me it’s important to cast a song like a movie among the brilliant singers in my group.  I get a feel pretty quickly about who should stand out, whose persona fits the lyric.  I’m not afraid of space.  I vary from block chords to one voice to a duet in sixths all in maybe eight bars. It’s called dynamics.  Four voices have an entirely different weight and color than two.  One singing loudly versus four singing softly or vice versa gives surprise and dimension.

Here’s a good exercise: pick a classic vocal or background vocal arrangement  (some killers: Bobby McFerrin’s new Vocabularies, Mervyn Warren’s Hallelujah from Soulful Messiah, Respect by Aretha Franklin, I Just Want to Stop by Gino Vannelli,  O Brother Where Art Thou with music put together by T-Bone Burnett).  Then do some serious analysis.  Why do you love it?  Why in detail.  Really go there.  Arranging is about problem solving, note after note.  I grew up doing this obsessively, and still do it.  I have listened to the first Take 6 album hundreds of times and still learn from it.  If you’re drawn to southern sounds, T Bone Burnett knows everything about bluegrass and other mountain vocal styles.  The late Gene Puerling is still the Bach of vocal arrangers.

One more tip if you want to be really good: don’t ignore that, uh, well, that funky little spot in the arrangement that never quite worked.  Come on, figure it out and do it right.  What separates the pros from the non-pros is the polishing, the finishing up, the unglamorous part.

Vocal arranging is harrowing if you do it right, but you get to love the process eventually because of what it gives back to you. You may find, like me, that the more you arrange, put out fires caused by the last chord you wrote, etc., the more you fall in love with the art.  Welcome to the subtlest, silkiest club in music.

Picks of the Week: May 3 – 8

May 3, 2011

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Leon Russell

– May 3. (Tues.)  Leon Russell.  One of the great iconic figures of the golden era of rock makes a rare local appearance in a relatively small venue.  There’ll also be a special performance by Booker T. JonesThe El Rey.   (323) 936-6400.

– May 3. (Tues.)  Emil Richards, Mike Lang, Abraham Laboriel, Joe Porcaro.   A quartet of L.A.’s finest, veteran jazzmen get together to provide a few effortlessly swinging lessons in the benefits of bebop and beyond.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

— May 4 & 5. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Josh Nelson’s “Kansas City-L.A Project.  Pianist Nelson leads  Hermon Mehari, trumpet, Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone, Ben Leiffert, bass and Zack Albetta, drums in a colorful musical excursion.  Wed. at Steamers in Fullerton (714) 871-8800
and on Thursday at the Blue Whale Bar in Los Angeles.   (213) 620-0908.

Roy Hargrovw

– May 4 – 8. (Wed.- Sun.)  Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove is playing in every imaginable setting these days, but it’s always a special pleasure to hear him in a straight ahead, jazz quintet performance.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– May 5. (Thurs.) Cinco de Mayo at the Conga Room.  For the sheer joy of music and movement, there’s no better place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than the Conga Room.  And it’s especially sizzling this year with the electro music of Maria Daniela y Su Sonido Lasser, the three piece, electro-pop party band, Cosmopolitan and L.A.’s own Son Jarocho collective, Las CafeterasThe Conga Room.    (213) 745-0162.

– May 5. (Thurs.)  Jon Mayer.  Here’s another performance by a quartet of the Southland’s finest veteran jazzers.  Expect the mood to be swinging and the sounds to be memorable. With Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone, Chris Conner, bass, Roy McCurdy, drums.   LAX Jazz Club at the Crown Plaza LAX.  (310) 258-1333.

– May 5 – 7. (Thurs. – Sat. )  Ravel with the Pacific Symphony.  Conductor Carlos Miguel Pietro leads the Pacific Symphony in a journey across the Iberian peninsula via the music of Albeniz (Iberia), Sarasate (Carmen Fantasy), De Falla (The Three Cornered Hat) and Ravel (Bolero and Tzigane.  Violinist Philippe Quint solos.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.   (714) 556-2787.

Shirley MacLaine

– May 6. (Fri.)  Shirley McLaine.  It’s hard to know what to expect from any given appearance by the fascinating Ms. McLaine.  But there’s no doubt she’ll share some of her film moments with some revelations about her life, career and interests in spirituality.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-8800.

– May 6 & 7. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Mikado. One of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most entertaining musical delights, performed by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

– May 7. (Sat.)  Ceu.  Brazilian singer Ceu comfortably steps across genres – Brazilian music, pop, rock, jazz – in a single bound.  El Rey.     323) 936-6400.

– May 7. (Sat.)   Wavefest.  The 15th annual Wavefest has morphed into something more than music to relax to.  There’ll be a lot more energy than that, and a lot more interest, too, in a program featuring Roberta Flack, KEM, Macy Gray and Sheila E. & the E. FamilyThe Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

– May 8. (Sun.)  Alan Broadbent and Pat Senatore.  Pianist Broadbent and bassist Senatore have played with just about everyone in their long productive careers.  Here’s a chance to hear them exchanging musical ideas in an elegant, laid back setting.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Cameron Carpenter

– May 8. (Sun.)  Cameron Carpenter.  Carpenter isn’t just a brilliantly virtuosic organist, he’s also a charismatic entertainer who understands how to balance his astonishing technical displays with interpretive authenticity.  In this performance he finds the heartbeat of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture  and Prelude and Fugue in G minor.  Disney Hall.  (323) 650-2000.

 San Francisco

– May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The CrusadersJoe Sample, Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder, three of the original Jazz Crusaders, revive their unique blend of jazz, soul, bop, blues and groove.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

– May 7. (Sat.)  Yanni.  One of the most popular international artists in the world, Yanni’s lyrical piano playing, combined with his warm and fuzzy orchestrations have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide.  The Warfield.    (415) 345-0900.


May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Keiko Matsui.  Keyboardist Matsui was one of the first artists to make the most of the fertile territory between smooth jazz, fusion and New Age, and do so with a subtly appealing undercurrent of swing.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

– May 3 – 8. (Tues. – Sun.)  Omar Sosa.  Cuban pianist/composer Sosa’s Afri-Lectric Quintet finds fascinating common ground with special guest Benin-born guitarist Lionel LouekeThe Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

– May 3 – 8. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Julliard Jazz Quintet.  A cross-generational jazz quintet that balances scholarly know-how with inventive swing.  With Ron Carter, bass, Rodney Jones, guitar, Frank Kimbrough, piano, Carl Allen, drums and Ron Blake, saxophone. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

Danny Aiello

– May 4. (Wed.)  Danny Aiello.  He’s given one memorable film performance after another – including a pair of Academy Award nominations along the way.  But Aiello’s singing chops are every bit as impressive.  The New York Times called it right when it said “Aiello has the bounce of his idols Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and Louis Prima, and the throaty lyricism of another idol, Tony Bennett.”  The Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

Washington, D.C.

– May 6 & 7. (Fri. & Sat.)  Azar Lawrence Quintet.  Tough tenor Lawrence applies his muscular style to an encounter with the equally dynamic Eddie Henderson, trumpet, Benito Gonzalez, piano and Billy Hart, drums.  Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.


– May 5. (Thurs.)  The Mahavishnu Project. Drummer Gregg Bendian leads his sturdy band of players in the performance of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra’s complete Visions of the Emerald Beyond.  John McLaughlin offers his support: “To hear you guys playing those tunes in such an unbelievable way is quite amazing.”   The Regatta Bar.   (617) 395-7757.


– May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Eric Alexander/Harold Mayburn Quartet. Fiery saxophonist Alexander combines his hard driving, fast fingered skills with the veteran bop chops of pianist Mayburn.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.


PHaroah Sanders

May 2– 4. (Mon. – Wed.)  Pharoah Sanders Quartet. Adventurous, Grammy-winning tenor saxophonist Sanders continues the exploratory journeys he began in the avant-garde ‘60s.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020.7439.0747

May 8. (Sun.) The Atomic Mr. Basie.  Led by Pete Long,the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, with its stellar assemblage of U.K. jazz talent, performs the complete program from Basie’s classic 1957 album.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020.7439.0747


May. 6. (Fri.)  The Kora Jazz Trio.  Keyboardist/composer Abdoulaye Diabate, kora player Djeli Moussa Diawara and percussionist Moussa Sissokho are creating a compelling fusion of the Mandinka tradition and the free flying, improvisational qualities of jazz.  New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.

Picks of the Week: Jan. 18 – 23

January 18, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Jan. 18. (Tues.)  John Pisano Guitar Night.  With Larry Koonse and Tom Warrington.  Koonse is everybody’s first call guitarist.  Here’s a too rare chance to hear him in the spotlight.  Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 18. (Tues.)  Theo Saunders Quartet. Pianist Saunders has a resume with activities covering every area of the music world.  This time out, he leads his own group. Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

– Jan. 18. (Tues.)  The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.  One of the Southland’s superlative large jazz ensembles, the Grammy nominated CHJO makes an up close club appearance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

A Chorus Line

– Jan. 18 – 23. (Tues. – Sat.)  A Chorus Line.  Winner of nine Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize, A Chorus Line, with its memorable music and stellar dancing, should be seen by everyone who loves the musical theatre.  Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza (805) 449-2700.     Also Jan. 28 – 30 at  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

– Jan. 19. (Wed.)  L’Arpeggiata.  The highly praised French early music ensemble are joined by singer Lucilla Galeazzi, and directed by Christina Pluhar in a program of engaging Baroque classics. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 19. (Wed.) Emil Richards Big Band.  Vibist/percussionist has displayed his extraordinary skills with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zeppo.  This time out he leads his own big bandful of Southland musical stalwarts.   Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 20. (Thurs.)  David Garfield Group.  With Luis Conte and Emil Richards.  A trio of L.A.’s best studio artists – pianist Garfield, percussionist Conte and vibist Richards join forces in an evening of dynamic rhythm tunes.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Kenny Burrell

– Jan. 20 – 22. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Kenny Burrell Quintet. One of the gifted products of Detroit’s prolific jazz sceme, guitarist/educator Burrell continues – as he has done for decades – to create delightfully memorable evenings of jazz.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 21. (Fri.)  Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider with Chamber Orchestra and jazz ensemble.  Composer-pianist Mehldau performs an in-concert version of the music from his new 2-CD set, Highway Rider — a through-composed work opening up the possibilities in a musical setting replete with jazz improvisation, classical chamber music textures and pop melodies.  He’s accompanied by the all-star ensemble of  Joshua Redman, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard and Matt Chamberlain.  Scott Yoo conducts the Chamber Orchestra.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 21.  (Fri.)  Kristin Korb. She sings, she plays the bass, she entertains, and does it all with the sort of entertaining flair that demands attention in everything she does.  Steamers.   (714) 871-8800.

Al Jarreau

– Jan. 21. (Fri.) Al Jarreau.  He’s such an impressive entertainer that it’s easy to overlook the extraordinary depth of his jazz skills.  Back on track after some health problems, Jarreau is one of a kind, as good as the vocal art ever gets. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. (562) 916-8501.

– Jan. 21. (Fri.)  Patrick Williams Big Band “Aurora.” A week filled with big band music continues with Williams’ “Aurora,” featuring a line-up of  L.A.’s (and the world’s) most extraordinary players.   Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 21. (Fri.)  Suzanne Vega. The folk music revival of the ‘80s wouldn’t have been the same without singer/songwriter Vega, whose music still simmers with cool, but telling emotional atmosphere.  Irvine Barclay Theatre.   (949) 854-4646.

– Jan. 22. (Sat.)  Roberta Flack.  Multiple Grammy winning Flack was named one of VH-1’s “100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll.”  But her rich sound and tender interpretations reach into expressive territories far beyond the world of rock.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

Jack Sheldon

– Jan. 22. (Sun.)  Jack Sheldon California Cool Quartet. Some cool trumpet playing, appealing vocals and bawdy humor are on the music menu for this week’s jazz brunch. Helen Borgers hosts.  KJAZZ Sunday Champagne Brunch.  The Twist Restaurant in the Renaissance Hollywood \Hotel.  (562) 985-2999.

– Jan. 23. (Sun.)  Jazz Vespers with Bob Mintzer and Russell Ferrante. Saxophonist Mintzer and pianist Ferrante, founding members of the Yellowjackets, team up for the January Jazz Vespers.  All Saints Church, Pasadena.

– Jan. 23. (Sun.)  Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. A dramatic evening of music with Ignat Solzhenitsyn conducting the LACO in a performance of Lutoslawski’s Musique Funebre, Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 (“Drum roll”) and performing the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20. Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

San Francisco

– Jan. 18 & 19. (Tues. & Wed.)  Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  The Grammy winning South African a cappella group’s music brilliantly displays the deep African linkage between music and dance.  Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200.

– Jan. 19 – 22. (Wed. – Sat.)  Roy Hargrove Quintet.  Trumpeter Hargrove takes a break from his big band activities to perform in the wide open improvisationa setting of his small group.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

Lauren Kinhan, Janis Siegel, Laurel Masse

– Jan. 18. (Tues.) JALALA.  Three of the most musically adept female singers in the music world – Lauren Kinhan, Laurel Masse and Janis Siegel get together to display their wares in a harmonious vocal setting.  The Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 090-9319.

– Jan. 18 & 19. (Tues. & Wed.)  Blood, Sweat & Tears with Arturo Sandoval. The ultimate jazz rock band joins forces with the master of Latin jazz.  Expect musical fireworks. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 18 – 22. (Tues.- Sat.)  David Murray Big Band.  Saxophonist Murray, a Grammy winner and a Guggenheim Fellow, applies some of the techniques he learned as a major avant-garde figure to the rich textures of a large ensemble.  Birdland. (2120 581-3080.

– Jan. 18 – 23. (Tues. – Sun.)  Lewis Nash Quintet.  Drummer Nash leads a stellar ensemble, with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, vibist Steve Wilson, pianist Renee Rosnes and bassist Peter WashingtonVillage Vanguard (212) 929-4589.

– Jan. 18 – 23. (Tues. – Sun.)  Marcus Roberts Trio.  The piano trio continues to be one of the jazz world’s ever-evolving ensemble styles.  And pianist Roberts, with drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Rodney Jordan, has perfected his own unique approach to the instrumentation. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.   (212) 258-9800.

– Jan. 23. (Sun.)  Jane Ira Bloom.  Soprano saxophone master Bloom celebrates the release of her fascinating new CD, WingwalkerThe Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 090-9319.

Kenny Burrell and Jack Sheldon photos by Tony Gieske.

Picks of the Week: June 1 – 6

May 31, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– June 1. (Tues.) Guitar Night. John Pisano, Barry Zweig. John Belzaguy.  A pair of veteran guitarists – each with an overflowing resume of memorable appearances – have a typical Guitar Night jam with the solid backing of bassist Belzaguy.   Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

Lisa Hilton

– June 1. (Tues.) Lisa Hilton.  Described as a “lioness of jazz” by JazzReview magazine, Hilton is about to release her 12th U.S. recording, Nuance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.  On Saturday, June 5, Hilton will also give an onstage interview and performance for visually-impaired students from Junior Blind America at the Grammy Museum.  The appearance is part of her continuing efforts to bring music to the visually impaired in Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

– June 2. (Wed.)  Austin Peralta/Javier Santiago Project.  Pianist Peralta had two CDs released in Japan by the age of 16.  Approaching his 20th birthday, the talented young player – the son of legendary skateboarder and film director Stacy Peralta – shows off his wares amid the simmering rhythms of the Javier Santiago Project.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– June 2 & 3. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Partch: Even Wild Horses.  Harry Partch was such an original musical thinker that he re-imagined the concept of musical pitch intervals, then created an array of instruments designed to play those intervals.  John Schneider continues his superb survey of Partch’s extraordinary music with Even Wild Horses–Dance Music for an Absent Drama and Cloud Chambe. Also on the program: Lou Harrison‘s Canticle #3, the West Coast debut of Anne LeBaron‘s Southern Ephemera, and Madeline Tourtelot‘s MiRotate the Body in All Its Planes REDCAT.  (213) 237-2800.

Mike Lang

– June 4. (Fri.) Mike Lang Trio.  PianistLang’s far-ranging career reaches from backing Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald to performing on more than 2,000 film scores.  But here’s a rare opportunity to experience his own music, up close and personal. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– June 4. (Fri.)  Calabria Foti.  Blessed with a rich, multi-hued voice, Foti enhances it with impressive musicality and an engaging sense of phrasing.  The Back Room At Henri’s.   (818) 346-5582.

– June 4. (Fri.)  Sal Marquez with the Pat Senatore Trio.  One of the Southland’s premiere trumpeters, Marguez has found a unique pathway for himself, somewhere between the lyricism of Miles Davis and the fire of Freddie Hubbard.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– June 4. (Fri.)  Bern.  Drummer Bernie Dresel leads his gang of funk and groove driven instrumenalists and singers through the music of Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Prince, the Beatles and beyond.  Vitello’s. m (818) 769-0905.

– June 4 & 5. (Fri. & Sat. )  Sara Gazarek.  Still on the rise, Gazarek has all the qualities that make a prime jazz artist.  She’s won a Down Beat Student Music Award, and hit the top 10 in Billboard jazz charts with her first album.  But she’s still not receiving the full attention that her finely honed talents deserve.  The Café Metropol.

Rita Moreno

– June 5. (Sat.) Rita Moreno.  She completely inhabited the role of Maria in the film version of West Side Story, winning an Academy Award for her work.  And that was only one of the accomplishments in a career that has also produced an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, as well.  Moreno doesn’t do club dates often, so don’t miss this rare opportunity to see a legendary entertainer in action.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– June 5. (Sat.) Rickey Woodard with the John Heard Trio.  L.A.’s had more than its share of impressive saxophonists over the years.  And Woodard belongs in the very top echelon of that extraordinary group.  Always a pleasure to hear, he’s at his best performing with bassist Heard and his group in the cozy setting of Charlie O’s.    (818) 994-3058.

– June 5. (Sat.)  Grant Geissman.  Busy, versatile guitarist Geissman celebrates Cool Man Cool, the latest in his long string of entertaining recordings.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– June 5. (Sat.)  Gary Lucas solo acoustic. The Grammy-nominated veteran of Captain Beefheart has been described by Rolling Stone as “one of the best and most original guitarists in America.”  And that’s a reasonable description for a musician who’s played with both Leonard Bernstein and Lou Reed (among others).  McCabes. (310) 828-4497.

– June 6. (Sun.)  Graham Dechter and the Adam Schroeder Quartet.  Dechter’s guitar and Schroeder’s baritone sax make for one of the more unique timbral sounds in jazz.  Add to that the sturdy swing capabilities of both players, and expect an evening of high energy.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– June 6. (Sun.)  Element Band.  This entertaining, eclectic ensemble is a living definition of the phrase “World Music.”  Performing in Armenian, French, Greek, Spanish, English, Arabic, Portuguese, Italian, Bulgarian and Farsi, they offer a little something for almost every ethnic or musical taste.  Guest star Italian singer Giovanna Gattuso adds her own elegant touch to the proceedings.  The Ford Amphitheatre. (323) 461-3673


– June 6. (Sun.)  “Playboy Jazz in Warner Park.” The build-up to the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl on June 12 & 13 continues with another free Playboy community event.  Although the Warner concerts only began a couple of years ago, they’ve already become one of the early Summer’s most popular jazz events.  And the price is right.  This year’s program features four time Grammy nominated singer Oleta Adams, keyboardist Lao Tizer, master jazz trumpeter Sal Marquez, and the Calabasas High School Jazz Band (one of the 15 finalists in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington CompetitionPlayboy Jazz in Warner Park.   (310) 450-1173.

San Francisco

– June 1 & 2. (Tues. & Wed.)  Jane Monheit. Always one of the most gorgeous voices in jazz, Monheit is also an original jazz stylist, approaching everything she sings with a unique combination of rhythmic swing and lyrical imagination. Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

– June 1 & 2. (Tues. & Wed.)  Pat Martino.  Guitarist Martino has essentially had to learn to play the guitar twice, as the result of a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 1980.  But he’s done it superbly, firmly establishing his position as one of jazz’s finest veteran artists.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

John Handy

– June 3. (Thurs.)  John Handy. Forty-five years after his remarkable performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival made him a highly visible jazz figure, Handy – who has also had a long career as an educator – continues to be a an eminently listenable alto saxophonist.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

– June 4 – 6. (Fri. – Sun)  Dave Holland Quintet.  Bassist Holland’s interests have taken him in all directions – in recent years with a big band as well as a little big band.  This time, he’s back to basics, with a quintet that includes the all-star line-up of saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist Steve Nelson, and drummer Nate Smith. Yoshi’s Oakland.(510) 238-9200.

– June 4 – 6. (Fri. – Sun.) Dr. John & the Lower 911. One of the music world’s true originals, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) has been one of the irrepressible symbols of New Orleans for decades.  And he’s still going strong, winning a Grammy last year for “City That Care Forgot.” Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

– June 1 – 5. (Tues. – Sat.)  Stacey Kent.  Wisely focusing her career upon international audiences, Kent has achieved visibility reaching beyond that of many of her contemporaries.  Her latest album, Raconte-Moi, sung in French underscores her global outreach.  Birdland.   581-3080.

– June 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jacky Terrasson Trio. French/American pianist Terrasson – well-regarded since he won the 1993 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition – celebrates the release of his latest album, Push. Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– June 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Dee Dee Bridgewater. Her recordings are always a pleasure to hear, and the latest — Eleanor Fagan: To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater – is an extraordinary Billie Holiday tribute.  But Bridgewater in person is even more unique, more dynamic.  This is one to place on your “Don’t Miss” list.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Washington, D.C.

– June 1 – 13.  D.C. Jazz Festival. It was originally titled the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival.  But whatever the name, this is one of the early Summer’s most impressive assemblages of all-star talent.  Among the major names:  Claudio Roditi, Roberta Flack, Eddie Palmieri, Kenny Barron, Paquito D’Rivera, Regina Carter, Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, and more.  The D.C. Jazz Festival.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers