Live Jazz: the Bob Mintzer and Bill Cunliffe Big Bands

December 3, 2012

By Don Heckman

Anyone who doubts the excitement, the imagination and the contemporary vitality of big band jazz should have been at Vitello’s last weekend.  Over the course of Friday and Saturday nights, two stellar ensembles – the Bob Mintzer Big Band and the Bill Cunliffe Big Band – offered invigorating reminders of the still-potent pleasures of big band jazz.

Friday night’s program featured the Mintzer band in a program titled “Homage To Count Basie.”  And composer/saxophonist/bandleader Mintzer couldn’t have chosen a better model than the iconic Basie band with which to display his group’s impressive musical wares.

The Bob Mintzer Big Band

The Bob Mintzer Big Band

Mintzer opened, appropriately, with the Basie theme song, “One O’Clock Jump.”  And the music began to cook from the first opening passages, as the rhythm section – pianist Russell Ferrante, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer Peter Erskine – dug deeply into the classic Basie groove.

There was more Basie to come, including the familiar strains of “April in Paris,” Neal Hefti’s “Cute,” and “Shiny Stockings.”  Topping it off, Mintzer added some Basie-inspired music of his own, including “Lester Jumps Out” and “Home Basie,” an irresistibly swinging musical blending of Basie’s rhythms and James Brown’s effervescence.

Add to that more originals – “Elegant People” and “Havin’ Some Fun” among them – showcasing Mintzer’s broad, far-reaching skills as a composer/arranger.

Bob Mintzer

Bob Mintzer

Also a hard-driving tenor saxophonist, Mintzer added some substantial soloing of his own.  But his band was also filled with other primo soloists, among them saxophonists Bob Sheppard, Keith Fiddmont, Brian Scanlon and Adam Schroeder, trumpeters John Daversa and Wayne Bergeron, and pianist Ferrante, all playing in a manner that honored the Basie style.

And it was fascinating to observe the excitement coursing through the full house crowd as the sounds of big band jazz at its finest filled the room.

On Saturday night it happened all over gagin, as the Bill Cunliffe ensemble offered a “Big Band Holiday Kick Off.”  Toward that end, however, pianist/composer/bandleader Cunliffe began his set with a quartet – featuring his piano along with guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe La Barbera – playing a non-stop medley of holiday tunes.  Among them – “Winter Wonderland,” “Silent Night” (featuring seasonally atmospheric soloing from Chiodini) and “Carol of the Bells.”  Cunliffe added a solo piano take on “Christmas Time Is Here,” and singer Dawn Bishop joined the ensemble, singing “The Christmas Song” (and later adding her engaging versions of “Almost Like Being In Love” and “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” — not exactly seasonal songs, but appealing, nonetheless).

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

Cunliffe’s great versatility in big band scoring was also highly visible in the Latin rhythms of “Havana” and an original piece (title unannounced) written for a film about the Celtics.  In it, Cunliffe perfectly captured the driving, big band Swing era style of the late ‘30s.  His version of “Round Midnight,” featuring tenor saxophonist Jeff Elwood, brought traces of Thelonious Monk dissonances into the big band fabric. And there were numerous other fine soloists as well: including trumpeter Bijon Watson, alto saxophonist Bruce Babad and trombonist Alex Isles, among others.

Bill Cunliffe

Bill Cunliffe

The closing piece, whimsically titled “The Goldberg Contraption,” was a work based on various J.S. Bach compositions (including the Goldberg Variations).  In it, Cunliffe adroitly positioned rich Bach harmonies and compelling contrapuntal passages within the colorful textures and surging rhythms of big band jazz.

Call it a brilliant, two-night display of the far-ranging possibilities of the big jazz band format, when it’s in the hands of composer/arrangers as gifted as Bob Mintzer and Bill Cunliffe.  Big Band jazz, in their work, is still very much alive.  Ask anyone who was present in the full house crowds.

Bob Mintzer photos by Faith Frenz.

Bill Cunliffe photos by Bob Barry.

Picks of the Week: Feb. 20 – 26

February 20, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Feb. 21. (Tues.)  Strunz & Farah.  Two guitars together don’t get any more exciting than the high speed musical magic of long-time partners Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah.  After more than three decades together, they’re still in rare form.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Lorraine Feather

– Feb. 22. (Wed.)  “An Evening With Duke Ellington.”  Ted Howe Trio.  Veteran pianist/arranger Howe offers new perspectives on the classic Ellington songbook.  His special guests — Lorraine Feather, Sweet Baby Jai and Mark Winkler — add some equally compelling vocal contributions. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 23. (Thurs.)  Judy Carmichael.  Count Basie called her “Stride,” and with good reason.  Carmichael’s fast fingers and energetic style are keeping alive one of the great jazz piano styles.  She’s backed in this rare L.A. club appearance by guitarist Larry Koonse and saxophonist Harry Allen.  Click HERE to read an iRoM Q & A conversation with Judy Carmichael.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester

– Feb. 23. (Thurs.)  Max Raabe and Palast OrchesterOne Cannot Kiss Alone.  The super elegant Max Raabe and the tuxedoed instrumentalists of the Palast Orchester have impressively revived the style, the music and the wit of the ‘20s and ‘30s.  This time out, they feature selections from their best-selling new album.  One Cannot Kiss Alone.  UCLA Live.    (310) 825-2101.

– Feb. 23 – 25. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Stanley Clarke Quartet.  Fresh off a Grammy win with Chick Corea and Lenny White for Forever, the ever-eclectic Clarke is back to leading his own stellar quartet.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 23 – 25. (Thurs. – Sat.) The Pacific Symphony, conducted by Carl St. Clair, presents an attractive program of works, reaching from the classic to the contemporary.  Vadim Gluzman performs the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; other pieces include Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and a pair of new works by Michael Daugherty.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.    (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 24. (Fri.)  David Binney. Despite his dozen or so albums and appearances with the likes of Jim Hall, Maria Schneider and others, alto saxophonist Binney still hasn’t received the broad acknowledgement that his adventurous style deserves. He makes a rare Southland appearance. The Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

Jill Schoelen

– Feb. 25. (Sat.)  “Late Night Love Songs.”  Jill Schoelen.  One of the “scream queen” film heroines of the ‘80s, Schoelen began moving into the jazz vocal area with the late bassist Dave Carpenter with appealing results.  She’s backed here by guitarist Larry Koonse and bassist Dave Robaire. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 25. (Sat.) Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio. Guitarist Rosenwinkel’s versatility allows him to cruise comfortably across styles.  But he’s especially appealing when he’s applying his imaginative variations to the classic standards of American song.  He performs with Eric Revis, bass and Justin Faulkner, drums.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.  The Musicians Institute.   (310) 271-9039.

– Feb. 25. (Sat.)  Monica Mancini and Arturo Sandoval. Expect musical and lyrical fireworks and drama. Mancini is a singer who knows how to tell a musical story.  And Sandoval, who will be leading his big band, is equally adept at producing musical pyrotechnics on trumpet, percussion and piano.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

– Feb. 25. (Sat.)  BRAZILIAN : EXOTICA.  Brazilian Nites’ 12th annual celebration of  carnaval features an all-star Brazilian band with non-stop music and dance.  From 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. revelers will have the opportunity to celebrate the euphoric holiday in true Brazilian style.  Featured performers include SambaDá, Chalo Eduardo’s All Star Band, featuring vocals by Andrea Ferraz, a pageant of samba dancers, capoeira martial artists, and an inaugural parade by the Los Angeles Samba SchoolBrazilian Carnaval: Exotica.  Club Nokia/LA Live.  (818) 566-1111.

– Feb. 25. (Sat.)  The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Conductor Jeffrey Kahane is the musical tour guide in this Discover Concert performance of J.S. Bach’s Magnificat.  The L.A.C.O. is joined by the USC Thornton Chamber singers and soloists for this magnificent choral work.  A Q&A with Jeffrey Kahane follows the performance.  The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Ambassador Auditorium.  (213) 622-7001.  Ext. 1

– Feb. 26. (Sun.)  Russell Ferrante Duo.  A founding member of the Yellowjackets, keyboardist Ferrante was instrumental in the two nominations the dynamic band received this year.  Here’s a chance to hear him in the most intimate of musical settings, working with the solid rhythmic support and improvisation sensitivity of bassist Pat SenatoreVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

Dave Holland

– Feb. 24. (Fri.)  Dave Holland Overtone Quartet.  To call bassist Holland’s Overtone Quintet an all-star ensemble still wouldn’t come close to acknowledging the high quality of this extraordinary collection of players: saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Jason Moran and drummer Eric Harland.  Expect to hear state of the art, 21st century jazz at its very finest.  Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. An SFJAZZ concert.  (866) 920-5299.

– Feb. 24. (Fri.)  Hubert Laws.  The master of the jazz flute, a master who is fully capable of crossing over into pop, classical and beyond, Laws was justifiably honored with an NEA Jazz Masters award in 2011.   Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.


Feb. 23 – 26. )Thurs. – Sun.)  Larry Coryell Trio. Guitarist Coryell has been crossing over from rock to blues to jazz and beyond since the ‘60s, having a powerful impact on the fusion of the post bop era.  And he’s still doing it, while offering his wisdom to a new generation of guitarists.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York 

Cyrus Chestnut

– Feb. 21 – 26. (Tues. – Sun.)  Cyrus Chestnut Quartet.  Pianist Chestnut says he likes to “construct melodies that tell stories.”  It’s an admirable, and often too rare, trait for a jazz improviser.  And it’s amply present, whether he’s in the mood for straight ahead jazz, gospel or soul food.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212) 258-9800.

Feb. 24 – 26.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Benny Green Trio.  There may be traces of Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson in Benny Green’s approach to the piano, but his irresistible sense of swing and far-ranging melodic imagination are all his own.  He performs here with Peter Washington (Feb. 24 & 26) or Ben Wolfe (Feb. 25), bass and Kenny Washington, drums.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

– Feb. 25. (Sat.)  Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach Duo.  A pair of indefatigable music explorers come together to scour the boundaries of contemporary improvisation.  The results will be both enlightening and entertaining.  Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 989-9319.


– Feb. 24. (Fri.)  POEMJAZZ.  With pianist Laurence Hobgood and poet Robert Pinsky. A fascinating creative meeting between Grammy-winning jazz pianist Hobgood and the poetic melodies and rhythms of Pinsky, the only three-term U.S. Poet Laureate.  Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.


Courtney Pine

– Feb. 23 – 24. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Courtney Pine.  Europa. English multi-instrumentalist Pine, whose honors include an Order of the British Empire (OBE) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (COBE), has been bringing a far ranging collection of ideas and sounds to English jazz for the past few decades.  This time out, he’ll feature the bass clarinet driven selections from his latest album, Europa. Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.


– Feb. 25. (Sat.)  The Cookers. The name is perfectly chosen for this sturdy collection of take-no-prisoners, hard swinging jazz veterans: Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, George Cables, Cecil McBee, Victor Lewis, David Weiss, and Craig HandyNew Morning.     01 45 23 51 41.


– Feb. 23 (Thurs.)  Bennie Maupin Quintet.  The influential musical textures of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Big Fun, Jack Johnson and more wouldn’t have been the same without the dark, woody sound of Maupin’s bass clarinet.  But he’s a master of other wind instruments as well, always ready to explore new sounds and ideas.  Blue Note Milano.

Picks of the Week: Feb. 8 – 14

February 8, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Daversa

– Feb. 8. (Tues.)  The John Daversa Progressive Big Band. Trumpeter/composer/arranger  Daversa takes the big band instrumentation into fascinating new musical areas.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 8. (Tues.)  Lianne Carroll.   BBC Jazz Award winner Carroll, who accompanies her vibrant vocals with equally dynamic piano playing, makes her North American debut. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 9. (Wed.)  The Clare Fischer Voices and Latin Jazz Group. A fascinating blend of vocal and instrumental jazz from Clare Fischer’s prolific musical imagination.  Brent Fischer directs the ensemble.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 9. (Wed.)  The John Altman Quartet.  Busy alto saxophonist Altman takes a break from his composing, arranging and producing for laid back jazz jam with Mike Lang, piano, Frank De Vito, drums, Putter Smith, bass.  Charlie O’s.

Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg

– Feb. 9. (Wed.)  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with the New Century Chamber Orchestra. Now the conductor of the NCCO, violinist Salerno-Sonneberg joins with the ensemble in a diverse program of Bartok, Piazolla and Tchaikovsky.  The Broad Stage.   (310) 434-3200.

– Feb. 9 & 10. (Wed. & Thurs.) Oz Noy.  Israeli-born guitarist Noy leads a jazz/rock/fusion trio with Dave Weckl on drums and Darryl Jones (of the Rolling Stones) on bass. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 10. (Thurs.)  Kodo.  The entertaining Japanese percussion collective bring their colorful collection of instruments and irresistible rhythms to Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Lorraine Feather

– Feb. 10. (Thurs.)  Lorraine Feather.  Singer/songwriter Feather writes songs in which jazz is the root and poetry the blossom.  There’s no one quite like her, and she should be heard at every opportunity.  Backing her: Russell Ferrante, piano and Mike Valerio, bass.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 10 & 11. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Natalie Cole. She’s a beyond definition artist, as comfortable with jazz as she is with the blues and classic pop songs.  No doubt she’ll be unforgettable (and probably sing it, as well) with the Pacific Symphony, conducted by Richard Kaufman. Segerstrom Concert Hall (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 10 – 13. (Thurs. – Sun.)  and Feb. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Who’s “Tommy. It’s one of the classics of the sixties, still a compelling work of musical art.  This version is a Chance Theatre Production. Segerstrom Concert Hall Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 11 (Fri.)  Tessa Souter.  Souter’s warm sound and intimate interpretive style are backed in this pre-Valentine’s Day celebration, by the solidly supportive playing of guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Steve Haas.  Musicians Institute. A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.  (310) 271-9039.

Larry Karush

– Feb. 11 & 12. (Fri. & Sat.)  Larry Karush Solo & Quartet. Pianist/composer Karush, ever in search of new musical horizons, displays his creative adventures in both a solo and an ensemble setting.  The Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

– Feb. 11 – 14. (Fri. – Mon.) and Feb. 17 – 20 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Steve Tyrell.  Singer Tyrell’s nouveau-pop style, with its traditional pop echoes, is successfully aimed at finding the life in great American song.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 12. (Sat.)  Inner Voices“An A Cappella Valentine Show.” The Southland’s masterful a cappella ensemble apply their extraordinary vocal magic to a program of Valentine standards. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Feb. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Jazz at Lincoln Center OrchestraLeonard Slatkin conducts Gershwin’s An American In Paris, Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.1 and the West Coast premiere of Wynton MarsalisSwing Symphony (commissioned by the LAPA).  Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Feb. 13. (Sun.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  The music world’s ultimate power couple.  And they can still deliver it.  Hall has been, and remains, one of the underrated jazz singers.  And trumpeter Alpert knows how to find both the space and the center in an improvisation. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Charmaine Clamor

– Feb. 14. (Mon.)  Charmaine Clamor.  .  Jazz vocalist Clamor is rapidly establishing herself as one of the uniquely creative, rising vocal stars.  The equally incomparable Bubba Jackson hosts.  KJAZZ Valentine’s Day Jazz Dinner The Twist Restaurant in the Renaissance Hollywood \Hotel.  (562) 985-2999.

San Francisco

Maria Volonte

– Feb. 8. (Tues.) Maria Volonte.  Argentine singer/songwriter/guitarist Volonte’s music is an appealing blend of traditional roots rhythms – tango, candomble, etc. – with the sounds of contemporary jazz, pop and funk.  The Rrazz Room. (415) 394-1189. To read an earlier iRoM review of Volonte click HERE.

– Feb. 8 & 9 (Tues. & Wed.) Kenny Garrett Quartet. Grammy award-winning alto saxophonist Garrett has a resume reaching from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis.  This time out, he offers his envelope-stretching sounds at the front of  his own quintet.  Yoshi’s Oakland (510) 238-9200.

– Feb. 10 – 14. (Thurs. – Mon.)  Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra.  Pete Escovedo and the Escovedo family have been energizing Latin jazz since the ‘60s.  And they’re all still at it.  This time out, the band includes special guests Sheila E. and Peter Michael EscovedoYoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

New York City

Gato Barbieri

– Feb. 10 – 12 (Thurs. – Sun.) Gato Barbieri.  Tenor saxophonist Barbieri’s long, checkered career has reached from the avant-garde years of the ‘60s through his Grammy-winning score for The Last Tango In Paris to more recent smooth jazz outings.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

– Feb. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Chris Potter Trio. Tenor saxophonist Potter takes on the familiar Sonny Rollins challenge of performing with only bass and drums as a rhythm team.  His companions: bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

– Feb. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Freddy Cole “Valentine Swing” with Harry Allen.  Cole’s sound and style are clearly, and unabashedly, influenced by his big brother Nat.  But Cole has a way of adapting those qualities to his own engaging musical identity.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (212) 258-9800.

– Feb. 8 – 14. (Tues. – Mon.)  Hilary Kole.  Jazz singer Kole, who usually hosts Birdland’s Sunday Jazz Party, does a full week’s run at the club.  And her rich way with a ballad is the perfect lead-in to Valentine’s Day.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Denise Donatelli

– Feb. 11 & 14. (Fri. & Mon.). Denise Donatelli.   Grammy-nominated singer Donatelli makes a pair of too-rare Manhattan appearances which will inform New York jazz fans about what Angelenos have known for years — that she is a singer with the sound, the skill and the imagination to be included at the top levels of the jazz vocal art.  Donatelli is backed by the Geoff Keezer arrangements and quartet featured on the Grammy-nominated “When Lights Are Low.”  Fri.: Coca-Cola Circle of Fashion Lounge, Time Warner Center, 6:30 p.m.  Mon.: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, 7:30, p.m.  (212) 258-9800.

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.

Live Jazz: The Bob Mintzer Big Band at Vibrato

December 24, 2010

By Tony Gieske

From all the things I’d been hearing about the Bob Mintzer Big Band — a New York guy!  — a Yellowjacket! — I thought I should bring my mind-plugs to Vibrato Tuesday to keep my head from bursting.

The Bob Mintzer Big Band at Vibrato

But no! On first acquaintance, Mintzer turned out to have a gentle tenor saxophone voice and his charts were more like Claude Thornhill than Stan Kenton, not that there weren’t plenty of fortissimi. But the best of the charts — a slow blues that I think was called “Lester Swings Out” — did not include a lot of  intricate invention. Rather, it left plenty of room for the soloists.

Bob Mintzer and Keith Fiddmont

And they were awesome. Keith Fiddmont, who plays Charlie O’s regularly, was overflowing with intricate and irregular invention on his alto saxophone. But then so was another familiar Los Angeles bandstand figure, Bob Sheppard, on his rarely heard alto instrument.

I also liked the big band veteran Bruce Fowler, a Frank Zappa alumnus, on bass trombone, and the great bandleader and professor Dr.  John Daversa on trumpet, who started out twisted and got involuted.

Peter Erskine

The exceptionally versatile Peter Erskine played  drums with vigor and accuracy, dropping accents and guiding momentum as he read intently from the Mintzer score, and fellow Yellowjacket Russell Ferrante came out with some stone bebop when he soloed on piano.

Naturally, it was the individualism of the ad lib players that redeemed the industrialized writing from the pen of a writer who created a jazz version of Brian Wilson.

Welcome to L.A., Bob Mintzer.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE

Picks of the Week: July 20 – 26

July 20, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Patricia Talem - web

Patricia Talem

– July 21. (Tues.) Patricia Talem. The musical talent never seems to stop flowing from the rich, creative culture of Brazil. But the musically eclectic newcomer Talem, who is celebrating the release of her self-titled CD, is something special. Blessed with a warm, intimate, whisper in your ear voice, she uses it with the communicative qualities of a born story teller. She’ll be backed by the impressive skills of pianist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip, guitarist Sandro Albert and drummer Marco DaCosta. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323)466-2210.

– July 21. (Tues.) Jon Mayer Trio. Mayer has been quietly delivering one classy performance after another for decades — from the intimate jazz of his own trio to deeply empathic backing for a wide range of other artists. This time out, he’s celebrating the release of his new CD “Nightscape,” backed by bassist Chris Conner and drummer Roy McCurdy. Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

– July 23. (Thurs.) Mike Marshall, Darol Anger and Väsen. The strings will be flying in what promises to be a fascinating encounter between the bluegrass mastery of Marshall’s mandolin, Anger’s boundary-less fiddle and the nyckelharpa, viola and guitar of the dynamic Swedish trio, Väsen. The Skirball Center. (310) 440-4500.

– July . (Thurs.) The Squirrel Nut Zippers. It’s a real night for dancing on the Santa Monica Pier, with the retro jumping jive of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the authentic big band swing of Johnny Vanus and the Big Band Alumni. All of it taking place on the 85th anniversary of the opening of the La Monica Ballroom. The Twilight Dance Series. (310) 458-8901.

– July 23. (Thurs.) Philip Glass and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Michael Riesman, in the world premiere performance of a new arrangement of Glass’ score for Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance. The Music will be played in sync with a video projection of Godfrey Reggio‘s 1982 wordless film, Koyaaniqatsi. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000

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Roberta Donnay

Roberta Donnay

– July 23. (Thurs.) Roberta Donnay Quartet. Donnay’s one of the real originals in the latest wave of female jazz vocalists. Although there are traces of Blossom Dearie in her sound and Madeleine Peyroux in her phrasing, Donnay transforms everything she touches into her own unique musical vision. Crowne Plaza Hotel. (310) 642-7500.

– July 25. (Sat.) The Mike Melvoin Trio. Is there such a thing as the “Mike Melvoin Songbook?” The veteran jazz pianist says, “yes.” And Mike, with the incomparable assistance of bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Ralph Penland, will sing and play its pleasures and its secrets. With scheduled guest appearances by Keith England, Theresa Russell and possibly others. Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

gerald wilson

Gerald Wilson

– July 25. (Sat.) “Music and Monologues — Harmony and Humor.” An evening of fun, satire, hi-jinks and some pretty good music, too. Featuring Teresa Tudury, Vicki Juditz and Jonathan Solomon. Parlor Performances. Steinway Hall. (310) 476-6735.

– July 25 & 26. (Sat. & Sun.) The Central Ave. Jazz Festival. The Southland’s most authentic jazz festival — at last in terms of location — situated across from the Dunbar Hotel, at the center of what was once the heart of jazz in Los Angeles. On the schedule — Sat.: The CJS Quintet; Raya Yarbrough; The Eric Reed Trio; The Adonis Puentes Band; Bill Henderson. Sun: Jazz America; The Littleton Bros.; Kalil Wilson; Kamasi Washington; The Gerald Wilson Orchestra; The Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars. The Central Avenue Jazz Festival. (213) 743-8738.

San Francisco

– July 22 (Wed.) “A Musical Tribute to Buddy Montgomery.” Friends, former associates and admirers of the late vibist/pianist (who passed away in May) celebrate his memory. Featuring Marlena Shaw, Mary Stallings, John Handy, David Hazeltine, Brian Lynch, Jeff Chambers and many others. Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

– July 25 & 26. (Sat. & Sun.) “Hawaiian World Festival” reaches across the broad spectrum of Hawaiian music. Featuring the versatiel group Hapa, slack key and ukulele master Led Kaapana and singer/songwriter John Cruz. Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200.

New York City


Charlie Haden

– July 21 – 26 (Tues. – Sun.) The Charlie Haden Invitation Series. Bassist Haden measures his considerable versatility against a world class line-up of pianists. With Ethan Iverson (Tues,) Steve Kuhn (Wed.), Kenny Barron (Thurs. & Fri,.), Paul Bley (Sat.) and Bill Charlap (Sun.). (212) 475-8592. The Blue Note.

– July 22 – 25. (Wed. – Sat.) The Lee Konitz Quartet. Konitz should be on everyone’s must-hear list whenever he’s in town. And even more so when he’s in the company of drummer Paul Motian and pianist Dan Tepfer. Birdland. (212) 581-3080.

To contact Don Heckman with information regarding performers and/or performances for possible inclusion in Picks of the Week click here.


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