Live Music: Buddy Guy At UCLA’s Royce Hall

August 14, 2015

By Devon Wendell



Los Angeles. Buddy Guy kicked off the 2015-2016 Center For the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Thursday night with a truly mesmerizing performance.

Buddy Guy is the last true prophet of the blues, especially since we recently lost B.B. King. Buddy and his Damn Right Blues Band (Marty Sammon, keyboards, Orlando Wright, bass, Ric Hall, guitar, and Tim Austin on drums) performed a blistering set of no-nonsense Chicago Blues and much more. Since the early ‘60s, Guy has performed and recorded with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Son House and B.B. King (to name only a few). He has the uncanny ability to channel them all in a single performance. This is exactly what he did at Royce Hall on Thursday night.

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

This was one of the most focused and coherent Buddy Guy shows I’ve ever witnessed. Guy is often forced to play a medley of familiar blues standards due to the time restraints of the blues festival circuit. The good people at Royce Hall gave Guy and his band an entire hour and forty-five minutes to stretch out and that’s exactly what he did.

Guy played songs in their entirety, opening his set with “Damn Right I Got The Blues,” Eddie Boyd’s slow and pleading “Five Long Years” and Muddy Waters’ boastful “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Sure, Guy would occasionally fall back on his bag of stage tricks, like walking through the audience during a long guitar solo, playing the guitar behind his back and with his teeth, and even playing the guitar with his crotch. However, the greatest moments of the show were when Guy would just stand there onstage and play.

Buddy Guy

Guy also has the greatest backing band. Marty Sammon played some brilliant keyboard solos, even dipping into some apparent jazz influences on “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Orlando Wright and Tim Austin act as the anchors, keeping the groove no matter how wild Guy’s playing can go. Ric Hall is a stellar guitarist with his own distinct sound as well.

Carlos Santana once told me that Buddy Guy is “The Ornette Coleman of electric blues guitar” and he was right. Guy played some piercing, lightning fast runs and a furry of gut wrenching string bends which created tones that no other guitarist can emulate. And these are things that only happen at that exact moment and never repeated again.

A perfect example of this was Guy’s rendition of Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do.” Slim was one of Guy’s earliest and most potent influences. Guy learned a lot of his stage antics from watching Slim play in Louisiana in the ‘50s. Guy’s version was true to the original and like Guitar Slim, his guitar had gotten way out of tune during this performance. But his tone was so harsh and beautifully evil that it didn’t matter.

The performance started to lose some of its focus during a brief acoustic portion of Guy’s set. Guy and Ric Hall played acoustic guitars and were joined by Wright and Austin on Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” “Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Cream’s “Strange Brew.” It would have been more fitting if Guy performed some deep Delta blues on acoustic like he did on his 2003 album “Blues Singer” (Silvertone), but it was still a lot of fun.

The highlight of Guy’s set was the title track from his new album Born To Play Guitar (RCA) which was a pure Chicago blues in the style of his former mentors and employers Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. On this number, Guy preaches about his love for his instrument and where it’s taken him throughout his incredible life.

Guy played an electric sitar on his 2008 soul ballad “Skin Deep.” He didn’t play the electric sitar in an “orthodox” manner, and thank God for that. He conjured up sounds on the instrument that no one would have thought possible when it was invented in the late ‘60s.

Guy finished his show with his baby-boomer crowd pleasing medley of Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child”, and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.” This was a beautiful performance. Guy is still one of the most powerful singers in the history of American music.

Opening up for Guy was Los Angeles’s own The Record Company (Chris Vos, vocals, guitar, lap-steel guitar, pedal steel guitar, harmonica), Alex Stiff, (bass, guitars, piano, vocals), and Marc Cazorla, (drums, piano, and vocals.)

The Record Company

The Record Company

This band sounds like a cross between The Yardbirds of the late ‘60s, Elmore James, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Their performance was electrifying. Chris Voss played some incredible slide guitar on his lap, using an acoustic guitar that the late Johnny Winter had given him. He alternated between guitar, harmonica, and lead vocals. Alex Stiff’s bass playing was tight and funky and Marc Cazorla’s drumming was hypnotic and in the pocket.

The band played such original material as “Goodbye Sad Eyes,” “Got Me On The Move,” “Feel So Good”and finally “Don’t Let Me Get Lonely” during their brief set which truly rocked the house. Voss is a magnetic front-man whose dedication to the blues was apparent during the band’s entire performance. The Record Company was raw, loud, nasty, and the perfect band to start the evening’s festivities. This is a band to look out for if you haven’t already.

This was a perfect evening of raw blues performed by both a band of newcomers dedicated to the heart and soul of the music, and a true legend and master who is the last of the “old” bluesmen. I can’t imagine a better way to kick off UCLA’s CAP new concert season.

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

Q&A: Wayne Shorter and Daniel Rotem At The Playboy Jazz Festival

June 10, 2015

By Devon Wendell

On Saturday, June 13th; Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and young players from The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble will be performing at the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival taking place Saturday and Sunday at The Hollywood Bowl.

playboy jazz logo

I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview Wayne Shorter on his upcoming performance at the Bowl. Shorter is a master improviser, not only in music but in conversation as well. Instead of the typical Q&A with questions 1-15, I let Shorter take the helm and share his priceless wisdom with me freely.

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Devon Wendell: Hello Wayne.

Wayne Shorter: Hello.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

DW: I first wanted to let you know what an honor it is to be interviewing you. You’re one of my biggest idols both musically and intellectually.

WS: Well, Thank you very much.

wayne shorterDW: You’re going to be performing at the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock and The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble. Can you tell me about the kind of music you’ll be performing at the festival?

WS: I think what’s interesting beyond the music is people seeing the performers on stage, Just seeing them. There’s so much stuff going on in the pop world, people moving and dancing and all of that. A lot of the younger generation that will be there will be seeing people who they have never encountered in a night club. A lot of people thought we were dead.


WS: They wonder “how did you last this long?” or “How come you didn’t get swept under the rug amid the nightlife of all those years of touring?”Or “How come you’re not in the hospital?”


WS [continuing]: But you’ll see some people just looking. Not with their mouths open but saying “Hey, I never saw you guys. I heard about you guys from my father.” That’s a big one you hear a lot.

DW: Oh yeah, my dad’s record collection.

WS: Exactly. Playing with the young Monk Institute guys. Now that’s going to be something. And that’s what that whole thing is about. The next wave of poetry that’s coming out of The United States and around the world. But some people don’t even believe it’s still going on. I’m glad that the young people at The Bowl in the audience will see people dealing with and getting into music that has more than three chords.

DW: Exactly, something to challenge their notions of where music can go.

WS: I like what Einstein said about the simple and the complex. He said “We need simple. Of course there’s complex in every day things and the simplicity really sells and we have simple but no simpler.”


DW: Yes, that certainly pertains to all art forms today.

WS: That’s what I hope some of the young people in the audience will get out of the music. Those who may be looking for the fast way, the instant gratification way of doing what they want to. It could be anything. They may want to be the quick doctor [laughter] or the quick psychiatrist or audience or in politics. They might see what’s coming from the stage and realize that it’s great to study as an individual and not to get satisfied with something that feels easy or keeps you in that comfort zone.

DW: Exactly. Your music has always had that quality of enlightening the audience beyond preconceived notions of what they think they should like or feel comfortable with. Pushing the boundaries.

WS: The whole world is pushing. Nations are pushing each other. So many start at the word pushing.

DW: Yeah and they get stuck there.


WS: As far as interviews are concerned, for me to talk about what tunes I’m going to play or what kind of mouthpiece that I use, well that kind of interview to me is like a basketball player doing an interview. You know Stephen Curry on The Golden State Warriors?

DW: Yes, great player.

WS: Well he had his little girl with him while they were interviewing him on TV and she was cute and they thought that was distracting. Well I thought that talking about basketball was distracting.


DW: Yes, that human element gave it a greater purpose.

WS: The interviewer is just following the contract and if he doesn’t do the interview he gets fired. [laughter.] But it’s his daughter that he adores. But they want to know what kind of scalpel the doctor uses and so on. Even another basketball player said that the media guys spend more time with the basketball players than with their families when they’re on season. And Curry said that someone asked him “Don’t you think it’s kind of annoying for your daughter to be with you in interviews?” And Curry said “Well do you think I should get another daughter?”


WS: [continuing] When people watch us at The Hollywood Bowl, they’re watching behavior. The behavior of someone who chooses the road less traveled. That road can take you more places than the one most traveled. I mean, that more traveled road is crowded with wannabees, and instant gratificationers, and those who believe that if they study something, they’ll lose their flow or their groove. Like “I’m going to lose my groove if I study teaching.”


DW: Yeah, my generation was pretty much programmed to believe that.

WS: I was told that to get to my destination, catch that train before it leaves the railroad station. To grab that opportunity like American Idol. Oh yeah, I can be an instant singer. Go ahead! [Laughter]

WS: [continuing] The thing with The Monk Institute kids is that they can’t take that two year course at UCLA unless they’ve already gotten a four year bachelor’s degree. I think there’s going to be a xylophone player from Chile. When we auditioned this guy, (Herbie, myself, and Jimmy Heath) he came and played Duke’s “Sophisticated Lady” on xylophone and Jimmy was like “Damn! You mean he didn’t get nothing from Milt Jackson, or Terry Gibbs or someone like that? He’s got his own thing. Where did he learn all of that stuff?” [laughter]

WS: [continuing] The trombone player walked in for his audition, dressed in a formal suit. One of the auditioners said “Wow, he looks like an insurance man?” [laughter] When he started playing we said “Uh Oh!” He came through Al Grey who played trombone in Duke Ellington’s band, plus Kai Winding, Jay Jay Johnson, and he came through all of that stuff himself.

DW: Wow. That’s pretty amazing. He was really swinging hard huh?

WS: Yes. We worked with another group that’s going to graduate in another year. There’s a girl playing piano and there’s a vocalist who writes really good stuff. And he doesn’t try to sound like a horn or other instruments when he sings. He doesn’t try to scat all over the place. The instrumentalists try to sound like him! He’s really a well ranged guy.

WS [continuing] What you’re going to see is that the young musicians on that stage all respect each other. They’re demonstrating what true democracy can be. The whole thing about improvisation and jazz and competition, like when someone plays across somebody else, they see it as an opportunity. Like in a relay race when someone passes the baton on to the other guy so he keeps going and doesn’t slow down because of ego. In other times, that might cause a fight. A guy would say “You interrupted my solo!” or “I’m not playing with you anymore because you stole my thunder.” [laughter) In a way they’re transcending this whole thing about show business. I hope they show some of that stuff to the so-called go-getters in the audience. A lot of people are trained or bullied in unseen ways into becoming go-getters. It’s done almost subliminally. So it’ll be good to see all of those differences.

A lot of people can’t get along because of their differences. The differences are what we have in common. Before it’s all over, I hope the noble spirits of humanity reveal the truth of the performance and reaching beyond the point of divinity and beyond the craft. So that’s the kind of interviews I’ve been doing. Just having fun with human beings. Are you enjoying it?

DW: It’s wonderful. I am. I threw my note pad out the window.


WS: It is what it is. It’s like democracy. Well how do you spell democracy? C R E A T I V E. Creative living. We can surpass and transcend all of the labels and living under names of things. People use the words and the words become a weapon. If you get stuck with a word, the meanings of the word can be open season. [laughter]
There’s this book in which the first sentence says “Human beings are the only entity who like to name things.” [laughter]

DW: It does restrict everything, like all of these different names for music, and types of art. People like to get trapped by categorization.

WS: What I would like for people to experience when watching a performance is seeing things happen on stage that they would like to happen in everyday life. You know those people who are no longer here, like Charlie Parker? Some of what they did is in the art of never giving up the spirit. And that no one person is just one thing. There are many dimensions to a person.

DW: So is every aspect of existence made up of a series of improvisations?

WS: To me, in improvisation it’s very hard to lie. You can fantasize, but fantasy is not necessarily a lie. We hope that the business world hears again creative stuff that comes from an improvisational idea in the moment and the difficulty in lying. You have to do more business from the heart. Even when dealing with the unknown. How do you negotiate the unknown by lying?                                                                    The thing is I’m 81. Some people that I’ve known for a long time, when they get old and look at a friend or someone in the family or someone they’ve know a long time they can say “You know, I never did like you?”


WS: They say what’s on their mind.

DW: Yes, no more explanations needed. I respect that indeed sir.

WS: To say what’s on your mind, you need a lot of wisdom and validity to back it up.
I’m watching young people today. I saw on television this young woman who is a transgender and her name is jazz. A lot of wisdom coming from her. I’m really learning a lot from younger people in what they have to say.
I was at Lincoln Center last week with Wynton Marsalis and there was this little boy, 15 years old who came out of the orchestra with a saxophone strapped across his back. He didn’t say I like the way you were playing or I like the music, he said “I like your writing and I like the philosophy.”

DW: Wow!

WS: Oh, and there’s one more thing people can expect from my performance at The Bowl and that’s a reversal of Whiplash!! There was some good acting in it, but I mean historically speaking. [Laughter]

DW: Sounds great. Thank you for your time Wayne. This has truly been an enlightening experience. I’ll see you at The Bowl.

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Q&A: Daniel Rotem Performs With Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter And The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble.

After my interview with Wayne Shorter, I had a brief chat with tenor saxophonist Daniel Rotem about his upcoming performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble. Rotem is one of the gifted students at The Monk Institute, with a bright future ahead of him.

Devon Wendell: Tell me how it feels to be playing at the Festival in the Hollywood Bowl with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and the other Monk Institute players.

Dan Rotem: I grew up listening to and studying the music of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, so it still seems surreal to be sharing the stage with both of them this weekend. I remember buying Mr. Shorter’s album Speak No Evil, one of the first jazz albums I bought, and shortly afterwards The Soothsayer. Every time I listened to them, the music took me on a journey. I used to watch the movie ‘Round Midnight a lot (Mr. Hancock won an Oscar for the best score), and I remember listening to his playing on some of Miles Davis’ records thinking that this must be some of the most beautiful music ever created. Later on in high school I got to know more of Mr. Hancock’s albums like Empyrean Isles and Speak Like a Child. I feel like in some ways the music by both of these legendary artists is part of who I am, like certain memories that I have growing up are connected to Wayne’s sound, or Herbie’s sensitivity. It is an absolute honor and I am very excited to be making music with them, as I am to be sharing the moment with the Monk Institute Ensemble, that by now feels like family.

Daniel Rotem

Daniel Rotem

Devon Wendell: You’re already quite an accomplished tenor saxophonist. You’ve studied at Rimon School Of Jazz And Contemporary Music in Tel Aviv. You were the youngest to win first place at Rimon’s Outstanding Jazz Player competition. You graduated from The Berklee College Of Music with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance after receiving a full scholarship there. You’ve also studied with such jazz icons as David Liebman, Peter Erskine, Lionel Loueke, and Jeremy Pelt, to name a few. Tell me some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from playing with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.

DR: One of the early lessons I learned from my family is to be a human being, respectful, kind, and attentive, care for the well being of others as a way of life. Working with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter reinforces these values, especially since I had the chance to see the people behind those legendary musical figures. Both of them are so kind and caring, involved and invested in the time they spend with us, sharing their experience and perspective with us in the most honest, humble way. I remember the first time we worked with Mr. Shorter, and one of the songs we played for him was one that I wrote. When we finished playing, from the way he commented (he said my song sounded to him like the desert, like the kibbutz) you could tell that he was truly listening attentively. Wayne Shorter, one of the greatest jazz composers of all times is taking the time to mentor us and share his thoughts with us, I am so grateful for that.

We recently had the privilege of going on a US State Department Tour to Morocco, performing with Mr. Hancock and vocalist extraordinaire Dee Dee Bridgewater. There was a moment in one of our performances that I will remember for the rest of my life. For me, when the music is truly happening, borders or boundaries of differentiation dissolve: there is no more me, you, the audience, there is only the music, that connects us all. Performing with Mr. Hancock in Morocco was the best manifestation of everything I love and wish to do in music. As soon as the music started we were no longer “Herbie Hancock” and “The Monk Ensemble”. It was as if we’d known each other for years and met each other for the first time, at the same time. The way Mr. Hancock plays, each note a moment in time and a lifetime, and to create music in the moment with him… it was truly an amazing experience.. Truly an inspiration.

I was fortunate enough to be living in Boston the year Mr. Hancock was a guest speaker at Harvard. I went to every single one of his lectures; each was more interesting and inspiring than the previous one. I remember what struck me the most was not only what an amazing, accomplished musician he is, but what an honest, kind human being he is.

DW: Tell me about your role in the Thelonious Monk Institute For Jazz Performance and how it’s helped you to grow as a musician.

DR: What I love about the Monk Institute Ensemble is that by now it feels like family. The first time we met was at the auditions for the program and most of us had never met before (Ido the Trombone player and I went to the same high school in Israel and lived together in Boston for two years while we were both studying at Berklee). As soon as we played the first note together as a band for the jury (consisting of Hancock, Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Burrell, and James Newton) it felt like something else; the energy, the communication, there was a seed that felt amazing from the very first moment. As if it was meant to be. Every member of the band is not only an improviser and instrumentalist, but we all compose our own music as well. Being able to write regularly, and have such amazing musicians in the band to play the music, has been very beneficial to my development.

The fact that we each come from a different background, with different musical education and preferences really contributes to the learning process as well. Its like mixing 7 different ingredients, each with its own flavor, feeling, and characteristics, they are each unique on their own, but mix them together, and the options are endless. Since we started working together as a band, we also had the privilege to take part in educational outreach programs. It is truly rewarding and satisfying to be able to give back to the community, and support other students who are starting out, like I was supported when I started. In life, we are each a student and a teacher, and I have been learning so much from working with the kids that we got to work with.

DW:: Where do you hope to see your career as a jazz musician in the future?

DR: As a human being and a jazz musician I would hope to be able to inspire and contribute to those around me in this world. There is so much we still have to learn as a species, and I would like to take my part in the learning process. I hope to be able to touch people through music, and advance mutual respect and understanding. Musically speaking, I hope to be able to keep learning, keep developing. Having had the privilege to speak and play with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter, if I could ever come even close to doing what these two men do, and in the way they do it, I would be a very fulfilled and happy person.

DW: Thank you so much for your time Daniel. You are a insightful person and I look forward to seeing you perform at the festival with Wayne, Herbie, and The rest of The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble.

DR: Thank you. I too look forward to it.

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





Here, There & Everywhere: The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts

May 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Describing Herb Alpert as a philanthropist doesn’t accurately identify the full generosity of his activities over recent decades. Many of his awards have been institutional, to UCLA, USC, CalArts and beyond. And in each of those cases, his generosity has had a significant impact upon the effectiveness of their music education programs.

But Alpert has done much more. For the past twenty years, his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has annually given $75,000 prizes each to five mid–career, risk–taking artists in dance, film/video, music, theatre, and visual arts.

“Over the last twenty years,” says Alpert, “we’ve been lucky enough to have given a boost to choreographers, musicians, visual and media artists, and theatre makers, those who keep on searching, and making powerful, spirited work. For all of us to enjoy…or not.”

Last Friday, Alpert and his wife Lani Hall hosted the announcement of his year’s awards at an annual award lunch. And, once again, the line up of winners included an impressive array of creative artists.

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, DAniel Joseph Martinez

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, Daniel Joseph Martinez

Here are the winners in the various categories, along with comments from Irene Borger, Director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, regarding the reasons for their selection:

Dance: Tap dancer Michelle Dorreance. Chosen for her “inventive sophistication and transporting the field into radically new places.”

Music: Composer, avant-garde saxophonist and sound artist Matana Roberts. Chosen for her charismatic, powerful renderings of sound.”

Film/Video: Documentary Filmmaker Deborah Stratman. Chosen for her “important body of films, and the ways she grapples with tough issues.”

Theatre: Theatre artist Annie Dorsen. Chosen for her “audacious investigations, unrelenting pursuit of ideas, and new theatrical forms.”

Visual Arts: Post-conceptual artist Daniel Joseph Martinez. Chosen for his “his fearless, continually evolving practice, unwavering commitment to art and politics, to the field, and to Los Angeles.”

Alpert summed up the significance of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts in a final comment, perfectly reflecting the adventurousness of his own long career as an imaginative, improvising jazz artist always in search of new ideas:

“What happens,” says Alpert, “when you support artists with that special spark? You don’t know — and that’s exactly part of the magic.”

It’s a magic that Alpert has either been creating or supporting – and sometimes both – over the course of the music he’s been making from the early days of the Tijuana Brass to his most recent recordings and performances with his wife Lani Hall Alpert.

Add to that the equally magical works Alpert has been producing in his remarkable career as a highly regarded painter and sculptor. No wonder he relates so empathically with the simlarly imaginative winners of his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.

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Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision courtesy of the Herb Alpert Foundation.



Here, There & Everywhere: The 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts

May 11, 2012

By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert has had more successes – creative and financial – than most artists can dream of experiencing.  And to his credit he’s handled them with remarkable finesse and generosity.  Music programs at UCLA and CalArts have benefited from his multi-million dollar grants to each institution.

Herb Alpert

Today, another impressive display of the Alpert munificence took place with the presentation of the 2012 Alpert Awards in the Arts, a combined effort of the Herb Alpert Foundation and CalArts. The Awards, now in their 19th installment, recognize mid-career achievements in Music, Dance, Film/Video, Theatre and Visual Arts.

All of the winners — as well as Alpert, CalArts faculty members and some of the panel members who made the Awards selections — were in attendance earlier today for a celebratory party at the Alpert Foundation offices in Santa Monica. Each receives a $75,000 award.

Jazz fans can be especially pleased that the Music Award was granted to pianist/composer Myra Melford, whose ground breaking, exploratory recordings have provided some of the most fascinating improvisational journeys of the past two decades.

Myra Melford

According to Irene Borger, Director of the Alpert Award in the Arts, Melford was honored “for her ascending and expansive trajectory, and great, generous musical mind…her willingness to dive into the deep end of the pool and her ability to take multiple musical traditions into another sphere.”

Ms. Borger also announced the reasoning behind the other awards:

Nora Chipaumire

Dance: Nora Chipaumire, “for her profound movement intellirgence, steaming hot and extraordinary presence, the dialogue she creates with audiences, and her visceral struggles with critical issues of the day.”

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Kevin Everson

Film/Video: Kevin Everson, “for his relentless curiosity, sustained inquiry, for elevating the visual power of expressive quotidian gestures of working people, and for his aesthetic caring gaze.”

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Eisa Davis

Theatre: Eisa Davis, “for her profound multiple gifts as playwright, performer and musician, her portrayal of the complex richness of our American character, and her work’s relevance and epic sweep, expanding our notion of how one might live in the 21st century.”

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Michael Smith

Visual Arts: Michael Smith, “for subversively using the visual languages of popular and corporate culture to take on big issues, for pioneering narrative within video art practice, and for rendering the everyday as truly strange….”

Alpert’s smiling presence underscored the satisfaction he must feel for the display of yet another of his vital contributions to the arts.  He could, after all, have bought an island (or two or three) in the Caribbean and retired to a life of luxurious beach-combing, painting, sculpting and some trumpet playing on the side.  Not that he’s given up on the latter three.  Not at all.  His fascinating paintings and sculptures are omnipresent in the Foundation offices, his home near Malibu and his Bel Air jazz club, Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. And he and his wife, the gifted singer Lani Hall, continue to record and tour with their stellar group.

But Alpert also expresses his creativity via his beneficence – via his generous financial support for the arts as a vital, continually expressive element in American life.

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Photos courtesy of the Herb Alpert Foundation.

Live Music: Bryan Adams Bare Bones Tour at UCLA’s Royce Hall

April 10, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

There is an undeniably universal appeal in a guy singing love songs with a guitar.  Ladies love the high level of simple romantic communication in it, and upon seeing this, most men certainly recognize the power of the medium to grab a woman’s attention by the heartstrings.  Over the past 30 or so years, one of the most successful practitioners of this format is Bryan Adams and on Saturday night he brought his stripped-down/acoustic Bare Bones Tour to a packed house at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

There was a very tangible anticipatory buzz in the air as the audience strolled into the theater.  There was also an abundance of beautiful women, on dates or in small groups on girls’ night out.  The show started about 15 minutes late but the place was packed by then and erupted when Adams, in jeans and a black shirt, strode onstage with a top hat in one hand and a beautiful brown Martin guitar in the other.

True to the Bare Bones concept, the large Royce Hall stage was nearly bare with only a grand piano and a mike stand to receive Adams’ guitar and voice.  Also true to the concept was the clever idea of using the bare back wall of Royce Hall as the back drop.  It’s as beautiful and old as the building itself with gorgeous wrought iron and brickwork above an impressive old sliding iron backstage door.  Bathed in red or blue light, the wall provided a very tasteful backdrop for Adams and keyboardist Gary Breit.

The first song was “Run to You,” and from the opening notes of its signature guitar tag, the audience seemed to literally know every change and every word of each song Adams played.  Pianist Gary Breit shuttled on and off the stage all night, but for the vast majority of songs it was just Adams and his guitar.

Hit song after memorable hit song revealed the level of Adams’ successes.  Nearly every one of Adams’ best known songs is simply about love, whether it’s the pursuit of love (“Do I Have To Say The Words”), the faith in love (“This Time,” “Heaven”), the definition of love(“Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman”), or several other angles on heartbreak (“Cuts Like a Knife”) and love delivered (“Can’t Stop This Thing We’ve Started”).  All of his songs ring very true emotionally and people connect strongly with truth.  In a radio friendly rock format, the appeal is tremendous.   His songs were once ubiquitous on FM radio, and anyone whose ears have been open at all since the early 80’s has heard dozens of his songs many times.  Although FM radio isn’t now the beacon it once was, his songs remain FM staples.

But the memories of those splendidly simpler times live on, and when it was time for audience participation, it was impressive that so many people still knew all the words. During sing-along time the sound of the audience voice was definitely female, which was a beautiful thing.  Adams seemed clearly aware of this all night as they hooted song requests.  And many of the men in the audience couldn’t help but notice the purity in the reactions so many of the babes at the show had to these songs.  These ladies had clearly lived through the emotions many times and likely sung them silently or aloud nearly as many times.

Adams did have the crowd in the palm of his hand, with plenty of memorable musical moments Saturday night.  How often will we see a bagpiper walk in and out of a B.A. show without missing a note on the chorus of “Cuts Like a Knife?” Pianist Breit’s adaptation of the flamenco guitar feel in “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” was similarly grand.  Add to that Adams’ memorable little gem, “Walk on By,” finger-picked and given the full B.A. treatment.

In the stripped down format, Adams’ voice had all kinds of room to expand, soar, and howl.  It was as loud as the piano, but his tone was the remarkable thing.  His voice straddled the line between polished and raspy — at once rough enough to mean tough business and polished enough to deliver line after line about romantic love.  It’s a great rock voice, as superb in getting the tenderness across as it is for the power vocals.  It’s a fine line Adams walks, and he has made a hugely successful career of merging the two realms in simple songs that appeal to everybody’s heart of hearts.

A heaping handful of his hits were written at the age of 23 or thereabouts.  Listening to them unplugged on Saturday reminded people that these songs must have sounded quite similar when they were nurtured along in his Canadian apartment back in the ‘80s.    What a treat to hear these songs in this format!

The Bare Bones show underscored for all to see why guys will continue to pick up guitars and begin singing from their hearts to reach the women in their world.  Depending on how good a guy’s songs and voice are, well, the world could just be his oyster.  Bryan Adams is living proof of this idea.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Live Jazz: Chick Corea and Gary Burton at Royce Hall

March 6, 2011

By Michael Katz

Chick Corea and Gary Burton are two exquisite musicians, who in their duets have found a way to channel their talents into a performance both unified by their sensibilities and singular in their contributions. Saturday night, in a UCLA Live presentation before an appreciative audience at Royce Hall, they brought out some familiar material from past albums, interlaced with material they are developing for a new collection of standards, though not in the sense you might suspect.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

The first two numbers, “Love Castle” and “Native Sense,” were a reminder that both piano and vibes are nominally placed in the rhythm section. They featured Corea and Burton exploring rhythmic patterns, ebbing and flowing into each other’s leads. The sound of Burton’s vibraharp, clear,  crisp and amplified in a way unlike the piano, can appear to lead the way when the two are in harmony; Corea, implicitly acknowledging this, offered more chordal support, waiting for Burton to step back before offering his own solos.

Chick Corea

Both men took turns introducing numbers with self-deprecating humor, Corea unfolding voluminous charts of new arrangements, as if to belie the supposition that all jazz  is improvised. The so-called standards for the upcoming CD were less old chestnuts than nods to their musical antecedents,  from Mozart to Bud Powell to Lennon/McCartney. “Can’t We Be Friends” was a tune performed by Art Tatum and, while not familiar to the audience, gave Corea an opportunity to demonstrate his chops, which at age 70 are not in the slightest bit diminished.

It was the next number, Jobim’s “Chega De Saudade” (aka “No More Blues”), with its more familiar melody, that really garnered an appreciation of their approach. Corea and Burton both played with Stan Getz early in their careers, Burton on several of the seminal bossa nova records and Corea later, in a more contemporary setting that featured many of his own compositions. Their approach was a reflection of both periods: a counterintuitive introduction, setting off a percussive line and backing into the melody, the samba insinuating itself into the performance. Burton is a visual wonder as well, wielding two double mallets, their blue tips a blur. Unlike the pianist whose fingertips never leave the keyboard, Burton seems more the acrobat, albeit with little time for the audience to contemplate the daring, or to wonder how the mallets never miss their targets.

Gary Burton

It was interesting to note their different relationship to Beatles music, Corea explaining that he was barely aware of them, ensonced in Trane and Bird and Miles in the ‘60s, while Burton attended the Beatles’ famous 1965 Shea Stadium concert. When Corea announced the next tune as a Lennon/McCartney number, you could sense the anticipation as they worked their way through an opening bridge, which revealed the familiar chords to “Eleanor Rigby.” Burton led the way with a sometimes jarring line that still managed to retain the essential theme of loneliness, implicit even without the lyrics.

“No Mystery,” though originally recorded by Corea’s Return To Forever band, seemed ideal for the duo, its clear and simple melodic line intoned perfectly by Burton, with Corea intricately weaving in a counter melodic backing.

The second set was an equally enthralling musical journey, beginning with Corea’s homage entitled “Bud Powell,”  and continuing with “Alegria,” a flamenco style tune that began with Burton and Corea tapping rhythms on opposite ends of the piano and continuing in the Spanish tinged harmonies that have been a staple of Chick’s work. That was followed by Bill Evans “Time Remembered” and one of Monk’s lesser known tunes, “Light Blue.”  But the highlight of the second set was “Mozart Goes Dancing,” in which Corea imagined  Mozart confronting African rhythms and dancers. There were snatches of classical phrasing from Chick, interspersed with Burton’s lilting rhythms, weaving the jazz and classical forms with panache.

The perfect coda to the evening was the encore,  this time devoid of charts. Corea and Burton fell easily into a joyous version of “Blue Monk.”  There were no intricate arrangements here, just the two of them riffing as if it was a late night jam session. And it was late, at least in the sense of a concert venue.  But the UCLA crowd, which often dissipates early to beat the parking jam, stayed around until the final note.  Had there been a third set few people would have left, but instead it was emblematic that this musical pairing of virtuosos can still leave an audience asking for more.

Photos by Andrew Elliott courtesy of UCLA Live.

To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.

Live Blues: Taj Mahal and Vieux Farka Toure at Royce Hall

October 31, 2010

By Mike Finkelstein

Legendary blues man Taj Mahal’s performance last week at a UCLA Live concert in Royce Hall drew a large and enthusiastic audience.  It was a night in which we saw an integration of musical styles from many different points on the planet, ranging from the Mississippi Delta to Mali.   In the capable hands of a winsome character like Taj, the program was hugely entertaining.   Though he has recorded material in many styles, using instruments ranging from steel drums to a kora — and everything standard in between – on this night he stuck to stripped down blues arrangements.

With only drums and bass to back him, Taj hit the stage right on time, dressed in white linen slacks and a black sport shirt, spangled with what looked like assorted exotic birds and a wide brimmed white hat.   He immediately plugged into one of several acoustic/electric guitars and played “TV Mama”  which evoked the old Elmore James riff in “Dust My Broom” and featured a very crisp guitar solo.  Though he was not playing slide guitar, he made the riff sound as though he was.

Taj Mahal

Three songs into the set, it was time to wipe his brow and this seemingly routine motion offered a glimpse into how someone with real presence, like Taj, seems to look all the more memorable in a hat. He held the hat up, looked it over like a trusted pet, and observed in a warm, low voice that the hat had attitude, and that it was just looking for a head to sit on.  It wasn’t simply his words that impressed, it was also how he physically assured us of the idea.   Similarly, the graceful arc he displayed in strapping on a new guitar spoke subtly to anyone who was watching.

Throughout the show Taj cycled through guitar, keyboard and banjo, always maintaining a fine balance between singing, strumming, soloing or even whistling.  He seemed to be moderating a charismatic dialogue between these components on each song.  He has one of the most expressive voices you could hope to find.  At times he sounded angelic, other times warm and immediate, and occasionally like a big ‘ol bullfrog.  The rhythm section of Kester Smith and Bill Rich served up streamlined, catchy grooves that fit the tunes like a glove.

Vieux Farka Toure

Songs such as “Blues With a Feeling,” “Corrina, Corrina,” and “Zanzibar” were eagerly received by an audience that seemed fully familiar with Mahal’s repertoire.   On “Blues With a Feeling” he was joined onstage by Vieux Farka Toure, the rising star guitar player from Mali who opened the show.  When these fellows jammed it was an interesting contrast in roots and style.  On this set of standard blues changes Taj veered towards the pentatonic end of the spectrum and Vieux worked more with the major scale, which actually made his own blues licks jump up out of the mix.

The opening set by Toure, son of the legendary Ali Farka Toure, was also very well received.   Playing a Joe Satriani model Ibanez guitar, dressed in authentic Malian garb, Toure and his band proceeded to keep the audience engaged and bopping for an hour.  His set consisted of songs that featured several different sets of three or four chord changes and a whole lot of guitar soloing on top of it all.  Although the words to his songs were not in English he was very explanatory between songs as he politely relayed to the audience how he was finding America.

Watching the young man from Mali arrive on the UCLA campus, then play the blues onstage with Taj Mahal on a Korean made guitar, which was designed by an American rock ‘n roller, really made the world seem just a little bit smaller — if only for the length of an entertaining evening.

Taj Mahal photo courtesy of UCLA LIVE.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


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