Picks of the Week: December 1 – 7 in L.A. and Beyond

December 1, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Eloise Laws nd Corky Hale

Eloise Laws nd Corky Hale

– Dec. 3. (Wed.) Corky Hale and Eloise Laws. Pianist/harpist and all around music master Hale gets together with the engaging, Laws family vocalist Eloise for an evening of prime time music making. Her appropriate title for the evening is “Sisters! A Salute to the Great Women of Jazz, featuring a special suprise guest. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

– Dec. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Mussorgsky’s always compelling Pictures at an Exhibition. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Dec. 5. (Fri. ) Vijay Ayer: The Rites of Holi and Mutations I – X. Pianist/composer Ayer’s Rites of Holi was inspired by the Hindu Rite of Spring celebration and based upon Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (on the classic work’s 100th anniversary).  The Music of Transformation, written for piano, string quartet and electronics is Ayer’s first classically oriented work, driven by the improvisational imagination central to his creativity.   A CAP UCLA at Royce Hall event.  (310) 825-2101.

Dr. John

Dr. John

– Dec. 6. (Sat.) Dr. John. New Orlean’s jazz piano/vocal master and his Night Trippers can be counted on to produce an evening filled with sounds to remember. A CAP UCLA at Royce Hall event.   (310) 825-2101.

– Dec. 6. (Sat.) Judy Collins. Any performance by Judy Collins is a special event. And even more so when she does her warmly captivating program of holiday songs. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Dec. 6. (Sat.) Bill Cunliffe nnd Imaginacion. Pianist, composer and Grammy winner Cunliffe displays his mastery of the rhythmic pleasures of Latin jazz. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Brad Mehldau

– Dec. 6. (Sat.) The Brad Mehldau Trio and The Bad Plus. Here’s an intriguing program contrasting the differing, but fascinating jazz adventuring of pianist Mehldau and the piano oriented trio work of The Bad Plus. Valley Performing Arts Center (818) 677-8800.

-Dec. 6 & 7. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Ron Carter Golden Striker  Trio and Kenny Barron with Dave Holland.  Once again, the Jazz Bakery is offering a weekend of music to remember.  And it doesn’t get any better than this.  Saturday’s program features the iconic bassist Ron Carter with pianist Donald Vega and guitarist Russell Malone.  On Sunday, a pair of jazz masters — pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland — meet in what will surely be a primal jazz encounter.  Don’t miss this extraordinary weekend.  A pair of Jazz Bakery Movable Feasts — at Zipper Concert Hall in the Colburn School Saturday, and at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Sunday.  (310) 275-8961.

– Dec. 7. (Sun.) The Canadian Brass. First organized in 1970, the Canadian Brass quintet has gone through numerous personnel changes. But the quintet’s musical versatility has continued to increase. And they’re particularly engaging with their annual holiday program. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800.

San Francisco and Oakland

– Dec. 4. (Thurs.) Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet. Yet another talented member of the musically adept Marsalis family takes center stage, first as a drummer, more recently displaying his capacity to bring new life to the jazz vibraphone. SFJAZZ Center. (866) 920-5299.

Denny Zeitlin solo.

– Dec. 5. (Fri.) Denny Zeitlin. An Evening exploring the Seminal Early Compositions of Wayne Shorter. Piedmont Piano Company, Oakland. Pianist and composer Zeitlin has been one of the music world’s true multi-hyphenates for years, balancing a career as a psychiatrist/educator with decades of masterful jazz performances and recordings. This time out, he finds inspiration in a probing, inventive exploration of the music of Wayne Shorter. The Piedmont Piano Company.  (510) 547-8188.


– Dec. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove takes a break from his big band to display his always top level skills in the jazz quintet format. Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.

New York City

– Dec 2 – 7. (Tues. – Sun.) Pat Metheny Unity Group. Guitarist, like most world class jazz artists, is at his best when he’s leading a group of prime players, as he is here, with the sterling ensemble of saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Antonio Sanchez and multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias

– Dec. 2 – 6. (Tues. – Sat.) Eliane Elias. As her many fans know, one can’t get enough of the piano and vocals of Elias, who is one of the true masters of an appealing blend of the lush pleasures of Brazilian music with imaginative excursions into jazz. Birdland.  212) 581-3080.


– Dec. 3. (Wed.) The London Philharmonic. Rachmaninoff: Inside Out. The Philharmonic explores the creative similarities of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1, Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F# minor and Szymanowski’s Concert Overture. Vladimir Jurowski conducts, with pianio soloist Igor Levit. Royal Festival Hall Southbank Centre  +44 844 875 0073.


– Dec. 3. (Wed.) Aaron Goldberg Trio. Pianist Goldberg’s long term relationship with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland is resulting in a convincingly contemporary incarnation of the classic jazz piano trio. Jazzhus Montmatre.  +45 31 72 34 94


Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola

– Dec. 3 – 6. (Wed. – Sat.) Al di Meola. Always creatively curious, in search of new jazz territory, guitarist di Meola leads an ensemble rich with harmonic settings, surging rhythms and intriguing textures. His musical companions include Argentine pianist Mario Parmisano, Moroccan percussionist Rhani Krija and Hungarian drummer Peter KaszasBlue Note Milano. +39 02 6901 6888.

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Eliane Elias photo by Bonnie Perkinson

Brad Mehldau photo by Tony Gieske.

Live Music: The Thelonious Monk 2014 International Jazz Competition Gala

November 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition came to a dramatic conclusion Sunday night in a All-Star Gala event at Dolby Hall in Hollywood. This year, the Competition was for trumpet players. And the three finalists each offered a display of their considerable skills in a setting that allowed each player to perform a pair of selections of their own choice. And it was no surprise that works by Thelonious Monk were popular choices.

Inevitably, there was a winner, a second and a third place finisher, as follows:

1st Place Winner: Marquis Hill from Chicago.

1st Place Winner: Marquis Hill from Chicago.


2nd Place Winner: Billy Buss from Berkeley

2nd Place Winner: Billy Buss from Berkeley

3rd Place Winner Adam O’Farrill from Brooklyn

But the prevalent thought that came to mind while hearing these fine young players in action was the firm belief that each of the prodigal musicians had displayed all the skills required for successful careers in the musical world in general and the jazz world specifically. And, win or place as a finalist, they all will benefit from the visibility associated with having placed so high in such a major competition.

In addition to the Competition finals, the Gala presented a concert clearly intended as a celebration of jazz itself, in its many shapes, sizes, styles, disguises and a lot more. As a result, much of the music was far more closely related to pop, blues, rock, soul and beyond. No problem there, except in the passages attempting to shoe horn those genres into a jazz setting.

In its best, moments, however – especially when singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves, and instrumentalists Herbie Hancock, John Beasley, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, Stefon Harris, Joshua Redman and others were on stage – the program’s jazz roots were ever present.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Taj Mahal

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Taj Mahal

The Gala concert was hosted by Kevin Spacey, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Don Cheadle, Goldie Hawn and Billy Dee Williams. It included performances by a multi-generational group of all-stars including Musical Director John Beasley, Pharrell Williams, John Mayer, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter, Queen Latifah, Jimmy Heath, Chaka Khan, Taj Mahal, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Kenny Burrell, Stefon Harris, T.S. Monk, Joshua Redman, Jon Faddis, Billy Childs, Vinnie Colaiuta, James Genus, Theo Croker, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Dontae Winslow, Melissa Aldana and others.

President Bill Clinton and Herbie Hancock

President Bill Clinton and Herbie Hancock

As if the presence of all the stellar names on that list wasn’t enough, the Monk Institute also honored President Bill Clinton with the Institute’s 2014 Maria Fisher Founder’s Award. Each year, the Founder’s Award is presented to an individual who has made major contributions to the Institute, the perpetuation of jazz, and the expansion of jazz and music education programs. President Clinton received the award from Herbie Hancock, Chairman of the Monk Institute, with a smile and a wave to the crowd. He did not, apparently, ask to sit in on tenor saxophone.

The Gala ended with a crowded backstage party for participants and friends of the Monk Institute, enlivened by conversations already speculating on possibilities for next year’s Monk Competition.

Which was good news for music education. Proceeds from the All-Star Gala Concerts support the Institute’s jazz education programs in public schools across America.

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Photos courtesy of Steve Mundinger/Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz

Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: Nov. 6 – 9

November 6, 2014

By Don Heckman

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

– Nov. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Steve Tyrell. Add an amiable Texas twang to a jaunty sense of swing and a convincing way with a lyric, and that still doesn’t add up to the magic that happens when Tyrell digs into the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill. http://www.catalinajazzclub.com (323) 466-2210.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

– Nov. 6. (Thurs.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. The veteran jazz trumpeter/painter/sculptor and his vocally superb wife are back again at their home base – Alpert’s jazz friendly, elegant Bel Air club. They’ll no doubt be working over material for their current touring. And that’ll be a musically captivating gift for anyone who can squeeze into what will no doubt be a full house crowd. But it’ll be worth the effort. Click HERE to read a review of the dynamic duo’s most recent appearance at.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Nov. 6. (Thurs.) David Ornette Cherry. He’s the son of trumpeter Don Cherry, who worked frequently with free jazz icon Ornette Coleman– thus David Ornette Cherry’s middle name. A keyboard player with his own unique approach to contemporary improvisation, he’s an imaginative jazz artist who deserves a hearing on his own right. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys. The mutiple Grammy-winning group from Los Angeles are one of the popworld’s most eclectic ensembles. Blending everything from Latin pop and Chicano rock to TexMex and Americana their music has a fascinating body-moving appeal. Opening the bill, Texas’ Los Lonely Boys follow a similar musical path. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Dimitri Matheny Quartet. Matheny’s warm, engaging flugelhorn playing has thoroughly established him as one of the most emotionally expressive improvisers of his generation. He performs with the sterling backing of Joe Bagg, piano, Pat Senatore, bass, Dick Weller, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Johnny Mathis. He doesn’t show up often any more in the Southland, so don’t miss this opportunity to hear the hit-maker of the ‘6os and 70s up close in action. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. Marcelo Lehninger conducts the gifted players of the NWS in Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, and the Dvorak Concerto in B minor for cello and orchestra, featuring cellist Lynn Harrell. The Cavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 449-2100.


The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and All-Star Gala Concert

Thelonious Monk

The annual jazz competitions produced by the Thelonious Monk Institute are among the most celebrated jazz events of the year. And the 2014 installment is no exception. This year’s competition again showcases a talented, ambitious group of young players. The semi-finalists will first meet at U.C.L.A.’s Schoenberg Hall on Saturday, Nov. 8. (The semi-final event is free and open to the public.)

The three finalists will then perform in the Competition’s Gala event on Sunday, Nov. 9 at Dolby Hall. The distinguished panel of judges for both stages of the competition includes trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Quincy Jones and Arturo Sandoval.

Following the finalists’ performances and the selection of this year’s winner, an All-Star Gala concert will feature Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ron Carter, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Heath, Marcus Miller, Dianne Reeves and others.

In another highlight of the Gala, the Institute will present its prestigious Founders Award to President Bill Clinton.

The Thelonious Monk Institute 2014 International Jazz Trumpet Competition  (310) 206-9700.

Live Jazz: Chick Corea and The Vigil at Catalina Bar & Grill

August 14, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. There seems to be more and more good news for jazz lately at Catalina Bar & Grill. A couple of weeks ago it was a stunning performance by the Ron Carter Trio.

And this week offers another memorable set of performances with the arrival Tuesday night of Chick Corea and his superb new band, The Vigil. Add to that the good news that Chick and The Vigil will be performing at Catalina’s through Sunday.

Why is that important?

Chick Corea

Because every day this week at Catalina’s will provide a great evening of jazz.

Because Chick – who seems to put together one extraordinary musical partnership after another – has come up with yet another winner in The Vigil. The band, which includes saxophonist/woodwind player Tim Garland, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto. drummer Marcus Gilmore (who is Roy Haynes grandson), guitarist Charles Altura and percussionist Luisito Quintero played with an irresistible blend of musical synchronicity and improvisational fireworks.

Tuesday’s program included a pair of Chick’s pieces from The Vigil’s eponymously titled first CD: “Planet Chia” and “Royalty” (a dedication to drummer Roy Haynes). Underscoring the band’s versatility, Chick also included “Fingerprints,” which he said had been inspired by Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” the Van Heusen/Burke songbook classic, “It Could Happen To You.” and plenty of space for some dynamic drumming from Gilmore and Quintero.

The Vigil’s Tim Garland, Charles Altura, Carlitos Del Puerto and Luisito Quintero

Tim Garland

Tim Garland

I could easily spend the rest of this review describing the extraordinary soloing, and ensemble work, from each of the assemblage of gifted young artists. As always, Chick was a generous leader, allocating far-reaching solo opportunities to each of the players.

Suffice to say that they all took creative advantage of the space they were offered. And a few distinct events come to mind:

The versatile Garland shifted easily from tenor to soprano saxophone, flute and hand percussion. In addition, his bouyant, enthusiastic stage presence had a positive effect upon the musically familial attitude that was present throughout the set.

Charles Altura

Charles Altura

Guitarist Altura, playing many of the fast-moving, rhythmically complex lines that were at the heart of Chick’s pieces, did so with stunning accuracy as well as a body-moving sense of swing.

Bassist Del Puerto, seeming deeply invested in the music, also played the quick runs and resonant dark tones called for by Chick’s music with precision, adding richly inventive soloing, pizzicato and arco.

Marcus Gilmore

Marcus Gilmore

And, as I noted above, the percussion team of Gilmore and Quintero provided the powerful rhythmic overdrive and surging swing that kept the music vibrant and alive.

Best of all, there was the constant feeling, flowing from the stage, that this was a band that was enjoying every minute, and eager to pull their listeners into their creative enthusiasm. That doesn’t happen as often as it should at a lot of jazz events. But it did here, and Southland jazz fans are fortunate to have four more nights (Tonight through Sunday) to experience the remarkable music of Chick Corea and the Vigil at Catalina Bar & Grill.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

Live Jazz: Fred Hersch and Julian Lage at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall

March 12, 2014

By Don Heckman

There were only two musicians on stage Saturday night in a CAP UCLA performance at the University’s cozy Schoenberg Hall. But no more were needed. The musical encounter between pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage offered a definitive display of jazz improvisation at its finest.

Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch

Hersch’s long, musically rich career has showcased him in a far ranging array of settings. He is a prime improviser, a superb vocal accompanist, an intriguing composer and a master of various jazz genres. It’s not surprising that Vanity Fair described him as “The most restlessly innovative pianist in jazz over the past decade or so.”

Lage is more than a generation younger than Hersch. But the 26 year old guitarist is also a musical adventurer, open to new ideas, with a similarly inventive approach to improvisation.

Julian Lage

Their performance together at Schoenberg produced an evening of memorable musical delights. Playing material that reached from a group of compelling original works by Hersch to various jazz and songbook items, the duo played with the sort of creative intimacy one recalls from the duo performances of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

The 90 minute program glowed with one highlight after another. Hersch opened the performance with some originals, including a piece dedicated to his mother. Standards on the bill included an especially imaginative rendering of “You and the Night and the Music.” And the interaction between Hersch and Lage was especially responsive to jazz works by Thelonious Monk, Fats Waller and Egberto Gismonti, as well as a captivating dedication to the late Jim Hall..

It was also fascinating to observe the interactive presence of the audience. Responding to every number enthusiastically, they were linked to each of the Hersch/Lage excursions in a rare example of what can happen, at its best, between performers and listeners.

CAP UCLA”s /Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds – who is responsible for Saturday’s performance, along with an upcoming season of similarly compelling events – has best described how events such as the memorable Hersch/Lage performance fit into the broad concept of her programming philosophy:

“We are all part of a collaborative essentialness in the art of performance,” writes Edmunds, “involved in expanding dialogues that inform our unique experiences.”

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Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA

CD Review: Helen Sung “Anthem For A New Day” (Concord Jazz Records)

January 15, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Pianist and composer Helen Sung has quickly established herself as a jazz veteran over the past decade, performing and recording with icons such as; Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, T.S. Monk, Lonnie Plaxico, and Terri Lyne Carrington to name a few.

She is one of the most consistently brilliant recording artists in jazz today. And her sixth and latest release, Anthem For A New Day, scheduled for release on January 28th,  is her hardest swinging album to date. The album is also produced by Sung.

Helen Sung

Sung wastes no time, kick starting the album with her hard-bop tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled “Brother Thelonious.” The horn section of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor sax has a Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley at the earliest stages of The Jazz Messengers feel to it. Sung’s solo proves that she has a clear understanding of Monk’s harmonic complexities and knows how to incorporate them into her own virtuosic style.

Paquito D’Rivera’s melodic clarinet soloing dances around Sung’s polyrhythmic textured piano playing on her adventurous arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba.”

Another guest is Regina Carter who offers some tasteful and thematic violin lines to Sung’s “Hidden.” Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet truly shines on this piece, as does Sung’s elegant phrasing on Fender Rhodes electric piano.

One of the most impressive elements of this album is how clean the rhythm section (Reuben Rogers, bass, Obed Calvaire, drums, and Samuel Torres on percussion) was recorded. No effects, compressors, or reverb were added to the drums and upright bass, which is refreshing in a time when many traditional and contemporary jazz recordings are destroyed by overly adventurous producers and engineers.

There’s a wonderfully pure tone to this album as a whole. Sung’s reading of Duke Ellington and Irving Mills’ swing anthem “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is an album highlight. Sung uses her own chordal voicings, and her improvisations blend bop-styled pedal tones with classical elements in a completely natural way.

Sung’s originals — “Hope Springs Eternally” and the album’s title track – dip into a more late ‘60s fusion- jazz groove with a hint of third stream. John Ellis provides colorful bass clarinet shadings atop Sung’s funky staccato Fender Rhodes arpeggios on the album’s title track.

Sung’s rendition of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Never Let Me Go” is the perfect vehicle for the piano trio format. Obed Calvaire’s drums are subtle and melodic and Reuben Rogers’ bass solo is dynamic and mournful.

“Chaos Theory” brings to mind early Weather Report with fast changing meters, and piercing alto-sax runs by Seamus Blake. This composition shows off Sung and her band’s tight chemistry and creative fearlessness.

In order to truly capture the spirit of Thelonious Monk, a musician must bring forth what makes them truly unique when covering one of the High Priest’s compositions. And Sung and company achieve this on an utterly funky, gospel take of “Epistrophy.” The energy of the band is ecstatic. There’s lots of love for Monk here.

The album closes with a beautifully haunting solo piano cover of the great Stanley Cowell’s “Equipose.”

What stands out most on Anthem For A New Day is not only Sung’s fluid and imaginative piano playing but her awe-inspiring talent as a truly unique composer and arranger. Her music is adventurous, personal, and a powerful force to be reckoned with in the jazz world.

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

Live Jazz: Sunday at the Monterey Jazz Festival 56

September 26, 2013

Impressions from MJF 56, Sunday

By Michael Katz

Sunday brought its share of legendary virtuosos to the Monterey Fairgrounds, but before we go there, a word about the kids.

Jazz education is the mission of the MJF, and Sunday afternoon demonstrated how successful they have gotten at it. The Night Club had healthy audiences to see the winning high school jazz combos and vocal ensembles. The previous night, the Coffee House had turn-away crowds for the terrific Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors. But the signature group is the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and they put on a terrific show in the Arena Sunday afternoon. Paul Contos led the band through some fresh arrangements of standards like “Sunny Side of the Street” and Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” Soloists included a fine pair of tenor sax men, Julian Lee and Jyron Walls. Vocalist Brianna Rancour-Ibarra sang “Out of Nowhere,” with polish and verve.

Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano

It was great seeing Joe Lovano working in the context of a big band again, and his soloing on his own “Streets of Naples,” “The Peacocks” (with more lovely singing by Brianna) and “Birds Eye View” were worthy additions to his work as Artist-In-Resident. Elena Pinderhughes added some swinging flute work on “Got A Match.”

Peter Gabrielides

Peter Gabrielides

A special shout out to guitarist Peter Gabrielides, representing New Trier High School (Winnetka, IL) where this writer once stumbled through many a first period on the tenor sax. Gabrielides, who had several blazing solos, made all of us alums proud.

Bob James and David Sanborn were a perfect antidote for the typical Sunday afternoon heat. Teamed with drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus, they led an acoustic quartet through a combination of previous hits and new compositions from their Quartet Humaine CD.

David Sanborn

David Sanborn

Sanborn has one of the more recognizable sounds; it crosses over from smooth to funky jazz and blues. During most of the show the group was pleasant, if not earthshaking, but there were surely some memorable moments. James’ composition, “You’d Better Not Go To College” was a delightful romp. Sanborn’s ballad “Sophia” gave James the opportunity for a sweet piano turn, Sanborn answering with a soulfully plaintive run on his alto. Marcus Miller’s “Maputo” was the source of one of Sanborn’s signature riffs, and “Follow Me” was James’ venture into complicated time signatures, a la the late Mr. Brubeck.

The “hammock” period between arena shows was an opportunity for sampling more from the cornucopia of talent on the grounds. I caught singer Judy Roberts and tenor man Greg Fishman in one of their eight sets from the Yamaha Courtyard stage. This one featured Judy in two of her favorite modes – Brazilian, with an inspired version of “Agua de Beber” (Fishman providing the Stan Getz-inspired accompaniment), and, a few minutes later, a take on Charlie Parker music, testing Roberts’ scatting ability with “Scrapple From The Apple” and a closing Parker vocal riff.

Meanwhile, back at the Garden Stage, the Minnesota group Davina and the Vagabonds, led by Davina Sowers, was tearing things up. Like the California Honeydrops the day before, they had a definite New Orleans sound. Davina is singer, pianist and provocateur, with a little bit of the Divine Miss M in her. Whether belting out a blues like “I’d Rather Go Blind,” or a good-time tune like “I Gotta New Baby,” she was full of life, and the Garden Stage crowd was on its feet for much of the 90 minute show.

MJF 56 was down to its last group of acts, now, and one could be forgiven for making one last trip to the food court and loading up on shrimp-ka-bobs and peach cobblers before they ran out. There were B-3 organs everywhere in the Grounds area, in various concoctions, and even though I was headed for the Arena, I had a vague feeling that I’d be back.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter was leading an 80th Birthday celebration on the main stage, with an all-star group that featured Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blades on drums. Shorter was playing soprano sax, and no one quite gets the lyrical sound out of that difficult instrument like him. With Perez dipping and dancing around him, it was like watching a pair of eagles soaring through the thermals.

Still, I was beginning to feel restless, and with the minutes ticking away from the festival clock, I decided to go back to the grounds and check out Jazz Master Lou Donaldson on his alto. I suppose I shouldn’t have considered that an unexpected treat. Donaldson, at 87, may not get around so easily, but the chops are still there, as is a delightfully raspy blues voice and a deft sense of humor. And what a group he had behind him – guitarist Randy Johnston is a leader in his own right, and Akiko Tsuruga added a lush layer on the B3 organ. When I walked in, Fukushi Tainaka was in the middle of a rousing drum solo; Donaldson then stepped up with a blues vocal, Johnston casually laying off one riff after another. Donaldson’s classic “Alligator Blues” followed, with Lou ripping off the main line and leaving plenty of room for the others. Then, a crack-up blues number, LD singing “It Was Just A Dream.” And finally, a delicious romp through “Cherokee.”

It was back to the Jimmy Lyons Stage for the curtain closer, an extended set with Diana Krall. Diana has had a magical relationship with Monterey, dating back to her debut there at MJF 40. Sunday night she had a new look. Gone was the standard trio, and gone also the full orchestra that had gotten a little stodgy. Her new group provided a fresh perspective, especially with fiddler Stuart Duncan, most recently heard with Yo Yo Ma on the Goat Rodeo sessions. He was a perfect fit for the material from Krall’s new CD, Glad Rag Doll and sparkled throughout.

Diana Krall

Diana Krall

Diana established the tone early with “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye.” She retains the ability to take nearly forgotten material from decades past and bring it to life, as she did a few minutes later with “Just Like A Butterfly Caught In The Rain.” But her diversity is startling, or would be if she didn’t pull it off so effortlessly. She did an extended version of Tom Waits’ “Tempation,” complete with reverb mic, and before the evening was out, would touch base with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Band, Jimmie Rodgers and more.

There was a time when Krall was reticent to talk to the audience, but she has developed an easy rapport now, inviting the crowd in for some family patter and a little musical background. Best of all, she had a sizeable amount of solo time, just her voice and piano playing, which remains first rate. “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” had a freshly dramatic quality, separated from the symphonic background. Then there was the Dave Frishberg classic, “Peel Me A Grape.” When she first performed it here at MJF 40, Krall presented it with a delicious sex kitten mystique. But 16 years later, Diana smartly stepped back and sang it with the brisk irony that Frishberg (and Blossom Dearie) intended. “Frim Fram Sauce,” is still wonderfully saucy, and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” didn’t need much adjustment. It is still the same heartbreaker, full of longing.

The quintet behind provided plenty of support. Aram Bajakian shone on guitar (and ukelele, on “Everything Made For Love”), Patrick Warren filled in the sound on keyboards, and the rhythm section was held down by Dennis Crouch on bass and the estimable Karriem Riggins on the drum set.

Meanwhile, Krall continued on with a remarkable tour through her own particular North American Songbook. There was Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” delivered with touching simplicity, and “Sunny Side of the Street,” with Duncan performing a lively jaunt on his fiddle. Another nod to Nat King Cole with “Just You, Just Me” (not to mention a nod to Bill Evans). And from there, a bluesy blast of The Band’s “Ophelia.”

It is hard to imagine another vocalist who has that kind of range today, and can do it all so movingly.

Finally, Krall shared with us the only song, or so she claims, that her 7 year old twin boys actually like. It was Jimmie Rogers’ “Prairie Lullaby,” delivered again with simplicity and grace. A perfect way to close the curtain. And that was it for MJF 56.

A few closing thoughts on the festival…It’s been noted by some that overall attendance was down a little, thanks mainly to a storm that rattled through the Bay Area Saturday, cutting down on some of the traditional walk-up gate. That’s too bad, because the Grounds line-up was diverse and outstanding from start to finish. There was plenty to like at the Arena, too, but it’s worth noting that practically every act had appeared in LA within the last six months, most of them this summer. Of course it is difficult to book 5 shows of headliners without dipping into the summer tours, but it would nice to have a few more “Made For Monterey” acts that traditionally make the Festival a can’t-miss event for us SoCal types.

The Monterey Shore

The Monterey Shore

So now I type these last words on a Tuesday morning from my B and B in Pacific Grove, where I hung on for an extra day. It seems empty – my friends that came up for the festival are gone. All those wonderful music fans and musicians who reunite the third weekend in September have dispersed, returning to far flung homes, or back on the road. The last chords of music echo from venues now reverted to fairgrounds out-buildings. The Hyatt Lounge is just another bar.

One last walk along the sea shore, listening to seals playfully barking, pelicans on the wing overhead.

See you next year, Monterey.


All photos, except Wayne Shorter, by Michael Katz.

Wayne Shorter photo by Tony Gieske.


Don’t forget to check out Michael Katz’s new novel, Dearly Befuddled, available in paperback and E-book at Amazon.  And Read Mike’s Blog at Katz of the Day.



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