by Scott Yanow
The double bill at Disney Hall was one of the finest concerts that I have attended in recent times. It all began with an exciting film clip of the great pianist Erroll Garner playing an uptempo version of “L-O-V-E.” It made one wonder if the three pianists who were going to pay tribute to him could possibly be close to his level. Fortunately, they were.
Originally organized by the late Geri Allen as a tribute to Garner’s classic Concert By The Sea album, the concept has since been expanded to become a tribute to both Garner and Allen. Pianists Christian Sands, Gerald Clayton and Helen Sung were joined by guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Victor Lewis for an original and “Sweet And Lovely.” It was fun to see the three pianos on stage being played by keyboardists of this stature, and to see their joy as they played off of each other’s ideas. Each of the pianists had their individual features with Sung doing well on a Garner Mambo, Sands playing a very adventurous introduction into what would be a hard-swinging version of “It’s All Right With Me,” Malone showcased on a tasteful yet inventive version of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and Clayton fully investigating “Autumn Leaves.” The memorable set concluded with the three pianists playing a catchy number that found them essentially forming the frontline on New Orleans jazz ensembles, and romping throughout “Erroll’s Theme” (a medium-tempo blues). During an era that may someday be remembered as the golden age of jazz piano, three modern-day masters were each heard in top form.
The second half of the night was a particularly unusual experiment by John Beasley’s MONK’estra. The 15-piece big band interacted with film clips of Thelonious Monk that were drawn from the film Straight No Chaser. With Beasley conducting the orchestra, there were many instances when Monk was featured taking a solo with MONK’estra or dancing along to the music, perfectly in time. It was like watching a live soundtrack to a movie. Both the film editing and the arrangements were superb and fascinating. Dee Dee Bridgewater guested and was her typically lively self, singing masterfully on ‘’Round Midnight,” “Rhythm-A-Ning,” “Ruby, My Dear,” and a closing “Blue Monk” (soloing between a filmed Clark Terry and Monk!). Many of the other musicians had opportunities to be featured including trumpeter Brian Swartz (who made an impressive statement), high-note trumpeter Bijon Watson, altoist Denny Janklow, baritonist Adam Schroeder and pianist Beasley. But needless to say, the main star was Thelonious Monk.
Veronica Swift, the daughter of singer Stephanie Nakasian and the late great pianist Hod O’Brien, came in second place a few years ago in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition. At the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, she was outstanding.
Pianist Benny Green (with bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington) started the night. He was in typically inventive form on three instrumentals including Hank Jones’ “Idle Moments” and an unidentified piece that he swung at a very slow tempo to the audience’s delight. Green also was a superior accompanist to the singer and had many concise solos throughout the night including a powerful statement on “Date Dere.”
Ms. Swift consistently picked the perfect note for the perfect spot and showed impressive maturity during her well-paced set. Her voice is beautiful and she knew how to use it to maximum effect. Starting out with an exciting version of “I Could Write A Book,” she displayed plenty of quiet feeling on the ballad “As Long As He Needs Me” and uplifted such numbers as “A Little Taste,” “The Gypsy In My Soul,” “Dat Dere,” an uptempo “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” a duet with bassist Wong on “No, Not Much,” a tender “Something I Dreamed Last Night,” “You’re Going To Hear From Me,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You” (which featured some rapid scatting) and “No Regrets.” Sometimes displaying the influence of Anita O’Day and (when she hit high notes) Roberta Gambarini, Veronica Swift already has her own confident musical personality. It will be fun to trace her development in the next decade as she gains recognition as one of the top jazz singers on the current scene. Stephanie Nakasian must be very proud.
86-year old singer-pianist Freddy Cole was in excellent form at the Moss Theater in a concert presented by the Jazz Bakery. Joined by guitarist Bruce Forman (who took many fine solos, consistently making Cole smile), bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Roy McCurdy, Cole made every note count during his performance. He was heartwarming on the ballads and swung well on medium-tempo tunes where his chord voicings were sometimes reminiscent of Red Garland. Cole performed such numbers as “I Wish You Love,” “I Remember You,” “If I Had You,” “You’re Sensational,” “Love Walked In” and a Brazilian flavored “How Little We Know.” It was a real pleasure hearing his sincere renditions of ballads and the gentle way that he interpreted faster tunes. Be sure to see him whenever the opportunity arises; Freddy Cole should not be taken for granted.
Guitarist Coco Schumann, who recently passed away at the age of 93, was one of Germany’s top jazz guitarists since the 1940s. He was also a survivor of two concentration camps where he was held captive during 1943-45. After many years of not speaking about the experience, in 1997 he wrote his memoirs The Ghetto Swinger with the help of author Michaela Haas. The book is fascinating and available from Doppel House Press (www.doppelhouse.com ).
A celebration of Coco Schumann’s life was hosted by the German Consul General. Michaela Haas was on hand to expertly summarize the guitarist’s life through her storytelling and photos. A fine quartet comprised of pianist Markus Burger, trumpeter James Linahon, bassist Louis Shapiro and drummer Luicio Vieira performed four swinging standards that were used as the titles of chapters in Schumann’s autobiography: “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” “Summertime,” ”Autumn Leaves” and “The Girl From Ipanema.”
The spirit of Coco Schumann, who never gave up nor lost his sense of humor despite his experiences, was honored in a manner that he would have enjoyed.
When Judy Carmichael made her recording debut (other than an earlier obscure ragtime album) in 1980 with Two-Handed Stride, she certainly stood out. Not only were there relatively few stride pianists on the scene, but she was the only one that was a young attractive female. She has since carved out a career not only as a top-notch pianist but as a bandleader, host of her own Jazz Inspired radio series, and (recently) a singer. Ms. Carmichael recently self-published Swinger, a book that is subtitled “A Jazz Girl’s Adventures from Hollywood to Harlem.”
The book begins with an unwelcome surprise with her finding out 15 years ago that she had cervical cancer. Very fortunately she survived and her talking about the experience is so filled with humorous and heartwarming moments that one almost forgets how tragic it could have been. Much of Swinger is full of memorable stories, particularly those in which she meets and interacts with the likes of Count Basie, Freddie Green, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, pianist Joe Turner, drummer Harold Jones, Sarah Vaughan and other jazz greats. Rod Stewart, Yoko Ono, Billy Joel and Paul Newman are among the many celebrities who also make appearances. Judy Carmichael seems to have an endless amount of colorful stories about the jazz life and one hungers to hear more.
While her summary of her childhood fits in well, the book bogs down for a bit in its middle section when she discusses at great length her relationship with her two intriguing but flawed parents. There is a bit too much repetition and analysis, taking one away from her musical life without resulting in any major revelations. Many questions about her life (did she ever come close to getting married?) are left unanswered. One wonders how, after playing ragtime at Disneyland for years, she became a stride pianist. How difficult was it for her to learn the style and repertoire and has she ever been tempted to play bebop? How has her playing evolved since the 1980s? What made her decide to start singing a few years ago? What is a typical year like for her? What is the story behind her other recordings (most of which are never mentioned)?
Swinger makes for an entertaining read. It is easily recommended and available from the pianist (www.judycarmichael.com ). Hopefully it will be just the first set of memoirs from Judy Carmichael because there is so much more to tell, and of course her career has a long way to go.
Bob Barry is a familiar figure in jazz clubs throughout Southern California. A very skilled photographer, he has a particular affection for the great guitarists. Back in 1997, he was invited by his new friend guitarist John Pisano to what was the very first Guitar Night, a performance that featured George Van Eps. In the 20 years since, Pisano has hosted the weekly series and featured the who’s who of jazz guitar every Tuesday night in such clubs as Papashon, Rocco, Spazio, Vitello’s, Lucy’s 51, Viva Cantina, and currently The Mixx in Pasadena.
Bob Barry’s recent book John Pisano’s Guitar Night is a very attractive 184-page work that has black and white photos of many of the participants, from the very first performance up until the present. In addition, Barry contributed excellent summaries that cover the life of each guitarist. Among those who he captured were George Van Eps (who was featured at the first Guitar Night), Howard Alden, Al Viola, Andy Summers, Anthony Wilson, Barry Zweig, Bob Bain, Bruce Forman, Danny Embrey, Doug MacDonald, Frank Vignola, Herb Ellis, Joe Diorio, Kenny Burrell, Larry Koonse, Mundell Lowe, Oscar Castro-Neves, Ron Eschete, Russell Malone and Ted Greene plus many others.
This valuable and enjoyable book is available by writing firstname.lastname@example.org . Jazz guitar fans will simply have to own it.