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Photo of Willie Jones  drummer

The great Randy Weston, a major pianist and composer since the mid-1950s, is now 91. In his career, in addition to creating his own voice on the piano out of the inspirations of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, he composed such songs as “Hi-Fly,” “Little Niles” and “Berkshire Blues.”

Photo of Randy Weston

Performing a solo set at the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by the Jazz Bakery, Weston showed that he is still at the peak of his powers. He played piano with the power and creativity of a musician half his age and talked with confidence and insight to the audience. Weston began with “Ballad For T,” a medley of music for Thelonious Monk. Heard along the way were “Ruby, My Dear,” “Misterioso” and “Well You Needn’t,” along with Weston’s ruminations and inventive interludes. Next he performed what he called “Blues For Duke” which treated some Duke Ellington-associated songs in a similar fashion. Ironically, two of the three pieces that were explored (“Caravan” and “Take The ‘A’ Train’), unlike “C Jam Blues,” were not actually composed by Duke but Weston closely emulated Ellington’s piano style. He then spoke about the late arranger-trombonist Melba Liston and performed a suite that included his “Berkshire Blues,” “Little Niles” and “African Sunshine.” Weston concluded with an improvisation that musically depicted ancient Africa. All in all, I’ve come to the conclusion that Weston is 61 not 91.

Photo of Barbara Dane

Barbara Dane, who turned 90 last May 12, has had a remarkable and varied career. In the late 1950s she was well known as a traditional jazz and blues singer, working with Kid Ory, George Lewis, Turk Murphy, Jack Teagarden, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and even on television with Louis Armstrong. Always a political activist, she became more active in folk music and protest songs in the 1960s. In 1966 she was the first American musician to tour Cuba.

She celebrated her 90th birthday at UCLA’s Royce Hall with a very enjoyable concert that put the focus on her versatility and ageless singing. At the beginning of both of her sets, filmed excerpts from a documentary that is still in progress let the audience know about her accomplishments in many areas of music. Still possessing a strong voice, Ms. Dane was joined at UCLA by a rhythm section comprised of the excellent pianist Tammy Hall, bassist Daniel Fabricant and drummer Darla Johnson. After swinging through a few numbers and performing Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” they were joined by the Chambers Brothers who she had championed and performed with in the mid-1960s. They performed some folk songs with Ms. Dane (including “Let My People Go,” and “Together We Can Move Mountains”) with the audience singing along, did a few numbers by themselves, and reminisced. Barbara Dane’s son Pablo Menendez, a major part of the Cuban music scene for a half-century, was featured on guitar, harmonica and vocals, proving to be both a friendly presence and a potent blues performer. The second half of the program again featured Ms. Dane alternating between jazz (including her lyrics to Duke Ellington’s “All Too Soon” and King Pleasure’s “Tomorrow Is Another Day”), blues and folk/protest music. Her grandson Osamu Menendez took some fine rockish blues guitar solos and his wife Tory Gomez sang a bit. Barbara Dane seemed to get stronger as the night progressed and probably could have performed another hour without any difficulties or loss of passion. She is definitely a living legend.

Photo of Monk Remixed ad

The theme of the tenth annual Angel City Jazz Festival was a celebration of the centennial of Thelonious Monk. Produced by Rocco Somazzi (the festival’s creative director), Gareth Jiffeau, and Rob Woodworth, the festival once again featured very adventurous jazz-based artists over a two week period. While most of the groups played some of Monk’s music, they also performed originals in their own styles.

I caught the final night of the festival, a triple-bill held at the Bootleg Theatre. While the venue has excellent sound, it only had about a dozen chairs for the 80 or so people in the audience, which was a bit inexcusable. Luckily I grabbed one early on!

Photo of Randy Weston

Elliott Sharp has long been an innovator on the guitar. While he can play conventionally, by using external devices on his guitar, his mastery of tapping and a vivid imagination, he is able to produce a very wide assortment of unusual sounds from his instrument. In a set of unaccompanied solos, Sharp improvised freely for 45 minutes while occasionally referring to such Thelonious Monk songs as “Bemsha Swing,” “ Rhythm-A-Ning,” “Evidence,” “‘Round Midnight” “In Walked Bud” and “Epistrophy.” The music was fascinating if often jarring and it was a set that every guitarist should have seen and studied.

The second group, Mast, was led by Tim Conley who plays electronics and guitar. The sextet also included trumpeter Dan Rosenboom, altoist Josh Johnson, Gavin Templeton on baritone and tenor, drummer Nigel Sifantus and a bassist whose name I missed. While the horn players had solos (with Rosenboom playing some powerful improvisations), the music was closely directed by Conley whose electronics dominated the ensembles. As with Sharp, Monk’s melodies appeared including “Reflections,” “Well You Needn’t,” “Epistrophy,” “Oska T,” “Straight No Chaser," “‘Round Midnight” and “Evidence.” The electronics, which were sometimes repetitive rhythms and at other times otherworldly sounds, were certainly colorful although they often made the presence of bass and drums a little pointless since they generally covered their roles. In any case, the results were certainly intriguing and held one’s interest.

Mostly Other People Do The Killing was the main attraction but most of the regular band members were not present. Its leader bassist, Moppa Elliot, headed what could be considered a West Coast version of the group, one that included trumpeter Rosenboom, altoist Johnson and trombonist Jon Hatamiya. Always a witty band, during the part of their set that I witnessed, the group performed music that hinted at production numbers from the 1920s and ‘30s. They used some of the sounds and trappings of the past in humorous ways to launch their avant-garde solos.

The East Coast group should be booked in Los Angeles sometime for a full concert!

Photo of Benny Green

One of the top jazz pianists of the past 30 years, the always youthful-looking Benny Green was featured at Betty Hoover’s ‘A’ Frame concert leading a trio with bassist David Wong and drummer Carl Allen. Green, a former member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers who has had a very viable solo career ever since, is a brilliant player who invigorates the modern hard bop scene.

Green mostly performed songs from his recent Happiness CD including Horace Silver’s “The St. Vitus Dance” and his own “Pittsburgh Brethren.” In addition to superior obscurities from the classic years of Blue Note, Green played a few originals including an impressionistic ballad and some rollicking blues. Other highlights included Tadd Dameron’s “Finesse,” a bass feature on “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” and a fast percussive piece inspired by Green’s longtime friendship with Carl Allen.

Jazz fans should always go out of their way to see Benny Green perform. The title of his new recording Happiness applies to his music.

Photo of Lalo Schifrin

Lalo Schifrin, who turned 85 this year, is best known as being a very prolific writer of film and television soundtracks with his theme from “Mission Impossible” being his best known original. However in his career he was also a superb pianist who gained fame in the jazz world for being a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet in the early 1960s.

I went to LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) in hopes of getting a rare opportunity to see Schifrin play, but unfortunately he mostly sat in the audience. Instead, after a brief set by some skilled teenagers, Schifrin was paid tribute to by an all-star group consisting of pianist Eric Reed, bassist John Clayton, drummer Kevin Kanner and, on a few numbers, the young but promising trumpeter Curtis Taylor. Any time Reed and Clayton get together on the bandstand, one knows that the music is going to swing hard. That was certainly true of their versions of “Confirmation,” “Django” (featuring Clayton’s bowed bass), “Down Here On The Ground,” part of “Gillespiana,” “A Night In Tunisia” and, of course, the “Mission Impossible Theme.” Lalo Schifrin looked as pleased by the music as the audience.

Photo of Leslie Bee

Leslie Bee is always a happy presence and puts on entertaining shows. At Catalina’s, while joined by pianist Richard Turner, Jr, bassist Kevin O’ Neal, drummer Lyndon Rochelle and tenor-saxophonist Charles Owens, Ms. Bee was in top form. As usual her humor and spirit kept the audience smiling but, in addition, her voice sounded particularly strong and warm.

After the quartet played “Doxy” and an O’Neill original that set an easy-listening groove, Leslie Bee (colorfully dressed as usual) sang passionate versions of Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues,” “Night And Day,” and “You Go To My Head.” She was emotional and intimate on “If I Should Lose You,” sang “Our Love Is Here To Stay” for her 89-year old mother, hit some impressive long notes on “Take Me Back Where I Belong,” and swung her way through the joyful closer “I’ve Got A Lot Of Living To Do.” In addition, there were many fine solos throughout the set by O’Neal (who was celebrating his birthday), the soulful and swinging Turner, and Owens who on one piece closely emulated John Coltrane.

But Leslie Bee, who has continued to grow and evolve through the years, was the main star and she put on a memorable performance.

Photo of ticket stub

November is filled with many jazz performances of interest. To name a few, pianist-singer Betty Bryant is celebrating her birthday at Catalina’s Sunday brunch on Nov. 5, the great Mon David will be performing a tribute to Mark Murphy at Catalina’s on Thursday Nov. 9, pianist Jason Moran will be interpreting the music of Thelonious Monk at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Nov. 10 (the same night that guitarist-singer Kurt Rosenwinkel will be sponsored by the Jazz Bakery at the Moss Theater), singer Kevin Mahogany will be at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center on Friday the 17th, singer Kellye Gray performs at Bar Fedora DTLA on Nov. 18, and clarinetist Anat Cohen leads her tentet at the Valley Performing Arts Center on Thursday Nov. 30.

October 2017

Photo of Willie Jones  drummer
Photo of The 60th annual Monterey Jazz Festival logo

The 60th annual Monterey Jazz Festival showed once again that Monterey hosts one of the greatest festivals in the world. For 2 ½ days, the Monterey Fairgrounds not only featured nearly nonstop music at five simultaneously operating major venues (the large Jimmy Lyons Stage, the smaller Garden Stage and three indoor clubs: Dizzy’s Den, the Nightclub and the former Coffee House which has been remodeled, greatly expanded and renamed the Pacific Jazz Cafe) but had three other areas of importance. Next to the colorful food park was the Jazz Education Stage where an endless parade of mostly college bands played for diners and those rushing from one venue to another. Don Was and the Blue Note label hosted the Blue Note At Sea Tent where many Blue Note artists were interviewed on stage, including Wayne Shorter and Joe Lovano. And greeting fans near the front gate was the excellent jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker whose solo sets were filled with inventive playing. I particularly enjoyed his renditions of “All the Things You Are” (which utilized a hot bassline), “Bernie’s Tune” and a fun version of “Classical Gas.”

There is so much going on throughout the September weekend, which is overflowing with high-quality jazz, that one largely invents their own jazz festival. One could easily experience three separate jazz festivals at Monterey without any duplication. The programming made it particularly difficult this year with Kenny Barron competing with Roberta Gambarini, Dee Dee Bridgewater and trumpeter Sean Jones performing at the same time, and the final hour on Sunday night featuring the duo of Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock, Vijay Iyer’s sextet and James Carter’s Organ Trio in different locations.

Photo of guitarist Ray Obeido

Monterey officially began on Friday night with guitarist Ray Obeido’s Latin Jazz Project, an impressive septet that featured Melecio Magdaluyo on reeds, pianist Peter Horvath and Phil Hawkins on steel drums. Their music was on the Latin side of Stanley Turrentine and George Benson with soulful grooves at various tempos and colorful solos. Drummer Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt, a tribute to the poetry of Carl Sandburg, had fine solos from Jeff Lederer on saxophones, cornetist Ron Miles and guitarist Bruce Forman along with vocals and recitations from pianist Dawn Clement; the instrumental stretches were of greatest interest.

Regina Carter has been the most significant jazz violinist since the death of Stephane Grappelli in 1997. She was featured with a different group and concept on each of the three nights. On Friday she paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday with her quintet which featured guitarist Marvin Sewell and pianist Xavier Davis. Calling the music “the B sides of Ella,” as on her recent CD, she mostly performed obscurities and modernized versions of standards, unfortunately de-emphasizing swinging in favor of grooves and bluesy ballads. While her playing was as brilliant as always, this was the least interesting of her three sets.

After briefly seeing the excellent Latin Jazz Collective (a seven-piece group led by John Nava on congas) and the hard bop quintet Along Came Betty, a group with trumpeter Brian Stock and tenor-saxophonist Paul Tarantino that could pass for a Blue Note band from 1966, it was time for pianist Kenny Barron’s tribute to his former boss, Dizzy Gillespie. Barron took “Con Alma” unaccompanied, saying “I never played this solo before, so something could go terribly wrong.” Nothing did with Barron’s speedy runs being worthy of Art Tatum. He also performed “Tin Tin Deo” with guest Pedrito Martinez on congas and several numbers with his trio. Trumpeters Sean Jones and Roy Hargrove appeared on two songs apiece. Jones easily whipped through “Bebop.” Hargrove, who has had health problems in recent years, displayed a reinvented style on “A Night In Tunisia,” sounding surprisingly like Chet Baker. Hargrove stuck to the middle register, had a cool tone, and used space expertly while never making a misstep. The closing “Manteca” with both trumpeters, was a fascinating mixture of contrasts during the lengthy tradeoffs. Jones’ chops were superior and he hit many spectacular high notes while Hargrove stuck to his register and had excellent ideas throughout. The combination worked and was memorable.

Photo of Roberta Gambarini

The always magnificent Roberta Gambarini (does anyone today sing better?) scatted brilliantly over the closing vamp of “Devil May Care,” displayed superb ballad singing on “A Time For Love” (perfectly placing her notes), and dug into Johnny Griffin’s “The JAMF’s Are Coming.” Tenor-saxophonist Joel Frahm, leading a quartet comprised of Billy Childs on electric piano, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Peter Erskine, performed the songs from the classic Stan Getz/Chick Corea album Captain Marvel. Frahm, who often played witty quotes, displayed an original tone, plenty of energy, the ability to play fast lines easily, and constant creativity. Childs, while hinting at Chick Corea, showed that he is a superb electric pianist. All in all, this was a brilliant set, highlighted by “500 Hundred Miles High” and “Time’s Lie.”

Saturday afternoon, which used to be dedicated to the blues, is now a grab-bag of styles and approaches. This year it included the spirited World Music of Monsieur Perine (featuring vocalist Catalina Garcia), Dee Dee Bridgewater singing Memphis soul and r&b songs of the 1960s (she could be at the top of that field if she wanted), high school big bands, and pleasing flute playing in a quartet by Ali Ryerson. There was some surprising free jazz and one-chord vamps by a group led by trumpeter Sean Jones (who climaxed one piece by playing a slow full chorus of “Danny Boy”), and a Tia Fuller blindfold test in which the altoist, while missing some of the selections, talked with eloquence about the greatness of Eric Dolphy.

The biggest discovery for many at this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival was Mr. Sipp. Born Castro Coleman and sometimes billed as “the Mississippi Blues Child,” he had a career in gospel music before switching to blues in 2013. Dancing on stage like Chuck Berry and influenced by B. B. King, Mr. Sipp has an infectious, friendly, expressive and very musical style both as a guitarist and a singer. His solos excited the crowd and for a long stretch he went out into the audience, shaking people’s hands while playing one inventive chorus after another. With the shortage of important blues talent beyond the veteran Buddy Guy, Mr. Sipp may just be the one who will revitalize the blues.

Saturday night once again offered far too many choices. Kandace Springs is an attractive performer who with her trio showed potential both as a standards singer and as a pianist who displayed her classical background. The great pianist Joanne Brackeen played three sets with her trio, displaying her inside/outside style which is always quite original yet swinging in its own way. She cooked hard on an uptempo blues, came up with fresh variations on “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and explored “Prelude To A Kiss” in a fascinating unaccompanied version. Regina Carter, in her best set of the weekend, played swinging versions of standards that were often quite exciting including a medium-slow “When I Grow Too Old To Dream,” a New Orleans original that became “The Saints,” and “Undecided.”

A tribute to Sonny Rollins (the only surviving bandleader from the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival) featured the tenors of Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Jimmy Heath and Joshua Redman playing an opening and closing number together and also being featured on one song apiece with the support of pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash. “Tenor Madness” with the full group had Redman taking solo honors. Marsalis did his best to emulate Rollins on the charming “Way Out West.” Lovano started and ended a ballad (which might have been “It’s Always You”) freely while swinging during the middle section. The 90-year old Heath, the only saxophonist to talk to the audience, spoke about his nearly 70-year friendship with Rollins and played “’Round Midnight” quite well on soprano, getting applause from his fellow saxophonists. Redman played a Rollins blues. The hour concluded with everyone on an exciting ensemble-oriented version of “St. Thomas.” Although I wish that there had been more interplay between the saxophonists, this was a strong set.

Sunday afternoon was highlighted by on-stage conversations with Jimmy Heath and Chick Corea, hosted by Ashley Kahn. Heath, who walks and talks like he is 40, told hilarious and insightful stories about the jazz life. Saying “I’ve been diagnosed with age,” he talked about his late 1940s big band in Philadelphia, about how Miles stole his song “Serpent’s Tooth” (and how he could always get money on a moment’s notice from a guilty Davis simply by mentioning the tune), and why he thought John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins became the best saxophonists (“They practiced all the time”). Corea’s discussion was full of warmth with many questions from audience members who were visibly thrilled to get the chance to talk with him.

Joe Lovano was in superb form during a quartet set that also featured consistently rewarding solos from pianist Lawrence Fields. Sticking mostly to episodic and multi-sectioned originals, Lovano showed off his distinctive tone, used high notes as a natural part of his solos, explored many moods and, with hints of Rollins and Joe Henderson, always sounded like himself. His set built up to a very high level, concluding with the standard “It’s Easy To Remember.”

Altoist Tia Fuller and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, both of whom are superior players, teamed up in a post-bop quintet that included the talented pianist Shamie Royston. The group has a great deal of potential and will hopefully stay together for some time.

On Sunday night, one had the rare chance to see the brilliant pianist Chano Dominguez who displayed very impressive technique that mixed his Spanish heritage with swinging jazz. Mandolinist-singer Chris Thiele and pianist Brad Mehldau teamed up for what could be considered modern Americana that was filled with folkish originals and melodic music. Regina Carter with accordionist Wil Holshouser and guitarist Marvin Sewell in her Southern Comfort quintet performed music that was not that different than Mehldau’s in its emphasis on vintage roots. Carter’s repertoire, all beautifully played, ranged from country waltzes and dance music to updated folk songs and ballads, some of it based on field recordings from her grandfather’s time.

Monterey ended in spectacular fashion with the remarkable James Carter and his organ trio. Carter can do anything on the tenor (or any reed) creating an often-hilarious variety of sounds including upper register screams, honks, growls, furious roars and multiphonic chords. He can emulate nearly any other saxophonist and sometimes utilizes circular breathing. With organist Gerald Gibbs (who could not help smiling) and drummer Alex White, Carter paid tribute to organist Sarah McLawler with Eddie Durham’s “My Whole Life” and performed a variety of obscure Django Reinhardt compositions from the 1940s. Sometimes he played a chorus fairly straight or sounded like Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and at other times he seemed to be imitating a hurricane or the high notes of the organ. On one piece his slap-tonguing was the loudest I have ever heard. Being the closing act, James Carter played a half-hour extra and no one complained!

It was a perfect close to a memorable festival. Any jazz fan who lives on the West Coast should not hesitate to make an annual visit to the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Every jazz musician needs a well-written press biography, and every CD deserves informative liner notes.

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Photo of Diana Krall

She is the best-known living jazz artist and one of the very few (along with Harry Connick Jr. and George Benson) who could headline at the Hollywood Bowl on a weekend. Having recently released her latest CD Turn Up The Quiet, Ms. Krall brought her new quintet to the Bowl and performed with occasional backing by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Alan Broadbent.

The night actually began with the Orchestra being conducted by Thomas Wilkins who told good-humored stories about the pieces for their short set. Highlights included “Begin The Beguine,” songs from “Gigi,” an opera aria, and a rousing closer.

Photo of Diana Krall

Diana Krall occupies an unusual place in the jazz world. Truth be told, she has not significantly evolved during the past 15 years, still singing and playing piano in the same style that originally made her popular. Her repertoire at the Bowl had several songs from what was arguably the best recording and DVD of her career (2002’s Live In Paris) plus numbers from the recent ballad-heavy Turn Up The Quiet. She remains a pleasing singer and an adequate pianist who is at her best performing swing standards. Her performance was pretty predictable overall except when she started “Just You, Just Me” much too fast, fumbling giving up trying to sing it, and proving unable to play piano at that tempo.

As usual, guitarist Anthony Wilson made the most of his solo space, taking heated and inventive solos. In their supportive roles, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Karriem Riggins kept the music swinging and tasteful. The wild card and musical hero of the night was violinist Stuart Duncan. While he earned his reputation as a bluegrass musician, Duncan is a superior jazz player too. Every time he took a solo with Krall, it stole the show, whether it was trading off with Wilson during “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” supplying some fire to “’Deed I Do,” or adding beauty to “I Don’t Know Enough About You.” When Krall performed the pop tune “Temptation,” Anthony Wilson stretched out, showing that he can play more adventurous jazz. However he was soon overshadowed. Duncan strummed the violin fast as if he were playing a guitar or a mandolin and then took a very heated bowed solo that inspired a lot of applause.

As for Diana Krall, chances are that she will sound similar 20 years from now. One just has to enjoy what she does without expecting her to eventually become Ella or Oscar Peterson.

Photo of Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald

There are many tributes being held this year to three jazz greats who were born a century ago, in 1917: Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk. The first two were saluted at a Hollywood Bowl concert titled “Ella And Dizzy: 100 Years, 1,000 Memories.”

The first half of the night was a logical tribute to Dizzy, performed by trumpeter Jon Faddis and an all-star big band. The 14-horn (counting Faddis) three-rhythm orchestra primarily played bop classics from the 1945-49 period, many of which had been made famous by Gillespie’s big band of the era. Faddis, who still never seems to miss a single stratospheric note, filled in for his mentor. Pianist Bill Childs was well featured, and veteran 77-year old altoist Charles McPherson uplifted two songs. Among the highlights were such Gillespie standbys as “Woody ’N’ You,” “A Night In Tunisia,” “Manteca,” and the still-futuristic “Things To Come.” McPherson was outstanding (taking six choruses including two as duets with drummer Lewis Nash on “Things To Come”) but underutilized. The trumpet section was quite strong and Faddis in his brilliant solos made it all look easy.

Photo of Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald

The second half of the night was less logical. Ella Fitzgerald was unbeatable as a swinging vocalist, a scat-singer, and in her pitch, articulation and sweet personality. Any tribute to her results in one missing Ella’s presence, and that feeling was certainly accentuated during this set. Rather than have four superior jazz singers delve into different periods of Ella’s career, the four vocalists (Andra Day, Jane Monheit, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Lizz Wright), while talented, were completely miscast. Jane Monheit is the only one of the quartet who can improvise and she was fine if unsurprising on “Cheek To Cheek,” “It’s Alright With Me” and “Love For Sale” with backing by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Lizz Wright has a beautiful voice but sings quite straight as she showed on “The Way You Look Tonight,” and “Embraceable You.” On “Caravan,” even though the backup musicians were swinging, she took the second chorus exactly as she had sung the first. Andra Day sounded like Judy Garland in the 1960s on “But Not For Me.” She tried to recreate Ella’s humorously botched version of “Mack The Knife” and deserves credit for trying. Leslie Odom Jr. is a Broadway singer with a nice tone but displayed no jazz content. While one enjoyed violinist Regina Carter’s features on “Lady Be Good” and “Judy” (a duet with guitarist Paul Jackson Jr.), one wonders what the show’s producer must have been thinking in booking this lineup of singers.

Photo of Harold Mabern

Harold Mabern at 81 is still very much in his musical prime. A great hard bop pianist who at times can sound close to McCoy Tyner (Phineas Newborn was his early inspiration), he was part of the Memphis jazz scene as a teenager. He moved to Chicago in 1954, worked with the MJT + 3, and in 1959 relocated to New York. Mabern has since worked with the who’s who of jazz including Lionel Hampton, Harry “Sweets” Edison, the Jazztet, Johnny Hartman, Donald Byrd, Miles Davis (for a few weeks in 1963), J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan (1965-72), Wes Montgomery, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, George Coleman, Clark Terry, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, James Moody, his former student Eric Alexander, and on and on. He has also headed a steady string of fine recordings since 1968.

At Catalina’s Mabern led a trio that included bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Joe Farnsworth. While his previous two visits to Catalina’s had teamed Mabern with Pharoah Sanders, it was particularly rewarding hearing him in the spotlight. Starting with a surprisingly hard-charging and modal version of “How Insensitive,” and progressing through a boogaloo blues, Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” (on which Mabern sometimes hinted at Erroll Garner), “Cherokee,” and a long vamp that became “My Favorite Things,” Mabern emphasized sophisticated chordal playing over single-note lines. His playing was consistently powerful, Gurrola had a few good spots of his own, and Farnsworth was well featured. In fact there were drum solos on four of the six songs and, while they were inventive and well-conceived, perhaps that was one or two too many.

See Harold Mabern whenever you get a chance. He is one of the major survivors of 1950s and ‘60s jazz and is still at the top of his game.

Photo of jazz logo
Book of The Golden Years Of Portland Jazz, 1942-1957

Every major city in the United States and Europe is a fertile topic for a book about its jazz history. Each location, in addition to welcoming visiting national artists, has had its own local jazz scene. Bob Diestsche, who previously wrote Jumptown: The Golden Years Of Portland Jazz, 1942-1957 recently completed Tatum’s Town – The Story Of Jazz In Toledo, Ohio (1915-1985) for Bobson Press.

While one may not automatically think of Toledo as being a jazz center, it was the hometown of Art Tatum and Jon Hendricks in addition to having its own local musical heroes. Dietsche begins with Art Tatum, has a chapter on Hendricks, and along the way profiles such musicians as territory bandleader Speed Webb, guitarist Arv Garrison (who had a strange and sad life), Garrison’s wife bassist Vivian Garry, trombonist Jimmy Harrison, tenor-saxophonist Candy Johnson, singer Helen O’Connell, and trumpeter Jimmy Cook among others. Dietsche interviewed many Toledo residents and the result is that some of the most interesting tales are about local players who chose to spend their lives in Toledo rather than moving to New York or Los Angeles. The 1925-65 period is emphasized although the book does discuss pianists Stanley Cowell and Johnny O’Neal, both of whom have connections to Tatum.M

Tatum’s Town jumps a lot between eras and the book would have been improved if it were more in chronological order. For example, the chapter on Jimmy Harrison (who was active in the 1920s) is six chapters after the one on Arv Garrison (who was part of the bop era). Also, there are a fair number of minor errors (Toledo is misspelled in one place) and a few historical mistakes that could have been easily corrected with more proofreading.

However those little reservations do not take away from the enjoyment and new knowledge that jazz fans will gain from reading Tatum’s Town. It is available from .

Every jazz musician needs a well-written press biography, and every CD deserves informative liner notes.

I write both and more at reasonable rates. Contact me at 661-724-0622 or
for further information.