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By Scott Yanow

Photo of Doc Severinsen

Although it has now been 25 years since a 65-year old Doc Severinsen was the bandleader on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, he will undoubtedly always be best known for his 30-year period on the show. Well Doc turns 90 on July 7 and, despite a few failed attempts to retire, he is still playing music and sounding remarkably great. At the Valley Performing Arts Center, Severinsen played trumpet as if he were 50 and he walked as if he were 40. In fact, he did not sit down the entire time!

Photo of Doc Severinsen

Most importantly, the music was excellent. Severinsen led a 16-piece big band that emphasized straight ahead jazz and swing. While Doc has sometimes played funk and rock in the past, this night was strictly jazz.

After a brief version of the Tonight Show theme, Doc Severinsen strolled out, joked with the audience, showed off his flashy outfit (he would wear a different one for the second set) and launched into “I Want To Be Happy.” Playing at 80-90% of his peak, Severinsen never rested on his laurels and was featured on most of the songs including “September Song,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Jumpin’ At The Woodside,” and “A Night In Tunisia,” taking an outstanding unaccompanied introduction on the latter. Singer Vanessa Thomas had a few features, showing off her very wide range on “Mood Indigo” and “Every Day I Have The Blues,” and the other soloists during the night included tenor-saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Kye Palmer, trombonist Andy Martin, and pianist Bill Cunliffe with Wayne Bergeron leading the trumpet section.

Watching this show, it was impossible to believe that Doc Severinsen, who was never hesitant in his playing, talking or walking, is 90. He sounded as if he was in his third childhood and did not miss a high note all night!

THE UNIQUE MARIA SCHNEIDER

Photo of Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider writes music that is impossible to classify. Often sounding like a picturesque soundtrack, Schneider’s works are unpredictable, impressionistic, and consistently memorable. Although falling into jazz and leaving room for improvisations, her music is really beyond jazz and occupies its own musical world.

At the Valley Performing Arts Center, her 18-piece orchestra from New York made a very rare Los Angeles appearance. Whether it was the dramatic “Oriental,” “Nimba,” “Home,” “Data Lords,” or “Birds Of Paradise,” her music was quite intriguing and adventurous without ever becoming overly dissonant or violent. Among the many featured soloists were tenor-saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Rich Perry, altoist Steve Wilson, trumpeters Greg Gisbert and Mike Rodriguez, guitarist Lage Lund, Gary Versace on accordion, and Scott Robinson (featured on the last two songs) on baritone sax and bass clarinet. They made Maria Schneider’s potentially difficult arrangements sound colorful and natural.

LORRAINA MARRO

Photo of Lorraina Marro

Lorraina Marro is always fun to see perform. At the E-Spot, the singer was joined by pianist Bradley Young’s trio with bassist Adrian Rosen and drummer Jon Stuart plus an occasional tenor-saxophonist whose name I unfortunately missed. After the band played an instrumental version of “Perdido” (with Young sounding a bit like Oscar Peterson), the appealing vocalist commanded the stage during a set ranging from obscure love ballads and a grooving “Feel Like Making Love” to a swinging “Time After Time,” “Day In Day, Out” and even “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.” She closed the night with a beautiful version of “Tea For Two,” starting with the lesser-known verse.

Sticking mostly to optimistic songs that fell between jazz, soul and r&b, Lorraina Marro displayed a joyful and powerful voice that consistently delighted the audience.

RUSSELL MALONE

Photo of RUSSELL MALONE

For the past 20 years, Russell Malone has been one of jazz’s greatest guitarists. Malone knows music history so well that he often quotes the most obscure jazz and Hollywood songs in his solos, usually while having a twinkle in his eye. While he came to fame with Diana Krall in the 1990s, he has led his own band much of the time since.

At the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, Malone led an excellent quartet that featured pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Willie Jones III. Alternating melodic originals with such songs as a relaxed but infectiously swinging “Witchcraft,” and a beautiful medley of an unaccompanied “It’s Easy To Remember” and “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Up To Dry,” Malone and his quartet were in excellent form. Germanson shared the guitarist’s knack for coming up with surprising song quotes, Sellick had several fine solos, and Jones was a quiet powerhouse, always giving the music exactly what it needed. Closing with a good-time rockish blues (as if to show that he can play that too), Russell Malone sounded inspired throughout the night.

KARRIN ALLYSON

Photo of Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson has been such a consistent and rewarding jazz singer during the past 25 years that it is easy to take her for granted. At Catalina’s, she showed once again that she deserved to be ranked near the top of her field.

The singer led a different band than usual, a drumless quartet with guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Miro Sprague and bassist Jeff Johnson. Her performance during the night included fresh versions of Mose Allison’s “Stop This World,” “Oh What A Beautiful Morning,” “Say It Over And Over Again,” Abbey Lincoln’s “The World Is Falling Down,” a nostalgic “Home,” and “O Pato” (the quacking duck song). Allyson’s distinctive and warm voice, her swinging phrasing, and her occasional scat-singing were a joy to hear. On “Double Rainbow” she switched to piano (with Sprague playing an electric keyboard) and their tradeoff was memorable. Ms. Allyson also performed the happy philosophical tune “Wrap Up Some Of This Sunshine,” an original that she wrote two days after the presidential election (“No More Big Discount”) and the closer, a warm and wistful version of “Blame It On My Youth.”

It was rewarding hearing Karrin Allyson in this fairly sparse setting. Koonse and Sprague took many fine solos and Johnson held the rhythm together and smiled during the whole night. I hope that the singer will record with this excellent band in the future.





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50 Years At the Village Vanguard book cover

51 years ago, in 1966, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was born and became an instant success performing Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. Over a half-century later, the band is still together. Its longevity has eclipsed that of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, both of whom made it through 49 years. Arranger-composer-trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis co-led the orchestra during 1966-78. Jones’ sudden departure to lead the Danish Radio Big Band in 1979 was a surprise and a shock, especially to Lewis. The big band became the Mel Lewis Orchestra until the drummer’s death in 1990. Since then it has been the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Any fan of the orchestra simply has to own 50 Years At The Village Vanguard, the definitive book by Dave Lisik and Eric Allen, two musicians and educators who clearly love this big band. Their oversize 316-page book tells the long story of the band through interviews with all of the surviving and current musicians, archival interviews of the co-leaders and others, many photos, memorabilia, mini bios on each of the current members of the band, and a complete discography. The three stages of the orchestra are covered fully including many obscure or previously unknown stories. There are also individual chapters on Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, the band’s road trips, the Village Vanguard, and other aspects of the group’s history.

50 Years At the Village Vanguard (available from www.skydeckmusic.com ) does full justice to the legacy of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Open it up to any page and the fresh stories and colorful photos will be very tempting to read and quite informative.




Billie Holiday At Sugar Hill book cover

Imagine spending a week with Billie Holiday; what would that have looked like? In April 1957, photographer Jerry Dantzic (1925-2006) was hired by the Decca label to take pictures of Lady Day during her week performing at Sugar Hill in Newark, New Jersey. He took quite a few photos of Holiday including on stage, in her dressing room, greeting fans, playing with her dog, walking down the street, and visiting with the family of her co-author William Dufty. Dantzic also shot some photos of Holiday performing at the New York Jazz Festival that August. Nearly all of these pictures have never been published before.

Billie Holiday At Sugar Hill (available from www.thaesandhudsonusa.com ) was put together by the photographer’s son Grayson Dantzic. It has more than 120 full-page photos of the singer from Dantzic’s period with her. These candid and sometimes intimate pictures show the legendary vocalist to be very human, vulnerable and mostly cheerful. She looks special even when doing something as mundane as washing dishes or playing with the Dufty’s child.

Other than a fanciful essay by Zadie Smith (who imagines what Billie Holiday’s thoughts were during a typical day) and Grayson Dantzic’s overview of the pictures, Billie Holiday At Sugar Hill is comprised solely of the memorable photos. No Lady Day fan should be without this valuable and fascinating book.

Photo of Willie Jones  drummer

The lineup for this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival, which takes place over a June weekend, is the strongest in years, particularly from the jazz standpoint. Held at the Hollywood Bowl, Playboy is very much a party but this year there is an excess of riches.

Saturday June 10 (3-10:30 p.m.) has Gypsy Swing from the Django Festival All-Stars, a tribute to the late Bobby Hutcherson with vibraphonists Stefan Harris, Warren Wolf and Roy Ayers, and Arturo Sandoval’s Latin Big Band. All three of those sets will certainly be memorable. John Scofield, John Medeski, Larry Grenadier and Jack DeJohnette form the all-star group Hudson, Marcus Miller will bring his jazz/funk band and TajMo’ teams together the blues/r&b innovators Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo.’ Wandering away from jazz and blues will be Jacob Collier in his one-man band audio-visual production, the California Honeydrops (r&b and funk) and singer/songwriter Connie Bailey Rae. The CSULB Pacific Standard Time Vocal Jazz Ensemble opens the marathon day./night.

Seven out of the ten groups on Saturday are jazz and the percentage is the same on Sunday June 11 (3-10 p.m.). One has to certainly wonder what the rapper Common is doing on Sunday’s bill although a case can be made for Lelah Hathaway and Cory Henry’s Funk Apostles. Gregory Porter makes his triumphant return to Playboy, the always-passionate altoist Kenny Garrett has a full set, and drummer Carl Allen leads a group paying tribute to Elvin Jones. The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, Mike Mosely’s West Coast Get Down, the Hamilton De Holanda Trio and the LAUDS/Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band will also be featured.

Not a bad way to spend a June weekend. This will be my 39th!

HERB WONG AND RALPH GLEASON

Photo of Willie Jones  drummer

Herb Wong (1926-2014) and Ralph Gleason (1917-1975) both made major contributions to jazz, and new books bring back some of their best writing.

In a career that included working as a teacher, an educator, a disc jockey on KJAZ for 30 years, the head of two record labels (Palo Alto and Black Hawk), and a journalist/reviewer, Herb Wong kept busy for decades. The only thing that seemed to be missing from his accomplishments was a book. Shortly before Wong passed away from cancer, Paul Simeon Fingerote (a disc jockey and the marketing director of the Monterey Jazz Festival for many years) worked with him against time to put together the 238-page book Jazz On My Mind (McFarland & Company). The work includes many of Wong’s best liner notes, articles and interviews. Each chapter, which focuses on a few subjects who played a particular instrument, begins with a bit of Wong’s reminiscing and memories. While I wish that this was a full autobiography, the little glimpses at his life (including remembering meeting Joshua Redman when the tenor-saxophonist was just five) are invaluable. Among the artists who are profiled (and who Wong knew personally) are Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard,

Max Roach, Stan Getz, Phil Woods, Milt Hinton, Oscar Peterson, and Dave Brubeck among many others. I hope someday there is a volume two but I am thankful that Paul Fingerote put together this work just in time. Jazz On My Mind is available from www.mcfarlandpub.com.

Ralph Gleason started out loving bop and traditional jazz. He kept up with the times and by the late 1960s he had co-founded Rolling Stone and was writing with great credibility about the more important rock groups while never abandoning jazz. He may be best remembered today for his Jazz Casual television shows but Music In The Air – The Selected Writings Of Ralph J. Gleason (available from Yale University Press at www.yalebooks.com) shows what a well-rounded journalist he was during the 1960s and [70s. The first half of the book has some of his best articles on jazz including liner notes ranging from Billie Holiday to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, performance reviews that were published in the San Francisco Bay area, and lengthy obituaries on Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges that are filled with fascinating stories and opinions. The second half of the book has reviews and summaries of rock, folk and pop groups (from the Beatles and Joan Baez to Jefferson Airplane and Hank Williams), comedy (including Dick Gregory and Lenny Bruce) and politics of the era, highlighted by a pre-Watergate plea in 1972 to get Richard Nixon out of office. While the topics are sometimes dated and there are occasional inaccuracies (better sources exist today than in 1965), Music In The Air is a fascinating time capsule of an important era in American culture, and a fine tribute to Ralph Gleason’s passions.

I Called him Morgan logo

Lee Morgan was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time starting when he was a teenager in the mid-1950s. His life was cut short on Feb. 18, 1972 when he was murdered by his jilted wife Helen Morgan. Why did she do it and what happened to her? I Called Him Morgan, a 91-minute film directed by Kasper Collin, tells the full story. Helen Morgan was interviewed by her adult education teacher Larry Reni Thomas on tape in 1996, just one month before her death. Her voice is heard throughout this riveting film.

I Called him Morgan logo

Both Lee and Helen Morgan’s lives are covered through interviews, brief performance clips, footage of the era and their own words. They met during a period when the trumpeter was scuffling, on drugs, and barely playing music. Helen helped him get his life together and was a constant presence during the second half of the 1960s. Eventually Lee (who was 14 years younger) began to wander and was not shy about his other relationship. One night he had Helen thrown out of the New York nightclub Slug’s. She came back with a gun and shot him dead. Somehow Helen Morgan only spent a relatively short time in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter. She returned to her hometown and worked in the church in her later years.

For this film, many of the key survivors of the time were interviewed including Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, bassist Jymie Merritt, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Helen’s son, and even Lee Morgan’s girlfriend Judith Johnson. A little more time should have been spent discussing the trumpeter’s childhood and the development of his music (“The Sidewinder” is not mentioned at all) but there is not a slow moment in the film.

I Called Him Morgan, which is being shown at festivals, is not yet on DVD but hopefully will be in the future. It is a film that all jazz fans should see.

THE AMAZING RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK

There was no one like Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He was a masterful musician who had his own sounds on tenor sax, flute, clarinet and two obscure horns that he found in an instrument shop: the manzello and the stritch. Kirk often played three horns at once, functioning as his own horn section, and he was a master at circular breathing. He could play in any jazz style from bop and free to New Orleans jazz, and was a colorful performer who provided witty and insightful commentary. He was also blind.

I Called him Morgan logo

The 87-minute documentary The Case Of The Three Sided Dream (available from the Austrian Art Haus Musik company at www.arthaus-musik.com) is a film directed and produced by Adam Kahan. While it mostly does not follow Kirk’s career chronologically or attempt to analyze where he got his musical genius from, it is filled with bright moments. Performance footage (mostly excerpts), interviews (including of Rahsaan), animated graphics and subject-oriented sections give viewers a strong sampling of Kirk’s music and accomplishments. Among those interviewed are Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s wife (Dorthann Kirk) and son (Rory Kirk), bassists H. Mattathias Person and Michael Max Flemming, pianist Rahn Burton, cellist Akua Dixon, poet Betty Neals, his friend Mark Davis and trombonist Steve Turre, who emerges as the star storyteller.

One learns about how a young Kirk cut a garden hose so he could get a sound like a trumpet, his belief in the power of sound, Turre remembering that Rahsaan could make music out of anything even a calculator, and how he considered dreams to be his religion. Of the performance clips, some of the highlights are seeing Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing on a BBC television show in 1964, performing “Satin Doll” in 1970 on two horns, singing through his flute on “Serenade To A Cuckoo,” leading an all-too-brief New Orleans jam on “Just A Little While To Stay Here,” and blasting his way through “Volunteered Slavery.”

Most interesting is the story of the Jazz & People’s Movement which sought to get more jazz on television. Its biggest accomplishment was having Kirk lead an all-star group that included Charles Mingus and Archie Shepp on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1971. The full eight-minute performance (“Haitian Fight Song” and a brief New Orleans section on clarinet) is shown. The last part of the documentary details Kirk’s stroke of late 1975 and his heroic comeback, performing in 1977 on a specially-designed tenor-sax that allowed him to play with just his left hand. He passed away later that year at the age of just 42. There are also twenty additional minutes in the bonus section that is comprised of an interview with producer Joel Dorn and Rahsaan in 1977 playing “Bright Moments.” The Case Of The Three Sided Dream is quite memorable and a fine tribute to the often-astounding Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

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 www.scottyanow.com 661-724-0622 or www.scottyanow@yahoo.com
for further information.