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The 39th annual Playboy Jazz Festival, like the first 38, took place over a June weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. The pair of eight-hour concerts featured 20 different groups covering a wide variety of music. Saturday had a much higher percentage of creative artists than usual, with eight of the ten groups (nine if one counts the blues of Taj Mahal & Keb Mo’) being jazz ensembles while Sunday was down to a more typical five. Having sat through Playboy marathons where only three of the artists could be called jazz, 2017 boasted a much stronger lineup than usual.

Photo of George Lopez

George Lopez did an excellent job as emcee all weekend, clearly enjoying the music and ad-libbing jokes that fit the situation. Playboy began on Saturday at 3 p.m. with the CSULB Pacific Standard Time Vocal Jazz Ensemble. 11 young singers were joined by a four-piece rhythm section, on five songs that ranged from Earth, Wind and Fire to Blossom Dearie; the closing “Caravan” was the strongest performance. The ensembles were clean and swinging although there were no individual heroics beyond Zane Johnson’s fine guitar solos.

The California Honeydrops displayed versatility and potential during a set that mixed together Johnny Bones’ early 1950s honking tenor with New Orleans r&b grooves and 1960s soul organ. The music was at its best when the leader, singer-guitarist Lech Wierzynski, switched to trumpet and interacted with Bones. There was an excess of singing by the good-natured Wierzynski (although the background vocals by members of the group were excellent) and one wished that the horns had more of an opportunity to cut loose. While there should be half as many vocals, the California Honeydrops proved to be an enjoyable party band.

Photo of the Django Festival All Stars band

The highpoint of Saturday and arguably the entire festival was provided by the Django Festival All Stars. The musicians (all from France) did their interpretations of the Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli swing tradition. Violinist Pierre Blanchard played well (including on what might have been the first version of “Tea For Two” ever heard at the Playboy Jazz Festival) as did rhythm guitarist DouDou Cuillerier and bassist Antonio Licusati. Accordionist Ludovic Beier took some hot solos, doubling on the accordina which is a miniature variation of his accordion that he blew into. However the show stoppers were acoustic guitarists Samson and Amati Schmitt. On originals and “Minor Swing,” the brothers challenged each other with virtuosic runs, beautiful tones and rapid ideas. Their hard-swinging music was both inspiring and a bit miraculous.

From three guitarists, the next group (a tribute to Bobby Hutcherson) had four vibraphonists who were heard on two sets of vibes, marimba and (in Roy Ayers’ case) electric vibraphone. Stefan Harris and Warren Wolf, two of the finest vibraphonists to emerge during the past 20 years, were the main stars during a performance that also featured Ayers, young vibraphonist Joel Ross, pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Joshua Crumbly and drummer Eric Harland. The group mostly interpreted Hutcherson originals (including “Highway One” and “Little B’s Poem”) and, although the inclusion of a bebop standard with some heated trading off would have been welcome, the set was quite satisfying and a real vibes summit.

Photo of the Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ band

The combination of Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ brought out the best in both bluesmen. Starting off with Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues,” their collaboration ranged from lowdown blues to r&b, folk music and back to blues again. The co-leaders were well featured as singers and guitarists with Mahal also featured on banjo. It was particularly rewarding hearing Keb’ Mo’ play more blues than usual. Their rousing closer won over the audience.

Hudson is an all-star quartet comprised of guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jack DeJohnette. While their CD, which features originals along with their jazz transformations of pop songs, is fine, the group has grown quite a bit since then. It was fascinating watching Medeski get personal and unusual sounds out of his keyboards. Hudson’s music on one selection sounded like Bitches Brew-era fusion but also included post bop, a countryish jam, some avant-funk, and a closing bebop blues. The latter gave one a rare opportunity to hear DeJohnette swinging a la Art Blakey or Tony Williams. If Scofield had a tone closer to Joe Pass’ than his own classic sound (which is often rockish), his connections to Charlie Parker and bebop would be more obvious. The hour by Hudson was filled with inventive solos and excitement.

Saturday’s one departure from jazz and blues was r&b singer Corinne Bailey who displayed an appealing voice but was certainly out of place.

Jacob Collier is an unusual performer to say the least. By using electronics, he switched between vocals, guitar, piano, bass and drums, stating patterns that were repeated during dense ensembles. At various points he stood onstage, briefly dancing to the music that he had just created.

Sometimes Collier soloed on top of the patterns while on other occasions he added his solo to the ensemble of the “band.” He obviously pushed buttons or switches to add or subtract from the music since many of the individual patterns eventually disappeared or were replaced, but it was difficult to see it actually being done. Collier is impressive on each of the instruments and, although his material could have been a little more memorable, he was able to overcome the novelty element of this display. It will be very interesting to see where he goes from here.

Arturo Sandoval, one of the greatest trumpeters of the past 40 years, led his Latin Big Band through a rousing set. Their repertoire included “The Peanut Vendor,” a Perez Prado mambo, a romantic ballad, “Mambo #5,” a feature for the leader on piano, and several Cuban numbers. In addition to the 14 horns (including a screaming trumpet section led by Wayne Bergeron), the group had an eight-piece rhythm section with congas, timbales and guest Andy Garcia on bongos. On “Maynard and Waynard” (originally written by Bergeron for Maynard Ferguson), its composer held his own in a frequently explosive trumpet battle with Sandoval. There was no letup in the stirring music. Whether on trumpet (he is still very much in his prime), piano or timbales, Arturo Sandoval remains one of the most exciting musicians in jazz today.

Saturday ended with Marcus Miller’s group. The great electric bassist started off with his classic reworking of “Come Together” and he also played a funky rendition of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” with his quintet which included altoist Alex Han. The second half of Miller’s hour was a tribute to the late Al Jarreau but it was much less interesting. It ignored Jarreau’s jazz roots and was comprised primarily of his r&b and pp hits, featuring Rahsaan Patterson on vocals.

I feel like I never left text

Sunday arrived very soon with George Lopez saying “I feel like I never left.” While much of Saturday’s music was on the level one would expect at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Sunday was an eccentric grab-bag that was more typical of Playboy. The LAUSD/Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Band fared well during a boppish set that included “Donna Lee” and “Doxy.” The Hamilton de Holanda trio (consisting of the leader on ten-string mandolin, Vitor Goncalves doubling on piano and accordion, and bassist Or Bareket) started out with some Brazilian swing. They soon switched to other idioms including their version of a Thelonious Monk ballad, a 32-bar piece called the “Samba Blues” (which was actually not a samba nor a blues), some Jobim, World Music, and several classical-oriented works. De Holanda’s technique was quite impressive and the trio was tight.

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra has been led by drummer Sherrie Maricle for over 25 years. Arguably its finest edition was featured at Playboy. Starting with a rousing version of “I Love Being Here With You” (which had the musicians surprisingly singing its title near the end of their rendition), they performed their swinging and colorful arrangements of “Felicidade,” “Pennies From Heaven” (featuring baritonist Leigh Pilzer and the outstanding bassist Noriko Ueda), “Did’Ja Do That” (which had a tenor battle by Roxy Coss and Janelle Reichman), Tommy Newsome’s “TPN Blues” (great plunger work by trumpeter Barbara Laronga and trombonist Jennifer Krupa), and an uptempo “Get Me To The Church On Time.” Throughout the music and particularly on the latter, Maricle staked her claim as one of the great big band drummers. With additional top-notch soloists in altoist Scheila Gonzalez and trumpeter Jami Dauber plus Janelle Reichman doubling on clarinet, DIVA put on a memorable performance that ranked at the top with those of the Django All Stars and Arturo Sandoval..

Drummer Carl Allen with “The Art Of Elvin” paid tribute to the great Elvin Jones. His quintet, which included trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, tenor-saxophonist Keith Loftis, pianist Donald Vega and bassist Yasushi Nakamura, was filled with strong hard bop soloists. Hendrix’s solos were often blazing, Loftis was passionate, and Vega on “One By One” (which is actually associated with Art Blakey rather than Elvin) showed that he had Bobby Timmons’ style down perfectly. It was an outstanding set of high quality jazz. In contrast, the music played by keyboardist Cory Henry’s Funk Apostles (a five-piece rhythm section and two female singers) was primarily funk and r&b, serving as background music for the partying crowd.

Altoist Kenny Garrett led his hard-driving quintet (featuring the fine pianist Vernell Brown) through some original multi-sectioned works. As usual, Garrett hit every note with intensity and purpose while his rhythm section (with percussionist Rudy Bird) was both tight and loose. The JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble under the artistic direction of Pat Taylor had been advertised as debuting a world premiere collaboration with Garrett, but the ten dancers were only on one number (which had a boogaloo rhythm) and did not have an opportunity to make much of an impression.

Photo of Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter, who looks like a superstar, put on a typically impressive show. To his credit, no matter how popular he becomes, he utilizes what is essentially an avant-garde quartet. The solos of tenor-saxophonist Tivon Pennicott and pianist Chip Crawford consistently took the music outside. Porter, who had the audience from the first note, was in top form on such originals as “On My Way To Harlem,” “Take Me To The Alley” and “Don’t Lose Your Steam.” A masterful storyteller whose philosophical lyrics show that he is both a dreamer and a realist, Porter has a voice that has the warmth and soul of Nat King Cole and Bill Withers. With his band pushing him, he scatted a bit, stretched himself, and always got his message across.

The Playboy Jazz Festival basically ended with Gregory Porter although it still had three hours to go. Miles Mosley and the West Coast Get Down, despite getting a lot of attention as a “new thing” in jazz, proved to be mostly a showcase for the leader’s vocals and bass solos. Their music was passionate but primarily a funky brand of poppish rock. Lalah Hathaway mostly stuck to her usual r&b but, on her final song, she scatted for a long stretch over a vamp. Hathaway showed that she could sing jazz if she wanted to, even imitating Louis Armstrong briefly. She should do this more often! Unfortunately Playboy ended on a definite down note with Common, a rapper who the less said of the better. Other than having him empty out the Hollywood Bowl, what was the logic in booking him at Playboy?

Despite the ending, this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival was a lot of fun and well worth attending, particularly Saturday. It makes one look forward to next year’s 40th event.

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June 2017

Photo of Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim and jazz are not usually mentioned in the same sentence. While Sondheim has been Broadway’s most famous composer of the past 50 years, most of his songs are very much part of plays and either do not lend themselves to much improvising or do not stand apart from the productions that well.

At a two-part concert at Disney Hall, the performers did their best to prove the opposite, at least during the first half. At an elaborate and well-thought out set, pianists Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, Steve Wilson (on alto, flute and soprano), bassist Sean Smith and drummer Matt Wilson were joined by four violins, two violas and two cellos.

Photo of Anne Hampton Callaway and sister Liz Callaway

Anne Hampton Callaway was scheduled to sing half of the songs but a throat ailment resulted in her having to cancel; her replacement was her sister Liz Callaway. Since Liz is more of a cabaret singer than a jazz vocalist, part of the purpose of the set was lost although she did a fine job and displayed a beautiful voice.

Charlap, Rosnes and Wilson had their features as did Callaway with the highlights including “Not While I’m Around,” “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Uptown, Downtown” and “Anyone Can Whistle.” Even those listeners who were not familiar with Sondheim were able to enjoy this friendly, varied and very musical set.

The second half of the program actually did not feature any Sondheim other than one song. While Sondheim wrote the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music for West Side Story, Dave Grusin’s classic interpretation of the score (which resulted in a 1997 CD for the GRP label) was mostly comprised of instrumentals. The Disney Hall version was a bit cut down in the number of songs and the size of the ensemble (which no longer had a string section).

The 19-piece orchestra featured such notables as trumpeter Chuck Findley, trombonists Andy Martin and Bob McChesney, tenor-saxophonist Tom Scott, altoist Dan Higgins and drummer Dave Weckl. Gene Cipriano, who was on the original West Side Story soundtrack from the late 1950s, was on baritone while John Beasley, a major asset in revising the arrangements, was on synth. Guitarist Lee Ritenour was showcased on two of the numbers. Heard after the colorful “Prologue” were such numbers as “Something’s Coming,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty” (taken as a duet by Grusin and Sal Lozano on flute). Dorian Holley had a very expressive guest vocal on “Maria.” Dave Grusin, who is now 82, was in excellent form on piano and clearly enjoyed bringing back his 20-year old arrangements.

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Photo of Jazz Books

To record collectors, Bob Porter is a familiar name for he has produced more than 175 albums along with hundreds of reissues. Since Porter has often concentrated on soul jazz featuring organists and funky pianists, it is not surprising that his first book is called Soul Jazz (published by Xlibris and available from ). What is surprising is that he does not even discuss soul jazz until the book is at its halfway mark.

The subtitle of the book, “Jazz In the Black Community 1945-1975,” is a more accurate description for what it contains. Sticking to African-American musicians, Porter covers the big bands that survived the Swing era (including those of Buddy Johnson, Tiny Bradshaw and Lucky Millinder), the rise of r&b and its many honking saxophonists, and the beginnings of rock and roll and its connection to swing and r&b. Porter eventually gets around to soul jazz, concluding the book with funk & fusion. Along the way there are full chapters on Illinois Jacquet, Gene Ammons, Hank Crawford, Grant Green and Grover Washington Jr.

Bob Porter clearly loves the music that he covers in this book and there are occasional memorable tidbits such as his designation as 1951 as the year that soul jazz was born on records (even though it did not receive its name until 1959) with the first Wild Bill Davis recordings. He tends to measure an artist and their record’s success by the sales figures and includes a lot of interesting information in a coherent summary of 30 years of black music.

One hopes that eventually Bob Porter will be inspired to write his musical memoirs so one can learn about the sessions that he was involved with. For now, Soul Jazz is quite readable.

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San Francisco Jazz by Medea Isphording Bern is a breezy and lively history of aspects of the jazz scene that took place in San Francisco. The emphasis is generally on trad jazz including full chapters on Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band and Turk Murphy although West Coast cool jazz, Dave Brubeck and a variety of San Francisco’s jazz clubs are also covered along with the legendary Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society of Pete Douglas. Actually, while the narrative is fine if a bit selective, it is the photos that make this a book well worth picking up. Issued as part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images Of America (available from ), this work has many rare photographs along with a few more common ones. From Kid Ory to John Handy, Barbara Dane to McCoy Tyner plus many forgotten local musicians, San Francisco Jazz always holds one’s interest.

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Every jazz musician who has been around awhile has his or her stories to tell, and most should be extensively interviewed and profiled in a biography before the tales are lost forever. John Von Ohlen is best known as the drummer-leader with the Blue Wisp Big Band and for having long been an important musical force in Cincinnati. When his friend Jim Nunn heard many of his stories, he decided that a book needed to be written, so he wrote and published it himself.

It’s Gotta Swing is the result of many conversations with Von Ohlen about his life and career. Written in the third person (the drummer is rarely quoted directly), the book does an excellent job of covering his musical legacy. John Von Ohlen was encouraged by his father from an early age to pursue music. He gained experience playing with Ralph Marterie, during his Army service, and in stints with Billy Maxted, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. After quite a bit of touring, he permanently settled in Cincinnati where he worked with guitarists Cal Collins and Kenny Poole, formed the Blue Wisp Big Band, and had a long-time association with Rosemary Clooney. It’s Gotta Swing also covers Von Ohlen’s spiritual life, inspired by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami with whom he visited India, Asia and Europe on two occasions.

The 107-page book is well-written and goes by quickly. It is easily recommended and available by writing Jim Nunn at

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Photo of old record player

When the CD came to prominence during the mid-to-late 1980s, the Lp seemed doomed. By the mid-1990s, virtually no one was producing Lps and short-sighted collectors were unloading their albums, replacing much of the music on CDs. But during the past ten years, the Lp has made an unlikely comeback, with sales in 2015 being the highest since 1988. It still only accounts for a small percentage of music sales but it has been growing every year. It is as if 78s had made a comeback in the 1980s, 30 years after it was given up for dead.

While many debate over the sound quality of Lps vs. CDs (while downloads often seem like the modern-day equivalent of listening to a transistor radio), the Lp has a few advantages. One can read its liner notes without a magnifying glass, many covers can qualify as art and, unlike CDs, the average person cannot make an Lp on their own computer. Of course one might get worn out having to stand up and turn over the record every 20 minutes, but sacrifices have to be made!

Five interesting recently released Lps are covered in this piece. The great British tenor-saxophonist Tubby Hayes is featured with his quintet on Modes and Blues (available from ). The previously unreleased 34-minute performance from Feb. 8, 1964 is of a single original that combines chord patterns based on “Impressions” with an occasional blues chorus. Hayes, trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar, pianist Terry Shannon, bassist Freddy Logan and drummer Allan Ganley really stretch out. Hayes’ tenor solo comprises all of side one while Deuchar and Shannon are featured on the second side. The music is forward-looking hard bop, inspired a bit by John Coltrane although tied to Hayes’ roots in straight ahead jazz. The momentum never slows down during this stirring performance.

Photo of Kynard’s Afro-Disiac and Rusty Bryant’s Fire Eater records

Concord (, in their new Top Shelf Series, has recently made available two Lps originally released for Prestige and produced by Bob Porter. Charles Kynard’s Afro-Disiac and Rusty Bryant’s Fire Eater have not been in-print for quite a few years and are excellent examples of 1970-71 soul jazz.

Organist Kynard (1933-79), is joined by tenor-saxophonist Houston Person, guitarist Grant Green, electric bassist Jimmy Lewis and drummer Pretty Purdie. The four songs by Richard Fritz and the two obscurities feature the quintet performing blues, funk jams and ballads with equal skill. The bass lines are danceable, the organist plays his conception of the Jimmy Smith tradition, and Person and Green get their spots. Their music is happily dated yet timeless.

Tenor-saxophonist Rusty Bryant (1929-91) had a long career that ranged from jump bands and r&b in the 1950s, to a long period based in Columbus, Ohio and a comeback in the soul jazz field. Fire Eater teams him with either Bill Mason or Leon Spencer Jr. on organ, guitarist Wilbert Longmire and drummer Idris Muhammad. Bryant puts plenty of feeling into each passionate note although his organists (particularly Spencer) often steal solo honors. The music is quite fun and infectious.

Photo of Live New York 1970 record

Paul Butterfield (1942-87) was a significant harmonica player and singer who helped revitalize the blues in the late 1960s. The most famous version of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had both Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on guitars. The slightly later version of the group featured on the two-Lp set Live New York 1970 was an octet with four horns, including the young altoist David Sanborn. Recorded live at the Troubadour, the music ranges from blues to rock with Butterfield’s vocals and harmonica playing being dominant although Sanborn has a few short solos. While I wish that this reissue contained more Chicago blues, Butterfield and his group give a bluesy feeling to each of the nine songs. Highlights include “Born Under A Bad Sign,” a lengthy “Driftin’ Blues,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “Love March.” This release is available from .

The final Lp is a newly recorded set of unaccompanied guitar solos by Ross Hammond, Follow Your Heart. While probably best known for his avant-garde explorations, leading a quartet that included Vinny Golia, and for his work with small groups, Hammond sounds a bit different on Follow Your Heart. His thoughtful playing on his acoustic guitar is closer to country blues (without necessarily utilizing blues chord changes) than to free jazz. He takes his time during his relaxed solos, embraces melodies, and yet is never predictable. Such songs as “Whirlpool,” “Lake Tahoe Waltz,” Life In 3D” and “How Does A Monkey Write Its Song” are among the highpoints of this thought-provoking set, 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.

May 2017

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!


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.


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.



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.


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 ) 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 ) 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.

By Scott Yanow

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!


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

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 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.


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.

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The 87-minute documentary The Case Of The Three Sided Dream (available from the Austrian Art Haus Musik company at 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.


Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery logo

Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery has a dazzling schedule of jazz greats scheduled during the next few months. Coming up at the Moss Theater are Tessa Souter’s birthday celebration (Apr. 8), and quartets led by Russell Malone (Apr. 15), Peter Erskine (May 12), Billy Childs (May 26) and Ambrose Akinmusire (June 16). The Gordon Goodwin Little Phat Band will be at the Kirk Douglas Theater (June 9) while Buster Williams’ quartet (June 24) will be presented at the Nate Holden Theater.

April also includes significant performances by Doug MacDonald’s Jazz Marathon (Apr. 4 at the E-Spot), Corky Hale’s tribute to Billie Holiday (Catalina’s on Apr. 6), the Bob Mintzer-Peter Erskine Big Band (Apr. 7 at the E-Spot), Barbara Morrison’s tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (Catalina’s on Apr. 9), 90-year old Doc Severinsen and his big band (Apr. 13 at the Valley Performing Arts Center) and Charles Lloyd (Apr. 14 at UCLA’s Royce Hall). It makes one very happy to be in Southern California!

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

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