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Tribute to Ella and Dizzy: 100 Years, 1000 Memories

Review by Harvey Barkan

The year 1917 was a very good year for the future of growth and artistry of jazz, as the Hollywood Bowl celebrated two births of that year, vocalist Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917) and trumpeter and bandleader Dizzy Gillespie (October 21, 1917). This tribute concert was dubbed, "One Hundred Years, One Thousand Memories," and hosted by CCH Pounder, from the CBS series NCIS: New Orleans. This was a beautifully done tribute that virtually filled this enormous open-air venue on a gently sloping hillside, on a comfortably cool California summer evening.

Much has been said of Ella Fitzgerald as one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th Century. But very briefly, after a very difficult early life, at 17 she performed at the celebrated Amateur Night at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, winning the top prize at her first try! There was soon a hook-up with hard-driving Chick Webb and his outstanding house band at the famous Savoy Ballroom. Some said that "Chick and Ella electrified" that era of jazz. When she later recorded an unlikely novelty tune, "A Tisket, A Tasket," her ability to play with it, tease it, sing it, and present it with style, yielded her first major hit, and her future and reputation dramatically soared to be eventually known as "The First Lady of Song." Several singers at this tribute presented Ella's varied works in the different traditions she touched: Jane Monheit sang "Cheek to Cheek" "It's Alright With Me," and "Love For Sale" ; Lizz Wright, "The Way You Look Tonight", "Embraceable You", and "Caravan"; Andra Day, "But Not For Me", "Mack The Knife", and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"; and Leslie Odom, Jr., "Nice Work If You Can Get It", "Someone To Watch Over Me", and "Night And Day". At his introduction, Leslie Odom, Jr received audience acknowledgement for winning a Tony Award for singing as Aaron Burr in the Broadway presentation of "Hamilton." Impeccable accompaniment was provided by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Vince Mendoza, Conductor. Solos and features were by violinist Regina Carter on "Oh Lady Be Good" and "Judy" and others by Patrice Rushen (piano), Paul Jackson, Jr. (guitar), Lewis Nash ((drums), and Peter Washington (bass). Sound was expertly and marvelously controlled, an impressive feat, especially considering the huge outdoor area of seating.

Ella Fitzgerald was a very unique musical talent and personality and performer, which we cannot realistically expect to be duplicated, even by such talented and dedicated artists performing "her songs" at this spectacular tribute. They performed at their individual highest levels, as themselves, as was appropriate to do. Over the course of a 60 year career, Ella released more than 200 albums, won 13 Grammys, sold 40 million albums, and received countless awards, medals, and honors. Earlier, I commented that 1917 was a good year for the future of jazz. Besides Ella and Dizzy, other notable 1917 births include: Helen Forrest, vocalist; Lena Horn, actress and vocalist; Les Elgart, trumpeter and bandleader; Laurindo Almeida, guitarist; Buddy Rich, drummer; Thelonius Monk, pianist, bandleader, and composer; James Heard, drummer; Sylvia Syms, vocalist; David Lambert, vocalist; Curley Russell, bassist; Jimmy Maxwell, trumpeter; and John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States (included "just because!").

As soon as host CCH Pounder introduced the tribute set for John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie, it was as if she she lit the fuse to blow the doors off, allowing a series of Dizzy's incredible tunes and sounds to escape and enthrall this large audience. Jazz writer Scott Yanow previously wrote, "One of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, Gillespie was such a complex trumpet player that his contemporaries ended up with styles sounding similar to those of Miles Davis and Fats Navarro instead of his, and it was not until Jon Faddis's emergence in the 1970's that Dizzy's style was successfully recreated." Dizzy, a close friend and mentor, declared of Faddis, "He's the best ever, including me!" For our good fortune this night at the Hollywood Bowl, that Jon Faddis referred to was not only here as conductor of "A Dizzy 100th Celebration All-Star Big Band," but he was also featured on trumpet playing Dizzy's compositions as Dizzy played them! What a giant treat that was! He was the perfect choice to play the music of his idol, with understanding and outstanding trumpet technique with unbelievable complexity. Faddis, both leading and soloing with the wonderful band was inspiring. It was a memorable event to hear him on"Algo Bueno" and "A Night In Tunisia". Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson heated-up the stage with his driving-hot "Groovin' High". In 1988, McPherson was featured in the soundtrack to the film "Bird," as the saxaphone voice of Charlie Parker in a number of scenes; drummer Lewis Nash, performing on both segments of of this evening's concert, featured in "Manteca"; and the renown pianist Billy Childs soloed, I believe, in "Things To Come", but not certain of the tune. All of his compositions were played from Dizzy's own charts.

Dizzy was very unique and individual in both his music and his person. His beret, goatee, and glasses became like his trademarks, as did his trumpet with it's damaged bell bent upwards at about a 45-degree angle, instead of the normal pointing straight ahead. Originally, this accidental damage was caused by dancers falling onto it while it was on a trumpet stand, during a January 6, 1953 birthday party for Dizzy's wife, Lorraine, at Snookie's, a club in Manhattan. The bending altered tone of the trumpet that Dizzy decided he liked after he had it straightened, so he ordered his first one factory-bent from the Martin Company. In April 1995, Dizzy's factory-bent Martin trumpet was auctioned at Christie's in New York City. The battered trumpet was sold to a Manhattan builder for $63,000, with the proceeds going to aid jazz musicians suffering from cancer.

This tribute set honored Dizzy's many accomplishments: astounding trumpeter, creative composer of tunes that became standards, and he, playing together with Charlie Parker in innovative jazz combos, moved jazz in a new direction. And it all started in rural Chersaw, South Carolina, when as a 12 year old self-taught trumpet player, he heard Roy Eldridge play on the radio, and young John Birks Gillespie became inspired to become a jazz musician later known as Dizzy Gillespie.





Photo of JOHN PIZZARELLI

Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli is so talented he could sit on a stool with only his guitar and easily captivate an audience. I have enjoyed him performing with a trio, quartet, with a big band in a large auditorium and he’s always great. He comes from greatness; his father is the famed guitarsist Bucky Pizzarelli so it’s no surprise that John is very talented.

The crowd in Catalina’s was ready and what a wonderful night it was for everyone. Pizzarelli was backed by Kevin Kanner on drums, Mike Carne on bass and pianist Conrad Escuche. “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” was given a soft samba feel, with small flourishes from Pizzarelli. He’s been doing this--playing excellent material with excellent backing for years and yet each show is special. With his soft, enticing voice “Agua de Beber” was so rich and soulful, bustling on a joyful path The aidience was so enthusiastic all evening, very happy to be listening to these first class musicians. The rhythm section was terrific as Pizzarelli scatted for a bit.

The surprise for me was Pizzarelli’s wife, Jessica Molasky, whom I have heard, is a very talented singer but I never heard her play a guitar. Their daughter, Madeline, also sings and plays guitar. So we were treated to an evening of exquisite music. Pizzarelli talked about “the other great singer from New Jersey,” Frank Sinatra. He was also enchanted by Brazilian music and recorded Sinatra and Jobim.

Photo of JOHN PIZZARELLI

The group performed an exquisite version of “I Concentrate on You.” It was so peaceful and romantic, made richer by the two female voices. “One Note Samba” was just wonderful with Pizzarelli opening with a fast pace. To say the rhythm section was good, is not enough, they were also very spectacular! Pizzarelli jumps in with his fast scatting, sounding like another instrument. The audience was going wild, cheering and clapping. Another Jobim tune was sung by mom and daughter, an exquisite rendering. Jessica sang Joanie Mitchell’s “Help Me, I Think I’m Falling in Love With You” snd “Pave Paradise, Put Up a Parking Lot.” to hearty applause. The trio left the stage for a short break. Madeline’s lovely voice caressed “Just a Little Dream.” It clicked with the audience, who responded with hearty cheering and applause.

Jessica sang :“A Case of You” and her voice was gorgeous as she sings at a slower pace. The lyrics are wonderful and Jessica painted a lovely story. Pizzarelli’s voice is so musical when he scats that it does sound like another instrument. He recharges the energy in the room, the trio clearly heard. Drums, bass and piano were jumping with a fine display of down home jazz as the crowd hooted and hollered! Madiline began “Ginji” with a soft, whispery voice as the crowd applauded. Pizzarelli finished the night with a swinging “So Danco Samba.”

Before this night was over Pizzarelli went through his list of imitations of singers he does. He ended with a spot-on imitation of Billie Holliday! The house went nuts, cheering and clapping. What a great show, an exceptional night of music. Dad, Mom, Daughter--amazing!

Myrna Daniels


Photo of Ryan/Rickey

Superb vocalist Jackie Ryan gave a splendid performance at Sunset Jazz Newport in Marriott’s Rose Gardens, Wednesday, August 9, 2017. The weather was once again perfect. Ryan and Saxophonist Rickey Woodard’s quintet performed exceedingly well with Quinn Johnson (piano), Chris Colangelo (bass) and Dean Koba (drums) rounding out the quintet.

The Rose Gardens at Marriott Hotel in Newport Beach is an outstanding place for outdoor jazz concerts during summer evenings. The audience for this concert was filled to capacity.

Photo of Ryan/Rickey

After introductions from Joe Rothman, Jackie Ryan came to the stage and began a great opener, “Welcome to The Club,” a superb number made famous by Nat King Cole (1959). Woodard and the trio gave her fine backing. Continuing, they performed a lovely ballad, “How Little We Know,” from an earlier time and part of the Great American Songbook, (1944), film, “To Have and Have Not.” I noticed the rhythm section was very well balanced for their musical duties. The audience was happily satisfied early on. Woodard always fits perfectly right into all the tunes. Colangelo’s bass solo was excellent. Ryan’s voice is clear, distinct and definite. She and Quinn performed a duo number by the great Michel Legrand, “Summer Me, Winter Me,” a highlight of the evening and a superb ballad.

Ryan grew up in a musical family surrounding with both parents being performers musically. There was always music in their home, giving her the interest and love of music, including jazz, a little later on growing up.

Photo of Jackie Ryan and Shep Sheppard

Ryan took a few moments to introduce, surprise guest vocalist, Shep Sheppard and his lovely wife Joy. Shep still performs regularly in the Orange County area and is now celebrating his 100th birthday! She and the quartet dedicated a special tune for Shep’s birthday, “Young at Heart.” The audience gave all of them a big round of applause.

They performed some more terrific numbers before the intermission: “Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” with tasty 8-bar breaks between Colangelo and Koba. Also, “Why Don’t You Do Right,” (1936 number recorded by Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman) and “Lover Come Back to Me” and “Slow Hot Wind,” and closing the first set, “To the Ends of the Earth,” another standout tune of the evening.

Photo of Jackie Ryan

In set two the quartet played the fine standard, “My Shining Hour.” Woodard began wonderful choruses and the trio provided some of their best solos, including Quinn and Woodard sharing choruses and more rhythmic tradeoffs of 8-bar breaks between Colangleo and Koba. “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” written by Harry Woods (1934) and sung in the movie, Road House continued. Ryan sung this with all the fervor and passion needed for this beautiful number. Billie Holiday also recorded this one during her vibrant career. “The Gypsy in My Soul” was performed super well by all. It is a great vocalizing number. Pianist Johnson’s piano work was outstanding in this tune and other numbers, too.

Finishing this exceptional concert were “Estate,” “I Cried For You,” (Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love), “Siboney,” “You Go To My Head,” and closing with the fantastic “Caravan!” Drummer Dean Koba gave us a big show piece on his drumming solo work. During this last number (and in many others) Jackie Ryan dances to the music, adding much to her shows. As I stated in a previous review of Ryan, “she always dances to the music” and “her stage presence is excellent.”

The Sunset Newport Jazz audience happily gave a big standing ovation to Ryan, Woodard, Johnson, Colangelo and Koba for their superb performance.


There are a few more excellent concerts at Sunset Jazz Newport concluding, Wednesday, September 20, 2017.

See Jackie Ryan’s website:
www.jackieryanmusic.com and www.sunsetjazzatnewport.com

Glenn A. Mitchell