THE INCREDIBLE BROWN FAMILY featuring RAY BROWN and his GREAT BIG BAND RECORDING “I COULD WRITE A BOOK” July 1, 2024

I Could Write A Book – Ray Brown's Great Big Band (SPECIAL 2-CD SET) |  Summit Records                                                        

Sometimes mistaken for the iconic jazz bassist, Ray Brown, this big band leader is currently based in Santa Cruz, California and the two jazz cats are not related. Celebrating twenty-seven years of performing together, Ray Brown’s Great Big Band has reassembled to record one last time for Summit Records. With this CD, you will enjoy over 100 minutes of authentic big band jazz on a two-compact disc set of extraordinary music.

It all started when Ray Brown was in eighth grade.  His brother Steve played him a Maynard Ferguson recording of a tune called “Where’s Teddy.” Young Ray fell in love with the big band sound and orchestration. The tune he heard was composed by Maynard’s tenor sax man, Willie Maiden. Funny how things work out. Thirteen years later, Ray Brown found himself sitting next to the very same Willie Maiden on the Stan Kenton Bandstand. It was fifteen years after that unimaginable meeting with the man whose music had inspired him to become a jazz musician, a composer and an arranger, Ray Brown established his Great Big Band. If you are a big band lover, or if you just love well-arranged standard jazz songs played by some of the best California musicians around, this album is for you!

On Disc One you will enjoy familiar songs like “Spring is Here” and Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” as well as patriotic beauties like “America the Beautiful,” all spiced up with big band arrangements.

The album’s title tune is included along with popular songs like “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “How About You” and “How Long Has This Been Going on?”  Every arrangement is full of the spunk and fire that a big band brings to the stage.

Ray Brown is a former jazz trumpeter and arranger for both the Stan Kenton and Count Basie bands. He also plays vibraphone. His beautiful arrangements on this current album let each player step forward to show-off their multi-talents.  For example, on “How Long Has This Been Going On” Steve Brown’s amazing guitar talent is showcased in an outstanding way.

Ray Brown’s Great Big Band has played on the stages of the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Stanford Jazz Festival. They’ve shared their Great Big Band sound at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center (a Santa Cruz Jazz Performance space) and at the Lake Tahoe Music Festival.

Surprisingly, Ray began writing for big bands at age twelve.  He’s a 1968 graduate of Ithaca College and spent eighteen enlightened months on the road with the great Stan Kenton in the early seventies. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1975. Ray Brown was honored with a Fulbright Guest Professorship to Germany in 1990, where he worked with the Frankfurt Rundfunk Big Band and many other European groups. 

As it turns out, Ray’s entire family was bitten by the music bug. His brother, Steve Brown (who turned him on to jazz as a kid), plays guitar. He was the head of the Ithaca College Jazz Program and spent forty years teaching and mentoring jazz students. Steve is currently playing and recording with Atlantic Bridge, a jazz sextet whose members are from Spain and the United States. They perform worldwide. Steve has recorded with Chuck Mangione, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Smith, Paquito D’Rivera, Phil Woods and too many more to list here.

Another family musician was Glenn Edward Brown, Ray and Steve’s older brother. (1937 – 2007).  He was a music teacher in the Patchogue-Medford Long Island, NY school system and educated many generations of musicians. His dedication to music education spanned forty-plus years.  Ray Brown’s musical family also includes Roger V. Brown who was a trained classical bassist. Roger also performed with jazz groups and worked with Astrid Gilberto during her tour of Japan.

A nephew, Miles Brown (Steve’s son) has degrees in music from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York and from Mannes College of Music in NYC. He’s an accomplished classical and jazz bassist and holds the position of Jazz Program Coordinator at Oakland University in Michigan.

Karin Brown is Ray’s eldest daughter.  She played viola for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for several years.  Then there’s Sue Brown, a violin professor at Cabrillo Community College. She has also served as conductor of the Monterey Jazz Festival Chamber Orchestra.

Ray’s father, Glenn Earl Brown, Sr., played marimba and vibraphone in Xavier Cugat’s Latin Band back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  He went forward to teach music for the next thirty years and created a public-school program called “Swing in School Time” in the 1940s.  His program was a forerunner of jazz in the New York State educational system. Glenn Brown Sr. also ran a summer camp for jazz students in the New Hampshire area from 1960 – 64.  There, he taught high school students the principles of jazz composition, theory and arranging, the same way he had mentored his own children. The entire Brown family served as teachers at that location during those early 1960-years.

Ray Brown’s Great Big Band album was released on Summit Records this year and includes all the wonderful old songs we know and love. Also, the second disc offers some wonderful big band arrangements of Christmas tunes including, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Christmas time is Here, The Christmas Song, Jingle Bells and A Christmas Love Song.  Ray Brown’s Great Big Band double-disc set is a project for all seasons. It celebrates his marvelous legacy as a big band arranger.  Ray Brown is also a star on the family tree that celebrates a host of accomplished musicians. There is power in numbers. I’m impressed by Brown and his many family members, as they carry on the tradition of jazz in numerous and dedicated ways. 

Reviewed & researched by Dee Dee McNeil

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By Dee Dee McNeil
June 1, 2024

“I remember when I was talking to legendary singer Barbara Morrison one day.  I was ready to give up.  I’d been performing for so long, chasing dreams, and I felt like my career was passing me by. I remember Barbara shook her head negatively. She told me, never, never give up.  Just keep going. Never quit! I’m glad I took her advice,” Elena Gilliam told me.

After listening to Elena Gilliam’s new recording project, I knew I had to speak to Elena regarding her amazing, new production and how it came about. The jazz vocalist recorded with a full orchestra. After listening to her latest CD, I gave Elena a call. This is what she told me.

“Several years ago, I was at a musician’s house, Giulio ’Julio’ Figueroa, (he’s a drummer). At the time, I was doing some gigs with him locally.  I talked to him about recording.  He had a home studio and I told him, you know, I would love to experience singing with a symphony. Giulio said, you know you can make a ‘live’ recording from anywhere now, and it’s by Zoom. You’re right there while they’re conducting it.  I know someone who does that. He also works for Disney, doing some composing, and some arranging for Disney animated films.  His name is Bob Barrett.  You want to talk to Bob, he affirmed.”

There was still awe in Elena’s voice as she described how her recording project came together.

“So, he called him right then and there.  We spoke.  I told Bob I was a jazz artist. Giulio piped in and explained, we were just sitting there dreaming, thinking about what we could do. He told Bob, Elena wants to work with the symphony. 

“Well, Bob got all excited. He says it sounds wonderful.  I said yeah. All I have to do is put the money together.”

That was the day the project changed from being a dream to spreading fledgling wings and beckoning Elena Gilliam to climb aboard the pure imagination plane, coaching her to make a dream her reality.

It wasn’t an overnight trip. Actually, the process took several meetings and several years. Barrett suggested they use orchestra’s he had worked with in the past. One was in Budapest (a city located on the Danube River and the ninth-largest city in the European Union), or another orchestra in Prague, the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Ultimately, they settled on the Budapest Scoring Orchestra. Elena said it’s a lot more cost effective to use European orchestras, plus, their work is precise and amazing.

“So, fast-forward, almost three years ago, I hooked up with Bob again. We had been talking all along, keeping in touch by phone. We ran into each other at Campus Jax in Newport Beach, California.  It’s a great event center and restaurant.  Arturo Sandoval was playing that night. Bob Barrett was there because he had been working with Arturo as well.  Bob waved me over. Hey Elena, he called out to me. I was with my husband, George, on a date night. Bob had wanted to meet George to get his input on our project.  I said Bob, I think I’m almost ready.  At that time, I was waiting for the confirmation of a producer.  I had found somebody who would fund me for some of the recording costs. Bob and I set up a meeting to start talking about songs and arrangements. I was happy to introduce Bob to my husband. After all, George is a gifted guitarist and music educator.  He’s also the other executive producer,” Elena told me.

“It was so much fun talking to Bob Barrett about songs.  I like old songs and old movie soundtracks.  I love “Shall We Dance” from the ‘King and I’ film. I had imagined it in swing time, of course. Everyone was just excited about the whole concept. Bob wound up contracting the orchestra in Budapest.  As we were talking about songs, we thought, well let’s bring in Tony Guerrero. He’s got the jazz flare, and he can contract a jazz ensemble for us, to work with the orchestra. Tony also gave input on choosing my repertoire.

“I’m just super impressed with Bob Barrett. He’s such a nice man too. He is the brilliant arranger on our project.  We started picking songs. Next, we went into the studio with the rhythm section. I laid down a scratch vocal. That’s when creating charts for the orchestra began. Bob spoke to the Budapest Scoring orchestra, under the management of Balint Sapszon, and with their conductor, Zoltan Pad.  It was so amazing.  On Zoom, I watched it from my house as they worked together on the arrangements. Bob and Tony were together in another location. Bob, of course, was so in tune with every little note they were playing. When something was not right, he’d communicate with the conductor right there on the spot. The Budapest conductor was also amazing and congenial.  We had two orchestral recording sessions. We did half the songs in one sitting, the other half in another sitting,” Elena recalled one of the most exciting times of her musical life.

Hideaway Studio photo: Miles Jensen, Alex Bailey, George Gilliam, Rob Whitlock, Eric Astor (engineer) Tony Guerrero & Elena Gilliam.

Clearly that process worked out great.  Also, they added Arturo Sandoval’s amazing trumpet solo on “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” from Arturo’s home studio.

“Having Arturo agree to do that was amazing. We did it at his home studio.  I was like a kid in a candy store. I mean, I’m not around legends every day,” Elena whispered to me, like two girls sharing a special secret.

So, there she was, years after affirming her dream into the universe, standing in front of a high-quality microphone in a studio, continents away from the ‘Live’ orchestra. After the orchestra completed the scores, Elena sang her heart out, making her dream come true.

Once the project was complete, Elena landed a record deal with Meta Jax Record executive, Tim Ellis.  It’s the same label that released product on Arturo Sandoval and the Tony Guerrero Grammy nominated album, “Rhythm and Soul.”  

“I would say patience is truly a virtue, because this was a dream in the making.  When I think about the first time we spoke it aloud, that I wanted to sing with an orchestra, that was eight or nine years ago.  Today, I realize you can’t rush a good product.  You can’t rush sincerity and excellence.  Another part of the joy is meeting so many wonderful musicians and interacting. Sharing the dream! The whole ride is so encompassing.  That’s what I love about music.  It’s all encompassing, and it takes us right there with it, in the moment.  That’s why I’m so grateful for the arrangements by Bob and the input of Bob, of Tony, and my husband, George. They were all there for me,” Elena enthused.

“While singing with the Budapest Scoring Orchestra and working with iconic musicians, I felt like a star for the first time in my life.”

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Dee Dee’s Review of ELENA GILLIAM – “SHALL WE DANCE” album

Shall We Dance - Album by Elena Gilliam - Apple Music

Meta Jax Record Label

Elena Gilliam, vocals; Rob Whitlock, & Michael LeVan, piano; George Gilliam, guitar; Miles Jensen, Nylon string guitar; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Alex Bailey, drums; Ginger Murphy, cello; Sarpay Ozcagatay, flute; Tony Guerrero, fluegelhorn/trumpet/arranger; Arturo Sandoval, trumpet; BUDAPEST SCORING ORCHESTRA: Zoltan Pad, conductor.

Elena Gilliam has a honey-coated tone when she delivers a song. Shades of Sarah Vaughan when she sings “Send in the Clowns.”  This resemblance happens when she reaches into her rich, alto range. However, Gilliam’s style is quite distinct and absolutely all her own.  On this song, she is ably accompanied by Michael LeVan on piano. First her voice shines in contrast to a beautiful, bowed cello line played by Ginger Murphy. The richness of the Budapest Scoring Orchestra is such a lovely platform to royally cushion Elena’s sincere vocal delivery.  Her repertoire is perfect for an orchestra to embellish.  She opens with the Rodgers and Hammerstein composition, and the album title, “Shall We Dance.”  Here she shows she can swing with the best of them.  The orchestra opens with lush strings that set the mood, until the piano and bass poke through the introduction, to set the tempo and establish the groove.  It’s a slow swing, but perfectly geared for Elena Gilliam’s interpretation, with Rob Whitlock’s fingers dancing easily across the piano keys during his memorable solo.

The Brazilian song “Agua de Beber” cha cha’s across my listening room and is another wonderful Antonio Carlos Jobim tune from her repertoire. Sarpay Ozcagatay takes a bright, boisterous solo on flute.  One of my favorite songs is “What Are You Doing the Rest of your Life?”  Gilliam does the song justice, scooping the melody into her heart and blowing it out to us like kisses.  I enjoy Miles Jensen’s nylon string guitar on this arrangement, with Arturo Sandoval’s trumpet solo offering the listener’s ears a warm hug. I enjoy the blend of Elena’s voice with a trumpet.  They are two instruments in perfect harmony.  Tony Guerrero’s flugelhorn soaks up the spotlight on “Oblivion,” while Gilliam applies vocal drama to this beautiful melody and sells the song. The familiar “Come Rain or Come Shine” is sung tenderly and with great emotion.  George Gilliam takes a noteworthy guitar solo during this ballad arrangement. 

This is by far, the best album release of Elena Gilliam’s career.  It’s absolutely beautiful.

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By Dee Dee McNeil

May 1, 2024

SHELLY MANNE – “JAZZ FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST: SHELLY MANNE & HIS MEN” Reel to Real

Shelly Manne, drummer; Monte Budwig, bass; Russ Freeman & Hampton Hawes, piano; Herb Geller, alto saxophone; Stu Williamson & Conte Condoli, trumpet; Frank Strozier, flute/alto saxophone; Ruth Price, vocals.

It was October of 1958, at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, when five expert jazz musicians mounted the stage led by a popular West Coast drummer named Shelly Manne.  A four-and-a-half inch by four-and-a-half-inch booklet accompanies this compact disc, with a photo of Shelly’s merry men (taken by the great photographer, Ray Avery).  It’s packed with pertinent, historic information offering this extensive 16-page book with essays by archival producer Zev Feldman and label owner, producer and musician, Cory Weeds. It also includes interviews with musicians, radio host Jim Wilke, and others.

Photo © by Ray Avery

Although the personnel changed from time to time, the ‘swing’ didn’t move an inch.  Manne made sure of that. He surrounded himself with the best of the best from the Southern California jazz scene. His drumsticks did the rest.  On this recording, containing two discs, they open Disc One with “Stop, Look and Listen” letting Russ Freeman’s piano tinkle the melody just before the horn section enters. They swing harder than a Joe Louis punch. Drum master, Manne, locks in a moderate, but energetic tempo.  The burst of applause at the end of this tune reflects great audience appreciation for the quintet.

But it’s their rendition of “The Vamp’s Blues,” featuring a soulful solo by alto saxophonist Herb Geller, that really intoxicates me. I love their hard bop, blues groove. By the hoots and whistles from the festival crowd, I would say you can’t lose if you play the blues.

Manne was born in New York City, but only rose to prominence in the 1950s when he relocated to the Los Angeles area.  He is reverently called the founding father of the “West Coast Jazz” scene and highly regarded as a versatile and inspired drummer. When Manne teamed up with Andre Previn and awesome bassist Leroy Vinegar to record the first jazz album of a Broadway score, “My Fair Lady” it became one of the most successful jazz records ever produced.

For the closing tune of this set, they play “Quartet Suite in Four Movements” and take the listener on a scenic musical ride that features an impressive bass solo by Monty Budwig and with Conte Candoli stepping into the spotlight on his trumpet.  Manne and Condoli were both part of the alumnus of the Kenton and Woody Herman bands.  The tempos fluidly change, to keep the audience attentive and expectant. Manne rolls his drums beneath the creative arrangements and pumps the band up with his swinging drumsticks. When the drummer takes a solo, he woos the crowd with his mastery of the trap drums and his technique.  Occasionally jet planes flew over the outdoor concert venue.  You can hear the mighty purr of the plane motors drifting from above.  No problem!  When it happens during Shelly Manne’s impressive drum solo, he simply pauses, let’s the plane zoom past and then continues without missing a beat.  It’s all caught on tape.

On Disc #2, the personnel changes. Hampton Hawes takes a seat at the piano and Ruth Price adds her vocals to the mix. This disc was recorded ‘live’ at the Penthouse in Seattle, Washington in September of 1966. 

Shelly Manne and His Men open the set at racecar speed, zooming off with Manne propelling the sextet ahead on “Softly as In a Morning Sunrise” using fiery drums to heat the piece up.  Frank Strozier plays alto saxophone on this tune.  Hampton Hawes puts down a groove on the piano and solos furiously. 

One of my favorite television shows, when I was a kid growing up, was Peter Gunn. It was the first TV series to feature jazz as background music.  Shelly Manne & his Men played at the Bamboo Bar in the series and Manne’s group is featured on the television series.

Bill Holman, who often worked with Manne, recalls Shelly’s warm demeanor.

“Shelly Manne had the complete personality.  He just charmed everyone, and he had the ability and the intelligence to back it up.  He was tough to work for, because in his solos, he heard patterns that were very difficult for horn players to pick up.  But he sure knew what he was doing, and he was a wonderful guy.  I’m sure glad that I had the chance to play with him and to know him for several years,” Bill Holman writes inside the Manne booklet.

On “Dearly Beloved” jazz vocalist Ruth Price is featured.  She recalls unexpectedly meeting Shelly Manne on a trip to the West Coast from NYC.

“I first met Shelly Manne within the first two weeks I was in Los Angeles.  I was brought out here to record for Mode Records for Red Clyde, but the money was all from Fred Astaire and he pulled out.  None of the people that Red had brought out were able to record. We actually did end up recording, but it wasn’t released until much later.  I was brought out because Red heard me singing with Dizzy Gillespie in New York City.

“So, I was in town with Bobby Dorough, a friend of mine who was also brought out to record for Mode (and also didn’t have anything to do). … He took me to hear Shelly one night in a club that’s gone now.  Shelly asked me to sit in and I did.  He hired me. Every night after work, we would drive around looking for places.  He was looking for somewhere to put his own place.  It was always the little coffeehouses that were around, and one of them turned out to be what he used as the Manne-Hole.  That’s how the Manne-Hole started, and how I started with Shelly,” Ruth explained how Shelly found his famous nightclub.

Drummer, Jim Keltner talked about meeting Shelly Manne and how he admired the man.

“It is a funny thing, when I would meet some of the musicians that I really admired, they would be a bit aloof.  If you’re just a kid, you think, oh I’m kind of wasting their time.  With Shelly, it was the opposite of that.  He talked to you like he wanted to know about you.  … what you were doing and all that.  That was the key with Shelly Manne.  Later on, as the years went by, I got into the studios and was doing stuff.  It was the same thing, whenever I would see him, he would ask me what I was doing.  I remember a couple of times he complimented me, and it blew me away.

“Another time, I was playing one night with Gabor Szabo and on the break, Shelly came up to me and he said, Jimmy, what are you doing there with your right hand?  I thought I was going to pass out!  Shelly Manne was paying attention to my playing?  So much so, that he asked me about something specific.  I mean, the tables were turned.  It just blew me away.  I was so knocked out.  I was able to tell him, it’s double-stroke triplets from the snare to the ‘ride.’  It’s illusory.  And he loved that.  I just can’t say enough about his humanity.  He was not only one of the great jazz players, but he was just a great cat,” Keltner complimented one of his idols.

On Disc #2, I love the energy and speed that they attack “Secret Love” with, while Monty Budwig’s walking bass actually sounds like it’s running.

There are a slew of recordings by Shelly Manne & his Men, but this newest release is particularly refreshing and solidifies a piece of history in the jazz archives, that certainly shines a spotlight on Manne’s important contributions as both a drummer, a bandleader and a club owner. Shelly Manne kept the legacy of jazz as the heartbeat of his life.

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A LIVE REVIEW:  LORI BELL @ SAM FIRST – APRIL 25, 2024

By Dee Dee McNeil

 

Lori Bell Quartet | samfirst

Lori Bell is soft spoken and sincere when she walks to the mic and introduces her band.  Sam First is an intimate cocktail bar and jazz club just across the street from the giant LAX sign at the Los Angeles airport.  The band is set up on the floor, right in front of a bamboo bar without bar stools.  The crowd is poised and quiet, awaiting the first strains of music from the tiny bandstand.  The club holds no more than 70 folks, with side booths and a glass-top bicycle table in the center of the room with short bar stools.   Lori puts her flute to her lips to send a stream of notes into the silent room.  She solos, establishing the groove and setting the mood.  Her show has begun.

I’ve reviewed her new album below.  This was a release party.  Her current album is a tribute to the legendary Joe Henderson.  The first tune is “Isotope.”  After her brief solo introduction, Dan Schnelle joins Lori on his trap drums and they duo dance.  Then Luca Alemanno, on double bass, enters with Josh Nelson’s piano joining him.  Lori’s quartet sets the quiet, intimate room on fire.

Lori praises her band members afterward, introducing them proudly.  She talks briefly about Joe Henderson and her newly released album that tributes him.  Then she tells the audience how she discovered he had hired female bandmembers to work in his band before it was popular.  Back in the day reflects a time when very few jazz musicians included female musicians on their concert stages.  That fact also endeared Joe Henderson to Lori.

So, I got to thinking about that.  I remember Henderson worked with Joanne Brackeen for a while.  I found this video of them in 1986.

He also worked with Renee Rosnes for a while with Sylvia Cuenca on drums.   It was Sylvia that Lori Bell mentioned tonight, and how impressed she was that Henderson had employed a female in his band. I rushed home and looked Ms. Cuenca up on the internet.  Here’s a solo by her.  She was a bad girl!

At one time, the Joe Henderson Quartet included  Kim Clarke on bass, Sylvia Cuenca on drums, and Renee Rosnes at the piano. The video below is Joe’s trio during a concert in 1987 at Burghausen in Germany.

Getting back to Lori Bell “Live” at Sam First, they offered us a tune from Henderson’s “In and Out album of 1964.  Afterwards, she praised Henderson for his composition “Inner Urge” as one of the coolest songs in his repertoire.  Her show moves quickly, with outstanding solos by Lori, Josh Nelson (on piano), Luca on bass and Dan on drums. Lori has a style that’s smooth as velvet on flute. 

Josh Nelson’s solo skips along, very artsy, and creative with lots of staccato and flashy pieces of phrases thrown at the audience like colorful confetti.  His musicality includes solos that play like thoughts that keep you awake at night; those last-minute thoughts that tickle your brain just when you’re drifting off.  They fly through your mind quickly, in broken pieces, resembling a musical kaleidoscope.  Lori’s solo’s move from poignant sweetness to energy notes that fly faster than the speed of light.  She plays with such ease, but much intensity.  Clearly, Lori Bell is a total professional, comfortable in her positions of instrumentalist, arranger, and bandleader.

Noticing me in the audience, I was humbled when Lori played a song dedicated to me.  In my review (below) I praised this song as being one of my favorites.  In person, it was even more exciting than on the record.  The quartet swings hard on “Out of the Night” and closes their set with the very familiar Joe Henderson composition, “Recorda me.”

I must compliment the very polite and extremely quiet waitresses that worked the room without interrupting the concert.  Also, I loved that “Little Green Beast” mock cocktail that was so refreshing and delightful. Kudos to the bartender!

Thank you, Lori Bell, for an evening of wonderful jazz that my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed.

Photo by Maricea Muhammad

 

LORI BELL QUARTET – “RECORDA ME: REMEMBERING JOE HENDERSON” Independent Label

Lori Bell, C flute/alto flute/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; David Robaire, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums.

Lori Bell has consistently produced amazing music over her decades-long career.  She is an accomplished composer, arranger, educator, and musician who has made her mark in jazz playing the flute.  This tribute recording grew out of her admiration for the iconic tenor saxophonist, Joe Henderson (April 24, 1937, to June 30, 2001). 

Bell has picked eight Henderson compositions to expand upon.  Dan Schnelle is featured on “Inner Urge” boldly showing his drum skills that sparkle as brilliant as the spotlight.  Bell takes a different path on this tune, modernizing the pretty piece with Schnelle’s drums infusing a surprising nod to the Hip Hop genre.

In the 1950s, Joe Henderson was very active in this journalist’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan.  While attending Wayne State University, he studied flute and bass.  It was later that he developed his skills on saxophone under the tutelage of Larry Teal.  Some of his college comrades were Donald Byrd, Barry Harris and Yusef Lateef.  I bet, since Joe Henderson was also a lover of flute, he would have enjoyed this Lori Bell homage to his music and legacy.

Bell opens her album with “Isotope,” a tune Henderson recorded in 1964 on his album, “Inner Urge.”  His drummer was Elvin Jones, with McCoy Tyner on piano and Bob Cranshaw manning the bass.  Bell has contracted Josh Nelson on piano, David Robaire on bass, and Dan Schnelle on drums. She introduces this tune with her a ‘Capella flute skipping across space.  Enter Schnelle on drums and after a short and happy introduction, Nelson and Robaire join the duo.  Nelson has a piano conversation with Bell’s flighty flute. They sound like two souls speaking joyfully to each other.  The Henderson ‘breaks’ in his original arrangement are evident during Bell’s performance. However, Lori is a fluid improviser who creates her own mood and mastery during this creative production.  

“On this recording I have tried to pay homage to his (Henderson’s) musical acumen and articulate imagination.  Each arrangement is tailored for the timbre and range of the flute, an unusual instrument to represent Joe Henderson as, unlike the majority of sax players, he rarely played it in public and was not known as a doubler.  Joe was an exceptional jazz saxophonist and to my heart and mind, a persuasive composer besides.  I’ve always admired his artistry and the way he crafted his songs.  His unique chord progressions, and use of the major7th #11 on several tunes, are compelling to me,” says Bell in her press package.

Bell takes a more Avant-garde approach to Henderson’s compositions, with her flute leading the band like a determined sea gull.  She dives and dips across space, with Nelson often following her lead and repeating Bell’s creative melodic phrases on piano. While playing the composition, “A Shade of Jade” both instruments sound like birds playfully cruising across sky.  This tune was originally released by Joe Henderson on Blue Note Records with an all-star group including Curtis Fuller, Bobby Hutcherson, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers. 

Bell’s ensemble sounds more modern jazz and less Straight-ahead, until they play “Out of the Night.”  That’s when they capture the straight-ahead jazz-groove I enjoy so much. To my ears, that one captures the heart of Joe Henderson.  Soaked in minor blues, they attack the mood and the moment, led by a tenacious, solid bassline played by Robaire.  When Lori enters on flute, she is bebop magnificent, creative, and awe-inspiring.   Lori is followed fearlessly by Nelson’s impressive piano solo.  At this point, I am completely hypnotized by the Lori Bell Quartet and impressed by their own sense of artistry. 

On “Black Narcissus,” Nelson sets the mood beautifully, stroking the piano keys with sensuous arpeggios.  This song was originally on Joe Henderson’s “Power to the People” album that featured Jack de Johnette, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Mike Lawrence.  Lori Bell brings her alto flute to the party, and it’s warm and comforting as she caresses the Henderson melody. 

Bell has penned one original composition for this album tribute titled “Outer Urge” that explores various tempos, moving fluidly from 4/4 to 7/4 and then skipping to 5/4. The final tune and the title tune remind this listener of Joe Henerson’s powerful and popular recording that almost every jazz band has played at one time or another.  “Recorda Me” is re-harmonized by Bell, using Henderson’s original bass line and repurposing the tune to feature Lori’s own sense of improvisation and creativity.

This is an adventurous project that both stimulates and inspires.  While Bell tributes a great master of the past, she also spotlights herself, a young mistress of the future.

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THE GARY URWIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA & FRIENDS – “FLYING COLORS” Summit Records

Gary Urwin, leader/arranger; RHYTHM: Christian Jacob, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, Ralph Razze, Ken Gomez & Chris Rios, drums/percussion; SAXOPHONES: Rusty Higgins, Jeff Driskill, Pete Christlieb, Bob Sheppard, John Mitchell, Brandon Fields, Brian Scanlon & Greg Hawkins. TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Wayne Bergeron, Carl Saunders, Kye Palmer, Jeff Bunnell, John Thomas & Aaron Janik. TROMBONES: Alan Kaplan, Andy Martin, Scott Whitfield, Craig Gosnell & Charlie Loper.  GUEST ARTISTS: Cathy Biagini, cello; Bobby Burns Jr., piccolo/trumpet; Robin Smith, auxiliary woodwinds; Phil Feather, English Horn. FEATURED SOLOISTS: Carl Saunders & Wayne Bergeron, trumpet; Pete Christlieb, tenor saxophone; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Rusty Higgins, saxophones/flute; Christian Jacob, piano.

This orchestra includes some of LA’s finest musicians. It’s one of the last sessions recorded by the late, great Carl Saunders.  He is brightly featured on trumpet during their opening tune by Hank Mobley titled, “This I Dig of You.”  Their arrangement swings hard, with harmonics infused by the energetic horns. They sound lush and beautiful.  Christian Jacob takes a piano solo that skips along the keys joyfully.  Pete Christlieb is spotlighted on his tenor saxophone during this strong bebop arrangement.  The drums play an important part during this premiere arrangement.  Unfortunately, the drummer is one of four listed. They didn’t tell me which one played on this tune, but he certainly kicked this song into high gear!

The orchestra calms the groove when they play “Day in the Life of a Fool” arranged as a beautiful Latin ballad. On “Spur of the moment” (a tune by their leader, arranger Gary Urwin) they are back to the ‘swing era’ when Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman were the kings of the big band scene.  Wayne Bergeron’s trumpet solo is magnificent with a high-pitched whistle sound at the end.  You will enjoy other familiar tunes like “Polka Dots & Moonbeams” with Carl Saunders’ trumpet solo reminding me of what an amazing player he was.  They add Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” to the mix, flying Straight-ahead, pushed by that catchy bass line we all love played by Trey Henry.  This album is stuffed with Southern California top talent. Every song radiates the crème de la crème of the Southern California jazz community. Urwin has rejuvenated these familiar tunes, with a fresh coat of California jazz excellence.  Enjoy tunes like “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Let’s Fall I Love” or “Almost Like Being in Love” and “My Buddy” with the imaginative arrangements by Gary Urwin bringing each song refreshed and pleasant to our ears.

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CHARLES McPHERSON – “REVERENCE” Smoke Sessions Records

Charles McPherson, alto saxophone/composer/arranger; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Jeb Patton, piano; David Wong, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.

Charles McPherson was born July 24, 1939, in Joplin, Mo.  However, he has deep roots in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan, where he was raised.  Young Charles moved to Detroit in 1948.  He was nine years old. Attending Detroit’s Northwestern High School, he was part of an after-school band that included Lonnie Hillyer (trumpeter), the now historic drummer Roy Brooks, and Motown’s awesome bass player who was a jazz bassist first, James Jamerson.  It was at a local, black-owned jazz club in the Motor City called the Blue Bird Inn (located on Tireman street) where young Charles met Barry Harris.  The renowned pianist would become McPherson’s mentor, friend, and father-figure.  I think McPherson’s destiny was pretty much evident at the age of fifteen when he became acquainted with Barry. 

Seventy plus years ago, Charles Mingus invited the fledgling saxophone player, a very young and inspired Charles McPherson, to join his avant-garde jazz band. What better way to be catapulted into the jazz music he loved? 

On this current album release, you will appreciate the fundamental values and lessons McPherson has learned from his mentors and from life itself.  You will love his ‘swing’ and deep appreciation for melodies, rhythmic adventure, and harmonic creativity.  I can always count on McPherson’s music to be soaked in the blues.  For example, on his arrangement of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” his horn puts so much soulful blues into the presentation, I am tempted to cry.  That’s the emotion you hear, feel, and find when the elders play this music.  It’s their honesty and vulnerability that touches the listener’s heart.  Recently, Samara Joy brought her lovely vocals to McPherson’s stage at the Smoke Jazz & Super Club in New York City.

McPherson’s album opens with “Surge,” a song dedicated to Barry Harris, who passed away in 2021 at the well-lived age of ninety-one. McPherson says of his mentor:

“Barry established a real foundation for me on a technical level, harmony, theory, rhythm … but stressed the importance of being melodic with harmony.  He also stressed the art, as well as craft.  Inspiration and intellect holding hands.  Head and Heart!”  McPherson summarizes his lessons learned from the great pianist.

“Surge” swings like a grandfather clock’s steady pendulum, driven by the awesome drums of Billy Drummond.  Jeb Patton steps forward with a bluesy piano solo. He locks into David Wong’s walking bass.  The harmony created by Terell Stafford’s trumpet and McPherson’s alto sax sing the melody. All the pieces are there and fall into place, as we hear this musical puzzle come together. 

A waltz follows, another McPherson original. This tune is dedicated to his trumpet friend from high school, Lonnie Hillyer. “Blues for Lonnie in Three” waltzes across my listening room in a freely improvised way.

McPherson may be in his eighth decade on this earth, but he has lost no creativity, determination, or command of his instrument.  His full potential is on display during this production.  I am caught up in the synergy between these explosive musicians.  Every song brings joy, appreciation, and jazzy excitement.

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BRIAN BROMBERG with TOM ZINK & CHARLES RUGGIERO – “LAFARO” Be Squared Productions

Brian Bromberg, bass; Tom Zink, piano; Charles Ruggiero, drummer.

This album is a tribute, by three great musicians, to the legendary bassist, Scott LaFaro.  Perhaps Brian Bromberg explained it best when he wrote these words in his liner notes:

“ … The concept of this album came from the passionate vision of my dear friend Susumu Morikawa from King Records in Japan.  Susumu came to me with the idea of me recording a Scott LaFaro tribute album.  At first, I wasn’t sure about doing it as Scott LaFaro was one of the most remarkable bassists in jazz music.  His brilliance and inventiveness on the bass were years ahead of his time.  He did things on the bass in the 1950s and early 1960s that had never been heard before.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to or was ready to do this recording, as the jazz bass world would be seriously judging and questioning why I was doing this project.  But, going back and listening to Scott with the Bill Evans Trio, I realized how much Scott LaFaro influenced me and my playing.  I wasn’t aware of how much he influenced me until I listened to him again after all these years.  It was only then that I agreed to do this project.”

The LaFaro tribute by Tucson-born Bromberg brings alive the innovative excellence and amazing technical skills that LaFaro exhibited. This album also calls attention to the amazing talents of Brian Bromberg on bass.  It highlights the super talents of gifted pianist, Tom Zinc, and the awesome drum skills of Charles Ruggiero.  From the very first strains of their opening Miles Davis tune, “Solar” this listener quickly realizes that I am in the presence of greatness. 

The thing that intrigued many critics and musicians about LaFaro was his counter-melodic style of accompaniment.  Instead of just walking his bass lines, LaFaro often created his own melodic and rhythmic lines in contrast to the piano.  Back in the late fifties and early sixties, this was a new concept.  Unfortunately, LaFaro died tragically in an auto accident on July 5, 1961.  He was only twenty-five years young, but he left behind a legacy of innovative music.

Bromberg follows the first tune with the Evans composition, “Waltz for Debby.”  He takes the lead, singing the melody on his upright bass. 

You will enjoy three Miles Davis classics on this album, “Solar,” “Milestones,” and “Nardis.”   Also included is the tune Evans co-wrote with Davis, “Blue in Green.”  During this trio album you will appreciate how Bromberg is not only a creative improvisor and technical wizard, he’s also the heartbeat of this group.  His rhythmic accompaniment is stellar.  They play “Alice in Wonderland” in waltz time.

Bromberg is a Southern California-based, in-demand, session musician who has brought his power and beauty on the bass to the music of Stan Getz, Dave Grusin, Billy Cobham, Michael Bublé, Diana Krall and more.  I recall when he made his solo debut in 1986 on the smooth jazz charts. 

Bromberg can play it all.  In 1991 he released his acoustic project called “It’s About Time” with two special guests: trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist, Ernie Watts.

He surprised me with his tribute to Jimi Hendrix that spotlighted his remarkable versatility, along with several eclectic albums that followed, including his “Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic Band!” He plays the electric bass guitar with the same fluidity that he plays the double bass.

But I think my favorite of all his wonderful CD releases is this tribute to LaFaro.  

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THE MICHAEL O’NEILL SEXTET with TONY LINDSAY – “SYNERGY Jazzmo Records

Michael O’Neill, tenor & soprano saxophones/bass clarinet; Tony Lindsay, vocals; John R. Burr, piano; Dan Feiszli, bass; Jason Lewis, drums; Omar Ledezma & Brian Rice, percussion; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/ flugelhorn.

Tony Lindsay has one of those rich, full, warm voices that intoxicates as soon as you hear him sing.  He is an 11-time Grammy winning vocalist, legendary for his long tenure with the popular Santana group.  As Michael O’Neill and Erik Jekabson lay down a strong, harmonic horn groove, Tony Lindsay’s voice floats above them, warm as sunshine.  He draws us into this Latin-tinged arrangement of the popular Bill Withers tune, “A Lovely Day.”  John R Burr takes a spirited solo on piano, followed by Erik Jekabson’s power-packed trumpet improvisation.  Michael O’Neill dances into the spotlight on soprano saxophone and the band gives the drummers some space to shine.  Percussionist Brian Rice shows off his percussive skills, locking in with the drums of Jason Lewis.  This is a great, energetic way to start Michael O’Neill’s Sextet album, featuring Tony Lindsay.  

Next, they cover a song by the legendary Stevie Wonder called “Pastime Paradise.”  The theme of this album is “Synergy,” relating to a group of musicians who are joined together with a common purpose. On Stevie’s song, they add spicy Latin beats to these arrangements.  This ensemble will make you want to dance.  My toes cannot stop tapping.

“This is truly a collaborative effort, hence the title ‘Synergy,’ interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts,” Michael O’Neill explains the title of his album, along with appreciation of his musical cohorts.  

Generally, Michael O’Neill arranges all his music.  This time, he has shared the arranger role with his bandmates, featuring their unique arrangements along with his own.  It was John R. Burr who arranged the Bill Withers’ opener into a happy samba.  Bassist Dan Feiszli is the engineer on this project, and he co-produced it.  On the Stevie tune he reaches back into the 1950s and adds a Cuban cha-cha-cha groove to their arrangement.  This is a Stevie’s composition from the award-winning album, “Songs in the Key of Life.”

This project includes not only pop songs, but a handful of standards including “There Will Never be Another You” that the sextet celebrates with an Afro-Cuban mambo arrangement. Erik Jekabson has arranged this tune and steps into the spotlight to blast his joy through the bell of his horn.  Michael O’Neill offers a smooth saxophone solo before Ledezma is featured on percussion.  Their album infuses my spirit with joy.

Drummer Jason Lewis has arranged “But Not For Me,” painting the tune with bright, boisterous, neon colors.  Michael O’Neill lets his tenor saxophone dance all over the enthusiastic rhythms.  Once again, I am encouraged to get up and move.  Another favorite song of mine was arranged by Lewis. It’s the hit pop tune, “I Can’t Help It” composed by Stevie Wonder and the amazing vocalist Susaye Greene.  This time they employ an African-Caribbean groove with Tony Lindsay’s vocals expressive and sincere.  Once again, the arrangement both surprises and pleases.  I recall how Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones arranged this catchy song.  O’Neill’s sextet makes it sound brand new.  They have chosen several of Wonder’s iconic compositions to ‘cover’ on this production, including “Another Star” and “Bird of Beauty.”   On “Another Star” O’Neill picks up his bass clarinet to introduce us to the familiar tune and he sounds beautiful.  “Bird of Beauty” features an inspired solo by pianist John R. Burr.

On the song “I Will Be Here for You” I hear inflections in Lindsay’s voice that remind me of the late, great Al Jarreau. 

The sextet finally simmers down to a slow boil on “If I Should Lose You.”   Tony Lindsay’s voice is butter! 

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CHET BAKER & JACK SHELDON – “IN PERFECT HARMONY: THE LOST ALBUM” – Jazz Detective

Chet Baker, trumpet/vocals; Jack Sheldon, trumpet/vocals; Jack Marshall, guitar; Dave Frishberg, piano; Joe Mondragon, bass; Nick Ceroli, drums.

Jack Sheldon was a boisterous character on the Southern California jazz scene for many years. The pairing of these two master musicians is surprising.  They open with the familiar standard from the American Songbook, “This Can’t Be Love.”  First, Jack Sheldon sings the tune down in his own inimitable way, followed by Chet Baker’s smooth, soothing voice doing the same. This is followed by “Just Friends” with Baker singing atop the swing, and Joe Mandragon’s walking bass pushing the music ahead.  Sheldon has contributed one original tune to this project called “Too Blue” where he both sings and plays, challenging the smooth tones of Baker with his more aggressive style.  

This is an album steeped in history. I wonder, how did it happen?

Surprisingly, the abrasive Jack Sheldon and the cool, laid-back Baker make quite an unforgettable duo. “But Not For Me” begins as an instrumental that features Dave Frishberg on piano.  Then Chet Baker’s satin coated vocals slide into view.  

This music was recorded in 1972, in the Orange County city of Tustin, California. It all started years earlier with Jack Marshall, who was a jazz guitarist, composer, arranger, and producer. In 1967, Marshall organized guitar night at Donte’s in North Hollywood.  Every Monday, a great jazz guitarist would sit in with the best players in the city. They often played for ‘scale’  The jazz musicians just loved to get together and play.  It wasn’t always just about the money. This was a period when Baker and Sheldon became very close friends.  They both shared a mentor, Uan Rasey, who was widely considered one of the finest musicians in the music business.  Both Baker & Sheldon idolized him.

In 1966, Chet got into a brawl outside his hotel in Sausalito.  He wound up with a busted, bloody mouth and broken teeth. This was terrible for a trumpet player. Chet’s embouchure was ruined, and he had to get dentures.  During this rehabilitation time, his mentor (Uan) suggested he try a larger, different sized mouthpiece to make playing easier.  It worked, but Baker was still feeling insecure. He was unhappy with his new teeth and his new sound. Understandably, Chet was quite reluctant to record again. One day in 1972, Jack Sheldon had an idea.

“Just think Chetie, (a pet name he had for Chet Baker) if we do an album together, you’ll only have to play on half of it!”  Jack Sheldon lured him into the studio with that line.

Guitarist Jack Marshall took the two of them into a Tustin studio near their homes on Lido Island.  Once the recording was complete, Marshall was certain he could get a record deal. Unfortunately, on September of 1973, Jack Marshall died of a sudden heart attack and the tapes got packed away in his garage on Lido Island. Now, fifty years later, here is the lost gem of an album that the jazz detective (Zev Feldman) has uncovered.

Jack Sheldon and Chet Baker were buddies and often jam-session partners.  As different as they were, the two men still had much in common. They were both expert trumpeters. Both men could sing. They were both born in the same era, a few years apart, and each had relocated to California from other parts of the country.  Jack Sheldon, born Beryl Cyril Sheldon Jr., came from Jacksonville, Florida.  Chet Baker, born Chesney Henry Baker, came from Yale Oklahoma. They both changed their names for showbusiness.  Sheldon’s style of singing is brash, the same way he plays his trumpet.  In contrast, Baker became a poster-boy for California’s West Coast Jazz scene, smooth and low-key.  Sheldon was ever the lively hipster, always joking around, loud, and rowdy.  On the outside, Chet Baker seemed quiet and somewhat shy, until he picked up his horn.  Baker had a voice that could calm an angry storm.  One thing the two trumpeters had in common was they both liked to live on the edge.

“Chetie has an old ’32 Ford and a Cadillac.  He drove real fast,” Sheldon shared with a wide, obnoxious grin on his face. 

In the booklet accompanying this album, Sheldon relived how the two men would get in Chet’s car and race up and down the Southern California freeways, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, driving way too fast and looking for any nightclub that would let them play their jazzy horns.  They weren’t trying to get a gig.  They just wanted to play, even if it meant marching up on stage and playing all night for free.

This is an unplanned, unpredictable recording session that showcases two exceptional trumpet talents and songsters, meeting impromptu for an unscheduled studio session.  The result is history.

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ADAM HERSH – “TORNADO WATCH” Independent Label

Adam Hersh, piano/Rhodes/Moog Matriarch/composer; Myles Martin, drums; Jermaine Paul, bass; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Devin Daniels, alto saxophone; Evan Abounassar, trumpet.

This is the sophomore album by pianist, Adam Hersh, who has composed all but one of the songs on this compact disc. Hersh grew up in Castaic, California and, under the tutelage of his mother, a piano teacher, he began music study at age four.  Adam attended California State University Northridge and earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies.  While attending college, he began composing.

“Playing your own music gives you much greater freedom.  You aren’t working with someone else’s concepts.  There is no template to draw from.  Unless your composition is very derivative, it allows you to express yourself with your own, unique voice,” Hersh explains in his press package.

Employing synthesizers allows Hersh to try various sound techniques.  His music is fused with overtones to create his contemporary fusion project.  The group opens with “Woe V Shade” that he composed on the day that the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision about women’s reproductive freedom.  His opening melody repeats (over and over) through eight bars, then stretches out in new directions. Drummer Myles Martin is brightly showcased throughout.  Hersh says he admires guitarist, Allan Holdsworth, and has used the guitar player’s harmonics and pulled from some of his chord changes to create this tune.  Adam cites his other influence as being the great Wayne Shorter.  

“Parallel Motion” was composed using parallel fifths as the progressions.  In classical music, this technique is discouraged.  A phaser effect used on the Devin Daniels’ saxophone gives the tune an eerie edge. This takes Hersh’s composing and arranging skills to an experimental music place.  His ensemble offers us nine minutes exploring this song.

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/90T3OnHYC7I?feature=share

He and his ensemble tackle a Herbie Hancock song titled “Toys.”  That’s the only ‘cover’ song on this album. He has reharmonized Hancock’s composition and added a 12/8 groove.  I enjoy Devin Daniels’ tone on his alto saxophone solo.  The reharmonized piano accompaniment is challenging to my ear.  There’s so much dissonance. 

This was recorded live at the Los Angeles jazz club, Sam First.  When I listen to funk fusion masters like George Duke and Herbie Hancock, there is art blended with style and technique. I think Fusion should be able to make you tap your toes and maybe even hum along.  Hersh’s music doesn’t always do that.

I thought his ballad called “In the Midst” was a pretty song.  At last, a melody I could hum along with and enjoy.  However, I didn’t feel like his solo was inventive or exploratory.

Part of entertaining is touching the heart of an audience.  On many of these tunes, Adam Hersh may not be trying to please his audience as much as he wants to please himself.  I didn’t hear that magic spark, often referred to as the “It Factor,” until he played the contemporary, smooth jazz sounding tune called “Everlasting.”   Daniels put his hard bop horn into the mix during this alto sax solo.  Andrew Renfroe stepped forward and the listener will enjoy his ‘swinging’ solo, followed by Martin trading fours on drums. A tune called “Concessions” lets Hersh doodle at the piano, until he sets up a sweet Brazilian beat.  Finally, we hear from Jermaine Paul on bass, who steps forward with a very notable improvisational solo.   The original songs played at the end of Adam Hersh’s album show off a spark of composer creativity.  Also, his solo expression on “Do What You Will” sounds more relaxed and authentic. This is a hodge podge of genre-mixing, going from experimental and fusion to hard bob, straight-ahead, and beyond. It sounds as though Adam Hersh is still searching for his niche and experimenting with music. That’s what jazz is all about, the perfect vehicle to discover and expand one’s talent and imagination.

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JAZZ AT THE BALLROOM PRESENTS – “FLYING HIGH: BIG BAND CANARIES WHO SOARED” Jazz at the Ballroom

Champian Fulton, vocals/piano; Neal Miner, bass; Mike Gurrola, bass; Tainaka Fukushi & Charles Ruggiero, drums; FEATURED VOCALS: Gretje Angel, Carmen Bradford, Olivia Chindamo, Jane Monheit & Vanessa Perea.

The first strains of “Sunnyside of the Street” makes me think Erroll Garner is alive and well.  Champian Fulton’s piano playing on this song brings the style and beauty of Garner’s piano technique to the forefront. But the real point of this album is to recall the individual sounds and styles of jazz singers, vocalists who began their careers front-lining big bands.  For example, Anita O’Day, Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemarie Clooney and Jo Stafford.  Early in their vibrant careers, they began as canaries singing with the popular big bands and orchestras of the era.

Now, the California-based, music nonprofit appropriately called ‘Jazz at the Ballroom’ is releasing this album in tribute to those historic female jazz singers.  Their musical director and bandleader is Champian Fulton, who also plays a mean piano and sings. Fulton has invited some of today’s top female voices of jazz to join her including Jane Monheit and Carmen Bradford.  Sit back and enjoy a swinging band and five stellar singers including Gretje Angel, Carmen Bradford, Olivia Chindamo, Jone Monheit, Vanessa Perea,  and Champian Fulton herself, who seriously swings on “All of Me.” Enjoy fifteen old standard tunes and six extraordinary vocal presentations, including Carmen Bradford’s lovely interpretation of “Lullaby of the Leaves,” and Olivia Chindamo, who is quite impressive during her scat solo on “Sweet Georgia Brown.” 

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TIERNEY SUTTON & SAN GABRIEL 7    –   “GOOD PEOPLE”  –  JRL-SGS Records

Chad Edwards, piano/keyboards; Chris Gordon, piano; Steve Gregory & Serge Merlaud, guitar; Jonathan Pintoff & Trey Henry, acoustic bass; Randy M. Drake, drums; Scott Breadman, percussion; Kye Palmer, trumpet/flugelhorn; Glen Berger, alto, tenor & Soprano saxophone; Dan Boissy, alto saxophone/flute; Jay Mason, baritone & tenor saxophone; flute; Alex Budman, alto saxophone; James Lewis & Paul Stocker, trombone; Elizabeth Wilson & Varty Manouelian, violins; Cara Pegossian, viola; Armen Ksajiksian, cello; Valerie Pinkston & Sandy Simmons-Williams, background vocals.

Tierney Sutton has picked up her pen to write lyrics for several songs on her current album release.  I’ve heard and admired Sutton’s jazz vocals.  I never thought of her as a composer or lyricist.  With this project she expands her horizons, becoming a singer/songwriter.  She mixes philosophy, love songs, and fun into a stew of thought-provoking lyrics, with the able accompaniment of the San Gabriel 7 who bubble with energy beneath her vocals. 

They open with the title tune, “Good People” that deals directly with racism in America, referencing redlining, Emmett Till, the racist application of the G.I. Bill, urban planning, the violent backlash against prosperous Black communities all over America and more.

Tierney explains, “No doubt there are thousands of ‘Emmett Tills’ (the Scottsboro Boys, The Groveland 7, The Central Park 5). These historical facts felt like smelling salts that woke me up to what had been hiding in plain sight all my life.  ‘Good People’ is a song about me, about my people (white Americans) and the things we continually repeat so that we can think of ourselves as Good People.

A song called “The In Between” has a pretty melody and a lyric Sutton has penned that addresses the concept of ‘Us’ verses ‘Them’ in a place we are all together called  ‘the In Between.”   Glen Berger’s soprano saxophone is jazzy and sweet, with Sutton dancing vocal pirouettes above his solo. Kye Palmer adds a velvet smooth trumpet solo to their mix.

“Where’d I put My Keys?” is a great song title, set to Serge Merlaud’s blues melody.  The Sutton lyrics are well-written, but Tierney doesn’t really swing the blues.  Like jazz, the blues has a unique swing and rhythm.  When she doubles the horn line, then she’s ‘swinging.’   Pianist, Karen Hammack, composed a song that was played at Tierney’s wedding to Serge Merlaud. Trey Henry put lyrics to it and “The Wild” became one of the artist’s favorite songs on this project.  On the tune “Ten,” Tierney sadly remembers ten women executed by the government of Iran for choosing to practice a different faith.  Sutton composed the music and wrote the lyrics for “Happy Goodbye.”  This song quickly becomes one of my favorites on her project.  This is the Tierney Sutton I am used to hearing sing, swing, and scat. 

All in all, here is a thought-provoking album, allowing Sutton to explore her composer talents and share some surprising revelations about life and love.

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Trumpeter Chris Botti Live At The Wiltern Theatre April 11, 2024 - KPFK  90.7 FM

Multi-Grammy nominatedGrammy-winning and top-selling trumpeter Chris Botti is one of the rare jazz musicians who has universal appeal and tours playing large venues regularly worldwide. Influenced by Miles Davis, with a classically trained pianist/piano teacher mother, he quickly showed promise in Corvallis, Oregon and was playing in clubs in Portland as a teenager and even performed for the first time at Carnegie Hall.

At the renowned Indiana University’s School of Music, headed by Professor David Baker, Botti studied under Professor Bill Adam to further hone his craft. That resulted in the trumpeter getting several gigs with Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich. Afterwards, he headed to the “Apple” to do session work and make connections.  From his efforts, Botti supported Paul Simon for almost 10 years and Sting, who encouraged him to pursue a solo career, for two years.

Concurrently, the trumpeter also worked with other high-caliber pop artists, such as Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Cole, Bette Midler and Roger Daltrey. In jazz, he worked with Michael Brecker, Jonathan Butler, Michael Paulo and Bill Evans (saxophonist). Additionally, Botti worked with prog-rockers/fusion artists Bill Bruford and Tony Levin. Most importantly, the trumpeter was well-prepared to be a successful solo artist, and was experienced and adept at tastefully playing a wide array of styles.   

LA Jazz Scene caught up with Chris Botti to talk about his music and upcoming shows in So Cal.

LA Jazz Scene: You have some performances coming up in Southern California?

Chris Botti: Indeed, we do, at the Wiltern coming up and later in (OC) on the 13th.

LA Jazz Scene: I hear you’ve been quite busy touring?

Chris Botti: Except for the year and half for the Pandemic, we’ve been on the road 250 days a year for 20 some odd years. I feel very lucky to be a touring musician like this.

LA Jazz Scene: That’s amazing and you have a very large and loyal fan base.

Chris Botti: Honestly, we’re been very lucky and we just got back from a long stint in Asia. It’s crazy to go all the way across the world and have huge audiences.

LA Jazz Scene: In LA, the Wiltern seems to be somewhat of a home for your band.

Chris Botti: This will be our fourth year in a row at the Wiltern and its sort of become our LA home and we’re looking forward to being at the Segerstrom as well.

LA Jazz Scene: You have so much music, and is your current focus on your latest album on Blue Note (his first for the label).

Chris Botti: We’re doing a fair amount of stuff from the new CD, as well as old stuff. Our shows have kind of been historically quite a bit different from the records. The records are what we want people to listen to at their houses and personal sort of thing. When we play live—we want it to be a rock show! In other words, real show-like technique, with ups and down, (varied) tempos, drama, special guests and a whole myriad of styles of music going on all the time onstage.

LA Jazz Scene: It seems almost like you have a mission to bring music to people, who often may not be that familiar with different genres and styles.

Chris Botti: It’s fun to play stuff that people can relate to and then also deliver some stuff that’s way over their head. But if you present or cloak it in a certain way, people will be drawn in and it becomes less of an academic math equation, so to speak. And they’ll get off on just the visceral emotion of the music.

LA Jazz Scene: How does jazz factor in to your shows?

Chris Botti: We don’t do a whole set of hardcore bebop, but you can throw a few things in there to let the people know the sophistication of the musicians is second to none.

LA Jazz Scene: You also always have a little bit of pop and some classical music in your shows.

Chris Botti: We have a couple of singers to do the popular stuff and Caroline Campbell plays such beautiful violin. She’s also the star of (Andrea) Bocelli’s shows and stuff like that. So, you’re getting classical music, pop music, and of course jazz on a super high level.

LA Jazz Scene: Who are the singers for your tour and upcoming shows?

Chris Botti: We’ll have two for the Wiltern show as well. They will be John Splithoff and Alicia Olatuja, and it’s going to be a fun night for us.  

LA Jazz Scene: Who are some of the other members of your band?

Chris BottiLeonardo Amuedo, an incredible guitarist who’s from Brazil and been featured on my records, along with Julian Pollack on piano, and new lineup of folks.

LA Jazz Scene: What was the basis for you do to go in the direct of a standards CD, from all of the things you’ve done over the years?

Chris Botti: I’ve done a fair share of standards for a long period of time, throughout the course of my career. Early on, I wrote most of my stuff and I guess in 2004 I switched a lot to doing standards. But this is a very stripped-down version of that and its my first record to work with a brand-new producer. He just happens to my dear friend and a legend, Mr. David Foster. It’s a fresh start for the world after coming out of the Pandemic, its my first record on Blue Note and I tongue-in-cheek called it Vol.1. Its my optimistic belief for the “back-nine” of my life, so to speak…

LA Jazz Scene: Also, you have a lot of optimism in your shows and people always leave feeling invigorated by your music.

Chris Botti: I hope so and that’s the real goal.

LA Jazz Scene: Of all of the things you’ve done, is there anything you haven’t done and are interesting in exploring or looking into?

Chris Botti: I focus on a daily thing, is try to get better as a trumpet player and to keep working on that craft. The trumpet is a real demanding instrument physically, it will tell you at a certain point, you’ll lose the elasticity and warmth of your sound. As I get older, I keep coming back to that, to make sure my articulation, my sound production and my strength on the instrument is as strong and supple as I can make it throughout the course of my career.

LA Jazz Scene: I’ve heard trumpeters call it “an unforgiving mistress.”

Chris Botti: (He laughs) That’s a good one, the ultimate ex-wife. When the phone rings you got to answer. It’s a very demanding instrument, along with the violin or being a ballet dancer. It’s a daily quest to keep perfecting it and you can’t take any days off. So that’s what I spend most of my time doing.

LA Jazz Scene: You’re such a romantic, have you ever consider singing (actually did for two songs on a 2002 Christmas record)?

Chris Botti: People have asked me that, because of Chet Baker, Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and other people. I’ve worked with the best singers of my lifetime, such as Bocelli, Sting and Streisand. I think if I made that a priority, it would smell of commerce and I don’t want to do that. I want to be a trumpet player and present the show that I do, which I think is unique. I’m glad I didn’t do that and be one of those guys who all of sudden sings because Chet Baker did and they want to be successful.  

LA Jazz Scene: You’ve done contemporary jazz, any thoughts about doing things that are more on the funky side?

Chris Botti: I haven’t necessarily thought about that. If you look at someone like Miles Davis. When he started adding music that had a larger, more influential kick drum and backbeat, the sound of the trumpet got a little lost. There are other instruments, such as guitar and saxophone, they can blow into the instrument and keep up with the electrification of a back beat or something like that. Sanborn and Michael Brecker did it very well. But the trumpet on its most beautiful doesn’t need a lot of heavy-duty bass underneath it. There are great R&B saxophonists like Grover (Washington) and Sanborn, but I would be hard-pressed to think of a great R&B trumpet player, who really resonates and doesn’t feel like commerce to me. (During) a live show you can do all that funky stuff, but on a record I’m happy where it’s sitting right now.

LA Jazz Scene: I read in your bio that you studied with Woody Shaw.

Chris Botti: He was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful trumpet player, but I didn’t study with him that long, summer of 83 or 84. What a great player! I also studied for a summer with saxophonist George Coleman. That was cool to do that as a college student. I also studied with Dave Liebman for a few lessons. A lot of famous jazz musicians are quite open to showing young musicians their (shit). You’d be surprise to find how out many of them would say yes.

LA Jazz Scene: Do you do any of that yourself these days?

Chris Botti: Yes, but I don’t sit in one location and teach over a long period of time. Because I’m always moving around (touring). I’ve done tons of master classes. If someone asks me, I’ll do one for them and give whatever information about my life, career and tips—that’s fun. I always recommend that to young people.

LA Jazz Scene: What do you do when you have time to relax?

Chris Botti: I race cars, that been my new joy in life and I’m at the track close to where I live right now, about to do some laps.

LA Jazz Scene: Any final words?

Chris Botti: We look forward to seeing everyone at the world-famous Wiltern, and in OC.

Chris Botti in Concert

April 11

Trumpeter Chris Botti Live At The Wiltern Theatre April 11, 2024 - KPFK  90.7 FM

Wiltern                                                                                          

3790 Wilshire Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90010       

www.thewiltern.com/                                                    

https://www.ticketmaster.com/event/09005F26ECEADF01

213) 388-1400

 

April 13

Segerstrom Center for the Arts

600 Town Center Drive

Costa Mesa, CA 92626                                                          

 http://www.scfta.org                                                                  

(714) 556-2787

 

Barbara Brighton in the studio – Photo by: Talley Sherwood

By Dee Dee McNeil
April 1, 2024

Sometimes when people work in the background of the music industry, they don’t always get the acknowledgement they would receive if they were out front and more visible. However, that hasn’t deterred Barbara Brighton one bit. She has been riding the jazz promotion train for two-and-a-half decades and is still chugging along, mostly producing, and just making jazz happen wherever she can. Her energy is like ‘The Little Engine That Could’ and as powerful and historic as a Louie Armstrong solo. Let me explain.

Barbara Brighton grew up in West Hollywood and attended Fairfax High School. As a small child, she was drawn to the piano, plucking out musical phrases that she heard by ear, like the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. Her parents had an extensive jazz record collection, and she loved the pulse and freedom of jazz music from a young age. Her father, who was a drummer, encouraged Brighton’s interest in music. The teenage years were challenging for young Barbara. She found herself marrying early and giving birth to a daughter, falling into the category of babies having babies. The marriage didn’t work out, and as a young single mother, she was faced with sink or swim. Brighton’s parents were disappointed in their daughter’s choices and were non-supportive. The young mother wanted to attend college. Barbara knew that to properly support herself and her baby, she needed an education and a good-paying job. With the help of the California Welfare system and a concerned welfare worker, she received the minimal support that government welfare offers. With Food Stamps and a small stipend, she attended Cal State Northridge. The Social Worker insisted she share her grades each semester. Barbara said she will always be grateful to that caring and encouraging woman who worked for the State. To those who criticize welfare recipients as being non-productive or leeches on the system, Brighton should be a poster child for that system, with her shining example of success.

“I found myself with a four-year-old, single, and my parents were very mad at me. I said I want to go back to school because I need to have a career. I’m not going to bring this kid up in poverty. They said no, you can’t go back to school. You have to work. Well, I thought they were wrong. So, I went to Social Services and talked to a social worker. She helped me. She said every semester you need to show me your grades. I’m checking on you every two months. I’m coming to your house and making sure you and your child are living well. I loved my kid! She was very well cared for. I slept in the kitchen, and she had the only bedroom. Bless that social worker who helped me. I got childcare, food stamps, and the whole thing. I started at L.A. Valley Community College. I struggled through school. Next, I took twenty-three units a semester at Cal State Northridge. I don’t know how I did it, honestly.

“It was very tough. I had to pick up my daughter from school, make sure she was taken care of and help her with her homework. And then I’d crack the books until 3am in the morning and hope to get a couple of hours of sleep before beginning the cycle all over again. When I applied to Northridge, I wanted to have on my resume that I volunteered at the VA. I applied and got hired in a work study program to be an intern for this psychiatrist. I got an interview, and he hired me. He and I became best friends. When I got my license, we opened our first practice together. Not long after, he talked to a friend of his who had started the Van Nuys Breast Cancer Center. It is a great, comprehensive breast treatment center. Dr. Robert Hoffman told me, they’re no women working at the facility. You should go to the next meeting. So, I got involved with the center for the next nineteen years. Psycho-Oncology became my specialty.”

Working at The Van Nuys Breast Center in the late 1970s was enlightening for Barbara. That facility became the prototype model for most breast centers developed in the United States. During that time, Brighton also penned a column for the Calabasas Lifestyle Magazine.

“As a psychotherapist I started contributing something similar to a Dear Abby column. It was for a local magazine coming out of Calabasas, California. The publisher wanted to grow her readership, so she hired this publicity guy. We started talking about jazz and he said oh – I’m doing this Porche exhibition at the racetrack. I want ‘live’ jazz to perform in a little area. Would you be interested in doing that? Getting musicians? And I said oh sure! That’s sort of my go-to phrase, (Oh sure!). To promote it, we reached out to all these jazz journalist kinds of people, asking them to be judges and vote on the performances of these high school jazz musicians, making it sort of a competition with prizes. Well, this same guy who involved me, disappeared! He left me holding the bag, so to speak. But it was a bad situation that turned into good. Because of that experience, I met all these people who were in the jazz business who came to support us, and one of them was Ellen Cohn,” Barbara Brighton shared with me.

Ellen Cohn photo courtesy of Barbara Brighton

Ellen was a record company executive who worked for the Chase Music Group. She was a Vice President of the company. When she left Chase, she was hired as to be the General Manager of MAMA Record Label. Ms. Cohn helped to record and publicize artists like Bob Florence, pianist Terry Trotter, and singer Mark Winkler, who she met when they were both at Chase Records.

“I overheard Ellen talking to Scott Yanow at the racetrack gathering. She said, oh I’ve lost a lot of weight. I worked my way into the conversation saying, oh you lost a lot of weight? What diet? And she said you don’t want the diet I’m on. I have breast cancer. I’m on Chemotherapy. So, I responded, well Ellen, what I do for a living is that I’m a therapist at the Van Nuys Breast Center. At that time, 75% of my practice were breast cancer patients.

“After that, she and I got very tight. I had her come to the center where I worked, because I totally trusted the doctors there. Anyway, sadly Ellen was terminal. But before she got very sick, Ellen and I spent time together on a personal basis. We loved going out and listening to jazz. She introduced me to everybody in the jazz world. One point she kept making was that my job was going to burn me out. This working with breast cancer patients day in and day out is too draining, Ellen told me. You need to start a jazz business. I said, well what am I going to do? She responded, figure it out! You would be perfect in the jazz business,” Brighton recalled that seed that Ellen Cohn planted years ago.

During that time, Barbara Brighton somehow found herself sitting in a music engineer’s seat inside the record company mixing room. At that time, MAMA Records was preparing “The Stan Kenton Celebration – Back to Balboa Production.” Thanks to Ellen, Brighton would join their staff as a part-time, A&R executive until their doors closed, twelve months later.

“The Record company had already recorded that Stan Kenton project ‘live.’ Doug Evans, who was the head of MAMA Records at the time, asked me If I wanted to help him mix the live recording. He asked if I wanted to produce it together? I responded with my go-to answer. Sure! So, he showed me how you fix it in the mixing room. It was my first jazz studio production job. I wasn’t there when it was recorded. Still, it was a great learning experience. Doug Evans and I are still friendly after all these years. He exposed me to engineering. He knew the ‘studio board’ and he appreciated my ears. I wasn’t really in the thick of it, the way I am now. I wasn’t there with the musicians. It was actually a wonderful learning experience. I still love to be involved in mixing. In a way, that was the beginning of the magic for me.”

Brighton’s voice was tinged with awe at the realization of how that historic engineering and mixing session greatly inspired her.

“One other thing Ellen Cohn told me before she died. She wanted me to meet Mark Winkler. She says, oh you’re going to love Mark Winkler. He’s my friend! I want you to meet him. Well, at her funeral, Mark and I finally met. I walked up to him and said, are you Mark Winkler? I introduced myself, saying I’m Barbara Brighton. He said OMG! Ellen told me all about you. From that moment, we became very good friends.

“In 1994, I founded my music company, BJB Jazz Ventures. Ellen Cohn would have been proud. Then I met music manager and producer, Bill Traut, whose client was jazz singer and songwriter, Kurt Elling.”

Barbara Brighton with Bill Traut – (Mar 20, 1929 to Jun 5, 2014)

That 1996 meeting with Bill Traut developed into a close friendship with Barbara. Kurt Elling is a brilliant baritone singer, with a four-octave range, who performs fluid vocalese. He’s a scat master. When Traut asked Barbara to help him introduce Kurt to a Los Angeles jazz audience, of course Barbara agreed. She suggested they book Elling at every jazz venue in L.A. for a solid month. Both Traut and Kurt’s record label (Blue Note) loved that idea. Barbara was hired to book the gigs. As an avid jazz fan, Brighton was familiar with every venue. It was a simple conversation with Traut, at a JazzTimes magazine convention, that launched Barbara Brighton’s music business as she produced her first super successful event. Many more would follow.

A host of contacts grew from the promotion of Kurt Elling’s gigs. Brighton began working with Catalina Popescu, owner of the Catalina Jazz Club. She produced numerous jazz brunches at that Los Angeles jazz hotspot. Brighton’s first big event was a tribute memorial concert to honor her friend, Ellen Cohn. It was very well attended. She and Kirk Silsbee produced and celebrated the music legacy of Horace Tapscott with a host of legendary musicians including Arthur Blythe, Vinny Golia, Dr. Art Davis, Nels Cline, Bobby Bradford, Roberto Miranda, Alex Cline, Gerald Wiggins Trio (with Andy Simpkins and Paul Humphrey), Herman Riley, George Harper, Jerry Rusch, Michael Session, William Henderson, Phil Ranelin, Henry Franklin, Donald Dean and Kamau Daa’oud.

Brighton also produced a tribute to Carmen McRae. A newspaper clipping documented the well-attended event for McRae calling it “a rare Sunday afternoon concert, a four-hour-plus tribute to the late singer Carmen McRae, successfully organized by Barbara Brighton.” The line-up of performers included Billy Childs, the Bill Cunliffe Trio, Kevin O’Neill Ensemble, alto saxophonist, Vi Redd, the B Sharp Quartet, vocalists Sweet Baby J’ai, Carmen Lundy, Sandra Booker, the Stephanie Haynes/Dave Mackay duo, Angela Carroll Brown, Kate McGarry and Cathy Segal Garcia.

Brighton’s successes, like her reputation, began to grow. People took notice. Blue Note Records hired her to book and promote Danish vocalist Caecilie Norby.

In 1998, she was contracted to promote Kenny Werner’s book, “Effortless Mastery.” His book taught musicians how to let their creative performances flow without apprehension and self-doubt.

Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within

In 1996, Brighton continued looking for new ways to benefit the Southern California jazz community. She created The Young Artist Jazz Series. This showcase opportunity invited young jazz musicians to perform on the Catalina Jazz Club stage to hone their craft before a live audience. Brighton reached out to local high schools that had jazz programs. The resulting concerts gave raw talent an opportunity to perform and be heard. Young musicians like Kamasi Washington, Gerald Clayton, and Anthony Wilson grew out of that program. Don Muhammad, the iconic Billy Higgins, and poet Kamau Da’ood were all involved and supportive, lending their World Stage All-Stars to back up the youth being featured. This program lasted 23 years. It was discontinued in 2019.

“In 1999, Mark Winkler came to see me and said he wanted to record an album of Straight-ahead jazz. Up until that point, he was doing more Smooth jazz. We talked about it and I made suggestions to him. We tossed around ideas, what about this and what about that? Then he said, why don’t you produce it? And that’s how I produced my first record,” Barbara told me.

“I went on to produce eight other Mark Winkler CDs. One was Mark Winkler Sings Bobby Troup (In 2003) with Anthony Wilson’s Trio and pianist Jon Mayer’s group.”

“As a producer, I’m really there from the inception to the birth. I’m in the studio. I’ll be there for the tracking, for the mix and mastering. I have to tell you, every time I go into the mastering studio, we use this guy, Ron Boustead, a great guy and really talented mastering master. Every time we listen through to the whole record, I cry at the end,” Barbara Brighton admitted shyly, letting her vulnerability and love of the work shine through.

“In 2009, the album I produced with Cheryl Bentyne (from Manhattan Transfer) and Mark Winkler was released. It received rave reviews.”

I’ve produced four CDs for jazz vocalist Judy Wexler.”

“I also produced Gary Brumburgh’s ‘Moonlight’ CD and music on Beverly Church-Hogan.

Barbara Brighton somehow manages to keep both her right and left brain synchronized to handle two completely different businesses. There is her artistic side. That’s the talented woman who continues to produce and support jazz music and artists. Then there is the Psychotherapist, who has been practicing for the past four decades and continues to service families and breast cancer patients. Clearly, Barbara Brighton has a giving and caring nature, as well as a personality that needs to express herself through music. Barbara laughed when she told me her psychotherapy often comes in handy during studio sessions.

In a ceremony that took place on Friday, May 3, 2019, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA), Barbara Brighton was presented the Jazz Hero Award, by the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA). Her longtime friend, jazz journalist Kirk Silsbee was the presenter along with the 2016 Jazz Hero and head of the California Jazz Association, Edythe Bronston.

Currently, Brighton finds herself back in the studio, doing the musical work she loves so dearly. She had the pleasure of recently producing Julie Kelly’s album titled, “Freedom Jazz Dance,” released in 2024, along with Mark Winkler’s newest CD, “The Rules Don’t Apply.” She also produced Lauren White’s soon to be released album, “Making it Up As We Go Along” and is currently working on Robyn Spangler’s new project.

Barbara Brighton continues looking forward to more opportunities to spread jazz across the universe and to heal hearts and minds. I’m sure when those opportunities present themselves, Brighton will just flash that bright, infectious smile and simply respond, “Sure!”

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

REFERENCES: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-10-16-mn-46233-story.html – Ellen Cohn Obituary – Oct 16, 1993. https://voyagela.com/interview/meet-barbara-brighton-lmft-bjb-jazz-ventures/ – Voyage LA Mag. https://bjbjazz.com/bio/

Live interview Feb 19, 2024

 

By Dee Dee McNeil

On March 16, 2024, I attended a jazz concert at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, a cozy little 99-seat theater in Sierra Madre, California. This intimate venue has been serving their community for 100 years. Composer, guitarist and producer, Greg Porée, hosted the event and on this particular night, it featured trumpeter Nolan Shaheed’s quintet.

 

Nolan was surrounded by a group of A-list musicians from our Southern California steamy, hot-pot of talent. They included legendary bassist, Tony Dumas and the brilliant Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. A couple of new faces glowed from the stage. On piano, the masterful Adam Ledbetter (a transplant from Oklahoma City) and on saxophone the talented, Alex Johnson. The group leader, Nolan Shaheed, appeared like royalty, in a knee-length brocade suit jacket, his smile beaming like a spotlight and his positive energy leaping off the stage and into our laps. There was great applause from the sold-out audience when Nolan was introduced. We were immediately captivated by the very first strains of his opening tune, “Caravan.” Shaheed has a way of weaving Straight-ahead jazz into funky grooves with his arrangements, especially on his original compositions. For example, “Brother Bubba” that he dedicated to one of his brothers in the audience. This tune has an Eddie Harris/Les McCann feel to it, with unexpected ‘breaks’ in the catchy melody. One thing that was very clear is how melodic Nolan Shaheed’s songs are, as witnessed in the tribute to his wife on a tune titled “Sister Sharon.” Once I hear Nolan’s melody in the first verse, I find myself singing along with it in the following phrases. This is the sign of an excellent songwriter.

Above, is one of Nolan Shaheed’s CD releases titled “Lamentation From the Middle Passage” that features the late Ronald Muldrow on guitar, pianist Danny Grissett, Trevor Ware on bass, Zane Musa on alto saxophone (R.I.P) and Quentin Dennard on drums. It’s a historic piece of art.

Nolan Shaheed has made his mark on the southern California community and beyond as a cornet, flugelhorn, and trumpet player, as well as a world record-holding athlete in track. He’s also a cancer survivor, who recently discovered he had blood clots in his lungs and cancer on the back of his tongue. Despite this diagnosis, a year ago, on March 11th, he was in Louisville participating in a USA Track & Field Masters Indoors Championship and won the 1,500 in M70-74, (an age bracket). This is only one

of several athletic awards that Shaheed has garnered. Since he turned sixty-years-young, Nolan has ranked number one in the USA in both indoors and outdoors track competitions, breaking thirty-four U.S. records and he has been named Athlete of the Year five different times. He still holds the world record in the 800 and the 1500 in his senior citizen age bracket.

Nolan Shaheed Is Running For His Life - Geezer Jock

Nolan Shaheed running his race in 2023 – Photo by Rob Jerome.

Because of his deep faith and competitive nature, Nolan has always strived to be the best at whatever he does. He opened a recording studio in Pasadena, and some of the top jazz names in the world have recorded there. He has the reputation of being an excellent engineer, both patient and technically astute, with a keen ear for the music since he’s a musician himself. That adds to all his other talents.

Not only does Shaheed lead his own bands, Nolan has directed the bands of iconic artists like Marvin Gaye. He was Marvin’s Musical Director from 1974-1979 and toured with Diana Ross from 1983 to 1985. He has been in the lead trumpet position with the Phil Collins band in 1985 and the following year, he was in the band touring with Anita Baker. Nolan was lead trumpet with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1977 to 1979 and toured with Natalie Cole from 1979 to 1981. He also played with Stevie Wonder from 1981 to 1983. The list of great musicians that Shaheed has worked with is too long to list here, but a few others I will add are the late, great Sammy Davis Jr., historic dancer Gregory Hines, legendary trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris, unforgettable reedman Teddy Edwards, Jeannie & Jimmy Cheatham, both the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Jazz @The Playhouse: Nolan Shaheed at Sierra Madre Playhouse Los Angeles  2024

During his performance at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, Nolan paid tribute to two musicians we lost in March of this year who were both close friends: drummer, Kenny Elliott and reed master, Ernie Fields Jr. The original song Nolan played for his dearly departed is titled “You Only Get One Chance” and it was beautiful, with a challenging melody that pulled at the heartstrings. This arrangement featured the dynamic Alex Johnson on tenor saxophone.

Nolan Shaheed continues to do all the things he loves doing, continuously reaching towards excellence as a musician, as an athlete, as a composer, arranger, studio engineer, husband, father, and friend.

Once we face our own mortality, as human beings in God’s great melting pot of souls, we are all challenged to remember the importance of spreading love and telling those around us how much they mean to our lives. Nolan is one of those people who has consistently let each one of his friends, family and musical peers know how important we are to his life. He is just one of those caring, considerate, kind and giving individuals.

Near the end of his concert program, Nolan reached out to various people in the audience who he publicly wanted to tell that he loved them. Several hollered back at the stage, like singer/songwriter, Mark Winkler who shouted, “I love you too, Nolan.” I think everyone walked aways from that concert feeling ‘the love.’

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

NOTE: The Sierra Madre Playhouse continues their Jazz Concert presentations on April 7, 2024 featuring Kait Dunton, on April 14th – Nick Mancini and on May 5th, the LA Jazz Quartet with Larry Koonse on guitar, Chuck Manning on tenor saxophone, Derek “Oles” Oleszkiewicz on bass and Jason Harnell on drums. This Jazz Series is curated by Greg Porée.

 

By Dee Dee McNeil

Gordon Goodwin was smitten with music at an early age. According to his mother, when his favorite program, (the Mickey Mouse Club) came on-air, he would run up to the television set and wave his arms around like he was conducting an orchestra. Before he was even in the first grade, young Gordon was taking piano lessons.

“My parents insisted that I take piano lessons when I was in kindergarten. I didn’t really want to, but I had a teacher who was fairly personable. She kind of tricked me, because she told me if I practiced my scales, she would let me write a song every week. I didn’t even know what that meant, as a Kindergarten kid. Truth is, Janet Hodges inspired me to write. She would say, Ok Gordon, this week we are going to write a march. And I’d go, what is a march? Then she would play a march tune and I’d go home and write four bars, just a short little piece. The next week we would do a waltz. The following week we would do a polka. So, she would teach me about these different styles of music. Early on in my life, I was given the idea that I could create these little song pieces. I didn’t know at the time I was learning to compose,” the bandleader and composer of the Big Phat Band told me.

Gordon admits he was a shy student and wasn’t the most popular kid in public school. One unexpected day, music helped to elevate his popularity. In fourth grade he walked over to a piano in the classroom and plucked out the melody to Batman.

“I think back then a lot of classrooms had a piano in them, usually pushed over in a corner. So, during recess I sat down at the piano. I had memorized the Batman Song and just started to play it. Suddenly, kids gathered around me. I was a geeky little kid. I didn’t really have any physical gifts; I didn’t play sports or anything like that. I was pretty shy. But here I was, (He sings the Batman Theme Song to me) playing Batman. Suddenly I noticed all my classmates were really digging it,” Gordon Goodwin recalled.

That attentive audience-moment could have been when the entertainment bug bit him.

“Years later, I met Neal Hefti, the composer who wrote that song. Hefti wrote music for The Odd Couple movie and for television shows, as well as a lot of big bands during the big band era. I told him how much that song changed my life and he said, Really? That Song? Hefti said he wrote Batman in about five minutes, and he made more money off of that song than any other project. He wrote for a bunch of films, but it was the Batman Theme Song that bought his summer vacation house,” Gordon chuckled.

Goodwin wrote his first big band chart when he was participating in his seventh-grade band class. He was thirteen when his band director (Robin Snyder) played him a record by Count Basie.

“It changed my life. I had an epiphany right at that moment. I said to myself, oh, I want to do this! Mr. Snyder just passed away a week ago and he was two weeks shy of his ninety-ninth birthday. He was the one who encouraged me to write a song for our band. I said, I don’t know how to do that. He said Oh, you’ll figure it out. Do it. We’ll play it.

“I had his encouragement all through high school. I came to realize that there were a lot of good saxophone players and a lot of piano players, because I play both those instruments, but not a lot of people were writing music, especially for a larger ensemble. I think maybe I recognized that I could plant my flag there. I was so lucky I had these two people early in my life, Janet Hodges, my piano teacher, and Robin Snyder. We all have those people in our lifetime, who intersect our lives just at the right moment and give us a nudge. I was lucky to have both of them in my life!

“It was weird because big band music felt like a past life experience for me. It was so familiar. My mom and dad weren’t particularly musical. I think they might have had some Glenn Miller records, some Benny Goodman records possibly, but they weren’t that into it. For some reason, when I heard jazz, I just resonated with it. My classmates were listening to the radio and popular music. They thought I was nuts and asked me why I liked that old music?

“While in high school, our high school band was really good. We played at Jazz Festivals. We played at the Hollywood Bowl and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. We were getting eyes on us. I think the other kids started to notice when we won awards at some of those festivals. Once we came in at First Place, they understood the value of that. It was in La Verne, California – Bonita High School. Probably that school is most famous for an all-star football player named Glenn Davis, who was the 12th winner of the Heisman Trophy Award given to the finest collegiate football player in the nation,” Goodwin informed me.”

Well, this writer looked up Bonita High School and as it turns out, Gordon Goodwin is now the most famous person to have graduated from their campus. It’s Gordon’s name that pops up on a Google search of famous people who attended Bonita High.

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band formed in 2000. They had been playing together for twenty-three years before their first record release called “Swingin’ For the Fences.” It featured guest artists Arturo Sandoval and Eddie Daniels. Right out the gate, it was nominated for two Grammys.

Goodwin has a specific style of composing and arranging. When I listen to his music it sounds like the horn lines are talking, personally speaking to me in musical phrases. His music is very lyrical, and like most big ensembles, the Big Phat Band is plush with harmonics. But Goodwin leaves lots of room for singular solos that shine, and special guests who are brilliant additions to his big band format. I’m impressed with his composing skills. I wondered did he hear melody in his mind first, or did he piddle around at the piano? Did he think of a theme or a lyric first, or was he inspired by a mood?

“I used to piddle, but now it’s more of a mood. Sometimes I have people say, can we take a video of you composing? I’ll say yeah, but sometimes there’s nothing to see. It’s going on inside my head. I’ll just sit there in my studio, or then I might go to the grocery store and suddenly hear it. Oh, there it is! And I’ll get my phone out and sing the melodic idea into my cell,” Gordon explained.

“As music composers, we’re alone a lot. As musicians, we have to practice, and we need that solitude to create. I often get inspired by other people’s accomplishments. What makes me want to write music is when maybe I read somebody’s book that’s so amazing, or maybe I see a film and think about the thousands of people that contributed to that film emotionally. That inspires me. When I think about a human being sitting there with a blank piece of paper or a blank canvas, someone sitting there and creating something that moves people, I think that’s incredible. That gets my juices going. That’s what gets me moving. Not just as artists, but as people, you have to find out what you believe in. If you’re an artist, you ask yourself what’s important to you musically? I think that’s a responsibility we have in this world, to go inward and find the real you. Then we inspire others with it. But just be you!” Gordon advised.

DEE DEE: I was going to ask you about that “Hunting Wabbits 3 (Get Off My Lawn)” composition on your “That’s How We Roll” album. It sounded like the background to a cartoon. Did a cartoon inspire that music?

“Hunting Wabbits is a trilogy. The first one was Hunting Wabbits 1. The next one was Hunting Wabbits 2 (Bad Hair Day) and Hunting Wabbits 3 (Get Off My Lawn) was the final one. I spent some time in the 1990s working at Warner Brother’s studio in animation. I was writing music for their shows like Pinky and the Brain. In those days, what they wanted us to do was to write music that was evocative of the Warner Bros Studio, which meant two guys, Carl Stalin and another guy named Raymond Scott that composed their music. They kind of defined the style for animation composing. So, Hunting Wabbits is a tribute to them. That’s why it’s really evocative. The Animation, particularly Warner Bros. animation, it was kind of like Bugs Bunny meets Big Band. I wanted a little Count Basie vibe in there too.

“So, I have to tell you, when we first played it in rehearsal, the guys in the band were looking at me like what the hell is this? What’s the matter with you man? I said I don’t know. I just thought it would be interesting. So, we played it at a gig the next night. The audience went nuts. I don’t know why, but it took on a life of its own. Many people have associated it with animation they saw as a kid.”

Several months ago, this journalist reviewed an album called Raymond Scott Reimagined. It just so happened that Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band participated in that recording.

That was really quite an experience. The string quartet that we worked with in San Francisco, the leader of that group was a guy named Jeremy Cohen. He called up and asked me, have you ever heard of Raymond Scott? I said, Dude, I took a deep dive into Raymond Scott when I was at Warner Bros. He says, well maybe you’re the right guy because we’re going to do a tribute record to him, and I wanted you to be a part of it. I said let’s go.”

“I got to meet his family and his kids. I also got to finish one of his songs that he started. They gave me a piece of paper that had some scribbles on it. He was writing it for his granddaughter, who played the viola and it never got finished. I asked them, would you give me the honor of finishing this? I promise you I know this man. I really know his musical language and I think I could bring this to life. So, they gave me permission to do that and I kind of wrote it to do what I thought he would do, and maybe a little bit of what I wanted to do. It’s called “Cutey and the Dragon.” I’ll never forget it until the end of my days. Because that music has such meaning for me. And to be kind of a link in the chain of the creativity and the history is amazing!”

This year, Raymond Scott and Goodwin’s song was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Instrumental Composition category. Gordon Goodwin already has won four Grammy Awards and three daytime Emmy Awards. His arrangements have been highly praised, as has his composing. One of his Grammy Awards was for Best Instrumental Arrangement for the feature film “The Incredibles.” It was for “The Incredits” in 2005. Next, in 2011 he won for his arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue” on his Big Phat Band record release called “That’s How We Roll.”

On this album release, Goodwin used smooth jazz and R&B artists to color his arrangements. He contracted bass master, Marcus Miller, saxophonists Dave Koz and Gerald Albright, and the harmonic blend of singing group Take 6.

In 2013 he won a Grammy for “On Green Dolphin Street” and in 2014 he won the Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble album “Life in the Bubble” recorded with his Big Phat Band. His daytime Emmy Awards include Music Direction and Composition, Animaniacs (1998, 1999) and Outstanding Music Direction and Composition, Histeria! (2000) For a while, Gordon Goodwin worked for the Disney company.

I started working at Disneyland in 1979 or 1980. It was my first real professional writing gig, a reunion of the original Mouseketeers. What’s interesting is how your life tends to kind of echo. Reflecting on the Mouseketeer Show, when I was only two and I ran up to the TV fascinated by that Mickey Mouse Theme song. Now, here I am writing a show at Disneyland for those same kids who are now grown adults. It’s mind-bending. Disney and I have developed a lifelong relationship. I still work for them,” Goodwin tells me.

As a composer, arranger, Musical Director, pianist and woodwind player, Goodwin has crossed paths with the who’s-who in the music industry. I asked him about working with the legendary Sarah Vaughan.

“I worked with her twice. Once I was in the band just backing her up during a concert. I was a big Ella Fitzgerald fan, and I was not as much into Sarah until that gig. When I saw her up there singing, and she sang Misty, I remember thinking Oh My God, she sings like a saxophone player. Some years after that, I wrote an arrangement for her for a television thing. I was never in the room at the same time with her again, but her name went on my resume, that’s for sure!”

I asked him about working with the iconic Mel Tormé.

“I was doing some concerts with Leslie Uggams, a wonderful singer and actress. She’s the sweetest person. I toured with her for some years and when she did this gig with Mel, she suggested I write all the charts. So, I went to his house. He lived on Coldwater Canyon, and we met about four or five times. I sat with him at the piano and he showed me various songs saying we’re going to do this and we’re going to do a little bit of Gershwin, he’s tinkling the keys while he talks. I had a tape recorder, and I was recording everything so I could get exactly what he wanted. And he was intimidating! I have to say,” Goodwin admitted being a little bit nervous in the presence of such a famous jazz vocalist.

Those memories were from his youth in the music business. Since then, the man and his career have grown and blossomed. I think of Gordon Goodwin as an independent thinker and a high achiever. I asked him who were some of his musical influences?

“Oh, countless people. But probably the people in recent times are folks like Chick Corea. I would watch Chick. He had a flow to his interaction with the music. He wasn’t up there trying too hard. He just let it flow through him. He reflected the joy of music. For many, many years, I would get on stage, and I would be so apprehensive. Maybe I was a little bit nervous thinking, I hope I play well and who’s in the audience and what will the other guys think? You know, it was such a distracting cacophony in my head. When you have all those voices in your head, how can you possibly play and be perfectly relaxed? It took me a lot of years to learn how to do that.

“I also was influenced a lot by a guy named Nathan East, who’s a bass player. Nathan has that kind of Zen thing, and it’s infused with absolute joy. Every time he picks up his bass, he has a smile on his face. Every time he gets on the bandstand, he’s exuding this positivity. Nathan inspires the rest of us,” Goodwin sings the praises of a couple of the top contemporary jazz players.

“You know who taught me a lot about stage presence? Johnny Mathis! I worked with Johnny Mathis for many years. First as his pianist and later as his Musical Director. We would sit and have these conversations. I’d watch him go out there every night with an energy that seemed like his life depended on it. How do you do that? At the time I could play well, especially when I was inspired. But if I was a little tired or a little cranky my performance would reflect that. Not with Mathis. He is such a pro. He’d just go out there and kill it every night. Mathis knew all the top guys. He introduced me to Miles Davis and Cicely Tyson. Oh, they looked so cool, dressed to impress. One night Oscar Peterson was in our audience, and I didn’t know which angle was up on the piano, I was so nervous. But I did ok that night,” Gordon Goodwin recalls with awe still coloring his tone.

Since then, Goodwin has conducted world-renowned symphony orchestras in Atlanta, Dallas, Utah, Seattle, Toronto, and London. His cinematic orchestration has enhanced a plethora of films, including popular ones like Get Smart, Glory Road, National Treasure, The Incredibles, Remember the Titans, Armageddon, The Majestic, Con Air, Gone In 60 Seconds, Enemy of the State, Star Trek Nemesis, Avengers 2, Draft Day, Grudge Match, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Escape to Witch Mountain, and even the classic cult film Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes. Goodwin’s soundtrack to Looney Tunes like Bah Hum Duck! – a wacky Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck riff on the classic A Christmas Carol, that also features his Big Phat Band’s patented sound. Now he has a wonderful project with Patti Austin. I asked him how that came together.

“I was introduced to Patti by Dave Koz, the saxophone player. We were at an event called The Society of Singers. That’s an organization that provides medical assistance for older singers and scholarships for younger singers. We were doing a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Patti sang with us for the first time at that event, along with Take 6. That resulted in a gig at the Blue Note Tokyo for a week, and we had a great time. We stayed friends and then in 2016, she said I want to do a tribute record for Ella’s 100th birthday. Are you in? I said, are you kidding? So, we started working on it, but we missed Ella’s 100th birthday. The time got away and then there was the challenge of COVID and the pandemic. Patti is heir apparent to Ella Fitzgerald. I’m really proud of her and our collaboration on ‘For Ella 2.’ This year, she was up for two Grammy Award nominations. One for Best Jazz Vocal album and another for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals (April in Paris).

Gordon Goodwin continues to amaze and enlighten with his composing skills and impressive arranging abilities. His Big Phat Band consists of eighteen players, and they reflect music that encompasses jazz, pop, R&B and everything in between. Goodwin is as popular with the bebop crowd as he is with lovers of Pop music. Who else can swing from Ray Charles to Arturo Sandoval; from Johnny Mathis to Earth Wind and Fire; from Dianne Reeves to Brian McKnight and Take 6? Who else could celebrate Raymond Scott and his animation music in one breath and exhale a string of arrangements for Patti Austin to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald in the next breath? None other than Gordon Goodwin!

Educators can purchase his arrangements for their big band instructive classes. Goodwin’s sheet music is published by popular companies like Hal Leonard, Walrus Music, and Alfred Publishing.

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By Dee Dee McNeil

I first met Marlena Shaw when I was working for United Artist/Blue Note Record Company in Los Angeles. I was their first, female, African American Press & Media Coordinator, and I was thrilled to be able to represent Ms. Marlena Shaw, as well as many other Blue Note jazz icons. At that time, Mike Stewart was the President of the United Artist/Blue Note Company. It was 1974.

 

I was a big fan of Marlena Shaw. The diva was hugely popular in the Detroit area (my hometown of Motown). I would rush out to local clubs to enjoy Marlena Shaw’s live performances. When we met at the Blue Note offices, I had only been residing in California for four years.

Marlena had a warm, easy-going personality with a keen sense of humor. She was a very kind person. I remember when I was teaching ‘Artist Development’ at a Japanese owned music school, one of my students was a huge fan of Marlena Shaw. I sent Marlena a letter, explaining how much my young, Japanese, vocal student admired her. I told Marlena it would mean so much to my student if she sent an autographed photo and a note to the young lady. A week later, Marlena had mailed the photo, along with a sweet note to encourage my student.

Here is a photograph I had from my Blue Note publicity days. Pictured is Marlena Shaw smiling brightly and posing with Sammy Davis Jr.

 

Ms. Shaw was born September 22, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York. Her uncle was Jimmy Burgess, a respected jazz trumpeter. He introduced a pre-teen Marlena to jazz, inviting her to listen to records by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and vocalist Al Hibbler. Shaw’s first on-stage experience was when she became a very young, front-line singer for her uncle’s jazz band. They appeared at the famed Apollo Theater. That’s when the entertainment bug bit her. However, Marlena’s mother told her daughter she was way too young to tour with the big band, so Marlena stayed home and attended college instead.

Shaw’s warm, emotional voice could sell a song. For a while, she performed at small jazz clubs and worked briefly with jazz trumpeter, Howard McGhee’s popular band. In 1966, she landed a gig at the Chicago Playboy Club and was noticed by Chess Records executives. Shorty after, she signed with a Chess subsidiary label called Cadet Records. In 1969, Shaw recorded an Ashford/Simpson song called “California Soul.” It was a catchy, melodic tune that has since been used in a variety of television commercials, including one to advertise the Dodge Ram.

Her next release on the Cadet label was “Woman of the Ghetto,” a song she co-wrote. However, although Shaw could sing Blues, Disco, rhythm and blues, and even pop music, her desire was to become a respected jazz artist. In 1968, she toured with Count Basie.

In 1972 she was signed to Blue Note Record label. On her album, “Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreux” (released in 1973 and recorded ‘live’ at the popular Switzerland festival) you can hear her gospel roots and the freedom of expression that endeared her to audiences across the world. In person, Marlena Shaw was truly relatable. Audiences loved her. When she sang, “Remember me – I’m the one who had your babies. I am a woman of the Ghetto,” we believed her and related to her. In her personal life, she had five children that she loved dearly, while still pursuing her vocal career.

Marlena could blend jazz and R&B together, sweet, and soulful as cornbread and pot-licker. When I met her, she had already recorded two albums for Blue Note Records. The first was simply titled, “Marlena” and in 1973 they released “From the Depths of My Soul” and the ‘Live at Montreux’ albums. I arrived in my press & media position when she was recording “Who is This Bitch Anyway?” Shaw was very outspoken and wanted the cover of her album to be Afro-centric. She sported a full Afro hairstyle and a stunning necklace. I remember an executive coming into my office saying that Marlena wanted to have the photo-shoot topless, just wearing African jewelry. The label turned that suggestion down for her album cover.

I also remember when the awesome songwriter and my friend Bernard Ighner produced several songs on Marlena Shaw. One of my favorites was “Loving You is Like a Party.”

I thought sure she would have another bit hit record collaborating with Bernard (who wrote the jazz standard, ‘Everything Must Change’), but the next huge hit she had was on the Columbia Record label with “Go Away Little Boy” in 1977. I love her adlib line “Let the doorknob hit you where the dog should’ve bit you!”

Marlena Shaw released 17 albums with eight different record labels, taking her songs and big personality to stages around the globe. She was extremely popular in Japan and graced worldwide concert halls and festival stages, including an all-star tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at the 1998 Pori Jazz Festival in Switzerland. She was distinguished by her story-telling, her unique phrasing, and her feisty joy de vivre that Shaw always shared with sold-out audiences.

Based in Las Vegas, one night Marlena Shaw came to my jazz show at the Four Queens Hotel. Back then I was singing too. She attended with Count Basie’s lead singer, Joe Williams. I was so surprised and honored to have them in my audience, also absolutely nervous beyond words. I had told her I was coming to her city to perform, but I hadn’t expected Marlena to show up. As always, she was gracious and kind, coming up to me after our show to compliment my set list, my voice, and my arrangements. We had performed a few of my original songs, and Marlena encouraged my songwriting. We kept in touch over the years. Every Christmas I sent her a holiday card and she sent me one, sometimes with a personal note handwritten inside.

On January 19, 2024, the world lost a beloved singer, songwriter, mother, and friend. On FB, Verve Records released a statement about working with Marlena Shaw in 1987.

“We are saddened by the passing of Marlena Shaw, a wonderful singer whose ‘California Soul’ is as popular today as it ever was and whose album, ‘It is Love: Recorded Live at Vine St.’ helped relaunch the Verve label in 1987.”

The phenomenal jazz singer, Marlena Shaw leaves a rich legacy of musical recordings to brighten the world. Her music twinkles, like a star winking at us from a distance.

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By Dee Dee McNeil
January 2, 2024

The title of Betty Bryant’s latest album release is quite appropriate. It’s called Lotta Livin’ and that’s what she has been doing for the past ninety-four years, using the majority of her time to produce music.

“I was born in 1929. I recall the first time we got a console, and it had a record player in it (a turntable) that dropped the 78rpm records down, one at a time. That was in the early 40’s. I was hung up on Bull Moose Jackson’s recording of “I Just Can’t Go On Without You,” Betty recalled during our telephone conversation.

“My best friend, Donna Baker, she had nine kids in her family and her father played the piano. Her brother was Ed Baker who played trumpet and wound up with a band in Kansas City, MO. Her older sister, Betty Baker, sang with Eddie’s band for a while. The whole family played music and none of them had any training. Donna and me used to sit at the piano and taught ourselves how to play entrances and endings to the popular songs of the day. At third or fourth grade I was studying classical music. We had a beautiful baby grand piano that my grandmother had given to me. I had to practice before I went to school and when I came home from school too. Yuk,” she expressed her frustration with practicing piano.

“I had more fun at Donna’s house!” she recalled.

Betty’s family recognized her musical talents early. However, Betty was more interested in jazz and the music she heard on the radio than practicing European classical music. She wiggled her way out of piano lessons and was encouraged by her father to follow in his footsteps and become a teacher. Both Betty’s parents were educators. She played piano for fun and more by-ear than structured music, although Betty was competent at reading music. She obtained her certificate to teach by attending Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and majored in “Fine Arts.”

“I got a teaching certificate to please my parents. I was not really interested in school, and I had quit playing the piano. One day, on the radio I heard a DJ interspersing live music with records. I had a friend who was working at a local radio station, and I mentioned that to him. Well, he told his station manager about it and suddenly I got a call asking me to come down to their station. Just like that, I was thrown back into music. My friend bragged that I played piano, but at that point, I only knew how to play some blues and I knew ‘Body and Soul’ up to the bridge,” she chuckled while telling me the story. “I still don’t know the bridge,” Betty laughed at her admission.

“They set me in front of a piano they had at that studio and put me on after the baseball game was broadcast. Some days I had a half-hour show. Others, I might play fifteen minutes. It was a strange re-introduction to the world of ‘live’ music. I was around twenty-one and fresh out of college. I started filling the time up by playing records in between piano playing. It was sort of a joke with everybody. Nobody believed I worked so hard for a college degree, and I was working as a DJ,” Betty giggled recalling her path back to music.

“I started singing. For a little while, I was a stand-up singer with the Buddy Brown Band. He played trumpet. I don’t remember much about that ensemble except it was about eight players and they had a big-band sound. It was before trios and quartets were popular. I was singing the blues; fast blues, slow blues, happy blues and sad blues. One, four, five forever,” she referred to the chord structure of the blues.

“I was mainly just keeping the beat so people would keep dancing. … Jay McShann took me under his wing when I returned to Kansas City from Topeka. I started going by his gig. He’d get off the stand and let me play piano with his band. It was so much fun, and I was honored to be able to do this. … Of course, everything was still segregated at that time. We would play, then on our breaks the band had to go down into the basement of the club. We couldn’t sit in the audience with the people. Somebody in the band would run across the street to the liquor store and get a bottle. We’d sit down there for the break and pass the bottle around. They never bought a big bottle, just like a pint to get us through the break. Later, I started working at that place, doing a single. Me and the piano.”

Somebody took a photo of Betty Bryant, McShann and the musicians working with Jay McShann on one of those ‘break-time’ evenings. Today, that brown-toned photograph hangs in the lobby of the famous Kansas City, Missouri American Jazz Museum. It’s also pictured on the back of the CD booklet that accompanies her latest album, Lotta Livin’.

I asked Betty what made her transplant to the Los Angeles area.

“Earl Grant was a piano player/organist who left Kansas City before I did. I took over his club job back in Kansas City when he left. It was a club called Millie’s. Earl and my sister share a birthday and they used to have birthday parties together when they were young. Out here, Earl was playing at Club Pigalle, a popular L.A. club that used to be at 4135 South Figuroa, and he performed at a swanky little club in Beverly Hills. He got me a gig in that Beverly Hills club too, on his night off,” Betty recalled how she survived when she first relocated to Southern California.

“Back then, Billie Holiday was performing at a little place on Wilshire and La Brea. If you went across the street and up a block, there was another club that faced La Brea and Dizzy Gillespie used to play there. Between those two places, they booked all the big names. That was in the fifties. I remember going to see Billie Holiday and Johnny Ray, who had that hit record “The Little White Cloud that Cried.” I went by myself. That was the only time I ever saw Billie and I’m glad it was in a small club setting. I could feel the whole presence of her. Small Clubs are so much better than being in a big venue. They’re so intimate, especially for jazz.”

robert kyle - Producing

Betty Bryant’s current release represents that intimacy that she talks about. She is an awesome composer and offers us four original songs on this, her 14th album release. One thing I love about The Cool Miss B is her tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. It is reflected brightly in all her original album lyrics. For example, performing “Put a Lid On It” she quips:

“All you do is fuss and moan, day and night. Tired of your opinions wrong or right. It’s on and on ad nauseum, sun to sun. Cause when it comes to blabber mouth, baby you’re number one. Put a lid on it!”

Or take her tune, “Chicken Wings” featured on this album. It’s a duet, with just Bryant and Kyle (playing harmonica instead of saxophone). It will have you laughing out loud. The production is simplistic and perfect. The song is an absolute tickle to your funny bone, and the lyrics are not only humorous, but unique. It’s a story fluidly written to unveil a testimony many of us can embrace about those delicious chicken wing snacks. Another favorite of mine is her song about Tina Turner’s walk from her “Weathervane” album.

Bryant is a competent lyricist as well as a smooth pianist and emotional singer. I love her renditions and arrangements of the jazz standards, like her breathy take on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” and the Latin tinged arrangement on “The Very Thought of You,” but where she truly shines is when she sings her own original compositions. For example, she wrote a song called, “Katydid.” It’s another humorous, melodic, and lyrically brilliant tune that Betty Bryant has penned to both stun and entertain us. I never figured out what ‘Katy did’ but I know it was something bizarre as I listen intently to Bryant’s story in hopes of uncovering Katy’s secret. Yes, this song, “Katydid” is not about insects, but rather about what Katy did.

Ms. Bryant is a mainstay of Kansas City jazz, right here in our own backyard. She’s a musical historian, who has been living in the Southern California area for nearly seventy years. Betty has worked in several clubs around the Los Angeles area, always expanding her repertoire and popularity. I used to love to hear both Betty and Howlett Smith perform duos with Larry Gales or Tomas Gargano at the now defunct, Bob Burns Restaurant in Santa Monica. Her style is distinctive, and her beaming personality is infectious.

She has taken her unique style and stage persona all over the world, including gigs in Brazil, in Oman, a country bordering Saudi Arabia, in Yeman and the United Arab Emirates. She has entertained crowds in Japan at the Tableaux Lounge in Tokyo, becoming a mainstay on that stage for several years in her classy gowns, sparkle shoes and with her warm personality shining as brightly as her piano brilliance and vocal persuasion. At home, you can catch her at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Restaurant and jazz Club or at Catalina’s in Hollywood. She surrounds herself with musicians she loves and who genuinely love her back, like producer, longtime friend and reedman, Robert Kyle; bassist, Richard Simon and drummer Kenny Elliott who are her core group. Also featured on this latest album are special guests like Yu Ooka and Kleber Jorge on guitar, Kevin Winard on percussion, Hussain Jiffry on electric bass and Tony Guerrero on trumpet.

Betty Bryant’s voice is rich with the lessons of life learned on a journey of nine plus decades. There is truth and honesty in each lyric sung and each note played. You will enjoy her piano style, sometimes reminiscent of the very cool Nat King Cole, other times of Count Basie’s ‘less is more’ attitude on the piano, but always soaked in the blues that Jay McShann taught her. Clearly, Betty Bryant has a Lotta Livin’ still to do, and she’s having a ball while she does it.

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MERRY CLAYTON – “BEAUTIFUL SCARS” – Motown Gospel Label

 

Merry Clayton, another legendary music artist based in the Los Angeles, Southern California area, opens this spiritual album with the timeless pop song, “A Song For You,” composed by the legendary Leon Russell. Her rendition is powerful and fueled by her emotional delivery. The saxophone of Curtis Amy (R.I.P.) is beautiful. Many of you may remember Curtis Amy was the Musical Director for Ray Charles and a horn soloist in Ray’s amazing big band for many years. He also was the husband of Merry Clayton from 1970 to his death in 2002.

Track #2 is the gospel standard, “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” a song that reflects a person in need of healing who believes if you just touch the garment of Jesus, you will be uplifted and cured. Merry Clayton has a voice of power and conviction that radiates from this recording like a blessing. The full choir voices of The Waters group and a host of other top names in the background field splash color and support on every song. Those voices include Jim Gilstrap, Josef Powell, Alex Brown, Yvonne Williams, Bobette Jamerson, Allie Silas, Sandy Simmons, Alvin Chea, Charlene, Mary Russell, Carmen Twillie & Kyliyah M. Amy. I love Merry’s gospel rendition of “Deliverance.” It touches my heart and the background voices blend jazz chords into their dynamic and harmonic gospel delivery. This has got to be one of my favorite songs on this lovely Christian album.

The other song that will lift you and elevate you is “He Made A Way” arranged with the choir as an up-tempo gospel song that will make you clap hands and praise GOD. This is Merry’s first album released after two decades of solo silence.

Over sixty years ago, a fledgling singer of only fourteen years old walked into a studio to sing background for pop star, Bobby Darin. Merry was so loud during the recording that Darin kept asking, who was the singer with the big voice? The other backup singers told Merry to back away from the microphone. But her voice was so powerful, she was nearly backed out the exit door before they could get a decent blend with the background singers. Her dynamic voice made Darin inquisitive. Who was that loud voice he kept hearing? He was so impressed with Merry, the young, talented teenager, that he featured her in a duet with him on a song called “Who Can I Count On?” in 1963. This was the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

“They called me Little Mahalia,” Merry Clayton was quoted by the New York Times during an interview, referring to her early years singing in her father’s church choir.

For a while, Merry Clayton joined the Ray Charles famed, female, backup group called the Raelettes. She was the baby of the group. It was during that time that she met her husband, the soulful saxophone player in Ray’s band, Curtis Amy.

But Merry’s powerhouse voice was never meant to sing in the background. She is a born super star with a voice to match. Her classic recordings support my comments. She sang with rock star, Joe Cocker and later, with the Rolling Stones where she performed an unforgettable duet with Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter.” She blew everybody’s mind in the studio that night. They talk about it in the film, “20 Feet From Stardom,” where Merry Clayton is featured as part of this Award winning documentary.

Getting back to her duet with Mick Jagger, on the tune, “Gimme Shelter” the lyrics were talking about Vietnam, racism, police killing people, and Merry says she felt like she was screaming out to her ancestors when she sang those protest lyrics. Merry Clayton’s reputation soon interested Lou Adler, an A&M based record executive, and he signed the amazing vocalist to his Ode Record label. Lou was certain that Merry Clayton’s voice was as powerful and dynamic as Aretha Franklin’s.

Merry’s credits shine on a long list of collaborations with legendary artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” singing backup. More recently, she made two guest spots on Coldplay’s “A Head Full of Dreams” in 2015.

The title of Merry’s new album is taken from an original song written by Diane Warren, “Beautiful Scars.” The lyrics unravel a story about someone who not only survives but, through all their trials and tribulations, they thrive. It reflects Merry Clayton herself, because she is strong as titanium. It was June 16, 2014, when Merry Clayton was critically injured in a freeway accident in Southern California. Consequently, both of her legs had to be amputated at the knees. This album is a tribute to her courage and resounding faith. Every note she sings rings with honesty and her emotional delivery will touch your heart the same way she touched mine. I have been listening to Merry Clayton’s brilliance since 1973, when I first met her on the A&M Record Company lot. All I can say is, she gets better with time.

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WHITNEY HOUSTON – “I GO TO THE ROCK” – a PBS gift to the world.

 

Amazon.com: I Go To The Rock: The Gospel Music Of Whitney Houston [DVD] : Whitney  Houston, CeCe Winans: CDs & VinylThis year, when I donated to the well-being and continued educational programs of PBS, I received an awesome gift for my support. It is an album of gospel music by the incredible Whitney Houston. Titled “I Go to the Rock – the Gospel Music of Whitney Houston” it’s the perfect uplifting music for the holiday season. Opening with the able assistance of the Georgia Mass Choir, she sings the title tune with affirmation. It will make you clap your hands and lift your spirit. This is followed by “Jesus Loves Me” with Whitney’s sweet soprano voice caressing each note and every syllable.

You will enjoy previously unreleased music like “He Can Use Me” and Whitney’s own unique interpretation of the gold- winning, Paul Simon record, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” recorded ‘live’ in June of 1995 with gospel icon, Cece Winans as a powerful duet. Whitney’s rendition of “Joy to the World” is bursting with energy and excitement. She offers fourteen songs that will make you prayerful and thankful, including two more previously unreleased spiritual gems, “I Found a Wonderful Way” and “This Day.” Although this album is not for commercial sale, perhaps it will inspire you to donate to PBS and you can receive it as a Christmas gift to yourself. The PBS information is included below for your reference.

https://secure3.convio.net/kocetv/site/Donation2?4428.donation=form1&df_id=4428&mfc_pref=T&utm_source=donate_in_nav&utm_medium=nav_button&utm_campaign=pbs_homepage

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The Yule Log | George Burton

GEORGE BURTON – “THE YULE LOG” – Porge Records

If you want to ‘swing’ into the holiday season, George Burton is an NAACP Image Award-nominated pianist, composer and arranger who does just that. During this production you will hear Burton reinvent both familiar and not-so-familiar Christmas songs in a creative and very jazz way. He employs the violin magic of Diane Monroe on the opening traditional Catalan carol, “Fum Fum Fum,” employing the vocals of Nancy Harms. Burton blends his classical roots with jazz spontaneity to ‘swing’ us into the holiday season. The addition of Veronica Jurkiewicz on viola, Maura Dwyer on cello and Monroe’s violin enriched this production. Burton’s jazz piano is the delicious spice that sweetly kisses our ears and captures the imagination. His innovative arrangements are perfectly executed by these musicians.

George Burton introduces me to some Christmas joy I have not heard before, including the spirited first number and another song titled, “Some Children See Him” along with a British traditional carol called, “The Holly and the Ivy.” During this British tune, Burton soaks up the spotlight on piano and continues entertaining us on the eighty-eight keys on “Little Altar Boy.” On “Jesu Parvule” Aryssa Leigh Burns is featured on vocals. This arrangement is a magnificent adventure. It exemplifies how George Burton can blend classical music, Avant-garde, and traditional jazz into a stunning package of musical surprises. Burton is featured on both piano and harmonium. This album would make a lovely stocking stuffer and add to any jazz lover’s collection.

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Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (Indie Exclusive Colored —  TurntableLab.com

VINCE GUARALDI QUINTET – “A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING” – Lee Mendelson Film Productions, Inc. 

Lee Mendelson Film Productions released, for the first time ever, the complete Vince Guaraldi soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Surely you or your family, children or grandchildren have enjoyed the timeless animated ‘Peanuts’ television special that celebrates five decades of cartoon joy for the holiday season. Creator Charles Schulz originally aired this delightful show on November 20, 1973, and it’s been going strong ever since. This album includes the original recordings that comprise the thirteen song cues of this historic TV Special, plus another nine bonus tracks. Some have never been heard before. Produced by Sean and Jason Mendelson, this album has a 6-page insert included with liner notes that give a track-by-track analysis. A delightful project that brings the holiday season alive with these familiar and well played tunes.

This Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

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Amazon.com: A Gospejazzical Christmas : John Paul McGee: Digital Music

JOHN PAUL McGEE – “A GOSPEJAZZICAL CHRISTMAS” – Jazz Urbane Label

An assistant chair of piano at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Dr. John Paul McGee has worked and recorded with a wide variety of secular and religious artists including Stevie Wonder, Cory Henry, Najee, Patti Labelle, Kim Burrell, and the Clark Sisters. He was the featured pianist in the 2017 movie, “A Question of Faith.” His previous recordings include ‘Gospejazzical, Vol. 1,’ released in 2022.

Dr. McGee opens with the familiar “Emmanuel” displaying his wonderful way of creating a musical hybrid that smoothly blends jazz with the more modern, Christian composition by Norman Hutchins. To this list of familiar Christmas tunes, Dr. McGee has added a few of the more recent contributions to holiday music like “Mary Did You Know” and “The Manger Medley,” an arrangement the artist has created with songs that reference the birth of Jesus. He presents this medley solo piano.

His take on “Little Drummer Boy” is fresh and innovative. The guitar talents of Patrick Arthur shine during his solo piece. The sweet voice of Lori Williams is featured on the familiar song, “Christmas Time is Here.” John Paul McGee slowly plays “What Child Is This” as a jazz waltz and shows off his piano skills, with fingertips that fly across the keys like hummingbird wings. Dr. McGee’s piano technique shimmers in the glow of blues and gospel music.

Dr. McGee began playing piano at age four. He is proficient on both piano and organ, earning his B.A. degree with a concentration on piano performance from Bethune-Cookman College. He attained a Master of Art in Religion degree from Liberty University and a Doctorate of Ministry with a concentration in Pastoral Care and Counseling from the Interdenominational Theological Center. This project brings both jazz music and Christmas music together under the talented hands and spiritual leadership of Dr. John Paul McGee on piano.

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GEORGE GEE SWING ORCHESTRA – “WINTER WONDERLAND” – Independent Label

Trumpets blare and the power drums of Chris Latona fiercely push the title tune to the forefront. “Winter Wonderland” never sounded so good! The orchestra continues to ‘swing’ with their arrangement of “What Child Is This?”

Winter Wonderland | George Gee Swing Orchestra

George Gee has been the leader of this magnificent swing orchestra since 1980 and his band is a fixture in the New York area. They boast a long-running residency at Times Square’s SWING46 Jazz Club for the past twenty-six years. Now that’s a steady gig every musician dreams about.

During this arrangement, the various musicians in the orchestra step forward to show us Their awesome talents. Each is gifted and precocious in their own way. Steve Elnerson’s piano was one highlight of the solos, but the horns were just as exciting including Patience Higgins on baritone saxophone, Michael Hashim on tenor and Anthony Nelson Jr. on alto sax. This was a wonderful, up-tempo arrangement. John Dokes sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” next, putting us quickly into the holiday spirit. This orchestra is a swing dancer’s wish-come-true. They keep the songs coming and the grooves humming. A wonderful addition to any Christmas music collection.

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DAVID IAN – “VINTAGE CHRISTMAS TRIO – MELODY” – Prescott

Records 

If you are looking for a more old-school musical celebration of the holiday season, pianist David Ian has chosen a number of lovely vintage Christmas songs to play for you. Here is a double-fisted handful of wonderful and familiar songs including the beautiful Christian hymns, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Away in a Manger” and “We Three Kings.” David Ian and his trio offer us familiar melodies, but they infuse these songs with their own unique jazz cadences, swings, shuffles, and improvisations. Every song is flavored with jazz beauty, in a very easy listening way. Pop this into your CD player while curled on the couch in front of a roaring fireplace or enjoying a family dinner. David Ian’s sophisticated take on tunes like “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” or “Silent Night” are pleasing to the ear and soothing to the spirit. When his trio goes from a sweet arrangement of “The First Noel” into a slow swing with Jon Estes walking his double bass with gusto and Josh Hunt driving them ahead with percussive confidence, you will start tapping your toe and smiling. This is peaceful music from three talented musicians to remind us musically of the meaning of Christmas: peace, joy and love.

Vintage Christmas Trio Melody - Album by David Ian - Apple Music

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SAMARA JOY – “A JOYFUL HOLIDAY” – Verve Records

Grammy Winner, Samara Joy brings us a fabulous holiday album including a song I had not heard before called “Warm in December” composed by Bob Russell and first recorded by the sultry voice of Julie London back in 1956. Ms. Joy has such a smooth and soothing tone to her voice that I am immediately comfortable and attentive to her delivery. This is an EP with just seven holiday songs, but it’s a half-an-hour of distinguished and high-quality jazz, featuring a marvelous group of musicians including well-respected pianist, Sullivan Fortner, bass man, David Wong, guitarist Pasquale Grasso, and powerhouse drummer, Kenny Washington.

Warm In December (Edit) - Single - Album by Samara Joy - Apple Music

Track #2 is the popular song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Samara Joy and her trio put their own twist on this familiar tune, adding the tasty licks of Pasquale Grasso on guitar and eliminating the piano. Samara explores her high soprano register, like a horn, smoothly rising to the occasion like Ella Fitzgerald might have done. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Me” is a duet with the talented vocalist and pianist, Sullivan Fortner. Here is another song I’ve never heard with poignant lyrics and a sweet melody. It was written by legendary Motown Songwriter, Ron Miller, and was introduced to the world by Stevie Wonder on his 1967 Christmas album.

She has included two renditions of “The Christmas Song.” One is in the studio with her piano trio and one that was recorded ‘Live.’ This time she is dueting with Antonio McLendon, who has a voice like silk. Shedrick Mitchell is on piano, and Eric Wheeler plays the bass. During this ‘live’ performance, Charles Haynes is on drums. On “O Holy Night” she shares her vocal platform with five other vocalists; Alana Alexander, Tiera Lovell Rowe, Antonio, Goldwire and Laurone McLendon accompanied by Sullivan Fortner on the Hammond B3 organ. It’s a lovely production of warm, welcoming, harmonic voices blended like fingers in prayer.

Samara Joy has a voice that does acrobatics in slow motion, squeezing each tone out like a mother’s hug. The love she spreads on this album is palpable. It was a gift to me and it will definitely be a gift to you.

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By Dee Dee McNeil
November 1, 2023

I first met Les McCann in 1971, at the historic Maverick’s Flat, a non-alcoholic nightclub on Crenshaw Blvd. Today, that building has been designated a historic Los Angeles treasure. Owned and run by John Daniels, it was a dance club and a hang-out for the who’s who of Black Hollywood, both actors and musicians. I was working there as a member of the early rap group The Watts Prophets. I was playing electric piano, as a singer/songwriter, adding my original songs and reciting poetry with the group. I was their female member, and we were the opening act for Les McCann and Roberta Flack, two artists who I greatly admired. I remember feeling so honored to be in that position.

Les McCann knows how to put the blues into everything he plays and has a natural ability to pump funk, gospel, and energy into his music that both entertains and inspires his audiences. That’s why I was so excited to receive this newly released Les McCann album on the Resonance record label titled “Never a Dull Moment!” It’s a three-disc CD, with the first disc featuring my old friend Stan Gilbert (R.I.P.) on bass, recorded in January of 1966, and the dynamic percussionist, Paul Humphrey on drums.

“When my manager, Alan Abrahams, told me that there were some recently uncovered recordings from the 60s that have never been released before, I was really curious if they were any good. People were always sending me cassettes that they have come across over the years and the sound was usually shit. When I was informed that these live recordings were from the Penthouse in Seattle (a cool venue) and also from the Village Vanguard in New York (another really cool venue), I held my breath. Then I heard them, and I said, damn!” said Les McCann.

Pianist, singer, composer and bandleader, Les McCann was born September 23, 1935, in Lexington, Kentucky. His dad loved jazz and his mother was said to hum opera songs around their house. As a youth, McCann played tuba and drums, performing in his school marching band. He picked up piano with an uncanny, natural ability to play the eighty-eight keys. It seemed to come natural to him. Les, along with his siblings, attended church regularly. You can clearly hear the gospel influence in his playing. He had the ability to merge gospel, soul, funk, and world rhythms into his arrangements. He played both upright, grand and electric piano, clavinet, synthesizer and was one of the first to add electric instruments to his concerts, before electronic jazz was popular. I would say, Les McCann helped to make electronic jazz popular.

In the late 1960s, McCann merged talents with Eddie Harris and produced a hugely successful album called, “Swiss Movement” which emphasized McCann’s wonderful vocal abilities. That album contained a song that Roberta Flack would later record called, “Compared to What.” It became a chart-topping hit record on Billboard’s Pop chart for McCann’s discovery, Miss Roberta Flack. However, the first time it was recorded was ‘live’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival. L.A.’s own Donald Dean was on drums and laying that groove down, while Les McCann was riding the piano bench like it was a bucking bronco.

 

Les McCann - Wikiwand

Les McCann 1980 photo

This recently released Resonance Records album has Les on grand piano, reminding me of his early days when he recorded for Pacific Jazz Records, when he was working with Ron Jefferson (lovingly referred to as ‘Vous Ete’ by the jazz musicians in Los Angeles) on drums, and Herbie Lewis on bass.

Les McCann - Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre

Les McCann, Herbie Lewis & Vous Ete (Ron Jefferson)

Recorded ‘live’ at the Penthouse in Seattle, his recent release opens with a Dizzy Gillespie composition, “Blues ‘n’ Boogie” that sets the mood for the Les McCann genius, style, and piano technique to introduce himself to the concert-goers. McCann has a formidable style. Once you hear Les McCann, you will never forget him. The second song on this exciting release is “Could Be,” a Les composition, originally recorded with Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra. The third cut is a Monty Alexander tune called, “The Grabber.” It swings hard at an up-tempo pace with lots of staccato notes dancing beneath Les McCann’s fingers. Some years back, it was Les McCann who brought Monty Alexander from Kingston, Jamaica to the United States, introducing him to the world on an LP titled, “Les McCann Introduces Alexander the Great.” Humphrey shines like a meteor shower during his drum solo. The next piece is a song he calls “Yours is My Heart Alone.” It’s a beautiful ballad, where his left hand trembles against the mid-register, as his right hand tenderly plays the melody. I am stunned when he reaches inside the grand piano to caress the strings, strumming them as he pulls surprising music out while using this technique. It’s as though he’s playing a harp.

Another ballad that I loved by Les McCann was “With These Hands.” It is a touching and lovely ballad that he sang, years ago, with so much emotion it brought tears to my eyes.

“The Shampoo” was one of Les McCann big hit records back-in-the-day and it still sounds like a hit, incorporating a drum lick that comes close to being a tambourine player. This song takes you to church and to the juke joint, all in the matter of five and a half minutes. Stan Gilbert steps into the spotlight briefly to show off his double bass skills. I used to work often with Gilbert in my trio, and he always knew how to padlock the groove into place. Between him and the groove master himself, Les McCann, this tune will make you want to walk the room and wave a white hanky.

The Baptist church continues to inspire McCann’s arrangements, holding hands with the blues on “Wait for it,” another McCann original. They close with Steve Allen’s standard tune, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” It’s arranged at a thrilling pace, with Humphrey’s drumsticks sounding like machine guns firing rounds. This is just the first of three discs in this wonderful package of music.

It was the 1950s when Les McCann arrived in California and settled here. He immediately started making the rounds of jazz clubs and coffee houses. In the 1960s, an era was issued in that was called the Hippie movement. Les explained:

“I met Gene McDaniels here in Hollywood. He wrote Compared to What. Los Angeles had a lot of service men, and farm boys. I don’t know how many black farm boys you know, but they were around back then.” McCann told this story on a radio interview in 2011 with Dave Lawrence.

“I’d go to my coffee house keys to play the piano by myself. Hollywood had coffee houses everywhere and I worked at all of them. I’d go to college, get out and go play at the coffee houses. I was known as the king of the coffee houses back then. I met Gene and he told me he was a songwriter and every time he wrote a song he’d call me up and play it for me. I loved “Compared to What” when I heard it. He played guitar over the phone and sang me the lyrics.

“Eddie Harris and I flew to be on the Montreux Jazz Fest. The idea came to me how to arrange that song right there when we walked out on that stage. We wound up recording it because Eddie and I were on the same Atlantic Record Label. Joel Dorn, the producer, suggested we record together. We hadn’t ever rehearsed it. I played it, the band fell in, and it was a golden blessing,” Les McCann recalled how that hit song became a classic recording.

Disc 2 of this triple disc set starts out with the same infectious soul/jazz groove that made “Compared to What” so hypnotic. Les McCann just has his way with the piano. They open Disc 2 with a song called “Out in the Outhouse.” It will remind the listeners of how funky this artist can be. The ‘live’ audience responds with much applause. His ensemble put a new spin on “Night in Tunisia” and as always, Les McCann puts his own mark of excellence on the arrangement.

Inclusive of this triple disc album release are recordings with Tony Bazley on drums and Victor Gaskin on bass. Also, they recorded McCann’s live show in New York, at the Village Vanguard in 1967. There is also music played with the great Leroy Vinnegar on bass. I used to see Leroy playing and hanging out at the Al Williams jazz club in Long Beach. Leroy was an amazing talent. McCann also adds the drums of Frank Severino.

Les McCann Never A Dull Moment![CD] | Resonance Records

In 1995, Les McCann suffered a stroke on stage in Germany that incapacitated him from playing piano the way you will hear him on these awesome, ‘live’ recordings. However, he rehabilitated and I saw him performing ‘live’ at a Merle Kreibich hotel concert about six or seven years ago.

The University of Kentucky honored Les McCann in 2015, awarding him an honorary doctorate for his extraordinary body of musical work that he has gifted to the world. This album is a wonderful addition to any record collection, and you will enjoy hearing some of the best of Les McCann, when he was absolutely in his prime.

On the Jake Feinberg Show in May of 2022, Les McCann summed up his life and music mission saying this:

“Nothing is more important than my music…. In Kentucky, I was inspired by Nat King Cole, Louie Jordan, and Stan Kenton on the radio. It was a show broadcasted from Galveston, Tennessee, called Randy’s Record Shop. Years later I met Randy when he moved out to California. … That’s where I first heard Mile Davis, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, they were playing everything, all the good stuff.

“I have 135 CDs out. When I walk into the studio, I tell them I want an engineer who does not know the words, I can’t do that. When I walk into the studio, turn the tape on instantly. Record everything you hear. … I am here to be on this planet to be me. The great Reggie Workman said, playing jazz is a matter of life and death. Every moment of my wide-awake hours is about the music.”

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MJF66, September 22-24, 2023

The Monterey Jazz Festival is held annually on the 20-acre, oak-studded Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, Calif. Since 1958, the nonprofit Monterey Jazz Festival has been committed to celebrating America’s creativity and cultural heritage by presenting legendary jazz musicians, composers, and young rising stars.

Co-founded by Jimmy Lyons and Ralph J. Gleason in 1958, the nonprofit Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world, and presented nearly every major jazz artist over the last 60-plus years—from Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Tony Bennett, and Miles Davis, to contemporary masters Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis, Trombone Shorty, Norah Jones, Esperanza Spalding, and Terence Blanchard.

As a nonprofit, Monterey Jazz Festival is devoted to education by presenting year-round local, regional, national, and international programs. Thousands of students have been the benefactors of the Festival’s educational efforts through the Jazz in the Schools Program, Summer Jazz Camp, Next Generation Jazz Festival, Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, Next Generation Women in Jazz Combo and Monterey County All-Star Ensembles, which embark on annual performance trips each summer.

Snarky Puppy
John Scofield & Yankee Go Home
Terri Lyne Carrington & New Standards
Christian McBride’s New Jawn
Charles Lloyd Quartet
Next Generation Jazz Orchestra directed by Gerald Clayton with special guests Lakecia Benjamin & John Handy
Elena Pinderhughes & Lionel Loueke: A Diaspora Journey
Music for Abolition with Terri Lyne Carrington, Gina Dent & Angela Davis
Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke
Sullivan Fortner Trio
Kait Dunton Band
Kris Davis’ Diatom Ribbons
Sandy Cressman – Cantos do Povo: The Music of Milton Nascimento
The Trio: Gerald Clayton, John Clayton & Jeff Hamilton
Billy Childs Quartet featuring Sean Jones


September 22-24, 2023
2004 Fairground Road
Monterey, CA 93940
montereyjazzfestival.org
888-248-6499

The Monterey Peninsula is one of California’s most picturesque regions to visit and explore. Here are some of its top attractions:


Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on California’s Monterey Peninsula. It’s known for the museums and library of the historic Carmel Mission, and the fairytale cottages and galleries of its village-like center. The Scenic Bluff Path runs from surf spot Carmel Beach to bird-rich Carmel River State Beach, with a scuba entry point. South lie the sea animals and whaling museum of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
www.carmelcalifornia.com

 

Seven Gables Inn – Lovers Point – Pacific Grove California.
Pacific Grove offers an unparalleled quality of life. Sharing borders with the Monterey Bay, City of Monterey, Pacific Ocean, and the Del Monte Forest, our town offers breathtaking views and recreational activities. The City provides services to the community including: a monarch butterfly habitat sanctuary; sandy beaches; the oldest continuously-operating lighthouse on the west coast; excellent emergency, fire, and ocean rescue services; the lowest crime rate of any city in Monterey County; an award-winning natural history museum; and a nationally-recognized 18-hole golf course.
www.cityofpacificgrove.org

 


Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. Bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the west by the Pacific Ocean, it’s traversed by narrow, 2-lane State Route 1, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the often-misty coastline. The sparsely populated region has numerous state parks for hiking, camping and beachcombing
www.bigsurcalifornia.org

 


With its picturesque charm and colorful history, Cannery Row captivates visitors from all over the world. The unique appeal of this fabled street is what makes Cannery Row the most popular vacation destination on California’s Central Coast. With luxurious waterfront hotels, enticing restaurants and captivating boutiques, Cannery Row is the ideal place to soak up the culture and beauty of Monterey Bay.
https://canneryrow.com

 


Monterey Bay Aquarium is a nonprofit public aquarium in Monterey, California. Known for its regional focus on the marine habitats of Monterey Bay, it was the first to exhibit a living kelp forest when it opened in October 1984.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
www.montereybayaquarium.org
(831) 648-4800

 


Pebble Beach Golf Links, unanimously rated the No. 1 Public Course in the Country. Pebble Beach hosted its sixth U.S. Open in 2019, more than any other course over the last 50 years. Eight future championships will be hosted including: a first U.S. Women’s Open in 2023 plus three additional Women’s Opens in 2035, 2040 and 2048, and four future U.S. Opens in 2027, 2032, 2037 and 2044. Every February, the PGA TOUR visits for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a tradition that began in 1947.
Pebble Beach Golf Course
17-Mile Drive
Pebble Beach, CA 93953
www.pebblebeach.com
(800) 877‑0597

 


The waterfront Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail stretches 18 miles, from Castroville in the north to Pacific Grove in the south. This popular paved path hugs the coast, following the same route as the old Southern Pacific Railway. The rec trail connects to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row, the American Tin Cannery shopping and outlet mall, Fisherman’s Wharf, and much more…
www.seemonterey.com/

 

Colton Hall & Old Jail ~ Monterey - Hudson 4 California History
Built to serve as a public school and town meeting hall, Colton Hall now offers visitors a re-creation of the meeting room where California’s first Constitution was drafted in October 1849 and exhibits on early Monterey. Colton Hall is a landmark in the City of Monterey, once the capital of Alta California.

The Colton Hall Museum provides a place for learning and enjoyment focused on its core exhibits as the site of California’s 1849 bilingual constitution leading to statehood and one of California’s first dedicated schools and town halls during the early America period. It also offers a charming historic venue for public programs and events, including the annual Evening Music Concerts, California Constitutional Convention Reenactment, and Christmas in the Adobes, and much more.
Colton Hall
570 Pacific St.
Monterey, CA 93940
monterey.org
831) 646-5648

 


Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf features 11 restaurants and fish markets, 3 candy shops, an ice cream store, 9 gift shops, 4 whale watching firms, 2 fishing companies and sailing, glass bottom boat rides, Bay cruises, fish markets and the Wharf Theatre. Savor delicious cuisine at a myriad of fabulous restaurants featuring stunning views and award-winning Italian food, sustainable seafood, steaks including the region’s famous clam chowder and calamari. The Wharf was also a main location for the filming of the hit HBO series, Big Little Lies, Season One.
Fisherman’s Wharf
#1 Old Fishermans Wharf
Monterey, CA 93940
www.montereywharf.com
(831) 238-0777

 

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to host 2019 INDYCAR season finale
Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca is an 11-turn, 2.238-mile jewel of a road course on California’s beautiful central coast. While the track is a favorite of racers and fans worldwide, many focus on one specific section—officially Turns 8 and 8A—or more commonly known as The Corkscrew.
Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca
1021 Monterey Salinas Highway
Salinas, CA 93908
www.co.monterey.ca.us/
(831) 242-8201

 

33rd SAN JOSE JAZZ SUMMER FEST Friday, August 11 - Sunday, August 13, 2023  | Grateful Web

 

The San Jose Jazz Summer Fest initially had formidable competition with the long-established Monterey Jazz Festival, which began in 1958 and the comparatively recent SF Jazz Festival that started in 1983 as “Jazz in the City.” Significantly, since its inception over 30 ears ago, the annual San Jose gathering has come into its own and now is in a class by itself. It has warmer weather than the other nearby festivals and is much broader in scope with an appealing mixture of jazz and its variations, Latin music, R&B, funk, and homegrown music.

Downtown San Jose’s Plaza de César Chavez Park is the festival’s hub with eight stages all within close proximity. Among them are the Sobrato Organization Main Stage, Blues/Big Easy, Latin Tropical, SJMA Next Gen and the Tabard Theatre Swing Stage. This year over 100 different artists will perform with something for everyone, even those with little to no interest in jazz.

Mainstream Jazz lovers and more adventurous aficionados will enjoy some familiar high caliber musicians like the boundless The Bad Plus, multi-Grammy-Winning soul/jazz vocalist Gregory Porter, celebrated composer/arranger/pianist Billy Childs, heavy weight session player/composer/bandleader/humanitarian Marcus Miller, and multi-faceted Patrice Rushen who’s a stellar keyboardist, songwriter, producer and educator. 

Among the crew of emerging innovators are post-Coltrane saxophonist Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few, dynamo funk/jazz saxophonist Grace Kelly, technically astonishing and historically knowledgeable pianist Connie Han, vibrant American Songbook songstress Halie Loren, category defining multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and composer MAE.SUN (Hailey Niswanger), dazzling trumpeter and expressive singer Benny Benack III, and Veronica Swift; a commanding and unpredictable singer.

Additionally, the Bay Area’s own unique jazz musicians will be highlighted and include: modernized and Afro-fused Marcus Shelby New Orchestra Featuring Tiffany Austin, who glows with a love for traditional jazz and blues; Vocal Gents of Jazz with Kenny Washington, Nicolas Bearde & Jamie Davis unite for first time to do astonishing renditions of Ellington, Count Basie and Joe Williams classics.

Singer Yvonne Flores delivers a superb mix of jazz, contemporary, Latin and bossa; the festival’s multi-cultural touring band SJZ Collective with Ukrainian trumpet Yakiv Tsvietinskyi, who intermixes jazz and music from his homeland, and Malachi Whitson, who’s brilliantly played drums with jazz titans: Joshua Redman, Helen Sung, Christian McBride and Theo Croker.

San Jose Jazz Summerfest attendees are well known for loving to party down with their friends and family. That aspect of the festival will be joyfully propelled by New Orleans Brass Band marvels: The Soul Rebels, Grammy Award-nominated Afro-Cuban rockstar Cimafunk, superstar producer, DJ and rapper Pete Rock, and the 2022 Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year; saxophonist/singer/songwriter Vanessa Collier.

For added excitement, Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, producer and actor Anthony Hamilton, Featuring The Ton3s; W.I.T.C.H. (We Intend To Cause Havoc), blends traditional African rhythms and bush village songs with rock and R&B; Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s longstanding purveyors of pre-rock and roll jump n’ boogie blues, and gospel and R&B troubadour Marcel Smith.

From a Latin and Latin jazz perspective, specially curated by global music expert Betto Arcos are: Chika Di, who blends traditional Latin, electronic, afro, and pop with powerful Colombian vocals; traditional and modern Cuban  Orquesta La Moderna Tradición with Grammy Award-winning flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle and VibraSÓN respectfully renders classic salsa and Boogaloo from ‘60s. Bloco Do Sol San José  is a community ensemble of youth and adult students and electrifying Óskar Ly & Rumbalú fuses azz, salsa, pop, and Afro-Latin rhythms.

For even more Latin music enjoyment, Gabriel Gonzalez y La Verdad is a collective who convey the Los Angeles Latino experience through their blend of traditional and original songs, Club Mambí includes LA-based Cuban trumpeter  and percussionist Onier Bacall with singer Maga Shukar showcases salsa original pieces; Ensemble a Contratiempo Afrovenezuelan Jazz are super versatile incorporating jazz, world music, and electronic elements with their native Afro-Venezuelan roots; San Miguel represents the New Generation of the famous Buena Vista Social Club players, and Telmary & Friends is one of Cuba’s leading, cutting edge hip-hop and urban music artists. They will help many connect with their heritage, and inspire high-spirited dancing, with the Culture Night Market and marketplace being adjacent to the Latin Tropical stage.

Furthermore, partying late into the night on Friday and Saturday, will continue with a Club Crawl at various venues. Alternatively, Sunday morning will overflow with delectable food and uplifting free music, featuring vocalist Joyce Randolph accompanied by a keyboardist, during the Gospel Brunch from 11am to 1pm at the Marriott San Jose.

At the First Unitarian Church of San Joséalso on Sunday morning will be a celebration with a jazz accent. This year’s theme, “The Women Who Raised Me,” inspired by Kandace Springs’ 2020 album of the same name. And Community Fest@Circle of the Palms, located inside and outside of the San José Museum of Art, will celebrate local San José culture, with cross-cultural games, performances, programs, artist projects, art displays and more, from 12–5pm. It is free and open to all; —no Fest wristband is required.

Whether a seasoned jazz lover, a curious newbie, or someone just looking for something interesting or different to do, SJJSF has a wealth of music to experience; a variety of venues, and plenty of food and beverages to enjoy and sample. Tickets range from low-price general admission to VIP experiences with up-close seating, exceptional food and drinks, shady viewing areas, and an exclusive bar and entrance gate. 

San Jose Jazz’s Executive Director, Brendan Rawson, stated the festival’s purpose: “We are very passionate about providing top tier programming that’s both international in scope as well as reflective of San Jose. We greatly look forward to presenting a Fest with all the elements music fans have come to love.”

33rd Annual San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2023
August 11 – 13, 2023
Plaza de César Chavez Park, San Jose, CA
summerfest.sanjosejazz.org
(408) 288-7557

Along with all the great music at the SJJSF, the Santa Clara Valley offers a variety of outdoor activities for all levels of fitness, breathtaking vistas, Michelin Award–winning restaurants and diverse points of interest. Popular nearby attractions are:

Welcome to the Winchester Mystery House® - Winchester Mystery House

This is an eccentric Victorian mansion on six acres that was once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester. Mrs. Winchester believed that spirits killed by her deceased husband’s rifles haunted the house, resulting in her building odd rooms and staircases to keep them at bay.

525 S Winchester Blvd,
San Jose, CA 95128
www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/
(408) 247-2000

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose houses the largest collection of  Egyptian artifacts on exhibit in western North America

The useum is a theosophical museum devoted to Ancient Egypt with the largest collection of ancient artifacts and exhibits in the Western U.S.  It’s located at the Rosicrucian Park in the Rose Garden neighborhood of San Jose and was founded by the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis.

1660 Park Ave
San Jose, CA 95191
www.egyptianmuseum.org/
(408) 947-3635

The Tech Museum of InnovationConsidered more than a museum and casually called “The Tech” it is a “must” for techies and definitely not a traditional museum. Significantly, the museum has three different levels and is devoted to four themes: Communication, Exploration, Innovation and Life Tech.

201 S Market St
San Jose, CA 95113
www.thetech.org
(408) 294-8324

San Jose Museum of Art - Events, Things to Do in San Jose - Arts, Modern  Art Museum - Phone Number - Hours - Photos - 110 S Market Street - SF  Station

Founded in 1969 in a building that was once a post office and the San Jose Main Library for 30 years. It was named a California Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places, with a large collection 20th and 21st century West Coast artists.

110 S Market St
San Jose, CA 95110
sjmusart.org
(408) 271-6840

JAMsj Blog — Japanese American Museum of San Jose

This the result of a research project on Japanese American Farmers in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Santa Clara Valley that developed into courses on Japanese American History and established as an institute in 1987. Included in its 6400 sq. ft. hub located in the Japantown section of San Jose are artifacts, exhibits, film screenings and lectures related to the Japanese American Experience.

535 N 5th St.
 San Jose, CA 95112
www.jamsj.org
408) 294-3138

Children's Museum, IL | Official Website

Apple Computer Co-Founder Steve Wozniak was the largest private donor when this top-rated museum and science center opened in 1990. This 52,000 sq. ft. facility is a mecca for interactive exhibits and open-ended explorations oriented to children.

180 Woz Way
San Jose, CA 95110
www.cdm.org
(408) 298-5437

Municipal Rose Garden | Search Parks & Playgrounds | City of San José

A little over two miles from Downtown San Jose, the 5.5 acre, almost 90-year-old park (est. 1927) is a relaxing delight for rose lovers. Visitors can leisurely peruse the grounds, dine or just relax among 3,500 shrubs representing 189 rose varieties.

Dana Ave
San Jose, CA 95112
www.sanjoseca.gov
(408) 794-7274

Japanese Friendship Garden Regional Park

Japanese Friendship Garden Regional Park - 1

This beautiful and tranquil garden is an expanse of peace in the middle of the city. The Japanese Friendship Garden (JFG) is a living symbol of the “Sister City” relationship between Okayama, Japan and San Jose. It serves as a popular setting for the perfect place for weddings and celebrations, but it best serves San Jose residents as a place to sit and reflect on the beauty and power of nature.

1300 Senter RoadSan Jose, CA 95112
www.sanjoseca.gov
408-794-7275

Home | J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
1000 Lenzen Ave.
San Jose, CA 95126
www.jlohr.com
(408) 918-2160

885 W Julian St.
San Jose, CA 95126
www.coteriecellars.com/
(408) 288-5553

In Search Of Beers
75 East Santa Clara StreetSan Jose, CA 95113
www.isobeers.com
408-298-2337

Uproar Brewing, an independent brewery in San Jose
439 South First StreetSan Jose, CA 95113
www.uproarbrewing.com
408-673-2266

What's On Tap Campbell — Strike Brewing Co.
2099 South 10th Street
Unit 30San Jose, CA 95112
www.sanjose.org
877-855-8620

For more info go to: www.sanjose.org

 

By Dee Dee McNeil
July 1, 2023

In 2019, Stepanyan was like any other tourist. He went to see Hollywood Boulevard and view the stars implanted in cement on the Walk of Fame. He saw the famed Capital Records building and there was a star for Dave Koz sparkling right there in front of Stepanyan’s inquisitive eyes. At that time, he had dreamed of meeting and working with the iconic reed player but had no idea that one day he would indeed collaborate with Koz.

Dave Koz said in a recent documentary about Vahagn Stepanyan’s latest album release:

Sometimes you run into people that come out of nowhere with chops and skills that are so off the charts it makes you ask, who is that and where are they from? I discovered he is Armenian and has a massive profile in his own country, with a lifelong dream of coming to the United States and he did it. … He’s one of those rare talents. … he loves to collaborate. He has this ability to connect musically.”

Dave Koz is featured on Vahagn new album, the Synergy tune. This adds to a growing list of credits. Vahagn Stepanyan has worked with artists from thirty countries. Wearing an assortment of colorful hats, Stepanyan plays keyboard, acoustic piano, he produces, arranges, and is a master engineer. I became aware of Vahagn Stepanyan when his publicist, Rick Scott, sent me his latest album release. I was so impressed with Stepanyan’s mastery of keyboard instruments, the rhythm effects, electronic grooves and his slick, melodic, contemporary production that I decided to research this man’s credentials. Not only does he play pop music, blues, gospel and smooth jazz, Stepanyan can transform his talents to complement a symphony orchestra. This year, he won the Grammy for his participation as featured keyboardist and additional engineer of “An Adoption Story,” a classical album by Kitt Wakeley, featuring Starr Parodi and The London Symphony.

On June 22nd, I chatted with Vahagn and asked him about his diverse career and how he was inspired to pursue music.

“My daddy is a musician as well, but he plays by ear. He plays accordion and guitar. But my grandfather was also a musician. He played an Armenian instrument called TAR.

NOTE: The Tar is a long-necked string instrument.

“My sister is a classical flute player. She has a master’s degree in music. I grew up in Yerevan, Armenia. I actually raised myself in music. I learned my fundamental studies from just watching Gospel Video Cassettes. In the 1990s, when I was only eight years old, I would save my money and buy those video cassettes and learn. I would listen 100 times, over and over, because at that time I was training as a classical pianist. That was not giving me the techniques that I needed to learn jazz, blues and pop music. My first gospel video I studied was Ron Kenoly, “Sing Out.” I was listening to him and then albums by Eric Marienthal, Dave Koz and others.”

“I remember my first video cassette. I took it to my piano teacher and said, whenever I grow up, I’m going to play with these huge musicians. She said, forget about it because these people are great Grammy winners. You will never ever be playing with them.”

Who would have guessed that a small, ten-year-old boy from war torn Armenia would affirm to his piano teacher, that he would one day play music with American luminaries? Vahagn Stepanyan did just that. Even though his piano teacher told him his ambitions were ridiculous, Vahagn Stepanyan paid no attention. He dreamed big, did his due diligence, soaked up knowledge about music, polished his piano and synthesizer work, explored his composer skills, mastered studio engineering, and built a successful business in Europe. He explained some of his accomplishments to me.

“I am very passionate. Like when there is a goal, I set it in front of me, no matter what’s the price, I’m going for it. I’m reaching that goal. For example, I had always dreamed to have the best recording studio in my country. When I started building the studio, it took me about eight years. People were coming to the studio, watching the building process, and they were laughing at me. They were saying, why are you building this kind of crazy studio in Armenia? Nobody’s going to come. You’re investing, but you’re not going to get your investment back. I don’t care what they say. I was passionate. If it takes twenty years, ten years, five years, eight years, I’m going to make it happen. In 2015, I opened Stepanyan Studio, and it became the best recording studio in Armenia.

“The whole time, from childhood to grown man I was buying those videos by gospel players and later, CDs. I was listening, because even in our school, we did not have jazz classes. So, I did not have any place to go and learn. But everybody was saying, you are talented. I was thinking, ok, I’m talented but who is going to show me the techniques and give me the skills to learn how to play this other music? I had a deep passion. I always said, when I grow-up I’m going to play with jazz musicians and gospel musicians. So now, when I play with Dave Koz, Eric Moore, Melvin Lee Davis, Nathan East, Eric Marienthal, I’m playing with them on gigs and they are on my record and I produce their albums, I’m like … Ok! What’s next?”

The video above is Stepanyan going to Las Vegas to Meet Eric Moore at the Hide Out studios.

Vahagn’s American dream didn’t come true right away. While working in his Armenian recording studio he was busy scoring films and producing artists, but also sending videos of his work out on the Internet. His goal was to gain American interest in his work and talent.

“In 2009, I had an offer to sign a contract and work with some huge band in America, but I rejected that offer. That was my first trip here, after serving in the Armenian army. I saw how musicians were receiving me and acting speechless when they saw me play. I started thinking, are you serious? Am I really that talented? (laughter) … And suddenly, I knew then that I could get the gold here. I rejected the contract and went back home to start working on my own material. I started getting calls to come to the United States and I was busy recording artists in Armenia and scoring films. That’s how I started my career,” Stepanyan shared his extraordinary story with me.

The next step towards his American dream slowly manifested. He was flown back and forth from Armenia to America to act as keyboardist, composer and/or producer for a number of American artists. He has accompanied pop stars like Jhene Aiko singing “10K Hours.”

On the Greg Howe & Phil Lassiter’s recording, Stepanyan is saturated in funk and smooth jazz, playing grand piano and Keyboards.

Somehow, Vahagn finds time to act as a judge for Sound Design Contests. He also creates Sound Design himself and I asked him about that unusual creative aspect of his career.

“I just create. I use my imagination. I like to write and produce sounds that are really unique. So, for example, I represent some of the best top seventy companies in the world, instrumental companies like Moog, and video companies. I can use any sounds from their libraries that I want to use. But I like creating my own sound designs because I write my own sounds for companies. I write, imagining how something would sound in real time. Instead of using the ones that are packaged, I create real ones. So that’s how I got into sound design. If I want a dog to bark, I want to bring the real dog to bark. In that case, I don’t use the samples,” he explained.

“After that, I got an offer from the Foley The World Awards Show, which is an international competition for Sound Designers. I wanted to submit my work for that competition, but they got back to me and instead they wanted me to be a judge. So I did that.

“I recently won two Grand Awards from the Akademia Music Awards for naming my album songs, ‘Synergy’ and ‘Motion,’ Best Jazz Songs. My song ‘Motion’ also won a Global Music Awards Silver Medal. I was recently nominated ‘Musician of the Year’ by Josie Music Awards. That award show will be held on October 22nd at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, TN. A song from my album was nominated by the Hollywood Independent Music Awards (HIMA) in the Jazz (Fusion/Bebop) category.”

Clearly, Vahagn Stepanyan recognizes the power of thought, the power of dreams and the power of words to affirm your destiny. He knows there is also power in music. It can heal us. It can make us joyful or pensive; sad or inspired.

“Our album is on Billboard charts which is the first time in Armenian Music history that an independent artist from Armenia is on the Billboard Music Charts. In 2021, I left everything in Armenia when I got an offer to work in the United States. I decided yes, I’m moving.

“Once, there was a jazz musician I called up and said to him, I just want to know what’s the right way to play and what’s not right? He said there’s not such a rule. You just play whatever comes to your head or mouth, whatever melody you hear, try singing that in your mind, try repeating it in your head. After that I was like, are you serious? I was waiting for someone to come and teach me, but after that, I found out I had it in my head all the time and I just started playing. I never had jazz teacher to say you need to play like this or that.

“Today, I just write, arrange, compose. I believe for every music genre the foundation is classical music and jazz. Classical is the foundation for the rules, your fingers, your speed, your tempos, but jazz is the power of freedom. You need that to create rock music, pop, or whatever you want to play. If you’re a jazz musician, it’s very easy to make the transition.”

On the day that I interviewed Vahagn Stepanyan, his current album “A New Chapter” was charting at #5 on the famed Billboard Contemporary Jazz Album chart and #19 on the Jazz Albums Chart. At the same time, his album is slowly easing its way up the Top 100 Billboard all-around Chart, currently at #97. As his music becomes more and more visible, his phone is ringing constantly. The offers are streaming in as Vahagn Stepanyan’s American dream unfolds like a rainbow across the sky.

“I have a studio. It’s in Armenia and I’m not using it. I’m here. This is a new chapter. That’s why I called the album ‘A New Chapter’ because I’m starting everything again from zero. I’m just reborn again. Right now, I have some offers from Walt Disney and I’m trying to answer these opportunities in America, because that’s what I like to do; film scores. I did many television and movie soundtracks in Armenia. I don’t limit myself,” Vahagn reminds me.

Based in Los Angeles, Vahagn Stepanyan continues to be visible, creative, a musical force of nature and amazingly productive. Listen for his name and his music!

 

By Dee Dee McNeil   June 1, 2023

Although pianist, composer, producer and singer Patrice Rushen is petite in stature, she is large in accomplishments. On February 26th of this year (2023), she was in Boston, Massachusetts to receive the “Make Them Hear You” 2023 Award. It celebrated her awesome contributions to the artistic community. It was also a fundraiser for Boston’s Hamilton-Garrett Center for Music and Arts, that will provide music education for city youth.1 That is only one of several achievements and awards that Patrice has received during her spectacular career.

Rushen’s musical directing talents began in 1988 when she handled the music for the “Partners in Crime” television show. Perhaps you remember another television show honed from a book by Gloria Naylor called, “The Women of Brewster Place?” It aired in 1989 and Patrice Rushen was the Musical Director on that project. In 1990, she was the first woman to act as Musical Director (MD) for the annual Grammy Award presentation and Patrice occupied the same status during three more consecutive shows in (2004, 2005 and 2006). Did you know, Rushen was the first female music director/ conductor and arranger for a late-night television show called “The Midnight Hour?” It aired on CBS in 1990. Rushen is a trailblazer.

The gifted pianist also became the first female in forty-three years to become Head Composer and Musical Director for the televised Emmy Awards program. The credits kept rolling with Ms. Rushen serving as the NAACP Image Award Musical Director for a dozen years. She is the only woman chosen to head the People’s Choice Awards as a Musical Director. As a female, Patrice Rushen continued to pop the glass ceiling by acting as MD/Conductor and Arranger for HBO’s Comic Relief television special. Then, in 2002, she was Musical Director for the 8th Annual BET Walk of Fame, honoring the phenomenal Stevie Wonder2 and she repeated this position in 2003 when the Walk of Fame honored ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin, and again, in 2004 when the Walk of Fame honored Motown legend, Smokey Robinson.

I feel like we need a drumroll, because at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Patrice Rushen became Musical Director/Composer for Newsweek’s premier American Achievement Awards show. From 1993 to 1995, she served as MD for Janet Jackson’s World Tour and as record producer, Rushen took on the project of “No Strings” by Sheena Easton, producing an album of jazz standards for the singer including “The Nearness of You” with Sheena singing it on the hit film, “Indecent Proposal.

June is Black Music Month, a perfect time to celebrate the legendary Patrice Rushen? As a Southern California native, this little lady with the big talent was nurtured by loving parents Allen and Ruth Rushen. She grew up in Los Angeles and is the eldest daughter of two girls. At age three, her parents enrolled her into a specialized music program at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music (USC). This resulted as a suggestion from their nursery schoolteacher, who noticed Patrice Rushen’s natural musical talents. She suggested, to Mr. and Mrs. Rushen, they enroll little Patrice into this selective program for gifted children. This is where Patrice was taught piano and music theory. By the time she was in the first grade, Patrice was performing classical music recitals.4 Funny how time can turn things upside down in the most unexpected ways. Today, Patrice Rushen is the Chair of the Popular Music Program at USC’s Thornton School of Music, the very place where she began her music education at age three.

As music lovers themselves, her parents were listening to all genres of music, plus they belonged to a record club. Consequently, the Rushen house was full of music. The three-year-old Patrice Rushen heard the radio blasting top forty tunes like Elvis Presley spitting out his hit record ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and Sam Cooke crooning, “You Send Me.” The L.A. based, Coasters were a singing group that was thrilling the 1957 R&B airwaves with a tune called “Searchin” and their hit record, “Young Blood.” Records spinning on the Rushen house turntable could have included best-selling albums by Count Basie’s Orchestra or Miles Davis playing “Birth of the Cool” on his trumpet. The blessing of music intoxicated the little girl’s ears.

Patrice Rushen’s career took off when she was still a teenager. At seventeen, she won a music competition and was invited to perform with her Locke high school bandmates at the very popular Monterey Jazz Festival. Executives from Prestige Records (a division of Fantasy Records) witnessed that performance. Patrice was quickly signed to their label and released three albums. The first was “Prelusion” released in 1974. The second was “Before the Dawn” in 1975 and the final release was “Shout It Out” in 1977. The following year, she began recording for Elektra Record company. She released the single, “Haven’t You Heard” in 1980 and “Forget Me Nots” in 1981. Those hit records, ‘crossed over’ from jazz to pop and R&B, putting the whole world on notice. The listening public fell in love with ‘Baby fingers,’ an adorable nickname for Patrice Rushen.

Those tiny, creative and technically astute hands were already becoming legendary in the jazz community. Patrice appeared with the iconic pioneer of violin, Jean-Luc Ponty on his 1975 and 1976 albums for Atlantic Records. “Upon the Wings of Music” and “Aurora,” were albums that reflected the funk groove of contemporary jazz. The young pianist shines brightly on these early recordings, where you can hear her style of piano playing in development stages.

Around that same time, Patrice recorded with Eddie Henderson on both the Blue Note and Capitol labels, (“Heritage” and “Comin’ Through” albums). In 1980, she recorded with Kenny Burrell on the “Heritage” album, and she also worked with Herbie Hancock in 1982. More recently, in 2016 she recorded with trumpeter Wallace Roney for HighNote Records on an album titled, “A Place in Time.”

On her own, Patrice Rushen has recorded fifteen albums as a bandleader and her music has been described as crossover jazz, post-disco, jazz funk, R&B, soulful and of the quiet storm genre, probably because she can play it all. Labels have always bothered me. Patrice Rushen can play it all and her resume exemplifies this. She has also recorded two albums with “the Meeting”, a world-renowned jazz group that included Rushen, bassist, Alfonso Johnson, drummer extraordinaire, Ndugu Chancler, and famed reedman, Ernie Watts.

This does not include her impressive recordings as a sideman with legendary jazz artists or her own ‘greatest hits’ compilation albums. Another area of music where Rushen has made an indelible mark is in film. Her music is heard in movies like “Waiting to Exhale,” in “Hollywood Shuffle,” and “Men in Black” to name just a few. It wasn’t an easy road to travel for a female to score Hollywood motion picture credits or to be hired to write soundtracks.

“I’m female, short and black. It taught me how important it is that I walk through those doors offering them something to think about that hadn’t been on their mind. Later, becoming a film writer, the money and the treatment is different than that for male film scorers. I still did my best and went beyond the call of duty to make sure what I did was professional and represented the best I could be. I came before the Me-too Movement. Yes, we’ll run up across the situations where our male counterpart is paid more or gets more opportunities. Still, we have to carry ourselves with pride and self-realization that we are prepared, and we can do the job with the same energy and care and excellence that the men can do. Men have to start speaking up for women to be included. Men have to say we need that female perspective. Men have to remind the powers that be that women should be included and respected in the film workplace,” Patrice Rushen shared in a Preston Williams interview.

Sampling has become a huge commodity in the music business and Rushen’s tune “Forget Me Nots” has been sampled multiple times. It was used as part of the music track for the 1997 film “Men in Black,” crediting her as a composer along with Will Smith and Terri McFadden.

Her song can also be heard on the George Michael’s dance song “Fastlove” and it was used in the film “Big.” Rushen’s other big hit record, “Haven’t You heard” was sampled by Kirk Franklin and his inspirational Gospel choir. They called it “Looking For You” and it became a huge crossover Gospel hit recording that reached #5 on the R&B/Hip-Hop song chart and 61 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. ASCAP presented her with the songwriter’s award for that 2007 ASCAP hit Gospel Song.

 based on Patrice Rushen song Haven’t You Heard.

Not only is she a masterful internationally acclaimed pianist, but Patrice Rushen also has composed several symphonic works. Some were commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She is respected as “Ambassador of Artistry in Education” at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and received an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree in 2005 from that same institution. In 2006, she was honored by Jazz at Lincoln Center at “The 2nd Annual Diet Coke Women In Jazz Festival” held at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York. Once again, Rushen was heralded for her awesome contributions to the world of music. In March of 2008, she was Music Director and host of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “L.A. Phil Presents: A Tribute to Ella” featuring singer, actor T. C. Carson, Manhattan Transfer member, Janis Siegel, jazz legend Mark Murphy, the smooth vocals of Ann Hampton Callaway and 2008 Grammy nominee and show-stopper, Ledisi.

Patrice Rushen admits that Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Wayne Shorter and Benny Golson are some of her heroes. She listened to certain jazz piano elders too, like McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, and George Duke. She was drawn to a more urban market, although she was steeped in both classical music and traditional jazz. When signed to Elektra/Asylum Records in the late 1970s, they wanted her to sing, although she wasn’t crazy about the idea. Rushen admits she likes singing, but never considered herself “a singer.” To help promote her tune “Forget Me Nots” she went to dance joints and disco places to get the DJs to play the catchy tune. Patrice is certain that stepping outside the normal promotional record path helped to make that song a hit record. In October of 2022, a compilation CD was released honoring Patrice Rushen’s music titled, “Feels So Real: The Complete Elektra Recordings 1978 – 1984.

Her performance appearances with the crème de la crème of music reads like the who’s who of the jazz world and includes Nancy Wilson, Carlos Santana, Prince, Diane Reeves, Lionel Hampton, Stevie Wonder, Christian McBride and Lee Ritenour, just to list a few. Always writing, arranging and touring, in August of 2021 she performed at the Carr Center in Michigan featured with piano master, Billy Childs during a “Duos & Duets” concert. I was surprised and impressed to learn that Rushen’s song “Hang It Up” was featured on the 2005 video game ‘Fahrenheit.’

Somehow, this amazing artist, composer, arranger, soundtrack writer for film and television, singer and Musical Conductor for numerous artists and events, found time to marry Marc St. Louis, and to raise two children, a boy and a girl. Patrice Rushen is my She-ro! She is a Los Angeles icon and what better time to celebrate her than during Black Music Month.

* * * * * * * *

Special thanks to footnoted research at: The Boston Globe story by Juliet Pennington; Patrice Rushen bio info – https://patricerushen.com/full-length-bio; Wikipedia; The Preston Williams interview; www.youtube.com ; Imdb.com & music.usc.edu; https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0430870/ ;

 

HARRY BELAFONTE: A FILM CELEBRATES HIS AMAZING LEGACY

By Dee Dee McNeil
May 1, 2023

I clearly recall one February evening in 2012 when I drove to the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse Theater to review a documentary film titled “Sing Your Song.” It was a movie that traced the life and times of the great and memorable singer, actor and activist, Harry Belafonte. On Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at the age of ninety-six-years old, Belafonte took his final bow. He passed away at his New York home from congestive heart disease, with his third wife, Pamela, by his side.

I was raised listening to Belafonte’s amazing calypso records and hearing my Aunt Doris gush about how sexy and good looking the man was. On top of being good looking and talented, he had a revolutionary, humanitarian spirit.

“What more could you want in a man?” my revolutionary, forward-thinking aunt exclaimed, while playing Harry Belafonte in the background. She was spinning a 33-1/3rpm album where Harry sang, “Matilda, she take me money and run Venezuela.”

Belafonte’s extraordinary documentary film was produced by Susanne Rostock and it traces Harry’s life, beginning with his birth in Harlem on March 1, 1927. He had Jamaican roots. Like many immigrants, his mom came to America seeking a better life for herself and her son, originally named Harold George Bellanfanti Junior. However, when Harry was a small boy, she returned to Jamaica. While living on that tropical island, Belafonte was drawn to music and soaked up the folk songs he heard. They would eventually propel him to fame.

At the beginning of World War II, Harry, his mother and a brother returned to New York. Now, in high school, Harry had trouble adjusting to New York’s fast-paced, hectic life and American society. He dropped out of school and joined the Navy. After his discharge from the Armed Services, young Harry Belafonte returned to New York and searched for a job, settling on a Janitor’s position. One unexpected day, Harry’s employer complimented him on the fine job he was doing and gifted Harry with a ticket to the American Negro Theater. That evening, while watching those black actors entertaining a spellbound audience, Harry Belafonte was hooked. Not only did he decide to start acting, he also planned on becoming a singer, because singing came easy to him and music made him happy. In a matter of months, he was performing in New York clubs and pursuing a career as a jazz singer.

Most entertainers and musicians explore other venues and listen to other acts. One unpredictable day, Harry Belafonte witnessed a show by Huddie Ledbetter. Later, known as “Leadbelly,” the man was wailing on his guitar at the famed Village Vanguard, while singing folk songs, slave songs and blues. This music was completely different from the polished jazz music Harry was singing, but it inspired him.

Totally captivated by Ledbelly, Belafonte decided to explore folk music and to perform culturally rich songs from his Caribbean childhood, instead of jazz standards. This transition from jazz to Calypso/folk music would garner him six gold records, including one for his extremely popular calypso song, “Day – O (the Banana Boat Song).” This genre was completely his, because no one was performing and recording that kind of Caribbean music in the 1950s and 1960s except Harry Belafonte.

While pursuing his singing career at night, during the day Harry was going to various auditions and trying to land an acting role. His first leading role was in a play called “Juno and the Paycock.” In 1953, he debuted in film as co-star with the gorgeous and talented, Dorothy Dandridge in a movie titled, “Bright Road.” Next, Harry won a Tony Award in 1954 for his outstanding performance in the musical revue by John Murray Anderson, “Almanac,” where Harry Belafonte used both talents, singing and acting. Familiar names like Polly Bergen and Orson Bean were a part of that all-star cast. Belafonte was rumored to be on his way up the stairway to the stars. For that show, he became the first black male Broadway actor to win a Tony Award. He was also the first black matinee idol and the first recording artist to sell over a million records.

Harry Belafonte was more than a talented actor and a gold record recording artist. He was a thinker and an activist. The blossoming entertainer was seriously concerned about his community and his country, the United States of America. This filmed documentary reflected on Harry’s activism and how close Belafonte became to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film is peppered with amazing, historic clips of Belafonte marching arm in arm with Dr. King and a host of popular celebrities who Belafonte himself recruited. For instance, I viewed film footage of super stars like Marlon Brando, Tony Bennett, Anthony Perkins, Shelly Winters, Sidney Portier and too many more to list here. All were part of peaceful protest marches led by Dr. King. Along with Harry Belafonte, these Hollywood celebrities were lending their voices and star-quality in support of civil rights. Harry helped organize the march on Washington that featured Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Many people don’t know that Dr. King was arrested for a minor traffic infraction during his protest marches in the South. He was prosecuted in DeKalb County, Georgia and sent to serve time on a chain gang as punishment. The film documents how Belafonte went to Robert Kennedy and got the young politician involved. Belafonte introduced Kennedy to the terrible injustices that African Americans were facing in the 1950s and 60s. Due to Harry’s insistence, Kennedy arranged Dr. King’s release and the charges were dropped. Robert Kennedy also became a staunch supporter of the civil rights movement, thanks in part to the determined Mr. Belafonte.

The “Sing Your Song” documentary explains how Belafonte had short-lived success with a 1959 television show called “Tonight With Belafonte.” They included clips from the variety show where Harry featured a multi-cultural cast and showcased folks like the great jazz singer Gloria Lynn and the extraordinary folk singer, Odetta.

Harry Belafonte: Singer, activist and first Black Emmy winner - Los Angeles  Times

Harry Belafonte was the first black man to win an Emmy Award in 1960 for the Revlon Review on his Tonight With Belafonte Show.

During those days, an integrated television show was frowned upon. Advertisers immediately objected to the white and black mixed cast, especially the mix of white women with men of color. Harry Belafonte had a way of rubbing the entertainment powers the wrong way. Another time he stirred up controversy was when Petula Clark invited him to be a guest on her show. While performing a song together, she was filmed clutching Belafonte’s ample bicep in 1968. It was on her own Petula Clark television special and company executives and advertisers went absolutely berserk. It is sad to admit that only fifty-three years ago, we had such terrible prejudice and racial divide in our great country, and some of that continues today.

Belafonte fought for equal rights until his demise. He had the ear of great people like actor, singer, activist, Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of the 32nd President of the U.S.), Nelson Mandela (former political dissident and eventual President of South Africa), dynamic South African singer, Miriam Makeba, Senator John F. Kennedy (who would become President) and many more.

As a humanitarian, one of Belafonte’s endeavors was to assist gifted, but poor Africans. After visiting the continent, Belafonte established a non-profit that brought thirty or more African exchange students to America, so they could pursue educational opportunities. This popular organization actually sponsored the man who would become former President Barack Obama’s father. He was part of Belafonte’s humanitarian project. Who could have guessed that the senior Obama would bring forth a child who would later become the forty-fourth President of the United States?

Harry Belafonte fought for equal opportunities in the Hollywood system, targeting the motion picture industry, on-stage in theatrical venues, and worldwide. Despite being put on the ‘Un-American list’ during the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s, Belafonte never gave up fighting for justice and equal opportunities for all. During the film’s preview, I was hypnotized by the film clips that historically traced Harry’s amazing rise to fame in movies. I saw him acting with Dorothy Dandridge, Ethel Waters, Sidney Portier and Dianne Carroll. I watched him featured on the Ed Sullivan Show and enjoyed watching him sing and dance on the Cavalcade of Stars television production. Bellefonte established his own production company to produce, direct and hire people of color for movies.

It was Belafonte who came back to America from an African visit and inspired Quincy Jones and other hugely notable people to create a song, with the proceeds donated to fight poverty in that drought-stricken country. The result was the unforgettable hit record of “We Are the World.”

This is a documentary film that will open your eyes to, not only a man and his music, but to the depth of Belafonte’s activism. In later years, Harry Belafonte even tackled the difficult project of addressing gang violence in both the black and Latino communities of America.

After the film, there was a short Q & A period, with one of Belafonte’s children hosting the discussion. It appears Harry Belafonte has passed the spark of humanitarianism on to his children. In 2012, Gina Belafonte had been carrying on the work with gang intervention for over a decade.

Harry Belafonte received the National Medal of Arts in 1994 and in 2000, the two-time Grammy recipient was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards.

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Photos Of Harry Belafonte And His Children Over The Years | Essence

Harry Belafonte and second wife, Julie Robinson with children Gina and son, David. Other child is from the first marriage

Harry Belafonte's Family: See Photos Of The Singer & His Kids – Hollywood  Life

Shari & Gina Belafonte with their father in 2003. – Photo by David Buchan/Shutterstock

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By Dee Dee McNeil
April 1, 2023

When Robert Kyle isn’t recording his own albums, he’s busy producing, arranging and playing on other people’s projects. For example, recently he recorded all of the saxophone and flute parts and created horn arrangements for the New Zealand based ensemble, ‘Groove Express’ on their hit release, ‘Amsterdam.’ The ‘Groove Express’ album surged up the Billboard contemporary Jazz Chart to number one. Recently, Robert also produced an album on iconic jazz pianist and vocalist, Betty Bryant to celebrate her 88th birthday titled, “Project 88.” Betty’s music is the opposite of contemporary jazz. She’s rooted in Kansas City blues and that project showcases Kyle’s diversity as a player and producer. Kyle can play it all. 

In addition to recording with historic icons like Lou Rawls on his “Christmas Is the Time” album., Kyle performs regularly with a number of diverse and popular musicians including trumpeter, Tony Guerrero’s Quintet; pianist, producer Billy Mitchell; the Heartbeat Brazil group, and his own bands including work with his better half, pianist, singer Alyse Korn. They have recently released a new album titled, “Tuesday’s Child” on Robert’s ‘Dark Delishious Music’ label. Robert Kyle and Alyse enjoy playing instrumental Brazilian jazz, contemporary Latin arrangements, and their own original compositions. In fact, their recent project features several of their original compositions. Kyle’s original music has been recorded by Alessa, Betty Bryant, Bobby Zee, Zoe (Bob Soler), Leslie Paula, Miguel Gutierrez, Larry Williams, and Anna Estrada. Additionally, his compositions have been featured on television shows like “Earth Angel,” an ABC movie of the week, “White Hot,” the Jayne Mansfield Story, Miscellaneous shorts on The Playboy Channel, “the Young & Restless” and the ER television shows. In movies, his music enriched the Cinemax production, “Molly & Tina,” the film “Let It Be Me,” “Night shift” and a Walt Disney Picture titled “Giving Up the Ghost.” Additionally, his compositions have been used to enhance international commercials.

Alyse is also a composer. She wrote the opening tune on their “Tuesday’s Child” album. The composition is titled “Gratitude” and its warm, Brazilian arrangement wraps musical arms around me. She has a sweet voice that caresses the melody, singing along with the piano part at the top of the song, wordless, but emotional.

Unlike Robert Kyle, who was born and bred in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, Alyse was born and raised in Miami, Florida.

“My grandmothers were both classically trained pianists and my dad played trumpet. He was a real jazz aficionado who had an incredible collection of jazz LPs. My earliest jazz memory was listening to Monk. I used to dance to his music (Lulu’s Back in Town from the “It’s Monk’s Time” album), so my family nicknamed me Lulu. I was exposed to all this incredible music, not only from my dad’s albums, but also growing up in Miami, hearing Cuban bands and Puerto Rican bands, Jamaican music, Trinidadian music, you know, such a rich culture.” Alyse shared.

Drawn to the piano, Alyse Korn took lessons and started playing on stage at age fourteen with the local Mike Ramirez Big Band. She cut her teeth working with community college jazz bands who needed a piano player. While attending the University of Miami, she got calls to work in trio settings. One of those experiences was performing with Dr. Ed Calle, a Latin Grammy Award Winner for Best Instrumental Album and a reedman who is a five-time Grammy nominee. She also honed her craft working at various hotels, playing solo piano gigs. After earning her BM from the University of Miami in Studio Music and Jazz, she moved to Los Angeles and earned her MFA from Cal Arts in Jazz Piano performance. When California musicians realized she could play Salsa, Alyse found herself working with some of the most popular Los Angeles based Latin bands like Susie Hansen, Orchestra Opa Opa and Son Mayor. Additionally, the busy pianist was hired to play Brazilian music with Sonia Santos and Anna Gazzola for their Brasil Brazil shows. She also played with Jennifer York’s jazz quintet and toured Japan with contemporary jazz saxophonist, Sonya Jason. Alyse was featured on Chilean composer and guitarist Waldo Valenzuela’s contemporary jazz album titled, “The Light of the Sixth Sun.” Lately, Alyse and Robert have been performing with Brazilian guitarist, Valenzuela, and vocalist Téka. Below is a video from a recent performance with that band in Ojai, California.

Similar to Robert Kyle, Alyse enjoys composing and has contributed three songs to their new album release.

Ron Miller, a former composition teacher at University of Miami, was the one that encouraged and inspired me to start writing. He became my mentor,” Alyse told me.

NOTE: Ron Miller was Professor Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the University of Miami. His compositions have been performed by iconic artists including Red Rodney, Pat Metheny, Ira Sullivan, Stan Getz, Joe Lovano, Billy Hart and many more. He is a published author: “The Music of Ron Miller,” a song book and his academic book, “Modal Jazz Composition and harmony Vol. 1 & Vol. 2”.

(https://theregionsmusic.com/ron-miller)

Robert Kyle spent a decade as the Musical Director for blues singer and actress, Linda Hopkins.

“Oh my God. It changed my life, really. When she first got back from performing on Broadway doing “Black and Blue” it was my first time really playing with her. That was 1991. We did a week at the Cinegrill and then after that she invited me to go to Japan with her, where we played at the Keystone Corner. Then, I went on my first European tour with Linda Hopkins in 1992. We did six weeks all over Europe, at summer festivals and clubs. From there on, I did pretty much everything she did, performing with her small band until 2005 to 2006. when she had a couple of small strokes. During that time, for six to eight years, we were doing this show called “Wild Women Blues” featuring Linda, Maxine Weldon, and Mortonette Jenkins. We played all over Europe. It was a great experience. It was more structured than the small band work. Linda Hopkins was a great lady! She taught me how to work with an artist, understand what they need and what they want and how to get the band to do what the band needs to do,” Robert Kyle reminisced.

Robert has found his way onto a number of stages playing his reed instruments. In the early 2000’s he participated in the televised Emmy Awards show. In 2003, he played as part of the band for the BET Awards Show, and he has also been a part of the ensemble behind the scenes of the popular television show, “The Voice.”

So, how did these two diverse musicians get together? Alyse recalled the first evening they had a meeting of the minds.

“It was June of 2014. I was working at Picana Grill in Burbank with the artist, Alessa, who sings Brazilian music. I noticed that Robert’s name was on their charts. Alessa said Robert Kyle was going to come by the club that night and sit in with us. Later, he quietly slid up on our stage and started playing. We had a great musical connection and after the gig I suggested we go hear friends who were playing at a nearby restaurant in a Cuban band. Rob said, yeah, I’ll go,” Alyse recalled.

“That night we discovered we have a lot in common. In addition to jazz, we enjoy Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music. I thought that was very special,” Robert chimes in.

The pair would soon find they had even more in common. Kyle was a private reed teacher and Alyse loved working with youth. She taught classes for ten years under the umbrella of the Suzuki Institute of America, offering her Childhood Music Program for Young People ages zero to four-years-old. Her job with Suzuki Institute took her all over the United States, Canada and Brazil. She also enjoys mentoring teens in jazz piano. Additionally, the couple discovered they both leaned towards using their music to heal and calm the spirit. Robert discovered Yoga in 2002 and told me it really changed his life.

“It healed my chronic back pain. … Entertaining can take a toll. We’re not only playing and performing, but our job involves a lot of driving, plus loading and unloading gear. Yoga has really been helpful to me, as a practice, and with my breathing,” Kyle was enthusiastic when he spoke about Yoga.

Alyse Korn chimed in: “I introduced Rob to the Alexander Technique. That was one thing that brought us up here to Ojai, where we live. We’d come up for getaways and Alexander lessons with our teachers, Michael Frederick and Carol Prentice,” she said.

NOTE: The Alexander Technique is taught at Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, at the Royal College of Music in London, and the Boston Conservatory of Music among others. Even the Mayo Clinic uses it. This technique addresses pain in our bodies and teaches how to remove it, based on having awareness of our body. Poor posture has a lot to do with it and changing bad habits and releasing tension in the body. It teaches how to become more aware of your body movements. Nikolaas Tinbergen, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, devoted a major portion of his acceptance speech to the benefits of the Alexander Technique. In the music world, it can help singers, pianists, horn players, violinists and all musicians.

I noticed on Alyse Korn’s website that she was an ‘Advanced Biofield Tuning Practitioner.’ I asked her what that was, and she explained it this way:

“So, I am certified in Sound Therapy. I use medical grade tuning forks that produce sound waves to calm the nervous system. You might compare it to a crystal sound bowl, have you seen those?” she asked me.

As a matter of fact, I had seen the Tibetan singing bowls. She told me she places the forks near the body, but they don’t have to be on the body. It is a method she learned from Eileen McKusick.

“The forks are similar to your normal tuning fork, but kind of on steroids. They’re bigger and thicker and they vibrate really much more loudly than the tuning forks we’re used to seeing and dealing with,” Robert shared his opinion on the tuning forks.

This is a picture of a tuning fork.

Alyse added, “It’s just a powerful approach to health and well-being and it helps in relaxing and restoring the nervous system.”

During the pandemic, that both petrified and paralyzed people worldwide, musicians needed something to replace gigs, relax and to occupy lockdown time. Alyse and Robert found solace in their music. During the COVID scare, they worked on songs as a duo.

“We chose songs that I would say are in the medium to slower vibe, because I think we wanted to express the way we felt, being out here in the more rural community of Ojai. There was so much craziness and chaos in the world. We started out just recording the album as a duo. We found a great studio in Carpinteria, California which is 25 minutes away, and we recorded the tracks. Somewhere along the way, we decided it would be fun and it would enhance the music if we added some musical friends to play on it,” Robert said.

Hussain Jiffry brings his bass to the party on “Vivian’s Danzon,” however it is Kevin Winard’s tasty percussive licks that wrap this package of Latin goodness with bright ribbon colors. Kyle’s exquisite flute dances stage center and captivates. Alyse Korn shows off her piano technique during a brief but provocative solo, with a couple of licks that remind me of the Thelonious Monk style. I was surprised when Robert told me they had added the other musicians to the mix by internet downloads. The tracks actually sound very natural, as if the group is playing in the same space together.

Track #3 (“Your Light”) is a lovely ballad with beautiful changes. Korn’s piano tinkles in the upper register and teases our senses as an introduction. It makes me want to lean forward to hear what’s coming next on this Robert Kyle composition. Kyle wrote this song to capture the grace and kindness he finds in Alyse, his wife. The title tune, “Tuesday’s Child” has an intriguing melody and the harmonics that Kyle has in his head are magical and completely on display during this arrangement. It’s just the two of them, and together, this husband-and-wife team, project a feeling of tranquility, love and peace of mind.

There’s a lot of turmoil in the world today. We hope that when people listen to our music, they will feel the peace that we feel when we play it,” Alyse explains their musical point of view.

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By Dee Dee McNeil

I first met Maxine Waters in the early 1970s. That’s six decades ago. At that time, Maxine and her three siblings, Julia, Luther and Oren, were a popular background singing group, often called into studios across Los Angeles to add their magical voices to projects by legendary artists like Michael Jackson, (they worked on the “Thriller” project) Paul McCartney, Guns N Roses, Whitney Houston, (they sang on the film soundtrack of ‘The Bodyguard’), Adele, (adding their tight harmonies to her “21” album) Barbra Streisand, George Harrison, Bobby Womack, Julio Iglesias, Donna Summers, (on the Bad Girls Album), Lionel Richie, Teena Marie, Rod Stewart, Rick James, and the list goes on and on. Maxine and her sister, Julia, are the background voices who sang on Diana Ross’s farewell record, as the diva waved good-bye to the Supremes singing the Johnny Bristol produced hit record, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Maxine and her siblings are multi-generational voices who are excellent no matter the genre. Maxine and her sister, Julia Waters, famously toured with Neil Diamond. They joined his band in 2005, singing along with background singer, Linda Press and added their strong voices to the Neil Diamond stage. They toured Europe with Patti LaBelle on her first solo tour. In 1991, it was their magnetic harmonies that sang with Paul Simon on his historic concert in Central Park.

When I was a publicist at A&M Records, one of the record company’s smokin’ hot acts was singer Gino Vannelli. Julia and Maxine Waters sang behind his big hit, “I Just Wanna Stop.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8e1SjBHSUM (video of that Vannelli song)

Their impressive vocal talents made them an on-demand, self-contained, duo or, when their brothers joined them, a tightknit group. Their silky, smooth vocals have added to the recordings of Johnny Mathis, Natalie Cole, Neil Young, Katy Perry and Harry Styles.

I had an opportunity to talk with Maxine Waters-Willard recently and I asked her when she first became a backup singer.

“Well, you know when we came up my mother always gave us music lessons. So, I play piano and I play cello too. Luther and Oren both play cello and Julia took singing lessons. Anyway, Julia was the first one to get called in to do a recording session. I don’t know how she managed that. As I recall, a lady named Dorothy Berry who was married to Richard Berry (his Louie Louie song and all that) do you remember him?” she asked me.

Of course, I did remember him and that 1957 hit record, “Louie Louie, we gotta go” started rolling around in my head.

“Well, Richard Berry’s wife called Julia to sing. Oh, this was way back in the sixties. Dee Dee, we sang on “You Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” with Phil Spector producing. We were part of a choir of voices including Sonny and Cher, Darlene Love and Edna Wright. Our cousin Wilbur Wade was on that session. It was so far back, I can’t remember all the details, but Julia got me on that session and word of mouth started from that experience. Suddenly other people were calling us. Julia and I were singing around town.”

“Nobody remembers this guy, Dee Dee. His name was Jimmy Holiday. He had a song called New Breed,” Maxine sang a little of the song to me and I remembered it right away.

“He started asking us to back him up during his live show at the California Club. That was the time when Joe Tex was popular. Remember he had that hit song and they used to have the Skinny Leg contests?” (we laughed).

“That was actually not a recording session, but our first ‘live’ stage stuff that we did with Jimmy Holiday at the California Club. Then, we started getting calls for recording sessions. I worked for the phone company at that time. And it got to the point where I had so much work singing, I couldn’t lie about why I couldn’t come to work anymore. Because you know, I would call in sick when I had a session,” Maxine Waters recalled and we both burst into laughter again.

“And then at night, I was going to college to be a kindergarten teacher. That’s what I really wanted to be for most of my life. I didn’t get anywhere close to getting there, but I was on my way. Then I got that opportunity of going on tour with Dusty Springfield. That was a hard decision to make, but I had to choose. I did a recording session with Dusty, and she was putting together her backup group. Me, Alex Brown, and Shelly, the three of us went on tour with Dusty. I let my job go and college. That was my first tour on the road.”

Lorena, the mother of Maxine Waters encouraged her to take a chance on singing. She knew her daughter was talented and told her she could always get another job when she came off tour. Their mother was widowed at the young age of twenty-seven with four young children to raise alone. Her husband was a Lieutenant in the United States Army and was killed during the Korean War.

“Luther Napoleon Waters Sr. was a first Lieutenant,” Maxine proudly told me. “He was up for the next commission when he died. Our father was a career service man. That’s why our baby brother was born in Japan. It was unusual in those days for a black man to be an officer. The last time I saw him, he moved us to L.A. when I was four. We lived on 115th off San Pedro and Avalon. This was before Locke high school was built. I went to Freemont high school and I was President of my class and Homecoming Queen in the eleventh grade. I was popular and always liked people. My mother sang and was a church soloist at the church we grew up in. It was a Presbyterian church on 118th street in Los Angeles. Later, I was Minister of Music for eight years at my church. I attended Vermont Square United Methodist Church, located on Vernon and Budlong streets. Tina Marie and I were really close. She was baptized at my church,” Maxine recalled fondly.

Everything around Maxine Waters played like music falling perfectly into place. Her life was spiritual, adventurous, exciting, international, harmonic, and lucrative. More and more doors opened. Maxine’s voice is heard on one of the longest-running sitcoms on television, (The Jefferson’s sitcom) and it is Maxine’s family voices that croon “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” on the Righteous Brothers’ hit song produced by Phil Spector. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOnYY9Mw2Fg Righteous Brothers produced by Phil Spector

They sang on the motion picture “Avatar” (the 2009 release), that became one of the highest grossing films in Hollywood history. When record producers wanted to fatten the sounds of well-known artists, they knew who to call: The Waters girls or The Waters group! Their voices were added to the Jackson 5 hit records “Who’s Lovin’ you?” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

But their harmonic voices didn’t just color and lift pop and R&B songs. Maxine Waters did jazz sessions often, adding choral beauty to projects by Gene Harris (of the Three Sounds fame), drummer extraordinaire, Chico Hamilton and vibraphone master, Bobby Hutcherson. At that time, those were all Blue Note Record artists, and that exposure swiveled the heads of United Artist/Blue Note executives. They noticed these popular background singers.

“At first, we were doing work separately. My brother Oren was in a group called the Doodle Town Pipers. He was singing around with them, and Julia was singing with a group called Rock Flower. We were all doing different stuff, including studio sessions. Keg Johnson, a producer at Blue Note, said why are you guys running around doing all different gigs? Why not do a group project? Keg produced all those acts on Blue Note for Dr. George Butler, and he hired us to sing on jazz tracks. He’s the one who encouraged us to record as a group. Keg says, why don’t you just call yourselves The Waters?”

With Johnson’s help, they landed a record deal with Blue Note Records in 1975 called “Waters.” They were the first jazz vocal group ever signed to that label. This was followed by a deal with Warner Bros. Records in 1977 as The Waters, and Clive Davis at Arista Records signed them to his label and released “Watercolors” in 1980. The Waters family were on a roll, doing their own concerts and promoting their own records. Their final record deal was with Waterwheel Records in 1988 titled, “Welcome Home.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdQQ63dpPMc (The Waters)

During this prolific time, while becoming frontline artists, Maxine and her family members continued to work as session singers.

“We sang on several jazz artist albums like percussionist Coke Escovedo, Shiela E’s uncle. We did two albums for him. We recorded with Santana and were blessed with a gold album off one of the two Carlos Santana Albums. ‘Amigos’ was one of them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUwCUITkGwo&list=OLAK5uy_llsg5uABSZbQar_JmcdGNugyM1UQgORUs&index=1

“We worked with Quincy Jones and recorded two albums with Herbie Hancock when David Rubinson was producing him and producing Patti Labelle. Rubinson produced our album “Watercolors” too. We actually had started another album for Clive Davis because Larkin Arnold was over there. Songwriter, producer Skip Scarborough was producing it. But Larkin Arnold was changing labels and leaving Arista. We got caught in the middle, so Skip never completed production of that album. In between touring, we recorded on a Bennie Maupin album and do you remember when Willie Bobo and Lola Falana were on the Bill Cosby’s television variety show? I worked as one of three contracted, permanent, background singers on that show. Marti McCall, me and Julie Rinker.

“When I think about jazz, I think about Patrice Rushen and Ndugu. We worked with them. I always think about Reggie Andrews when I think of Patrice and Ndugu. Reggie and I grew up together from five years old on. He and his family went to my church. His mother was my Brownie and Girl Scout troop leader. We also worked with great drummer, Alphonse Mouzon and we sang on Merry Clayton’s latest Christian album that was nominated for a Grammy. You can see us with Merry on Youtube if you type in NPR TINY DESK With Merry Clayton,” Maxine told me.

Merry Clayton and The Waters group were featured in the 2014 Oscar Award winning documentary, “20 Feet From Stardom.”

I asked Maxine Waters what she is doing currently.

“Dee Dee, one of the things we’re doing now, we did multiple podcasts talking about working with Michael Jackson because they re-released that album Thriller a couple of months ago to celebrate its 40-year success and the greatest selling album of all times,“ Maxine told me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BufGPHMGrEk (the Thriller Podcast featuring the Waters)

“Just before the COVID lockdown, Neil Diamond retired and that ended our long-time association touring with him. Julia and I have been travelling with him for years. His life story is doing very well as a Broadway musical right now. I’m so proud of him. I hope it comes to L.A. It’s called ‘Beautiful Noise’ a title taken from one of his songs.

“Another thing we’ve been doing is recording with a huge group called ‘The Fallout Boy.’ They’re a rock group. My grandchildren immediately knew who they were. Also, we worked on that 50th anniversary for the Good Times television show. Oren is the one who originally sang the duet on their theme song. They had a choir of young singers and they put me, Oren and Julia in there with them. We really had a wonderful time singing with those young singers. When we work with the young vocalists, they want to know all about the music history. This young generation, they really absorb everything. I’m glad they’re interested. I give them little tips. I say ok you guys. Just stay in the cute zone if you want to work a long time. It’s true. That will keep you on the scene. You have to look the part and sing the part.”

Maxine Waters has taken her own advice. She still looks great and her voice is as strong as ever. Her Altadena home is full of awards, trophies and gold records. Now, semi-retired, she is resting proudly on her laurels and thinking about writing down her legacy in an upcoming biography.

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By Dee Dee McNeil
January 1, 2023

Tuba master, Jim Self, has a new album out titled “My America 2: Destinations” that incorporates songs with American city, state and area titles that were formerly hit tunes in their day. This is not a unique idea for Jim. His original album titled “My America” was released twenty-years ago as a novelty album, and celebrated songs that were associated with Americana like “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” and “When Johnny Comes Marchin’ Home Again.”

“It featured songs from the various parts of the country where I had lived and worked. I asked composer, arranger Kim Scharnberg to write the charts. At the time, he was working in the Los Angeles area. … Musically, it covered a lot of styles from Dixieland to Country to silly and humorous. Kim has a brilliant musical sense of humor and command of styles. Each tune had a slightly different group of musicians, all L.A. top studio guys,” Jim Self affirmed.

The first song of this new album opens with his tuba sounding like a freight train plowing down the tracks and setting the mood for a song we know quite well, “Chicago.” The arrangement is once again by Kim Scharnberg and brings back the Ragtime jazz-feel of the “Roaring Twenties.” Self and Scharnberg open with this tune because Chicago was a city whose jazz scene greatly influenced Kim Scharnberg early in his career. This was the biggest city near to where he grew up. Scharnberg employs a Dixieland arrangement that mirrors the early jazz style that tugged at his creative ear and mirrors a retro-ish version of a wild ride on the ‘L’ train.

“This CD is dedicated to my life-long friend, Daniel Perantoni. We met as members of the tuba section of the US Army Band in 1965. I looked up to him for his great playing and beautiful solo tone,” Jim Self recalled.

“Today, he is Provost Professor of Tuba at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University. … Mr. P., as his students call him, is a legendary tuba artist, teacher and pedagogue, as well as a trailblazer in a variety of genres including work as a solo recitalist, chamber musician, jazz musician and instrument designer. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the executive board of I.T.E.A. … My life has been enriched by his friendship,” Jim Self bragged about one of his mentors and close friends.

This is Self’s twentieth solo recording where he features his prowess on tuba and Fluba instruments. In 1983, Jim Self produced his very first album titled “Children at Play.” Featuring his unique jazz tuba and a harmonica. This album received world-wide acclaim. On his second recording, (1988) he dived into fusion jazz. This recording was called “New Stuff” and was birthed as a CD on the popular Discovery-Trend label. “Tricky Lix” was his third album, released on Concord Jazz label, and the music just kept pouring out of Jim Self like honey from the cone.

“I get to play melodies and improvise in the low register of my instruments and play them with emotion and beauty. It’s a very personal quest!” Jim expounds with genuine excitement.

On Track 2, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” becomes a quick favorite of mine. This ballad gives Jim Self time and space to introduce us to his talented tone on his rich, bass instrument. Jim Self pleasantly recalled this song in the liner notes.

“I have fond memories of this lovely song from my days on the road as a bass player,” Self remembers when he used to play both string and electric bass instruments.

Jim Self and arranger, Kim Scharnberg, surprise us on Track 3. It’s titled Kansas City, but it combines two different songs of the same title. The medley begins with the Richard Roger’s song, at a moderate tempo, plaintively singing the melody from the Rogers & Hammerstein Broadway version of Kansas City. About a minute into the arrangement, Scharnberg borrows a lick from the duck-walking-artist, Chuck Berry, to introduce us to the familiar shuffle arrangement of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s version of Kansas City. The Los Angeles based band takes off and swings hard!

“This tune shows off the swing and shuffle grooves the best. While there are lots of solos, the rhythm section of John Chiodini, Steve Fister, Bill Cunliffe, Lem Wild and Kendall Kay are the stars here,” Jim Self asserts.

Jim has performed on several Randy Newman albums, and he loved the idea of including Newman’s iconic song, “I Love L.A.” into his project. On it, Self plays his cimbassos in F and BBb with Bill Booth adding euphonium parts and Brian Kilgore spicing things up on percussion.

Jim Self has made Los Angeles his home-base for forty-eight years and he knows all these contributing musicians like the back of his hand. As an on-call studio musician, Jim Self has worked for all the major Hollywood studios, performing in over fifteen-hundred motion pictures and on hundreds of television shows and a vast assortment of recording dates. His solos are featured in major films you are probably familiar with including Jurassic Park, Home Alone and Home Alone 2, among several others.

When you listen to this recent release that celebrates the United States and American music traditions, you will hear a variety of arrangements and styles. Another of my favorites on this album is the medley of music he calls “King of Route 66” that’s a lovely swing arrangement combining two pop classics; Route 66 (of course) and “King of the Road.” They blend deliciously, like toast and butter. “Blue Bayou Bossa features Ron Stout on trumpet and Tom Peterson on tenor saxophone and the arrangement perfectly melds the tune Blue Bossa with Blue Bayou. Jim Self has included one song he has composed. It’s titled “S.L.O. Blues” a piece inspired by the tiny but beautiful California town of San Luis Obispo where he has a vacation home. His neighbor, rock guitarist Steve Fister plays an outstanding solo on this tune.

Jim Self is past president of I.T.E.A., a former faculty member of the University of Tennessee and a former member of the United States Army Band. A native of Franklin, PA, he was born in 1943 and holds degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Catholic University and he is a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. There, he continues to be an adjunct professor of Tuba and Chamber Music. His educational credits are dynamic and impressive. Self was voted the Most Valuable Player Award for Tuba on three occasions by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). He is also brilliant on bass trombone, cimbasso, contra-bass trombone and at times in his impressive career has played both string and electric basses, as well as the Steiner EVI (electronic valve instrument). On this project, he will introduce you to his talents on the Fluba instrument. If you can, picture a tuba-sized flugel horn, you will have an idea of what the Fluba looks like. Self is also the author of the chapter titled “Doubling for Tubists” in the Tuba Source Book. An energetic musician, composer and arranger, Self has written about sixty titles for brass, string and woodwind chamber music. His arrangement charts include works for band, orchestra, solo tuba and trombone.

Jim Self is another musical hero in our Southern California community whose horn needs to be tooted. “My America 2: Destinations” is a musical journey across America, but it’s also a unique way of taking us on a trip into possibilities and creativity. Every tune Jim plays becomes a closer look into the beauty and potential of the tuba, the Fluba and the man himself.

 

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By Dee Dee McNeil
December 1, 2022

            California is the home of exceptional jazz musicians and vocalists.  Many amazing recordings were released this year.  I invite you to check them out and reacquaint yourself with the magnificent international talents who live right here in our own California backyard.  These recordings will make great stocking stuffers and support local musicians! I celebrate recordings by guitarists Jim Witzel’s Trio & quartet, Doug MacDonald, & Grant Geissman.  I review vocalists, Nica Carrington, Cathy Segal Garcia, Tierney Sutton, Carmen Lundy, & Roberta Donnay. You will also read about The Skipper, Henry Franklin with Robert Turner and Carl Burnett; Oscar Hernandez and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra; Reed master, Azar Lawrence and the historic recording of the Dave Brubeck Trio. I also recommend The Josh Nelson Bob Bowman Collective who reminds us tomorrow isn’t promised and The Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra West sends us postcards from Hollywood and the album Hubub by Bay Area pianist Ted Kooshian. Enjoy.  I list all the players, because it takes all of these brilliant musicians to create these unforgettable projects.

JIM WITZEL TRIO & QUARTET – “FEELIN’ IT” – Joplin & Sweeney

Jim Witzel, guitar/composer; Brian Ho, Hammond B-3 organ; Jason Lewis, drums; Dann Zinn, tenor saxophone.

Bay area guitarist and composer, Jim Witzel, offers the listener a combination of his modern jazz compositions and a handful of cover tunes including “I Love You, Porgy” and “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.”  Inspired by a group of guitar players who he labels, ‘the Great Eight,’ Witzel grew to love the guitar listening to Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, George Benson, Pat Martino, John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny.  Seasoned and strong in his own talent and style, Witzel opens with the swinging, title tune, “Feelin’ It.” He’s the composer.  It sets the tone for his energetic Straight-ahead music style.  Jim’s trio follows up with “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” that also ‘swings’ hard, inspired by the Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall version.  Witzel lets us catch our breath when he performs the Lennon/McCartney hit song, “Norwegian Wood,” arranged at a moderate tempo with his guitar singing the lovely melody. Witzel has a warmth to his style and a precise technique that brings clarity to any melody before exploding with improvisation. He grew up in San Rafael, California and started practicing guitar as a preteen.  In high school, he began to study jazz guitar with well-known Bay Area educator and artist, Dave Smith.  Jim Witzel spent a decade in the Los Angeles area, paying dues freelancing with notable jazz players like Bob Sheppard, Scott Colley, Henry Butler, Richie Cole, Casey Schuerell and Clay Jenkins.  At the same time, he was working clubs and concerts with busy saxophonist Dave Lefebvre and his six-piece jazz-fusion group.

This new album features Witzel’s awesome composer talents.  His song “Beyond Beijing” sounds like a jazz standard and so does “Ms. Information,” inspired by Wayne Shorter.  This is another hard-hitting, Straight-ahead jazz tune, clearly rooted in the blues.  This arrangement invites Dann Zinn to competently explore his tenor saxophone after a rousing solo guitar performance by Jim. This original composition by Witzel also spotlights the talents of Jason Lewis on drums.  I enjoy the camaraderie between Brian Ho on Hammond B-3 organ and Jim Witzel.  One of this reviewer’s favorite things is an organ trio and this one is spectacular.  I love the way they have arranged “If Ever I Would Leave You” as a Bossa Nova that gives Brian Ho a platform to shine and showcase his organ excellence. The tender, passionate way that Jim Witzel plays “I Loves You, Porgy” is stunning and memorable. As he plays a clean, clear melody line, he accompanies himself on rhythm guitar.  Witzel’s style and technique sparkles, clearly showing us he needs nothing more than his guitar instrument to both entertain and please our ears. Every tune on this album is well-played, beautifully arranged and Jim Witzel’s original compositions are well-written and remind me of hard-bop days in a very wonderful way.

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NICA CARRINGTON – “TIMES LIKE THESE” – Independent Label

Nica Carrington, vocals; John Proulx, piano/arranger/producer; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

It’s pleasant to hear a voice so pure, so clear and unpretentious.  Nica Carrington brings a freshness to old standards, starting with “Skylark.”  With the accompaniment and arrangements of pianist John Proulx, they begin as a duet and the other musicians join in later.  Carrington offers no vocal acrobatics or intricate riffs and runs.  She just sells the song.  As a child, Nica Carrington was infatuated with Frank Sinatra and his wonderful way of lyrically telling stories.  She has incorporated that quality into her own style and presentation.  Her honesty shines through on tunes like the obscure Mal Waldron and Billie Holiday composition, “Left Alone” and the more familiar, “When Sunny Gets Blue” or “We’ll Be Together Again.” Carrington has been a long-time jazz fan for years.  Before the COVID lockdown, Nica Carrington began taking vocal lessons.  She had always wanted to sing, but finally decided to hone her naturally beautiful voice. Once teacher and student could no longer meet in person, she went Online looking for a Plan B.  That’s when she discovered L.A.’s very own, John Proulx.

“He’s so supportive and encouraging, so I took a chance and asked him if he would work with me on an album.  It turned out to be a great move,” Nica mused.

Proulx became her arranger and producer for this project, bringing on board the wonderful Chuck Berghofer on bass and renowned drummer, Joe LaBarbera.  Both are popular L.A. session musicians who have worked with people Nica Carrington had only heard on records.  Berghofer has played with Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee and even Carrington’s favorite, Frank Sinatra.  Labarbera was a member of the Chuck Mangione Quartet and has worked with jazz icons like Jim Hall, Phil Woods, Art Farmer and Toots Thieleman, to list only a few.  The awesome thing about working with John Proulx, he is not only a gifted pianist, but he’s an amazing vocalist himself with several albums to his own credit. So, surrounded with this trio of historic excellence, Nica Carrington plunged into the work of creating her own jazz legacy.  The one thing I love about Nica Carrington’s voice is her warm intimacy and her truthfulness when she sings these songs.  She’s vulnerable.  This is a voice you will remember and the old standards she sings will make you believe you are hearing these songs for the first time.

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DOUG MACDONALD – “I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS” – Dmac Music

Doug MacDonald, guitar; Tamir Hendelman, piano; John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Doug MacDonald’s quartet rejuvenates an old tune called, “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” MacDonald’s guitar is beautifully supported by three of the top musicians based on the West Coast; Tamir Hendelman on piano, John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. 

This quartet’s interpretation of Duke Ellington’s bluesy “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” unfolds like shiny Christmas paper. Their lovely musicianship is the present wrapped inside all that glitter and glam. On “Don ‘Cha Go ‘Way Mad” they shuffle down the road, slow swinging their way along, while happily dragging the listener by the ear.  John Clayton takes a bass solo, concentrating on the melodic structure with his bow sliding against the strings in a stellar way.  When Tamir comes in, with his funky, blues-driven solo piano, his excellence is prominent. Doug MacDonald is no newcomer to the music scene. He has over two dozen album releases as a bandleader and his crisp, individualized style on guitar always appreciates the melody. This is obvious on these nine well-produced songs.  On the composition, “My Ship,” the quartet surprises us with an up-tempo Latin version of this song, highlighting the brilliance of drummer Jeff Hamilton.  Another highlight of this album is Doug’s original composition “New mark” where the group settles into a rot-gut blues introduction that snatches my attention and takes the music all the way back to its roots.  I was so happy that MacDonald chose to include his original and celebrate the blues. Then, he changes the groove and swings his way into another key and another groove that steps out of the blues and changes into a straight-ahead groove, perfect for swing dancers to enjoy. Clayton’s walking bass locks into Hamilton’s driving drums and the party is on!  

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SPANISH HARLEM ORCHESTRA – “IMAGENES LATINAS” – Ovation Records

Oscar Hernandez, piano/arranger/Musical Director; Marco Bermudez, vocals/coro/composer; Carlos Cascante, vocals/coro; Jeremy Bosch, vocals/coro/flute; Jerry Madera, bass; Jorge Gonzalez, bongos; George Delgado, congas; Luisito Quintero, timbales/maracas/güiro; Mitch Frohman, baritone saxophone/flute; Juan Gabriel Lakunza & Doug Beavers, trombones; Alex Norris & Manuel “Maneco” Ruiz, trumpets.

I always know I’m going to have a good time when I listen to an album by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, led by the awesome pianist and orchestra leader, Oscar Hernandez who is based right here in Southern California.  The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is culturally rich, energized, and powerful.  Their music just simply demands you feel joyful.  Led by composer and Musical Director, Oscar Hernandez, this three-time GRAMMY winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra honors the tradition of great Latin music.  They are one bright light of the salsa reconstruction movement.  Some of my favorite tunes on this album are composed by Oscar Hernandez including the melodic “Romance Divino” with voices and harmonic horns telling the story with gusto.  The percussion is driving and demands you take to the dance floor. Jorge Gonzalez on bongos, George Delgado on congas and Luisito Quintero on timbales, maracas and Guiro pump the band with excitement. “Como te Amo” is a slow, beautiful mambo composed by Hernandez with lyrics by Marco Bermudez.  “Mambo 2021” is another Hernandez original with a wonderful baritone sax solo from Mitch Frohman.  Another favorite is Track #10, “Mi Amor Sincero” co-written by vocalist, Marco Bemudez and Gil Lopez. 

Here is an all-star band of musicians who put spice and authenticity into every note they play.  The Hernandez arrangements are superb, and the repertoire is uplifting, happy and sincere.  You will play this album more than once and come away smiling broadly every time.

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GRANT GEISSMAN – “BLOOZ” – Futurism Records

Grant Geissman, 1966 Epiphone Riviera guitar/tambourine/shaker/composer/1965 Gibson SG guitar/ 1966 Martin OO-18 acoustic/1954 Gibson Les Paul goldtop; Jim Cox, Hammond B3 organ/piano/ Wurlitzer elec. piano; David Garfield & Emilio Palame, piano; Russell Ferrante, Fender Rhodes electric piano; Trey Henry, upright bass/1968 Fender Precision bass; Kevin Axt, upright bass; Ray Brinker & Bernie Dresel, drums; Tiki Pasillas, congas/timbales/shakere; Kevin Winard, congas/bongos; Robben Ford, 1954/1959 Gibson Les Paul conversion guitar; Josh Smith, FlatV1 guitar; Joe Bonamassa, 1952 Fender Telecaster elec. Guitar; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Tom Scott, tenor saxophone.

Guitarist Grant Geissman winds back time with his “Preach” tune, that ambles on the scene, straight out of the 1960’s music era.  Geissman is even playing a 1966 Epiphone Riviera guitar. Randy Brecker adds his more contemporary trumpet solo to the mix, and it works! The song, “Side Hustle” is another throw-back tune.  There was a dance craze in the 1970s (The Hustle) that took the country by storm when Van McCoy had a big hit record of the same title, “The Hustle.” It was played in every discotheque across the globe. The Hustle was a so-called ‘Line’ dance, similar to the Electric Slide and the Wobble, contemporary dances that are popular today.  Grant Geissman has composed all the music on this album, borrowing from various varieties of the blues. You’ll hear everything from Rock-a-Billy to ‘Down-home’ blues.   On “Time Enough at Last” he slides into a more jazz fueled blues.  Then on “Fat Back” We’re back to 1970-style blues. Geissman adds Tom Scott to the mix on this one to pump more soul into the tune.  This is a retro album that turns back the hands of time to when soul music and jazz locked hands with the blues and groups like Les McCann and Eddie Harris soared to popularity.  You may recall the tune Mercy that raced to the top of the charts.  Geissman also incorporates the 1950s and 1960s rhythm and blues grooves into his compositions. It’s a nice blend of “Blooz” for his album of the same title.  This is an album rich with history, funk, nostalgia and just plain fun.

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ROBERTA DONNAY – “BLOSSOM-ING!” Village Jazz Café

Roberta Donnay, vocals/producer/co-arranger; Mike Greensill, piano/arranger; Ruth Davies, bass; Mark Lee, drums; José Neto, guitar; David Sturdevant, harmonica; MB Gordy, percussion.

At the first phrase of “Roberta’s Blues” I hear the tone and phrasing that brings to mind jazz vocalist, Blossom Dearie.  This is an album that celebrates Ms. Dearie’s music using the talent and creativity of Roberta Donnay.  She has a similar, little-girl innocence to her vocal presentation, one that Dearie always exhibited.  Award-winning Roberta Donnay has released this, her tenth album to remind us of the iconic Blossom Dearie and her jazz legacy.

Donnay is more than just a vocalist.  As a composer, she was recognized by the prestigious ASCAP Composers Award for her song, “One World” selected as a world-peace anthem for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. She frequently performs with the Prohibition Mob Band, a swing dance band that portrays, with costumes and music, the era of speakeasies back in the 1920’s and 1930s.  Her “Bathtub Gin” EPK exhibited this side of her musical repertoire.

“Blossom-ing!” is a fresh labor of love for Donnay, who features a similar vocal style as her predecessor, but adds her own sassy tone and bluesy interpretation to this repertoire.

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AZAR LAWRENCE – “NEW SKY” – Trazar Records

Azar Lawrence, tenor/soprano/Alto saxophones/composer; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; John Beasley, keyboards/composer; Sekou Bunch, bass; Tony Austin, drums; James Saez & Gregory Moore, guitar; Greg Poree, acoustic guitar; Destiny Muhammad, harp; Nduduzo Makhathini, piano; Lynne Fiddmont, Calesha “Bre-Z” Murray & Oren Waters, vocals.

I have been a fan of Azar Lawrence’s music since the early seventies.  He has been consistently creative and innovative for half a century.  This production is no exception.

“All of my skills … gathered throughout my career, have been a journey and all of these energies that have been acquired throughout that journey are coming together in a focused manner.  This new album expresses that,” Azar writes in his liner notes.

Opening with “All in Love” Azar mixes cultural influences, lending his saxophone sound to a minor melody and improvisation that embraces Middle Eastern roots.  Munyungo Jackson lays down his always creative splash of percussive brilliance and a feature solo by guitarist James Saez is both exciting and provocative.  Azar Lawrence has composed or co-written all the tracks. Track #2, “Peace and Harmony” becomes a platform to spotlight the exceptional musicians Azar has included on this project.  John Beasley executes a flurry of dancing notes on keyboard and Sekou Bunch is featured on a notable bass solo.  “New Sky” is a more contemporary arrangement featuring vocalist Lynne Fiddmont singing lyrics by Tiffany Austin.  Tony Austin’s drums put the funk in place and Azar Lawrence uses his saxophone talents to put the ‘J’ in jazz.    His mastery of reed instruments is upfront and obvious as he plays alto, soprano and tenor saxophones on this project.  Azar’s also a competent composer.  Songs like “From the Point of Love” are a beautiful blend of contemporary jazz mixed with Lawrence’s haunting saxophone that sometimes reminds me of something Yusef Lateef would play.  On “Birds are Singing” Azar’s horn mimics the beauty of bird calls, trembling fluidly across space.  Another favorite on this album is the closing tune, “Revelation” that lasts eight minutes and is closer to the bebop, straight-ahead jazz I love to hear Azar Lawrence play.

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CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA & PHILLIP STRANGE – “LIVE IN JAPAN” – Origin Records

Cathy Segal-Garcia, vocals/composer; Phillip Strange, piano.

This is a project recorded nearly thirty years ago, (1992) but it’s still fresh and exciting.  The ‘live’ performance shows off the very best of Cathy Segal-Garcia’s range and style.  It also features the wonderful and inventive piano playing of Phillip Strange.  It’s a 2-CD set, opening with “I’m In the Mood for Love” where Cathy sings the original melody, with quite a few of her own twists and complimentary turns. The song arrangement quickly stretches to embrace James Moody’s famous rendition (Moody’s Mood for Love).  This is a jazz duet that is fresh and complimentary with both artists innovative and improvising on musical themes spontaneously. After all, that’s what makes jazz so wonderful.  The freedom it reflects and the intricacies of transforming the music into something fresh and new can be quite exciting. For example, they play “You’ve Changed” as an upbeat Latin number.  I enjoyed their take on “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The two musicians, offer us twenty-three songs in this double CD set. Cathy is constantly playing with time, stretching meters like taffy, but you can clearly hear the sweet comfort level and warm camaraderie between these two musicians during this ‘live’ performance.

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DAVE BRUBECK TRIO – “LIVE FROM VIENNA 1967” – Brubeck Editions

Dave Brubeck, Piano; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

I got so excited when this album came across my desk, because I saw the photo of Eugene Wright on the cover with Joe Morello and Dave Brubeck.  This photograph brought a bright smile to my face.  I remember singing many a night with “The Senator” (as we fondly referred to Eugene Wright) with Karen Hernandez on piano at a small club called The Money Tree in Southern California.  That was many years ago, when I was a working jazz vocalist.  What an extraordinary bassist he was!  in the press package, we were reminded ‘The Senator’ was the last surviving member of the Dave Brubeck quartet until December 30, 2020. 

This historic album was recorded ‘live’ in Vienna back in 1967 and is the only available album that features Dave Brubeck in a trio setting.  What an extraordinary rhythm section!  It seems that Paul Desmond got distracted the night before, when he hung out with a friend in Hamburg, Germany and missed their morning flight to Vienna.  As a trio performance, these iconic musicians are given plenty of space to solo and show off their amazing talents individually. 

“I think, if our dad were alive to hear this Brubeck Trio recording now, he’d be flashing his famous, big smile.  He would be extremely proud to hear how, more than half a century ago, he, Gene and Joe got thrown a curve ball and knocked it out of the park!” Chris Brubeck said of this historic musical treasure.

It is absolutely awesome to hear Dave Brubeck and his trio perform in their tight, cohesive way.  Without the horn, Dave Brubeck explores and embellishes each piece they play with rich improvisation and elongated technical brilliance.  This is an unearthed treasure.  It belongs in every jazz collector’s portfolio. 

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TIERNEY SUTTON – “PARIS SESSIONS 2” – BFM Jazz

Tierney Sutton, voice/arranger/co-producer; Serge Merlaud, guitars/arranger/co-producer; Kevin Axt, basses/co-producer; Hubert Laws, flutes.

This “Paris Sessions 2” album was recorded over two days at Val d’Orge Studio in the City of Lights and during the pandemic lockdown that took over a million American lives.  Tierney and her new husband, Serge Merlaud, open this album as a duo, with Jobim’s “Triste” lighting their fire in Latin brilliance.  Tierney Sutton’s voice dances around the tune, improvising with scat whispers.  With an international audience in mind, she sings these lyrics in Portuguese.  Track #2 takes a lyrical turn towards the French roots of Serge Merlaud.  It’s a unique medley combining the composition of Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg, (“April in Paris”) with Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.”  The familiar “April in Paris” is arranged as a very slow ballad, giving Tierney Sutton time to taste each poignant lyric from the 1932 Broadway musical, Walk a Little Faster.  It’s a delightful medley with the unexpected Joni Mitchell flavor added like pepper to the slow boiling stew.

Their duet work continues on the Gershwin song, “Isn’t It a Pity (we never ever met before).”  These lyrics perhaps mesh with the duo’s corresponding life path.  Serge Merlaud’s guitar-fills are beautifully placed between the lyrical Sutton vocal interpretations.  Merlaud is a sensitive and technically astute player. Their entire quartet makes its appearance on Jobim’s tune, “Zingaro” and features Hubert Laws on alto flute.  This is a precious merging of Tierney’s high soprano notes that tinkle warm against the richness of Hubert’s flute. Tierney Sutton offers this fifteenth album release as a leader.  She has dedicated it to the memory of the late Marilyn Bergman, who passed away in January of 2022.  Other Bergman songs she has included are “Cinema Paradiso/I Knew I Loved You,” an Alan and Marilyn Bergman composition with Ennio Morricone, “Moonlight” which the married songwriters wrote with John Williams and “A Child is Born” where the Bergman’s collaborated with Dave Grusin.  Tierney and Serge are playful on “Pure Imagination,” where their musical comfort with each other continues to be palpable.  Tierney scats her way through Serge Merlaud’s arrangement of “Doralice,” letting her voice double with the guitar.  She also uses vocals to set the bass line and establish the tempo, before Kevin Axt enters with his own superb bass support.  The solo by Hubert Laws flies through space like a wild and beautiful bird.  Serge Merlaud takes time to showcase his own unique interpretation of this familiar standard during his brief but power-packed guitar solo.  “Paris Sessions 2” is so well-played I didn’t even miss the drums.

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HENRY FRANKLIN, ROBERT TURNER & CARL BURNETT – “3 MORE SOUNDS PLAY RAY CHARLES”- SP Records

Henry Franklin, bass; Robert Turner, piano; Carl Burnett, drums.

This is my kind of trio, bluesy and swinging!   These three incredibly talented musicians have chosen to celebrate the unforgettable brilliance of Ray Charles.  Well, to do that you have to be able to play the blues, drenched in gospel, and also know how to swing.  No problem!  Each of these players are more than proficient in doing just that!  Opening with “Let the Good Times Roll,” this trio splashes on the scene with confidence and credibility.  You have to be amazing players to pay tribute to the legendary Three Sounds, a jazz group originally comprised of Gene Harris, Bill Dowdy and Andy Simpkins.  These three gentlemen were some of my favorite jazz musicians on the planet.  Franklin, Turner and Burnett wave the “swing” flag brightly and precociously.  Each is a master musician and technical expert on their instrument.  Just listen to their take on Ray’s “Unchain My Heart” or “Hit the Road Jack,” flush with gospel flavor, straight-ahead arrangements, and solid jazz swing.  When they play, “Georgia” I am captured by the dexterity and deep, blues inuendoes that Robert Turner plays on the piano.  What a wonderful and uniquely talented pianist he is! 

Henry Franklin has long been a mainstay of jazz bass in the Southern California community.  At age eighteen, he was the bassist with the now historic Roy Ayres congregation.

“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums),” Henry recalled.

Henry has worked with Billy Higgins, Willie Bobo, and was part of the Hugh Masekela ensemble that recorded the historically famous “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit single.  He recorded with Stevie Wonder on the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album and recorded with Gene Harris for Blue Note’s “Soul Symphony” release and “Live at the IT Club.”  Franklin has toured with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau, just to name a few.  He continues to be an in-demand, Southern California-based bandleader and sideman.

Carl Burnett, the drummer in this 3 More Sounds group, has also experienced an illustrious career and is based right here in the Los Angeles area.  Carl’s drums have backed artists ranging from Sarah Vaughn, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Childs, Art Pepper and Eddie Harris to Marvin Gaye and O.C. Smith.  He can be heard on albums by Horace Silver, Art Pepper, the Three Sounds, Freddie Hubbard and Kenny Burrell, among others.  Together, these three very impressive gentlemen offer an album beautifully produced and exquisitely played to tribute not only Ray Charles, but the unforgettable memory and music of The Three Sounds. 

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JOSH NELSON BOB BOWMAN COLLECTIVE – “TOMORROW IS NOT PROMISED” – Steel Bird Records

Josh Nelson, piano/composer; Bob Bowman, bass; Steve Houghton, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Clay Jenkins, trumpet.

Here is a group of musicians and close friends who have come together to create a project of beauty and depth.  Bassist Bob Bowman first met trumpeter, Clay Jenkins in 1972 at North Texas.  Shortly after, he made the acquaintance of drummer Steve Houghton and a little later, woodwind player, Bob Sheppard.  As fate would have it, they all turned up in Southern California at about the same time.  In Los Angeles, Bob would meet guitarist Larry Koonse.  The young musician was still in high school. Eventually Bowman would meet and play with Josh Nelson.  He felt an immediate connection to the pianist, and they talked about recording a duo album.  All these years later, this group of seasoned jazz musicians and old acquaintances wound up in Talley Sherwood’s studio to finally make this album. 

They open with the title tune, a pensive reflection on the times we live in.  Josh Nelson is the composer and penned this tune during the challenge of COVID infections worldwide.  Today, the beauty and blessing of living life continues to be challenged by war and rumors of war, political disparities and cultural changes.  So, as he reminds us with this music, “Tomorrow is Not Promised.”

Josh said, “The title of the album seems more relevant than ever these days. …I strived to convey a sense of uncertainty and mystery, but also a feeling of determination and resolve.”

Bob Sheppard composed Track #2 titled, “Your Night Your Music.”  It swings hard.  “Sometime Ago” is a beautiful waltz and the tinkling beauty of Nelson’s piano magic leaps into my listening room, with Bob Bowman’s bass setting the pace and establishing the groove.  When Bowman steps into the spotlight, his solo is innovative and imaginative.  Larry Koonse has contributed his composition, “Blues for Albert E” to the project. Bob Sheppard’s saxophone interpretation puts a capital B in Blues and Clay Jenkins displays his bright talent on trumpet   Bowman has written “Yae San” and plays the introduction a’ cappella.  The arrangement on this tune embraces Asian influences, like the title.  Koonse uses his guitar to pluck the recurring melody before soloing.   The ensemble reinvents popular tunes like “Weaver of Dreams” where drummer Steve Houghton steps into a bright spotlight to display his talents and they arrange the familiar Miles Davis tune, “Blue in Green” in an unforgettable way, brightly featuring Josh Nelson and Bob Bowman.  It’s got to be one of my favorite tunes on this album.  You can tell that these musicians know each other very well and find comfort, inspiration and creativity playing together on this project.

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THE SCOTT WHITFIELD JAZZ ORCHESTRA WEST – “POSTCARDS FROM HOLLYWOOD” – Summit Records

Scott Whitfield, trombone/bass trombone/bandleader/arranger; Jeff Colello, piano; Jennifer Latham, bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Rusty Higgins, alto & soprano saxophone/flute/piccolo; Kersten Edkins, tenor  & soprano saxophone/clarinet; Brian Williams, baritone saxophone; Tony Bonsera, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Dave Richards, lead trumpet; Kye Palmer & Anne King, trumpet flugelhorn; Gary Tole & Ira Nepus, trombones; Rich Bullock, bass trombone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Pete Christlieb & Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Dick Nash, trombone; Brad Dutz, percussion.

This project has pulled several favorite songs from motion picture scores and titled the project, “Postcards from Hollywood.”  You will hear songs that became popular from films like Gone with the Wind (1940), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Cleopatra (1963). Prior to his arrival in Southern California, Scott Whitfield developed a keen interest in film soundtracks.  He even wound up studying the art form at a UCLA Extension course.

“My goal with this recording is to pay homage to a cross-section of the greats, through the medium of my Jazz Orchestra West.  Some of these themes will be very familiar to the listener, while others are much more obscure.  In some cases, I stayed pretty close to the original concept of the piece.  In others, the muse led me on a much more circuitous route,” he wrote in his liner notes.

The Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra West opens with “The Magnificent Seven,” a main theme from the movie of the same title.  Kye Palmer makes a soaring statement on his trumpet solo and Kendall Kay is magnificent on drums.  “Sally’s Tomato” from the “Breakfast at Tiffany” film is a warm, lilting, Latin arrangement where Jennifer Latham takes a memorable bass solo and Scott Whitfield’s trombone shines in center stage.  Whitfield has included special guests in this production and familiar names on the Southern California scene like Rickey Woodard and Pete Christlieb on saxophones, Brad Dutz on percussion and Dick Nash on trombone.  The bandleader has also built a band that celebrates the wealth of Los Angeles talent including respected names like Jeff Colello on piano, and Anne King playing trumpet and flugelhorn. Speaking of King, she plays beautifully while soloing during the “Tara’s Theme” arrangement as does Rusty Higgins on soprano saxophone.  Other favorites on this album are arrangements of “A Time for Love” plucked from the “An American Dream” film.  Kirsten Edkins offers a lovely tenor saxophone solo and Kye Palmer plays a mean flugelhorn.  But it’s Whitfield who sparkles and swings in the spotlight on his trombone solo.  With the strong bass support of Jennifer Latham on her upright instrument, Whitfield puts down his trombone and shows off his vocals, singing “Spellbound” from the movie of the same title.  On “The Pawnbroker” Rickey Woodard plays with his usual soulful dexterity and emotional sincerity on his tenor saxophone solo. This might be my favorite tune on the whole album.

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CARMEN LUNDY – “FADE TO BLACK” – Afrasia Productions

Carmen Lundy, vocals/composer/arranger/ guitar/percussion/ keyboards/horn arrangements/backing vocals; Julius Rodriguez, piano; Matthew Whitaker, organ/keyboards/string arrangement/programming; Kenny Davis, acoustic & electric bass; Terreon Gully, drums; Curtis Lundy, acoustic bass; Giveton Gelin & Wallace Roney jr., trumpet; Morgan Guerin & Camille Thurman, tenor saxophone.

 

Lundy has composed and arranged all of the material on this album.  She opens with “Shine A Light,” dedicated to the first responders and hospital workers who showed their selfless bravery during a time of worldwide health crisis.  The melody is catchy and has a few challenging intervals thrown-in, they do indeed shine a light on her composing skills.  Lundy has a way of mixing straight ahead and contemporary jazz.  This first song is one of my favorites. “So Amazing” is very contemporary and Lundy’s voice uses its full range to sing the message with joy and competence.  “Daughter of the Universe,” with its blues groove and strong bass line captures my interest immediately.  I enjoy the way she doubles the vocals in specifics places and celebrates her alto voice range. This song and the one that follows, “Ain’t I Human” were inspired by Harriet Tubman’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech.  This was during Tubman’s struggle for freedom and equality, as not only an African American, but as a woman in a man-controlled world. The tune “Reverence” is another one of my favorites and is a referendum on privacy. Lundy’s lyrics float like colorful, revolutionary flags above chords that set a groove pattern beneath the flapping cloth of truth. This is music with a message and Carmen Lundy is a woman with a purpose and a strong creative opinion. She is also a visual artist.  Ms. Lundy has designed the cover of her CD and hosted art gallery premieres of her paintings and sculptor work.  As a multi-talented artist, Carmen Lundy is quite striking.                                   

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TED KOOSHIAN – “HUBUB!” – Summit Records

Ted Kooshian, piano/electric keyboards/composer/arranger; Greg Joseph, drums; Dick Sarpola, double bass/elec. Bass; David Silliman, percussion; Jeff Lederer, tenor saxophone; John Bailey, trumpet; Katie Jacoby, violin; Summer Boggess, cello; Jim Mola, vocals.

Ted Kooshian is a pianist who grew up in the Bay Area of California and was greatly influenced by his band director in junior high school.

“In the seventh grade there was a new, young band director at our junior high school, who wanted t6o start a jazz band.  He played an Oscar Peterson record for me and it completely turned me around.  I immediately thought, man this is what I want to do!”  Kooshian recalls.

Surrounded by his longtime friends and musical colleagues, Ted Kooshian opens with an original composition that he wrote back in 1992.  The title tune, “Hubub!” struts onto the scene, swinging hard and introducing the listeners to each musician as they step forward to solo, beginning with John Bailey on a spirited trumpet solo.  Jeff Lederer on tenor saxophone steps up to the microphone next.  Jeff and Ted Kooshian are longtime buddies and Lederer has appeared on every one of Kooshian’s recordings.  Next coms Kooshian, tickling the 88 keys and keeping the ‘swing’ alive and in your face.  Dick Sarpola is a sensitive bassist who pumps his solo out of the double bass, spreading joy sweet as jam.  Then comes Greg Joseph on trap drums, trading bars with the band members and showing off his skills.  Ted Kooshian has composed all the music, with the exception of the familiar tune, “Somewhere.”   He has contracted violinist Katie Jacoby who is a member of the Ed Palermo Big Band, which is a band Kooshian has been a primary member of for nearly thirty years.  But jazz is not his only choice of music.  Ted Kooshian has toured with rock icons, ‘The Who’ and has worked with Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Marvin Hamlisch, Edgar Winter, Sarah Brightman and II Divo.  His musical sensibilities and reading skills have landed him in several Broadway orchestra pits including Mamma Mia, The Lion King, Aida, Come Fly Away, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Spamalot.  Seemingly a musician for all times, this album celebrates his composer talents, as well as his piano skills.

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By Dee Dee McNeil
November 1, 2022

John D. Stephens has a quiet spirit, but inside his head is swirling with music. He’s a composer, arranger, producer and big band leader. Stephens plays a wide range of woodwind instruments including alto, tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet. Born in Beaumont, Texas, he grew up twenty minutes away in the small town of China, Texas. It was there, he started out as a member of his high school band, playing saxophone.

“In Texas, I played with Rhythm and Blues bands and because we were near the Louisiana border, right there at Lake Charles, I played some Zydeco and French music too and some Delta blues,” John told me.

“My mom played piano, and I had a brother who was a bandleader. There were six boys and a girl in my family. My dad was killed in an automobile accident in Texas when I was five. About three years later, my mother re-married and I had a wonderful stepfather. Consequently, our family grew. As a teenager, I was playing tenor saxophone in the high school band and around town. When I graduated, I joined the Marines and they dropped me off in San Diego, California. I had signed up for a four-year commitment. I had another friend of mine from Beaumont, Texas who joined the Marines around the same time. He got out a month ahead of me and he convinced me to go to school for music at Cal State Northridge. I had been playing in the United States Marine Corps Band for those four years and I was ready to expand my knowledge and get my B.A. music degree.”

John Stephens took to Southern California like a duckling to water. Beaumont and China, Texas had been small ponds, but here he was at the foot of the Pacific Ocean and swimming around with all these big fish.

“One morning I was getting ready for college and my phone rang. I got a call from an unfamiliar voice. He said, your friend, Grover Mitchell suggested I give you a call. I need a baritone sax player for my band and we’re about to go on tour. Well, I stood there in shock. The voice wanted to know if I was available. I couldn’t believe my ears when he told me who he was. It was Count Basie! I told him that I had promised my mom I’d finish college before I went on the road. Mr. Basie said he understood and respected me for respecting my mother’s good advice. I’ll never forget that call, as long as I live,” John reminisced.

Stephens had roots with R&B music back in Texas, and with his degree finally in hand, the first major tour he joined was as part of Marvin Gaye’s aggregation.

“Marvin Gaye’s tour was the first major group I had ever worked with. It was on the 1976 “I Want You” tour, playing in the band with folks like Leslie Drayton, David I, and Nolan Shaheed. Eventually, here comes Buddy Collette and Gerald Wilson stepping into my life along with Teddy Edwards. They became my mentors. Gerald Wilson was teaching the history of Jazz at the college. That’s where I met Ernie Watts. Ernie Watts sat next to me in the Gerald Wilson band. I was a little slow on my horn and one day Ernie took his hand and hit me on the leg and said, ‘Come on man. Let’s go.’ He said it firmly, but in an encouraging way,” John laughs recalling that moment.

John Stephens admits that the study of music and working with so many iconic big bands was awe inspiring. He loved the big band sound, their intricate harmonies, the swing, and the charisma of so many musicians blending together to make beautiful music. He was hired by the Gerald Wilson big band, Buddy Collette’s band, and Benny Carter’s band. John was infatuated with orchestration, and he was good at writing it.

“I worked with a guy once who knew I could write orchestration and he knew I was struggling to get in the business. He had an inroad into Solar Records. At the time, Leon Silvers was producing artists over there like Shalamar, The Whispers and Dynasty. Leon would cut the rhythm tracks and give them to my friend. He’d run them over to my house for me to orchestrate, with the promise that I would get arranging credit. I also contracted some of those sessions, but I never got credit for those orchestrations or arrangements. Live and learn. I guess you could say I was a ghost-orchestrator.

“I started a big band to showcase my composer and orchestrator skills. I actually play all the saxophones, and I was always a good reader, but not such a great improvisor. I didn’t get the gig calls that I wanted. After a while, I said, I’ll start my own big band and feature my own orchestrations. Today, I’ve got so many charts I’ve written and I’m grateful to the lord who gave me time to do this.

“I’m dedicating my time and energy now to keeping my current project going as a musician and bandleader. The John Stephens Big Band is working on a new project, “Songs & Tunes of My Mentors.” It’s an album concept. Currently I have two singles from that album that I released in October,” John explained his current project.

I listened to his two singles. One is titled “Come On In” that he arranged and composed. It’s a Latin-tinged song with a fluid tenor saxophone solo by guest artist, Rickey Woodard and a trumpet solo from Dr. Bobby Rodriguez. Drummer, Lance Kellogg propels the piece, and the horn arrangements are warm and act as a plush, harmonic cushion for the melody to bounce upon. The other single is titled “It’s You” and it’s a big band arrangement featuring a Buddy Collette composition. Once again, Lance Kellogg mans the drums and the tune swings hard, in tribute to the extraordinary talent of my friend and mentor, the iconic Buddy Collette.

John Stephens & Buddy Collette from the John Stephens collection.

What a blessing for John Stephens to have worked with music masters like Buddy Collette, Gerald Wilson and Benny Carter. I asked him about his time playing with Carter’s band.

“Benny Carter was such a gentleman with his music. I did four tours with him to Japan. On one trip I got to hang out with Dizzy Gillespie. Also, Marlena Shaw was on that tour and the Little Giant, Johnny Griffin. Wow. I was thrilled! We did a gig at the Hollywood Bowl that featured Cleo Laine and her husband John Dankworth, who played clarinet and was a magnificent arranger. We did two dates for the Playboy Jazz Festival and on one of them, Ella Fitzgerald was the headliner of Benny’s band. We played first and Benny played his alto. After a while, they introduced Ella and she came out and started talking to the hushed audience about losing her eyesight. She was going blind and she shared that with her fans. Then she started singing and in the middle of the song she started literally shouting the song and Ella hit a note I’ll never forget. It was almost like a scream into the night.

“Anyway, all these people helped me along the way. They influenced me and mentored me and I’m grateful for every experience. That’s why I’m putting all this energy into my soon to be released album that tributes some of them,” John reminded me.

For more information about The John Stephens Big Band project, he is fundraising at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLBSdkE8h6E

The Southern California-based musicians who are working on this project include: RHYTHM: Greg Poree, guitar; Yuko Mabuchi, piano; Trevor Ware, bass; Lance Kellogg & Al Threats, drums. SAXOPHONES: Mike Nelson & Cindy Lee Bradley, alto saxophone; Dave Thomasson & Derek McLyn, tenor; Dennis Kaye, baritone saxophone; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Ron Barrows, Jeff Kaye, Curt Sletten, Bob Parino. TROMBONES: Les Benedict, Christopher Johnson, Dan Weinstein, George Thatcher. SPECIAL GUESTS: Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone and Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, trumpet.

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Carmen Lundy, Curtis Lundy, Mark Shim, Mayra Casales, Onaje Allan Gumbs,  Ralph Peterson, Victor Lewis, Anthony Wonsey, Bobby Watson - This Is Carmen  Lundy - Amazon.com Music

CARMEN LUNDY FINDS VALUE IN THE ANCESTORS

By Dee Dee McNeil
October 1, 2022

Carmen Lundy is one of those productive people who is highly creative, gifted and artistic. Born November 1st in Miami, Florida, it didn’t take little Carmen long to discover music tantalized her ears. From day one, there was music in their house and she had a song in her heart. At Age four, her tiny fingers plucked out melodies on the household upright piano. Carmen’s mother was also full of song and a role model as the lead singer in a gospel group called “The Apostolic Singers.” Her auntie, Emma Teresa Miller, was a pianist for that gospel group, and she inspired Carmen to love the instrument. In fact, Carmen has always found value in lessons from the ancestors.

“My mother is the oldest of fifteen children and I am the oldest of seven siblings. When she wasn’t doing the eight-hour job-thing, my mother would do housekeeping on the side. The lady that she did that for was a classical piano player. That lady offered me piano lessons without having to pay for them. Mrs. Leslie Bloss was my first piano teacher. She also was Curtis’s first teacher,” Carmen referred to her famous brother, jazz bassist Curtis Lundy.

“I took lessons from Mrs. Bloss until I was about eight or nine; maybe ‘til the age of ten. From age twelve to about fourteen I studied piano with Mr. Poznanski. But pianist, Emma Miller, my mother’s sister, was throwing down the gospel stuff from the time I was four or five. That’s probably where I picked up playing piano, from watching her. I never studied with her. I was just amazed at her facility. You know, people always ask me who are your influences? And I have to say, a lot of them are people the world doesn’t know. They were the ones who showed me the music informally. My grandfather played guitar. My grandmother played the organ. An in-law named Joe Louis was somewhere in between B.B. King and George Benson. He had a mellow sound, but he could also ‘rip” on guitar. He would electrify the whole room. We were church going folks, and music was the salvation and expression that got us through another day,” Carmen told me about her musically inspired, youthful years.

After graduating from the University of Miami and moving from Miami to New York City, for nearly eighteen years Carmen Lundy acted as a clinician at the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program. Betty Carter brought her Jazz Ahead program to the Kennedy Center in 1998. It has helped launch the careers of several of today’s stars, including Cyrus Chestnut, Kendrick Scott, Jason Moran, Jazzmeia Horn, Nate Smith, Arco Iris Sandoval, and Matthew Whitaker, among others.1 I asked Carmen Lundy about that exciting time in her life.

“Well, you know Curtis, my brother, gave that program the name Jazz Ahead while he was working with Betty Carter. She started the program at Brooklyn Academy of Music, up the street from where she lived. Dr. Billy Taylor became the Artistic Advisor of Jazz at the Kennedy Center and this was around the mid to late nineties. So, Dr. Taylor invited Betty Carter to bring her Jazz Ahead Program into the Kennedy Center in April of 1998.2 Betty Carter passed away in September of 1998. She had just gotten her foot in the door of the Kennedy Center, and she was gone. So, my brother, Curtis Lundy, came in and became the helm of Jazz Ahead that year. Curtis recommended me, because I think it made sense that there should be a female representation, since Betty had started it, and it just so happened that I was also a jazz vocalist.”

Of course, it also helped that Carmen Lundy had graduated from the University of Miami where she received her B.M. degree in studio music and jazz. She started out as an opera major but changed direction and became the first jazz vocal major at the University of Miami. Ms. Lundy had also been performing since her college days, first in Miami and then at jazz hot spots all over New York City. She reads music and is accomplished in composing and arranging. Not to mention, at the time of her appointment, she had record releases to her credit. Carmen’s credentials made her the perfect fit as faculty for Betty Carter’s program.

“Dr. Taylor was smart. He knew that the Kennedy Center people needed that credential like he had, so he invited Dr. Nathan Davis from the University of Pittsburgh to oversee the Jazz Ahead Program, along with me, Curtis Fuller and George Cables who were all part of the faculty. Then, the question became, where are we going to get these kids from? Where will we get these musicians? Betty Carter was handpicking everybody, so what do we do? We started a submissions program. Everybody was submitting from all over the world, and they were sending their cassettes with their bios and all that good stuff. We would sit there with boxes of cassettes delivered to our front door. We would have to listen to hours upon hours of submissions. In fact, that’s how I met pianist, Julius Rodriguez who’s on my CD and trumpeter Giveton Gelin and Matthew Whitaker on organ and keyboards,” Carmen credited some of the young musicians from the Jazz Ahead program as being part of her new album. Speaking of her new release, Lundy has composed and arranged all the material on her latest album, “Fade to Black.” She opens with “Shine A Light,” dedicated to the first responders and hospital workers who showed their selfless bravery during a time of the COVID worldwide health crisis. Her opening melody is catchy and has a few challenging intervals thrown-in for good measure. Melodically, these unexpected intervals do indeed shine a light on Ms. Lundy’s composing skills and vocal range. Carmen Lundy has a comfortable way of mixing straight ahead and contemporary jazz. This first song is one of my favorites. “So Amazing” is very contemporary and Lundy’s voice uses its full range to sing her message with joy and competence. “Daughter of the Universe,” has a blues groove and a strong bass line delivered by Curtis Lundy on the introduction. The bass line captures my interest immediately. Inside the song, Kenny Davis plays bass. I enjoy the way Carmen doubles her vocals in specifics places and celebrates her alto voice range. This song and the one that follows, “Ain’t I Human” were inspired by Harriet Tubman’s famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech that reflected Tubman’s struggle for freedom and equality, not only as an African American, but as a woman in a man-controlled world. The tune “Reverence” is another one of my favorites and is a referendum on privacy. Lundy’s lyrics float like colorful, revolutionary flags above chords that set a groove pattern beneath the flapping cloth of truth. This is music with a message and Carmen Lundy is a woman with a purpose and a strong creative opinion.

Lundy’s latest recording is her sixteenth album release. She admits, getting record deals has been an up-hill struggle. Carmen Lundy shared her personal determination to succeed in the music business.

“It was 1978 when I moved to New York City. All the guys I went to University of Miami with were finishing school and moving to NYC. So, I did the same thing. But my goal was to make records. The first year I got there, I sang every weekend in NY for fifty dollars a night at a club called Jazz Mania. It was a loft thing and a gig for everybody. I met Kenny Barron there, Walter Bishop Jr., and an endless list of players. Day after day, I went to every major record company that was making jazz records. I submitted to every, last one of them and every one of them turned me down. As a matter of fact, the third demo tape I submitted to Columbia Records turned out to be my first record. They gave me a licensing deal. But they originally turned down the same record that they could have put out and helped me to establish myself in the 80’s.”

Carmen explained, “What happened was, Father Peter O’Brien was managing Mary Lou Williams for most of her career. Mary Lou Williams passed in 1981. I saw Mary Lou perform in summer of 1979 and in 1980. Father O’Brien read a Village Voice cover article about me in 1983 and he contacted me. He was doing a concert to honor Mary Lou Williams with Jon Faddis participating and he asked me to sing some of her music. After that, he took a shine to me and became my manager. So, Father O’Brien handled the whole thing with Columbia. He was the one who was smart enough to know what to do when they passed on me as an artist. He was the one who contacted Herb Wong at Black Hawk and that’s how I got that ‘Good Morning Kiss’ record released, through Father O’Brien. It was a distribution deal and stayed on the Billboard chart for weeks.”

With the guidance of Father Peter O’Brien, Carmen Lundy’s career blossomed.

“In part of Mary Lou’s Will, she requested that the legacy of her music be passed on to children. Father O’Brien asked me to teach Mary Lou’s Mass to young people. He was then the Chaplain at Fordham University. I went into the Parochial school in Harlem and hand-picked the voices to teach them Mary Lou’s Mass. I also worked with the Harlem Boys Choir and the New York Boys Choir. I acted as the soloist for anything that required a soloist in Mary Lou’s Mass, and I performed Mary Lou’s Mass for a good twelve to fifteen years. When Father O’Brien hooked up with Geri Allen, then Geri and I started doing the mass together. Before Geri, Marian McPartland was at the piano chair when we did it at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., with David Baker conducting. Mary Lou wrote two pieces based on Martin Luther King speeches. One of them is called, I have a Dream, which we all know. The other one she wrote is called ‘Tell Them Not to Talk Too Long.’ Those two, Father O’Brien commissioned me to write the chorale arrangements. I did, and we performed them in Los Angeles with the Master Chorale.

I asked Carmen Lundy what made her leave New York and relocate to Los Angeles.

“I moved to Los Angeles in the early nineties. I was burned out. The Crack thing, that epidemic, had decimated the New York Community. My manager at the time booked me on the Duke Ellington Broadway “Sophisticated Ladies” show that was Phyllis Hyman’s role. They had a National company and they had a European company. I ended up doing the European tour. That was a great way to know and live Duke Ellington’s music. The first run was twenty-nine shows without a day off. I had a six-month contract. I did make a record for a label called Arabasque. It was an independent label. When the record came out, it was around the same time I had moved to Los Angeles.”

“I came out to L.A. to visit my friends who had made their big hit in Ain’t Misbehavin’ with Nell Carter, Ken Page, Amelia McQueen, Andre DeShields, Charlayne Woodard, all the cast from Ain’t Misbehavin’. They were all coming back and forth, trying to get into film and TV out here. A lot of them did well with film and television. While visiting, I got sent on an audition by my agent in New York for a TV show and I got the part. They gave me a car, they gave me an apartment and a nice piece of change. So, I said, oh – L.A. isn’t so bad after all. Twenty-something years later, I’m still here.”

Although the television pilot Carmen shot never materialized, she settled into West Coast living and has continued to be productive as both a singer, actress and a visual artist. She also produces short films and in September she debuted her film, “Nothing But the Blood – The True Story of the Apostolic Singers of Miami,” at the Regal Theater in downtown Los Angeles. It’s a story of her Miami musical family.

As a visual artist, she has painted and designed several of her album covers, including this recent “Fade to Black” release. Her extraordinary art and multi-media sculptures will be featured as part of the upcoming “Shifting the Narrative: Jazz and Gender Justice” exhibit, opening at Detroit’s Carr Center on October 14, 2022. You can check out an eye-opening gallery of her visual art at her website: www.carmenlundy.com.

 

As our conversation wound down, Carmen Lundy offered these thoughtful words of wisdom.

“The beautiful thing is the value of a mentor. Having Betty Carter as a mentor, ok?! My mother as a mentor! Once you get here, it’s the result of your standing on somebody’s shoulders. Generations that are moving forward must regard and respect their ancestors for giving them everything that they can. It benefits us and enriches us. I just have to say, the value of what we do is on the shoulders of those who have walked this walk and carved this path for us.”

True to her own counsel, Carmen Lundy is doing the work, creating the art and offering opportunity to youthful talent by example, by teaching, by employing and by believing, as ‘the ancestors’ did, in the evolution and support of our blossoming, new generations.

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By Dee Dee McNeil
Sept 1, 2022

Not only is she Director of the Watts Towers Art Center Campus, Rosie Lee Hooks is also a gifted singer, a filmmaker, an arts administrator, photographer, educator, a first degree black belt in Tang Soo Do karate and the producer of the Annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival and producer of the Day of the Drum celebration. Currently, Rosie Lee Hooks is rolling up her sleeves to produce both festivals. They will celebrate 100 years of L.A’s treasured Watts Towers, singularly built by Simon Rodia and world renowned, these famous towers have inspired this Los Angeles County community art space.

I asked Rosie Lee Hooks what these Watts Towers festivals mean to her and to the community.

“Watts is truly amazing. Everybody talks about the rebellion of 1965 when they mention Watts, but the Watts community is rich in culture. We have the famed Locke High School, a facility that has mentored so many talented musicians like Patrice Rushen, Ndugu Chancler, Reggie Andrews, Raymond Pounds, two recent members of the Earth Wind and Fire horn section, Tyrese Gibson, Billy Preston, Musical Director Rickey Minor and so many more. Ever since I’ve been here, for the last twenty something years, I’ve been working hard to make sure people understand we are more than 1965. We deserve recognition for being an area where more artists, in all disciplinaries, have developed from this very Watts area.”

Rosie Lee Hooks has credentials as deep as the cultural roots of the Watts Community. It was Rosie Lee Hooks who produced the very first Central Ave Jazz Festival. This was during the time she was Director of Festivals and Gallery Theatre for the City of Los Angeles Dept of Cultural Affairs. She told me about that.

“You know I’ve done about twenty something films documenting culture here in L.A., to include many of the festivals like the Central Ave Jazz festival, the Mariachi Festival, the first three Cuban Festivals, the first three Puerto Rican festivals, the Armenian Festival and more. I’ve produced a lot of Festivals here in the City of Los Angeles and I’ve documented many of those festivals in film and put them on-line. They show on the Youtube channel.

“I had already started the jazz mentorship program and Mayor Tom Bradley, during his tenure, asked us to focus on music. He brought together educational institutions, commercial institutions, radio and private institutions. Mayor Bradley brought us together to say, we want to make ‘live’ music available to the constituency in L.A. and what can we do? What programs can you design? I was working for DCA, (Dept of Cultural Affairs) and we designed the jazz mentorship program.

As you know, Los Angeles is full of master musicians, and they are the crème de la crème of musicians. So, we chose these masters to go into places where young people were. We focused on the youth, whether it was in schools, community centers, juvenile hall, or otherwise. We went to young people wherever they were, to bring them ‘live’ music with live musicians. When we asked the kids, have you ever been to a ‘live’ music concert, all the hands would go up, but we quickly discovered they meant ‘live’ on television. I said, no. ‘live’ where you can bring your instrument and play. We encouraged young musicians to bring their instruments and get on stage with Patrice Rushen, Buddy Collette, Ndugu Chancler, Nedra Wheeler and Bobby Rodriguez. That was our initial core that we started with. The first sessions were at the California African American Museum. They used to have a theater there called Kinsey Auditorium. It’s not there anymore. But the first four concerts were done there around 1992. After the Watts rebellion, they were not letting people congregate at all. Anytime black people or minority people congregated, there were helicopters buzzing and all of that. So, we invited a lot of the housing project community, and those young people were encouraged to attend with adult supervision. We did the first four jazz mentorship programs in association with the African American Museum. After that, we ventured out to those other schools and community centers. The program was also sponsored by the Musician’s Union. And when those funds dried up, we had to transition. We transitioned into that first production of the Central Ave Jazz Festival.

“I had all of those people from the Mentorship Program involved in producing that festival. I also filmed it. Documentation is important. June of 1996 was when it began. Again, the model was what I had already done while working at the Smithsonian Institution. We did have a panel on stage with Buddy Collette and Patrice Rushen as the moderators. We had Melba Liston on stage, Roy Porter, Clora Bryant, and Bobby Rodriguez. I conceptualized, developed and produced that festival based on what I was doing at the Smithsonian Institution (years before) and focused on the different aspects of black life in our community that included sacred and secular music, community activities, and the marketplace. We do a lot of things in the marketplace; cooking, hair braiding, woodcarving, all of those kinds of things, storytelling, things that are part of our life and allow us to express ourselves culturally,” Rosie Lee Hooks told me how the Central Ave Jazz Festival began.”

That festival was only one of more than three-hundred multi-cultural and multi-discipline festivals that Rosie Lee Hooks has produced, along with special events and various theatrical programs. Her Jazz Mentorship Program is now thirty-plus years old, and still growing with the goal of exposing youth to America’s indigenous and celebrated musical art form of jazz. In Washington D.C., she was employed by the Smithsonian Institution from 1972 to 1977, where she honed her talents in festival production and cultural activities.

“When I was working for Educational Projects and Research Corporation, I travelled domestically throughout the United States. When I went to the Smithsonian, I travelled for the International Department with an official passport to carry the official invitation from the Smithsonian and the United States of America to ministers of Institution in Africa, the Caribbean and South America. I worked directly with the Ambassadors of various countries; the Ministers of Culture in mostly West African nations including Senegal, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierre Leone, Gambia, Ghana and maybe a couple of others. I didn’t know where I was going, a little colored girl from Alabama, but I knew I was going somewhere. Every door that opened, I went through it.”

During those ‘walk-through’ years, she pushed open doors and was unafraid to explore new paths and opportunities. Rosie Lee Hooks shattered glass ceilings with her head held high. She is the first female Director of the Watts Towers Arts Campus.

Her early background was in Childhood education, working with Head Start Programs for youth, then moving to administration and producing. She was probably very comfortable working with children, because Rosie Lee Hooks grew up with twenty-three siblings. Her family was more like a tribe, based in Bessemer, Alabama. When she moved to Washington, D.C., she sang with the popular, award winning all female group, “Sweet Honey in the Rock.” Once relocating to California, she acted in movies like The Bodyguard, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and appeared on television shows like NYPD Blue. Believe it or not, acting came into her life because Rosie Lee Hooks wanted to overcome her natural shyness.

Always seeking ways to expand and share knowledge that uplifts her community, Rosie Lee Hooks came up with a unique plan to spread the word about jazz and jazz artists.

“Along the way, you know, I’d never seen a bookmark with black people on it, so wanting to disseminate information and leave something with those young people in our Jazz Mentorship Program, I started to design bookmarks. The first bookmarks were Buddy Collette, Patrice Rushen, Ndugu Chancler, Melba Liston, Billy Higgins, Horace Tapscott, Clora Bryant and Bobby Rodriguez. Each student was given a bookmark. Dorothy Donegan was one of them too. I remember taking Dorothy Donegan to Crenshaw High School with a young bassist, Nedra Wheeler. It was very interesting. Dorothy was a character. At the concert, Ms. Donegan started out with blues, playing piano, and then she put that leg up on the piano and kept on playing; then she went right out of the blues and into Rachmaninoff.”

I could hear the wonder and artistic appreciation for pianist Dorothy Donegan echoing in Rosie Lee’s tone of voice. I too have experienced Ms. Donegan ‘live’ and she was an unpredictable ball of talent that rolled across her spellbound audiences with energy and brilliance. What a blessing and an inspiration for those young people to experience that kind of genius in person, thanks to Rosie Lee Hooks.

Rosie Lee Hooks has received several prestigious awards. I asked her about the NAACP Image Awards that she has won.

“The first one, I think, was for 227. I created the role that Jacqui does on television. I created that role in a theatrical production and I got the Image Award for that role. Then, I got one for “Moliere’s Misanthrope.” The other one, “Knock Me a Kiss” was where I played W.E.B. Dubois’ wife. I received a Cast Award for “Knock Me a Kiss.” I think I’ve won three Image Awards out of five nominations,” Rosie Lee told me.

Her work has been honored with other Awards, including the Rainbow Award from the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival. She has also received numerous Community Service Awards from the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center, the Charles Drew School of Medicine Foundation, and in 2011 she was appointed a Southern California Freedom Sister by the Museum of Tolerance.

This year’s Annual Free Watts Towers Jazz Festival and Day of the Drum Festival are events that the whole family will enjoy. On September 24 through September 25, 2022, free Valet Parking will make the festival easily accessible from 10AM to 6PM.

“The Day of the Drum Festival is very special. It gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to traditional culture and will feature Aztec Traditional dancing, the One plus One Duo that’s a mix of Middle Eastern and Persian percussion, the La Bamba Collective, which is Afro and Puerto Rican drums and dance, as well as a tribute to drummer, James Gadson. Mr. Gadson is eighty years old now and he’s never really been recognized properly. So, we’ll be honoring Mr. Gadson and Munyungo Jackson is putting together that ensemble,” Rosie Lee explained about the Day of the Drum Festival.

“Our Masters of Ceremony will be James Janisse and Torrence Brandon Reese. The Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival opens with a Yoruba Ground Celebration uniting all cultures based on common ground and principles. We’ll feature the prized Watts Willowbrook Strings, under the direction of pianist/producer/educator Billy Mitchell, who’s doing a wonderful job down here teaching them classical music. Since the Watts Towers were singularly hand-built by an Italian artist, we always include an Italian entertainer. This year it’s the wonderful jazz singer, Jasmine Tommaso. Also, singer Wendy Barnes will be here with the Influentials. We’ll have the jazz mentorship all-stars performing. Patrice Rushen will pull that together. The day will end with The Ark, founded by Horace Tapscott. Reed man, Michael Sessions is contracting that group. We’ll have a food court and a shopping area. Also, there’s a children’s area where we’ll be teaching people about native plants, succulents and doing mosaic tiling activities. Kenzi Shiokaza recently passed, but he was a big part of our Watts Towers Garden, and our garden art center was built around his work. The children will enjoy art projects and be introduced to our turtle pond where we house a twenty-year-old African tortoise,” the excitement in Rosie Lee Hooks voice is contagious.

I’ll see you at the Annual Watts Towers Jazz Festival, where you can meet Ms. Rosie Lee Hooks, strolling around the campus, like the perfect hostess that she is, making sure everyone is having a good time.

 

CELEBRATING LOS ANGELES LEGENDS: WASHINGTON RUCKER

By Dee Dee McNeil

Aug 1, 2022

WASHINGTON RUCKER is a name you may not have heard lately, but one we should never forget. He was born Washington Irving Rucker in Tulsa, Oklahoma on March 5, 1937 in a small room above a neighborhood grocery store. His maternal great grandfather was part American Indian Creek and moved to Washington, D.C. to become a professional translator for the tribe. He fell in love with the District of Columbia and named his son Washington. That name was passed down the chain of the Barnett Black Creek Freedmen to Washington Rucker from his great grandfather.

The young Washington Rucker developed a love for music and became infatuated with drums before he was five years old. It happened when he heard a bandmember in the famous Tulsa Booker T. Washington Parade band. They called the legendary drummer Crazy Red, but his given name was James Williams. Washington’s eyes became wide with excitement when he heard how the drums propelled that band. He used his mother’s cast iron skillet, a knife and a fork to mimic what he heard Crazy Red playing on those drums. Ms. Georgia Barnett indulged her son, seeing how happy he was creating rhythms. She had her hands full, because Washington Rucker was one of eight children.

Washington was taken under the wings of a world-renowned Tulsa drummer, Clarence Dixon, who saw his potential and inspired the young man. Dixon was voted the number two drummer in the world, right under Chick Webb, from 1937 to 1942. He taught Washington Rucker the basic elements of drumming. One thing he pounded into Washington’s head was belief in his own potential.

“You can take a pair of sticks and go anywhere in the world if you want to go,” Mr. Dixon promised.

Washington Rucker eventually became the drummer for that same Booker T. High School Band, the one that had originally drawn his four-year-old ears to music. It was 1952 when Cecil McBee, the clarinetist, invited sixteen-year-old Washington Rucker to play drums with him at Love’s Lounge in Tulsa. McBee knew about the young drummer because Washington attended junior high school with his sister, Shirley McBee, and everyone was talking about Washington’s mad talent on the drums. But playing in the Booker T marching band and playing a set of trap drums were two entirely different experiences. Washington Rucker said it was Cecil McBee who taught him how to play a back beat. He landed his first professional job in his teens, playing drums with a local bluesman, Jimmy “Cry Cry” Hawkins. They toured all over Oklahoma playing juke joints. After graduating high school, Washington Rucker joined the Navy. That’s where he discovered the “Navy School of Music,” and that opportunity redirected his life.

“So, I go to the Navy School of Music. There were 150 drummers, my name was 147, and I had to climb that high up. That’s when I really became a real musician, because I used to practice and study almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Didn’t hang out, didn’t do nothing, I just played in the band,” Washington Rucker explained to the Voices of Oklahoma Historical Society.1

Once out of the Navy, Washington Rucker spent time in Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. He relocated to Los Angeles in September of 1966. He had been living in Washington, D.C and was the house drummer for the famous Howard Theater. In that position, Washington, the drummer, pumped his rhythms into every well-known entertainer you can imagine from James Brown to Marvin Gaye; from Otis Redding to Chuck Jackson, Sam Cooke and Bobby Timmons. He played with the best of the R&B, Blues and jazz acts. When his marriage ended, Washington left D.C. and headed for the West Coast. One of his first gigs was at Dupree’s on 42nd Street and Avalon with Curtis Peagler on saxophone and Roy Brewster on baritone horn. Preston Love had heard good things about Washington Rucker’s drum skills from the bandleader at the Howard Theater. He knew Washington could read music and called him, asking if he’d like to tour with Stevie Wonder. In 1969, Washington went on tour with Little Stevie Wonder and became the drummer on Stevie’s first overseas gig. Washington told me he loved Stevie and thought he was a genius, but Motown’s money was short and their respect for musicians, in those days, was even shorter. When he returned to Los Angeles, Nancy Wilson’s Gal Friday called him and said Nancy had heard about him and asked if he would tour with her.

“Nancy paid four-times more money than Motown,” Washington told me.

Washington Rucker: Legendary Jazz DrummerDon Trenner was her Musical Director. They had just fired Mickey Roker and Buster Williams. We went to Las Vegas for six weeks. I toured Europe with Nancy Wilson in 1970 and 1971. I also played at the Ambassador Theater with Linda Hopkins and Bradley Bobo on bass for that play, ‘Me and Bessie.’ I believe I was the first drummer to play with Linda on that gig. We also took that act to Europe,” Washington Rucker shared with me.

“I think Hampton Hawes was the best be bop piano player I ever played with. He called me up one day. Told me Jimmy Hopps had recommended me and told me to come over to his house to rehearse. I took a snare drum, a high hat and some brushes. He lived in East L.A. in what appeared to be a Latino area. His wife, Josie Black, was a Latino. He had a fake fireplace and up there on the mantle was a Presidential Pardon from JFK,” Washington Rucker remembered that meeting like it was yesterday, during an interview with John Erling, of Voices for Oklahoma .

When Washington Rucker asked Hampton Hawes how he got that Presidential Pardon, Hampton told him he’d had a drug problem and was sentenced to five years in prison. Hawes wrote to President Kennedy and reminded him of Howard Rumsey’s “Concerts by the Sea” a California Club where Hampton Hawes used to perform. John Kennedy often popped into that ocean jazz club to hear Hampton play. Hawes asked President Kennedy if he could help him. The result was, a month later, Hampton Hawes received the Presidential Pardon.

Washington Rucker has played with a variety of artists in every genre of music, from coast to coast. His credits include Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, vocalists Sherwood Sledge, Joe Williams and Maxine Weldon; the iconic Ray Charles, gospel artists Rev. James Cleveland and Shirley Caesar, and jazz trumpet master, Freddie Hubbard, to name just a few. He recorded with B. B. King and played on three or four albums with Big Joe Turner. Washington Rucker released one album as a bandleader called, “Bridging the Gap.”

 

When I asked him who were some of his favorite Los Angeles-based artists he told me, bassist, Larry Gales for bebop and Bradley Bobo was one of his favorites on the electric bass. He also praised pianist Randy Randolph.

Rucker added. “I really enjoyed working with saxophonist, Curtis Peagler too. I had my own quartet that featured Herman Riley on tenor saxophone and Art Hillary on piano.”

Washington lived for a while in Europe and this video was during a television special appearance on Romanian National TV.  

1981 was the year he graduated from UCLA. He won the Frank Sinatra Award for Jazz and Pop music in 1981 and he started the Jazz for Wee People in 1981 to inspire youth and teach them the beauty and historic relevance of jazz. He taught at UCLA briefly, for two years and in 1998 Washington Rucker was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. The multi-talented Washington Rucker is also an actor. He studied acting, cosmetology and clothing design. He appeared in a movie called “Mob City” and he portrayed Papa Jo Jones in the Clint Eastwood film, “Bird.” As an author, he wrote a now, out-of-print biography titled “Jazz Road.” Here is a Los Angeles-based Living Legend of immense talent whose legacy must never be forgotten.

 

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 1, 2022

As a reviewer of jazz product, I am sent a number of CDs each week, featuring artists from all over the world. A plethora of the products are from the East Coast. Most of those CDs reflect a certain style and a music mode that is recognizably East Coast flavored. What I have seen, so far this year of 2022, is the variety and breadth of art that West Coast musicians record. Here are a few examples.

BILL ORTIZ – “POINTS OF VIEW” – Left Angle Records

Bill Ortiz, trumpet/flugelhorn; Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Brian Jackson, piano; Carl Wheeler, Hammond B3 organ; Marcus Shelby, bass; Marc van Wageningen, electric bass; Dennis Chambers, drums; John Santos, percussion/lead & background vocals; Javier Navarrette, percussion/background vocals; Terrie Odabi & Christelle Durandy, lead & background vocals; Juan Luis Perez, Larry Batiste & Sandy Griffith, background vocals.

The first music arrangement of Bill Ortiz is robust and rolls out with the propulsive rhythm of Dennis Chambers on drums. He punches the funk into place. The ensemble introduces the Eddie Henderson composition, “Sunburst” and it’s a great way to begin this album. The trumpet of Ortiz announces the melody, like a breath of fresh air, and calls my ears to attention. The arrangement dips and dives, with interludes that calm the tempo until the drums kick back in and continue driving the piece forward. On Track #1, these musicians create a lovely blend of fusion, with the more traditional straight-ahead jazz sprinkled into the arrangement like spicy hot sauce. Bill Ortiz is one of the Bay Area’s most dynamic, multi-genre trumpeters.

On this CD, Ortiz has his feet solidly planted in several jazz styles. This is not surprising since he has spent forty-plus years playing a variety of musical genres. He toured for sixteen of those years with Santana and was part of that ensemble when they walked away with the multi-Grammy winning “Smooth” album. This is his first solo album since leaving the Santana group.

Bill Ortiz has recorded or performed with a long list of iconic names like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Tito Puente, Pete Escovedo, Boz Scaggs, Buddy Guy and R&B stars like Tony Toni Tone, TLC, En Vogue and Destiny’s Child. Each of the ten pieces on this Ortiz album was chosen to become a vehicle that showcased the Ortiz personal voice on trumpet. He explained:

“…Music makes people feel something. I wanted “Points of View” to feature important pieces that have been overlooked or forgotten; songs I felt could document the sounds and artists that were important to me in forming my voice, while updating and bringing my personal style to them,” Ortiz said.

To assist him, Bill Ortiz has selected a stellar ensemble of musicians including the flying fingers of Matt Clark on piano. Clark is always innovative as a soloist and complimentary as a solid rhythm player and accompanist. You hear this throughout, but on Track #4, “In Search of Truth” a sweet and lovely ballad you will enjoy piano lines cascading like small waterfalls. L.A. based, Azar Lawrence, is on tenor saxophone and sings the melody in unison with Ortiz on trumpet. On Track #6, “A Toast to the People” written by Brian Jackson and Gil Scott Heron, they feature Terrie Odabi on lead vocals. She adds her special flavor to the mix and rejuvenates this Gil Scott Heron gem of a tune. Track #9 is a favorite arrangement of mine, composed by Wayne Shorter, and titled, “Oriental Folk Song.” It’s taken from one of my favorite albums by Wayne Shorter titled “Night Dreamer.” Azar Lawrence takes a star-studded tenor solo and the theme of “John Coltrane” is sung throughout in my head.

I also enjoyed Track #3, the Wilton Felder tune, “Ain’t Gon’ Change a Thang” that features another inspired solo by Lawrence with Bill Ortiz spicing it up by adding various effects to his arrangement. All in all, this is a delightful mix of talent and repertoire.

The mastery of Bill Ortiz on trumpet and flugelhorn is awesome and spellbinding. Perhaps Ortiz described his project best when he said:

“I like players who, like me, color outside the lines and strive for exciting interactions that make people listen and react, so that every time they play it, it tells a different story and goes to fresh, unheard places. I wanted these guys to play off each other and jump into the oblivion of the unknown. Afro Cuban music is a huge part of my life, and I welcomed genre greats like John Santos, who could inspire me to take that passion to the next level.”

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PETER ERSKINE TRIO – “LIVE IN ITALY” – Fuzzy Music

Peter Erskine, drums/composer; Alan Pasqua, piano/composer; Darek Oles, bass/composer.

The concert opens with an original composition by Alan Pasqua, “Agrodolce.” It’s sultry, pensive and drenched in classical music. Pasqua opens, playing solo piano for the first half of this arrangement. When the other two musicians join him, Peter Erskine’s brushes brighten the tempo and Darek Oles steps up to offer us a salty bass solo that’s both lyrical and relaxing. There is something comfortable and warm about this Peter Erskine Trio. The ‘live’ concert music draws me in and I feel like I’m seated front row center. Track #2 is titled “New Hope.” It’s another Pasqua original with a laid-back tempo, but beautifully written and played. “Old School Blues” struts onto the concert scene with Darek’s bass walking briskly beneath the groove. Peter Erskine lays down a strong, clean and sturdy rhythm, delicious as Italian red sauce on homemade spaghetti. I tap my toes along with his swinging beat.

This is an easy listening trio of jazz played by three iconic gentlemen and recorded before a ‘live’ audience in Camogli, Italy, on November 19, 2021. This was one of their concerts during a two-week Italian tour last year. It was the trio’s first tour after the coronavirus lockdown. The delectable menu, of mostly original compositions, features the pepper-hot drums of Erskine splattering across their arrangements, with both sticks and brushes. He takes several solo opportunities to sprinkle his talent over the captive audience. They reward Peter Erskine with appreciative applause. The legendary drummer has composed “Three-Quarter Molly” that gives a platform for Pasqua to showcase his piano skills. The tune “Turnaround” by Alan Pasqua is more energetic and tumultuous; a perfect platform for Erskine to thump, tap and tickle his drums. The percussion opens the famed Dizzy tune, “Con Alma” tap-dancing on skins that double time beneath Pasqua and Oles. Darek Oles spotlights his bass in a dramatic solo. As the concert comes to an end, their audience responds with explosive hand claps. The people demonstrate how they love what they hear, and I concur.

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ESTHESIS QUARTET – “ESTHESIS QUARTET” – Orenda Records

Dawn Clement, piano; Elsa Nilsson, flute/vocals; Emma Dayhuff, bass; Tina Raymond, drums.

I have to say, the opening tune, “Cricket” sounds more like a boxing match than a chirping cricket. However, I enjoy the energy and excitement that this all-female quartet produces. At the intro, Elsa Nilsson chirps like a cricket on her flute. But very quickly, Tina Raymond punches the drums in all the vulnerable spots and the staccato breaks remind me of gloves swinging and colliding with flesh. Emma Dayhuff solos on bass and the energy grows. Nilsson’s flute flies in a flurry of punches and I’m caught up in the splendid excitement these four musicians create. When Tina takes an extended drum solo, I can clearly see the two boxers duking it out at the end of the tenth round and then, boom! Knock-out! The tune abruptly stops.

“Two Moons” is track two and it’s moody and played sweetly on Elsa Nilsson’s flute. This arrangement is burrowed in thigh deep blues. The story behind the title is one that celebrates an American Indian Cheyenne chief. He traveled to Washington, D.C. many times to discuss and negotiate for the future of the Northern Cheyenne people. In fact, it is the man, “Two Moons,” who is featured on the American Buffalo Nickel coin. Dawn Clement is brightly featured on piano during this arrangement, shining with creativity. Clement and Nilsson have collaborated on the composition, “Partial” with Nilsson writing the music and Clement has penned the lyrics. Elsa Nilsson vocalizes this song.

The quartet’s name ‘Esthesis’ means elementary sensations of touch. They were formed as a creative support group during the pandemic. This project kept compositions coming and creative juices flowing during the awful COVID-19 lock-down. After spending several sessions together, using the Zoom app, the members headed to Los Angeles and recorded this, their debut album.

Dawn Clement is a Denver, Colorado-based pianist and educator. Currently she holds the role of Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator of the Jazz and American Music Department at Metropolitan State University in Denver. Drummer, Tina Raymond is currently Assistant Professor and the Director of Jazz studies at California State University, Northridge. Raymond blends traditional jazz percussion vocabulary with African polyrhythms and classical percussion techniques. You hear this powerful blending on the quartet’s arrangement of “We Watch It All Burn” written by Nilsson. Nilsson, who is now New York City based, originally came to the States from Gothenburg, Sweden. She is an adjunct professor at the New School Paul Rauch and performs regularly at various New York venues. Bassist, Emma Dayhuff, is a graduate from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance and only the fifth woman to ever participate in this prestigious program. Dayhuff lives in Chicago and is pursuing a DMA at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Illinois. She takes an extended solo journey during the “We Watch It All Burn” tune, exploring the full range of her upright bass and displaying her unique creative instincts. Raymond is by her side the entire time, fueling the solo piece with percussive intensity. The song ends, like someone just blew out a candle and the burn abruptly stops. Drummer, Tina Raymond, has composed “The Gardener” and it’s passive and precious introduction by Nilsson’s sensuous flute makes me want to gather my watering can and my spade, then venture into my own garden. There is a peacefulness to this quartet’s music. The sixth and final tune on this very enjoyable musical concert is titled “Finding What’s Lost.” This song tributes Elsa Nilsson’s father, who passed away and her journey to finding a path back to life out of grief. She vocalizes the melody, without words, using scat as her language and dancing above the track in melodic whispers. This album was released May 27, 2022.

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ADA BIRD WOLFE – “ODD BIRD” – Independent Label

Ada Bird Wolfe, vocals/composer; Jamieson Trotter, piano/musical director/composer/arranger; Dan Lutz, bass; Peter Buck, drums; Scott Mayo, saxophones/bass clarinet/flute.

Ada Bird Wolfe is a lyricist, composer, journalist and lover of jazz. On this, her third CD release, she has co-composed all songs with her musical director, Jamieson Trotter. They have worked together for several years and their comfort level is obvious during this production. “Odd Bird Bop,” their first tune, suggests that Ada Bird Wolfe and Jamieson Trotter are lovers of Bebop. It is reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s style and something Charlie Parker might play and expand upon. Wolfe has celebrated jazz legends in the past, presenting concerts that included “Monk 0-Sphere,” another called “And the Word Was Mingus” and finally a tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This series of live shows was called “Giant Shoulders.” This current CD was conceived during the pandemic lockdown via ‘Zoom.’

Dan Lutz opens track two, “In the Shade” with his big, bad bass setting the mood, the tempo and the tone. This quickly becomes one of my favorites of these original compositions. It’s just Ada Bird Wolfe and the bassist, singing duo together. Very effective. It showcases the beautiful melody and the poetic lyrics. Lines like: “The taste on your lips, like the kiss that the blackberry brings” are beautifully written.

Joining Wolfe and Trotter are an A-list of Los Angeles musicians listed above. There is magic and excellence in every arrangement. As a former jazz singer myself, I can tell you that many of these compositions are challenging melodically like “Something Fast, Something Light” where Scott Mayo sparkles on flute. Peter Buck sings his own rhythmic and entertaining song on his trap drums.

Vocally, Ada Bird Wolfe exhibits a breathy singing style and often slides to the notes. Consequently, sometimes the notes get lost. That’s a shame because many of these original melodies deserve to be heard. “Ericolloquy” is a tribute to Eric Dolphy’s amazing talent and style. He is one of Wolfe’s favorite artists. Trotter’s piano solo is bright and exciting and his accompaniment is supportive. Their tune, “Ashes Ashes” was sadly inspired by the California wildfires. Ada Bird Wolfe studied several instruments, including piano, cello, guitar, saxophone and flute. Although I appreciate her poetic lyrics and Trotters wonderful arrangements, Ada Bird Wolfe is not a jazz vocalist. But I do think she is a talented songwriter. I would love to hear a serious singer interpret some of these songs.

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PECK ALLMOND QUARTET featuring ED KELLY – “LIVE AT YOSHI’S 1994” – Eastlawn Records

Peck Allmond, tenor saxophone/trumpet/producer; Ed Kelly, piano; John Wiitala, double bass; Bud Spangler, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Kenny Brooks, tenor saxophone; R.J. Spangler, co-producer.

Yoshi’s is one of the most popular and historic jazz clubs in Northern California. Peck Allmond is multi-talented and plays trumpet, saxophone and flute. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Allmond is often in demand for his valve trombone talents, clarinet and bass clarinet mastery. This is an historic album, tracing back to 1992 when Peck made a move from the Bay Area to Brooklyn, New York. As a competent band leader and composer, he quickly became a highly sought-after sideman. A year later, on July 5, 1994, Allmond returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to perform at the famous Nightclub, Yoshi’s.

“Hearing this lovely music now, with a distance of three decades and 3,000 miles, I’m grateful. Grateful I grew up in the SF Bay Area, where an incredible public school music program allowed me to fall in love with jazz,” Peck Allmond wrote in his album liner notes.

This magnificent tribute to the straight-ahead jazz of the 1990s opens with Peck Allmond flying through the changes of the Sonny Rollins tune, “Tenor Madness” quick as a 747-jet plane. Ed Kelly takes a spirited piano solo. Ed was a highly respected musician on the Bay Area jazz scene, who performed with Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, John Handy and many other iconic names.

“Ed Kelly was … a mentor. He, of course, is one of the giants of Bay Area jazz; true royalty. I had been listening to him since high school. When he began hiring me a lot around 1987, I felt unready to play with him. But he was patient. Playing with him and just hearing him each night was a masterclass,” Peck Allmond recalled.

The band is inspired by Allmond at the lead and the able drums of Bud Spangler. Spangler made his debut in Detroit, Michigan first, as a radio personality and music producer. He added ‘musician’ to those credits, playing and producing for such labels as Strata Records and Tribe Records. In the Bay area, Bud Spangler continued his radio career at both KJAZ and later, KCSM radio as a disc jockey, producer and engineer. Spangler produced several Grammy-nominated recordings, including work with Shirley Horn, Denise Perrier, Mimi Fox, Ed Reed, Mary Stallings, Cedar Walton and more. His drum talents are a welcome addition to the swing and straight-ahead spirit of this music.

The bass solo on “Like Someone in Love” showcases John Wiitala’s awesome creativity and talent. John was a member of Peck’s regular working band for years. There is a special camaraderie and comfort between the two. Wiitala has also performed with James Moody, Jessica Williams, Arturo Sandoval and Joe Henderson to list only a few. Peck’s solo on this tune, as well as all the others, is clever and hard-bop to the bone. Allmond weaves in a piece of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” seamlessly. Listen for it. When the band silences, to let Ed Kelly soak up the spotlight, he mesmerizes me and the ‘live’ audience with his solo piano brilliance. This band is smokin’ hot! Everything on this album is dynamically played and soulfully infused with each musician’s raw emotions. For example, their interpretation of the blues ballad, “I’m confessin’ (that I Love You)” with Allmond’s sexy saxophone caressing our ears, hearts and minds is impressive. Wiitala’s upright bass dances beneath the mix in the sweetest way. At the second half of this tune, Allmond picks up his trumpet and blows our minds with his brilliant talent on this horn too. I am totally entertained by the follow-up of Ed Kelly’s solo piano arrangement on “Moment’s Notice” and the group’s unique interpretation of the familiar tune “Invitation.” This is an album of music I will play over and over again. What a sparkling, historic gem for any jazz collection!

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BRIAN LANDRUS – “RED LIST” – Palmetto Records

Brian Landrus, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute/alto flute/bass flute; Nir Felder, guitar; Geoffrey Keezer, Fender Rhodes/organ/piano/synthesizers; Lonnie Plaxico, electric & acoustic bass; John Hadfield, percussion; Rudy Royston, drums; Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone; Ron Blake, tenor saxophone; Steve Roach, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Corey King, vocals.

Often times, music is used as a method of calling attention to some cause or life challenge. Baritone saxophonist, reed master and bass clarinet player, Brian Landrus, has composed and arranged fifteen tunes dedicated to the preservation of some of our endangered, Earth creatures. This is Brian’s eleventh album released as a bandleader. It reflects his spiritual connection to earth and the animal kingdom in a warm, jazzy way.

“I’ve been an animal lover since I was a little kid. I recently began researching the many endangered species on our planet. It broke my heart to learn that there are only eight vaquitas, sixty-seven Javan rhinos and fewer than 850 mountain gorillas left on earth. Spreading awareness of this tragic global situation is part of the impetus for this album,” Landrus explains in his press package.

Each composition title exemplifies this purposeful album of music. Landrus opens with “Canopy of Trees” that has a very orchestrated, smooth-jazz feel. You can picture a forest of green, with the Landrus horn becoming the prowling creature beneath the lush canopy. On the title tune, “Red List” John Hadfield’s driving percussion energy fuels the arrangement, along with Rudy Royston on drums. Landrus delivers strong melodies and arranges the horns with tight harmonies that balloon the music like helium. This small ensemble sounds much bigger than it is and lifts me. As I listen to the “Giant Panda,” composition, tenderly featuring a delightful Landrus bass clarinet solo, or “Tigris” pumping us up with a bright tempo and featuring the beautiful guitar talent of Nir Felder, the composer transmits the beauty and importance of protecting all life on earth. He gives us a taste of his flute talents on “The Distant Deeps” and features the warm, husky vocals of Corey King. I note that His arrangements exhibit a diversity of genres, embracing Straight-ahead jazz in some parts, (especially when Landrus is soloing) blending in easy-listening horn arrangements to buoy the tracks, along with smooth jazz grooves. For example, when he arranged “Save the Elephants” the jazz arrangement embraces a reggae beat. As I soak up this music, my imagination conjures up the elephant families lumbering along towards a drinking pond. Brian Landrus offers us music that is much like life itself, multi-faceted, colorful, uniquely different and beautiful.

When he’s not composing or recording, Brian Landrus has taken his saxophone talents on the road with other jazz acts such as Esperanza Spalding, Fred Hersch, Billy Hart, George Garzone, the Maria Schneider Orchestra and his mentor Bob Brookmeyer. Landrus is not only a multi-talented musician, who has mastered several reed instruments, but he’s adept at various musical genres. Brain has toured with national pop acts like The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Coasters, The Drifters and Martha Reeves.

He holds a doctorate from Rutgers University and is currently on faculty at the School of Music, California State University Sacramento.

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DAN OLIVO – “DAY BY DAY” – Ava Maria Records

Dan Olivo, vocals; Ian Robbins, guitar; Lyman Medeiros, bass/ukulele/vocals/arranger; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Kyle O’Donnell, tenor saxophone; Jamelle Adisa, trumpet; Garrett Smith, trombone; Renee Myara Cibelli, vocals.

Dan Olivo has a smooth, comforting voice; one you might hear and enjoy at a supper club or an intimate jazz room. He has surrounded himself with an amazing cast of musicians who create tight, jazzy tracks and feature bright, outstanding instrumental solos. Dan has chosen a dozen familiar songs for his repertoire. He sings each one with sincerity and the well-written arrangements by Ian Robbins compliment Olivo’s vocal delivery. Dan Olivo opens with the title tune, and the small band swings as hard as a big band. Olivo has a strong handle on music, having played saxophone in his Junior high school band and beyond. It was during that period of his teen life that Dan was introduced to Harry Connick Jr. Young Olivo watched and listened in awe as Connick Jr. fronted his big band and the teenager felt that he could do that too. Soon he was also listening to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Nat ‘King’ Cole and Michael Bublé. You clearly hear these influences in this album presentation. I enjoyed his rendition of the Latin flavored tune, “Sway” competently colored by the drums of Winnard Harper.

Olivo is also an actor with work in theaters, on film projects and appearances on television shows. He blends his love of acting with his love of music, picking tunes like the 1924 song, once performed during Vaudeville stage acts called, “How Come You Do me Like You Do?” and the popular tune from the Broadway play, “The Great Magoo” titled “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” He delivers each composition with crystal clear enunciation. This smooth, male vocalist could be categorized as a new-comer to the ‘crooners’ society, although he does a good job of swinging his way through tunes like “L.O.V.E.”, “I’m Walkin’” and the up-tempo version of “Time After Time.”

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By Dee Dee McNeil
June 1, 2022

The music of Rique Pantoja is a vision of peace, beauty and love. This artistic pianist has recorded and performed with some of the biggest names in both American and Brazilian jazz for over forty years. In collaboration with his old friend, Juan Carlos Qintero, (owner of Moondo Music) his latest album is the perfect fit for Moondo’s high-quality and artistically rendered jazz label.

A native of Brazil, at first Pantoja attended a university to study engineering. But this was not his heart’s desire. It was his father’s vision. That’s strange, because both his father and his uncles all loved music and played musical instruments. Perhaps his father was trying to protect Rique from the rocky road of choosing music as a career. But, after a frustrating year of engineering study, Rique’s father finally relented and approved of his son pursuing music as a career. You see, Rique Pantoja had been studying classical guitar since the age of eight and exhibited a deep infatuation with music. He switched to piano at thirteen years young and by sixteen, he was already composing songs.

Rique lived in the United States for a while as an exchange student. During this time, the teenager won a talent show for his composing talents. I asked him how that came about.

“As you know, I came from Rio de Janeiro. I grew up there. One of my dreams was to come to the United States and study English. I studied in Brazil, in a private school, where I had to learn both English and French. I thought the best way to learn a language is to go to that country. So, I lived with a family in La Crosse, Wisconsin and it was a great experience. I was seventeen. I was already playing music and playing guitar since I was eight years old. I played Choro music which is part of Brazilian folk music and I started playing piano when I was thirteen. The family in La Crosse enrolled me in high school. My school in Brazil was very demanding. Consequently, I was a little more advanced. I told my math teacher, no – I already studied Algebra. He thought I was kidding. So, he challenged me to do all the exercises on the last page of our book. I did and he said, okay, you know this! So, they moved me, promoted me to be a high school senior. At the same time, I got involved with other people playing music there. It was a great experience. I got to graduate and wear a cap and gown. But then, they had a talent show. I applied. I was writing a song for my girlfriend back in Brazil. I was playing piano and guitar. And one of my songs got to be the winning song for that talent show. So, that definitely was an incentive and an encouragement for me to continue writing. From there, I wrote all sorts of music. I’ve written kids songs and classical music for Christopher Parkening, a famous classical guitarist; one of the best in the world. He recorded two of my classical compositions,” Rique told me with pride.

After high school, his next step was to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachussettes. Later on, after graduating Berklee, the young pianist packed up his Fender Rhodes and relocated to Paris, France. There, he formed a band consisting of French and Brazilian musicians and that band played mostly original compositions. Rique recalled how he wound up in Paris.

“Besides studying at Berklee, I was studying privately with Charlie Banacos. He was a legendary teacher and I had many other mentors like Michael Brecker and Mike Stern. Even though I had an opportunity to study and learn so much, I still felt as though I was green. I had all this information, but I couldn’t really execute it the way I wanted to play. This great pianist from Brazil, Egberto Gismonti, who released some stuff on ECM, came into town to play some gigs in Boston. Appearing with him was Nanã Vasconcelos, a great Brazilian percussionist who has played with many different bands including Pat Metheny. I invited Nanã to come over to my place. I told him I was at a crossroads. Should I stay here in Boston or go back to Brazil? I learned so much, but I still couldn’t translate through my fingers what I learned. He said Rique, I’ll tell you what I think. You should go to Paris. They love jazz and they love Brazilian music. With your compositions, the stuff you’re writing, man you’ll be working in no time. I got all excited. So, I took the cheapest flight, a Red Eye from New York to London. I got on a train carrying my Fender Rhodes in a suitcase and arrived in Paris. I didn’t even know where I’d be staying. I was 24-years-old. Paris opened up so many incredible opportunities, including recording with Chet Baker,” Rique recalled.

One night, the great Chet Baker heard a band playing in a Parisian club next door to where the famed trumpeter was performing. Baker popped into the club and was totally impressed by the music of young Rique Pantoja. The result was, in 1980, Rique’s band recorded with trumpet master Chet Baker, who was so impressed by the youthful composer that he came to the studio to record Rique’s original songs. That album is called, “Chet Baker and the Boto Brazilian Quartet.”

After living in Paris for two and a half years, Rique Pantoja returned to Brazil, with success under his belt. He discovered his reputation burned brightly in Buenos Aires like a five-alarm fire. He was in demand. Pantoja toured two years with the great Milton Nascimento and became Musical Director for singer/songwriter, Djavan. He also was an in-demand studio session player.

“Yeah – and even after I went back to Brazil, Chet kept recording my songs. There’s a version of my song, ‘Arborway’ that’s on an album Chet recorded in Japan on the CD ‘Chet Baker in Tokyo.’ … I had an opportunity to do this jazz festival in Brazil and they asked if I could get Chet Baker to come there. So, I reached out to Chet and he came to Rio, played in that festival and we wound up doing another album together. One was recorded in Paris back in 1980 and the other one was done in Brazil called Rique Pantoja and Chet Baker,” Rique told me.

In 1991, at his wife’s insistence, the very busy Rique Pantoja agreed he needed a break and desired to spend more time with his family. They chose Los Angeles as a place to vacation, where the couple had many friends, including Brazilian super star, Ivan Lins. That short break turned into thirty fruitful years of making music with California as his base. Pantoja plays it all: classical, jazz, pop, gospel, worship music and of course Brazilian and international music. Because of his diversity, his sensitivity and excellent music skills, Pantoja worked with a number of huge names like Carlos Santana, Ernie Watts, Ricky Martin, classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, Gloria Estefan, Abraham Laboriel, Justo Almario, Lee Ritenour, Kirk Whalum and a score of others. I asked Rique who were some of his favorite musicians and he responded.

“I really learned from and enjoyed working with Ernie Watts,” Pantoja affirmed.

In fact, he has written a song that celebrates Ernie Watts on his latest album titled “Live in Los Angeles.” The composition, “1000 Watts” is a tribute to Pantoja’s friend and popular, reedman, Ernie Watts. The composition is drenched in funk.

“Abraham Laboriel, that’s another one of my favorite friends and players,” Rique Pantoja continued his list. “Alex Acuña and Frank Gambale, who’s a phenomenal guitar player. I went to Australia a few years ago with him. Frank played with Chick Corea in the electric band. … I have played with so many amazing musicians, also Brazilian musicians. I was musical conductor for Djavan. I played with Milton Nascimento for two years and I played with Gilberto Gil. I’ve had so many opportunities in my life and feel so blessed to learn and to be inspired, while at the same time working with talents like these and Chet Baker.”

Rique’s composing skills shine. He has penned and arranged themes for hit television shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Pantoja has also written popular jingles for major brands like Coca Cola, Honda, Shell oil, Globo Reporter, DeBeers Diamonds, Pepsi, Nissan and Toshiba. His music appears on the sound track of Disney’s hit comedic film, “Jungle 2 Jungle.” Recently, Rique was also part of the musical soundtrack of the animation film, “Rio” with Sergio Mendes and film composer John Powell.

Now, you can enjoy him on his newly released album “Live in Los Angeles.” He’s recorded with some brilliant players including Steve Tavaglione on saxophone and flute, Jimmy Earl on bass, Joel Taylor manning the drums and Cassio Duarte on percussion. He also includes Moondo Music labelmate, Ricardo Silveira on guitar. This project shows pianist, Rique Pantoja’s exceptional vision on his instrument and it spotlights his awesome composer talents.

The album opens with “Arpoador” (that means harpooner in Portuguese). Arpoador is also a small community, a peninsula, between Ipanema and Copacabana in Brazil. It’s an exciting and beautiful way to open this production, with changing moods and bright tempos, along with synthesizer brilliance during a solo that lifts the arrangement sky-high! Ricardo Silveira’s guitar solo is tantalizing. Cassio Duarte showcases his hot, percussion talents along with Joel Taylor, a powerhouse on drums.

“Julinho” has a haunting melody interpreted by Steve Tavaglione’s sensual saxophone. These two opening pieces quickly become two of my favorites on this album. But let me say this. Every Pantoja composition on this recording is brilliant. Every arrangement is stellar and Rique Pantoja’s piano mastery infuses this music beautifully, offering each musician a musical palate to paint their hearts out. His song, “Da Baiana” brings another genre to the party and is based on Afro-Cuban rhythms. I enjoyed the happy flute of Steve Tavaglione. Pantoja’s composition “Bebop Kid” introduces us to his vocal side. Rique has a voice that’s honest and emotional. I expected an up-tempo tune to exemplify bebop. Instead, this is a ballad and he sings the lyrical story in his native Portuguese with plentiful emotion. Suddenly, the arrangement changes, pendulum quick. The ballad becomes a pop groove with Latin tinges. Rique’s music is just pure fun!

As he plays the piano, Pantoja sometimes sings a scat line in unison with the melody. His piano sparkles across each song, like sunshine on restless waves. The flute solo by Tavaglione warms this arrangement, flying above the chord changes like a hungry seagull. Also, the guitar solo by Ricardo Silveira is formidable and I am captivated by the electric bass solo of Jimmy Earl. Each song on this “Live in Los Angeles” album offers something more to entertain and surprise us. It is a vision of complexity and artistic beauty you will enjoy listening to time and time again.

As if recording, touring and composing were not enough to keep him busy, Rique has still another life as a respected music educator! He teaches courses at Southern California’s Biola University and Cal Baptist University. Rique Pantoja has led workshops at Maranatha Worship Training and the Los Angeles Music & Performance (LAMP) School. Professor Pantoja is proficient in Pro Tools & Logic School Audio graph (AGI) and offers master classes at a number of schools, including Pepperdine University on the Malibu campus. I asked him if he had any advice for young musicians.

“I’ve been teaching for sixteen years. I taught at Biola University in LA. They have a conservatory. I taught some writing and also at CBU I taught some production with software. So, I really dedicate a lot of time encouraging and teaching young musicians. My advice would be to honor the gift you’ve been given. Develop it with a spirit of excellence. Because you know, the gift is given and the whole purpose of it is to share it. If you give me a gift and I keep the gift in the closet and never share it or you give me a nice shirt and I never wear it, it’s a waste. The same goes to any kind of gift we share. When we share, we fulfill the purpose of that gift. So, to any students that aim to be great and to learn music, it’s just a beautiful art form that has no end. I’m still studying. I am studying orchestration. Even though I’m not writing for an orchestra right now, I still want to learn more. I study Ravel’s string quartet that’s twenty-eight minutes long. There are all these most beautiful things inside that one piece. I go back and pay attention and study the score for art’s sake. It’s not that I want to be more famous. I’m over sixty, so I’ve done so much already. My goal is to keep growing and to do it passionately. I have the hope that my music will get out there and touch the lives of people and bless them.”

 

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 1, 2022

FEATURING: Chris Standring, guitar/keyboards/programming/arranging/composer; Rodney Lee, keyboards; Andre Berry, bass; Chris Coleman, drums; Kevin Axt upright bass; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.

Back in the 1990s, Chris Standring was combining Hip Hop and smooth jazz with a group called “Solar System” that included the same keyboard genius he still collaborates with, Rodney Lee.

But before he moved from England to the West Coast of the United States, he was polishing his guitar chops and practicing his arranging skills at the BBC. I asked him about that time in his life.

“Back in the 80s, there was a show on Radio 2. You know, we have Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, etc., in England. It’s National radio programming across the country. On Radio 2, BBC had a late-night radio show called Night Owls. There were two late night programs. I can’t remember what the other one was called. Night Owls invited bands into the studio to record. So, you would crank out as many songs as you could during that time. They would mix them, master them, and then play them on the radio and you’d get paid royalties actually quite well from that exposure. I probably did fifteen or twenty of those in the period of a few years. That was in the late 80’s,” Chris informed me.

A native of Aylesbury (in the county of Buckinghamshire, England) Chris has been currently based in Southern California for the past three decades. He moved to Los Angeles in 1991. Standring has had thirteen Billboard Top 10 singles and six singles that reached number one on the Billboard Chart. In fact, a song from his recent album, “Change the World” followed suit. Chris often writes music for others to record and this song was meant to be gifted to another artist. At the last minute, Standring decided to keep the tune for himself. He released it as a single and the song powered up to #1 on the Billboard Chart.

After settling in Los Angeles, Chris was quickly embraced by the West Coast music scene. He found himself recording with gospel royalty like Bebe and Cece Winans, pop and R&B singer, Jody Watley and smooth jazz artists like Rick Braun, Bob James, Richard Elliott, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine and Al Stewart.

“One of the reason’s I moved over here was so I could do things on a bigger level. I was quite ambitious,” Chris explained.

His recent album, “Simple Things” continues his successful path of well-played, contemporary jazz interpreted by seasoned West Coast musical veterans. From the very first original composition (“Shadow of Doubt”) on Chris Standring’s new album, I hear shades of Wes Montgomery. There is something about the strong, powerful ‘groove’ Chris pumps into his guitar playing that reminds me of Wes. Colorfully accompanied by the tenacious drumming of Chris Coleman, who slaps the funk into place, Standring’s music just makes me happy! Indeed, according to his publicist’s notes, Standring confirmed:

“…the theme of this album is joy, positivity, hope and because I’m a sucker for a beautiful melody, a little sadness as well.”

Years ago, this journalist was a part of the Motown staff in Detroit as a songwriter and almost all the amazing players on those early Motown studio sessions were competent jazz players. The groove and the funk I hear from Chris Standring, Andre Berry on bass, Chris Coleman on drums and Rodney Lee on keyboards remind me of those early Detroit days. These Chris Standring arrangements and compositions make me want to dance, just like the Motown music used to do. Standring soars on his Benedetto guitar and makes a joyful sound atop the excellence of his dynamic rhythm section, but you can clearly still hear his jazz roots.

“I saw a YouTube video of Bootsy (Collins) explaining his basic funk formula. The bass line he demonstrated is so funky that it inspired me to write Something of my own. Of course, I had to thank him, which I did on my tune, “Thank You Bootsy,” Standring explained, celebrating an artist who has influenced his composing and arranging style.

Chris Standring began studying classical guitar when he was just six years old. He was drawn to jazz early-on, but he didn’t become a serious jazz musician until he attended the London College of Music. His mentors were great bebop players like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Budd Powell and Chet Baker. Later he became a fan of Joe Pass. His father was a big Oscar Peterson fan and often played Peterson’s records at their home. His mother played both piano and harp, more as a hobby than as a studied musician. Chris’s older brother played flute and his sister was a classical guitarist. So, there was always music being played or listened to at their house. When he arrived in the United States, Chris became familiar with the work of Pat Martino and greatly admired that legendary guitarist. Sometime later, he got to meet him in person.

I had the opportunity to take one lesson with him a few years ago. I happened to be on tour in Philadelphia and I knew Pat lived there because a friend of mine had taken a lesson with him. I thought, why don’t I do that? So, I called him up and we scheduled the meeting. I was so excited, I didn’t sleep a wink that night, awaiting the next day, so I could take a lesson with Pat Martino. The lesson was really great. That evening, he came to my show with his wife,” Standring recalled the joy of that meeting and the treasured memory of that lesson. I could still hear the ‘happy’ in his voice.

Chris has realized that sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impression on our lives. When it comes to music, he has been a serious and dedicated musician for decades. As a recording artist, he is always exploring the music with fresh eyes. He loves jazz, but he’s also a lover of funk, gospel, Rhythm and Blues.

“I’m a big fan of Prince, who learned about funk studying the music of people like Bootsy Collins. I wrote the opening track, “Shadow of Doubt” after hearing a particular bass line by Prince that I really liked and I wondered what I could do with something similar,” Chris Standring shared.

You can clearly hear the Prince influence on tunes from his latest release like, “Face to Face” and “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Thing” featuring Rodney Lee on organ. There is also a trace of James Brown influence in these funky, danceable compositions that Chris has penned and arranged. Still, Standring’s ability to seamlessly combine jazz, funk and dance music is ever evolving. When his album “Don’t Talk, Dance!” was released back in 2014, it was a crowd pleaser. What I love about Standring’s creative perception is that although he loops his grooves, he also spontaneously improvises. He is free and creative, like any great jazz player would be. He doesn’t get stuck in that groove. His technique on guitar shows the world that his jazz chops are strong and intact.

On his album, “Soul Express” Standring rearranges the standard jazz tune “Giant Steps” in a very creative way.

Back to his current release, you hear the softer side of Chris playing the pretty ballad, “A Thousand Words (for Samantha)” that features Kevin Axt making a guest appearance on upright bass. The melody is compelling and the bridge is absolutely beautiful. Chris has composed all eleven songs on this new recording. It’s his 14th CD release as a bandleader. I found each one of his compositions to be a sparkling gem. As a prolific composer, Chris Standring has penned or co-written over one-hundred compositions to date. I asked him when he started composing music?

I actually think of myself as much of a composer as a guitar player these days. I’ve always written music, going back to when I was a teenager, playing in pop bands. The music of the time, back in England, was more progressive rock music. It wasn’t so much about jazz. Everybody was taking chances and doing these crazy things that really didn’t always make musical sense. It was just interesting to take that very free approach to things. That really inspired me as a composer. Today, when I’m composing, I don’t have the luxury to have another guy, by my side, to play everything. So, I’ve certainly gotten good enough on keyboard and programming tools to execute ideas I hear in my head. Yeah – that’s the great thing about being able to write and have a studio. I can just go in there and put things down,” Chris explained.

 

In 2021, Standring reached back to his early jazz roots and recorded a group of jazz standards for the first time on an album titled, “Wonderful World.” On this project, he incorporates a full orchestra and it’s an absolutely beautiful production.

In 2022, his “Simple Things” album is scheduled for a May release. One song he created, “Too Close for Comfort” was written after he experienced a health scare last year. Chest pains and a trip to the hospital reminded Chris how fragile life really is. Thus, the title of this album, “Simple Things” is a reminder for him to appreciate every moment of life and to spend time with loved ones and be present in every moment of each day. “Simple Things” (the album) is a musical message I will enjoy listening to and playing over and over again.

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By Dee Dee McNeil

Barbara Morrison has been a mainstay in the Southern California jazz community for nearly half a century. She cared about the music and she cared about uplifting her neighborhood. Barbara insisted on treasuring the legacy of our musical contributors and passing that knowledge on. Years ago, I remember Barbara sharing with me that she wanted to own and operate her own performance space. In 2009, that dream became a reality when she established the Barbara Morrison Performing Art Center (BMPAC) at 4305 Degnan Blvd, Suite 101 in Los Angeles. A few years later, she expanded to the building next door and established The California Jazz & Blues Museum in the heart of this artsy Leimert Park area of L.A. She opened up these two facilities in a people of color community, with much support and appreciation from the local neighborhood. Barbara was concerned with promoting the historic legacy of jazz, a music created by African-American musicians that is revered and respected worldwide. Proudly, jazz is America’s singularly recognized classical music artform, established by the United States congress, in 1987, declaring jazz a national treasure.

For a while, Ms. Morrison served as an associate professor of jazz studies at UCLA and that university launched the ‘Barbara Morrison Scholarship for Jazz’ in 2020.1 She also inspired up-and-coming talent at her Performance Art Center and as a private mentor. Barbara welcomed the Dolo Coker Foundation auditions to her space; a non-profit organization headed by Sybil Coker that awarded scholarships to young jazz musicians. Morrison happily allowed her art center to be used for educational purposes, for community workshops, rehearsals and even celebrations of life for those families who needed a space to remember loved ones. She welcomed jazz jam sessions that allowed fledgling musicians to play on-stage with seasoned veterans of the jazz and blues community. Morrison also performed in and supported musical theater on her stage.

“She helped a lot of young people … her classes often were free … if you wanted to learn the music business or jazz, Barbara Morrison was there to teach. If you didn’t have the money, no problem,” said KBLA host Tavis Smiley.

At the same time, while managing her performance space business, this tenacious and talented lady was appearing worldwide as a jazz and blues vocalist. I’ve seen Barbara Morrison host an event in Leimert Park and then grab her packed luggage and head to LAX Internation Airport, catching a plane to perform at some jazz festival in Europe. Barbara Morrison performed at numerous jazz concerts worldwide including festivals in Nice, Pori, at the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Sydney Australia Opera House, the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Detroit Montreux Jazz Fest, New York’s Carnegie Hall and just too many more to mention. Barbara Morrison wore many hats, juggling her business savvy with her extraordinary vocal career with ease.

It was over a decade ago when Barbara was diagnosed with diabetes. They call it the ‘Silent Killer’ because this disease sneaks up on you. You can walk around and have diabetes without even knowing it. It attacks the eyesight, the limbs and the heart. The result of that disease caused Barbara Morrison to become a double amputee. But that didn’t stop her from continuing to run the Barbara Morrison Performing Art Center (BMPAC), performing locally to packed audiences, and even travelling and perform overseas. You would see Barbara Morrison rolling down Degnan Avenue in Leimert park, operating her wheelchair with a wide, beautiful smile on her face and giving a warm greeting to all she met. Determination was this lady’s middle name. Ms. Morrison was a soldier!

Barbara was a dreamer and she was determined to make those dreams come true. It started a long time ago, in Ypsilanti, Michigan where Barbara Morrison was born on September 10, 1949. She was raised in a suburb of Detroit called Romulus and knew very early in her childhood that she wanted to sing.

Morrison reminisced in a recent article, “When I was 9 years old, I entered this contest on the radio — the first Black broadcasting station in the United States. I sang a Stevie Wonder song and got attention from the R&B community. Stevie comes over to see me sometimes, so we’re still going on.” 

She wanted to be an artist on the Motown Label and when she couldn’t make that pop and R&B dream manifest, she chose blues and jazz. But Barbara could sing it all. She was as soulful as Irene Reid, (with a similar tone) and as jazzy and powerful as Dinah Washington, who Morrison greatly admired. Barbara even performed a tribute musical play at her performance space to celebrate the legacy of Dinah Washington. I attended that sold-out musical play and Barbara Morrison proved to be a formidable actress as well as an amazing singer.

At age twenty-three, Morrison arrived in Los Angeles (from Michigan) and immediately landed a job singing with Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s band. Between 1973 and the early 1990s, Barbara recorded a slew of albums with the iconic Johnny Otis. In the mid-eighties, this soulful vocalist toured as part of the Philip Morris Superband. The band toured Canada, Australia, Japan and the Philippines with a legendary cast of characters. Jimmy Smith was on organ, James Moody was the saxophonist, Kenny Burrell played guitar, Grady Tate was on drums and Jon Faddis was hitting all those extremely high notes on his trumpet. It was a dream-come-true jazz band.

Barbara always kept the company of legendary and iconic musicians. She found herself on stages, performing or recording with such notables at Cedar Walton, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, Doc Severinsen, David T. Walker, Esther Phillips, Houston Person, Gerald Wilson and his Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Ernie Andrews and Ron Carter, just to scratch the surface of her illustrious career.

Morrison’s first recording was released in 1984, when she was featured with the Leslie Drayton Orchestra on an album called, “Love is a Four-Letter Word.” On the title tune, they used Barbara’s voice to express spoken word instead of her songstress skills. But you hear her crystal clear, soulful and swinging vocals on “When Will You Be Mine?”

This recording was followed by twenty-one more albums that Morrison released as a bandleader. She also established and managed her own record label. As a guest vocalist she recorded an additional seventeen albums with such remarkable artists as Kenny Burrell “The Road to Love” on High Note Records and she sang three duets with the great Bernie Pearl on his “Take Your Time” album. Barbara appeared as a guest on the mark Winkler, “Sweet Spot” album and Henry Franklin’s “Home Cookin’” release where she sings “Philanthropy.” Ms. Morrison shows off her blues chops with Doc Severinsen’s Big band recording of “Every Day I Have the Blues” and the Teddy Edwards standard, “Don’t Touch Me.” Barbara told me once, that was one of her favorite tunes to sing.

On Al Aaron’s and the L.A. Jazz Caravan album of 1995, she sings “Back Door Blues” and “Make the Man Love Me.” Her final album release was a duet with L.A. based pianist Stuart Elster called, “Warm and Cozy.”

Barbara’s legacy will be cherished and preserved by these amazing recordings. However, the real legacy of Barbara Morrison’s work was her consistent dedication to her community and to propelling the music forward through education, entertainment and by example.

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By Dee Dee McNeil

Since March is Women’s History Month, it seems especially appropriate to celebrate Martha Graham. This amazing dancer and choreographer was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Pittsburgh) on May 11, 1894 and Marth Graham died on April 1, 1991 in New York City. She is remembered reverently as an American modern dance master and choreographer who reshaped American dance with her famous Graham technique. This trailblazer danced and taught for over seventy years. Ms. Graham was the first dancer to perform at the White House for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and she received the acclaimed Presidential Medal of Freedom. She founded her dance company in 1926 and remains famous for her evolving form of modern dance that is still being taught today. She was the first dancer to receive a Guggenheim Scholarship (1932). In 1990, at age ninety-five, Martha Graham was still going strong and choreographed Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” with costumes by famed designer Calvin Klein. On March 19, 2022 at the Soraya, an artist concert space in California’s San Gabriel Valley, The Martha Graham Dance Company will premiere the Re-creation of Canticle for Innocent Comedians: a lyrical celebration of the natural elements: the sun, moon, wind, Earth, water and fire. Using dance and music, they also celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth. Some choreographic excerpts survived from this original 1952 Martha Graham production. However, the music had not been secured. To re-create “Canticle,” The Soraya co-commissioned a new score of original music for solo piano by none other than Jason Moran. This music and the accompanying dance digs deeply into the menace and challenge of climate change and how it affects our world today.

Jason’s original score will accompany the choreography by the Martha Graham Dance Company. I was not surprised to hear about Moran scoring this program called “The New Canticle for Comedians.” Let me tell you why.

Pianist, composer and educator, Jason Moran, is known for challenging the same old thing in jazz. His reputation proceeds him as he confronts contemporary audiences and their notions about what a classic jazz trio represents. Martha Graham also challenged the status Quo and what people thought dance should be. Like Jason Moran, she was innovative and creatively colored outside the lines.

Let me give you some background on the talented and innovative Jason Moran. While performing as co-bandleader with Greg Osby, pianist Moran recorded a soundtrack album titled “Human Motion” on the Blue Note label back in 1999. That release launched his recording career as a bandleader.

Jason and his two musical comrades at that time began to bring something fresh and innovative to the jazz scene in the late 90’s. They formed a unit. By the early 2000s, Jason Moran, Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits had been performing and recording music under the banner of The Bandwagon. In 2003, they recorded a ‘live’ album at New York’s Village Vanguard named “The Bandwagon.” But even before that album, Jason Moran and his trio were joined at the hip. Working with the iconic saxophonist and pianist, Sam Rivers, that talented trio recorded “Black Stars” in 2001. That album was named one of “The 50 Most Important Recordings of the Decade” by National Public Radio. It was quite an honor for young Jason Moran and his trio. Moran was only twenty-six years old at that time.  

This accomplishment was followed by “Facing Left,” released in 2000. As I mentioned above, he was solidly hooked up with his trio partners. Shortly after their release of “The Bandwagon” album, Moran won the Jazz Journalists Association “Up-n-Coming Jazz Musician Award. That was in 2003. From 2003 to 2005, Down Beat’s Critic’s Poll voted him Rising Star Jazz Artist, Rising Star Pianist and Rising Star Composer.

Moran’s love of music and especially jazz, has led him down many creative and diversified paths. His digital learning lessons are available on You Tube and are stuffed with inspired verbal and musical information, available to everyone with a computer. He’s a formidable educator.

In 2011, the Expanded Critics’ Poll of Jazz Times Magazine voted Jason Moran second place in their “Artist of the Year” category and first place as “Pianist of the Year.” His career was continuously blossoming. There were many more awards and celebrations of his talent for all the years in between. Then, in 2018, Moran composed the score for “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, based on his critically acclaimed book. Jason had scored soundtracks for seven films before that important assignment. So, Jason was well prepared. In fact, to support my comment about Jason Moran’s diverse talents, “Refraction” is a score he wrote for Alonzo King LINES ballet. And if all those credits aren’t enough, in addition to being an award-winning musician, Jason Moran is also a visual artist and painter.

Yes, Jason Moran is a very busy man. He has been on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music since 2010. At the Kennedy Center, he has been the Musical Adviser for jazz since 2011. In 2014, he became their Artistic Director for Jazz. That was once the position of the great Billy Taylor. So, as I said before; it is not surprising that he would be the perfect candidate to create a score for the historic Martha Graham Dance Company. You are invited to attend this extraordinary Martha Graham Dance Company production, intersecting music, visual art and dance with the score for “The New Canticle for Comedians” composed by Jason Moran. This event has its world premiere on March 19, 2022 at The Soraya; 18111 Nordhoff St.; Northridge, CA at 8PM. The Soraya (Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts) is a beautiful concert facility located on the campus of California State University/Northridge in Los Angeles. They proudly host a variety of the most iconic and artistic characters at their popular performance center. You can view their entire line-up of performances at their website. https://www.ticketsonsale.com the-soraya valley-performing-arts-center

During Women’s History Month we proudly celebrate The Martha Graham Dance Company.

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By Dee Dee McNeil

When I think of Spanky Wilson, I think of someone who can swing a song as hard as Muhammad Ali punches. But she can also vocally caress a lyric with so much emotion that it stuns an audience into absolute silence. Her musical legacy stretches over a period of six decades, because her very first recording was made when she was only four-years-old. But I’ll let her tell you that story.

SPANKY:My father played guitar and sang. He sounded just like Nat King Cole. My mother told me I used to hear Nat King Cole on the radio and I used to point and say, ‘Daddy. Daddy.’ He had that smooth, soft voice like Nat Cole. He was in a group called The Four Blotches. I used to tease him and say, no wonder you all never made it with that name. He used to say, well, it wasn’t my idea baby. He said they chose that name because of the Ink Spots. They all played guitar and sang. No piano or drums. My mother loved him ‘cause he was a real handsome guy. She was from Lewistown, Pennsylvania and daddy was performing in Lewistown. Daddy was there to entertain the troops and mom went to one of those dances and that’s how they met. After they got married, she started getting jealous, because all those ladies were flirting and fanning their you-know-whats in front of him. So, she wanted him to quit singing. I told him, daddy, I don’t know if I could ever give up singing for anybody. But he gave it up, and started working on the docks in Philadelphia. He really loved my mom. He would come home from work and we’d sit on the steps in the evening. He’d teach me all these songs. Just me and him and his guitar. I was three or four-years-old.
“I keep telling’ people this, but they don’t believe me. Back in Philadelphia, you used to be able to go into a music store where you could buy the sheet music and 78rpm records. You could go in there and they would have booths and the walls were glass. You could make a record of your own for a certain amount of money. It was a 78 rpm and you could do two songs; one on each side. You paid them and you would leave with the record. I asked daddy, after I started singing and moving around, what happened to that record we made when I was four years old? ‘Cause I remember the song was ‘Knock Me A Kiss.’ The other song was Without a Song.”
NOTE: In 1942 Erskine Hawkins had a 78rpm record out with vocals by Ida James of this song, “Knock Me A Kiss”.

SPANKY: “Oh, I was the daddy’s little girl and my brother was mama’s boy. Daddy’s the one who gave me the name Spanky, ‘cause my real name is Louella you know, like Louella Parsons, the journalist from back-in-the-day. Remember her? She used to write a gossip column. I asked my mother, why would you do that to me? You couldn’t even find that name in the baby book. I was always getting into trouble. I was a tomboy. So, he named me Spanky, after that television show, ‘Spanky and Our Gang.’ “

Several amazing entertainers were born and raised in Pittsburgh like Billy Eckstine, Paul Chambers, Kenny Clark, Earl ‘Father’ Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal. Spanky Wilson, although a native of Philadelphia, was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania around all that great jazz. As a teenager, she gained notoriety singing around town. Although she loved to sing, she was still shy and insecure about performing on stage. But the local musicians took note. They recognized her blossoming talent and unique voice. That’s how Stanley Turrentine heard about her.

SPANKY:Stanley Turrentine gave me my first gig. It was on the weekend, Friday and Saturday. The musicians around town knew I could sing, but I was always scared to sing. So, he was looking for a singer and somebody recommended me. When he got in touch, I couldn’t believe it. We played at a famous club on Fulton Street. That was a very popular street in the heart of the black community. It was 1957 and I was seventeen. I remember very well, because Angie (my daughter) was born in 1958. Every time I’d leave my husband, we’d break up and then I’d sneak off with him and make-up. Next thing I know, I’m pregnant and I end up going back to him. I have four children. My last daughter is by my second husband who plays guitar.”

But settling down and being a homemaker was not in the cards for Spanky Wilson. The music bug had bitten deeply. She was hungry for pursuing a singing career. In 1967, she joined the Jimmy McGriff band. They piled into a car and drove across the country, gigging from city to city. After a six-week tour, it was June of 1967 when they rolled into Los Angeles.

SPANKY: “We were at Shelly’s Manne Hole. H. B. Barnum heard me there and expressed an interest in my talent. After the gig, I left and went back home, thinking I would never hear from this guy again. In September of that year, he called me and said he was ready for me to come back to California and record. I couldn’t believe it. So, he sent for me and I came out here to make a record. I was supposed to be out here no more than two months. So that’s when I went to Smitty’s house.”

Note: Smitty is Howlett Smith. He was a prolific L.A. based composer who wrote hit songs for both Spanky and Nancy Wilson. His ‘Let’s Go Where The Grass Is Greener,” was recorded by Nancy Wilson.

SPANKY: “I went to Smitty’s house every day to learn all the songs he had written for me. I went there for five weeks studying songs and then H.B. would choose the ones he liked the best for our session. Meantime, he started getting me these background gigs with O.C. Smith, Lou Rawls, and the great African singer, Letta Mbulu. I kept saying, hey, I wanna go home. I mean I have children. I want to see my kids. So now it’s the end of November, almost Christmas. I said either you send for my kids or I’m leaving. So, he ended up getting me a nice house in West Covina. I didn’t want to live in the city because they had more decent schools in Covina. I moved here in 1967, brought my kids out to California and re-established myself. I was just giggin’ around town, but I was happy doing that.”

The move to Los Angeles proved lucrative. H. B. Barnum’s production garnered Spanky Wilson an unforgettable jazz record in 1969. Howlett Smith’s hauntingly beautiful song, “The Last Day of Summer” went soaring up the music charts. Jazz stations all across the country were playing it like crazy. It was followed by an album on the same Mothers Records & The Snarf Company label titled, ‘Spankin’ Brand New.’ Her career was on fire. The next album was titled, “Doin’ It,” released in 1969 and followed in 1970 by her third album titled, “Let It Be.” After this release, Spanky decided to leave the label.

In 1975, Spanky signed with 20th Century/Westbound Records. The new album was “Specialty of The House,” and the title tune was released as a popular single. Spanky sounded wonderful on this album. Her voice was bell clear, the songs were well-written and the production was lush with horns, strings and background vocals. There were plenty of songs on this album that could have been big hits for the crowd-pleasing singer. However, in the record business, unless you have a strong promotional team in place, a record can die on the vine. Spanky poured her heart out on “I Think I’m Gonna Cry.” There are some songs that were obviously produced in the Motown vein, with Diana Ross type productions like, “I’ll Stake My Life on You Boy.” Spanky rose to the occasion, showing that she could sing anything and proving she had cross-over ability.
For a few years, she toured America, spending quite a bit of time in my home town of Detroit, Michigan and working at Watts Mozambique jazz club owned by Cornelius Watts. Later, she appeared at Richard Jarrett’s club, “Dummy Georges.” During that time, she was a guest on a recording by Houston Person and Etta Jones titled, “Live at the Club Mozambique” for Eastbound Records. She also was recorded by Ace Records on a compilation album, pairing her with a list of all-star artists including Jack McDuff, Melvin Sparks, Gary Chandler, Etta Jones, Houston Person and Bill Mason titled, “Together.”
Anybody who’s been in the business of making records knows that the real money an artist makes comes from being on the road, not from selling records. While record companies are busy raking in the cash from the artists’ talents, an artist has to perform in concerts and clubs to pay the bills. Ms. Wilson let no grass grow under her feet. She’s performed in thirty-five countries including Algeria, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, the Congo, England, France, Germany, All over Japan, Luxemburg, Madagascar, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Scotland, and in virtually every big city in Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia and coast to coast, all over the United States. She worked with Teddy Edwards and also toured with the great Benny Carter as part of his “All Star” band.
I asked Spanky about her time leaving the United States and living in France.

SPANKY: “I went there in 1985. Sweets Edison got me a gig there. I had left H. B. Barnum’s label and also the 20th Century Records deal was done. – Red Holloway used to use me at the Parisian Room and then Sweets Edison used to get me opening act gigs. That way, I was working all the time. So, Sweets and I got to be friends. I was one of the ‘cats’ with those guys. Sweet’s started telling me I should go to Europe and they would love me over there. But I said, hey – I don’t know nobody in Europe. I’d been to Japan and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. But I said, ok – hook me up, man.
“He got me a gig with the Woody Herman Band in the South of France; in Nice. So, I get there, but dig this, but Woody Herman’s hands were messed up. He had the arthritis real bad. He couldn’t play, so he sang a little bit. Consequently, he didn’t need a singer. So, I’m there, but I’m not going to sing. OMG. I thought, what the hell am I going to do now? I can’t turn around and go back to Los Angeles after I told everybody I was going to this gig in France. But wait a minute, I knew this guy who had something to do with the jazz festival and he said let me see what I can do. Well – the musicians all stayed in the same hotel. I used to sit in the lobby and try to learn the language and practice my French speaking. You know those dogs that used to save people that had the little canteen around their neck? St. Bernard! Well, I love animals and one day I’m sitting there in the lobby and this guy walked by with this big, huge dog and I said Oh my God, he’s so beautiful. Is he friendly? So, I started talking to the dog. And every day, he would walk down there with the dog and I didn’t know anybody but Sweets and the musicians. Funny, but me and the dog got to be friends. Finally, the dog would see me and break a-loose from whoever was walking him and jump up on me. To make a long story short, Sweets says hey, I made an appointment for us to go up and see the head man who runs this hotel; The Meridien Hotel. I said ok. He took me up to the guys suite and we knock on the door. Some guy opened the door and here was the dog. He jumped up on me and was so happy. He weighed about 500 pounds. That was a huge dog. But this really handsome man steps forward and says, so you’re the one that my guy was telling me about. He had heard there was a lady that sits in the lobby that his dog was in love with this woman. I said, Oh yes. That’s me. So, the hotel manager says Sweets tells me that you can really sing. I’m just going to take his word for it. I don’t need to hear you sing. How would you like to work in Paris? I said I’d love to work in Paris. He said I’m going to send you to the Meridien Hotel there and the group is already working there. You can sing with them. I said OK. That’s fine with me. So, the next day, I went to Paris. The Lord works in mysterious ways. They hired me for two weeks. That was in July. I wound up staying there until September. Just like we celebrate the Fourth of July here. Well, everybody that lives in Paris, they leave to go on vacation in the summer, so they never have an international act in the Lionel Hampton room in the summer. They only had a local band. I was working with them. They were called The Four Bones and it was four Trombones and a rhythm section. Francois Guin, Jean Christophe Vilain, Benny Vasseur, and Raymond Fonseque were the trombone players. The pianist with him and the bass player with them was like my brother. While I was there, people were coming from different clubs who had heard about me or whatever. And I got work in other clubs after I finished working there. That’s how I ended up staying for a while.”

Our artform of jazz is highly respected and revered in Europe. Spanky Wilson found steady work and appreciation overseas and she found love. After living together for several years, she married her musical conductor, Phillipe Milantia.
Spanky’s time in France ended when both her mother and father became ill. She returned to the United States to care for them. Her French husband did not want to live in America. He thought America had a racist society and refused the idea of moving to the USA. After the death of both parents, Spanky decided to return to Los Angeles. As we know, life always happens while we’re making plans. Without any warning, just as she started gigging and getting settled into L.A. living, Spanky was diagnosed with an illness that threatened her life. She returned to Pennsylvania to be with her children, unexpectedly leaving Los Angeles and her career for a few recuperative years. Currently, Spanky Wilson has retired to Nevada.
Ms. Wilson’s discography features eleven albums (State-side and in Europe). They celebrate her rich contribution to music along with additional recordings as a guest vocalist with several iconic musicians including Teddy Edwards. They solidify her jazz legacy.


Dee Dee McNeil & Spanky Wilson at Maverick’s Flat – August 2016, when Dee Dee produced her concert.