By Chris J. Walker
Crystal Lewis, basically has been singing all her life and began at her father’s church in Corona, CA. Her first non-church musical activity occurred when she was 15 and auditioned for High Tops a children’s musical film, which she was accepted for. From there she got involved in a rockabilly gospel band and at 17 landed her first record contract and continued intermittently working on films and TV shows, such as Nickelodeon’s Roundhouse and short film The 7th Commandment.
All the while, Lewis continued to sing and make records, eventually being named Female Vocalist of the Year by the GMA Dove Awards, along with other honors for many years afterwards. “Yes, I had a very good solid 30-year run,” the singer commented from her OC home. As far as being presently involved in Christian music she has moved on and occasionally sings at two churches she’s maintained a long relationship with. Lewis continued “It’s not my goal to close and lock the door on that chapter of my life. But it’s struggle artistically to know where to plant your roots—it’s a constant challenge.”
The singer/songwriter cites that logistics can be difficult, but artistically she encountered a lot of positivity and is loving the journey. Although, she was very immersed in Christian music as a youth, her primary musical influences were outside of that realm. “I was listening to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson before I was ten and my earliest childhood memories musically were those kinds of artists,” Lewis recalled. Remarkably, her interest in rock and roll came much later in her life.
Surprisingly, Lewis didn’t start singing jazz and R&B until she in her ’30 when doing a Christmas record with drummer Peter Erskine’s trio. The singer chucklingly remembered, “Wow, that was such an accelerated learning environment, but just a once in a lifetime, really special season to get to work with those guys. That was my project titled Holiday! (A Collection of Christmas Classics) and I been able to play with those guys live about five times over the years.” She met Erskine’s trio through a recording engineer friend, Dan Garcia who orchestrated and mixed the recording.
During the years when Lewis was a Christian music star she toured regularly and had a big organization serve her needs. As an independent artist, without major label support she has to do just about everything, including representation, management and booking. Lewis recently performed in New York at a couple of clubs that included legendary Birdland. Despite the obstacles the singer plans to expand beyond her OC homebase into LA and other localities. Additionally, her producer for the last two albums Rhapsody and Together We Can, Tony Guerrero, also a trumpeter and pianist is based in OC and works regularly beyond county borders.
Guerrero and her relationship go back to the ‘90s but she didn’t remember him until 2014 when she did “Fly Me to The Moon” for a youtube series. She was still involved in CCM at the time and it wasn’t the type of songs she did then. “He played piano for the track,” Lewis cited, “I had thought he was just a trumpet player and hadn’t heard him play piano. I was like ‘oh my gosh you’re really good,’ and we started chatting and he said ‘we actually met in the ‘90s. We had a really good connection that day and it spurned a friendship.” Notably, their closeness has lead to a lot of new opportunities for the singer/songwriter.
Two or three years later Lewis got divorced and had moved back to California from Montana. While in Nashville visiting a friend who’s a photographer she had a very exotic dress that was red with tons of fabric. He took a bunch of pictures of her wearing it. Prior to that for about six months she had been pondering a new direction for her life and was at a loss. One of the pictures spurred her to realize what she wanted to do—make a record that sounds like the picture looks. 15 minutes later she texted Guerrero and told him what she wanted to do. Upon her returning to So Cal they quickly got to work and created the 2019 album Rhapsody.
“That kind of solidified our musical partnership,” Lewis stated, “and we work really well together.” In regards to the songs on the recording and her 2022 CD Together We Can, the singer wrote most of them for the first record and six on her latest, with four covers. They were based on the people she wanted to sing with, such as Charles Jones for Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” Kate Flannery for the standard “Side By Side,” Ty Herndon for REM’s “Everybody Hurts” and Lia Booth for standard “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Alternatively, “She Was Here” and “I Won’t Forget You” strongly resonate with her and are autobiographical in nature. They were personal when she wrote them and have become even more poignant every day.
Musically, the project includes pop, R&B and contemporary jazz. “For my entire career I have never been able to settle in to a specific niche and for me the niche is the fact that these are the things I love,” Lewis revealed “I don’t love one thing, so I don’t write one thing and I’ve never found myself in a position where I just create one thing. I finally embraced that at some point and decided as an independent artist there are so many struggles anyway, so I might as well do as I want.”
Besides jazz and R&B, Lewis also has a strong interest in theatre and Broadway music. “There is something about songs and certain ones have stuck with me over the years,” she admitted. “In high school I sang things from Westside Story and there’s something about story telling in a song. So maybe I gravitate to that too.” Overall, the talented and versatile singer/songwriter feels like she’s just scratched the surface regarding her artistic opportunities and growth. Of course, COVID-19 cut into her momentum too, so in a way, Lewis is really making up for lost time. On September 16 she will be performing at Vibrato and Guerrero’s sextet with possibly Lewis will be there on September 17. For more info go to: www.crystallewis.com, http://www.tonyguerrero.com www.tonyguerrero.com and www.vibratogrilljazz.com.
New Orleans was definitely in the house for Troy Andrews, bka, Trombone Shorty’s recent show at the Hollywood Bowl. The Soul Rebels octet emerged from the tradition of audacious HBC marching bands, while also integrating R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock elements into their songs. They took command of the stage with impressive brass arrangements for soulful/hip hop merging “Let Your Mind Be Free,” hard-rapping “Greatness” and total party jam “Let’s Have a Good Time.”
Bassist/vocalist George Porter Jr. and Dumpstaphunk, the second-generation version of the celebrated Meters kept the fun vibe going. Their classic NO rocking funk set included “Justice,” “(The World is a Little Bit) Under The Weather,” and 1977 “No More Okey Doke.” Also included in their segment was the Meter’s most popular instrumental groove 1969 “Cissy Strut” and their urgent 1975 “Fire on The Bayou” featuring explosive band forays and interactions.
Tank And The Bangas led by vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball were vastly different and represented the new era of NO music. They infused strong doses of rock, pop and neo soul for lightly jazzy “Stolen Fruit.” Special guests Big Freedia and the Soul Rebels nearly took over the band’s set with high energy and outrageous “Betty” and “Oak Tree.” Without Freedia, Tank showed out her rhyming skills with hip-hop fused “Imma Poet” and rocking “Want Some More.”
Headliner Trombone Shorty, a professional musician since he was six years old was totally in his own element. Much like a rockstar, he had a dazzling lighting design accentuating and also sometimes distracting from his concert. A NO styled dirge was the opening intro featuring the bandleader’s stirring trumpet playing that quickly shifted to his patented jazz/rocking/funk sound for “Buckjump” featuring his band jamming away. “Ain’t No Use” veered hard into rock and funk with one of TS back singers and his saxophonist out front working out.
“Where it At?” had TS back at helm singing and wailing on trombone, with his guitarists trading off solos as well, which segued into high-energy, guitar driven “Lifted” that also featuring strong trombone and tenor sax playing. Baritone sax was showcased for a bluesy jam with snippets of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” interwoven.
For a slight breather, the trombonist/singer performed “Craziest Things,” “One Night” and “Come Back” with initially less band dynamics. Those songs spotlighted his top-level playing and soulful singing with his backup singers for modern soul grooving and him even dancing on the venue’s pool divider. Eventually, fiery guitar playing ramped things back up. Also “No Good Time” was funkily introed by the bassist and led to danceable brass choruses.
TS seemed like the concert had ended and then blazed away for “Hurricane” and “Do To Me” with the Soul Rebels helping out. Showing that the musicians were true New Orleans natives they ventured into trad jazz with “When The Saints Go Marching in” and gospel for “Down By The Riverside” to get the accompanying white handkerchief/napkin waving from the audience. Without a doubt, it was a fitting ending for a non-stop hour and a half concert. For more info go to: www.tromboneshorty.com, www.tankandthebangas.com, dumpstaphunk.com, thesoulrebels.com and www.hollywoodbowl.com
The 2022 edition of the Long Beach Jazz Festival, encompassing three days, was filled with enlivening music, propelled by an exciting roster of musicians. On the first day Avery Sunshine uplifted the audience with positive energy singing for neo soul songs such as “Hello Sunshine,” “I’m Not The Only One,” “It’s So Good Being Black” and “Won’t You Try Love.” Totally amazing everyone was 14-year-old South African keyboard prodigy Justin Lee Schultz. He performed with his brother Jaymond on bass, father Julius on guitar and Jason Leopold on drums for a boundless set spanning Bob James’ “Angela (Taxi Theme),” “People Make The Go Round” by the Stylistics and Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” as an exhilarating jam.
Robert Glasper also a keyboard wiz and producer expanded his very popular and Grammy-Winning Black Radio explorations, melding prog rock, hip-hop, social protest and awareness, neo soul and fusion that was a wild and exciting ride.
The middle day of LBJF was all partying with
Ledisi’s modern soul “
Knockin’” and jazzy cover of
Nina Simone’s “Sea Lion Woman,” AWB
“Cut The Cake” and “Pick up The Pieces,”
BK Jackson, along with singer/guitarist
high level smooth jazz soundscapes,
all throwing down fun and highly danceable sets that strongly resonated with the attendees.
While the final day was eclectic and offered jazz, soul, blues and Brazilian music.
Al Williams and his Jazz Society started things. The band consisting of Dr. George Shaw-trumpeter/educator (originated the Jazz Studies program at Long Beach City College), Ron Kobayasi-piano, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin-bass, Doug Webb-reeds, Anthony Poingestt-percussion and Hope Diamond-vocals paid homage to Los Angeles’ recently departed Queen of Jazz and Blues
Included in the enjoyable performance were videos featuring some of the much-loved singer’s most memorable moments.
Fireworks came from high-flying multi-genre violinist
and high-octane smooth jazz saxophonist
spotlighting his new project Unleashed. Keyboardist
and her all-women band jammed hard, while also inserting gentle ballads such as
“Killing Me Softly” and “The First Time Every I Ever Saw Your Face.”
Brazilian bossa legend
segment opened with a clip from the documentary Songs in The Key of Life about him being shown. Following that his band launched into a set filled with positivity and popular songs going from the ‘60s to present times that included “Mas Quenada” to end the festival. For more info go to: longbeachjazzfestival.com
As one of the most sought-after backup singers in Los Angeles, Lynne Fiddmont has worked with a long list of artists. They range from George Duke and Joe Zawinul, to Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers, along with Phil Collins, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Loggins, Burt Bacharach and Michael Jackson. The first-call singer has also developed a solo career with four of her own projects to date. At the Fountain Theatre her stirring multi-range soprano singing and humorous banter kept the audience enthralled and on edge for an entertaining selection of jazzy flavored pop and R&B tunes.
Lightly breezy “Hey Summer Sun” and samba-driven “Tell Me About it,” both songs Fiddmont performed with Cole, got things going. In the same vein was more up-tempo original “Holiday” also adorned by her backup singer, Fred White, (Alana Lindsay the other singer and daughter arrived later) and the audience singing along. For “We’re Flyin’” the singer stretched out with her band consisting of Andrew Ford-bass, Herman Jackson-keyboards, Cory Mason-drums, Bill Fields-keyboards, Mike Alvidrez-acoustic bass.
Fiddmont was fully primed for the immortal “God Bless The Child” done to a throbbing Latin beat and injected silky singing and energetic scatting. With only Jackson playing she cooled things down and ascended for enduring ballad “The Nearness of You” with a few couples slow dancing by the stage. Other standards “Teach Me Tonight,” “Lover Man” with a strong backbeat and “Lush Life” with acoustic bass only initially, were also included and featured the sultry aspects of bandleader’s singing.
The dancing on the stage and in the audience heated up for the Jackson Five’s R&B staple “All I Do Is Think About You” bolstered by soul-clapping and “I Got to be Free.” “Groovy People” ended the evening with the audience having fun by participating with their own singing parts, to receive a standing ovation. There’s no wonder why Fiddmont is an A-level singer, she’s got the talent and versatility to be extraordinary in any genre or setting. For more info go to: [http://www.lynnefiddmont.com%20and%20www.fountaintheatre.com%0d]www.lynnefiddmont.com and www.fountaintheatre.com
Since its inception the Black Movie Soundtrack concert at the Hollywood Bowl has become more popular and now is a bust-out party. BMS Number IV was curated by Director/Producer Reginald Hudlin and Bassist/Producer Marcus Miller with Comedian/Actor Craig Ferguson as the Emcee and Thomas Wilkins as the Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The orchestra began the program with a resounding theme for a montage of Black Cinema clips. They spanned serious and dramatic to funny and absurd, with Shaft and Superfly getting the most cheers and applause.
Getting more specific, “Jumpin’ Jive” from the 1943 classic Stormy Weather featuring the Cab Calloway Orchestra, Lena Horne, Fats Waller and Bill Bojangles Robinson was shown. However, the incredibly dynamic Nicholas Brothers dancing duo dominated the clip with hard to believe stepping that was miraculously done in a single take.
Equally, thrilling was a segment from the Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace filmed in 1972 by Sydney Pollack at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Its counterpart recording became the all-time top selling gospel album Unfortunately, the film was plagued with technical and legal issues that were finally resolved for released in 2018 after the R&B/gospel legend passed away.
Sidney Portier the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (1963) who passed away earlier this year was honored with a musical tribute by BeBe Winans. He sang jazzy ‘60s styled In The Heat of the Night and his own pop/gospel ballad original “Ordinary Man.” As a bonus he sang “Happy Birthday” to Hudlin’s wife Chrisette.
The Blaxploitation Era that thrived during the early to late ‘70s was a definite highlight for BMS. Eric Benét’s falsetto thoroughly excited the audience with lavish orchestra for Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” and “Fred is Dead” from Superfly.
From a pop and R&B perspective several songs from Hudlin’s films were spotlighted. First, was the 1992 romantic comedy Boomerang, starring Eddie Murphy, Halle Berry, Robin Givens and Eartha Kitt. Babyface Edmonds, who was on the original soundtrack, and Lalah Hathaway sang “Give U My Heart.” Edmonds also did “There U Go” originally sung by Johnny Gill and then was humorously preempted by Gill, who had the audience both swooning and busting up.
The second Hudlin film highlighted was 1990 blockbuster House Party featuring hip-hop duo Kid n’ Play who rocked the Bowl with “Ain’t Going to Hurt No Body” and “Kid Vs Play (The Battle).” Also, in the ‘90s was Above The Rim noted for being the last film Tupac Shakur acted in and bolstered by Long Beach’s own hip-hop star Warren G. He performed his blockbuster song “Regulate” from the movie and got the audience revved up.
From the standpoint of pure romance was 1992 The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. The HBO with Houston’s vocals rendered her mega-hit “I Will Always Love You” over a mosaic of clips from the movie.
Bring things up to current times was a triumphant nod to Black Panther and Spiderman Into The Spiderverse soundtracks by the HBO. And transcending away from film into Broadway was Jennifer Holliday making her debut at the Bowl. She naturally did her blockbuster hit “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”
It could have easily been the show closer as she vocally scorched the stage. Instead, Prince was paid homage to with a montage of films he was with in. His song “Venus de Milo” underscored things and also was in Cherry Moon, which he starred in and directed. Rounding out the tribute, Macy Gray sang “Forever in My Life” and “Take Me With U,” while Hathaway ended the concert with her interpretation of “Purple Rain” with the orchestra. For more info go to: www.hollywoodbowl.com
Though not as extensive as BMS, Smooth Summer Jazz was definitely a festive occasion with top smooth jazz artists entertaining and delighting the audience. For 2022 the event emceed by KCRW/Just Jazz’s LeRoy Downs only had three artists on its roster Lalah Hathaway, Boney James and George Benson, instead of the normal four or five. This allotted each performer with at least an hour to stretch out and connect solidly with the audience.
Hathaway, a recent recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music, returned to the Bowl after participating in BMS several days earlier. Initially, she whisked through about a half dozen rocking neo-soul songs in about 15 minutes. Some of the were “Call on Me,” “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Strong Woman,” along with soul-drenched ballad “Always Love You.”
Afterwards she stayed mellow with “You’re My Angel” and “Would You Mind” that included her backup singers pointedly supporting, while also encouraging the audience to sing along. Additionally, with backing singer Kalo Kay she did Gregory Porter’s “Insanity” and “That Was Then” as moving ballads. Rounding out the sumptuous set were her signature songs “Forever, For Always, For Love” and “Somethin’” featuring Hathaway’s velvet singing and scatting, while her band jammed away.
James was in constant motion, moving from side to side and in circles on the stage. His sidemen, guitarist Big Mike Hart, keyboardist/singer Jonathan Richmond, drummer Omari Williams and bassist Smitty Smith held down the fort and supplied strong funk grooves for their saxophonist boss to play over. Among the tunes James and crew performed to set a chill vibe were “Up All Night,” “Solid,” “Nothing But Love” and “Let It Go.”
From James upcoming new recording Detour “Bring it Back” was showcased and featured him stretching out a bit. For a change of pace, Hathaway joined him with sensual singing for “Coastin’” that’s also on the new project. The saxophonist also stirred things up briefly doing a snippet from his influencer Grover Washington’s “Mr. Magic,” and another influence Sergio Mendes’ “Butacada (The Beat)” in full featuring a hot drum solo. Also of significance was James’ easy flowing renderings of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” that included a scorching guitar solo and his own smooth jazz anthem “Sweet Thing” that inspired a chorus from the audience.
Closer Benson, the senior statesman of the marquee artists took love to even higher level, with almost half of his songs having love in their names. The multi-Grammy-Winning guitarist/vocalist got things started singing, scatting and playing his ax, while also featuring his band for Roberta Flack’s immortal “Feel Like Making Love.” The other similarly themed songs were “Love X Love,” heartfelt ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love,” “Lady Love Me (One More Time)” and “Turn Your Love Around.”
Breaking the mode slightly was Eddie Jefferson’s vocalese jazz standard “There I Go, There I Go Again,” better known as James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood For Love” that was co-sung with backup singer/percussionist Lilliana de los Reyes. She additionally soared when featured doing Chaka Khan’s soul rocking “Ain’t Nobody” to the crowd’s delight.
Benson back in the forefront further elevated the set with his all-time classic version of Leon Russell’s super romantic “Masquerade.” For something a little different the masterful guitarist/singer dedicated his segment to Whitney Houston and in her honor sang touching “Greatest Love of All.” In grand style Benson finished with songs essential to his live performances, “Give Me The Night” and “On Broadway” that overflowed with his signature jazzy singing/scatting and blazing guitar, along with hot solos from the band.
The mention of Hiromi, born Hiromi Uehara, who started playing piano when she was six, invokes thoughts of magical creativity, boundless energy and genre-free improvisation. The Japanese born classical trained keyboardist thinks of herself foremost as a jazz musician—but in truth she is much more than that. Unquestionably, virtuoso technical abilities, an innate sense of rhythm and a freewheeling attitude enable Hiromi to play jazz like her idols, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal and Chick Corea, whom she has all played and/or recorded with. Jamal additionally was her mentor when she attended the Berklee College of Music.
As a professional musician for almost 20 years Hiromi has been involved in a wide variety of musical settings. Among them are, being a member of renowned bassist Stanley Clarke’s Band, leading her own acoustic jazz and fusion bands, and doing two duo live recordings with pianist/vocalist Akiko Yano and one with harpist Edmar Castañeda.
Much like everyone throughout the 2020 COVD-19 lockdown, the amazing pianist was isolated. She performed a series of 32 solo piano concerts virtually, but when another was scheduled for late 2020 into 2021, she grew tired of it and wanted to collaborate with other musicians. Going in a classical direction in 2021, Hiromi performed with violinist and concertmaster Tatsuo Nishie’s New Japan Philharmonic. Afterwards, Nishie recruited violinist Sohei Birmann, violist Meguna Naka, and cellist Wataru Mukai for her piano quartet, and they recorded Silver Lining Suite in Tokyo the same year.
In the U.S., Hiromi works in the same manner with the PUBLIQuartet consisting of violinists Curtis Stewart and Jannina Norpoth, violist Nick Revel and cellist Hamilton Berry. They are currently doing a West Coast tour throughout September with the Broad Stage in Santa Monica being one of the scheduled dates. She spoke briefly about the music and the quintet to LA Jazz Scene.
LA Jazz Scene:
This show is a little different from the ones you have done previously at the Broad Stage.
Yes, it will be with a string quartet.
LA Jazz Scene:
Have you done this type of thing with string quartets or chamber orchestras before?
No, it was my first time when I made an album.
LA Jazz Scene:
What was the impetus for you doing something like that?
I was always a big fan of string instruments and I’ve done some orchestra writing, but never done anything with the string quartet format. During the Pandemic all I could do was writing music at home. I came up with this idea of writing for piano and string quartet and I started to play with the classical musicians in Japan. Then I made a recording of it.
LA Jazz Scene:
In the U.S. you’re performing with the PUBLIQuartet.
They are a quartet in New York and I worked with them last year there. They are one of the most innovative string quartet I know.
LA Jazz Scene:
Have you been doing other performances with them?
Yes, this tour starts in San Francisco, then we do Phoenix, LA (Santa Monica), Portland and Seattle. This is my West Coast Tour that I had to cancel in 2020.
LA Jazz Scene:
Does working in this format present new challenges for you or is it just music?
Writing for strings in the piano quartet format was definitely different and challenging. The strings players asked me if I played a string instrument, because it sounds like that. It was a great compliment to receive from them. The reason I like string instruments is because I think they are the closest to the voice sonically and it really touches me deeply and emotionally. During the Pandemic there was so much to think about, accept and let go of—just so much happened emotionally. I was trying to write about the emotional journey during that time and that’s how the record was made.
LA Jazz Scene:
Would you mind telling us more about the emotional aspects of your writing?
I always want to write something from my heart. But it doesn’t have to be something I experienced, instead something I really feel and I write music out of it. Mostly, in the past recordings, compositions are more personal. Let’s say I write something about my family or home, like landscape at my home. The point is the listeners have never seen it and they can only imagine how it is. But now during this period, everyone in the world has experienced the same emotional journey. I feel we can go through the ups and downs through music together as an experience. I find all that very interesting.
LA Jazz Scene:
Do you think of the music (string quartet) as being optimistic or seeing the world as it is?
I always believe that the music makes everything optimistic. That’s why I wanted to keep writing and playing music. Because it gives me hope and it’s an energy source for me.
LA Jazz Scene:
Normally, when you perform the music just comes to you and flows. But working with a string quartet is more about written music and structure. How did you deal with that for this setting?
I improvised over written parts and there are a lot of improvisation involved. When I wrote and recorded this music with the string players I aways tried to encourage them to improvise. Classical players are so used to following what’s written and I don’t put any dynamics on certain parts. So even though it’s the same part it has to played differently and I tried to explain that to them. They would ask me which dynamic should play for this part and I would tell them you just feel it. And I would often tell them, don’t think, feel. That’s how we should be for the flow of music. Even if it’s a written part it should be different every time. The more we played together, the more they started understanding the concept of improvisation. They have amazing ears and got it pretty quickly. It was like we evolved together. With the PUBLIQuartet they are so used to improvising and when we first starting practicing, they would ask me it was too much or if I just wanted to play just written parts. I love that and it was freer.
LA Jazz Scene:
Is the recording and performances with the string players purely classical outings, or are there any injections of other music forms within the structure?
I don’t see them as classical at all, I see it as improvisational jazz—it’s much closer to that. I improvise most of the time and there’s a lot of that going on for strings too. It’s a classical format, but its beyond that.
LA Jazz Scene:
Is there anything on the forefront with your other music?
Not really, I just trying to catch up on what I wasn’t able to do in 2020, such as a lot of postponed dates. I couldn’t really tour with my solo album that was released at the end of 2019 either.
LA Jazz Scene:
What do you hope people will get from your music and what you’re currently doing these days?
I don’t know, just music… And I hope to see everyone in attendance.
Hiromi: The Piano Quintet
1310 11th St. Santa Monica, CA 90401
The Yellowjackets celebrated the release of Parallel Motion their latest project, number 25, at Vibrato. On the verge of celebrating their 45th anniversary, the band is just as dynamic as when they began. At the same time, the quartet is now seasoned and more varied since the early days as guitarist Robben Ford’s backing band.
Keyboardist/composer Russell Ferrante is the only original member. Drummer Will Kennedy joined the group in the 1987, left in 1999 and returned in 2010, while saxophonist/EWI player/composer Bob Mintzer has been with them since 1990. Lastly, Australian Dane Alderson joined the band seven years ago. Overall, during the course of the Yellowjackets’ ongoing lifespan they have received 17 Grammy Nominations, won 2, released many critically acclaimed and top-selling recordings, and are constantly performing around the world.
In action at Herb Alpert’s club, the ensemble jammed intensely beginning with older live wire fused tunes “Spirit of The West” and “Dewey” dedicated to Miles Davis. “When The Lady Dances” dedicated to Mintzer’s wife who’s a dancer was more straight ahead, bolstered by Mintzer’s stellar tenor sax playing and Ferrante sophisticated piano solo.
From the new project very appropriately titled and nuance styled “Challenging Times” encompassed the band’s trademark offsetting rhythm changes with vigorous tenor sax and keyboard interactions. They were fueled by Kennedy’s drumming and Dane’s bass stalwartly supporting and also injecting amazing brief solos that impressed the audience. “Onyx Manor” composed by the bassist slowed things down, yet was abundantly adorned by funky drumming, supple keyboards and easy flowing sax. “Samaritan” was written by Kennedy and was a laidback groove highlighted by soulful sax and piano.
“Even Song” an older number got even more expressive with strong gospel elements garnished by outstanding bass, piano and sax solos, while drums pounding out an infectious driving beat that drew shouts and applause from the audience. Closing out the show was “Revelations” the perfect succeeding number. It was also gospel oriented and full of solos, but much livelier with audience clapping along—that was going to church Yellowjackets style. For more info go to: www.yellowjackets.com and www.vibratogrilljazz.com
Blues fans needn’t look any further than the Canyon Club’s venues in Burbank, Agoura Hills, Montclair and Santa Clarita, along with the Starlight Bowl in Burbank, Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills and Libbey Bowl in Ojai for concerts in September into October.
Beth Hart, queen of raw and highly emotional blues and rock will be putting it down hard and heavy at Burbank’s Starlight Bowl. Her loyal fans dating back to the millennium and possibly to the mid ‘90s know the singer/pianist/composer delivers an unapologetic show that cuts like a rusty razor blade without any band aids for comfort. Her longstanding band is ready to go in any direction Hart’s feelings and moods take her. It’s a wild and very rewarding ride…
Eric Gales is a former child prodigy, who started playing guitar at age of four. He’s a powerhouse blues rocking guitarist who pretty much can play anything he desires in that vein. People initially compared him to Jimi Hendrix and there definitely are attributes of the guitar god in Gales’ sound and approach. Additionally, Gales has participated in several Hendrix tributes tour and recorded some of his songs. Nonetheless, his playing is totally originally, supporting by soulful singing and he is considered one of the best blues guitarist in the world, resulting in him winning Blues Music Award for ‘Blues Rock Artist of the Year’ in 2019 and 2020.
September 18 at The Canyon Agoura Hills
September 22 at The Canyon Montclair
September 23 at The Canyon Santa Clarita
Guitarist/vocalist Elvin Bishop & vocalist/harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite are the OGs of blues, with Buddy Guy and John Mayall. They both started playing blues in Chicago during the ‘60s Blues Revival.
Musselwhite grew up in Memphis and did a variety of low-level jobs before leaving for Chicago for better opportunities. Once there he eventually was able to work with blues icons Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and Sunny Boy Williamson. Uniquely, the harmonica player/singer moved out of the Windy City to San Francisco after a couple of his solo records brought him new-found acclaim. Shortly afterwards, he talked his lifelong friend John Lee Hooker into doing the same.
Since migrating to SF Bay Area Musselwhite, who recently returned to Mississippi where he was born, has released over 30 recordings. 11 of them were Grammy-Nominated including two with Americana singer/acoustic slide guitarist Ben Harper with one winning a Grammy. Additionally, he has won a couple of Blues Awards and worked with a wide range of non-blues artists, including Cyndee Lauper, Tom Waits, INXS, Bonnie Raitt and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Although Bishop was born in Glendale, CA, his path is somewhat similar to Musselwhite’s. The fun-loving singer/guitarist spent time in rural Iowa and Oklahoma, before ending up at the University Chicago after winning a scholarship. The homespun musician could barely play guitar and soaked up everything happening on the blues scene, while being tutored by Howling Wolf’s guitarist Smokey Smothers. As one of the few white blues musicians in the city he crossed paths with Musselwhite and became friends with him, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and singer/harmonica player Paul Butterfield who formed his very popular eponymous blues band.
On the heels of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s success, Bishop relocated to the Bay Area and launched his solo career that burgeoned into him becoming a Northern California favorite and having a national pop hit, “Fooled Around And Fell in Love” #3 on the Billboard charts. Afterwards, Bishop a 2015 Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductee for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band returned to recording blues with touches of country. In 2020 he and old friend Musselwhite recorded Grammy-Nominated 100 Years of The Blues and currently are having a blast touring and featuring songs from the project.
Charlie Musselwhite & Elvin Bishop 100 Years of The Blues
September 30 at The Libbey Bowl in Ojai
October 2 at The Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills
Chilean-born and New York-based singer Claudia Acuña hasn’t performed in Los Angeles for over 10 years. She made a long overdue return appearance at Just Jazz with pianist Pablo Vergara and highlighted several songs from her upcoming album Duo, along with selections from her other recordings.
Like most musicians and people in general, the Pandemic that still continues to a lesser degree, was/is a time for reflection.
Acuna decided to return to the duet format, which was what she did mostly when first emerging into the New York jazz scene in the mid ‘90s. An interesting twist was that Acuña brought highly regarded musicians/friends such as with Kenny Barron, Christian McBride, Carolina Calvache, Fred Hersch, Regina Carter, Arturo O’Farrill and Russell Malone into her world. They recorded songs from Central and South America that the singer loved and grew up listening to that created intimate and uncomplicated experiences.
After a quick interview with Just Jazz emcee LeRoy Downs, the singer and her accompanist commenced with “Pure Imagination” of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory fame. Acuña, interestingly just discovered the tune a week before and magnificently made it her own with stirring singing in English and Spanish, and also featured radiant piano. Along the same lines was Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” Ballad “Manifiesto” began with English spoken word, before shifting to emotive Spanish singing.
In addition to revealing that part of her absence was because she had a son during the interim, she also mentioned her long friendship with icon Abbey Lincoln who would have been 92 on that day. In her honor, Acuña rendered sentimental “Bird Alone” and blues/gospel-tinged “The World is Falling Down” for a pleasant change of pace.
Regarding her Chilean roots was poetic and upbeat “Jurame” with English spoken word “Woman in The Garden” as the intro. Scintillating scat-laden traditional song “
Cigaritto” ended the extremely engaging show. It, along with the previous song were embellished by sweeping piano solos that impressed the audience and contributed to a standing ovation. For more info go to: www.claudiaacunamusic.com/
Over the last 32 years the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest has grown expeditiously into three-days, first charging admission in 2006 and burgeoned with R&B, blues, funk, Latin/salsa, swing bands, next gen bands, beyond and 21st century tech. Among the tech offerings were film screenings, photography, interviews and interactive exhibits.
Amazingly, despite all the populous development, SJJSF has maintained serious jazz cred with at least half of the stages solely focused on mainstream and/or variations of it. For 2022 there were no jazz heavyweights, except legendary bassist Stanley Clarke. With his youthful band consisting of keyboardist Jahari Stampley, saxophonist Emilio Modeste, drummer Jeremiah Collier and guitarist Colin Cook, he intermeshed world/Brazilian music, straight-ahead and fusion. Epic and Grammy-winning No Mystery composed by Chick Corea, keyboardist/ co-leader of his former iconic fusion band Return to Forever, concluded the set and was a monumental crowd pleaser on the main stage.
Also on the main stage was tenor saxophonist Jovan Jackson’s Charlie Parker at 100, with stellar co-conspirator alto saxophonists Gary Bartz, Charles McPherson and Donald Harrison. They joyfully and inventively celebrated Bird, his renowned compositions and bebop with high-spirited solos and interactions for tunes such as “Confirmation,” “Lover Man” and “Blues For Alice.” Solidly supporting the saxophonists were Jeremy Manasia on piano, David Williams on bass and Willie Jones III on drums.
Star-studded Bobby Watson (reeds) & Curtis Lundy (bass) Quartet with pianist Cyrus Chestnut and drummer Victor Jones were on a smaller nearby stage. Between of them all is a web of connections, beginning with Horizon, Watson and Lundy’s ground breaking ‘90s group. Watson’s Smoke Sessions recordings Back Home in Kansas City (Oct 2022), Keepin’ it Real (2020) and Made in America (2017) also include Lundy and Jones.
Chestnut, the newbie member recorded Smoke Sessions Midnight Melodies in 2014, also with Lundy and Jones. For the upcoming album the pianist contributed the vibrant ballad “A Star in The East” that was serenely performed by the ensemble. As a special bonus, Watson’s enduring colleague, trumpeter Terrill Stafford, a former integral member of Horizon, sat in to fervidly recall the vibrant hard-bop sound of the mid ’50 to mid ‘60s.
Exclusive to SJJSF are the Jazz Organ Fellowship concerts, presented by the eponymous Oakland-based society at adjacent performance areas. Founded in 2004, it promotes and preserves jazz organ with workshops and jazz camps for junior high and high school students. The fellowship shows were both one of the festival’s opening and closing sets on two different stages.
Tony Monaco, a protégé of organ super star Jimmy Smith was the JOF Award Winner for 2022, presented by Pete Fallico, SF Bay Area Jazz 91(KCSM) Programmer and On-Air Host, and will be listed in the Jazz Organ Fellowship Hall of Fame. The honored organist who performed with guitarist Bruce Forman and drummer Darrell Green, was very gracious, a bit of a raconteur and in top form. His standout tunes were soothing ballad “It’s You or No One,” robust homage “I’ll Remember Jimmy” abundant with solos and tradeoffs, and funk grooving “Indonesian Nights.”
More JOF festivities occurred through its momentous—Celebration of The Life and Music of Dr. Lonnie Smith—who passed away in 2021. It featured his acolytes Wil Blades, Akiko Tsuruga and Ronnie Foster, and was also hosted by Fallico. Each of the organists were greatly influenced by Smith and full of anecdotes, but did most of their talking through the organ. Guitarist Peter Bernstein stalwartly worked with all of them, while drummer Green played with Blades and Foster, and drummer Akira Tana only supported Tsuruga.
Blades inserted light Latin touches for “I’m Beginning to See The Light” and scorched on Smith’s “Play it Back” that included Green turning in a barraging solo. Contrarily, Tsuruga initially focused on slow crescendo grooving that also featured Bernstein and later shifted up-tempo for Smith’s pulsating “Weep Weep Weep.”
Along those lines, Foster was the most emotional of the organists and could barely speak. He pulled everything together to play an enticing segment that included “In a Mellow Mood” and hip jaunt “Swingin’,” the last song Foster played for Smith before he died. The remarkable tribute ended with the organists alternating to join Foster and adeptly maneuvered around the organ for highwire antics that delighted the audience.
Besides being a mainstay of the Organ Fellowship sets, Bernstein worked with fellow guitarist Bruce Forman for a set of standard oriented material that showcased masterful fretwork and stimulating interactions. The cool vibe of the show was akin to being in their living room, embodying a mix of fun banter, friendship and delectable musicianship, with a very receptive audience loving every note played.
Related to Bernstein and Forman was the Acoustic Guitar Summit consisting of Oregon-based John Stowell, with Bay Area guitarists Rick Vandivier and Mason Razavi, all supported by New York percussionist Dave Meade. Typical for appearances of this nature, the guitarists tastefully played together and also did distinctive individual mini sets. Most noteworthy was original “Rhapsody,” along with Horace Silver’s “Peace” done bossa style and Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin’.” Plus, Razavi shined brilliantly doing Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”
A polar opposite of well-established traditions, fast-rising vibraphonist Joel Ross has been topping polls and attracting listeners with his near-minimalistic and atmospheric approach. Although very capable of playing enticing funk or hard-bop grooves, he instead enthralled a youthful audience through deep layering and glacier-like transitions. Ross with Jeremy Corren on piano, Matt Oakes on bass and Jeremy Dutton on drums, played on an ultra-high level for extended improvisational pieces with Monk’s “Evidence” and hard-driving junctures embedded.
Clarke wasn’t the only fusion act for SJJSF 2022, keyboardist Cameron Graves, an alternating member of the bass star’s band performed with his own group. Graves is also a longstanding member of Kamasi Washington’s West Coast Get Down collective and Jada Pinkett Smith’s nu metal band Wicked Wisdom.
Combined with his interest in the anonymously written spiritual and philosophical The Urantia Book, the keyboardist’s music falls somewhere between the fusion of Return to Forever and the progressive rock of King Crimson, with some Metallica thrown in. Joined by bassist Max Gerl, drummer Mike Mitchell and guitarist Colin Cook, the bandleader presented assaulting compositions from records Planetary Prince, Seven and Live From The Seven Spheres.
Cuban keyboardist/composer Omar Sosa and Quarteto Americanos, that included Sheldon Brown on reeds, Mazar Kindelán on bass and Josh Jones on drums supplied plenty of energy and irresistible rhythms. They could have possibly been featured at the Latin Tropical Stage, but instead were showcased at the Hammer Theatre Stage. The quartet, Sosa’s first U.S. based group since the ‘90s retained his signature Afro-Cuban textures, with more jazz orientation through Brown’s saxophone playing. The bandleader on several occasions let the other players wail away as he danced in appreciation. Still, there was no substitute for his unbelievable playing that at times rivaled and even surpassed fellow Cuban master pianist Chucho Valdés.
Representing big band, the 17-piece LMR Orchestra (formerly the Long Meadow Ranch All Star Big Band) featured Tierney Sutton. The mighty conglomerate was conducted by renowned composer/arranger Michael Walden, with Bay Area top players and a sprinkling of LA first-call musicians. They were saxophonist Tom Scott, trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and drummer Gary Novak. Their debut album release, Golden Jubilee: Missa Iubileum Aureum, was actually performed the night prior at San Francisco’s St. Dominc Church with Sutton and Kurt Elling.
At SJJSF LMR blazed away on Walden’s instrumental “River Road Blues.” With the scintillating vocalist whom he’s known for over 20 years, she performing superbly on snappy arrangements of “How Long Has This Been Going on,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and Bobby Darin/Frank Sinatra mega pop hit “Beyond The Sea.”
Another remarkable vocalist at SJJSF was Kim Nalley and her band, with Stafford, who turned in numerous astounding solos. Nalley, also a History Professor at CSU East Bay, was further supported by Tammy Hall on piano, Michael Zisman on bass and Leon Joyce Jr. on drums. She was full of sass and vitality, enthralling the attendees with Ruth Brown’s bluesy romp “Teardrops From My Eyes,” a jazzy version of Otis Redding’s immortal “Try a Little Tenderness” and a profanity-free interpretation of Les McCann/Eddie Harris’s “Compared to What.” As a bonus, she debuted San Jose Jazz Society commissioned work “To Joy My Freedom.” It was based on the first successful Afro-American strike after the Civil War.
Coming from vastly different perspectives were female singers Nellie McKay, Nicole Henry and Sandra Aran with the Brian Andres Quartet. McKay, idiosyncratic and ridiculously talented, with aw shucks aplomb, performed solely while singing, playing piano, ukulele and harmonica. She merrily dashed from ragtime to standards to songs about marriage and even Joan Rivers.
In the realm of contemporary jazz and pop, Henry and her Miami-based quartet highlighted tracks from her most recent recording Time to Love Again along with pop covers, all possessing impressible phasing and enchanting charm. Mexico-born and Berklee College of Music educated Aran with SF Area drummer Andres’s quartet skillfully served up Latin and Brazilian covers of Claire Fisher’s “Una Manana,” DJavan’s ballad “Flor de Lis” and bossa samba “Homem e Mulher.”
Oddly, there weren’t any male jazz singers slated for SJJSF 2022. However, bassist Jeff Denson, also an amazing vocalist exquisitely sang a jazzy version Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” with his quartet. Its members were Scott Amendola on drums, Michael Echaniz on piano and Paul McCandless on soprano sax and bass clarinet. McCandless is known for his long associations with pastoral jazz groups Oregon and the Paul Winter Consort.
Denson and quartet additionally performed a piece from a commission fusing jazz and music from another culture that originally incorporated McCandless and not present pipa master Wu Man from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. Also new, “Owls And Crows” depicted daily intense warring between great horn owls and crows just outside the window of Denson’s band room.
Likewise, Ferguson MO-based multi-genre trumpeter Keyon Harrold, also part of the vanguard of ascending players injected into his set a haunting Radiohead-tinged lullaby “Stay This Way.” The seemingly impromptu song was derived from a music therapy class exercise he took in college. Cohorts, drummer Jonathon Pinson, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, bassist Jonathan Sanders and keyboardist Michael Cartwright eased in to increase the intensity with the bandleader also poignantly soloing and encouraging the audience to sing along. Unquestionably, it was a one of kind ending for SJJSF 2022.
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