THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES: HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES:
HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

By Jazz Journalist 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. Still vibrant and youthful, 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. It was whatever shows they used to have that entertained the soldiers. 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 quite 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 tellin’ 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, stuff like that and 78rpm records. You could go in there and they would have booths and the walls were glass. They had about four booths. You could make a record of your own for a certain amount of money. It was a 78rpm record 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, who originally recorded this song. I found it on http://www.youtube.com

SPANKY: “Oh, I was 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 Loulla 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 names me Spanky, after that television show. ‘Spanky and Our Gang.’ “

Several amazing entertainers were born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, 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 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. I can’t remember the name of the club, but it was 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 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 career as a singer. 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. … And in September of that year, he called me to say 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 a nickname for Howlett Smith, a prolific L.A. based composer who has written hit songs for both Spanky and Nancy Wilson i.e.: ‘Let’s Go Where The Grass is Greener,’ recorded by Nancy.

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. Then 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. I’ve been away too long. 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 to live in 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 titled, ‘Specialty of The House,’ with the title tune released as a popular single. Spanky sounded wonderful on this recording. 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.” When I looked up the credits, a Motown arranger, (Paul Riser), had arranged this song. That explained why the song reminded me so much of Motown Records. No problem! Spanky rose to the occasion, showing that she could sing anything and proving she had cross-over ability. That’s probably what the record company was looking for at that time. Her song, “Easy Lover,” reflected the appealing impression that Barry White’s hit-record productions had made on 20th Century Records. Her production sounded similar, with Spanky handling the David VanDePitte arrangements with finesse and power. This album offered her fan base and the general public a little taste of everything.

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, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, the Congo, England, France, Germany, the island of Guam, Ireland, all over Japan, in Luxemburg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Scotland, in virtually every big city in Spain, in Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia and coast-to-coast in the United States. She 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 Janiero in Brazil, but never Europe. But then 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. Woody Herman’s hands were messed up. He had the Arthritis real bad and he couldn’t play, so he sang a little big. 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. So 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. It was the Meridien Hotel. I said, ok. He took me up to the guy’s 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 and 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 leaves to go on vacation in the summer. Consequently, they never book an international act in the Lionel Hampton room during summertime. 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 them and the bass player were like my brothers. 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.”

Unlike America, in France and many parts of Europe, jazz music is embraced, culturally respected and played on the popular airwaves. You might hear Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and Spanky Wilson all played on the same radio station. Our art form 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, Philippe Milantia. She explained.

SPANKY: “Yeah, Philippe was my pianist. He is a hell of an arranger and a pianist too. Neither of us wanted to get married. We got married because someone else won the election and the new president was talking about separatism. He said France was for the French. If you didn’t have papers, you had to go home. But I had told Philippe, I didn’t want to get married. I’d been there done that and didn’t want to do it again. He said he didn’t want to get married either, because his mother terrorized his father. I said, well, I ain’t your mama honey, so you don’t have to worry about that. But we had lived together for some time. We only got married to keep me in France. We were together for 13 or 14 years. We married in 1992.

“I’ve met so many record collectors, I mean serious record collectors in Europe. They can put on a record and tell you every guy who’s in the band. That’s how serious they were about jazz. And my husband was one of them. He was an expert on Count Basie. People would call him from all countries to say they had this old record, but they don’t know who’s playing on it. They would play it and he would tell them everybody who was in the band. He played with Count Basie a few times when he came to Paris. The band knew him. Jazz is like a religion to them. Here, in America, it’s stepped on, kicked around. Even the French people that have clubs don’t want French people to sing it. I had friends I met over there who were good singers. I mean really good singers. But they couldn’t get hired, because they weren’t American. They’d say Spanky, could you talk to this guy and tell him that I can sing jazz? The club owners wouldn’t even let them try out. So of course, I spoke up for them. Some of those girls were singin’ their asses off! They had a little accent, but you could understand every lyric they were singing. I helped out two or three girls who were trying to get booked in some of the clubs. You don’t have to be American to sing jazz.”
During her time in France, Spanky continued recording. In 1991, Big Blue Records released, “Singin’ and Swingin’” and another album titled, “Ornicar Big Band/L’Incroyable Huck,” featuring Spanky Wilson. In 1996, she was a guest vocalist on Christian Morin’s “Paradis Melodie” album on Une Musique label. In 1999, she recorded another solo album titled, “Things are Getting Better” for Jazz Aux Remparts label. The last CD she recorded was outside the realm of jazz, with an English group; The Quantic Soul Orchestra, “Live in Paris.”
As her stellar reputation grew, Ms. Wilson was invited to sing with some of the top musicians and French bands such as Gerard Badini’s Swing Machine, Christian Morin and Francois Biensan’s “Ellingtomania,” Marc Laferrier’s group, Claude Tissendier’s “Saxomania” and she appeared regularly with Philippe Milanta’s Trio.

Spanky worked with the iconic reed man, Teddy Edwards, over the years and in 1993 his “Teddy Edwards Quartet” album was released on Verne/PolyGram/Gitanes featuring Spanky Wilson as a special guest along with Christian Escoudé. In 1993, she was also a guest star on “Old School Band/35th Anniversary” on the OSB label.

This lovely lady with the big voice and even bigger personality was flying high. Then the unexpected happened. Both of Spanky’s parents became critically ill at home, in the United States.

SPANKY: “I came back because my mother and my father both were sick. My mother was in a nursing home in Pittsburgh and my father had cancer; Prostate. He lived in Philadelphia. So, I was hopping from one city to another, flying from Paris to Pittsburgh for two weeks. Then, jetting to Philadelphia for two weeks; back and forth. I was coming home every time I could. But you know, that costs money unless you plan it a month in advance. So just to say I’m going today, you spend a lot of money. I was taking my money and then my husband’s money to fly home constantly. I was busy working and I had to beg for days off. I mean listen. Talk about dreams. I thought I was living in a really bad dream.

“When I decided to come back home, I had already told Philippe, hey – I have to go home. I said, you can come with me. He said he didn’t want to come with me, because America is one of the most racist places he had ever heard of. I said, but we’re going to live in California. He said he didn’t give a shit what color you were, but Americans did care about that. He wouldn’t come.
“So, anyway, I had packed up all my stuff and put it on a ship, sending it back to L.A. The week after, I put all my stuff on the ship, my father died. So, back on the plane I went, to buy my father. … I was going back to Paris after I buried him, but then I found out my mom was in a comma. The same day my father died, my brother’s wife went to the nursing home and told my mother that my father had died. I guess when she found out that he had died, she wanted to die. … She always brainwashed me and my kids, saying don’t let them keep me alive on machines. Let me go. … When they took her off the machine, she lasted about fourteen hours. This was about four days after my dad died.

“So when I went back to Paris, all my belongings were on the way here. I had just put my stuff on the ship one week before they called me and told me my daddy had died. I felt like maybe it’s meant for me to come home. They said it would take six weeks for my things to get here, so I stayed in Europe with my husband for about five weeks, caught a plane and came to California.”

Being gone all those years didn’t make it easy to come back to the United States and pick up her career. She had lost her father, her mother and was separated from her beloved husband, who did not want to deal with the racism in America. It felt like she was starting over.

As we know, life always happens while we’re making plans. Without any warning, just as she started gigging and getting settled into Los Angeles 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.

I was so thrilled to hear that she was returning to California and in August, a year ago, I had the opportunity of welcoming Spanky Wilson home and in-concert at the historic Maverick’s Flat nightclub on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. She performed to a packed house with a swinging band and all the gusto and excitement that a performer of her stature always brings to the stage.

Welcome back, Spanky. We missed you.

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SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW

August 11, 2017

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW
AUGUST 12, 2017 – Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

By jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil

Tracy Nicole Chapman does an incredible job of portraying the character of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an American icon, in the musical play, “Shout Sister Shout”. Rosetta Tharpe provided a pathway for women in Rock and Roll to follow, long before it was acceptable for a female to play guitar and entertain along-side of male musicians. Tracy Nicole Chapman exhibited a powerful voice Thursday night, along with the thespian skills to persuade us she was Ms. Tharp.

Starting from the very first song, an original composition by Rosetta Tharp titled “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air” she had the audience in the palm of her hands. Logan Charles also is to be complimented on his beautiful voice, playing the part of Isaiah, who is a suicidal young man who wants to play guitar like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. God has asked Ms. Tharpe to inspire and save this child from his demons. She is expected to accomplish this before she can leave earth and go to heaven. Rosetta shares her story of triumph and tragedy with the young man, in order to give him a sense of purpose and spirituality; strength and determination. Certainly she had to use those traits to survive in a world that frowned on her dreams and criticized her personal life decisions, while she was in search of her own identity and values. The choral trio who sang “Lay My Burden Down” brought the gospel church into the crowded Pasadena Playhouse. Boise Holmes, Armando Yearwood, Jr. and Thomas Hobson played interactive parts throughout this production with strong voices and dancing abilities. They got the audience to clap and participate in the joy on-stage. Rosetta’s mother is played by Yvette Cason, whose lovely and powerful voice echoed through the theater like an electricity bolt. Her rendition of “The Lonesome Road” was spellbinding and I was truly touched by her interpretation of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Angela Teek Hitchman was persuasive in three key roles. She played a church woman who tells Rosetta’s preacher husband that she saw her playing guitar and singing in a juke joint. She also plays Marie Knight, Rosetta’s love interest after three unsuccessful marriages and adds her tenacious voice to the ensemble pieces, as well as singing memorable duets with Tracy Nicole Chapman.

We learn that Rosetta Tharpe and her mother were Evangelist preachers and singers with a strong belief in the holy bible. But Rosetta’s talents on vocals and guitar were established early on and she longed to play other music. After her first marriage to an older preacher-man, she went back to making music as a solo artist. She was the first to cross-over gospel music into the realm of pop and blues; performing at the Cotton Club and even Carnegie Hall. Chuck Berry stole his famous duck-walk from none other than the popular Rosetta Tharpe. She was the first to do that move on stage. She was also the first cross-over gospel star to work with the Lucky Millander Orchestra. She was one of the few African American artists featured in the popular Life Magazine and Rosetta inspired and encouraged artists like Little Richard and Johnny Cash.

I wish the character Isaiah had turned out to be one of the many famous people that Rosetta inspired during her climb to fame like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis, rather than a non-descript person. I think that would have added to this treasured biography, because those men were influenced by Rosetta. However, all in all, this is an enjoyable musical full of history and happy music.

The band is spectacularly led by Orchestra Conductor/pianist, Rahn Coleman. Ron Bishop is superb on piano/keyboard and organ. Quentin Dennard propels the aggregation with his drums and Carl Vincent plays a mean upright bass and electric bass. Charles Fearing is the wonderful guitarist behind the scenes, who adds spunk and believability to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s outstanding guitar solos. This is a musical play for the whole family to enjoy and an important piece of music history. It runs through August 20, 2017.

DRUMS AND THE PEOPLE WHO PROPEL THE MUSIC

July 31, 2017

DRUMS and THE PEOPLE WHO PROPEL THE MUSIC
By Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist

FRANK DEVITO: HISTORIC, LEGENDARY DRUMMER GOING STRONG AFTER SEVEN DECADES
August 1, 2017

The month of June challenged my health and patience. I broke my baby toe. Never mind! All you can do is tape the poor thing to the toe next to it. It takes about a month to heal. My computer was infected with a malware and my tape recorder broke during a long-distance interview with a popular jazz artist. I had to cancel my gig in Huntington Beach because of my broken toe. So today, July 23rd, I’m looking forward to returning to my singing job. I’m excited about my band because, today I’m working with Rick Olson on piano, Luther Hughes on bass and the legendary Frank DeVito on drums.

Have you ever tried to lift that big black case that drummers lug around to all their gigs? Well I have. I couldn’t budge it and I wondered, how do they do it? Frank DeVito is small of stature, but strong as a locomotive pulling a freight train. When I take a look at his accomplishments over the past sixty-plus years, I am in absolute awe. He’s been lugging that case all over the planet. DeVito has worked with so many legendary music figures and jazz icons, that I’m both mesmerized and astounded. In fact, I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to work with Frank DeVito.

A few days after this gig, I took an opportunity to chat with Frank about his life and accomplishments. Here is an eye-opening interview that gives you a peek into the life and times of a legend.

FRANK DEVITO: “At first, I didn’t know that my family was into music at all. Starting out as a kid, hanging around Utica, New York, there was a group of young actors from New York City; a group of young neighborhood guys called ‘The Dead End Kids.’ I saw the movie called “Blues In the Night” and they had these kids in there, The Dead End Kids. I was fascinated by watching one of the guys banging on the drums and looking like he was having a good time. So, I thought, wow – that looks like fun. I started playing shortly after that and was in the band at school. Then, one day my father said, ‘Oh my brother used to play the drums. He was a big Vaudeville entertainer who spent a lot of time in Europe and touring all over the world under the name of DeVito and Denny.’ Who knew? My uncles name was Al DeVito. Then dad told me his mother, my paternal grandmother, had four brothers who were all musicians. This was the Zito side of the family. Torrie Zito has passed away now, but he was a very well-known writer/composer. He conducted and wrote for Tony Bennett for a while; Tony Bennett and Paul Anka. He went to New York in his early twenties and became very successful. His slightly younger brother, we grew up together. I ended up in New York a little before him. He came down to the city from Utica. Torrie’s brother is in New York now. He’s about ten years younger than I am and he plays in the show, “Chicago” on Broadway. Ronnie Zito. They’re going into their twentieth year. He’s the drummer. There were four Zito brothers and they were all musicians. One was Frankie Zito, a trombone player, who played with Stan Kenton and a bunch of people. He’s gone now.

“We grew up in a section of Utica, New York called “Little Harlem.” We were an Italian family and like many Italian families, we all lived together in one place. When my grandparents first came over to America, they spoke no English and all they knew how to do was work hard. They came over from the Southern part of Italy near Naples. My grandparents had a little apartment inside the house and my parents and I had another little apartment on the second floor and my uncle had the attic apartment. My uncle Tubby and his wife lived up top and he was a book maker and a Purple Heart recipient from World War II. I idolized my uncle Tubby. He was a sharp guy. He loved nightclubs and I loved hanging out with my uncle Tubby. He was a book-maker, a gambler, and he always had a new Cadillac that he rode me around in and a big wad of money in his pocket. He was a beautiful guy and he was a war hero. He always clowned around, but he was tough. The American Italians were highly decorated in World War II. Live bands would come perform in Utica at the Stanley Theater. Count Basie’s band would come in and we’d go sit there all evening and watch these bands.

“I was in New York, just a kid scufflin’ around. And there was a little band and the leader was Benny Ventura. He was Charlie Ventura’s brother. Charlie Ventura was very famous. Well, I joined that band and guess who our girl singer was? Morgana King. She was our singer and we’re the same age. I haven’t seen her in years. She played Mama in The Godfather movie. A nice Italian girl. So, here’s what happened. We’re booked in Baltimore, Maryland, I think for a week or two, and Billie Holiday is the star; (the headliner). She didn’t bring a drummer or a bass player. It was very intimidating. She didn’t really talk to us. She’d look around at us and she was great. She had this big dog with her. The dog’s name was ‘Mister’ and he was like a big police dog. And he would be in the dressing room in between shows and she always had some friends around. It was fun. I was only eighteen or nineteen years old and I learned how to be an accompanist and how to play for a singer starting with her. I learned how to get a little stronger and how to build the tension on the drums; how to play with brushes behind her and use legato strokes. She did all those tunes, “Strange Fruit” and she was singing good. She was drinking quite a bit, but it didn’t seem to affect her singing. That’s the only time I ever worked with her. So, Morgana had to just hang out. She couldn’t sing because of Billie being there. So, at any rate that was a great experience.
“I was with Buddy DeFranco’s first band. I worked with him from the age of eighteen off and on for years and years. You know who we worked with a lot? Nat King Cole. The first gig we had was at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. It was our band and the star was Nat Cole. And we were young guys; inexperienced. But I’ll never forget how he (Nat Cole) was so patient and such a beautiful guy. Before the show he says to me, ‘What’s your name again?’ and I say Frankie. He says, ‘Look Frankie, when Buzzy is introducing me I want you to look over at this side of the stage, look at me, and I’m going to be giving you the tempo. Just watch me.’ Because Buddy wasn’t always calling the tempos right. So, I end up watching Nat and then giving Buddy the cue. I still remember the song we opened with.”

He sings, “That’s my girl, take a look at her, she belongs to me.”

We both break into easy laughter. Frank has flashed back to that memory and that moment with happiness that radiates through the telephone. He has a pretty good voice too. I feel honored that he’s sharing the memory with me.

“Nat was beautiful,” he continues. “Years later, when I was working with Sinatra, I would do a lot of work with Nelson Riddle. Nelson would go out and conduct for Nat and he was writing a lot of stuff and conducting Nat’s records. I don’t recall recording with Nat, but I sure worked a lot of gigs with him. I’d go out with Nelson’s band too, you know. We’d go out to Phoenix or up to San Francisco on tour.

“There was a lot of work back then. One of the first jobs I had when I settled in L.A. in my twenties, I worked six nights a week with a very famous tenor (saxophone) player, Georgie Auld. Anybody in the music business would know who he was. He played with all the big bands like Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman; those kind of bands. We had a five-piece band. Do you remember the movie with Robert Deniero and Liza Minelli, New York New York? Well, in the movie, Deniero plays a tenor sax player. My friend, who I worked with, Georgie Auld, coached Deniero for that part. I was playing in a club in Hollywood and Georgie Auld comes in one night with Deniero. I was playing there with Terry Gibbs.

“I was on the road with Terry Gibbs for two-years. You’re from Detroit, right? Our piano player was Terry Pollard from Detroit. She was brilliant. We were together for two years. She was married to a bass player from Detroit, Ernie Farrow, I think his name was. We had a quartet with Herman Wright on bass and it was great fun. We played a club in Atlantic City. It was owned by a Black Couple and the clientele was 90% black and it was a swinging joint. We started at Midnight and we’d play until four or five in the morning. It was a regular club and It was legal back then and not after-hours. We worked there with Terry Gibbs, Terri Pollard, myself and Herman Wright. With Terry Gibbs Quartet, we worked a lot at Birdland. We worked there a lot opposite folks like Count Basie, Dizzy (Gillespie), Bird (Charlie Parker), and I got to know Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Max Roach, all these great drummers. So, I’m playing with Terry Gibbs and one-week, Roy Haynes is playing with the Birdland All-stars. That week it was Charlie Parker, Budd Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, the bass player was Tommy Potter or Curley Russell. Those were the two bass players that worked a lot with Monk, Bird and the rest. This particular time, Roy Haynes said, ‘Hey. I’m gonna be late tomorrow. I’ve got a record date. Can you play the first set with Bird?” I said, yeah. Ok. But Charlie Parker was the nicest man. Like Dizzy, he was beautiful. Those guys were class acts. When you see the movies about them, …well, I didn’t like their depiction of them. I worked on the movie about Bird, but I wasn’t happy with it. You know, Clint Eastwood, who’s a lover of jazz … produced it. But at any rate, Charlie Parker, even though he was into drugs and alcohol, he always appeared clean. When I say clean, I mean he never looked stoned. Never. Nobody could figure out where he got this vocabulary and there was this eloquence about him. He came from Kansas City and he wasn’t highly educated, but he had this wonderful vocabulary. … He and Dizzy were so nice to the young players back then. They would offer their suggestions and encouragement. … We worked opposite them in Chicago too and we were all staying at the same hotel. Charlie Persip was playing with Dizzy at the time. Charlie and I would hang out. We’d go out to the drum factory together. We all stayed at the Croydon Hotel on Rush Street in Chicago. The Eckstines, the Basie Band, everybody stayed there.

“We came out here (to Los Angeles) in the summer of 1954. We worked our way across the country, playing jazz clubs. In fact, we used to work in 1953 and 1954, fifty weeks a year.”

Dee Dee: How was it working with Mel Torme?

FRANK DEVITO: “Oh it was great working with him. A very nice guy; very talented. He wrote all his arrangements and he played drums really well. I worked with him in the 50’s at the Macombo on Sunset Strip and I worked with him in Vegas.”

Dee Dee: What musicians inspired you the most?

FRANK DEVITO: “I was inspired by Charlie Parker and Dizzy. Max Roach was an amazing drummer. Early on, growing up in my formative years, Gene Krupa was my idol. I got to know Gene. He was a great guy. He came from a Polish family in Chicago who were very religious. And Gene was studying, at the beginning, for the priesthood. He was a sweetheart. A very nice man and they made him look like a dope fiend in the press. His band boy was going back stage or something and he had a couple of joints in his pocket and they said, where you going with that? He was a kid, you know. The press blew it all out of proportion.
“For me, the world’s greatest drummer of all time, as far as every drummer that ever lived, was Buddy Rich. Max was great, but Max was a little reserved. He was a more conservative guy. Whereas Art Blakey was a down-home cat.

“Then there’s Roy Haynes. You know Roy Haynes is ninety years old and still playing. Roy is a little short guy, shorter than me, and the world’s greatest dresser. Back then the guys had suits and ties and everything. We’d be standing out in front of Birdland. All the musicians would come over to Roy and say, hey – what you got on today? Where’d you buy that? Roy would look at them and say, well – there’s a place uptown where I purchased this suit. Look at this, he’d say. You like this shirt? Look at the collar. Back then, you know, we used to wear the Mister B collars. That’s what we called them. That referred to Billy Eckstine. I don’t know if you know this, but he was a great guy. I worked with Eckstine for a week, downtown L.A. at the convention center. That was a lot of fun. He was the nicest man. Remember Billy Daniels? I worked with him for a month or six weeks at the Stardust in Las Vegas.”

Dee Dee: I know Earl Palmer was a friend of yours.

FRANK DEVITO: “Earl Palmer! He got me started in the recording business. He and his wife had a beautiful home in Studio City. My wife and I had a house in studio city too and they would invite us over all the time. Red Callendar and his wife would be there. You remember the great bassist, Red Callendar? Red goes way back to the thirties. He pre-dated Earl. I was playing down on LaBrea for a while. There was a little theater where they did jazz. I was playing there one week with Buddy DeFranco and Earl came in. He was in the audience. I had never met him, but I had heard about him, of course! And he came around back stage later. Right away, we became friends. A very nice guy. No ego, you know, even though he was one of the top guys. Sometimes I’d be in a record date next to his” (in the studio next door), “and somebody would say Earl’s next door recording with so-and-so. And during our break, he would take me by the arm, up to the bandleader or the contractor, and introduce me. He’d say this is my friend Frankie Devito. You should use him in case I’m busy.
“Irv Cottler was a great drummer and he also recommended me for a lot of dates. The drummer who did most of the work for Capital Records was Alvin Stoller. Those guys were very, very busy in the studio. They didn’t travel. But I was young. So, if I go a call to go out with Frank Sinatra, I was gonna go. I had a ball. I toured with Frank Sinatra for three years. Then, when I was home, I got referrals and got to record in the studios. With Frank, we were at the Sands and a lot of weekends we were on the road. Guitar player, Nick Bonny was from Buffalo and worked with Frank about a year before me. He wasn’t on the record dates and I wasn’t on Frank’s record dates either. So, this one day, I go up to Frank. I said Frank, Nick and I would love to be on the next recording date. Next thing I know, we got the call. I got to play on the session when we recorded, Witchcraft and others on Capital Records. I was also recorded on the Live Album, Sinatra ’57. It wasn’t released on CD until 1999. Later, in the 1960’s, I played on “Summer Winds” which was part of the Strangers in the Night album. It was Hal Blaine’s record date, but he contracted me to play on a few tunes also. It was on the Reprise label.”

Dee Dee: What about Phil Spector?

FRANK DEVITO: “Yeah. I got to play with Phil Spector. Sometimes he had three or four drummers all banging away at the same time. Most of the time it would be Hal Blane, Earl Palmer and then the other guys played. Sometimes, I’d play percussion. On a record date with that crazy guy, Phil Spector, He had me playing castanets on his recording and he kept yelling at me, louder, louder. Consequently, the instrument broke, because it wasn’t made very well. So, the next day, I knew we were scheduled to do the same thing. I took the castanet home and tried to repair it and make it better. It worked so great after my improvement that I brought it down a week or so later to the drum shop on Vine Street. I showed it to the owner. He said oh, that’s great man. You should make a bunch of those and sell them. Years later, when I wasn’t that busy in the studios, I started to get busy into some of that creativity. It was nothing gigantic, but it was nice. I had a small company that made those, but I never let anything get in the way of my playing. It always came first.”

It’s obvious that Frank DeVito’s passion for his instrument came first. If you’ve heard Frank Sinatra crooning “The Summer Wind” or the Mills Brothers singing their 1952 hit record, “Glow Little Glow Worm” then you’ve heard the skillful accompaniment of Frank DeVito on drums. A percussive jazz icon, DeVito’s diversified talents also held the beat down for the Beach Boys on their “Surfin’ USA” record. He toured three-years with Sinatra and is on the 1999 CD release of the historic, “Sinatra ’57 In Concert.” As part of, ‘Baja Marimba Band’ he made ten television appearances on Johnny Carson’s legendary “Tonight Show” and he played with Herb Alpert’s famed, Tijuana Brass, on their, “Whipped Cream” album. Also, that’s him playing behind Cher on her hit record, ‘Bang Bang.’ He’s worked with everyone from jazz vocalist Billie Holiday to actress Betty Hutton; from Charlie Parker to Buddy DeFranco; from Nat King Cole and Nelson Riddle to Elvis Presley. I couldn’t wait to ask this legend what he thought about the jazz scene in Los Angeles today?

FRANK DEVITO: “Well, we’ve got all of these great young players, so many, but there’s not that much work. No place to play. We used to have all these places like Zardis and The Peacock and a whole lot of other clubs. At least you could get booked for a week or two. Jazz City was another club back then. There really weren’t that many players, but there was a lot of work. It’s opposite today. There are plenty of players and singers, but not enough clubs. And with the advent of simplistic music, popular on radio, like rock and roll and rap, that really helped to kill jazz.

“When I was coming up, teenagers did not control the business. My friend, Remo Bailey, who invented the plastic drum head; he’s gone now, but he said something very wise one time. He was talking about what happened to jazz and so forth. He said jazz had a certain amount of fans for many years and they were very devoted fans. But it wasn’t popular with the majority of American people. It’s an art form. When something came along with the rhythm section and the drums simplifying everything. He said, something came along that anybody could do. The Rock and Roll thing. It was simplistic rock. Boom-bap – Boom-Bap. It was simple. You didn’t have to be a great player to do that. It’s sad because it’s the only pure American art form we have. Also, what I am really unhappy about is that for so many years, our government never gave it its due. Let’s talk about the music called jazz and talk about the early jazz guys; Kenton, Dizzy, Bird, Ellington and all those creative people who came along. Our government ought to keep jazz on the airwaves and jazz ought to be played in the clubs. Let’s keep jazz alive.

See more at http://www.FrankDeVitodrummer.com

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BILLY JONES – 3’S A CROWD
Acoustical Concepts
Billy Jones, drums; EAST COAST MUSICIANS: George Young, alto saxophone; John Vanore, trumpet; George Genna & Mick Rossi, piano; Tony Micelli, vibraphone; Tyrone Brown, bass; WEST COAST MUSICIANS: Scotty Wright, vocal; Kenny Stahl, flute; Stu Reynolds, bass clarinet; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.
Billy Jones had a concept. He wanted to record a complete CD by using the interaction of two instruments; his drums and one other. Thus, the title, “3’s A Crowd”. The ten songs on this CD all feature Jones and various musicians playing as a duo and feeding off of each other in the improvisational way that jazz music demands.
Billy Jones explained it this way: “The challenge now is to raise the drums from its traditional role of accompaniment, to that of partner to that other voice.”
Opening with George Young on alto saxophone, they have composed the title tune. This is an unusual concept album, deserving of a listen simply because of its unique nature. The first thing I noticed was that whoever mixed this project forgot to turn the drums up. After all, it is the Billy Jones project. There are only two instruments on every track, so why is it difficult to properly showcase the main artist? George Young’s saxophone and Billy Jones’ drum set are playful and engaging. They tease and mimic each other in the most musically prolific way. I enjoyed “Song for Meg” with Tony Micelli on vibraphone. Jones was very creative, although his percussive chops were totally outweighed in volume by the ‘vibes.’ Shame on the mixologist.

John Vanore’s beautiful trumpet on “The Call” encourages Jones to explore rhythm and he lays down an African 6/8 groove beneath the rich trumpet solo. Pianist, Mark Rossi, brings a more Avant Garde spark to light Billy Jones’ fire. This freedom continues when tenor saxophonist, Gary Meeks and Jones celebrate John Coltrane and Elvin Jones on a song titled, “For John and Elvin.” I was particularly taken with Stu Reynolds very creative bass clarinet duo with Jones. Vocalist, Scotty Wright, offers a “Chant of the Soul” that scats with the drums, a’capella and without words. As a vocalist myself, I know that was hard work. One of the few jazz voices I’ve heard who can do that successfully is Bobby McFerrin. Wright is up for the challenge and performs well in this unique situation.
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IGNACIO BERROA TRIO – “STRAIGHT AHEAD FROM HAVANA”
Independent Label
Ignacio Berroa, drums; Martin Bejerano, piano; Josh Allen & Lowell Ringel, upright bass; SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrado “Coky” Garcia, percussion; Ruben Blades, lead vocal.

Playing Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Evans drum heads and Vic Firthsticks, Berroa surrounds himself with outstanding equipment and musicians. Pianist, Martin Bejerano, has a terrific style and technique. He exhibits this on the very first song, “Alma Con Alma”. His arrangement flies speedily into a double-time, straight ahead excitement and this song introduces us to some of his talented group of musicians. Josh Allen takes an impressive bass solo on his double bass that sounds amazingly electric. Berroa’s drum solos, during a spirited cycle of trading fours, are impressive and energetic.
Berroa has chosen a repertoire from tunes that resonate with him from his Cuban youth in Havana. For years, the drummer dreamed about taking seasoned Cuban songs that he heard in his youth and reinventing them into straight ahead jazz arrangements. This project seems to have propitious consequences.
Drummer, Ignacio Berroa started exploring his arrangement dreams during his tenure with Dizzy Gillespie that began in 1981, when Berroa arrived in New York and joined the Gillespie quartet. It took decades of planning and growth to finally approach the moment of conception. Berroa maintains the integrity of each composition, reflecting his cultural roots, while using his sticks and brushes to paint every arrangement with straight ahead jazz and a colorful standard of excellence. This is an album of wonderful music and expressive musicians. Together, they cover the spectrum of Latin culture and reinvents it with serious jazz flavors, infused greatly by the stellar arrangements of pianist, Martin Bejerano.
Special guest, Ruben Blades, offers smooth vocals that glide atop Allen’s rich bass notes and enhance the “Negro de Socredad” tune, along with Afro-Cuban chants as background. Guest bassist, Lowell Ringel, offers an appealing solo on cut #6, “De Ja Que Siga Solo,” by Maria Valdes. Other favorites on this outstanding production are: “Los Tres Galpes” with the expert percussive addition of Conrad “Coky” Garcia and Berroa sounds amazing when he cuts loose on seven minutes of “Si Me Puderas Querer.”
This music is scheduled for an August 5th release.

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JULIAN GERSTIN SEXTET – “THE ONE WHO MAKES YOU HAPPY”
Independent Label

Julian Gerstin, tanbou bélé/congas/tupan/ percussion/segunda/percussion; Eugene Uman, piano/Nord keyboard; Wes Brown, bass; Ben James, drums; Ricky Aguilar, paila/shekere; Jesus Gonzalez, tumba/quinto/chorus; Philip Pasmanick, chorus; Anna Patton, clarinet; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn.

The notable thing that makes this music swing are the percussive accents. Mixed out-front & prominent, they drive this production relentlessly. No wonder. The star of this show is Julian Gerstin. It’s his sextet and he’s written every song and he’s the dynamic percussionist who adds the tanbou Bélé, congas, tupan and other percussive instruments to this self-produced mix. Instead of being just the salt and pepper on this hot dish of music, he and a few other percussion players become the thick gravy that soaks it with delicious spices and flavor. His trio is stalwart and I found Eugene Uman to be exploratory and interesting on his piano and keyboard solos. Anna Patton on clarinet seems to bring a Middle Eastern influence when I hear her solo work. She and Don Anderson blend their horns well, and Anderson’s trumpet skills are commendable. On the whole, this CD feels more easy-listening, World Music than jazz. The disconnect could be in the lack of strong composition skills. However, the participating musicians bring technical dexterity and energy to Gerstin’s recording session and on tunes like “Child Left Behind” they give it their all and cross the threshold of an interesting blend of jazz and Latin improvisation. Other favorite songs are “Apprendiendo Como Amar” with vocal chants that clearly define a melody. This was co-written by Phillip Pasmanick, who adds his voice to the track over a rich percussive background; and I enjoyed their interpretation of Gerstin’s “ Dig It Deeper”.

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CELEBRATING JOHN COLTRANE AND OTHER JAZZ INNOVATORS

July 18, 2017

CELEBRATING JOHN COLTRANE (SEPT 23, 1926 – JULY 17, 1967)
& OTHER JAZZ INNOVATORS
July 17, 2017
By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

On this day, July 17th, fifty-years after the death of our beloved jazz legend, John Coltrane, I wanted to review music that shines in the category of great jazz and music that applauds innovative artists. I was pleased to review DAVE LIEBMAN and JOE LOVANO’s new Resonance Records album, “Compassion – The Music of John Coltrane.” ARUAN ORTIZ brings Avant Garde arrangements to the table. The MICA BETHEA BIG BAND absolutely astonished me with arrangements that span the gamut of funk, fusion and Straight-ahead jazz and finally, DAVE STRYKER releases his 28th CD as a leader and celebrates jazz standards composed by Strayhorn, Wayne Shorter and more, arranging them in his own unique way.

DAVE LIEBMAN/JOE LOVANO – “COMPASSION: THE MUSIC OF JOHN COLTRANE”
Resonance Records

Dave Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones/C flute; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/autochrome/alto clarinet/Scottish flute; Phil Markowitz, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Billy Hart, drums.

On July 17, 1967, the great John Coltrane passed away. It is appropriate to remember and celebrate his amazing talent this month, as well as his contributions made to jazz music and peace on earth. The thing that wrapped so many up in the music of ‘Trane’ was his ability to connect with us spiritually. He could transport us to a higher place mentally, spiritually and emotionally with his music. His style is still mimicked and contemplated today. Consequently, I was eager to hear what Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano had brought to their current CD release titled, “Compassion – The Music of John Coltrane.”

They open with “Locomotion,” from the ‘Blue Train’ Blue Note album that I used to own. Boy, did I love that album. “Locomotion” is propelled by an all-star rhythm section. Billy Hart’s drums are like a mix-master in cake batter, whirling the sweetness around at a relentless pace. Markowitz on piano leaps to the forefront, making extraordinary statements on piano and McClure on bass never waivers. His strong, solid foundation holds the rhythm together impeccably. Liebman and Lovano blend horns, similar to the Coltrane arrangement, then each one ventures out on independent paths of improvisation. I enjoy their tribute to Coltrane, but I have to say I truly miss the Lee Morgan solo sound on trumpet and Curtis Fuller’s stellar contribution on trombone from the original recording. Never mind! These two iconic players bring their own spicy reeds to the mix.

This album was recorded back on June 22, 2007 at the Clinton Recording Studios in New York City. The recording was made for a BBC Radio Program called “Jazz on 3.” It was a Somethin’ Else Production and recorded a decade ago to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Coltrane’s transition. Half a century later, his music is still alive, well and relevant.

Grammy award winning, Joe Lovano, expounded on the Saxophone Summit that first started in 1999 as a collaboration between him, Dave Liebman and Michael Brecker. They played in New York at Birdland, developing their repertoire as a group, with overtones and influence from the later period of John Coltrane’s recordings and freedom of expression. Perhaps he explained his fascination with the Coltrane era best when he said in the liner notes, “…the ensembles that he had and the way they played together … It wasn’t just what they were playing, it was how they were playing, and we tried to capture that. … “Locomotion” was one of his famous tunes … it’s blues with a bridge. It has intervals in it that are in a lot of his compositions. There’s a lot of spiritual things that happen that are very mysterious in Coltrane’s music.”

Billy Hart kept it simple when he proudly shared with interviewer Zev Feldman, “ John Coltrane is still my major reason for playing this music. He’s my major inspiration. We’re all just unbelievable Coltrane fans.”

Hart continued, “I was out in Los Angeles with Jimmy Smith, but I had the day off and I went to hear Coltrane’s band with Rashied Ali. The music was even a little advanced for me and when Coltrane got off at the end of the set. To my amazement, he walked over to my table. I was so excited. I can’t tell you. It was like my hero came and sat down. I never expected to have a conversation, but I said, John, your music is so advanced. What are you gonna do … about how people feel about your music? He said, you know, Billy, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I know I can’t stop. And that was like a rally to me. … I began to tear. I felt like I was going to follow this guy to the ends of the earth. So, I said, John, you’re really beautiful. And he said, I’m just trying to clean up. You can imagine if you didn’t take a bath for twenty years how dirty you would be. I’m just trying to clean up.

“I just wanted to follow this man, and a lot of my training and self-study was to eventually play with him or somebody like him.”

You will find this CD a fine tribute piece to our great legend, John Coltrane. I enjoyed Ron McClure’s bass solo on the end of Olé. When he spoke about his love of John Coltrane, he remembered that ‘Blue Train’ album release in 1957. The one that greatly affected me. He was just sixteen years old and McClure says it changed his life. He said that album and Coltrane’s work with Miles Davis, from “Workin” to the “Kind of Blue” recording (another favorite of mine and millions of others), hooked him and helped to form a kind of concept of jazz for the young bassist.

Phil Markowitz expressed his opinion of Coltrane by noting that like the legendary saxophone artist, he too was in search of beauty and expression in the music along with the constant exploration of the unknown.
You can read various comments and quotes from this album’s participants in the small, CD-size, twenty-four page booklet included with this release and enjoy the photographs too. Perhaps Dave Liebman summed it up best when he said:
“To musicians of our generation, Coltrane raised the bar in so many ways. As a bandleader and improviser; technically, as a tenor saxophonist and in bringing the soprano sax back into vogue. … And, as so clearly evidence on this recording, as a composer who created improvisational formats that were constantly evolving and challenging.”

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ARUAN ORTIZ – “CUB(AN)ISM”
Intakt Records

Aruan Ortiz, solo piano/composer.

Free form; Avant Garde; these are the terms that come to mind as I listen to Aruan Ortiz performing solo on this, his second CD release.
From the very first tune, the left hand of Aruan Ortiz is playing as if it’s separate from his body; as if another pianist is seated at a different piano next to his. He keeps perfect time with that left hand, pumping out phrases, chords and rhythm, while the right-hand races over the keys, playing inspirational melody and unexpected chordal harmonies. You won’t find much to sing along with on this recording. Ortiz is exploring his inner feelings, using music as the translator. His CD is arcane and fat with phantasmagoria. Solo piano is demanding. His technique is obvious, but this is a piece of art that presents visceral compositions. The Ortiz eidetic music sounds like a film score.

On the fifth cut, “Monochrome (Yuba),” his technique is interesting as he strums the piano strings like a guitar. Although his first love was playing the violin, and later the viola, after winning several prizes for his orchestral viola concertos as a teen, he was drawn to the piano in 1992. At the age of nineteen, he buried himself in developing a piano style that blended his Cuban roots with his world travels. In Cuba, piano lessons were an obligatory part of music education, so he was already familiar with the instrument from childhood. In Barcelona, Spain, Ortiz garnered his formal jazz degree. His first released production was in 1996, recorded in Madrid and titled, “Impresion Tropical”.
According to the liner notes, “Cub(an)ism” is the result of an in-depth conversation with a range of musical idioms and styles, and various experiences from the phases of Ortiz’s life, in Cuba, Spain, France and the USA, which have formed his eclectic concept of music.”

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THE MICA BETHEA BIG BAND – “STAGE ‘N STUDIO”
Independent label

Studio Personnel: Aaron Lehrian, Piano/string synthesizer; Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; Ryan Slatko, vides/percussion/piano; James Hogan, guitar; Stan “Piper” & Dennis Marks, bass; Terry “Doc” Handy, percussion; John Lumpkin, Jr., drums; Mike Emmert, bari sax/bass clarinet; Eric Riehm, tenor sax/clarinet; Jose Rojas, Tenor Sax/flute/clarinet; Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Todd DelGiudice, alto & soprano saxophones/flute/clarinet; Gina “Badeedu” Benalcazar, bass trombone; Trombone section: Ryan Bricknell, Corey Wilcox, Lance Reed & Michael Nunez. Trumpet section: Greg Balut, Ray Callender, Jay Forman, Dave Champagne, Jonathan Ward & Robert Vandivier. Linda Cole, vocals.

Stage Personnel: Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; Dennis Marks, bass; John Lumpkin Jr., drums; Terry ‘Doc’ Handy, percussion; Jonah Pierre, vibes/percussion; Steve Gallatin, guitar; Mike Emmert, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Jose Rojas, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Todd DelGiudice, alto & soprano saxohones/flute/clarinet; Gina ‘Badeeduh’ Benalcazar, bass trombone; Trombone section: Ryan Bricknell, Wyatt Thomas, Lance Reed. Trumpet Section: Greg Balut, Dave Champagne, Scott Dickinson, Jonathan Ward, Ray Callender. Linda Cole, vocals.

The first disc I listen to is the studio recorded big band. It opens with Herbie Hancock’s, “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” The funk leaps off the first tune like sweat from an active boxer. That bass guitar intro jabs you right in the face. Then the drums punch the rhythm forward and the horns fight back, in unison and harmonically, never giving an inch to the powerful players swinging on bass, piano, guitar and drums. Oh, that drummer who enlists the two and four beats like a Joe Louis knock-out combination, has my undivided attention.

The idea of merging contemporary funk-fusion jazz with big band arrangements was questionable in my mind at first, until I heard this marvelous recording. It’s well-executed, with phenomenal arrangements and distinguished players. That baritone saxophone solo by Mike Emmert is breathtakingly beautiful on Herbie’s tune. I was hooked right from the opening cut.

“Birth Rite” quickly becomes another favorite of mine. It’s a Mica Bethea composition and features Joshua Bowlus on piano, opening this arrangement like a Thelonious Monk composition. It quickly drifts into an ethereal space, becoming other-worldly with distinctive horn harmonies and descants. That lovely piano solo by Bowlus and the luscious arrangements on this tune unexpectedly pulled tears to my eyes. It’s a very moving composition.

“Tenderly” is beautifully arranged to showcase a swelling and rhythm that fuses it with Latin grooves, but still keeps the satin-smooth continuity of orchestration that makes big bands so exciting. Bethea’s arrangements are fresh, unpredictable and incorporate a taste of the old-school bands of the 1940’s with a fresh facelift, mixed with fusion funk that propels his music into the twenty-first century.

I’m impressed with Bethea as a composer as well as his arranging skills. He offers us comparison between a “Live” performance and a studio recording of his big band, including some of the same songs so we can balance our opinions of the band’s performance, using our own personal music scales. This is a double set recording with two unique discs. Everything about this music is enthralling and technically brilliant. There is such strength and power in this man’s arrangements. Then I read the bio on him that’s included in the Cd package and I see where his forcefulness and aggressive arrangements come from.
In 2005, Mica Bethea was driving back to his North Florida University in Jacksonville, when a big rig going 85 miles an hour plowed into his car. He was standing still, completely stopped in traffic. The result of this accident is that this amazing arranger/composer is now a quadriplegic. I only mention this because I believe it shows the character and resilience of this creative artist. This young music student had the courage and determination to return to school, three years later, and complete his Bachelor’s Degree and attain his Master’s Degree in Jazz. Both his parents were musicians. His father played trumpet and piano and his mother sang. His dad was also a radio disc jockey in the 70’s and Mica Bethea learned to love jazz at an early age. Proficient in both piano and saxophone, after the accident Bethea could no longer play, so he focused his talents on arranging and composition. He cites Gil Evans, Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer as big influences in his big band arrangements. He explained his project this way:

“This was a very interesting experiment. On the studio CD, I could control the environment and get exactly the sounds I wanted. There’s a very pleasing, almost pristine quality to it. But on the live performance, you can hear that the musicians are more relaxed and stretch out more. The sound isn’t as clean, but that’s more than made up for by the vitality of the performance.”

This writer can honestly assert there is not one bad cut on these dual discs. I spent all week listening to them with excitement and infused pleasure. Not to mention, these are crème-de-la-crème musicians who interpret the compositions and arrangements of Mica Bethea with memorable gusto. For example, on the ‘Live’ recording, the cut titled “Self Defense” spotlights John Lumpkin Jr.’s amazing drum skills and also features reedman, Todd DelGiudice. I love the guitar wah-wah pedaled sound in the background. There’s just so much to hear in this CD, like exploring a treasure chest. You just keep finding unexpected and precious gifts.
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DAVE STRYKER – “STRYKIN’ AHEAD”
StrikeZone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums.

Stryker turns out albums like Ford Motor Company rolls cars off the assembly line. This is his twenty-eighth CD as a leader and once again, he features some of his favorite players. I always enjoy guitar and organ trios. For a second time, Stryker has added Steve Nelson’s excellent vibraphone talents, expanding his group to a quartet. Their last recording together in 2016 was called Eight Track II and previewed a jazz approach to pop and R&B standard tunes from the days of Eight Track tape recorders. This time, Stryker leaves no doubt that he is all about jazz. The tunes he’s picked make that perfectly clear; Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”, Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower,” and Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring”. You will find this recording a laid-back, re-harmonization of these standards as only Stryker can do. He enjoys giving familiar compositions a make-over. For example, on the second cut, “Footprints,” he switches the time to 5/4 and opens with a 5/4 melodic groove to introduce this familiar standard. At first, it’s unrecognizable, but then the melody kicks in and you get a smooth jazz kind of arrangement. “New You” uses the chord changes of “There Will Never Be Another You” with a distinctly different melody. It’s a nice ‘Swing’ piece, played at a moderate pace, that Stryker has composed. I enjoy Jared Golds bass line underneath Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” and the Latin groove McClenty Hunter lays down on the drums. Very nice indeed. As always, Dave Stryker shines with star qualities on guitar. At the same time, he is generous with his other magicians, giving them plenty of room to spread their improvised solos around, sweet as jelly on toast. Stryker is a fine composer. Both “Shadowboxing” and “Strykin’ Ahead” are energetic tunes that leave plenty of room for exploration and improvisation, while showcasing Dave Stryker’s competence and aesthetics on his guitar. “Blues Down Deep” delivers on its promise.

All in all, here is an album, produced by Stryker, that genuinely supports the title of this project, “Strykin’ Ahead” and holds true to its presumption of straight-ahead jazz, creatively arranged standards, and well composed original music.
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WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC

July 6, 2017

July 6, 2017

WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC
CD Reviews by Jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

HYESEON HONG JAZZ ORCHESTRA – EE – YA – GI with Rich Perry & Ingrid Jensen
Mama Records

Hyeseon Hong, composer/arranger/director; Matt Panayides, guitar; Broc Hempel, piano; John Lenis, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Ben Kono, alto/soprano saxophones; flute; Matt Vashlishan, alto saxophone/EWI/flute; Rich Perry, tenor sax; Jeremy Powell, tenor sax/clarinet; Andrew Hadro, bari/bass clarinet; Augie Haas, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Wiseman, Colin Brigstocke, Trumpets; Ron Wilkens, Daniel Linden, Ric Becker, Becca Patterson, trombones; EJ Park & Subin Park, vocalists.
Hyeseon Hong (pronounced hay-son-hong) migrated to New York City from Seoul, Korea pursuing an extended education in music education. From the ages of twelve to eighteen, she studied art in Korea, but that was her second passion. The first was music. As a child, her family realized she had perfect pitch and she studied and played piano in church and gave piano lessons to others when she was only nine years old. Her interest in music evolved to composition, arranging and a powerful urge to form and direct an orchestra. She could hear all the arrangements in her head.

Coming to America to further her music education, at New York University, she honed her composition skills and began arranging for her 10-piece band and gigging around the city. For a while, she returned to her native Korea and taught college classes. But she was bitten by the East Coast music bug. The energy and cultural diversity of NYC were infectious. Ms. Hong returned and over the past fifteen years, she has been a band leader/composer and arranger. This year, 2017, she was awarded a grant for this recording from the prestigious Aaron Copland Fund for Music. The results equal this work titled, “Ee-Ya-Gi.”

I was struck by cut #3 on this 18-piece, orchestrated CD titled, “Para Mi Amigo Distante.” It begins with Ben Kono’s reed talents singing the melody sweetly on soprano saxophone. Then, the Bossa beat kicks in, thanks to Matt Panayides’ rhythm guitar licks and the orchestra supports the haunting melody that Ms. Hyeseon Hong wrote with ebullience. She says it is meant to celebrate Latin America and others who feel misplaced in another country. This composition recalls traveling to foreign shores, making new friends, then leaving and how those friendships come and go; how they inspire us and make memories that are ever-lasting. I also enjoyed the jazzy “Friends or Lovers” arrangement, which leant itself to Swing and Matt Panayides, once again, showed great competence on his guitar.

Cut #4 follows. It’s culturally rich with Subin Park as guest vocalist, opening the piece singing in Korean. “Boat Song” also features the tenor saxophone of Rich Perry. He brings jazz to the forefront in a lovely, unforgettable way with the orchestra oily-smooth in the background, laying down a royal foundation for his exquisite horn solo. Then Park’s voice re-enters, like raindrops on the rooftop, tinkling a different sound against the orchestration and sometimes singing in unison with the orchestrated melody.

I met Ingrid Jenson in Detroit, while reviewing her with her own ensemble. She was part of the Motor City’s historic Free Annual Jazz Festival and boy, could she swing! I was absolutely blown away by this lady’s tenacity on trumpet. She mesmerized the audience. So, of course I was eager to hear her with this orchestra, in a totally different setting. On the last cut, “Love Song: Story of the First Love,” she plays a pretty, legato solo, but I felt that the piece did not allow Jensen to stretch out into a place of freedom and improvisation, the way I witnessed her with her own group. I found the orchestration somewhat confining and very classical in format. Ingrid Jensen was also featured on “Trash Digging Queen: Story of Nica, the Dog,” which I found to be a fascinating title. On this composition by Ms. Hong, Jensen was given a lot more leeway to pursue self-expression on her instrument. I thought Andrew Hadro’s baritone saxophone added great depth and interest to this piece, while Rich Perry’s tenor brought jazz riffs and spontaneity to the tune. But the composition itself, is a strange combination of marching band influence mixed with orchestral whole tones and repetitive harmonics that just don’t necessarily bring jazz to my consciousness. On Cut #1, that opens this project, is titled “Harvest Dance,” and seems to signal a World Music vernacular, with hints of Asian influence. It also features the trumpet improv of Ms. Jensen. Perhaps this song demonstrates the point of this CD project. It weaves various cultures and styles together into a cohesive world musical exploration. The artist previews her composition skills, as well as her arrangements of self-expression and beauty during this Hyeseon Hong production.

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PEGGY DUQUESNEL – “LOVELY SKIES” – Piano Orchestrations
Joyspring Productions

Peggy Duquesnel, piano/keyboard/organ/composer/producer; Steve Hall & Steve Donovan, piano; Jeff Lorber, Andre Mayeux, & Edo Guidotti, keyboards/organ; David Patt, Michael Higgins, Michael Thompson & Grant Geissman, guitar; Jimmy Haslip, Ernie Nunez, Gordon Rustvold & Dave Stone, bass; Jimmy Branley, Gary Novak, Dave Owens, Tony Moore, Suzanne Morrisette & Sinclair Lott, drums/percussion; Dee Dee McNeil, background vocals.

Starting with “Rainy Days and Mondays” pianist Peggy Duquesnel sets the smooth jazz groove for an exceptional album of easy listening, contemporary music. This CD contains sixteen songs that are well- produced. Some are familiar and even Ms. Duquesnel’s original compositions sound like songs we’ve heard before and are pleasant to the ear, like “Bird on a Leash.”

Her piano talents are like delicate touches on a table full of delicious songs. It’s her simplistic way of delivering a melody that makes listening to this production so compelling. You find yourself humming along with her songs after just one listen. The rhythm sections are strong and super supportive, with appearances by bass man and former member of the famed Yellow Jackets, Jimmy Haslett, and keyboard master, Jeff Lorber. Also, long time bandmate of Duquesnel is bassist, Ernie Nunez, who plays with gusto on several of her original song productions. You will hear some of the top horn players in the Orange County/Los Angeles area including Greg Vail on saxophone and flute, as well as Tony Guerrero and Ric Braun on trumpets and flugel horns.

“When I Think of You” is a catchy original written by Lorber and Duquesnel, featuring Duqeusnel injection of that funky, blues feeling on her piano. She has a happiness that radiates off the keys. To add to the magic, Lorber is a master of grooves and delivers his special talents on keyboards. I also enjoy Guerrero’s muted trumpet solo. All in all, Peggy Duquesnel shares her composer/arranger/piano and production talents with us, featuring the double fisted talents of several musical friends.
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MICHELLE BRADLEY – “BODY AND SOUL”
Merry Lane Records

Michelle Bradley, vocals; Art Fristoe, piano; Tim Ruiz, bass; Jerre Jackson & Richard Cholakian, drums; Andre Hayward, trombone; Shelley Carrol, flue/saxophone; Brennen Nase & Greg Petito, guitars.

Michelle Bradley has a soprano voice with a great deal of judder to her tone; an appealing tremor similar to Beyoncé, but in an operatic way. I enjoyed the arrangement of “Body and Soul” as a Bossa/Swing combination and featuring an impressive guitar solo by Brennan Nase. Bradley’s band is supportive and her melodic ideas are stylized and obvious in “Misty”, where the melodic liberties she takes are lovely and sometimes unexpected. I felt she was reaching for an identity during the execution of this song and I look forward to hearing more from this artist in the future. The first thing that caught my ear was that Ms. Bradley employs a very opera-like vocal quality to her interpretation of jazz standards.

Sadly, so many people think singing jazz is easy, but it takes a certain ability, just as it takes serious practice and technical skill to sing Opera. When Ms. Bradley tackles “How High the Moon,” Her rendition, falls short of the copy she implemented by mimicking Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “How High The Moon.” With her pitch and range, Ella Fitzgerald could have easily sung operatically, but her gift was that she could ‘Swing.’ Ella was a true jazz singer and you have to be able to ‘Swing’ to copy Ella. When Ms. Bradley repeats Ella’s ‘live’ performance of this song, she sings Ella’s improvised words “… We’re swinging it just for you …”. Unfortunately, Michelle Bradley does not ‘Swing’ and has not yet mastered the ability to ‘Swing’ the music. In her liner notes, I read that she is currently seeking jazz vocal coaching and that’s a good step forward.

In the same breath, Michelle Bradley has a beautiful voice and has made an impact as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. Ms. Bradley also spent time as a featured singer at the legendary Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Bob Dorough was scoring a film and found a certain intoxication with Bradley rich, operatic tones. He and pianist, Art Fristoe, hired her to sing a tune he wrote with Fran Landesman titled, “A Few Days of Glory.” Bradley’s voice on this gospel tune, as part of the soundtrack, was released on Eulalia label and becomes one of her first recordings. She can only grow from this point forward.
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KELLYE GRAY – “RENDERING” ( A double disc release)
Independent Label

RENDERING: Kellye Gray, vocals; Pamela York, piano; David Craig, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone; Andre Hayward, trombone.
STANDARDS IN GRAY Disc: Kellye Gray, voice; Dave Catney, piano; Tom Anastacio, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone.

On “Don’t Explain,” the opening song on one of Kellye Gray’s dual disc set, the artist offers a compelling performance. Ms. Gray sings like she means it. She’s expressive and vocally demonstrative, using all of her range and power. This vocalist has a way of changing the melody of songs to suit her vocal arrangement. Most horn players and vocalists learn to sing the song down once as written by the composer, then improvise on the theme and chord changes. Still, the changes and melody adjustments sung by Kellye Gray are creative and not unlikeable. Jazz certainly gives you the freedom to find your own voice. That’s the whole point of singing jazz.

You can tell, this is a woman whose known pain, up-close and personal. It infects her vocals and colors her songs. One of the discs features a younger Kellye Gray, with dark, short cropped hair and innocent eyes. Her accompanying group on this CD labeled, “Standards in Gray” is stellar. Her interpretation of “The Island” is lovely. Although living for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area, this entire project was recorded ‘live’ over three days, at the Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas; her hometown. It was recorded on two-track analog tape, what we call old-school recording and before Sibelius and ProTools were available. I am attracted to the rich, warm sound the engineer manages to capture on tape and it transfers beautifully to disc. There’s no overdubbing here. So, congratulations are in order to Kellye Gray and her band for their musical competence in recording ‘live’.

On “All Blues” her vocals sound like a trombone, instead of a human voice. Dave Catney soars on piano. For my taste, this is clearly the better jazz ensemble with Anastacio on bass and Catney on keys. They seem more cohesive. You can hear Kellye Gray’s style developing on this project, recorded over two decades ago. At times, I hear shades of the great Morgana King in her alto tones.
Kellye Gray paints “Morning” by the late, great Clare Fischer, with a familiar face, but adds her own stylistic coloring to this musical portrait. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is one of those songs sung often. Gray knows how to sell a ballad and puts her spin on the song. One minute, with sweet whispery tones and the next, with vocal crescendos that sometimes soar over-the-top. She’s appropriately or inappropriately dramatic, depending on how you look at it. This is a seasoned vocalist who offers you her fledgling talents on one disc and her current, more mature style on another. Her repertoire is rich with emotion and her vocals definitely pack a punch.
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KATHY SANBORN – “RECOLLECTING YOU”
Pacific Coast Jazz

Kathy Sanborn, vocals/composer; Keerthy Narayanan, keyboards/bass; Aman Almeida, piano; Abhinav Khanna, drums; Wayne Ricci, trumpet; Rocio Marron, violin; Vito Gregoli & Ciro Hurtado, guitars.

Here is a smoky voice, with Peggy Lee character and contemporary jazz arrangements She has composed all the tunes on this, her eighth CD release. In partnership with Narayanan, her producer, keyboard man and bass player, they have a finished product that’s polished and smooth-jazz-friendly.

Sanborn has a comfortable style to her voice, cozy, soft and sexy like a favorite cashmere sweater. You slip into her music and curl up on the couch. This is romantic music, not only the artist’s voice, but her accompanying ensemble make her compositions come alive. Her music breathes, whispers and flows. Her poems have been put to music. They don’t always rhyme, but they are prose that capture the moment and tell vivid stories. Each original composition flows into the next, like lovers, breathing as one. Kathy Sanborn was a 2015 American Songwriting Award winner.

Wayne Ricci is simplistic, but strikingly present on his trumpet as he improvises around Sanborn’s vocals. Pianist, Aman Almeida, is mixed perfectly into the arrangements and adds his attentive accompaniment in all the perfect places, cushioning her warm tones. There is something ethereal and captivating about this artist, about her band and her stories. The freedom they personify is striking, both musically and lyrically. The producer, and multi-talented musician, Keerthy Narayanan, is to be congratulated. Thanks to the combination of his talent with hers, you’ll remember the Kathy Sanborn sound long after the last tune has finished.
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KRIS RUSSELL – “DOWN IN BRAZIL”
A single release – Independent Label

As soon as you hear the first strains of Russell’s mellow tones, you think Michael Franks. I look for the writer’s credits, and Voila! Michael Franks.
Russell sounds smooth and comfortable on this contemporary arrangement of the Frank’s tune along with her “mystery ensemble” (as she refers to her band). They are more than ample and lay down a fat, well-produced track.
I think it is both unfortunate and disrespectful to record music and not give your band members credit. That’s how folks used to do it years ago, but that behavior is frowned upon today. With the vocal artist, Kris Russell, taking all the credit, it made me less inclined to give her any credit at all.

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NOTE: Kris Russell responded to my review and I was happy to post her response.

—–Original Message—–
From: Kris Russell
To: ddmcneil
Cc: kris_russell_
Sent: Mon, Jul 10, 2017 4:32 pm
Subject: Kris Russell Down in Brazil

Hello Dee Dee …..I appreciate the kind words about my new single and I would like to answer the critical part about my self and not naming the musicians on the CD ….and just let you know that the contract/agreement between myself and the musicians for Down in Brazil my new release calls for that. The musicians don’t want their names/and or credit on the CD..for now…and there are very good reasons why! You are making assumptions that you shouldn’t be making and I have done nothing wrong in keeping with what the musicians themselves want and what the contract/agreement calls for! I thank you for the opportunity to answer what probably will concern other reviewers too. I hope I have answered your concerns and questions? I would have given them credit if not for other circumstances that they and I know about! Sincerely Kris Russell

On Monday, July 10, 2017 9:02 PM, Dee Dee wrote:

Hi Kris,

Thank you for reaching out. Having been in the business for some years, I understand that contractually some musicians are not supposed to record outside their labels. Perhaps this is the situation. I’m really happy to hear from you and that you would happily give the musicians credit if you could. That makes me feel a lot better. If you like, I can post your response and mine on the website.

Kris responded: Yes.. that would be great. I knew from your years in Jazz that you would understand the many problems in recording that can come up. I’m following you at LaJazz.com on twitter also. Thanks so much! Kris

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN

June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN:
June 12, 1957 – June 27, 2017

Geri Allen brought something fresh and exciting to the virtuosity of jazz piano. In a music world dominated by male musicians and record company executives, Geri Allen ranks right up there with trend setters and innovators like Herbie Hancock. Her style and technical skills were powerful. Once you heard this amazing woman play the piano, you would never forget it. She was fearless, energetic, freshly creative with ideas and harmonics that both startled and surprised her audiences. I had the honor of meeting this piano master once, when I was home in Detroit, enjoying the annual and largest free jazz festival in the country. She carried herself with an elegance in both dress and manner. I read that she assumed her stylish stage persona from tutoring by Mary Wells, whom she toured with at the very beginning of her dazzling career in 1982.
Ms. Allen is another one of the long list of astoundingly talented musicians who have received their early education at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. She was part of the Jazz Development Workshop, under the mentorship of our mutual friend, trumpet master/educator, Marcus Belgrave. Geri Allen graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies and promptly moved to New York City. She was a protégé of iconic pianist, Kenny Barron and later, attended the University of Pittsburgh, attaining her Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology.

With deep roots in Motown, and the Berry Gordy music magic that took the whole world by storm, Allen combined her love of R & B with her passion for jazz, stretching the limits of her instrument and her physical technique on the piano. She was a monster on the keys. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female pianist play with such exciting dynamism. Perhaps the only ones I could personally compare Ms. Allen’s talents to would be Nina Simone and Dorothy Donegan. Both of these valiant and earth-shattering talents brought the same vivacity, classical technique, cultural awareness and jazz innovation that Geri Allen brought to the stage. Ms. Allen, like Simone and Donegan, was always stretching the boundaries of her artform.

In the mid-eighties, she rubbed shoulders in New York with all the young, jazz, shakers and movers. Ms. Allen expanded her musical horizons as part of the Black Rock Coalition and the Brooklyn M-Base movement. During this time, she was part of collectives that featured Greg Osby, Gary Thomas and vocalist Cassandra Wilson, as well as Steve Coleman, who she recorded with on his first album, “Motherland Pulse.”

It took a German record company to be the first to offer Ms. Allen a deal on the Minor Music label. Her debut trio recording was “The Printmakers,” featuring Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille. You can hear her intensity and infatuation with rhythm on this, the first of her iconic works. Listen to her imaginative harmonics, in their developmental stage on this premiere album.

In 2000, Sitting at the home of Shahida Nurullah, a Detroit vocalist and music educator, I listened to Shahida’s featured vocal work on Geri Allen’s 1986 release entitled, “Open On All Sides In the Middle.” The arrangements were as stunning as the album title, incorporating both modern and Avant Garde jazz forms. It was this album that really peaked my interest into this phenomenal pianist. It featured a bunch of Detroit jazz players, including trumpeters Racy Biggs and Marcus Belgrave, along with bassist Jaribu Abdurahman Shahid (natal name, Ben Henderson) and reminded me of the freedom and master musicianship found in the Chicago Art Ensemble music. In fact, Jaribu Shahid would later go on to play with the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 2004. You can feel the energy dancing off this disc, propelled by Ms. Allen’s composition skills and challenging arrangements. This was her 3rd CD and perhaps set the precedence for what was to follow. Beautiful, sensitive melodies surrounded lushly by chord arranging that enveloped that beauty, while still leaving room for improvisational forays from Geri Allen and the other players. You Will hear her love of dancers, especially tap dancers, on both this record (ie: The Dancer) and later in her career when she featured dancers as part of her concert presentations. Allen believed in mixing artforms and fusing artistic talents. Listen to her song “Forbidden Place” to see how complicated and artistically challenging her arrangements were at an early stage of her career.

An album, “Twenty One,” released in 1994, was her third album for the Blue Note label, and was recorded with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Famously, they were an integral part of the all-star musicians holding down Miles Davis. So, you know, it doesn’t get much better than that! That’s the league of competence and respect that Geri Allen garnered. You can hear her growth in this recording, her tenth release in a string of art as valuable and rare as Tahitian, black pearls.

Geri Allen’s 2012 release of “Grand River Crossings” is another one of my favorite recordings, where she celebrates her native roots in Detroit. I reviewed and praised that recording for http://www.lajazz.com. Ms. Allen leaves behind a hand-print on the historic contribution of dynamic women in jazz. She will be remembered and celebrated for years to come.

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REMEMBERING THE GREAT DRUMMER, BILL DOWDY (Aug 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017)

June 23, 2017

June 23 2017

I am saddened to hear that my friend, and the original drummer with the Three Sounds, Bill Dowdy, has made his transition. Pictured here, Bill Dowdy, pianist Claude Black, me and bassist, Elgin Vines when we recorded a “Live” concert in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Bill Dowdy lived. He was a wonderful, talented, gentleman and I am honored to have known him and to have recorded with him. R.I.P. Bill, after a life well-lived.

Bill Dowdy, August 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017

I have always been a huge fan of The Three Sounds. Nobody could play that blues-infused jazz and capture that down-home groove on vinyl like pianist, Gene Harris, drummer, Bill Dowdy and bassist, Andy Simpkins. Later in my professional life, while working at United Artists/Blue Note Records in publicity and under the direction of the company president, Mike Stewart, I got to meet both Andy Simpkins and Gene Harris. I even got to work with Andy Simpkins many times as a jazz vocalist. He was one of my favorite bass players. But it was not until the year 2000, that I got to meet the amazing Mr. Dowdy.

Bill had heard good things about me from various Michigan-based musicians and invited me to do a concert with him in Battle Creek. At the time, I was just healing from a bad accident I had in Detroit, Michigan on a visit to see my mom and family. That was December of 1999, and as a healthy entrepreneur and jazz vocalist, without any health insurance, running the beach daily in Southern California and never even considering that I would fall ill, the fall I took was on an ice-covered street in Detroit. For a minute, it stopped my life and my career. After surgery and three months on a walker, then three months on crutches, I was finally up and walking again. I got busy producing musical plays and working locally at jazz clubs.

When Bill Dowdy called me, I was absolutely honored to drive to Battle Creek and become part of Bill’s Concert experience. When I arrived, I discovered that our concert was going to be recorded. I asked Bill who owned the tapes? He said that he did. I suggested that if the tapes came out with a good mix, we should consider putting out a CD. Well, Bill was surprised by that suggestion. He said that he had never thought of distributing his own product. He confessed to me, he didn’t have a clue how to do it. So, I sat down with Bill and showed him, on paper, how it would work. He said that for years Blue Note had been selling his music and his talent and that he hadn’t gotten paid for albums that were still selling today, nearly half a century later. It was the same old story of how record companies rip-off great talent . They collect the majority of the funds for the sales of those records and those company executives don’t write a tune, don’t sing a note, and many don’t know a thing about music or the creative process. Unfortunately, the artists who make the records hardly make pennies on the sales. If they don’t get out there and do concert tours, they don’t make any money at all. When I showed Bill how much it would take to invest in ourselves and what he could make on the sales of pressing up our own project, he was in awe.

“Dee Dee, I wish I had understood this years ago,” he confided.

The result of our concert and our conversation was “Live! at the Discovery Theatre – The Bill Dowdy Jazz Trio plus Dee Dee McNeil.” I was full of gratitude to be headlinging with the dynamic Bill Dowdy and his famous trio.

Bill hired Claude Black, a master pianist who was living in Toledo Ohio at the time and boasted over five decades of music mastery. Like me, he was a native Detroiter and we had worked together a few times at the famed jazz club, “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.” Claude had worked with such international talent as Dakota Staton, Aretha Franklin, Lorez Alexandria, Ernie Andrews, Johnny Harman, Austin Cramer, Earl Bostic, Eddie Jefferson, Sonny Stitt, Arnett Cobb and Kenny Burrell.

Elgin Vines was hired to play bass on our project. Elgin has been described as one of the most sought-after jazz bassists in Western Michigan, stroking the strings professionally for over forty years. He has been a mainstay in the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra Jazz Ensemble, played with the Aquinas College Evening Jazz Ensemble, the Ray Gill Orchestra and the Muskrat Ramblers. In more contemporary days, he recorded for Gamble & Huff and appeared on The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show and even the famed and historic, Ed Sullivan Show. Elgin acted as backup musician for such popular acts as Leslie Uggums, Frank Sinatra Sr. and Jr., Phyllis Hyman, Eloise Laws, Ruth Brown, Connie Stevens, Bobby Darin, and Steve Allen. For years he has led his own group, “Elgin Vines & Company.”

But it was Bill Dowdy who impressed me the most. After all, I had fallen in love with his drum chops back in 1958, when I was still a young teen and just discovering jazz. That was the year Mr. Dowdy recorded with the legendary jazz trio he founded, “The Three Sounds.” Their music has transcended the years with unique stamina and undying popularity.

Bill started out as a session drummer for Chess Records. Later, he recorded and toured for years on the Blue Note and the Mercury record labels in support of “The Three Sounds.” He left the group in 1966, ten years after he founded the group. Bill Dowdy settled down in his senior years to become a percussion educator at the Community Music School sponsored by the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. He created a Substance-abuse Prevention Program that he titled, “Drumming for Life” and taught master classes at Kellogg Community College, Western Michigan and Michigan State Universities. His legacy performances include working with Art Farmer, John Hicks, Nancy Wilson, Nat Adderly, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Ernestine Anderson, Percy Mayfield and Johnny Griffin, as well as his undeniable recording legacy as one-third of The Three Sounds. I am humbled and thankful that I knew this great gentleman and had the unique opportunity of performing on-stage with him. He as a kind and generous soul who I will never forget.

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DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER

June 18, 2017

DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER – THE 2017 SEASON

A performance review & intimate interview by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

June 15, 2017

It was the perfect, balmy, summer night for jazz under the stars. The Muckenthaler Cultural Center is located in Fullerton, California and its mission is to “provide the public with experiences that stimulate creativity and imagination, while conserving the heritage and architecture of the Muckenthaler Estate.”

The first time I was ever at this lovely, 18-room, 8.5-acre mansion was when I attended a wedding on the premises. This time, I’m exploring the backyard of this hilltop mansion, that includes a full stage with soundman, professional lighting and small round tables with picnic-type benches and seating in tiered rows up a hillside that slopes down to the stage. In its 52nd year of cultural, community programs, the Muckenthaler Center, (fondly referred to as, “The Muck”), produces more than 60 performances, festivals, special events and gallery exhibits annually. They are proud to expound their outreach sites, offering more than 6,000 hours of arts education at the “Muck” and 42 outreach sites. Thanks to the generous donation of Walter and Adella Muckenthaler, they serve more than 41,000 people every year. Tonight, every seat is full and faces are upturned towards the trio on stage who are about to perform as part of the Muckenthaler Jazz Series. Ron Kobayashi takes a seat at the grand piano. Luther Hughes mans the upright bass and Paul Kreibich swings into action behind the trap drums. They break into the familiar standard tune, “There Will Never Be Another You.”

After one song, the star is announced; Ms. Debbi Ebert. The songbird of the evening opens with Rio de Janiero Blues, setting a polished tone, with Paul Kreibich rumbling out a moderate-tempo’d-Bossa Nova beat that has the audience swaying in their seats.

Picnic baskets and snacks are allowed at these outdoor concerts and you can also buy food and drinks at the facility. I pour myself a glass of Merlot in a blue, plastic goblet, and settled back to enjoy a lovely evening of jazz.

For her second song, Ms. Ebert performs the familiar “On A Clear Day” featuring a spirited and fresh arrangement by Fred Katz (R.I.P), former cellist with the Chico Hamilton group. His arrangement gives the vocalist lots of ‘scat’ room to show off her improvisational assets. “Higher Vibe” is a waltz and its melody is impressive, with whole notes held like a vocal banner by Debbi Ebert. She exhibits powerful, perfect control and a well-executed, 3- 1/2 to 4 octave vocal range. The lyrics of “Higher Vibe” were very positive and unifying.

Her trio transforms “Night and Day” into a well-received arrangement, many in the audience humming along. The next song was “Mr. Magic”, a 1975 hit record by saxophonist, Grover Washington Jr. Afterwards, Debbi announces that the next couple of songs had been hand-picked by her audience. Prior to this performance, she sent out a request to her mailing list, encouraging them to tell her what songs they would enjoy hearing at her Muckenthaler concert. The fans responded in mass. They overwhelming voted for the hit record by Etta James, “At Last”. Ms. Ebert opened with a gospel intro, encouraging each instrument to echo her gospel moans and scats, like call and response. It was suddenly Bro. Kobayashi on piano, Deacon Hughes on bass, and Rev. Kreibich on drums. Debbi called them her pulpit and the crowd said, “Amen”! That one was so much fun. The second was a tribute to one of our jazz giants, Louie Armstrong. “What A Wonderful World” is always a crowd pleaser. Ms. Ebert dedicated this song to the troops, who protect and defend our Democracy, and she received warm applause for her sentiment. Joined on this song by another excellent pianist/composer, enter Richard Ihara, the composer of Freddie Hubbard’s 1967 hit record, “Little Sunflower.” Ihara is also an excellent vocalist and he does a very persuasive mimicry of Louis Armstrong, adding even more familiarity to the tune by walking on-stage with a microphone and sounding very much like Pops Armstrong himself. He and Ms. Ebert interact vocally on this tune, thus, ending the first set.

Ebert returned for a second set in celebration of the iconic Miss Nancy Wilson. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to leave after the first set. However, judging by the huge and appreciative applause at the end of set number one, I am positive that Debbi Ebert did justice to the songs of Ms. Wilson and continued her evening of excellence.

I recently had the opportunity of chatting with Debbi Ebert about her life and music. She has been a mainstay of the Orange County jazz scene for over three decades.

DEE DEE: Are you from California?

DEBBI: “Yeah – born and raised in South Central California and went to Freemont High School. I grew up on 75th and Central.”

DEE DEE: Oh – Central Avenue! That’s where all the music was happening, right? You probably weren’t born when Central Avenue was hot and thriving.

DEBBI: “No. I wasn’t but my parents were. They were familiar with Central Avenue and they would talk about it.”

DEE DEE: Were they big jazz fans?

DEBBI: “Not necessarily jazz. My father was a huge music guy. He was more into the gospel stuff. So, when I was about four-years-old, he had already been singing with different male gospel groups. They would do the big concerts hosted by Rev. Henderson, who was producing concerts in some of those old theaters where they used to have the jazz concerts. They’d bring in the gospel music; Rosetta Thorpe, The Hummingbirds, The Ward Singers, all of those people were a part of that circuit. Our family group was called ‘The Gospel Fireballs’. I was just a kid, so, I don’t remember a lot. My brothers are gone now, so I don’t have anyone to reference that history. But I remember a lot of those people coming through those concerts. My father, Willie Sam Goldston, was a big promoter of our family gospel group. He always got our little name on the promotional billboards. That would have been the mid-60’s (‘64, ‘65, ‘66) right in there. There were the three of us and my father would play guitar. We travelled a little bit. We had our little gigs all over. And then he passed away.”

DEE DEE: Oh honey, that was hard. You were just a kid. I’m so sorry. Was it unexpected?

DEBBI: “You know, in those days, my father was what you would call a jack of all trades. He was a welder by trade. He took other odd jobs and he was always a special duty officer. He always wanted to be a policeman. He wanted to make a difference as a law enforcement officer. In those days, they didn’t let blacks into the LAPD. … He would try every year, when they had an opening, to get into the LAPD. It never worked. But he took Security work and he took a job at that FatBurger down there on Central Avenue. … That’s where he got killed. It was a horrible, tragic accident. There was a guy there who was drunk and he and my father got into some kind of tussle. A gun went off. That was that.

DEE DEE: That’s a heartbreaking story. Let’s talk about when you decided to do music professionally.

DEBBI: There’s not a long time in my life where there was no music. I’ve always been involved with music. Once I grew up, I always sang wherever I could. I sang in church and at weddings. I always maintained music in my life, but I didn’t really pick it back up professionally until I moved to Orange County. That would have been 1983 and 1984. Those were the days you would come to town and work certain O.C. venues. You and Barbara Morrison. I always knew your names. Barbara McNair used to come to town and work in Orange County all the time too. That’s when I picked music back up. I did my first play at the local black actor’s theater and met my now, husband, Richard Abraham, through that theater. That’s when I started my career as a nightclub singer. He played piano and I sang. And I’ve worked steadily ever since. I have two CD releases. My first one is “Definitely Debbi” and my second one is called, “Taking a Chance.” I’m primarily a singer. I would not ever refer to myself as a composer, but there was a play called “Black Woman’s Blues” that was performed at the Regency West Theater in Los Angeles, with Dwan Lewis, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and Vanessa Bell Calloway. I did the underscoring for it. The dialogue was set to saxophone and I wrote the music to play underneath that dialogue. I sang it to my husband and he charted the notes. But I wouldn’t call myself a composer. However, I do enjoy arranging and coming up with unique ideas for vocals and vocal harmony.”

For those of you who missed the Muckenthaler Concert, you can catch Debbi Ebert’s tribute to Nancy Wilson on July 26, a Wednesday evening, at the GEM Theater in Garden Grove. I guarantee you will be thoroughly entertained.
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BLACK MUSIC MONTH CELEBRATES THELONIUS MONK AND MORE

June 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 12, 2017

THELONIUS MONK: “Les Laisons Dangerouses” – Double Set CD
Sam Records & Saga

Thelonious Monk, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums; Charlie Rouse & Barney Wilen, tenor Saxophone.

June is Black Music Month. On April 22, 2017, a limited edition, deluxe 2-LP set of never-before-released THELONIUS MONK music, the results of a French film soundtrack, made its debut. It was released as a vinyl, in celebration of Record Store Day. My hands were actually trembling as I broke open this CD package that became available for public consumption this month. I was full of expectation, excitement and anticipation of hearing something amazing by one of my favorite, iconic, American composer/pianists.

Monk’s film score accompanied a 1960 Roger Vadim French film titled, “Les Liasons Dangereuses”. It features Monk’s famous group: Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Sam Jones on double bass and Art Taylor drumming. Additionally, the French producer added the popular French, tenor sax man, Barney Wilen. It was Wilen’s old manager, Marcel Romano, that led to this discovery. Romano, who died in 2007, was the custodian of tapes by Barney Wilen. Marcel Romano is the man behind this project and well-respected in both France and the U.S. as a producer, jazz journalist and concert promoter. In his heyday, Romano brought many great jazz artists to the European public attention. The record company was looking for unreleased material by Wilen, the French saxophonist. Imagine their shock when they ran across some reel-to-reel tapes with the label in big bold letters, THELONIUS MONK.

“Rhythm-a-ning opens disc #1 with Thelonius playing solo, but soon joined by the swift, spiritual, virtuoso saxophone of Rouse. In liner notes, Brian Priestley recalls that Monk’s original release of “Rhythm-a-ning” was in 1957 on an album with Art Blakey. His solo introduction on this recording is a bit different. Monk seems to incorporate a piece of Mary Lou Wiliams’ composition, “Walkin’ and Swingin,’ “into the intro. Mary Lou and Monk were good friends and years earlier, Andy Kirk had recorded the Williams composition around 1936. Monk’s intro-lines sound very similar to one of Kirk’s melodic lines and this could be a cordial and creative nod from Monk, in appreciation of Williams, his friend and mentor, by using an interlude from Mary Lou’s composition.

This film score was recorded during Thelonius Monk’s prime in the late 1950s, when he was changing the concept of jazz and jazz piano. He has composed everything on this 2-record set, except “By and By” (We’ll Understand It By and By) composed by Charles Albert Tindley and arranged by Monk. In the studio, Monk was uninterested in observing any time constraints for movie scenes and unconcerned about the motion picture’s theme. He simply went into the studio and recorded three hours of unconstrained music. Later, it would take master editors and the film producer to patch and paste the music into perfect place.

Listening to Monk play the song dedicated to his beloved wife, “Crepuscule with Nellie”, is an experience of pure art appreciation. This double set CD comes with a fifty-six-page booklet that dissects the music with essays and opinions, and offers never-before-seen photos from the recording session at Nola Penthouse Sound Studio in New York City. It was recorded by engineer, Tom Nola, on July 27, 1959.
The songs on this piece of art are familiar. Thelonius Monk didn’t compose anything really new for this film. I was especially pleased with “Well You Needn’t” that stretched past the borders of predictability and into some new musical spaces and spheres.

All you Monk fans will enjoy hearing, back-to-back “Pannonica” played by this legendary pianist/composer, twice as a solo and the third time with his quartet. Blissful!

In 1951, the New York City authorities revoked Thelonius Monk’s Cabaret Card, which left him with six years of struggling to make a living, since without a card you could not perform. It’s said they claimed he possessed heroin, and that the charges were trumped up and false. By the time of this film scoring, the exceptional Mr. Monk was finally working again, non-stop, and had a six-month contract playing at the Five Spot in NYC. His “Brilliant Corners” album was receiving critical acclaim and at last, Monk was busier than he had ever been. At the age of forty, the prolific composer/performer won the coveted Downbeat Magazine Jazz Poll, beating out competitors Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Earl Hines. His manager at that time, Harry Colomby, says he was inundated with gig calls for his now super popular client. With everything going so well, as life has a habit of doing, the tables would soon be turned over, spilling success into the cruel carpet of circumstance.

In 1958, Jim Crow was alive and well, thriving on racism and inequality throughout the great United States. When Monk, Charlie Rouse and the Baroness, Pannonica de Koenigswarter (Nica) got into a car, leaving New York City for a gig in Baltimore, they hadn’t a clue what misfortune lay ahead. Monk was thirsty and they stopped for a drink at the Park Plaza Hotel in New Castle, Delaware. No one thought they would find the ugly practice of prejudice in Delaware. Not only were they refused service, the police were called, and the officers conducted an illegal stop and search, pulling over the $19,000 Bentley the trio was riding in and when Monk objected, he was beaten, handcuffed and tossed to the floor of the patrol car. The arresting officers were furious to find two black men with a white woman, and during their search into Nica’s luggage, they found marijuana and a bottle of pills. After this arrest and the ultimate release of Monk, after he paid a hefty fine, to make a bad situation worse, once again New York City revoked Monk’s Cabaret Card. Shortly after, Thelonius Monk was hospitalized with a complete mental breakdown and spent time in Rivercrest Sanitarium in Long Island. At this same time, his latest LP, “Monk’s Music” was listed as one of the five best albums of that year. So, this was the backdrop for his trip to France and his state of mind for the recording of this rare and sensitive film score.

There is one song on this CD that, until now, had never been studio recorded. A 2-minute-47-second rendition of “Light Blue”. It ends abruptly, as if a scene in the movie had faded to black, with Art Taylor’s drums slapping the listener across the face, in a beautiful way. The rhythm beneath the melody is oddly unique. You will appreciate the extended, fourteen-minute ‘live’ recording of Monk producing “Light Blue” and insisting on this very odd and infectious drum beat he fell in love with and demanded that Art Taylor keep repeating. Monk was captivated by his percussive riff. On Side two of this recording, you hear Monk himself telling his trio how and what to play as he arranges the tune on the spot. I feel like a fly on the wall at the recording session as the trio struggles to come to grips with the piano genius and his unique ideas. You actually hear their conversations and Monk’s insistent instructions.

This is a precious piece of history and a legacy to the composition and arrangement skills of Thelonious Monk. It’s a must for any serious jazz collector. Why? Because Monk transformed and injected this film and the resulting CD with a giant dose of Avant Garde creativity and individuality that allowed the film a legacy of brilliance. Now, I find myself eager to view the motion picture.

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THE NEW VISION SAX ENSEMBLE – “MUSICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME”
Independent Label

Diron Holloway, soprano & alto saxophones/clarinet; James Lockhart, alto saxophone; Jason Hainsworth, tenor saxophone: Melton R. Mustafa, baritone saxophone.

Frankly, I miss the piano, bass and drums associated with a standard rhythm section. I’m used to hearing a trio beneath most reed sections. The New Vision Sax Ensemble makes me re-think this premise. Here are four professional educators and musicians who formed an exploratory saxophone group in 1999, founded by the baritone sax player, Melton R. Mustafa. Their idea was to perform standard jazz songs that people know and love, but using only reed instruments. Inspired by the work of the 29th Street Sax Quartet and the World Saxophone Quartet, this coterie began gigging around South Florida and soon became one of the premier sax quartets in that area. They have perfected a ‘flair for entertaining’ according to their liner notes, and have mastered interactivity with their audiences.

Although their repertoire on this CD leans towards jazz, they are known to embrace classical, R&B, pop, Ragtime, Latin, Funk and even Spiritual music in their concerts. My favorites on this recording are “Round Midnight”, that is performed gorgeously and I didn’t miss the rhythm section at all. Additionally, I enjoyed “Selections from Porgy and Bess”, an eleven-minute exploration of Gershwin’s wonderful score from the theatrical and successful “Porgy and Bess” Broadway play. The CD release date is June 12th.

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JORIS TEEPE & DON BRADEN – “CONVERSATIONS” featuring Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson
Creative Perspective Music

Joris Teepe, bass; Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute; Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson, drums.

Teepe & Braden crossed paths in 1992 and struck up a conversation that has lasted twenty-five-years. Consequently, the title of this CD seems quite appropriate. Adding two drummers to the mix, who contribute singularly on various tracks, these two jazz giants are often booked as the “Trio of Liberty.” Chick Corea’s original composition, “Humpty Dumpty” opens their CD and surprisingly, although composed by the esteemed Mr. Corea, I don’t miss the piano. Braden and Teepe are individually amazing musicians, and their interpretation of this song is interesting, creative and performed with improvisational ebullience. This is my kind of jazz, straight ahead, engaging and with each musician being a musical maven in his own right. Teepe and Braden fill up the space with sound and notes flying like meteors through the night. Joined by either Jackson or Wilson on drums, each song shimmers and shines, star-like, presenting ginormous technical ability and weaving familiar melodies in unfamiliar ways. The two old friends converse with their instruments. When one takes a breath, the other fills the space with musical anecdotes and stories.

Perhaps Braden explained it best by saying:

“Framed by rich and varied tunes, strong and supple grooves and emotional expression, the improvisations are really a manifestation of exuberant adventure for us. We create, exchange, explore and develop all kinds of ideas – melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, dynamically and more. …We really have fun while doing so.”
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June 6, 2017 – Tuesday

The Comey interrogation awoke me early this morning. The former FBI Director, fired by our 45th President of the United States, was giving his side of the contentious relationship he had with President Donald Trump and asserting, that without a doubt, the Russians are deliberately seeking to influence our country in a negative way. After that, I viewed nearly three-hours of Comey’s televised testimony before the congressional committee. Then, I put on Laura Campisi’s new CD to change the energy in the house.

LAURA CAMPISI – “DOUBLE MIRROR”
Independent Label

Laura Campisi, vocals; Ameen Saleem, double bass; Glanluca Renzi, electric bass; Greg Hutchinson, drums; Flavio Li Vigni, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Zach Brock, violin; Giovanni Falzone, trumpet; Jonathan Scales, steel pan; Martin Pantyrer, baritone sax; Vincent Herring, alto sax; Emilio D. Miller, percussion.

She has a little-girl, high-pitched voice that sounds innocent and vulnerable. Campisi’s style is unique and recognizable. She sings with a distinct foreign accent; one that I could not readily identify. On cut #3, Giovanni Falzone’s trumpet addition is sometimes dissonant to Campisi’s melody. His horn growls passionately in the background during his muted performance. Nevermind! Campisi is strong in her projection and pitch. She can hold her own. “Double Mirror” is her artistic debut, a recorded venture featuring her voice and songwriting skills. Her original concept was to keep the production simple and use just a trio for accompaniment, but she changed her mind. To reflect her new life, she uses two rhythm sections; one American and the other Italian. The trumpet, sax and violin players came later.

I learn, from the CD notes, that Laura Campisi arrived in New York City from Palermo, Sicily in Italy. She sings and speaks in English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Sicilian, Neapolitan and Punjabi. Impressive! However, I wish she had included her lyrics in her CD packaging, because I cannot always understand her words. I reach for my headphones to listen more intently. She has composed seven of thirteen songs featured on this recording. I’m enchanted with the World Music arrangements and her sparkling, crystal clean vocals that tinkle and spray the room with improvised sounds and lyrical stories. For example, on cut #8, “Nardis”, she mimics wild birds and restless animals before giving us spoken word over drums and bass. Enter a classical-sounding, electric bass and her song begins. She’s singng in tribute to “Nardis”, a miles Davis composition. After listening to her rendition, I played the Miles Davis arrangement featuring Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. It was recorded ‘Live’ at the Village Vanguard and It’s miles away from her interpretation. On her recording, Campisi and the bass and drums play tag with their instruments, chasing each other playfully. Shei tells us it’s our lucky day because we are going to meet Nardis, who is like an ocean shore. As she begins calling him, the groove is set up and finally, after a prolonged introduction, she sings the Miles Davis melody, one time down and then it’s over.

On “I Love You Porgy” she performs with upright bass, electric bass guitar and drums, strutting her voice out front like a reed instrument. Laura Campisi incorporates jazz into a World Music Stage. Her music reflects her Italian roots, her love of Mediterranean influences and she spices it up with the South American music of Argentina. You see, she recorded her vocals in Buenos Aires, where she added stellar new Latin players to this project. Her rendition of the popular “Porgy” Nina Simone hit record is very emotional and she makes it uniquely her own.

Listening to this project, I hear shades of Rock and Folk music. The jazz comes in as an interplay between her band members, who find freedom improvising over her original chord changes and her vocals. Of course, improvisation is one of the most important elements of jazz, but I’m not sure this CD falls completely into the jazz category. On more recognizable and familiar tunes like “Love For Sale,” you can hear Campisi’s extraordinary ability to change the familiar into the unexpected.
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URBANITY – “URBAN SOUL”
Alfi Records

Albare, guitars/sitar; Phil Turcio, keyboards/piano/programming.

At the age of eighteen, Albert Dadon, known artistically as Albare, was in search of a pianist for his band. Phil Turcio took the job. They became good friends and musical soulmates, with their paths intersecting for the next twenty-seven-years. So it’s not surprising that they call themselves Urbanity and have recorded this project together. To promote this CD, they currently are touring the United States, however, they are based in Melbourne, Australia.

Utilizing keyboard, piano, synthesizer programmer, guitar and sitar, these two musicians have created a fat, smooth jazz sound. It’s hard to believe that just two musicians have put together such an orchestrated album of music, using drum machines and programming to set the grooves, embellished by their creativity, they establish repeatable and catchy melodic phrases.

Starting with “The Mind Reader,” they manage to present a medium tempo, danceable groove with the two and the four beats slapping like hand-claps on the drum programmer. Albare’s guitar work is outstanding and Phil Turcio compliments each tune with his keyboard and piano talents. He’s also responsible for the synthesized programing. “You’re in my Dreams” has a haunting melody against a backdrop of jazz chord-changes, with the programming giving the arrangement an ethereal feel. I was surprised when I realized that they use a line very close to the verse of Michael Jackson’s hit record, “I Can’t Help it”, written by Susaye Green and Stevie Wonder. It’s not enough to be accused of sampling the melody, but it tip-toes around the well-respected tune at certain unexpected places.

Another one of my favorite cuts on this CD is “Angie”, the only song written by other composers. (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). It has energy and an interesting melody. Another favorite is “Something Sweet”. Urbanity’s arrangements are hot and this is easy listening R & B at its best, with jazz overtones.

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SMOKIN’ NEW MUSIC AND HISTORIC JAZZ CONVERSATIONS

June 1, 2017

CD REVIEWS ENCOMPASS HISTORY, PAST AND PRESENT
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

As June arrives, reminding us half a year is already gone, I am bombarded by new CD releases. Among the treasures and gems I’ve received are the Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery, a never before released ‘live’ session recorded in 1966. You will read historic quotes, interviews and see memorable photos in the liner notes. Speaking of amazing jazz work, Jazzmeia Horn is a force of nature to be watched and listened to as she showcases her multi-talents on a premiere album titled, “A Social Call.” Then, easy on the ear, I listen to the silky, sexy-smooth vocals of Calabria Foti, and enjoyed the Larry Newcomb Quartet with legendary guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli. The Quinsin Nachoff Ethereal Trio takes music into the stratosphere with avant-garde jazz mixed with classical substance. The Art Fristoe Trio is a double set CD, and is the off-shoot of a film score that Fristoe participated in as both thespian and musician. Read all about it!

WYNTON KELLY TRIO/WES MONTGOMERY
“SMOKIN’ IN SEATTLE, LIVE AT THE PENTHOUSE”

Resonance Records

Wes Montgomery, guitar; Wynton Kelly, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums.

What a thrill! I excitedly place this CD into my system and then settle back into the arms of historic, musician mastery. Somehow, this amazing ‘live’ performance by four jazz icons has laid dormant for fifty-one-years; over half a century. It was recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, Washington, on April 14 and April 21, 1966. Here is a treasure trove of musical genius, clumped together, like your favorite dark chocolate and almond candy bar; packaged to please. It’s a sweet discovery and I’m absolutely enthralled by the music of men who have left us a legacy of non-replicable, jazz recordings, setting the bar high for future musicians.

Opening with “There is No Greater Love,” Kelly’s fingers skip over the notes lightly, creatively, in an upbeat, timely manner, pushed like a steam roller by Cobb’s drums and Ron McClure’s bass. It’s straight-ahead all the way.

The original Montgomery and Kelly group included Paul Chambers on bass, with Jimmy Cobb. All you jazz buffs know that they were the force de jour backing up Miles Davis from about 1959 to 1963. When Kelly and Montgomery first recorded together, it was 1962. The result was a ‘live’ album called, “Full House,” recorded in Berkeley, California. Just before this newly released musical exploration from 1966, they cut “Smokin’ at the Half Note.” That was in June of 1965. Shortly after that recording, Chambers left the trio and was replaced with Ron McClure, who was only twenty-four years old at that time. In spite of his youth, McClure had already worked with Buddy Rich, Herbie Mann and Maynard Ferguson. Ron McClure recalls how he met Montgomery and Kelly.

“I first met Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Wes Montgomery in the summer of 1965. I had listened to them from the time I was a teenager, but I had never met them or played with them until ’65. I was playing with Maynard Ferguson’s big band when I met them. We had a gig in Atlantic City. The billing was Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio and the Maynard Ferguson Big band was the opening act. So, of course, everyone in Maynard’s band was sitting in the front row of this giant club in Atlantic City, after our set, waiting to hear Wes, Jimmy and Wynton. They came on stage and waited, but there was no Paul Chambers. After a little while, Jimmy Cobb hit a few rim shots and with his Capricorn, billy-goat look, he stared at me, pointed at me with his drumstick and said, ‘Get up here’! It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. … He (Chambers) was in a very bad state at that point and died shortly afterward. … I had listened to Paul Chambers from the time that he played with Miles in 1956. … I digested every note on those records – like all bass players did – because he set the standard. He had the best circular looping time feel…. So, they could see right away that I knew what to play.”

Wes Montgomery first appeared at the Penthouse Jazz Club with The Montgomery Brothers in the summer of 1962. The next time he appeared there, it was 1966 and this recording was made. He was forty-three years old and his career was on fire. His Verve album, “Goin’ Out of My Head” had reached #12 on the Billboard R&B album chart. Yes – I said R&B Chart, not in the jazz category. It would later land a Grammy award in 1967, after selling a million vinyl copies. This achievement was Montgomery’s preface to super success.

Reminiscing about the band, Jimmy Cobb shared, “Wes was a nice guy, man. He was very comedic … like he would say funny things and do funny things. But he was a sweet guy. Wynton was also a sweet guy. So, we all got along together pretty good and the playing was exceptional for the four of us.”

McClure recalled Wes Montgomery’s generosity.

“Wes was like Santa Claus. He gave me the keys to his Cadillac Coupe de Ville on night. We were playing at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike, outside of Cambridge. I was talking to some girl I knew at the bar and he said, ‘Here Boom. Here’s the keys. Take her home in my Cadillac.’ … At that time, I drove a Volkswagen; a Beetle. The Coupe de Ville was like driving the Queen Mary across the bridge into Boston and back. I was terrified. But that’s the kind of guy he was.”

This album is pure pleasure! On “If You Could See Me Now” the gentlemen of jazz start out playing this great standard as a ballad, but before long, Wynton’s blues roots take over and Cobb and McClure push the trio tempo into a blues shuffle. The groove is as deep as a muddy Mississippi road after a tractor trailer drives over it. Then it turns sweet again, like magnolia blossoms floating on a Southern breeze. To end it dynamically, Kelly uses arpeggios, crescendos and the strength of mad technique.

Of course, Wes Montgomery puts his signature sound on everything and anything he plays. I love his interpretation of “O Morro Nao Tem Vez” with his staccato chorded melodies and impeccable timing. Wynton Kelly’s trio opens for Montgomery and then Wes is on-stage, adding zest and zeal to every tune. This album is inexplicably joyful and offers us a great listening experience, as well as a taste of history. The inside jacket includes great quotes and several memories and historic photos of these musicians, during their time of triumph. In my opinion, no jazz collection will be complete without this gem of a recording.
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JAZZMEIA HORN – “A SOCIAL CALL”
Prestige Records/Concord Record Group

Jazzmeia Horn, vocals; Victor Gould, piano; Ben Williams, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums/percussion; Stacy Dillard, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet; Frank Lacy, trombone.

The great Betty Carter must be smiling down from heaven as she listens to Jazzmeia Horn, singing her original composition, “Tight” played and sung at a speedy pace on Jazzmeia’s premiere CD release. This young voice is fluid, like her last name; “horn”. One minute she’s a beautiful bird, the next a cool breeze blowing notes into the universe like bubbles from a child’s lips. She’s buoyant, fresh sounding, spontaneous and fearless. I am her new, biggest fan!

On this recording, Jazzmeia Horn epitomizes everything a jazz singer should be. On the opening tune, she exhibits creativity, spontaneity and innovative timing. She’s free, playing with the melody and also scatting like an instrument. Jazzmeia Horn sets the bar high. On “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” her lovely voice sells the lyric above Ben Williams’ singular bass line that supports her melodic movement. I hear a lot of Betty Carter influence in Horn’s performance style, but she is definitely her own character and has established a signature sound. A signature sound is something many singers lack. That is to say, you will recognize this singer’s style and execution when you hear her again. Her range is as amazing as her carefully chosen repertoire. When Victor Gould joins on piano, along with Jerome Jennings on drums, the musical pudding thickens. Their musicality elevates the production. On this tune, I hear Ms. Horn add some of Sarah Vaughan’s signature riffs, like a warm vocal nod to the ancestors. I’m intrigued.

“Up Above My Head” is a Myron Butler composition and the ensemble flavors it with a hip-hop groove. On this song, Jazzmeia Horn slips in a riff that, (if I’m not mistaken), is from an Erykah Badu tune. Then comes “Social Call,” written by Gigi Gryce and Jon Hendricks. She establishes how jazz should be sung, with lyrics clearly enunciated and understood, and the bass racing double time beneath her vocals; impeccable timing. When the band joins them they slow it down for a second or two before racing back and forth between blues and double time; always straight ahead. Gould is tough as nails on his speedy piano improvisation, drilling into the melodic chord changes, like pointed steele. Now I hear shades of Dakota Staton in Jazzmeia Horn’s vocal presentation.

Tom Bell and Linda Creed wrote a great song when they penned, “People Make the World Go Round” for the popular R&B group, The Stylistics. Ms. Horn and her ensemble of innovative musicians arrange this hit song into a jazz treasure. Williams, on bass, sets up the groove. Ms. Horn begins to speak to us about the state of our world; starving people, corrupt leaders, our food being poisoned, the atmosphere full of unhealthy chemicals, police brutality, crime, junk food, mis-education, pollution, poverty, leaky nuclear plants and her lists goes on. Then the song begins with the spray of Josh Evan’s trumpet tones and Frank Lacy’s trombone notes; enter Stacy Dillard’s tenor saxophone protest. It’s very Avant Garde at first, until Ms. Horn settles them down with a lovely melody and the important lyrics floating on top. This tune glows and shimmers like a diamond in the sand.

Ms. Horn takes the African American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and makes it a medley, adding “Moanin” to the presentation. They melt together seamlessly. And if you are still not convinced that this little lady is a force of jazz nature, take a listen to “The Peacocks (A Timeless Place).” If you’re a vocalist, tackle these intervals and sing this challenging melody without hesitation. This vocalist makes what is extremely difficult sound as easy as breathing in and out. Hers is a voice to be both admired and cherished for keeping the true jazz tradition alive. Her range is strikingly wide and she doesn’t hesitate to race up and down the scales, exhibiting her abilities with ease and at all the right places. She is also a poet, who interjects her poetic balm into our consciousness, for example, during the “Afro Blue” medley; ie “Eye See You”.
Perhaps Jazzmeia J. Horn sums it up best by saying:

“The concept that I wanted to present to the people – viewers and listeners of “A Social Call” – stems from the social issues that are alive today. This idea of the birth of a new conscious generation of people is very relevant and timely. It was imperative for the creative album art to reflect that of the creative musical art. A Social Call is a call in peace about issues affecting peace.”
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CALABRIA FOTI – “IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT” (THE MUSIC OF COLE PORTER)
Moco Records

Calabria Foti, vocals; Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Michael Patterson, piano; Richard Locker, cello; Jared Schonig, drums; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ike Sturm, bass.

Calabria Foti’s voice is caramel sweet, soft, smooth and delicious to the ears. She has chosen to purpose her talent by interpreting the music of the great Cole Porter. Here are several familiar and popular songs, stretching from the 1920’s to the present day, and still impactful all these years later. Ms. Foti recalls the days of West Coast cool voices, like Julie London and Chris Conner. But she doesn’t simply sing these songs. This vocalist puts her heart and soul into each melodic fairytale, convincing us of the storyline with honesty, sincerity and her beautiful delivery.

Opening with “Just One of Those Things,” originally appearing in the 1935 musical, Jubilee, Foti features a very tasteful Eddie Daniels on Clarinet. His delicate accompaniment blends perfectly with Ms. Foti’s eloquent execution of tone and pitch. He also solos on “It’s Alright With Me” (extracted from the 1953 musical, Can Can) and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (from the 1929 musical Wake Up and Dream). Daniels is also prominently featured on “Night and Day” (extracted from the stage play, Gay Divorce) and once again on “Get Out of Town.” Foti and Daniels have a special musical connection on this project. Their unique instruments blend beautifully.

Calabria Foti sounds a lot like Diana Krall. I enjoyed her interpretation of “Anything Goes,” popular from the 1934 musical of the same title. Enter McChesney’s smooth trombone. It never gets in the way of Foti’s infectious vocals, but rather supports the vocalist, secure and dependable as a life jacket.

Richard Locker fools us with his solo cello work, bowing “My One and Only Love,” before Michael Patterson (who also produced these sessions) enters on piano, joined by Calabria Foti’s voice, alerting us that, in fact, this is the recognizable and familiar Gershwin tune, “I Concentrate on You.” Richard Locker’s cello is absolutely gorgeous as an introduction, and once again, the jazzy trombone accompaniment of Bob McChesney is attentive and masterful.

Because of the excellence of Ms. Foti’s vocals, I am absolutely intrigued by this project. The mix and mastering by Michael Aarvold is perfect and deserves complimenting because he allows us to hear the artist brightly, above the track, along with all the instruments cleanly and clearly, as though we are sitting in the recording booth. This is a CD worthy of extensive airplay on both jazz and easy listening stations. Calabria Foti is a force of excellence, churning with emotion, inside a very laid-back and buttery smooth performance.
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LARRY NEWCOMB QUARTET W/BUCKY PIZZARELLI – “LIVING TRIBUTE”
Essential Messenger Record Label

Larry Newcomb, elec. Guitar; Bucky Pizzarelli, acoustic archtop guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; Dmitri Kolesnik, bass; Jimmy Madison, drums; Leigh Jonaitis, vocals.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “Dick Hall was the first master guitarist I ever met. His influence was pivotal. We became bandmates, college roommates and lifelong friends. Dick passed away in June of 2016. I am inspired to express my gratitude for Dick’s musicianship, his friendship, his family and our mutual friends with this album – a living tribute to individuals who have had an immensely positive impact on me.”

“I Remember You” is dedicated to Dick Hall in the liner notes and is presented with a very Dixieland, 1940s themed production, with Pizzarelli strumming his acoustic archtop guitar and Newcomb, playing the melody brightly on his electric axe.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “I remember first meeting Dick Hall at the University of Main in 1970. The keyboardist in my college rock band said, there’s someone you must meet! He took me to Dick’s dorm room. When the door opened, there stood a lanky Abe Lincoln look-alike wearing corduroy pants with the wale worn off at the knees. … I thought to myself, I like this guy. He’s different. He’s himself!”

“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” is dedicated to Jim Hall and continues with the same shuffle, two-step kind of dance feel.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “After hearing Jim’s version of this Cole Porter gem, I knew I wanted to be a jazz guitarist.”

Continuing with a shuffle feel and featuring the strong, walking-bass of Dmitri Kolesnik, the ensemble plays “Morningside Heights” next. It’s a tribute to the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli.

LARRY NEWCOMB:
“From 2000 – 2015, my wife Mary and I lived in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City, adjacent to Columbia University. Having heard Bucky ‘live’ in Florida in the 1980s, I aspired to study guitar with him. As a favor, Ed Benson, (publisher of Just Jazz Guitar) contacted Bucky to inquire if I might call to set up a lesson. Bucky said yes. I rented a car and drove to New Jersey for my first of many lessons. Bucky makes the complex and difficult techniques of jazz guitar understandable and playable. … I am always delighted with the things Bucky shows me. Recording with Bucky has been a fabulous experience.”

There is a song for everyone here. The listening audience, Newcomb’s three sons (Jonah, Jake & Ian), his wife, family and friends. There is a Horace Silver tune titled, “Peace” that’s dedicated to Prem Rawai, who taught Larry Newcomb how to find inner peace.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “…For the past forty-five years, I’ve imperfectly, but constantly practiced connecting to the stillness, clarity and joy inside of me.”

You too will connect to the joy and clarity inside Pizzarelli and Newcomb’s album of excellence. The quartet is tight and you can feel the camaraderie between the players. Newcomb celebrates the lives of those he treasures with several self-penned compositions and a hand-full of standard jazz tunes. I was deeply appreciative of his arrangement on “Alone Together.” This “Living Tribute” album is scheduled for release on June 2, 2017.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF’S ETHEREAL TRIO

Whirlwind Recordings

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/composer; Mark Hellas, double bass; Dan Weiss, drums.

Nachoff’s tenor saxophone enters sweetly, and for a moment you think this is going to be a ballad. As drummer, Dan Weiss’s mallots join in, you feel the momentum picking up. Then Mark Hellas makes a brief solo appearance on bass, soaking up the spotlight like a black hole in space. Suddenly all the star players are joined together, an asterism against the midnight hour of my bedroom. Their notes melt together, like a constellation of beauty. Quinsin Nachoff, Mak Hellia and Dan Weiss perform forty-three minutes of free-form jazz expression and classical-avant-garde.

Nachoff is a New York-based transplant from Canada who explained this project in his linear notes.

“I enjoy writing this way. … It gives me two distinct voices that I can really work with. As a bassist, Mark Helias is such an experienced musician, I can compose harmonically or contrapuntally and he always expands it to such an extent that we’re never missing harmony. If we play in more of an open setting, it leaves us more freedom. Don Weiss is a master of dealing with anything rhythmically, so he can be very free within, even something very structured. All three of us love to investigate different colors and extended techniques. so many different directions are possible. Once we’ve understood what the direction is for each composition, that’s when the magic starts to happen.”
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ART FRISTOE – “DOUBLEDOWN”

Merry Lane Records, LLC

Art Fristoe, piano; Tim Ruiz, bass; Daleton Lee & Richard Cholakian, drums; Ilya Janos, percussion.

J.W. Peine, co-producer and executive producer, admits that although this recording had been in the planning stages for some time, he had no idea it would evolve as part of an Art-House film that he, Daniel Jircik and Bob Dorough were making. The film is described as a fantastical musical about the nature of everything. Art Fristoe was invited to become part of the cast and to add his piano and vocal talents. Fristoe’s size is compelling. He is physically six-feet-six-inches with huge hands and his presence in any room is formidable. He’s a serious student of jazz history, jazz knowledge and has studied classically as a vocal tenor, later focusing on jazz piano. As an educator, Fristoe taught at HSPVA (Houston High School for Performing and Visual Arts). He comes from a proud, hard-swinging West Texas tradition, as son of jazz bassist, Joe Fristoe.

Art Fristoe has composed five tunes on this double set of music and utilizes two different drummers at various sessions along with a percussionist on tunes like Jobim’s, “Ela E Carioca.” His original compositions appear to reflect tricks of time and tempo. For example, on “Forgetting I knew You,” this song seems to explore bars of seven more readily than a melody. However, on his original composition, “Better Lately,” he settles down to sing the song on black and white keys, with a solo piano rendition that is beautiful and heartfelt. I missed a definitive drummer in his trio, setting a solid groove to support Fristoe when he’s exploring his creativity. At other times, I found his piano-playing-style assertive to the point of pounding. Some tunes on this CD quickly become lack-luster, because of repetitive chording and very little improvisational exploration. On the whole, perhaps the music would be better appreciated by this journalist in the context of the film.
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