December 6, 2015 – Concert Review
In the private Orange County community of Hidden Hills in San Juan Capistrano, the living room plate glass windows of Ron and Natasha Dye’s home reverberated and trembled with hot jazz. They were hosting an intimate Performance Salon for about forty people who were big fans of Leslie and Gerard Hagan. Leslie and Gerard exited our Southern California Jazz Scene a few years ago to move to Paris in search of more work and international recognition. Their dreams have flowered and the sweetness shows in their performance. Hagen, once a prominent Orange County college professor and pianist, does all the arranging for he and Leslie. Leslie Lewis-Hagen has a stellar reputation as a busy and proficient jazz vocalist in and around Southern California with several solo CD recordings. I was excited to see them perform, because I had not heard them in quite some time.
They opened to the Richard Torrance composition, “Rio De Janeiro Blues”. I was captivated by Leslie’s strong vocals, acrobatic gyrations up and down the scale, and her complete comfort on stage. You can tell when musicians have been working at their craft. Leslie’s vocal growth and confidence was obvious. For their second tune, Domenic Genova walked his contra bass as Leslie sang “On A Clear Day”. Despite the familiarity of the jazz standard, Leslie did things with that song I had never heard done before, taking well received liberties with time and melody and showing the crowded house what jazz is all about. Her scatting abilities were on-point and as solid as Gerard Hagen’s creative arrangements. They celebrated Cole Porter with “Love for Sale” as a funk groove, up-tempo and exciting. It had the audience toe tapping in their seats. “Night Has a Thousand Eyes” had an ethereal and magical quality. Once again, the arrangement was stellar. Leslie’s voice captivated us, rising from contralto tones to star bursting soprano notes. She and trombonist Joey Sellers (Music Director at Saddleback College) performed a comedic and very musical duet, slow-swinging “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” with just voice and trombone. Jerry Kalaf was the only accompaniment when Leslie tackled Duke Ellington’s “In My Solitude”. Kalaf played with his hands, his sticks and brushes, making his percussive instruments dance with innovation. Dominic added an occasional touch of bass, but for the most part, Leslie and Jerry performed this challenging and beautiful Ellington composition by themselves. What a stunning arrangement!
This was the kind of concert where you are sitting on the edge of your seat to see what will happen next. The vocals were uniquely ‘Leslie’. She has absolutely secured a niche in the jazz world with a style and sound all her own. Sometimes Broadway musical bawdy, sometimes Sarah Vaughan sweet and rangy, but always with excellence. I cannot praise her enough. I have known this vocalist for some time and her growth in just the last couple of years is amazing and inspirational. She showed off her scat abilities often, using tonal precision and expert improvisation. After receiving huge applause for Ellington’s work, the band broke into a funky arrangement on the Beatles tune “Come Together”. Leslie made the song brand new and showed how she could take any song/any genre, and make it a jazz treasure. “Honeysuckle Rose” was sung at a bullet-train pace and a’ccapella, with Leslie racing through the lyrics and melody like an Indianapolis race car, but never losing the feeling or stumbling over the lyrics. Every word was perfectly enunciated and her delivery would make any elocutionist proud. The Carly Simon hit song, “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be” was one of the highlight of my evening. In the 70s I used to love listening to the sad, poignant strains of that song, with it’s unusual, haunting melody. Leslie did it justice, reaching her contralto lows with power and soaring to the high notes like a brave, beautiful bird. Al Jarreau would have been thrilled with her delivery on Chick Corea’s composition, “Spain” and the ensemble closed with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time”. A standing ovation followed, with an encore of “That’s the Glory of Love,” giving us a rich taste of the blues to end an exciting evening.
DWIGHT TRIBLE AND MAGGIE BROWN IN CONCERT
November 28, 2015
Reviewed by Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist
The Ann and Jerry Moss Theater is located in Santa Monica as part of Herb Albert’s Educational Village on Olympic Blvd. It’s a cozy space that seats about 250 to 300 people and promises good acoustics. The concert space began to fill up pretty quickly on Saturday night, Nov 28, 2015, for the tribute concert to Oscar Brown Jr. produced by Ruth Price as part of her Moveable Feast/Jazz Bakery productions. This year she was blessed to receive an NEA grant in support of “Concerts and Conversations with Jazz Legends of Southern California”. Greeting us in a loose-fitting, silky-white blouse, a cap and dark slacks, Price told the audience that she had chosen our local legend, Dwight Trible and flown in the daughter of legendary Oscar Brown Jr, from Chicago, (Maggie Brown), to be her very first concert participants in this unique series.
To open, Price, Brown and Trible perched on bar stools and took questions from the audience. Maggie told us her father had seven children, three wives, not at the same time, (the crowd chuckled),and that she had been singing and performing since childhood. During high school, Maggie recalled playing the part of the wicked stepmother in a musical about “Cinderella.” She told us how amazed her dad was by her developing talent. She also shared that her father had written two songs for his children. One was for Oscar Brown the third titled “The Snake“ that his father composed about a frozen snake that was taken in from the cold by a kind-hearted woman. For the birth of one of his daughters, he composed another song and named it for me; “Maggie.” She told us proudly.
Dwight told us Oscar Brown Jr was one of his heroes, mentors and he considered him a friend. They would hang out each time Oscar came to Los Angeles to perform. He recalled first seeing him on the popular TV show, “Jump Street” and how he went to see him at the now defunct, Vine Street Bar & Grill, formerly owned and managed by Ron Berinstein. Trible also enjoyed concerts by Brown at The Jazz Bakery.
Price shared that every time Oscar Brown Jr sang his “Column of Birds” composition, it made her weep. Later in the evening we would experience an amazing rendition of that master composition sung dynamically by Trible.
Percussionist extraordinaire, (Breeze Smith), began the show, spinning a bell into the air, sliding sound from the side of his cymbal and creating a solo performance of percussive sound and mastery. He was both improvisational and inspired. Bassist, Trevor Ware, recited a piece/a prayer about “hope”. This acted as a bridge between the percussion and the poem where the others could march across with a cacophony of free-form jazz, including Trible’s melodic screaming and moaning in his own inimitable way. Soon we could make out the beautiful melody and lyrics to “All Blues.” This opening tune was followed by “Brother, Where Are You?”, again performed with a unique arrangement that featured a strong groove. Ware, opened the next tune, bowing his big, brown bass with expected precision and excitement. This tune was “Brown Baby” and after Trible sang one verse, Maggie Brown moved stage center and took over at the microphone. Her only accompaniment was Ware’s magnificent upright bass, drums and flute, played sensitively by the great Charles Owens. After the song, Maggie Brown told us that it was her intention to present an OBJ Festival in 2016, a year that would have celebrated her father’s 90th birthday. She performed “Black Stars” with a funky blues arrangement that soon made a quick change into straight-ahead swing, with Ware’s bass walking prominently all over the tune, putting a capital ‘S’ into ‘Swing’. She and Trible performed “Rags and Old Iron” and Trible tore the house down with his rendition of “Living Double, In A World of Trouble.” John Beasley, as always, dominated the stage with his extraordinary piano talents. He and Trible performed a sensuous and amazing duet on Oscar Brown Jr’s “Column of Birds.” It was breathtakingly beautiful. The audience was captivated and absolutely quiet during this song as though we had all taken a collective gasp and forgot to exhale. Drummer, Paul Lagaspi got to show off his talents on the “Snake song”. The set ended with “Afro Blue” showcasing all the skills of the master musicians on-stage and sung by both Maggie Brown and Dwight Trible. A standing ovation demanded an encore and Ruth Price’s opening concert, celebrating Southern California’s historic jazz scene, was a bountiful success. I look forward to the series’ upcoming performances by Hubert Laws, Ernie Andrews with the John Clayton Orchestra, Poncho Sanchez and the Alan Pasqua Trio. Stay tuned.