Archive for June, 2016


June 26, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

June 26, 2016

As a songwriter myself, it’s always interesting to hear the melodic musing of other composers. I am open to their musical tastes and creative expressions. I enjoy hearing their lyrical ideas and it’s exciting to discover new voices in jazz exploring unique pathways. The composer/artists below each have a little piece of themselves to share with us, should we care to take time and listen. TODD HUNTER uses a jazz trio to interpret his compositional skills. NOVIA M. YUKUMI strives to combine musical genres with keen compositional skills and good producers. RON KING is triumphant on trumpet expressing his original compositions. JOE POLICASTRO’s guitar trio transforms several popular genres into jazz with unique arrangements. JIM SELF AND THE TRICKY LIX LATIN JAZZ BAND show the world how tuba can be relevant in jazz and beyond. Finally,“BRAZZAMERICA” combines Brazilian culture with American jazz roots and comes up with a winning concept. Read all about it below.

Dexterity Records

Todd Hunter, piano; Steve Hass & Aaron Serfaty, drums; Dave Robaire, bass; Rufus Philpot, elec. Bass.

With a catchy title like “Eat, Drink, Play”, I figure Todd Hunter and his group must have an exploratory purpose for this recorded music. After all, I’m very familiar with the best-selling book, “Eat, Pray, Love” that documents a woman’s journey across Italy to find herself. It would appear that Todd Hunter has already found himself. He is composer of every song on this CD and arranged them as well. Hunter’s also the producer and pianist. His melodies are memorable and his songs well-written. This is an easy listening project that showcases Hunter’s songwriting/arranging skills, incorporating the talents of Robaire on upright bass and mostly Serfaty on drums with the exception of the final tune, “210 to the 15,” where he uses Rufus Philpot on electric bass and the first tune, “Big Bird,” where Steve Hass is the Trap drum player. BTW, for those unfamiliar with Southern California highways, I have driven that “210 to the 15” that heads to San Diego going South and Las Vegas going North many times. This is a very mellow album, even when Hunter tackles Sambas and ‘Swing’ it pretty much stays at a level keel throughout. Favorite cuts: “I See More Than One” and “Snake In The Bottle”. I wanted to put lyrics to “Moments I Remember”, its melody is so pensive and lovely with unusual and unexpected chord changes. It’s the perfect music for eating, drinking and playing; pleasant and unobtrusive throughout.

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Independent label

Novia M. Yukumi, vocals/alto and soprano saxophone; Michael Angel, guitar; Juan Tyus, keyboards; Alex Al Dunbar, bass; Donnell Spencer Jr, drum; Andréa Cole & Charla Emel, background vocals.

I first met this young lady when she was a Japanese student at the Music Performance Academy in Alhambra, California where I was vocal coaching part time. Yukumi was full of excitement about her music and exhibited a beautiful voice, as well as a love of saxophone and songwriting. Now, several years later, it pleases me to listen to her first album release. She has composed, or co-composed, all of the songs on this, her premiere recording endeavor, and clearly is a very good songwriter. The challenge of taking her native language of Japanese, and translating her thoughts into English, makes for some very poetic lyrics. This CD is more Smooth jazz and leaning towards Pop, but it’s well produced by Yukumi and Juan Tyus. On “Flowing In the Water” Michael Angel’s electric guitar brings a Jimi Hendrix, 1960 kind of feel to the jazz and Yukumi’s voice is rather like a folk singer. That makes for a fresh approach to her original compositions and cements her vocal styling as uniquely hers. The arrangements are plush with background vocals and harmonics as rich as a string section. “Little Drops” features Yukumi on Alto saxophone with Dunbar on bass and Spencer Jr on drums pushing the music ahead like a strong freight train climbing up a mountain. Together, with Tyus on keys, they build the excitement. The production is solid. “If You Go To Wherever” utilizes descants with voices singing the lyrics in the background like distant angels interpreting a poignant message of love lost and still staying strong in the face of heartache. Yukumi’s sound on her reed instruments is all her own, just like her vocalization. At times, she makes the Alto saxophone almost sound like a soprano sax; light and feathery. “Inside Color” is another instrumental where she is actually playing soprano sax and it lends itself to funky, Smooth jazz stylings. I am particularly engaged with Yukumi’s composition abilities. The title tune, “Believer” is very catchy. Here is a young star on the rise. I hope she gets the airplay that she deserves on this her first album release. This album could easily be played on Christian radio, Smooth Jazz stations and cross over to Pop.
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Independent Label

Ron King, trumpet/flugelhorn/keyboards; Vienna Spencer, co-producer/vocals; Johann Frank, guitar; Jeff Lorber, piano; Bennett Brandeis, guitar; Preston Shepard, French horn; Andy Langham, piano; Hamilton price, bass; Bob Sheppard, flute/tenor saxophone; Gary Novak, drums; Gina Kronstadt, Kirstin Fife, violin; Brianna Bandy, viola; Stephanie Fife, cello; Rob Lockhart, tenor sax; Tom Ranier, piano; Dave Carpenter, bass; Lanny6 Castro, congas.

Here is an interesting “Smooth Jazz” concept featuring King’s trumpet and exalting him as arranger/ performer and composer of every track on this album. This piece of extraordinary creativity is co-produced by Vienna Spencer and beautifully engineered by Talley Sherwood. On a couple of the songs, King is responsible for playing all the instruments. For example, on “Peace & Love” he is featured singularly on trumpet, rhythm and keyboards. On his composition, “Atlantic Thoughts” he plays trumpet (Harmon mute) and all other instruments except for the piano solo by Andy Langham. Langham is an amazing and gifted pianist. I like the production. The strings are a sweet surprise. My favorite cuts are the more straight-ahead “A Long Home Home”, where Gary Novak on drums and Lenny Castro on Congas offer quite an exciting mixed percussion solo. “If You Could Only Know My Mind” combines Smooth and straight-ahead in a unique way that pleases my ears. Hamilton Price performs an outstanding bass solo. Andy Langham races around the piano keys with technique and purpose, while King wraps his trumpet around this tune, exploring the sweet melody and diving off into creative, improvisational places. This is an artistic musical endeavor you will probably listen to more than once the way I did.

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Jerujazz Records

Joe Policastro, bass; Dave Miller, guitar; Mikel Avery, drums. Guest Artists: Andy Brown & Andy Pratt, guitars.

“Wives and Lovers”, the familiar tune by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, opens this CD. Right off the bat, Policastro’s bass seems to be the glue that holds this trio solidly in place. His bass line becomes the unifying element in the first tune’s arrangement, while the guitar sings the melody in a somewhat choppy manner, being played very acoustically. I had to adjust my ears to this stylized acoustic presentation. “Harvest Moon”, the popular Neil Young composition, has a little more finesse and smoothness about the arrangement. I found it more palatable for my taste. Policastro’s trio is used to playing nightly in Chicago’s popular Champagne bar called “Pops for Champagne.” The trio tackles a myriad of popular songs from many genres on this CD, translating them into jazz arrangements with their own unique approach. For example, they play one of my favorite Stevie Wonder compositions, “Creepin” where Policastro takes a brief solo on his double bass, bowing it in a sweet, symphonic kind of way. I enjoyed the sound of their guitar guest, Andy Pratt on the 4th cut “Wave of Mutilation”. Maybe it was because the guitar sound wasn’t so choppy, but had an electronic, pedaled sustain to the tone. There’s a tribute to Prince when they make a medley of “Condition of the Heart” and “Diamonds and Pearls” where Policastro takes a long and creative solo on the intro of the tune. There’s also a tribute to the late, great R&B vocalist, Billy Paul when they play “Me and Mrs. Jones” in a very bluesy way, featuring Andy Brown on guitar. I love his smooth, blues approach. They also play the Bee Gee’s hit, “More Than A Woman” in their own unique way, featuring Andy Brown once again on guitar. I enjoyed Brown’s sound on his guitar instrument the best. He definitely transformed this Pop hit into a respectable jazz arrangement, with flying fingers and beautifully played improvisation. Drummer Mikel Avery gives an impressive solo during this tune.

Joe Policastro is a Chicago Bassist, composer, arranger and educator. He was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio but relocated to Chicago, Illinois in 2003. He has performed and recorded with many jazz luminaries including Diane Schuur, Jeff Hamilton, Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, David “Fathead” Newman and Billy Hart to name just a few. When he isn’t working with his trio, you can find him composing and arranging for Mulligan Mulligan Mosaics Nonet and his work can be heard on recordings by numerous artists including Ira Sullivan and the Rob Parton Big Band. Guitar buffs should get a kick out of this Policastro Trio recording.
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Basset Hound Music

Jim Self, tuba/fluba; Francisco Torres, trombone; Ron Blake, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rob Hardt, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Andy Langham, piano; Rene Camacho, string bass; Joey De Leon, timbales/bata Shekere; Giancarlo Anderson, congas; George Ortiz, bongos.

Jim Self is a veteran Los Angeles Studio Musician who has added his tuba to over 1500 Movie scores. You might recognize his work as the voice of Mothership in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. This is his 13th solo CD featuring amazing technique on his tuba and undeniable skills as a Latin jazz composer. It’s rare that I receive a CD to review featuring tuba as the lead voice. Jim Self is a master of his instrument, an ingenious composer/arranger. Perhaps Poncho Sanchez said it best.

“Jim Self has brought a fresh, new approach to Latin Jazz with his tuba. Very seldom do you hear this combination in jazz, much less Latin Jazz. If you love good music, you’ll love this!”

And the artist, Jim Self explains in his linear notes:

“Cuban music was very popular dance music in the U.S. before Castro (especially Rumbas, Mambos and Cha Chas) – as a boy, I heard it everywhere. In the 60s I fell in love with the Bossa Nova, followed by the Samba (on my earlier jazz recordings I played several of them). Now my latest love is Latin Jazz. Always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to play in an Afro-Cuban band; but that world is not a place where you would expect to see or hear a tuba. I am stubborn enough to make it happen.”

I’m glad he did! This has become one of my favorite Latin Jazz releases this year. It’s joyful music, flawlessly performed by master musicians and shows the composition skills of trombonist, Francisco Torres. Torres has co-produced this record with Jim Self. They’ve hired the ‘who’s-who’ of West Coast Latin jazz musicians to interpret these beautiful songs, including original music by Jim Self and Torres along with four popular Latin jazz standards; including “Morning” composed by the late Clare Fischer; the Tito Puente composition “Old Arrival”, Eddie Cano’s “Cal’s Pals” and Nat Simon’s popular “Poinciana”. This is definitely a CD I’m proud to have in my collection.

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Independent Label

Leco Reis, bassist/educator; Cidinho Teixeira, piano; Edson Ferreira, percussionist/producer.

All three of these talented musicians enjoyed musical success in their native country of Brazil before settling in America. Pianist, Teixeira, is renowned in Brazil and although he’s been living in the United States for two decades, many of the top Brazilian players patronize his gigs whenever they’re in town. He’s an in-demand composer, arranger and pianist who has worked with such luminaries as Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Harry Belafonte, Mark Murphy and Blossom Dearie. Additionally, Cidino Teixeira released half-dozen albums in his own name. Leco Reis, the bassist of this trio, has been working the New York music scene for more than ten years. He’s a Berklee College of Music graduate with an advanced degree from Queens College and he serves on the music faculty of Sacred Heart University. Although he too is soaked in Brazilian cultural music and jazz, he often gigs in more contemporary improvised settings. Dynamic drummer, Edson Ferreira, is a noted percussionist and music producer who studied at Sao Paulo Conservatory. He’s played concerts, clubs and festivals all over the world as both a leader and a sideman. Together, these three talented gentlemen make a formidable music force that has incorporated Brazilian music standards with some of Teixeira’s original compositions and infused everything with American jazz. The results is “Brazzamerica”. Mile Davis’ popular tune, “So What,” is incorporated nicely into “Samba Do Carioca Wav”. “Lim Sim” (Maracatu-Blues) creates a platform for Ferreira to showcase his drum skills and it’s a plush arrangement with the bass line sewing the fabric of the composition together with strong, unforgettable stitching of tone and bass groove. This is an exultant, heartwarming package of music interpreted by three musicians who have been performing together for over five years. The results is a combination of love and respect for each other, with a fusion of their cultural roots and American jazz.
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June 15, 2016

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

June 14, 2016

Summer is a time for convertibles, bar-b-ques in the park, and jazz spraying out of radios, cell phones, tablets and speakers like water from a fire hydrant in Harlem. You just want to soak the music up and cool off with the smooth sounds as you enjoy your day. BOB MINTZER offers us a smokin’ Los Angeles band with great arrangements to match the technical prowess of the players. JOCELYN MICHELLE surprises the listener with her multi-talents; ED ROTH proclaims to be a “Mad Beatnik”. MICHIKA FUKUMORI and her trio are easy listening jazz, while DAN PRATT isn’t afraid to color outside the lines. Read all about it in my Musical Memoirs.

Fuzzy Music Mobile LLC

Bob Mintzer, saxophone; Russ Ferrante, piano; Edwin Livingston, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Aaron Serfaty, percussion; Larry Koonse, guitar; Wayne Bergeron, James Blackwell, John Thomas, Chad Willis, and Michael Stever, trumpets; Bob McChesney, Erik Hughes, Julianne Gralle, and Craig Gosnell, trombones; Bob Sheppard and Adam Schroeder, saxophones.

The first cut dances into my listening room with spunk and Latin sparks flying everywhere. I start wiggling in my seat to this high energy band of Los Angeles jazz giants. It’s titled, “El Caborojeno,” an Afro-Cuban composition by Mintzer. He describes it this way.

“When writing this piece, I thought of the wind players as percussion instruments; lots of short accented notes add a percussive quality to the horn passages.”

“Havin’ Some Fun” is a tune written in the style of the great Count Basie Orchestra and that’s right up my alley. It Swings! The harmonics are beautiful and I was super impressed with that baritone sax solo. These charted arrangements are wonderfully creative and the full big band charts are available This gifted saxophonist/composer has joined with master drummer, Peter Erskine, after being band mates and friends for nearly half a century to collaborate on this CD. Now, with gray hair and receding hair lines, they fondly remember spending their high school days in a big band at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy before graduating and going their separate ways. After traveling around the world separately, but both with various big bands, it’s probably not surprising that since they have now settled into the Los Angeles lifestyle, their big band collaboration would take root here and flower.

This is an amazing piece of creativity from the stand point of composition, arrangements and production. With folks like Edwin Livingston on bass, Bob Sheppard, Mintzer and Adam Schroeder on saxophones, Erskine manning the drums, Larry Koonse on guitar and Russ Ferrante on piano, plus all those technically brilliant horn players, they have created a monster project. Here is an album anyone would be proud to have in their collection.

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Chicken Coup Records (part of Summit Record Group)

Jocelyn Michelle, organ/piano/guitar; John Rack & Bruce Forman, guitars; Sammy K, drums/percussion; Brad Dutz, percussion; Doub Webb, tenor Saxophone; Steve Mann, tenor/alto & soprano saxophone; Stan Martin & Andrea Lindborg, trumpets; Gina Saputo, vocals on cut #5; Regina Leonard Smyth, vocals on cut #10.

Looking gorgeous in a scanty, red, form-fitting dress and fishnet stockings, from the cover artwork I was prepared for Jocelyn Michelle to be a vocalist. She surprised me. She is, instead, a multi-talented artist who plays the Hammond B3 organ, the piano and jazz guitar. Additionally, this talented woman has composed six out of the ten songs on this CD. Right from the very first cut, her self-penned “Inglewood Cliffs,” roars out of the gate with a powerful Swing groove. Sammy K kills it with his outstanding drum solo. Doug Webb opens the 3rd cut, making a sexy tenor saxophone entrance on Marvin Gaye’s composition “Trouble Man” with some kind of street noises in the background. Was that an intentional play on “What’s Going On” or a mistake? I couldn’t figure out why those noises were there. Never mind! Jocelyn Michelle sprinkles blues into the mix, caressing those organ keys and setting up the groove nicely. I sincerely appreciate Jocelyn’s ability to embrace the blues like a lover. Her talent shines.

This artist has surrounded herself with some of the best musicians in town and they do justice to her compositions, as well as supporting her obvious talents. However, I wish she had eliminated the vocals and (in my humble opinion) the “all over the map” that Jocelyn Michelle talks about in her linear notes distracts from the jazz sensibility of this recording. I didn’t mind the smooth jazz transition on cut #7. I thought the modern arrangement worked on “Last Tango in Paris”. “Never Let Me Go” showed Jocelyn’s tender side and was beautifully performed. But the final song, with gospel overtones, seemed strangely out of place and the vocals were distracting.

Jocelyn Michelle comes from a musical family with her mother playing piano and singing opera. Her father played trumpet. This artist began studying piano at age seven when her parent realized their child could hear a song and play it by ear. She and her guitarist husband, John Rack, have released three CDs prior to this one. With Hawaii currently their home, they’ve been playing jazz and blues on the Big Island since 2013.

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Warrior Records

Ed “the Wrench” Roth, piano/Hammond B3/Fender Rhodes/Clavinet/all Synthesizers and electronic percussion; Chad “the Big Galute” Smith, all drums; Rock “Astaire” Deadrick, all percussion; James “Big Game” Manning, Andrew “Country Club” Ford and Ed Roth, bass guitar; Joe “El Kabong” Calderon, guitar; Linda “The Queen of Scots” Taylor, guitar; Mitch “Stroybook” Manker, trumpet, valve Trombone, Flugel Horn; Tony “the Magnet” Grant, vocals; Special Guest: Tom “Bard of Light” Scott, saxophone.

It’s been a while since I read or heard the term ‘beatnik’, so I was interested to see what Mr. Ed Roth’s music reflected. Roth is a keyboardist with a strong penchant for funk and blues. He, along with the great Tom Scott on saxophone, let you know from the very first title tune what this project is all about the funk groove. Roth plays an assortment of keyboard instruments including piano, Hammond B3 organ, synthesizers, Fender Rhodes, a clavinet and electronic percussion. Additionally, he has composed the majority of the music on this CD and secured the who’s-who of top LA-based studio musicians to interpret his tunes. It enhances his project to include Grammy winning saxophonist, Tom Scott and Grammy winning drummer, Chad Smith. Smith is also an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, the first thing I noticed on this CD, after the pianist, was that strong drum line building a backline of powerful rhythm to propel this music into the atmosphere. No wonder! Smith’s history is as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you love a funk-groove colored with Rhythm, Blues and Smooth jazz overtones, you’ll be quite pleased with this eleven-song production. Roth is a solid composer and his ensemble expertly plays his original music with definitive technique and finesse.

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Summit Records

Michika Fukumori, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.

This is an Easy Listening jazz recording. Michika Fukumori is a gifted pianist and she leads her trio with impeccable taste and seasoned technique. I enjoyed Aidan O’Donnell’s bass solo on “The Story I want to tell You;” an original composition by Fukumori. She has written four of the twelve songs recorded. Each is splendidly interpreted, balanced and well represented by these musicians. “Luz” is another original composition, beautifully written and sensually served up as a tender ballad.

Growing up on Japan’s main island, Fukumori was born in the city of Mie and has been playing piano since the impressionable age of three. Almost immediately she began composing her own tunes. She studied classically at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music; then with renowned Japanese pianist Colgen Suzuki. It wasn’t long before she was performing in Japanese jazz clubs. In the year 2000, Michika Fukumori came to New York from Japan to study jazz piano. She has studied for fifteen years with Steve Kuhn, who is the producer of this recording. He’s also her mentor, her friend and her hero. Additionally, she studied with iconic bassist, Ron Carter, and the brilliant pianist, Geri Allen, at City College of New York, earning a Master’s Degree in 2003.

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Same Island Music Imprint

Dan Pratt, tenor/alto saxophone; Mike Eckroth, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.

If you are looking for someone who colors a little outside the lines, look no further. Pratt is painting with broad musical strokes way outside the designated palate. On “Gross Blues” his composition reminds me a bit of Eddie Harris, with those short choppy notes that set up the groove. The thing is, we never really reach that down-home blues feel that Harris was so famous for offering. Instead, Pratt’s tune reminds me more of a deconstructed blues, dancing on the edge of Avant Garde. On “New Day,” he settles down a bit, dropping the staccato to smoothly introduce us to a melody that is challenging and leaves lots of space for his trio to stretch out. Pratt has surrounded himself with some of the best players in the business and they interpret his seven original compositions in a stellar way. This is Pratt’s fourth recording as a leader, following two critically-acclaimed organ flavored CDs. He is a founding member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground collective and a regular participant in the Christian McBride Big Band, the David Smith Quintet and the Tammy Scheffer Sextet. Favorite cuts on this CD are “River” with it’s rich, haunting bass solo by McBride, “Junket” that allows Gregory Hutchinson to flash his drum skills vibrantly and “Hymn for the Happy Man”.

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June 3, 2016

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

It’s preposterous to realize that the young man I see sitting on that well-worn piano bench is only a senior in high school. How can someone who plays piano so masterfully still be a teenager?

I’m sitting at the Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation auditions and listening to a variety of hopeful, young jazz musicians. Jamael Dean is one of them and his talent is astonishing! He wound up winning the scholarship that year and then again, the next year. Everyone was buzzing about his piano chops. I went to someone who knew him well to gather history on this developing jazz artist. Here’s what his grandfather told me.

His grandfather, Donald Dean Sr., has been a jazz drummer for nearly five decades. He’s the one laying that groove down on the 1969 Atlantic Records release, “Swiss Movement” with Les McCann and Eddie Harris ‘Live’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival. He’s worked with Kenny Dorham, Ernie Andrews, organist Jimmy Smith, and a host of other notable jazz names. Donald is beaming with pride about his grandson.

“Remember when we used to do those school gigs back in the day?” He reminds me.
As the narrator for a program that taught young people the three elements of jazz, I remember those days very well.

“Well, I still do these school gigs every year for black history month,” Donald Dean Sr. told me. “So Jamael had a great ear for music and he started playing piano by ear as a kid; Picking out all these tunes on the piano when he was about seven years old. That’s when I first noticed it. In school, he started off playing violin. But his piano chops were so good that I kept challenging him. I would give him music to listen to, like Thelonius Monk. I would take him to the schools with me, when I was playing the school circuit. The musicians that were on those gigs were folks like saxophonist, Charles Owens and four or five of us would be playing. The schools were so impressed with this kid and so were we, because he would hear it and he could play it. You know, he would listen to Stevie Wonder and all that kind of stuff and learn to play it. Each year he got better and better. I would challenge him to listen to a plethora of people and I would tell him, listen to this and play that for me. I’d put it on a disc for him and he’d go home and come back with it sounding exactly like the disc. Back then, he was playing by ear. At the University up there in Bakersfield, they took an interest in him and started teaching him to read music. I had a little piano at home and I had a few books. We would sit down and the guys would come over, you know like Art Hillary, René Van Helsdingen and Phil Wright. They’d show him a few things and he loved it. That female bassist, Nedra Wheeler, she helped him. So did trumpeter Richard Grant. But all the credit is due to him, because he wanted to do it. It wasn’t about showing him. He wanted the music bad.”

Jamael’s father, Bill Dean, remembers that as early as age two, Jamael seemed smitten with music. In an article written by Richard Simon and published in LA Jazz Scene newspaper, his father spoke about his son’s obsession with music.

“Jamael would pull out pots and pans and beat on them as if they were drums. He would get his sister’s clarinet and try to play it. He started playing the violin at his school in the third grade. I bought him a little keyboard just before he was nine. His mother and I were surprised at what he could do on the piano without any lessons.”

While interviewing Jamael himself, I asked exactly what had turned his interest to jazz and he was quick to say it was his grandpa.

Jamael told me, “I used to go to gigs with my grandpa and he would just have tons of fun with his friends. I thought, oh man, that’s what I want to do.”

I asked Jamael, “What made you choose piano because your grandpa is a drummer?”

He responded, “Well, I couldn’t play with grandpa if I played drums.”

We laughed about that, but it made sense.

“When I would listen to my grandpa with Les McCann, like … Les’s approach to piano made it seem so cool. I was influenced by Les McCann, Bobby Timmons and Ahmad Jamal when I was just a kid.”

Jamael is a quiet, unobtrusive individual. He’s appropriately hesitant to sing his own praises, but his grandfather was quick to tell me how multi-talented he is.
Donald Dean Senior said, “You know I was teaching him drums too. He’s multi-talented. He can play the drums. He’s got a saxophone, he’s got a trumpet, he’s got a bass, he’s got a guitar and he tinkers around with all of these things. He started on violin, when he was in grade school, and it was donated to him by my good friend, bassist, Louie Spears. I’m so proud to have a grandson that’s interested in jazz.”

I spoke to master bassist and educator, Richard Simon, who remembers Jamael as an eleven or twelve-year-old piano prodigy who participated in the JazzAmerica Foundation.

“Back in 2010, I was playing a private party in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles. It was just before Christmas. Donald Dean was the drummer and he asked me if his grandson could play a tune on the piano when the band took a break. I wasn’t the leader, but I said I thought it would be fine. A very thin, shy youngster of about 11 0r 12 years old climbed onto the piano bench and proceeded to play Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’. That’s a daunting piece, even for older folks, never mind a pipsqueak pre-teen. But Jamael played it with so much soulfulness it was clear that he possessed a rare depth of understanding about the music. When he finished and the raucous ovation subsided, I practically tackled him and said, you’re not leaving this room until I get your name and phone number. We have a jazz program on Saturday mornings and you’d be perfect for it. His dad said that they lived in Bakersfield, some 90 miles away, but he said the family would discuss bringing Jamael to Hollywood once a week. Apparently there was one teacher up there helping nurture Jamael’s interest in jazz, but no program like JazzAmerica for group instruction.

“Buddy Collette was a co-founder of JazzAmerica in 1994. In the first several years, JA operated on two tracks; Saturday ‘Master Classes’ for high school musicians and weekday jazz instruction at four middle schools and Fairfax High School as an After-School program. The original mentors on Saturdays included Gerald Wiggins, Bobby Bryant, Ndugu Chancler, Tony White, Buddy (Collette) himself and yours truly. We were supported by the Music Center of the County of Los Angeles, which gave us access to the rehearsal rooms adjacent to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The first several summers, we served ninety students. Later, we solicited the help of the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass at Mulholland for new funding, hired school buses to bring in kids from the city, and performed at Skirball’s annual arts fairs. One special year there, 2005, we were blessed with the likes of Katie Thiroux, (now a successful professional bassist), and Austin Peralta, the phenomenally talented pianist who later died tragically in his early 20’s. Today, we’re still in business, more canoe than cruise ship, but nonetheless, buoyed by a handful of organizations and propelled by the interest in jazz that still beats within the heart of the community. In twenty-two years, we have provided a home for a thousand youngsters. On July 31, JazzAmerica youth will open the second day of the 2016 Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

“Getting back to when I first met Jamael, our program resumed in early January of 2011. The Dean family car was usually the first one in the Musicians Union’s parking lot. Jamael was the quietest student in the band and the most focused. He clearly had listened to the recordings of the pieces we rehearsed and arrived at each rehearsal ready to play. He had an instinctive feel for the way jazz piano supports the collective improvisation of the brass and saxes in traditional jazz. He crafted his solos, creating personally meaningful phrases that incorporated the jazz vocabulary without clichés. Music is simply in his blood and in his soul.”

When I interviewed Jamael Dean, he explained how he was influenced by McCann, Timmons and Ahmad Jamal. But it didn’t take long for his taste in music and musical concepts to grow.

“Now, I’ve kind of gravitated more towards Herbie Hancock, Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Sun Ra. They were definitely trying to reach a higher place … and I’m trying to tap into that,” Jamael shared with youthful sincerity.

When he was in the 8th grade, they had a program called the Bill Green Mentorship. Jamael was still living in Bakersfield, California, where he attended Compton Junior High school. Many young students, who have an interest in music and jazz, are unable to afford private music lessons and need the opportunity to grow and become professional musicians. Initiated in 1998, the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Bill Green Mentorship Program provides that opportunity for qualified students every year. The purpose of the program is to supplement the education of promising young jazz students and encourage their development as future professional jazz artists. They invested wisely in the blossoming talent of Jamael Dean.
At a point when he was graduating from Junior High School to High School, his family moved from Bakersfield to Los Angeles so their gifted son could attend The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Jamael lit up when he talked about his school.

“My school gives me a lot of opportunities, like going up to the Generation Jazz Festival and also the people they bring in for Master classes are great. For example, this guy named Dayna Stephens (a saxophone player from New York), he’s a bad dude. He came a couple of times and Gerald Clayton visited us. The Thelonius Monk Institute always comes up to our school as well. I plan to go to the Brubeck Institute next and then I was going to try and go to The New School in New York. I have a scholarship already,” he spoke quietly, but with a determined firmness to his tone.

“My musical dreams and goals are kind of eclectic. I started off playing R&B and gospel music. I really just want to tie all of the genre’s together to show that it comes from the same place. It all comes from improvisation from the beginning and bridging the gap between musicians and people who aren’t musicians. Because musicians like a certain type of music and audiences might not be able to deal with it sometimes (for lack of a better term) the intellectualness of it. So, I want to be able to find the complexities and make it come across as simplicities and all the simplicities come across as complexities. After all, clearly music is a universal language.”

In the summer of 2015, Jamael spent 10 days in Vienna, Austria as a scholarship recipient for the Zawinul Foundation for Achievement.

“I’m actually going to get to go to Japan this summer, touring with (saxophonist) Kamasi Washington. That’ll be pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan,” Jamael told me.

This is only the first trip, in a string of many, that I visualize for this talented pianist. I won’t be surprised when he is leading his own band and touring to promote his own CD. Meantime, keep the name of Jamael Dean on your radar, and listen for his amazing talents as he plays around town. Watch him jamming with Jon Baptiste in the video below, and I’ll be featuring him on Sunday, June 12th, with the amazing Michael Session sextet, in concert at Maverick’s Flat in the historic Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, as part of my Sunday Best Jazz Series.