CONCERT AT THE BEACH – Redondo Beach, CA

September 27, 2016 – A balmy, Tuesday Evening

CONCERT AT THE BEACH – Redondo Beach, California
By Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist

There was a great air of expectancy in the “Seascape Ballroom” at the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach & Marina Hotel. Master guitarist, Doug MacDonald, had put together an unbelievable line-up of thirteen jazz musicians (including himself) who are some of the top names on the Southern California jazz scene. Their goal was to honor a sprinkling of the greatest jazz composers of all time, including Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, and Duke Ellington. At the same time, the concert was being recorded ‘live’ for an upcoming Blue Jazz Record release. I was excited to be present.

The intimate ballroom was located right off the main hotel lobby and was set up with dinner tables that could comfortably accommodate about 60 to 75 people. There was one of those hotel stages that they had constructed for the evening, a couple of feet tall, with a multitude of microphones and a plethora of electric chords stretching like centipede legs all across the cluttered stage. A white grand piano sat in the back of the stage on the right-hand side, dimly illuminated by undistinguished ceiling lights. Waiters and waitresses bustled from one table to another, taking drink orders and passing out dinner menus. It was 6pm and I was ready for a meal, a glass of merlot and some amazing jazz entertainment.

Executive Producer, Don Thomson, took the microphone and introduced the all-star, jazz participants who would be performing. “From the historic Buddy Rich band, two notable trumpet players are with us this evening; Carl Saunders and Bob Summers,” Mr. Thomson informed us. Welcoming applause filled the room.

We learned that on tenor saxophones, two of the very best in the business were on hand; Rickey Woodard and Pete Christleib. Lanny Morgan was on Alto saxophone, and the only female on the bandstand was trombonist, Linda Small. There were two upright bass players, Jim Hughart and John B. Williams, as well as two pianists; Josh Nelson and John Campbell. Finally, we were told, there would also be two drummers featured at various times; Roy McCurdy and Paul Kreibich.

Paul’s wife, Merle Kreibich, was on hand as the ‘hostess with the mostess’ and acting publicity expert. Her dedication to keeping jazz alive in Southern California is undeniable. Half of me was there to enjoy the awesome music and the other half of me was there to support Merle and my long-time friend and musical director, Doug MacDonald. Doug told the expectant audience that the program would begin with Tad Dameron’s composition, “Our Delight,” a swinging little number that featured all the various on-stage icons, along with the first rhythm section consisting of John B. Williams on bass, Roy McCurdy on drums and John Campbell at the grand piano. It was a great way to begin the evening concert.

The next tune was the familiar Thelonius Monk Standard tune, “Round Midnight.” Doug shuffled the musicians like a Las Vegas card dealer. He dismissed some and this time featured Carl Saunders and Rickey Woodard. Saunders is dynamic and his technique on trumpet is flawless and admirable. He’s also fun to watch, standing straddle-legged, knees slightly bent, transforming right before our eyes from man to instrument, pouring his soul out through the bell of his horn. Rickey Woodard sprayed the room with rich, warm saxophone sounds that always remind me of the late, great Gene Ammons, while John Campbell added tasty licks on the eighty-eight keys with his splendid accompaniment and offered a spell-binding solo on this beautiful ballad that was full of depth and emotion. I loved the rhumba feel on the ending. It surprised and pleased an enraptured audience.

On the Horace Silver tune, Strollin’, Musical conductor, MacDonald, featured Pete Chrislieb on tenor sax and Bob Summers on trumpet. On “Con Alma” the personnel changed again. Paul Kreibich manned the drums, Jim Hughart took over the double bass and Josh Nelson slid onto the piano bench. Lanny Morgan brought his alto saxophone and the party was on.

So the evening went, with the performers playing an intriguing game of musical chairs and musical microphones. I really enjoyed “Da’Ood,” the Clifford Brown composition that was counted in at a speedy pace, with the musicians off and running like the Santa Anita races. The wooden ceiling and carpeted floors made for a beautiful, warm sound in the ballroom and the sound engineer had a decent mix on stage. The eight page Ellington medley was challenging for seasoned veterans and senior citizen eyes in the low stage lighting. Doug made jokes about the 8-page music charts, but the arrangement of Duke Ellington’s work including “Just Squeeze Me,“ “ What Am I hear for? “, “Sophisticated Lady” and “Cotton Tail” magnified the talents of those on-stage-players and the medley was worth every page of the arrangement by Randy Aldcroft. Linda Small, though petit and slight of build, showed true excellence on the slide trombone and was tenacious and creative. Jim Hughart sounded amazing on his bass and John Campbell thrilled me on the ‘keys’. This was followed by a beautiful Brazilian Bossa Nova titled, “Bossa Don,“ a Doug MacDonald original composition. MacDonald took center stage on his guitar and made the instrument talk. His rhythm and harmonics on his Buscarino guitar were mesmerizing. At one point, during his improvisational solo, Eleanor Rigby snuck into the song and briefly grabbed my attention.

Continuing, MacDonald told us that his dearly departed friend and pianist, Art Hillary, had introduced him to “Blue Capers” by Blue Mitchell and he has loved that song ever since. It was another swinger and quickly became one of my favorites of the evening. Roy McCurdy was on drums this time and the hard licks he was hitting soon had the horns and the piano jumping in, to accent his rhythm. It was an exciting arrangement. I don’t know if it was written on the page or improvised and spontaneous, but it worked and was certainly wonderful!

All in all, it was an awesome September night of continuous jazz that went straight through, no breaks, from seven pm to Ten pm. It was a thrilling evening of quality musicianship, a celebration of jazz history and the price was right. In a California County that boasts some of the most talented and internationally respected jazz musicians on the planet, the room should have been packed. It wasn’t. If you were there, you got more than your money’s worth. If you weren’t there, you should have been.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Watch edited Doug MacDonald live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd9J48cuDhI

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