Archive for April, 2017

CHASING COLTRANE: A FILM DOCUMENTARY

April 26, 2017

CHASING TRANE – A FILM DOCUMENTARY ON THE LIFE OF JOHN COLTRANE
A Film Review by Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

Monday – April 24, 2017 – Laemmle Theater in Pasadena, California

I recently enjoyed an exceptional film, unveiling the short life and times of John Coltrane. It is available at various art theaters throughout the country and gives the public a close-up look at the incredible, historic and genius musical work of saxophone legend, John Coltrane. It opens with a burst of colors and stars sprinkled across the screen, depicting a filmed galaxy that invites us into heaven’s door, accompanied by scattered saxophone sounds from the horn of our beloved jazz master, the unforgettable Coltrane. The marvelous music of this man infiltrates every scene of this motion picture, keeping jazz up front and elevating this bio-pic.

I was blessed enough to hear John Coltrane play in person. Young people today can only hear recordings, so the importance of complimenting this documentary with John Coltrane’s music is of paramount importance. Denzel Washington reads the words of this amazing man, becoming John’s voice in the film. Others talk about Coltrane’s personality, his two marriages and his majestic artistry. Some film participants are iconic musicians, biographers and of course his loving family members.

There are treasured film clips of when he played at Café Bohemia with Miles Davis in 1957, a time when he was just a fledgling player, but already showing the signs of becoming a legend. This was before Miles fired him for severe drug addiction. Benny Golson tells us that Coltrane was a happy addict, but unreliable. Jimmy Heath tells the story of how Miles caught him and Coltrane getting high, shooting up together, and Coltrane promised he would quit, but he couldn’t stop using.

Reggie Workman is on hand to tell the Coltrane story, along with Ashley Kahn, (Coltrane’s biographer), Coltrane’s close friend, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, President Bill Clinton, the great Benny Golson, Dr. Cornel West, our own Los Angeles based reedman, Kamasi Washington, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, his loving step-daughter, Ms. Andrews, his children from his second wife, Alice Coltrane, and the drummer with The Doors, John Paul Densmore.

Coltrane was born in North Carolina in 1926, a time of Jim Crow racism and challenging times for African American’s in America. His dad was a tailor and amateur musician. Both his grandfathers were ministers. His maternal grandfather was the presiding elder of the First A.M.E. Zion church. At twelve years old, the pre-teen lost his favorite grandfather, his father and both uncles. That’s when his mother moved from the Carolinas, first to New Jersey and then to Philadelphia, to better provide for her fatherless family. It was 1943, a tumultuous time in young Coltrane’s life, and he found solace in music. By the time he was sixteen, John Coltrane was already showing awesome style and proficiency on his horn. In 1945, he met and witnessed the genius of Charlie Parker. Shortly after, he wound up in the Navy and worked as part of the Navy band. In the film, we hear and see that young Coltrane mimicking his idol, Charlie Parker and becoming more and more obsessed with his instrument. Upon release from the Navy, he joined the Miles Davis group.

Carlos Santana speaks warmly and sincerely in this film. He praises Coltrane for going ‘cold-turkey’ and cleaning up his drug addiction. As he put it, “… averting the gates of hell.” Coltrane’s children remember how he kicked his heroin habit by himself, at home, and with the nurturing assistance of his loving wife, Alice Coltrane; a dynamic musician in her own right. Coltrane met Alice when she was playing piano with Gerry Gibbs. The film shows a blissful marriage and captures, in home movies, John as a loving and attentive father. His children tell us he was a romantic and wrote little love poems that he left all over the house for his wife to find. When she said she wanted to play the harp, John bought Alice a golden, concert harp.

After he got clean, we watch John Coltrane’s career gain momentum and his style and self-assurance become explosive. He joins Thelonius Monk’s band and this is where his confidence and genius begins to expand. Clean and fully confident, his first solo album is labeled, “Coltrane – the new tenor star”. All the while, the audience sees clips and still photos of his life and times with Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Rashad Ali , Elvin Jones, Wayne Shorter, Miles, and McCoy Tyner. McCoy called that period of Coltrane’s life “beautiful and committed. … A gift that came from the almighty.”

As his composition skills grew and blossomed, John began to show a deep spiritual side within his music. He was a quiet man, but talked politics and godliness with his horn. The Birmingham, Alabama bombing of that church where four little Sunday school children were killed, prompted Coltrane to compose the song, “Alabama.” He told McCoy Tyner that Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, after that bombing, inspired his song. He began to combine cultures in his music, picking up the soprano saxophone and having a huge hit playing a unique, Asian tinged arrangement of “My Favorite Things.” In 1965, he recorded “A Love Supreme.” Later, forming a group that changed the direction of his music. He was reaching for new horizons, becoming more Avant Garde, with Rashad Ali on drums, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Pharoah Sanders came to prominence in this group.

It’s unbelievable to think that a man, whose professional recording and musical career started at age 33, would die of liver cancer at age 40. He gifts us with a body of work that still leaves the listener awe-struck. It’s hard to believe his incredible legacy of recorded music happened in a span of only seven years. This film captures the essence of John Coltrane and his magnificent music.
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ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 21, 2017

ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 22, 2017
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

Spring always brings forth new life. To epitomize this, I received a batch of CD releases that both surprised and pleased me. Amazing arranger, MICHAEL ABENE created nine unforgettable orchestral arrangements for the Temple University Studio Orchestra in celebration of Frank Sinatra’s musical genius. He is joined by a full-bodied orchestra ensemble and the talents of trumpeter/educator,TERELL STAFFORD and alto saxophonist/recording artist/clinician,DICK OATTS. I was absolutely floored by the piano talents of CHRISTIAN SANDS. Guitarist,GREG SKAFF, moves jazz into the realm of funk and hard rock, while vocal/composer, MARK WINKLER continues to stride the path of performer/songwriter, featuring a host of jazz dynamo’s and popular recording vocalists like JACKIE RYAN,STEVE TYRELL and CHERYL BENTYNE.

TERELL STAFFORD & DICK OATTS WITH THE TEMPLE UNIVERSITY STUDIO ORCHESTRA – “LUCK BE A LADY – A TRIBUTE TO FRANK”
BCM+D Records

RHYTHM: James Collins, piano; Sam Harris, bass; Donovan Pope, drums; Ethan Fisher, vibraphone; Sean Markey, guitar; PERCUSSION: Travis Goffredo, Ryan Wood, & Jason Yoder; VIOLIN 1: Celine Jeong Kim, Luis Cuevas, Frederic Henry, Ayano Kato, Juana Pinilla-Paez, Amanda Roth & Benjamin Weaver; VIOLIN II: Hanna Lee, Yena Choi, Hannah Jordan, Rachel Miller, Amanda Montera, Emma Scott, Chesy Tronchoni-Bello & Morgan Warner; VIOLA: Jeremy Tonelli-Sippel, Bria Blackshear, Adam Kohibus, Akhmed Mamedov, Deanna Mead, Laura Palm; CELLO: Justin Yoder, Yeliza Aleman-Gaelan, Alyssa Almeida, Christian Parker & Elena Smith; BASS: Neil Walters, Vincent Luciano, Patrick Oberstaedt & David Weiss; FLUTE: Ji Young Lee & Nicholas Hall; OBOE: Danica Cheng & Andrew Dotterer; CLARINET: Elisa Montoya Sanchez & James Campbell; BASSOON: Dominic Panunto & Rebecca Krown; SAXOPHONE:Chris Oatts, alto 1; Simon Crosby-Arreaza, alto II; Christian Lewis, tenor 1; Jack Saint Clair, tenor II; Joshua Lee, baritone; HORNS: Hillary Charen, Michael Fries, Jeffrey Lynch & Martina Smith; TRUMPET: Fareed Simpson-Hankins, Jacob Hernandez, David El-Bakara & Noah Hocker. TROMBONE: Sean McCusker, Hailey Brennel, Neal Williamson & Adam Kowalski. ARRANGER: Michael Abene.

Michael Abene is a man nominated for multi-Grammys, as well as being a Grammy Award winning composer, arranger, producer, band leader and gifted pianist. He’s worked with a few of the biggest names in music including Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, Patti Austin, Buddy Rich and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. He was musical director and the principal arranger/composer of the WDR Radio Big Band of Cologne, as well as director of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. Now he injects the Temple University Studio Orchestra with a dose of his amazing and creative arranging skills. The result is dazzling.

The Dean and Vice Provost for the Arts at Temple University is Robert T. Stroker. He commissioned Michael Abene for the college and summed-up this musical project by explaining:

“One of our ambitious goals at Boyer is to regularly commission new works by living composers for our students to perform. This provides the unique opportunity for our students to rehearse and record with composers, giving them insight into the creative and artistic process of composing and arranging.”

On this project, the youthful orchestra is inspired by a host of iconic talents, including trumpeter Terell Stafford, who pianist McCoy Tyner complimented as being “One of the great players of our time.” Stafford has recorded six albums as a leader and as a sideman, he’s infused his trumpet talents on ninety various recordings including such luminaries as Kenny Barron, Diana Krall, Jimmy Heath, John Faddis, Bobby Watson, Shirley Scott and the list goes on and on. In 2013, Stafford was named Artistic Director of the newly formed Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. Currently, Stafford is Chair of Instrumental Studies and Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University. This has to be very inspirational to the student body.

On this musical endeavor, Stafford pairs his talents with Dick Oatts, a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. Oatts is a Steeplechase recording artist and has released six albums as a leader. For three decades, Oatts has appeared at college jazz festivals as a soloist and clinician, not only in the United States, but worldwide. Additionally, Oatts has leant his alto saxophone talents on numerous projects, including work with Red Rodney, Eddie Gomez, Bob Brookmeyer, Fred Hersch, Lalo Schiffrin, Mel Lewis, Paquito D’Rivera and several vocalists including pop/R&B stars, Luther Vandross and James Taylor; also jazz vocal icons including Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Joe Williams. Oatts reflected about this project in the liner notes.

“What influenced me most about Sinatra was how he put himself into the melody and lyrics as much as he did putting himself in a role as an actor. Playing with Terell Stafford is exactly like that for me. It is a different magic every time. Michael Abene and Andreas Delfs brought out the best from our students, who were simply amazing.”

Next, you have conductor, Andreas Delfs, who was acting as music director of the Temple University Symphony Orchestra in 2015. He too boasts exceptional affiliations, including work with Yo-Yo-Ma, Joshua Bell, Renee Fleming and world celebrated ensembles like the London Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, New York City Opera, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and many, many others. Together, these four incredible talents have joined forces to inspire a sixty-three-member orchestra. United, this musical coterie presents an outstanding tribute to the hit recordings of Frank Sinatra. The orchestra’s performance is formidable, filled with conviviality and gusto, tenderness and emotion, to remind us of the man and his music. I nearly wept when I heard their arrangement of “I’m A Fool To Want You.” This newly released project was recorded in 2015 to celebrate Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday and released this season. These young musicians should be loudly lauded for this professional sound-recording.

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CHRISTIAN SANDS – “REACH”
Mack Avenue Records

Christian Sands, piano; Marcus Baylor, drums; Yasushi Nakamura, upright bass; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Cristian Rivera, percussion; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet. SPECIAL GUEST, Christian McBride, bass.

Beginning with “Armando’s Song,” the piano playing of Christian Sands leaps from my compact disc and lights up the room. This young man has a unique style and introduces a crystal-clear path of technique, fingers dancing fluidly along the black and white keys. His sense of continuity and improvisation, mixes like cake batter, thick and sweet to the ear. The first thing I notice is how lush and full this trio sounds and how melodic Sands is, starting with the first two cuts on this recording. He has composed eight of the ten songs recorded and is still evolving as an artist at only twenty-seven years young. But Christian Sands is not young to the music. As a native of New Haven, Connecticut, Sands composed his first song at age five and was well on his way to becoming a professional musician by age ten. His parents realized his musical gifts early-on. They enrolled him in prestigious institutions like the Neighborhood Music School and the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven. He went on to attain both bachelor and Master degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. Since then, he’s been nominated for five Grammy Awards. Speaking of Grammy Awards, his production team on this recording are both Grammy Award winning musicians; Al Pryor (A&R guru at Mack Ave Records) and bassist Christian McBride.

Sands explained, “…When I first sat in with his (McBride’s) Inside Straight band, I realized that we think about music the same way. When I got signed to Mack Avenue, I asked if Christian could produce me, as someone who knows my playing and what I want to accomplish in my music.”

Sands’ compositions are embellished by Marcus Baylor on drums. He plays a stunning part in delivering the energy and excitement on “Armando’s Song” and elsewhere. On “Song of the Rainbow People,” Yasushi Nakamura is prominent and tenacious on upright bass, echoing the ‘hook’ of cut #2 with deliberate bass breath, supported once again by Baylor’s crashing cymbals and steady excitement throughout. Sands knows how to build crescendos from single notes of beauty into plush, harmonic, two-fisted chords that punch the grand piano into submission. Here is a young artist who brings not just amazing technique, but visceral emotions to his music.

On “Pointing West” and “Freefall” Marcus Strickland joins the group, adding a tasty tenor saxophone. He takes the element of straight ahead jazz to a heightened level. These are another two Sands original compositions. “Pointing West” propels forward at a swift pace. I am intoxicated by the ebullience of this artist’s music. “Freefall” is more thoughtful and provocative, with Sands giving abundant freedom to his fellow bandmates to stretch out and expand their improvisations. He tinkles the keys on top, using the upper, treble register against the tenor saxophone richness. “iÓyeme!” enters like horse hooves against wood, featuring Cristian Rivera on percussion and introducing an Afro-Cuban production that is wildly happy music. Rivera shines, making his drums talk and dance at the same time. Sands keeps the piano rhythms strong in the background, coaching the Latin groove repetitiously, while supplying a platform for his percussionist to soak up the spotlight. It’s a wonderful arrangement! Christian McBride makes a guest appearance on cut #8, during a creative production of the Bill Wither’s hit, “Use Me,” with Hekselman adding his guitar to the mix. Sands puts the Blues into the slowed-down version of Bill’s song and it’s sexy, although hardly recognizable. Christian McBride puts the finishing touches on the arrangement by pulling out his bow and expertly tagging the fade. Every tune and every production on this Christian Sands CD is intoxicating and pleasurable. You will probably play this album over and over again. I did.
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GREG SKAFF – SOULMATION
Zoho Records

Greg Skaff, guitars; Fima Ephron, electric bass; Pat Bianchi, Hammond organ, Jonathan Barber & Charley Drayton, drums.

Here is a tightly mixed package of jazz funk that incorporates the guitar magic of Greg Skaff into productions that ooze soul, blues and Rock-influenced original compositions. Sometime in the 1980’s, Skaff arrived in New York from Wichita, Kansas and landed a gig with Stanley Turrentine that lasted five years. He has added his jazz chops to the bandstands of Freddie Hubbard and David “Fathead” Newman. But always, in the back of his mind, were hardcore Rock innovators like Jeff Beck. In the twelve tunes recorded on this CD, Skaff reaches into his hat of magic tricks and ventures into an amalgamation of musical ideas, pulling styles, like white rabbits, into eclectic view. His music bridges straight-ahead and bebop backgrounds, stretching into a more funk/hard-rock sound. He explores his composer skills and they are impressive. Skaff has written nine of the twelve songs on this recording. A song titled, “Bottom Feeder” is dynamic, with Barber’s drums slamming the tune into the listeners face as hard as cement. Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine” is stimulated by the drums of Jonathan Barber once again and veers from Rock-mode to a Latin-tinged World music. Skaff shows off his flying finger skills and fluid solo work, especially notable on “Porcupine Hat,” where he trades fours with Barber, who once again shines. This is an enjoyable hour of new music by a richly gifted guitar master and his astute crew.


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MARK WINKLER – “THE COMPANY I KEEP”
Café Pacific Records

Mark Winkler, vocals/composer; Jamieson Trotter, piano/Hammond B3; Rich Eames, Eric Reed, Josh Nelson, John Beasley, piano; Lyman Medeiros, John Clayton, bass; Mike Shapiro, Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion/drums; Larry Koonse, Bob Mann, guitar; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Blake, Brian Swartz, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Don Shelton, clarinet; Paul Cartwright, violin; GUEST VOCALISTS: Jackie Ryan, Cheryl Bentyne, Steve Tyrell, Claire Martin, Sara Gazarek. Vocal Arrangements, Michele Weir.

Lyman Medeiros walks his big bass sound on the first cut, (a Donald Fagen tune), and Mark Winkler comes in with his caramel smooth vocals, coating the bass background with a lyric that tells a story about rainy days with two lovers making-up as they “Walk Between the Raindrops.” What a great concept. Winkler and Jackie Ryan sell the song, as they swing between the great horn arrangements by Jamieson Trotter. Bob Sheppard puts the ‘P’ in Pizazz on his tenor sax solo. “Strollin” is the music of Prince. Winkler invites vocalist, Cheryl Bentyne, to join him on this one. Michele Weir has written this vocal arrangement and the arrangement for the Donald Fagen cut as well. Bentyne, Winkler and the band easily manage to reconstruct a pop tune into a jazzy arrangement. I love the Medeiros bass line that puts the funk into the tune and Larry Koonse is dynamic on guitar.

This is Winkler’s fifteenth CD release as a leader and over 250 of his songs have been sung or recorded by himself and other artists like Jane Monheit, Dianne Reeves, Liza Minnelli, Cheryl Barnes and several others. He, and co-writer Phil Swann, have penned the lyrics to “Midnight In Paris,” a Bill Cantos tune, soaked in violin and clarinet harmonics, with John Clayton making a guest appearance on bass. ‘But It Still Ain’t So,” is a bluesy shuffle tune by Louis Durra, with a very compelling lyric by Winkler. Steve Tyrell makes a guest appearance with that growly character to his vocals and the ability to Swing as easy as a child at the playground. Great lyrics and a fine delivery by both gentlemen. “That Afternoon in Harlem” is another favorite original composition of mine by Winkler. The production is sparse and his voice carries the story with sincerity and emotion. Winkler knows how to compose stories and he draws you in with his candor. Eric Reed is featured on piano and Jeff Hamilton mans the drums to perfection. Bob McChesney knows just where to add his trombone licks and expands the music of composer, Marilyn Harris, on his solo. “Stolen Moments” features the beautiful voice of Claire Martin, interpreting, (in duet style), the creative lyrics of Mark Murphy and the music of the great Oliver Nelson. I apologize for being unfamiliar with the voice of Claire Martin, but I am now a big fan. “Love Comes Quietly” is lovely with a lyric that is both intriguing and relatable. Winkler is a wonderful lyricist and surrounds himself with the best in the music business to interpret his musical whims and fantasies. For me, it is his songwriting ingenuity that makes this artist so interesting and entertaining. “The Company I Keep” is an album full of master musicians and compelling vocalists who happily find Winkler’s music as titillating and inspirational as I do. He can’t go wrong with this kind of company.

Winkler’s West Coast CD Party will be held Wednesday, May 31st, at the famed Los Angeles jazz club, Catalina’s Bar & Grill in Hollywood at 8:30PM. You’re invited.

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JAZZ WOMEN TO WATCH, LISTEN TO AND ADMIRE

April 12, 2017

JAZZ WOMEN TO WATCH, LISTEN TO AND ADMIRE – April 12, 2017
by Dee Dee McNeil

April is a month dedicated to the celebration of jazz. Set up in 2001 as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), it was established to promote jazz both as an historic and contemporary art form. Jazz, created by African Americans, is the only indigenous musical art form born and bred in the United States. Celebrated worldwide, Jazz Appreciation Month is recognized in 40 countries and every state of the United States. This month, I decided to feature some WOMEN IN JAZZ.

When I got a call from my good friend and phenomenal bassist, Tomas Gargano, who currently resides in New York City, he told me about a young vocalist named Jazzmeia Horn and my interest was piqued. Her new album is titled, “A Social Call” and is scheduled for a May, 2017 release on Prestige Records. Check her out!

JAZZMEIA HORN is an East Coast based vocalist who brings a fresh, sincere and carefully honed voice to the forefront. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she started singing in the church and her singing background was originally tinged with gospel, rhythm and blues. However, she was hungry for more freedom of expression and she had a desire to challenge her artistry. That’s when she discovered Sarah Vaughan and jazz. Winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition and the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, Jazzmeia Horn is definitely a youthful, exciting talent who I predict, if she continues along this musical path, will become a bright star for the jazz generation to come. She’s a singer unique in both presentation, creativity and style. I’ve been awaiting a female singer like this for many decades. A young voice who combines jazz with poetry and is not afraid to tackle social issues. She also displays a tenacious desire for freedom and dives into this music without fear or restriction. That’s the true mark of a jazz artist. Check her out on youtube.com.

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SYBIL COKER KEEPING JAZZ ALIVE ONE TALENT AT A TIME

I have admired Sybil’s tenacity and determination over the years. She has been keeping her beloved husband’s name alive and supporting the legacy of jazz by investing in talented youth for the past 34 years. Two such people are cousins and grandchildren of the great drummer, Donald Dean Sr.; Jamael & Darryn Dean.

“Tamir Hendelman and Jason Goldman came through Dolo Coker Foundation. Robin DeMaggio, who played drums on the Arsenio Hall show came through Dolo Coker. Eric Reed is doing very well. He won three years in a row, first place. And Kamasi Washington is one of my children,” Sybil Coker shared with me proudly.

Sybil J. Thomas Coker is the President and Founder of the Charles (Dolo) Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation. Scholarships are awarded to full-time high school and college students who have demonstrated an aptitude in jazz. Her Scholarship Foundation has awarded over $400,000 to date. Applications are available on-line at http://dolocokerjazz.org

Parents with talented, jazz-minded, music students take note! And all you jazz music students who are in school full time and need financial assistance should consider applying.

The Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation is a tax-exempt, non-profit established on Wednesday, April 13, 1983 in memory of pianist extraordinaire, Dolo Coker, and to assist talented students pursuing careers in the field of jazz. The hope is to perpetuate jazz, America’s only musical indigenous art form.

Recently, I acted as one of several judges for the Dolo Coker Scholarship Auditions. I was astounded by the amazing, young, local jazz talent that filled up the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center. They were all trying to qualify for a scholarship by showing off their proficiency on a variety of instruments. There was even a young jazz vocalist among the Auditioners,(Darynn Dean), sounding a bit like a fledgling Sarah Vaughan. The young people were multi-cultural and came from as far away as San Diego to audition. It was exciting to see and hear so many young musicians pursuing jazz.

Let me tell you a little bit about the woman who makes all of this possible. Sybil Coker was born in Elizabeth, Louisiana. Her parents decided to relocate to Southern California and Sybil told me their emphasis was on her getting the best possible education.

Sybil Coker is a perpetual lover of music. Like many African-American girls during her early childhood, Sybil was encouraged to take vocal and piano lessons. Later, while attending Cal State Los Angeles and working on her Elementary School Credential, she once again studied piano.

“And then I went to West L.A. College and took piano. I was doing pretty well until I lost Dolo in 1983 and in 1987 I lost my father. My mind was so unhappy, even though the teacher begged me to please keep up my piano studies, I had to stop. When you lose someone that significant to you, sometimes you wonder will you ever laugh again or will I ever be happy?” Sybil explained.

Although Sybil and Dolo never had children of their own, both had several Godchildren and Sybil always had a desire to inspire and teach children. She spent 48 years in our public school system, both teaching and counseling youth until she retired. While teaching in the Los Angeles public schools and Headstart arenas, Ms. Coker also worked as a respected journalist for many years and wrote for the Entertainment Digest. She has been an active historian for the Los Angeles Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Chapter and was Chapter journalist for a number of years.. She was the women’s editor for the Herald Dispatch and also wrote for the Pittsburgh Courier. In fact, while she was on assignment for the Courier to write a feature on Kenny Dennis, Sybil was first introduced to the man who would become her husband; Dolo Coker.

She told me, “Kenny Dennis (the iconic jazz drummer) introduced me to Dolo. It was on Adams and Western at the Rubiyat. It was a black owned hotel and on Monday nights they had jazz. So Kenny had Dolo (in the band), Richie Kamuca and I think Leroy (Vinnegar). I was doing a story for the Pittsburgh Courier on Kenny and when they finished the set he called Dolo over and said, Come on over here. I want you to meet this lady. So Dolo came over and said in a very proper and super formal voice, ‘How do you do?’ Then he went over to the bar and pal’d around with his friends and that’s how we originally met. We dated nine years. He wanted to be debt free. He wanted to be able to provide for us when we married.”

And provide for them he did, while playing with numerous historic and iconic jazz musicians like Ben Webster, The Heath Brothers, Gene Ammons, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, Philly Joe Jones, Dexter Gordon, Frank Morgan and he recorded four albums for Xanadu Records featuring Harold Land, Leroy Vinnegar, Blue Mitchell, Frank Butler, and Art Pepper as part of his ensemble.

Sybil told me “The Dolo Coker foundation’s application process is easy and it’s on the website.

“Auditions happen annually, the third Saturday of March, and applicants need to bring their bio, two letters of recommendation and verification that they are full-time students. They can be in public school, private school, on-line, home-schooled, or in charter schools, as long as it’s legitimate, licensed and can be verified.”

I asked her to name some of the students who have been funded by the Dolo Coker Foundation and who have gone on to become professional, active musicians.
“Tamir Hendelman and Jason Goldman came through Dolo Coker Foundation. Robin DeMaggio, who played drums on the Arsenio Hall show came through Dolo Coker. Eric Reed is doing very well. He won three years in a row, first place. And Kamasi Washington is one of my children. He and Miles Mosley came and played at my retirement celebration. Vernell Brown (Jr)., I don’t know what Vernell is doing at this time, but he was endorsed by Yamaha piano; wonderful pianist. Michael McTaggart was on the deans list every year at USC. He’s a guitarist and he also was a gold ribbon winner of NAACP ACT-SO program for years, every year.”

The NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics is a year-long achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. ACT-SO includes 26 categories of competition in the sciences, humanities, business, performing and visual arts. More than 260,000 young people have participated in the program since its inception.

In fact, one of the young performers I witnessed during the Dolo Coker Foundation auditions was Aaron Shaw, who won the 2013 ACT-SO, Silver Medal in Music Composition award. Another was Jamael Dean, who won in the Music Contemporary competition, also garnering a Silver Medal. His cousin, Darynn Dean, who I mentioned as the youthful vocalist who is influenced by Sarah Vaughan, won the Gold in the Vocal Contemporary competition.

“Ryan Porter and Corey Hogan, we bought their first instruments when they were students at Washington Prep,” Sybil continued. “See, because a lot of these school musicians only get to play the school instruments when they are at school. Patrick and Eliot Douglas were our first two scholarship recipients. Eliot lives in Las Vegas and he’s under contract to the New York New York Casino.”

Other names you may recognize who have received encouragement and support from the Dolo Coker Foundation are Los Angeles bassist, Ryan Cross. Mahesh Balasooriya was a 1st Place Dolo Coker Award winner in 2001 and 2003, winning for his amazing piano skills. Bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux won first place in the vocal category and went on to achieve success with her jazz quartet, and Donald Vega Gutierrez, a former Nicaraguan student at Crenshaw high school, won first place in 1996 and later recorded his “Spiritual Nature” CD with Christian McBride and Lewis Nash making up the rhythm section. See his mini documentary on this Resonance Records recording project by clicking the Video tab with this story.

In 2012, Joshua Crumbly won first place and went on to perform with Terence Blanchard among others. And, in 2013, Teira Lockhart Church, a junior at UCLA, won the vocalist award, and Aaron Shaw, an 11th-grade tenor saxophone player, tied with her for first place. The list goes on and on.

In 2011, Sybil Coker was honored at Linda Morgan’s “Living Legend” Awards program for her amazing and supportive work with youth over the years and especially her interest in supporting young jazz artists. You can honor her and her non-profit foundation by donating today or attending her upcoming event on Sunday, April 23, 2017. This will be the Thirty-fourth Annual Tribute to Dolo Coker and will take place from 2:30 PM to 6:00 PM at Macy’s on Crenshaw; the third floor inside the Museum of African-American Art; 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd; Los Angeles, CA 90008. James Janisse will emcee the event. Featured artists in concert that afternoon include the legendary Ernie Andrews, Betty Bryant and The Donald Dean Jazz All Stars plus special guests.

For more information contact The Charles Dolo Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation, Inc. at P.O. Box 480028; Los Angeles, CA 90048 or call Phone/Fax (323) 935-1374, or go to http://www.dolocokerjazz.org

Note: This article appeared ‘in part’ at http://www.lajazz.com in 2014 as part of my jazz column.

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ANGIE WELLS & RAPHAEL LEMONNIER – “LOVE AND MISCHIEF”
Independent Label

Angie Wells, vocals; Raphael Lemonnier, piano; James Leary, bass; Kenny Elliott & Washington Rucker, drums; Mathis Haug, guitar; Harry Kim, trumpet; Bili Redd, guest vocals.

Sometimes a CD cover can snatch consumer attention and create interest in a recording project before one even listens to the artist. Angie Wells delivers on such a cover, classy in her white, skin-tight dress with a large, red flower decorating her shoulder. The music is as dynamic as the gorgeous photo cover by Chad Finley. Wells opens with Blossom Dearie’s jazz standard, “Peel Me A Grape.” She has her own unique sound and style. This artist exemplifies, from her very first tune, that she’s willing, able and determined to put the “S” in Swing. I love the Kenny Elliott drums on this production. Those drums push the group and accentuate the crescendos and excitement inspired by the vocalist.

“The Moon is Swinging on A Line” is an original composition by pianist, Raphael Lemonnier, with lyrics by her guitarist, Mathis Haug. Wells also contributes to the lyric al content. It’s a haunting ballad, with bluesy changes that engage the artist’s smoky voice to deliver the story of a New Orleans street and a lost love affair. She sings with expressive conviction. The tempo and minor changes are dirge-like, with Haug’s guitar prominent on the fade and during his solo. I wish I could have heard more of Haug’s rhythm guitar licks throughout. I feel he is mixed way too low during the mastering of this project. “She Ain’t the Kinda Girl” is another original by Lemonnier & Wells, arranged as a blues shuffle, where James Leary pumps his upright bass like a weight-lifter pumping iron. He lifts the bar and makes the music sweat, while Lemonnier pounds the piano in a raucous, downhome-bluesy way. His solo is outstanding and gospel tinged, reminding me a lot of the late-great Gene Harris. Wells sings lyrics with raw emotion and sincerity. You hear this quite clearly on “You’re My Thrill.” Harry Kim is sensitive and tasty, with trumpet improvisations that enhance the vocalist’s delivery and sweeten the mood of the song. I love those Elliott mallets on “Nature Boy” that percussively propel this ballad into a Bolero. Bili Redd brings his silky, smooth baritone to a couple of duets with Ms. Wells, on an “I’m In the Mood for Love” medley incorporating “Moody’s Mood for Love” and also on “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This Is a fine start for a premier recording that introduces us to a naturally endowed jazz singer on her way towards a propitious outcome.
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“WORDS & MUSIC” BY JEANNIE TANNER
Tanner Time Records

Jeannie Tanner, trumpet/composer/lyricist;Dan Murphy, piano/Fender Rhodes/ Hammond B3 Organ/arranger/producer; Cory Biggerstaff, bass; Neal Alger & Andy Pratt, Guitar; Darre Scorza, drums; Chris Madsen, saxophone; Elaine Dame,flute; Adam Thornburg, trombone; HAWK string Quartet: Katherine Huges & Carol Kalvonijan, violins; Benton Wedge, viola; Jill Kaeding, cello.

This is an unusual project in that the songwriter/composer, Jeannie Tanner, is listed as the ‘Artist’ but instead of performing, she has written a collection of songs and hired twelve of Chicago’s talented vocalists to sing her compositions. In other words, this is more like a collection of high quality demos, normally used to promote the songwriter. Ms. Tanner is an award-winning composer, vocalist and trumpeter. She performs and records with her own band in the Windy City, known as the Jeannie Tanner Quartet. Her original music has already been licensed for both television and film.

With this recording, you, the listener, can sample the composer’s work and enjoy a compilation of various Chicago vocalists. Each one puts their own spin on Tanner’s songs. Dan Murphy is persuasive on piano, always keeping the melody in the forefront, even when he improvises. He aptly accompanies these singers with sensitivity and care. Drummer, Darren Scorza, makes a powerful statement on his trap drums, especially on the introduction to “Reflections in Mirrors.” In fact, Tanner’s musicians carry this unique project with their professional talents, lending the perfect stage for this sampling of singers and songs. Favorite cuts: “Wait For Me” featuring Jeff Meegan; “You Can Kiss Me into Anything” and “I Am Strong,” featuring Typhanie Monique; “You’ll Always Have My Heart,” a swinging arrangement featuring Abigail Riccards and “Promise Me the Moon” featuring Rose Collela, with tasty horn licks by Chris Madsen on saxophone.

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CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA – “IN2UITION”
Dash Hoffman Records

Pianists: Otmaro Ruiz, John Beasley, Gary Fukushima, Varden Ovespian, Karen Hammack, Jane Getz, Bevan Manson, Dave Moscoe, Llew Matthews, Josh Nelson. Violin, Calabria Foti.

This is a double set CD, minimally produced, and basically featuring Cathy Segal-Garcia singing with various jazz pianists. Having worked many years as a duo in various hotels myself, I know how serious and demanding duo work can be. Garcia is up for the challenge and so are her hand-picked accompanists, many of whom are international recording artists in their own right. Starting with Josh Nelson on “I Love You,“ Garcia spices the song up with scat singing, seasoning the familiar standard with her improvisational skills. John Beasley is the next pianist performing with Garcia on the Thelonious Monk composition, “Ruby My Dear”. Beasley was nominated for a Grammy this year for his own orchestrated work of Monk. He is an exceptional accompanist and a master musician who brings beauty and a strong sense of individuality to his music. Garcia performs, unintimidated, deft with full-bodied tone against whatever creative chord Beasley throws at her, holding the melody like a baby, precious against her bosom. I believe her when she sings this story of a broken-hearted woman named Ruby. Beasley’s solo performance is as breath-takingly beautiful as Garcia’s lyrical interpretation. He turns the grand piano into a very hip and unprecedented music box. On Garcia’s original composition, “The Room” she adds a violin played by Calabria Foti to compliment the piano work of Karen Hammack. This song is very folksy and not jazzy at all. I remember when Nina Simone used to record in this fashion, throwing in a pop song or a folk song on a recording or concert of serious jazz. I suppose it’s the artist’s prerogative. “Bonita, a Jobim composition, features Otmaro Ruiz on piano. He prepares a solid foundation for the vocalist to sing this beautiful ballad. I long for Latin rhythms, instead of classical chording, but it is a very beautiful production by the two artists, despite my personal desire for some Brazilian fire. This is followed by another ballad and then a burst of energy with Gary Fukushima on, “I Want To Be Happy.” Disc #1 ends with the popular Rodgers & Hart tune, “It Never Entered My Mind.” David Moscoe sensitively accompanies Garcia at a very slow, melancholy pace, allowing the listener to hear her draw each note out and hold those whole tones with very little vibrato and unabashed technique.

Cathy Segal-Garcia explains this recording in the liner notes. “I’m a person who loves varied possibilities. In my musical life, I’ve played with so many wonderful musicians. At this moment, I feel change in the human existence. Relationships are almost the only important thing in the here and now.”

I must agree with her assessment that our positive relationships with each other can be a catalyst towards peace and love. It would seem, using this production as the measure, that her relationship with these various pianists reflects intimacy and trust. She ends Disk 2 with Llew Matthews playing a soulful, gospel arrangement of “America.” America, America, God shed his grace on thee…. Cathy sings. That prayer seems to be very appropriate these politically challenging days.
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PATRICIA TERRY-ROSS – 2017 KRESGE EMINENT AWARD RECIPIENT

“My grandmother said to me when I was six years old that I was given a gift and it’s not a gift unless you can give it away; and to do honor to my gift. I’ve been playing with the opera for 30 years. I’m the longest serving member.”

So said Patricia Terry-Ross from the Stage of the Opera House in Detroit, Michigan on a recent video presentation I viewed.

As many of us know, the world calls jazz ‘America’s Classical Music.’ When I wrote songs for Motown, it was the local jazz musicians who were recording all the studio work and thus, developing the famed ‘Motown Sound.’ I wanted to highlight Patricia Terry-Ross, who is a classical harpist, educator and was one of those session players of Motor City fame. Back in the day, she played her harp on several Motown hits like “My Cherie Amour”, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” as a sought after studio musician.

Today, seated at the harp, her close cropped white hair sparkles in the spotlight. In her youth, she was once a music major, attending Cass Technical High school, where she was drawn to the harp. At the time, she was a competent pianist, with music as her passion. Jazz harpists, Alice McLeod-Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, also attended the famed Cass Technical High School, as did trumpet master Donald Byrd, pianist, Kirk Lighsey, iconic guitarist, Kenny Burrell, bebop singer, Sheila Jordan and many more. So many jazz artists graduated from Cass Technical High school that I published an entire article about them in Michigan History magazine. Cass has the oldest harp program of any public high school in the United States and has the only harp and vocal program. Mrs. Terry-Ross later headed that harp program at her Detroit alma mater that once inspired and educated her years earlier. This year, She will be honored by the Kresge Arts in Detroit Program for her outstanding work in music. Congratulations to this exemplary woman, musician and educator.
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