Archive for February, 2018

INTERNATIONAL THEMES & MUSICIANS IMPACT NEW JAZZ RELEASES

February 17, 2018

BY Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

February 17,2018

Today, it appears we are in a time of world-wide turmoil. We have mass shootings in America that are killing our young people in unacceptable numbers, on our streets and in our schools. We have wars between countries all over this Earth. We have discord and disfunction in our United States government agencies and a congress that seems confused and unable to address the needs of ‘we the people,’ who actually pay their salaries and send them to Washington to do our bidding. Music becomes a wellspring of goodness that soothes during a time when our world seems so chaotic and unpredictable. If only we could get along, like the musical notes on a page that work together to create harmony. Some of these albums may hold the key to a few hours of pleasure and enlightened relaxation.

ACCENT – “IN THIS TOGETHER”
Independent Label

Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, vocal tenor 1; Simon Akesson, vocal tenor 2; Danny Fong, vocal tenor 3; Andrew Kesler, vocal tenor 4; James Rose, vocal baritone; Evan Sanders, vocal bass.

If you are a fan of vocal harmonization and beautiful a’Capella voices, you will enjoy this smart, well-performed recording. These voices are as silky-smooth and pleasant as scented oil. Their tones fit together, meticulously and musically, as precise as the innards of an antique clock. Indeed, the hum of the human voice is antique in that it is the first and earliest instrument. This group pays homage to that concept.

Accent is a group of harmonious male vocals, blended together to interpret songs that range from message music to lullabies. The members are an international blend, from France, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, has co-produced this project with Simon Akesson ( Swedish), Canadian members, Andrew Kesler and Danny Fong, James Rose of the UK and bass singer Evan Sanders (USA). The message of their music reflects a theme of peace and love. Heaven knows we certainly need music that inspires love and harmony on Earth, especially during these tumultuous, challenging political times. “Love Is Just That Way” is an uplifting, moderate-tempo’d piece, “Who You Are” offers an intricate waltz arrangement. I do wish they had included the lyrics as part of their compact disc package, because sometimes the lyrical message becomes lost in the harmonic vocalizations.

My favorite cut on this album is “Only One Love” that is truly a jazz arrangement and swings hard. Composed by Ian Prince, with lyrics by extraordinary vocalist/songwriter, Siedah Garrett, this last tune is the star of the show.

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EL ECO with GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ – “PUERTO DE BUENOS AIRES 1933”
Zoho Records

Guillermo Nojechowicz, drums/percussion/vocals; Helio Alves, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Kim Nazarian, vocals/percussion; Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet. SPECIAL GUESTS: Franco Pinna, bombo legũero/percussion; Robert Cassan, accordion; Megumi Stohs Lewis, violin; Ethan Wood, violin; Sarah Darling, viola; Leo Eguchi, cello; Nando Michelin,string arrangements.

The sultry, sexy vocals of Kim Nazarian mirrors Helio Alves’ piano melody and sets the mood for this lovely, but melancholy ballad. It’s a haunting tune that captures the attention and imagination of the listener. In the liner notes, they describe this composition titled, “Milonga Para Los Nino.” The sorrowful accordion of Roberto Cassan adds substance and mood. Percussive artist, Guillermo Nojechowicz, flavors this piece with Uruguayan rhythms and underscores it with his solid snare work. The snare represents the ugly march that Jewish captives made to concentration camps. This song was inspired by a passport that Nojechowicz’s Polish grandmother carried when she fled Warsaw for Argentina in 1933. She sheltered her grandson, Guillermo Nojechowicz’s father, on their journey to freedom, crossing Europe by train, in fear for their lives. That trip spared them from the Holocaust. This Latin jazz suite is a chronicle of their uncertain journey to safety and becomes the centerpiece of El ECO’s new recording. Each of the compositions, all written by Guilermo Nojechowicz, with the exception of Track eight, by Fernando Huergo (the bassist on this project), represent the fear, the hope, the strength of those persecuted and seeking freedom. We see the same situation reflected in the unfortunate status of ‘the Dreamers’ who were raised in America and are now being rounded up like unfortunate refugees and hunted down like prey. Even though they were brought here as children and consider this their home and their country, and most contribute positively to our society, we have people in power who want to expel them from our country.

Hopefully, this beautiful and sensitive music will remind us that we are all connected by our humanity, regardless of our religious choices, our skin tones, out cultures, or our political differences. We are all human beings. Great music bridges all these differences. We should be more like the musical notes on the page, working together in harmony.

For more about this album, see my initial review that was published, October 25, 2017, in Musical Memoirs. This CD became available in January of 2018.

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OWEN BRODER – “HERITAGE: THE AMERICAN ROOTS PROJECT”
ArtistShare Records

Owen Broder, woodwinds; Sara Casell, violin; Scott Wendhold, trumpet/flugelhorn; Nick Finzer, trombone; James Shipp, vibraphone/percussion; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Jay Anderson, bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry & Yuyo Sotashe, vocals.

The first tune sounds like the film soundtrack for a Western movie. But soon, this “Goin’ Up Home” composition becomes a swinging tribute to the big band era. It transitions from melodic simplicity to a very hearty and healthy harmonic experience. The exciting addition of James Shipp on vibraphone lifts the music and brings jazz to the mix, along with the driving drums of Matt Wilson. In his liner notes, Broder says he was inspired to compose this opening song by Appalachian folk music. He just earned a 2018 Herb Albert Young Jazz Composer Award for this piece of music.

The composers of these hand-picked ‘Heritage’ songs include Owen Broder, Miho Hazama, Bill Holman, Alphonso Horne, Jim McNeely and Ryan Truesdell. They also use traditional American Folk and spiritual music. I enjoyed the solemn and unique arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger” by Ryan Truesdell. The arranger utilizes haunting, soulful vocals by Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry and Yuyo Sotashe. You may remember Truesdell’s name as the founder of the celebrated Gil Evans Project he produced. All the musicians and arrangers on this CD appear to have enjoyed interpreting American root music. Their talent and exuberance is obvious, stemming from New Orleans Cajun folks songs to Appalachian mountains music; from Bluegrass and gospel, to jazz. You will hear it all on this recording and unique blend of cultures and musical styles.

“Wherever the Road Leads” makes me want to Square Dance. It was composed by Miho Hazama, who is not American, but was intrigued by Appalachian music. This arranger incorporates harmonic progressions that are based on a twelve-tone idea. “Jambalaya” opens poignantly with Sara Caswell’s expressive violin. However, very slyly, the arrangement picks up tempo and excitement, adding a taste of ‘Swing’ to the mix and perhaps a tongue-in-cheek salute to the Birth of the Cool era. “The People Could Fly” has used Bantu folk music from South Africa as an inspiration. Arranger, Alphonso Horne says he was brought up in a family with South African roots and learned to sing Bantu songs in their community church. This song is based on the folk tale that a village of Africans once knew how to fly. When they were captured and put into slavery, they forgot. One elder recalled their secret gift and kept that dream alive. One day, he reminded them and they all flew away together from slavery in America back to Africa. Nick Finzer is featured prominently on Trombone. The gospel claps give the song credence and interject the slave experience of African American roots. The vocals also elevate the native African experience.

This is an interesting album, showcasing reedman/composer, Owen Broder, who is based in New York City and adds his talents to this mix of Americana music on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. He has traveled with The Temptations, The Four Tops and has his own soul band called ‘Bitchin’ Kitchen’. His musical tastes are diverse, like this album of music. He’s worked as both bandleader and sideman and has a jazz quintet called, ‘Cowboys & Frenchmen’ that received critical acclaim for its 2015 album release, ‘Rodeo’ and a 2017 follow-up, ‘Bluer Than You Think’. He’s performed with Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project and Trio Globo.

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DOLORES SCOZZESI – “HERE COMES THE SUN”
Café Pacific Records

Dolores Scozzesi, vocals; Quinn Johnson & Andy Langham, piano; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Kevin Winard, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Dori Amarillio, guitar; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet.

Dolores Scozzesi tackles the Great American Songbook with an ensemble made up of Los Angeles’ best and busiest musicians. Rich Eames has done some of the arranging and the talented performer/ composer, Mark Winkler, has produced this recording. Ms. Scozzesi takes a strong cabaret approach to familiar tunes like “It’s Alright With Me,” “I’m In The Mood for Love,” and “Wild Is the Wind,” arranged as a lovely Latin Samba. Her interpretation of “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” offers tongue-in-cheek humor and is butter brushed with stage sassiness and drama. Pianist, Quinn Johnson, arranged this Randy Newman composition and it features a stellar solo by trumpeter, Nolan Shaheed. The title tune, “Here Comes The Sun,” is another Latin flavored arrangement and is happily interpreted by Dolores Scozzesi, who admits in her liner notes that she is drawn to Latin and World music. You can hear the emotion and sincerity in this artist’s voice. She is unpretentious, with an attitude and presentation emanating from someone who is obviously a seasoned performer.

Vocalist, Dolores Scozzesi, has been developing her recognizable style for several years. This New York transplant appears in jazz and cabaret rooms from France to California. In Southern California, she began her professional singing career at Budd Friedman’s popular Improvisation Comedy Club, where she sang in between comedy acts. Working here, she witnessed many budding stars perform between her singing sets like Robin Williams, Larry David and Jay Leno.

“I always try to get to the truth of who I am when I perform, and I’m entranced by singers who are totally authentic,” Ms. Scozzesi shares.

On this recording project, you will hear her absolute commitment to the lyrics and her worldly and well-lived, expressive delivery.
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JOHN RAYMOND & REAL FEELS – “JOY RIDE”
Sunnyside Records

John Raymond, flugelhorn; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Colin Stranahan, drums.

John Raymond’s beautiful tone on his flugelhorn is the first thing that impresses me on this CD. For the past four years, this artist has been developing an identifiable trio sound, minus the bass. This creates a kind of openness in his work that is unusual. Gilad Hekselman, on guitar, brings solidarity and harmonic structure to the sound stage and Colin Stranahan holds the rhythm in place on trap drums. After the first of Raymond’s original tunes, my ear became adjusted to this bass-less production and I enjoyed the Paul Simon tune, “I’d Do It For Your Love.” Stranahan seemed not to mind that there was no bass to help him buckle down the rhythm section. He and Hekselman do a fine job on their own. The original composition, “Follower” weaves a web of melody that is set up by Raymond on his horn and later, properly explored by Hekselman on guitar. Once again, they draw me in and I’m impressed with how Stranahan holds the rhythm firmly in place all by himself. I appreciated the electric guitar’s improvisational exploration on the song, “Minnesota, WI.” Hekselman’s creativity was stunning as he danced atop his looped rhythm guitar licks. “Be Still My Soul” is a song both poignant and dirge-like, with Raymond’s flugelhorn becoming the solid nail that holds this trio in place. At times, Raymond explores the Avant Garde while soloing. I enjoyed the freedom that Stranahan displayed on his drum set, rolling the rhythm out like a bowling ball, with cymbal crashes that fall like pens at the end of a musical alley.

John Raymond is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota but currently lives in New York City. Downbeat Magazine labeled him a ‘Rising Star Trumpeter’ in 2016. He formed this trio in 2014 and calls them ‘Real Feels.’ Raymond claims to be influenced by Art Farmer, Jim Hall and various collaborations by Ron Miles, Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. His unique trio, (“Real Feels”) have released two albums in 2016 and they continue to pave new paths down the jazzy highway, featuring their unique sounds and creativity on this “Joy Ride.” recording.
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ARNAN RAZ – “CHAINS OF STORIES
Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records

Arnan Raz, tenor saxophone; Eyal Hai, alto saxophone, Daniel Meron, piano; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Dani Danor, drums.

Israeli tenor saxophonist, Arnan Raz has created a CD based on a game he and his childhood friends once played. They took a single piece of paper and one person wrote a sentence in private, folded the paper to cover that sentence, then the next person wrote their sentence. They folded the paper to hide the new phrase and the next child added their sentence. At the end, ‘Chain of stories’ was created. The page was unfolded and read aloud. It had become one coherent essay. Focusing on sound, instead of words, Raz has attempted to produce his ‘chain of stories’ as an album concept. Thus, his composition titles trail like a formation of birds flying zig-zag across the back of his CD jacket. Arnan Raz explained:

“When I wrote the title song for this album, I experimented and wrote one short phrase each day without overthinking it. … After a few weeks, I had an entire song written.”

The title tune is played at a comfortable, moderate tempo and has a strong melody that does not appear to be written using distinctly different phases. Surprisingly, the haphazardly pasted music chords and melodies, strung together like random thoughts, do create a lovely melody. I think this experimental saxophonist came up with a pretty decent composition named for his childhood game. It is punctuated by Eyal Hai on alto saxophone and Dani Danor slapping his drum licks in support of a funky undertow. Tamir Shmerling adds sporadic solos on bass in between the harmonic horn punches. I found the fade on this first ‘cut’ to be a bit long and uninspired. Perhaps pianist, Daniel Meron, could have soloed on top of this repetitious horn-play. Meron opens “Her Story” the very next composition, with his piano playing in a very classical style. Arnan Raz has composed all of the music on this album. Although I commend him as a composer, I found this second tune to be repetitious and the arrangement uninspired. On the other hand, the third composition of this CD titled, “We Used to Fly” was well written and once again, further showcased the talents of Daniel Meron on piano with the tenor saxophone of Raz and the alto sax of Eyal Hai flying above the rhythm section like wild birds. All improvisational solos were inspired and expressed freedom as they unfolded. The tempo throughout this production was moderate and a more diversified rhythm arrangement on the compositions would have elevated this recording. Other favorite original tunes on this CD are “Ella,” “Two Worlds One Soul” and “Soul Talk”.

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SIMON PILBROW with the BRENT FISCHER ORCHESTRA – “COLORS OF SOUND”
Clavo Records

Simon Pilbrow, composer/piano; Brent Fischer, producer/arranger/conductor/ vibraphone/marimba/electric bass; SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Ken Peplowski, clarinet; Bobby Shew, trumpet; Larry Koonse,guitar. Chuck Berghofer, acoustic bass; Ray Brinker, drums; WOODWINDS: Bob Sheppard, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/alto flute; Sal Lozano, alto sax; Alex Budman, soprano, alto & tenor saxes/flute/alto flute/clarinet & bass clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, alto sax/alto flute; Brian Clancy, tenor sax/alto flute/clarinet; Sean Franz, clarinet; Gene Cipriano, bass clarinet; Bob Carr, baritone sax; Lee Callet, baritone sax/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Rob Schaer, Mike Stever, Kye Palmer, Jeff Bunnell, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders. TROMBONES: Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bob McChsney, Scott Whitfield. BASS TROMBONE: Craig Gosnell, Steve Hughes. STRINGS: Assa Drori, Concertmaster/principal violin; Alex Gorlovsky, Raphael Rishik, & Susan Rishik, violin; Elizabeth Wilson & Lynn Grants, viola; Maurice Grants & Kevan Torfeh, cello; Oscar Hildalgo, contrabass.

Whenever I see the name of Brent Fischer, I know that I am going to hear something of quality and excellence. Pianist, Simon Pilbrow, is very active on the Melboune, Australia jazz scene and he is a composer, with some of his copyrights held in our Library of Congress as part of the Gerry Mulligan Collection. With the direction and skills of Brent Fischer, this recording features thirty-years of Pilbrow’s composing. Music has not always been his career, but rather his passion and these songs were composed while he maintained a medical practice. Simon Pilbrow was also a fan of Brent’s famous father, Clare Fischer. Perhaps it was preordained that Pilbrow’s labor of love would be embraced by Brent Fischer, and ultimately he would make Simon Pilbrow’s original music come to life in the recording studio.

This CD opens with a happy-go-lucky arrangement, full of verve and spunk provided by soloists Carl Saunders on trumpet, trombonist Scott Whitfield and young tenor player, Brian Clancy. The tune, “Australia,” is entirely entertaining and will have you tapping your toe to the ‘Swing’ rhythm and tight horn harmonics. Pilbrow adds his piano expression, with a taste of blues glittering during his solo. “A New Beginning” is a waltz that was inspired by Pilbrow’s wife when they were courting back in 1989. Over the years, he has composed several waltzes with Jean (his wife) in mind, however this was the first one. “Studio City,” a popular Los Angeles County community, was written recently (2015) to celebrate Pilbrow’s time spent and the hospitality he felt at the home of Brent Fischer and his wife while they worked on this project.

On this recording, you will find warmth and melodic substance, arrangements that are plush with harmonics and some of the best players and studio musicians in Southern California interpreting the compositions of Simon Pilbrow. Brent Fischer and composer, Pilbrow unite to find a diverse orchestral approach with Fischer’s arrangements, sometimes using small ensembles and other times using full-blast, big band vigor or beautiful string accompaniments. It’s a heavenly match, with both the presentations and the compositions sure to please.

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THE COOL MISS “B” STILL GOING STRONG AT 88

February 5, 2018

THE COOL MISS “B” STILL GOING STRONG AT 88 – A Black History Month Documentation

By Jazz journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

FEBRUARY 5, 2018

Betty Bryant, whose friends affectionately call her, ‘the Cool Miss B’, answers the phone with the same joi de vivre and blossoming smile that always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Betty personifies her joy for life in both personality and music. I was excited to interview this music master. As we talked, I realized that Betty’s life seemed to be a series of opportunities she wasn’t really expecting. Almost like her fate was preordained and had nothing-at-all to do with her plans. She hadn’t dreamed of stardom or made a wish board. She hadn’t pictured herself travelling the world or entertaining crowds with her voice and piano playing. It just sort of happened. But wait. I’ll let her explain.

Betty Bryant: “I’ll start when we lived on 25th street in Kansas City, Missouri and I was in the third or fourth grade at that time. I was studying classical music. I had a beautiful baby grand piano that my grandmother had given to me. And I was very lucky in that respect, but I didn’t know it. My grandfather gave my grandmother the piano on their first wedding anniversary, which is also my mother’s birthday. It just sort of got handed down to me. Maybe a prestige gift, since I was the first one in the family to show any talent in music. I had to practice before I went to school and when I came home from school. Yuk.”

We laughed together, because I was around that age when I was taking piano lessons and being compelled to practice. I didn’t always want to be bothered with practicing, so I could relate to how Betty felt.

Betty: “My best friend, Donna Baker, she had nine kids in her family and her father played the piano. I had more fun at her house than I did at mine. Her brother was Ed Baker who played trumpet and wound up with a band in Kansas City, MO. She had an older sister, Betty Baker, who sang with Eddie’s band for a while. The whole family played music and none of them had any training. I can remember Donna and me sitting at the piano and teaching ourselves how to play entrances and endings to songs. And we played Boogie Woogie. Everybody played Boogie Woogie back then.”

Betty hums me a Boogie Woogie line over the phone, and I immediately recognize it. Boogie Woogie is the first thing my dad taught me how to play on the piano. Betty and I both came up before television was a household entertainment center. In our day, you made music, you listened to radio, or you played 78rpm records and albums.

Betty: “I recall the first time we got a console and it had a record player in it (a turn-table) that dropped the records; 78rpm records. Our console came with a sample record. I can’t remember the name of that song, but my father used to play it all the time. It was a group singing. This was in the early 40’s. I was born in 1929. I was hung up on Bull Moose Jackson’s recording of ‘I Just Can’t Go On Without You’ during that period in my life.”

Although she was drawn to music in her youth, Betty never considered it would become a career path. After all, her father, who was an educator, held high hopes she would follow in his esteemed footsteps. The whole town knew her father, Dr.Girard Bryant, and they expected big things from Betty.

“Actually, my father was a school teacher. In fact, I come from a whole long line of school teachers. My maternal grandfather actually wrote speeches for Booker T. Washington. My dad was just sort of insistent that I attend college. I went to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and majored in ‘Fine Arts,’ because they told me to do that. So, I got a teaching certificate to please them. I was not really interested in school and I had quit playing the piano. At sixteen, I played my last recital.

“One day, while I was still living in Topeka, I heard this radio show out of Oklahoma; maybe Tulsa. A DJ was interspersing live music with records. Well, I had a friend in Topeka who worked at a radio station and I was telling him about it. He said, oh – that’s interesting. Well, he told his station manager about it and then I got a call asking me if I could come down. Just like that, I was thrown back into music. At that point I knew how to play some blues. I knew ‘Body and Soul’ up to the bridge. (she chuckled)

“I still don’t know the bridge,” Betty confided to me conspiratorially.

“There was a baseball game that came on. The radio station put me on after the baseball game. I never knew how long I was going to be playing. I might have a half an hour show. I might have a fifteen-minute show. It was really a strange re-introduction to the world of ‘live’ music. It’s funny. There was a woman on at that time called, Lonesome Gal and she came on late at night. She had a real low, deep, sexy voice. So, the Station Manager thought I had a naturally sexy voice. All of this was when I was like twenty-one or something. It didn’t make any sense at all to me. But that was my launch back into music. I played records, DJ’d and played piano. I don’t know if their ratings went up, but it was sort of a joke with everybody. Nobody could believe I was doing that. Fresh out of college, with a radio gig.

“I was also working at Menningers at that time. It was the biggest psychiatric hospital in the country. People came from all over the world to train there. I was a secretary.”

Menninger Psychiatric hospital was founded in 1919 by Dr. Charles Menninger and his sons, Karl and William, both doctors as well. The facility consisted of a clinic, a sanatorium and a school of psychiatry. They worked in harmony with the Winter Veteran’s hospital and administration, an army facility also located in Topeka. In 2003, Menninger moved from Topeka, Kansas to Houston, TX, with a stellar reputation of being on the forefront of psychiatric break-through treatment.

BETTY: “At that time, Topeka was the hub of psychiatric treatment. Then there was the Winter General, that was like the army hospital. It was right after World War II, so you had veterans coming in from all over the world to Menninger. That hospital knew more about psychiatry than anybody. The whole city was kind of formed around those hospitals. This is back when they were doing electric-shock treatments and that kind of stuff.”

It didn’t take the young Betty Bryant long to figure out her day-job wasn’t what she wanted to do the rest of her life. With a college degree under her belt, playing piano on the radio broadcast peaked her interest in her instrument again and her love of music was reignited. To self-support, she worked as a secretary for a couple of years, until the gigs started steadily rolling in. One of the first gigs she accepted was with Buddy Brown’s band. He was looking for a singer and Betty snatched the opportunity to expand her repertoire and experience.

Betty: “For a little while, I was a stand-up singer with the Buddy Brown Band. He played trumpet. I don’t remember much more than that. I would say he had maybe an eight-piece band. They had a big-band sound. It was before trios and quartets were popular. It was pre-Nat King Cole. I was singing blues in one form or another; Fast blues, slow blues, happy blues, sad blues. One, four, five forever,” she referred to the chord structure of the blues.

“No standards. It was mainly just keeping that beat so people would keep dancing. Somebody called me yesterday and they were amazed that I actually knew Jay McShann and that we were good friends. He was a very down to earth person. He took me under his wing. When I was twelve, I bought his book and I was trying to stretch my little fingers to walk tenths with my left hand. I learned to do that when I was twelve. It was because of studying that Jay McShann book. I learned how to play “Vine Street Boogie” and “Confessin’ the Blues”.

“But I didn’t actually meet Jay McShann until much later. It was after I came back to Kansas City from Topeka. He was working a gig, and somehow or another, I started going by his gig. He’d get off the stand and let me play piano with his band. It was so much fun and I was so honored to be able to do this. Of course, everything was still segregated at that time. We would play, and then on our breaks the band had to go down in the basement of the place. We couldn’t sit out in the audience with the people. Somebody in the band would run across the street to the liquor store and get a bottle. We’d sit down there for the break and pass the bottle around. They never bought a big bottle to last through the night. They’d go out and get a bottle to last through the break; like a pint. It was a funny time. Then I started working at a place, doing a Single.”

NOTE: A Single is musician talk for one person who plays solo piano and who might also sing.

“The place I worked was near where Jay McShann happened to be playing. I got off earlier than he did and when I got off, I’d go by his gig and hang out with him and his guys. There was Richard White, who became Ahmad Alladeen. He played baritone saxophone. There was a guy named “Jeep” Griddine who played guitar like the Count Basie rhythm guitarist. Jeep couldn’t dance, his feet did not work, but boy could he play that rhythm guitar. “Piggy” played trumpet. His real name was Orville Minor. “Fats” played tenor and Al Duncan played drums. I can’t believe I remembered all those names,” her laugh tinkles across the telephone line like the upper register of the piano.

(NOTE: An historic photo of Betty Bryant with her mentor and friend, Jay McShann, currently hangs in the lobby of her Kansas City ‘American Jazz Museum’.)

I told Betty that I had heard a few people say her piano style reminded them a little of Count Basie. I asked her if she had ever met the Count?

“Really? No, I never met Count Basie. I do have a documentary of Jay McShann, with Count Basie. It’s called “The Last of the Blue Devils”. It’s a great documentary. I have it on a VHF video. Jay sent it to me. You know those little address stickers you get when you donate to something? It’s got one of those little stickers on it that says Jay McShann and his address. It’s not an autograph, but that’s the kind of person that he was. He did that himself. It wasn’t like he had someone handling that for him.”

This VHF treasure that Betty owns and that is titled, “The Last of the Blue Devils” features a host of jazz icons including Lester Young, Max Roach, Big Joe Turner, Charlie Parker, Charles McPherson, Dizzy Gillespie, Jo Jones and Eddie Durham. According to publicity notes about this documentary, written by J. Hailey, during the Kansas City Prohibition days, jazz music was the rage. In the late 1970’s, a bunch of musicians gathered at the Union Hall to discuss that so-called, Pendergast era. The participants included some of the Walter Page Blue Devils, several being musicians who joined Bennie Moten’s band and others who joined and stayed with Count Basie’s band. Highlights of the filmed documentary offer remembrances of Lester Young, stories and discussion about how Charlie Parker got his nickname. There are highlights of Joe Turner’s vocals and McShann’s extraordinary piano playing. A drum clinic is included that’s hosted by Jo Jones. Betty Bryant has one historic piece of film memorabilia in her collection!

In 1955, Betty transplanted to Los Angeles. She had grown as a musician and an artist under the rich tutelage of Jay McShann. Ms. Bryant was quick to tell me Jay McShann had greatly influenced her style of playing. She was also enamored with Nat King Cole’s musicianship. However, the little lady with the bluesy piano and convincing vocals felt it was time for her to leave Kansas City. She was more self-assured and prepared than she had ever been. It was time to spread her wings and fly.

“What happened was, Earl Grant, the piano player/organist, left Kansas City before I did. And I got his job in Kansas City. I basically got the job because everybody knew I was Girard Bryant’s daughter. And that was one of the reason I had to get out of Kansas City, because I never was me. I was always ‘his daughter’. It drove me nuts. After I left, years and years later, when I was playing in Brazil in 1972, something was printed in Kansas City that Dr. Girard Bryant’s daughter is playing in Brazil. I had to get away from there to be myself. So, when Earl left Kansas City, the person who had hired him hired me to take his place in her club. And she was right. At that time, I had no repertoire. By that time, I had added “Laura,” and a few things besides the blues. But I still didn’t have much of a repertoire. I was playing at a club called, Millie’s. I knew Earl from way back. Earl and my sister share a birthday date and they used to share birthday parties when they were really young. So, he came out here and became a fixture. He was playing at Club Pigalle (a popular club located at 4135 South Figuroa that hosted several local acts) and also at this swanky little club in Beverly Hills. When I arrived in town, I got in touch with Earl. He got me a gig in that Beverly Hills club on his night off. It just fell into place.”

Shortly after she arrived in the City of Angels, Betty Bryant enjoyed an intimate observation of the great Billie Holiday performing in a small Hollywood nightspot. Betty told me about that.

“I didn’t see Billie Holiday perform until I moved out here. There was a little place on Wilshire and La Brea. Everything has changed architecturally now, but it was a club that faced Wilshire. If you went across the street and up a block there was another club that faced La Brea and Dizzy Gillespie used to play there. Between those two places, they booked all these big names. There was a lot going on in the fifties. But anyway, I remember I went to see Billie Holiday and Johnny Ray, who had that hit record, ‘The Little White Cloud that Cried.’ I didn’t get to meet Billie Holiday and I didn’t get to speak to her. She was just sort of out-of-it that night. But I had to be there. I went by myself. That was the only time I ever saw her and I’m glad it was in a small club setting. You could feel the whole presence of her. Small clubs are so much better than being in the big venues they have today. They’re so intimate, especially for jazz.

“in those days, Union agents patrolled the clubs. So, you pretty much had to be in the Union and they made sure you paid your dues and your membership was up to date. The agents all had offices in the union and they made sure you didn’t have more than the number of hired musicians on the bandstand. So, if you hired six people, you couldn’t have more than six on the bandstand. That cut out people who just wanted to come jam or sit-in. They would fine you back then.

“When I arrived in Los Angeles, the Union had a thing where you cannot transfer from one Musician’s Union to another. I had to join the one out here and then there’s a three-month waiting period. Because they said you might be taking jobs away from people that already lived here. I could work Casuals, but not a regular job.”

NOTE: A ‘Casual’ in the music business is a one-time, private party or private event.

“So, at first the Union told me, No. It’s not a Casual, because you’re doing it every Monday night. I fought them about it. They finally relented and let me do it. It was obvious I wasn’t taking work away from anyone, because no one had been working on Monday nights.

“You know, when I came out here, it was at the exact same time when civil right were being fought for all over the country. Like in Kansas City, I got the first job downtown for a black musician. You could play the black clubs, but the clubs that were sort of out (in the suburbs), we rarely patronized those clubs. But you could work in them. All of that was happening, just about at that same time I moved here. In a way, I don’t really know how to say this without it coming out wrong, but, when everything became desegregated, it wiped out all the black clubs. Everybody wanted to go to the integrated clubs, whether it was the same music or not.”

Betty has worked several clubs around the Los Angeles area, always expanding her repertoire and popularity. I used to love to hear both Betty and Howlett Smith perform duos with Larry Gales or Tomas Gargano at the now defunct, Bob Burns Restaurant, in Santa Monica. Ms. Bryant is a mainstay of Kansas City jazz, be it as a Single performer, a duo or with a trio or quartet. Her style is distinctive and her beaming personality is infectious.

One unexpected day, Betty Bryant got a call from a friend, Polo Lenna, who asked her if she’d like to perform in Oman. Oman shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Yeman and the United Arab Emirates. Betty figured, why not? She accepted the gig, packed her gowns, sparkle shoes and her music, then off she went for a four-month stint in the Middle East, where she was warmly received.

In 1972, she was walking down the hallway of the Union building when someone called her into their office and introduced her to the drummer who was touring with Sergio Mendes. It seems they were looking for someone just like her to work in Brazil. Auditions were being held at the Sergio Mendes home. More out of curiosity, than for any other reason, Betty went to the audition. The Mendes house did not disappoint her, even though she never saw the main house. Auditions were held in the Mendes pool house that had been converted into a studio. Betty said the sprawling home was still impressive. Surprisingly, they immediately offered her the gig. But at that time, the busy pianist had a seven-year-old son and the responsibility of motherhood. They told her she could bring him with her. Once again, Betty packed her gowns, her music and this time, her young son. They spent the next six months in Rio de Janeio, Brazil.

The globe-trotting Ms. Betty Bryant also spent several years performing at the Tableaux Lounge in Tokyo, Japan. She was one of the featured performers in the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival in Boquete, Panama. Her annual Birthday Bash at the famous Hollywood jazz room, Catalina’s, is always packed with iconic names and faithful followers. In 1987, Betty Bryant Day was declared in Kansas City and she was gifted with the keys to her city. Imagine her surprise and pleasure when she learned, years later and after the Jazz Museum was established in Kansas City, that a historic photograph of herself with Jay McShann hangs in the lobby. In 2011, Linda Morgan’s Jazzabration and Living Legend Society honored Betty Bryant for her many lifetime musical achievements at the Barbara Morrison Performing Art Center in Los Angeles. Additionally, she has received several State and City proclamations and Awards that celebrate her undeniable talents and community involvement. She continues to lend her name and performances each year to the Dolo Coker Foundation event that raises money to support youthful jazz musicians in their educational pursuits.

This year, Betty Bryant is 88-years-young and still going strong. She has decided that what better time to record an album in celebration of her eighty-eight years on the planet and the eighty-eight keys she plays on piano. Her co-producer will be her friend and first choice of saxophone players, Robert Kyle. They will be going into the studio soon to create her 9th album. Betty is a consummate composer and we can expect to hear some of her original material on this new production.

Meantime, she is still busy performing around town. You can catch Betty Bryant on February 8, 2018 at the Vibrato Grill; 2930 Beverly Glen Circle; Los Angeles, CA 90077 on a Thursday night at 8PM. There is a $20 cover charge and you are invited to make a table reservation and enjoy a meal at this very swanky supper club owned by jazz trumpeter and legend, Herb Alpert.

THE SAM HIRSH TRIO – LIVE AT THE LIGHTHOUSE CAFE IN HERMOSA BEACH

February 1, 2018

THE SAM HIRSH TRIO – LIVE AT THE LIGHTHOUSE CAFÉ IN HERMOSA BEACH, CA

By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

January 27, 2018 – Live Jazz Review

What a nice surprise to have Detroit pianist/arranger, Bill Meyer, pop into town with his wife Twyla. They arrived on a Thursday and he immediately wanted to know where the jam sessions were in Los Angeles. So, I sent him to the World Stage in Leimert Park. On Saturday, I had time to meet them for brunch at Gloria Cadena’s jazz spot, the famous Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. I wanted Bill to experience the ambience of a club well-known for its founder, bassist Howard Rumsey and his All-Stars. Some of the original All-Star group were tenor sax man, Bob Cooper, (who was also married to singer June Christy), Bud Shank on alto saxophone, Claude Williamson at the piano and Stan Levey on drums.

Rumsey began the jazz policy in 1949, once he convinced Mr. John Levine, who owned the place, that music would bring people. The Lighthouse Café is a spot walking distance from the Pacific Ocean, an intimate club where local and master jazz cats have worked and recorded for years. Their photographs pepper the walls of this famous nightspot. Iconic musicians like Cannonball Adderley, Cal Jader, Horace Silver, Larry Gales, Mose Allison, Ramsey Lewis, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, Max Roach, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Charles Earland and the list goes on and on. These giants have played on this tiny stage. I even worked this club with the Dwight Dickerson trio on several occasions and also with the Theo Saunders group.

Rumsey is also responsible for opening another famed jazz spot in Redondo Beach, California called, “Concerts By the Sea.” After John Levine sold Rumsey’s Lighthouse club to Rudy Onderwyzer, the jazz policy faded away and a number of other styles of music began to be featured at the popular beach bar. It was producer, Ozzie Cadena, who championed bringing jazz back to the Lighthouse Café. He built up a fine following on Sundays and as the crowds grew, he was able to expand to a few other days in the week. His energetic and determined widow, Gloria Cadena, now keeps the jazz happening at the Lighthouse Café. I was happy to see her this past Saturday when I arrived with my Detroit friends and their daughter.

Much to my delight, Sam Hirsh and his swinging trio were on stage when I walked into the club. I caught the last of their first set. On their second set, they began with the spirited Horace Silver tune entitled “St. Vitus Dance” from his “Blowin’ the Blues Away” album. Hirsh handled Silver’s composition skillfully, fingers flying across the electric keyboard, while Alex Boneham on bass and drummer, Kevin Kanner held the uptempo number in place like a vice. The next tune was an original composition by Hirsh. It shuffled into the room and grooved the audience as waitresses served scrambled eggs with spinach and fried potatoes or bar-b-que chicken pizza’s to the hungry patrons. A strong bassline began the third tune titled, “Minor Rundown,” a Benny Golson tune written for Paul Chambers. This was followed by Tad Dameron’s composition, “Our Delight,“ was played at a maddening pace. The trio solos raced around the room, in a straight-ahead-jazz kind of way and Kevin Kanner on drums took the liberty of showing off his chops on this one. “Sunset Tides” settled the room down as a lovely ballad and let us appreciate Sam Hirsh’s mastery of the piano keys. It was one of his original tunes. “Who to Choose” featured a BeBop arrangement and gave Alex Boneham an opportunity to show his harmonics on the upright bass, using a technique of playing a 2-string solo that was enchanting. This was followed by a jazz waltz tune “Satya” (Sam’s sister’s middle name) and the set closed with a swinging tune titled, “No C,“ that be-bopped us out the door. Sam wrote this original tune because everybody always tries to add a C to his name and it’s spelled with no C. Judging by the strong applause, a good time was had by all.

On Wednesday, February 7th , Sam Hirsh joins the L.A. Jazz Machine group that is comprised of Henry Franklin, bass, Benn Clatworthy, saxophone, and Yayo Morales, drummer at the famous Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach from 6pm to 9pm. It’s their CD release party. No Cover Charge. Be there!

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