Archive for May, 2018

A Passionate Violinist and Conductor Makes Orchestral Magic

May 29, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

May 29, 2018

Dr. Yvette Devereaux lets no grass grow under her feet. She’s a shaker and mover! I’m sitting in a Pasadena restaurant awaiting her arrival, when she bursts into the room with an energy that’s palpable. She smiles at me as she slides into the booth. Her skin tone is deep chocolate and she has this beautiful glow that looks like she’s just been dipped in warm oil at a day spa. Yvette Devereaux is one of those super-women who juggles a multitude of projects with precision. I’m pleased she could fit me into her schedule for this interview. One moment she’s playing a violin solo on a Tyler Perry’s hit television show called, “The Haves and the Have Nots”; the next moment she’s rushing to the studio and being featured on Justin Timberlake’s CD “The 20/20 Experience”. No big deal. She’s performed with Timberlake previously, like during the 2013 Grammy Awards show. After all, she’s been around a slew of famous celebrities and power-people. In one way, it humbles you. But she continually exudes confidence and she’s worked hard to achieve her independent spirit.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX:“Well, I started playing violin at seven and studied piano at three years old. When I was in elementary school, they said you had to be in Fourth Grade to join the orchestra. I was in third grade. I had picked up my love of violin from my sister, Cynthia. She played violin. My other sister, Jacqueline, played clarinet. So, we all played instruments. My mother was a pianist and vocalist. She taught piano to all the kids in the neighborhood. So, at first, I started taking piano lessons from my mother at two years old. She couldn’t take it and decided to find a piano teacher for me. I studied piano at three years old and later picked up my sister’s violin, which was too large for me, but I wanted to learn to play. In 3rd grade the teacher came around and told us we could be in the orchestra in 4th Grade and I wanted to know, can I at least try to be in it now? She said no! Then, I started playing my violin right there in front of her and she said, Oh yeah. You can be in the orchestra right now.” (laughter)

As we chit-chat and share laughter during her biographic antidote, I realize that even as a child, Yvette Devereaux was a precocious and determined, individual thinker.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX:“I grew up in Compton, California on Stockwell Street. That’s what my small company is named after; Stockwell Music. That’s where everything started. Compton thrived with the arts when I was in school. First of all, we had a full music program. Teachers travelled to other schools, so all students had music in their curriculums. The woman who was over all this, Mrs. McMasters, she was a conductor. She was the one who actually told me I could join the orchestra in third grade instead of fourth grade. But to see her at the podium in elementary school, she was pretty much my first role model for a conductor. And she was a woman who, no matter what, was hands-on for everything and encouraged her students. They had a music team in the school district and they called them travelling music teachers. One travelling music teacher was Mr. Houl. He played horn instruments. He headed a band, where my sister played the clarinet. My other sister played flute, bells and violin. My sisters were in both ensembles with Mr. Houl, all in one school; Segundo Elementary. I was also involved in our All District Choir in Compton, where students throughout the entire school district would come together (weekly) and sing! And I mean sing! We had the ‘Compton Boys Choir’ and the Compton Choraliers. We toured throughout the State and made television appearances. All our choirs were led by a wonderful woman, Esther Cleavers. I was in school orchestras from elementary school to high school, in addition to an All District Orchestra, thanks to Mrs. McMasters and my string teacher, Joseph Taylor. Both were very instrumental. I had those same group of teachers in my life all the way through school until college. It’s not always about funding. It’s about having a vision and implementing it. We need to make sure all kids have music in school. You don’t even have to have instruments. You can clap. You can sing. The kids are there. They’re waiting to be taught.”

For a moment, Dr. Devereaux let’s her passion for youth shine to the surface. Her face becomes animated and expressive. I witness her sincerity as she remembers the kind of loving attention she and her schoolmates received years ago. She’s concerned that regular music inspiration is often unavailable in our schools today. Dr. Devereaux continues.

“So, around 5th grade or so, when schools were still going up to 6th grade and then you graduated into Junior High, an Elementary school graduation was a big deal for the teachers, because it was their last performance with us. We had a graduation choir and everybody had to sing a song. I can’t remember her name right now, but she was the head of our graduation choir and she was also the pianist. She said ‘Ok children, I want you to sing this song.’ She was trying to conduct and play piano at the same time. It was difficult, so she looks at me and says, I want you to conduct the choir. That’s how it happened that I conducted the graduation choir. Then I had to pick up my violin, because I played a solo for graduation as well. I was nine-years-old. As a kid, your teacher instructs you to do something and you just do it. But as I think back, it had a great impact on me. Because I always can visualize that day. I can see that day so clearly and it’s kind of strange because my classmates accepted me as a conductor. They were all senior violin players and it was odd because they all listened to and followed me. At that moment, I felt like it was fun. But then it started to snowball.

“In Middle School, my string teacher, Joseph Taylor, was very instrumental and hands on with all his students. Most of his string students are still playing professionally. He played all the string instruments and was very, very smart and very talented. He took over this woman’s place, who was quite powerful and she played all the instruments. Her name was Mrs. Brown. She was over the entire string program. She either retired or moved on, but Mr. Taylor took over. He became my private violin teacher and he pushed us. We were playing Mozart, Beethoven, everything at Vanguard Junior High school.”

Yvette Devereaux was determined to walk her dream pathway up the rainbow and down the other side. She wanted more than the ultimate pot of gold. Ms. Devereaux was determined to be respected as a prepared and distinguished orchestra conductor. She is living proof, dreams do come true. She has conducted at her Alma mater, Chapman University, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music, Orchestral Conducting and violin. In 1993, Ms. Devereaux was chosen to compete in the Antonio Pedrotti 3rd International Competition for Orchestra Conductors in Trento, Italy. She also conducted the Chapman University Chamber Orchestra and University Symphony on a tour to Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, Spain, Hawaii and various American cities. She was a participant in the Carnegie Hall Corporation program for conductors with Pierre Boulez and spent two summers at the Conductors Guild Institute, held on the campus of the University of South Carolina. But what Ms. Devereaux really wanted was to study at the famed Peabody Conservatory of Music.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX:“I wanted to go to one of the best conservatories in the world. Even my teachers said, you will never get in. It’s so difficult. So, I said, Ok, but I ignored that advise. I decided to get some extra lessons outside of my university mentor, sense he didn’t believe in me. Peabody sent me all these requirements in preparation for their audition. They were very, very challenging. I said ok, I can take a challenge.

“I took a year off after undergraduate work. I said to myself, Oh, I’m going to get in! I stayed with my parents and didn’t do anything but practice, study; practice, study. I took lessons from various people like Daniel Lewis, who was the Conductor of the USC Symphony Orchestra. I also enrolled in some of his classes and workshops. In addition, I took a few lessons with William Shatner, who was also at USC. But it was Daniel Lewis who was so instrumental and he was the one who really said, you do these things and you’ll accomplish your goals. He gave workshops in various cities and I would be there, whether it was in Ohio, Minnesota, or where ever. He was and is still a great coach and conductor. And when I finally got to the Peabody auditions, I paid for my own airfare. That was hard. I arrived alone and stayed at a hotel. I had no idea how far it was to walk from the hotel to the audition place, but I walked straight to Peabody. My name was on the list and I checked in. I’m looking at all the other people and I’m listening to everyone else tuning up and the guy in front of me was on the podium for half an hour. I thought – Oooo, this is scary. Then I heard, ‘Ms. Devereaux, you’re next.’

“In the orchestra, there were about fifty people. You had to buy the scores in advance. The process of elimination is on several levels. I mean you have to have the money to buy the scores, get the plane ticket, reserve the hotel room. I was teaching students on the side, so I could buy those scores and be certain I was prepared. When it was my turn to audition and conduct the symphony orchestra, they had me play one of the hardest pieces of Igor Stravinsky titled, “The Rite of Spring.” I had to know every note played by the orchestra. So, I get up there and there’s a panel of four. The main conductor, who everybody wants to study with, is Frederick Prausnitz. Conductors all over the world want to study with Frederick. I saw that he was on the panel and that he was the one who’s going to tell me what to do. His assistants were next to him. He says, ‘Ok, Ms. Devereaux, you can begin.’
“Thank God I had my undergraduate experience with conducting, under the tutelage of John Koshak, because I knew how to run an orchestra. John Koshak had heard about me when I was attending high school in Compton (California). He’s the one that was instrumental in making sure I got into Chapman University as an undergraduate. I had to audition in front of him on the violin in order to get into the school of music. Consequently, I was admitted as a Violin Major with emphasis in Education (I thought!). But things changed immediately during my 1st semester after taking my theory class with Professor and Dr. Noael. The first thing a theory student learns in 1st year theory is ‘how to conduct’ and knowing the beating patterns. Originally, I had this theory class with Mr. Noael. So, I’m doing my thing and he goes, ‘Stop’. He said, ‘You have a conducting hand. After this lesson’s over, I want you to go and see John Koshak and tell him you’re interested in conducting’. I went and John Koshak also had me conduct a few beating patterns. Mr. Koshak said, OK, I’ll take you as my conducting student, meaning you’ll work for me the next four years, learning to be a conductor. That was the beginning of everything.”

Yvette Devereaux surprised her instructors and peers when she was accepted and earned a Master’s degree in Music and Orchestral Conducting at the Peabody Conservatory of Music on the campus of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Additionally, she earned a Doctorate of Philosophy at Felton University. Consequently, she is now, Dr. Yvette Devereaux. Dr. Devereaux is both the first woman, and the first African-American woman, to be accepted into the conducting programs at both Chapman University and the Peabody Conservatory.
But things don’t always go as planned. Dr. Devereaux has always been competitive and tenacious. When she was approached to compete in the Mario Gusello 4th International Conductor’s competition in Pedrotti, Italy, she was one of three Americans who became semi-finalists. She told me about that experience.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX: “I did two competitions in Italy, but this was the first competition. You have about 2000 applicants and only fifty get chosen. First of all, they send you their repertoire three weeks in advance with scores to study. When you get there, you have no clue which one you are going to do. So, you’ve got to be prepared for all of them. There were eight scores, from light things like Mozart pieces to pieces by John Cage, all these modern pieces that take a lot of studying. … I had no idea what it would be like and when I got there, I joined conductors from all over the world who were also there to compete for this one prize. For my first piece they chose Antonin Dvořák Symphony #7. I went, Yeah! Thank you! Because that’s one of my favorites. When Dvořák came to America, he went to New York and heard black music, later creating the New World Symphony. But I was so happy to conduct his Symphony #7 during this competition. I got through the first round. You come the next day and see your name posted to realize you’ve made the first round. After the second round, there were twenty of us left. I made that round. In the last round, there were about eight of us left. I was called as the first one. When you’re the first, you have to set the bar. The musicians have to get comfortable with the piece and I was the one who actually taught them the piece. So, I made it to the third round. That was fine.

“I went by myself to Italy and to attend my first competition. I loved it over there. I felt like I was with people I knew, because as soon as I got off the plane I was taken care of. The car was there. We went and got some food. Then, when I went to Venice, it was so much fun. On the way home, I had to lay over in Milano or Milan, and that’s when it all went downhill. Some Gypsies followed me. I turned around and all my stuff was stolen. No passport. No money. Everything was in my briefcase with my scores. I put my briefcase on the ground while I was waiting for the bus outside the train station. I was so stunned! I went back into the train station and they were all laughing, like it was a joke. I asked, how can I get to the airport? They said a police report would help me to go to the consulate. So, I filled everything out. I said where is the consulate? They said fifteen blocks away. It was beginning to drizzle outside and I had to figure out how to get on a bus and get to the consulate with no money. A guy inside the terminal said to me, you look very sad. Something wrong? I told him my story and he said, here’s some tokens. These tokens will get you to the airport. Because I still had my luggage, but not my briefcase. I figured at least I could get to the airport to put my luggage into something (a locker) while I figured it out. And he said, by the way, the consulate closes in about an hour.

“So, I go to the airport and see about retrieving my ticket. They tell me they don’t see my name on the flight. I told them my ticket was stolen. I called my friend in America. It was about three-o-clock in the morning in Los Angeles and told him to go down to the airport and pay an extra $50 to get my name back on the roster. I knew I had to get back to Milan and to the train station so I could go to the consulate and get a new passport. Later, arriving at the consulate, a man said no – no – no. You cannot come in here. We are closing. I was looking at him saying, you don’t close for thirty minutes. He finally agreed, after a lady who worked there insisted he let me in and help me get my passport. He didn’t want to do it. They wanted me to come back tomorrow. Then he said I had to go down another fifteen blocks to get my passport photo taken and then go back to the consulate. I walked really fast and down into a dungeon-like basement to get the photo. I arrived back at the consulate, two-minutes before the door closed. I got the passport, But the train had left. Now I was hungry, with no money and no way to get to the airport. The consulate said they would give me a voucher for the hotel across the street from the train station, where they had prostitutes, rats and roaches. I had to stay there until morning and they gave me McDonalds vouchers. I went to the hotel and it was disgusting. So, I wired my friends for money. Then I went outside to a decent restaurant for a good meal. They told me I had to be at the train station at 6 in the morning in order to catch my plane that left at 9am. In that nasty hotel, I didn’t take off my clothes. I sat in a chair until dawn and then dragged myself over to the train station. I got on that train. It took an hour and a half to go from Milan to the airport. I had to get my baggage and check in. They charged me fifty dollars because they said my luggage was too heavy. When they said this plane goes to the United States of America, I praised God. I was so happy. I was exhausted and traumatized; No credit cards. No money. No driver’s license. When I got to JFK, thank goodness my parents were there. They didn’t know the whole story about how I got robbed and what I went through. My mother had prepared a homecooked dinner for me and that was lovely. The next day I had a recording session for Prince with Clare Fischer. That was the next day after all that drama. I had to get up and be there. No one knew what I had been through. But I was determined to be there, to work with the iconic Clare Fischer. I was so exhausted on that session. And that’s the story of my first overseas competition.

“In 1997, my sister Jackie got married 3-weeks before my next competition and no one wanted me to go anywhere by myself again. So, she came with me and made sure everything was taken care of this time and her honeymoon was with me. We travelled to Pescara, Italy and that was the best competition ever. I made it to the Semi-Finals, part of just eight contestants. There were only two Americans that got in and it was so rewarding. After each round I finished, I would go back into the audience and hold my sister’s hand. We’d wait to see if my name would be called. Wow! I get chill-bumps even now, just picturing my sister and I sharing that moment. I love her!

“When we came back through New York, Kermit Moore, the great cellist, conductor and composer, asked me how I would like to do two weeks at the Blue Note with McCoy Tyner? That was unbelievable. I was pinching myself. McCoy in my ear every night? Whoa! I was in the string quartet with his band. 1998. I will never forget it. It was hard ‘cause I ended up staying at a person’s brownstone in Harlem. The subway train stops at one-o-clock in the morning and my sister wasn’t used to travelling like that, at that hour, and neither was I. After she left early, I still had to do it by myself. McCoy Tyner heard that I was doing that and had a car pick me up. That last night with him was so amazing. They were swinging so hard and McCoy looks over and says to me, ‘Take a solo.’ Ooooo! I was part of the ensemble the whole time, but at that minute he pointed to me and said take a solo. Oh my God. He is such a great person and an amazing musician. He’s one of my idols.

“Another one is Donna Summers. She knew what was happening. And Smokey Robinson is also another one of my favorites. When you’re on tour as a Pop artist, and they see there is only one black girl in the entire orchestra, they were conscious. Donna Summers would always look over at me and say, you’re going to do the solo, right? You’re going to have to step out here, she’d say, motioning to me. That’s rarely done when you’re with a whole string orchestra. Because of Donna Summers I got solos at MGM Grand and I got solos at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. And Smokey Robinson is so generous and nice to work with. He never put himself above us. When we ate, he’d eat with us. He was always so respectful. Also, Vanessa Williams was the greatest. Although she won Miss America and acted and sang, she was still so gracious. We’d do a lot of concerts together and particularly at the Grammys. She said, ‘You’re not like the regular string players. A limo will pick you up; all four of you.’ So, she sent a car for our string ensemble. When we played for the Arsenio Hall show, we had our own room where our guests were treated well with snacks, chocolates, and candies everywhere. With Vanessa Williams, she’d even pack a box of candy for each of us to say thank you. Of course, I can’t forget Barbra Streisand, who was just unbelievable. When we worked with her on recordings at Capital Records, she was very gracious and we were just hanging out with her the whole time. It was so nice recording and hearing her in my ear. And as a woman, she was running the show. I learned so much watching her. She was such an example. She was also produced by Diana Krall. To see this duo of women, working together, it was unbelievable. That was one of the best recordings I have ever done. I spent four days with them; and Johnny Mandel was the arranger. OMG. I loved working with Johnny. He’s so smart. Just two notes and he changed the entire song. It made everything better. When Diana Krall did her record, “Love Scenes” with “Peel Me A Grape” on it, I was right there with Johnny Mandel for that too. Then there is Gerald Wilson. To see Gerald Wilson at work on that “Detroit” album was just amazing. I learned so much.”

Yvette Devereaux is concerned about our children and the lack of music and art programs offered in our public education system. You’ll find Dr. Devereaux consistently invested in the art of teaching, the act of mentorship and devoted to servicing our community.

In 1983, she began teaching violin, conducting, voice, and composition in her studio. In 1993, she founded the Progressive Arts Academy. It was an After-school and Weekend Performing/Visual Arts Program for ages 3 to adult in her hometown of Compton California. She has shared her talents at various teaching positions including the So. Pasadena Music Center & Conservatory, the Wildwood Music Camp, Mount St. Mary’s College, Compton Community College, and Dr. Devereaux has helped design the curriculum of her Alma Mater Chapman University and the Peabody Conservatory of Music. For her tireless work, she has received numerous awards and honors, including the Community Leadership Award, sponsored by the Los Angeles Christian Methodist Episcopal Church & she received the Certificate of Appreciation from former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. Ms. Devereaux is an advocate for education. She is a frequent lecturer, adjudicator, educator and coach for many organizations, schools and institutions throughout the United States. She has recently written and published arrangements for youth string orchestras & is currently seeking opportunities to coach youth orchestras. She told me about a recent experience conducting an amazing youth orchestra in New York state.

“I received a call from representatives of a New York, Long Island Festival. They said, they found me on the Internet and would I be interested in conducting the youth orchestra in 2014? It was the Long Island Festival for High schoolers. So, I get there and I was blown away. These young people were really talented. I think most conductors turn down opportunities like that, because you’re not sure what you’re going to get. Perhaps they don’t want to be embarrassed. These youth were playing really challenging pieces and I didn’t expect that they would execute that well! When you deal with young people and they haven’t developed their tone yet, it’s a little hard. Sometimes they don’t have the best instruments, so the sound isn’t what I’d like to hear. No problem. I had to make adjustments. I dealt with that. Great composer, Aaron Copland, wrote “Hoedown”, a really challenging piece. It’s for more professional players like The L.A. Philharmonic. This young girl, who played the xylophone in the orchestra, nailed it. Nailed it! I mean, Nailed it. They played it well. It’s on my website.

“I only had two days of rehearsals and then the concert. Those young people pulled it off. When you’re dealing with youth orchestras, most young people want to play well and they want to sound well. Sometimes teachers don’t have the time to look for repertoires that are appropriate for young people. So, that’s when I closed my door one summer and wrote over seventy arrangements for youth orchestras. I tell orchestra teachers that they are available. Some teachers don’t understand that all the students in the orchestra can play, regardless of their level. Children don’t have to sit out. It’s because of the repertoire. Instructors don’t always choose the right music. I write scores that are playable. So, I’ve been asked to come back this year and do two more festivals in Long Island, New York with ninth and tenth graders and over a hundred and fifty students.”

Dr. Yvette Devereaux is inspiring. When she is not acting as concertmaster of a String Ensemble for the hit TV Show, “The Voice,” or playing for Aretha Franklin’s performance at President Obama’s Inauguration, you may have seen her as the lead violinist for the 2011 Grammy Awards show featuring Bruno Mars. She regularly appears with sensational, jazz saxophonist, Kamasi Washington, most recently this year at the Coachella Festival in California. She has appeared as a solo violinist at the Hollywood Bowl with Stevie Wonder, with Hank Jones, Gerald Wilson, Joe Lovano, Kenny Burrell and as she mentioned, made a solo appearance with the Disco Diva, Donna Summers in Las Vegas. She has been a principal violinist for Luciano Pavarotti. I asked her about that.

“You know, I was so taken by his voice. I heard recordings and I had seen him on television, but in person was amazing. I just wanted to be sure I played my notes right. He was so knowledgeable of what he was doing and so knowledgeable of the orchestra. You had to be on your game. He had travelled and gone from playing at the Met and playing at the Opera House. He was so used to being around greatness, so I was very fortunate to be sitting there as a principal and just playing my notes.

“You know, I think I’m grateful for my teachers. You have to develop, whether it’s your technique or your knowledge. You have to put all this behind you until you’re considered to be an artist. If you’re trying to learn an instrument, you have to learn that instrument and everything about it. It doesn’t happen overnight. And we have to practice. You can’t let one or two days go by without working on your talent. It’s amazing. I practice every day. I have to. Because I want to stay on it. I make sure I’m qualified always. Do you know what happened with Leonard Bernstein? The conductor was sick or something and at the last minute, that’s how Leonard Bernstein got the job with the New York Philharmonic. He was called to conduct a difficult piece by Stravinsky, and that was the beginning of his conducting career. Who knows when it will happen? You have to be prepared!”

And prepared she is! That preparation allowed her to become the first woman to hold the position of Music Director and Conductor of the Southeast Community Symphony in Los Angeles. Just hand her the music, a violin and/or the baton, sit back and watch a prepared, passionate, professional work her magic.

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Connection Works Records

Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Nate Radley, guitar; Kim Cass, bass; Rob Garcia, drums.

Speaking of classical orchestration and magical music, here is a unique project. All the compositions are by Frederic Chopin, cleverly played in a very free and jazzy style. Classical music lends itself to jazz, because jazz is based on the European classical scales with the addition of slave songs, blues and work songs and most importantly, improvisation that expresses a longing for freedom. Jazz music has developed into America’s unique classical music and it’s a national treasure. These musicians somehow easily make the connection between modern jazz and the iconic 19th century composer, Chopin . From the very first hauntingly beautiful “Nocturne Op27 Nᵒ1 in C# minor” with the bass setting the tempo and Noah Preminger playing the melody at a faster pace than you might expect, I find myself intrigued. Kim Cass continues to make a bass statement, even when simply locking in with the drums and tightening the rhythm section. Rob Garcia is ever present, steady and supportive as a flexible and necessary net beneath this musical high wire act. He adds color and strength to the tracks with his busy drum sticks.

I love the drum solo on Prelude Op28Nᵒ 24 in D minor. Rob Garcia is spectacular during his solo percussive escapade. In the liner notes he explains.

“These are great songs that can be played with many different treatments. There’s a lot of room for us to just be ourselves.”

I never noticed before that some of the melody of this “Prelude Op28 Nᵒ24” has parts that are uncannily similar to the Nat King Cole jazz standard recording of, “Nature Boy.” It’s the very first line of this song that is eerily similar to Chopin’s composition. Check out Nat King Coles beautiful vocal on it below.

Preminger, who often recalls the smooth riffs that Stan Getz used to play, is a native of Canton, Connecticut and this is his twelfth album release as a bandleader. Downbeat Magazine has heralded him as among the top tenor saxophonists in their annual polls. I am infatuated with his whispery, airy tone and tenacious, solid sound.

Garcia is active in the current Brooklyn jazz scene and is respected as both a sideman and bandleader. He’s appeared on over forty albums, including Grammy winners. His 2009 CD, “Perennial,” was named one of the 10 Best Jazz Albums of that year by the New York Observer. He’s been a major force in artist-run jazz organizations and is the founder/artistic director of Connection Works and a member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground, as well as a founding member of the Douglass Street Music Collective.

Together, these two dynamic artists successfully celebrate and elevate the amazing music of Frederic Franciszek Chopin, along with their bandmates. It’s a magnificent listen.
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May 22, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 22, 2018

This past Mother’s Day Weekend, my beautiful daughter and I decided to go to Las Vegas. While there, I was bent on finding a club or hotel act that played good blues. We usually buy show tickets, but this time, I was hoping to find out where the local entertainers were performing. After several calls to friends and other entertainers, I discovered some pretty incredible talent in Las Vegas at very affordable places. Our first stop was on West Las Vegas Blvd, far from ‘the strip’ and near Martin Luther King Blvd. The hotel is called, “The Silver Nugget “and inside you will find a comfortable showroom and bar that features a five-piece blues and R&B band. There was an opening act and a main act. The star was Lady Brandy.
When we entered the ‘no-cover-charge’ club and ordered drinks, the first thing we noticed was the well-dressed woman in a sparkly sequined dress, burgundy hair and dangle earrings. She approached us after we were seated and gifted we three women (my daughter, my Las Vegas buddy, Stephanie, and myself) with glowing, red, artificial roses that lit-up with tiny lightbulbs nestled in the petals. She was friendly and engaging. It didn’t take long to discover she was originally from my hometown of Detroit, Michigan; a product of Motown. She was also the featured act for the evening.

Her show began with Michael ‘Mico’ Welch taking the stage. Michael sang “Lovely Day” to open the show and put soul into the already soulful Bill Wither’s tune. Next, he performed the Otis Redding hit record, “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay.” He had the audience in the palm of his hands sporting an excellent voice, stage persona and friendly patter in between his songs. This was followed by the Jeffrey Osborne hit record, “Love Ballad.” Michael Welch performed in the most amazing way as he sang, “What we have is much more than they can see” with the audience responding verbally; singing along. People rushed to the small dance floor and held each other tightly.

This was followed by Al Green’s standard hit, “Let’s Stay Together”, Michael Welch turned up the heat, and raced around the room, jumping on the empty chairs surrounding the bright red table cloths and he sang to the attentive crowd, making musical love to the Mother’s Day guests. The opening act ended his powerful set with the Teddy Pendergrass tune, “You’re My Lady”.

Then came the star of the show, Lady Brandy, poured into a purple sparkle dress with four-inch, gold high heels and a voice that was powerful and authentically blue. She sang to her audience, “You better own it, if you want to make my day” and told us with conviction, it takes a real strong technique to handle Lady Brandy. We believed her.

When she sang the Staple Singers hit, “I Know A Place, I’ll Take You There,” there was solid audience participation. This was followed by “Who’s Makin’ Love to Your Old Lady, while you’re out makin’ love?” She has a delightful and sincere way of chatting with her audience, the same way she approached us when we walked into the club. She makes you feel at home and that each song is a personal story she’s sharing specifically with you.

People were joyful and got up to dance around her. Some danced with her. She’s a show person; an entertainer. She knows how to work the room. Blues songs ranged from “Down Home Blues” to Erykah Badu’s “Call Tyrone.” She told the ladies in the audience, becoming very confidential, that one of the band members was her husband and that they had been having problems. Then she inserted the song, “While you been steppin’ out, someone else is steppin in” and when she got to the line that says, “I got a new way of wearin’ my hair,” off came her wig, flying across the room and up on the stage for her husband to retrieve. Beneath the natural-looking wig, her hair style was like a 1920’s Betty-Boo-look, with dark, shiny waves pressed beautifully against her head. This was followed by “Sexy Man, What Your Name is?” Lady Brandy walked the room, got down on her knees, told us stories of life and love, all supported by a tight blues band and lots of drama. This is a very affordable treat for blues lovers any Friday or Saturday night at the Silver Nugget Casino in Las Vegas where they pour strong shots and offer entertaining blues.

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On Mother’s Day, we got a message from Las Vegas vocalist, Bobby Rose, that there was an amazing female singer called, Madame Dee, featured as part of the Soulful Sunday entertainment package at Cork & Thorn Floral shop. Yes, I said Floral Shop. During the week this unique venue sells flowers. They offer floral education and fun, providing numerous flower design and arrangement courses and infusing a first-person experience at their shop with sparkling libations and cheese platters. Then, comes Sunday. They feature live music and the amazing Madame Dee.

As we enter the Tivoli Village mall, Cork & Thorn is a small shop with lovely, ornate dry-wood floral designs hanging from the ceiling on thin wires. A trio of musicians is set up against the wall and a woman in a full length, sparkling blue dress is singing the Rufus/Chaka Khan song, “Everlasting Love” with so much emotion and power, I am stunned. Madame Dee has a style and vocal ability similar to Patti LaBelle. She is captivating and a true show-woman. At times, she put the microphone down by her side, because her vocals were so powerful and persuasive, she didn’t need the microphone. At the end of her songs, she stretches her arms wide, cues the band and tantalizes the audience, with her head thrown back. Her voice is magnificent.

From what I understand, this venue offers Sunday entertainment featuring this dynamic vocalist every Sunday at 330 So. Rampart Blvd., #180 in Las Vegas, NV. I promise you, her performance is extraordinary and she presents a concert that is mesmerizing. Here is another ‘no cover charge’ venue that is artsy, comfortable with couches and warm with good vibes. Everyone is dressed to impress in their Sunday go-to-church clothes and Madame Dee looks like a Main Stage Las Vegas, Showroom celebrity. You’ll think you are at the MGM Grand instead of a modest flower shop. Her voice is a gift and a blessing. What a wonderful way to spend Mother’s Day or any day at all!

In addition, at the end of her last set, she invited a host of local entertainers to her bandstand. We enjoyed the silky-smooth vocals of Bobby Rose.

There was a visiting singer from Chicago, with a close- cut blond afro and a big, beautiful voice. She was introduced as a background singer for Patti LaBelle. Speaking of Chicago, I hear that my friend Ghalib Ghallab is back on the strip entertaining. He plays piano and sings. See

We also enjoyed Yohon Harbin, who presents a tribute to Ron Isley around town. He was another stellar vocalist, formerly the lead singer with the legendary Drifters.

I hope this article gives you some ideas for the next time you visit the city that never sleeps. There’s no place like Las Vegas, and no limit to the incredible entertainment you can enjoy.

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May 18, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

This month of May, I’m JAZZIN’ IT UP with Ukrainian influences, featuring BOB ARTHURS and STEVE LAMATTINA who transform Ukraine folk songs to jazz. San Diego pianist, DANNY GREEN, who adds strings to his trio. Canadian trumpeter, GABRIEL MARK HASSELBACH releases Mid-Century Modern music. NICK FINZER offers his rich, sincere trombone beauty, while JAMIE SHEW celebrates the love she found and lost with ‘Eyes Wide Open.’ Finally, the FRED HERSCH TRIO records ‘Live’ in Europe. Here’s my take on these newly released Compact Discs.

Windtunnel Records

Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flute/flugelhorn/valve ‘bone/vocals; Miles Black, piano; Laurence Mollerup, bass; Joel Fountain, drums; Ernie Watts & Cory Weeds, tenor saxophone; Mike Taylor, vocals; Olaf deShield, guitar.

Once again, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach has produced an album of fine jazz, combining the Straight-ahead style with modern jazz and what he refers to as Mid-Century music, all woven together like the lovely, colorful threads of a Canadian poncho. You can wrap yourself up in his music and feel warm and satisfied.

There is a beautiful vocal on “Nature Boy” sung by Mike Taylor. His voice is smooth and sweet as warmed caramel candy. It was a nice surprise to hear a vocal on Hasselbach’s normally all instrumental project.

The third tune, “Blues on My Mind,” features Cory Weeds on tenor saxophone. He swings hard, along with pianist Miles Black. This tune moves from a moderate blues into a straight-ahead double-time tempo. There’s a horn refrain that harmonically pulls the piece together, as a comfortable reference point throughout. “Terra Firma Irma” is another one of my favorite compositions on this album and it features the great Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone. However, it’s the fiery Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, on trumpet, (sometimes flute), that brings this project to a boil. He keeps the music alive and swinging throughout. Hasselbach always manages to insert bold funk and lovely melodies into productions that make you want to dance, sing and swing.

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OA2 Records

Danny Green, piano/composer; Justin Grinnell, bass; Julien Cantelm, drums; Kate Hatmaker & Igor Pandurski, violin; Travis Maril, viola; Erica Erenyl, cello.

San Diego pianist and composer, Danny Green, has arranged a unique group of original songs, expanding his composition and arranging skills by adding a string quartet to his most recent production. The first tune, “Time Lapse to Fall,” is rich with classical overtones. The next cut, “As the Parrot Flies” is lush with strings and uses a pizzicato technique on strings at the top of the song that plucks at the listener’s attention. The piano sounds like a restless bird throughout and Julien Cantelm on drums makes his sticks move across his instrument like wings.

If you are a lover of Chamber Music, this album will satisfy that appetite, along with the creativity that jazz always brings to the table. The improvisational piano playing of Green steadily unfolds as he improvises. The string arrangements add depth to this recording. The string quartet features San Diego Symphony violinists Kate Hatmaker, Igor Pandurski and Travis Maril on viola, along with cellist Erica Erenyl.

Green is a native of San Diego from an academic family with both parents becoming educators. He earned his B.A. in Piano Performance from UC San Diego, where he studied jazz piano with Grammy-winning producer, Kamau Kenyatta and classical piano with John Mark Harris and Luciane Cardassi. His taste for music has evolved from grunge rock, to Ska music and Latin music influenced by The Buena Vista Social Club documentary that tickled his interest in Cuban music. Later he embraced the Brazilian music style and was finally drawn to jazz pianists like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans. He attained his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at San Diego State University, studying under the tutelage of Rick Helzer. Now Green is a bandleader with his own ideas about arranging, composing and recording. I found this musical project to be easy listening and quietly beautiful. But I never heard the fire and excitement that Evans, Hancock, Monk, Gene Harris, Billy Childs or Tommy Flanagan would bring to the bandstand. For my taste, I wish he had added one fast-moving, spontaneous, hard-swinging composition to this mix. He explained his project this way.

“As a composer, I always strive to tell stories through music,” says Green. “Adding strings to my music provides new and exciting ways for me to expand on those stories and heighten the emotional impact.”

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Independent Label

Jamie Shew, vocals/all arrangements; Larry Koonse, guitar; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3; Darek Oles, bass; Jason Harnell, drums.

One thing that is immediately obvious is that Jamie Shew can ‘Swing’ the music. Her first tune is an original composition, complete with syncopated rhythms and a strong Swing-feel. It’s titled, “Get Out Of My Head” and features Joe Bagg laying down a memorable organ solo and it’s propelled by the strong, distinctive drums of Jason Harnell.

The arrangement on the intro to “Easy To Love” is unusual and really doesn’t add to the vocalist’s rendition of this familiar Cole Porter song. However, when the band brings the repetitious groove back at the end of this song to feature the drum solos, I admit that tied the whole thing together. I can hear a lot of Ella Fitzgerald’s influence in this vocalist’s style and presentation. I learned, from the enclosed press, she’s a proficient pianist. However, she doesn’t play on this recording, although she studied jazz piano at Washington State University and earned her Master’s degree in Vocal Performance/Jazz Studies at Western Michigan University. For the past fifteen years, Jamie Shew has been working the Los Angeles jazz circuit with her husband of twenty years, Roger Shew, a proficient bassist. Sadly, Jamie lost her beloved soulmate to Cancer. This album is a musical tribute to him and their relationship over their two decades of love. “The Answers Are You,” written by Pat Metheny and Roger Shew, seems to summarize a patch of her life with loving lyrics that celebrate being a lost soul and discovering completion when merging your life with another. Larry Koonse sounds inspired on his guitar. The melody tests Shew’s soprano range with a melody that dips and dives. “Detour Ahead” is full of emotional nuances and showcases Jamie Shew’s warm tones. On “Thou Swell,” Jamie Shew takes the liberty to scat the Rodgers and Hart tune and impresses me with her adlib and improvisational ability.

Musically, Shew has contracted a group of L.A.’s prized jazz cats, so the tracks are sensitive and well-played. This vocalist is generous to her musicians, giving them time to shine in the spotlight of their own solos and individual talents. Over the years, these musicians have been friends and bandmates with Jamie and Roger Shew. Consequently, there is a musical camaraderie on this recording that is palpable.

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Positone Records

Nick Finzer, trombone; Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Victor Gould, piano; Alex Wintz, guitar; Dave Baron, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums.

The Trombone is an instrument I’ve always thought of as very close to the human voice. Nick Finzer uses his own unique voice on this beautiful instrument; both rich and sincere. I wondered at the meaning of the album title, “No Arrival.” In the liner notes, Finzer explains.

“No Arrival means we’re always searching, always striving, never arriving. This piece is the journey and a musical representation of the cyclical nature of our life’s path.”

On the very first tune, “Rinse and Repeat,” Finzer lets his technique fly with the up-tempo rhythm and Swing in a straight-ahead-kind-of-way. This is one of five original compositions included in this production. Nick Finzer is a formidable composer. His melodies and chord changes lend themselves to inspirational improvisation by his band members. On “Never Enough,” pianist Victor Gould stretches-out and solidly entertains, both as a sensitive accompanist and soloist. Lucas Pino plays beautifully during his bass clarinet improvisation. However, it is the staunch, ever-driving trombone solo, tinged with blues, that puts the pizazz into this original composition. The melody sticks in your mind hypnotically. Nick Finzer explained his inspiration to create the composition entitled, “Tomorrow, Last Year”.

“Written just after the November 2016 election, this piece was a visceral reaction to the realization that the tomorrow of the past was not going to be the tomorrow of the future. Nonetheless, it wasn’t going to stop time, nor prevent me from continuing the journey that is important to me in this life. This piece is one of hopefulness in the face of seemingly darker times.”

This album is a bright light, a spotlight, leveled at a new and distinctive talent who has appeared on the jazz stage and is garnering well-deserved attention. Like Finzer told us, his music exudes hopefulness, happiness and the strength of freedom that only good jazz embodies.

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Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch, piano/composer; John Hébert, bass; Eric McPherson, drums.

I enjoy listening to music in Ms. Ruby Kia, my Sportage SUV. I name all my cars. The last one was “Matilda” from the Harry Belafonte hit record “Matilda, she takes me money and run away yeah. Everybody, Matilda …” etc. Anyway, while I make those long California drives. I listen intently. I can’t read the credits, the liner notes or the publicity sheet. I am just listening and expectant about what I might hear artistically.

Fred Hersch is a name I know and recognize as an amazing pianist/arranger. The first cut sounds a lot like Thelonious Monk. The Hersch style reminds me a bit of Count Basie and a bit of Monk. But instead of the ‘Swing’ those two masters were known for, Hersch reverts to a more classical style. His music reminds me of classical meets Avant Garde.

This is a ‘Live” album, well produced and recorded cleanly. You can hear every nuance and patter of the drums and every clap of the audience hands. You enjoy the solid bass lines and the flutter of Hersch’s technically astute fingers punching the black and white keys alive with sound and rhythm. Once I arrive at my destination, I look at the Fred Hersch song list and marvel that the first tune was indeed a Thelonious Monk composition titled, “We See.” The second cut, “Snape Maltings” is a Hersch original composition. It features John Hébert bowing his big bass at times, with McPherson on drums, fluctuating between filling in and at other times, appropriately singing along with the very classical melody on his trap drums. The song, “Skipping,” does just that. Both Hersch and his trio skip along, like carefree children, playing outside on a summer day.

This project is sometimes an excursion into unknown territories, led by Hersch and his creative compositions and talented sidekicks. “Bristol Fog” is an absolutely beautiful ballad and I believe my favorite cut on this entire album of excellence. In the liner notes, they write that this is a musical dedication to the late British pianist, John Taylor. Hébert has the opportunity to stretch out on this song and his bass tone and emotional delivery are stunning. Lucky for this trio, they were recorded while performing in Brussels at the former National Institute for Radio Broadcasting. The acoustics are perfect and the spontaneity of their improvisational journey is emotionally tangible.

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Blue Griffin Recording

Bob Arthurs, trumpet/vocals; Steve Lamattina, guitar.

The concept of this production is simple. Two musicians, Bob Arthurs and Steve Lamattina, were approached by a Ukrainian record producer, Irena Portenko, and asked if they would consider using their duo instrumentation to record popular Ukrainian songs with jazzy arrangements. The producer named the project for her father, her uncle and her daughter’s dad. Thus, the title, “Jazz It Up – Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads.” The result is a fresh perspective on traditional folk songs from the Ukraine.

Bob Arthur is a jazz trumpeter, a vocalist, band leader and recording artist. As an educator, he has served on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains, New York for over three decades. This CD is his fourth release as a leader. Previously he released an album where he sang in Ukrainian. He sings on this CD also, featured on “Moon in the sky,” and “Walking Around the Garden,” once again singing in the language of the Ukraine. Steve LaMattina served on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester until 2006. So, I assume that he and Bob Arthurs are old friends and teaching mates. His proficiency on guitar is obvious, as he strums the rhythm and keeps the time steady. LaMattina is the only instrument supporting Arthurs’ horn and vocalization. The duo production is simplistic, but effective. This is a fine introduction to Ukrainian folk music, all jazzed up with a newly painted face.

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