Archive for July, 2019

BIG BANDS CELEBRATE INTERCONTINENTAL JAZZ

July 29, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

JULY 29, 2019

JUAN ANDRES OSPINA BIG BAND – “TRAMONTANA” Independent Label

Juan Andres Ospina, piano/composer/conductor; Carolina Calvache & Nicolas Ospina, piano; Nadav Remez, guitar; Andres Rotmistrovsky, elec. Bass; Marcelo Woloski, percussion; Petro Klampanis, upright bass; Franco Pinna, Dan Pugach & Ronen Itzik, drums; Magda Giannikou, accordion; Sofia Ribeiro & Lucia Pulido, vocals; TRUMPETS: Sam Hoyt, Jonathan Powell, Bryan Davis & Guido Gonzalez. TROMBONES: Michael Fahie, Matt McDonald & Malec Heermans. James Rogers, bass trombone. WOODWINDS: Hadar Noiberg, flute; Alex Terrier, soprano & alto saxophone; Uri Gurvich, alto sax/flute; Linus Wyrsch & Justin Flynn, tenor sax/clarinet; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. SPECIAL GUEST: Paquito D’Rivera

It took me a while to get this review written, but the music is so extraordinarily well done, in good faith I had to review this album that was released last year. Juan Andres Ospina is bi-continental, living between New York and Bogota, Columbia. He is a pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Andres is currently one of the most prominent and active Colombian musicians and composers. His debut album, as a leader, was heralded as one of the best jazz albums of the year on the All About Jazz website. Juan Andres and his brother Nicolas Ospina have a YouTube Channel that boasts a following of more than twenty-two million views. In search of perfection in his music, Ospina began his musical studies at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogota. Later, he moved to Barcelona, Spain and continued his classical and jazz studies at the Escola D’Angel Soler and the Taller de Musics. In 2005, Juan Andres Ospina won a scholarship to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music and that’s how he arrived in the United States.

On this album, the pianist and Big Band leader has composed four of the six songs. Each composition and arrangement is extraordinarily melodic and well-played, incorporating that touch of Columbian rhythms and culture dancing brightly beneath his wonderful piano playing. The horn lines are rich as cream, floating to the top of the music and enchanting the listener with emotional deliveries. I was especially impressed by the soprano saxophone solo of jazz icon, Paquito D’Rivera, on Ospina’s composition, “Todavia No.” The arrangement is quite dynamic and driven by powerful percussion and embellished by Andrés Rotmistrovsky’s electric bass. This song introduces me to the Pasillo rhythm from the culturally rich Colombia Andes Mountain community.

“102 Fahrinheit” is another one of Juan Andres’ dramatic, original compositions. It was inspired, not only by the serous global issue of climate change, along with the human race’s need to respect and correct our relationship with Mother Nature, but for one other reason. Juan Andres explained in a recent interview:

“I wrote this piece in an un-airconditioned apartment during a summer heatwave in New York City, with deadlines looming and technology refusing to cooperate. It was a very stressful month. My computer was crashing all the time. It was crazy hot. I couldn’t open the windows because so much noise was coming from the street that I couldn’t concentrate, but if I closed them, it was like a sauna. The intensity of the tune came from the stress of having to meet a deadline and not being able to work in comfort.”

Everything on this production is well arranged, brilliantly played and features a big band that reads like a group of United Nations representatives.

“I thought it would be interesting to have so many different nationalities playing in this band, all bringing their influences to the music in some way,” Ospina shared his insight on forming the band.

“It’s something that might be very common in New York, but from a Colombian perspective, it’s pretty crazy.”

“Like Someone in Love,” the familiar Jimmy Van Heusen composition, is explored and rejuvenated in such a fresh way that I hardly recognized it. It’s a fabulous arrangement and shows Ospina’s genius. He extends the time, stretching the melody sweetly like bubble gum between the fingers of his all-star band and himself. Uri Gurvich takes a spirited alto saxophone solo. I had to play this arrangement twice. Judge for yourself.

Juan Andres Ospina admits it took him some time to persuade his inner-artistic-self that he could actually write, arrange, compose and direct the big band music in his mind.

“I just needed to make it a priority and find the determination to do it. The challenge was enormous, not only because of its gigantic dimensions, but also because I needed to convince myself that I could actually make it happen. It finally struck me like a strong windstorm; like the cold and fierce Tramontana that lashes the Catalan coasts, leaving a clear sky behind. It will stand as a milestone pointing back and forward in my life and career; one in which I had the fortune of joining forces with an incredible group of creative individuals who helped me shaping what you are about to listen to. I hope you will feel the emotion behind it and make it yours too!”

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MIKE HOLOBER AND THE GOTHAM JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “HIDING OUT” Zoho Music

Mike Holober, piano/Fender Rhodes/Conductor; John Hebert, bass; Mark Ferber & Jared Schonig, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Steve Cardenas, Jesse Lewis & Jay Azzolina, guitars; Billy Drewes, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Jon Gordon, alto & soprano sax/ Dave Pietro, alto & soprano sax/flute/piccolo. Ben Kono, alto & soprano/flute/clarinet/piccolo/penny whistle; Adam Kolker, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet; Jason Rigby, tenor sax/flute/clarinet; Charles Pillow, tenor sax/flute/ clarinet/alto flute; Steve Kenyon & Carl Maraghi, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Tony Kadleck, Liesl Whitaker, Scott Wendholt, James de LaGarza & Marvin Stamm, trumpet/flugelhorns; Tim Albright, Mark Patterson, Alan Ferber, Bruce Eidem, & Pete McGuinness, trombones; Nathan Durham, bass trombone.

On disc one, this jazz orchestra, under the direction of acclaimed composer, arranger, Mike Holober, brings a sense of fusion and funk to their arrangements. Obviously, Holober is locking into the pulse of the urban jungle. This is a double disc recording titled, “Hiding Out.” Holober and his all-star Gotham orchestra have been ‘Hiding Out’ since their last acclaimed 2009 release of an album titled, “Quake.” For the past six years, Mike Holober has been busy serving as Artistic Director of New York’s Westchester Jazz Orchestra. he spent five years as Associate Guest Conductor of the HR Big Band in Frankfurt, Germany and somehow found time to conduct and arrange a number of projects for the WDR Big Band in Cologne.

“There’s a double meaning to the title, ‘Hiding Out.’ One is that I’ve been hiding out as a composer, arranger and sideman for other people and as an educator. But it also comes from the places where I wrote or that inspired these pieces. Places with beautiful settings in the mountains and along the banks of beautiful rivers,” Mike Holober explained the title of his current recording, scheduled for release on August 9, 2019.

The first song titled “Jumble” is nearly fourteen minutes long and plush with spirited solos and exciting energy. It was a commissioned piece by the U.S. Army for their Jazz Nights in 2008 and is named for an isolated lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. This tune is soaked in 1970’s fusion. It also incorporates Afro-Brazilian maracatu rhythms.

“Flow” is the next composition and it’s broken down into four suites. Starting out somewhat melancholy on Suite 1. Titled, “Tear of the Clouds” and suddenly bursting into horn excitement on Suite 2. titled, “Opalescence.” The mood changes quickly. The trumpets blare. Saxophones sing improvisational lines above the fray, until the piece settles down into a quieter, introspective section.

Disc two offers a different type of orchestration. It begins in a more classical vein with various soloists bringing the jazz into the production, especially starting with the 5th movement, “It Was Just the Wind.”. Holober is an environmentalist and is involved with many environmental charities. To compose, he found peace and concentration by taking more than thirty-eight trips and spending over a thousand nights in the wilderness. The title suite, “Hiding Out” was commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and funded by the Pew Foundation. Holober wrote the five movements while in Wyoming. He explained:

“This music was written in some of the country’s most beautiful environments, but the vibe of the record is all about New York City.”

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FRED HERSCH & THE WDR BIG BAND – “BEGIN AGAIN.” Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch,piano/composer; Vince Mendoza,arranger/ conductor; THE WDR BIG BAND: Paul Shigihara,guitar;John Goldsby,bass; Hans Dekker,drums; WOODWINDS: Johan Horton & Karolina Strassmayer;Olivier Peters & Paul Heller,tenor saxophone; Jens Neufang,baritone saxophone; Ludwig Nuss,Anrea Andreoli, & Andy Hunter,Trombones; Mattis Cederberg,bass trombone/tuba; TRUMPETS: Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & Ruud Breuls.

Six Time Grammy winner, Vince Mendoza, is the arranger and conductor of this extraordinary project. Mendoza is famed for his impeccable orchestrations and the WDR Big Band is celebrated by Downbeat as “one of Europe’s finest large jazz ensembles.” Fred Hersch’s astounding talents on piano have been without precedent in both jazz and contemporary music. Fred Hersch gave us some insight into his expectations for this project featuring nine of his original compositions.

“Vince was very respectful and attuned to the fact that each one of these pieces has its own world and the fact that we had these seventeen musicians at our disposal to create each piece on its own terms was really great. It was a thrill for me to be able to amplify the uniqueness of each piece.”

“Begin Again” opens this album, melodically beautiful and featuring the soaring saxophone of Johan Hӧrlen, with Fred Hersch on the grand piano. The second track is a composition that Fred Hersch claims is probably the closest he’s ever come to writing a standard ballad. It’s a very romantic song with the support of beautifully arranged horn harmonics. I expected the composition titled, “Havana” to be full of energy and Latin flavor. However, this production is very classically infused and not Cuban at all. The title is somewhat misleading. It’s more like Bach visits Havana. Still, it’s very beautifully arranged and dynamically played, as is this entire project. “Out Someplace” was written as a bluesy tribute to Matthew Shepard, a young man brutally beaten, tortured and killed in Wyoming. The University of Wyoming student became a catalyst for Congress to pass the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.” President Barack Obama signed the Hate Crime legislation into law and Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, rose to notoriety for her prominent LGBT rights activism. This incident perhaps had a particularly significant effect on Fred Hersch, since he himself is celebrated as one of the first, openly gay jazz musicians and he was also diagnosed HIV-positive. This he documented in his 2017 memoir.

As a recipient of the 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award and Jazz journalists Association Awards for Jazz Pianist of the Year in both 2016 and 2018; also garnering the 2017 Prix Honorem de Jazz from L’Academie Charles Cros, (a lifetime achievement honor), this will surely become another plume in the pianist/composer’s cap of honors.

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RICHARD SIMON KEEPS THE LEGACY OF BUDDY COLLETTE ALIVE WITH JAZZAMERICA

July 20, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

July 20, 2019

On Saturday and Sunday, July 27 -28, you can experience two days of extraordinary jazz music that is absolutely FREE! The second day of the Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival will kick off Sunday morning, July 28th, at 11:30am, on the Ella Fitzgerald stage, featuring the popular JazzAmerica ensemble. This non-profit organization of exceptional junior high school and high school students will be celebrating their Silver Anniversary this year. This is a highly notable event. Our Los Angeles-based, jazz icon and historic reed player and composer, William Marcel “Buddy” Collette, left us a legacy of amazing music. Just as importantly, he co-founded this non-profit organization called JazzAmerica in 1994, with press person, Michael O’Daniel and school board member, Valerie Field. Their mission statement was to perpetuate the jazz tradition by introducing jazz to young people from all socioeconomic and racial origins. Collette’s legacy lives on through this amazing and well-attended JazzAmerica program, propelled by the hard work and dedication of bassist, Richard Simon. The program has already touched the lives of many students who are blazing their own musical trails onto the jazz scene. One of those students is jazz vocalist, Darynn Dean.

Two popular pianists who have emerged from JazzAmerica are Mahesh Balasooriya and Jamael Dean, along with bassist and vocalist, Katie Thiroux. Another noteworthy vocalist to accelerate from the JazzAmerica program is Katelyn Hunter. She recently won the Spotlight Award given by the Music Center of Los Angeles. She was chosen from among five hundred competitors in the non-classical category.

Jazz buffs and music historians know that jazz music is America’s unique classical music and it is, as dedicated by the Congress of the United States, our country’s national treasure. 2019 marks JazzAmerica’s Silver Anniversary; that’s twenty-five years as a working non-profit organization. Richard Simon has been hands-on in keeping this program alive for the past nine years, since the passing of Buddy Collette. I got to speak with their Program Director, Richard Simon, this month in a personal interview. Richard recalls his own infatuation with music at an early age.

RICHARD: “I was nine and I attended a school event where they were offering instruments for students to start learning on. I first chose the trombone, but my arms were too short. So, I picked the violin. As it turns out, my maternal grandfather and my parents were survivors of World War II and the Holocaust. My grandfather had salvaged his violin and brought it over to this country. When he heard that I had chosen the violin to play, he ceremoniously handed over that violin he had rescued. So, that is how I started learning music.

“There was always an emphasis on education and art in our household. Every child was expected to play an instrument. I have three older sisters and a younger brother. So, most of us obliged my parents. My oldest sister was bribed to learn to play a waltz on the piano. I think, once she learned it, she collected the five-dollar bribe and never returned to the piano again. Another sister studied the accordion. The accordion sister passed that down to her kids. The third sister, I don’t remember her playing anything but the radio and my little brother played guitar and piano.

“But playing the violin, back in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, I made it to the Kansas City Youth Symphony. I was in the second violin section, almost as far back as the ropes that opened and closed the curtains. That was fine with me. By then, I think I had been playing three years, so I might have been twelve. Shortly there-after, my parents said if I wanted to continue my private lessons, I had to pay for them myself. So, I made some money doing odd jobs around the neighborhood and paid for the lessons for a while. But I wanted to play Little League Baseball. So, I quit violin for sports.

“In High School, I played guitar very poorly. I learned the basic chords, but the guitar strings were not tuned at the same intervals. There’s a B-string right in the middle and I could never figure out what to do with that. In college I picked up the guitar and played in some psychedelic band. It wasn’t that you had to know what you were playing, as long as you did it with conviction. So, I couldn’t really say that I was a guitar player. It was just a pastime. I had no desire to play professionally. Years later, I finally heard Joe Pass on the radio, and he played all the guitar I could ever hope to play. I thought, this has been done. Why should I even bother.

“So, after the exposure to classical violin, I knew that I was, at some level, interested in music. But I gravitated to literature. I found I was fascinated by the great works of Chaucer, Shakespeare and all the great writers and my interest peaked in literature during Jr. High and High school. I found I had a flair for writing. That was encouraged and I was given my own High School newspaper column to write. I don’t know how it came about. There were things that I heard that became expressed in unintended ways and people gave that self-expression the term ‘pun.’ Webster says it’s a joke exploiting the different meanings of a word. I could express things and give meaning in ways that were unconventional. Oddly enough, years later, when I started to play music, I could hear musical puns inside of songs. One melody reminded me of another and in my bass solo I could sort of incorporate many melodies into the tune. So, that was kind of a strange habit and it helped to bridge the world of literature and music in my brain,” Richard Simon explained in his own, inimitable way.

Because Richard loved reading and writing, in college, he concentrated on an education in Literature and Journalism. He obtained his B.A. Degree at Ohio State University and his Masters Degree at the University of New York, Stony Brook. For a while, music was placed on the back-burner. Not having a clear career direction, once Richard Simon graduated someone told him his Masters Degree would be sufficient, without a teacher’s training certificate, to land a professor position in California’s community colleges. That inspired his move to Los Angeles.

RICHARD: “I was hired by Los Angeles Southwest College located at Western and Imperial. My first assignment was a composition class off-campus, at Rakestraw Community Center. The students were primarily recovering substance abusers, taking college courses to satisfy licensing requirements for becoming counselors. They were not very experienced in an academic setting, because they had been chasing demons earlier in life. But we came together in a magical way. Years later, I got a letter from one of those students who was in my first English class, a guy named George Thorne. He wanted me to know that he had continued with his education. He graduated from UCLA and wrote that he just wanted to reach out and thank me; to let me know that he appreciated spending his first class as a college student with me. Anytime that I got cynical or bored with my teaching job, I could get some solace reading that letter from George. His letter was gratifying. At least somebody’s life was touched, I thought. Meanwhile, I ended up teaching at six of the nine campuses in the L.A. community college district and I was offered tenure. But one day, while grading papers in my office, somebody turned on the jazz radio station. Now mind you, I didn’t know anything about jazz, but there was a recording playing of Stéphane Grappelli. I only discovered his name when the announcer told me. Turns out, he was a master, French Violinist. He performed with Django Rhinehart in Paris during the thirties. I looked up the song I heard that afternoon. It was titled, “Undecided.” I was really carried away by the way that man could play the violin. Nobody ever told me that you could have that much fun with the violin. That very moment, he rekindled my love for music.

“I didn’t necessarily want to return to the violin, but I was so moved by the flair and swing of that music I heard, that I literally dropped everything and made it my business to find out about jazz. I wanted to participate in it. I was living in Hermosa Beach at the time. That’s when I discovered El Camino College, near my home. They had an exceptional music department at El Camino College and offered Instructors with academic and professional credentials that rivaled any university program. They taught jazz, principles of Harmony, Counterpoint, and Music Theory. Right away, I enrolled in the jazz band. Again, I didn’t have enough violin chops or guitar knowledge to make a meaningful contribution. But I noticed, leaning against the back wall, four lonely basses. So, I went and picked one up on a whim and I started to play it. Well, it was love at first ‘bite.’ I say that because the strings were so fat, compared to the violin, that my fingertips hurt after a few seconds of playing the instrument. Even so, there was something about the sound of the notes and the fact that the band couldn’t really swing without a solid bass line underneath that spoke to me. I asked the teacher if I could borrow one of those bases and take it home. He said, yes. There were some other adult learners like myself. Mind you, I discovered Stéphane Grappelli on jazz radio when I was thirty years old. So, there were only a few others my age taking the music courses at El Camino College. At that time, I didn’t know any professional jazz musicians and was just becoming aware of the music. I wasn’t thinking about making music a career. I was just having the time of my life playing it.

“I was driven, really, almost irrationally, to do as much as I could in discovery. I taught myself a fair amount. I got books and I found friends who would put up with my playing. I went to endless jam sessions. I mean there was blood. Pieces of fingertips lying here and there. And then, somebody in the college jazz band suggested I should look up Abe Luboff. I tracked down Abe for private lessons. He had been with the L.A. Philharmonic, so he was coming at it from a classical standpoint; you know, having the correct left-hand position and having the proper technique with the bow. I studied with him for maybe a year. At one point, he said, Richard, I know you really want to play jazz. That’s not what I do. He suggested I contact Red Callender. Abe was the second person to mention I should study with Red Callender. I thought, OK, I understand now who I should hook-up with. I had heard that Red was performing at the Money Tree in the city of Toluca Lake. Sure enough, I discovered Red Callender one Monday night performing with the Gerald Wiggins trio. Wig was on piano, Kenny Dennis was on the drums and they had this sax man, Boots Robinson. I was pretty intimidated, because they were playing at such a high level. Sitting there listening, I thought, oh boy, what am I getting myself into here? But Red was very charming and down to earth. He had that impish smile and those sparkling eyes. He said, you need to go to the Clef Club. I found out they were meeting at the Quiet Cannon one Sunday a month.”

NOTE: The original Clef Club was made up of African-American musicians in Harlem and became (both avenue and society), somewhat of a hangout or fraternity-type club. They featured musical entertainment and camaraderie, a Clef Club Orchestra, and over a hundred members. It was incorporated in 1910 and adopted in various cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles. It perpetuated jazz and the performing arts.

“Well, when I arrived at the Clef Club event, this very dignified, handsome gentleman came over to me and said, I understand you’re a bass player. I said well, at this point I’m a bass owner. He said, but you’re Richard, right? I said yes. He said well why don’t you get ready to play the next set with us? And that’s how I met Buddy Collette. I wish I could remember who all was out there that afternoon, but I’m pretty sure the Clef Club included people like Bill Douglass, the drummer and pianist, Art Hillary. All the crème de la crème of jazz musicians.

“I was living in Hermosa Beach and I had heard about the Lighthouse. At the same time, I had been turned on by that Stephane Grappelli record, I made sure that all the radios at home and in my car were locked into 105.1, KBCA back then. I was just hungry for jazz back then. It didn’t matter what era, vocal or instrumental, I was on a jazz diet. So, everything I heard, I digested ravenously. There was no satisfying me, because I was making up for lost time. Everybody was already swimming across the ocean and I felt like I was dog-paddling my way behind them. Somebody suggested I go to The Lighthouse. So, I found that jazz club on Pier Avenue and the first time I went, Milt Jackson was the featured artist and, in his rhythm-section were local guys. Jimmie Smith was the drummer. Larry Gales was on bass and Marty Harris was the piano player. I was sitting in the front row, taking in every note. Before their break, Milt Jackson got on the mic and said, we’re going to take a break, but before I go one of my good friends, Mr. Joe Pass is in the house. Maybe we can talk him into sitting in with us. Oh, and behind him is Oscar Peterson and behind him is Ray Brown. I know these fellows are in town to record. Let’s see if we can get them to come up here next set and play a tune. Well, of course, everybody in the club just erupted. Sure enough, next set they got up on that bandstand and they played a blues. I swear, the bandstand levitated. There was just so much energy and there was no stopping them. I think I levitated too!

“It was just beyond anything I could have imagined. I think they might have played just one tune, but it was the Hallelujah Chorus. If there was any doubt in my mind that this was the atmosphere I craved, it was erased that night by these guys. I can still feel that intensity when I think about it. After that experience, I used to lurk outside the door to hear whoever it was that was playing. Finally, there was an old guy who ran it, Rudy Onderwyzer. He had that long straggly beard, that fit the profile or the stereo type of a jazz cat or maybe of the Beatnik era.

NOTE: Although Rudy Onderwyzer appeared to be the manager of the Lighthouse, with his hands-on attitude and casual appearance, John Levine and his family actually sold the club to Rudy in 1970. Rudy formerly managed and was part-owner of the Shelly’s Manne-Hole jazz club. Onderwyzer sold The Lighthouse in 1981 and the new owners remodeled it and discontinued the all-jazz-music policy.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lighthouse_Caf%C3%A9)

“Well, Rudy got tired of me lurking around the front door. So, one night he said, why don’t you come in here and make yourself useful. He would let me take people’s money at the door. Consequently, I could be there to hear whoever was playing like Ray Brown, or Stan Getz, JoAnn Brackeen, Phineas Newborn, Mark Murphy, Etta James, Willy Dixon, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. There was just like a record collection from heaven, hearing these people in person. Every week, there’d be another visit from the anointed masters like Phineas Newborn. I can’t think of them all at the moment. But that was my master class.

I expressed my concern that today, in the Los Angeles area, there are very few places where young musicians or jazz lovers can go and experience ‘live’ and affordable jazz concerts.

RICHARD: “No, and they’re the worse for it. Even though the resources on the Internet are plentiful, without experiencing the music ‘live’, to inhale the elixir from these iconic jazz musicians, they miss an indispensable way of being mentored. JazzAmerica occasionally has visiting artists. Some of our teachers, if somebody’s in town for a performance, they’d bring them in. The guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, for example, would show up and any number of players from around town or visiting Los Angeles have dropped in. We had Chuck Redd, Terry Gibbs, Dan Barrett and Gerald Wilson. Those were master classes. So, it’s not that you have a policy of visiting artists, but as you point out, it’s so important for developing musicians to experience the players, in their presence, so that they can see the concentration and any little nuance that they pick-up on is valuable.

“Cause when I got in the Clef Club, I was just praying for a few good notes. I don’t remember what tunes were called. I’m sure Buddy sensed that I didn’t have much in the way of harmonic intelligence, but he could tell that I was motivated and determined. I guess we played a set together and exchanged numbers. Shortly thereafter, me and Red Callender would meet for lessons. He was such a great person; a great teacher. It wasn’t a lesson in the whole European sense of the word. It wasn’t Madame Petrouchka slapping your hands with a ruler, per se. He was just sharing his experiences. For example, he had been in the movie, New Orleans with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong and Louie’s entire band. Red lamented that they had cast Billie Holiday as a maid. But just being in her presence was magical for him. There was some music that they were rehearsing for the soundtrack and at a critical moment, the conductor looked over and said, hey Red, we want a four-bar transition here. We’re going from the instrumental key into the key for the vocalist. Why don’t you play one of your bebop licks there and bring us into the tune?

“Of course, Red had been gigging and recording with Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, everybody including Sons of the Pioneers, you name it. But at that moment, he felt that pressure from the conductor and he froze. Just then, one of the members from the Union said, fellows, that’s going to have to do it for today, unless you want to go overtime. Of course, the studio didn’t pay overtime if they could avoid it. So, they had to call it a night. Red said he exhaled and went home and figured out a little passage he could drop in when they got to that same cue the next day. Sure enough, it was just the right thing for that moment. So, things like that, he’d bring up and show me how he solved that riddle. Then he’d say, so suppose you got to that point. What might be played to get E flat or G flat or whatever to the key change? It was an incredible way of teaching. And he had some books of horn duets. They weren’t bass instrument songs, but they were kind of classical pieces. He’d even play his tuba for the bass and I would play the harmony part on my bass. There was this incredible level of trust and belief that he had in me. He built my self-esteem along with giving me some of his wisdom and, thanks in large part to Red, my phone started to ring. Miraculously, I was getting bass gigs.

“One day I got a call from out of the blue from Teddy Edwards. Another time, from Johnny Kirkwood, the drummer. Johnny Kirkwood, at that time, was playing with Plas Johnson and Ernie Andrews. Johnny simply installed me in the rhythm section with vocalist, Ernie Andrews as the leader of one group, and with the iconic Plas Johnson. Plas is the one playing that horn line on the Pink Panther record from that Peter Sellers movie. Teddy Edwards was gigging around town and he hired me with his group, including Art Hillary and Lawrence Marable. I was suddenly in the mix and on the jazz scene. In our audience, some of the great jazz players who were off that night or just passing through sat in judgement. That was really scary. I felt like I was on trial and the jury was not letting me know how they felt, one way or another. I kept on looking for a few good notes and that was the beginning of decades of coasting on the brilliance of what I call, the elder elite.

“Buddy had been in the studio, as well as working on Central Avenue, and one of his favorite people and musicians was Al Viola, a guitarist who had been with Frank Sinatra for thirty years. Buddy created a trio, that included me, and we played for everybody. Political rallies, the ACLU, Mayor Tom Bradley functions, and the Lincoln Center in New York. Buddy was commissioned by the Library of Congress to write a suite of music, and he dedicated it to people whom he loved and who helped him along his way; people like Brit Woodman, the trombonist and Chico Hamilton and Jackie Kelso, a virtuoso.

“So, our group played in Washington, D.C., and the live recording of this commissioned music and concert was nominated for a Grammy. Gerald Wilson’s band was also featured and Joe Williams was the singer. Sometime after, I was called to play a reunion of the Chico Hamilton Band. I just was treated like royalty, because wherever Buddy went, people sat up and paid attention; paid respect. He had a long association with Mayor Tom Bradley,” the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993. We would play for the City, for Mayor Bradley, the City Council people, business leaders, etc. To tell you the truth, during that time I was feeling like a sort of valet. I felt like I should be carrying everybody’s instrument. It was just a magical, mystical time. I believe, on the strength of my association with that group of musicians, I got calls from other people: Maxine Weldon, Morgana King, Sue Raney, Howlett Smith, Keely Smith, Llew Matthews, Gerald Wilson, Barbara Morrison and Houston Person. You talk about guilt by association. Well, I was gilt, painted with a golden brush, because people saw me playing with Teddy Edwards, Buddy Colette, Wig (Gerald Wiggins) and Plas (Johnson), and they thought, well, he must know something because these people are hiring him.

“I am somehow known to seek out the players of that vintage. They specifically bring so much gravitas and wisdom. The stories they tell with their instruments are just inexpressible in any other media. I still think of it as a miracle to be able to stand astride this majestic instrument and walk where so many great players have walked before me. One of them is a vocalist/songwriter and pianist from my hometown of Kansas City. I’m proud to work with Betty Bryant. She recently put out a new CD, not at all shy that her age has reached the number of keys on her fabulous piano.”

Richard Simon brings a plethora of knowledge to the steps of JazzAmerica and to students who hunger for knowledge and wisdom. Simon is a sought-after studio session recording artist. He has a vast knowledge of touring, having performed all over Europe, in Thailand, Japan and throughout the entire continental United States. He’s a quick reader, a polished educator and he remembers and empathizes with being a young musician struggling to learn and hone his craft. That’s a plus factor for any participant in the JazzAmerica Program.

RICHARD: “There’s two levels of secrecy in JazzAmerica. One is that we’re teaching values. That’s something I learned from Buddy. A lot of the players are told you need to learn your scales and your arpeggios in all keys and you need to spend time practicing those. Well, that hasn’t changed, but 10 years ago, JazzAmerica started offering traditional jazz in the January months, reaching back into the era of Louis Armstrong, ‘kid’ Ory and Jelly Roll Morton. It turns out that a lot of the songs that were played and composed back then are built around scales and chords. They’re simpler melodies than what came after. For example, one tune associated with Louis Armstrong is called “Struttin With Some Bar-B-Que.” The melody spells out an ascending Major Seventh chord. So, for the kids who are reluctant to sit at home and spend hours practicing arpeggios, it turns out that the traditional jazz repertoire has melodies that are built on those very tech-flavored patterns.

“Then it goes an octave above the major seventh and then it comes back down. What we learned from that is we can tell the kids they need to learn scales and arpeggios. Some in the group will agree and go practice their exercises that way. Others will recognize, hey, this song is that same pattern; that same arpeggio. If You can play this pattern in all keys, then you will have satisfied this practice requirement for the major seventh. They’ll choose the song as a means of study.

“They all do pretty fantastically. They teach me that a well-played individual note is a nugget of gold. I teach them to slow down and let that one note float out there and give them satisfaction. Hey, that beautiful long note, shoot for that. Every time you play, and we rehearse everything slow and I guess there’s an old jazz expression, tempo-de-learno. Not, Metronome 250 right out of the gate. So, whereas your favorite player can get that great sound, when you slow it down, you seek that identifiable tone. Once you master that, then you have put your signature on everything you play. Put that kernel of a tone forward and that’s what good players build their entire sound around. Cause there’s no point in going fast and giving a fast-assed rendition of a tune, because, in the long run, you have to make it sing before you can make it swing.

“One thing that impressed me about Buddy Collette, who co-founded this program, is his commitment to mankind. Career wise, he was at the top of his world, having already brought together the two segregated musician unions and having already broken the color barrier on national television. He was of course a child of Watts (California) and he grew up with people like Dexter Gordon and Eric Dolphy. Those guys chose to go off to New York and make a name for themselves. Buddy would tell me he was getting calls from those people and they would say, Buddy, you’ve got to come back here. They all know about you on the East Coast and this is where it’s at. And Buddy would say, yes, I appreciate that. But I’m doing quite well in the studio. I have a family to raise. Afterall, he could have put that responsibility aside and made himself a bigger name, but he chose to stay in Southern California.

“Remember, he was one of the soloists on a number of Frank Sinatra’s recordings and he conducted sessions for Ella Fitzgerald. He was just a first call woodwind player. But the jazz guys wanted him to move East. Instead, he played an active role in raising his family and raising the bar for musicians in town. He was my role model. Never did I see his character crumble. There was never a time where I saw him lose his cool. Let me share a story Buddy Collette told me before this interview ends.

“Charlie Mingus got a commission for an original piece to play at Town Hall in New York. About two days before the event, Mingus realized the music was a disaster. He had a budget that enabled him to call Clark Terry, and all the giants of jazz at that time. They were all ready to hit at the rehearsal, but the music was just a shamble. So, Mingus called Buddy and asked him to fly out to New York. Buddy, being the loyal friend that he was, dropped everything and flew out to New York City. He said there was music all over the Mingus hotel room. It was stuck to the walls, hanging from the lampshades; propped up against the toilet seat. So, he got to work and put the Mingus music in some semblance of order. At the concert rehearsal, they start to play it and the promoter was apoplectic. He thought it was going to be a live recording. and Mingus is saying, no, no, no. We’ve got to get this right. The night of the show arrived. The all-star band got through one terrifying set and the audience doesn’t know whether to leave or stay. The promoter was tripping out. Suring set one, Mingus kept going over the music; stopping and starting. Finally, Mingus was beside himself! The band took a break. After the break, I think it was Clark Terry, who went out on stage and he started playing, “In A Mellow Tone.” All the musicians come out, one by one, and they just turned it into a jam session. They realized this music was never going to come together, so they just started playing a familiar jazz standard. And the crowd relaxed and loved the show.

“After that stressful performance, they all went down to the Village to unwind. Buddy said to Mingus, there’s a friend of mine I want to see. I’m going to meet them, in their apartment, and have a glass of wine. Why don’t you go on to the bar across the street and I’ll be down in a few minutes? So, Mingus goes to the bar and Buddy meets his friend. Then, there’s a knock on the door. Mingus tells Buddy there’s some people at the bar who are insulting him. Buddy tells him he’ll be down in a moment. A little while later Mingus comes back and bangs on the door. He says Buddy, you got to come downstairs. I got mad at this guy and I cut off his tie.

“Concerned, Buddy excuses himself and goes downstairs. He’s wearing a suit and a trench coat and looking like the Buddy that we all knew and loved; a gentleman and a scholar. Sure enough, there’s a circle of people that have formed around this man who is now wearing only one third of his necktie. Buddy surveys the scene and it’s getting pretty ugly. He confronts the man and tells him; you’ve got to understand. I am this man’s psychiatrist. This man is under a lot of stress. He did a concert tonight and his wife is pregnant back in Los Angeles. I believe if we all just relax, we can come to some mutual understanding and enjoy the rest of our evening. In that moment, Buddy took all the heat and tension out of that room. For the rest of the evening, they all drank, laughed and joked with each other until they closed that bar down. That was Buddy in his element. To me, everything about him is kind of embodied in that story.”

There are so many people to thank for keeping this amazing non-profit After-school program alive. Of course, bassist Richard Simon is one of the main characters, but many local music masters have contributed time and talent to inspire the next generation of musicians. Richard recalls that City Councilwoman, Jackie Goldberg had called Buddy Collette one day in a panic.

RICHARD: “Councilwoman Goldberg said, Buddy, in my Hollywood district we’ve got some middle school kids who are hanging around after school, nowhere to go before their parents get home from work, and they’re fighting. The Spanish kids are rumbling with the Armenians. What can we do? So, Buddy said, well why don’t we start an After-school program? Coincidentally, Jackie had just been working on finalizing a group with a similar project called L.A.C.E.R.”

NOTE: L.A.C.E.R. AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAM was founded in 1984, focused on literacy, art, culture, music, education and recreation. They provide under-served middle and high school youth with after-school programs in a safe and caring environment. Their core belief is that underserved or at-risk boys and girls in the Los Angeles public school system should have access to quality education, free homework assistance, art programming, athletics and graduation preparation on par with more privileged students
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RICHARD: “It Was a perfect marriage between L.A.C.E.R and JazzAmerica. We were just getting off the ground with Saturday classes for high school kids. Middle schools became the week-day component and Fritz Wise, Jackie Kelso, John Stephens, about seven of us and other music masters like George Bohannon, we were volunteers at several middle schools and then finally, with this L.A.C.E.R. financial backing, we were able to pay the instructors. That went on for about twelve years. Meanwhile, the original Saturday program continued with folks like The Wig (Gerald Wiggins), Ndugu, Bobby Bryant, Anthony White, and John Stephens. The first couple of years we had 90 kids from all over the city. What made that possible was that a number of the instructors had jazz bands or were band teachers at their high schools. Twenty-five years ago, they had a jazz band at Washington Prep and at Jefferson high. A lot of those city high schools had a jazz band. So, the teachers would encourage their kids to come down on Saturdays. it was incredible to look across a room of just trumpet and trombone players and there was the great Bobby Bryant, who had the charm of a drill instructor. He would be saying to the kids, if the man wanted it played that way, he would have written it that way. He brought some charts by Oliver Nelson, that he had played in studios for TV shows or some movie scores and he made sure the kids would learn them. He took sections and they’d work on sections of the charts. At the second half of the rehearsal, all the kids would come together, sort of a big band on steroids. It was magnificent.”

There are numerous success stories like these that beg to be told and that inspire Richard Simon to continue this under-promoted program for young people. If you would like to contribute to this 501C non-profit, tax deductible music program or need more information, send queries to: JazzAmerica: P.O. Box 661777; Los Angeles, CA 90066.

Meantime, join JazzAmerica Sunday, July 28, 2019 at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, 11:30am in the morning. Be there!

MUSIC EXPANDS BOUNDARIES & ENLIGHTENS OUR CONSCIOUSNESS

July 16, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
JULY 16, 2019

Music expands boundaries & enlightens our consciousness. More And more, artistic people are using their art and music to speak out against injustices and to use their art forms to unite us. Jazz has been scientifically proven to affect the type of brain waves we produce, both stimulating the brain and relaxing it. Happy brains make better learners. It’s proven that children, and people in general, learn more quickly when music is employed as their teaching tool. Just think about the huge challenge that creating improvisation makes to the musician. It also affects the listener. Jazz encourages minds to think critically. There’s amazing scientific evidence that jazz enhances the ability to memorize and stimulates basic mental biology. The composers and players of jazz I’ve reviewed, are offering musical messages to help change our world and stimulate our thoughts.

LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST – “DARK MATTER” Independent Label

Lafayette Gilchrist, pianist/composer.

In 2017, Lafayette Gilchrist was deemed a ‘Local Legend’ by Baltimore Magazine. In 2018, the astoundingly talented Gilchrist won the Baker Artist Award. This is an annual award which includes significant monetary prizes and a feature on Maryland Public Television’s Artworks program. On this recording, Lafayette Gilchrist takes a step away from his group performances with the New Volcanoes (who were crowned “Best Band” by the Baltimore City Paper) and the Sonic Trip Masters All-Stars to perform solo. This recording of all-original compositions is the result of a ‘live’ solo performance at the University of Baltimore’s Wright Theater.

Lafayette Gilchrist explains the title of this recording in his liner notes:

“Dark matter keeps everything from drifting apart. Dark matter permeates everything. It’s difficult to get one’s head around it, but the aspect of it that fascinated me was it being this invisible force that holds the universe together. That came to mind because the tunes on this album are so different, one from another, that I felt the title suggested a binding of a kind; a desire for the listener to hear it all as one sound.”

Gilchrist seems to have an insatiable desire and fascination with connecting and understanding styles and artistic influences. In his scientific search for answers, he incorporates his deeply personal feelings about life, moods and ideas into his creative compositions. Gilchrist uses the piano to explore his emotional connection to the universe. His well-honed ability to keep his left hand steady and rhythmic in the bass register and still interpret innovative improvisation with his right hand, as if the two hands are on two separate bodies, is a clear display of Gilchrist’s piano mastery. This is quite evident on the “Spontaneous Combustion” tune and on the opening number, “For the Go-Go.” He has composed “Black Flight” as a tribute to the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen. He had an opportunity to perform for veteran members of this historic group of black, fighter pilots who fought during World War II. That experience inspired Gilchrist to compose this tenth song of his eleven recorded originals. On “And You Know This” it once again sounds like two people are playing the piano. Lafayette’s left hand is powerful, never losing the rhythmic time, and there is a great deal of the blues pumped into this song. It becomes one of my favorites of his eleven compositions. “Happy Birthday Sucker” is another display of the same; a rolling bass line with a contrary motion in the upper register that celebrates the melody. Throughout this recording, I hear a little Thelonious Monk influence, some Duke Ellington, and a taste of stride rooted in New Orleans blues.

As an accompanist, he has performed with well-respected music artists like Cassandra Wilson, Macy Gray, Oliver Lake, and William Parker, to name only a few. Gilchrist also toured with David Murray as part of his octet and quartets for thirteen years. In this latest project, Lafayette Gilchrist steps out singularly, to offer us his piano brilliance combined with his composer skills, and to introduce us to the “Dark Matter” of his mind. It’s as mysterious and deep as the scientific dark matter that holds our universe in place.
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ZACH BROCK, MATT ULERY, JON DEITEMYER – “WONDERMENT” Woolgathering

Zach Brock,violin/composer; Matt Ulery,bass/composer; Jon Deitemyer,drums/ composer.

The first cut on this CD is the title tune and it showcases the strength and talent of these three very individual musicians. They have come together to explore separate musical journeys, uniting to make one, powerful trio statement. These three iconic Chicago talents have played music together for nearly fifteen-years. Each musician is secure and seasoned in his own right. Together, they create a fresh palate of art, painting sound colors on the canvas of our ear.

Brock, the violinist, composed the first song, the title tune, “Wonderment.” Matt Ulery lays down a melodic bass line that establishes the rhythm and mood of the song. The violin sings sweetly, while Ulery dances along with Jon Deitemyer on drums. The rhythm contrast against the violin ballad is moving and emotional. Ulery uses bass staccato strings to create interest and Deitemyer doubles the time. I am totally engaged by this unique trio of bass, drums and violin. The drummer, Deitemyer, has written the second song, “Mobile,” with Brock plucking the violin seductively and Ulery walking the bass beneath the production in a semi-march, along with the trap drums. This composition celebrates movement, with Deitemyer locking the rhythm into place beneath the improvisational motion of his two comrades. Each musician is a composer and all the recorded music is original. This ensemble is rich with crescendos of energy, tender with sweetly sung melodies and daring with provocative performances by each individual instrumentalist and composer. Somehow, they meet in the middle, and have created an unusual and very pleasant work of musical art.

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AARON WHITBY – “COUSIN FROM ANOTHER PLANET” Ropeadope

Aaron Whitby, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizers/vocal FX; Charlie Burnham, violin/vocals/composer; Fred Cash, electric bass; Gary Fritz, percussion;Jerome Harris,acoustic bass; Rodney Holmes,drums; Keith Loftis, tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUEST VOCALISTS:Lisa Fischer, Tamar Kali, Rome Neal & Martha Redbone.

The funk just leaps off the CD player and it’s hot and in your face; delicious as the aroma of bar-b-que cooking at the park. Aaron Whitby’s piano playing is hard-hitting, fusion-funk and his musicians seriously lock into his 88-key-grooves. Whitby has composed seven of these eight songs. The one song he ‘covered’ is “The Eye of the Hurricane” by Herbie Hancock. Otherwise, he lets his creative juices flow and serves up some pretty awesome classic jazz-fusion compositions to wet our palate. Whitby uses synthesizers and vocals to pump the various arrangements up. After working many years as a studio musician and playing it all; jazz, R&B, pop, folk and world music, he finally sank his teeth into composing and producing a debut album. His compositions lend themselves to chord changes that inspire improvisation and funky musical trenches that captures the listener’s attention and inspire dance moves and finger-popping. Favorite tunes are: “Sleeping Giant”, that incorporates chants, vocals and the hot licks of Rodney Holmes on drums and Gary Fritz on percussion. They admirably support Aaron Whitby’s inspired piano playing. A male voice chants, “We are the Sleeping Giants.” A female voice shouts, “Sleeping giants – you have the power. Wake up!” In this way, Whitby incorporates some social consciousness into his musical commentary.

Another favorite original composition by Aaron Whitby is the title tune,“Cousin from Another Planet.” I can tell that Whitby is a Chick Corea/Herbie Hancock fan. He knows how to capture a ‘hook’ and enhance the rhythm, fueled by funk. That’s what makes a hit record. The guest vocalists sound as funky and fiery as Whitby on piano. Also notable is Fred Cash on electric bass. Keith Loftis adds a tenor saxophone solo that brings back the days of ‘live’ Rock & Roll shows, reminiscent of the funk that Ernie Watts brings to the stage.

This is an exciting project of original compositions and the keyboard and piano skills of Aaron Whitby grandly embellish his production. Whitby is able to blend many different styles of music into a cohesive package of creative fusion. “The Invisible Man Breathes” is an excellent vehicle to show-off the many faces of Whitby, using time changes and every key on the piano to accentuate his composer vision. Always melodic, Charlie Burnham brings his violin to the party and shines like flickering birthday candles. This recording is full of surprises. From funk, we move into an Arabian production with Middle Eastern flair and the Loftis saxophone replaces the violin with intensity. Avant-garde music parts the clouds momentarily, like a ray of sunshine and splashes across space and time. Aaron Whitby seems to be expressing musically all the moods and mess humanity can make in this one, single song.

“Mrs. Quadrillion” is fun to listen to and very smooth jazz with a funky under-tow. Burnham is back with his violin and Whitby knows just how to introduce you to a melody. He gives his musicians ample time to develop their improvisational solos, and then brings us all back to the comfortable ‘hook’ of the song. Rodney Holmes takes an exciting solo on trap drums.

You will discover that Aaron Whitby is a storyteller, a band leader and an admirable composer. You will hear something new and fresh each time you play this album. Expect the unexpected.
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MATTHEW WHITAKER – “NOW HEAR THIS” Resilience Music Alliance

Matthew Whitaker, piano/moog synthesizer/keyboard synthesizer/Hammond B3 organ/composer; Dave Stryker, guitar; Yunior Terry, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., drums; Sammy Figueroa, percussion. SPECIAL GUESTS: Gabrielle Garo, flute; Marc Cary, Fender Rhodes.

“Overcoat” is the first cut on this album and it introduces us to this artist. Right from the first notes, you hear the drama in Matthew Whitaker’s music. True, he’s a technically strong pianist, but there’s more than technique here. There’s emotion bursting at the seams. He’s empowered with creativity and emboldened by the excitement emanating from his inner-action with his peers. On Ahmad Jamal’s composition, “Tranquility,” Whitaker calms the mood and concentrates on presenting his tender side on piano. Matthew has composed “Underground” and exhibits his talents on synthesizers and his ability to embrace electronic jazz as well as straight-ahead and bebop flavored music. This song reminds me of a young Herbie Hancock. On “Bernie’s Tune” we are right back into straight-ahead territory with a tenacious walking bass by Yunior Terry fueling the piece. Like a California wild fire, it starts out small and hot. But it doesn’t take long for the group to ignite in full fledge flames and burn-up the performance space.

Whitaker takes to the organ on “Yardbird Suite” and keeps the jazz hot and moving fast. Ulysses Owens Jr., with ever present drum skills, is an important part of the ensemble’s motion and rhythm.

Whitaker was a Hackensack, New Jersey baby, born three months premature, weighing less than two pounds. The retinopathy of prematurity caused the newborn blindness. By the time he was five years old, Matthew Whitaker exhibited perfect pitch, a love of music, could play piano by-ear and also experimented with percussion instruments, the clarinet and the bass guitar. As a teen, he attended the Pre-College Jazz Program at the Manhattan School of Music. Matthew claims his main influences are organists, Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco, piano legends, Art Tatum, Barry Harris, Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson. At fifteen years old, Matthew Whitaker performed at “Showtime at the Apollo.”

Another original song from his “Now hear This,” album, is “Miss Michelle.” It’s a happy-go-lucky tune that features Dave Stryker on guitar. Another original composition by Whitaker is titled, “Thinking of You” and it’s pensive and melancholy. Once again, he takes to the organ to express himself and the melody he shares is lovely and emotional.

“I have been blessed with a God given gift and my prayer is that I can continue to be a blessing and inspiration to others. One of my Heroes is Stevie Wonder.”

Matthew Whitaker will begin touring the East Coast on July 26,2019, performing at the Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado on August 9th and in San Diego on October 23rd at The Loft/University of California San Diego. If you’re able, catch this exciting, talented pianist at one of his upcoming concerts. For a complete schedule go to: https://www.matthewwhitaker.net/
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “SAMBA JAZZ ALLEY” AAM Music

Antonio Adolfo, piano/arranger/producer; Lula Galvao, acoustic & elec. Guitars; Rafael Barata, drums; Jorge Helder, double bass; Dada Costa & Rafael Barata, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet/flugelhorn; Marcelo Martins, soprano & tenor saxophones/alto flute; Rafael Rocha, trombone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Serginho Trombone, valve trombone; Mauricio Einhorn & Gabriel Grossi, harmonica; Claudio Spiewak, shaker /acoustic guitar.

Influenced by soul music, smooth jazz and West Coast cool, Rio de Janeiro native, Antonio Adolfo, successfully blends his Brazilian culture with American jazz. Early in his career, he became one of the cornerstone composers and arrangers of what became known as Samba jazz. Spurred by the famous Brazilian musicians such as Moacir Santos, Sergio Mendes, Elis Regina and Raul de Souza , Antonio Adolfo soon made a very strong name for himself on the Brazilian music scene. His latest release celebrates that era of music, thus the title, “Samba Jazz Alley.” On the first tune, “Ceu E Mar” Jorge Helder makes a strong statement on double bass. Antonio Adolfo’s piano technique is powerful and stimulating. His music dances and celebrates joyfully. The second cut on this album tributes another powerful pianist/composer, Herbie Hancock. Jesse Sadoc plays a mean trumpet and the percussive work of both Rafael Barata and Dada Costa apply gas to this musical engine. Adolfo uses his amazing horn players to punch and color his arrangements, featuring (along with Jesse Sadoc) Marcelo Martins on woodwinds and Rafael Rocha on trombone.

This is an album of passionate music, with the rich Brazilian culture wrapped around the freedom music of jazz. For this production, Adolfo incorporates some of the best Brazilian musicians on the planet. Brazil’s current harmonica sensation, Gabriel Grossi and legendary harmonica player Mauricio Einhorn make a brief appearance on track five. Every song is celebratory and offers the listener musical exploration into the Samba legacy. Antonio Adolfo’s arrangements, along with this invigorating ensemble of musicians, are bound to lift spirits and make you happy.


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PACIFIC HARP PROJECT – “PLAY” Independent label

Megan Bledsoe Ward, harp/arranger; Noel Okimoto, vibraphone/bongos/marimba/congas; Todd Yukumoto, saxophones; Jon Hawes, bass; Allan Ward, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Allen Won, soprano saxophone; Kenny Endo, Taiko & Fue; Jamie Jordan, vocals.

The Pacific Harp Project includes instruments of Japanese culture, like the fue, that is a double reed, flute-like instrument, made from bamboo and producing a high-pitched tone. This group of musicians is dedicated to exploring realms of music for harp and rhythm section, with emphasis on jazz, pop and original compositions. Each member musician is also a composer. The concept of this project is tantalizing.

Megan Bledsoe Ward introduces the first tune with arpeggio beauty on the harp. She has written the first song titled, “Lily Lou” and it falls into the category of smooth jazz.

Noel Okimoto plays vibraphone and he has composed the next song titled, “The Vastness.” It’s very melodic and Okimoto explains it was written with a specific drum in mind.

“I wrote “The Vastness” for an instrument called a RAV Vast, which is a turbo charged steel tongue drum. This RAV is tuned to a D major scale and I had a lot of fun coming up with a song just based on this scale.”

There are some compositions that are more operatic than jazz, like “La Lettre” that is sung by Jamie Jordon. There is absolutely nothing about that composition (arranged by Ward) that remotely could be classified as jazz. That’s puzzling to me. Why include songs that break the consistency of this musical project? There is something very simplistic about the Pacific Harp Project. It’s disappointing. I wish I could have heard more uniqueness and more jazz harp. This is no Alice Coltrane-like project or Dorothy Ashby.

On “Sunflower (Himawari), the feu and the taiko instruments are featured by Kenny Endo, along with Megan Bledsoe Ward’s harp. These instruments sweetly complement each other. When Jon Howes on bass and Allan Ward, on drums, enter the arrangement, they set up a compelling groove. All the musicians are classically trained and based in Hawaii. Their music is ‘laid-back,’ with (at times) an almost chamber -like music format. This particular song is in the realm of world music and quickly becomes one of my favorite songs on their album. The Allan Ward drum solo is an unexpected treat. He is musically dynamic throughout this production. When I first heard about this project, I was truly excited to experience a jazz harpist. The liner notes clearly say this project is meant to celebrate the harp. After listening, I came away feeling sadly disenchanted.
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LAUREN HENDERSON –“ALMA OSCURA” Brontosaurus Records

Lauren Henderson, vocals/composer; Michael Thurber, bass/composer/producer; Sullivan Fortner & Damian Sim, piano; Gabe Schneider,guitar; Mark Dover,clarinet; Emi Ferguson,flute; Jon Lampley,trumpet; Allan Mednard & Joe Saylor,drums; Moses Patrou,percussion; Tessa Lark, violin soloist; Lavinia Pavlish & Brendan Speltz, violins; Charles Overton,harp; Rose Hasimoto,viola; Tara Hanish,cello; Leo Sidran,guest vocals.

This is Lauren Henderson’s sixth album release. Not only is she a vocalist, Ms. Henderson also is a composer and arranger. She performs in both English and Spanish, reflecting her Panamanian roots. She embraces Latin, soul and fusion elements in her jazzy presentation, mirroring her African American paternal roots. Lauren has received degrees in both music and Hispanic Studies at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. While living in Puebla, Mexico, she studied traditional music of the Yucatan at Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla and has also studied flamenco and jazz at La Universidad de Cordoba in Cordoba, Spain. Consistently hungry for knowledge and growth, Lauren Henderson received an Executive Master of Business Administration from Brown University in 2019 to assist her in the management and success of her Brontosaurus Record company. She recently signed one artist, other than herself, to the label. A flautist, singer and composer, Magela Herrera, who has released one critically acclaimed CD.

The title of Henderson’s latest release is Alma Oscura. That translates to ‘dark soul’ in English. The concept is to address various cultural stories reflecting the African diaspora and Henderson’s multi-cultural heritage and American upbringing.

“My father is pretty much a jazz historian and I probably got 99% of my early music education from him,” says Henderson.

She has composed four of the eight recorded songs. Joining forces with producer, arranger, theater composer, bassist, Michael Thurber, who composed the second song on this project, “Something Bigger,” and collaborates with Henderson as a songwriter and bandmember. Henderson considers Thurber one of her dearest friends. You may have seen him on the talk show featuring “Stephen Colbert” because Thurber is the bass player in Jon Batiste’s band on The Late Show.
She is vocally accompanied on the first song, “From the Inside Out” by the sexy, smooth vocals of Leo Sidran. He co-wrote this song with Alex Cuba. Sidran’s voice is like butter. His Spanish is the butter knife, smoothing the story across this warm space and translating Henderson’s English words into an emotional plea. Their duet is compelling, starting from the folksy guitar introduction by Gabe Schneider. The melody is haunting, dancing atop a lush string arrangement. Emi Ferguson’s flute is hypnotic. Lauren Henderson sings:

“Deep inside your soul, underneath the skin; Where no one ever goes and no one’s ever been.I know there’s a part of you that lives in doubt. I can see your heart, from the inside out.”

Lauren Henderson has a style of her own, a tone tinged with a tremolo that embellishes her emotional delivery. She takes on political activism with her composition titled, “El Arbol” that translates to “The Tree.” The lyrics tell of story about an interracial couple who are lynched because of their love, but it’s sung in Spanish, as is the fifth song titled, “Ven Muerte” and the title tune. “Protocol,” another Henderson original composition is infused with a Flamingo production followed by “Dream,” another ballad. Clearly this vocalist is a very romantic composer. The premiere song on this project continues to be my favorite and should receive plenty of airplay on jazz and world music radio stations.


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REBEKAH VICTORIA – “SONGS OF THE DECADES” Patois Records

Rebekah Victoria,vocals; Deszon Claiborne,Colin Douglas & Akira Tana,drums; Joe Gilman,Frank Martin & Murray Low,piano/keyboards;David Belove & Marc van Wageningen, electric bass;John Wiitala,acoustic bass; Michael Spiro,conga/percussion; Rick Vandivier,guitar;Tommy Kesecker,vibes; Kenny Washington,vocals; Erik Jakobson & John Worley,trumpet; Mary Fettig,alto sax/clarinet/flute; Melecio Magdaluyo,alto,tenor & baritone saxophones; Wayne Wallace,trombone/arranger/producer; Dave Martell,tuba; Eugene Chekhov,1st violin; Niki Fukada,2nd violin; Edith Szendrey,viola; Monica Scott,cello.

Rebekah Victoria is a cabaret singer who has recorded with spectacular jazz arrangements. Her idea was to update the great American Songbook with more Twenty-first century arrangements. The songs go as far back as the 1910’s, 20’s, and 30’s. A few are more modern compositions from the 1990s.

Wayne Wallace, the Grammy-nominated trombonist, composer, arranger and bandleader is the master-mind behind these stellar arrangements and he also heads Rebekah Victoria’s label, Patois Records. Every single track on this ten-track album is superb, beginning with the 1909 hit song, “Some of These Days.”

When Kenny Washington makes a guest “scat” appearance on “Whispering” it lifts this project to a real jazz status. Although Ms. Victoria has a crystal-clear soprano voice that she infuses with emotion, I don’t believe every vocalist who sings the American Songbook is a jazz singer. Without a doubt, the musical tracks are jazzy and extremely well-played. But tracks can’t make the singer a jazz vocalist. The Lambert, Hendricks and Ross hit record, “Twisted” gives Rebekah Victoria a chance to swing, but it never happens. She performs the song in her own unique style, that being more like a Broadway singer. If you’re claiming to be a jazz singer, you have to be able to ‘swing.’ I will say, on the song, “Opus One,” Rebekah almost succeeds in swinging these lyrics. Surprisingly, she includes pop tunes in her repertoire like, “These Boots are Made for Walking” (a hit for Frank Sinatra’s daughter), and “Unbreak My Heart” (a hit by Toni Braxton) are great songs, but not jazz songs. However, the Wayne Wallace arrangements are tightly produced and the horn sections are soulful. Rebekah Victoria’s voice gets lost in the interpretation of these popular songs. Carol King’s “It’s Too late” is arranged like a Bossa Nova in a very pleasant way. Victoria’s voice floats comfortably on top of this arrangement. All in all, this reviewer loves the music, but the vocals have a long way to go before this vocalist can claim to be a jazz singer.
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NICK HETKO, RICH SYRACUSE, JEFF “SIEGE” SIEGEL – “WHEN YOU WERE THERE” Artist’s Recording Collective

Nick Hetko, piano/composer; Rich Syracuse, bass/composer; Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, drums/composer.

This production offers a strong, unified, jazz trio of technically astute musicians who are also composers. Opening with the Rich Syracuse composition titled, “Sleeper” they establish their mastery from their very first tune. Each player takes an outstanding solo, introducing themselves to sensitive and attentive listener ears. The pianist, Nick Hetko, recently won the Grand Prize of the Lee Ritenour Six String Competition. He has also performed with icons like James Moody, Chris Potter and Dave Holland. A talented bandleader and pianist, Lee Shaw, mentored the fledgling Hetko and as he explained, gave him the confidence to persevere in the intimidating jazz music world. Nick Hetko was just a high school junior when Dr. Shaw introduced him to her rhythm section and included him in a number of recording demo sessions.

At first, no one suspected that Dr. Shaw was ill. Her trio was busy touring Europe and performing on stages across America. Shaw, Siegel and Syracuse had a close bond. Dr. Lee Shaw was fondly referred to as “The First Lady of Jazz,” by her fellow musicians. Upon her passing, it was natural for Nick Hetko, her student and someone who was by then quite close to her colleagues, to step into her seat at the piano. Consequently, these three musicians, (Rich Syracuse, Nick Hetko and Jeff Siegel), have dedicated their album to her precious memory. One of my favorite songs on this recording was written by Nick Hetko titled, “Captain of a Sinking Ship” where “Siege” Siegel shows off his drumming prowess. It’s an energetic tune with strong Latin overtones and lots of space for these musicians to show-off their ‘chops.’

Rich Syracuse is a composer and bassist, prominent on the New York area scene for three decades. He had a long stint working in the Nick Brignola Quartet and has performed with Kurt Elling, Dave Liebman, the Brubeck Brothers, Mose Allison, and too many more to list. He was pianist, Lee Shaw’s bassist for over twenty-five years. When he’s not performing in concerts across the world, he educates as Professor for String and Electric Bass Studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York; at Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut and he’s bass professor and ensemble coach at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Jeff “Siege” Siegel is also an educator,a drummer and composer,who has worked with a virtual who’s who of jazz icons. Some of the familiar names he has played with are Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell, Jack DeJohnette,Benny Golson,Frank Foster,Sheila Jordan, Helen Merrill,Mose Allison and he was a member of the Sir Roland Hanna Trio for five years.

Together, this incredible trio of excellence presents a well-produced album of beautiful, original compositions. They include one old standard, a favorite of mine titled, “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” They pay homage to the great Oscar Peterson when they play “Oscar’s Boogie.” Hetko does a stellar job on piano during this performance. Additionally, you will enjoy listening to the trio’s own, unique songwriting and arrangements. The title tune was penned by the late Dr. Lee Shaw and is quite elegantly performed, with great focus on the piano skills of young Nick Hetko. This is an album you will take pleasure in listening to, time and time again,and a trio who has excellently represented the legacy of Dr. Lee Shaw.


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VOCALS AND WOODWINDS ARE SPOTLIGHTED ON NEW JAZZ RELEASES

July 8, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz journalist
JULY 8, 2019

JOHN FINBURY AND THALMA DE FREITAS – ‘SORTE!” Green Flash Music

Thalma de Freitas, vocals; Vitor Goncalves, piano/Fender Rhodes/accordion; John Patitucci, bass; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Duduka Da Fonseca, drums; Rogerio Boccato & Airto Moreira, percussion. All Songs composed by John Finbury,lyrics by Thalma de Freitas. Emilio D. Miler,producer.

Thalma de Freitas has a voice as sweet as taffy. The moment her clear, warm, soprano tones enter my listening room, I am intrigued. The title of this album by John Finbury and Thalma de Freitas is ‘Sorte’ which means ‘luck’ in Portuguese. It’s the first tune they play on this lovely album of music. They are thoughtful enough to include English translations to each composition inside the CD jacket. Thalma de Freitas is a lyricist who has put words to award-winning composer, John Finbury’s music. The result is both beautiful and enchanting.

John Finbury won a Latin Grammy nomination in 2016, winning in the “Song of The Year” category for his “A Chama Verde” from his album “Imaginario.” Finbury is a graduate of the Longy School of Music and Boston University. He’s been writing songs over four decades with a penchant for Latin music.

Ms. de Freitas is extremely popular in her native Brazil, first as an award-winning actress and then as a vocalist who has released three albums as a leader and one with the famed Orquestra Imperial, a Brazilian big band. She has collaborated with a number of well-known musicians including our own L.A. based, Kamasi Washington, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Joao Donato and Ceu. She is currently based in Los Angeles since 2012. Each song lyric she pens on this luscious album carries a special message from her heart. “Filha” is meant to be a message to the singer’s daughter. It displays kindness and caring for her child, encouraging her to love herself and claim her independence. “Ondas” translates to ‘Waves’ and this song celebrates being free and letting yourself go.

Each musician on this project brings their mastery and excellence to these compositions. John Patitucci plays both upright and electric bass, pumping the rhythm and building a solid basement foundation for the band along with Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. Master percussionist, Airto Moreira, adds spice to the production along with Rogerio Boccato. The complimentary guitar playing of Chico Pinheiro dances gayly along with Thalma de Freitas’ vocals and Vitor Goncalves, on piano, is brilliant; sometimes adding accordion to the mix. This is Brazilian music that will intoxicate your palate with the richness of Latin culture, the beautiful and sexy Portuguese language, warm vocals and delicious rhythms.
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PATRICK BARNITT – “SWAY” Independent Label

Patrick Barnitt,vocals; Paul McDonald, piano; Ricky Z., guitar; Cooper Appelt, bass;Jake Reed,drums;Rusty Higgins & Mike Nelson,alto saxophone; Eric Morones & Brian Clancey,tenor saxophone;Ken Fisher,baritone saxophone; Bijon Watson,Walter Simonson,Jeff Jarvis & Barbara Loronga,trumpet;Paul young, Duane Benjamin, Nick DePinna & Rich Bullock.SPECIAL GUESTS: Stephan Oberhoff, piano/ Hammond B3/keyboards/guitar/percussion/strings; Rusty Higgins,alto saxophone; Kendall Kay,drums; Celso Alberti,percussion/drums; Robert Kyle, flute/tenor saxophone; Everette Harp, Alto saxophone; BACKGROUND VOCALS: Meloney Collins, Kenna Ramsey & Laura Dickinson.

Patrick Barnitt has a smooth, silky tone and a voice reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. He brings back the days of big band jazz and a historic time when male crooners headlined jazz orchestras. Barnitt reminds us of voices like Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams and Ernie Andrews. On this album, Patrick Barnitt is front-lining the Paul McDonald Big Band. He’s a student of the great Howlett “Smitty” Smith, an artist and educator I featured in this column last month. Mr. Barnitt was one of several vocalists who flocked to the historic, but now defunct, Bob Burns restaurant in Santa Monica to enjoy Larry Gales on bass and “Smitty” on piano. After sitting-in with this jazz duo, Patrick found himself excited about performing music again. He began to get vocal gigs around the Los Angeles club scene. He often was a guest vocalist with Marty and Elayne, a duo act at the Dresden Hollywood nightclub. He currently plays regularly with legendary drummer, Frank Devito, who was a former member of Frank Sinatra’s band.

Although he loves singing, Barnitt’s day job has been as a working actor. He may be best known for his frequent appearances on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager television shows. He was also in the movie, Star Trek: First Contact.

The Paul McDonald Big Band features some of Southern California’s best jazz players including pianist, Stephan Oberhoff, iconic drummer Kendall Kay, flute and tenor sax player, Robert Kyle and Grammy-nominated saxophonist Everette Harp. You will enjoy a taste of the great American songbook with Barnitt emotionally connecting with the lyrics and beautiful melodies of songs like, “The More I See You” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” He swings on “Does Anybody Really know What Time It is?” That was a huge hit for Chicago in 1969 and Barnitt follows with an up-tempo arrangement of “Just In Time.” “Quando Quando Quando” features a lilting Latin arrangement and the soprano voice of Laura Pursell. Pursell is also an actress/vocalist. Barnitt and Ms. Pursell have been making music together for years. Consequently, it was easy to invite her to make a guest appearance on his album. She sings on the Les McCann composition, “The Truth,” and the title tune, “Sway.” Some of us may remember when Dean Martin sang this Latin tune,“Sway,” making it a huge USA hit in 1954, along with the Dick Stabile Orchestra.

Patrick Barnitt closes this splendid album of music with “One for My Baby and One More for the Road.” Oberhoff does an excellent job of arranging and the big band of Paul McDonald sounds tight and as polished as 24 karat gold.

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MAGGIE HERRON – “RENDITIONS” Herron Song Records

Maggie Herron, piano/vocals; Darek Oles & Dean Taba, bass; Ray Brinker, drums; Rocky Holmes, Alto Saxophone; Bob Sheppard, flute/saxophone; Larry Koonse, guitar.

This is probably the fourth CD I have reviewed that features the smoky, jazz vocals of Maggie Herron. She’s a pianist and also a singer and songwriter. On this album, she offers a dozen jazz standards for us to enjoy, some familiar and others more obscure, but none the less entertaining. Her mainstay trio features Darek Oles on bass and Ray Brinker on drums. However, she adds excitement and zest to her production with the addition of Larry Koonse on guitar during her arrangement of “All of Me” along with Rocky Holmes on an impressive alto saxophone solo. Her voice pleads with the listener, taking an old standard and infusing it with fresh emotion. When Maggie Herron sing “take all of me” you believe her. She scats along with Bob Sheppard on flute during the into to, “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” Sheppard puts the flute down and picks up the saxophone on “Just One of those Things.” Maggie shows that her piano playing can swing as well as accompany. With Derek Oles on bass, added to Maggie’s piano creativity, Ms. Herron deliver’s Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” in a classic, pop/ballad kind of way, before she interprets “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with a more jazz-like rendition and Larry Koonse front and center on guitar. “Don’t Wait Too Long” is a song I was unfamiliar with. Maggie has painted the song in shades of blue with Ray Brinker shuffling his drums in the background. All in all, here is an easy listening production with fine musicianship, familiar, heart-felt lyrics and melodies, to recall years of yesterday. The songs feature Maggie Herron’s own arrangements and her own sweet “Renditions.”
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BOB SHEPPARD – “THE FINE LINE” Challenge Records Int.

Bob Sheppard, saxophones/flute/alto flute; John Beasley, piano; Jasper Somsen, double bass; Kendrick Scott, drums. GUEST ARTISTS: Mike Cottone, trumpet; Simon Moullier, vibraphone; Maria Puga Lareo, vocals; Benjamin Shepherd, electric bass; Aaron Safarty, shaker.

Bob Sheppard and Jasper Somsen met in Bremen,Germany at the 2013 Jazzahead Network Event. Michele Ito,from BFM Records,introduced them. They exchanged music, albums and ideas about playing music together in the future. Although several years passed quickly, this project is the result of patience and determination from that initial meeting.

Somsen is a famous, Dutch, double bassist and composer who has performed with some of the master musicians on the international jazz scene. He has recorded four albums as a leader for the Challenge Record label. He holds a Master in Music from the Conservatory of Amsterdam and is a European music educator who leant his talent to teaching in public schools and privately for many years. Since 2001, he has been dedicated to producing high quality jazz records. Somsen explained:

“Due to very busy schedules, our plans couldn’t come together. It took us almost two years to be onstage playing in The Netherlands for a full week of concerts, masterclasses and live radio. We had an amazing time and became real friends. …Shortly after, the former General Director of Challenge Records, Anne de Jong, offered me the opportunity to work on a number of audio productions as an independent producer. One of those projects became this very anticipated album.”

Bob Sheppard decided to call master pianist,John Beasley and the solid and brilliant Kendrick Scott on drums for this project. Jasper Somsen was agreeable to flying in from Europe to Los Angeles for the recording session. Jasper explained:

“As I was getting ready for the trip, I asked John Clayton, my former teacher and friend, where I could rent a great instrument. John kindly offered me his famous Ray Brown double bass, the one Ray used in the 1960s during his time with the Oscar Peterson Trio.”

Bob Sheppard was enamored with music early in life. His dad was an amateur saxophone player and as a child there was always music in their home. Young Bob absorbed it like a sponge. Initially, he wanted to be a drummer, but somehow, he was drawn to reed instruments in the fifth grade. He enjoyed finding melodies and exploring tones on his horn.

“I played along with all the music I heard. From the start, it was jazz. When I was a kid, there was jazz all over TV and radio. The sound of jazz and swing music was a large part of my norm.”

His high school featured auditorium concerts by big band legends like Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton. Bob Sheppard fell in love with the sound of horns and the challenge of ‘swing’ music. Early on, he was a compulsive about practicing. When his peers were joining sports teams, he was sitting at home twiddling with his saxophone.

“Practicing became my friend, a place to escape,” Bob admitted.

He started playing professional gigs while living in Philadelphia. He was driven. While attending college he jumped at all opportunities to play music, working on stage shows and he even took a gig in the circus. Bob Sheppard landed a steady spot in the orchestra of Chuck Mangione and found his was to concert appearances with great entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett and the 5th Dimensions. Every gig became a learning experience and an opportunity to hone his craft. With a growing need to spread his wings and soar to higher heights, Bob Sheppard relocated to Los Angeles. Almost immediately he was hired to join the legendary Freddie Hubbard group.

“Playing on the same stage as Freddie was a breathtaking and frightening experience. Much like jazz survival training. It exposed everything good and bad about my playing and inspired me to work harder. How lucky I was to get that close to his talent,” he recalled his time working with Freddie Hubbard.

It’s not surprising that a man with such a tenacious drive to practice and better himself should want to explore other instruments. He has become virtuosic on all saxophones, on clarinet and flutes. Soon he was a first-call studio musician and Bob was making a great living doing sessions for a wide array of artists including, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, Boz Scaggs and he even spent time playing in the television band of legendary host,Johnny Carson. He recalls:

“Learning how to react and relate stylistically, to become a musical mind reader and deliver what’s needed is still fun for me. The cumulative effect of experience is a priceless education.”

On this project, you will hear him playing various saxophones,flute and alto flute. He also displays his awesome arranging skills and has composed or co-composed six of the ten songs on this album. I enjoyed his very modern jazz arrangement of the Linda Creed and Tom Bell hit R&B record, “People Make the World Go ‘Round.” It was originally recorded in 1971 by the rhythm and blues group,The Stylistics. Sheppard’s arrangement is all jazz.

“All those top-40 and funk bands in the 1970s were very much jazz gigs to me. They taught me styles;how to hear my way through music; how to play in horn sections with singers.The pop tunes of the 70s and 80s had great harmonies and forms that left room for individuality and expression,” Bob recalled.

His original composition, “Run Amok” is funk jazz at its best, giving guest player, Benjamin Shepherd on electric bass, an opportunity to shine. The melody is catchy and the staccato attacks remind me a little bit of the Miles Davis ‘Bitches Brew’ days. John Beasley expands musical horizons on piano, once given the opportunity to solo. Kendrick Scott is also given a featured solo on this tune and keeps the rhythm tight and dynamic throughout this entire production.

The title tune, “The Fine Line” is a lovely ballad that utilizes the soprano vocals of Maria Puga Lareo in a very instrumental way, with Sheppard’s soothing saxophone tones playing like a lullabye beneath the beauty of her voice. The percussionist, Aaron Safarty,and the drummer,(Kendrick Scott)lock into a Latin feel and Mike Cottone brings his trumpet to the party as a special guest.

“I am happy to share this recording performed by musicians that demonstrate the highest regard to the creative process and the simple joy of playing,” Bob Sheppard compliments his dynamic ensemble of players.

“In my quest to play better, I’ve come to realize that the great purveyors of this art form are mainly autodidacts, motivated by an ardent self-pursuit of the notes and the feeling that lies behind them. … The myopic preoccupation of practice and sharpening one’s craft produce an interesting blend of introspective, self-effacing individuals. Jazz players are forever students who share an embraced value system and hold a compulsory curiosity to redefine and expand their vocabulary.”

That says it all!
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PETER ELDRIDGE/KENNY WERNER – “SOMEWHERE” Rosebud Music

Peter Eldridge, vocals/composer/arranger; Kenny Werner, piano/elec. Piano/composer/arranger; Eugene Frieser, conductor/cellist; Matt Aronoff, bass; Yaron Israel, drums; The fantastical string orchestra. SPECIAL GUEST: George Garzone, tenor saxophone. VIOLINS: Bengisu Gokce, Louisa Byron, Sienna Seoyeon Im, Francesca Rijks, & Tania Mesa. 2nd VIOLINS: Ruah Yeonsong Kim, Cansu Oyzurek, Cynthia (Pei Hua) Lin, Tim Bilodeau, & Louise Bichan. VIOLAS: Cecelia Cook, Gerson Equiguren & Jenny Frantz. CELLOS: Cristobal Cruz Garcia, Aodans Collins, Peter Yuezhang Liu, Eugene Friesen; BASSES: Victor Gonzalez & Marcelo MacCagnan. HARP: Tatyana Phillips.

Peter Eldridge has that special voice, that unique quality in his tone, one that a real jazz singer exhibits. Some folks have labeled that quality as the “It” factor. This album of plush arrangements, strings and the mastery of Kenny Werner on piano amply exposes the rich, Eldridge, baritone voice. Acclaimed as a founding member of the fabulous New York Voices, Peter Eldridge is also celebrated at the Manhattan School of Music’s jazz voice department. He headed that department for eighteen years. Currently he is part of the voice faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

When Peter Eldridge is not inspiring and educating other singers, he finds time to compose and arrange music. He offers us four songs on this artistic album that he has either composed or co-composed.

Kenny Werner,like Eldridge,is a talented and competent composer, arranger and exceptional pianist. For the last four decades,his recordings,performances and composing skills have impacted audiences internationally. His educational books encourage and support mastery of music, accompanied by his videos, his world-wide lectures and numerous articles he has written. What a thrilling experience to enjoy these two master musicians working in concert with one another. They provide a stellar recording experience; sensuous, heartfelt, lyrically emotional and musically rich.

Opening with the lovely pop ballad, “You Don’t Know Me” I am captured by Eldridge’s purity of tone and Werner’s sensitive accompaniment and string arrangements. The second tune is written by Kenny Werner with lyrics by Donnie Demers titled, “I’m So Glad You’re Mine.” It’s a beautiful ballad that pays tribute to a loving partner who supports all you do and never waivers. The melody is lovely.

Eldrige has written the words and music to “That Which Can’t Be Explained.” It’s the third song on their romantic album. The strings take an opportunity to soar and dance about in all the open spaces. “Autumn in Three” was a writing collaboration of Werner and Eldridge. It’s a waltz,celebrating leaves with an interesting lyric.

Werner recalled in the liner notes:

“Peter reminded me of Johnny Hartman, which brought to mind the beautiful treatments that Johnny Hartman could do. But I knew Peter was capable of a lot of different things, so I thought it would be incredible to do a whole album with that kind of musical and emotional relationship; no-nonsense, beautiful, lush, romantic songs with strings.”

Although I find myself falling in love with each song and every single breathtaking arrangement, I found the Ivan Lins composition, “Minds of Their Own” intriguing and compelling, with lyrics by Peter Eldridge.

Peter shared his thoughts about this project and Kenny Werner’s brilliance.

“Kenny’s string writing is so strong and nuanced. We were going for an old school approach, but slightly to the left. Instead of just doing a bunch of standards and having it sound like 1964, we wanted to mix it up with different feelings to the music. But under the umbrella of this big, rich, symphonic, warm collection of tunes.”

On the Eldridge composition, “Ballad for Trane,” George Garzone plays a striking tenor saxophone solo. The medley of the title tune, “Somewhere” is successfully combined with “A Time for Love.” The lyrics, like the musical arrangement, fit sweetly and Eldridge proffers a delightful delivery. Cellist, Eugene Friesen, conducts the 20-piece string orchestra, organizing a gifted group of Berklee musicians who enhance this project with their heavenly strings.

Here is an album of music stuffed with romance, raw emotion and generous talent. Perhaps Eldridge summed it up best when he said:

“Somewhere looks not to be a place but to a state of mind. One that allows listeners to abandon themselves to an imaginary world of luxurious romanticism. It’s a bit of a prayer that there will be peace one day soon, that things won’t remain as desperate as they are now. We’re living in an incredibly strange time, so this music is trying to offset that and help people feel a few moments of hope. We hope it offers a balm for the spirit.”
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GRETJE ANGELL – “IN ANY KEY” Grevlinto Label

Gretje Angell, vocals; Dori Amarillo, guitar/producer; Kevin Axt, bass; Steve Hass, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion; Quinn Johnson, keyboards; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Michael Hunter, trumpet/orchestra (Budapest Scoring); Gabe Davis, bass.

This singer has a sweet, sultry tone and brilliant clarity in her delivery. Gretje Angell sounds very Brazilian in style and phrasing. Surrounded by amazing musicians, this album is not over-produced, but caters to this vocalist’s ability to become an instrument in her own right. Starting with a Bossa Nova arrangement of “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Gretje interprets this familiar standard, featuring percussion by Kevin Winard and the great guitar accompaniment of Dori Amarillo. She scats as easily and flawlessly as she sings. Ms. Angell is quite dynamic in her relaxed, laid-back way.

Born in Akron, Ohio she grew up around jazz, accompanying her bebop-drummer dad to his gigs. Both her father,(Tommy ‘The Hat’ Voorhees)and her grandfather were drummers. Perhaps this is what has inspired her perfect timing and natural ability to ‘swing.’ Gretje Angell recalls:

“Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I’d be following in my father’s footsteps into my own madness, also known as becoming a jazz musician. My early days were filled listening to the countless jazz records my parents owned. I loved to comb through them and stare at the covers, deeply inhale their musty odor, set them on the turn-table and drop the needle. Nights were spent in smoky, black clubs where my dad would play and I’d fall asleep in a booth covered by his jacket.”

To clearly hear her purity of style and emotional delivery listen to her with no other accompaniment except the dynamic guitar mastery of Dori Amarillo.

On this album, she and Dori also duet on the old standard, “Tea for Two” and again on “Them There Eyes.” During the production of “Deep in A Dream” Michael Hunter makes a guest appearance on trumpet and adds the Budapast Scoring for an orchestral effect. Gretje Angell sings in Portuguese on cut #5 titled, “Barimbou.” In summary, here is an extremely talented vocalist, who offers us her debut project like an undiscovered treasure chest. When you open up this musical package and place it on your CD player, you may be stunned by her flawless, diamond vocals.
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MICHAEL O’NEILL QUINTET WITH TONY LINDSAY – “PACIFIC STANDARD TIME” Jazzmo Records

Tony Lindsay, vocals; Michael O’Neill, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet/clarinet/flute/arranger; Erik Jekabson & Mike Olmos,trumpet/flugelhorn; John R. Burr, piano; Dan Feiszli,acoustic bass/elec. Bass; Alan Hall,drums; Omar Ledezma, percussion.

We are introduced to the vocals of Tony Lindsay, opening the tune, “Just Friends” with percussive vocalese before his rich baritone voice enters. Tony was Santana’s lead singer for over twenty years. The arrangement is freshly painted in 6/8 time by drummer Alan Hall. The composition, “Fragile,” composed by Sting, is arranged with an energetic, Afro-Cuban rhythm and features Michael O’Neill’s tenor saxophone floating atop this percussive production. O’Neill has arranged this song and also arranged the old standard, “Summertime.” Lindsay’s voice sounds smooth and sexy on the first movement of Summertime, which is slow and bluesy. O’Neill has created three movements for this Porgy & Bess Standard tune. John R. Burr steps out of the production to showcase a piano solo that lifts this production in a brilliant way.

“I came up with three distinct approaches on Summertime. My intent was to develop one of the approaches, but I really liked all three versions. So, I melded them all into one arrangement with three distinct movements,” Michael O’Neill explained.

The listener will enjoy a slew of familiar songs like “Georgia,” with gospel overtones and a strong horn section, featuring a stellar bass solo by Dan Feiszli. “Have You met Miss Jones” is colored brightly by a Latin production, until O’Neill slows the danceable arrangement down with a brief horn interlude before rejoining the infectious arrangement. Omar Ledezma propels this arrangement with his percussive powers, tightly locked into Alan Hall’s drumming. Other familiar songs are “Rhythm-a-Ning,” a Monk composition with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Night and Day” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”

Here is a delightful listening experience, delivered by master musicians and featuring the incredible talents of Tony Lindsay on vocals and Michael O’Neill on woodwinds.
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