Archive for March, 2020


March 28, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil
March 28, 2020

Many new jazz releases blossomed in March. Spring blows across the remnants of winter as CARL SAUNDERS heats things up with his ‘Jazz Trumpet’ recording. The exciting release of a new album by harmonica master, YVONNICK PRENE, showcases his composer skills and demonstrates how his harmonica can be a viable and creative jazz instrument. KARL STERLING calls on a group of first-call musicians and produces an album to raise money to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. ALBARE plays a Jobim tribute and RJ & THE ASSIGNMENT, based in Las Vegas, bring a contemporary jazz blend that mixes straight ahead with R&B and funk.


Carl Saunders, trumpet/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

Carl Saunders smashes on the scene with the familiar Joe Henderson tune, “Recorda-me.” Supported by an all-star, West Coast trio, including Josh Nelson on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Joe Labarbera on drums. It’s the first track on this CD and brightly introduces us to each player. On elaborate solos, each instrumentalist gives us a clear view of their individual talents. Afterwards, I was surprised to hear other trumpets harmonizing with the Saunders lead trumpet. Nothing was noted in the liner notes about other horn players, so I opened the CD cover to see who else was in the studio. It’s actually Carl overdubbing with himself. Of course, he would be thinking harmonically. Carl Saunders spent years with some of the most highly praised big bands on the jazz scene including his early years playing with Harry James (1961-62), later, with Maynard Ferguson, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman. Once Saunders settled into the Las Vegas scene, he found himself hired by a number of show bands. You could hear his in-demand lead trumpet with legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet and even Frank Sinatra. He was adaptable enough to also tour with singer/songwriter, Paul Anka, as lead trumpeter and additionally performed with Robert Goulet.

Carl Saunders’ tone and timing makes every familiar jazz composition on this album become reinvented. His ability to swing so fluidly is perhaps a nod to his drum chops. As a youthful musician, he spent part of 1962 through ‘63 touring with Bobby Sherwood’s group and playing drums. Ultimately, trumpet became his instrument of choice. It’s always a joy hearing Carl Saunders play. Once you listen to how he and his group dance through “I thought About You,” with a lively and spontaneous solo by Josh Nelson on piano and Joe Labarbera shining as he trades ‘fours’ with the band on his trap drums.

Not only is Saunders a magnificent and creative player, he is additionally a master composer and has written hundreds of original songs. He shares several with us during this production. “Flim Flam” is one of his originals and it moves at a moderate, but inspired pace. The melody is catchy, with the changes in the chord progressions keeping everyone on their toes, especially on the bridge. His long, legato lines stretch like spandex across the changes and I wonder how he’s able to store up that much breath control. His execution is flawless and beautiful. Another composition by Saunders is the only ballad on this album of fine music. Titled, “Patience,” it settles the listeners down, after six songs that were played speedily and with intense energy. Even on this lovely ballad, Saunders manages to infuse it with a double time solo that lifts and propels the song to higher heights. Nelson, on piano, has an excellent way of making each song his own, when interpreting them. His talents shine throughout. Another favorite is the Saunders composition, “Tofu or Not Tofu.” He uses his trumpet overdub technique on this tune also and it enhances the strong melody.

This is an album I will play over and over again. It embraces the straight-ahead, bebop flavored jazz that I love so much and spotlights the excellence of each musician in a stunning way.
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Yvonnick Prené, harmonica/composer; Brian Charette, Hammond B3 organ; Jordan Young, drums.

This is a captivating album that features Mr. Prené’s harmonica mastery and showcases his composer skills. He is featured along with Brian Charette on Hammond B3 organ and Jordan Young on drums. It’s the 5th release from this acclaimed musician and celebrates the Frenchman’s well-spent time in New York City. You will note that several of his composition titles allude to his experiences in this thriving American metropolis. Yvonnick Prené arrived in New York in 2007, fresh from studying at the legendary Sorbonne in Paris. He had won scholarships to take classes at Columbia University in New York.

Prené grew up listening to his father’s jazz and blues record collection. He discovered a blues mouth-organ lying around his house and began trying to play the harmonica. A friend of his dad’s encouraged the young man’s talent and bought him a properly working instrument. That’s when his study of harmonica became serious. Eventually, he studied with the great French blues artist, Jean Jacques Milleau.

“But then, I was listening to a lot of jazz. I was listening to Charlie Parker when I was fourteen. I didn’t understand anything that was going on in that music, but for some reason I knew I had to dig into it,” Prené says in his liner notes.

Prené searched for information and examples of those who could handle bop lines on the harmonica. He listened to Howard Levy, a Chicago artist who invented a way to elicit sharped notes on the diatonic harmonica, like a trumpeter or a saxophonist. Yvonnick Prené was on a mission. He looked for books on how to play jazz on a blues harp and took a few lessons from Sebastien Charlier. By the time he turned seventeen, the youthful musician was playing professionally in French clubs. But he really expanded his talents once he arrived on American soil and started hanging out with East Coast jazz musicians.

His homage to the great Toots Thieleman on “Very Early” (a Bill Evans tune) is stellar. His original tune “Dear Zlap” is melodically catchy and swings nicely at a moderate pace. Track five titled “Air on A Sunny String” is another original composition by Prené and gives him an opportunity to exercise his bebop chops on this tune that is based on the Sonny Rollins’ song, “Airegin.” Brian Charette begins the arrangement with his organ prowess out-front and speeding ahead to lay the stage for Yvonnick Prené to snatch the spotlight. The brisk and powerful drums of Jordan Young invigorate the music. Young is also given ample solo time during a period of trading ‘fours’.

This album is an exciting exploration into what the harmonica can do, once placed in the capable hands of a master musician. It also introduces us to the budding composer; Yvonnick Prené and celebrates jazz as a music that crosses borders and brings cultures together in a positive, creative way.
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RJ, Acoustic Piano/keyboards/composer; Eric Runquist, double bass; Johnny Johnson, lead guitar; Jason Bolden & Donald Phillips, electric bass; Terry Wesley II, drums; Julian Tanaka, saxophone; Tom Schuman, auxiliary instruments; Kiata Brown, Aja Hawkins, Klaiton Johnson, & Alisha Webster, vocals.

Reginald Johnson, fondly called RJ, is a Las Vegas based musician and composer. His project opens with a contemporary jazz composition called “I’m Trying.” The stunning vocals of Kiata Brown draw you into this production like quicksand. This particular piece is a blend of smooth jazz, R&B, gospel, contemporary jazz and it’s definitely commercially excellent. RJ’s contemporary music tracks cross genre boundaries. Perhaps that’s the reason for the album’s title of Hybrid Harmony. Track 2, is funk based. It’s propelled by the percussion of Terry Wesley and RJ’s keyboard talents. Tom Schuman adds more keyboard magic to fatten the sound. Titled, “My Mean Ol’ Aunt,” during this instrumental, sporadically you will hear a voice that taunts indignations at the invisible person being addressed. The sarcasms add to the funkiness of this piece, shouting out things like “Now I could have called you a pizel-headed, evil-doin’ heathen, but I didn’t.” Clearly, the voice is mimicking that mean ol’ aunt. It’s a playful piece that twines straight-ahead jazz into the funk. It dazzles like brightly colored yarn woven into a plain sweater. But there is nothing ‘plain’ about this production. It holds the interest from tune-to-tune.

Track 3 is a pretty ballad, produced like a hit R&B tune, featuring a female vocalist singing another positive lyric, “Baby – let me Walk in Your Light” is the theme and the drum programming by Oscar Brown II pushes this song in a notable way.

The title tune, “Hybrid Harmony” is completely contemporary and once again dips into a funk bag. Julian Tanaka soars on tenor saxophone during this production and serves up a straight-ahead jazz-shine to the production. On the tune “Prototype” the production features two female voices, Aja Hawkins and Klaiton Johnson, who blend warmly to make this a compelling arrangement by RJ.

Reginald Johnson (RJ), was born and raised in Chicago. He began playing piano by ear in his church. Once he decided on music as a career goal, RJ started working in local clubs, moved to Nevada and studied music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He earned his Master’s degree and his talents soon found him playing keyboards for well-known artists like Jennifer Hudson, Buddy Guy, and Boys II Men. But his other obvious talents are cemented in producing, arranging and composing. All in all, this is a soulful, contemporary jazz production featuring some very gifted musicians and led by Johnson. It’s RJ’s fourth album release. This newly released RJ & the Assignment production is deserving to be heard on airwaves across the country.
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Albare, guitar; Joe Chindamo, piano/string arrangements/conductor; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Ricardo “Ricky” Rodriquez, bass; Phil Turcio, producer.

This is the 6th collaboration of Albare with his producer, Phil Turcio and it’s the artist’s 12th album release. He also has a long-term musical relationship with Joe Chindamo, who is on five other albums that Albare has released.

It was in 1972, while Albare was watching Marcel Camus’s cult film, Orpheus Negro, that he discovered the magical music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Albare was captivated by the Brazilian composer’s music in the film score. As a young guitarist, he was greatly inspired by Jobim and began to develop his own melodic style of playing.

“As Jobim was such an influence in my playing, I feel this album is overdue and I am now ready to express the intense beauty of these melodies to my own satisfaction,” he explained.

Albare was born in Morocco and grew up in both Israel and France. Joining the Israel Music Conservatory at the youthful age of eight, he spent two years developing his natural musical abilities. But for the most part, Albare was completely self-taught. After losing his central vision faculties due to a genetic illness, Albare currently plays completely by ear and emotion. His passion for the music and his instrument is palpable on this recording. Every song is well-played, beautifully arranged, and delightfully enhanced by Chindamo’s string arrangements. You will hear all your favorite Jobim tunes, played with passion and precision by the gifted guitarist, Albare. Although this was released in December of 2019, it is never too late to listen to timeless music and the amazing artists who play it.
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KARL STERLING – “DREAM” Parkinson’s Global Project / Blue Canoe Records

Drums: Karl Sterling, Archibald Ligonierre, Peter Erskine, Gary Novak & Gergo Borial; Basses: Jimmy Haslip & Naina Kundu; Keys: Scott Kinsey; Guitars: Jeff Richman & Nir Felder; Tenor Saxophone, Bob Reynolds; Alto saxophone, Brandon Fields; Vocals: Mer Sal Comes, Jimmy Keegan, Carolyn Samuelson, Naina Kundu, Amanda Kennan. Recording Engineer: Paul Tavenner

This is an absolutely beautiful, but unusual album release. Karl Sterling began his career as a drummer and then, after thirty-five years as a working musician, he decided to enter the health and wellness industry in an effort to help people live an improved quality of life. Karl quickly realized that Parkinson disease was sorely in need of funding for education and research. Sterling wanted to do something about this dilemma, so he reached back to his musical career contacts and started making calls. This album is the result of those calls. The musicians on this project are long-time friends and the songs were chosen carefully, with the intention of sending a message of positivity and hope. He has assembled some of the most iconic names in music to work on this non-profit production that’s become the Parkinson’s Global Project. 90% of your purchase goes to funding for much needed education and research of this challenging disease.

Every cut on this project is well produced and excellently played. Producers include Jimmy Haslip (former member of The Yellowjackets), Scott Kinsey and Jeff Richman. These three seasoned veterans have produced an exemplary contemporary jazz album that will thoroughly entertain you.

Beginning with “Here to Love You,” a funky tune with a female lead singer, R&B flavored and with the bass player stirring the spoon in this thick musical broth. This is followed by “The Dream” that features a dynamic, smooth jazz saxophone solo. Because this is an Online project, there is no breakdown on who plays on which tunes. That was a frustration for this jazz journalist, because these musicians are incredibly talented and deserve their accolades for these performances. I’ve listed all the players above, but it’s not like giving you a breakdown of who is appearing and playing on the individual songs.

“Don’t Give Up” is well sung by a female and male vocalist. The production is big and fat, well arranged and this song encompasses rock and pop with a strong, positive lyrical message. “Song 4 Barry” offers a Reggae feel as a joyful instrumental. Midway through the tune, background voices appear like a group of singing children in the distance. A thumb piano dresses the song with African colors. The drummer is amazing on this cut.

On the song, “For a Child,” the vocalist floats above a hypnotic track. The music is cotton candy sweet and beautiful. The lyrical story is a little heart breaking, as the vocalist sings:
“Love is the answer to a child … if dreams fly over the rainbow … so many children making that short trip from the cradle to the grave.”

The guitar solo at the song’s end is smooth as velvet and just as appealing.

Track six is “Where Are You Now?” The piano is all jazz. The vocals sing the melody, but beneath that vocal, a stinging rhythm section surges. It’s a dynamic and unique arrangement. You will also enjoy the arrangement of Pharrell’s famous hit record, “Happy” and the ensemble closes with “Little Star.”

I loved everything on this album of wonderfully produced music. You can donate to this worthy project and be rewarded with an awesome, tax-deductible music project for your listening pleasure.
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March 15, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

March 15, 2020

March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the role of women both past and present. March is a time of year that calls for extra love and support of women in jazz who are making a difference. I want to introduce you to some of today’s women in jazz who are changing the face of music in their own sweet ways. READ ALL ABOUT: President of the California Jazz Foundation, EDYTHE BRONSTON; pianist/singer, KANDACE SPRINGS; pianist/composer, CONNIE HAN; Singer/songwriter/ producer and pianist, LAILA BALIA and the immortal NINA SIMONE has a new CD release.


Edythe Bronston is the founder and president of The California Jazz Foundation. Their nonprofit organization’s mission is to aid and assist California jazz musicians when they find themselves in financial or medical crisis.

The California Jazz Foundation was created in 2006 when Edythe Bronston realized a respected jazz musician in Northern California was in crisis. She called her friend and business associate, Dominic LoBuglio and said she wanted to start a nonprofit that would support jazz musicians in need. With Dominic’s CPA background and her legal expertise as a successful Los Angeles attorney, they created this awesome organization. Both music lovers reached out to friends who had the same love and passion for jazz music. Their associates had to be caring, compassionate and empathetic human beings. At the first meeting of their consortium, they sat around Edythe’s dining room table and agreed that something had to be done for jazz musicians, many without health insurance and some sporadically unemployed. Consequently, those musicians often found themselves in dire financial straits. For these players of America’s highly respected and indigenous art form, there were rarely unemployment benefits or health insurance available. As long as they were healthy and had gigs lined up, they went to work and made people happy with their music. But when the unexpected happened or when musicians began to age or faced health challenges, where could they turn?

Edythe and Dominic proceeded to incorporate and apply for nonprofit status and that first evening, the small, concerned group passed the hat around Edythe’s dining room table to help their first jazz musician in need. It would be almost a year later, in 2007, when they finally attained the 501(c)(3) status they needed to be a tax-exempt organization. To date, they have assisted and supported over three-hundred musicians and have 630 members.

I asked Edythe when she fell in love with jazz?

“I was fifteen years old and my best friend was this guy who was sixteen years old. He said to me one summer night, he had just gotten his driver’s license and he said to me, I’m going to take you tomorrow night to hear jazz. I said what’s jazz? He said you’ll know it when you hear it. So, he took me to this roadhouse to hear Ray Anthony and his Orchestra.”

“Because he had just gotten his driver’s license, we went really early while it was still light out. We got there and I don’t know whether you remember Ray Anthony, the band conductor, but he was very handsome and was known as ‘the poor man’s Cary Grant.’ We walked into this roadhouse and it was a great big place, like a banquet hall, with a huge dance floor. That early, there was nobody there but us. Ray Anthony was at one end of the room with his band when we walked in. There I was in my fifteen-year-old glory, with my crinoline skirt on and he winked at me. Oh, he was very handsome. By the end of the night, I was smitten and I thought I loved jazz. I didn’t know that wasn’t really jazz. (laughter) So, I became a jazz fan at fifteen. It was quite a revelation for me when I discovered Stan Kenton and, of course, my all-time favorite is Charlie Parker.”

Like myself, Edythe Bronston believes that jazz is freedom music. She knows this courageous and doughty music was born out of slave songs, church hymnals, the blues, European classical music and a longing for freedom of expression. This music effloresced through the bell of Louie Armstrong’s trumpet and the creativity of Charlie Parker’s inventive saxophone. Improvisation was born. Both the music and the musicians who play it are an important and undeniable part of our American culture.

On April 25, 2020, at 5:30pm in downtown Los Angeles, the Annual Gala presented by Edythe Bronston and her California Jazz Foundation called, “Give the Band A Hand” will honor iconic composer/arranger Johnny Mandel and pianist, bandleader, journalist and educator, Billy Mitchell. This is the group’s annual fundraiser to support their ongoing program throughout the year.

“What I’ve learned, when you talk to a jazz musician, there’s no hidden agenda. What you see is what you get. And that’s the beautiful part of it. As long as they have a job, a gig, and as long as they have their health, they’re good. They don’t internalize that something could happen to them. They don’t think about getting older or what if they have an accident or they get sick. They don’t have any cushion. It’s just such a tragedy. Terry Gibbs is a good friend of mine and he told me that when he started out with his first band, he was paying musicians more than any other bandleader was at that time. Shockingly, the amount that he was paying is the same amount that they are being paid today. It’s tragic!” Atty. Bronston’s voice is full of compassion.

But where is the corporate support for the California Jazz Foundation? Why aren’t companies like Gretsch, who has literally cornered the endorsement market of the jazz scene, and who boasts a popular line of jazz drum kits, or Ludwig drums, Yamaha, or DW drums, contributing to this important nonprofit effort? Why aren’t Piedmont piano company, or Steinway, or Shadd Pianos, named for Warren Shadd, the first African-American piano producer contributing? Jazz musicians play all the popular instrument brands and many advertise for these companies and their products. How about VISA and MASTERCARD and airline companies that fly these musicians around the world to perform? The California Jazz Foundation needs and is looking for corporate sponsors.

“Well, I think that’s why Billy Mitchell has been so successful …because he’s dealing with children and corporations care about kids. We haven’t seen the same kind of support for the master musicians who are playing the music and continuing the legacy of jazz. We always say, the L.A. Jazz Society takes care of the kids (through their program ‘Jazz in the Schools’) and we take care of the sick and the older musicians. We’re two groups who are very friendly and refer back and forth. They seem to have an easier time getting grants than we do, probably because people care more about children. We’ve been able to survive, but with more corporate grants, we would be able to help more musicians. We’ve helped over 300 musicians and 77% of our grants, from the very beginning, have gone to alleviate homelessness by paying rent, mortgage payments and taxes, in addition to assisting with health challenges,” Edythe Bronston sighs.

Speaking of pianist, Billy Mitchell, not only will he be receiving an award from the California Jazz Foundation, but he will also be given an award by the Jazz Journalist Association at this April 25th Gala event. Mitchell has been based in Los Angeles since 1970 and has backed up artists like Gloria Lynn, Esther Phillips, Billy Paul, Randy Crawford, Linda Hopkins, Barbara Morrison, Cheryl Barnes and many more. He is a member of the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited headed by jazz legend, Kenny Burrell. Mitchell has appeared in the Clint Eastwood motion picture, “Bird.” As a journalist and clinician, he’s written and published books and his articles in Gig Magazine chronicle his life and love of the music he performs and teaches. As founder of SAPPA, the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy, and founder, director of the Watts-Willowbrook Conservatory & Youth Symphony, he transforms lives every day, reaching into the under-served communities of Southern California to inspire young musicians.

The other recipient of the California Jazz Foundation’s “Terry Award” is Johnny Alfred Mandel. As a composer, arranger and conductor, his songs for film soundtracks have become iconic, including the Grammy and Academy Award winning, “The Shadow of Your Smile” and the beautiful, “A Time for Love.” A former trombonist and trumpet player in big bands, he has worked with Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Diane Schuur, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Horn, Ann Hampton Callaway and countless more. He penned the popular Television theme song for the M.A.S.H show. In 2018, Johnny Mandel received the Grammy Trustee Award from The Recording Academy for “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording”. He’s also the recipient of the NEA Jazz Masters Award.

The California Jazz Foundation is proud to honor these two legendary and locally based Southern California musicians.

“Our programs create excitement,” Edythe Bronston says with pride and conviction. “So many of our jazz musicians and our stars are dying. It’s always a wonderful evening and it has buzz. We have people who come every year. You never know who will attend and the music is always amazing. We invite everyone to purchase tickets or to support our mission by becoming members. Everywhere I go, I meet new friends who wish to join our cause, simply because of their abiding love of the music and the musicians who give so much of themselves. We celebrated our fourteenth year on January 30th of 2020. Please help us by making a tax-deductible donation. With your support and generosity, we will always be here to assist our jazz musicians.”

You can visit the California Jazz Foundation (CJF) Online at:
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Feb 22, 2020/Samueli Theater in the Segerstrom Art Center

The Segerstrom Art Center is a state of the arts complex in Costa Mesa, California, a very affluent area of Los Angeles County. It offers several parking structures and theaters of various sizes and a wealth of talent for the community to enjoy. The room where Kandace Springs is performing Is set up like a nightclub venue. The round tables are draped in white table cloths with a small, flickering lamps in the center that made the space feel cozy and intimate. All the tables on the main floor housed four chairs. A balcony, with tables for two, sat above the main floor on both sides of the room. It’s a comfortable cabaret set-up with a capacity to hold 320 people. Tonight, it was full.

A female drummer saunters on stage, sits behind her trap drums and began to solo with gusto. Another female enters, picks up the double bass and joins in. They set up a funky, smooth jazz, soulful groove. Then Kandace Springs prowls across the stage like a lioness. Dressed in black pants, she sits down at the electric piano, soaking up the center spotlight. The show has begun. This pianist/vocalist has a head of hair like a lion’s mane and it bobs and moves with her tenacious delivery on the piano keys. Her voice is husky and rooted in gospel. It’s somewhat reflective of Stevie Wonder when she makes certain vocal ‘runs.’ I’ve seen this artist on YouTube performing with Kenny G, Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oats) and a big band. During the opening number, her bassist sings harmony with Kandace.

Because I’ve been in the music business for such a long time, I can tell this is a new band. Still, their voices blend beautifully. The longer they perform together, the tighter this ensemble will become. Kandace Springs moves from the electric piano to the grand piano to perform the second tune, “Gentle Rain.” Afterwards, she announces that she has a new CD coming out in March on the Blue Note label. Tonight, we are getting a live preview of this new recording. She tells us, her friend, Christian McBride, is playing bass on her Blue Note production. However, “tonight Caylen Bryant (on bass) will accompany me on “Devil May Care,” she says giving a nod to her bassist. Kandace swings this arrangement, propelled by the talented Taylor Moore on drums and amply supported by her multi-talented bassist. In between each song, Ms. Springs interacts with her audience, offering a warm exchange of information. She shares that she and Norah Jones are Blue Note sisters and they perform a duet on her new album celebrating Ella Fitzgerald. “Norah Jones plays the Steinway grand piano and I play the electric piano on the tune, Angel Eyes,” she tells us. The trio digs into this tune, featuring Caylen duetting vocally with Kandice, and on the fade of this song, all three female musicians sing a haunting, harmony part. It’s extremely effective, with a wee bit of gospel flavor to it.

Then came a piano solo where Kandace Springs shows us, she definitely has ‘chops’ and is a classically trained pianist. Her love of piano started at age ten when her dad brought home a piano. Kandace comes from a musical family. Her father was a popular, working soul singer in a country-western town. His name is Scat Springs and he had his own Nashville band. His vocals were so strong that he sang backup for several well-known musicians like Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Michael McDonald and Donna Summer. A daddy’s girl, she tagged along to his sessions. It was her father that introduced her to legendary singers like ‘Ella’, Eva Cassidy and Nina Simone. Her dad helped her record a demo at age fifteen and it got a lot of buzz.

For her next song, Kandace celebrated Carmen McCrae, performing solo, just her piano and voice singing a soulful rendition of “In My Solitude.”

Then she ripped into a classical-sounding composition to show she was a studied musician. I heard shades of Rachmaninoff, Shubert and Bach. This interlude faded seamlessly into Jobim’s tune, “How Insensitive.” Kandace liberally shares her spotlight with the two talented ladies in her band. She features them next. Taylor Moore on drums is an amazing technician on her instrument. She really fired-up the crowd.

Caylen Bryant lays down her double bass and straps on her electric instrument. The trio does a unique arrangement of Sade’s tune, “Love is Stronger than Pride” with the drummer and bassist singing back-up vocals that enhance Kandace Springs’ smokey delivery of this popular song. Next, Kandace tells us she credits Norah Jones for inspiring her to learn and perform the first standard she ever played and sang before an audience. Then she performs, “Nearness of You.” This was followed by a funky, but still very jazzy rendition of “People Make the World Go Round.” She stunned the audience when she sang and played Billie Holiday’s tear-jerking song, “Strange Fruit.” It was a very moving performance. The trio rebounded from this emotional ballad to a song the group ‘War’ made so popular; “The World Is A Ghetto.” Judging from these two songs, Kandace Springs seems to have a little bit of an activist edge to her music. The drummer tears into her solo on this arrangement and the audience goes crazy.

The jazz community has had an open space available for a female pianist and jazz vocalist. We have been waiting for someone to soulfully fill the hole that legends like Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and Shirley Horn left in our musical fabric. That’s why I was happy to hear Kandace tribute Roberta Flack, going back to the grand piano to play and sing a beautiful rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” She closed out their concert with a fiery arrangement of Nina Simone’s, “I Put A Spell on You.”

The room rose in a unified standing ovation to show the three talented ladies how much they were appreciated. I look forward to hearing the new album by Kandace Springs titled, “The Women Who Raised Me.” Like two of her idols, Norah Jones and also Diana Krall, she continues to break new ground, playing piano and singing. Her choice of blending musical genres, with a youthful jazz infusion, while celebrating the spirit of her jazz elders like Carmen McCrae, Nina and Sarah Vaughan, (who all played piano beautifully) makes Kandace Springs a fresh, blossoming talent in my New Artist series.

(Note: This Kandace Springs article was previously featured Cover Story at
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Connie Han, piano/composer; Bill Wysaske, drums/producer/composer; Ivan Taylor, bass; Walter Smith, saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet.

This is pianist, Connie Han’s follow-up album to her debut “Crime Zone” production. Although only twenty-three years young, her style, technique and presentation are seasoned and powerful. Her playing echoes the influence of innovators like McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones; Kenny Kirkland and Bill Evans. The first song is an original composition by Ms. Han and it races ‘straight-ahead’ and dynamic. It’s the title tune, “Iron Starlet.” Her photos on the album are seductive and dominatrix. Tunes like her “Iron Starlet” composition, or the third cut, “Mr. Dominator” reflect the CD artwork. Jeremy Pelt’s trumpet rolls across the rhythm section like a whip. Ms. Han’s piano playing is exciting and plush with energy. On the composition titled, “For the O.G” Connie Han showcases both interesting and technically adept prowess on the piano. She is a strong player and one with great melodic ideas that she develops, like a well-written novel, turning the pages slowly on this Track 4, letting us simmer in the heat of her story. She gives drummer, composer and producer, Bill Wysaske, an opportunity to solo on his trap drums. Wysaske has written “Boy Toy” and “Captain’s Song,” for this project. Bassist, Ivan Taylor, also takes a notable solo on this “O.G.” song that Connie has penned. The saxophone of Walter Smith III adds touches of sophistication and embellishes the production.
When Han describes her long time partnership with Wysaske and his drums she explains:
“We subscribe to a philosophy of music that is driven by complex and sophisticated rhythm. The Rhythm isn’t hard just to be hard. It all comes from a place of pure human instinct.”

On “Hello to The Wind” Connie Han shows a softer side to her playing during the interpretation of this Chambers & Gene McDaniel’s composition. Another familiar jazz tune that she includes on this “Iron Starlet” production is “Detour Ahead”. Drummer, Bill Wysaske, has arranged both of these songs.

Every tune is charismatic, like the pretty artist herself. Her left hand is often busy beating rhythm into her mix, while her right-hand races around the treble clef, searching for creative ways to explore the unknown and make it visible. She’s aggressive and tenacious on both the grand piano and the Fender Rhodes. When she does settle down, there is a tenderness on the keys that is palpable. For example, on the waltz arrangement of “The Forsaken,” another original composition by Connie Han, Bill Wysaske pulls out his brushes to support the tune and bassist,Ivan Taylor, who soaks up the spotlight like a sponge. His double bass solo is sensitive and exploratory.

Over time, I’ve learned to listen closely to what people say and play. Especially when they describe themselves and their art. I’ve learned to believe them. This is a “play it again” project! That means I’ll listen to it more than once. Perhaps Connie Han summed things up best in her liner notes when she wrote:

“This band can go from the blues to the esoteric. But we always strive to bring out the darkness, grit and depth in this music as much as possible. Those are the elements that we’re inspired by and the values that we hold quite dear.”
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LAILA BIALI – “OUT OF DUST” Chronograph Records

Here is an artist who blends jazz and pop/soul and folk music in a way that still crowns ‘jazz’ king. Her voice crosses genres. She has a tenacious delivery and exhibits a soaring vocal range on the very first tune of her album. As an awesome pianist and a competent composer, her song “Revival” talks about global turmoil and elicits a call-to-arms, encouraging the world community to unify.

She sings: “women fighting for equality … six million more united into one … paint your signs, pick up your shoes; take a stand, there’s no excuse …”

Her next song is titled, “The Monolith.” Webster’s dictionary describes monolith as a large, single upright block of stone or concrete, especially a pillar or monument; also it could be a large organization or pillar of the community. In this scenario, Laila Biali lyrically describes a woman trying to break through something as strong as stone in her life. Her vocal tone is haunting and the mallets of the drums adds to the drama. The original composition titled, “Glass House” was co-written with her husband and album co-producer, Ben Wittman. She layers voices in warm harmony during this arrangement. Here is a song addressing the epic challenge of suicide in our communities and the after-effects of their very personal family member’s suicide. On “Wendy’s Song,” she plays a piano ballad that is dedicated to a close friend who she lost to cancer. The melody moves from alto to soprano like a sunrise. Laila Biali’s voice is smooth and full of shine and luster. The soprano saxophone solo adds a smooth jazz flavor to what sounds more like a folk song at the beginning of this arrangement. Even though these events are heartbreaking, Laila Biali manages to find hope in the debris of tears and sadness. She finds reasons to lift herself, her loved ones and the world “Out of the Dust.” This is an album of resilience and fortitude.

“These new songs took shape as I processed my own feelings of doubt and loss,” Biali reveals. “I believe that nothing is wasted, that even life’s greatest challenges can produce something meaningful, even if only to make us more aware of and empathetic to the struggles of those around us.”

The song “Sugar” is a jazzy, bebop production with a repeatable ‘hook’ that’s catchy and melodic. This is a song with unexpected modulations and it’s quite joyful. Additionally, Liala Biali adds the most wonderful rendition of “Take Me to the Alley” written by singer, songwriter, Gregory Porter. Liala’s voice is tender, warm and emotional on this great composition that tributes the down-trodden being lifted up.

Liala Biali has already been honored as SOCAN Composer of the Year at the 2005 National jazz Awards. She’s been consistently performing worldwide and in spite of her own personal challenges, she has used those obstacles to create music and inspire others. She’s won a Juno Award in her native Canada. This is a Canadian award that mirrors our United States Grammy Award. She’s worked with both award-winning trumpeter, Chris Botti and the awesome and talented singer/songwriter, Sting. This is a woman who is making history, one step at a time, and is proud to rise up, “Out of Dust.”
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Recorded in 1982, not long after she moved to Paris, Fodder On My Wings is said to be one of Nina Simone’s favorite albums, yet has remained one of her most obscure. Originally recorded for a small French label and only sporadically available since its initial release, Fodder On My Wings will be reissued in a variety of formats including CD and LP, as well as widely available digitally for the first time, in both standard and hi-res audio, on April 3 via Verve/UMe. The original album will be expanded, with three bonus tracks from the recording sessions, a rare French reissue released in 1988. Nina’s legacy lives on!

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March 8, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 8, 2020

In this column, I also review The Pacific Mambo Orchestra’s new CD with special guest, Jon Faddis, and Sarah Elgeti with her quartet. Sarah plays tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet and writes both lyrics and music. Paul Shaw is a drummer and bandleader who features Alex Sipiagin on trumpet as part of his talented quintet. I listened to the stunning new CD by Keith Oxman who features Houston Person. Having two lead tenor saxophone players on the same CD explores the uniqueness of both. Finally, I review John DiMartino, a pianist who is celebrating the music of the iconic Billy Strayhorn and he features Eric Alexander on tenor sax as part of his dynamic ensemble. Also, a reminder that there will be a memorial service for the great saxophonist, Jimmy Heath, on March 12th in NYC. R.I.P Jimmy Heath. On a lighter note, I was so pleased to get a one-on-one interview with Charles Owens, our very own Los Angeles treasure, a respected educator and master woodwind player.

Born April 5, 1937, Charles Owens has been a mainstay of our jazz community for nearly half a century. Charlie O, as I sometimes fondly call him, is a master woodwind musician. His passion and love of the saxophone started when he was a small child. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, his mother and father divorced during his early years. When Charles’ mother met and married William Owens, their family moved from Phoenix to Portland Oregon.

“Right around the beginning of the second World War, we moved to Portland, Oregon. My parents were looking for work in the shipyard, because they were making ships in Oregon. We lived in Oregon until the end of the war and then in 1945, on Thanksgiving weekend, we moved from Portland, Oregon to San Diego. I remember because the car broke down on our way and we had to stay at the filling-station all week-end, because the guy wouldn’t open up and fix the transmission. Finally, the mechanic came back on Monday, after the holiday weekend, and fixed it. We went on to San Diego. My mother and stepfather moved there because the aircraft industry at Convair was hiring. I went to elementary school, all the way through part of college in San Diego. We lived in Logan Heights,” Charles told me.

Shortly after, Charles and his parents traveled to Oklahoma on a short vacation. He was around nine years old.

“We went down to Sapulpa,Oklahoma to visit my father’s people. There were all kinds of instruments laying around their house; trombones, saxophones, drums, piano, whatever. I was there for a week and I had a chance to try all of them. I fell in love with a Silvertone alto saxophone made by Sears & Roebuck. Everyone in my dad’s family played an instrument. My Uncle Harry played the saxophone. My Uncle Herman played the trumpet and was pretty good. Aunt Eloise, my father’s sister, played piano and somebody played the drums. My dad liked to sing. He sounded a lot like the smooth lead singer of the Inkspot group. So, I just had a ball that week making all kinds of noise on all those horns and instruments. When I got back to San Diego, I asked my mom if I could get that Silvertone alto saxophone. She bought it for me and it cost fifty bucks,” Charles recalled.

I asked Charles who was his early influence on saxophone.

“Well, my first was Charlie Parker. I saw him in a movie and he had on this white coat and he was decked out, looking good and playing alto. Just something lit up in me. It was the best feeling. It was just beautiful to hear Bird play. I was eight or nine-years-old. I went to the Victory theater and there was Bird playing on the big screen. it was just heavenly. He thrilled my soul and made me happy.

“Everybody in my little gang of friends played saxophone. There was a guy named Johnny Hodges (not the famous Johnny Hodges) and then Daniel Jackson. Daniel would come by the house. We had a piano in the front room. He would play the piano and I would play saxophone. Then I would play piano and he would play saxophone. We’d learn songs together like,’I Remember April’ and ‘Cherokee’. Then there was James Hatcher. He played alto and we’re still buddies today. I got this gig with Tommy Wilson and the Kingsmen. They were the hottest band around San Diego during my high school years. We bought our little cars and kept them running off the gigs we played on the weekends. We had San Diego sewed up. Every time they had a house-party, people had to have Tommy Wilson and the Kingsmen. I was also inspired by Teddy Pico. He was a large, wonderful saxophone man and a big influence on all of us aspiring saxophone players. Daniel Jackson was another one of my main influences. He would show me stuff that would take me years to learn on my own. Growing up, I also loved Stan Getz. He played so pretty. Also, Gene Ammons was a big influence on me. I remember, as a kid, walking home from school and past this hole-in-the-wall joint that had a juke box. I’d hear Gene Ammons playing “My Foolish Heart” and it really spoke to me. I’d stand outside and listen.

“I majored in music and went to San Diego State for a couple of years and then went to Prayer View A & M University just outside of Houston, Texas. That’s where I met my wife, Mildred. We came back to San Diego from Houston. I was working at a ‘Jack in the Box’ making burgers and I thought, if I’m going to be in music, I’ve got to make a living some kind of way. So, I joined the Air Force to be in their band. That’s what kept me in music after college. My wife went on to college and I went to March Air Force base. It was a wonderful experience.”

When Charles Owens completed his stint in the Air Force, he continued his music education at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“I met Dwight Dickerson at Berklee. Dwight and I were playing in a strip joint. Dwight was playing piano. Hershel Dwellingham was playing drums and I was playing saxophone. We had a good time and made $125/week. I played the afternoon shift; 4 to 9PM. Dwight played from 9pm to whatever. Some kind of way, we became best friends. I’ll never forget this beautiful Puerto Rican lady. Oh, she hated my guts. She complained constantly that I never played the melody. He’s always playing some outside shit, she said. I did play the melody once, but after that, she was right. I was trying to be Coltrane,” Charles chuckled.

Charles Owens played with the Buddy Rich band from 1968 to 1970. He recorded with Buddy Rich in ’68, playing on an album titled, “The New One!” and he did some arranging on another album titled, “Mercy, Mercy.” In 1970, Charles began to play regularly with Mongo Santamaria and was a guest player on Mongo’s 1969 release of their “Afro-American Latin” album. On May 10, 1971, Owens relocated to Los Angeles and with the help of Ernie Watts and Don Menza, he became active as a studio session musician. The same year,Owens appeared on the Bobby Bryant CD, “Swahili Strut” and released his first album on the Discovery label titled, “Mother Lode.” In 1973, he played saxophone on Henry Franklin’s album, “The Skipper.” He talked to me about some of those studio sessions and television specials that he worked on.

“I had the pleasure of recording with Natalie Cole several times. I recorded with Marvin Gaye on the ‘Here My Dear’ album and Les McCann from time to time on his small band stuff. I didn’t record with Diana Ross, but I did play with her on tour for six weeks. I think I made $3,000 on that gig. That paid for my daughter’s birth. I worked with Michael Jackson too. It was a funny thing. He recorded all that great music, but he couldn’t sing the melody to A-Train. It was during a television taping and they tried and tried to teach him the melody,” Charles Owens sings me the melody that challenged Michael.

“But he just couldn’t learn that one part, so they discarded the idea of Michael singing A-Train. Another time, I worked with James Brown and this one night he forgot the words to ‘Livin’ in America’. He couldn’t remember the words to a song he had written, so they had to cancel the TV show we were taping. I also worked with H. B. Barnum and he was producing a lot of stuff. That work definitely helped me raise my family. By that time, we had a daughter and two sons.”

In 1978, he recorded with jazz vocalist, Lorez Alexandria, on an album titled, “A Woman Knows.” For this project he played flute and both soprano and tenor saxophones. Then, in 1979, Charles recorded his second album as bandleader, “The Two Quartets” for Discovery Records, featuring John Heard and Louie Spears as bassists, Alex Acuna and Carl Burnett on drums, Dwight Dickerson and Theo Saunders as pianists and Charles playing his tenor saxophone.

When the 80s rolled around, Charles Owens was in serious demand. He got the call to join the Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington.

“He would fly me out to New York.I’d make my little money and come back to L.A.,” Charles told me.

“It was a great inspiration to be around all of those truly wise and great players like Johnny Hodges, and hang out with Chuck Conners, a famous bass trombone player with the Duke Ellington orchestra. Also, Rudy Woods was another trombone player I met and Bubber (Miley). These are legendary Duke Ellington trombone players. It was like getting the stamp of approval for being a jazz player. It these cats dug you, they’d give you their flask and say, take a drink buddy. You’re alright. I was living my whole life, not wasting it. Being accepted by these real giants in the business, gave me that stamp of approval. Being around Mercer and Barrie Lee Hall Jr., a trumpet player that took the Cootie Williams spot in the orchestra, was great!”

NOTE:(Barrie Lee Hall was given Cootie William’s last trumpet when he joined the Ellington Orchestra. Barrie Lee was praised as one of the greatest plunger players of all times. He led the orchestra for about a year and sometime took over for Mercer Ellington in a leadership role when Mercer was absent.)

Around the same time,(1980), Charles recorded another album called, “Charles Owens New York Art Ensemble” with a group of iconic jazz players including bassist Ray Brown, pianist George Cables, drummer Roy McCurdy, that also featured James Newton and Red Callender. On this studio project they celebrated the music of Harry Warren. However, the album Charles Owens calls his ‘greatest achievement’ is the “Joy” album. That was released in 2010.

“That recording is the last one I did with Ron Carter, Mulgrew Miller and Lewis Nash on it. I flew back to New Jersey to record it in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. He was one of the greatest A&R men and that was my greatest achievement. It was a dream come true and I’m elated how it turned out. I believe it’s the best thing I ever put on a CD,”Charles shares with me.

There are many, many more albums that Charles Owens can be heard on. As a leader, back in 2007 he released the “So Far So Good” CD that he recorded in Europe, March 26th and 27th, right around his birthday.

Charles told me, “For the ‘So Far So Good’ recording, I flew to Germany. We played outside of Munich in a little town where this guy Steffan had a wonderful studio in the woods. Kirk Lightsey, Reggie Johnson and Doug Sides were living over there. It was really, really special working with Kirk Lightsey. Reggie Johnson is the bass player, that when Charlie Mingus died, he took Charlie Mingus’s place in the Mingus ensemble. He’s a great bass player. The record was released on the Organic Music label.”

Currently,the great Charles Owens has been sharing his talent, experience and knowledge with a plethora of young musicians, teaching both at UCLA and privately. Owens has an eye for talent. Back in the eighties, before anyone had ever really heard about saxophonist Rickey Woodard, Charles sent him to New Zealand to be our featured act at the grand opening of the first downtown jazz club in Auckland, that Dwight Dickerson and I hosted. Charles Owens was also one of the first to start singing the praises of Kamasi Washington. Both of these L.A. based musicians have skyrocketed in the jazz business and have become popular recording artists. Two other young lions he mentored are Azar Lawrence and Louis Taylor. He suggested Azar go to New York to further develop his career. The next thing he heard; Azar had landed a gig with McCoy Tyner. Charles tells me that Mr. Hamilton (who teaches at Berkley High School in Northern California) has sent him a number of excellent saxophone and bass students. A couple of young musicians that he recently has been mentoring are a San Diego trumpeter named Sam Kirdica and a Santa Barbara based saxophonist named Zane St. Andre. Professor Owens has high hopes for these two young talents.

The day I interviewed Charles, he told me he was leaving for Chicago, Illinois in the morning.

“I’m going to Chicago tomorrow to play with the Clayton/Hamilton orchestra and I’ll be back home Sunday. I’ve been playing in their band for about thirty years,” Charles alerted me.

I might add, he has recorded with this popular band on several occasions. Most recently, Owen’s recorded with the Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra featuring Barbara Morrison and Ernie Andrews. The album is called,” The L.A. Treasures Project: Live at Alvas Showroom.” In 1995, he was part of their “Absolutely!” recording and in 1999 he played clarinet and tenor saxophone on their album titled, “Explosive.” In 2000, Owens played soprano and tenor sax on their “Shout Me Out!” album and again in 2005 on the “Live at MCG” recording.

“Speaking of big bands, I have my big band that’s going to be playing over at a French school on Pico near Beverly Glen this month. It’s a French private school where the children have to speak French and English in their curriculums. Then tomorrow we’ll be playing jazz in the Palisades for three and four-year-olds. The kids liked it so much last time we did it that the teacher wanted us to come back and do it again. Drummer, Donald Dean Sr. and I have been promoting jazz in the schools for several years. We have a Black History Month concert tomorrow on 108th Street. We did one yesterday at the 52nd St School and we were very well received,”
pride colors the tone of the reedman’s voice.

While riding to gigs that inspire our youth to appreciate jazz, you will find him playing “Soul Eyes” by John Coltrane on his car stereo system.

“That’s my favorite song right now. After teaching, I get into my car, turn it on and if I’m in traffic, it cools me right out. On ‘Soul Eyes’ Coltrane is really playing from the heart.”

When it comes to teaching and mentoring, Charles Owens has strong views about the best way to inspire students.

“I think it helps to have an older person, that knows what they’re doing, to tell you what to do and to be kind and offer positive suggestions. I try to explore what students can do better. I may encourage them to work on their tone or to practice, … but I always try to be nice. A teacher has to be able to inspire people. Sometimes you need to tell someone something to help them improve, but no matter how nice you tell them, they don’t want to hear it. A teacher’s job is to make them aware of what they have to do and to help them get to the next step. I’ve discovered that sometimes that helps me get to the next step. Teaching has taught me how to treat people. It’s so easy to give a person a compliment, along with the lesson, and see their face light up,” Charles counsels.

Finally, I asked Charles Owens, since he has lived on both coasts of the United States, what he thought the difference was between West Coast Jazz and East Coast Jazz?

“Well, the New York musicians tend to be a little more adventurous and a little less in tune than the West Coast musicians. The West Coast musicians are better musicians, because for a while there was so much work out here and you could get it if you could play in tune and if you could blend. Because of the studio sessions and the recording and performance band opportunities, West Coast musicians are a little more thoughtful about what they play. The New York musicians are more original and play a little more out of tune. That’s the difference I found,” Charles answered.

You can catch the Charles Owens Quartet on March 28th at the World Stage in Leimert Park. He will also be in concert at The Merc in Temecula, California at the Sherry Williams venue for jazz on April 2nd.
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Christian Tumalan, piano/director/producer; Steffen Kuehn, trumpet/director/producer; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jon Faddis, trumpet; Dafnis Prieto, drums; Herman Olivera, vocals; Alex Britti, guitar.

The Pacific Mambo Orchestra is a Latin flavored orchestra full of celebration and celebrity. Now in their tenth year, PMO finally gained well-overdue recognition in 2013, when their crowd-funded, self-titled, debut album took home the GRAMMY for Best Tropical Latin Album. No newcomer to the big band circuit, they have performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, San Francisco’s California Jazz Festival, The Aspen Jazz Fest, and many, many more. They are a popular orchestra that recently sold out their run at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland, California. You never know who is going to be featured with this ensemble of super talented musicians. The 20-piece orchestra is comprised of the Bay Area’s top talent featured with iconic names like Poncho Sanchez, Pete Escovedo, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Prince and on this recording, trumpet legend Jon Faddis appears with the other well-known special guests listed above.

The orchestra’s take on the Chaka Khan hit recording, “Through the Fire” features Armando Cordobo and plush horn harmonics, along with Latin rhythms that happily dance and transform this R&B hit to a Latin treasure. The background voices add spiciness to the arrangement. The familiar, “A Night in Tunisia” tune features the stellar trumpet talents of Jon Faddis as soloist, and Dafnis Prieto is outstanding on drums. At times the Faddis trumpet sounds more like a whistle than a horn. His upper register notes are always mind-blowing.

Here is a musical project that never stops propelling you forward with energy, producing tune after tune that is danceable and joyful. This music will brighten any day and burns as hot and beautiful as any South American sunny day.
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Sarah Elgeti, tenor saxophone/flute/bass clarinet/arranger/composer; Sidsel Storm, vocals; Anders Krogh Fjeldsted, bass; Henrik Holst Hansen, drums; Nils Raae, keys/harmonica; Alexander Kraglund, violin; Soren Birkelund, clarinet; Marianne Caecillia Eriksen, baritone saxophone.

“Magical Thinking” opens this album with Sarah Elgeti’s flute smoothly delivering the melody. Ander Krogh Fjeldsted takes a brief but engaging solo on bass, followed by the piano keyboard creativity of Nils Raae. It’s an electronic presentation that layers instrumentation and makes the project very apropos for meditating and thinking magical thoughts. Sarah Elgeti has headed her own quartet since 2007. She is both composer and arranger, bringing her Scandinavian background and cultural heritage into play on this project. The multi-talented Ms. Elgeti plays tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet and writes both lyrics and music. On Track 2 she has Sidsel Storm interpret her composition, “Whereto?” with a soft, lyrical voice. Sidsel sings, “You have beheaded dragon after dragon, bathed in his blood. Did not become invulnerable nor tired…moving on your way again and again … transcending limitations.”

The arranger’s detail to blending woodwinds gives this production a pan piper feel of easy listening jazz. The pianist also has the distinction of being quite adept at playing harmonica and offers a solo that swings on the tune, “Changing Whispers.” Sarah Elgeti is a smooth reed player. She originally studied guitar and bass as a youth in Denmark, but at fifteen, began to play the tenor saxophone in her school orchestra. She found a passion for that instrument and you can hear this on their third track. She expanded her love of the reed instruments by mastering flute and the clarinet. Consequently, she has worked as a studio musician, performed in theatrical productions, played both classically and in a variety of ensembles. She’s worked as an educator and conducted big bands, so the lady from Denmark is quite versatile. Since forming this quartet, Sarah Elgeti has toured throughout Europe and Japan, featuring her original compositions and arrangements. This is the group’s fourth album release and on the whole, the music is very soothing and quite ‘laid-back.’
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Paul Shaw, drums/composer; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet; Brad Shepik, guitar; Gary Versace, piano; Drew Gress, acoustic bass.

Paul Shaw grew up in Southern New Jersey and was a child drummer who began playing the instrument at five-years-old. During a stint in the military, he gained experience by playing in their jazz orchestra in the 1st Marine Division Band at Camp Pendleton. Shaw moved from the Marines to the Air Force as a big band drummer. During his time in the Air Force, he performed with a variety of Air Force bands throughout Europe and the United States, including the United States Air Force Falconaires.

“Heartland” is the first tune and introduces us to Brad Shepik on guitar and the trumpeter, Alex Sipiagin. Gary Versace, on piano, lends a brilliant solo to this track. The tune is of moderate tempo with a well written melody that gives the ensemble players an opportunity to stretch out and improvise. Drummer, Paul Shaw, has composed every song on this album. On Track three, the ensemble introduces a pretty tune titled “Song for Everyone.” Once again, Shaw’s melody is prominent and repeatable, setting the stage for his musicians to dance atop the chord changes and fully express themselves. He graciously shares the spotlight with his ensemble members. It isn’t until the fifth song of this production that Paul Shaw steps out front and takes a dynamic drum solo. He shines on the song, “Peekaboo” and there’s nothing hidden about his talent on the trap drums.

Paul Shaw has played with quite a few notable jazz giants including Rufus Reid, Bill Watrous, Tom Coster, Johnny O’Neal, L.A. based guitarist and bandleader, Jacques Lesure, Donald Harrison and Oscar Brown Jr., to name just a few. But Shaw is not limited to jazz. He’s diverse. His drum chops have propelled the music of Wynonna Judd from the Country Western world and Celine Dion from the pop music charts. He has also worked with gospel icons, CeCe and BeBe Winans and in the next breath, he’s holding the rhythm in place behind the Blues Traveler. For a while he was a member of the Atlanta based quartet, The Swing Association, voted best jazz group in Atlanta. Currently living and working in New York City, this album is a successful representation of his drum mastery and his expert composer skills.

I also found the cover art by Mikela Swenson to be eye-catching and creative. It made me want to put the Paul Shaw Quintet CD on my CD player and spend the next fifty-plus minutes enjoying the quintet’s concert. This album will be released March 27, 2020.
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Keith Oxman & Houston Person, tenor saxophones; Annette Murrell, vocals; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Paul Romaine, drums.

Keith Oxman is a Denver-based saxophonist who has enjoyed collaborating with some very iconic players over the years. He’s recorded with saxophone master, Dave Liebman, great trombonist Curtis Fuller and San Diego based, famous reedman, Charles McPherson. This time, he has chosen the soulful player, Houston Person to join him on his “Two Cigarettes in the Dark” project. The two awesome sax players open with “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” Oxman plays alone on Track two, to express his original composition titled, “Voss Is Boss.” During this arrangement, Paul Romaine is given an opportunity to showcase his creativity during a spirited trap drum solo. On “Everything Happens to Me” Oxman features Annette Murrell on vocals to sell these unique and beautiful lyrics. She does a delightful and believable job of telling the story, followed by Houston Person’s sexy sax solo and Keith Oxman’s satin smooth tenor playing. Both players are uniquely gifted and each offers their own specific style. Perhaps Charles McPherson described them best in the liner notes.

“I have known and been familiar with Houston Person’s great talent for years and consider him to be one of the important tenor stylists of note today. Keith, with his long flowing lines and Houston with his warm, soulful rich tone and melodic strength create a contrast of tenor styles which works well on this CD,” wrote McPherson.

When not gigging or recording, Keith Oxman has been teaching at Denver’s East High School for the past twenty years. Perhaps with some sarcastic humor, he has named one of his original compositions ‘Murphy’s Law Impacts L.E.A.P.’ This refers to a controversial program for Colorado teachers that is less than popular.

On the title tune, “Two Cigarettes in the Dark” Jeff Jenkins soars on the 88-keys, making his musical statement on the piano with strong mastery. The Hank Mobley tune, “Bossa for Baby” is Latin flavored, but Houston Person and Keith Oxman manage to pump a bluesy feel throughout the tune.

Benny Golson hailed Keith Oxman as a musician ‘of great consequence.’ NPR Radio Network described Houston Person as ‘one of the most soulful jazz players on the scene.’ Put them together and you are blessed with an album of virtuosity and joy.
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John Di Martino, piano/arranger; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Boris Kozlov, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Raul Midon, vocals.

If you are a lover of Billy Strayhorn and his incredible legacy of compositions, this is an album you must add to your collection. Pianist, John DiMartino has chosen fourteen of Strayhorn’s awesome songs to interpret on this album and every one of them is well-played and beautifully arranged. Strayhorn is certainly one of America’s greatest composers of the 20th century and was an integral part of Duke Ellington’s legacy and orchestra. On this album, you will hear those familiar tunes that have become jazz standards and a sprinkling of those that may not be as familiar. But every single song and Di Martino’s arrangement on each, is noteworthy. The tenor saxophone of Eric Alexander pleasantly captures the spotlight and compliments Di Martino’s excellent piano creativity. On “Isfahan (Elf)”, the fifth cut on this project, dynamic drummer Lewis Nash is featured and trades fours with gusto. We also get to enjoy the big bass sound of Boris Kozlov during this tune. Kozlov echoes the melody of the song, playing tag with Eric Alexander’s sax lines and it makes for a very interesting arrangement. “Lush Life” features the warm vocals of Raul Midon. “Chelsea Bridge” is radiantly interpreted by Eric Alexander and when John Di Martino follows with his solo, we are reminded how beautiful this Strayhorn composition really is. You will enjoy all your Billy Strayhorn favorites including “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” “Daydream” and of course, “A-Train.” I could not find video of his current trio, but here is John DiMartino playing “Daydream” solo.

The title tune, “Passion Flower” is often tooted as one of Strayhorn’s finest compositions. The great composer seems to have had a love affair with flowers. You will also hear this quartet’s renditions of “Absinthe (Lament for an Orchid)” and “Lotus Blossom.” Whichever tune is your favorite, they are all represented well by the quality and passion of these musicians.
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In conclusion, On March 12, 2020, inside the Rose Theater of the Jazz at Lincoln Center venue, a legendary saxophonist, composer, bandleader, educator and NEA Jazz Master will be honored in New York. We lost the great Jimmy Heath on Jan 19, 2020. This will be his memorial celebration. Doors open at 6:30pm and the event will begin promptly at 7pm. General seating is first come first serve. His celebration of life will be webcast live via
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