Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

HEAVENLY HORNS

August 24, 2017

HEAVENLY HORNS

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil
August 24, 2017

MANNY ECHAZABAL – “SHORT NOTICE”
Independent Label

Manny Echazabal, saxohones; Tal Cohen, piano; Dion Kerr, bass; David Chiverton, drums.

Manny Echazabal is a young composer and reedman who has written everything on this CD. His compositions are smart, lyrical and inspire improvisation by his talented band members. There’s something pensive and sexy about tunes like, “Out of Sight Out of Mind.”

The title tune races swiftly into the room with the rolling drums of David Chiverton pushing the energy ahead like a bowling ball. When Tal Cohen joins the scene on piano, the pins fall. He strikes with 2-handed ferocity.

I enjoyed “The Green Monk”, a tune with shades of Thelonius peeking through the unforgettable melody. Echazabal is impressive with his composition skills.

Inspired by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter and Kenny Dorham, Echezabal is a native of Miami and has been developing his style and approach as an aspiring jazz musician since middle school. In high school, he joined the band, where he expanded his talents to playing tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet. Respected as both a composer and bandleader, two of his compositions have already won Downbeat’s award for Outstanding Small Group Performance. (i.e. “Unknown Identity” and Spt”). This is an artist to keep an eye on and an ear out. September 17th is the expected release date on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

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OSCAR FELDMAN – “GOL”
Zoho Records

Oscar Feldman, alto/soprano saxophones; Antonio Sanchez, drums; John Benitez, acoustic/electric bass; Leo Genovese, piano/keyboards; Guillermo Klein, keyboards/vocals.

Feldman is a native of Cordoba, Argentina. His father was Director of Culture and owned an art gallery. So he has always been around art, music and diverse artists. His love of saxophone started early and he formed a band, “Los Musicos del Centro.” He also worked with a couple of South America’s most influential artists, Hermeto Pascoal and Dino Saluzzi. This led him to relocate to the big city of Buenos Aires. In 1992, Feldman won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. This scholarship brought him to the United States, where he settled into the fast pace of New York City. Consequently, this recording is a compilation of cultures and creativity.

When I listen to reed instruments, I’m always listening for the sound and style of the player. Oscar Feldman’s alto saxophone approach reflects a thinner sound than I am drawn to, but it’s still pleasant. I enjoy the way he refreshed the Paquito D’Rivera arrangement of “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” by elongating the tune’s meter. He and his band stretch the outer-limits of the melody like a thick rubber-band.

His soprano sax on “La Cancion Que Falta” is sensitive and sweet. The translation of the song title into English means, “The Song That Is Missing”. It follows a spirited, straight-ahead production and that makes this song sounds like it should be on another CD, featuring easy listening tunes. Their arrangement took me abruptly out of the jazz groove set by their first song, and for some reason, vocals were added that didn’t seem properly mixed into the music. I was perplexed by this song.

“Viva Belgrano” is Feldman’s only original composition on this CD. The melody is poignant and lovely. On this tune, he returns to his alto saxophone and the straight-ahead jazz I love so much. This song celebrates a famous goal that his hometown football team made. You can hear the crowd in the background of the music and the sports announcer’s voice is also mixed in. The title of his CD also celebrates this goal, i.e. “Gol”. Leo Genovese plays a spectacular piano solo and Feldman investigates the outer limits of his horn on this piece, travelling to Avant-Garde places.
Drummer, Antonio Sanchez, gives a long and exciting solo at the song’s fade.

“Murmullo” is a Cuban bolero and it’s beautifully produced, featuring Feldman on soprano saxophone. I appreciate the sound and tone of his soprano saxophone, more so than his alto. I feel his spirit on this song and I wonder if it’s the song or the instrument. I can hear an obvious comfort level. On this 1930 ballad, Benitez gets an opportunity to show us his bass chops, brief but powerful.

This CD begins and ends on a high note. “I Feel Fine” is as exuberant and intoxicating as the first cut.

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DIAL & OATTS; RICH DeROSA & THE WDR BIG BAND – “ REDISCOVERED ELLINGTON”
Zoho Records

Garry Dial, piano/arranger; Dick Oatts, soprano/also Saxophones/flute/arranger; Rich DeRosa, conductor/arranger/big band orchestration; THE WDR BIG BAND: Johan Horlen, alto sax/flute/clarinet; Karolina Strassmayer, alto sax/flute; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor sax/clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone/bass saxophones/bass clarinet; TRUMPETS: Andy Haderer (lead); Wim Both (alt lead); Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls & John Marshall; TROMBONES: Ludwig Nuss, (lead); Shannon Barnett & Andy Hunter. Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone/flute; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Reedman, Dick Oatts, pianist, Gary Dial and arranger/conductor, Rich DeRosa, have embarked on a project to find and record rare and unheard music by the great Duke Ellington. This is one of the most exciting tributes to Duke that I’ve heard in recent years.

“Hey Baby” is ten-minutes of high energy instrumentation with improvisation propelled by DeRosa’s smart arrangements. The production is very modern, leaving a lot of room for the horns to harmonize and the soloists to be spotlighted. On the second cut, “ Let The Zoomers Drool “, pianist Gary Dial is outstanding and sparkles above the arrangement like the Big Dipper on a clear night. These arrangements are a horn player’s heaven.

The Ellington compositions are fresh, some are unfamiliar, but all are beautifully produced. The WDR Band is sourced with exceptional musicians who captivate with their star-studded performances, whether soloing or playing in concert. This is a project I could not stop listening to and I played it at least seven times before I wrote a word about this exceptional jazz. I am so appreciative to the artists who are featured and to Dial, Oatts and DeRosa for this treasured gift of musical history and legacy.

Stephen James, the nephew of Duke Ellington explained, “In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years. Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington. ‘Rediscovered Ellington’ will bring this beautiful, rarely heard music to the public eye. Garry Dial, Dick Oatts and Rich DeRosa, along with the WDR Big Band, have managed to capture the essence of Ellington. I am proud of their swinging contribution and I know my mother and uncle would be smiling.”

There’s not a bad cut on this recording; not an ill-chosen composition. Everything here is the epitome of excellence. It’s definitely a collector’s item.

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DARREN BARRETT – “dB-ISH – THE OPENER”
dB Studios

Darren Barerett, trumpet/keyboards/percussion; Santiago Bosch, piano/keyboards; Alexander Toth, bass; Anthony Toth, drums; Clay Lyons & Erena Terakubo, alto saxophone; Judith Barrett, percussion; Kurt Rosenwinkel & Nir Felder, guitar; Chad Selph, keyboards.

At first listen, I had a 1950 & 1960 jazz flash-back and I mean that in a good way. That didn’t last long. This is a surprise package of infectious music. First cut, “The Opener,” and title tune sets the energetic precedence of this recording. A fluid piano solo sets the tone for Darren Barrett to flex his trumpet muscles. He brings fire and fury to the bandstand, with drums that sound like gunshots when Anthony Toth pops them. Barrett builds on themes and grooves in a very modern jazz way, but at the same time, his compositions are melodic. His chord changes leave enough room for the power and excitement of talented musicians to explore improvisation and freedom. There’s an element of ‘Hip Hop’ and fusion in the way he produces his music, with loops and grooves prevalent.But on top of it all is undeniable ‘Straight ahead’ jazz.

Cut #3, “dB-lemma” is a perfect example of this and gives bassist Alexander Toth a perfect platform to solo in a very tenacious way.

Impressively, Darren Barrett has composed, arranged, engineered and produced everything on this album of quality music. Barrett is thoroughly entertaining and pushes the boundaries with his horn, with his compositions and his unique production ideas. I was completely entertained and pleasantly pleased from the first cut to the last.

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JORGINHO NETO COLLECTIVE – “HARLEM”
Maria Record Label

Jorginho Neto, trombone/composer; Sidmar Vieira, trumpet; Robson Couto, bass; Gustavo Bugni, piano; Vitor Cabral, drums,Alexandre Mihanovich, guitar; Thiago Alves, contra bass.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice echoes through my living room, muffled by heavenly horn sounds featuring a prominent trombone and an interlude piece based on the gospel song, “Amazing Grace.” Dr. King is speaking his historic speech about the possibility of his not getting to the mountain top, and it moves me back in time, to our struggle for civil rights and the man who believed in non-violent protest. The background music, titled “Gracie” reminds me of a Louisiana funeral procession. But the music of Martin’s day during the 1950’s and 60’s celebrated revolution and change. I recall the year that Dr. King was murdered, Sly & the Family Stone were encouraging people to “Stand” and James Brown was screaming “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In the jazz world, Miles Davis was sweeping the jazz world with his popular, “Sketches In Spain” CD, and Coltrane and Don Cherry were collaborating on the LP, “Avant Garde.” John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” changed that Broadway song into a jazz classic. That’s what was happening during Dr. King’s activist days. but, I suppose this young artist was trying to reference the Christian church with this very dirge sounding music rather than the popular music of that time in history. And of course, that makes sense. I admire that Jorginho Neto wanted to celebrate this Peace Prize recipient who gave his life for good.

The very next tune that blasted onto the scene was full of Funk and Fusion. It’s the title tune, “Harlem.” That’s when I turned to the liner notes to read who Jorginho Neto really was. I discovered he started his musical life playing his beloved trombone in church at the age of thirteen. I discovered he’s Brazilian. I could see by his performance, on-line, that indeed he is a young and talented player and obviously, someone who admires Dr. King, but he was not here in our country for that struggle.

His compositions, after the first cut, are all very Herbie-Hancock-like or Fusion jazz. The solemn beginning interlude fades to a joyful sound. Dr. King would have liked that.

But I still wanted to know why he had Dr. King at the top of his CD project and why he named the project, “Harlem.” His CD sleeve is written in Portuguese, so that was no help to me. I called his publicist and asked permission to send a few questions to this talented, Brazilian, trombone player. Here is what he told me.

DEE DEE: Who were your biggest music inspirations?

JORGINHO NETO: “Frank Rosolino, JJ Johnson, Raul de Souza, Tom Jobim, Herbie Hancock, and especially the álbum Head Hunters.”

DEE DEE: Why did you name this CD Harlem?

JORGINHO NETO : “The name of the CD Harlem, because in 2013, I played at the Summer Festival Brazil, in New York. I had the opportunity to stay two weeks in Harlem. I Identified with African American history and culture.”

DEE DEE: Does anything about Harlem and its people remind you of Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, the People of Harlem remind me of the Brazilian People in some ways. The people have have similarities in Joy, perseverance and Struggle.”

DEE DEE: Why did you quote Dr. King? What does he mean to you?

JORGINHO NETO : “Martin Luther King Jr is one of the most important leaders and symbols in the world for all people. Especially African Americans, of course, but he is admired by Brazilian people as well. He is a warrior for racial battles, something the Brazilians experience in our own way too. His “I Have a Dream” speech resonates for all of us.”

DEE DEE: Do you struggle for civil rights in Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, Brazil has struggles with civil rights to this day. I live in a poor neighborhood in Sao Paulo in Brazil and I see injustice economically and racially in my country first hand. There is a lot of corruption in Brazil. Through my music I try to share some of that message and use it as a force to fight against the corruption that plagues us.”

DEE DEE: Music touches all cultures. What do you want people to take from your music?

JORGINHO NETO : “I want people to feel more love. Regardless of color and race or immigrants or not, we are all the same in the end.”

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LANCE BRYANT, CHRISTIAN FABIAN, JASON MARSALIS – “DO FOR YOU?”
Consolidated Artists Productions, Inc (CAP)

Lance Bryant, sax/vocals; Christian Fabian, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums; Special Guest: Gates Thomas, keyboard.

Here is a tenor saxophone tone and style I appreciate. Lance Braynt’s horn is steeped in blues. His melodies are crisp and succinct. No sliding to notes or squeaking tones. This reedman is virtuostic. I like the first tune, “Five Min Blues,” where he and the bass start by playing in unison, strongly selling this song’s melody and then improvise proficiently, from start to finish. This is a unique project by three uniquely gifted musicians. Christian Fabian is substantial in his rhythm position. Without guitar or piano, the trio members must each stand independently strong and yet unified as a connected band. There is an occasional exception when special guest, Gates Thomas adds keyboard effects. Everything was going great until Lance Bryant started to sing. Why do musicians always think singing is easy and disposable, like a wet diaper? I was so upset by this disrespect for vocals that I had to discontinue this review. Too bad, because I started out loving this project.

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THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES: HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES:
HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

When I think of Spanky Wilson, I think of someone who can swing a song as hard as Muhammad Ali punches. But she can also vocally caress a lyric with so much emotion that it stuns an audience into absolute silence. Still vibrant and youthful, her musical legacy stretches over a period of six decades, because her very first recording was made when she was only four-years-old. But I’ll let her tell you that story.

SPANKY: “My father played guitar and sang. He sounded just like Nat King Cole. My mother told me I used to hear Nat King Cole on the radio and I used to point and say, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ He had that smooth, soft voice like Nat Cole. He was in a group called The Four Blotches. I used to tease him and say, no wonder you all never made it with that name. He used to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t my idea baby.’ He said they chose that name because of the Ink Spots. They all played guitar and sang. No piano or drums. My mother loved him ‘cause he was a real handsome guy. She was from Lewistown, Pennsylvania and daddy was performing in Lewistown. Daddy was there to entertain the troops. It was whatever shows they used to have that entertained the soldiers. Mom went to one of those dances and that’s how they met. After they got married, she started getting jealous, because all those ladies were flirting and fanning their you-know-whats in front of him. So, she wanted him to quite singing. I told him, daddy, I don’t know if I could ever give up singing for anybody. But he gave it up and started working on the docks in Philadelphia. He really loved my mom. He would come home from work and we’d sit on the steps in the evening. He’d teach me all these songs. Just me and him and his guitar. I was three or four-years-old.

“I keep tellin’ people this, but they don’t believe me. Back in Philadelphia, you used to be able to go into a music store where you could buy the sheet music, stuff like that and 78rpm records. You could go in there and they would have booths and the walls were glass. They had about four booths. You could make a record of your own for a certain amount of money. It was a 78rpm record and you could do two songs; one on each side. You paid them and you would leave with the record. I asked daddy, (after I started singing and moving around) what happened to that record we made when I was four years old? ‘Cause I remember the song was ‘Knock Me A Kiss.’ The other song was ‘Without A Song.’”

NOTE: In 1942 Erskine Hawkins had a 78rpm record out with vocals by Ida James, who originally recorded this song. I found it on http://www.youtube.com

SPANKY: “Oh, I was daddy’s little girl and my brother was mama’s boy. Daddy’s the one who gave me the name Spanky, ‘cause my real name is Louella, you know, like Loulla Parsons the journalist from back-in-the-day. Remember her? She used to write a gossip column. I asked my mother, why would you do that to me? You couldn’t even find that name in the baby book. I was always getting into trouble. I was a tomboy. So, he names me Spanky, after that television show. ‘Spanky and Our Gang.’ “

Several amazing entertainers were born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, like Billy Eckstine, Paul Chambers, Kenny Clark, Earl ‘Father’ Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll garner and Ahmad Jamal. Spanky Wilson, although a native of Philadelphia, was raised in Pittsburgh around all that great jazz. As a teenager, she gained notoriety singing around town. Although she loved to sing, she was still shy and insecure about performing on stage. But the local musicians took note. They recognized her blossoming talent and unique voice. That’s how Stanley Turrentine heard about her.

SPANKY: “Stanley Turrentine gave me my first gig. It was on the weekend; Friday and Saturday. The musicians around town knew I could sing, but I was always scared to sing. So, he was looking for a singer and somebody recommended me. When he got in touch, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t remember the name of the club, but it was a famous club on Fulton Street. That was a very popular street in the heart of the Black community. It was 1957 and I was seventeen. I remember very well because Angie was born in 1958. Every time I’d leave my husband, we’d break up and then I’d sneak off with him and make-up. Next thing I know, I’m pregnant and I end up going back to him. I have four children. My last daughter is by my second husband who plays guitar.”

But settling down and being a homemaker was not in the cards for Spanky Wilson. The music bug had bitten deeply. She was hungry for pursuing a career as a singer. In 1967, she joined the Jimmy McGriff band. They piled into a car and drove across the country, gigging from city to city. After a six-week tour, it was June of 1967 when they rolled into Los Angeles.

SPANKY: “We were at Shelly’s Manne Hole. H. B. Barnum heard me there and expressed an interest in my talent. After the gig, I left and went back home, thinking I would never hear from this guy again. … And in September of that year, he called me to say he was ready for me to come back to California and record. I couldn’t believe it. So, He sent for me and I came out here to make a record. I was supposed to be out here no more than two months. So that’s when I went to Smitty’s house.”

NOTE: Smitty is a nickname for Howlett Smith, a prolific L.A. based composer who has written hit songs for both Spanky and Nancy Wilson i.e.: ‘Let’s Go Where The Grass is Greener,’ recorded by Nancy.

SPANKY: “I went to Smitty’s house every day to learn all the songs he had written for me. I went there for five weeks studying songs and then H. B. would choose the ones he liked the best for our session. Then he started getting me these background gigs with O.C. Smith, Lou Rawls, and the great African singer, Letta Mbulu. I kept saying, hey, I wanna go home. I mean I have children. I want to see my kids. I’ve been away too long. So now it’s the end of November, almost Christmas. I said either you send for my kids or I’m leaving. So, he ended up getting me a nice house to live in in West Covina. … I didn’t want to live in the city because they had more decent schools in Covina. I moved here in 1967, brought my kids out to California and re-established myself. I was just giggin’ around town, but I was happy doing that.”

The move to Los Angeles proved lucrative. H. B. Barnum’s production garnered Spanky Wilson an unforgettable jazz record in 1969. Howlett Smith’s hauntingly beautiful song, “The Last Day of Summer” went soaring up the music charts. Jazz stations all across the country were playing it like crazy. It was followed by an album on the same Mothers Records & The Snarf Company label titled, ‘Spankin’ Brand New.’ Her career was on fire. The next album was titled, ‘Doin’ It,’ released in 1969 and followed in 1970 by her third album titled, ‘Let It Be.’ After this release, Spanky decided to leave the label. In 1975, Spanky signed with 20th Century/Westbound Records. The new album was titled, ‘Specialty of The House,’ with the title tune released as a popular single. Spanky sounded wonderful on this recording. Her voice was bell clear. The songs were well-written and the production was lush with horns, strings and background vocals. There were plenty of songs on this album that could have been big hits for the crowd-pleasing singer. However, in the record business, unless you have a strong promotional team in place, a record can die on the vine. Spanky poured her heart out on “I Think I’m Gonna Cry.” There are some songs that were obviously produced in the Motown vein, with Diana Ross Type productions like, “I’ll Stake My Life on You, Boy.” When I looked up the credits, a Motown arranger, (Paul Riser), had arranged this song. That explained why the song reminded me so much of Motown Records. No problem! Spanky rose to the occasion, showing that she could sing anything and proving she had cross-over ability. That’s probably what the record company was looking for at that time. Her song, “Easy Lover,” reflected the appealing impression that Barry White’s hit-record productions had made on 20th Century Records. Her production sounded similar, with Spanky handling the David VanDePitte arrangements with finesse and power. This album offered her fan base and the general public a little taste of everything.

For a few years, she toured America, spending quite a bit of time in my home town of Detroit, Michigan and working at Watts Mozambique jazz club owned by Cornelius Watts. Later, she appeared at Richard Jarrett’s club, “Dummy Georges.” During that time, she was a guest on a recording by Houston Person and Etta Jones titled, “Live at the Club Mozambique” for Eastbound Records. She also was recorded by Ace Records on a compilation album, pairing her with a list of all-star artists including Jack McDuff, Melvin Sparks, Gary Chandler, Etta Jones, Houston Person and Bill Mason titled, “Together.”

Anybody who’s been in the business of making records knows that the real money an artist makes comes from being on the road, not from selling records. While record companies are busy raking in the cash from the artists’ talents, an artist has to perform in concerts and clubs to pay the bills. Ms. Wilson let no grass grow under her feet. She’s performed in thirty-five countries including Algeria, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, the Congo, England, France, Germany, the island of Guam, Ireland, all over Japan, in Luxemburg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Scotland, in virtually every big city in Spain, in Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia and coast-to-coast in the United States. She also toured with the great Benny Carter as part of his “All Star” band.
I asked Spanky about her time leaving the United States and living in France.

SPANKY: “I went there in 1985. Sweets Edison got me a gig there. I had left H. B. Barnum’s label and also the 20th Century Records deal was done. Red Holloway used to use me at the Parisian Room and then Sweets Edison used to get me opening act gigs. That way, I was working all the time. So Sweets and I got to be friends. I was one of the ‘cats’ with those guys. Sweet’s started telling me I should go to Europe and they would love me over there. But I said, hey, I don’t know nobody in Europe. I’d been to Japan and Rio de Janiero in Brazil, but never Europe. But then I said – ok, hook me up, man.

“He got me a gig with the Woody Herman Band in the South of France; in Nice. So I get there, but dig this. Woody Herman’s hands were messed up. He had the Arthritis real bad and he couldn’t play, so he sang a little big. Consequently, he didn’t need a singer. So I’m there, but I’m not going to sing. OMG. I thought, what the hell am I going to do now? I can’t turn around and go back to Los Angeles after I told everybody I was going to this gig in France. So wait a minute. I knew this guy who had something to do with the jazz festival and he said, let me see what I can do. Well, the musicians all stayed in the same hotel. I used to sit in the lobby and try to learn the language and practice my French speaking. You know those dogs that used to save people that had the little canteen around their neck? St. Bernard! Well, I love animals and one day I’m sitting there in the lobby and this guy walked by with this big, huge dog and I said, oh my God, he’s so beautiful! Is he friendly? So, I started talking to the dog. And every day, he would walk down there with the dog and I didn’t know anybody but Sweets and the musicians. Funny, but me and the dog got to be friends. Finally, the dog would see me and break-a-loose from whoever was walking him and jump up on me. To make a long story short, Sweets says hey. I made an appointment for us to go up and see the head man who runs this hotel. It was the Meridien Hotel. I said, ok. He took me up to the guy’s suite and we knock on the door. Some guy opened the door and here was the dog. He jumped up on me and was so happy. He weighed about 500 pounds. That was a huge dog. But this really handsome man steps forward and says, so you’re the one that my guy was telling me about. He had heard there was a lady that sits in the lobby and that his dog was in love with this woman. I said, oh yes. That’s me. So, the hotel manager says Sweets tells me that you can really sing. I’m just going to take his word for it. I don’t need to hear you sing. How would you like to work in Paris? I said I’d love to work in Paris. He said, I’m going to send you to the Meridien Hotel there and the group is already working there. You can sing with them. I said, ok. That’s fine with me. So, the next day, I went to Paris. The Lord works in mysterious ways. They hired me for two weeks. That was in July. I wound up staying there until September.

“Just like we celebrate the Fourth of July here, well everybody that lives in Paris leaves to go on vacation in the summer. Consequently, they never book an international act in the Lionel Hampton room during summertime. They only had a local band. I was working with them. They were called, The Four Bones, and it was four trombones and a rhythm section. Francois Guin, Jean Christophe Vilain, Benny Vasseur and Raymond Fonseque were the trombone players. The pianist with them and the bass player were like my brothers. While I was there, people were coming from different clubs who had heard about me or whatever, and I got work in other clubs after I finished working there. That’s how I ended up staying for a while.”

Unlike America, in France and many parts of Europe, jazz music is embraced, culturally respected and played on the popular airwaves. You might hear Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and Spanky Wilson all played on the same radio station. Our art form of jazz is highly respected and revered in Europe. Spanky Wilson found steady work and appreciation overseas and she found love. After living together for several years, she married her musical conductor, Philippe Milantia. She explained.

SPANKY: “Yeah, Philippe was my pianist. He is a hell of an arranger and a pianist too. Neither of us wanted to get married. We got married because someone else won the election and the new president was talking about separatism. He said France was for the French. If you didn’t have papers, you had to go home. But I had told Philippe, I didn’t want to get married. I’d been there done that and didn’t want to do it again. He said he didn’t want to get married either, because his mother terrorized his father. I said, well, I ain’t your mama honey, so you don’t have to worry about that. But we had lived together for some time. We only got married to keep me in France. We were together for 13 or 14 years. We married in 1992.

“I’ve met so many record collectors, I mean serious record collectors in Europe. They can put on a record and tell you every guy who’s in the band. That’s how serious they were about jazz. And my husband was one of them. He was an expert on Count Basie. People would call him from all countries to say they had this old record, but they don’t know who’s playing on it. They would play it and he would tell them everybody who was in the band. He played with Count Basie a few times when he came to Paris. The band knew him. Jazz is like a religion to them. Here, in America, it’s stepped on, kicked around. Even the French people that have clubs don’t want French people to sing it. I had friends I met over there who were good singers. I mean really good singers. But they couldn’t get hired, because they weren’t American. They’d say Spanky, could you talk to this guy and tell him that I can sing jazz? The club owners wouldn’t even let them try out. So of course, I spoke up for them. Some of those girls were singin’ their asses off! They had a little accent, but you could understand every lyric they were singing. I helped out two or three girls who were trying to get booked in some of the clubs. You don’t have to be American to sing jazz.”
During her time in France, Spanky continued recording. In 1991, Big Blue Records released, “Singin’ and Swingin’” and another album titled, “Ornicar Big Band/L’Incroyable Huck,” featuring Spanky Wilson. In 1996, she was a guest vocalist on Christian Morin’s “Paradis Melodie” album on Une Musique label. In 1999, she recorded another solo album titled, “Things are Getting Better” for Jazz Aux Remparts label. The last CD she recorded was outside the realm of jazz, with an English group; The Quantic Soul Orchestra, “Live in Paris.”
As her stellar reputation grew, Ms. Wilson was invited to sing with some of the top musicians and French bands such as Gerard Badini’s Swing Machine, Christian Morin and Francois Biensan’s “Ellingtomania,” Marc Laferrier’s group, Claude Tissendier’s “Saxomania” and she appeared regularly with Philippe Milanta’s Trio.

Spanky worked with the iconic reed man, Teddy Edwards, over the years and in 1993 his “Teddy Edwards Quartet” album was released on Verne/PolyGram/Gitanes featuring Spanky Wilson as a special guest along with Christian Escoudé. In 1993, she was also a guest star on “Old School Band/35th Anniversary” on the OSB label.

This lovely lady with the big voice and even bigger personality was flying high. Then the unexpected happened. Both of Spanky’s parents became critically ill at home, in the United States.

SPANKY: “I came back because my mother and my father both were sick. My mother was in a nursing home in Pittsburgh and my father had cancer; Prostate. He lived in Philadelphia. So, I was hopping from one city to another, flying from Paris to Pittsburgh for two weeks. Then, jetting to Philadelphia for two weeks; back and forth. I was coming home every time I could. But you know, that costs money unless you plan it a month in advance. So just to say I’m going today, you spend a lot of money. I was taking my money and then my husband’s money to fly home constantly. I was busy working and I had to beg for days off. I mean listen. Talk about dreams. I thought I was living in a really bad dream.

“When I decided to come back home, I had already told Philippe, hey – I have to go home. I said, you can come with me. He said he didn’t want to come with me, because America is one of the most racist places he had ever heard of. I said, but we’re going to live in California. He said he didn’t give a shit what color you were, but Americans did care about that. He wouldn’t come.
“So, anyway, I had packed up all my stuff and put it on a ship, sending it back to L.A. The week after, I put all my stuff on the ship, my father died. So, back on the plane I went, to buy my father. … I was going back to Paris after I buried him, but then I found out my mom was in a comma. The same day my father died, my brother’s wife went to the nursing home and told my mother that my father had died. I guess when she found out that he had died, she wanted to die. … She always brainwashed me and my kids, saying don’t let them keep me alive on machines. Let me go. … When they took her off the machine, she lasted about fourteen hours. This was about four days after my dad died.

“So when I went back to Paris, all my belongings were on the way here. I had just put my stuff on the ship one week before they called me and told me my daddy had died. I felt like maybe it’s meant for me to come home. They said it would take six weeks for my things to get here, so I stayed in Europe with my husband for about five weeks, caught a plane and came to California.”

Being gone all those years didn’t make it easy to come back to the United States and pick up her career. She had lost her father, her mother and was separated from her beloved husband, who did not want to deal with the racism in America. It felt like she was starting over.

As we know, life always happens while we’re making plans. Without any warning, just as she started gigging and getting settled into Los Angeles living, Spanky was diagnosed with an illness that threatened her life. She returned to Pennsylvania to be with her children, unexpectedly leaving Los Angeles and her career for a few recuperative years.

I was so thrilled to hear that she was returning to California and in August, a year ago, I had the opportunity of welcoming Spanky Wilson home and in-concert at the historic Maverick’s Flat nightclub on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. She performed to a packed house with a swinging band and all the gusto and excitement that a performer of her stature always brings to the stage.

Welcome back, Spanky. We missed you.

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DRUMS AND THE PEOPLE WHO PROPEL THE MUSIC

July 31, 2017

DRUMS and THE PEOPLE WHO PROPEL THE MUSIC
By Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist

FRANK DEVITO: HISTORIC, LEGENDARY DRUMMER GOING STRONG AFTER SEVEN DECADES
August 1, 2017

The month of June challenged my health and patience. I broke my baby toe. Never mind! All you can do is tape the poor thing to the toe next to it. It takes about a month to heal. My computer was infected with a malware and my tape recorder broke during a long-distance interview with a popular jazz artist. I had to cancel my gig in Huntington Beach because of my broken toe. So today, July 23rd, I’m looking forward to returning to my singing job. I’m excited about my band because, today I’m working with Rick Olson on piano, Luther Hughes on bass and the legendary Frank DeVito on drums.

Have you ever tried to lift that big black case that drummers lug around to all their gigs? Well I have. I couldn’t budge it and I wondered, how do they do it? Frank DeVito is small of stature, but strong as a locomotive pulling a freight train. When I take a look at his accomplishments over the past sixty-plus years, I am in absolute awe. He’s been lugging that case all over the planet. DeVito has worked with so many legendary music figures and jazz icons, that I’m both mesmerized and astounded. In fact, I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to work with Frank DeVito.

A few days after this gig, I took an opportunity to chat with Frank about his life and accomplishments. Here is an eye-opening interview that gives you a peek into the life and times of a legend.

FRANK DEVITO: “At first, I didn’t know that my family was into music at all. Starting out as a kid, hanging around Utica, New York, there was a group of young actors from New York City; a group of young neighborhood guys called ‘The Dead End Kids.’ I saw the movie called “Blues In the Night” and they had these kids in there, The Dead End Kids. I was fascinated by watching one of the guys banging on the drums and looking like he was having a good time. So, I thought, wow – that looks like fun. I started playing shortly after that and was in the band at school. Then, one day my father said, ‘Oh my brother used to play the drums. He was a big Vaudeville entertainer who spent a lot of time in Europe and touring all over the world under the name of DeVito and Denny.’ Who knew? My uncles name was Al DeVito. Then dad told me his mother, my paternal grandmother, had four brothers who were all musicians. This was the Zito side of the family. Torrie Zito has passed away now, but he was a very well-known writer/composer. He conducted and wrote for Tony Bennett for a while; Tony Bennett and Paul Anka. He went to New York in his early twenties and became very successful. His slightly younger brother, we grew up together. I ended up in New York a little before him. He came down to the city from Utica. Torrie’s brother is in New York now. He’s about ten years younger than I am and he plays in the show, “Chicago” on Broadway. Ronnie Zito. They’re going into their twentieth year. He’s the drummer. There were four Zito brothers and they were all musicians. One was Frankie Zito, a trombone player, who played with Stan Kenton and a bunch of people. He’s gone now.

“We grew up in a section of Utica, New York called “Little Harlem.” We were an Italian family and like many Italian families, we all lived together in one place. When my grandparents first came over to America, they spoke no English and all they knew how to do was work hard. They came over from the Southern part of Italy near Naples. My grandparents had a little apartment inside the house and my parents and I had another little apartment on the second floor and my uncle had the attic apartment. My uncle Tubby and his wife lived up top and he was a book maker and a Purple Heart recipient from World War II. I idolized my uncle Tubby. He was a sharp guy. He loved nightclubs and I loved hanging out with my uncle Tubby. He was a book-maker, a gambler, and he always had a new Cadillac that he rode me around in and a big wad of money in his pocket. He was a beautiful guy and he was a war hero. He always clowned around, but he was tough. The American Italians were highly decorated in World War II. Live bands would come perform in Utica at the Stanley Theater. Count Basie’s band would come in and we’d go sit there all evening and watch these bands.

“I was in New York, just a kid scufflin’ around. And there was a little band and the leader was Benny Ventura. He was Charlie Ventura’s brother. Charlie Ventura was very famous. Well, I joined that band and guess who our girl singer was? Morgana King. She was our singer and we’re the same age. I haven’t seen her in years. She played Mama in The Godfather movie. A nice Italian girl. So, here’s what happened. We’re booked in Baltimore, Maryland, I think for a week or two, and Billie Holiday is the star; (the headliner). She didn’t bring a drummer or a bass player. It was very intimidating. She didn’t really talk to us. She’d look around at us and she was great. She had this big dog with her. The dog’s name was ‘Mister’ and he was like a big police dog. And he would be in the dressing room in between shows and she always had some friends around. It was fun. I was only eighteen or nineteen years old and I learned how to be an accompanist and how to play for a singer starting with her. I learned how to get a little stronger and how to build the tension on the drums; how to play with brushes behind her and use legato strokes. She did all those tunes, “Strange Fruit” and she was singing good. She was drinking quite a bit, but it didn’t seem to affect her singing. That’s the only time I ever worked with her. So, Morgana had to just hang out. She couldn’t sing because of Billie being there. So, at any rate that was a great experience.
“I was with Buddy DeFranco’s first band. I worked with him from the age of eighteen off and on for years and years. You know who we worked with a lot? Nat King Cole. The first gig we had was at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. It was our band and the star was Nat Cole. And we were young guys; inexperienced. But I’ll never forget how he (Nat Cole) was so patient and such a beautiful guy. Before the show he says to me, ‘What’s your name again?’ and I say Frankie. He says, ‘Look Frankie, when Buzzy is introducing me I want you to look over at this side of the stage, look at me, and I’m going to be giving you the tempo. Just watch me.’ Because Buddy wasn’t always calling the tempos right. So, I end up watching Nat and then giving Buddy the cue. I still remember the song we opened with.”

He sings, “That’s my girl, take a look at her, she belongs to me.”

We both break into easy laughter. Frank has flashed back to that memory and that moment with happiness that radiates through the telephone. He has a pretty good voice too. I feel honored that he’s sharing the memory with me.

“Nat was beautiful,” he continues. “Years later, when I was working with Sinatra, I would do a lot of work with Nelson Riddle. Nelson would go out and conduct for Nat and he was writing a lot of stuff and conducting Nat’s records. I don’t recall recording with Nat, but I sure worked a lot of gigs with him. I’d go out with Nelson’s band too, you know. We’d go out to Phoenix or up to San Francisco on tour.

“There was a lot of work back then. One of the first jobs I had when I settled in L.A. in my twenties, I worked six nights a week with a very famous tenor (saxophone) player, Georgie Auld. Anybody in the music business would know who he was. He played with all the big bands like Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman; those kind of bands. We had a five-piece band. Do you remember the movie with Robert Deniero and Liza Minelli, New York New York? Well, in the movie, Deniero plays a tenor sax player. My friend, who I worked with, Georgie Auld, coached Deniero for that part. I was playing in a club in Hollywood and Georgie Auld comes in one night with Deniero. I was playing there with Terry Gibbs.

“I was on the road with Terry Gibbs for two-years. You’re from Detroit, right? Our piano player was Terry Pollard from Detroit. She was brilliant. We were together for two years. She was married to a bass player from Detroit, Ernie Farrow, I think his name was. We had a quartet with Herman Wright on bass and it was great fun. We played a club in Atlantic City. It was owned by a Black Couple and the clientele was 90% black and it was a swinging joint. We started at Midnight and we’d play until four or five in the morning. It was a regular club and It was legal back then and not after-hours. We worked there with Terry Gibbs, Terri Pollard, myself and Herman Wright. With Terry Gibbs Quartet, we worked a lot at Birdland. We worked there a lot opposite folks like Count Basie, Dizzy (Gillespie), Bird (Charlie Parker), and I got to know Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Max Roach, all these great drummers. So, I’m playing with Terry Gibbs and one-week, Roy Haynes is playing with the Birdland All-stars. That week it was Charlie Parker, Budd Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, the bass player was Tommy Potter or Curley Russell. Those were the two bass players that worked a lot with Monk, Bird and the rest. This particular time, Roy Haynes said, ‘Hey. I’m gonna be late tomorrow. I’ve got a record date. Can you play the first set with Bird?” I said, yeah. Ok. But Charlie Parker was the nicest man. Like Dizzy, he was beautiful. Those guys were class acts. When you see the movies about them, …well, I didn’t like their depiction of them. I worked on the movie about Bird, but I wasn’t happy with it. You know, Clint Eastwood, who’s a lover of jazz … produced it. But at any rate, Charlie Parker, even though he was into drugs and alcohol, he always appeared clean. When I say clean, I mean he never looked stoned. Never. Nobody could figure out where he got this vocabulary and there was this eloquence about him. He came from Kansas City and he wasn’t highly educated, but he had this wonderful vocabulary. … He and Dizzy were so nice to the young players back then. They would offer their suggestions and encouragement. … We worked opposite them in Chicago too and we were all staying at the same hotel. Charlie Persip was playing with Dizzy at the time. Charlie and I would hang out. We’d go out to the drum factory together. We all stayed at the Croydon Hotel on Rush Street in Chicago. The Eckstines, the Basie Band, everybody stayed there.

“We came out here (to Los Angeles) in the summer of 1954. We worked our way across the country, playing jazz clubs. In fact, we used to work in 1953 and 1954, fifty weeks a year.”

Dee Dee: How was it working with Mel Torme?

FRANK DEVITO: “Oh it was great working with him. A very nice guy; very talented. He wrote all his arrangements and he played drums really well. I worked with him in the 50’s at the Macombo on Sunset Strip and I worked with him in Vegas.”

Dee Dee: What musicians inspired you the most?

FRANK DEVITO: “I was inspired by Charlie Parker and Dizzy. Max Roach was an amazing drummer. Early on, growing up in my formative years, Gene Krupa was my idol. I got to know Gene. He was a great guy. He came from a Polish family in Chicago who were very religious. And Gene was studying, at the beginning, for the priesthood. He was a sweetheart. A very nice man and they made him look like a dope fiend in the press. His band boy was going back stage or something and he had a couple of joints in his pocket and they said, where you going with that? He was a kid, you know. The press blew it all out of proportion.
“For me, the world’s greatest drummer of all time, as far as every drummer that ever lived, was Buddy Rich. Max was great, but Max was a little reserved. He was a more conservative guy. Whereas Art Blakey was a down-home cat.

“Then there’s Roy Haynes. You know Roy Haynes is ninety years old and still playing. Roy is a little short guy, shorter than me, and the world’s greatest dresser. Back then the guys had suits and ties and everything. We’d be standing out in front of Birdland. All the musicians would come over to Roy and say, hey – what you got on today? Where’d you buy that? Roy would look at them and say, well – there’s a place uptown where I purchased this suit. Look at this, he’d say. You like this shirt? Look at the collar. Back then, you know, we used to wear the Mister B collars. That’s what we called them. That referred to Billy Eckstine. I don’t know if you know this, but he was a great guy. I worked with Eckstine for a week, downtown L.A. at the convention center. That was a lot of fun. He was the nicest man. Remember Billy Daniels? I worked with him for a month or six weeks at the Stardust in Las Vegas.”

Dee Dee: I know Earl Palmer was a friend of yours.

FRANK DEVITO: “Earl Palmer! He got me started in the recording business. He and his wife had a beautiful home in Studio City. My wife and I had a house in studio city too and they would invite us over all the time. Red Callendar and his wife would be there. You remember the great bassist, Red Callendar? Red goes way back to the thirties. He pre-dated Earl. I was playing down on LaBrea for a while. There was a little theater where they did jazz. I was playing there one week with Buddy DeFranco and Earl came in. He was in the audience. I had never met him, but I had heard about him, of course! And he came around back stage later. Right away, we became friends. A very nice guy. No ego, you know, even though he was one of the top guys. Sometimes I’d be in a record date next to his” (in the studio next door), “and somebody would say Earl’s next door recording with so-and-so. And during our break, he would take me by the arm, up to the bandleader or the contractor, and introduce me. He’d say this is my friend Frankie Devito. You should use him in case I’m busy.
“Irv Cottler was a great drummer and he also recommended me for a lot of dates. The drummer who did most of the work for Capital Records was Alvin Stoller. Those guys were very, very busy in the studio. They didn’t travel. But I was young. So, if I go a call to go out with Frank Sinatra, I was gonna go. I had a ball. I toured with Frank Sinatra for three years. Then, when I was home, I got referrals and got to record in the studios. With Frank, we were at the Sands and a lot of weekends we were on the road. Guitar player, Nick Bonny was from Buffalo and worked with Frank about a year before me. He wasn’t on the record dates and I wasn’t on Frank’s record dates either. So, this one day, I go up to Frank. I said Frank, Nick and I would love to be on the next recording date. Next thing I know, we got the call. I got to play on the session when we recorded, Witchcraft and others on Capital Records. I was also recorded on the Live Album, Sinatra ’57. It wasn’t released on CD until 1999. Later, in the 1960’s, I played on “Summer Winds” which was part of the Strangers in the Night album. It was Hal Blaine’s record date, but he contracted me to play on a few tunes also. It was on the Reprise label.”

Dee Dee: What about Phil Spector?

FRANK DEVITO: “Yeah. I got to play with Phil Spector. Sometimes he had three or four drummers all banging away at the same time. Most of the time it would be Hal Blane, Earl Palmer and then the other guys played. Sometimes, I’d play percussion. On a record date with that crazy guy, Phil Spector, He had me playing castanets on his recording and he kept yelling at me, louder, louder. Consequently, the instrument broke, because it wasn’t made very well. So, the next day, I knew we were scheduled to do the same thing. I took the castanet home and tried to repair it and make it better. It worked so great after my improvement that I brought it down a week or so later to the drum shop on Vine Street. I showed it to the owner. He said oh, that’s great man. You should make a bunch of those and sell them. Years later, when I wasn’t that busy in the studios, I started to get busy into some of that creativity. It was nothing gigantic, but it was nice. I had a small company that made those, but I never let anything get in the way of my playing. It always came first.”

It’s obvious that Frank DeVito’s passion for his instrument came first. If you’ve heard Frank Sinatra crooning “The Summer Wind” or the Mills Brothers singing their 1952 hit record, “Glow Little Glow Worm” then you’ve heard the skillful accompaniment of Frank DeVito on drums. A percussive jazz icon, DeVito’s diversified talents also held the beat down for the Beach Boys on their “Surfin’ USA” record. He toured three-years with Sinatra and is on the 1999 CD release of the historic, “Sinatra ’57 In Concert.” As part of, ‘Baja Marimba Band’ he made ten television appearances on Johnny Carson’s legendary “Tonight Show” and he played with Herb Alpert’s famed, Tijuana Brass, on their, “Whipped Cream” album. Also, that’s him playing behind Cher on her hit record, ‘Bang Bang.’ He’s worked with everyone from jazz vocalist Billie Holiday to actress Betty Hutton; from Charlie Parker to Buddy DeFranco; from Nat King Cole and Nelson Riddle to Elvis Presley. I couldn’t wait to ask this legend what he thought about the jazz scene in Los Angeles today?

FRANK DEVITO: “Well, we’ve got all of these great young players, so many, but there’s not that much work. No place to play. We used to have all these places like Zardis and The Peacock and a whole lot of other clubs. At least you could get booked for a week or two. Jazz City was another club back then. There really weren’t that many players, but there was a lot of work. It’s opposite today. There are plenty of players and singers, but not enough clubs. And with the advent of simplistic music, popular on radio, like rock and roll and rap, that really helped to kill jazz.

“When I was coming up, teenagers did not control the business. My friend, Remo Bailey, who invented the plastic drum head; he’s gone now, but he said something very wise one time. He was talking about what happened to jazz and so forth. He said jazz had a certain amount of fans for many years and they were very devoted fans. But it wasn’t popular with the majority of American people. It’s an art form. When something came along with the rhythm section and the drums simplifying everything. He said, something came along that anybody could do. The Rock and Roll thing. It was simplistic rock. Boom-bap – Boom-Bap. It was simple. You didn’t have to be a great player to do that. It’s sad because it’s the only pure American art form we have. Also, what I am really unhappy about is that for so many years, our government never gave it its due. Let’s talk about the music called jazz and talk about the early jazz guys; Kenton, Dizzy, Bird, Ellington and all those creative people who came along. Our government ought to keep jazz on the airwaves and jazz ought to be played in the clubs. Let’s keep jazz alive.

See more at http://www.FrankDeVitodrummer.com

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BILLY JONES – 3’S A CROWD
Acoustical Concepts
Billy Jones, drums; EAST COAST MUSICIANS: George Young, alto saxophone; John Vanore, trumpet; George Genna & Mick Rossi, piano; Tony Micelli, vibraphone; Tyrone Brown, bass; WEST COAST MUSICIANS: Scotty Wright, vocal; Kenny Stahl, flute; Stu Reynolds, bass clarinet; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.
Billy Jones had a concept. He wanted to record a complete CD by using the interaction of two instruments; his drums and one other. Thus, the title, “3’s A Crowd”. The ten songs on this CD all feature Jones and various musicians playing as a duo and feeding off of each other in the improvisational way that jazz music demands.
Billy Jones explained it this way: “The challenge now is to raise the drums from its traditional role of accompaniment, to that of partner to that other voice.”
Opening with George Young on alto saxophone, they have composed the title tune. This is an unusual concept album, deserving of a listen simply because of its unique nature. The first thing I noticed was that whoever mixed this project forgot to turn the drums up. After all, it is the Billy Jones project. There are only two instruments on every track, so why is it difficult to properly showcase the main artist? George Young’s saxophone and Billy Jones’ drum set are playful and engaging. They tease and mimic each other in the most musically prolific way. I enjoyed “Song for Meg” with Tony Micelli on vibraphone. Jones was very creative, although his percussive chops were totally outweighed in volume by the ‘vibes.’ Shame on the mixologist.

John Vanore’s beautiful trumpet on “The Call” encourages Jones to explore rhythm and he lays down an African 6/8 groove beneath the rich trumpet solo. Pianist, Mark Rossi, brings a more Avant Garde spark to light Billy Jones’ fire. This freedom continues when tenor saxophonist, Gary Meeks and Jones celebrate John Coltrane and Elvin Jones on a song titled, “For John and Elvin.” I was particularly taken with Stu Reynolds very creative bass clarinet duo with Jones. Vocalist, Scotty Wright, offers a “Chant of the Soul” that scats with the drums, a’capella and without words. As a vocalist myself, I know that was hard work. One of the few jazz voices I’ve heard who can do that successfully is Bobby McFerrin. Wright is up for the challenge and performs well in this unique situation.
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IGNACIO BERROA TRIO – “STRAIGHT AHEAD FROM HAVANA”
Independent Label
Ignacio Berroa, drums; Martin Bejerano, piano; Josh Allen & Lowell Ringel, upright bass; SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrado “Coky” Garcia, percussion; Ruben Blades, lead vocal.

Playing Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Evans drum heads and Vic Firthsticks, Berroa surrounds himself with outstanding equipment and musicians. Pianist, Martin Bejerano, has a terrific style and technique. He exhibits this on the very first song, “Alma Con Alma”. His arrangement flies speedily into a double-time, straight ahead excitement and this song introduces us to some of his talented group of musicians. Josh Allen takes an impressive bass solo on his double bass that sounds amazingly electric. Berroa’s drum solos, during a spirited cycle of trading fours, are impressive and energetic.
Berroa has chosen a repertoire from tunes that resonate with him from his Cuban youth in Havana. For years, the drummer dreamed about taking seasoned Cuban songs that he heard in his youth and reinventing them into straight ahead jazz arrangements. This project seems to have propitious consequences.
Drummer, Ignacio Berroa started exploring his arrangement dreams during his tenure with Dizzy Gillespie that began in 1981, when Berroa arrived in New York and joined the Gillespie quartet. It took decades of planning and growth to finally approach the moment of conception. Berroa maintains the integrity of each composition, reflecting his cultural roots, while using his sticks and brushes to paint every arrangement with straight ahead jazz and a colorful standard of excellence. This is an album of wonderful music and expressive musicians. Together, they cover the spectrum of Latin culture and reinvents it with serious jazz flavors, infused greatly by the stellar arrangements of pianist, Martin Bejerano.
Special guest, Ruben Blades, offers smooth vocals that glide atop Allen’s rich bass notes and enhance the “Negro de Socredad” tune, along with Afro-Cuban chants as background. Guest bassist, Lowell Ringel, offers an appealing solo on cut #6, “De Ja Que Siga Solo,” by Maria Valdes. Other favorites on this outstanding production are: “Los Tres Galpes” with the expert percussive addition of Conrad “Coky” Garcia and Berroa sounds amazing when he cuts loose on seven minutes of “Si Me Puderas Querer.”
This music is scheduled for an August 5th release.

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JULIAN GERSTIN SEXTET – “THE ONE WHO MAKES YOU HAPPY”
Independent Label

Julian Gerstin, tanbou bélé/congas/tupan/ percussion/segunda/percussion; Eugene Uman, piano/Nord keyboard; Wes Brown, bass; Ben James, drums; Ricky Aguilar, paila/shekere; Jesus Gonzalez, tumba/quinto/chorus; Philip Pasmanick, chorus; Anna Patton, clarinet; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn.

The notable thing that makes this music swing are the percussive accents. Mixed out-front & prominent, they drive this production relentlessly. No wonder. The star of this show is Julian Gerstin. It’s his sextet and he’s written every song and he’s the dynamic percussionist who adds the tanbou Bélé, congas, tupan and other percussive instruments to this self-produced mix. Instead of being just the salt and pepper on this hot dish of music, he and a few other percussion players become the thick gravy that soaks it with delicious spices and flavor. His trio is stalwart and I found Eugene Uman to be exploratory and interesting on his piano and keyboard solos. Anna Patton on clarinet seems to bring a Middle Eastern influence when I hear her solo work. She and Don Anderson blend their horns well, and Anderson’s trumpet skills are commendable. On the whole, this CD feels more easy-listening, World Music than jazz. The disconnect could be in the lack of strong composition skills. However, the participating musicians bring technical dexterity and energy to Gerstin’s recording session and on tunes like “Child Left Behind” they give it their all and cross the threshold of an interesting blend of jazz and Latin improvisation. Other favorite songs are “Apprendiendo Como Amar” with vocal chants that clearly define a melody. This was co-written by Phillip Pasmanick, who adds his voice to the track over a rich percussive background; and I enjoyed their interpretation of Gerstin’s “ Dig It Deeper”.

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DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER

June 18, 2017

DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER – THE 2017 SEASON

A performance review & intimate interview by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

June 15, 2017

It was the perfect, balmy, summer night for jazz under the stars. The Muckenthaler Cultural Center is located in Fullerton, California and its mission is to “provide the public with experiences that stimulate creativity and imagination, while conserving the heritage and architecture of the Muckenthaler Estate.”

The first time I was ever at this lovely, 18-room, 8.5-acre mansion was when I attended a wedding on the premises. This time, I’m exploring the backyard of this hilltop mansion, that includes a full stage with soundman, professional lighting and small round tables with picnic-type benches and seating in tiered rows up a hillside that slopes down to the stage. In its 52nd year of cultural, community programs, the Muckenthaler Center, (fondly referred to as, “The Muck”), produces more than 60 performances, festivals, special events and gallery exhibits annually. They are proud to expound their outreach sites, offering more than 6,000 hours of arts education at the “Muck” and 42 outreach sites. Thanks to the generous donation of Walter and Adella Muckenthaler, they serve more than 41,000 people every year. Tonight, every seat is full and faces are upturned towards the trio on stage who are about to perform as part of the Muckenthaler Jazz Series. Ron Kobayashi takes a seat at the grand piano. Luther Hughes mans the upright bass and Paul Kreibich swings into action behind the trap drums. They break into the familiar standard tune, “There Will Never Be Another You.”

After one song, the star is announced; Ms. Debbi Ebert. The songbird of the evening opens with Rio de Janiero Blues, setting a polished tone, with Paul Kreibich rumbling out a moderate-tempo’d-Bossa Nova beat that has the audience swaying in their seats.

Picnic baskets and snacks are allowed at these outdoor concerts and you can also buy food and drinks at the facility. I pour myself a glass of Merlot in a blue, plastic goblet, and settled back to enjoy a lovely evening of jazz.

For her second song, Ms. Ebert performs the familiar “On A Clear Day” featuring a spirited and fresh arrangement by Fred Katz (R.I.P), former cellist with the Chico Hamilton group. His arrangement gives the vocalist lots of ‘scat’ room to show off her improvisational assets. “Higher Vibe” is a waltz and its melody is impressive, with whole notes held like a vocal banner by Debbi Ebert. She exhibits powerful, perfect control and a well-executed, 3- 1/2 to 4 octave vocal range. The lyrics of “Higher Vibe” were very positive and unifying.

Her trio transforms “Night and Day” into a well-received arrangement, many in the audience humming along. The next song was “Mr. Magic”, a 1975 hit record by saxophonist, Grover Washington Jr. Afterwards, Debbi announces that the next couple of songs had been hand-picked by her audience. Prior to this performance, she sent out a request to her mailing list, encouraging them to tell her what songs they would enjoy hearing at her Muckenthaler concert. The fans responded in mass. They overwhelming voted for the hit record by Etta James, “At Last”. Ms. Ebert opened with a gospel intro, encouraging each instrument to echo her gospel moans and scats, like call and response. It was suddenly Bro. Kobayashi on piano, Deacon Hughes on bass, and Rev. Kreibich on drums. Debbi called them her pulpit and the crowd said, “Amen”! That one was so much fun. The second was a tribute to one of our jazz giants, Louie Armstrong. “What A Wonderful World” is always a crowd pleaser. Ms. Ebert dedicated this song to the troops, who protect and defend our Democracy, and she received warm applause for her sentiment. Joined on this song by another excellent pianist/composer, enter Richard Ihara, the composer of Freddie Hubbard’s 1967 hit record, “Little Sunflower.” Ihara is also an excellent vocalist and he does a very persuasive mimicry of Louis Armstrong, adding even more familiarity to the tune by walking on-stage with a microphone and sounding very much like Pops Armstrong himself. He and Ms. Ebert interact vocally on this tune, thus, ending the first set.

Ebert returned for a second set in celebration of the iconic Miss Nancy Wilson. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to leave after the first set. However, judging by the huge and appreciative applause at the end of set number one, I am positive that Debbi Ebert did justice to the songs of Ms. Wilson and continued her evening of excellence.

I recently had the opportunity of chatting with Debbi Ebert about her life and music. She has been a mainstay of the Orange County jazz scene for over three decades.

DEE DEE: Are you from California?

DEBBI: “Yeah – born and raised in South Central California and went to Freemont High School. I grew up on 75th and Central.”

DEE DEE: Oh – Central Avenue! That’s where all the music was happening, right? You probably weren’t born when Central Avenue was hot and thriving.

DEBBI: “No. I wasn’t but my parents were. They were familiar with Central Avenue and they would talk about it.”

DEE DEE: Were they big jazz fans?

DEBBI: “Not necessarily jazz. My father was a huge music guy. He was more into the gospel stuff. So, when I was about four-years-old, he had already been singing with different male gospel groups. They would do the big concerts hosted by Rev. Henderson, who was producing concerts in some of those old theaters where they used to have the jazz concerts. They’d bring in the gospel music; Rosetta Thorpe, The Hummingbirds, The Ward Singers, all of those people were a part of that circuit. Our family group was called ‘The Gospel Fireballs’. I was just a kid, so, I don’t remember a lot. My brothers are gone now, so I don’t have anyone to reference that history. But I remember a lot of those people coming through those concerts. My father, Willie Sam Goldston, was a big promoter of our family gospel group. He always got our little name on the promotional billboards. That would have been the mid-60’s (‘64, ‘65, ‘66) right in there. There were the three of us and my father would play guitar. We travelled a little bit. We had our little gigs all over. And then he passed away.”

DEE DEE: Oh honey, that was hard. You were just a kid. I’m so sorry. Was it unexpected?

DEBBI: “You know, in those days, my father was what you would call a jack of all trades. He was a welder by trade. He took other odd jobs and he was always a special duty officer. He always wanted to be a policeman. He wanted to make a difference as a law enforcement officer. In those days, they didn’t let blacks into the LAPD. … He would try every year, when they had an opening, to get into the LAPD. It never worked. But he took Security work and he took a job at that FatBurger down there on Central Avenue. … That’s where he got killed. It was a horrible, tragic accident. There was a guy there who was drunk and he and my father got into some kind of tussle. A gun went off. That was that.

DEE DEE: That’s a heartbreaking story. Let’s talk about when you decided to do music professionally.

DEBBI: There’s not a long time in my life where there was no music. I’ve always been involved with music. Once I grew up, I always sang wherever I could. I sang in church and at weddings. I always maintained music in my life, but I didn’t really pick it back up professionally until I moved to Orange County. That would have been 1983 and 1984. Those were the days you would come to town and work certain O.C. venues. You and Barbara Morrison. I always knew your names. Barbara McNair used to come to town and work in Orange County all the time too. That’s when I picked music back up. I did my first play at the local black actor’s theater and met my now, husband, Richard Abraham, through that theater. That’s when I started my career as a nightclub singer. He played piano and I sang. And I’ve worked steadily ever since. I have two CD releases. My first one is “Definitely Debbi” and my second one is called, “Taking a Chance.” I’m primarily a singer. I would not ever refer to myself as a composer, but there was a play called “Black Woman’s Blues” that was performed at the Regency West Theater in Los Angeles, with Dwan Lewis, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and Vanessa Bell Calloway. I did the underscoring for it. The dialogue was set to saxophone and I wrote the music to play underneath that dialogue. I sang it to my husband and he charted the notes. But I wouldn’t call myself a composer. However, I do enjoy arranging and coming up with unique ideas for vocals and vocal harmony.”

For those of you who missed the Muckenthaler Concert, you can catch Debbi Ebert’s tribute to Nancy Wilson on July 26, a Wednesday evening, at the GEM Theater in Garden Grove. I guarantee you will be thoroughly entertained.
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KATHY KOSINS: A MULTI-MEDIA ARTIST UNCOVERS HER SOUL

May 22, 2017

AN ARTIST INTERVIEW WITH KATHY KOSINS
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

You can’t just call Kathy Kosins a jazz singer, because her artistry touches all genres of music, from her roots in the soul and R&B music of Motown, to the smooth sultry West Coast jazz singers she emulated on her CD, “Ladies of Cool”. She’s also an award-winning ASCAP songwriter. When you listen to Kathy, you hear Blues, jazz, rock and soul all mixed up, like a beautiful, rich stew.

Kathy’s early love of music led her to songwriting. This blossomed into a career of singing. Recently, I talked to her about some of her roots as a performer in the music business.

KATHY: “It was 1977 or 1978. I had two cassettes made with some of my original song material and it was all R&B. Those cassettes were used for the purpose of taking them around to various recording studios and trying to get in the door as a session singer; a background vocalist. … I heard it from somebody that Michael Henderson was in United Sound studio. It was this humongous studio where Aretha recorded. Everybody was using that studio, because it was a big, popular studio back in the day. I walked in with a couple of cassettes. Michael Henderson was recording that day and he wouldn’t see me, but his manager came out, or his musical director; Eli Fontaine.** He took the music from me and I remember this like it was yesterday. They didn’t even have to buzz me in. I just walked in and I went to the receptionist and asked to see Michael Henderson. … So, Eli Fontaine came out and took the cassettes from me. My phone number was published right on the cassette. About a week went by until I got a phone call, and they said, Michael wants to see you in the studio the next day at 3-o-clock. They needed one more voice to round out the background voices. So, I showed up! Michael Henderson told me himself, I really like what you put on those tapes and I need a third singer.”

** NOTE: Eli Fontaine was a good friend of this journalist in Detroit. He was a well-respected reed player who worked on sessions at numerous Detroit studios. It’s his horn you hear on the top of the historic Marvin Gaye recording of “What’s Going On.”

KATHY: “… When I got there, I was introduced to the girls who sang with the Brides of Funkenstein or backed up Parliament Funkadelic. They were part of George Clinton’s crew. I’m sure he recorded there too. They all did. Sure enough, we went on tour. I wound up doing background vocals for this man’s band for a while. In that band, I met a woman named Carol Hall. She was one of the singers, and then there was this girl from the Parlets. Carol and I went on the road, as background vocalists, and in that band was a guitar player named Randy Jacobs. I knew randy from the Motor city music scene. We were all in bar bands at that time, … playing in bars around town. Carol was in a band. I was in a band. But now, we were on tour with the Michael Henderson band,” Kathy told me.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Michael Henderson, he is an American bassist, lauded for his work playing with Miles Davis and he’s also a competent vocalist. As a Buddah recording artist, Michael Henderson collaborated vocally with the late, great Phyllis Hyman and had several hit records on his own, including the popular “You Are My Starship,” Recording, when he was featured vocalist with Norman Conners. Later, Henderson recorded a duet with Hyman using the same song.

At age twenty-four, Kosins was a seasoned background singer and was busy composing music and singing around town. She ran into David Weiss, better known as David Was and Don Fagenson (aka: Don Was) of the band ‘Was/Not Was’. In 1982, Don Was produced Kathy’s first single release entitled, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a re-make of the AC/DC tune.

KATHY: “After touring with Michael Henderson, the next thing you know, I did the same thing. I knocked on the door of Sound Sweet recording studios. It was located in a bad part of Detroit and Don Fagenson ( aka: Don Was) was in there making the very first Don Was (Was Not) record. It was the same thing; being in the right place at the right time. Don asked me not only to be a background vocalist for his band, but to hire the other two singers. So, I had to contract singers. Who did I call? Carol Hall and Sheila; I wish I could remember her last name. The same girls from the Henderson tour. One thing led to another, and suddenly I was doing a whole lot of session work in the city of Detroit.”
Kathy Kosins doesn’t come from a musical family. Her father built an empire in Detroit as the owner of the most popular men’s store in the Motor city. During the sixties and seventies, Ford Motor company was employing a multitude of blue-collar workers, business was booming, and Berry Gordy’s Motown was growing to nationwide fame, with Gordy’s hit records pouring out of radios coast-to-coast. Kathy recalled that time in her life.

KATHY: “If you knew Kosin’s clothes, and you did, ‘cause you lived in Detroit,” (she said to me confidentially) “my dad sold to Motown artists. I remember when I was a little kid, my dad used to grab me and he’d say, let’s go for a ride and take mister Gordy his suits. We’d drive up Woodward Avenue to Boston or Chicago Boulevard area to Berry Gordy’s big, white mansion or we’d take clothes to Mayor Coleman Young. My dad sold clothes to pimps, politicians, entertainers, funeral parlors, when they had to bury somebody in a nice-looking suit, or if you were getting married, you got your suit at Kosins,” she told me.

As a youngster, Kathy worked at her father’s popular clothing store and was introduced to celebrities like Dinah Washington, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Lou Rawls and the Four Tops. She learned the art of salesmanship. Later in life, when promoting her own CD projects and her solo career, that talent of selling surfaced to her benefit. To this day, she’s a meticulous business woman.

Kathy and her younger brother both were bitten by the music bug early on. When she was taken to New York by her dad, to attend the Broadway musical play, “Hair”, sitting in the theater with young, impressionable eyes glued to the stage, Kathy knew this was her destiny. She wanted to sing, write music and perform. Her brother, David, played guitar and had gigs in local bands. While he was inspired by and listened to Lester Bowie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Kathy was busy listening to soul, blues and rock music, while writing songs and singing her heart out with local bands and in various studios. She says Janis Joplin greatly inspired her.

After her affiliation with the Don Was/Not Was Band, she collaborated with a number of Los Angeles and New York based writers to compose several songs she hoped to present to some popular jazz singers on the scene. Among those she hoped would record her work were vocalists like Dianne Reeves, Nancy Wilson and Diane Schurr. She prepared a number of songs, becoming her own song-plugger. Somehow, her demo fell into the hands of Schoolkids Records and they loved her material. It was 1996 and the next thing Kathy knew, she had a record deal and her debut album was released, entitled, “All In A Dreams Work”. It placed in the top 20 of the Gavin Report.

Her next release was on Chiaroscuro Records, in 2002, titled “Mood Swings” and received rave reviews. In 2006 she followed that success up with the release of “Vintage” on the Mahogany Jazz label. Then, six years later, Resonance Records released her popular “Ladies of Cool” album followed-up with “The Space Between” on Mahogany Jazz label. Kathy told me this 2013 album was a combination of her jazz influenced recordings and her Rhythm and blues roots. It was this turning point in her recording career that has led her to this most recent recording project titled, “Uncovered Soul”.

On her latest endeavor, Kathy Kosins circles back to her soul-infused, blues drenched, Motown roots. This new album introduces a fresh direction, moving Kosin’s from mainstream jazz to a more groove-oriented production. With producer Kamau Kenyatta by her side, she is reaching towards a more global approach to her music and is already being critically acclaimed in the UK music market. Producer, Kenyatta, is praised for his Gold Record, Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Gregory Porter.

The first cut, “ Don’t Get Me Started “ is a sensual, funk-driven production that showcases Kathy’s rich, sultry sound, driven by Eric Harland on drums and written by Gene McDaniels, pleasantly remembered for his hit records, “Compared to What” and “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” Greg Moore’s tasty guitar punches the rhythm and Kathy’s voice is full of expression, warm and inviting.

Aaron Neville first recorded the song, “VooDoo.” Kathy and Kamau produce it as a combination of New Orleans soul and Kem-like grooves. ‘Kem’ is a familiar R&B star, based in Detroit, who has several soul-charted hit records and a signature sound. Mitch Foreman, on synthesizer-organ, adds a jazzy spice to the production and guitarist, Greg Moore, (or G-Moe as he is affectionately called), is gritty, raw and soulful.

Cut #3 is the CD’s title and one of Kathy’s original compositions. It captures a Smooth-Jazz/R&B flavor, and reminds me of a song Phyllis Hyman might sing, with a melody that Kathy’s warm vocals embrace and embellish. Another original is track #6, titled “A to B” and pretty much sums up the artist’s current state of mind. It’s one of my favorites on this CD. The lyrics say it all. For example, she sings:

“Those who came before me had so much to say. I listened to their stories as I try to find my way. … I’m just trying to get from A to B. Nobody ever told me, it don’t come easily. If I ask for inspiration, please shine a light on me. I’m just trying to get from A to B. Don’t try to be impatient, says a whisper in my head. When you trust your good intentions, you’ll be better off instead … Each and every day I’m thankful for following my dreams.”

The new Kathy Kosins’ album, “Uncovered Soul,” is based on the urban landscape of Detroit, pulling from the popular music of the early 1960’s and 70’s, she’s digging deeply into her rock and soul roots. When you combine this with Kathy’s jazz overtones and the hip-hop groove of danceable tracks, you begin to see a new side of this vocalist. Kathy describes her project as “Detroit-centric;” a tribute to her city, with music that paints a picture of an urban Detroit and its rebirth, its repurposing towards prosperity and renewed hope. She uses obscure tunes by gold-record composer/artists that include Bill Withers, Gene McDaniels, the Neville Brothers, Burt Bacharach, Curtis Mayfield and more, to thread a needle of unique artistry that holds the fabric of Kathy’s truth in place like a CD jacket.
Kathy Kosins is a multi-talented singer/songwriter who lives, breathes and paints music. When she’s not working on new songs, recording or touring, this multi-talented woman utilizes time as a visual artist and creates Modernist art.

KATHY: “I paint the sounds that I hear. Strains from Miles Davis’ trumpet, Charlie Parkers’ sax and Bud Powells’ piano translate into color and texture. I never have an idea or color scheme in mind when I pick up a brush. I paint strictly from my intuition. It was no different with the old jazz masters. They could play endless solos all night, using the same form.”

Her paintings bear the names of a number of jazz icons and jazz songs. For instance, the modern abstract painting that once hung in the Los Angeles office of the Monk Institute is called “Monks Dreams.” She began painting in 1990, and examples of other titles for her extensive work are: Miles Ahead, ‘Round Midnight, Corcovado, Joy Spring, Ornette, Green Dolphin Street and November Twilight.

http://www.kathykosins.com/artshow/kathykosins_art/index.html

Although this vocalist has recorded straight-ahead jazz and standards, on her new album, (scheduled for a September release), she reaches back to her beloved beginnings in the music business and combines styles. The result is jazzy and pop, soulful and R&B, uniquely mixed for strong crossover appeal.

Kathy Kosins will preview her “Uncovered Soul” album on June 8, 2017 at Catalina Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, California. Hit time is 8:30pm. See you there.
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