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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.

* * * * * * * * * * *

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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CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN

June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN:
June 12, 1957 – June 27, 2017

Geri Allen brought something fresh and exciting to the virtuosity of jazz piano. In a music world dominated by male musicians and record company executives, Geri Allen ranks right up there with trend setters and innovators like Herbie Hancock. Her style and technical skills were powerful. Once you heard this amazing woman play the piano, you would never forget it. She was fearless, energetic, freshly creative with ideas and harmonics that both startled and surprised her audiences. I had the honor of meeting this piano master once, when I was home in Detroit, enjoying the annual and largest free jazz festival in the country. She carried herself with an elegance in both dress and manner. I read that she assumed her stylish stage persona from tutoring by Mary Wells, whom she toured with at the very beginning of her dazzling career in 1982.
Ms. Allen is another one of the long list of astoundingly talented musicians who have received their early education at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. She was part of the Jazz Development Workshop, under the mentorship of our mutual friend, trumpet master/educator, Marcus Belgrave. Geri Allen graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies and promptly moved to New York City. She was a protégé of iconic pianist, Kenny Barron and later, attended the University of Pittsburgh, attaining her Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology.

With deep roots in Motown, and the Berry Gordy music magic that took the whole world by storm, Allen combined her love of R & B with her passion for jazz, stretching the limits of her instrument and her physical technique on the piano. She was a monster on the keys. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female pianist play with such exciting dynamism. Perhaps the only ones I could personally compare Ms. Allen’s talents to would be Nina Simone and Dorothy Donegan. Both of these valiant and earth-shattering talents brought the same vivacity, classical technique, cultural awareness and jazz innovation that Geri Allen brought to the stage. Ms. Allen, like Simone and Donegan, was always stretching the boundaries of her artform.

In the mid-eighties, she rubbed shoulders in New York with all the young, jazz, shakers and movers. Ms. Allen expanded her musical horizons as part of the Black Rock Coalition and the Brooklyn M-Base movement. During this time, she was part of collectives that featured Greg Osby, Gary Thomas and vocalist Cassandra Wilson, as well as Steve Coleman, who she recorded with on his first album, “Motherland Pulse.”

It took a German record company to be the first to offer Ms. Allen a deal on the Minor Music label. Her debut trio recording was “The Printmakers,” featuring Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille. You can hear her intensity and infatuation with rhythm on this, the first of her iconic works. Listen to her imaginative harmonics, in their developmental stage on this premiere album.

In 2000, Sitting at the home of Shahida Nurullah, a Detroit vocalist and music educator, I listened to Shahida’s featured vocal work on Geri Allen’s 1986 release entitled, “Open On All Sides In the Middle.” The arrangements were as stunning as the album title, incorporating both modern and Avant Garde jazz forms. It was this album that really peaked my interest into this phenomenal pianist. It featured a bunch of Detroit jazz players, including trumpeters Racy Biggs and Marcus Belgrave, along with bassist Jaribu Abdurahman Shahid (natal name, Ben Henderson) and reminded me of the freedom and master musicianship found in the Chicago Art Ensemble music. In fact, Jaribu Shahid would later go on to play with the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 2004. You can feel the energy dancing off this disc, propelled by Ms. Allen’s composition skills and challenging arrangements. This was her 3rd CD and perhaps set the precedence for what was to follow. Beautiful, sensitive melodies surrounded lushly by chord arranging that enveloped that beauty, while still leaving room for improvisational forays from Geri Allen and the other players. You Will hear her love of dancers, especially tap dancers, on both this record (ie: The Dancer) and later in her career when she featured dancers as part of her concert presentations. Allen believed in mixing artforms and fusing artistic talents. Listen to her song “Forbidden Place” to see how complicated and artistically challenging her arrangements were at an early stage of her career.

An album, “Twenty One,” released in 1994, was her third album for the Blue Note label, and was recorded with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Famously, they were an integral part of the all-star musicians holding down Miles Davis. So, you know, it doesn’t get much better than that! That’s the league of competence and respect that Geri Allen garnered. You can hear her growth in this recording, her tenth release in a string of art as valuable and rare as Tahitian, black pearls.

Geri Allen’s 2012 release of “Grand River Crossings” is another one of my favorite recordings, where she celebrates her native roots in Detroit. I reviewed and praised that recording for http://www.lajazz.com. Ms. Allen leaves behind a hand-print on the historic contribution of dynamic women in jazz. She will be remembered and celebrated for years to come.

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REMEMBERING THE GREAT DRUMMER, BILL DOWDY (Aug 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017)

June 23, 2017

June 23 2017

I am saddened to hear that my friend, and the original drummer with the Three Sounds, Bill Dowdy, has made his transition. Pictured here, Bill Dowdy, pianist Claude Black, me and bassist, Elgin Vines when we recorded a “Live” concert in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Bill Dowdy lived. He was a wonderful, talented, gentleman and I am honored to have known him and to have recorded with him. R.I.P. Bill, after a life well-lived.

Bill Dowdy, August 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017

I have always been a huge fan of The Three Sounds. Nobody could play that blues-infused jazz and capture that down-home groove on vinyl like pianist, Gene Harris, drummer, Bill Dowdy and bassist, Andy Simpkins. Later in my professional life, while working at United Artists/Blue Note Records in publicity and under the direction of the company president, Mike Stewart, I got to meet both Andy Simpkins and Gene Harris. I even got to work with Andy Simpkins many times as a jazz vocalist. He was one of my favorite bass players. But it was not until the year 2000, that I got to meet the amazing Mr. Dowdy.

Bill had heard good things about me from various Michigan-based musicians and invited me to do a concert with him in Battle Creek. At the time, I was just healing from a bad accident I had in Detroit, Michigan on a visit to see my mom and family. That was December of 1999, and as a healthy entrepreneur and jazz vocalist, without any health insurance, running the beach daily in Southern California and never even considering that I would fall ill, the fall I took was on an ice-covered street in Detroit. For a minute, it stopped my life and my career. After surgery and three months on a walker, then three months on crutches, I was finally up and walking again. I got busy producing musical plays and working locally at jazz clubs.

When Bill Dowdy called me, I was absolutely honored to drive to Battle Creek and become part of Bill’s Concert experience. When I arrived, I discovered that our concert was going to be recorded. I asked Bill who owned the tapes? He said that he did. I suggested that if the tapes came out with a good mix, we should consider putting out a CD. Well, Bill was surprised by that suggestion. He said that he had never thought of distributing his own product. He confessed to me, he didn’t have a clue how to do it. So, I sat down with Bill and showed him, on paper, how it would work. He said that for years Blue Note had been selling his music and his talent and that he hadn’t gotten paid for albums that were still selling today, nearly half a century later. It was the same old story of how record companies rip-off great talent . They collect the majority of the funds for the sales of those records and those company executives don’t write a tune, don’t sing a note, and many don’t know a thing about music or the creative process. Unfortunately, the artists who make the records hardly make pennies on the sales. If they don’t get out there and do concert tours, they don’t make any money at all. When I showed Bill how much it would take to invest in ourselves and what he could make on the sales of pressing up our own project, he was in awe.

“Dee Dee, I wish I had understood this years ago,” he confided.

The result of our concert and our conversation was “Live! at the Discovery Theatre – The Bill Dowdy Jazz Trio plus Dee Dee McNeil.” I was full of gratitude to be headlinging with the dynamic Bill Dowdy and his famous trio.

Bill hired Claude Black, a master pianist who was living in Toledo Ohio at the time and boasted over five decades of music mastery. Like me, he was a native Detroiter and we had worked together a few times at the famed jazz club, “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.” Claude had worked with such international talent as Dakota Staton, Aretha Franklin, Lorez Alexandria, Ernie Andrews, Johnny Harman, Austin Cramer, Earl Bostic, Eddie Jefferson, Sonny Stitt, Arnett Cobb and Kenny Burrell.

Elgin Vines was hired to play bass on our project. Elgin has been described as one of the most sought-after jazz bassists in Western Michigan, stroking the strings professionally for over forty years. He has been a mainstay in the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra Jazz Ensemble, played with the Aquinas College Evening Jazz Ensemble, the Ray Gill Orchestra and the Muskrat Ramblers. In more contemporary days, he recorded for Gamble & Huff and appeared on The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show and even the famed and historic, Ed Sullivan Show. Elgin acted as backup musician for such popular acts as Leslie Uggums, Frank Sinatra Sr. and Jr., Phyllis Hyman, Eloise Laws, Ruth Brown, Connie Stevens, Bobby Darin, and Steve Allen. For years he has led his own group, “Elgin Vines & Company.”

But it was Bill Dowdy who impressed me the most. After all, I had fallen in love with his drum chops back in 1958, when I was still a young teen and just discovering jazz. That was the year Mr. Dowdy recorded with the legendary jazz trio he founded, “The Three Sounds.” Their music has transcended the years with unique stamina and undying popularity.

Bill started out as a session drummer for Chess Records. Later, he recorded and toured for years on the Blue Note and the Mercury record labels in support of “The Three Sounds.” He left the group in 1966, ten years after he founded the group. Bill Dowdy settled down in his senior years to become a percussion educator at the Community Music School sponsored by the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. He created a Substance-abuse Prevention Program that he titled, “Drumming for Life” and taught master classes at Kellogg Community College, Western Michigan and Michigan State Universities. His legacy performances include working with Art Farmer, John Hicks, Nancy Wilson, Nat Adderly, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Ernestine Anderson, Percy Mayfield and Johnny Griffin, as well as his undeniable recording legacy as one-third of The Three Sounds. I am humbled and thankful that I knew this great gentleman and had the unique opportunity of performing on-stage with him. He as a kind and generous soul who I will never forget.

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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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BLACK MUSIC MONTH CELEBRATES THELONIUS MONK AND MORE

June 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 12, 2017

THELONIUS MONK: “Les Laisons Dangerouses” – Double Set CD
Sam Records & Saga

Thelonious Monk, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums; Charlie Rouse & Barney Wilen, tenor Saxophone.

June is Black Music Month. On April 22, 2017, a limited edition, deluxe 2-LP set of never-before-released THELONIUS MONK music, the results of a French film soundtrack, made its debut. It was released as a vinyl, in celebration of Record Store Day. My hands were actually trembling as I broke open this CD package that became available for public consumption this month. I was full of expectation, excitement and anticipation of hearing something amazing by one of my favorite, iconic, American composer/pianists.

Monk’s film score accompanied a 1960 Roger Vadim French film titled, “Les Liasons Dangereuses”. It features Monk’s famous group: Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Sam Jones on double bass and Art Taylor drumming. Additionally, the French producer added the popular French, tenor sax man, Barney Wilen. It was Wilen’s old manager, Marcel Romano, that led to this discovery. Romano, who died in 2007, was the custodian of tapes by Barney Wilen. Marcel Romano is the man behind this project and well-respected in both France and the U.S. as a producer, jazz journalist and concert promoter. In his heyday, Romano brought many great jazz artists to the European public attention. The record company was looking for unreleased material by Wilen, the French saxophonist. Imagine their shock when they ran across some reel-to-reel tapes with the label in big bold letters, THELONIUS MONK.

“Rhythm-a-ning opens disc #1 with Thelonius playing solo, but soon joined by the swift, spiritual, virtuoso saxophone of Rouse. In liner notes, Brian Priestley recalls that Monk’s original release of “Rhythm-a-ning” was in 1957 on an album with Art Blakey. His solo introduction on this recording is a bit different. Monk seems to incorporate a piece of Mary Lou Wiliams’ composition, “Walkin’ and Swingin,’ “into the intro. Mary Lou and Monk were good friends and years earlier, Andy Kirk had recorded the Williams composition around 1936. Monk’s intro-lines sound very similar to one of Kirk’s melodic lines and this could be a cordial and creative nod from Monk, in appreciation of Williams, his friend and mentor, by using an interlude from Mary Lou’s composition.

This film score was recorded during Thelonius Monk’s prime in the late 1950s, when he was changing the concept of jazz and jazz piano. He has composed everything on this 2-record set, except “By and By” (We’ll Understand It By and By) composed by Charles Albert Tindley and arranged by Monk. In the studio, Monk was uninterested in observing any time constraints for movie scenes and unconcerned about the motion picture’s theme. He simply went into the studio and recorded three hours of unconstrained music. Later, it would take master editors and the film producer to patch and paste the music into perfect place.

Listening to Monk play the song dedicated to his beloved wife, “Crepuscule with Nellie”, is an experience of pure art appreciation. This double set CD comes with a fifty-six-page booklet that dissects the music with essays and opinions, and offers never-before-seen photos from the recording session at Nola Penthouse Sound Studio in New York City. It was recorded by engineer, Tom Nola, on July 27, 1959.
The songs on this piece of art are familiar. Thelonius Monk didn’t compose anything really new for this film. I was especially pleased with “Well You Needn’t” that stretched past the borders of predictability and into some new musical spaces and spheres.

All you Monk fans will enjoy hearing, back-to-back “Pannonica” played by this legendary pianist/composer, twice as a solo and the third time with his quartet. Blissful!

In 1951, the New York City authorities revoked Thelonius Monk’s Cabaret Card, which left him with six years of struggling to make a living, since without a card you could not perform. It’s said they claimed he possessed heroin, and that the charges were trumped up and false. By the time of this film scoring, the exceptional Mr. Monk was finally working again, non-stop, and had a six-month contract playing at the Five Spot in NYC. His “Brilliant Corners” album was receiving critical acclaim and at last, Monk was busier than he had ever been. At the age of forty, the prolific composer/performer won the coveted Downbeat Magazine Jazz Poll, beating out competitors Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Earl Hines. His manager at that time, Harry Colomby, says he was inundated with gig calls for his now super popular client. With everything going so well, as life has a habit of doing, the tables would soon be turned over, spilling success into the cruel carpet of circumstance.

In 1958, Jim Crow was alive and well, thriving on racism and inequality throughout the great United States. When Monk, Charlie Rouse and the Baroness, Pannonica de Koenigswarter (Nica) got into a car, leaving New York City for a gig in Baltimore, they hadn’t a clue what misfortune lay ahead. Monk was thirsty and they stopped for a drink at the Park Plaza Hotel in New Castle, Delaware. No one thought they would find the ugly practice of prejudice in Delaware. Not only were they refused service, the police were called, and the officers conducted an illegal stop and search, pulling over the $19,000 Bentley the trio was riding in and when Monk objected, he was beaten, handcuffed and tossed to the floor of the patrol car. The arresting officers were furious to find two black men with a white woman, and during their search into Nica’s luggage, they found marijuana and a bottle of pills. After this arrest and the ultimate release of Monk, after he paid a hefty fine, to make a bad situation worse, once again New York City revoked Monk’s Cabaret Card. Shortly after, Thelonius Monk was hospitalized with a complete mental breakdown and spent time in Rivercrest Sanitarium in Long Island. At this same time, his latest LP, “Monk’s Music” was listed as one of the five best albums of that year. So, this was the backdrop for his trip to France and his state of mind for the recording of this rare and sensitive film score.

There is one song on this CD that, until now, had never been studio recorded. A 2-minute-47-second rendition of “Light Blue”. It ends abruptly, as if a scene in the movie had faded to black, with Art Taylor’s drums slapping the listener across the face, in a beautiful way. The rhythm beneath the melody is oddly unique. You will appreciate the extended, fourteen-minute ‘live’ recording of Monk producing “Light Blue” and insisting on this very odd and infectious drum beat he fell in love with and demanded that Art Taylor keep repeating. Monk was captivated by his percussive riff. On Side two of this recording, you hear Monk himself telling his trio how and what to play as he arranges the tune on the spot. I feel like a fly on the wall at the recording session as the trio struggles to come to grips with the piano genius and his unique ideas. You actually hear their conversations and Monk’s insistent instructions.

This is a precious piece of history and a legacy to the composition and arrangement skills of Thelonious Monk. It’s a must for any serious jazz collector. Why? Because Monk transformed and injected this film and the resulting CD with a giant dose of Avant Garde creativity and individuality that allowed the film a legacy of brilliance. Now, I find myself eager to view the motion picture.

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THE NEW VISION SAX ENSEMBLE – “MUSICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME”
Independent Label

Diron Holloway, soprano & alto saxophones/clarinet; James Lockhart, alto saxophone; Jason Hainsworth, tenor saxophone: Melton R. Mustafa, baritone saxophone.

Frankly, I miss the piano, bass and drums associated with a standard rhythm section. I’m used to hearing a trio beneath most reed sections. The New Vision Sax Ensemble makes me re-think this premise. Here are four professional educators and musicians who formed an exploratory saxophone group in 1999, founded by the baritone sax player, Melton R. Mustafa. Their idea was to perform standard jazz songs that people know and love, but using only reed instruments. Inspired by the work of the 29th Street Sax Quartet and the World Saxophone Quartet, this coterie began gigging around South Florida and soon became one of the premier sax quartets in that area. They have perfected a ‘flair for entertaining’ according to their liner notes, and have mastered interactivity with their audiences.

Although their repertoire on this CD leans towards jazz, they are known to embrace classical, R&B, pop, Ragtime, Latin, Funk and even Spiritual music in their concerts. My favorites on this recording are “Round Midnight”, that is performed gorgeously and I didn’t miss the rhythm section at all. Additionally, I enjoyed “Selections from Porgy and Bess”, an eleven-minute exploration of Gershwin’s wonderful score from the theatrical and successful “Porgy and Bess” Broadway play. The CD release date is June 12th.

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JORIS TEEPE & DON BRADEN – “CONVERSATIONS” featuring Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson
Creative Perspective Music

Joris Teepe, bass; Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute; Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson, drums.

Teepe & Braden crossed paths in 1992 and struck up a conversation that has lasted twenty-five-years. Consequently, the title of this CD seems quite appropriate. Adding two drummers to the mix, who contribute singularly on various tracks, these two jazz giants are often booked as the “Trio of Liberty.” Chick Corea’s original composition, “Humpty Dumpty” opens their CD and surprisingly, although composed by the esteemed Mr. Corea, I don’t miss the piano. Braden and Teepe are individually amazing musicians, and their interpretation of this song is interesting, creative and performed with improvisational ebullience. This is my kind of jazz, straight ahead, engaging and with each musician being a musical maven in his own right. Teepe and Braden fill up the space with sound and notes flying like meteors through the night. Joined by either Jackson or Wilson on drums, each song shimmers and shines, star-like, presenting ginormous technical ability and weaving familiar melodies in unfamiliar ways. The two old friends converse with their instruments. When one takes a breath, the other fills the space with musical anecdotes and stories.

Perhaps Braden explained it best by saying:

“Framed by rich and varied tunes, strong and supple grooves and emotional expression, the improvisations are really a manifestation of exuberant adventure for us. We create, exchange, explore and develop all kinds of ideas – melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, dynamically and more. …We really have fun while doing so.”
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June 6, 2017 – Tuesday

The Comey interrogation awoke me early this morning. The former FBI Director, fired by our 45th President of the United States, was giving his side of the contentious relationship he had with President Donald Trump and asserting, that without a doubt, the Russians are deliberately seeking to influence our country in a negative way. After that, I viewed nearly three-hours of Comey’s televised testimony before the congressional committee. Then, I put on Laura Campisi’s new CD to change the energy in the house.

LAURA CAMPISI – “DOUBLE MIRROR”
Independent Label

Laura Campisi, vocals; Ameen Saleem, double bass; Glanluca Renzi, electric bass; Greg Hutchinson, drums; Flavio Li Vigni, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Zach Brock, violin; Giovanni Falzone, trumpet; Jonathan Scales, steel pan; Martin Pantyrer, baritone sax; Vincent Herring, alto sax; Emilio D. Miller, percussion.

She has a little-girl, high-pitched voice that sounds innocent and vulnerable. Campisi’s style is unique and recognizable. She sings with a distinct foreign accent; one that I could not readily identify. On cut #3, Giovanni Falzone’s trumpet addition is sometimes dissonant to Campisi’s melody. His horn growls passionately in the background during his muted performance. Nevermind! Campisi is strong in her projection and pitch. She can hold her own. “Double Mirror” is her artistic debut, a recorded venture featuring her voice and songwriting skills. Her original concept was to keep the production simple and use just a trio for accompaniment, but she changed her mind. To reflect her new life, she uses two rhythm sections; one American and the other Italian. The trumpet, sax and violin players came later.

I learn, from the CD notes, that Laura Campisi arrived in New York City from Palermo, Sicily in Italy. She sings and speaks in English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Sicilian, Neapolitan and Punjabi. Impressive! However, I wish she had included her lyrics in her CD packaging, because I cannot always understand her words. I reach for my headphones to listen more intently. She has composed seven of thirteen songs featured on this recording. I’m enchanted with the World Music arrangements and her sparkling, crystal clean vocals that tinkle and spray the room with improvised sounds and lyrical stories. For example, on cut #8, “Nardis”, she mimics wild birds and restless animals before giving us spoken word over drums and bass. Enter a classical-sounding, electric bass and her song begins. She’s singng in tribute to “Nardis”, a miles Davis composition. After listening to her rendition, I played the Miles Davis arrangement featuring Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. It was recorded ‘Live’ at the Village Vanguard and It’s miles away from her interpretation. On her recording, Campisi and the bass and drums play tag with their instruments, chasing each other playfully. Shei tells us it’s our lucky day because we are going to meet Nardis, who is like an ocean shore. As she begins calling him, the groove is set up and finally, after a prolonged introduction, she sings the Miles Davis melody, one time down and then it’s over.

On “I Love You Porgy” she performs with upright bass, electric bass guitar and drums, strutting her voice out front like a reed instrument. Laura Campisi incorporates jazz into a World Music Stage. Her music reflects her Italian roots, her love of Mediterranean influences and she spices it up with the South American music of Argentina. You see, she recorded her vocals in Buenos Aires, where she added stellar new Latin players to this project. Her rendition of the popular “Porgy” Nina Simone hit record is very emotional and she makes it uniquely her own.

Listening to this project, I hear shades of Rock and Folk music. The jazz comes in as an interplay between her band members, who find freedom improvising over her original chord changes and her vocals. Of course, improvisation is one of the most important elements of jazz, but I’m not sure this CD falls completely into the jazz category. On more recognizable and familiar tunes like “Love For Sale,” you can hear Campisi’s extraordinary ability to change the familiar into the unexpected.
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URBANITY – “URBAN SOUL”
Alfi Records

Albare, guitars/sitar; Phil Turcio, keyboards/piano/programming.

At the age of eighteen, Albert Dadon, known artistically as Albare, was in search of a pianist for his band. Phil Turcio took the job. They became good friends and musical soulmates, with their paths intersecting for the next twenty-seven-years. So it’s not surprising that they call themselves Urbanity and have recorded this project together. To promote this CD, they currently are touring the United States, however, they are based in Melbourne, Australia.

Utilizing keyboard, piano, synthesizer programmer, guitar and sitar, these two musicians have created a fat, smooth jazz sound. It’s hard to believe that just two musicians have put together such an orchestrated album of music, using drum machines and programming to set the grooves, embellished by their creativity, they establish repeatable and catchy melodic phrases.

Starting with “The Mind Reader,” they manage to present a medium tempo, danceable groove with the two and the four beats slapping like hand-claps on the drum programmer. Albare’s guitar work is outstanding and Phil Turcio compliments each tune with his keyboard and piano talents. He’s also responsible for the synthesized programing. “You’re in my Dreams” has a haunting melody against a backdrop of jazz chord-changes, with the programming giving the arrangement an ethereal feel. I was surprised when I realized that they use a line very close to the verse of Michael Jackson’s hit record, “I Can’t Help it”, written by Susaye Green and Stevie Wonder. It’s not enough to be accused of sampling the melody, but it tip-toes around the well-respected tune at certain unexpected places.

Another one of my favorite cuts on this CD is “Angie”, the only song written by other composers. (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). It has energy and an interesting melody. Another favorite is “Something Sweet”. Urbanity’s arrangements are hot and this is easy listening R & B at its best, with jazz overtones.

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SMOKIN’ NEW MUSIC AND HISTORIC JAZZ CONVERSATIONS

June 1, 2017

CD REVIEWS ENCOMPASS HISTORY, PAST AND PRESENT
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

As June arrives, reminding us half a year is already gone, I am bombarded by new CD releases. Among the treasures and gems I’ve received are the Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery, a never before released ‘live’ session recorded in 1966. You will read historic quotes, interviews and see memorable photos in the liner notes. Speaking of amazing jazz work, Jazzmeia Horn is a force of nature to be watched and listened to as she showcases her multi-talents on a premiere album titled, “A Social Call.” Then, easy on the ear, I listen to the silky, sexy-smooth vocals of Calabria Foti, and enjoyed the Larry Newcomb Quartet with legendary guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli. The Quinsin Nachoff Ethereal Trio takes music into the stratosphere with avant-garde jazz mixed with classical substance. The Art Fristoe Trio is a double set CD, and is the off-shoot of a film score that Fristoe participated in as both thespian and musician. Read all about it!

WYNTON KELLY TRIO/WES MONTGOMERY
“SMOKIN’ IN SEATTLE, LIVE AT THE PENTHOUSE”

Resonance Records

Wes Montgomery, guitar; Wynton Kelly, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums.

What a thrill! I excitedly place this CD into my system and then settle back into the arms of historic, musician mastery. Somehow, this amazing ‘live’ performance by four jazz icons has laid dormant for fifty-one-years; over half a century. It was recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, Washington, on April 14 and April 21, 1966. Here is a treasure trove of musical genius, clumped together, like your favorite dark chocolate and almond candy bar; packaged to please. It’s a sweet discovery and I’m absolutely enthralled by the music of men who have left us a legacy of non-replicable, jazz recordings, setting the bar high for future musicians.

Opening with “There is No Greater Love,” Kelly’s fingers skip over the notes lightly, creatively, in an upbeat, timely manner, pushed like a steam roller by Cobb’s drums and Ron McClure’s bass. It’s straight-ahead all the way.

The original Montgomery and Kelly group included Paul Chambers on bass, with Jimmy Cobb. All you jazz buffs know that they were the force de jour backing up Miles Davis from about 1959 to 1963. When Kelly and Montgomery first recorded together, it was 1962. The result was a ‘live’ album called, “Full House,” recorded in Berkeley, California. Just before this newly released musical exploration from 1966, they cut “Smokin’ at the Half Note.” That was in June of 1965. Shortly after that recording, Chambers left the trio and was replaced with Ron McClure, who was only twenty-four years old at that time. In spite of his youth, McClure had already worked with Buddy Rich, Herbie Mann and Maynard Ferguson. Ron McClure recalls how he met Montgomery and Kelly.

“I first met Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Wes Montgomery in the summer of 1965. I had listened to them from the time I was a teenager, but I had never met them or played with them until ’65. I was playing with Maynard Ferguson’s big band when I met them. We had a gig in Atlantic City. The billing was Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio and the Maynard Ferguson Big band was the opening act. So, of course, everyone in Maynard’s band was sitting in the front row of this giant club in Atlantic City, after our set, waiting to hear Wes, Jimmy and Wynton. They came on stage and waited, but there was no Paul Chambers. After a little while, Jimmy Cobb hit a few rim shots and with his Capricorn, billy-goat look, he stared at me, pointed at me with his drumstick and said, ‘Get up here’! It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. … He (Chambers) was in a very bad state at that point and died shortly afterward. … I had listened to Paul Chambers from the time that he played with Miles in 1956. … I digested every note on those records – like all bass players did – because he set the standard. He had the best circular looping time feel…. So, they could see right away that I knew what to play.”

Wes Montgomery first appeared at the Penthouse Jazz Club with The Montgomery Brothers in the summer of 1962. The next time he appeared there, it was 1966 and this recording was made. He was forty-three years old and his career was on fire. His Verve album, “Goin’ Out of My Head” had reached #12 on the Billboard R&B album chart. Yes – I said R&B Chart, not in the jazz category. It would later land a Grammy award in 1967, after selling a million vinyl copies. This achievement was Montgomery’s preface to super success.

Reminiscing about the band, Jimmy Cobb shared, “Wes was a nice guy, man. He was very comedic … like he would say funny things and do funny things. But he was a sweet guy. Wynton was also a sweet guy. So, we all got along together pretty good and the playing was exceptional for the four of us.”

McClure recalled Wes Montgomery’s generosity.

“Wes was like Santa Claus. He gave me the keys to his Cadillac Coupe de Ville on night. We were playing at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike, outside of Cambridge. I was talking to some girl I knew at the bar and he said, ‘Here Boom. Here’s the keys. Take her home in my Cadillac.’ … At that time, I drove a Volkswagen; a Beetle. The Coupe de Ville was like driving the Queen Mary across the bridge into Boston and back. I was terrified. But that’s the kind of guy he was.”

This album is pure pleasure! On “If You Could See Me Now” the gentlemen of jazz start out playing this great standard as a ballad, but before long, Wynton’s blues roots take over and Cobb and McClure push the trio tempo into a blues shuffle. The groove is as deep as a muddy Mississippi road after a tractor trailer drives over it. Then it turns sweet again, like magnolia blossoms floating on a Southern breeze. To end it dynamically, Kelly uses arpeggios, crescendos and the strength of mad technique.

Of course, Wes Montgomery puts his signature sound on everything and anything he plays. I love his interpretation of “O Morro Nao Tem Vez” with his staccato chorded melodies and impeccable timing. Wynton Kelly’s trio opens for Montgomery and then Wes is on-stage, adding zest and zeal to every tune. This album is inexplicably joyful and offers us a great listening experience, as well as a taste of history. The inside jacket includes great quotes and several memories and historic photos of these musicians, during their time of triumph. In my opinion, no jazz collection will be complete without this gem of a recording.
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JAZZMEIA HORN – “A SOCIAL CALL”
Prestige Records/Concord Record Group

Jazzmeia Horn, vocals; Victor Gould, piano; Ben Williams, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums/percussion; Stacy Dillard, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet; Frank Lacy, trombone.

The great Betty Carter must be smiling down from heaven as she listens to Jazzmeia Horn, singing her original composition, “Tight” played and sung at a speedy pace on Jazzmeia’s premiere CD release. This young voice is fluid, like her last name; “horn”. One minute she’s a beautiful bird, the next a cool breeze blowing notes into the universe like bubbles from a child’s lips. She’s buoyant, fresh sounding, spontaneous and fearless. I am her new, biggest fan!

On this recording, Jazzmeia Horn epitomizes everything a jazz singer should be. On the opening tune, she exhibits creativity, spontaneity and innovative timing. She’s free, playing with the melody and also scatting like an instrument. Jazzmeia Horn sets the bar high. On “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” her lovely voice sells the lyric above Ben Williams’ singular bass line that supports her melodic movement. I hear a lot of Betty Carter influence in Horn’s performance style, but she is definitely her own character and has established a signature sound. A signature sound is something many singers lack. That is to say, you will recognize this singer’s style and execution when you hear her again. Her range is as amazing as her carefully chosen repertoire. When Victor Gould joins on piano, along with Jerome Jennings on drums, the musical pudding thickens. Their musicality elevates the production. On this tune, I hear Ms. Horn add some of Sarah Vaughan’s signature riffs, like a warm vocal nod to the ancestors. I’m intrigued.

“Up Above My Head” is a Myron Butler composition and the ensemble flavors it with a hip-hop groove. On this song, Jazzmeia Horn slips in a riff that, (if I’m not mistaken), is from an Erykah Badu tune. Then comes “Social Call,” written by Gigi Gryce and Jon Hendricks. She establishes how jazz should be sung, with lyrics clearly enunciated and understood, and the bass racing double time beneath her vocals; impeccable timing. When the band joins them they slow it down for a second or two before racing back and forth between blues and double time; always straight ahead. Gould is tough as nails on his speedy piano improvisation, drilling into the melodic chord changes, like pointed steele. Now I hear shades of Dakota Staton in Jazzmeia Horn’s vocal presentation.

Tom Bell and Linda Creed wrote a great song when they penned, “People Make the World Go Round” for the popular R&B group, The Stylistics. Ms. Horn and her ensemble of innovative musicians arrange this hit song into a jazz treasure. Williams, on bass, sets up the groove. Ms. Horn begins to speak to us about the state of our world; starving people, corrupt leaders, our food being poisoned, the atmosphere full of unhealthy chemicals, police brutality, crime, junk food, mis-education, pollution, poverty, leaky nuclear plants and her lists goes on. Then the song begins with the spray of Josh Evan’s trumpet tones and Frank Lacy’s trombone notes; enter Stacy Dillard’s tenor saxophone protest. It’s very Avant Garde at first, until Ms. Horn settles them down with a lovely melody and the important lyrics floating on top. This tune glows and shimmers like a diamond in the sand.

Ms. Horn takes the African American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and makes it a medley, adding “Moanin” to the presentation. They melt together seamlessly. And if you are still not convinced that this little lady is a force of jazz nature, take a listen to “The Peacocks (A Timeless Place).” If you’re a vocalist, tackle these intervals and sing this challenging melody without hesitation. This vocalist makes what is extremely difficult sound as easy as breathing in and out. Hers is a voice to be both admired and cherished for keeping the true jazz tradition alive. Her range is strikingly wide and she doesn’t hesitate to race up and down the scales, exhibiting her abilities with ease and at all the right places. She is also a poet, who interjects her poetic balm into our consciousness, for example, during the “Afro Blue” medley; ie “Eye See You”.
Perhaps Jazzmeia J. Horn sums it up best by saying:

“The concept that I wanted to present to the people – viewers and listeners of “A Social Call” – stems from the social issues that are alive today. This idea of the birth of a new conscious generation of people is very relevant and timely. It was imperative for the creative album art to reflect that of the creative musical art. A Social Call is a call in peace about issues affecting peace.”
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CALABRIA FOTI – “IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT” (THE MUSIC OF COLE PORTER)
Moco Records

Calabria Foti, vocals; Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Michael Patterson, piano; Richard Locker, cello; Jared Schonig, drums; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ike Sturm, bass.

Calabria Foti’s voice is caramel sweet, soft, smooth and delicious to the ears. She has chosen to purpose her talent by interpreting the music of the great Cole Porter. Here are several familiar and popular songs, stretching from the 1920’s to the present day, and still impactful all these years later. Ms. Foti recalls the days of West Coast cool voices, like Julie London and Chris Conner. But she doesn’t simply sing these songs. This vocalist puts her heart and soul into each melodic fairytale, convincing us of the storyline with honesty, sincerity and her beautiful delivery.

Opening with “Just One of Those Things,” originally appearing in the 1935 musical, Jubilee, Foti features a very tasteful Eddie Daniels on Clarinet. His delicate accompaniment blends perfectly with Ms. Foti’s eloquent execution of tone and pitch. He also solos on “It’s Alright With Me” (extracted from the 1953 musical, Can Can) and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (from the 1929 musical Wake Up and Dream). Daniels is also prominently featured on “Night and Day” (extracted from the stage play, Gay Divorce) and once again on “Get Out of Town.” Foti and Daniels have a special musical connection on this project. Their unique instruments blend beautifully.

Calabria Foti sounds a lot like Diana Krall. I enjoyed her interpretation of “Anything Goes,” popular from the 1934 musical of the same title. Enter McChesney’s smooth trombone. It never gets in the way of Foti’s infectious vocals, but rather supports the vocalist, secure and dependable as a life jacket.

Richard Locker fools us with his solo cello work, bowing “My One and Only Love,” before Michael Patterson (who also produced these sessions) enters on piano, joined by Calabria Foti’s voice, alerting us that, in fact, this is the recognizable and familiar Gershwin tune, “I Concentrate on You.” Richard Locker’s cello is absolutely gorgeous as an introduction, and once again, the jazzy trombone accompaniment of Bob McChesney is attentive and masterful.

Because of the excellence of Ms. Foti’s vocals, I am absolutely intrigued by this project. The mix and mastering by Michael Aarvold is perfect and deserves complimenting because he allows us to hear the artist brightly, above the track, along with all the instruments cleanly and clearly, as though we are sitting in the recording booth. This is a CD worthy of extensive airplay on both jazz and easy listening stations. Calabria Foti is a force of excellence, churning with emotion, inside a very laid-back and buttery smooth performance.
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LARRY NEWCOMB QUARTET W/BUCKY PIZZARELLI – “LIVING TRIBUTE”
Essential Messenger Record Label

Larry Newcomb, elec. Guitar; Bucky Pizzarelli, acoustic archtop guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; Dmitri Kolesnik, bass; Jimmy Madison, drums; Leigh Jonaitis, vocals.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “Dick Hall was the first master guitarist I ever met. His influence was pivotal. We became bandmates, college roommates and lifelong friends. Dick passed away in June of 2016. I am inspired to express my gratitude for Dick’s musicianship, his friendship, his family and our mutual friends with this album – a living tribute to individuals who have had an immensely positive impact on me.”

“I Remember You” is dedicated to Dick Hall in the liner notes and is presented with a very Dixieland, 1940s themed production, with Pizzarelli strumming his acoustic archtop guitar and Newcomb, playing the melody brightly on his electric axe.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “I remember first meeting Dick Hall at the University of Main in 1970. The keyboardist in my college rock band said, there’s someone you must meet! He took me to Dick’s dorm room. When the door opened, there stood a lanky Abe Lincoln look-alike wearing corduroy pants with the wale worn off at the knees. … I thought to myself, I like this guy. He’s different. He’s himself!”

“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” is dedicated to Jim Hall and continues with the same shuffle, two-step kind of dance feel.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “After hearing Jim’s version of this Cole Porter gem, I knew I wanted to be a jazz guitarist.”

Continuing with a shuffle feel and featuring the strong, walking-bass of Dmitri Kolesnik, the ensemble plays “Morningside Heights” next. It’s a tribute to the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli.

LARRY NEWCOMB:
“From 2000 – 2015, my wife Mary and I lived in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City, adjacent to Columbia University. Having heard Bucky ‘live’ in Florida in the 1980s, I aspired to study guitar with him. As a favor, Ed Benson, (publisher of Just Jazz Guitar) contacted Bucky to inquire if I might call to set up a lesson. Bucky said yes. I rented a car and drove to New Jersey for my first of many lessons. Bucky makes the complex and difficult techniques of jazz guitar understandable and playable. … I am always delighted with the things Bucky shows me. Recording with Bucky has been a fabulous experience.”

There is a song for everyone here. The listening audience, Newcomb’s three sons (Jonah, Jake & Ian), his wife, family and friends. There is a Horace Silver tune titled, “Peace” that’s dedicated to Prem Rawai, who taught Larry Newcomb how to find inner peace.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “…For the past forty-five years, I’ve imperfectly, but constantly practiced connecting to the stillness, clarity and joy inside of me.”

You too will connect to the joy and clarity inside Pizzarelli and Newcomb’s album of excellence. The quartet is tight and you can feel the camaraderie between the players. Newcomb celebrates the lives of those he treasures with several self-penned compositions and a hand-full of standard jazz tunes. I was deeply appreciative of his arrangement on “Alone Together.” This “Living Tribute” album is scheduled for release on June 2, 2017.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF’S ETHEREAL TRIO

Whirlwind Recordings

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/composer; Mark Hellas, double bass; Dan Weiss, drums.

Nachoff’s tenor saxophone enters sweetly, and for a moment you think this is going to be a ballad. As drummer, Dan Weiss’s mallots join in, you feel the momentum picking up. Then Mark Hellas makes a brief solo appearance on bass, soaking up the spotlight like a black hole in space. Suddenly all the star players are joined together, an asterism against the midnight hour of my bedroom. Their notes melt together, like a constellation of beauty. Quinsin Nachoff, Mak Hellia and Dan Weiss perform forty-three minutes of free-form jazz expression and classical-avant-garde.

Nachoff is a New York-based transplant from Canada who explained this project in his linear notes.

“I enjoy writing this way. … It gives me two distinct voices that I can really work with. As a bassist, Mark Helias is such an experienced musician, I can compose harmonically or contrapuntally and he always expands it to such an extent that we’re never missing harmony. If we play in more of an open setting, it leaves us more freedom. Don Weiss is a master of dealing with anything rhythmically, so he can be very free within, even something very structured. All three of us love to investigate different colors and extended techniques. so many different directions are possible. Once we’ve understood what the direction is for each composition, that’s when the magic starts to happen.”
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ART FRISTOE – “DOUBLEDOWN”

Merry Lane Records, LLC

Art Fristoe, piano; Tim Ruiz, bass; Daleton Lee & Richard Cholakian, drums; Ilya Janos, percussion.

J.W. Peine, co-producer and executive producer, admits that although this recording had been in the planning stages for some time, he had no idea it would evolve as part of an Art-House film that he, Daniel Jircik and Bob Dorough were making. The film is described as a fantastical musical about the nature of everything. Art Fristoe was invited to become part of the cast and to add his piano and vocal talents. Fristoe’s size is compelling. He is physically six-feet-six-inches with huge hands and his presence in any room is formidable. He’s a serious student of jazz history, jazz knowledge and has studied classically as a vocal tenor, later focusing on jazz piano. As an educator, Fristoe taught at HSPVA (Houston High School for Performing and Visual Arts). He comes from a proud, hard-swinging West Texas tradition, as son of jazz bassist, Joe Fristoe.

Art Fristoe has composed five tunes on this double set of music and utilizes two different drummers at various sessions along with a percussionist on tunes like Jobim’s, “Ela E Carioca.” His original compositions appear to reflect tricks of time and tempo. For example, on “Forgetting I knew You,” this song seems to explore bars of seven more readily than a melody. However, on his original composition, “Better Lately,” he settles down to sing the song on black and white keys, with a solo piano rendition that is beautiful and heartfelt. I missed a definitive drummer in his trio, setting a solid groove to support Fristoe when he’s exploring his creativity. At other times, I found his piano-playing-style assertive to the point of pounding. Some tunes on this CD quickly become lack-luster, because of repetitive chording and very little improvisational exploration. On the whole, perhaps the music would be better appreciated by this journalist in the context of the film.
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JAZZ RELEASES HIGHLIGHT NEW COMPOSERS & ARRANGEMENTS OF OLD SONGS

May 16, 2017

May 16, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

If you appreciate the beauty of a jazz flute, you will enjoy two composers who are both outstanding flautists; Lori Bell and Ed Maina. Maina plays all the reed instruments and has composed nearly every tune on his “In the Company of Brothers” CD. Lori Bell, also a fine jazz composer, teams with the very talented guitarist, Ron Satterfield, fitting like ring to finger in a marriage of duo music. Ronny Whyte brings us his compelling piano/vocal mastery. Mari & Leo Nobre celebrate being alive with world music arrangements, covering Gershwin to Jobim and vocalist Sylvia Brooks uses a cast of West Coast, all-star musicians that add sparkle to her production. Enjoy!

LORI BELL – “BLUE(S)”
Independent label

Lori Bell, C flute/alto flute; Ron Satterfield, guitar/vocals.

Tenacious flautist, Lori Bell and guitar master, Ron Satterfield, have joined together, fitting like ring to finger, in a marriage of duo music. The theme of their current CD release is “Blue(s),” using a string of beautiful compositions that include the word ‘blue’ in each title. Beginning with the Lori Bell original composition, “Bell’s Blues”, we enjoy nearly four minutes of a very happy, straight-ahead jazz tune that is punctuated by Satterfield’s guitar, walking bass lines, and his voice echoing the melody. Bell displays her usual flare on flute, swinging hard and freely improvising; even ‘trading fours’ with Satterfield’s innovative scat singing. The Bill Evans composition, “Blue in Green” has a Brazilian arrangement, created by the gentle and persuasive strumming of Satterfield, with Bell’s flute singing sweetly atop the rhythm. Both musicians are so timely and tempo conscious, I don’t even miss the drums. Satterfield has written lyrics to the Evan’s tune and sings his prose after Bell’s awesome solo. You will enjoy the Thelonius tune, “Blue Monk”, the Joni Mitchell song, “Blue”, Oliver Nelson’s “Teenie’s Blues,” McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner”, the Miles Davis jazz standard, “All Blues” and a couple of more original compositions by the talented Ms. Bell. One of her compositions especially touched my heart entitled, “Blue Butterflies” that made the fluttering wings of the insects dance cheerfully off of my CD player. Lori and Ron blend together, like pancakes and syrup; sweet, tasty and satisfying.

The duo will celebrate the release of this CD during a concert at Dizzy’s in San Diego on Saturday, July 15 at 8PM with special guests Duncan Moore on drums and percussionist Tommy Aros.

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RONNY WHYTE – “SHADES OF WHYTE”
Audiophile Records

Ronny Whyte, piano/vocals/arrangements; Boots Maleson, bass; Sean Harksness, guitar; Lou Caputo, tenor saxophone/flute; Mauricio De Souza & David Silliman, drums; Alex Nguyen, trumpet.

Ronny Whyte is a pianist and jazz singer with a vocal style very reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. This album offers sixteen familiar, standard. jazz tunes that feature Whyte’s sextet. It reminds this listener of sitting in a hotel lounge, sipping cocktails somewhere in America, while enjoying a seasoned veteran share his smooth vocals and competent piano playing. One thing that separates Whyte from a typical lounge singer are his composing skills. He has added five original songs on this recording. “It’s Time for Love” has a strong lyrical base and a happy-go-lucky melody. “I Love the Way You Dance,” is another well-written composition that features Alex Nguyen, resilient on trumpet. Whyte slides smoothly past some pitch problems on this tune, but his songwriting skills are strong. Other self-penned, standard-sounding songs are “Linger Awhile,” “I’ll Tell You What,” and “Blame It on the Movies.” Here is an easy listening CD that I’m certain Ronny Whyte’s fans will gobble up like M&M candy.

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ED MAINA – “IN THE COMPANY OF BROTHERS”
Independent Label

Ed Maina, alto & soprano saxophones/clarinet/flute & alto flute/piccolo/percussion/EWI; Rick Krive, piano/vocals; Jim Gaisor & Kemuel Roig, piano; Dave Cabrera, Jonathan Orriols & Gustavo Eraso, guitar; Gabby Vivas, Oskar Cartaya, John DiModica & Abe Laboriel, bass; Hilario Bell, Hector “Pocho” Nuciosup, Daniel Berroa & Charlie Santiago, percussion; Abner Torres, drums; Jim Hacker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ira Sullivan, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Kricker, trombone; Javier Diaz & Carolina Herrera, vocals; Chuk Wu, prayer; Eddy Garcia, kalimba; Flute, Priscilla Wagner.
Ed Maina is a master of several horns. I’m usually prone to Alto and Tenor saxophones, but Maina makes me enjoy the beauty of each horn he plays, coloring the music like a fine portrait painter. “This Is the Moment,” is a composition opening the production. It’s so bluesy that it draws me in like quicksand. Here is smooth jazz at its best, and all the players bring excellence to this project. I’m enthralled with Jonathan Orriol’s guitar solo. The horn arrangements are complimentary and harmonic. In the liner notes, Ed Maina writes:

“My experiences at the University of Miami Jazz Department, opened up so many doors for me to play with some of the best musicians and bands in the industry. Some include Maynard Ferguson, Frank Sinatra, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Jaco Pastorius … the Temptations, the O’Jays and so many more. … In 2004, I was encouraged by a close friend to record my own project. In the challenge of raising a family, teaching school and pursuing a music career … I realize why this project took thirteen years to complete. It’s also challenging to categorize the music that comes from your heart, having been influenced from Mozart to Motown and everyone in between. Obviously, I have a strong jazz and Latin jazz influence coming from South Florida. … What you’ll hear are all those influences, mixed with a lot of beautiful music from musicians I met and played with. “In the Company of Brothers” is the fruit of that endeavor.”

Maina’s self-penned composition, “You’re Still Here With Me” is delicate and emotional, with Maina’s clarinet flying like a bird across the lush, electronic background instrumentation. Gabby Vivas is solid on bass, walking creatively beneath the production and acting as the basement of the band’s structure. Maina adds Alto flute as a lovely appendage to the sensitive face of this production. When I listen to this Waltz, I am enchanted by the melody. Jim Gaisor exhibits expert chops on piano and fattens the sound.

Then comes “Quelly’s Song,” an ebullient, Latin number where Abner Torres on trap drums locks the groove down along with Hector ‘Pocho’ Nuciosup and Charlie Santiago on percussions. A nice, smooth guitar solo by Gustavo Eraso pushes the music gently ahead. Pianist Rick Krive adds his vocals to accent certain riffs with scat doubling. All the while, Maina’s supreme flute playing dominates this tune’s production. Maina features several original compositions on his CD and they are all sexy and plush with emotional character. One of the things I look for in a music project is believability and emotion. I really want to feel something when I listen and Maina’s musicianship is full of expression. This ensemble plays it all, from Latin fusion to funk; straight ahead to blues. I also love Maina’s saxophone expertise. Ed Maina and his band fit together like familiar garden plants rooted in rich soil. They blossom and grow, bursting with color and fragrance with each song. Here is a bouquet of exquisite music that brightens my home, like bunches of wild flowers or pots of fragrant, fresh herbs. It’s good for the soul.
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MARI NOBRE’S JAZZ BAND – “LIVE AND ALIVE”
Chrome Records

Mari Nobre, vocals; Leo Nobre, bass; Justo Almario, sax/flute; Angelo Metz, acoustic/electric guitar; Sandro Feliciano, drums; Daniel Szabo, piano.

On this celebration of life CD, multi-linqual vocalist, Mari Nobre, interprets songs from Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” to Jobim’s “Corcovado” and “Chega de Saudade”. Ms. Nobre sings in Portuguese, in Spanish and in English during a ‘live’ recorded concert at the Jan Popper Theater on the campus of UCLA. Surrounded by her husband/arranger, Leo Nobre on bass, and the incomparable Justo Almario on reeds, this Italian queen holds a jazzy court. Mari Nobre was born and raised in Naples, Italy and began singing at age fourteen. She transplanted to New York , met Leo Nobre, who was playing bass with Sergio Mendes at that time. They married and moved to Los Angeles.

This project was recorded last year, only three weeks after Mari Nobre had an operation to remove cancer from her body. Thus, this musical expression becomes Nobre’s testament to life and the healing power of music. Their Brazilian arrangement on Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” is jubilant and showcases Almario’s flute and Nobre’s voice flying freely. They are like two improvisational birds. The thoughtful solo of Angelo Metz on guitar is a warm introduction to Daniel Szabo’s piano improvisation on “Corcovado”. Mari Nobre has composed one song with co-writer, Patrick Lockwood. It’s titled, “Linda” and moves at a happy Samba pace, with a staccato melody that punctuates the title. Actually, (I read in the liner notes) the Portuguese meaning of “Linda” is ‘beautiful’. Mari Nobre dedicated this song to the beauty of womanhood. “Dance Me to the End of Love” gives Leo Nobre a chance to solo on his electric bass and Almario adds his jazzy saxophone to the mix. “Frenesi” is a familiar song to my ear and Nobre lets her second soprano voice sing it with gusto. It’s a proper and energetic way to end this album.

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SYLVIA BROOKS – “THE ARRANGEMENT”
Independent label

Sylvia Brooks, vocals; Otmaro Ruiz , Jeff Colella & Quinn Johnson, piano; Christian Jacob, piano/Fender Rhodes; Sezin Ahmet Turkmenoglu, Chris Colangelo, David Hughes & Trey Henry, bass; Aaron Serfaty, drums/percussion; Tom Brechtlein, Jamey Tate & Kendall Kay, drums; Kim Richmond, alto saxophone, Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Francisco Torres, trombone; Juliane Gralle, bass trombone; Brian Swartz & Michael Stver, trumpet; Ron Stout, flugelhorn; Jeff Driskill, sax; Will Brahm & Larry Koonse, guitar; Bruce Babad, flutes/sax;;

This vocalist is wrapped tightly with a blanket of excellent arrangements and wonderful musicians, who create a bed of comfort for her voice. Otmaro Ruiz, one of the pianist/arrangers on this project, has prepared silky smooth musical sheets, with his horn section punching at just the right spaces on Sylvia Brooks’ premiere tune; “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” Aaron Serfaty’s percussion greatly compliments her arrangement, enhancing the Latin-feel. The Hank Williams country/western tune, “Cold Cold Heart” is performed as a smart blues, once again featuring a well arranged horn section. I love the production and arrangements on this CD. The vocalist has good pitch and a pretty voice. However, do I believe her lyrical stories? That is the question. Part of being a believable singer is to sell the songs and infuse them with strong, individual emotion. However, the musical productions are so strong, you easily give Ms. Brooks a pass. For example, the awesome arrangement of “Body and Soul” by Jeff Colella is fresh and captivating. Her song choices are to be commended. She offers the listener fourteen well-respected and recognizably popular songs from the Beatles to Matt Dennis; from Cole Porter to Sammy Cahn.

As a composer, Brooks co-wrote two original songs that have good lyrics and memorable melodies; “What Was I thinking (The Mirage)” and “Sweet Surrender” are well-written with stellar horn arrangements. Bravo for hiring all these amazing and accomplished musicians and arrangers. Sylvia Brooks collaboration with some of the best jazz musicians in Southern California make this project sparkle.

Sylvia Brooks will appear in concert to release her new CD on June 7, 2017 at the famed Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. Hit time is 8:30PM.
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POLITICS AND POINTS OF VIEW REFLECTED IN TODAY’S MUSIC

May 2, 2017

POLITICS & POINTS OF VIEW REFLECTED IN TODAY’S MUSIC
New CD reviews by Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist – May 1, 2017

TINA RAYMOND – “LEFT RIGHT LEFT”
Orenda Records

Tina Raymond, drums; Art Lande, piano; Putter Smith, bass.

The thing that strikes me right away about this recording is that the drums are mixed crisply and upfront. Steadfast and timely, Tina Raymond steps forward, obviously, the leader on her trap drum instrument. She is exceptionally creative and her drum talents stand out in situations of musical production that usually call for the percussion to be in the background. Raymond can roll those drum sticks, smooth and rhythmically, like an expert baker. The resulting pie, of both sweet and peppery sounds, invites us to taste her percussion mastery.

Glancing down at the titles of the songs she picked for this premiere recording, it is obvious Tina Raymond is intent on making a statement with her music. Musically, Raymond is calling our attention to a sadness and frustration that she claims to have felt in the days following our most recent presidential election. Starting with “Pastures of Plenty” by Woody Guthrie and followed by, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “America”, “Union Maid”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and “Saigon Bride” (by Joan Baez), and inclusive of the CD title, “Left Right Left,” she depicts two extreme political factors in the United States. Raymond explains in her liner notes:

“As a drummer and percussion teacher, I say the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ often. I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what combinations of left and right are the most efficient way to execute rhythms. … In politics, the terms ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ date back to the French Revolution … two opposing parties in relation to the king. I was very disillusioned when a man with no qualifications defeated a woman, who is probably one of the most qualified people ever to run for president. I think America still doesn’t respect women. … The name of my CD refers to the political landscape of the U.S.”

Art Lande on piano and bassist, Putter Smith each rise to the task at hand, delivering artistically the very best of themselves. Both are lauded and seasoned players. Lande is Grammy-nominated and extremely improvisational on piano. You can hear his Avant Garde harmonics brightly supporting the diametrically opposed left and right on “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Putter Smith is as solid as a judge’s gavel, pounding out the rhythm on his double bass with power and authority. Smith has worked with Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, Percy Faith, Art Pepper and a host of others. Lande has seventeen albums released as a leader and his piano skills are clearly a catalyst in the arrangements on this recording. I was taken by the sweetness and sincerity he infused during the composition, “Union Maid.” Although the lyrics, by Woody Guthrie, strongly support American work unions from a fearless woman’s point of view, Lande’s piano execution is sensitive and lovely. The song lyrics read, “There was a union maid, she never was afraid of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.”

Similar to the lyrics of that song, Tina Raymond is another strong female, a forward thinker and a change-maker. She isn’t afraid to express her revolutionary spirit on this compact disc of music. Her arrangements are powerful and expressive. Her artistry; undeniable. Endorsed by Sabian, Regal Tip and Remo drum manufacturers, and currently a professor of music at Los Angeles City College, she is one of a few women throughout the country in a full-time faculty position in jazz. Even more importantly, she is an exceptional drummer. Every cut on this CD is an exclamation mark on the word excellent.
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ROCCO JOHN IACOVONE – “PEACE AND LOVE”
Unseen Rain Records

Rocco John Iacovone, alto & soprano saxophone/piano; Ras Moshe Burnett, bells/tenor saxophone/flute; Sana Nagano, violin; Michael Lytle, bass clarinet; Rich Rosenthal, guitar; Phil Sirois, bass; John Pietaro, percussion; Dalius Naujo, drums.

I was eager to review this piece of art, mainly because of the CD title. I, myself, always answer my phone, “Peace and love” and it’s really my life mantra. Like Rocco John Iacovone, I recognize we need people to reflect and embrace more peace and love on earth. Consequently, I was eager to experience music that boasted an inspiration for the goodness of love and peace in three musical Suites. The first reflects the “Aurora Borealis”; the second is composed in consideration of “Evolution” and the last Suite is titled, “What If the Moon Were Made Out of Jazz?”

Rocco John Iacovone has long been a major influence in New York’s improvisatory musician’s community. As a student of Sam Rivers and Lee Konitz, his alto and soprano saxophone talents reflect Avant Garde inspiration. He founded the Improvisational Composers Ensemble (ICE) as an outlet for music specific to featuring improv as a major compositional element. “Peace and Love” is his fourth album as a leader and composer. His ensemble generously reflects the premise of freedom and creativity. They band together to compliment his original music, with ample time given each musician to express themselves within each suite. This recording was made “Live” inside “the Stone” (John Zorn’s place) to a standing-room-only audience. It is dedicated to the memory of Will Connell, who had encouraged Rocco’s residency and ultimate recording venture, but passed away November 19, 2014, before he could witness the dream come to fruition. Connell received a CAPS grant for orchestral composition and as a copyist/arranger/sideman, Will Connell worked for musicians ranging from Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack to Horace Tapscott, Sam Rivers, Elton John, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Rocco said, “Will used to sign his emails, “Peas and Lub”. So this CD, ‘Peace and Love,’ is dedicated with much love to the spirit of Will Connell.”
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GREGORY LEWIS – “ORGAN MONK, THE BREATHE SUITE”
Independent Label

Gregory Lewis, Hammond B3 Organ; Nasheet Waits & Jeremy “Bean” Clemons, drums; Marc Ribot, guitar; Reggie Woods, tenor saxophone; Riley Mullins, trumpet.

Gregory Lewis brings together a federation of musicians who have joined in musical protest to remember the names of African Americans who have become symbols of the racial divide in America. The first name, “Michael Brown” opens ethereally, with a musical freedom and Avant Garde attitude that leaves plenty of room for solo expression. “Chronicles of Michael Brown” allows each musician in the Gregory Lewis ensemble to step forward and make an improvisational statement. We experience the musical mood-changes dramatically. Reggie Woods brings a moody blues with his tenor saxophone. Riley Mullins doubles the tempo and melodically screeches his trumpet protest to the wind. Nasheet Waits is a monster on drums, sometimes frenzied and powerful, other times beating a slow funk rhythm into the pulse of the music. As an example, he holds the groove in place beneath Marc Ribot’s soulful, electric guitar solo. This solo quickly accelerates in pace, pushing crescendos of energy into a mild explosion of sound and cymbals. Lewis uses the organ’s upper register to calm the group, with a staccato approach, playing repetitious notes that dance on rolling trap drums like water drops in hot grease. This first movement sets the tone of his album and takes the listener to some unexpected places. For those who don’t remember, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white, Ferguson police officer and that sparked civil unrest in the streets of this Missouri city.

The second movement, dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin, a young African American teenager whose life was taken by an impetuous police-wanna-be, (citizen patrol person) as Trayvon was walking back to his father’s house on private property. Lewis’ organ style on this composition reminds me of the late, great Jimmy Smith with a bebop feel and melodic organ improv. The arrangement is quick and assertive, like the unpredictable fight between the killer and the boy, ending in the unarmed man-child’s life being taken. I’m impressed by the way the organ melody and the drums of Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons play in unison at the top of this tune. Clemons displays the same kind of high energy and precision drumming as Waits and plays on four out of these six tunes.

The third Movement is in memory of Little seven-year-old, Aiyana Jones, and titled “Aiyana’s Jones Song,” beginning with Lewis on organ and Ribot on guitar setting an Eerie, dirge like mood. It reminds us of how police officers raided a house in Detroit, Michigan, May 16, 2010, and shot and killed the child lying innocent on her couch. Officer Joseph Weekley was charged, with reckless endangerment with a gun and involuntary manslaughter, in the child’s death. Two different trials ended in mistrials. The dirge-like music soon lightens, with melodies that are playful and happy, perhaps representing the spirit of the little girl before this horrendous incident.

The Fourth Movement is in tribute to Eric Garner, a man accused of selling single cigarettes, in July of 2014, and ultimately NYPD officers put the large man in a choke hold that led to him mumbling “I can’t breathe” and soon after he died from that police altercation. On this musical reflection, the arrangement is other-worldly and ominous.

Gregory Lewis is providing a musical platform for the stories of African American casualties from horrific episodes brought to public light by cell phone recordings and multi-cultural defiance against unnecessary violence, by police, against people of color. Thus, the rise of movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and protests nationwide. Lewis feels these are incidents and names we must never forget. He explained himself by saying:

“I can’t protest, because if I protest I go to jail. And if I go to jail, I can’t feed my five kids. So, what I can do is what I do. I write music. I want to get this record to each of the people, even if it brings joy for just a minute to these families.”

Lewis closed with the Fifth Movement titled “Osiris Ausar and the Race4 Soldiers.” It’s a speedy, Straight Ahead number that bebops its way across space and reflects the story of Ausar that begins in the ancient kingdom of Kush or what is presently known as Sudan. Ausar was a genius leader and scholar, who taught agriculture, theology and is said to have known the language of the Gods. He married Auset or Isis, and was later murdered in his sleep by his jealous brother. His body was dismembered into fourteen parts and the various body parts were left in diverse territories of Kemet. Ausar’s wife, Isis, searched until she found thirteen of his fourteen missing body parts, washed each one, anointed each with oil and wrapped each in linen for a proper burial. Later, she bore a son, who grew up and killed the evil uncle and retook their land. His son, Heru, is commemorated over several temples in Egypt as a carved, winged sun, known as the Heru Bedet. It is meant to serve as a reminder of virtue and order and a warning against jealousy and hedonism. Osiris is known, to this day, as an Egyptian God, usually identified as presiding over the afterlife.

This “Osiris Ausar and the Race4 Soldiers” composition seems to be a final blessing on those souls departed and the legacy they left behind. There is a sixth cut on this CD that is a reprise of the fifth. My only criticism of this piece of musical art is that at times, the organ is not pulled up enough in the ‘mix’.

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HIROE SEKINE – “ONE WORLD ONE SUN”
Sony Music

Hiroe Sekine, piano/composer; Yukihiro Isso, Nokan/Dengakubue; Kazuhiko Kondo, soprano saxophone/bass clarinet; Michael Valerio, acoustic bass/fretless bass/elec. bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Alex Acuña, cajon/bombo/drums; Antonio de Jerez, palmas & voz; Kaori Aoi, Sanshin; Paul Livingstone, sitar; Brad Dutz, tabla; Charlie Bisharet, violin; Eric Rigler, Uilleann pips; Geoff Dent, Gendér/Reyong; Dimitris Mahlis, oud; Larry Koones, tenor ukulele; Edgar Huaman Vera, zampoña; SPECIAL GUEST: Hiromitsu Agatsuma, Tsugaru-Shamisen player.

In a world perforated by bullets of war and muddied by cultural misunderstandings, Hiroe Sekine endeavors to bring people together with new music that celebrates a variety of countries, pulled lovingly under the umbrella of jazz. She has composed every track on this compact disc with the obvious intention of showing us how much alike we are and unified, instead of divided. Music can do that.

Pianist Sekine has incorporated instrumentation from various parts of the world to color her melodies and expand her arrangements, starting with “Nippon Barre, (a Japanese Sunny Day),” that reflects her own culture and the country of Japan. Incorporating the native instruments of Nokan an Dengakubue and using minor mode harmonies and scales, this artist brings her country to our ears. The Nokan is a flute from the Japanese Yokobue Edo period that dates back to the 1800s. The famed player, Hiromitsu Agatsuma (Courtesy of NIPPON Columbia Records) brings ancient authenticity with the Tsugaru-Shamisen instrument that resembles a banjo in appearance, but is very, very different in sound and frets. Upon listening to this song, I am transported to Nagoya, with it’s beautiful and ornate, outdoor, winter ice sculptors or Kyoto, full of temples, castles and supreme noodle shops. There is a very warm spot In my heart for Japanese culture and jazz. My first solo gig as a jazz singer was in Nagoya, Japan with a very excellent Japanese jazz band.

Hiroe Sekine whisks us off to Spain on cut #2 titled, “Brillo del Sol” translating to Sunshine. Kazuhiko Kondo is stellar on his soprano saxophone solo and Michael Valerio tells an engaging double bass story. Sekine’s melody runs like a thread throughout this song and connects everyone with needle-like precision, the same way her theme of sunshine touches the title of every tune. It’s a very charming composition and concept.

Tune number three has a reggae feel, so I immediately know we are somewhere in the Caribbean. “Sunshine (Caribbean)” unfolds, and I wish I had felt more ‘joi de vivre’ in this song. I’ve spent time in those islands, where energy and music is married and infectious. Sekine’s arrangement is a bit too laid-back for my taste, featuring Russell Ferrante’s melodica, and sounding rather like easy-listening instead of jazz. I did enjoy the addition of steel drums, but they still couldn’t lift the music by themselves.

Representing the people, culture and music of India, the fourth composition is titled, “Soorya Kaa Prakaasha” or Sunlight. The sitar of Paul Livingstone sings the melody along with Sekine and Brad Dutz adds the Tabla, a south Asian percussive instrument similar to bongos. Livingstone brings out the beauty on this song with his sitar solo, playing tag with Hiroe Sekine’s piano runs. ON “Tidanu Hikari (Rays of the Sun – Okinawa), Sekine steps forward to lay a lovely ballad at our feet like a gift, wrapped in the warm cloak of Kaori Aoi’s Sanshin instrument. I found this composition very beautiful. The Sanshin is a traditional Japanese instrument that has a very banjo-like quality of sound.

Sekine is quite generous with her musical space, giving several guests free-wheel to roll around this disc, exploring her memorable melodies with solos and improvisation. She completes this album by reflecting the music of Ireland, (incorporating violin and Uillean pipes). She celebrates Indonesia, with the distinctive sounds of Gendér and Reyong instruments, followed by tributes to Morocco, Hawaii and Peru. Each original composition mirrors the brazen and necessary beauty and warmth of our sun, as well as the title of this album, “One World One Sun.” Without the sun and each other, we will surely perish.

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LIVE REVIEW OF TOM RANIER TRIO TRIBUTE TO ARTIE SHAW

March 29, 2017

LIVE REVIEW OF TOM RANIER TRIO TRIBUTE TO ARTIE SHAW – March 26, 2017
By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

When I have a scheduled gig, I usually don’t plan to do anything else on that date except sing. I’m not sure people realize how much energy it takes to entertain. We musicians give so much of ourselves to others, and we are so appreciative when we receive the love back at our concerts. So usually, I conserve my energy on a day I have to perform in order to bring my best. However, on this particular Sunday afternoon, I broke my rule, because I was eager to hear the music of Tom Ranier, Ron Escheté and Luther Hughes at a private jazz salon in Huntington Beach. Their concert was held earlier than my gig. It started at 2pm and ended at 4:30pm and I would be just minutes away from Baci’s Italian Restaurant, located in the same beach city where I would be working.

I drove 2 hours to get to the California Jazz Arts Society (Cal JAS) event. If you live in Los Angeles, you judge car travel by time rather than mileage distance. Most of the travel time is due to terrible and congested traffic on multiple freeways. I thought I had left early enough to arrive promptly; but I was late, and walked into the Hughes home a few minutes after two. The concert was already in progress. The place was packed and the trio was playing “Lady Be Good” as I tip-toed into their living room. Tom Ranier was sitting behind an electric piano, holding a clarinet to his lips and sounding amazing. The concept of the concert was to celebrate the talents and legacy of Artie Shaw, while raising money for the California Jazz Arts Society. I slid onto one of only three chairs available in the packed room. Sitting against the wall, by the front door, a strong spring wind tousled my hair and cooled the attentive audience. Luther Hughes welcomed me with a wink, as he dug into his solo on double bass.

In between songs, Tom Ranier shared interesting antidotes about Artie Shaw, colored by his obvious admiration for his departed friend and mentor. He told us that he actually bought Shaw’s mouthpiece on EBay. Shaw was working professionally at sixteen-years-old, inspired by Louie Armstrong. Ranier explained that Artie seemed to be a troubled soul early on, who had eight wives during his lifetime, including famed actress Lana Turner, and was in and out of the music business; quitting then coming back again.

Next, the Ranier trio tackled “Rose Room,” a composition that reflects the same chord changes as Duke Ellington’s tune, “In A Mellow Tone”. It was eerie listening to the similarity of the two songs. The trio incorporated both songs into their arrangement, with Ron Escheté sounding creative and spontaneous on guitar and Luther Hughes echoing the melody line of “In A Mellow Tone” on his upright bass. “Rose Room” was written by Art Hickman, with lyrics by Harry Williams, to celebrate the famed room of the White House in the United States. It’s a 1917 jazz standard and enjoyed huge popularity during the Swing Era. Duke Ellington is credited with reviving the popular composition in 1932. Seven years later, Ellington adopted the chord changes and wrote “In A Mellow Tone”. So, the story goes, Charlie Christian made an indelible mark on jazz history when he impressed Benny Goodman, jamming his ‘Rose Room’ solo for nearly forty-five minutes. But it was Artie Shaw who first made the song popular.

Luther introduced his wife and vocalist, Becky Hughes, to sing the next song that recalled another popular recording of Artie Shaw. She performed “Deep Purple,” beautifully reiterating an original arrangement by Peggy Lee. This was followed by the band playing, “Dancing on the Ceiling” at a moderate tempo, and Ranier’s trio really made it ‘Swing.’

President of the Cal JAS organization, Dale Boatman, took to the microphone next to interpret “Day In Day Out” with his smooth baritone vocals.
Tom Ranier moved effortlessly from joining Escheté and Hughes on piano or picking up the clarinet and celebrating Artie Shaw. He gave us brief and not-so-brief anecdotes about the iconic musician’s life. It was a delightful way to share music history and I sat there thinking what a wonderful program this would be for junior high and high school students, to introduce them to jazz and the artists who made jazz unforgettably important to the world.

Set two began with “Begin the Beguine,” a huge big band success for Artie Shaw and his orchestra. Back-tracking a bit, a conversation had developed when the band played “Dancing on the Ceiling.” It was about Fred Astaire and his unforgettable dance number in the MGM film, “Royal Wedding,” where he dances on the walls and ceiling of a room. Astaire also danced to “Begin the Beguine” with Eleanor Powell. Tom Ranier told us that Fred Astaire was of Austrian and Russian decent and his actual name was Frederick Austerlitz. I didn’t know that. Speaking of given names, Artie Shaw’s actual birth name was Arthur Jacob Arshawsky.

Luther reminded the attentive audience that his friend and fellow musician, Tom Ranier, is not only a great pianist and clarinetist, but he is also a gifted arranger who has worked on the popular television show, “Dancing with the Stars” and has also arranged music for the Academy Awards, the Emmy and Golden Globe Award shows. Not to mention he has arranged sound tracks for Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Christina Aguilera, Joe Pass, Barry Manilow and Natalie Cole to name just a sprinkling of the artists he has worked with. Then, we went back to the music at hand.

On Begin the Beguine”, his arrangement set the tempo as a Bolero. Then smooth as Bengali silk, his clarinet melody captivated us. This song was Shaw’s great hit and every audience where he performed it, demanded he play it over and over again. It’s remains as compelling as ever.

Afterwards, Ranier suggested we find the documentary on Artie Shaw called “Time Is All You’ve Got”. He said Artie sued the producer of that film. There is also a Youtube.com viewing available of a documentary called “The Quest for Perfection” with actual interviews given by Artie Shaw. I went right home and enjoyed reviewing the documentaries. One thing I had always heard about Artie Shaw was that he hired Billie Holiday and other black musicians like Roy Eldridge, before it was acceptable behavior to include African Americans in white bands. I admired him for that integration before I knew the rest of his legacy.

Sunday afternoon was a wonderful, educational and musical experience. It tickled my interest into the legacy of Artie Shaw and satisfied my appreciation of great music played by accomplished Los Angeles based musicians. Jazz Salons are becoming more and more popular in various Southern California communities. For a reasonable donation, you get an afternoon of excellent music, all the wine and beer you can drink, snacks and in this case, historic stories from folks who were there and lived it. For more information about the California Jazz Arts Society, see http://www.caljas.org.

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