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MUSICAL TREASURE & GIFTS FOR CHRISTMAS

December 4, 2017

MUSICAL TREASURES AND GIFTS FOR CHRISTMAS – December 4, 2017
By Dee Dee McNeil

CHRIS PASIN AND FRIENDS – “BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE”
Planet Arts

Chris Pasin, trumpet/flugelhorn/vocal; Arman Donelian, piano; Ira Coleman & Rich Syracuse, bass; Jeff Siegel, drums; Peter Einhorn, guitar; Patricia Dalton Fennell, vocals.

I really enjoyed the jazzy rendition of “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” incorporating a few unusual harmonic chord changes and a warm, appealing vocal by Patricia Dalton Fennell. Chris Pasin is sturdy and improvisational on his trumpet and flugelhorn, breathing brassy life into these familiar holiday favorites. On the trio rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” Ira Coleman is stunning on his bass solo and Armen Donelian makes bold statements on piano. Throughout the entire production, Jeff Siegel keeps the time controlled and inspired on his trap drums. This is a delightful and well produced Christmas album that takes inspirational journeys outside the predictable path and heightens our listening enjoyment. Pasin decorates the production with his shiny, hard bop horn and folks like Peter Einhorn on guitar and Pasin’s trusty trio adds the sparkling tinsel, tying everything together like a jazzy holiday ornament for our ears.

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THE BILLY LESTER TRIO – “ITALY 2016”
Ultra Sound Records

Billy Lester, piano; Marcello Testa, bass; Nicola Stranieri, drums.

Sometimes, when you place a CD into your CD player, with no compunction and no preconceived ideas about what it will sound like, you are blown away by the uniqueness of genius. That’s what happened today when I put on Billy Lester’s trio project recorded in Italy a year ago. Marcello Testa and Nicola Stranieri are iconic European jazz players and these two lauded musicians are featured along with Billy Lester.

The first thing that strikes me about this recording is the unique call and response that Billy Lester ‘s hands create. First, the right hand tinkles a melody and it’s quickly answered by Lester’s left hand.
Sometimes it’s almost an echo technique with creative musical repetition between the ten phalanges. His original composition, “An Evening with Friends” is the perfect vehicle for this technique to fester and grow. The way Lester plays, it’s as though he has four hands and 20 sets of busy fingers. I don’t mean busy as in speed. I mean a contemplative, timely, technical exploration of the 88-keys with precision and thoughtfulness. Lester has composed all six of the compositions you will enjoy on this project and each one is well-written and well-played. He grew up listening to master musicians like Bud Powell and Art Tatum; Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge. You can also hear the influence of Thelonius Monk in his playing and his love of Lester Young comes through in his creative solos and improvisational freshness. He knows how to take a melody and redevelop it.

I fell in love with the rich, melodic sound of Marcello Testa’s bass and the crisp percussive sticks of Nicola Stranieri on drums. Stranieri seems to tap dance, in perfect time, across the cymbals and high hat, while amply supporting this rhythm section. Here is a trio rich in jazz culture and innovation. Any lover of jazz would be thrilled to find this brilliant piece of Bebop/Straight-Ahead stuffed into their stocking this 2017 holiday season.
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DAVID IAN – “VINTAGE CHRISTMAS TRIO”
Prescott Records

David Ian, piano; Jon Estes, upright bass; Josh Hunt, drums/percussion.

Here’s the perfect trio to transform our favorite Christmas compositions into jazz songs for the season. The simplicity of the production is compelling and each musician is technically astute. Together they know how to put the ‘Swing’ into the music. These are Ian’s arrangements and feature instrumental jazz interpretations or all our favorite Christmas songs, starting with “Deck the Halls” and including “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” “Joy to the World,” “White Christmas,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “We Three Kings,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Silver Bells,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Jon Estes on upright bass is the garland that wraps the rhythm section in sparkling synchronization. Josh Hunt brings creative percussion-work to the production, adding spice and brightness. The leader, David Ian, is the melody keeper and knows how to veer his fingers over the keys, like a sleigh ride to the warmth of a fireplace and a house full of love. Here is a great stocking stuffer !

Videos!
DECK THE HALLS https://youtu.be/2d0KXAkYXx0
JOY TO THE WORLD https://youtu.be/QjrSzJREVZM
I HEARD THE BELLS https://youtu.be/eQyHNLYFN1M

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TAKAAKI – “NEW KID IN TOWN”
Albany Records

Takaaki Otomo, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

In 2007, Takaaki Otomo won first prize in a Japanese jazz competition. He relocated to New York City in 2014 and has steadily climbed the ladder of success. This recording opens with one of Takaaki’s original compositions entitled, “Evening Glow.” On a crisp, cold winter evening, this song oozes warmth with its beauty and melodic charm. Beneath the melody, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer, Jared Shonig dance together in a synchronized effort to create groove and ambience. They are busy, while Takaaki takes his time developing the song atop their spirited rhythm. I like the arrangement that moves from solo piano (with classical overtones) to a more Straight-Ahead rendition of the song and then, in comes the bass, walking with the blues tinging her style, becoming a powerful introduction into Noriko Ueda’s memorable solo. Afterwards, the group resorts back to a slow but enthusiastic ‘Swing’. Always, Takaaki is the master and captain of this musical ship, steering it with his impactful piano performance.

Born and raised in Kobe, Japan, Takaaki studied classical piano from age five for a decade. At age fifteen, he fell in love with jazz and changed directions. Listening to the music of Oscar Peterson, he was inspired. Under the direction of Tadao Kitano, a famous piano teacher in the city of Kobe, Takaaki grew and flowered into a sensitive and innovative pianist. When producer, Bernard Hoffer first heard him at a local NYC restaurant, he was impressed enough to offer him an opportunity to record.

Takaaki’s bassist is female. Noriko Ueda is originally born and raised in Hyogo, Japan and she too studied classical piano at the early age of four. At sweet sixteen, she began to play the electric bass and at eighteen, switched to the double bass. As a B.E.S.T. scholarship recipient, Noriko Ueda majored in jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and relocated to New York City. She’s no new comer to the jazz scene. Ueda has performed at Lincoln Center, the Blue Note Jazz Club and even Carnegie Hall. Her credits include working with the legendary Frank Wess Quintet, The Ted Rosenthal Trio, Grady Tate’s band and Sherrie Maricle with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, among others. She was featured on a Japanese documentary TV show called Gutto Chikyu-bin, and was the winner of the 3rd Annual BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize for her original big band arrangement, “Castle in the North” in 2002.

Drummer Jared Schonig was born and raised in Los Angeles and has been honing his skills on drums since age fourteen. He’s won seven Downbeat Student Music Awards before graduating from the Eastman School of Music in 2005. Schonig’s either toured or recorded with the likes of Dr. Lonnie Smith, Nicholas Payton, Fred Hersch, Wycliffe Gordon and Ernie Watts. Recently, he held the drum chair for the critically acclaimed Tony, Grammy and Emmy-award winning Broadway Revival of. “The Color Purple.”

So Takaaki Otomo has surrounded himself with the crème-de-la-crème of jazz proficiency and the proof is in their stellar performance, produced by Bernard Hoffer. Take an opportunity to enjoy the “New Kid in Town.”
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JASON PAUL CURTIS – “THESE CHRISTMAS DAYS”
Independent Label

SWINGLAB: Jason Paul Curtis, vocals/songwriter; Ray Mabaiot, piano; Ephriam Woffolk, bass; Woody Hume, drums; Dave Schiff, woodwinds; John Albertson, guitar; Ray Caddell, flugelhorn; Isabella Curtis, vocals. SWING SHIFT BIG BAND: Saxophones: Tom Anderson, David Link, Jonathan Bell, Greg Plush, Bob Houts. Trombones: Geoff Cos, Paul Hamilton, Chris Callier, Jeff Bonk. Trumpets: Mike Barber, David Jenkins, Billy Brooks, Jack Seaver. Rhythm: Ray Mabalot, Dave Marsh, Matt Trimboli, Jeff Johnson.

If big band jazz is your preference, here is a holiday recording bound to please. Jason Paul Curtis has a smooth Tony Bennett/Eddie Fischer style of voice. He offers several new Christmas songs to please your holiday palate, sweet as a plate of reindeer sugar cookies. Starting with “Everybody’s Waitin’ for the Man With the Bag” a song that Swings hard and was composed by Irving Taylor and Dorothy Brooks. This is followed by, “I’ll Feel Christmas” with a more polka-like arrangement. Jason Paul Curtis lets his voice soar smoothly as he delivers the lyrics with excitement and punch, stating: “I’ll feel Christmas as long as you’re with me….”. Obviously, Curtis is a prolific songwriter as well as an excellent singer. He has written every song on this collection of fine music with the exception of “Man With the Bag” and the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields familiar standard, “The Way You Look Tonight,” that’s arranged as a lovely Bossa Nova. “Christmas Breakfast” mashes a sleigh full of words together, with a flair for rhyme and his smooth enunciation unfolding a unique and heartfelt story. I enjoy this gentleman’s creative and poetic way with words. They match his melodies and his style perfectly. “December Again” celebrates his daughter and their special bond at Christmas time. She even proffers a small singing part on the tune and shows us that the caramel-coated apple on a stick doesn’t fall far from the tree. You will enjoy his wonderful orchestration and big band arrangements, as well as listening to some fresh holiday songs, offered with joy and love at Christmas time. Jason Paul Curtis may have a Christmas standard tucked into this preview of nine original holiday compositions. I’ll let you be the judge.

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EMMA FRANK – “OCEAN AV”
Susan Records

Emma Frank, voice/composer/arranger; Aaron Parks, piano/synthesizer/Rhodes; Franky Rousseau, guitar; Jim Black, drums/percussion; Rick Rosato, bass; Simon Millerd, trumpet; Pedro Barquinha, OP-1.

If you are listening for a unique and whispery voice, with a resoundingly original style and the gift of composer skills, may I suggest you take a listen to Emma Frank. She has composed, co-arranged and sung all of the compositions on this production. Beginning with “Magnolia” a song that combines new age, folk and jazz music in a very compatible way. The closest singer I can think of that has similar phrasing and comparable style is Gretchen Parlato. But Emma Frank is very much her own artist. I wish her enunciation of lyrics had been clearer, especially on cut #2. Perhaps this could have been enhanced in the mix. Ms. Frank is very much like an instrument and sometimes gets lost in the production. She often layers her voice in harmonic background, dripping over the arrangements like honey from a cone. Her prose are thought provoking when she sings lines like “… wade through my shadows, weather my storms … making way for new life.” The whispering background voices that Emma Frank overdubs add depth and they help you to remember melodic themes that she produces so richly. Aaron Parks adds much with the tinkling synthesizer bits he feeds into her songs. Also, the dominant guitar of Franky Rousseau brings richness to this project.

I put my headphones on in order not to miss a single word from this poet/wordsmith. I wish she had put the lyrics into the compact disc package so I could read them. “Gradually” is very classically influenced, wrapping around her prose like sparkling Christmas paper. With this song, there is a little bit of a throw-back to the days of Joni Mitchell. Joni’s style is peeking out at me through the unique melody and the dancing range that dips and dives all over the place. Yes – this woman, Emma Frank, is an artist, following her own beaten path and listening to her own drum.

If you are looking for something uniquely different, you will find it in the music of Emma Frank. I cannot categorize it. One minute it’s folk and new age. The next it’s pop and jazz all mish-mashed up together in a hodge-podge of goodness, like grandma’s beef stew crockpot. Take a taste.

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ANDREW DISTEL – “IT ONLY TAKES TIME”
JeruJazz Records

Andrew Distel, vocals/trumpet; Peter Martin, piano; Carlos Enriquez, bass; George Fludas, drums; Jim Gailloretto, woodwinds; Howard Levy, harmonica; Dave Onderdonk, guitar; Geraldo De Oliveira, percussion; Brian Schwab, trumpet; Raphael Crawford, trombone. VIOLINS: Mark Agnor, Inger Carle, Kathryn Hughes, Carol Kalvonjian, Andrea Tolzmann, Jeff Yang, Thomas Yang. VIOLAS: Charles Bontrager, Benton Wedge. CELLO: Jill Kaeding.

Like Chet Baker, Andrew Distel not only sings, he plays trumpet and dabbles in arranging and composing. On this recording project he has chosen a number of recognizable standard tunes and employed a number of Chicago’s finest jazz cats to lay down the tracks. In 2007, Distel released his premiere CD (Stepping Out of a Dream) with the musical and contracting support of first-call drummer, George Fludas. Once again, he calls on his friend’s support and input. Together, they added pianist Peter Martin who performed on and arranged Diane Reeve’s Grammy Award winning CD, Good Night and Good Luck. Next, a call went out to bassist Carlos Enriquez, who performs with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. That makes for a powerful rhythm section.

As Distel carefully chose players and layered their talents, he just as carefully chose tunes to perform. Andrew Distel has a creamy smooth vocal style that embellishes these songs with suave emotion. He slowly Swings “Speak Low”, then sincerely delivers Bacharach/David’s poignant lyric, “Alfie”. This is followed by “One Morningstar Away,” a song I’d never heard before his tender presentation. For a sweet change of pace, Distel sings “Amor” in Portuguese and features the lovely talents of Dave Onderdonk on a nylon string guitar. I was interested in listening to the original compositions that Distel co-wrote. One is titled, “Wait For Me” and features a spirited production by the band, moving at a swift tempo, with much percussive power and Fludas properly pushing the players with his fluid and demanding drums. An unfamiliar Gershwin song, “Who Cares,” is produced as a moderate Swing tune and Distel scat sings a bit on this tune. Peter Martin flies through an impressive solo on piano. This song showcases great melody and lyrics. Andrew Distel sings the ballad, “Too Soon to Tell,” with all the honesty and tenderness of a real storyteller, reminding me a bit of Kenny Rankin’s style during this presentation. Here is another song he offers to the listener that is well-written and one that I’ve never heard before this album. My mom used to listen to the Ink Spots sing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and I enjoyed hearing Distel’s arrangement and interpretation of this oldie but goodie. He modernized it with a funk drum and some nice woodwind harmonics to complement his silky-smooth vocals. “Your Last Song” was composed by Kenny Dorham/J. Adams Oaks and Andrew Distel. I am assuming Andrew Distel wrote the lyrics. It’s a Straight Ahead/Bebop tune. One of my favorite songs on this album is the final track that features just Peter Martin on piano and Andrew Distel singing a tune written by Johnny Mandel and Dave Frishberg titled, “You Are There.” This dynamic duo garners all my attention, with each musician as bright and special as that shiny star atop the holiday tree. They interpret this beautifully written song with amazing dexterity and sincerity. I replayed it three times.

But, you’ll have to wait until after Christmas, for this CD to be released on January 20, 2018. You may want to put it on your Wish List. It will brighten your New Year!

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FEEL THE HORN – CD REVIEWS

November 8, 2017

FEEL THE HORN – CD REVIEWS
by Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

November 8, 2017

CHRISTIAN SCOTT A TUNDE ADJUAH

To open this review of horn players, I had to begin with a young man who is leading a group of youthful jazz giants. His name is Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah and I enjoyed his ‘live’ performance on NPR’s Small Desk Concert. He is joined by Elena Pinderhughes on flute (20-years-old), Braxton Cook on Alto saxophone (24-years-old), Lawrence Fields on piano, (with the longest fingers I’ve seen in quite some time), Dominic Minix on guitar (21-years-old), Kris Funn on bass (with an effervescent smile as contagious as the bass grooves he was laying down) and Corey Fonville on percussion. The first song they played was obviously a blend of African and American jazz styles. After their performance was completed, the trumpet leader explained that he was the grandson of Donald Harrison Senior, a respected Chief of four Black Indian tribes in New Orleans. As a young musician, he was tutored by his uncle, saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., before leaving to study at Berklee College of Music. Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah decided to open his set in tribute to those tribes his grandfather represents and his family’s African roots. He does this by incorporating rhythms from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Cuba, the Caribbean and finally, New Orleans, Louisiana. I could hear all of those cultures in his music and enjoyed the tune titled, “Twin.” He describes it as a reflection of his own life as a twin. His twin brother is a film director and protégé of Spike Lee. It would appear that creativity and art run in his family. In search of his African American roots, the youthful trumpeter composed this original song.

The second song was “West of the West” and featured Braxton Cook on alto saxophone. This song was introduced with a strong funk guitar played by Dominic Minix. The final taste of this jazz ensemble’s latest CD release was a song inspired by a treacherous encounter with the New Orleans police department that Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah explains in detail on film. This composition is titled, Klu Klux Police.

Here is a young group of jazz musicians who bring their art and their activism as a complete musical package to be examined and ingested.

http://www.christianscott.tv/

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SAMUEL POMPEO QUINTETO – “QUE DESCAIDA”
Independent Label

Samuel Pompeo, baritone & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Dino Barioni, guitar; Fabio Leandro, piano; Gibson, Freitas, contra bass; Paulinho Vicente, drums.

Samuel Pompeo’s baritone saxophone is startling! To hear a baritone being played at this double-time pace is quite exciting. That’s the way this CD begins, at a maddening pace and exploiting the spot-on technique and strength of this Brazilian reedman. The song itself is an odd blend of 1920, Ragtime jazz piano and a more modern, straight-ahead horn, with an undertow of Latin rhythms that corral the musicians like a bunch of wild horses, squeezing them tightly together in a blend of cultures and artforms. The tempos change and fluctuate intentionally. It’s a fascinating arrangement of “De Cachimbo”. The next song was composed by Pompeo’s guitarist, Dino Barioni. It’s titled, “Agua Na Chaleira,” and once again it combines musical cultures in a most unique way. The liner notes explain it in uncomplicated terms. In the 20th century, one new genre of music formed in Rio de Janeiro Brazil and another in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both uniquely blended (from 19th century influences) European polkas, Classical music, Scottish and Mazurca, mixing all genres together with African music and rhythms. Up popped ‘Choro’ in Brazil and ‘jazz’ in America. The only addition I might have is that African Americans created jazz. So, we cannot forget, it also came from the bowels of slavery and the slave ‘work songs’ created in America.

In track #3, an original composition by Pompeo, (“Cave Du 38”), you hear a clarinet or soprano saxophone soloing. It reminds me of the Benny Goodman days of big bands and Swing dancing. This is followed by the very beautiful “Janeiro 15,” another composition by Pompeo. I love the tone and fluidity that Pompeo produces on his baritone saxophone. Another favorite tune of mine is “Choro Vermelho” by Daniel Grajew. It’s a happy-go-lucky arrangement, giving Fabio Leandro time to solo on piano and Barioni to excel on guitar. Pompeo moves from one saxophone to another, showing that his dexterity and technique is unlimited.

The concept of this recording seems to be relating the two musical forms, (Choro and jazz) to create a conceptual album that embraces both African American jazz roots and Brazilian roots. The flowering offspring is both artistic and innovative.
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BOB FERREL’S featuring DWIGHT WEST – “JAZZTOPIAN DREAM”
BFM Productions

Bob Ferrel, trombone; Dwight West, vocals; Vinnie Cutro, trumpet; Rob Henke, trumpet; Joe Ford, Alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto/tenor saxophones; Roy Nicolosi, alto/tenor/baritone saxophone/trumpet; Sharp Radway & Hector Davila, piano; Daryl Johns, acoustic bass; Ruben Rodriguez, Zorko baby bass; Steve Johns, drums; Frank Valdes, Latin percussion.

Bob Ferrell has been touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, under the direction of Mercer Ellington, for many years. He’s backed up the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and even Johnny Hartman. He’s also backed pop stars like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and blues man Stevie Ray Vaughan. But with this CD, he’s venturing into a space all his own. Singing “My Secret Love” on his trusty trombone, Ferrel plays at an incredible speed with all the dexterity and technique that his bio acclaims. Bob Ferrel is no joke. He’s impressive from the very first tune. His musical ensemble is as sweet as a fresh baked cake. He is the delicious icing, dripping his trombone tones over the hot mix of arrangements. Dwight West, on vocals, adds ice cream to the cake. He’s cool and creamy smooth on “Yardbird Suite”, singing the lyrics down once before he breaks into the Eddie Jefferson-like improvised lyrics. West can swing with the best of them.

McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse” composition allows Sharp Radway to stretch his fingers across the piano keys and give us a glimmer of his talents. He plays with power and energy, letting his left hand hold the rhythm strongly in place, while his right hands races across the keys in the treble clef. Radway’s solo is short, but memorable, as is Vinnie Cutro’s trumpet improvisation on this cut. Other favorites are “Don’t Go To Strangers,” sung and played as an up-tempo swing tune, unlike Etta Jones’ sultry rendition. Another tune, “We Began With A Kiss,” is a happy Latin arrangement with nice horn harmonics and appropriately punched by Frank Valdes’ Latin percussion and Hector Davila’s pumping piano parts.

But always, Bob Ferrel is the clasp on this string of musical pearls, holding the ensemble firmly in place and glittering like solid gold.
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ROY McGRATH – “REMEMBRANZAS”
JL Music

Roy McGrath, tenor saxophone; Bill Cessna, piano; Joseph Kitt Lyles, bass; Jonathon Wenzel, drums; Ivelisse Diaz, Barril de Bomba-Buleador; Victor “Junito” Gonzalez, congas.

This is a very creative piece of music. In 2015, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago commissioned composer/tenor saxophonist, Roy McGrath, to compose an Afro-Caribbean jazz suite in honor of Puerto Rican poet, Julia de Burgos. Thus, began a studio journey with the destination becoming this CD project. Roy McGrath is a Puerto Rican musician who happily embraced the Julia de Burgos concept and four tunes were born. The other compositions on this project are the result of McGrath’s memories of his homeland, his family and the new roots he’s planted in the United States. This music is grown from those seeds.

The first song, “Cancion De La Verdad Sencilla,” features poetry by Julia de Burgos. Her poetry is spoken in Spanish over the jazz by Puerto Rican born actress, Rosanna Sanchez. In English, a poet of Puerto Rican descent, Claritza Maldonado, reads her own poem in concert with Sanchez. Maldonado’s poem compliments Julia de Burgos by celebrating her own mother and grandmother. These two female, poet voices span three-quarters of a century and 3000 miles of ocean with their words. See below:

“When My mother’s mother became an ocean, I wonder who waved at her?
Upon her transformation, she became an ocean but still had to tread water, still had to swim.
I never knew her, but I knew she must have been a good swimmer
Because my mother also became an ocean
Became the waves between Puerto Rico and America.
She began holding her breath in 1898
sank to the bottom; always manages to rise back up to shore.
My mother is an ocean, because when you attempt to hyphenate her
she waves back, and smiles.”
A poem written by Claritza Maldonado

The song is played, employing a Bomba Sica rhythm performed by Ivelisse Diaz and Joseph Kitt Lyles steps out front with his bass, taking a short, but inspirational solo. Roy McGrath solidifies the arrangement with his emotional saxophone. This piece takes my breath away. I re-play it three times.

During a time when Puerto Rico has undergone such calamity because of Hurricane Maria’s recent devastation, this message is strong and appropriate. It inspires and uplifts. I hang my head in shame that our government has not been more forthcoming with aid and solid support for our American families in Puerto Rico. Roy McGrath’s music, and the added poetry, certainly magnify and flag determination, beauty and the power of the Puerto Rican people. Although Roy McGrath composed this piece two years prior to this horrendous natural disaster, his music lives in the here and now. It not only entertains us, but make us think about the value of human life and family. After all, we are all connected. That’s what I got out of this tenor saxophonist’s artistic endeavor; a divine connection.

“Por Ti Estoy” translates to ‘because of you I am.’ It was composed by McGrath in celebration of his mother and her support of his musical career. It’s a slow swing, with blues over-tones, where McGrath plays with another emotional tenor saxophone attack.

His themes, throughout this project, relate to the universal human experience. In celebration of the CD title, “Remembranzas,” that is a Spanish word meaning a memory flashback or a point from the past that is influencing the present. That title tune is another blues rooted composition that features pianist, Bill Cessna, giving him time and freedom to express himself. However, it’s always Roy McGrath who pushes boundaries and inspires his ensemble to reach for internal places; pushing their feelings into the universe like endless rainbows of sound and beauty.

PostScript: Someone needs to tell the artistic album cover designer this reviewer could hardly read the words on your cover because of the pink and white against the gray. Not only was the print extremely small, it was almost illegible because of the coloring. Remind your next graphic artist that the information on your album cover is as important as your music.

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JARED HALL – “HALLWAYS”
Hollistic Music Works

Jared Hall, trumpet/composer/arranger; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone; Tal Cohen & Martin Bejerano, piano; Josh Allen, bass; Kyle Swan, drums.

Trumpeter Jared Hall has written and arranged every song on this spectacular new release as part of the Mentor Series. On “Wanderer”, the very first composition on this production, each participating musician makes a dynamic statement. There is a space where Kyle Swan lets loose on drums and Troy Roberts sparkles on tenor saxophone, both provocative and enthusiastic. However, Hall is the nut and bolt of this music, twisting everything tightly into place with melodic horn lines and staccato harmonic arrangements. His trumpet solo is delivered tenaciously and with obvious technique and control. Martin Bejerano, on piano, displays a call and response kind of musicality, letting the horns be the answering choir to his two-fisted piano grit. You hear more of this pianist on “Hallways”. It’s a mysterious tune, with a horn unison approach to the melody presentation at the top of the tune. I’m impressed and pleased by Jared Hall’s compositional skills. His music moves me. Josh Allen takes a solo on this ‘cut’, letting his bass explore the outer perimeter of the chord structure atop the lush chords that Bejerano supplies on piano.

I find myself eager to hear the next song and enthralled by this composer and his tightknit band. “Love, Laugh and Cry,” is a slow swing with Allen walking his bass and setting the groove in perfect sync with Swan on drums. Roberts adds a swig of blues from the depths of his tenor saxophone, as does Hall, pouring it generously out of the bell of his instrument. I am intoxicated by their presentation.

As a debut project for this well-mentored trumpeter, this is an extraordinary recording. I was particularly impressed by Swan, who improvises on his drums beneath the surface of the song, without ever loosing or compromising the tempo or texture of the music. “Allure” (the fourth ‘cut’) was co-written by Sherrine Mostin and is a very pretty composition with Swan adding a Latin feel with his percussive art and Bejerano stepping center stage for a sweet solo. I enjoyed the interplay between saxophone and trumpet, as if they were trading fours or challenging each other with improvisational swords.

Tal Cohen takes a seat on the piano bench for “Visions and Dreams” and three other tunes on this CD. He brings a music-box quality to the piano to interpret this composition. I can see the little ballerina twirling in front of the box mirror as I listen to his tinkling, soprano notes and chords that support the bass solo. Jared Hall grounds the tune with his trumpet solo and the image is momentarily wiped away. On “Meditations” I enjoyed the drum mallets and their warm, comforting, rhythmic sound. “Tones for Jones” is right up my groove alley, with blues leaping out to startle my attention. Finally, I get to hear Cohen stretch out on piano with perfectly timed improvised runs and an obvious love of the upper register. I enjoyed his sense of harmony.

This is a recording to be enjoyed over and over again. The ensemble is as comfortable and close-fitting as hand to glove. Jared Hall’s compositions are well-written, well-played and his talent and tone on trumpet, undeniably pleasant.
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DAVE BENNETT – “BLOOD MOON”

Mack Ave Records

Dave Bennett, clarinet; Dave Restivo, piano; Reg Schwager, guitar; Jim Vivian, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Davide Direnzo, percussion.

I am not familiar with clarinetist, Dave Bennett, but Pete Siers is one of my favorite drummers. I enjoyed working with him when I lived in Detroit. This project is a lovely combination of Smooth Jazz and Easy Listening, starting with the very first title tune. Bennett has joined talents with Toronto-based composer, arranger and bassist, Shelly Berger. Together they have composed five of the eleven tunes on this CD, including “Blood Moon.” Bennett has a warm, silky smooth tone on clarinet. From a spiritual perspective, Bennett shares in the liner notes that he had named a few of his original composition from scripture. The title tune evolved that way and so did “Falling Sky.” This is the third cut on his album and it’s a brooding ballad, with a melody line that reminds me a tiny bit of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Jim Vivian plays a beautiful bass solo during this arrangement.

Dave Bennett is not only a clarinet virtuoso, but he’s a multi-talented musician who also plays electric guitar, drums and sings. Inspired by Benny Goodman records when he was only ten years old, by the age of twelve he played well-enough to join trumpeter Doc Cheatham on the bandstand of New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz stage. It’s been an upward climb ever since. Bennett’s been a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops and has played his tribute to Benny Goodman with fifty other orchestras. If you like the tone and legacy of Benny Goodman, you will enjoy Dave Bennett’s contemporary merging of that historic sound with present-day, twenty-first century jazz.

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GIL SPITZER – “FALANDO DOCEMENTE”
Zoho Records

Gil Spitzer, alto saxophone; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Julian Shore, piano; Nilson Matta, producer/acoustic bass; Mauricio Zottarelli & Steve Johns, drums; Fernando Saci, percussion; Monica Davis & Amanda Lo, violin; Angela Pickett, viola; Jessie Reagen Man, Cello.

Speaking of those days of Stan Getz and Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, I was immediately reminded of that era of big band swing while listening to Gil Spitzer’s album. Gil Spitzer has a sound that is as fluid and adhesive as oil on your hands. He reminds me a lot of Getz. My mother played Stan Getz albums often in our house, and I’m very familiar with that sound and style. On the first cut, Spitzer’s band takes time to step forward and musically introduce themselves. The tune is “Angel Eyes”. Each musician is technically astute and competent. Together, they form a solid skillet for this butter smooth saxophonist to heat up and pop the music.

Spitzer’s debut album project for Zoho records is a lovely listening experience. Chico Pinheiro lays down a consistent and supportive rhythm guitar line beneath both “Angel Eyes” and the Bossa Nova arrangement of “Embraceable You.” Fernando Saci adds percussion magic to the wooden wands of both Mauricio Zottarelli and Steve Johns on drums. Producer and bass connoisseur, Nilson Matta, plays a mean acoustic bass throughout.

Gil Spitzer is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Not surprisingly, he grew up admiring Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges and that era of jazz. Brazilian bassist and the producer of this session, Nilson Matta, explained it best when he said:

“He’s got that lyrical thing, which is very charming and also nice tone; great taste. He embraces all of those things and he plays with a lot of spirit.”

The CD title, Falando Docemente, translates to ‘Speak Sweet.’ Matta assembled a band of Brazilian compatriots to support Spitzer’s candy-sweet sound and to enhance the authenticity of several Bossa Nova arrangements on this CD. Spitzer’s choice of tunes is as honey-coated as his alto saxophone sound.

In the liner notes, Gil Spitzer confessed another strong musical influence. It was jazz singer and pianist, Nat King Cole.

“My inspiration on both “The Very Thought of You” and “Nature Boy” was Nat Cole,” he said. “While it’s hard to convey his voice through an alto saxophone, that sound was in my head and what I was feeling when we recorded those two songs.”

Producer Matta hired a rising star pianist/composer named Julian Shore to write string quartet arrangements on both of the songs mentioned above and on the Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Valse Hot”. He also plays piano on most of the studio tracks.

Every song on this recording is as rewarding as a piece of peppermint candy or as slice of hot pumpkin pie. Gil Spitzer’s nostalgic music matches the decadent sweetness of your favorite dessert.

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KEN WILEY – “JAZZ HORN REDUX”

Krug Park Music

Ken Wiley, French horn; Wally Minko, piano/electric piano; Trey Henry, acoustic bass/electric bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; Mike Miller, acoustic Guitar; Dan Higgins, flute/alto flute/alto, tenor & soprano saxophones; Chuck Findley, trumpet; Gary Grant, trumpet/Harmon trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Brass background: Ken Wiley & Gary Grant.

It’s not often I get to enjoy a French Horn player indulging in straight-ahead jazz as an upfront soloist. This is Ken Wiley’s fourth recording as a leader, but it’s his first project that focuses on straight-ahead jazz and he covers some of jazz music’s greatest musician/composers. When I review the list of songs on this CD, I see work by Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Eddie Harris, John Coltrane, Antonio Jobim and Clare Fischer. That’s a stellar list of iconic talent. Next, I saw the list of popular California session musicians who joined Ken Wiley on this production and I was even more impressed.

The first song is Freddie Hubbard’s popular, “Little Sunflower.” Ken Wiley steps out and tattoos this standard with his smooth, elegant French horn sound. He allows plenty of room for his band members to solo and you can’t help but hum along with their production. Gary Grant adds a spicy flugelhorn solo to one of my favorite Milt Jackson tunes, “Bag’s Groove.” Grant and Wiley have co-produced this project and created all the brass backgrounds. Wiley has rounded up the crème de la crème of Southern California jazz names like drummer Kendal Kay and percussionist, Luis Conte; saxophonist, Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Chuck Findley, to name just a few. They do a superb job of supporting Wiley’s arrangements and his unique talent.

Ken Wiley is no newcomer to the music business. His career has spanned many types and styles of music, building his brilliant reputation as a ‘top-drawer’ studio musician and sideman. He’s played with the likes of tenor titan, Charlie Rouse; bass icon, John Patitucci and worked with Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra. He’s composed for and played on a number of film scores and sound tracks including the “American Dad,” an animated TV series and the TV show, “Family Guy.” Additionally, he’s performed with rock star, Lenny Kravitz. You could have seen him at the Playboy Jazz Festival or participating in a UCLA Jazz Concert, at the Julliard New Music Festival, The Coleman Hawkins Jazz Festival or perhaps attended one of his many clinics on playing jazz on the French horn. On this latest album, Ken Wiley places the French Horn front and center, establishing it as a viable and sensitive instrument to interpret jazz.

He started out as a rock and roll player, concentrating on playing piano. For some reason, his mother had a French Horn laying around the house. So, when he was in the seventh grade in St. Joseph, Missouri, Ken Wiley started playing the horn. He joined a six or seven-piece band as a young musician, playing French Horn and congas. After banging around the Kansas City rock scene for a while, he decided to move to Los Angeles in hopes of pursuing a career in jazz. He had no mentors for playing jazz on the French Horn. In fact, most of his instructors didn’t encourage the idea. But Ken Wiley was determined. That determination paid off. It was the late seventies/early eighties when he began composing his own music. Once he was accepted into the Motion Picture Sound Union, the fledgling jazz player started making enough money to do his own thing and truly pursue honing his jazz style on French Horn. He landed a gig with Charlie Rouse and my good friend, bassist Larry Gales, at a small local L.A. jazz club. Wiley was thrilled to be working with guys who had played as part of the Thelonious Monk band. Charlie Rouse had used the French Horn in his groups before, so Ken Wiley fit right in. These kinds of experiences encouraged Wiley to continue honing his talent and polishing his passion on the French Horn. This album is a culmination of a musical life well-lived and dreams fulfilled.

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ANGEL VOICES & WORLDLY MUSICAL CHOICES

October 14, 2017

ANGEL VOICES & WORLDLY MUSICAL CHOICES
CD reviews by Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

October 14, 2017

I am happy to see so much young talent popping up on the jazz scene, like the very talented MARIE SCHAFER. Even more importantly, it’s good to see so many women who are bringing their concern and nurturing spirits to the forefront in order to protest war, the disparaging of women and peace on earth with various voices of protest like SINNE EEG,JULIE BENKO, LESLIE LEWIS and even journalist turned singer, RONDI CHARLESTON. LYN STANLEY reminds us that the Great American songbook is alive and well with the help of excellent Los Angeles based musicians. Pianist/composer, CAROL ROMAN creates music for the departed and in hopes that we never forget nine-eleven in New York City. The group, NEOTOLIA,featuring vocalist NAZAN NIHAL and composer, UTAR ARTUN bring us World Music from Turkey, with a little help from featured vocalist, JOEY BLAKE and CORINA BARTRA combines cultures, exploring jazz as an Afro-Peruvian vocalist. It’s eye-opening to see how much jazz has touched the music of other countries and encouraged freedom and protest. These artists have veered away from the predictable and mundane. Here are my reviews of angel voices and other worldly music choices.

MARIE SCHAFER – “TO KNOW LOVE”
Marsch Music

Maria Schafer, vocals; Shane Savala, guitar; Joe Butts, bass; Kyle Sharamitaro, drums; Brad Black, trumpet.

This CD opens with the familiar, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” but it’s freshly arranged with only percussion and bass laying like a carpet of musical excellence for the vocalist to strut her stuff. Shane Savala’s flamingo sounding guitar adds a lovely flavor to the production. Ms. Schafer offers sweet vocal improvisation and there is a splatter of Latin percussion implemented. “The More I See You” is performed rubato at the top and moves into a slow swing with the bass pumping like a weightlifter. This vocalist is a throw-back to the days of June Christy or Chris Conner. When Marie Schafer breaks into a foreign language on the third album cut, “Estrada Branco”, I am enchanted. It’s a Jobim/De Moraes composition, featuring only guitar accompaniment. Ms. Schafer lets the listening world know that she can hold her own in the simplicity of this duo moment. However, there is nothing simple about Schafer’s improvisational skills and satin-smooth tone. She is a master of her craft.

Here is a collection of familiar, standard songs, that sound brand new because of their outstanding and creative arrangements. An example of one unique arrangement was when I heard her sing “Estate” with only bass and drums. Impressive!
Obviously, Schafer can sooth or swing at the drop of a beat. This is clearly visible on “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” where tempos melt into each other , labeling this arrangement both challenging and creative. Whatever her musicians do, they only enhance Marie Schafer’s style and beauty. She is the diamond necklace hanging around the necks of these band members and glittering brightly.

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LYN STANLEY – “THE MOONLIGHT SESSIONS – VOLUME TWO”
A.T. Music LLC

Lyn Stanley, piano; Mike Garson, Christian Jacob, Tamir Hendelman, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Ray Brinker, Bernie Dresel, Joe LaBarbera, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; John Chiodini, guitar; Chuck Findley, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Bob McChesney, trombone; Hendrik Meukens, harmonica; Corky Hale, Carol Robbins, harp; Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra, strings.

Lyn Stanley has consistently turned out a string of albums that celebrate the great American songbook, interpreting songs we know and love. Her smooth, silky sound embellishes the lyrics, stroking the melodies with husky vocal intention. Stanley always employs the best of Southern California’s jazz musician scene when she records. This heightens her compact discs with creative excellence. You will enjoy fourteen standard songs that sing her story and feature songs that reflect Stanley’s own life and heartbreak. The addition of strings by the Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra, combined with top horn players like Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone, Chuck Findley on trumpet/flugelhorn and Bob McChesney on trombone, make this project not only jazz, but Easy Listening.

Ms. Stanley has a rich alto range and emotional sensibilities to color each tune with believability. This comes from living life to the fullest and turning those life lessons into a musical diary, using deep and memorable compositions. The classical piano of Christian Jacob on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is stunningly fresh, with a musical introduction that allows Ms. Stanley to surprise us with the Judy Garland standard when she enters the song vocally. Nice! Chuck Findley’s muted trumpet on “You’ve Changed” adds interest and art to her vocal presentation, although she is somewhat whinny at times. Woodard’s bluesy, tenor saxophone puts sassy sexiness into Stanley’s rendition of “Since I Fell For You.”

Here is a production and voice that will please and entertain you for years to come.

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INTRODUCING JULIE BENKO
Independent Label

Julie Benko, vocals; Jason Yeager, piano; Danny Weller, bass; Jay Sawyer, drums; Andy Warren, trumpet; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Walter Harris, trombone; Andrew Mulherkar, tenor saxophone; Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Jason Anick, violin; JP Jofre, bandoneon; Alon Bisk, cello.

There is a Dixieland-feel to this songbird’s production on the very first cut of her debut CD. Titled, “Tomorrow is a Day For You.” It’s a joyful composition penned by Benko and she explains in the liner notes that she wrote it as a celebration following the US Supreme Court decisions defending same-sex marriage. She has penned three songs on this project and all relate to her response to the world around her.

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” from the Broadway production, seems to mirror this vocalist’s sensibilities and style. Obviously, Julie Benko has ‘pipes’; a slang for very strong vocals. She sings with power and gusto. I recognized immediately that she has a stage voice ready to soar onto Broadway stages. When I later read her bio, I discovered I was right. She recently performed on Broadway in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

I enjoyed the Jason Anick violin solo on “Love For Sale”. The Jason Yeager arrangement is lovely, presenting the old standard as a tango. This vocalist executes the song well, but I don’t believe her when she interprets the lyrics. This is important, because part of the singers duty is to sell her musical stories to the listening public. Still, Ms. Benko has chosen a number of other recognizable and popular songs to interpret and for the most part, she is very successful. Ms. Benko has co-produced this album with her pianist, Jason Yeager and I would distinguish her as a musical theater vocalist with pop overtones.
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SINNE EEG – “DREAMS”
An ArtistShare fan funded project

Sinne Eeg, vocals/composition; Jacob Christoffersen, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Joey Baron, drums; Scott Colley, bass; background vocals, Sinne Eeg, Warny Mandrup, Lasse Nilsson & Jenny Nilsson.

Here is a female artist who can compose as well as sing. It’s always a plus when you add songwriting talents to your recording project. Ms. Eeg opens with “The Bitter End” which has a country/blues feel. I wish Koonse, on guitar, had over-dubbed some really down and dirty blues guitar to embellish the vocalist’s arrangement. However, the composition itself is well-written and Larry Koonse is steady and tenacious on rhythm guitar. On “Head Over High Heels,” Sinne Eeg shows off her scatting skills. Her vocals are smooth and warm as sweet butter on hot waffles. The thing that draws you into this artist’s presentation is her rich, honest, tonal quality. I appreciate Sinne Eeg not being whinny or nasal, but singing full voice, squeezing emotion out of each lyrical expression with sincerity. “Love Song” is another original composition and quite beautiful. Scott Colley’s big bass sound solidifies the ballad and grounds the arrangement. The double bass is as solid as cement. With only drums to accompany her voice, she swings her way into the familiar tune, “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Eeg is a real jazz singer. She’s not another Easy Listening vocalist or another singer of standard love songs. She’s not re-singing the great American Songbook. Instead, she rejuvenates and explores her music, searching for new expression and stretching the boundaries of her creativity. That’s really what jazz is all about. She also makes a political statement with her composition, “Aleppo,” musically interpreting a sad song about the strife and genocide in this Syrian city. Her lyric about war and the innocent victims of our human rage for power and greed, paints the picture of a small child trying to survive the ravages of senseless killing. Other favorites are “Time To Go,” and her creative arrangement of “I’ll Remember April”.

Sinne Eeg is the real deal. Here is a project I can wrap my mind around and play over and over again without getting bored or feeling short-changed. Her band is super-supportive and each member, a master musician in their own right. They decorate the stage for Sinne Eeg to perform with brilliance and jazzy improvisation.
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RONDI CHARLESTON – “RESILIENCE”
Resilience Music Alliance

Rondi Charleston, vocals/songwriter; Dave Stryker, guitar/musical director/songwriter; Brandon McCune, piano; Ed Howard, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, percussion. Featured soloists: Tim Ries, tenor saxophone; Alex Norris, flugelhorn.

With the exception of Clifford Brown’s “Joyspring” composition and two other songs, Charleston has co-written all the songs on this album. It’s an interesting collaboration with Musical Director, Dave Stryker. The songs sound pop, but are arranged in a jazzy way. When Charleston tackles “Joyspring” she exhibits her ability to scat and swing. The thing is, when vocalists are freshly learning to improvise, they often think scatting is repeating the melody without singing words. A true scat artist improvises, changing the melody on top of the familiar chord changes. Still, I have to admire Charleston’s ability to spit out all those lyrics at a rapid rate, with good pitch and she swings hard. “Joyspring” is no easy composition to sing.

Her song, “Scrapbook” sounds more like a jazz tune than the first two songs. “Refugee” is produced as a jazz waltz and describes a female character feeling like an outcast, but still striving against all odds to compete and achieve, in spite of being different in a judgmental society. Charleston uses her composition skills to attack social issues with competent and well-written lyrics. This should not be surprising since Rondi Charleston is an award-winning journalist turned jazz singer. She has won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award as a field producer for ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Charleston has a background in acting and sang opera at Julliard before entering the world of investigative journalism. With this album project, she is living out a long-time dream to be a musical poet and jazz singer. The band is ‘kickin’ and totally supportive of her dreams. Tim Ries on tenor saxophone is smokin’ hot on the Eli Yamin tune titled, “A Healing Song.” Dave Stryker has done a great job of co-producing this compact disc with Charleston. However, this artist has a way to go in order to find her musical sweet spot and to develop her vocal jazz style. This is certainly a good start.


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CAROL ROMAN – “GOING HOME; SONGS OF COMFORT”
Dove Street Music

Carol Roman, composer/pianist/arranger; Michael Higgins, guitarist; Charles Holt, Clydene Jackson, Leslie Lewis, Tina Meeks, Margaret Owens, Nadine Risha & Shantih Haast guest vocalists; Richard Jennings, flute/soprano saxophone.

I’ve known Carol Roman for several years, but I never knew about her talents as a pianist and songwriter. She was coming to jazz shows and that’s how we met, both being jazz aficionados. So, when she shyly handed me her latest CD, I was surprised. The music on this CD is in memoriam of several people dear to Ms. Roman, as well as the victims of the 9/11 tragedy in NYC. It’s easy listening, classically flavored music that is simply produced. The composition quality, I found beautiful and peaceful. Featuring mostly Carol Roman’s talents on piano, the first instrumental tune also includes the complimentary flute licks of Richard Jennings. Ms. Roman has composed all the music except track six, written by Shantih Haast. She has also written most of the lyrics. Clydene Jackson interprets vocally on “A Time Gone By,” a song that celebrates the strength of the human spirit, living, loving and praying for peace, while protecting freedom. Ms. Roman has utilized a large group of guest artists from Los Angeles’ talented singer’s pool, to interpret her original songs, with much success. Michael Higgins adds guitar to the mix on “Bud’s Song.” Amy Jahn was the lyricist for this original composition by Carol Roman. Nadine Risha’s lovely vocals are featured. I was surprised to see that Leslie Lewis is also one of the voices who is singing on this album of Roman’s original music. Surprised because I also had received a new album from Ms. Lewis to review. Carol Roman is not jazz. It’s easy listening and features several angel voices who sing tribute songs to the dearly departed, making for an unusual and touching topic of inspiration.


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NEOTOLIA – NAZAN NIHAL & UTAR ARTUN – “NEOTOLIA SONG”
Interrobang Records

Nazan Nihal, vocals/lyricist/composer; Utar Artun, composer/pianist/arranger; Jussi Reijonan & David Fluczynski , fretless electric guitar; Bruno Raberg, acoustic bass; Bassam Saba, ney; Tahi Aydogdu, Qanun; Arto Tuncboyacryan, vocals/percussion; Dave Wecki, drum; Yazhi Guo, dizi; Bruno Raberg, acoustic bass; Jussi Reijonen, guitar/oud; Giuseppe Paradiso, Drums & percussion; Galen G. Willett, Elec bass; Tao He, Erhu; Joey Blake, vocals; Naseem Alatrash, cello; Layth Sidiq, violin.

It was unique listening to this album, because it is sung in an unfamiliar language. For that occurrence, this reviewer had to peel her ears to the melodic structure, the production, the captured emotion of foreign vocalists, and then I read the translated words of the lyrics in the liner notes. Nazan Nihal is a stunning lyricist who is reaching out to the world with words asking us to make a change for the betterment of humanity. The first song is titled “Once Upon A Life.” It has a very haunting melody and the production is ethereal, making me see heavenly constellations and a sky full of sparkling stars as I listen. Nihal’s soprano voice soars operatically, then settles smoothly into her chest register as she sings, “Souls wither in time unless watered by love.” This “Once Upon A Life” composition touches my heart.

“Song of the Monastery” sounds like a pop song. I learn that it’s a traditional Turkish Folk song and it’s the story of a pond and fountain, located in the middle of a monastery where young girls dance and play music.

“Neotolia” is an international band of diverse and skilled musicians, under the leadership of pianist/ composer, Utar Artun, and singer/songwriter Nazan Nihal. They are Turkish and this music is steeped in the rich culture of Eastern Europe, Western Asia and the Mediterranean. Much of it reminds me of the prayers I heard during my travels to Turkey, Palestine and Dubai. This is not jazz. However, I did hear a very fluid scat part performed perfectly by Joey Blake on “Rondo Afro Turea,” another original composition by Utar Artun.

Here is a production that is basically World Music and I decided to review it because these musicians are using music to dissolve prejudice and hierarchies across the board, using both lyrics and their musical arrangements to combine cultures.

If you are looking for something musically unique, you will find it here.
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CORINA BARTRA – “TAKUNDE”
Blue Spiral Music

Corina Bartra, vocals; Steve Sandberg, piano; Victor Murillo, bass; Jay Rodriguez, saxophone; Seth Johnson, guitar; Perico Diaz, cajon; Vince Cherico, drums.

I have one more World Music project that I feel compelled to mention. It features the rich, rhythmic vocals of Corina Bartra who blends the music of Peru, Brazil and Cuba on this new production. Bartra is categorized as a jazz/World Music artist. I hear lots of Afro-Cuban influence in her vocals and once again, I am left to ‘feel’ the music and connect with the emotional production, since I cannot understand her language on many of her lyrics. This is happy music. Music that makes you want to move, dance and hum along with the melodies. Corina Bartra is a human bird whose phrasing and vocal gymnastics explore her wonderful vocal range and presentation. On her original composition, “Ecstasy Green” she shows off her minor chordal tones and lets her soprano notes dance atop the music, like flags waving in the breeze. This is followed by her rendition of “Bridge Over Trouble Waters” sung in English, but colored by unexpected inflections of a foreign language and her unusual tonal style. There is something cat-like about the way she purrs and whines her way through these lyrics. Shades of Eartha Kitt creep from her vocal style and I am reminded of this great American Jazz vocalist and actress by Ms. Bartra’s vocals. Jay Rodriguez adds his screaming saxophone to this song, quite appropriately. “El Guaranguito” is joyful music. It’s noted as an Afro-Peruvian traditional composition on the album cover. This is followed by a Jobim composition, “Samba de Aviao” that switches and sways off the compact disc, like the well-built hips of a well-endowed mambo dancer.

Bartra has composed six of the twelve songs on this CD. Her compositions stretch her vocals to their limits and she inspires her energetic band to pop like rubberbands. They snap with rhythm and enthusiasm. She takes chances with vocal acrobatics, sliding to the notes and using staccato to punch lines and melodies. She has a bigger range than the late Abbey Lincoln, but there are moments when her tone is similar to this iconic American jazz singer. Sometimes I found brief seconds of pitchiness, that interrupted my enjoyment, like stepping bare-footed on a hot stone. But Most importantly, Bartra embraces the element that has made jazz so popular across the globe; improvisation! She boasts degrees in jazz percussion and a Master’s degree in vocal performance from Queens College.

This is my first time hearing an Afro-Peruvian jazz singer/songwriter, who combines Criolla music with jazz. It was an excursion into the unknown that was pleasantly surprising.
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LESLIE LEWIS – “FRAGILE”
Surf Cove Jazz

Leslie Lewis, vocals; Gerard Hagen, piano; Peter Giron, bass; Mourad Benbammou, drums.

From the first rich tones of this astoundingly provocative singer, I am corralled by the emotion she exudes and her unique tonal style. Leslie Lewis’ band and arrangements propel this singer into the realm of memorable inspiration. For example, on the Beatles “Come Together” hit song, they have transformed this pop hit into a very acceptable jazz standard. All the arrangements are attributed to the talents of Leslie’s gifted husband, pianist, Gerard Hagen. Together, this Orange County, California couple relocated to Paris in 2012, where their plates became full of French bread, fine wine and gigs.

The title tune, “Fragile,” reminds us that violence and war threaten the delicate balance of humanity and the earth itself. “Hallelujah” is recorded with a blues/waltz feel and sung quite powerfully by Lewis. She has the kind of power-house voice that could mesmerize audiences from a Broadway stage. “Feeling Good” has a more jazzy sound, as her voice sparkles above Mourad Benbammou’s drums during the initial introductive prelude.

One of my favorite cuts on this recording is “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” a song that brings back memories of the early seventies when Carley Simon’s voice was all over the pop radio stations that were playing her music. But Ms. Lewis is no pop singer. She is jazz through and through. I have seen her perform in person, and she also exudes that “It” factor that no one can explain. She knows how to mesmerize a crowd. In the same breath, that gift is often difficult to capture in the recording booth. It is often something you need to be present to experience.

Lewis’ interpretation of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time” is done as a Smooth Jazz funk arrangement. Finally, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” finalizes the album with one of Gerard Hagen’s unusually creative arrangements. This R&B hit record by Ann Peoples has been transformed into a funk-jazz production and it works!

“Fragile” is the 5th recording by Leslie Lewis on the Surf Cove Jazz label. In total, this couple (Hagen & Lewis) has recorded eight compact discs that are being distributed and played all over the United States, Asia and Europe. Ms. Lewis has also performed as featured vocalist with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Pacific Symphony, the Jazz Tap Ensemble and has performed with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Gerard Hagen is an active performer and when not recording, producing, arranging or playing piano for Leslie Lewis, he can be found at the International Music Educators of Paris College of Music, where he currently teaches.


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HEAVENLY HORNS

August 24, 2017

HEAVENLY HORNS

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil
August 24, 2017

MANNY ECHAZABAL – “SHORT NOTICE”
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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OSCAR FELDMAN – “GOL”
Zoho Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JORGINHO NETO COLLECTIVE – “HARLEM”
Maria Record Label

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

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

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

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

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

DEE DEE: Who were your biggest music inspirations?

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

DEE DEE: Why did you name this CD Harlem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 14, 2017

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

August 14, 2017

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome back, Spanky. We missed you.

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DRUMS AND THE PEOPLE WHO PROPEL THE MUSIC

July 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dee Dee: How was it working with Mel Torme?

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

Dee Dee: What musicians inspired you the most?

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

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

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

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

Dee Dee: What about Phil Spector?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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