Kenny Elliott: From Chicago to L.A. & the World Inbetween

August 15, 2019

KENNY ELLIOTT: FROM CHICAGO TO L.A. & THE WORLD INBETWEEN
BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
AUGUST 15, 2019

Kenny Elliott’s obsession with the drums was inspired by a marching band. His father had taken him to a downtown Chicago parade. That’s where Kenny became infatuated with the power of the marching band drummer. Being a small child and slight of build, Kenny expressed disappointment at being overlooked for the sports teams and often, found himself feeling powerless because of his size.

“The drums went marching bye and they had everybody in step and I said, that’s power! I was nine and shortly after that experience, I asked my dad to buy me some drums. He said as long as I was really going to play them, Santa would bring them to me for Christmas. So, Christmas morning, there was a drum set and I was disappointed. I had only wanted that one drum. The drum that I saw the drummer playing in the marching band. I thought, Oh shoot! This is not what I wanted. But I made a promise to my dad, so I may as well go ahead and play them. For the longest, I would put my belt through the lug of the Tom Tom and I’d march around. We lived in the Chicago Projects and I’d march in the front of the apartments and to the back of the apartments playing, brrr-rump-bump-bump, brr-rump-bump-bump. I’d go back and forth, up and down, playing that one drum.

“My first teacher was a piano teacher and he taught me how to hold the sticks. My dad would take me over to his house. He had two daughters and they would go running around while I was doing my lesson. Professor Randolph was his name. His favorite song was ‘Sentimental Journey.’ Anyway, I kind of hit the glass ceiling with Professor Randolph. One day, my dad brought this white guy over to the Projects to hear me play. I remember his name. It was Mr. Murray. Well, I played for him and he said, you need to send him to the conservatory. I was about ten. So, I ended up going to the American Conservatory of Music. It was next door to the Roosevelt School in Chicago. I got lucky. I studied with a guy named James Dutton. He taught me Timpani and Mallets and later, I studied with the legendary Harold Jones.”

NOTE: JAMES DUTTON was the Head of the Marimba & Percussive Department at the American Conservatory of Music from 1945 to 1985. Thurman Barker, an AACM member, also studied with James Dutton. Harold Jones, once a student at the American Conservatory of Music, would later be hired as an assistant to Professor James Dutton. In an interview, Jones credited James Dutton as one of three men in his life who prepared him to be the successfully famous drummer he has become.

REF: https://www.barbarabrabec.com/DrummerDrives/memories-of-my-teacher-james-dutton.pdf

Kenny continued, “Harold Jones is with Tony Bennett now. But he was with Sarah Vaughan for many years. He stopped teaching me when he left to go on tour with Count Basie’s band. I was so unhappy about that. When I’m about eleven years old, almost twelve, Mr. Dutton had these percussion ensemble things and they would play at various schools. My parents would let me get out of school to go on these little tours, because they felt I was pretty good at that age.”

Both Kenny’s parents believed in his budding talent. Kenny’s father recognized his son’s passion for the instrument. Consequently, he did everything he could to get his son the right training and to introduce him to some of the musicians around town. He thought these seasoned musicians might be able to give the budding percussionist some insight into his instrument and into the business of music.

“Once dad knew I wanted to play drums, he was stoked. He did everything he could to get me around the right people. He had some friends who were musicians and we’d go over to their house every Monday night. They’d be drinking their liquor and they’d let me have as much potato chips and pop as I wanted. I had to play with those guys. They were like thirty and forty years old. You know, I’d be over there playing from like nine at night to twelve or one-o-clock in the morning. They’d be screaming at me, Play! Play! So, I’m playing hard and loud. Out of that affiliation, I ended up meeting Red Saunders. Somehow, they got me playing with the Red Saunders’ band. They would have me come on-stage at the famous Regal Theater and play one song with the big band,” Kenny recalled. “I was like the little drum prodigy.”

NOTE: RED SAUNDERS was a popular bandleader for Savoy Records in the late 1940s. He was a drummer and accompanied popular recording artists of the day like Blues icons T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner, Sugar Chile Robinson, Rosetta Tharpe and Lavern Baker. He recorded under his own name for many years. Saunders finally had a hit record when he recorded a traditional children’s song, “Hambone” on the OKeh record label in 1956. He also played in iconic bands like Duke Ellington’s orchestra, and with Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman.

REF: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Saunders_(musician

“When I first was playing drums, I was playing jazz with the old guys. I was their drummer and one night, the police came in the club and started asking, Who’s this kid? This kid can’t be in here. The band would say, he’s the drummer. The older guys in the band thought, well maybe if I was in the Union it would be OK. So, they had me join the union and after that, when police came into the club and asked, what’s this twelve-year-old kid doing in here? Well, I’d reach in my pocket ‘cause now I’ve got my Musician’s Union Card. That card kept me from getting thrown out of the clubs. But mostly I was playing Cotillion Balls and weddings. I really wasn’t doing too many nightclubs. I’d make anywhere from fifty to a hundred dollars a gig playing Casuals.”

So that’s how Kenny Elliott became a Union member at age twelve. Ironically and sadly, jazz musicians are still averaging similar pay scales fifty years later. We all know that’s got to change!

“My dad had something to say about the money I was making on these gigs. If I made a hundred dollars, he would give me ten dollars and direct me to put the rest into the bank. I was pissed off by that at first, but I learned from that. I’m glad he did that for me. He showed me how to take care of my funds.

“Oh, let me tell you this real quick. Tammy Terrell wanted me to be her drummer. I was playing at the Regal Theater. I don’t know if she was just saying it to my dad or whatever, but she said, right in front of me, I want him to be my drummer. She told my dad she liked the way I played. My dad said, no, no! he’s too young. Tammy was so pretty. She had a valet, a lady that took care of her wardrobe and everything. I’d sit backstage with her valet and she taught me how to play chess. Tammy kind of treated me like my favorite aunt, who used to just dote over me like Tammy did. I was thirteen and Tammy was just doting over me and telling me how cute I was. I guess she thought I was this little, short, talented, cute guy. Boy, did I have eyes for Tammy Terrill,” Kenny Elliott laughed, remembering how the famous Motown artist fawned over him and stroked his young ego.

This journalist remembers Tammy Terrell when she was performing as a single artist, before her huge hit album with Marvin Gaye. I went to see her at the Fireside Lounge in Detroit. At the time, she was dating David Ruffin, lead singer for the Temptations. She was drop-dead gorgeous with a voice as compelling and unique as Dionne Warwick or Spanky Wilson. In fact, one day when Marvin Gaye and I were talking about Tammy Terrell, he compared her tone To Spanky Wilson’s tone. Marvin was enamored with Spanky’s voice. Tammy and Spanky were similar in tone, but not in style. I will always remember Tammy Terrell as a dynamic, one-of-a-kind vocalist, who left this earth way too early.

Kenny Elliott continued, “Still in my teenage years, I started playing R&B in the late 60s or early 70s. The Top 40 bands came after playing with the jazz cats. I was with this group called “SEX” the ‘Sound Experience Exciters’. We rehearsed every day. We played R&B and back then, most of the cats couldn’t read. We’d set up for rehearsal at an abandoned theater on 47th Street, right in the hood. We’d be in there rehearsing and it would feel like it was fifty degrees below zero in there. I’d have my gloves and coat on and we’d be trying to play over there, freezing our asses off.”

It wasn’t always easy, but Kenny was determined to pursue drumming as a career. He told me, “If it’s meant for you to do something, it will happen, regardless. But it’s a good idea to be prepared. When I was living in the projects, those people living there would be beating on the pipes trying to get me to stop practicing. They would call the cops on me for making noise. My dad would explain to them, by law, he can practice until seven-o-clock. So that was it and no arguments. I had to practice every day, even before I did my homework. My mother was tough. If she didn’t hear me playing the whole time, she would add on time. She’d say, I don’ t hear nothing. I’d say, mama, I’m just turning the page.

“Every summer, we would go to Chattanooga, Tennessee to visit my grandparents. My grandfather hand-built his house down. Later, he had to build another house across the tracks because the government took his land to construct a TNT plant during the war. He built an attic on top of his house and they had a room up there, where I had to practice. It would be 199 degrees up there. It didn’t matter. My mother would say; go up there and practice. I’d say mom, it’s hot. It’s too hot. I’m burnin’ up. I’m complaining and she’d say; ok, I’ll tell you what. If you don’t want to practice, we can just get rid of the drums. So, I went back up to that smoldering attic and tried to practice. Then I came down, sweat pouring off me, and I said to my mother, ok, – call dad. Get rid of the drums. I can’t do it no more. She said, come here. She grabbed me and ka-pow – ka-pow. She ka-powed me with a house shoe. Now, you have to go up there and practice another hour, she demanded. But you know what? To this day, I thank her. When I tell this story today, she conveniently doesn’t remember.

“My mom was not to be messed with. In fact, she pulled a gun on this dude trying to rob me one time. I was taking drum lessons and to show you how great my percussion teacher was, he paid for me to take Judo lessons with his son. So, one Saturday, on the way to my Judo lesson, this dude tried to rob me. I gave him a Judo kick. He bluffed me when he said, oh, you know that too? So, I thought maybe he knew something better than me. But I still wasn’t going to let him rob me. We’re on the sidewalk, brow beating each other, blah blah blah, sizing each other up. It was not far from my house. I looked out the corner of my eye and I see our neighbor go sliding into our front door. A few minutes later, I see my mama come out the house in her housecoat and house shoes. All you see is her calves sticking out from her bathrobe and she walked up on us with a serious expression on her face. She pulled out her pistol. What are you doing to my son? The dude starts freaking out. She’s telling him she’s going to blow his head off and he and I are looking at her and then at the gun and back to her. He wasted no time getting on down the road. So, right then, if there was ever a time when I really loved my mom or had any doubts that she really loved me, I had no more doubts. I have two sisters but I’m her only son. We learned early on, my mama don’t play.“

Kenny Elliott admired the awesome playing of iconic drummer, Tony Williams. He shared with me a chance meeting he had with Tony.

“For the longest time, I was a tony Williams clone. I wanted to play like Tony Williams. And yeah, that was good. But at some point, you recognize there’s only one Tony Williams. I bumped into Tony at the drum shop one day. He saw me and recognized me, because I would come to his shows when he was playing with Chick Corea and Stanley Clark. While we were both there, somebody at the drum shop gave Tony two drums; a marching drum and a snare drum. So, he said to me, Hey Ken, are you driving? I said yeah. I got a motorcycle. That’s all I got,” I was apologetic.

“He said, yeah, that’s ok. Can I grab a lift? I was surprised. So, He put the snare drum in between us. He’s holding on to me with one arm and he’s holding onto the other drum with the other hand and we’re headed to Chicago’s North side on this motorcycle and it started raining. I said to myself, OMG. I remember thinking, you have to be extra, extra, extra careful! That’s all I need to do is to crash this bike and kill both of us. HEADLINES: Tony Williams killed on a bike with some unknown drummer. I said damn. I don’t want that to happen. We made it, but that scenario truly scared me.”

As Kenny Elliott paid his dues and worked his way up the ladder of success, he was offered a great opportunity to become a staff drummer with Brunswick Records.

“Brunswick was located down there on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. My friend, the bass player, Bernard Reed, was working there. Bernard is the bass player on that Red Holt hit record that Barbara Acklin wrote, ‘Soulful Strutt.’ That’s not Red Holt on that record. A lot of people don’t know that. That’s my friend Bernard Reed and a guy named Quentin Joseph. They were staff musicians over at Brunswick who laid those tracks down.”

“Bernard liked the way I played. I might have been about nineteen when I wound up at Brunswick Records. Bernard brought me under his wing and really showed me how to play in-the-pocket. Before that, in those days I was trying to be like Elvin Jones and Billy Cobham. Bernard was saying no, no! Just play two and four. It was kind of beneath me at first. Because man, I’m thinking I did all this studying and now I’m just going back to this simplistic beat. But I had to learn. I was doing sessions that required that type of playing. And Louis Satterfield took me under his wing too. Satterfield taught Verdine how to play bass. At Brunswick, I would do little sessions here and there. I’d have to sit around until the writers would say, hey we got this song we want to lay down. I only did a few little records over there. I met Tom-Tom 84 at Brunswick. Tom Tom 84 was the arranger for Earth Wind and Fire. And Bruce Swedien was the engineer at Brunswick Records. Bruce Swedien did all those Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson Records.”

NOTE: Grammy-Winning producer/engineer, BRUCE SWEDIEN is legendary and has engineered or produced for such artists as Diana Ross, Nat King Cole, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and has wonderful information to share about engineering during his interview at a Full Sail University ‘live’ interview, covering 1952 to the present time.

“Louis Satterfield was mostly known for working at Chess, but was also at Brunswick Records along with saxophonist, Don Myrick,” Kenny recalled.

NOTE: Don Myrick was one of the founders of Chicago’s AACM group (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and was an original saxophonist with Earth, Wind and Fire’s famed horn section from 1975 until 1982 when he was murdered by a Santa Monica, California policeman during a drug raid on his apartment. In 1995, a wrongful death suit was finally settled with his family by that Southern California city for $400,000.

“I also saw Master Henry Gibson around the Brunswick studios. He was the percussionist on a lot of those Curtis Mayfield Records and he worked for Curtom Record.”

NOTE: Master Henry Gibson was celebrated as the most recorded percussionist, appearing on over 1200 albums during a four-decade career. He was not only a popular studio session player, he also toured and/or recorded with such iconic artists as Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, pianist, Tennyson Stephens, jazz singer, Azure McCall, The Staple Singers, Sonny Stitt, Bennie Green, Ahmad Jamal, Kool & the Gang, and the Rotary Connection featuring Minnie Ripperton’s angelic voice.

Kenny Elliott had the pleasure of working with R&B soul singer, Walter Jackson, who I used to go see in person in Detroit. He sang heartfelt songs, propped-up on crutches. Kenny also worked with Syl Johnson, Aorta and the Thunderfunk Symphony. He accompanied pianist Ken Chaney, great guitarists Phil Upchurch and Pete Cosey. Cosey played with Miles Davis. As Kenny played with various recording artists, he honed his skills, leaning to play diverse musical styles on his trap drums.

“At a point, I hit the glass ceiling in Chicago. My good friend Larry Ball and Vince Willis and another guy named Bryan came out to Los Angeles to perform in the stage play, The Wiz. I said I’m going to take a vacation, since I have some friends in California. So, I came out to visit, and said Oh shoot! I was so impressed. My friend, Vince Willis, did some sessions and he had me play on a few. That’s where I met Romeo Williams, a bass player. After my short vacation, I went back home to Chicago. But I knew I couldn’t stay back there.

“One day, Romeo alerted me that his roommate was moving out. He said, you can move in with me if you come back to L.A. I was all in. I got rid of what I could. I sold my car to my cousin and I came back out to L.A. in 1977 with $400 in my pocket, my tux, and my drums.

“Romeo turned out to be a cool roommate. He would get a gig and he’d say, call Kenny. We played with Johnny Hammond Smith together. I was known as a drummer who could read. That was sort of my forte. That got my foot into several doors. I met Paul Jackson Jr. back then. I think Paul was about fifteen. We went over to Paul’s parent’s house and they would feed us on Sunday. ‘Cause, as struggling musicians, we didn’t have no money. What little bit of money we hustled up went for the phone bill first, rent next, and that was it. We went hungry a few times. Growing up in the projects, as a kid, we still never went hungry. But I went hungry a few times in Los Angeles.

“We used to play these demo sessions over at Jobete Music, located on Sunset and Argyle, up in that tall, Motown building. We lived in Inglewood at 81st street and Vermont, where Pepperdine University used to be. We got to be the staff musicians at Jobete. But neither me nor Romeo had a car at the time. So, for the longest, we took the bus to Motown’s building. Romeo knew this girl that we met at the church we attended. We went to the same church that Paul Jackson Jr. went to and that’s where I met Paul, his sister and his whole family. He’d go on to become a big guitar star some years later.

“Romeo and I would get up in the morning, take the bus to Hollywood, borrow Tina Madison’s Volkswagen and drive back to Inglewood. We’d jam the drums, the bass and the amp into that Volkswagen, drive back to the studio in Hollywood and set up. Then, we’d sit around, waiting for the staff writers to say; OK, we have a song. We’re ready for you guys. We only got like fifty dollars a song and we had to wait two weeks to get paid. But we were doing what we loved and squeaking out a living. We’d play two songs, maybe three songs, maybe four songs. Then, we’d break our instruments down, ‘cause we couldn’t leave our stuff there. We’d Drive back to Inglewood; unload the stuff, then drive back to Hollywood to give the car back to Tina. We’d trudge back to the bus stop and take the bus home to Inglewood. Phew.”

During that time, Kenny’s credits grew at a tremendous speed. People loved his good attitude and his ability to play various styles. Additionally, he was a fast chart-reader. Not only was he a staff drummer at Jobete, the publishing arm of Motown, he also flew up North, to San Francisco and became involved with the Fantasy Record Label and CBS/Sony Records. Between 1978 and 1981, Kenny Elliott played on the albums of “Finished Touch” (Motown), Rance Allen (Stax), “Pockets” for Columbia Records, Bobby “Blue” Bland” (MCA Records), the girl’s group, “High Energy,” (Motown), James Cleveland Presents John Springer & Bread, (Savoy Records), Martha Reeves, (Fantasy), Tavares, (Capitol Records/EMI) and Kimiko Kasai (CBS/Sony), to name just a few. On “Sweet Vibrator” you can hear Kenny Elliott’s strong sense of funk and blues backing up Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland.

“In 1978, I got busy. I met this guy named Herb Jimmerson and his wife Vi. He was a staff producer up there at Fantasy records. They introduced me to another producer, Hank Cosby. They became real family to me and Romeo. We became real good friends. We used to go over to the Jimmerson-house on the weekend and just hang out. Hank was kinda like family too, but you know, Hank was doing his own thing. I did a track for “Lord of the Rings” where I got to play Tipanis and all that kind of orchestrated stuff. I cut tracks for a lot of other records and picked up some television shows. They were variety shows like the NAACP Award Shows. I did a few of those and that show that Lou Rawls used to host, The United Negro College Fund variety show. I performed on the Johnny Carson Show, the Jimmy Kimble Show and the Graham Norton show in London for the BBC. H.B. Barnum took me under his wing too. He was the conductor/arranger on some of those shows. A lot of my work came because I could read and I could play different styles. I play jazz, funk, Latin and several different styles. That was my forte. When I was going to the conservatory in Chicago, they stressed that I had to learn to play it all. They said, you don’t have to be great at everything, but if you play it all, then you’re always going to be working. Turns out, that was true.

“I’ve worked with some great folks; Lionel Richie, Mel Torme, Aretha was pretty amazing. I did a live album with the L.A. Mass Choir. That was a brutal session. It lasted all day. There was a lot of hard playing, because they were singing energetic gospel songs.”

Suddenly, Kenny sings the drum line to me at a very up-Tempo rhythm. “If I dropped a stick or something, that would have been so wrong,” he chuckles.

“Natalie Cole was really good, and I played with Joe Cocker. I even worked with Phyllis Hyman, who I thought was an amazing vocalist. She was beautiful and tall. But this one time, she had her background singers crying. I mean, literally crying. She had a mouth like a sailor. She was screaming at them. We did a gig over in Century City and she was explaining something to the background singers. Anyway, she was mad about something. Ms. Hyman was cussing those singers so loud and wrong, my neck jerked around. She would make a sailor blush.

“I got to work with Patti Austin and James Ingram; Ashford and Simpson in England at the Wembley Stadium, where I was the house drummer. That’s how I got to work with Jonathan Butler too. Al Green was great to work with, but I have to say the best artist ever was Aretha. She did the whole nine yards. She left me speechless.”

Kenny’s musical journey has been rewarding. More recently, he has recorded with and played numerous concerts with Kansas City pianist, singer and legendary icon, Betty Bryant.

Additionally, Kenny Elliott has recorded with The Ink Spots, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the great vocalist, Carl Anderson, gospel singer, Vicki Winans and Los Angeles based guitarist, David T. Walker. He’s accompanied The Impressions, R&B crooner, Freddie Jackson, the smokin’ hot girls’ group, En Vogue, the mother of jazz singers, Ella Fitzgerald; pop singer Helen Reddy, Dionne Warwick, Lionel Richie, the great Stevie Wonder. His drums have complimented the historic Ray Charles and even songbird, Nancy Wilson.

He has also enjoyed worked with a host of Southern California talent, including studio engineer and trumpeter, Nolan Shaheed, bassist, Brandino, (Kevin Brandon), and he’s recorded several albums with guitarist and band leader, Yu Ooka. He’s played in the legendary Bennie Maupin band, “Pulsation,” and accompanied Linda Hopkins.

Kenny Elliott has even played in Count Basie’s orchestra and has worked with the local Luckman Jazz Orchestra, the Elliott Caine Sextet and Jeff Goldblum with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. I’m proud to say Kenny even has worked with this journalist and is playing drums on my last CD title, “Storyteller.”

As a percussive educator, Kenny Elliott enjoys passing the baton, (in this case the drum sticks), to a host of young, talented musicians. He shared some encouraging thoughts.

“Just follow your heart and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do the things you really want to do. Stay positive; be creative. It’s good to try and follow the trend, but you have to set your own trend and do your own thing. Like my mother used to tell me, practice!”
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REF: https://books.google.com/books?id=4GNouaNeWFcC&pg=
PA29&lpg=PA29&dq= James+Dutton+Chicago+drum+educator&source=
bl&ots=KlBj4RDEf4&sig=ACfU3U2emQp35yh1KahZfTV-QnI0GY2jew&hl=en&sa =X&ved=2ahUKEwi2i7CiqYDj AhVAB50JHaNLB084ChDoATAJegQIBxAB#v=
onepage&q=James%20Dutton %20Chicago%20drum%20educator&f=false

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JAZZ: A BLEND OF INNOVATION, TRADITION AND EVER CHANGING POSSIBILITIES

August 11, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
AUGUST 11, 2019

LUKE GILLESPIE – “MOVING MISTS” Patois Records

Luke Gillespie, piano/composer/arranger; Jeremy Allen & Todd Coalman, double bass; Steve Houghton, drums; John Raymond, trumpet; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Tierney Sutton, vocal; Dave Stryker, guitar; Tom Walsh, alto & soprano saxophone; Pat Harbison, trumpet; Wayne Wallace & Brennon Johns, trombone; Brent Wallarab, arranger.

Sometimes you hear an artist that is so distinctive and so blessed with talent that you know they are destined for huge success. Luke Gillespie is just such an artist. He exhibits a style and piano personality that is all his. From the first strains of his trio rendition of “I Hear a Rhapsody,” I am intrigued by his unique interpretation on the piano keys, as well as his harmonic chord structures. This is a gifted player. Who is this pianist? I wonder and reach for the press release that accompanies his CD. Turns out, Luke Gillespie is professor of jazz piano at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Those students are certainly lucky to have him! This is one of the world’s most prestigious conservatories of music, boasting alumni like jazz vocalist, Tierney Sutton, guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Walter Smith.

“My colleagues are some of the greatest musicians in the world and some of the most professional,” boasts Gillespie. “We do play together several times a semester, in different venues. But this gave me a chance to actually record with my colleagues.”

Gillespie has composed the title tune “Moving Mists,“ and “This I Dig of Grew,” (written in memory of Mulgrew Miller), “DoNaBar” and “Blues for All.” The “Blues For All” composition is arranged with a musical nod to the standard jazz tune by Miles Davis, “All Blues;” but it’s definitely Gillespie’s own composition, with a unique, new melody tastefully improvised atop familiar chord changes and Walter Smith III on saxophone and trumpeter, John Raymond both aggrandize the arrangement. However, it’s the magical genius of Gillespie’s piano playing that binds the whole piece together with an imaginative solo and notes that scurry across the 88-keys like fire flies; fast and sparkling. There is a blues edge that Luke Gillespie adds to his piano playing, always peeking through his excellent arrangements.

The son of a Baptist missionary, Luke Gillespie was born in Kyoto, Japan, and grew up in Osaka. The title tune is pensive, with John Raymond’s flugelhorn prominent and beautiful. This original composition was inspired, in part, by Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi. It’s a lovely ballad. Speaking of ballads, Tierney Sutton makes a guest appearance on the tune, “Beautiful Love” that debuted in 1931. Gillespie reharmonizes this standard in a most ingenious way, accompanying the eight-time-Grammy-nominated vocalist. They perform as a stunning duo. You may find yourself holding your breath in quiet anticipation after each of these ten recorded songs. It is hard to imagine what might come next and it’s excitingly rewarding when each track is better than the next.

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MIGUEL ZENON – “SONERO: THE MUSIC OF ISMAEL RIVERA” Miel Music

Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums.

I was not familiar with the music of Ismael Rivera. This album was created for jazz lovers, like me,and to introduce us to this famed, Puerto Rican musician. Ismael Rivera was born in Santurce,Puerto Rico,(a section of San Juan)just a breath away from where Miguel Zenon himself grew up. As a vocalist/musician, Ismael Rivera was rooted in Afro-Rican and Afro-Cuban music. His expertise was his excellence as an improvisor and a master of Sonero. Miguel Zenon explained:

“Sonero to me doesn’t only mean an improviser. It exemplifies a persona. It’s someone who embodies the genre.”

Ismael Rivera gained huge popularity in Puerto Rico, performing regularly on the daily television series, “El Show del Mediodia” in the 1950s. He was tutored in the repertoires of bomba and plena by the patriarch, Don Rafael Cepeda. These two men, Rivera and Cepeda, headed a movement that turned rhythms into contemporary dance-band music, somewhat in the Cuban style. Ismael Rivera’s talents and popularity spread as far as the Caribbean, to Colombia,Venezuela and Panama. It is those of us in the United States who may not have heard about Ismael Rivera’s voice and music. For a while, he was a lead singer with the popular Orquesta Panamericana and he recorded with them. In 1954, he joined Cortijo’s Combo where he recorded several hit songs in the American Latin community. He died on May 13, 1987 from a heart attack.

“I grew up in salsa circles as a kid,” Miguel Zenon explained. “Coming from a percussion background, Rivera developed a unique style of singing that used vocal percussion phrases to fill lyrical lines, making for a new level of rhythmic complexity on the part of the singer.”

With this in mind, Miguel Zenon picked up his saxophone to celebrate some of the popular music that Rivera recorded. Luis Perdomo is magnificent on the 88-keys, playing provocatively on these songs and infusing them with straight ahead jazz magic. I fell in love with the melody of cut #3, “Los Tumbas” where Perdomo’s piano playing is glittering and stellar. Miguel Zenon takes an opportunity to stretch out improvisationally on this track and his horn offers an exciting solo. Hans Glowischnig’s bass takes exceptional liberties, while holding the rhythm section tightly in place. Henry Cole is the drummer and I notice he is quick to compliment on his trap drums. At the same time, he is always holding the group solidly and rhythmically on point. They build the energy on the composition” El Negro Bambon” giving Cole an opportunity to show off his drum chops. He personifies freedom and excitement during his percussive solo. On the original recording of this tune, there was singing in five against the orchestra playing in four. Consequently, Miguel Zenon arranged this tune using that concept as an inspiration. Miguel Zenon and his talented ensemble have captured the magic of his hero, Ismael Rivera, while infusing his own beautiful spirit into the mix. Perhaps his press kit said it best when they wrote:

“A multiple Grammy nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow, Zenon is one of a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often-contradictory poles of innovation and tradition.”
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BEN FLOCKS – “MASK OF THE MUSE” Independent Label

Ben Flocks, tenor & soprano saxophone; Ari Chesky, electric & acoustic guitar; Frank LoCrasto, piano/ organ/Fender Rhodes/Mellotron/Vox Continental/Prophet/Glockenspiel; Martin Nevin, upright bass; Evan Hughes, drums/percussion.

If you enjoy sleepy time music, pretty ballads and the dreamy sound of a saxophone, this is the production for you. Speaking of dreams, saxophonist Ben Flocks has chosen a number of compositions that reference that word, including Johnny Mercer’s “Dream,” composition, “Street of Dreams,” and “Dream of Life,” that was once recorded by Billie Holiday.

The synthesized strings in the background create a lush backdrop for Flocks to showcase his tenor and soprano saxophone charm. Flocks And his guitarist, Ari Chesky, have produced this album, scheduled for release August 16, 2019. It’s an enjoyable listen, but somehow has a feeling of ‘canned’ music, instead of the energy and excitement created by a ‘live’ band. This writer is not a big fan of electronic synthesized music that sounds programmed rather than organic. You can hear the concept below on Flocks title tune.

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AUGIE HAAS – “DREAM A LITTLE DREAM” Independent Label

Augie Haas, trumpet, vocals; Dick Sarpola, elec. bass/double bass; Carmen Staaf, piano/organ; Jared Schonig, drums/percussion; Robert Burkhart & Eliot Bailen, cellos; Eddy Malave, Jason Mellow & Chris Souza, violas; Janey Choi, Sasha Margolis, Katie Kresek, Kiwon Nahm, Sean Carney, Kiku Enomoto, Naho Parrini, & Joel Lambdin, violins; Suzanne Ornstein, Concert Master.

Augie Haas plays the trumpet as sweetly as he sings. This is an entertaining project that blends several jazz standards with pop, Rhythm and Blues hit records from the past. He opens with “Dream A Little Dream of Me.” His voice conjures up memories of the Dean Martin, Frankie Lane days. This song was a big hit in the 1930’s for Ozzie Nelson (of Ozzie & Harriet television series fame) and was re-recorded several times, including a rendition by the great Ella Fitzgerald. Haas seems to be influenced by Chet Baker, who is also an outstanding trumpet player and vocalist. Augie Haas plays “Blackbird” and “Georgia On My Mind” without singing, showcasing his trumpet skills.

His trumpet tone on “Georgia” is beautiful and supported by a lovely string arrangement. Some of the pop tunes he sings are “Goody Goody,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” The R&B hit records he rearranges for this project are “I Only Have Eyes for You” that was originally recorded by The Flamingoes. Augie Haas does a nice job of vocally refreshing this old ‘doo-wop’ song, as we used to call ballads we could slow-dance to at the DJ parties. I would have loved to hear him play this particular song on his trumpet, instead of just fading out on the song at the end with his horn. “Love Me Tender” is recorded as a slow swing number with a walking bass that his trumpet uses as a cushion. Haas’ horn bounces above this Dixieland-type arrangement. Other songs you will recognize and enjoy are his renditions of “Earth Angel,” “Stand By Me,” “Ooh Child,” and “Stay.”

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Augie Haas earned his academic degrees from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of the Performing Arts and the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music Conservatory. Now living in New York, he has spent much of his time playing with various big bands including those of Harry Connick Jr., Maria Schneider and Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project. He has also performed with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Birdland Big Band, among others. This is his sixth album for his Playtime Music Label. When he isn’t recording, Augie Haas is busy composing and inspiring up and coming musicians.

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EMMA FRANK – “COME BACK” Justin Time Records

Emma Frank, vocals/composer; Aaron Parks, piano/synthesizer; Tommy Crane, drums; Zack Lober, bass; Franky Rousseau, guitars/synthesizers; Simon Millerd, trumpet; Chieh-Fan, viola/violin; Pedro Barquinha, guitar/bass/percussion/synthesizer; Dominic Mekky, string arranger.

Her music is folksy and infectious. This singer/songwriter draws you in like vocal quicksand. Brooklyn-based, Emma Frank embarks on her second collaboration with pianist Aaron Parks to follow up her critically acclaimed album last year titled, “Ocean Av. While Ocean Av.” When I listen to her pretty voice and poignant stories, I recognize that Emma Frank is processing her life with music and perhaps uncovering some of the intimate corners of her soul. Says Frank:

“… Life is tough. Music is soothing. In a sense, it’s that easy. I want this album to be a safe space for someone, or one space that they can go to feel their feelings and enjoy being alive.”

Her music is a blend of pop, folk and a smidgeon of jazz. Emma Frank’s voice is sweet and reflective, licking the lyrics like popsicles that drip across Aaron’s piano and his synthesizer. They stick to our consciousness. This creation is sparsely produced, with songs like “Sometimes” reminding me of Joni Mitchell. “Promises” challenges the listeners pitch and sense of melody in a pleasantly unexpected way. It’s very artsy, combining a pop concept with jazz. I like the freedom I hear in Emma Frank’s presentation. Franky Rousseau’s guitar licks are lovely with her sparse arrangements and sweet melodic songs. Pedro Barquinha adds much with his own guitar and sometimes playing bass, percussion and synths. The composition “See You” is soft rock. She harmonizes with herself on this one and Tommy Crane’s drums punch the groove in a funk-way.

I would not consider this a jazz album, but Emma Frank’s voice is captivating and her songwriting, both melodies and lyrics, are artistic and charming. When I listen to this singer/songwriter I feel peaceful and inspired each time. Her music is calming, even though the song titles sometimes seem to have nothing to do with her lyrics. Songs like “Before You Go Away” stick to my brain like bubble gum on my shoes.
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PABLO ZIEGLER CHAMBER QUARTET – “RADIOTANGO” featuring HECTOR DEL CURTO, JISOO OK, PEDRO GIRAUDO Zoho Records

Pablo Ziegler, piano; Hector Del Curto, bandoneon; Jisoo Ok, cello; Pedro Giraudo, bass.

Pablo Ziegler’s romantic compositions come alive on this tribute to the tango and the music of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have warm memories of Argentina. I remember the expansive streets of Buenos Aires that were eight lanes wide and the warmth of the friendly people. Pablo Ziegler’s music capsulizes the music of his culture and offers us an hour to celebrate the Latin music of his youth and breathe new life into the tango.

This pianist/composer has won Grammy’s and Latin Grammys for past work. This is sure to be another feather in his Nuevo Tango cap. The title track,” Radiotango” has been snipped from the introduction of a radio program quite familiar in Buenos Aires from 1988 to 1989, entitled “FM Tango.” On this project, Ziegler will energize and dance you from the mysterious barrios of the tango neighborhoods to the city’s popular obelisk center. All his compositions reflect Ziegler’s arrangements and he is also the producer on this project. His music is embellished by internationally respected tango jazz virtuosos, who make up his dynamic Chamber Quartet. This is a moving and spirited project that presents a plush sound and is more orchestrated than what I would expect from just four musicians. On the “Maria Ciudad” composition, Jisoo Ok is stunning and romantic on cello. Ziegler’s piano virtuosity shines throughout. Pedro Giraudo’s double bass glues the rhythm together and I don’t even miss the drums. Hector Del Curto is prominent on bandoneon with Ziegler’s piano chords playing tango rhythms wildly beneath Del Curto’s lovely melody.

This is a “live” recording, enthusiastically appreciated by an audience that obviously is enthralled by this quartet of master musicians.
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VICTOR GOULD – “THOUGHTS BECOME THINGS” Blue Room Music

Victor Gould, piano/composer; Rodney Green, drums; Ismel Wignall, percussion; Vicente Archer, bass; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Godwin Louis, alto/soprano saxophone; Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond, flute/alto flute; Lucas Pino, bass clarinet; Aaron Johnson, bass trombone; Yoojim Park & Jim Tsao, violins; Jocelin Pan, viola; Susan Mandel, cello.

This is thoughtful, calm, inspirational music. The blend of Victor Gould’s piano and Yoojin Park’s violin is magical. The compositions are all original and composed by Victor Gould. This carefully selected ensemble brings out the best of his work. The first song is the title tune and it sets the tone for this entire album. If I were to have a criticism, it would be that I wanted to hear some swing or up-tempo, straight-ahead somewhere in the mix. Most of the songs are laid-back and relaxed in tempo and arrangement. I found Gould’s compositional skills to be thought-provoking and to showcase his enormous talents on the piano. His 88-key delivery often replicates humming-bird wings with the speed and agility of his fingers tickling the ivory and ebony keys. The addition of Anne Drummond’s alto flute on “October” adds to my imaginative, mind-pictures of birds and nature.

“My dad is a flautist and that instrument is really important to me. I grew up listening to Hubert Laws, James Spaulding, Frank Wess and Yusef Lateef. I was hearing Anne’s unique way of playing. Her vibrato is very soulful and human,” Gould muses.

The tentative and introspective nature of Gould’s playing introduces us to “Brand New,” as he plays rubato and freely on the grand piano. This solo effort captivates and pleases. It needs no other instrument to totally engross us in his music. That is the sign of a truly great and sensitive musician. Finally, on the fourth tune titled, ‘Karma,” Gould stretches out into the realms I longed for, adding punch and energy to his presentation with Rodney Green showing prowess and supportive control on drums. The tempos change on this arrangement, but you will have the opportunity of hearing Victor Gould play innovatively and swiftly during this song. Jeremy Pelt makes an explosive appearance on the composition, “Inheritance,” where his trumpet dances and soars. Gould’s addition of chamber strings and both bass trombone and bass clarinet help to express his arrangements in memorable ways. This is an artistic venture that mirrors the title of this album, (Thoughts Become Things) in its pensive nature. A swooping bow to the artist who designed the cover of this CD. Martel Chapman inspired me to pick this album out of a stack of twenty sitting on my desk, with his moving and beautiful cover artwork.

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FABRIZIO SCIACCA QUARTET – “GETTING’ IT THERE” featuring DONALD VEGA, BILLY DRUMMOND, JED LEVY – Independent Label

Fabrizio Sciacca, bass; Billy Drummond, drums; Donald Vega, piano; Jeb Levy, saxophone.

The quartet leader,Fabrizio Sciacca,opens this album with an attention-getting bass solo. The tune is “One for America” composed by the great Sam Jones. These four musicians come out swinging harder than Muhammad Ali. The beautiful,“Lullaby In Central Park” follows to calm the mood and showcases Donald Vega on piano, with Fabrizio Sciacca dancing his double bass beneath the pretty melody, quite creatively. Trap drummer, Billy Drummond, is the cement that holds this quartet solidly in place. On this tune, the trio is featured without saxophone. I’m intrigued and thoroughly entertained by Fabrizio Sciacca’s interpretation of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square” on his bass. Fabrizio Sciacca says he was inspired to include this composition after hearing Danish bass player, Niels-Henning Orstred Pedersen’s interpretation of this beautiful tune. I haven’t heard that rendition, but this one Fabrizio plays is stellar. When Jeb Levy’s saxophone is added on tunes like “Zellmar’s Delight,” “Lonely Goddess” and “One Second Please” he elevates this trio in a wonderful way.

Born in Cataria,Italy, Fabrizio Sciacca is making a name for himself in New York City and beyond. He considers Ron Carter to be one of his mentors. Consequently, he has composed one song on this production titled, “For Sir Ron.” Sciacca began playing the bass when he was just thirteen years old. In 2011, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There, he was inspired by such professors of jazz as John Pattitucci, Danilo Perez and Victor Bailey. After graduation, he moved to New York to begin studying with the legendary bassist, Ron Carter and earned his master’s Degree in Performance and Composition from the Manhattan School in 2018. With the release of this, his debut album as a leader, Fabrizio Sciacca begins an impressive recording career.

Fabrizio describes his feelings about this recording and his musical direction.

“With the mixture of straight-ahead and modern times, the purpose of this album is to express what jazz means to me and what the role of the bass is in said musical context, as soloistic and rhythm section instrument.”


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NICOLAS BEARDE –“I REMEMBER YOU: THE MUSIC OF NAT KING COLE” Right Groove Records

Nicolas Bearde, vocals; Josh Nelson & Peter Horvath, piano; Alex Bonham & Dan Feiszli, bass; Dan Schnelle, Lorca Hart & Jason Lewis, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone.

Nicolas Bearde’s voice skims easily across the unusual harmonic chords that Peter Horvath plays on piano, while the old familiar standard, “I Remember You” unfolds. Bearde’s baritone vocals are warm and inviting. “That Sunday, That Summer” is a delightful song with a well-written lyrical content. It showcases Bearde’s ability to ‘sell the song’ and features a great saxophone solo by special guest artist, Eric Alexander. This is followed by an old favorite of mine, “Funny (Not Much)” where once again, Bearde takes his time delivering a heartfelt ballad, with a tone and vocal texture reminiscent of Lou Rawls. Every one of the songs on this project are chosen to celebrate the music of Nat King Cole. You will hear gems like “Sweet Lorraine,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “L-O-V-E” and many more that recall Nat King Cole’s unforgettable hit records. Here is an album full of nostalgia and embellished by a group of outstanding musicians in support of Nicolas Bearde’s sixth recorded release. This album is apropos, because this year would have been Nat King Cole’s 100th Earth-anniversary.

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Nicolas Bearde’s life has taken many artistic twists and turns. He is not only a vocalist, but also a working actor. While serving his country in the armed services, where he was stationed in Japan, Nicolas Bearde began preforming as a singer. When he was released from duty, he relocated to the San Francisco, California area. That’s where he became part of a staged radio play called Jukebox that starred famous actor, Danny Glover. He was bitten by the acting bug and went on to book performances in several stage plays, followed by film and television appearances. Somehow, in between his acting success, he managed to continue pursuing a rewarding career in music. He met Molly Holm and joined her eight-member group called Jazzmouth. Soon after, he was introduced to the great Bobby McFerrin and in 1986, Bearde became a member of McFerrin’s ground-breaking a cappella group, Voicestra. In the mid-nineties, he joined an off-shoot of this heralded a cappella group, who called themselves SoVoSo. They too won numerous awards. In the early 2000s, Nicolas Bearde began recording his solo projects, including original songs and jazz standards. With the solid support of some of California’s finest musicians, this album promises to be another successful endeavor in Nicolas Bearde’s multi-talented career.
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THE CURTIS BROTHERS – “ALGORITHM” Truthrevolution Recording Collective

Zaccai Curtis, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Ralph Peterson, drums; Donald Harrison, saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet.

With the above star-studded list of musicians, I knew I was in for a real treat. I was not disappointed nor have I exaggerated. This group is ‘cookin’ and they’re presentation is as hot and spicy as Jalapeno peppers.

An algorithm is a set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving situations, especially by a computer. Well, there’s nothing computerized about this music. It’s straight from the heart, free and brilliantly energetic. The Curtis Brothers offer nine original compositions, composed and arranged by the pianist, Zaccai Curtis. Each one is titled for a mathematical concept or term, beginning with “Three Points and a Sphere.” This composition totally engages me. It’s a strong opening number with the Brian Lynch and Donald Harrison horns out front and spectacular. Then there’s an exciting piano solo by Zaccai Curtis, followed by Luques Curtis soloing on bass. The ensemble is pushed and grounded by Ralph Peterson on drums. Track two showcases the drums upfront, setting the mood and tempo at the introduction. Peterson’s drums remind me of some of Ahmad Jamal’s killer-groove arrangements, like “Poinciana” on this particular composition titled, “Phi.” There is something fresh and new about this group, but at the same time, I am spirited back to my Detroit days listening to Art Blakey, Donald Byrd and Yusef Lateef. The Curtis Brothers manage to dress straight-ahead jazz in a beautiful, new and distinctive sound. They transform old-school into the twenty-first century with their individual talents spinning and shining like ambulance lights. They snatch your attention. I was driving when I popped this CD into my car stereo system. I almost pulled over. They pump fresh ideas and melodic memories into their rhythmic grooves. That make me play this CD over and over again. Every composition is a testament to the composer’s brilliance, and to his bandmates, who so thoroughly uncover every nuance in the recorded movements of “Algorithm.” It sounds like they are performing in front of a live audience by the encouraging shouts of spontaneity I hear in the background. Or could it be the musicians themselves, carried away by the spirit of what they are creating and palpably pleased? Either way, I too find myself carried away and enjoying every minute of their dynamic sound.
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MARK SHERMAN – “MY OTHER VOICE” Miles High Records

Mark Sherman, piano/composer; Vincent Herring, alto saxophone; Ray Drummond & Dan Chmielinski, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Nana Sakamoto, trombone.

Mark Sherman is multi-talented. He studied and played several instruments including drums, percussion and vibraphone, but eventually settled on piano, an instrument he became fascinated with at age eight. His love for this instrument out-weighed all his other musical infatuations.

“With ten fingers and an eight-octave range available, the piano gives me a different level and dimension of expression,” Sherman asserts. “I teach at the piano; I write at the piano and I simply love to play the piano.”

Opening with a straight ahead, bebop, original jazz tune titled, “Primative Reality,” we are propelled into space by the ensemble’s sound and energy. Surrounded by a group of skilled musicians, I immediately know this is a project of proficient inspiration and creative talent. “Juicy Lucy” is written by Horace Silver and Sherman interprets it as a happy shuffle, featuring Vincent Herring on alto saxophone. Ray Drummond’s bass solo is melodic and skips atop Carl Allen’s drums. Allen is stellar throughout this project, rooting the music in percussive security and quick to shine appropriately and accent the talents of his fellow musicians. Nana Sakamoto is spotlighted on the trombone during their interpretation of “Milestones.” Track four features another original composition by Sherman titled, “Ales.” The horn lines are arranged nicely to support this song, making a strong introductory platform for Mark Sherman to leap from and solo on piano. Sherman is a wonderful composer and his music, like the ensemble, swings hard. This is an impressive presentation of both his piano and composer gifts. Mark Sherman’s ‘other voice’ is beautifully recorded and makes for a great listen.
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ELENA GILLIAM & MICHAEL LE VAN RELEASE THEIR DEBUT ALBUM

August 7, 2019

ELENA GILLIAM & MICHAEL LE VAN – “THEN ANOTHER TURNS” Shade of Blue Record Label

AUG 7, 2019

Elena Gilliam, vocals; Michael Le Van, piano/producer; David Enos & Bruce Lett, bass; Paul Kreibich & John Ferraro, drums; Tony Guerrero, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dave Moody, saxophone.

Elena Gilliam is a popular club singer around the Los Angeles area. She has a rich tone enhanced by a range that can soar on tunes like “All In Love Is Fair” originally composed by Stevie Wonder for Nancy Wilson to sing. Elena offers a powerful performance on this challenging song. In the same breath, she can gently caress a lyric like Michael Le Van’s composition, “Then Another Turns” with words by Bill Montemer. Elena tenderly uses her alto range to deliver Michael’s original composition.

Here is a vocalist who can ‘swing’ with the best of them. Elena shows her strength in the ‘swing’ department on “Misty” with David Enos pumping his bass in a brisk walk. Michael Le Van takes a bright piano solo during this familiar Erroll Garner song. Le Van has a deft touch on the keys, shining in the spotlight, but sensitive and considerate as an accompanist. He and Elena Gilliam have a musical magic between them that is happily captured on this recording. There is trust between these two talented musicians that comes partially from playing together on a consistent basis, for the last three years, and also from mutual respect and musical admiration. They fit together naturally, like butter and bread.

William touches on her Cabaret-side when singing “Cheek to Cheek.” She has one of those full-throated voices that could easily rock a Broadway stage. On this tune, Tony Guerrero makes a solo appearance on his horn. Gilliam takes time to scat through a couple of verses of this song before she re-enters on the bridge. You can tell Elena enjoys the freedom that jazz inspires and she handles scat singing with the same sincere appreciation and innovation that our American-bred music inspires.

“Elena’s greatest strength is her flexibility and love of freedom,” Michael Le Van says. “If I want to be spontaneous, she just goes with it.”

I spoke with Elena about her life and music career recently. She grew up in New Jersey and attended Gannon College in Erie, Pennsylvania. Initially, she thought she’d like to be a teacher. For six years, she lived in Erie until a phone call changed her entire career path.

“My older brother lived out here in Costa Mesa, California. He loved it and he talked me into moving. I didn’t really have any strong ties in Pennsylvania. I was a Spanish major in college. I majored in foreign languages. In Pennsylvania, I found work in Social Services. I was doing social work and helping the migrant workers who came up from Mexico for seasonal work. I helped them with health services and transportation. It was a government run program. As soon as I arrived in California, I got a temp job, at the University of California, Irvine. I started working there and wound up working there thirty-years, doing various jobs. I started as a secretary and then moved into different administrative positions over the years at the School of Medicine on the Irvine Campus. But I really wanted to sing!

‘I was extremely shy when I was a kid. Just very self-conscious. I couldn’t sing around anybody. I just couldn’t do it. I knew that I liked singing. I used to secretly watch ‘Playboy After Dark’ when I was a teenager. That was a show with Hugh Hefner featuring his penthouse party. All of the stars would show up. Oh, it was so swanky. I even remember the theme song. They’d stroll into one room and Ella Fitzgerald was there sitting on the couch, having a drink. Then they’d say; let’s sing a song. They’d be talking and gabbing. The room was full of famous people. I just loved it! I’d watch that show and other late-night, television talk shows like Johnny Carson. I wanted to see all of the shows that had musical guests. In the back of my mind, I secretly thought, maybe I can do this?”

Her new California surroundings seemed to inspire Elena Gilliam to dream big and endeavor to do some of the secret wishes hidden inside her heart. One of the main secrets was her fascination with singing. Perhaps it was in her DNA all the time. After all, her father had performed in a gospel group with his three sisters. The group was known as ‘The George Sisters,’ and based in Oklahoma. For years, they traveled from church to church as special guests.

“Actually, there’s a funny story my grandmother used to tell me. Dad’s mother said she started him on cigarettes, thinking that would help him sing. That’s crazy! Right? When I first heard him sing, I noticed my dad had a deep voice. He’d goof around and sing to me like Arthur Prysock. I knew that he loved music and my mom did too. He and my mom used to go out and see live music, mostly before they had kids. She talked to me about seeing Sarah Vaughan, up close and personal, and listening to Sarah sing in some small club. Surprisingly, my mom didn’t know I sang until she came out to visit me in California. I was such a quiet, private child. Like I said, I was shy. My parents never knew I had that musical interest. After I moved to California, my mom came to visit me and I took her to my big band practice. She was just shocked! She told me she thought, who is this person? Is this my daughter?

“Once I settled into my UC Irvine position, I researched colleges in my area. I discovered Orange Coast College, in Costa Mesa, offered a music program. I signed up for a big band class first and then some vocal classes, taking on as much as I could with a full-time job. I couldn’t believe that they had classes for big band. All you had to do was sign up for the class and you could sing at their concerts. I couldn’t believe my luck! I’ll never forget my knees were shaking the first time I was standing in front of a full room of strangers. The big band leader, Dr. Charles Rutherford, (‘Doc’) became my first mentor. The best part of my time with the big band was when he included me on one of the band’s recordings at Capitol Records. It was an incredible experience. Meantime, I continued attending classes, practicing and learning.

“That’s where I met my husband, George Gilliam. He had just moved here from New Orleans and wound up settling in Santa Ana. He did some work with the big band, trying to get to know some musicians in that area. It just so happened I was performing in a concert that day. I was singing a song, because once you’re in the class, you perform with the band. I got to sing in their main performance space; a huge auditorium. I sang “Good Morning Heartache” and that was the only song I had to sing at the concert that day. There were other vocalists performing too. I just loved singing. But that was my first experience singing in an auditorium packed with people. My husband-to-be came up to me afterwards. He asked me if I was singing with anybody and what I was doing musically. I said no, I wasn’t singing with a group. He called me two months later to join his group. Consequently, I started performing with George.

“At first, we performed jazz, pop and R&B. Then we branched off and just did jazz. I really started my musical career, in fact, my everything with George. He taught me so much, Dee Dee. I was so blessed and so happy to have him as a mentor. I was also so spoiled. He knew how to do everything. He knew how to look for gigs. He had been working since he was thirteen as a guitarist and earned a degree in music before coming to California. George was the one writing the charts, getting the musicians, setting up the PA, finding us gigs; he did everything. Our relationship developed from friends and fellow musicians to something much more. Soon, we got married. As of today, we’ve been married for 32-years.”

George Gilliam, who is a guitar recording artist in his own right, took his position as head-of-household and family provider very seriously. Although the married couple was performing locally and George was also working with various groups in and around Southern California, he had a growing family to support.

“My husband became a music therapist,” Elena explained. “That was very time and energy consuming. When he started his second program in Laguna Beach, his time to perform became very limited. I had also retired from my job at UCI by then. That’s when he encouraged me to do more on my own. I love him for that. He’s always tried to lift me up musically. I found a little local gig in Long Beach at ‘Brix at The Shore.’ It was my first steady gig. George told me; I’ll do it with you until you find somebody else. He even stayed and played with me while I tried-out various people. Some nights, I would have three of us and George would say, don’t pay me. We tried a couple of different people. George said, let’s wait until you find the perfect pianist. That’s when I met Michael Le Van.

“Michael came in one night and did the gig with us. My husband said immediately, I think you can work with this guy. Lo and behold, George let go of that gig after that. Michael and I began to work that Long Beach gig as a duo. He’s such a sensitive musician. We just clicked musically. We seem to have a natural synchrony. Even my husband has said, you know, you two really work well together. And we worked really hard on this latest Cd release.”

Michael Le Van is a classically trained graduate of California State University, Fullerton. He earned his Bachelor Degrees in both Composition and Piano. As a jazz pianist, he’s been richly influenced by listening to master pianists like Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Clark, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. This gifted pianist is joined by some popular southern California musicians including drum masters Paul Kriebich and John Ferraro, David Enos and Bruce Lett on double basses, trumpet master, Tony Guerrero and saxophonist, Dave Moody. For this project, Michael Le Van donned his producer hat. The result is an album of very fine music, featuring the charismatic voice of Elena Gilliam and the beautiful piano talents of Mr.Michael Le Van. Although both artists have recorded in the past, this is their debut recording together.

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NEW MUSIC SPOTLIGHTING GLORIOUS GUITARS & VOCAL SONGBIRDS

August 1, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
Aug 1, 2019

LARRY KOONSE – “NEW JAZZ STANDARDS, VOL 4.” Summit Records

Larry Koonse, guitar; Josh Nelson, piano; Tom Warrington, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums.

In the music world and in musician jargon, speaking one to another, we often refer to the ‘Standards.’ we can describe a Standard as a song that is recorded time and time again, over years, and by many various artists. It’s a piece of music that is familiar to the public ear, like “Misty” or “Satin Doll” or “My Funny Valentine.” When you hear a Standard, you recognize it immediately. It’s a part of our American fabric; sometimes referred to as the Great American Songbook.

In this production, legendary guitarist, Larry Koonse, plays for us “New Jazz Standards,” featuring compositions written by Carl Saunders. Saunders is a jazz trumpeter, composer, and educator, warmly lauded by the jazz community. This Cd is being release right around the birthday of this celebrated composer. On August 2, 1942, baby Saunders was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Almost immediately, he was thrown into the world of jazz. His mother’s brother, (Carl’s Uncle Bobby), was a trumpeter who led his own Sherwood Orchestra. Carl Saunders’ mom, Gail, sang with her brother’s orchestra and also sang with Stan Kenton’s band. At five-years-old, young Saunders moved to Los Angeles with his mom and lived for a while with his Aunt Caroline and her husband, who was a popular saxophonist at that time; Dave Pell. No wonder that Carl Saunders grew up to be a trumpeter, a lover of jazz, and a competent composer. He was surrounded by jazz music from birth.

Like Carl Saunders, Larry Koonse comes from a very musical family. He picked up the guitar at age seven and hasn’t put it down since. At age fifteen, he recorded for the first time with his guitarist father, Dave Koonse; “Dave and Larry Koonse: Father and Son Jazz Guitars.” In search of perfection and knowledge about his instrument and his relationship to jazz, at the University of Southern California, Larry Koonse received his Bachelor of Music in jazz Studies. He became the first recipient of this degree in 1984. As soon as he graduated from USC, Larry Koonse took a gig with the wonderful John Dankworth and Dankworth’s vocalist/wife, the legendary Cleo Laine. As a reviewer and jazz journalist, I see the credited name of Larry Koonse on numerous recorded projects that cross my desk. Mr. Koonse is always in demand. He’s received multiple Grammy nominations, including the one he recorded as a member of Billy Child’s landmark Chamber Sextet, their release titled, “Autumn: In Moving Pictures” and their first release, “Lyric.” He was also nominated for two Grammy’s regarding his participation on Luciana Souza’s two releases; “Tide” and “Book of Chet.” The names of historic and legendary artists he has either toured with or recorded with compile a long, long list. I read that he has appeared on over 300 albums. At the invitation of Nelson Mandela and UNICEF, Larry Koonse went to South Africa to perform at one of their annual festivals with Steve Houghton’s quintet. When he’s not touring or recording, Larry Koonse shares his exceptional talents by educating young musicians at the California Institute of the Arts. Naturally, I felt very excited to listen to Larry’s latest work of art, celebrating the composer genius of Carl Saunders.

They open with “Flim Flam” a happy-g0-lucky tune with a memorable melody and a rhythmic groove set by the tasty licks of Joe LaBarbara on drums and Josh Nelson punching the piano keys. Starting off smooth as silk, after establishing the melody they are off and running into a straight-ahead presentation. Each of these dynamic musicians takes time to improvise and express themselves individually. Great song! The next composition titled, “A Poor Man’s Mr. Evans” tributes the indomitable pianist and historically gifted, Bill Evans. Koonse establishes the Latin groove on guitar and let’s Josh Nelson stretch sensitive fingers across the piano keys. Nelson obviously thinks about music orchestrally, and he and Koonse develop this song, gliding towards the fade, playing musical tag instrumentally, with piano and guitar. It makes for a very intriguing, creative and beautiful ending. I love the way Koonse opens the Saunder’s composition, “Another Side of Her,” with the caramel sweet sound of his solo guitar. It’s a lovely listen! The fourth track, “A Ballad for Now” settles us down, after enjoying three spirited tunes. Larry Koonse is such a fluid and sensuous player. The sound of his guitar is warm and inviting. One thing you clearly understand, from the very first composition, is that Carl Saunders writes beautiful, melodic music and this quartet becomes the perfect ensemble to interpret it.

“Admired” is pumped up by the full, fat sound of Tom Warrington’s double bass. Listening to this tune, I felt Like I should jump on my bicycle and ride. It’s energetic and inspires freedom, like pedaling along the Venice beach with the wind in my face. Some music just paints pictures in your mind. This is an entire album of that kind of art. Settle back, close your eyes and enjoy the experience.

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MARK DOYLE – “WATCHING THE DETECTIVES -GUITAR NOIR III” Free Will Records

Mark Doyle,guitars/keyboards/bass/drum programming/ composer/producer/arranger; Josh Dekaney,drums/percussion; STRING SECTION: Ally Brown, Shelby Dems, Jonathan Hwang & Joe Davoli, violins; Kate LaVerne, cello.

The meat of the matter is ‘rock’, spicy as a quality sausage and the bun is jazz-alicious. Mark Doyle has a way of wrapping his rock arrangements with jazz. If rock music is your passion, Mark Doyle’s guitar music will satisfy that ’rocker’ itch. The premise for Doyle’s album is to record television and motion picture themes that were used to embellish detective and spy scripts. On this project, he comfortably blends rock and jazz arrangements. Producer, arranger and guitarist, Mark Doyle explained:

“Once I settled on the concept, I started hunting down any and all of the TV and movie themes having to do with detectives and spies, while trying to avoid obvious ones like ‘Peter Gunn,’ which has been done to death and ‘Perry Mason’ which I had already recorded on the first Guitar Noir album in 1999. I ended up choosing the themes that were most melodic and dramatic, since melody is to me the most important thing in an instrumental album. I uncovered some absolutely amazing music!”

His interpretation of these soundtrack tunes (some familiar, others not-so-much) is creatively entertaining and surprisingly jazzy. For example, Elmer Bernstein’s composition, “Johnny Staccato” is really engaging. The drums of Josh Dekaney strongly set the groove and paint the music spy-slick and exciting. It sounds like a chase scene. The addition of Ally Brown, Shelby Dems, Jonathan Hwang and Joe Davoli on violins, with Kate LeVerne on cello, enhance this arrangement in surprising ways. Zappa’s tune, “America Drinks and Goes Home” is richly arranged as a sexy blues. Doyle’s guitar tells the story vividly, until strings sing and lift the arrangement, once again, in a most beautiful way. I played these songs twice before I could continue listening to the remaining four tunes on Doyle’s production.

Obviously, Mark Doyle is a multi-talented instrumentalist. The way he blends jazz and rock is quite unique and captivating. This album features Doyle’s multi-talents on guitars, keyboards, bass and drum programming. He has also composed a couple of tunes, including “Noir Alley” and “Thirteen Crimes.”

When he isn’t recording, he leads his own band; “Mark Doyle & the Maniacs.” They have released six albums and work consistently throughout the Northeast United States. He also tours as Music Director/guitarist and pianist for former October Project singer, Mary Fahl.

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RICARDO PEIXOTO – “SCARY BEAUTIFUL” Independent Label

Ricardo Peixoto, acoustic/electric guitars; Paul McCandless, soprano saxophone; Ken Cook & Marcos Silva, piano; Cliff Hugo, Aaron Germain & Scott Thompson, bass; Kendrick Freeman, Mike Shapiro & Ralph Barata, drums; Brian Rice, Kendrick Freeman, Ricardo Guerra & John Santos, percussion; Bob Afifi, flute; Paul Hanson, bass clarinet; Bernardo Bessler & Priscila Plata Rato,violin; Marie Christine Bessler, viola; Marcus Ribeiro de Oliveira,cello; Luiz Brasil, String & horn arranger/tenor guitar/percussion; Rob Reich,accordion; Claudia Villela,vocal; Jesse Sadoc, flugelhorn; Marcelo Martins,tenor saxophone; Aldivas Ayres,trombone; Harvey Wainapel,clarinet/bass clarinet; Kyle Bruckman,oboe; Jasnam Daya Singh,woodwind arranger.

Ricardo Peixoto is a master Brazilian guitarist and composer whose mathematician father was a professor teaching at several top American universities. At age seven, Ricardo’s mother died. Consequently, young Ricardo Peixoto spent many years bouncing from Rio de Janiero to Baltimore, Maryland and Providence Rhode Island, or wherever his dad happened to be teaching. Around eight-years-old, he began studying piano. Piano didn’t capture his imagination the way the guitar did and soon, he began self-teaching himself on the string instrument. He was around twelve at that time. His formal study of the guitar began when he was seventeen.

Clearly, he was Influenced by American culture and music, but Ricardo combines his classical study, his Brazilian roots and jazz improv to complete this album. Titled, “Scary Beautiful,” I never located the ‘scary’ part, but it is a beautiful production. Once again, it appears the freedom that radiates from playing jazz music always captures the attention of other cultures. Peixoto has expressed his love for the freedom and improvisational approach of jazz. These things led him to study at Berklee College of Music. He concentrated on courses in arranging, composition and guitar performance. The result is that he has composed and arranged every song on this album.

He often uses horns to punch the grooves, color the arrangements and to interpret his original compositions. For example, on the first songs, “Circles” Paul McCandless is grandly featured on soprano saxophone. Peixoto incorporates various Brazilian rhythms in his arrangements, like the baiao rhythm that is a style originating in rural Northeast Brazil and was quite popular in the1940’s. You hear this in his composition, “Santos e Demonios” which translates to Saints and Demons in English. He also features his guitar in duet with Marcos Silva on piano during their presentation of “Simpatica.” They incorporate the choro rhythm that originated in the 19th century. Choro translates to the word ‘cry.´ This song, gives the listener a space to enjoy Ricardo Peixoto’s guitar mastery, without horns and it’s quite melodic and folksy, with smooth jazz undertones. I can hear the influence of Pat Metheny, who was one of Ricardo’s mentors at Berklee College of Music.

This is not the joyous music of carnival, but a more subdued approach, heavily laced with cultural rhythms and classically infused.
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VERONICA SWIFT – “CONFESSIONS” Mack Ave Records

Veronica Swift, vocals; Benny Green & Emmet Cohen, pianists; David Wong & Russell Hall, bass; Carl Allen & Kyle Poole, drums.

This vocalist opens with a strong and swinging rendition of “You’re Gonna Hear From Me.” After a rubato intro, Veronica Swift falls smoothly into a slow but hearty swing arrangement. Adding a short passing phrase of scats to the mix, she shows us that she is a true jazz singer. This is no cabaret queen. She can scat, she can ‘swing’ and her tone and pitch are perfectly matched to her sense of timing. Veronica Swift’s voice reminds me of Edyie Gorme, in both style and tone.

The second tune of her repertoire is “A Little Taste,” by Johnny Hodges & Dave Frishberg. Once again, she swings it in a very jazzy way. A tune titled, “Interlude,”follows. It’s a sexy ballad that allows us to hear the softer side of Veronica Swift and features a melodic double bass solo by David Wong. Swift’s repertoire is fresh with tunes like “Forget About the Boy, “where pianist, Emmet Cohen, gets to show-off his chops in a dynamic way. Ms. Swift has arranged all the music on this CD and has a way of interpreting her lyrics to engage the listener. She lets you know she’s a very, natural storyteller.

Emmet’s piano plays an introduction like a grandfather clock for “Stranger in Town.” You can almost see the pendulum swinging back and forth. When Veronica Swift enters, she tells us another one of her sincere and well delivered stories about someone coming home and feeling like a stranger in her own hometown. She’s looking for a lover that never shows up. Her trio accompanies Swift in a comfortable, well-executed way. They sound as if they’ve been working together for some time as they move smoothly into “I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore,” creating a medley piece. This song is arranged in a Latin way by Ms. Swift. Once the vocals stop, the band mounts a swift excursion into double time at an amazing pace. When Veronica Swift re-enters, the band amps down to a slow swing and that makes for an interesting excursion into dynamics and rhythmic changes. We finally get to hear the drummer solo on this tune and Kyle Poole is awesome on the time changes and the solid way he holds the rhythm section in place. Upon reading the liner notes, I was surprised to discover that Ms. Swift actually employs the talents of two different trios.

Veronica Swift is also a composer and exhibits her songwriting skills on the tune, “I Hope She Makes You Happy.” She penned both lyrics and melody. Music has surrounded her life ever since she was born, because both her parents are professional musicians. Her father, Hod O’Brien, was a masterful bebop pianist and her mother, Stephanie Nakasian, was celeb rated for her vocal virtuosity. Swift remembers, as a mere three or four years old, climbing into an open bass case to take a nap backstage while her parents played a gig. She was nine-years old when she first began singing publicly. Below is a tape of Veronica singing with her songstress mother, Stephanie Nakasian.

In 2015,Veronica Swift won second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition. She’s already performed at Lincoln Center as a guest artist with Michael Feinstein and the Tedd Firth Big Band. Surprisingly, her first appearance gracing the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage was at the tender age of eleven. She performed as part of the “Women in jazz” series at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, although she was hardly a woman and barely a pre-teen. Her talent, even then, was notable. As a youngster, her parent encouraged their daughter’s love of singing and she recorded two CDs as a child. One at age nine with Richie Cole and her dad’s rhythm section. Her mom was on that recording too. Then, at age thirteen she recorded with saxophonist Harry Allen.

More recently, in 2015 she recorded an album titled, “Lonely Woman.” She’s performed widely with trumpet star, Chris Botti. So, this album becomes the culmination of her many musical experiences, including a 2017 weekly residency at the famed Birdland Jazz Club in NYC and as a recipient of a Bachelor’s degree from University of Miami’s Frost School of Music in Jazz Vocals. Veronica Swift is currently touring in support of this recent CD release, “Confessions.” Check out her website for touring dates and places.
https://www.veronicaswift.com/

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CLARK GIBSON – “TRI-COLORED EYES” Independent label

Clark Gibson, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Jim Pisano, tenor saxophone; Evan Edmonds, trombone; Pat Bianchi, B3 organ; Jeremy Thomas, drums.

This is the fourth release for Clark Gibson as a leader and it explores a reunion with one of his earliest collaborators, Pat Bianchi on B3 organ. This journalist has a penchant for organ jazz and bebop, so, I was eager to hear Gibson’s hard-bop organ/horn consortium that I thought might honor the days of Jimmy Smith, Hazel Scott, Bill Doggett, Jack McDuff or Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes. However, Clark Gibson’s production is more refined jazz, less funk, and enriched with three horns. This project features the dynamic, original compositions of Gibson. “Nocturne Blues” gives us a taste of each ensemble member, offering healthy solos by each musician capped by an awesome drum solo by Jeremy Thomas. The song, “Love Letters,” features a beautiful melody, sung harmonically by the horn section and featuring a tender solo by Gibson. Once again, Jeremy Thomas offers trap drum excellence locked in with Bianchi’s organ to create a high energy rhythm section beneath Gibson’s smooth horn lines. By the time I got to track five, titled “Jack,” we finally entered into the realm of hardbop. This is twelve minutes of straight-ahead brilliance. “Truth and Beauty” is another original composition, sweet and melancholy, that Gibson wrote to tribute a personal friend who, like Charles Mingus and Nina Simone, lived uncompromisingly by their own terms. That’s not always easy to do.

Finally, the song titled, “Trey” was composed for a 22-year-old father in Beavercreek, Ohio who fell victim to police brutality in 2014. Clark Gibson is donating major portions of his proceeds of this album to the John Crawford Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating and supporting families who have lost loved ones to police brutality. More and more, I see our artistic community using art and music to protest injustices in our country. We all hope that these universal protests will help make our whole world better, brighter and more compassionate.
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DEB BOWMAN – “FAST HEART” Mama Bama Records

Deb Bowman, vocals/composer; Eric Lewis “ELEW,” piano/Fender Rhodes; Steven Wolf “Wolf,” percussion; Greg Lewis, Hammond B3 organ; Matthew Garrison, bass; Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet; Marla Feeney, violin/viola.

Deb Bowman opens this album with an original song titled, “Willow in the Wind.” It’s a pretty ballad and showcases her beautiful, soprano tones. This is followed by a delightful arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica” where Eric Lewis makes his piano sound like fluttering butterfly wings. It’s clear that Deb Bowman has surrounded her voice with amazingly talented musicians. Kenyatta Beasley takes a stellar trumpet solo. Bowman’s interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s famed “Butterfly” composition is noteworthy. I noticed her phrasing was very similar to Minnie Ripperton’s on several occasions. Not so much in range, but certainly in tone and the way she phrases the melodies. I offer this observation as a compliment. However, on the whole, Deb Bowman maintains her own vocal style and personality.

Music is not Ms. Bowman’s only talent. She is also a talented actress and has been presenting her own unique cabaret performances on the East Coast incorporating jazz, stories and her original compositions. For a while she visited over sixty countries with gigs on cruise ships. You may have seen Deb Bowman as part of the television cast of “Ugly Betty.” After that show concluded, Bowman moved down to Atlanta to be nearer her Alabama family. It was a positive move because TV, theater and a solid jazz scene were all available. This, her latest album, is dedicated to her sister, Patti, who passed away of ovarian cancer. Patti was enamored with butterflies and the teal-colored butterfly floating on the album cover happens to be a symbol of ovarian cancer awareness. Consequently, you will note a couple of songs referencing this Rhopalocera.

Deb Bowman captivates on the Edith Piaf and Louiguy standard, “La Vie En Rose,” performing it in French and spotlighting her cabaret-side. “Moody’s Mood for Love” brings us back to the jazzier side of her musical personality. The arrangement makes the song a platform for her own rendition of James Moody’s popular recording and shows off her vocal range. As a tribute to her move South and re-settling in Georgia from New York, she tackles the Ray Charles hit, “Georgia.” Deb Bowman has gospel roots and she brings this to the forefront on this popular tune, accompanied by Greg Lewis on the Hammond B3. I thought the mix on the organ was less than spectacular, but that’s a mix and mastering problem and has nothing to do with the vocalist. The Title tune, “Fast Heart,” sounds like something Shirley Bassey would have sung in a James Bond movie. I found the tunes on this project an unusual mix of repertoire, but Deb Bowman’s vocals shine like Christmas tinsel.
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PABLO EMBON – “REMINISCENT MOODS” Independent Label

Pablo Embon, piano/guitar/synthesizers/programmed drums and all other instruments/ composer/producer.

I have to admire someone who tackles the job of writing an entire album of music and then proceeds to play every instrument and produce the project themselves. The challenge in such a project is making the music ‘swing’ and ‘groove.’ I find Mr. Embon’s compositions to be melodic, but sometimes the bass line is strangely dissonant to the melodies and it neither roots the songs or embellishes them. Also, the music is missing the magic, camaraderie and inspiration that playing together with others can bring. This sounds more like a demo that would be used to introduce a band to original compositions and to the way the producer wants them played. There are many discordant notes and some of the endings stand unresolved. With no fades, they simply stop, as if someone turned off the electricity before we could hear the song’s ending. “I’m Still Here” is a more natural sounding production with a strong arrangement and Pablo Embon even takes a brief drum solo.

Born and raised in Argentina, Pablo Embon began to study and play piano and guitar when he was just seven-years-old. He is obviously talented and musically accomplished on many instruments. He has worked with a variety of bands and his music is diverse on this project, ranging from fusion to ballads. He includes some Latin and some smooth jazz sounding numbers like “Airborne” and the very funky, “NonStop.” Since relocating to Israel, Pablo Embon has concentrated on writing, recording and producing his own music entirely by himself. I think, with an independent producer and ‘live’ musicians, these songs could soar. He definitely has some good arrangement ideas and he is a prolific composer. However, sometimes you have to give up a little control of a project to get the very best out of your music.
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ERIC HOFBAUER – “ERIC HOFBAUER’S FIVE AGENTS BOOK OF WATER” Creative Nation Music

Eric Hofbauer, guitar/composer; Nate McBride, bass; Curt Newton, drums; Jerry Sabatini, trumpet; Jeb Bishop, trombone, Seth Meicht, tenor saxophone.

Eric Hofbauer has composed all five movements of this project and performs, along with his classic jazz-sextet, in front of a live studio audience. The “Book of Water” project is purposefully written in five parts. Hofbauer conceived this multi-part odyssey in 2016 with the concept of releasing five books in music album format. Each book will contain five movements or chapters. Hofbauer’s recording project relates to the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. This is no Earth, Wind & Fire project, but instead is based on the Chinese philosophical ideas of the Wu Xing known as the “Five Agents.” Totally improvisational in nature, this project expects the listener to venture within and question interconnectedness, impermanence and other life meanings. Since this is the “Book of Water,” some of the movement titles reflect that premise.

They open with “Water Understands Civilization Well.” This opening tune is nearly ten-minutes long and energetic. “It Wets, It Chills” is nearly twelve minutes long and it begins with the guitar mirroring a dripping of water drops. Later, the horns enter in ballad-like-harmonies. Jerry Sabatini takes a pensive trumpet solo, as we journey into a meditative state. Nate McBride’s double bass is bowed with gravity and precision. The listener is invited to dive deeply into the tone of each instrument.

This is avant-garde jazz that features the freewheeling, improvisational, aesthetic that binds together this innovative ensemble’s sound. Recorded March 25, 2018, at Rotary Records in Massachusetts, there is a full-length video album available at: erichofbauer.bandcamp.com.
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BIG BANDS CELEBRATE INTERCONTINENTAL JAZZ

July 29, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

JULY 29, 2019

JUAN ANDRES OSPINA BIG BAND – “TRAMONTANA” Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RICHARD SIMON KEEPS THE LEGACY OF BUDDY COLLETTE ALIVE WITH JAZZAMERICA

July 20, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

July 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSIC EXPANDS BOUNDARIES & ENLIGHTENS OUR CONSCIOUSNESS

July 16, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
JULY 16, 2019

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

LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST – “DARK MATTER” Independent Label

Lafayette Gilchrist, pianist/composer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AARON WHITBY – “COUSIN FROM ANOTHER PLANET” Ropeadope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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PACIFIC HARP PROJECT – “PLAY” Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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REBEKAH VICTORIA – “SONGS OF THE DECADES” Patois Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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VOCALS AND WOODWINDS ARE SPOTLIGHTED ON NEW JAZZ RELEASES

July 8, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz journalist
JULY 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MAGGIE HERRON – “RENDITIONS” Herron Song Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Werner recalled in the liner notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a delightful listening experience, delivered by master musicians and featuring the incredible talents of Tony Lindsay on vocals and Michael O’Neill on woodwinds.
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POLITICS, PRAYERS & HUMAN RIGHTS PIGGY-BACK ONTO JAZZ

June 30, 2019

POLITICS, PRAYERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS PIGGY-BACK ONTO JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
JUNE 30, 2019

CURTIS NOWOSAD Sessionheads United

Curtis Nowosad, drums/composer/snaps/claps; Jonathan Thomas, piano/Fender Rhodes; Matthew Whitaker, organ; Luke Sellick, bass; Marc Cary, Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/synthesizer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Duane Eubanks, trumpet; Braxton Cook, alto saxophone; Cory Wallace, trombone; Michael Mayo, vocals; Brianna Thomas, vocals.

Curtis Nowosad is Canadian born. He’s thirty-one-years-old and his music is wrapped in the history of blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, combined with a desire for social justice. His New York-based jazz ensemble interprets their protest musically. Four of the five original compositions that Nowosad has written are dedicated to those who have suffered human rights atrocities including “Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton.”

Cut #2 is vocally explored by Michael Mayo, a scat master with a smooth baritone vocal that caresses the chords with improvisational skill. This is one of Nowosad’s original compositions titled, “The Water Protectors.” It has a catchy melody and is infused with vocal harmonics. Mayo’s vocalese sounds like a horn. The track is pushed and propelled by the incendiary drums of Nowosad.

On the third track, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” is interpreted by vocalist Brianna Thomas with dirge-like horn lines and Matthew Whitaker strong on the organ, along with Andrew Renfroe gritty on guitar. “Waltz for Meg” is an up-tempo, jazz waltz with Curtis Nowosad keeping the tempo timely, but extremely creative on his trap drum set, dancing beneath the soloist melodies with power and precision. On the fade of this tune, Nowosad takes over and the spotlight is turned onto his percussive skills. He does not disappoint.

Straight Ahead jazz enters like a freight train on the tribute tune to Fred Hampton and features an emotional solo by trumpeter, Duane Eubanks. The “Song 4 Marielle Franco” is dedicated to a beautiful, educated, brown-skinned Brazilian woman who was a youthful politician, a feminist and a soldier for human rights. I was introduced to her by this composition. By researching, I discovered that after she earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Fluminense Federal University, she served as a city council person for the Socialism and Liberty Party in Brazil. She fought for human rights in that position from January 2017 until she was shot dead in March of 2018. She and her driver were killed by two murderers during a ride through North Rio de Janeiro. Two former police officers were later arrested and charged with her execution. Once more, Michael Mayo is back with his smooth scat vocals on this tune and Marc Cary is an added attraction on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Most importantly, Curtis Nowosad called to my attention this heinous crime perpetrated on an awesome woman that I knew nothing about until his record.

This original composition is followed by “Blues 4 Colin K.” It’s funky and features Corey Wallace on a smooth, bluesy trombone solo. Jonathan Thomas is also a huge part of the blues rhythm section on piano, as is his bassist, Luke Sellick, who takes an impressive solo.

All in all, this is a unique musical experience that prompts listeners to both enjoy the music and the musicians, but also may tickle your interest into social and human rights history. Like me, you may find yourself googling to find out more about the people Mr. Nowosad references in his original music compositions.
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TIM HALDEMAN – “OPEN WATER AS A CHILD” Woolgathering Records.com

Tim Halderman, tenor saxophone/piano/flute/composer/arranger; John Goode, words/vocals; Dan Bennett, alto saxophone; Justin Walter, trumpet; Jordan Schug, cello; Jonathan Taylor, drums; Ben Willis, bass.

A tentative piano solo opens the first cut and then the poetry begins. Poet, John Goode is featured and this entirely original composed and arranged music by Tim Haldeman was prepared for a performance at the Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. This Haldeman album is dedicated to the people of Flint, Michigan, who suffered from dirty and dangerous drinking water that stunned our nation. How could this happen in America?

Goode’s poetry is thought provoking. He recites: “I followed whiskey into the county of Legionella, through the buzzing shotgun carcasses and moon-colored milkweed. I carried the White-Tailed Deer and Upland Sandpiper and Fox Snake, and I built a grave for each.”

Then he chants, “Ojebway – Ojebway – Ojebway” to remind us of the Moccasin people or the Chippewa, American Indians who were hunters and fishermen and who chose peace over war. A people, like all humanity, who depend on clean water to survive.

Haldeman is the pianist, the tenor saxophonist and the flautist on this recording. As the composer, his music is open and artistic like Goode’s poetry. They make a stunning pair, tied at the hip by the freedom they exude in both contemporary music and poignant spoken word. When track-one expands from poetry to Avant-garde experimentation, a blues-based composition rises like an unexpected storm on a sunny day and plays for five and a half minutes. Cut #2 features Ben Willis on bass, walking slowly, as if his load is heavy and his back is bent. Jordan Shug’s cello is a sweet surprise in this jazzy cracker-jack-box of music. There are lots of surprises. Without chordal accompaniment of piano or guitar, the horns float freely and the bass, along with Jonathan Taylor on drums lock the rhythm into place. Goode is back with more spoken word on the fourth cut. Although his words are amazingly beautiful and paint fluid verbal pictures, his monotone vocals are less appealing. Taylor is a dynamic drummer, who can be heard beneath the fray, spinning like an industrial fan and pushing the ensemble forward. However, at times, the horn harmonies begin to sound like a New York traffic jam. Shug’s cello brings relief, like a stop sign in front of a speeding truck. It was startling, on the” Weld Flashes/Open Water” tune.

On the final original composition, “Bird’s On Fire” Haldeman is back at the piano to accompany poet, John Goode. This is a pure work of art. If you are a lover of poetry, modern jazz, artistic expression and unscripted improvisation, this is a production you will hold dear.
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BENNETT PASTER – “INDIVISIBLE” Independent label

Bennett Paster, piano/keyboards/organ/composer; Jeff Hanley, bass; Tony Mason, drums; Al Street, guitar; Kenny Brooks, tenor saxophone; Samuel Torres, congas/percussion; Todd Isler, percussion.

Bennett Paster has deep, blues roots and you hear it right from the very first musical phrases of his original composition, “Blues for Youse”. I also hear some Thelonious Monk influence in his chord voicings. There is strong support from Jeff Hanley on bass and Tony Mason punches the rhythm on drums with attention-getting- fervor. Paster has composed, arranged and produced all of this recorded music. On the tune, “Givin’ the People What We Want” Kenny Brooks struts onto the set with his mighty tenor saxophone, reminding me a lot of Eddie Harris. Al Street adds spice to the production on guitar and the percussionists, Samuel Torres and Todd Isler stir the pot. This is a smokin’ hot stew of good music, flavorful composing and tasty interaction by the musicians. They fit together tightly and comfortably like knife and fork. Their cohesive sound is delicious. Not only is Bennett Paster proficient as a pianist, organist, producer, composer and arranger, he’s also a masterful studio engineer. On this recording he captures a happiness and joy that is contagious. Perhaps he explained it best when he said:

“Music moves us all, from finger snapping to full-on dancing. The power of groove to unite and bring joy is undeniable. It transcends cultures, nations, races and religion. This gravity is the force that I’m tapping into on this collection of songs that form Indivisible.

Here is jazz/funk music that entertains and inspires movement, dance and exultation. The tune titled, “Belgrade Booty Call” is a shuffle-feel that invites the percussionists to showcase their skills, while Bennett Paster is the head musical chef, cookin’ hot and hearty on piano. “Gritty Greens” is another soulful journey into the funky blues that Paster plays so well. On this arrangement he adds organ, reminding jazz fans of the incredible and powerful days of organist, Jimmy Smith.

Pastor studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and relocated to New York in 1996. On his musical journey, he’s worked with numerous jazz masters including blues man, Keb Mo’, Wallace Roney, Kurt Elling, Billy Hart, Peter Erskine, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Ann Hampton Callaway and many, many more. This is his sixth record release as a leader and it’s bound to make joyful noise on radio stations and in households across the world.
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JOSEAN JACOBO & TUMBAO – “CIMARRON” Afro Dominican Jazz

Josean Jacobo, piano/vocals/composer; Yasser Tejeda, vocals; Daroll Mendez, bass/vocals; Mois Silfa, percussion; Otoniel Nicolas, drums/guira; Rafael Suncar, tenor saxophone; Jonathan Suazo, alto saxophone.

The group, Tumbao, digs deeply into the history of Afro-Dominican jazz. You hear the exciting rhythms and the African influence in Josean Jacobo’s expressive arranging. Full of flare and freedom, Josean Jacobo sets up the groove on piano, playing a catchy bass line and Mois Silfa’s percussion, along with Otoniel Nicolas on drums. They establish a strong, Latin groove. That’s how we are introduced to this artist, who has composed six of the ten songs recorded and he has arranged all the songs on this, his sophomore album. Jacobo brings musical greetings from the Tumbao group’s native Dominican Republic. Also, the title of this CD, “Cimarron” is extracted from the word “Cimarronaje” that refers to black slaves who escaped from captivity, taking refuge in the nearby mountains of their Caribbean island and formed fugitive societies that embraced and protected their African culture and customs. Josean Jacobo and his Tumbao group believes that the melding of Spanish conquerors, with the African culture, blended to create the current, rich Dominican heritage. He proudly flags this concept on this musical exploration.

Since jazz is always exemplary of freedom, you clearly hear that improvisational inventiveness in this production. Jonathan Suazo, on alto saxophone, and Rafael Suncar on tenor sax, bring a straight-ahead feel on “Mind Reset,” the second song on this fiery fiesta of succulent music.

“El Maniel” is pushed forcefully by percussive brilliance and makes me want to dance. On the Coltrane composition, “Lonnie’s Lament” Josean Jacobo uses his piano to explore the melody and scale improvisational lucidity up and down the 88-keys. Nicolas offers a tenacious exploration of his trap drums atop the repeating groove of Jacobo’s piano chords. I was surprised that no horns were included when arranging this song.

The vocals added on “Anaisa Pye” (a traditional folk song of the Dominican Republic) add zest and African-like chants to introduce this piece of music. I would like to have heard more of that in this arrangement. Daroll Mendez strongly holds the rhythm in place with his solid bass line, sounding almost like cut-time beneath the double-time piano parts and the flurry of drums. Hailed as ‘The Ambassador of Afro-Dominican Jazz’, Josean Jacobo offers this project as a historic presentation of generational beauty. The group, Tumbao, shows through their music how the elements of mixing people and cultures can create a synthesis of artistic goodness, even under the questionable circumstances of slavery.
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CHARNETT MOFFETT – “BRIGHT NEW DAY” Motema Records

Charnett Moffett, fretless bass guitar/vocals/composer/producer; Jana Herzen, guitar/vocals; Brian Jackson, piano/synthesizer; Scott Tixier, violin; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums.

Charnett Moffett offers us orchestral smooth jazz propelled by his fretless electric bass. Rooted in composition titles that reflect religious ideals, he opens with “Holy Spirit.” The second cut, “Free the Slaves” adds Scott Tixler on violin and has the minor-key, musical sounds of the Middle East or that region of the world. Mark Whitfield Jr’s funk drums infuse the East African sound of the production. Moffett adds vocals and uses Boss pedals.

Jana Herzen has a sweet and lovely vocal on “Precious Air,” a song that also embraces a World Music concept. Herzen is the composer of this song and also the founder of Motema Music. She’s performed with Moffett in a variety of settings and explained:

“Playing in this ensemble is liberating and requires total presence. The music is not created from a fixed position, so we have to keep our ears keenly tuned and react quickly to each shift in the musical current.”

Track four sounds like a hymnal. When I look for the title, I’m right. It’s called “O My God Elohim.” Charnett Moffett has composed all eight songs on this production except for “Precious Air.” In the liner notes, Moffett said:

“I composed this album with intention to create emotional uplift and healing vibrations.”

However, although the title of this album is “Bright New Day” the music itself did not make me feel bright or gay. It’s more pensive and exploratory. Many of the tracks are repetitious, in the sense of looping over and over again. I long for more melody and less looping. That being said, Charnett Moffett has a marvelous sound on his bass instrument. His music is the kind of music that was being played last weekend in Las Vegas when I unwound in the meditation room at the Venetian Spa. That’s not all bad.
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FOUR – “THERE YOU GO THINKING AGAIN” Jazz Hang Records

Mark Watkins, soprano saxophone/composer; Ray Smith, alto saxophone; Sandon Mayhew, Tenor saxophone; Jon Gudmundson, baritone saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Miami Saxophone Quartet includes Gary Keller, Gary Linddsay, Ed Calle & Mike Brignola; Richard Ingham Saxophone Quartet includes Oliver Eve, Sam Neal, Matthew Kilner & Richard Ingham; Saxitude, includes Dominque Gatto, Pierre Cocq-Amann, Robi Arend & Thomas Diemert; Utah Saxophone Quartet includes Charles Smith, Daron Bradford, Dave Feller & Gaylen Smith; Zagreb Saxophone Quartet includes Dragan Sremec, Goran Mercep, Sasa Nestorovic & Madjaz Drevensek.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RaWq2jcmX8

This morning, I discovered a wonderful display of creativity and awesome saxophone diversity. “Four” is a quartet conglomeration of sax players who fluidly show us that no other players are needed to present an authentic exploration of jazz saxophone. This is a project, featuring all reed instruments, with no chordal accompaniment. It showcases several different groups of saxophone quartets from a variety of places. The Zagreb Quartet is based in Croatia. Saxitude comes from the Western European land-locked country of Luxembourg. Miami, Florida offers their take on the premise of a saxophone quartet, as does the state of Utah. Scotland is the home base of the Richard Ingham Quartet. Mark Watkins took great care and was quite determined in bringing this project to fruition. Pulling from various points on earth and using a talented mixture of five quartets, Watkins began composing, writing arrangements and making calls to friends and saxophone-quartet-peers who jumped onboard this unique project. Watkins has composed six of the ten songs contained in this production. The groups of reed players creatively blend classical European music with America’s classical music called jazz. It’s an intriguing and capricious exhibit of what can happen when four master saxophonists get together to harmonically express themselves.
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AKIKO, HAMILTON, DECHTER – “EQUAL TIME” Capri Records

Akiko Tsuruga, Hammond B3 Organ/composer; Jeff Hamilton, drums/producer; Graham Dechter, guitar.

This fiery, combustible, driving music is riveting and becomes a wonderful way to begin my day. Cup of coffee in hand, listening to this album is an incredible throw-back to my swinging nights at Jimmy Smith’s supper club in Los Angeles or the organ trios of Jack McDuff in Detroit at Dummy George’s bar. Akiko Tsuruga is a brilliant and explosive star on the Hammond B3. Graham Dechter’s guitar is as natural and complimentary to her playing as creamy butter on bread. His incredible talents on guitar exemplify mastery of his instrument and blend beautifully with Akiko’s soulful organ playing. To complete this outstanding trio is the drum master himself, Jeff Hamilton. This is, without a doubt, an example of the classic organ trio. The first tune is a composition by Akiko Tsuruga. The second cut is a Dechter composition that swings hard and gives each of the trio members a time to brightly shine with outstanding solos. Like the title of the tune, “Orange Coals,” this group is smoking hot like a smoldering bar-b-que pit. “Osaka Samba” is another Akiko composition and takes a lighter approach, as her fingers dance on the treble keys of the organ. Here is a powerful trio. Their individual artistry fits together like gigantic puzzle pieces that complete the whole. They groove as one and strongly complement each other, as any great unit of musicians should do. By the time they get to the fourth cut, a Hank Mobley original titled, “A Baptist Beat,” Akiko Tsuruga shows us she knows how to get down and dirty. Graham Dechter sets the blues on fire with his guitar. Egged on by Hamilton’s sturdy and compelling drum sticks, the trio is off and galloping towards a shuffle groove that will have you snapping your fingers and slapping your foot on the two and four.

After encouragement from drummer/vocalist Grady Tate, Akiko relocated from Osaka, Japan to the United States. Since then she has released numerous albums as a leader including a ‘live’ recording that featured both Hamilton and Dechter and was titled, “So Cute, So Bad.”

Dechter is a California native who has been a member of the Clayton-Hamilton jazz Orchestra since he was a teenager. He’s worked with Jimmy Heath, Kurt Elling, Eliane Elias, Nancy Wilson, Wynton Marsalis, and Michael Buble. He has two albums released as a leader, both on the Capri label. Jeff Hamilton is one of the giants of jazz drumming. he’s a founding member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Jeff Hamilton also played with Woody Herman and Count Basie’s big bands. His iconic drumming is always in demand and many jazz luminaries have requested his talents including Diana Krall, Monty Alexander, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ella Fitzgerald.

This is an album full of spunk and spice and everything nice!
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MARK MORGANELLI & THE JAZZ FORUM ALL-STARS Jazz Forum Records

Mark Morganelli, Flugelhorn/producer/percussion; Abelita Mateus, piano/Fender Rhodes/vocals; Eddie Monteiro, midi-accordion/vocals; Monika Oliveira, vocals; Nelson Matta, bass; Adriano Santos, drums; Nanny Assis, percussion/guitar/vocals; Carlos Barbosa-Lima, guitar.

Mark Morganelli has used this double set recording to celebrate the music of Jobim, Claudio Roditi, Geraldo Pereira, Joao Donato, Jorge Ben, Marcos Valle, Luiz Bonfa and Ary Barroso. Here is a compilation of Brazilian composers and their amazing music, interpreted by Morganelli’s Jazz Forum All-Stars. Their music is bright and bubbly, rising like happy helium balloons into the air. Morganelli dominates the party on flugelhorn, dancing improvisationally atop his ensemble and also taking care to interpret the legendary melodies of these great composers.

He is no newcomer to the jazz scene. Mark Morganelli started leading his own band during high school and was performing in jazz festivals as early as 1976. He has recorded with an impressive number of well-known jazz cats including Billy Hart, John Hicks, James Spaulding, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Kenny Barron, Paquito D’Rivera, James Moody, Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison and many more. Most recently, he and his wife, Ellen Prior, have opened a new Jazz Forum Club in Tarrytown, New York.

I found Eddie Monteiro’s caramel-smooth vocals to sweetly caress the Ivan Lins & Vitor Martins composition, “Velas Icadas.” However, most of the vocals are sufficiently expressed by Monika Oliveira. “So Danco Samba” is a familiar Brazilian standard and Morganelli incorporates “A-Train” into the mix, showing how similar the chord changes are in both songs.

This is Morganelli’s fifth CD as a leader and he continues to remain busy producing music for Candid Records and running his new jazz venue. Enjoy the carnival spirit of his recorded music that includes twenty-seven Brazilian songs on this CD.


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MICHEL CAMILO – “ESSENCE” Resilience Music Alliance

Michel Camilo, piano/bandleader/composer; Ricky Rodrigues, bass; Cliff Almond, drums; Eliel Lazo, percussion/vocals; Antonio Hart, alto saxophone/flute; Sharel Cassity, alto saxophone/clarinet; Ralph Bowen, tenor saxophone/flute; Adam Kolker, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Michael Philip Messman, arranger/trumpet/flugelhorn; Raul Agra, John Walsh, Diego Urcola, & Kali Rodriguez-Pena, trumpet/flugelhorn; Michael Dease, Steve Davis, & Jason Jackson, trombone; David Taylor, bass trombone.

In celebration of Michel Camilo’s 25th album release as a leader, he has pulled together a stunning All-Star Big Band and the production plays like a glorious party. The Dominican-born pianist is celebrating his Grammy Award Winning career with an 18-piece band comprised of dear friends and stellar talent. The cornerstone of the band is Camilo’s remarkable rhythm section. His drummer, Cliff Almond, has been a part of the pianist’s bands for nearly three decades. Puerto Rican bassist, Ricky Rodriguez is a young lion who has been working with Michel Camilo in recent years. The newest addition is Eliel Lazo, who is a Cuban percussionist and vocalist that lives in Copenhagen.

“I tried to choose music from every stage of development as a creative artists and composer,” Camilo shared in his liner notes.

“I picked songs that represent shifts in my career and my point of view, that showcase how I developed my sound. I’ve always thought of the trio as a mini-orchestra, so the big band is a way to celebrate my career and my journey with a group of friends creating together in the studio.”

Featuring nature photography by Herminio Alberti Leon, he described his album cover, “The air is the space between the lines and the way we breathe together. The water comes in the flow of ideas while the earth is in the grooves, the organic way they bring you down to earth.”

From the very first energetic and combustible tune, “And Sammy Walked In,” I am hooked on the cohesive sound of this band and these wonderful arrangements. This is followed by a tribute song to Mongo Santamaria tiled, “Mongo’s Blues.” It was Mongo Santamaria who took Michel Camilo, then a young pianist, under his wing upon Camilo’s arrival in New York. That was in 1979. Lazo adds zest with his percussion work and also provides spirited vocals on this song. The arrangement is a combination of the blues and Afro-Cuban rhythms. As each composition unfolds, I find myself more and more in love with this album of great arranging by Michael Phillip Messman and the original compositions and piano brilliance of Michel Camilo. His fourth track titled, “Liquid Crystal” gives Michel Camilo an opportunity to lean towards impressionistic and modern jazz, with his piano chops setting up the piece and shining brightly, like sunrays sparkling on fine crystal. This composition prepares a healthy platform for Kali Rodriguez-Pena to play a pensive solo on trumpet. Cliff Almond makes his own combustive and creative statement on trap drums. On cut #6, “Just Like You,” Antonio Hart offers a bluesy, rich and noteworthy alto saxophone solo. This is another beautiful composition Michel Camilo has written.

You will find this to be a provocative Latin big band at its best and more! The arrangements by Michael Phillip Messman are plush and exciting. They ebb and flow; build and crescendo; whisper blues and joyous shouts make room for the awesome piano technique and splendor of Michel Camilo’s playing. It’s also easy to fall in love with Camilo’s wonderful compositions.
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PETER BEETS – “OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY” – GERSHWIN REIMAGINED Magic Ball Records

Peter Beets, piano; Tom Baldwin, double bass; Eric Kennedy, drums.

Peter Beets has decided to celebrate some of the timeless compositions of George & Ira Gershwin with his trio. I love each and every one of his song choices. They are part of America’s treasured songbook and each one is familiar to our ears and warm in the public hearts. Beginning with “Our Love Is Here to Stay” Beets uses his left hand (along with Eric Kennedy’s drum talents) to establish a marching, shuffle beat, while his right hand embellishes the melody in a lovely way.

Tom Baldwin is stellar on double bass, racing at a high-speed pace to set the tone and tempo on “S’Wonderful.” Peter Beets flies right alongside his two awesome players, improvising spectacularly and kept honest by the roaring drums of Eric Kennedy, who holds the piece tightly in place and trades fours, taking brief but spectacular solos.

This is an album of excellence, performed by three master musicians and they amply showcase the music of Gershwin, including their unique renditions of I Loves You, Porgy, Embraceable You, Summertime, I’ve Got A Crush On You, How Long Has This Been Going On?, They Can’t Take that Away From Me and Lady Be Good. Every cut recorded is perfectly executed and emotionally rich in presentation.
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CURTIS ROBERTSON JR. CELEBRATES SYREETA WRIGHT AND TRIBUTES MUSIC’S ANCESTRAL TRANSMISSION

June 28, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
June 28, 2019

Knowing Curtis Robertson Jr. for several years, one thing was clear to me right away. Not only is he a talented and technically astute bass player, Curtis Is also a very conscientious man. He always seems to be in search of knowledge, but with a cool, laid-back attitude. His smile can light up an auditorium, like his bass playing. But he also has a thoughtful, contemplative side. For Black Music Month, I enjoyed talking to Curtis Robertson Jr. about his life in the music business and his current project to tribute vocalist/songwriter, Syreeta Wright. In our conversation, he shares transformative steps within his music career and in his life. Curtis believes that musicians proudly wear a garment that reflects common, ancestral threads.

Curtis was born and raised in Hyde Park on the southside of Chicago, Illinois. His father’s parents were part of the migration from the South to a hopeful new future up North. His mother, a preacher’s daughter, came from West Virginia seeking the same. I asked Curtis if he came from a musical family and although no one was a formally trained musician he credited his mom for musical inspiration.

“My mother could sing. She had vocal lessons when she was young, and she sang hymns in church. She also played a little piano. She was born in 1924 and when she was in her twenties and thirties she listened to the standards.” NOTE: some call them the great American songbook.

“My mother was always singing around the house. She sang songs her mother and older sisters taught her from songs of her day and listened to songs played on the radio.

“After a few years of playing guitar, I began learning standard tunes.I’d play the chord changes and voicings I learned from Chicago guitarist and educator, Reggie Boyd and my peer mentor, great guitarist, John Thomas. My mother would be in the kitchen cooking, and I would bring my guitar into the kitchen. She could sing in-tune and she’d sing along. She knew the melodies and all the words. That’s how I learned many a tune.

“My father loved music too and he sure could whistle! He had range, good intonation and tone. He listened to a lot of West Indian and African music. He was raised by West Indians as a youth. We had a good stereo system and my father had quite a record collection. My parents would play Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Baba Olatunji’s ‘Drums of Passion’ record and opera-sounding records like ‘Oklahoma.’ I heard Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Woody Gutherie and Burl Ives. My parents were social activists in the late fifties and early sixties. They weren’t big blues people, but they had Billie Holiday records and Dave Brubeck; not a lot of jazz. I heard more island music and albums like ‘Porgy and Bess’ at the house.

“I started out playing guitar as a youngster. In my teen years, I was in a band. I was in the eighth grade, so I was thirteen. No one wanted to play the bass. I’ve always been kind of a peace-maker, so I said to my arguing bandmates, I’ll play it. The singer in our band had a bass, so that’s how I started playing that instrument. Early on, I knew music was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the attention from the girls and we all thought having a band was cool. There was also a good camaraderie between the fellow musicians. Back then we were playing Jimi Hendrix, Cream, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. As I grew, I moved up to adding Coltrane and Miles to my repertoire.

“Lena McLin was a high school choir director at my Hyde Park high school and she really was one of my main influences in Chicago. I was in the high school jazz band and she was doing the choir and also teaching opera. Ms. McLin used to take me aside on her lunch period and tutor me. She used to drill me. She made sure I knew my music theory.

“My other early mentor was Reggie Boyd. He was a genius. You could go over to Reggie’s house and he had transcribed a solo by Coltrane or Paul Chambers. He had a great ear and he would teach us chord changes, technique and theory. Reggie Boyd is responsible for really getting me into my bass.”

NOTE: Reggie Boyd was known as THE teacher for many Chicago guitarists including blues legends Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, James Wheeler, Louis Myers, Willie Johnson, Billy Boy Arnold and Dave Specter, to name just a few. His knowledge of theory and technique was formidable, according to many historians. His only recording was a 45rpm titled “Nothing But Good/ Nothing But Poison.” Reggie Boyd died in October of 2010.

Curtis Robertson Jr. also credits Louis Satterfield (before he was an Earth Wind & Fire member) for teaching him how to play the blues in the early 1970s by listening to him play on BB King’s ‘Live at the Regal’ album.

“I would listen to those bass lines over and over again.”

“Satterfield is the one who played that amazing bass-line on the Fontella Bass hit R&B record, ‘Rescue Me.’

“My mother used to take me to the Regal Theater where I saw B. B. King and James Brown. I started listening to Jack Bruce, Cream’s bass player and Noel Redding, (bass player with Hendrix). I was also listening to Motown music and they had James Jamerson in the Funk Brothers. The older I got, I began listening to Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, Mingus and a lot of Ron Carter on Miles Davis records. I also listened to Wes Montgomery. Of course, I was influenced by Cleveland Eaton, who was playing with Ramsey Lewis. We used to listen to that album over and over again. It was produced by Charles Stephney.”

Note: Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire founder) and famed arranger, Charles Stephney, produced Ramsey’s “Salongo” album in 1972 incorporating members of Earth Wind & Fire into the production and White produced the 1974 Ramsey Lewis album titled, “Sun Goddess”, experimenting with electronic sounds. Personnel included: Ramsey Lewis (syn, g, p, e-p, string machine, arr) Cleveland Eaton (bass) Maurice Jennings (dr, perc) Richard Evans (Horn & String arr) Byron Gregory (g) Maurice White (voc, dr, perc) Verdine White (bass, voc) Johnny Graham (guitar) Philip Bailey (perc, voc) Don Myrick (ts) Charles Stepney (g, key) Derf Rehlee Raheem (perc, voc)

“Well, some of the richest experiences I’ve had was playing right here in Los Angeles. at the clubs and with some of these local players. I loved so much playing at Marla’s Memory Lane, working with Milton Bland, aka: Monk Higgins. It was wonderful to play with Cal Green and pianist, Billy Mitchell. Billy Mitchell and Reggie Andrews played keyboards in Syreeta’s first band. Reggie Andrews was teaching at Locke High School and he couldn’t go on the road, so the great Lanny Hartley took his place. By meeting Lanny, I met a lot of other cats. Some of those were Washington Rucker, Randy Randolph, Harold Acey and Terry Evans. This is how I met Jake Porter. That was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. I say that because Jake Porter would play different tunes, not just standards. He would play things like, “Alexander’s Rag Time Band” and “Hello Dolly.” He pulled tunes from further back. Jake would count off the tune and give us the key. I would say hey, what is it? I wanted to know the title of the tune. Jake would answer, ‘You’ll hear it, youngster.’ Then he’d hold one finger down for key of F; two fingers down for B flat; three fingers for E flat. It was an on-stage training! Jackie Kelso was playing clarinet and Lanny Hartley would be on piano. Washington Rucker played drums and Terry Evans was on guitar. Coming up playing with those cats was really a great experience for me. Jake worked a lot and kept a lot of cats working. I look at my music experiences as a bridge. Jake was a bridge to a whole other time. I call that ancestral transmission.”

NOTE: Jake Porter was a trumpet and cornet player who cut his musical teeth playing in Lionel Hampton’s big band. After serving in the U.S. Military, he played with such jazz masters as Benny Carter, Fats Waller, Noble Sissle, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman’s band. He was born in Oakland, California, but eventually settled in Los Angeles. Porter died in L.A. at age 76, on March 25, 1993.

As Curtis Robertson Jr.’s career expanded and blossomed, he found that many people opened unexpected doors for the young bass player to walk through.

He met and fell in love with Syreeta Wright in the early seventies, shortly after her divorce from Stevie Wonder. They were soon writing songs together and he became part of her touring band.

“I had worked with Syreeta touring in 1974. But my first big gig was in 1975, when I got the call to work with Gary Bartz. Back in the day, I went to high school with Chaka Khan in Chicago. A lot of the musicians used to hang out at Chaka’s parent’s house. I knew her husband, Hassan Khan. He used to play bass with the Staple Singers and the Five Stairsteps.”

Note: The FIVE STAIRSTEPS recorded a popular song called “Oo – oo Child” that Rolling Stone magazine dubbed one of the 500 Greatest Songs of all time.

“So, when I went over to the house where the band was staying, that’s where I met Nate Morgan. Nate was playing piano with Gary Bartz. Gary hired me, sight unseen, thanks to the recommendation of Nate Morgan and we played our very first gig in Dayton, Ohio at a club called ‘Gillys.’ That was my first gig with Gary Bartz. He had just left Miles Davis, so he was playing that Bitches Brew kind of stuff. That fit right into my background, from playing Hendrix stuff and Motown stuff. But, if he called ‘Impressions’ up-tempo, I could play that too. Afterwards, Gary called and said, we’re getting ready to go to Europe. You wanna go? I said, well hey man, Syreeta is pregnant. She’s getting ready to have a baby. I don’t know. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on tour with Syreeta, about to have our baby. However, as time went on, we already had a back-up plan with moms and Syreeta’s younger sister, Kim. So, when he offered me the contract, I said to myself, you know what? You’ve got to go on and do this gig. So, we ended up travelling all over Europe.

“Gary Bartz is one of my heroes. We did a lot of gigs. Our first gig together was the George Wein Newport Jazz Festival tour. I got to hang out on the side of the stage with all these famous musicians like Charles Mingus. The band knew how much I admired Charles Mingus and I wanted to go over there and get Mingus to sign my program and just talk to him. Everybody was saying, Naw man – don’t go over there and bother Charlie Mingus. uh-huh – don’t go over there! Especially Bartz and Jackie McClean. Those two were like, don’t go bothering Charlie Mingus. But Mingus was my hero. So, I went walking backstage in Yugoslavia. I walked over to him and said, hey Mr. Mingus, I’m a big fan of yours. All the musicians were just watching the scene from a distance and they acted like he was going to cold-cock me or something. I handed him my program, not sure what his response was going to be. Lo and behold, he signed it for me. He kept mumbling, ‘These god damn Communists. I hate these Communists.’ I just nodded, said, yes sir, took my program and eased on away. When I got over to where the cats were standing, we were all relieved that it went so well.”

Curtis Robertson Jr.’s career changed direction again in 1980 when he was hired to work with groove master, Les McCann. Eddie Harris joined McCann on-tour in 1987 and Curtis worked another three years with both of those master musicians. Listen to Curtis Robertson Jr.’s powerful bass line and solo on the Eddie Harris “Live At the Moonwalker” LP recorded in Switzerland, October, 1989. The tune is titled, “Walking the Walk.” The trio is Eddie Harris on saxophone, paino and vocals, Curtis on bass and Norman Fearrington on drums.


https://www.discogs.com/Eddie-Harris-Live-At-The-Moonwalker/release/4362217

The 1989 Mr. Fuji Jazz Festival in Japan, with a BlueNote Record line-up, features Curtis on stage performing with Les McCann, Stanley Turrentine and Lou Rawls. You can fast forward 48 minutes into the video below to see them rocking the audience on “Stormy Monday Blues.”

“Tony St. James was playing drums and Bobby Bryant Jr. was on tenor and alto saxophone. His dad is Bobby Bryant Sr., the trumpet player and educator. Les called me one day and said, ‘Hey Curtis, this is Les McCann. Come to this audition to be in my band.’ So, I went and two weeks later I was working with his band in Australia. I liked that band because Les kept the band fired up.”

Before touring with Les McCann, Curtis worked with a number of diverse artists. One memorable position was working in Maxine Weldon’s band.

“Maxine Weldon was one of my favorite singers. I worked a lot of gigs with Maxine in the late 1970s and 1980s. I went to Europe with Maxine and worked all over town with her in L.A. I still hear her in my mind. I love the variety of covers she did. She sang that old Ink Spots song, The Gypsy.”

“I also worked with guitarist, Robben Ford. He’s a bad man in a very good way! He used to play with Jimmy Witherspoon, Tom Scott, Miles Davis, Larry Carlton and Joni Mitchell. He was one of the founding members of the Yellowjackets group. Someone heard me play and referred me to his management team. They put my name in the hat to tour with Robben Ford’s group. The bass player, at that time, was Jimmy Haslip. So, at one point, I took Jimmy’s place on tour. I think they liked my blues handle, you know, my being from Chicago and all.”

In 1976 and 1977, Curtis joined a group of all-star jazz players and they called themselves ‘Karma.’ They were signed to A&M’s Horizon records and released two extraordinary albums. One was titled “Celebration” and the other was called, “For Everybody.”

“That was the first label I was signed to as a band. The band was called ‘Karma’ and we made two albums. At that time, George Bohanon was dating Deniece Williams. He was in the group and when he and Niecy came down to the studio, I said to her, why don’t you sing on this song? So, she and Syreeta sang on the Celebration record.”

NOTE; COMPLETE LINE-UP: Reggie Andrews (Heshimu) (Keyboards), George Bohanon (Saeed) (Trombones, Baritone Horn), Ernie Watts (Tenor & Soprano Sax), Oscar Brashear (Chache) (Trumpet), Curtis Robertson, Jr. (Bass), Josef Blocker (Drums, Vocals), Vander “Stars” Lockett (Percussion, Vocals), Syreeta Wright, Deniece Williams (Vocals).

Recorded in 1976; together they had an Earth Wind & Fire sound and energy steeped in electronic funk or soul jazz, and played by some of the top players in the Los Angeles area
.

“So, that was an opportunity to rehearse a lot, you know. It was great to rehearse with that amazing horn section we had. I had time on my hands because I had just finished the tour with Gary Bartz. I got Syreeta on that Gary Bartz record too.”

“Gary put her on two of his records. I played on his CDs “Love Affair” and “It’s My Sanctuary.” I was also on “Ju Ju Man” on the Prestige label in 1976. We played some good tunes on there. Syreeta sang “My Funny Valentine” and it was beautiful. Howard King was on drums, Charles Mims Jr. on piano and me on bass. Pat Britt produced the session.”

From 1990 to 2005, the bass work you hear on all those hit records by Lou Rawls is the mastery of Curtis Robertson Jr. He was a part of the Rawls touring ensemble. Curtis Robertson Jr. also worked with Randy Crawford, (the vocalist who had the big hit record, “Street Life” with The Jazz Crusaders). His stellar bass sound was embraced by Gladys Knight, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Freddie Hubbard, David T. Walker, Richard Thompson and Steve Hillage. These are just a few of the people he’s worked with over his career. But for many years his energy was directed in songwriting and producing music with Syreeta. Their union produced two albums and two sons. The albums were titled, “One to One” and “SYREETA”, both released on Tamla Records, a Motown subsidiary.

“It was 1976 and I met with Suzanne de Passe at Motown to discuss Syreeta’s upcoming project. I had been singing Charles Stephney’s praises. I let Syreeta hear Minnie Ripperton’s “Come to My Garden” record. We both wanted Charles Stephney to come in and do the arranging. So, Ms. de Passe met with Charles Stephney and it was a go. Unfortunately for us, on May 17, 1976 Charles Stephney died. We wound up doing the record with Leon Ware and David Bromberg. They did a fantastic job. Leon was a genius. He knew how to get the most out of an artist. There’s a song Syreeta and I wrote titled, Rest Yourself” on that album that I really love.”

“The way this current project to tribute Syreeta came about was in 2003, Syreeta came to my studio to continue our musical collaborations. She knew she was ill and asked me to promise to finish the songs we’d record and share them with her fans. Before she passed, she put vocals on four songs we were recording. This single that I released this month titled, “If It Is Love,” is the first part of A Promise Kept. That will be the name of the EP. There are two versions of ‘If It Is Love,’ the single version for radio play, and the extended-play version that features solos by veteran guitarist David T. Walker, Grégoire Maret on harmonica and pianist/organist, Deron Johnson. I have to thank Arthur Walton of Samurai Records, who resurrected this project with his heart, soul and skills when I had all but given up.

“I’ve kept in touch with Charles Mims, the pianist/arranger who I met through Reggie Andrews. I met Reggie through Syreeta. Charles Mims and Patrice were high school sweethearts. Charles did a lot of co-writing with Patrice Rushen, who’s a dynamic pianist/recording artist and arranger herself. Mims is a very prolific writer and arranger too.

“When Syreeta and I decided to do a reunion session, I got Gary Bartz and Charles Mims on it. In fact, we did a song Syreeta and I wrote that Maria Muldaur covered titled, ‘There is a Love.’ I’m almost done with mixing that song. I just have to do a few more little things to it.”

“There’s a bunch of great talents and dear friends on this project. Land Richards plays drums and Munyungo Jackson is on percussion. Harold Barney (aka Jasper Stone) plays Fender Rhodes keyboard. Tracy Wannomae brings in the woodwinds and Rocio Marron did string arrangements for me. I played a little acoustic piano on it and bass. Deron Johnson did most of the piano work, played the Hammond B3 and the mellotron.

“I’m just full of gratitude. I’m grateful that I’m still here and able to make this happen. I’m thankful to the musicians and engineers who nurtured and supported this project and made it possible. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve learned that everything happens in God’s time. Thank you Syreeta for sharing your beauty, your heart, your love, your belief in me and your profound gift of song. Now we can share it with your friends and fans.”

BLACK MUSIC MONTH AND REMEMBERING THE AMAZING SYREETA WRIGHT

This journalist has always been a huge ‘Syreeta’ fan. Her original album, produced by Stevie Wonder, was one of my favorite collector items. Stevie first discovered the amazing voice of Syreeta Wright and signed her to his production company. I played that album over and over again back in the 1970’s

Born August 3, 1946, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Syreeta was raised by her mother and her grandmother. Her dad was off fighting in the Korean War. She and two sisters were bounced between South Carolina and Detroit until she became high school age. Once settling down in the Motor City, she secured a job as a receptionist for the then, fledgling Motown Record company. The former ballerina and music lover soon became a secretary for producer Mickey Stevenson. Of course, what her real dream was to become a singer/songwriter at the company. She knew she had an outstanding voice and was secure in her songwriting abilities. Once some of the Motown producers heard her lovely voice, she became their ‘go-to’ for studio demo sessions. That’s how she met Stevie Wonder in 1968. A year later, they began dating and writing music together. In 1970, they were married. Their first collaboration was in 1969 and became a hit record on the Spinners group titled, “It’s A Shame.” That was certainly one of my favorite Spinner songs. Then, in 1971, the Wonder/Wright song “If You Really Love Me” soared up the Pop and R&B charts and featured Syreeta’s outstanding vocals singing background behind Stevie Wonder’s lead. It was obvious that her voice was special and one to be reckoned with. It stood out.

I’m a collector of Stevie Wonder’s music and some of my favorite music was written by Syreeta and Stevie on his “Music of My Mind” album and the “Talking Book” master piece. Her debut solo album was exquisite, but didn’t get the company support in promotion and marketing that I thought it should have received. That same year, her marriage to Stevie Wonder ended, but their close friendship continued. Stevie produced her second album titled, “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta” in 1974.

After her marriage dissolved with Stevie Wonder she met bassist, Curtis Robertson Jr. and they fell in love. She and Curtis recorded a couple of albums together.

Her 1979 hit record with Billy Preston singing “With You I’m Born Again” is probably familiar to a lot of readers and music lovers. It was written and produced for a movie called “Fast Break” and raced up the charts worldwide, becoming #2 on the UK charts and #4 on the United States Billboard chart.

In 1992, she decided to retire from the business of recording and began a new musical challenge performing in the national touring cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the role of Mary Magdalene. Her star-studded cast included the original film stars Ted Neeley and the wonderful actor/vocalist, Carl Anderson. She stayed in that cast until 1995.

Now, after her untimely death in July of 2004, new music is being released to celebrate this great singer/songwriter by producer, songwriter and bassist, Curtis Robertson Jr. Since Syreeta was an activist and was very active in her community, it seems perfect that her music is being released during Black Music Month.
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