Benny Knocks it Out of the Park
Eric Alexander at CafJ Stritch
CafJ Stritch in San Jose
At Stanford -- Victor Lin Rides Again
Jazz on the Hill Returns
Donaatelli and Keezer at Bach's
Kris Strom and Tammy Hall at the Studio Pink House
Watch Out New York Jazz -- Here Comes San Jose Jazz, March 2013
Hal Galper Trio at Bach, March 2013
Listen to Your Listeners | Postmodern Times by Eric Felten - WSJ.com A VERY GOOD ARTICLE ABOUT JAZZ
The Tommy Igoe Big Band at The Razz Room
New York Times Jazz Articles
Grace Kelly at the San Jose Jazz Winter Fest
Studio Pink House -- A Newly Expanded Music Venue Reopens
PAJANS Dig the Jazz Cruise
Remarkable Super Group at Bach's
Paula West at Kuumbwa
Kenny Burrell Shines at 80
LenoreRaphael at Bach's
Report back from Monterey Jazz Fest: One man’s opinion
The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival – A View from the Grounds
Impressions of San Jose
Summer Jazz Highlights
Stanford Jazz Workshop Tour
Victor Lin Rides Again
Jeff Hamilton Trio at Palo Alto Elks Club
The Bill Charlap Trio at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society
Taylor Eigsti at the San Jose Fairmont
Meeting of the Minds at The Beach House
The Gerald Clayton Trio -- March 2
The 10th Jazz Cruise
"In His Own Sweet Way" -- Brubeck Documentary on TV
Doug Carn Rocks the Church
Kim Nalley at Bach's
A Few Monterey Jazz Festival Highlights
We Go to The Gal
An Afternoon at Filoli
The Music of Dave Brubeck
Died and Gone to Heaven?
Kim Nalley and Houston Person
BENNY KNOCKS IT OUT OF THE PARK
What a treat to hear one of the planet’s most renowned jazz pianists in solo performance. That’s what those who attended PAJA’s Veteran’s Day concert at the Menlo-Atherton HS Center for the Performing Arts got—Benny Green in a scintillating 1 hr, 40 minutes of piano artistry. Benny said he hadn’t worked out a specific playlist beforehand—“I’m winging it”—but it is a tribute to his sensibility and rapport with the audience that every number he chose resonated and delighted his listeners. He gave us tunes composed by Oscar Peterson, Hank Jones, McCoy Tyner, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and others, plus one or two of his originals. PAJA event chair Harvey Mittler commented that nights like this is why we PAJAns—volunteers all--do this. Benny gave us that rare thing—a performance we’ll not soon forget and an opportunity to remind ourselves why we go to the trouble of seeing jazz live: there’s always a chance you’ll experience a small cultural/artistic miracle. Thank you, Benny, for giving us one of those evenings.
Photo by Anne Callahan
ERIC ALEXANDER AT CAFÉ STRITCH
Photos by Ronald Orlando
By now, Eric Alexander’s name should be well known to local jazz fans. The 45-year-old tenor saxophonist appears often in the Bay Area, and in a recent two-night engagement at San Jose’s Café Stritch, he demonstrated why there’s just no one better today on the tenor sax. Well, that’s one man’s opinion anyway.
Playing with Peppe Merolla on drums, Matt Clark on piano and Michael Zisman on bass, Eric cruised through five numbers in a 1 ¾-hour set on the Saturday evening we saw him (March 22). Just five numbers means extended solos, and that’s what we got, and who’s complaining? Starting off with the jazz classic “Four”, Eric displayed his impressive bop/post-bop chops and we were off and running to a wonderful evening of tenor quartet JAZZ. A scintillating Merolla drum solo on that one, showing off his outstanding versatility and skill. The group followed with A Felicidade, Jobim’s contribution to “Black Orpheus” and then segued to the ballad “All The Way.” Good Zisman solo on this one. Bobby Timmons’ “This Here” was a driving upbeat success, and the band closed with “Save Your Love For Me,” the Nancy Wilson blues hit—an infectious, swinging version that had the crowd clapping rhythmically and bouncing out of their seats. It was Matt Clark’s turn to provide a memorable solo.
This number is on Eric’s newest album, “Chicago Fire,” with Harold Mabern, Joe Farnsworth and John Webber. It’s a winner. On the Eric Alexander web site, he’s quoted as saying, “The legacy left by Bird and all the bebop pioneers, that language and that feel—that’s the bread and butter of everything I do.” And it’s the bread and butter of everything I, personally, favor in jazz—emphatic, inventive takes on jazz classics and the American songbook. So, Eric—we salute you, and thank Café Stritch and Peppe Merolla for making it possible for us to hear this marvelous group.
CAFÉ STRITCH IN SAN JOSE
A real New York-style jazz club in downtown San Jose? If you have memories of the Village Vanguard or the Five Spot, or San Francisco’s clubs of the 60s, you’llfeel right at home at Café Stritch at 374 First Street in San Jose—on the site of he old Eulipia Restaurant. The bandstand backs up to a long brick wall decorated with large jazz posters, the most prominent of which is of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The name of the club comes from an instrument devised by Kirk, the stritch, a straightened alto saxophone, the original of which hangs proudly over the Kirk poster. This was a gift of Kirk’s widow to the Café Stritch owner, Steve Borkenhagen—a major Kirk and jazz fan. Steve’s son Max is the club’s artistic director and he introduces the performers.
The night Bruce Powell and I went, the group was the Peppe Merolla quartet, featuring the muscular New York tenorman Vincent Herring. Peppe, who lives in Menlo Park, was on drums, and local stalwarts Michael Zisman (bass) and Matt Clark (piano) accompanied. We had gone pretty much to see Herring and he didn’t disappoint. Bop doesn’t get any harder.
The club has been open only a few months now. There’s a wide-ranging menu, from burgers to larger main dishes; you place your order at the counter, and the hand signal device lights up when your order is ready. So, no servers, no one pestering you to buy more drinks, and most nights no cover charge. The night we went, it was just $15. For their upcoming schedule check out www.cafestritch.com and click on “Events.” Steve Turre plays at Stritch New Year’s Eve./Ed Fox
AT STANFORD—VICTOR LIN RIDES AGAIN
The theme presentations by pianist/violinist Victor Lin are always a highlight of each year’s Stanford Jazz Festival, and this year’s (July 25 at Dinkelspiel) was no exception. The 2013 motif was the music of the great Disney films, and Victor and ensemble started off with “When You Wish Upon A Star” from Pinocchio. Victor always assembles some standup musicians at his concerts and this year he had
saxophonists Ben Flocks and Lynn Speakman, trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, Mike Bono on guitar, the interesting Jimmy McBride on drums, and the fine bassist Josh Thurston-Milgrom, with Lin on piano. Jon Hatamaya came in on trombone later in the evening.
Obviously, some tunes from Disney movies lend themselves well to the jazz medium, as Brubeck and many others have shown with takes on “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and “Alice In Wonderland,” both of which we heard this night. But you wouldn’t expect such novelty tunes like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “It’s A Small World After All” to appeal to a jazz audience, but these versions rocked, amazingly. One staple of Victor Lin night at SJW is multiple pianists, like 2 pianists on one piano, or four on two. This year it was four (Victor, Joe Gilman, Peter Stoltzman, and Yuma Sung --billed as comedic piano relief) on two pianos, and the song was “It’s a Small World.” Wow. Frenetic playing, switching positions, elbowing, running. Hugely entertaining, but at the same time, great licks.
A real highlight of the evening was a duet of Victor on piano and Ben Flocks (soprano sax) on a lovely ballad from Toy Story 2 (didn’t catch the song title). But it transfixed the audience and got a standing O afterward. Lynn Gruenewald Speakman is a superb arranger and she contributed a great version of “Prince Ali” from Aladdin which involved the whole band. Another artist new to me was Tupac Mantilla, a wizard of percussion. The man can make rhythmic sounds out of shreds of paper being blown by an electric fan. The night closed with another Toy Story 2 item: Randy Newman’s “You Got A Friend In Me,” with old SJW hand Bob Murphy on vocals.
An evening with Victor Lin always delivers with creativity and rollicking entertainment. But there are always wonderful arrangements and musicianship to satisfy any jazz fan. If you missed this one, make sure to be there next year, unless he’s running out of themes. The Music of John Malkovich Films?
No. I’ll trust Victor to come up with another winner.
JAZZ ON THE HILL RETURNS
By Ed Fox and Harvey Mittler
We’ve had to wait nine years while campus construction projects (beautiful job, CSM, by the way) precluded KCSM’s Jazz On The Hill, but JOTH returned with a bang this year on a warm, sunny first day of June. A dual-stage setup meant no waiting for the next act to get rearranged and settled. There was some seating by the reflecting pool, but the majority of fans elected to pick spots on the spacious lawns.
Festivities started at 10am, and if you arrived by 10 or 11, parking and finding seats or lawn spaces were quite easy. By the time the Taylor Eigsti group came on at 3pm, though, things were a bit more crowded, and the pre-festival estimate of 5000 on the hill looked about right.
The first outfit was the Northgate HS Jazz Band, from Walnut Creek. Greg Brown’s award-winning ensemble gave a polished, very satisfying set—a great way to get things rolling. We were particularly impressed by the sax section. There were at least three sax soloists who were simply marvelous. High schoolers? No way!!
The KCSM family band was next and it gave fans a chance to see some of the KCSM staffers perform: Dick Conte on piano, Richard Hadlock clarinet, Alisa Clancy vocals, and a back-up vocal group consisting of Kathleen Lawton, Jayne Sanchez and Melanie Berzon. “Ringers” Akira Tana and Clint Baker (Alisa’s spouse) assisted.
Following were Adam Theis and Jazz Mafia, Terence Brewer and Citizen Rhythm and the always crowd-pleasing Hot Club of San Francisco. As usual, rhythm guitarist Isabelle Fontaine’s beautiful vocals were heavenly. If the sun got too much for you, there was an inside stage in the air-conditioned College Center with sets by the CSM Jazz Ensemble, the CSM Big Band, and Oscar Pangilinan and The Bad Five.
The Pangilinan group’s rendition of “Spain” was a killer.
At 2 o’clock the performers were the Hot Club of San Francisco, the quartet featuring Paul Mehling, lead guitar and leader, Isabelle Fontaine, guitar and chanteuse, Evan Price, violin, and Clint Baker, bass, in its typically up-tempo, crowd-pleasing way. The quartet played its version of swinging gypsy jazz, and Isabelle Fontaine displayed her charming vocal talent with French melodies, supplementing her rhythm guitar ability. It was the first group of the afternoon heard by Harvey, and the HCSF was welcomed enthusiastically by those enjoying the warm sun and the hot music.
In the next hour, the audience gathered on the grass and next to, or in some cases soaking their feet in, the long pool were treated to the contemporary music played by a Bay Area trio of maturing wunderkind, the pianist from Menlo Park, Taylor Eigsti and his Friends, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens from Berkeley and guitarist Julian Lage from Santa Rosa. The three friends now are based in New York but continue to return to their roots here, fortunately for us. They interspersed standards from the Great American Songbook with original compositions contributed by each, including
Taylor’s Come Out and Play and Dayna’s Dr. Wong’s Bird Song (written for Herb Wong). Another feature for Dayna was I Left My Heart in San Francisco, my favorite rendition next to Tony’s. (PAJA members may realize that the HCSF and Taylor Eigsti, with Dayna Stephens among other luminaries, were the last two groups presented in concert by PAJA; thank you, Herb Wong and Bruce Powell.)
Taylor Eigsti ............................................Charlie Musselwhite
Photos by Greg Toland
In the 4 o’clock hour consummate blues harp master Charlie Musselwhite led a mid-sized unit through his Memphis-style, urban blues. Playing his blues harmonica and singing a bit, Charlie let us know why he has been revered for more than 40 years. A fitting close to his set was Duke Pearson’s Christo Redemptor, a cover of trumpeter Donald Byrd’s hit which Charlie first recorded in 1967 and long a favorite of mine.
Closing the perfect day’s solid music was the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, a 19-piece Latin Salsa Big Band organized about 3 years ago. Co-leader and pianist Christian Tumalan is a CSM grad, and he clearly loved being back. The Band bills itself as being one of the Bay Area’s most exciting live acts, and it lived up to its billing. The variety of the tempos and the song styles showed the Band indeed to be a cut above the bands that become mired only in a mambo or cha char beat. The Band lives up its claim that it features some of the Bay Area’s finest musicians, and part of the reason is that it includes musicians from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, including co-leader and trumpeter and composer Steffen Kuehn (he, or another trumpeter whose name I missed, is from Peru), an incredible conguero and composer from Venezuela, and a marvelous female lead singer, Alexis Guillen. Exemplary work and exciting solos came from all the sections of the band. Long live the spirit of Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez and Celia Cruz!
Congratulations to the staff and management of KCSM, the financial supporters of Jazz on the Hill, and to the fans who showed that they will turn out for live music!
DONATELLI AND KEEZER AT BACH’S
Another very fine Sunday afternoon at the Pete Douglas Beach House on April 21 with vocalist Denise Donatelli and the marvelous pianist Geoffrey Keezer, backed by Essiet Essiet on bass, Sylvia Cuenca on drums and Peter Sprague, guitar. Sprague, who lives in the San Diego area, has been around for years, but I hadn’t seen him before; he almost stole the show, he is that good—a wonderful, fluid guitarist.
Donatelli, easy on the eyes (sexist comment alert, Mr. Obama!), and with an ingratiating performance personality (no phony showbiz stuff—just good straight-ahead music and pleasant commentary), opened with “When Lights Are Low,” and followed with a very effective, “Don’t Explain.” “Soul Shadows” was a featured number, involving a bit of audience participation, and a duet with Keezer on Burton Lane’s “Too Late Now” was one of my first-set favorites. The set closed with an uptempo, “I Wish I Were in Love Again.” The second set included “All or Nothing at All,” “My Shining Hour,” and a fabulous Donatelli-Keezer duet on “Skylark.” They closed with Joni Mitchell’s “Be Cool.”
All in all, a lovely afternoon. I rate the L.A.-based Donatelli up there with Jackie Ryan, Tierney Sutton, Karrin Allison—professionals who respect the music, have good pipes, and can deliver beautiful vocals within a well-thought-out selection of material. Three of the songs in this concert were from Donatelli/Keezer’s 2012 Grammy-nominated album “Soul Shadows,” and three others were from their 2011 Grammy-nominated album “When Lights Are Low.” This is a collaboration made in jazz heaven.
KRIS STROM AND TAMMY HALL AT THE STUDIO PINK HOUSE
We were fortunate to hear Kris Strom and her band of outstanding Bay Area musicians on Sunday, March 24. The group was composed of Strom on tenor, her husband Scott Sorkin on guitar, John Shifflet on bass and Jim Kassis on drums. Add the exciting Tammy Hall on piano and you had a full-service, Class A jazz band. Hall appears regularly with Kim Nalley and Denise Perrier.
This group of highly motivated, experience artists have been laboring in the jazz vineyards for years, and all deserve more recognition. This writer has heard them at various venues, but this Sunday was special. Firs the intimate setting of the Studio Pink House is unique--$10-$20 voluntary donations. You sit in close access to the band (you can almost reach out and touch them), and the hip audience and supportive owners make this an exceptional jazz venue.
Kris Strom on tenor blew choruses like I’ve not heard from her before, demonstrating her expertise with some riveting, rocking improvisations. With Sorkin on guitar and the cooking rhythm section, they played some originals (by Strom and Hall) and some standards. Kris even vocalized on a couple of numbers.
The addition of Tammy Hall really capped it for me . . . her solos are marvelous expositions of modern harmony, with her full “chordal” approach, and she’s always swinging. She comps actively and those chords keep the whole groove elevated. Sorkin also played some exciting, well crafted solos. Shifflet and Kassis propelled it all and the whole band played with verve and cohesion. This was outstanding jazz by a group of dedicated, serious virtuosos who deserve more publicity and support, as does the intimate Studio Pink House in downtown Saratoga.
WATCH OUT NEW YORK JAZZ........HERE COMES SAN JOSE JAZZ
The Friday March 22 free San Jose jazz concert featuring Aaron Lington (baritone sax) and Christian Tamburr ( vibes) was one of the most enjoyable ever. It featured original compositions by Lington as well as the music of STING. All of it was melodic, mainstream jazz by these exceptional soloists including Dan Robbins on bass.
Lington was so very impressive with his relaxed, very swinging and melodic improvisations. Tamburr was, as always, exciting, with his masterful approach to the music. (he used 4 mallets on some numbers). He is one of our national jazz stars, and we are fortunate to have him appear locally.
Lington should be commended for bringing his own beautiful compositions and featuring STING selections which are not normally featured in jazz concerts. This event appeared to be very appealing to this large audience of various ages and backgrounds and certainly different musical tastes .
The audience required an encore. This was worthy of ANY NEW YORK CITY jazz club.
One couple who just joined as members said to me. "San Jose Jazz is the best thing San Jose has".
Bruce Powell and Jan DeCarli, March 2013
HAL GALPER TRIO AT BACH’S
Pianist Hal Galper turns 75 next month. Physically, he looks his age, but the music that flows from his keyboard is that of a much younger man: contemporary, experimental, muscular, exploratory. But also eminently accessible and listenable. Galper talks about his trio’s work as “group improvisation,” which implies unplanned free jazz. But nothing the group favored us with at the Pete Douglas Beach House on Sunday, March 17, gave the impression that the group was anything but “together” all the time. Even Saint Patrick would have dug it. Someone from the audience asked the question: “Does anything the bassist does in the middle of a tune surprise you?” Galper: “We hope so.” Galper also instructed the audience to listen with different ears, not easy to do when you’re an old hidebound jazz pecan. (I always bring the same ears with me.) Fortunately, it didn’t get what I’d call far out—no 30-minute repetitive meanderings or pretentious ear-shattering noise. Just good, hard-swinging modern jazz. No slow soulful ballads, lots of chords, lots of brilliant runs.
Galper, of course has played with everyone, most notably Phil Woods, Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, and the Brecker Brothers. The trio is completed by Jeff Johnson on bass and John Bishop, drums. Johnson and Bishop likewise have played with “everyone,” seasoned pros who have been playing with Galper for a few years now.
The first set began with an uptempo “Alice In Wonderland,” followed with a frenetic original “Get Up and Go,” and then a lovely “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.” Galper played the title track of his latest album: “Trip The Light Fantastic,” and “One Step Closer,” tunes that he called experiments with Brazilian harmony. Certainly the highlight for me was a 20-minute take on Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” which rocked the place and left Pete Douglas muttering, “This guy is as good as anybody.” Galper even threw us a bone by playing a snatch of the familiar “Airegin” tune near the end!
Ed Fox, March 2013
THE TOMMY IGOE BIG BAND AT THE RAZZ ROOM
Last night [April 30, 2012] a group of us went up to San Francisco to hear Tommy Igoe present his new Monday night residency gig at the Nikko Hotel’s Razz Room. Igoe, for some years now, has led a hot big band at Birdland in New York; those Friday night gigs are generally sold out—one of the hottest jazz tickets in the Big Apple. He has recently moved to the Bay Area (though he still commutes to NYC for those Friday nighters), and has put together a formidable big band of Bay Area players. This band consists mainly of musicians we weren’t familiar with as they were recruited from outfits like Tower of Power, Santana, and the Dooby Brothers, instead of the jazz players we know about. Can you imagine monster drummer Igoe fronting Tower of Power’s horn section in a medium-small club setting? Blew the roof off the place. Most of the players may come from R&B/soul/funk groups, but, wow, the ensemble playing was super-tight, showing excellent chops and the ability to play uptempo tunes for 90 minutes straight. And every one of them is a terrific jazz soloist. Sax man Tom Politzer (of TofP) helped Tommy recruit a lot of the band, and he is a huge jazz talent. The combination of Politzer and the rest of these high-energy performers make for a perfect match with the flamboyant Igoe. With Tommy’s theatrical, but fabulous drumming, the 15-piece band is just terrifically entertaining. They did a couple of familiar items like “God Save The Child” and “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and Chick Corea’s “La Fiesta,” but even the unfamiliar pieces seemed like bosom friends we could tap our toes to. We and the entire audience were buzzing during and after the show. The future of Big Band Jazz is NOW with Tommy Igoe. And once the word gets out to the Bay Area jazz community, there will be standing room only on Monday nights at the Razz Room. We’d advise making plans now to go see this superb band—while you can still get in. They really are that hot—and you heard about it here first! [After one more Monday night—May 7, the band is on hiatus until June 11, when the Monday night gigs resume.
Michael Griffin and Ed Fox
GRACE KELLY AT THE SAN JOSE JAZZ WINTER FEST
I’d heard lots of hype about this now-19-year-old wunderkind of the alto sax, and the San Jose Jazz Winter Fest offered a close-by look at Ms. Grace Kelly and her quintet on Saturday, March 10 at the Theater on San Pedro Square in San Jose. I’d read where she first heard Stan Getz as a grade schooler and how that turned her on to jazz; and quite a bit later Phil Woods took her under his wing, which can’t be a bad thing. She’s now a true jazz headliner, and she certainly lived up to the hype. In addition to her fluency on the alto and soprano sax, she also sings with quite a pleasant voice and a confident manner, but with some improv flights that didn’t quite work for me on “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” and an original “Eggshells” (which was kind of country & western more than jazz). Of the 11 numbers, four were familiar instrumental nuggets: a beautiful “The Way You Look Tonight,” a knock-down-drag-out “Caravan” (one of the highlights for me), a soulful “Round Midnight”--an alto-bass duo, and a great “Summertime” for an encore. The other pieces were Kelly originals—all tuneful and interesting, especially “Autumn Song” and “Nothing to Do With Me” (torchy vocal). Her quintet is composed of Jason Palmer—a very fine trumpeter, who also joined in on vocals occasionally; a dynamic guitarist named Pete McCann; bassist Evan Gregor; and drummer Mark Ferber who was playing with the group for the first time. Typically, alto and trumpet would play off each other stating the melody, then each would solo, perhaps with a contribution from McCann, and so on. Numbers were generally intricately arranged and about 5 minutes duration—not the prolonged and sometimes mind-numbing exercises of some of the younger modern groups. Kelly mentioned that she was a student at the Stanford Jazz Workshop three years in a row, where she first met Phil Woods. The crowd was enthusiastic, and there was a lot of buzz afterward. She’s probably heard this before, but if she’s this good at 19, what’s she going to be like when she grows up?
STUDIO PINK HOUSE – A NEWLY EXPANDED MUSIC VENUE REOPENS
Text and photos by Andy Nozaka
For the past several years, one of the best kept secrets for jazz performances has been the Studio Pink House, a music performance venue, recording studio and music education center located in the historic downtown area of Saratoga. Proprietors Matt Toshima and Yocco Oda have recently remodeled and expanded the performance area to seat a maximum of 60, while maintaining its intimate atmosphere. Matt and Yocco, musicians themselves, have always dreamed of having a musician-friendly venue with a state of the art sound system, great acoustics, and an intimate ( think large living room ) atmosphere where both performers and audience felt completely at ease — and, indeed, these things have come into fruition. Typical ‘suggested’ donations at the door are $15 to $25; wine and refreshments are provided and often supplemented by donations by the patrons themselves!
The inaugural concert on February 26, featured the gifted British post-bop saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon, ably assisted by pianist Daniel Raynaud, bassist Ken Okada and stalwart drummer Akira Tana. The ebullience and attack of Mr. Atzmon’s playing reminded this writer of a Richie Cole; bottom line, a very memorable concert.
The second concert on March 4, showcased the talents of the John Stowell-Michael Zilber Quartet with Stowell on guitar, Zilber on saxophones, John Shifflett on bass, and, once again, Akira Tana on drums. To these ears, Stowell plays with an inward-turning Zen-ness, balanced by the advanced harmonics and daring of the outwardly oriented Zilber — kind of a yin-yang jazz thing. Another boffo performance.
Studio Pink House
14577 Big Basin Way, 2nd Floor
For schedule of events: http://www.studio-pinkhouse.com
To be put on mailing list for upcoming concerts: firstname.lastname@example.org
PAJANS DIG THE JAZZ CRUISE
About a dozen PAJA members sailed on the Westerdam for a week in the Caribbean, January 29-February 5—a sold-out jazz cruise with about 1900 fans from all over the US and beyond. Here are some pictures from the cruise, along with some comments from PAJA folk.
Corky Freeman: “Scott Hamilton was my favorite; he epitomized straight-ahead jazz. That’s my era. And John Pizzarelli—what a charmer. Anne Hampton Calloway was a gift—inclusive and warm.”
Bruce Powell: “Anat Cohen is in a class by herself—she was the highlight for me. And Nikki Harris was a revelation—a great singer.” Bruce also cited Renee Rosnes and Houston Person among his favorites.
Shirley Douglas: “The Jeff Hamilton Trio were tops for me. Tamir [Hendelman] and Jeff [Hamilton] were the best at their instruments on the boat.” Shirley also singled out Scott Hamilton and John Pizzarelli as favorites.
Linda Knipe: “The Heath Brothers interview was the highlight for me—
fascinating and hilarious stories.” Among her favorite performers were the Tommy Igoe Sextet, Nikki Harris and Wycliffe Gordon.
Nancy Fox: “John Pizzarelli.”
Shirley Douglas, Linda Knipe, Ed Fox
Nancy Fox, Corky Freeman
Photo by Nelson Freeman
Michael Griffin: “Anat Cohen—very inventive style, new explorations of tunes. Houston Person was outstanding, especially his Les McCann-like, modified Texas tenor stuff. And Tommy Igoe—over the top for some folks, but I dug his high-energy style with great players and arrangements.”
Bruce Powell: "Overall…the best of the four cruises I have been on. Renee Rosnes—terrific. Anat Cohen is a marvel. The big band all-stars were terrific. Also, I loved Niki Harris and the discussion groups. And Houston Person—I always dig him playing that boss Texas tenor."
Michael Griffin & Bruce Powell
Photo by Nelson Freeman
Ed Fox: “The guitar summit with Pizzarelli and Bruce Forman was one of the most enjoyable jazz hours I’ve ever spent. Great players and hilarious repartee.” Ed also liked Anat Cohen (“A phenomenon who plays great tenor, soprano sax, and clarinet”), Anne Hampton Calloway (“An ‘Over The Rainbow’ not to be believed”), Jeff Hamilton Trio, Clayton Brothers, Bill Charlap, Pizzarelli Quartet, and “basically every performer on the ship. The all-star gig with Cohen, Rickey Woodard, Randy Brecker, Renee Rosnes, et al. was magical.”
All Photos by Neil Gordon
2012 Jazz Cruise
Next year’s lineup includes Phil Woods, Arturo Sandoval, Gary Burton and The New York Voices. And of course many of the stars from this year will be back. 60% of those on this year’s cruise have already rebooked for 2013.
REMARKABLE SUPER GROUP AT BACH’S
A red-letter day at the Pete Douglas Beach House, a place that has had many red-letter Sundays through its long history, but this one was special. The Kenny Werner Quintet brought together two horn superstars in Randy Brecker and David Sanchez and an extraordinary rhythm team in bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Werner is not a pianist that will knock your socks off with lightning runs or dramatic chords; rather he’s more contemplative, striving for, well, beautiful music with rippling lines and interesting juxtapositions, and it’s always listenable. Many of the eight numbers the quintet played in their two sets had extended introductory meditations by Werner. If not done well, these can be cloying, or worse, boring. I doubt there was a soul in the packed house who was bored by these lovely piano ruminations.
This group is the very face of modern mainstream jazz, my friends. It’s where American straight-ahead jazz is at today. And it’s a good place. The solos are long and adventurous, but even a grizzled old-timer longing for the 50s like myself could have no quarrel with what Werner and associates offered us. Brecker was in great form, squeezing as much brilliant jazz out of that trumpet (and flugelhorn) as anyone could. And David (Da-veed) Sanchez demonstrated what the tenor sax is capable of. Starting off with a “cool-school” sound, he was equally at home with hard bop or low-volume ballads that made you hold your breath and prick up your ears.
The group played a couple of standards like “If Ever I Should Leave You,” but some of the numbers were from their most recent release, “Balloons,” including the fabulous title track and “Sada,” another wonderful Werner-composed piece. One thing that keeps this music accessible is their respect for melody. Every tune had a strong theme that you could hum or whistle, and even in the extended solos there was often a tip of the hat to or a variation of the original melody. They finished the evening with a tune from a Harry Potter movie called “Ecstasy” and that was a fitting word to describe my mood dancing out into the cool night.
PAULA WEST AT KUUMBWA
It’s been a few years since I last saw Paula West and her latest concert at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center (November 7) was a revelation. She really belongs in the top tier of women jazz vocalists, with her rich contralto, remarkable clarity, and impressive power. Backed by local stalwarts Jason Lewis (d), John Wiitala (b) and Adam Shulman (p—a former UC Santa Cruz student), she delivered a beautifully-selected program in two sets of American Songbook tunes, plus a couple of blues numbers (which her voice is perfectly suited to) like Oscar Brown, Jr.’s Humdrum Blues and He’s Wanted By Me. Also an interesting rendition of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Among the best were sturdy versions of “Isn’t It Romantic,” “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” and “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” This was not a concert with nuanced, intimate ballads, although she can certainly do those. Instead, each piece had muscle, authority and potency—the antithesis of, say, a Gretchen Parlato. Although I do like jazz singers who bend the melody and do some scatting, Paula is not in this category. She sings the songs we love straight—very little deviation from the melody—and it is all highly effective and satisfying.
KENNY BURRELL SHINES AT 80
We were fortunate to attend a wonderful concert at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville on Sunday, October 16. The event was a kind of celebration of master guitarist Kenny Burrell’s 80th birthday (Kenny turned 80 at the end of July) and it was put together by Napa Valley Jazz Society concert producer Bruce Hopewell, a longtime friend of Kenny’s. The venue—donated by the winery (thanks to Margrit Biever Mondavi, a fan of the music)—is an intimate, beautiful 100-seat space, and attendees also received a free glass of wine and some munchies. Among those attending were pianists Larry Vuckovich and Mike Greensill and vocalist Maye Cavallaro, a Jazz School faculty member.
Concert producer Bruce Hopewell and
relax before the concert
The first set was solo guitar and Kenny gave us some splendid versions of “What A Wonderful World,” “People,” Ellington’s special “Single Petal of the Rose,” and Ellington, Wes Montgomery and Billie Holiday tributes. The second set really went into high gear, as the guitarist was joined by drummer Vince Lateano and bassist Chris Amberger. The opener for Set #2 was a fabulous “All Blues” and that was followed by J.J. Johnson’s “Lament,” an uptempo “Do What You Gotta Do,” a sensitive Burrell composition called “Listen to the Dawn,” “Speak Low,” and finishing up with a Burrell staple, “Midnight Blue.” To my mind, Set #1 was aimed at the intellect—and we all listened hard. Beautiful. Set #2 got our toes to tapping. It was Jazz, man. It doesn’t get much better than this.
LENORE RAPHAEL AT BACH’S
Veteran New York pianist Lenore Rapheal was the featured attraction at the Pete Douglas Beach House on Sunday, September 25. And with the presence of A-list guitarist Howard Alden in the quartet, to me it was a don’t-miss event. The morning and early afternoon drizzle did not help attendance, though, and fewer than 100 fans turned out, unfortunately. By 3:30 though, the sun shone and a gorgeous late afternoon on the coast was our reward.
The music was our reward, too, of course, as the group swung through such standards as “What Is This Thing Called Love,” Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays,” “Alone Together,” and a lovely Alden solo on Barney Kessel’s “I Remember Django.” Raphael is a melody-oriented player, with lovely phrasings, imaginative improvisations, and scintillating runs. She and Alden complemented each other beautifully, especially on a fugal “Like Someone In Love,” and “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.”
The crowd was small, but very enthusiastic, and each pleasurable number was responded to warmly. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great support from John Wiitala on bass and Paul Kreibich on drums. Kreibich was new to me. He may look like your friendly insurance agent, but the man can keep time, and he shines in call-and-response. You wondered: “What’s he going to do next?” It was all just a fine, mellow afternoon of superb jazz at Bach’s. Sorry you missed it.
Report back from Monterey Jazz Fest: One man’s opinion....
Hey, I enjoy going down to Monterey for the multi-faceted, friendly jazz fest that Tim Jackson puts on every year. Normally the weather mellows out by mid-Sept, and this year was no exception. Finally, FINALLY the fog lifted and every afternoon was full of sunshine. HOT, even. They never announce a head count, so I’m not sure if attendance was up or down, but the Arena was jammed w/ people pretty much all the time, so I’m thinking they did OK. And as for ME, I did really BETTER than OK, be/c after all these years I now have a seat of my own, down in the 3rd row from the very front, just in back of the boxes. H o w S w e e t I t I s... How did Martin Luther King say it? “See at last, see at last, thank God a’ mighty I can see at last.” Something like that
Now then for the music: well, I was pretty much underwhelmed. Drat! Friday night was the best series of performances; after that it went downhill, pretty much. [in my opinion] But back to Fri. This little small-framed Japanese dynamo piano player Hiromi just blew the place apart with her amped-up keyboard antics, that had us all rockin-an’-a-reelin’ to her nearly over the top stylings, as she hammered the black & whites with her little bony hands. Amazing. Catch her act when she come to Yoshi’s next time. Really.
Then for a much more sophisticated set, the Pizzarelli family did their guitar thing, impressing us w/ their seven  string brilliance. I didn’t know they made seven string guitars....? Dad Pizzarelli [Bucky] was particularly impressive, at advanced age, but the entire set was eminently enjoyable.
Finally, Poncho Sanchez banged out his conga drums w/ great satisfaction for all of us to re-appreciate. I love it the way he calls out “Viya” [and I don’t care what Carlos Iraheta says, Viya means GO]. Poncho was assisted by Terrance Blanchard [T] who popped up all weekend long in various presentations, sounding damned good, too.
Saturday was a big tribute to NOLA music, and I think Tim J. should do New Orleans music every Sat afternoon, but on this day, it was just OK. Even an appearance by Kermit Ruffins couldn’t save it, IMO. And then Huey Lewis and the News came on, and please, what’s up w/ THAT? Admittedly he is a high energy singer w/ a great back-up band and super singers, but everything at the same tempo, same key, sounding the same tune after tune? He did better playing his harmonica and letting the lady singers loose, than doing his own act. So, I left the Arena and wondered over to the Garden Stage to catch Mitch Woods and Rocket 88s. Now, THERE is a band, retro to the max and just makes you jump and shout, OH yeah!
Saturday nite I checked out the much-hyped Robert Glasper Experiment and was immediately underwhelmed. But the kids in the audience, and there were a bunch, all thought he and his band were hot stuff, REALLY different, edgy and to the max sort of thing. Well, I think that’s terrific that young people dig it; that’s what keeps jazz alive and not bogged down by all us old “moldy figs” [if you remember that term for those non-progressive, anti-bop fans in the forties]. So, now I’m a Moldy Fig, am I? Just be/c the 25 GOLDEN YEARS OF JAZZ from 1938 to 1963 are my fav? Oh, well....
Joshua Redman, an accomplished tenor man, played a repetitive group of original tunes, all sounding alike and being a disappointment to many. But people sitting around me thought otherwise and gave him a big hand. Go figure... After that it was a goofy performance by Herbie Hancock, and yes I said goofy. He acted like he was making it up as he went, and when he got into trouble he’d flick a switch to play a quick taped sample of “Watermelon Man.” I kid you not, he’d be playing away on the piano, or synthesizer, and then here would come a snatch of Watermelon Man. I ask you, where the heck would Herbie Hancock be w/out freakin’ Watermelon Man?
OK, no more kvetching; I’ll just say that Sunday evening’s performance of Terrance Blanchard channeling Miles Davis in front of a brass orchestra playing Gil Evans’ “Porgy & Bess” “Miles Ahead” and especially “Sketches of Spain” was simply terrific. Big standing ovation, and deserved, too. They were a pair alright, Miles and Gil Evans. And Terrance Blanchard, when he wants to play it straight, is a heckofa trumpeter [is that a word?]. By the end of MJF, I was pretty impressed by this musician’s chops. He was ON it this week end. And we needed someone to be ON it...
And then we wound up the event w/ Sonny Rollins, who I was ready to enjoy, but finally had to bail on after 45 min’s of the same honk, honk, honk, over and over and over again. But again, the crowd [that hadn’t left by then] just loved it and gave him a big hand, so there it is folks: different strokes for different folks. And that’s what make MJF such a great experience, be/c there’s literally something for everyone at Monterey and if you don’t like what you’re hearing, you can pack up your anti-fog gear and head out for the next venue down the midway, “and get what you need,” like Mick J. said so long ago. I’ll be down there next year, and I’ll like some of it, not others, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. ‘Caus remember, I’m in the 3rd row. Now...!