Past Picks Archives
Jermey Pelt Quintet
Musicians Institute Concert Center
Something intangible lives in virtually every great trumpeter, from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan to Wynton Marsalis and everyone in between and beyond. Miles Davis had more of it than anybody. ‘It’ is charisma, an must-have for this role. Of course Denzel Washington had to play Spike Lee’s trumpet protagonist in Mo’ Better Blues. Jeremy Pelt comes from a family of actors, so he understands fully the importance of stage presence as paramount to success. It also helps to be a technical assassin on the trumpet, with a range of expression wider than Denzel’s Oscar-winning smile. Pelt has perched dramatically near the top of the trumpet world for most of the twenty-tens, recording and touring constantly with an evolving rotation of players, currently featuring superlative pianist Victor Gould and the mesmerizing Jacquline Acevedo on percussion. Charisma for days.
Ari Hoenig Trio
Catalina Bar and Grill
When he first moved to within a short train ride to New York, drummer Ari Hoenig spent many nights at Smalls, the aptly-named Greenwich Village jazz club, where he impressed future bandleaders like saxophonists Joshua Redman and Chris Potter, guitarists Mike Stern, Jonathan Kreisberg and Wayne Krantz, and pianists Kenny Werner and Jean-Michel Pilc. Hoenig became such a fixture at Smalls he eventually was given every Monday night there to do as he pleased, creating a ongoing showcase for emerging stars like guitarist Gilad Hekselman and pianist Tigran Hamasyan. With the unique ability to play any multi-layered rhythm and even near-pitch-perfect melodies on the drums, Hoenig has become a venerable jazz master within the New York jazz scene and beyond. He celebrates his birthday at Catalina with his new trio, featuring Israeli standouts Nitai Hershkovits (piano) and Or Bareket (bass).
Monk Tribute Concert
“A genius is the one most like himself.” Thelonious Monk once uttered those words to saxophonist Steve Lacy, and if they are true then Monk is truly one of the greatest geniuses in history. As we celebrate his 100th birthday this October, we have yet to discover a more original and instantly recognizable personality than this legendary pianist-composer. Monk is the theme for the 2017 Angel City Jazz Festival, which comes for the first time to the historic yet brand-new World Stage in Lemeirt Park. Count Basie bassist James Leary will start by premiering a Monk-inspired suite with a choir of bassists in 6-part harmony, along with drummer Cameron Clayton. The evening continues and concludes with vocalist Dwight Trible and his group Cosmic Vibrations, with spoken imagery of Monk by special guest, actor and Spike Lee collaborator Roger Guenveur Smith.
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
The Theatre at Ace Hotel
As the longest limb in the three-pronged bluegrass youth movement Nickel Creek, Chris Thile stood out, his lanky frame gyrating irreverently to his vitriolic mandolin, in striking contrast to the heroic stoicism from elder statesmen of the tradition. He has since become the fresh face and voice to lead this music into the foreseeable future, helped by Garrison Keillor’s decision to pick him as his successor to host A Prairie Home Companion. Thile has been invited to the stage (and the studio) to match wits and riffs with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, who like Thile has pulled an instrumental style from the origins of our country and gotten millennials to pay attention to it. The great artists transcend genre and era, and together, Thile and Mehldau embody things about America that we can all hold up as lasting and good.
Mark de Clive-Lowe - Mirai no Rekishi / History of the Future
He is a simultaneous master of diverse musical originations, notably his mixture of American jazz, hip-hop and soul with the broken beat dance grooves of the UK. Yet the earliest musical determinants of keyboardist and electronic artist Mark de Clive-Lowe came from children’s songs he learned from his Japanese mother. As he traveled as a teen between his native New Zealand and Japan, it was in the Tokyo jazz club scene where his found his musical calling. MdCL has become an ambassador of music around the world, so it’s fitting he now acknowledges his Japanese heritage. He enlists shakuhachi and taiko-master Kaoru Watanabe, koto player Yumi Kurosawa and Japanese rapper Shing02 to transform Japanese folk melodies into MdCL’s signature blend of improvisation and infectious pulse and flow, an ode to his motherland that will be moving, both emotionally and rhythmically.
This New York native of Indian heritage majored in Latin American studies at Harvard, spending a portion of her college career living in Brazil and Peru. She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and French, but Kavita Shah is especially eloquent in the American language of jazz. Having sung in Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in an all-star youth choir, Shah never could quite shake the music bug, ultimately plunging into it headlong. Shah paired her real-world knowledge with sage mentorship from masters including Sheila Jordan, Greg Osby and Lionel Loueke, who produced her debut album. That result, Visions, is a multicultural palette of sounds, textures, groove and language, led by Shah’s masterful, delightful singing throughout, a triumph for the future of jazz and the American ideal. Shah’s high-powered band includes pianist Julian Shore, bassist Francois Mouton and drummer Ferenc Nemeth.
Ben Williams Group
Ben Williams wanted to play the guitar like Prince, so he signed up for a class in middle school called ‘Strings’. The only problem was the class was for orchestral instruments: violin, viola, cello, and bass. Williams chose the latter, an instrument he remembered seeing in the Washington, D.C. office of his mom’s boss, Michigan congressman John Conyers, who studied jazz in college with Betty Carter, Tommy Flanagan, and Kenny Burrell. Williams’ studies led him to Conyers’ home state (at Michigan State University), before moving on to grad school in New York at Juilliard and winning the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. In addition to his own solo career, Williams is the bassist for Pat Metheny’s Unity Band, and is currently one of the most sought-after sidemen in jazz. He is still a big fan of Prince.
Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet
Moss Theater (New Roads School at The Herb Alpert Educational Village)
Now in his mid-30’s, this acclaimed jazz trumpeter could be entering an artistic phase of maturity and introspection. Truth be told, Ambrose Akinmusire always seemed to possess an uncanny wisdom beyond his years, even when he was winning international competitions a decade ago. He has followed up his far-reaching 2014 studio album The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint with A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, demonstrating in real time his complete authority as a trumpeter and a philosopher. So many beautiful and strangely unique moments uphold this latest offering in the hallowed cannon of recorded history at the Vanguard. Akinmusire brings the same working group on his album to the Moss: Sam Harris on piano, bassist Harsh Raghavan and Justin Brown, recently seen on Jimmy Fallon playing drums for Thundercat, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.
These days you see unusual simpatico between jazz artists and the once-hostile world that seemed to encroach upon their esoteric ideals and 11-minute improvisations. It seems there is now a place for such sophisticated artistry, especially if blended cleverly into new hybrid concoctions. Kathleen Grace sipped at the deep well of jazz for years before veering off her chosen path into the countryside, where she now frolics in a space where all tastes are safe, be it country, bluegrass or jazz. In her most recent album No Place to Fall, Grace’s bright, clear voice reflects simple beauty and subtle wisdom, traits shared by all memorable singers from Billie Holiday to Emmylou Harris. Grace’s band includes some of the best multi-genre instrumentalists around: Punch Brothers violinist Gabe Witcher, bassist David Piltch, drummer Matt Mayhall, and guitarists Tim Young and Storm Nilson.
Anthony Fung Trio Featuring George Garzone
George Garzone, native son of Boston, learned to play saxophone in back of a pizza parlor from his uncle Rocco, a Swing Era musician who made a career move from swinging 8th notes to slinging pie crusts. Garzone would stay close to home his whole life, continuing his education at the revolutionary Berklee College of Music. After a brief stint with Tom Jones, Garzone returned to Berklee, now as a teacher, gradually becoming the most hallowed of saxophone gurus, mentoring future stars Mark Turner, Donny McCaslin, Joshua Redman and Branford Marsalis. Another Garzone disciple is drummer Anthony Fung, who moved on from Berklee to Los Angeles, winning a coveted spot in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Fung brings his former master out to California for some unfamiliar experiences, such as West Coast jazz, 80-degree April weather, and gluten-free pizza.
In an upcoming documentary about this prodigious pianist, we see little Tigran at the age of three, pounding out power chords on the piano, singing “Stairway to Heaven” at the top of his lungs. He has since mastered everything from Indian classical rhythms to modern jazz to the lush, tragic melodies of his native Armenia, but Hamasyan has always remained a rocker in spirit. As the young firebrand approaches his 30th birthday, Tigran has expanded his emotional and sonic palette to include many moments of sublime sensitivity and beauty, nevertheless ready to erupt at any time into near-violent musical cataclysm. His latest solo project, “An Ancient Observer”, reinforces his complete mastery of the piano, combining the intellectual, spiritual and visceral into aural exaltation worthy of the comparison to the incomparable solo improvised concerts of Keith Jarrett.
Friday 1/28 (also Sat 1/29)
Josh Nelson Discovery Project
Los Angeles has been home to many tremendous jazz pianists, from transplants Victor Feldman and Jimmy Rowles to homegrown talent Hampton Hawes and Patrice Rushen. Josh Nelson is of the latter category, one of the best jazz pianists to have resided in Long Beach since Nat King Cole. Most of his brilliant LA contemporaries (Tigran Hamasyan, Gerald Clayton, Kris Bowers) have moved away, but Nelson loves the area too much to be anywhere else. His latest multimedia project, The Sky Remains, is a love letter to his city, with collaborative music and video examining everything L.A., from its freeways, bridges and parks to its gifted composers, including Rowles, Jerry Goldsmith and Elliot Smith. Fans of the Oscar darling La La Land should also appreciate another homage to jazz and Los Angeles, especially one with a soundtrack of actual jazz music!
The Mint Jam with Melissa Morgan, Adam Schroeder
A dozen years ago, drummer Kevin Kanner started a jam session at this historic landmark, where the legendary Nat King Cole once graced the club’s tiny stage. Yet Kanner proved jazz could cater to the new millennium, as Monday nights at the Mint became packed with young club-goers. The session also became an incubator for young jazz musicians, some of whom developed into future stars like trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianists Gerald Clayton, and Kanner himself, who would eventually head east to New York, touring with guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli. As jazz is now undeniably resurgent here, the Mint wisely decided to resurrect the good thing they had with Kanner, coinciding with his relocation back to LA. The grand re-opening of the session will feature special guests Adam Schroeder on baritone sax, vocalist Melissa Morgan, trombonist Francisco Torres, and DJ Joey Altruda.
Sure, Bluewhale is ground-zero for cutting edge jazz, but it you’re not paying attention you might not see the surreptitious increase of other kinds of creative original music happening there. Composer Ted Case, in point, cites songwriters Margaret Glaspy, Emily King and Blake Mills as his influences for his band Serotonin. “The purpose of this project was to feel the joy of writing music for these musicians [in the band], and serotonin is the neurotransmitter associated with joy,” stated Case, who puzzlingly chose that name over “Massages, Chocolate & Instagram Kittens”. Serotonin’s piano-driven grooves are anchored by two standout singers, Amber Navran and Michael Mayo, the latter also without a doubt the best young male jazz singer in Los Angeles. Their honeyed voices will make you forget all about that little bottle of Zoloft in your glove compartment.
Le Boeuf Brothers
Quick, name some famous twins. If you said Mary-Kate and Ashley, congrats, you are just like 99% of America. How about musical twins? If the Harp Twins come to mind, you’re on YouTube way too much. Pascal and Remy Le Boeuf won’t don angel wings and pluck “Stairway to Heaven” on oversized lyres, but they will truly rock your world with their latest album, Imaginist, a hair-raising jaunt of jazz complemented with string quartet. Pascal (piano) and Remy (sax) are ridiculously talented and are among the world leaders in identical-sibling jazz. Their NY-based quartet will be joined by members of wild UP, one of LA’s premier modern classical music collectives. The Brothers Le Boeuf might never be ruggedly famous like the Winklevoss Twins, but at least they are wise enough to keep Mark Zuckerberg from stealing their impressive musical inventions.
When Jones made her graceful explosion onto stardom with her 2002 debut Come Away With Me, she was lauded not only for the layered subtlety of her exquisite singing voice, but also for her savvy and understated pianism throughout. Later albums saw piano drifting discreetly out of her songs as Jones explored guitar and other sonic textures. With her new album, Day Breaks, Jones is at the piano once again, and the long-awaited reunion is as emotionally satisfying as seeing Ross and Rachel together in the last episode of Friends. It’s the most jazz-influenced of her projects to date, with even Wayne Shorter and his band onboard to back her up. If Norah Jones decides to stay on the piano bench, it may become her rightful seat on the throne vacated for an eternity by the late great Shirley Horn.
Angel City Jazz Festival: Pharaoh Sanders Quartet, Gurrisonic Orchestra with Don Byron and Martha Gonzalez
John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
When the late great bassist Charlie Haden was once asked about smooth jazz, he replied, “I play rough jazz.” Jazz gets the rough treatment every fall, when local and international avant-jazz artists converge on Los Angeles for the Angel City Jazz Festival. The festival’s marquee event at the Ford features saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, who played with Coltrane and helped to draw him into unexplored sonic regions of time and space. Sanders is joined by drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, pianist Willian Henderson and bassist Mike Gurrola. Gurrola, by last name alone, would be a good fit for Jose “Gurri” Gurria and his Gurrisonic Orchestra, an ambitious super-sized ensemble which reflects its leader’s joyful, maniacal genius. They will premier a work commissioned by the Los Angeles Jazz Society, with special guests guitarist Tom McNally, Clarinetist Don Byron and Quetzal singer Martha Gonzales.
Anthony Wilson and the Curators
As the son of historic L.A. bandleader Gerald Wilson, Anthony Wilson grew rapidly in ability and stature on his way to becoming one of the best young jazz guitarists of his generation. All the while, Wilson had another, less visible facet to his musical persona - a deep love for the music his mother listened to when he was a boy, everything from classical Indian music to folk-rock. His latest album, Frogtown, has more of an earthy rock vibe, exploring stories and themes in Wilson’s life (poignantly articulated through his newfound earnest singing voice) while still demonstrating the unparalleled musical integrity he is renowned for. His band, the Curators, features an excellent and eclectic ensemble - Drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Mike Elizondo, violinist/vocalist Petra Haden, and keyboardist Patrick Warren. Singers Gaby Moreno and Joe Henry will both make guest appearances.
Terrace Martin & The Poly Seeds
He’s produced for Snoop Dog, rapper YG, and Kendrick Lamar, winning two Grammys with the latter for his work on To Pimp a Butterfly. Saxophonist and keyboardist Terrace Martin’s hip-hop credentials are unquestioned, and now his jazz chops have gotten an impressive endorsement from none other than Herbie Hancock. The legendary jazz pianist also has a history with hip-hop—he introduced the genre to mainstream America with his 1983 hit single Rockit. Hancock led the way for jazz musicians to cross over to hip-hop, and with the inclusion of Martin in his new band (fresh off a triumphant concert in NYC), and as the producer of Hancock’s upcoming album, the circle has finally come full after a 33-year circuit. Martin and his band, the Poly Seeds, will perform music from his recent soul-jazz instrumental album, Velvet Portraits.
Wednesday 8/17 (thru Wed 8/24)
Chick Corea Elektric Band
Catalina Bar and Grill
A true G.O.A.T. in jazz, Corea is among the hallowed pioneers of fusion, as a sideman with Miles Davis and as the founder of Return to Forever. His rock-jazz influence extended into the mid-1980’s with the creation of the Elektric Band, which introduced two young phenoms to the world, drummer Dave Weckl and bassist John Patitucci. It was fusion updated for the 80’s, with digital synths and rototoms, highlighted by one of the more hilariously terrible 80’s jazz videos ever made. Weckl and Patitucci (along with saxophonist Eric Marienthal and guitarist Frank Gambale) would go on to become household names among musicians, while their bandleader continues to ascend into jazz immortality. The band has since shed their mullets, cargo pants and denim jackets, and updated their equipment and sonic aesthetics to represent the new millennium, performing together for the first time in LA in a dozen years.
Walter Smith III
Any debate as to who is the most sought-after pure jazz saxophonist in LA should be henceforth extinguished. When he leads his own band into Bluewhale on Friday, WSIII will have made his fifth appearance there this month, having already been tapped by NY stars Ben Williams and Will Vinson, and rising local phenoms Christian Euman and Michael Ragonese. The only thing that gives other aspiring saxophonists a chance here is Smith’s impending sojourn to the Midwest, having been poached by Indiana University’s vaunted jazz program. Apparently a tenure-track position at a major college beats out a lifetime appointment at a major jazz club. So catch him now, or rue your missed opportunities to see one of the best modern jazz saxophonists when his LA sightings were more ubiquitous. With Billy Childs on piano, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Peter Erskine.
Billy Childs Quartet
Billy Childs, the composer, is nearly without peer among the elites in contemporary composing and arranging, with four Grammy awards from thirteen nominations for his artful creations. He’s arranged music for everyone from Diane Reeves to Yo-Yo Ma to Sting, and he is the newly-appointed president of Chamber Music America. Yet Childs, unlike many composers of his stature, hasn’t let anyone forget he has always been a world-class jazz pianist. He rose to prominence as a 21-year old, playing with the legendary Freddie Hubbard, and he currently tours worldwide for another brilliant trumpeter, Chris Botti. Childs’ two-handed improvisatorial innovations on piano allow for a modern-day comparison to another brilliant pianist/orchestrator, Duke Ellington. Imagine Ellington playing for Botti and Sting, and you would be looking at Billy Childs. With Josh Johnson, alto sax, Ben Shepard, bass, and Donald Barrett, drums.
Friday July 1
Kneebody, now 15 years old, shook things up recently with their critically acclaimed collaboration with electronic musician Daedelus, fittingly called Kneedelus (Brainfeeder). This mutant mashup has been touring the U.S., Europe and South America, with favorable results in both audience enthusiasm and musical evolution. Says Kneebody bassist Kaveh Rastegar, “[Daedelus’] presence in the music adds a really lush sonic textural blanket to our sound, but he also brings great beats and chord progressions to play with. It's forced us as Kneebody to play differently. We've found ourselves opening up more, listening more and improvising.” For a band that already did those things better than most, that’s quite a statement. It’s an exciting development in what is hopefully only the middle chapter of this long, grand novel. Kneebody is cleverly paired with Troker, a high-energy instrumental from Guadalajara, where mariachi, rock and turntables collide.
Satoko Fujii, Kappa Maki, Alex Cline
Monumental avant-garde jazz pianist Paul Bley passed away in January of this year, and it’s only natural to speculate on who could possibly fill the void left by his absence. If one needed to fill it quickly, pianist Satoko Fujii would be your candidate; her staggering output of an estimated 80 albums of original music over a 20-year career redefines the term “prolific.” Bley was once Fujii’s teacher, and he helped to transform the Japanese pianist from a struggling bebop pianist into a compelling and successful free jazz artist who reflects much of her former teacher’s inventiveness and daring. Fujii performs as much as she composes, with a non-stop touring schedule, including this show in LA which features drummer Alex Cline and trumpeter/husband Natsuki Tamura, who apparently loves sushi to the point of adopting the pseudonym Kappa Maki, which means “cucumber roll” in Japanese. Itadakimasu!
In 2009 a young Cuban boarded a plane on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, landing in Nuevo Laredo, on the border of Texas. With that, Alfredo Rodriguez became one of 4800 of his countrymen to seek asylum in the United States that year. Some, like pitcher Aroldis Chapman, were gifted athletes destined for fame and fortune. Rodriguez was also immensely gifted, yet a pianist’s talent yields no similar guarantee. He arrived with only the clothes on his back and the promise of assistance from a Mr. Quincy Jones. Though he’s no Yasiel Puig, Alfredo Rodriguez has also become an international sensation. His latest album is Tocororo, named for the Cuban national bird which stops living if caged. On it we hear Rodriguez’s flights of fanciful pianism, flitting nimbly from song to song with graceful power, emanating from the human spirit unbound and free, like a baseball over the centerfield wall.
Even if their music wasn’t compelling, people would still watch Knower’s videos, like the one where Louis Cole appears shirtless, wearing aviators and an ammo belt loaded with corn dogs, repeating the mantra “THE GOVERNMENT KNOWS WHEN YOU MASTURBATE”. Delicious visuals aside, Knower, the sublime partnership of Cole and singer Geneveive Artadi, is delightfully reimagining electo-pop, with elaborate drum tracks (impossibly played on real drums by Cole), immaculate vintage synth programming, and unique melodies sung by Artadi with eloquent conviction. They also produce their own videos, with a carefully crafted early-days-of-MTV look that pairs perfectly with the retro-vibe of their music, displayed on their just-released fourth album, Life. At this album-release show, Knower hopes to hearken us all back to the golden age of the synthesizer and the Commodore 64, to the Reagan years of prosperity and John Hughes films. They certainly hope to Make Electronic Music Great Again.
Vijay Iyer + Wadada Leo Smith
Thorne Hall, Occidental College
Wadada Leo Smith is of the grandmasters of free jazz, although the septuagenerian trumpeter takes issue with calling his improvisatory systems “free”. Over a decade ago, Smith invited a pianist 30 years his junior to join his Golden Quartet, someone who would prove to be adept at his own systems of music. Today Vijay Iyer is at the pinnacle of modern composition and improvisation, as a 2013 MacArthur Fellow and Harvard professor. Now it’s Iyer’s turn to enlist his former mentor Wadada, with their latest collaboration for ECM, “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke," an exquisitely patient collection of pieces and spontaneous vignettes inspired by the works of the late Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi. This rare (and free) show at Oxy will demonstrate how to bridge a generation gap through shared experience and collective inspiration, making it appropriate and safe for students to bring their grandparents.
Mario Castro Quintet and Strings
Mario Castro was on a break from performing at an outdoor event on the beach, when the saxophonist instinctively whipped out his phone and recorded a lengthy improvised melody on the spot. This would become the first track of a riveting, ambitious recording project for jazz quintet and string quartet, titled Estrella De Mar. The strings are an homage to Castro’s father, a composer from Puerto Rico who sacrificed much just to make a demo recording of his works, which became young Mario’s first introduction to music. Castro seamlessly blends classical chamber music aesthetics into a modern jazz group (led by audaciously good drummer Jonathan Pinson), yielding excitingly elegant sonorities. The Bluewhale show has Castro bringing Pinson back to his native Los Angeles from their New York home base, supplemented by an outstanding L.A.-based ensemble featuring pianistic powerhouse Ruslan Sirota.
He was a young, fiery drummer when he burst into stardom in 1976 with Weather Report, and his paring with bass prodigy Jaco Pastorius would energize the world’s greatest fusion band through its peak years. In the ensuing decades, Peter Erskine experienced a gradual and methodical transformation, forgoing the seductive benefits of playing drums like a fusion drummer in order to unearth more textural and psychological subtleties. Erskine’s new album, Dr. Um, is ripe with the essence of those early Weather Report recordings, thanks in large to a faithful knowledge of Joe Zawinul’s keyboard palette by current keyboard wizard John Beasley. It’s also, however, a nostalgic reflection of Erskine’s youth, through the sonic lens of a star who lived long after the initial supernova, offering new insights as well as tributes to an important period in jazz history.
Thursday 3/17 (also Fri 3/18)
Mark de Clive-Lowe
He must be the pied piper of broken beat, for wherever he performs he is pursued by hordes of dancing fools entranced by his modded versions of trance and jungle. Mark de Clive-Lowe’s contributions to the dance scene in LA are immeasurable, yet there is no doubt the DJ/keyboardist considers himself a jazz musician in his core. MdCL’s just-released remix of Yusef Lateef pays homage to the legendary saxophonist/flautist while demonstrating how relevant jazz can be to an emerging generation. We can look forward to more classic jazz remixes in his upcoming project for Blue Note, a label long known for turning jazz into a soundtrack for the lives of the young and savvy-sexy. MdCL plans to record a two-night live album at Bluewhale, featuring bassist Brandon Owens and drummer Gene Coye, with Nia Andrews on voice and special guests.
He began his career as a teen idol, causing young females to swoon with his Bing Crosby-influenced crooning. Just as that career appeared to be fading, Frank Sinatra would remake himself in the 1950’s as both a tough guy and a romantic, signing a new record deal with Capitol Records and recording some of the finest vocal jazz albums ever. Sinatra’s newfound gruffness and uncanny sense of swing was a perfect foil for his golden tone and operatic power, making him perhaps the only singer in history who could sing love songs and still sound like he could kick your ass. No man has ever sung with such simultaneous power and eloquence, which makes Sinatra an untouchable icon in American music.
In an early example of talent overcoming body shaming, Chick Webb in 1935 agreed to hire a chubby teenager for his vaunted Savoy Ballroom Orchestra, despite her disheveled appearance. Yet nothing could have been more graceful and gorgeous than the heavenly voice of Ella Fitzgerald, and the awkward young woman eventually became the First Lady of Song and the Queen of Jazz. A quick imagination and perfect pitch allowed her to scat-sing jaw-dropping improvised solos unmatched by anyone before or since. Fitzgerald’s countless albums have forever ensconced the tunes of the Great American Songbook in a voice of equal parts matronly elegance, girlish charm, and playful sassiness. Saying Ella is one of the best simply doesn’t give her enough credit.
Those who know him call him Gurri, a pet name matching his gregarious nature and life-affirming soul. Yet having the same moniker as a young deer fawn born to Bambi and Feline might cause one to discount the sheer musical gravitas of Dr. José Gurría-Cárdenas. His 25-year career began in Mexico City as a jazz drummer, gradually shifting towards composition as his oeuvre expanded to reflect influences from Ellington and Mingus to Berio and Ligeti. Gurria’s comprehensive study has culminated in the debut album of his 22-piece ensemble, the Gurrisonic Orchestra, original works beautifully orchestrated for brass, woodwinds, strings and rhythm section in a hybrid of jazz band and classical sinfonietta. Extreme in ambition, expansive in vision and expressive in emotion, this album is a sonic boom, its forceful reverberations announcing an important new voice in jazz composition.
Tyler Blanton and Josh Nelson Duo
E Spot Lounge
It's an oft-repeated real-life storyline: Southern California artist relocates to New York, gets jaded and dark, becomes better artist. The city is a vibrant hellhole which chews up tender beings and spits out the tough ones. Tyler Blanton is as tough as the steel bars on his vibraphone, and he's a survivor, forming alliances with jazz warriors like drummer Nate Wood (Kneebody) and saxophonist Donny McCaslin (the MD for David Bowie's swan song, Blackstar). They are on Blanton's latest album, Gotham, named for the thing which kicked his ass (NY, not Batman). When things over there get a little too rough, Blanton flees west, where the sun shines in February and the musicians are nice. At the E Spot, Blanton shares the stage with longtime pal and pianist Josh Nelson, whose exquisite playing will make your inner sun radiate flowers and unicorns.
L.A. Creative Strings Festival
Mt. Olive Church
Other than the acoustic bass, the string family (violin, viola and cello) has been largely left out of most of the history of jazz, save for a few exceptions like violinists Stephane Grappelli (Django Reinhardt) and Jean Luc Ponty (Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra). Yet, the vast technical potential of those instruments makes them fertile territory for creative exploration. Co-founded by cellist Jacob Szekely and violinist Robert Anderson, String Project L.A. has been on a mission to introduce promising young string students to the world of jazz and improvised music. Their fourth annual Creative Strings Festival brings students, educators and professionals together for a day of inspired spontaneous sawing. Their evening concert will feature Szekely, LA’s own viola virtuoso Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, universally-acclaimed jazz violinist Zach Brock, and former Turtle Island String Quartet cellist Mark Summer. It’s about as high-powered a lineup one could hope for when it comes to finding true modern innovators who can do amazing things with four (or five or six) strings and a bow.
Robby Marshall Quartet
Fans of Cassandra Wilson might have recently noticed an exceptionally gifted saxophonist and clarinetist on stage with the jazz singing icon at her recent shows around the world. Robby Marshall is featured prominently on Wilson's latest album, Coming Forth by Day (a tribute to Billie Holiday), playing earthen blues like an old soul buried beneath his youthful countenance. He looks like he might be about twenty, but that's how Marshall has looked ever since he actually was that age, a decade ago. Marshall spent much of his precocious youth in the limelight, sharing it with stars like Carlos Santana, Michael Bublé, and Hugh Laurie. He was a mover and a shaker in Los Angeles, and then just moved, leaving LA for the allure of Paris and touring Europe with a gypsy-jazz trio. The nomad returns to his old home for a brief respite, with a quartet of some of his LA friends: Pianist Matt Politano, bassist Dominic Thiroux, and drummer Gene Coye.
People who like jazz presume to have discerning tastes, which is why it's frustrating not to have better dining options paired with live music. Enter Bacchus' Kitchen, famous caterer Claude Beltran's newest Pasadena hotspot, where the music and the food are of equally high comport. The featured artists this night are bassist Katie Thiroux, drummer Matt Witek, and blind pianist Justin Kauflin, who was the subject of a 2014 documentary, Keep On Keepin' On, about the young phenom's unique friendship with trumpeter and jazz legend Clark Terry, who also lost his sight late in life. The full package deal gets you a three-course meal and two sets of music, a symphony for your mouth and candy for your ear.
Part of what makes jazz compelling is 1) the synthesis of a number of musical styles to form a new musical aesthetic, and 2) the ability of musicians to take those musical parameters and delve deeper into them via improvisation and new composition. Jazz, whose origins lie in the fusion of African-American folk traditions and western tonal art music, has proven to be a model easily transferred to other cultures, first to Latin-America, and onward, even to India. Mixing Indian classical music with jazz happened in the 70's with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and continues to this day with artists like Paul Livingstone, who studied sitar with the great Ravi Shankar, and has his own brand of "ragajazz". Livingstone and his virtuoso band blend Indian classical pieces with musical elements from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe along with jazz to create a panoply of sound most likely to offend musical purists, with is another important feature for any type of serious jazz music.
He is one of the most influential jazz guitarists of the last twenty years, with many admirers within jazz and beyond, most notably Eric Clapton, who made a visit to the Village Vanguard in 2012 to see and meet Rosenwinkel, extending an invitation to perform the following year at the rock legend's Crossroads festival in Madison Square Garden. Having established (along with saxophonist Mark Turner, among others) a new paradigm for modern jazz music in the 90's, leading to multiple critically acclaimed albums exploring new compositions as well as re-imagined jazz standards, perhaps the last frontier for Rosenwinkel is to search deeper inside himself. His current tour is on solo guitar, where he continues to innovate with a multilayered poly-sonic approach, able to create simultaneous textures of broad sonic landscapes filled with dextrous improvisatory ruminations. In a word, brilliance.
David Roitstein, Larry Koonse, Darek Oles, Joe La Barbera
California Institute of the Arts is known for its most famous alumni; John Lasseter, who founded a little animation studio called Pixar. Some of the best and most popular animated films in history are a result of his uncompromising defense of artistic integrity, a value held long and dear to any Calartian, be it students or faculty. The four gentleman who will take the floor at Bluewhale this night are among the most respected of jazz educators in Los Angeles, for their incredible musicianship and for their ardent encouragement to always do things for only the most harmonious of ideals. Their legacy is evidenced by the virtual army of former Calartians making important music, from saxophone's favorite son Ravi Coltrane to mega-pop producer (and exceptional jazz pianist) Greg Kurstin, who artistic inclinations (for the likes of Sia and Adele) might have as much global influence as Lasseter. It's not a stretch to say the world of music has been changed for the better thanks to Messrs. Roistetin, Koonse, Oles and La Barbera.
Young Joo Song
This pianist from South Korea studied jazz in the US, returning to Seoul to a fine career playing with K-pop artists, but her desire to play jazz drew her back to New York. Song struggled for years, paying the bills as a waitress and playing local gigs, but eventually her talent trumped adversity, capped by becoming the first Korean to headline at the Blue Note in NYC. Song moved back to Korea last year and is now one of the leading jazz artists in her country. Expect a mighty contingent of her countrymen when she plays at Bluewhale, with drummer John davis and bassist Dave Robaire.
We live in an age of incredible noise saturation. Albums are compressed to the maximum, movies are rife with explosions, french horns, and droid beeps, and nightclubs know there is a direct correlation of the volume of the music to the number of drinks they sell. People even use white noise apps on their phones to sleep at night. The young musicians in River Song have managed to defy the expectations of their peers by creating music that is beautiful, patient, and exquisitely quiet. Original sonic textures of viola, brass, and guitar support the classically-trained voice of Alina Roitstein, who makes her own melodic poetry from the words of Shakespeare, e.e. cummings, and David Baker, the latter’s writings the libretto for River Song’s latest album, Monarchs. Those looking for that elusive peace this holiday season can find relief and solitude in this group’s comforting sound cocoon.
The Power Quintet with Jeremy Pelt
Pelt is a native of Los Angeles, and in an interview with All About Jazz, he says this about our city: “I never want to live there again! I'm a person that feeds off of the energy of the music and being surrounded by it, and the vitality of the city and everything, and L.A. doesn't have any of that.” While it’s bad form to trash your hometown on record (especially if you plan to return to perform), we can forgive the trumpeter for not foreseeing the burgeoning creative music scene here in the five years since that interview. Pelt is a fantastic trumpeter and a strong composer, and he’s bringing to LA an impressive band of players--vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Bill Stewart. Kudos to the Jazz Bakery for it’s continuing mission to bring the best jazz in the world to Los Angeles. Of course jazz fans here should turn out to see this, but here’s hoping Pelt and Co. realize they might not be as starstruck by the East Coast swingers as they would have been a decade ago.
Friday 1/8 (also Sat 1/9)
Some of Gilad Hekselman’s biggest musical influences are pianists--Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, and of course, Frederic Chopin, who licks should be transcribed a lot more by jazz musicians. That piano-centric focus has allowed Hekselman to discover some innovative ways to play guitar, notably a distinct melody and chords dialogue, and a multi-voice contrapuntal approach at times. He is also incredibly detail-oriented, his fastidious guitar lines of the sort that would most likely impress Chopin. His latest album, Homes, continues to establish Hekselman is one of the most refreshing and innovative musicians in jazz today. He is at Bluewhale with bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Jonathan Pinson.
This bassist is the son of guitarist Larry Carlton, and he has been touring with his famous father for over a decade. Before you assume he only got that gig because of nepotism, stop and try to count all the famous musicians you know who had children who also became great players. Also, we should all be for healthy father-son relationships, and if being in a band together doesn’t ruin that, nothing will. The truth is Travis Carlton is a great musician in his own right, and he gets to demonstrate that at the Spud with drummer Gene Coye, the phenomenal drummer from the elder Carlton’s band, and keyboardist Brandon Coleman, whose playing behind Kamasi Washington is garnering some well-deserved accolades. Guitarist Samir Moulay (Macy Gray, Natalie Wilson) will make an appearance as a special guest.
Shai Golan and The Golan Culture
The prodigious alto saxophonist was invited as a high school student to play and perform in the jazz combos at his local university, CalState Northridge. Five years later, Shai Golan graduated from CSUN, and he is also finally old enough to be allowed into Bluewhale, returning from his first semester at Manhattan School of Music to make a debut of sorts. This may be the first time most have heard of Golan, but it won’t be the last. With blazing technique and a fountain of ideas, Golan possesses a sorcerer’s ability to conjure phantasmagoric imagery from the bell of his horn, with an intensity and maturity unmatched by most his age or far older. It’s an understatement to say he’s going to be one of the good ones. Golan also helped his CSUN classmates see their own great potential, realized to a degree when they join him at Bluewhale: tenor saxophonist Evan Waltmire, guitarist Victor San Pedro, pianist Adam Hersh, bassist Andy McCauley and drummer Kirk Portuguez.
Jeff Babko and Friends
Jeff Babko has, for the most part, a career one would expect from a keyboardist who has spent his entire professional life in Los Angeles: A high-profile day job playing and arranging for Jimmy Kimmel, shows with celebrities like Sheryl Crow, Smokey Robinson and Martin Short, and contributions to countless movie soundtracks like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Hot Tub Time Machine, and Superbad. That last list reveals Babko’s proclivity for zany humor, which might make him a fish out of water in the super-serious New York jazz scene. Yet in the past few years Babko has revealed a high degree of creative sophistication, thanks to the embrace of seriously-heavy jazz artists like bassist Tim Lefevbre, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, and trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom. As the creative jazz scene in LA continues to expand, Babko has proven to be a versatile and imaginative force on this side of the country. With Lefevbre, trumpeter Gabe Johnson, guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Steve Haas.
In 2011, NPR found a little jazz club in a nondescript shopping plaza in downtown LA, and gave them a worldwide platform in broadcasting their annual New Year’s Toast of the Nation program from their stage. It marked the beginning of an incredible run that has seen Bluewhale become one of the most celebrated and talked about jazz clubs in the world. Pianist Billy Childs was the headliner that New Year’s Eve, and four years after that fateful evening, Childs reprises his role in this unlikely drama. Childs himself is in a perpetual renaissance, winning in 2015 his fourth Grammy award (for Best Arrangement on Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro), and he maintains a sterling reputation as a pianist and arranger for any setting. Childs, who brought a quartet into Bluewhale to ring in 2012, is in 2016 celebrating threefold, with an 8-piece band and special guests the Eclipse String Quartet.
The son of legendary vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, Gerry Gibbs got of to an auspicious start, playing drums on the Steve Allen Show at age 7, and by his late teens was on his way to a solid career as a sideman to a litany of greats including Woody Shaw, Harold Land, Donald Byrd, and Alice Coltrane, whose’s son, Ravi Coltrane was featured on Gibbs’ first solo project, The Thrasher. That title has stuck with Gibbs over the years in various incarnations, like the Thrasher Keyboard Trio (featuring mega-pop producer Greg Kurstin), the Electric Thrasher Orchestra, and the Thrasher Dream Trio (with the great Kenny Barron and Ron Carter). Still waiting for Slash to join the band so they can call it Slash Meets the Thrashers. Gibbs and company thrash their way to the Oyster House, a long time hidden haven for outstanding jazz. With bassist Hamilton Price, keyboardist Eric Hargett, and guitarist Mike Hoffmann.
Gerald Clayton, Walter Smith III, Ben Wendel
Now here’s a fine day-after Christmas present; two of arguably the most well-respected tenor saxophonists in both LA and NY, with one of the finest jazz pianists to grow up in Los Angeles, following in the footsteps of Hampton Hawes, Horace Tapscott and Billy Childs. Clayton on quite a tear this decade. He received his third Grammy nomination for his 2013 album Life Forum (Best Jazz Instrumental Album), and this past year joined the band of saxophone guru Charles Lloyd, who, like Miles Davis, never hired a pianist that was less than utterly sensational. The double-barreled firepower of Smith and Wendel provides an explosive but non-lethal alternative to that of Smith & Wesson. There are significant contrasts between the two tenors, but they are equally astonishing in their ability to play the impossible. Together these three should provide enough holiday cheer to make a grown man feel like a little boy who just got his first lightsaber from Santa.
2015 Best Albums
#20 - Kneedelus (Kneebody, Daedelus)
Saxophonist Ben Wendel and DJ Alfred Darlington, friends since high school, have independently cultivated tremendous success making music on the outer limits of imagination and innovation, Wendel with the Grammy-nominated progressive-jazz group Kneebody, and Darlington as a pioneering DJ/electronic artist (in the truest sense) under his moniker, Daedelus. The longtime friends have collaborated on live shows since 2009, and their off-and-on flirtations have finally elicited a consummation, producing this mutant love-child of an album that retains special powers from both parents. There are surprising amounts of elongated space; vast, bleak landscapes evoking those Daedelus painted in his 2014 pensive masterpiece, The Light Brigade. Those who like to get their groove on need not fear, for there are also moments of sheer rhythmic and sonic catalyst, a concoction of jazz, rock and electronica, fast approaching their stated goal of "technological singularity," where humans and computers meet and meld in undistinguishable perfection.
Count Basie Orchestra
Walt Disney Concert Hall
In the Mel Brooks-directed spaghetti-western spoof Blazing Saddles, Bart, to the soundtrack of "April In Paris", rides his horse out into the desert to save the day, but not before stopping to shake the hand of the bandleader, who we now see apparently decided to set up his big band among the cacti. It's an unforgettable scene, and of course Count Basie and his Orchestra will always be remembered as perhaps the best big band ever. Basie's off-the-cuff, riff-based arrangements made his band a heavyweight contender in the Swing Era, and his later "New Testament" band made famous the arrangements of Sammy Nestico, Neal Hefti, and Quincy Jones, establishing the gold standard of big band excellence. The Count is no longer with us, but his band continues to swing towards the horizon with no sunset in sight. Vocalist Carmen Bradford, whom Basie himself hired to front the band, will be a featured guest.
This jazz pianist is something of a cult hero now, still in the midst of an illustrious career approaching four decades. Younger jazz fans might perceive some influence of Brad Mehldau in Hersch's contrapuntal inventions, yet they would have it exactly backward, as Mehldau cites his former teacher as a formative figure in his development. Hersch's solo playing is unlike any other in history, with his right and left hands constantly interrupting each other in playful melodic riposte, their rambunctiousness held in check by a firm devotion to melody and sublime pianistic aesthetics. His inventive treatments of standards are poignant and elegant, a good fit for this utterly lavish performance setting in the historic Doheny residence.
Childhood dreams are personal, precious, and seldom realized outside of finally going to Disneyland. Here’s a good one: two young boys dream of starting a band, becoming rich and famous, with the unbridled adoration of lovely coeds. We don’t know about the latter two things, but saxophonist Ian Roller and trumpeter Gabe Steiner are making headway with the first. High school buddies who went their separate ways in college, they have reunited as adults and created the band GENR8R, an acid-funk jam band. They’ve enlisted heavy hitters like bassist Rufus Philpot, keyboardist Sam Barsh, percussionist Roland Garcia, and introducing the excellent and capricious Molly Miller on guitar. The music is imaginative, fun, and non-threatening, like all good dreams should be. Their brand new EP will debut with their show at this swanky downtown nightclub.
Sanglorians keyboardist and trumpeter Ihui Cherise Wu is a talented musician and has a certain mysterious charm about her, so fans of the band might be excited to see her breaking out on her own. Her new band, Polartropica, features a lot of keyboard, which you might expect from a former classical pianist. The synths swirl around Ihui’s clean and clear vocals, creating an other-worldly synth-pop mixture of classical music and action movie soundtracks, with the melodrama of Rachmaninoff or James Bond, and as provocative as Beethoven or Quentin Tarantino. Polartropica’s band includes the innovative guitarist Alexander Noice, who continues to do jazz a disservice by not playing it more, yet who can blame a man for his transgression-ial abilities? The bill is shared by Desert Magic, a whimsical band who really gets around with rounds (of the musical kind).
At age 17, Richard Lloyd Giddens, Jr. couldn’t wait to split from his hometown of Fresno, and perhaps New York could match his overabundant exuberance. He studied jazz bass at the New School, but dropped out to join the exclusive cast of dancer-percussionists in the theater show Stomp. Any athlete’s body eventually demands a career change, and Giddens found himself drawn back to the bass. After performing in LA and NY for many years, the prodigal has returned to Fresno as a beloved teacher of music to youngsters, still as the most energetic kid in the room. Giddens still plays abroad with countless great musicians who couldn’t help but befriend such a gregarious, gifted fellow. His friends this evening are Portland guitarist Storm Nilson, Kansas City saxophonist Matt Otto, Reno keyboardist Adam Benjamin, and NYC drummer Tomas Fujiwara, all converging on LA to play once more with their longtime bass-buddy.
Lionel Loueke Trio
The world-renown guitarist's new album is called GAÏA, the name for the Greek goddess of the Earth, and Loueke says "she would be angry" for how we have treated her child. The album, recorded live in studio for a select audience, definitely has an angst-ridden energy, propelled by drummer Ferenc Nemeth's aggressive, rock-infused drumming and Massimo Biolcati's insistent bass lines. Loueke's raw, slightly detuned guitar also has a sharp edge to it as well, more Jimmy Hendrix than Jim Hall. The general tumultuousness makes this trio album (their first since 2008) seem more like a sequel of revenge rather than reunion. It's compelling stuff and the live show should be healing for those who rage against the nightly news. Biolcati and percussion powerhouse Kendrick Scott join Loueke in this magnificently turbulent display.
Friday 12/11 (also Sat 12/12 and Sun 12/13)
Mike Stern Band
Catalina Bar and Grill
You can teach a jazz guitarist how to play rock, but it won't sound the same as a born rocker who became a jazz musician. Such is the case with Mike Stern, who as a child of the sixtes geeked out on Clapton and Jimmy Page before discovering bebop. He landed the ultimate jazz gig with Miles Davis, but since it was the eighties, Miles preferred him to shred in true rock-n'-roll fashion. Stern's ability to improvise brilliantly while melting faces off with sheer conviction has made him a fusion fan's favorite for years, and earned him his rightful place among the true superstars of the guitar in any genre. He brings to Catalina longtime friends Randy Brecker on trumpet, bassist Tom Kennedy, and the untouchable Dennis Chambers on drums.
The Pretty Bonitos
Curve Line Space
Drummer and composer José Gurría-Cárdenas, a.k.a. José Gurría (or simply Gurri to those who know him), hails from Mexico City, and studied music in Boston before coming to Los Angeles, where he has found an army of talented musicians who love and understand this gregarious fellow and are crazy enough to play his music. The result was this year's release of Three Kids Music, the first album by Gurria’s 22-piece Gurrisonic Orchestra. It's intense, expansive music, and a brilliant debut by the young composer. To fit in the cozy CLS Gallery, Gurri is scaling back his band by 82%, to a four-piece band dubbed 'The Pretty Bonitos', with Eric Clark on violin and laptop, saxophonist Gavin Templeton, and guitarist Alexander Noice. Odds are there will be no drop-off in quality or intensity, thanks to the sonic propensity of these few but mighty individuals.
Carey Frank Organ Trio
As Downtown LA continues to get its glamorous makeover, it's encouraging to see the revitalization process extending to the music scene. What was once a legal brothel (in the late 1800's) called Little Pedro's on 1st Avenue has endured a series of transformations to eventually become Osso, a newly-popular foodie hang known for it's fried chicken and live music acts. Thursdays they have a bonafide jam session, populated by young twenty-somethings fresh out of music school. One of those up-and-comers, Carey Frank, is a young man with an old soul, able to conjure the spirits of Jimmy Smith and Booker T. on his Hammond B3. Frank is joined by fellow young bohemians Jamey Arent on guitar and Ana Barreiro on drums.
Once upon a time, the tuba was a necessity in jazz, the foundational instrument upon which the building blocks of harmony and melody were crafted. It was also something you could carry down the streets of New Orleans, which was important if you were playing jazz for a funeral parade, as was the tradition. Once jazz went indoors, the string bass rendered the tuba obsolete. Thanks to late night talk shows, the tuba is making a comeback, and there is no better improvising tubist in LA than Stefan Kac. He, along with guitarist Max Kutner and drummer Mike Lockwood, make stylized free jazz in their trio Evil Genius. Genius for the brilliant interplay and compositions, Evil for making people admit to their dates they now enjoy tuba music. Their new album is called Bitter Human, and these humans make music that can be bitter, but still tasty and intoxicating, like an IPA.
Daniel Rosenboom Quartet
A first-call studio musician and founder/music director of a fledgling record label (Orenda Records) would be given a free pass if he got too preoccupied to record some of his own music. Given that, trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom keeps writing and recording, pushing forward with an incessant drive bordering on the insane. Of course, it's also insanity to produce and try to sell free-jazz records. Rosenboom has recorded as a septet, sextet, and a quintet. His next album (Burning Ghosts) will feature a quartet, so we can soon expect trio, duo and solo albums, and if logic plays out, increasingly negative amounts of players on each subsequent album. Burning Ghosts will be, astoundingly, the 14th Rosenboom has done in his own name, and he describes his latest project as a mashup of Ornette Coleman, Shostakovich and Meshuggah. With Jake Vossler on guitar, Richard Giddens on bass and Aaron McClendon on drums.
Katie Thiroux Quartet
Although going out to eat a big meal seems counterintuitive just three days after Thanksgiving, one should strongly consider it. After all, you are probably sick of turkey by then, and by weekend’s end you need to do something to get out of the house and away from your suddenly annoying family. And when you have a chance to go to a first-class eatery and listen to some of the best straight-ahead jazz in town, the proposition begins to look better and better. Bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux was a finalist in this year Thelonious Monk Competition, and sings and swings with an elegance and charm as easily digestible as Bacchus’ foodie delights. Thiroux brings in her working quartet, with Matt Witek on drums, Graham Dechter on guitar, and veteran saxophonist Roger Neumann.
Friday 11/27 (also Sat 11/28)
Catalina Bar and Grill
After Louis Armstrong, he might be the most entertaining trumpeter in history. He acted in Dragnet and on other TV shows, played, sang, and cracked jokes as Merv Griffin’s musical sidekick, and surreptitiously educated millions of children on Saturday mornings as he sang the lead for Conjunction Junction, I’m Just a Bill and other songs on Schoolhouse Rock. His outsize persona overshadowed the immense talent Jack Sheldon had on the trumpet, and in that respect there were none better. Sheldon’s flair for the comedic also hid from many the heart-wrenching tragedies which befell his personal life, presented with gentle eloquence in a 2008 documentary (Trying To Get Good) about him. Sheldon survived those challenges, including a severe stroke in 2011 which almost killed him (and did, according to Jazz Times magazine). He remerged in 2013, playing at Catalina’s for his 82nd (and 83rd) birthday, and with his 84th approaching he appears to have a new yearly tradition on his hands.
Jeff Richman and the Baked Potato All Stars
It takes either courage or naiveté (or maybe a bit of both) to cold-call a major superstar and ask for a job. Yet that’s precisely what Jeff Richman did when he heard keyboardist and producing legend George Duke was looking for another guitarist. It got him an in-person audition in LA, so Richman flew out to California and never left. He didn’t get the gig with Duke, but he immediately started playing with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, leading to an illustrious career extending over 35 years. His latest album, Hotwire, is a well-crafted exploration of fusion, produced by bassist Jimmy Haslip and featuring fellow guitarist (and college buddy) Mike Stern. Richman rotates great players in and out of his monthly BP All Star lineup, and this month he has saxophonist Brandon Fields, bassist Jimmy Earl, and the fantastic Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums.
Steve Coleman Residency
The New Apartment Lounge was a club on the South Side of Chicago, where saxophonist Von Freeman had a long-standing jam session, inviting musicians of all ages and levels to play and to learn how to play. One of those was a young alto saxophonist named Steve Coleman, who never forgot Freeman’s generosity and mentorship to his community. One of Coleman’s first acts as the recipient of a $625,000 MacArthur Fellowship award was to return to his Chicago roots with a three-week residency of workshops and performances with the hope of inspiring youth to make music, as he himself was once by his mentor Freeman. Coleman’s goal is to bring this program to communities all over the country, and Los Angeles is the next stop for this noble undertaking. This is the first night of three full weeks of music at Bluewhale by Coleman and his band, Five Elements. May the spirit of Von Freeman be present throughout.
Max Haymer Quartet
Catalina Bar and Grill
As a student, Max Haymer received superb foundational jazz piano instruction from Tamir Hendelman and Kei Akagi, two of the best pianists and teachers in Southern California. He moved to New York right out of college, paying his dues and working gigs at some of the city’s well known clubs, including Smalls and 55 Bar. He migrated back to LA three years ago and quickly became one of the strongest players working in this city. Haymer, who sports a wrestler’s strong, compact stature, also has an equally muscular and efficient piano technique, allowing him to power through bebop tunes and his own high-energy originals with blazing speed and impeccable rhythm. He is a new father, but still a young man, and we look forward to Haymer’s peak years of music-making in Los Angeles. With Mike Cottone on trumpet, bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Dan Schnelle.
When the acclaimed percussion group Hands On’Semble voted recently not to record a new album, the only ‘Aye’ vote belonged to Gloss, who then proceeded to record his debut solo album, The Ayes Have It, Vol. 1. ‘Aye’ might as well have been spelled ‘I’, as Gloss has done it all himself, producing, recording, mixing, and playing a myriad of rhythmic and melodic percussive instruments. Gloss is a true master of almost anything that can be hand-struck, which he so eloquently demonstrates with sounds and textures that blend together in a delicious confectionary for the ear. It’s as musically compelling and sonically pleasing as a percussion album can be. Gloss may not be able to overdub himself at Bluewhale like he does on his record, but hearing what he does live is more than worth the trade-off.
LA Jazz Quartet
In most instances it’s presumptuous to include the name of your city in the title of your band, as if you represent the entire metropolitan area. LA Lakers, of course. LA Viking Metal Band, not so much. One exception to this would be the exceptional LA Jazz Quartet, who truly embodies the recent history and legacy of jazz in Los Angeles. Saxophonist Chuck Manning, bassist Darek Oles, and guitarist Larry Koonse have deep roots in this city that extend back over two decades, when they were young men playing with local and international legends. Today their playing is as fresh and current as ever, making them a bridge to new generations of musicians, including drummer Jason Harnell (who fills in for regular drummer Mark Ferber on this show). Anyone who knows anything about jazz in LA knows these guys represent the very best of what’s great in this town.
Logan Hone’s Similar Fashion, Chris Speed Quartet
One of the first things Logan Hone did as a young music professional was to, naturally, start his own experimental opera company. The alto saxophonist is busy finding ways to make music which combines composition, improvisation, jazz, noise, and indie rock. His band, Similar Fashion, is releasing their debut album, a mostly irreverent romp full of chaotic sounds deftly organized by Hone, violist Lauren Baba, drummer Mike Lockwood (replaced by Jesse Quebbeman-Turley for this show) and Gregory Uhlman, who is a guitarist to take note of in LA’s creative music scene. Also on the bill is saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, a crucial improvisatory voice from the NY Knitting Factory scene, in a quartet with Bill Frisell collaborator and violist Eyvind Kang (who now teaches at CalArts!), guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Matt Mayhall. Seeing Speed, from Brooklyn, play in Highland Park bodes well for the future of creative music in Northeast LA.
Richard Sears Trio
In Los Angeles, he was one of countless promising young jazz musicians, finding their unique voices and finding each other, forming groups and playing for little at bars, restaurants and coffee shops. It's a rough slog, but out of that murky pool of developing talent there are always a few that begin to emerge, chrysalides flying free from the cocoon of potential. Sears' pianistic concept is now fully realized, with an austere, Brahms-ian chordal sense and clarity of purpose in his improvised melodies. His confidence boosted by the implicit affirmation of inclusion in bands by Billy Hart, Mark Turner, Ben Street, Tootie Heath, and Roy McCurdy, Sears has successfully migrated to Brooklyn and recorded his debut, Skyline, on the well-respected label Fresh Sound Records. Saxophonist Sam Gendel, bassist Jonathan Richards and drummer Christian Euman join Sears at Bluewhale for this celebration of transformation.
Danny Janklow quartet with Dick Oatts
Dick Oatts moved to New York in 1977 and quickly became a mainstay in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, arguably the best regular big band in New York for decades. With the recent passing of the legendary Phil Woods, the mantle of elder statesman of the alto saxophone is justifiably conveyed upon Oatts. As a longtime faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music (and more recently Temple University in Philadelphia), Oatts has taught and inspired several generations of outstanding saxophonists. One of those students, Danny Janklow, has returned to his native Los Angeles, spearheading the recent groundswell of young skillful people playing jazz in this city. Master and apprentice face off in the most highly anticipated encounter since Obi-Wan and Anakin, joined by pianist John Beasley, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Dan Schnelle.
Josh Nelson and the Discovery Project (also Sat 11/14)
His father was an “Imagineer” for Disneyland, so he and his brother were the often the first to ride the latest, greatest rides in the Happiest Place on Earth. Wondrous things can happen when intellect is paired with fantasy, and Josh Nelson, like his father, has been able to convert his dreams into reality. His Discovery Project entertains the pianist/composer’s multi-faceted love of music and cinema, as he and his band performs and improvises soundtracks to film clips and other visuals, which are then in turn partially improvised by his talented team of visual artists. His newest show is “The Sky Remains”, an homage to Nelson’s hometown of Los Angeles. Leave it to the hands and mind of a wizard to take such a giant and unwieldy metropolis and encapsulate its richness and beauty into an efficacious 120-minute exhibition. Nothing could be more Disney than that.
Nick Mancini, John Beasley, Otmaro Ruiz
Mancini is a vibraphonist with an endless supply of creative ideas, both on his instrument and for ways to collaborate with other artists and present new works. His bright ideas range from chamber-jazz with pianist Vardan Ovsepian and cellist Artyom Manukyan, to a funky organ band with NY B3 expert Brian Charette, to a more post-modern group with synthesizers and a percussion ensemble which includes the crafty veteran Brad Dutz. Mancini's latest brainchild is a series of duets with some of LA's finest pianists, including erstwhile Wynton Marsalis sideman Eric Reed and Grammy winner Bill Cunliffe The finale to Mancini's piano/vibes parings feature Monk'estra bandleader John Beasley, who was the musical director for the last two worldwide International Jazz Day Festivals, and Venezuelan virtuoso Otmaro Ruiz, one of the first and best pianists to ever play with Mancini in a duo setting.
Humans love of lists has been proven throughout human history, from Moses' Ten Commandments to Letterman's Top Ten List, with listicles now pervasive across the internet on sites like Deadspin, Buzzfeed, and even this publication. Also a list-guy, saxophonist Scott Jeppesen parlayed his fascination with the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World into a conceptually sound and smartly executed sophomore album, entitled Wonders. Featuring Larry Koonse and Josh Nelson (who are respectively at the top of the lists of fine guitarists and pianists in LA), and produced by saxophone great Bob Sheppard, Wonders is destined to make an appearance on many critics' lists of best albums of 2015. The album release show at Bluewhale features Nelson, guitarist Greg Uhlman, and the wondrous rhythm tandem of bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle, with special guests Sheppard on sax and Nick Mancini on vibraphone.
Jason Harnell Trio
Saxophonist Matt Otto grew up in beautiful Laguna Beach, a promising young virtuoso who then embarked on the difficult transition to becoming a mature jazz musician. His journey took him to Indiana, Boston, New York, Japan, back to California, and finally to Kansas City, where Otto is now a full-time professor of jazz. In every place he’s been, Otto has profoundly impacted the local music scene and inspired students and players alike to challenge themselves to be better musical versions of themselves. He’s in town playing with longtime friend Jason Harnell, for the drummer’s monthly trio residency with another close colleague and former Angeleno, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy, in a reunion of their band, 3-ish. The departures of Otto and McGillicuddy have left a significant void in our jazz scene even in talent-laden LA. This is an opportunity to see what we’re missing.
Ty Bailie's Organ Trio
In 2013, a blue-collar jazz organist from Seattle loaded his Hammond B3 in his van and drove 16 hours down the 5 freeway. He survived by renting out his various vintage keyboards and playing random gigs. Then, while playing in a weekly house band at Sassafras, he befriended a guy who just happened to be the outgoing keyboardist for Katy Perry. The day this was written, Ty Bailie was in Puerto Rico, touring South America with the biggest pop star in the world. The only way this could get any more Cinderella is if Bailie steals a blue gown out of Perry's extensive wardrobe and rolls away in a giant pumpkin. He'll be rolling into Bluewhale (sans blue dress), revisiting his humble jazz roots with guitarist Jamie Kime and drummer Zack Albetta.
Joe La Barbera Quartet, Roy McCurdy Quartet
It's a pairing of two drummers who both are: a) bonafide icons in jazz history, and b) in unbelievably great physical shape for historical figures. La Barbera got his start at the top with Jim Hall and Bill Evans. His agile stick and brush work still emanates youthful vigor, inspiring his new band of young guns, saxist Frank Silva, guitarist Greg Uhlmann and bassist Jonathan Richards. McCurdy was always a heavy hitter, playing with sax titans Benny Golson, Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley. Then he started weight training and has been a paragon of fitness and drumming to this day, with the chops to bench press lesser drummers a third of his age. McCurdy's group features dynamic whiz kid Richard Sears on piano and guitarist Steve Cotter, who sounds as beautifully vintage as the countless classic records McCurdy played on.
Alan Broadbent Trio
The pianist from New Zealand got a first-hand view of first-class orchestration as the studio pianist for the legendary Nelson Riddle. Broadbent’s incredible integrity of structure and form can be heard early on in his exquisite piano accompaniment behind Irene Kral, and he was adept at transferring his skills to orchestra, writing for Natalie Cole, Shirley Horn, and Diana Krall, earning him two Grammys for his masterful arrangements. Broadbent now does string arrangements for guys like Glenn Frey and Paul McCartney, and continues to flex his superb pianistic chops. He was the longtime pianist/arranger for Charlie Haden’s acclaimed Quartet West, and he continues to be active as one of LA’s most accomplished and respected jazz musicians. Here we find him in a trio with established veterans Darek Oles on bass and Kendall Kay on drums.
Dexter Story can no longer be called a young man, but he’s infinitely wiser than his 50 years, given he has lived perhaps three different lifetimes in his winding musical career. A music junkie who once sold drugs to support his addiction to gear, Story began his story as a rap producer, then a film composer, fell into management for Snoop Dog, LL Cool J and Meshell Ndegeocello, and seems to have found his calling as a performer/arranger of creative soul and jazz music. His second album, Wondem (debuting the day of the show), recounts Story’s recent journey to Ethiopia and reflects his work in co-producer Todd Simon’s Ethio Cali ensemble. The close-knit music community which Story helped to create in Los Angeles will be out in full force to assist him, including DJ/percussionist Carlos Niño, Mark de Clive-Lowe on keys, and Godfrey at Large on vocals.
Largo at the Coronet
This composer and performer of the viola and 5-string violin is no stranger to greatness, having played with and arranged for musical luminaries of acute brightness, including Will.i.am, Lady Gaga, Meshell Ndegeocello, Aloe Blacc, Wayne Shorter, Ray Charles, and Quincy Jones to name a few. Well-versed and comfortable in the genres of classical, jazz, and soul, Atwood-Ferguson occupies within the Los Angeles music scene a unique place: everywhere. Given his ubiquity, it is slightly surprising to find he has yet to make a solo album, a travesty which will soon be rectified when his long-anticipated investiture is released on Brainfeeder, the label which recently put out Kamasi Washington’s signature tome, The Epic. Until then, you’ll have to settle for hearing MAF’s music live, and at Largo he’ll have a skillful 10-piece ensemble, fronted by special guests Daedalus (electronics) and vocalists Dwight Trible and Coco O (Quadron).
Chucho Valdés: Irakere 40
In 1977, a ‘jazz cruise’ carrying, among others, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, docked in Havana, where the legendary jazzmen got the chance to play for the first time with a talented Cuban jazz group. Thus the band Irakere, founded by pianist Chucho Valdés became known to the US and the world, debuting at the 1978 Newport Jazz Festival to great fanfare. Valdés will be 74 when he leads Irakere version 2.0 onto the stage at Disney Hall. Sharing the bill is another legendary pianist in Palmieri, who grew up in the Bronx yet became one of the world’s greatest latin jazz musicians by importing the jazz pianism of Monk and Hancock into music reflective of his Puerto Rican heritage. This is a rare opportunity to see two of the most celebrated latin jazz pianists in history.
Charles Lloyd Quartet
When saxophonist Lloyd first burst upon the world stage in 1966 at the Monterey Jazz Festival (a concert which became the sensational live album Forest Flower), he had secured on (and off) the piano bench a young precocious talent named Keith Jarrett. Fourteen years later, another young piano prodigy, Michel Petrucciani, journeyed to Big Sur and knocked on Lloyd’s door. Lloyd, who had retired from performing at that point, was compelled by the pianist’s playing and persistence to come out of retirement, to overwhelming critical acclaim.
Great pianists have always been a source of the saxophonist’s artistic dialogue, starting back in Lloyd’s days as a youth in Memphis, where he was mentored by the legendary Phineas Newborn, Jr., and continuing into the present with an endless succession of young piano masters. Since 2000, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau, and Jason Moran have all been featured on Lloyd’s albums and in concert, with Lloyd taking a special affinity to Moran, even putting out an exquisite duo album with the pianist/philosopher (Hagar’s Song).
Next in the line of succession is L.A. native Gerald Clayton, who debuted onstage with Lloyd for the first time last September in a duo concert, and is now part of Lloyd’s quartet, along with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Kendrick Scott. Clayton, whose 2013 album Life Forum was a Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, has become an influential voice among the emerging generation of jazz dilettantes. Clayton, Rogers, and Scott make for a turbo-charged rhythm section that has the potential to rival Lloyd’s initial group of Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Cecil McBee.
Through the years and rotating personnel, Lloyd has remained a steady, centered point of gravity. His sound and approach have remained largely intact, still vital and relevant to today’s music, deepened and strengthened by wisdom and experience. His playing always seems to emanate from a divine inspiration, a gift Lloyd continues to bestow on his younger bandmates and jazz musicians everywhere.
Myra Melford Snowy Egret
The pianist received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013, a worthy prize for someone who has produced such high-quality artistic music for decades. Medford was a driver of the ‘Downtown’ scene in New York for the better part of twenty years, before heading west to teach improvisation at UC Berkeley. She is lauded for her ability to be all things at once on the piano, possessing a scientist’s intellect, a child’s playfulness, a concert pianist’s technique and touch, and a bluesman’s rhythm and soul. Her band, Snowy Egret, is but one of the latest in an endless string of successful collaborations with outstanding musicians, featuring here trumpeter Ron Miles, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Stomu Takeshi and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.
Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra (Angel City Jazz Festival)
Plaza Del Sol Concert Hall at The Valley Performing Arts Center
The official theme for the 2015 Angel City Jazz Festival is “Listen”, which is a mandate not only for the music but also for the message behind the notes. We find ourselves again in an uneasy time, with hatred and unrest headlining the daily news. While it’s naive to assume music solves every problem, it gives all of us a shared beauty which can inform and unite us against hatred. Flowers can overcome bullets, which is the message percussionist Alex Cline sends with his Flower Garland Orchestra, dedicated to the Vietnamese Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. The teacher, author and poet turns 90 on October 11, which is also the day of Cline’s show, a powerful finale to this year’s festival of remarkable sonic and social impact.
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance Ensemble at UCLA, John Beasley’s MONK’estra (Angel City Jazz Festival)
Musicians Institute Theater
Thelonious Monk didn’t go to graduate school, and he never even finished high school, but education is the pillar upon which the institute which bears his name continues to raise jazz awareness for future generations. Nearly all the graduates of the all-star combo program that is commonly referred to as “the Monk Institute” have become leading voices in the jazz community and industry, a track record better than that of American Idol or The Voice. One thing Monk did do was play in his own big band on occasion, and pianist John Beasley follows in the footsteps of Hal Overton and Oliver Nelson in arranging Monk’s compositional masterpieces for jazz orchestra, playfully colored by Beasley’s fun-loving persona. The MONK’estra has quickly become a fan favorite, playing at Disney Hall, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, and the SFJAZZ Center. Surely Monk would be amused and delighted at all of this hulla-ba-lue-bolivar.
Josh Johnson - Unrest: Confronting Collective Memory, Jon Armstrong Presents ‘Burnt Hibiscus’ (Angel City Jazz Festival)
The Edye at the Broad Stage
The 1992 acquittal of white police officers in the beating of Rodney King sparked a wave of violent protests that rocked this city. The events were captured on film by photographer Gary Leonard and his then-14-year-old son, David, producing an iconic encapsulation of the riots. Alto saxophonist Josh Johnson was a toddler at the time, but he and all of us can see how the Leonards’ pictures could have been taken this year in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Baltimore, and Charleston. The photos are the subject of a 45-minute suite composed by Johnson and commissioned by the Los Angeles Jazz Society. Through his writing, Johnson tackles difficult issues of race, class, and reconciliation between police and those they are sworn to protect, with the goal of sparking meaningful conversations instead of molotov cocktails.
With the proliferation of talent over the internet via Spotify, YouTube, Periscope, et al, it’s easy to overlook many deserving artists. Some, however, by some magical combination of skill, flair and heart, ensure what they do is nearly impossible to ignore. Guitarist Julian Lage has been on the radar for most of his still-young life, poised to assume his place among those who are listened to and talked about for decades. He’s already a colleague with many of those types, artists like Gary Burton, Nels Cline, Fred Hersch, and Jim Hall, yet he needs no assistance to burnish his credentials, as his playing speaks for itself. His recent solo-guitar album, World’s Fair, is a light-hearted lark whose whimsical fancies disguise the gravitas of Lage’s immense capability, like a sledgehammer inside a sock puppet. Getting knocked out has never been more delightful.
Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue with Ambrose Akinmusire & Mat Maneri, Motoko Honda & Vanessa Anh Vo (Angel City Jazz Festival)
Barnsdall Art Park - Gallery Theatre
How does an American girl from Peoria, Illinois become an expert improviser, fluent in pan-Asian language and music, and a Fulbright scholar and Doris Duke Impact Award recipient? For Jen Shyu, the process has been an earnest attempt to connect her love of music and dance with her cultural heritage and history. She first established herself in New York as an integral part of the creative improvised scene (notably with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements). Shyu’s exhaustive study of traditional music from Taiwan, Korea, China, and East Timor culminated in 2014 with SOLO RITES: SEVEN BREATHS, a one-woman opera, in which Shyu’s vocal, musical and dramatic mastery makes her possibly the most compelling performance artist of her generation. Her ensemble, Jade Tongue, displays her improvisatory acumen and a rotating membership, including for this show trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and Mat Maneri on viola.
Yosvanny Terry/Baptiste Trotignon Ancestral Memories Quartet (Angel City Jazz Festival)
The contribution of French and Caribbean culture to the development of jazz cannot be overstated. Classically-trained French Creoles in New Orleans gave jazz it’s harmonic bedrock, while the Cuban habanera was adopted by Creole pianist Jelly Roll Morton as the earliest vestiges of swing. Cuban saxophonist Yosvanny Terry and French pianist Baptiste Trotignon seek to revisit (with modern sensibilities) the origins of jazz as a cultural collision of French impressionism and afro-cuban groove. Both artists represent their countries well; Terry is pushing the boundaries of latin jazz with his innovative playing and writing, while Trotignon’ stellar pianism has earned the respect of his American counterparts, including Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard, who are featured on the Frenchman’s recent albums. The cross-cultural pair complete their quartet with Yosvanny’s brother, Yunior Terry on bass, and the inimitable Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums.
Lucian Ban & Mat Maneri, Empty Cage Quartet (Angel City Jazz Festival)
Transylvania, a region in central Romania, is famous for one thing—its rich heritage of folk music from the intersection of many European cultures including Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Serbs, Slovaks, and Gypsies. Okay, perhaps that’s not what first comes to mind when referring to Transylvania, but it was foremost on the minds of Bartók and Kodály when they visited in 1907, collecting thousands of folk songs as material for their compositions. The mixing of folk and classical music is of course the phenomenon which brought us jazz, and pianist Lucian Ban (a Transylvania native) and violist Mat Maneri (from Brooklyn) have successfully explored Transylvanian music through jazz improvisation in their critically-acclaimed album Transylvania Concert (ECM), recorded live (undead) in a Transylvanian opera house. Here they will present new works based on Transylvanian doinas, Bartók folk melodies, and original pieces.
Matt Mayhall Music from BLOW-UP!
Herbie Hancock’s contributions to film include ’Round Midnight (starring saxophonist Dexter Gordon), which earned the pianist an Oscar, and Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s highly-anticipated biopic of Hancock’s former bandleader, Miles Davis. Lesser known is the music Hancock composed for the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up. The soundtrack features the best jazz musicians of the era on some decidedly funky boogaloo music, including a track which was sampled for Deee-Lite’s 90’s hit Groove is in the Heart. There is also a song from the Yardbirds (who make a cameo in the film), featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitars. Drummer Matt Mayhall has been wearing out his turntable transcribing this music, so expect a faithful and fun presentation. With keyboardist Jeff Babko, bassists Paul Bryan and Anna Butterss, saxophonists Gavin Templeton and Josh Johnson, trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, and guitarist Steve Eliot.
The link between jazz and the nation of Italy is a tad oblique, with the exception of one Frank Sinatra, an Italian-American whose brand of rat-pack jazz became the musical jurisdiction of the mafia. Of course, Italian gangsters also ran the speakeasies in New York during the Prohibition era, which not coincidentally was when jazz was at its most popular. In the homeland, Italians have had a fondness for jazz, and Italy is home to many great artists including trumpeter Enrico Rava, pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, and bassist Giovanni Tommaso. Tommaso has a daughter, Jasmine, who shares her famous father’s musical aptitude, and also makes good-looking music videos. Father joins daughter in this decidedly Italian job, with standout pianist Michael Ragonese, guitarist Lorenzo Grassi, and drummer Andres Salazar, whose spettacolare drumming trumps his non-Italian roots.
DakhaBrakha, Huun Huur Tu
The term dakha-brakha literally means “give/take” in Ukrainian. The band by the same name certainly lives up to the phrase, giving their all in spirited, breathtaking fashion. The quartet’s self-described “Ethno-Chaos” begins and ends with traditional Ukrainian folk melodies (sung by all four with unusual and terrifying conviction), shaded with a myriad of folk instruments from around the globe, and juxtaposed over earthy drum beats and cello bass drones. It’s minimalism with a guttural intensity and a saucy swagger, as if Phillip Glass decided to write a Russian song-cycle for the B-52’s. DakhaBrakha has become an international sensation, recently performing at Bonnaroo and getting some love from Rolling Stone as the festival’s “Best Break Out” band. Paired appropriately with them are Huun Huur Tu, Tuvan throat singers from the Russian/Mongolian border, who are able to individually sing multiple pitches at the same time.
Daniel Rosenboom Quintet
Playing trumpet on movie soundtracks and running a record label while performing crazy metal-based free-jazz (free-metal-jazz should be called molten-jazz) would lead one to the conclusion that Daniel Rosenboom draws his stamina from a mythical energy source. He admittedly identifies with the Tadodaho, the warrior-chief of the Iroquois nation, as he seeks to channel an ancient power into music. The Iriquois word for the power is Orenda, the name of Rosenboom’s record label. Tadodaho literally means Fire Keeper, which is also the title of the latest album by Rosenboom’s quintet. It’s an innovative mix of complex groove cycles with old-fashioned rock-n-roll, with hints of a tribal drum ritual. This excellent band lives up to the album’s combustible moniker, propelled by the unrelenting white-hot slag spewing from Rosenboom’s horn.
In his many years in Los Angeles, all Bob Sheppard has done is become one of the best and the most ubiquitous saxophonists in this large city, having played on over a hundred movie and television soundtracks, and worked with stars like Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell. Yet he’s remained a jazz musician to his core, playing in the bands of Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and pretty much everybody else. Sheppard’s been focusing on his own creative music at long last, and his gig at the Baked Potato allows him to stretch a bit. With fellow jazz veterans John Beasley (keys) and Chris Colangelo (bass), and brilliant newcomer Chistian Euman on drums.
Fabiano do Nascimento
Los Angeles-based guitarist Fabiano do Nascimento can trace his musical lineage to his grandfather, Ladário Teixeira, who became a professional saxophone player in Brazil in the 1920’s, which would place him just a few years after Sidney Bechet as one of the first to play that instrument. There are countless Brazilians who play guitar, but Nascimento maintains his grandfather’s pioneering spirit through his innovative and evocative playing and compositions, attracting to his side the likes of Mia Doi Todd, Airto Moreira, and Aloe Blacc. Perhaps in homage to senhor Teixeira, Nascimento features the exquisite saxophonist Sam Gendel in nearly all his performances, and on their heartfelt duo album, Sul. Drummer/percussionist Tiki Pasillas will join Nascimento and Gendel at Bluewhale.
E Spot Lounge at Vitello’s
Three talented females singing in close-knit harmony have a unique place popular music. Recent uber-groups like Destiny’s Child and the Dixie Chicks recall faint echoes of the Andrews Sisters from the 1930’s, who patterned their style after the Boswell Sisters, introducing vocal jazz harmony to the world. It’s striking to see a group dedicated to those vintage sounds coming out of New York, where jazz keeps stretching into the future. Despite the anachronism, the three singers in Duchess have some serious cache with their fellow New York jazz compatriots, including the imaginative drummer Matt Wilson, who leads a cast of current heavies on their self-titled debut album (and who first featured the singing trio on his Christmas-Tree-O project). With this group, all things old are new again. This show features guitarist Bruce Forman, everyone’s favorite cowboy bebopper.
Those who wish to be called creative musicians should actually create music, and hardly no one has done that better recently than Ben Wendel. The saxophonist is in the middle of a year-long, Tchaikovsky-inspired video project called The Seasons. He’s toured with drummer Antonio Sanchez, recently did a week with pianist Gerald Clayton at the Village Vanguard, and he (with Kneebody) will soon share a bill with Snarky Puppy at Royce Hall. Somehow, Wendel found time out of this crazy schedule to go to upstate NY with bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Nate Wood, collaboratively writing and recording an album in three days, their second as a trio. The record (ACT II) builds on the drama created from their first (ACT), with the ACT-ors developing and deepening their roles and chemistry in this superb three-man play.
Jonathan Rowden Group, Trio WYR w/ Joanna Wallfisch and Areni
Los Angeles-based saxophonist Jonathan Rowden’s influences include video game music, choral music, and more recently, soundtracks to movies such as Gravity and Tron: Legacy. Rowden is also a fan of superstar Japanese electronic-ambient/noise artist Ametsub. On the first track of the Jonathan Rowden Group’s debut album (Becoming), Rowden’s use of multi-phonics and a panoply of looped and effected samples provides a window outward to the direction he would pursue in his next project. Rowden’s next recording (WYR) utilizes the talents of drummer-percussionists James Yoshizawa and Chris Wabich, and adds his own expertise on extended saxophone techniques (which includes the ability to loop and distort his saxophone sound electronically, in real-time). Rowden’s worlds will collide in this show in which both of his projects are featured, along with NY guests Joanna Wallfisch (vocals) and Areni (vocals, piano).
Fell Runner w/ Emerson Star, Easy
True story: Smart, middle-class kids go to art school, form a rock band, do well in life. You might think college is anathema to rock n’ roll, until you remember a few bands started by college buddies, bands like Pink Floyd, Queen, Styx, Creed, and Radiohead. Steve van Betten, Gregory Uhlman, Patrick Kelly, and Tim Carr are talented brainy-types, but they have an instinct for the raw, ear-splitting sonic energy it takes to get a crowd to go nuts. If your ears can still function, a closer listen will reveal threads of West African melodies and rhythms, making Fell Runner a refreshing mashup of rock and world music. It takes an exotic cocktail of intellect and savvy to make a kick-ass groove from a Reich-like serial melody in 5/8, and most fans will dig it too much to bother counting.
Jacky Terrasson Quartet
Zipper Concert Hall
Since winning the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition in 1993, the French-American pianist has been an ubiquitous member of the international jazz community. His first albums for Blue Note (with bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Leon Parker) were heralded as instant classics from a groundbreaking piano trio. Collaborations with Cassandra Wilson, Diane Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Michael Brecker, and others cemented his place among the greats and ensure his perpetual touring career. With witty fingers, and an agile mind, Terrason is one of the most playful and joyful jazz musicians of the last two decades. He embodies a spirit which has kept him youthful and spry into his late forties, with at least as much energy as his younger counterparts for this show, bassist Dave Robaire, drummer Justin Faulkner, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera.
Dan Cray Quartet
The Illinois native spent most of his life and career in Chicago, as a successful pianist and leader of his own piano trio for a decade. Life was good, but for a musician of the caliber of Dan Cray, it became time to accept a new challenge, and New York had been beckoning for awhile. Moving to NYC is hard for a twenty-something, even more so in your thirties, but despite the late-stage geographical upheaval, Cray is doing just fine, thanks to his easy facile technique and harmonic mastery. Since the big move, he's received his challenges in spades, playing with heavyweights like Billy Drummond, Avishai Cohen, Joe Martin, and Dayna Stephens. He's joined out here by two LA favorite sons, guitarist Anthony Wilson and Mark Ferber, along with young standout bassist Mike Gurrola.
Catalina Jazz Club
Since 1996, Catalina Popescu has hosted the Young Artist's Jazz Series at the club which bears her name, an ongoing and vital exposition of young local talent which was created and still curated by producer Barbara Brighton. Many current jazz notables got their first exposure here, including guitarist Anthony Wilson, drummer Willie Jones III, pianist Eric Reed, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Another young saxophonist, Laura Ochikubo, like most impressionable youths, has a primary focus of inspiration, and hers is locked onto Wayne Shorter with a laser guidance beam. Her sound and writing thoroughly captures the essence and mystique of the elder saxophone master, delivered with urgent, gorgeous ferocity. Ochikubo's dedicated faithfulness to what Shorter did with Weather Report and afterward could very well mark the start of a Neo-Fusion movement.
The son of an solo guitarist for the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Armenia, Vahagan Turgutyan started playing the guitar at age 9, sharing both his father's aptitude for the instrument and his love of Paco de Lucia and flamenco. That love grew into an obsession, compelling the young student to move to Spain to continue his pursuit of excellence in that most difficult of guitar styles. It certainly doesn't look like a struggle to Vahagni (as he is now known), for he can spin layer upon layer of note-flurries on the fretboard that are precise as ice-crystals but gentle as snow. Vahagni is releasing a new album, Imagined Frequencies, which combines jazz and world music with extensive sound-designer post-production. It's atmospheric brilliance, a breath of fresh, cold air which introduces new sounds and textures to jazz.
Alexander Noice Sextet
Playing a fiery rendition of Giant Steps is an example of the performing arts; performance art is setting a piano on fire and playing it until it collapses. Guitarist Alexander Noice could play a mean Giant Steps, but he makes more noise with his performance-art band, known for their sudden shifts from Balkan melodies to abstract modern music, to full-on punk rock, all within seconds of each other. The music sounds like a crazy psychedelic remix, only they’re doing everything live. Of key importance is Andrew Lessman, a man who does more than play drums, tasked with triggering many and varied audio samples. An amped-up rhythm section, two girls in white singing opera, and an avant-garde saxophonist makes for an intense night of listening. Also, it’s cool to see a semi-jazz group wearing actual band outfits
Ryutaro Endo, Tin/Bag
One of the unsung heroes of the arts community in Los Angeles is visual artist and curator Kio Griffith. With personal, foundational relationships to countless artists of every stripe around the world, Griffith is often a silent unifying force pushing new creations by others into the world for others to experience. If you have purchased any physical albums by local new-music artists in the past five years, chances are the cover artwork was done by Griffith. As a longtime assistant to Angel City Jazz Festival director Rocco Somazzi, Griffith continues to curate compelling music shows, including a monthly date at Bluewhale. This month features Japanese spatial-acoustic guitarist Ryutaro Endo, and the meditative duo Tin/Bag, with trumpeter Kris Tiner and NY guitarist Mike Baggetta.
Los Angeles has countless local jazz musicians who are starving for more places to perform. Hungry individuals probably frequent somewhere other than a vegan deli, but here’s an exception. One of the more literally refreshing new places in DTLA to spend a few hours, The Springs aggregates a restaurant featuring organic vegan raw cuisine and juice, a yoga studio and wellness center, and live music most nights. Jazz is welcomed, and like all the other consumables here it is very good and good for you. This particular night features the Unsquare Collective, led by drummer/percussionist Chris Blondal, along with guitarist Brad Rabuchin, bassist Steve Billman, and saxophonist Andy Suzuki, who is a welcome return presence to LA after nearly a decade in Berlin.
Friday 8/28 (also Sat 8/29)
Bennie Maupin 75th Birthday Celebration
His career was already established, playing saxophone for Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, etc., when Miles Davis called Bennie Maupin specifically to play bass clarinet on a new project. The resulting sessions were released as the album Bitches Brew. Maupin would play “that funny horn” (as Miles called it) on numerous subsequent early fusion albums with the famed trumpeter, then joined forces with Herbie Hancock, in the keyboardist’s Mwandishi and Headhunters bands. Maupin’s contributions to those records dramatically changed the course of jazz history to reflect the zeitgeist of the rock and funk era. Still going strong at age 75, he celebrates his birthday with a weekend of music with some of his favorite LA musicians: Pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Darek Oles, drummer Gene Coye, and a host of special guests sitting in.
Bruce Forman Trio
Bruce Forman is an anachronism seemingly from the Midwestern U.S. circa 1926, who somehow crawled into a time machine and ended up here. A cowboy at heart, he once led a western-swing band across the entirety of the historic Route 66 in a pickup truck. He has authored a published novel and the libretto to a one-act play (The Red Guitar). Another cowboy, Clint Eastwood, tapped Forman to write music for his film Million Dollar Baby. Forman is a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of music, and his new album, The Book of Forman: Formanism Vol. II is a clinic on how to play jazz guitar. It's authentic jazz from an authentic soul. The trio features standout drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, and young gun Alex "Frankie" Frank on bass.
Beat Music: The Los Angeles Improvisations
Drummer Mark Giuliana has had a pretty good run the past few years. For starters, last November he made the cover of Modern Drummer. He's been on tour the past year, playing gigs with trumpeter Dave Douglas, Brad Mehldau (in their duo project, Mehliana) and his own quartet. He might be the only drummer who can cover for Nate Wood in Kneebody. Giuliana released two albums last year, one under his own name (My Life Starts Now), and another featuring the LA version of his pet project Beat Music, which he started several years with bassist and good buddy Tim Lefevbre. Beat Music: The Los Angeles Improvisations, is a sonic documentation of what happens when Guilana and Lefevbre team up with keyboardist Jeff Babko and electronics guru Troy Ziegler. Three words: Controlled, chaotic, bad-assery.
Larry Fuller Trio
Larry Fuller always wanted to have his own trio, but the demand for the pianist as a high-profile sideman kept that project on the shelf for years. His career arc threads through a succession of notable artists, from vocalist Ernestine Anderson to drummer Jeff Hamilton, peaking with Ray Brown (Fuller was touring with Brown when the legendary bassist passed away in his hotel room before a show), and settling into a posh gig with elegant guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli. Finally, Fuller is his own man, releasing in 2014 only his second trio album as a leader. His self-titled offering is what one would expect from a pianist who could impress Ray Brown: Hard-swinging, bluesy, and immaculate. Fuller plays at Bluewhale with the great rhythm tandem of bassist Katie Thiroux and drummer Matt Witek.
JazzPop: Francis Wong Unit
John Coltrane is an icon not just for his music, but also for his influence on themes of cultural identity in the Black American community in the 60's. During that time, Asian Americans also felt the sting of racism and marginalization, and saw empowerment and hope in Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Coltrane. It's why Francis Wong took up the saxophone, and ultimately co-founded Asian Arts Improv (with pianist Jon Jang), which in the 1980's encouraged Asian-American artists to embrace their identities as jazz musicians of Asian descent. Wong has had an illustrious career melding free improv with traditional Chinese melodies and "sorrow songs"--illustrating how Asians have sung the blues for thousands of years. Wong's current band features the brilliant Yangqin Zhou on Chinese hammered dulcimer.
Urban Renewal Project
Levitt Pavilion, Los Angeles
Earlier this year, the Princeton University Art Gallery presented an exhibition examining the relationship of photography and cinema of various major cities to their eventual urban renewal. Ivy League remedies are welcome, if somewhat pretentious, recommendations to solving inner-city challenges. Saxophonist/composer R.W. Enoch is a graduate of Princeton, and his vision of urban renewal comes out of the bells of the many instruments in his big band. The Urban Renewal Project is an upbeat, 22-piece ensemble (with a jazz vocalist and a rapper) which examines the effect of combining hip-hop, soul, and West African highlife in a musical format born out of the urban life of Harlem in the 1920's. Could a large jazz ensemble have relevancy in today's urban society of Los Angeles? Chances are everyone will be too busy dancing to care.
Perry Smith Trio
Acknowledging the elephant you didn't know was in the room is to address the awkwardness of having the same name as a cold-blooded murderer whose execution was immortalized by Truman Capote. The only killing Brooklyn musician Perry Smith does is on his axe, a Gibson hollow-body guitar. The former Angelino has maintained his west coast ties as a part of the internationally-acclaimed New West Guitar Group, but his newest album, Street Sense (featuring saxophonist Dayna Stephens), firmly establishes Smith as a card-carrying member of those who have earned the right to be called New York jazz musicians. It's safe to say Smith's dazzling, imaginative playing ensures no one thinks of his infamous namesake, but perhaps he should still shave that full beard. Smith is joined by bassist Dave Robaire and his long-time partner in crime, Dan Schnelle on drums.
Bobby Bradford and Tête-á-Tête
With Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, and Ed Blackwell all gone, there are few living connections to the legacy of free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who just passed away in June. One such link is trumpeter Bobby Bradford, who knew Ornette in Texas before reuniting with him in Los Angeles, recording and performing together until Bradford was drafted into the Air Force. Bradford would play again with Ornette (documented on the 1971 albums Science Fiction and Broken Shadows), having also at that point worked with Eric Dolphy, John Carter and David Murray. Bradford's new band features charismatic vocalist Dwight Trible, enigmatic reedist Vinny Golia, and many exciting younger musicians, including trumpeter Josh Aguiar, clarinetist Brian Walsh, and pianist Cathlene Pineda.
Catalina Jazz Club
Life was good for Mon David as a successful performer in the Phillipines and a beautiful wife and family. Then in 2006 he won first prize in the inaugural London International Vocal Jazz Competition, and he had to come to terms with being one of the best jazz singers in the world. After moving his family across the Pacific and restarting his career in Los Angeles, it didn't take long for others to notice his pitch-perfect vocal command and his confident authority over the music and the stage, singing with joy that can only come from the heart, which in David's case must be made of pure gold to match his voice. His new album, "This Is All I Ask", confirms David as one of the great male jazz vocalists of our time.
Shai Maestro Trio
The young pianist from Israel studied a lot of classical piano and Oscar Peterson, earning him a scholarship to Berklee, which he turned down. His rejection of academia was rewarded with a call from bassist Avishai Cohen to join him in his trio, which ended up as a better education and network opportunity for Shai Maestro. He's developed on the piano a fluidity and hot intensity normally found in molten lava, with rapid improvisatory ideas spewing in as if shot out of a volcano. Maestro's third album as a leader, "Untold Stories", features his current trio of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ziv Ravitz. The band is a welcome and entry into the hallowed hall of important piano trios in jazz.
If you are a talented improviser, It's easy to unload everything you are capable of right away. What's harder is to save some of your improv arsenal, to dole it out in strategic, organized devices, for the sake of creating a strong narrative to each solo. Pianist Miro Sprague does this, which is why his maturity quotient is light years ahead of his actual age, and why he's a young artist to keep an eye on over the next few years, as he prepares to move back to New York after a too-short tenure on the West Coast. In this goodbye LA show, Sprague enlists most of his former Monk Institute colleagues (and current bandmates in the group Holophonor), as well as vocalist Samirah Evans.
In our current celebration of equality and diversity, we still find a glaring discrepancy between the number of female versus male jazz musicians. Jazz.com recently highlighted ten of the best of the fewer females, which included Japanese piano sensation Hiromi and clarinetist Anat Cohen. Also on that list is LA-based pianist Kait Dunton, whose career continues to grow after an excellent sophomore album which found her matching wits and notes with Peter Erskine, Darek Oles, Bob Mintzer, and John Daversa. Her third album, TrioKait, finds Dunton in a (you guessed it) trio setting with drummer Jake Reed and bassist Cooper Appelt, exploring grooves and rhythms more closely linked with EDM than jazz. Dunton’s forward-thinking compositions and fast fingers make her a worthy representative of women artists everywhere.
Joe La Barbera
Much of what we know about jazz history comes from the stories told by famous jazz musicians. Joe La Barbera, who played drums for the legendary pianist Bill Evans, once remarked that Evans gave himself five years in New York to succeed. It took the musical genius less time than that, and even less time for La Barbera, whose very first gig in New York was with iconic guitarist Jim Hall. La Barbera will undoubtedly tell a story or two about his former bandleader in this performance and multi-media presentation on the music and life of Bill Evans, and no one could be more qualified to do this. This is a must-see for jazz history buffs, fans of Bill Evans, or those who love stories. With bassist Darek Oles and pianist John Campbell.
For anyone who believes all musicians are squishy, artsy-feely types, this pianist provides a solid head-rebuttal. Eigsti is a hardcore sports fan, and his own proclivities include pick-up basketball and fantasy football. He saves his most exceptional physical feats for the piano, where his muscular technique allows him to execute lightning-fast improvisatory decisions. Eigsti is an unstoppable force who bullies and bends the piano to his every whim. If LeBron James played piano, this is what it would sound like. Eigsti is such a athletic playmaker on his instrument, his hometown San Francisco 49ers should consider signing him as a free agent; they need all the help they can get this season. See the full Eigsti on display at this solo piano show, with special guests sitting in.
Josh Johnson Quintet
This alto saxophonist has been a regular fixture at Bluewhale, playing with all sorts of brilliant players, from veterans like Bob Hurst and Geoffrey Keezer to younger innovators like Mark de Clive-Lowe and Marquis Hill. Johnson’s savory sound and cool-under-fire demeanor can actually disguise the high degree-of-difficulty of the things he can do on sax. His playing is so delicious you don’t realize you’re getting killed by the sweet venom of his potent imagination. With bassist Dave Robaire and pianist Miro Sprague (both fellow Thelonious Monk Institute ex-men), current TMI member Christian Euman on drums, and guitarist Jeff Parker, who was in both a notable rock band (Tortoise) and a popular jazz group (Brian Blade Fellowship Band).
Saturday 7/25 (also Sun 7/26)
Central Avenue Jazz Festival
The neighborhood of Harlem played a crucial role in the development of jazz, cementing it as one of the pillars of Black American life in New York. Los Angeles has its own version of Harlem, which coalesced in the 1920’s around Central Avenue south of Downtown LA, where jazz flourished until the 1950’s, producing the likes of Eric Dolphy, Chico Hamilton, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon. The festival, in it’s 20th year, continues to honor this legacy, bringing vitality back to this street and celebrating its storied history. Notable acts include prodigious pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, the superb MONK’estra led by John Beasley, and legends Barbara Morrison and Kenny Burrell. The Gerald Wilson Orchestra is a mainstay here every year but is playing this year without its beloved leader, who passed away last September, officially joining the immortal legacy of Central Avenue.
Good jazz musicians usually have great timing. No one, however, can say of late they have better timing than saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who after getting accolades for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, rode that wave of fame and surfed it into uncharted waters for a current-day jazz musician from Los Angeles. With the debut concert of his opus magnum The Epic becoming the most talked about show and album in recent LA jazz history, Washington is now a bonafide major player in LA and around the world. He still has love for his hometown, and this special show, 65-92: The Rhythm Changes but the Struggle Remains, engages the pivotal events in LA in 1965 and 1992 with music from those eras: Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Billy Higgins, 2Pac, Snoop, and Cypress Hill.
Jason Lindner, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Louis Cole
In the 90’s, pianist Lindner was known in New York as a big band leader. He’s since gone in a different direction, usually with just two other musicians in his group Now Vs. Now. Once a master orchestrator of traditional jazz instruments, he now applies his know-how to deep exploration of electronic and synthesized textures, creating sounds that should have been included on the probe that just flew by Pluto. His mission team at Bluewhale pairs him up with our own resident keyboard electron-itian, Mark de Clive-Lowe, and Knower’s Louis Cole, arguably the most innovative and leading-edge drummers in LA right now. This show is a boon for sound-geeks and rhythm junkies alike.
Hollywood and Highland
We humans often believe we can unite together in peace and love, but humanity instead tends to pick a side on which to fight. For musicians in Hollywood, often the fight is over maintaining your artistic integrity or making a shit-ton of money. Bob Reynolds established his artistic credentials after eight years in New York, then joined the bands of a superstar (Jon Mayer) and some rising stars (Snarky Puppy), and moved out to LA. His jazz chops are still razor sharp, and when you are as good as Reynolds, you need not pick sides; you can buy your expensive cake and eat it too, with originality. With drummer Gary Novak, bassist Janek Gwizdala, and keyboardist Jeff Babko.
She was a piano major in college, learned Armenian folksongs from her mom, and studied voice from her opera-singer aunt. In her artistic development (which includes her vocal contributions to pianist Tigran Hamasyan’s band), Areni Agbabian learned to fuse those disciplines with an improviser’s spontaneity and a modernist’s aesthetic minimalism. The result is a uniquely personal and compelling narrative to her music, on display in her debut album, Kissy (Bag). Areni’s hauntingly beautiful singing, framed by strategically placed piano harmonies, slowly form a collection of songs which are vulnerable in their sparseness, empowered by an inexorable unfolding of intent. After a solo first set, Areni will be joined by veteran avant-jazz drummer Alex Cline, which sounds like a good tandem for ECM if they’re interested…
Given the importance of individualism in jazz, it’s surprising more jazz artists don’t assume stage names, though there are a few, like pianist Rachel Z and some guy named Kenny G. Quebert Morrow had the brilliant idea of using one letter at the front instead of the back, which works for him, since Q Morrow is so much better than K Gorelick. Brand established, Q can now focus on what’s important, which is demonstrating his impressive and diverse guitar ability and promoting his new album, All Around Dude, an well-done recording emblematic of the Brooklynite’s Nor-Cal roots, where improvised music is usually open and funky at the same time. With flautist Evan Francis, saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, bassist Sam Bevan and drummer Eric Garland.
Friday 7/17 (also Sat 7/18)
Walter Smith III
The saxophonist is flying high—literally, because of his constant touring schedule with Jason Moran, Ambrose Akinmusire, Kendrick Scott, Eric Harland, and his own groups. As Smith comes home to LA for a brief respite, rather than relax he’s decided to schedule a weekend playing with among the best in town. It’s an innovative format, two nights, two different quartets, with the piano separated from the rhythm section. Friday has Smith playing duo with the magician-pianist Josh Nelson, then trio with bassist Darek Oles and drummer Joe La Barbera. On Saturday, he concludes with bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Bill Wysaske, but not before a duo set with a surprise special guest, who happens to be a Grammy-winning pianist/composer. That’s a lot of work, but it’s more fun than maintaining your backyard after weeks of neglect. Welcome home, Walter.
Luer is in a life-stage that is kind of sweet spot for musicians. He’s old enough to be considered an established professional, having played countless sessions, television shows and tours with the likes of Kurt Elling, Poncho Sanchez and Queen Latifah. Yet the saxophonist is still of an age where it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see him face-painted and shirtless at a Green Bay Packers game in January. 90’s-era rock is near and dear to Luer’s heart, and his pet project, Project Popular, explores instrumental jazz arrangements of Soundgarden, Nirvana, Audioslave, and yes, Coldplay. It’s an unusual mix of genres (no more than jazz and football), yet it is smartly arranged and executed, and succeeds in making jazz relatable to at least Generation X. With pianist John Beasley, guitarist Andrew Synowiec, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Dan Schnelle.
Jon Armstrong - Luster. Dreams. Resonance.
Art Share L.A.
Saxophonist Jon Armstrong got off to a good start in LA by co-founding the avant-jazz band Slumgum, which has played coast to coast and touted by jazz knowers from Rocco Somazzi to Christian McBride. Next, Armstrong formed an extra-large 22-piece big band, a vehicle for his larger-than-life compositions. His coup de grace (and swan song, as he is soon to depart LA for a professorship in Idaho) is a show featuring the classicaly-trained Indian vocalist Sheela Bringi, surrealist poetry by Erin Armstrong, and improvised animation by Magnuzaki Labs. Oh, and a nine-piece band accompanies everything. LA will miss such a relentlessly creative spirit in Armstrong. Idaho has no idea what they are in for.
The Spiros Exaras/Elio Villafranca Project
At first glance, there might not seem to be that much linking Greece and Cuba, although they now share the dubious distinction of being two of only four nations that have defaulted on a loan from the International Monetary Fund. More positively, the two countries are framed by blue ocean, have incredible food, and each has a uniquely rich cultural history, which includes music. Greek guitarist Spiros Exaras and Cuban pianist Elio Villafranca are both legendary musicians in their respective places of origin. They met in New York three years ago, and their cross-cultural partnership has once again illustrated the capacity of existing musics to fuse into a new creation. A century ago, that was called jazz. Ouzo and cigars, anyone?
Artyom Manukyan Project
Manukyan was a sensational cellist in his native Armenia, joining the acclaimed Armenian Navy Band and helping them win a BBC World Music Award. After years of being the best (and perhaps only) jazz cellist in his country, Manukyan set out for America to live the American Dream, which for him means eventually getting a gig with Snoop Dog. He’s played with Daryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., so he’s well on his way! He’s also worked his way into collaborations with some of the best jazz musicians in Los Angeles, many of whom are on his debut record, Citizen. It’s hyper-virtuosic and deeply funky, a perfect fit for the Spud. With bassist Tim Lefevbre, keyboardist Vardan Ovsepian, drummer Gavin Salmon, and sound-effector Troy Ziegler.
As a teen, Caili O’Doherty went to summer jazz camp at Berklee in Boston, then was offered a scholarship to attend college there, mentored by the great Danilo Perez. Now the gifted young pianist/composer lives in New York, performs worldwide and teaches at another summer jazz workshop at Stanford, alongside other notable players like Taylor Eigsti and Julian Lage. Players like these represent the best of the emerging generation of jazz musicians. The moral—go to jazz camp. O’Doherty’s debut album, Padme, will be released on July 7 and is not named after Darth Vader’s baby mama. Her New York-based band consists of saxophonist Ben Flocks, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Cory Cox.
Richard Wood Quintet, Eric Barber-Steuart Liebig-Alex Cline
Eagle Rock Center for the Arts
On the first Sunday of every month, Open Gate Theater hosts a music event. Usually the music is freely improvised, and on this particular Sunday the music might be freer than usual. Mitt Romney might say it would be “severely free”. Reedman Richard Wood is a veteran of the free-improv community in Los Angeles, and his quintet will be eulogizing Mark Trayle, the electronic musician and CalArts professor who tragically passed away recently. Saxophonist Eric Barber has spent the last decade in Seattle, where he was an important cog in that city’s vibrant creative music scene. He re-relocates back to Los Angeles, where this will be the first of undoubtedly many forays with master sound-makers like bassist Steuart Liebig and drummer Alex Cline.
Saturday 6/27 (also Sun)
Mark de Clive-Lowe
It’s been a scant six years since this keyboardist-turned-DJ arrived in Los Angeles, and since then he’s done nothing but continue to blow-up, which if literal would require a lot of explosive material. MdCL continues to add fuel to his fiery career, continuing to tour heavily, and becoming one of those guys who gives workshops at Guitar Center stores around the country. He returns to Bluewhale armed with new toys from endorser Native Instruments and a new army corps at his command: drummer Gene Coye, bassist Brandon Eugene Owens, Artyom Manukyan, Tylana Renga and Daphne Chen on strings, with maestro Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, vocalist Nia Andrews and everyone’s favorite DJ, Carlos Nino, whom we are all sad not to hear on the radio anymore.
An annual ritual in this city during the Oscars is to gripe about who is getting snubbed. This year, jazz fans had a reason to gripe when drummer Antonio Sanchez was disqualified from a nomination for his breathtakingly original score (written entirely for percussion) for the film Birdman, due to a legitimate yet arbitrarily-enforced rule regarding the supplementation of classical music in the score. Thankfully, the controversy drew the attention of the music world on Sanchez, making him currently a bigger deal than his longtime bandleader, Pat Metheny. His latest project is with his band, Migration, featuring among others pianist John Escreet and saxophonist Seamus Blake, and they are touring in support of their upcoming album, The Meridian Suite.
Gabe Rosenn Trio/The Sidewinders
More often than not, wisdom dictates refraining from doing the exact same thing as your overachieving brother. Sometimes it works, and Eli Manning gets two Superbowl rings to brother Peyton’s one. Other times, it doesn’t, like when we all missed Chris Farley’s brother Kevin in a bit role on Hawaii Five-O. Guitarist Gabe Rosenn’s brother Jamie is a long-time veteran of the Los Angeles jazz community, so Gabe wisely started playing the blues. With the release of his second album, California Gold, Gabe is finding better prospects and better gigs. Rosenn is splitting the evening with another unearthed gem, the instrumental boogaloo band The Sidewinders, whose hi-lo-octane remixes of Lou Donaldson and Donald Byrd have been enthralling a growing mass of revelers.
At a recent concert in Boston, bassist and vocalist Katie Thiroux introduced the chauvinistic Sinatra vehicle “Wives and Lovers” by conceding, then defiantly dismissing the controversial lyric content (“don’t send him off with your hair up in curlers; you may not see him again”, et al) and proceeding to sing the tune. Nothing is more empowering than making your own choices regardless of zeitgeist or political correctness. Thiroux wields a heavy power tool in the jazz world these days, as “Introducing Katie Thiroux” is one of the best trad-jazz albums led by a female vocalist since the early Diana Krall records. With drummer Matt Witek, guitarist Graham Dechter and saxophonist Roger Neumann.
Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox
This jazz pianist from Long Island was, like every jazz musician ever, struggling in obscurity on low-paying gigs, when he started making videos of ragtime covers of current pop tunes. 150 million views later, Scott Bradlee is a viral-video mega-star, hailed as a visionary genius and postmodern revolutionary. The formula is brilliantly simple; take something by Meghan Trainor, Macklemore, etc., do a jazzy arrangement of it, and film it using gorgeous young women who can really sing. And, a tambourine guy! That's the style, the substance being Bradlee's formidable stride piano and arranging chops, and the solid musicianship of his singers and his somewhat dorky-looking instrumentalists. It's a digital beacon of hope for every high school band geek who's better at making chord changes than making out.
Make Music L.A. “Calling All Saxes”
Beverly Canon Gardens
Saxophonist Tony White leads the LA Unifed School District All-City Marching Band in the Rose Parade and the All-City Jazz Band at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, and he facilitates programs year-round which provide music to the next generation. His community vision now extends beyond the lines of his district, as he has partnered with Make Music L.A., which seeks to engage and bring musicians together across the entire city. Calling all Saxes is an open invitation to anyone with a saxophone to meet for what White calls a ‘jazz flash-mob’. The chaos will be corralled by some real pros: Danny Janklow, Dr. Alvin McKinney, Randall Willis, Vincent Ingala, and Bob Sheppard.
A converted grocery store in Highland Park is home to the gallery owned by Bob Breen and Claire Graham. Graham calls himself a ‘craftsman’ rather than an artist, knowing the latter usually necessitates the former. Accordingly, the gallery now programs music of the highest craftsmanship and artistry. Drummer Trevor Anderies learned about craftsmanship from his father, Joe, a jazz musician and college professor in Denver, perfecting his art at CalArts and afterward through his growing, glowing musical career. Anderies, best known for his work in the prog-jazz band Slumgum, is releasing his second solo album, Promise of a Tree, featuring his soon-to-be bride Alina Roitstein, whose classically-trained improvisations make opera singing fun again. The album features Anderies’ thoughtful compositions and a few American songbook standards, repurposed like many of the common items transformed into artwork by Graham’s crafty hands.
Top 50 Best L.A. Music Venues — Bluewhale
After years of frustration at how most clubs in Los Angeles viewed jazz and treated musicians, Korean-born vocalist Joon Lee decided to open his own, vowing to to run it from an artist’s perspective. Lee’s commitment to the quality of the music above all else (framed in a elegant, modern space) has granted Bluewhale, in its sixth year of existence, most-favored status among jazz musicians and patrons alike. There is now an endless stream of jazz A-listers from New York and beyond parading through the club’s custom-glass entrance, yet Bluewhale remains the most affordable option to see the very best jazz has to offer, with low ticket prices and no food or drink minimum, making the music accessible to a younger, hipper crowd. It’s too bad the club is tucked away in a nondescript Little Tokyo shopping mall, here’s hoping they can move to a new site sooner than later.
This vocalist hails from Denmark, which is sometimes known as the most laid-back of the Scandinavian nations. All great jazz musicians know how to lay-back (behind the beat), which is perhaps why so much great jazz comes from the Danish. Among her country-people, Sinne Eeg stands out, winning two Danish Music Awards and the 2014 Ben Webster Prize, named in honor of the saxophonist who spent his last years in Copenhagen. Eeg has also become a hit on the West Coast, thanks to her lovely voice, elegantly controlled and supported with effortless strength when the moment calls for it. Her backing trio is led by guitarist Larry Koonse, our own local legend, who is a perfect match for the sweet and savvy singer.
New West Guitar Group feat. Sara Gazarek
They are young, handsome, and strum a lot, the epitome of WGWG—White Guys With Guitar. But what separates John Storie, Perry Smith, and Will Brahm from your garden-variety campfire capo-user is: (1) they don’t use capos, and (2) their music, while very accessible and familiar (with covers of dad-rock tunes by Sting, Simon & Garfunkel, Tears For Fears and Stevie Wonder), is stealthily laden with the harmony and dissonance of jazz and modern classical composition. Also, these guys can really play. Their most recent album, Send One Your Love, features a number of guest vocalists, including Gretchen Parlatto, Becca Stevens, and LA’s current jazz ‘it’ girl, Sara Gazarek, who will be on hand for their show at Bluewhale.
Orkestar Meze Album Release Party
Chloe’s at (Golden Road Brewing Co.)
If you haven’t heard of the music genre peasant funk you would be given a pass. The term is currently under the sole jurisdiction of the band Orkestar Meze, who’s first album was titled “Peasant Funk”, which set out to prove Eastern European farmers could be just as funky as the brothers from Motown. Many of the band’s harmonies, melodies, and rhythms are derived from Balkan folk music, but the vibe is undeniably funky and danceable, and trending more in that direction with the impending release of their new, self-titled album. Peasant funk hasn’t caught on just yet but when it does, they might consider trademarking the phrase. I personally am looking forward to the Weird Al Yankovic parody, “Pheasant Punk”.
Albert “Tootie” Heath 80th Birthday Celebration
Albert, the youngest of the famous Heath Brothers (with bassist Percy and saxist Jimmy), is one of the last of the great drummers from the golden era of jazz. He bridged the heyday of bebop into the diverse forms that followed, recording with, among others, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Don Cherry and Herbie Hancock. Heath is enjoying a resurgence, thanks to pianist Ethan Iverson, who invited him to play in a trio several years ago, leading to a recent recording (Tootie’s Tempo), Heath’s first album as a leader in 15 years. Another pianist, LA resident Richard Sears, has taken a cue from Iverson, writing a tribute to Heath in the form of a suite which premiered at the 2013 Angel City Jazz Festival, with the honoree himself on drums. Sears once again will do the honors for Heath’s milestone moment.
Kirk Douglas Theater
He turned heads early on with his undeniable talent, impeccable technique and a penchant for hitting home runs. We are, of course, talking about A-Rod, but this version plays piano instead of baseball, and 29-year old Alfredo Rodriguez has been hitting it out of the park with each ensuing concert, minus the steroids. He has the harmonic sophistication of Monk, Corea, even Stravinsky and Bartok, yet there’s no denying his Cuban heritage as he traces the footsteps of all the great latin jazz pianists in history, with the sophisticated currency of the modern trios such as Brad Mehldau, Vijay Iyer, and Tigran Hamasyan. He’s playing by himself, but even solo home runs are exciting.
With credits from the Supremes to Sting to Stevie Wonder, Daryl Munyungo Jackson has been the percussionist on record for countless significant musical events over the past thirty years. Born in Los Angeles, Jackson was exposed to jazz as a child through his father, and he became enamored with the timbales of Tito Puente and the congas of Mongo Santamaria. When everyone else in the neighborhood is into funk and R&B, a brother who plays latin jazz will stand out. Munyungo became a master of drumming from all corners of the world, from Africa to China, a world musician with world-class soul. His evening features violinist Karen Briggs, keyboardist Mitchell Foreman, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Euro Zambrano.
Anthony Wilson and the Curators
Wilson, a guitarist and son of the late great bandleader Gerald Wilson, knows a lot about jazz, and his playing reflects a depth of knowledge of the history of the music. Yet when he plays it feels like jazz is a brand new thing that he has just discovered and is sharing with the world for the first time. That relentless search for vitality and authenticity has led Wilson to the sounds of his current pet project. The Curators presents jazz at its most earthen, a kind of neo-hard-bop movement, rediscovering blues and soul in it’s pre-hip-hop adolescence, trending toward classic rock. Featuring Petra Haden on voice and violin, and the best jazz drummer who doesn’t play jazz, Barbara Gruska of the Belle Brigade.
Catalina Bar and Grill
The veteran trombonist has been a steady presence in Hollywood music studios for decades, performing on countless commercial, movie and television scores, including the animated comedies The Simpsons, Futurama and Family Guy. McChesney, however, is no joke; he’s a pure virtuoso who can do things on the trombone that nobody else can. Seriously, he’s the best. His new album, Chez Sez, is an impressive offering featuring the astounding Larry Goldings on organ/piano, and generational icon Bill Stewart on drums. It should be required listening for any aspiring trombonist, or anyone learning to manipulate their tongue as fast as possible. For this show, McChesney is joined by bassist Darek Oles, saxist Brandon Fields, pianist Christian Jacobs and drummer Gary Novak.
Monday June 1
Jeremy Siskind has made a career out of being exceptional. He was invited as a college student by legendary pianist and radio host Marian McPartland to appear as a guest on her show. Siskind has also won competitions in both classical and jazz piano, and was hired in his twenties by Western Michigan University to chair their piano department, all of it, including the classical part. He plays hooky a lot, performing jazz and classical concerts on three continents. He is currently in the midst of a ‘house concert’ tour, celebrating his latest album, Housewarming, featuring saxophonist Lucas Pino, and vocalists Nancy Harms, Peter Eldridge, Kendra Shank and Kurt Elling. Harms and Pino will accompany Siskind at bluewhale, an unconventional, yet typically exceptional trio.
Friday 5/29 (also 5/30)
Matt Stevens Group
This NY-based guitarist is featured on a plethora of notable artists’ albums, including Christian Scott, Harvey Mason, and Walter Smith III. The impressive resume makes it all the more surprising to find Stevens has waited until this year to release an album under his own name. The debut is called Woodwork, an amalgamation of modern jazz and neo-fusion elements which showcase the guitarist’s sonic versatility and savvy producing chops. Of note is the sublime playing of LA-born pianist Gerald Clayton, who continues to make his hometown proud with his ascendant career. Stevens and Clayton are joined by fellow NY mainstays Linda Oh (bass) and Eric Doob (drums).
Through her decades-long tenure in Los Angeles, Cathy Segal-Garcia has become one of this city’s most well-known jazz vocal singer-educators. A deft improviser with an ear for creativity, she’s performed with an impressive A-list of jazz artists, including Peter Erskine, Tierney Sutton, Michele Weir, and Kate McGarry. Her vocal workshops have been a regular stop for a who’s-who of jazz singers, including Mark Murphy, Jay Clayton, and Carmen Lundy. What’s best about Segal-Garcia, however, is her unwavering belief in the musical potential of just about everyone; she is a true anti-elitist who dedicates her artistry to the people. Her 13-year run as host of a popular jam session in Los Angeles sums up her commitment to the struggling jazz musician in all of us. Truth be told, there are few jazz singers in LA more well-known or well-loved by so many.
Saturday 5/23 (also Sun 5/24)
John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet
This now-legendary bassist spent his formative years studying at Long Beach State, later playing with local heavies like pianist Victor Feldman and saxophonist Joe Farrell, who both helped him get the gig with Chick Corea, who first heard him play at a Valentine’s Day party hosted by Corea and his wife. The Elektric and Akoustic Bands’ supernova starburst catapulted John Patitucci into the highest realms of the jazz universe. After years of being one of the best session and touring bassists, he became part of Wayne Shorter’s new quartet, becoming one of the most famous jazz foursomes since Coltrane’s classic group. Patitucci’s new band is also a quartet, with guitarists Adam Rogers and Steve Cardenas, and Shorter compatriot Brian Blade on drums.
While the allure of New York entices many a young prodigy, alto saxophonist Danny Janklow smartly took the less travelled route to Philadelphia to study at Temple University with the great altoist Dick Oatts. He’s gleaned much from the master, including a warm, round tone with just a little edge, and he adds his own laser-accurate facility and a take-no-prisoners intensity to every solo. It’s enough to earn Janklow a bevy of awards and high marks at competitions, including 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival Saxophone Competition (first prize) and the 2013 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition (semi-finalist). With Jesse Palter (vocals), Aaron McClendon (drums), John Beasley (piano), and Ben Williams (bass).
Work | Brian Walsh: from Mingus to Ferneyhough
In a city where celebrity and cause célèbre suck most of the oxygen out of our smog filled atmosphere, it’s hard to see past the big musical events of LA, such as the Grammys, Hollywood Bowl and LA Philharmoninc. Zoom in closer, however, and you will find a vibrant arts music scene with many micro-communities doing engaging, compelling music. One such community is the music collective wild Up, led by conductor Christopher Rountree and chock full of brilliant and innovative performer-composers. This show features the music of clarinetist Brian Walsh, a mild-mannered fellow who plays like a crazy comedian, and whose compositions run the gamut from modern classical to modern jazz, from the sublime to the absurd.
Brian Havey doesn’t hang with the movers and shakers of music in LA, or even with musicians who don’t move or shake much. As a child, he competed in piano and speed-chess. He discovered jazz in college, systematically absorbing the tonal information of Oscar Peterson and Brad Mehldau. He discovered electronic music, creating his own virtual synthesizers using algorithms of waveforms, or something. He draws beautiful and terrifying abstract illustrations. Brian Havey might be the most brilliant artist anyone has never heard of, except for bluewhale owner Joon Lee, which is why he is playing there. After a set on solo piano, Havey will be joined by alto saxist Michael Mull, bassist David Tranchina, and drummer Alex Snydman, and hopefully they know who he is.
This Washington D.C. musician wanted to play guitar in middle-school, so he signed up for a class called “Strings 1”. It turned out to be an orchestra class, so Ben Williams took up the bass, and eventually went to Julliard and played with people like Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, and Pat Metheny. He won the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, he has already won a Grammy (with Metheny’s Unity Band), and he is set to appear with Don Cheadle in the actor’s upcoming Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead.” He did all this before the age of 30, so his new album, “Coming of Age”, is aptly titled.
LA Signal Lab
Curve Line Space
It’s the job of music publicists and promoters to quickly define a particular artist. Which category do we select from the pull-down menu under “genre”? What one word describes your music? How do we sell this to your target audience? LA Signal Lab is a band designed to confound those savvy music business people. Self described as “a new music collective freely combining jazz, classical, experimental, world, electronic, and early music,” their genre-defying mission might also prove to be audience defying. There’s no defying the talent of this collection of performer-composers, including pianist Dan Marschak, trombonist Nick DePinna, and saxophonist Hitomi Oba, who all possess the compositional chops to write their way out of any dilemma.
Since his 2009 trio album, Historicity, earned him a Grammy nomination and became a near consensus for jazz album of the year, pianist Vijay Iyer has yet to descend from his rocket-propelled trajectory. He has a list of accolades too long to casually mention, so perhaps it’s easier to say one doesn’t become a MacArthur Fellow and Harvard professor for trivial reasons. Furthermore, Iyer has become an even better pianist, as is demonstrated on his latest trio album, Break Stuff, (although his new label, ECM, always manages to make the piano sound more delicious than a chocolate bacon sundae). Having spent his formative years in San Francisco as part of the Asian-American jazz movement, Iyer has a deep-rooted passion for justice and equality and has consistently drawn a link between his art and his heart to advocate for those causes.
Avishai Cohen’s Triveni
The Triveni Sangam at Allahabad is a place in India where two physical rivers of water (the Ganges and the Yamuna) and one spiritual (the mythical Saraswati River) meet. It’s holier than, say, Pittsburgh, for in these three rivers your sins might be washed away (like the river Jordan in Cohen’s native Israel). In Cohen’s Triveni, the members of his trio symbolically assume each of the three estuaries. Many say Cohen has assumed the spirit of the great Miles Davis, reincarnated into a powerful combination of lyricism and intellect. He among the best in world, currently playing alongside other all-stars in the SFJAZZ Collective. This version of Triveni features bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits, the latter appearing on Triveni’s latest album, Dark Nights.
Mike Moreno Quartet
HSPVA sounds like something you should vaccinate against, but those who graduated from the Houston School of the Performing and Visual Arts might as well have injected erythropoietin into their veins. Performance enhancing drugs help hit home runs, but for a musician to knock it out of the park still requires old-fashioned practice and study. HSPVA alum and guitarist Mike Moreno has done just that, becoming one of the highest-profile young guitarists in NY for the better part of a decade, and the sideman of choice for the new ‘it’ jazz crowd, including Aaron Parks, John Ellis, and Kendrick Scott. Moreno’s quartet includes MIro Sprague (piano), Dave Robaire (bass), and Jamire Williams (drums).
Aaron Goldberg Trio w/ Joshua Redman
This pianist had life options, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in ‘Mind, Brain, and Behavior’. Our materialistic society would say Goldberg is out of his mind for pursuing jazz, but he surely has the brain and the behavior to succeed in that area. With his exceptional pianistic prowess and quick-minded wit, Goldberg has proven himself to be among the elite jazz minds in the world today. Naturally then, he went back to school to get a Master’s degree in philosophy. His trio for the evening consists of current SFJAZZ Collective members Matt Penman (bass) and Obed Calvaire (drums). Goldberg will also be assisted by superstar saxophonist Joshua Redman, who rejoins his former sideman for this show.
The trumpeter/composer/entrepreneur continues to perform and write his own music at a dizzying pace, and his fledgling label, Orenda Records, is busy with an ongoing series of showcases (including their own stage at the Angel City Jazz Festival last fall). He also got married. What a year! Now it’s his birthday, and Daniel Rosenboom has decided to celebrate in style with a brand new band featuring cellist Artyom Manukyan, keyboardist Jeff Babko, bassist Jerry Watts, and drummer Gary Novak. The personnel seems to be geared towards music of a kind of free-fusion, which might be the only way to contain Rosenboom’s radioactive trumpeting and an unquenchable creative fire that will meltdown before it shuts down.
The Regent Theater
Washington’s powerful tenor saxophone sound has been a fixture in Los Angeles for years, yet at age 34 he is in the prime of his career. His saxophone and string arrangements on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly are the culmination of a long association with rap and soul artists, from Snoop Dog to Flying Lotus. Washington is mounted on the precipice of greatness, poised to become one of the few LA jazz musicians with a household name, and puts him at the head of a revolution towards the re-establishment of a new West Coast Jazz. Call it the South Central Renaissance. This concert marks the self-described release of this new album, The Epic, which it is sure to be.
This controversial alto saxophonist has plenty of detractors, but an even greater number of admirers, earning him a MacArthur Genius fellowship in 2006 and a worldwide following. For his first performance in Los Angeles in a quarter century, Zorn is making up for lost time by doing a year’s worth of shows in one day. Called John Zorn’s Marathon, the festivities start off with a five-hour performance at LACMA. He then hightails it over to Royce Hall for an evening concert with three different bands, including a mega-trio with legendary bassist/producer Bill Laswell and drummer Dave Lombardo (from Slayer!). Zorn wraps up the evening with a solo performance on pipe organ, a dramatic end to an epic day.
Le Boeuf Brothers
Remy and Pascal Le Boeuf play saxophone and piano, respectively. They both have success as jazz musicians in New York, and as serious composers, both brothers being awarded prestigious grants and commissions to write pieces. They are also identical twins, which makes for a surreal sci-fi stage presentation. If only the rest of the band looked exactly like them, and if they all looked like John Malkovich, they could make a movie or something. They have managed to blend their serious jazz chops with an impressive array of sonic detail found in electro-pop or EDM. Cochella could have used them as a bridge between Steely Dan and Todd Terje and the Olsens.
Jonathan Rowden Group
Rowden wanted to become a comic-book artist, but instead got bit Spidey-style by the music bug, and like Peter Parker, it would change his life dramatically. Rowden is now negotiating a strong foothold within the music scene, beginning to explore collaborations with many of the best jazz musicians in Los Angeles, making his debut with the album Becoming on the new Los Angeles based creative music label, Orenda Records. His band represents a growing trend in Los Angeles towards music which draws upon elements of modernism fused with an aesthetic edge prevalent in much of today’s music regardless of genre. His band, the Jonathan Rowden Group, has pianist Ryan Pryor, bassist Chris Hon, and drummer James Yoshizawa, with guest saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf.
The pianist is of the generation of highly influential jazz artists who arrived after the golden age of jazz in the 60’s, new masters who have taught and inspired the current generation. Hersch was a rising star in the early 80’s with gigs with Art Farmer, Joe Henderson and Stan Getz. Now he is a jazz piano guru, with a legacy of landmark recordings and a loyal army of disciples, including pianists Ethan Iverson, Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, and Brad Mehldau, the latter acknowledging the direct influence on his sound and concept. On the piano, Hersch is at once a hopeless romantic and heavyweight motherfucker (Moran likes him to LeBron James in basketball); his playing is beautiful in a way that can disguise the intellectual heft it carries. If one imagines Brahms improvising, this is how it might sound.
This young phenom from England got famous on YouTube, with millions of views on his innovative musical and vocal jazz arrangements of Stevie Wonder and other covers. He is self taught, which is astounding considering his videos feature him playing bass, drums, and keys, and singing all of the voices in six-part vocal jazz harmony. Yes, he is better than you at most things, if not everything. He caught the attention of Snarky Puppy, who will feature Collier on an upcoming recording, and Quincy Jones, who is presenting Collier at this show. Joining Collier is drummer Louis Cole, one half of the electro-pop group Knower, and bassist Sam Wilkes, who works with Adam Levine prodigy Rozzi Crane.
Tuesday 4/21 (also Wed 4/22 and Thur 4/23)
A recent preview from Chicago of this Grammy-nominated band called them a “New York Quintet,” which is only three fifths correct. But they made it there, and made it everywhere, perpetually on tour to packed houses (except for that one place in Indy). To listen to their latest offering, The Line, is to fall through a wormhole out into a music club in the year 2034. Saxist Ben Wendel, trumpeter Shane Endsley, keyboardist Adam Benjamin, Bassist Kaveh Rastegar and drummer Nate Wood are all jazz celebrities now, which means no one outside of jazz knows who they are, except for Rastegar who plays for De La Soul, John Legend and Sia. Wanna guess who still lives in Los Angeles?
WALLIS ANNENBERG CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
Three decades after their first jazz festival, SFJAZZ has become one of the largest non-profit organizations for jazz in the world. Much of their recent success is owed to the formation of their flagship ensemble, the Collective. It’s an eight-member band of all-star performer/composers from around the world: alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire. This is the first jazz concert to appear in the Wallis, the beautiful Beverly Hills performance space which opened in 2013, just ten months after SFJAZZ opened their new $64 million operating and performance space. Time to start a non-profit org!
SANTA CLARITA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
Blessed with a deep baritone he inherited from his father (the first African-American man to sing for the New York Metropolitan Opera), Robert Keith McFerrin, Jr. also found he had the falsetto heights of a Phillip Bailey, and every note in-between. That voice, coupled with his keen jazz intellect and life-affirming spirit, set him on a transcendent path into superstardom, winning Grammys in 1989 (Song and Record of the Year) for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Since then he’s conducted orchestras, collaborated with countless famous artists from Yo-Yo Ma to Questlove, and continues to smash the limits of what the human voice can do. It’s no exaggeration, McFerrin has one of the truly unique voices of all time.
Jeff Parker, Oscar Noreiga, Trevor Dunn, Jim Black
A clandestine move to Los Angeles in 2013 caught guitarist Jeff Parker in kind of a transition between maintaining ties to his extensive global music community (notably Chicago, his former home), and integrating into the massive multi-headed monster that is the music scene here. Too talented to stay in hiding for long, Parker has started to make his presence felt, collaborating with a wide range of artists and even starting his own scene, a weekly gig at the Griffiin in Atwater Village. Here Parker is co-opting Endangered Blood, the avant-jazz band from NY, with bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Jim Black, Oscar Noreiga on clarinet, and Parker standing in for reedman Chris Speed.
Jason Harnell, Joe Bagg, Walter Smith III
This venerable Studio City club has long been the turf upon which is played an athletic brand of LA fusion, much rougher than smooth jazz. The club has the personality of its founder and owner, Don Randi, himself an established rock and jazz keyboardist who played with artists of every letter—Alpert, the Beach Boys, Cannonball Adderley, and so on to Zappa. It’s no wonder each night has a different slice of the diverse music scene in Los Angeles. This night features more straight-ahead jazz, when longtime homies Jason Harnell (drums) and Joe Bagg (organ) team up with saxophonist Walter Smith III, who lives in LA but can be heard more often elsewhere around the world.
Nick Mancini Organ Band (featuring Danny Janklow)
VITELLO’S E SPOT LOUNGE
For five years, the modest upstairs room, at the Italian restaurant known best for something Robert Blake says he didn’t do, was one of a handful of listening rooms in Los Angeles featuring jazz. But it became the perfect opportunity for latin-pop percussionist Sheila E to venture into the club-ownership business, transforming the room into a first-rate showroom. Thankfully, jazz hasn’t completely been wiped off the calendar. The genre this night is well represented by vibraphonist Nick Mancini, playing music from his new organ CD, Impulse. The band features young standout alto saxophonist Danny Janklow, drummer Zack Albetta and organist Ty Bailie, who just won the music lottery when he joined Katy Perry’s band on her Prismatic tour.
Aditya Prakash Ensemble, Julian Le Trio
The two friends from UCLA’s venerable music program share a common vision: creating stimulating and culturally sophisticated (and danceable) hybrids of musical styles. Prakash is a young master of Indian classical singing, yet he was drawn to jazz and funk and sought to incorporate all those elements in his band, the Aditya Prakash Ensemble. The result is a smartly-arranged, ultra-hip world music experience. Le is a jazz pianist who was bitten by the neo-soul bug, now working with some veritable queens of the genre, including Judith Hill and Erykah Badu. Together the two visionaries exemplify a new colorful path for creative artists to explore, hopefully with a pot of gold at the end, or at least a dependable fanbase.
Mark Helias Open Loose
Helias has been a significant crumb on the upper crust of the free jazz body politic, performing with founding fathers Ed Blackwell, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, and others. The bassist remains relevant to the current crop of brilliant forward-leaning improviser, with associations with pianist Marilyn Crispell, clarinetist and saxophonist Chris Speed, bassist Mark Dresser (they perform as a duo), and his long-standing trio, Open Loose, with Tony Malaby (sax) and Tom Rainey (drums). Their familiarity with each other as a working band allows them to be as tight as an ensemble can be when playing freer forms. Open Loose is touring in support of their new album, The Signal Maker (Intakt).
CATALINA BAR AND GRILL
Some guys seem to lead a charmed life, either born of privilege or being in the right place and time. Such scenarios are far from Dave Damiani’s reality, as he struggled to make ends meet as a bartender, earning enough to study music at a state school. From there, he worked tirelessly to refine his skills as a post-modern rat-pack singer and performer, plunging headlong into the business of making music and leading a big band. His efforts were eventually rewarded with a slew of engagements in LA and Vegas, with his music featured on television shows and commercials from Apple to Ralph Lauren. Damiani deserves every accolade, because he’s a self-made man who’s worked his ass off to make it. His new album is called Midlife Crisis, and he’s earned the right to have one of those as well.
John Abercrombie All Star Quartet
In 1962, Berklee College of Music offered the very first collegiate major for guitar. One of the department’s first graduates was a promising student named John Abercrombie, who, along with colleagues like Gary Burton, John Scofield, and Alan Broadbent, would ride the first crest of an endless wave of Berklee grads who went on to become prominent jazz artists. Abercrombie was an early signee to the fledgling jazz label ECM, producing many historic albums over four decades. One of those, his ECM debut Timeless, proved to be a prophetic title when it was sampled by rap groups Ab-Soul (featuring Kendrick Lamar) and Slum Village (with J-Dilla). The guitar legend is joined by fellow heavyweights Marc Copland (piano), Joey Baron (drums), and Drew Gress (bass).
Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet
KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE
The Polish-born trumpeter is credited as being Europe’s first free-jazz pioneer, an assertion given credence with his early recordings with Don Cherry, Taj Mahal and Cecil Taylor. A series of open, lyrical albums in the ’90s put Stanko firmly in the stable of european jazz label ECM. A move across the Atlantic to New York in 2008 led to a renewal of sorts, spurred by collaborations with younger players, echoes of a similar strategy by the original trumpet lyricist, Miles Davis. Stanko’s New York Quartet features brilliant pianist David Virelles, bassist Ruben Rogers, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, in an exciting mix of unpredictable melodic mastery.
Azar Lawrence Quartet featuring Juini Booth
While there have been many who emulated the late saxophone master John Coltrane, perhaps none have ever captured the essence, spirit and soul of Coltrane more than Azar Lawerence. It's as if Coltrane, before his death, transferred his katra (living spirit) to Lawrence, à la Spock to McCoy as we found out in Star Trek III. Lawrence picked up right where Coltrane left off, first with drummer Elvin Jones, then with pianist (not Leonard) McCoy Tyner, both alumni in Coltrane's band. The landmark 1973 album by Tyner, Enlightenment, features drummer Alphonse Mouzon and bassist Juini Booth, the latter coming out to LA from his hometown of Buffalo to do this reunion concert. Theo Saunders ably plays the part of McCoy (Tyner) here, sans katra.
Friday 3/27 (also Saturday 3/28)
Chris Potter Underground
Chris Potter might be best known to the world as the guy who played that long sax solo on the last track of Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature. To jazz aficionados he is one of the best ever to hang a horn from a neck strap, bearing the gold standard of saxophone the last twenty years for at least two generations of young (or once-young) aspiring players. His latest album, Imaginary Cities, showcases exciting and mature arrangements for his working group, Chris Potter Underground, enhanced with two bassists, vibraphone and string quartet. Two members of the core band, guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Nate Smith, along with bassist Fima Ephron, will assist Potter for his bluewhale debut.
Jens Kuross: Nobody’s Pretty
This Sun Valley, Idaho native boasts of his ability to shoot dead a marmot from 600 yards, and to go 70+ MPH on a snowboard. He certainly knows showbiz, for stunts are more interesting than talent. Angelina Germanotta can sing The Sound of Music, but Lady Gaga wears a dress of raw meat. Jens Kuross’ outdoorsman escapades are meant to disguise his multi-talents on drums, keyboard and singing, mostly in the band of Aussie pop-star Ry Cumming (RY X) and in his own band Mouse Kills Tiger. Kuross’ new instrumental project is Nobody’s Pretty, with keyboardist Lee Pardini and bassist Nick Campbell. Their masterful treatments of rock melodies are laced with the tormented angst today’s American youth enjoy indulging in.
Monday 3/24 and Tuesday 3/25
Manhattan Transfer, Take 6
CATALINA JAZZ CLUB
This is the year when two undisputed champions finally agreed to meet for one of the greatest shows in the history of their profession. We are discussing the vocal jazz super-groups Manhattan Transfer and Take 6, but we might as well be talking about Pacquiao/Mayweather in The Fight of the Century. Manhattan Transfer has been the trendsetter for vocal jazz groups since 1969, when Tim Hauser founded the group and was a part of every iteration since until his untimely death last October. Take 6 exploded into the public ear in 1988 with their Grammy-winning self-titled debut album, and they continue to be a beloved and important piece of gospel music and a cappella vocal harmony. When these two celestial groups get on stage together, expect the vocal jazz universe to implode under the immense gravitational force.
One of the more impressive feats in music is to sing one melody while playing another melody on bass. There is a short list of those who pulled it off, like Jack Bruce of Cream, Rush’s Geddy Lee, and Sting. In jazz there are even fewer examples, although Bieber-killer Esperanza Spaulding comes quickly to mind. Katie Thiroux is first a tremendous musician and bassist, which in turn informs her singing, which is delightful, unpredictable and subtle, more Paul McCartney than Gene Simmons. Her debut album, Introducing Katie Thiroux, is a solid hard-swinging album which boldly embraces the golden bygone era of jazz. With fine guitarist Graham Dechter, drummer Matt Witek and veteran tenor saxophonist Roger Neumann.
Jamire Williams Group
March at bluewhale appears to be the month for Drummers Who Went To The Same Houston Arts High School: Eric Harland, Kendrick Scott, and now Jamire Williams, the gifted, passionate musician who could be compared to the great Brian Blade, both in terms of style and physical stature. His recent move to LA has not kept him from touring with his New York friends (like pianist Jason Moran and guitarist Matt Stevens), but it has helped him forge new bonds with the best of LA’s musical innovators, including violist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and electronic pioneer Daedalus. Williams’ band features the suddenly-ubiquitous Josh Johnson on alto sax and keyboards, and pianist and 2011 Thelonious Monk Competition winner Kris Bowers.
Thursday 3/12 (also 3/13)
Kendrick Scott Oracle
Hailing from the same arts high school in Houston as fellow drummer Eric Harland, pianist Jason Moran and yes, Beyonce(!), Kendrick Scott didn't need an oracle to tell him success in music was in the cards. Nevertheless, could he have foreseen becoming one of the top jazz drummers in the world, with a new contract with the venerable Blue Note Records, with the stock of his band, Oracle, skyrocketing as if Larry Ellison were the majority shareholder? His Blue Note debut happens this summer, and his band is getting ready with a tune-up tour, featuring Walter Smith III (saxophone), Mike Moreno (guitar), Aaron Goldberg (piano), and Joe Saunders (bass). All signs point to "buy" on this one.
E.E. Cummings remarked, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” The statement could define the entire legacy of Tin Hat, the Bay Area band which has made a lengthy career out of risky and daring original music, with stimulating, imaginative results. Their most recent album features musical treatments of 17 poems by Cummings, all sung with lovely affectation by Carla Kihlstedt (who mainly plays violin in the group), with equally poignant contributions from Rob Reich (pianist/accordion), Mark Orton (guitar), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet). Their music is deliciously mysterious, but per Cummings, “Knowledge is a polite word for dead but not buried imagination.”
She was going to be a public interest attorney, then she became a jazz vocalist. Now Kathleen Grace is a country singer, and a good one at that. Despite the career equivocation, she definitely knows what she is doing. Her latest album, No Place to Fall, is the work of a self-assured artist at home in her own skin and choice of repertoire, as if she had always sung cowboy ballads from her wild-west Arizona upbringing. Good musicianship trumps attempts to pigeonhole, and Grace delivers multi-layered emotional themes with pitch-perfect empathy, a boon for singers of any genre. You might catch a whiff of jazz, but then you might not care much through your tears.
The tenor saxophonist has been well regarded for years for his work with trumpeter Dave Douglas, bandleader Maria Schneider, and countless other movers and shakers in the modern New York jazz environment. Many years before then, Donny McCaslin was a California teenager whose musical heroes included Tower of Power, Weather Report, and Aphex Twin. The formative inspiration of those groups have drawn McCaslin back to an electronica state of mind, with a couple of albums (Casting for Gravity in 2012, and Fast Future, due out soon) unapologetically exploring at once the great fusion albums of the past and the current wave of EDM. The band for this Jazz Bakery ‘Moveable Feast’ concert includes three musicians with the street cred to venture into this electric wonderland; keyboardist Jeff Babko, drummer Nate Wood of Kneebody, and Tedeschi Trucks Band bassist Tim Lefebvre.
Tucked In the liner notes of Wynton or Branford Marsalis records from the 80’s was this quote: "To obtain more wood sound from the bass, this album was recorded without usage of the dreaded bass direct." Robert Hurst was the bassist on many of those records and should be credited with rescuing us from the horrible bass aesthetics of that era, which have thankfully gone the way of bell-bottoms and chest hair poking through unbuttoned polyester shirts. He’s played with Sting and in the Tonight Show Band, with seven Grammys to his name. Hurst brings to bluewhale a must-see band with drummer Karriem Riggins, percussionist Munyungo Jackson, guitarist Anthony Wilson and pianist Geoff Keezer.
Pilc Mouton Hoenig
SCHOENBERG HALL (UCLA CAP)
The piano is a wondrous instrument with a myriad of possibility, tempered only by the physical and mental limitations of those who dare to put their hands on the keys. If those hands belong to Jean Michel Pilc, witnesses need to prepare themselves to accept the stupendously impossible. Pilc, along with bassist Francois Mouton and drummer Ari Hoenig, have been in existence as a trio since 1995, reforming in 2010 as a collaborative three-headed super-smart jazz-monster. The resulting album from their reunion, Threedom, is a lively, at times irreverent tri-liloquy which confirms the band’s place among the best piano trios in jazz.
Dan Tepfer and Joanna Wallfisch
It should only take a moment or two of watching and hearing pianist Dan Tepfer to come to the conclusion he must be a genius. Ideas emanate seemingly out of the ether, yet are entirely appropriate for the specific moment in time they are conjured. His gifts are confirmed by master saxophonist Lee Konitz, who has picked Tepfer as his pianist of choice for the better part of a decade. A sensitive and adept accompanist, he could even make Rosanne Barr sing the national anthem with grace and charm. Lucky for us, Joanna Wallfisch needs no help in that department, as the British singer’s soothing voice and refined demeanor float over her pianist’s surprising ruminations on their new duo album, The Origin of Adjustable Things.
The Brad Dutz 4tet
Brad Dutz was a journeyman, drawn to percussion in college because his hands were better than his feet (crucial to playing drum set). He toured with Maynard Ferguson before crashing back to LA, working odd jobs and church orchestras until Hollywood discovered his zany talent and began using him on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dutz would go on to record on a bevy of soundtracks, and for pop icons like Willie Nelson and Alanis Morrisette. Studio-cred established, he continues to push (and rip asunder) the envelope of sound and rhythm with his own one-of-a-kind band, featuring Paul Sherman on oboe and English horn, Brian Walsh on clarinet, and cellist Chris Votek.
Julian Lage Trio
When a documentary is made about your extraordinary talent at age 8, your life is set up to be either a monumental achievement or a flaming disaster. Thankfully things seem to be going well for guitarist Julian Lage, who several years before his 30th birthday has already worked with everyone from jazz legends Gary Burton and Jim Hall to outside-the-jazz-box visionaries like Nels Cline and Punch Brothers guitarist Chris Eldridge. Lage can seemingly transcend any style of music with scintillating flair and originality, a combination of Bill Frisell, Yo-Yo Ma and Adam Lambert. He brings to bluewhale bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen, in keen anticipation of a new trio album.
A lot of things can happen over the course of a decade, most of them not conducive to keeping a band together. Yet Jon Armstrong (tenor), Rory Cowal (piano), David Tranchina (bass) and Trevor Anderies (drums) have managed to stick together like the waxy beehive residue they named their band after. Their longevity has been rewarded by a endless slew of critical acclimations and invitations to perform at festivals from coast to coast. Their music drifts easily in and out of structure to freer forms, running the gamut of expression from tender contemplation to merciless rancor. After 10 years, these four friends play collectively as if they all had graduate degrees in chemistry.
Thursday 2/26 (also 2/27 and 2/28)
Stanley Clark and Friends
CATALINA JAZZ CLUB
Quite possibly the first “shredder” on bass, Clarke rose to international stardom with Chick Corea and Return to Forever and never came back down, forging a four decade career as one of the most dynamic and charismatic bass players in history. His latest album, Up, is a slickly-produced affair with a gaggle of good friends, including the Harlem String Quartet, drummer Stewart Copeland from the Police (there’s no mistaking his beat), and Corea himself, in a heartfelt moment between two old friends. He continues to keep his finger on the pulse of modern jazz, enlisting young virtuosos drummer Mike Mitchell, pianist Beka Gochiashvili and keyboardist Cameron Graves in his current band.
Kei Akagi Trio
The Japanese pianist from Cleveland followed closely in Chick Corea’s footsteps, first with Corea’s Return to Forever bandmates Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Joe Farrell, then with one of Miles Davis’ last groups in the late ’80’s. Having played with everyone from Stanley Turrentine to Tom Harrell, Akagi has settled down somewhat as the venerable head of the jazz program at UC Irvine. Still a performer at heart, his latest album, Circlepoint, features his longstanding all-Japanese trio with bassist Shunya Wakai and drummer Tamaya Honda. Known in the 80’s for his electronic keyboard playing, people who don’t know his later work will be impressed by his lyrical touch and deft precision on piano.
He was a prodigy, learning piano at age 3, studying jazz at USC at age 16. He was the winner of the Montrex and Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano competitions as a teenager. However, instead of becoming embedded in the jazz scene in New York, Tigran Hamasyan has followed a different path, one that eventually took him back to his native Armenia where he now lives, writing music from and about his beloved homeland. His sheer brilliance on the piano is now matched by the beauty and integrity of his folk-inspired compositions. Like a modern-day Bartok, Hamasyan’s music is deeply rooted in his Eastern European heritage, yet it has a modernist’s intellect and a charismatic fire which can be traced only to its author. His debut on Nonesuch is called Mockroot, featuring drummer Arthur Hnatek and bassist Sam Minaie.
Friday 2/20 (also Sat 2/21)
Josh Nelson Discovery Project
The Martian Chronicles author Ray Bradbury said, “You fail only if you stop writing,” and Nelson, who otherwise would be merely the world’s best jazz piano accompanist, has written a lot of music as of late, continuing to un-earth new worlds with his Discovery Project. His new album, Exploring Mars, is an homage to the Red Planet and its secrets. Let’s hope what JPL finds up there is as fantastical and lyrical as this music, especially the ballad “How You Loved Me on Mars,” co-written and sung so poignantly by Kathleen Grace. Bradbury also said “It's not going to do any good to land on Mars if we're stupid,” which is what we’d be if we didn’t see this show.
Ryan McGillicuddy Trio
This bassist currently lives in Korea, thousands of miles from the rich music culture of Los Angeles, which is fine with him considering he hails from Maine, also thousands of miles from the rich music culture of Los Angeles. Spicy kimchi lobster bisque, anyone? In between those times McGillicuddy lived here, his career peaking as first-call sideman for first-rate jazzmen including pianists Larry Goldings, Bill Cunliffe and Russell Ferrante. Part of the unfortunate exodus of great bassists out of LA, McGillicuddy remains a potent musical force and returns stateside to promote his new bass-centric album, Boots and Boots, featuring pianist Vardan Ovsepian and the legendary drummer Peter Erskine.
18th Street Art Center Presents: Marquis Hill
While New Orleans is the hometown of the early trumpet kings Joe Oliver and Louis Armstrong, in fact Oliver and Armstrong became famous in Chicago, the next great city in jazz history. Chicago once again can boast of a new king, for one of their own, standout trumpeter Marquis Hill, is the latest winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. He has since moved to NYC but is currently in LA for a month long artist-in-residency courtesy of the 18th Street Art Center. Hill will go deep-dish with a band featuring drummer Christian Euman, bassist Jonathan Roberts, and fellow Chicago natives (but current Angelenos) Jeff Parker (guitar) and Josh Johnson (alto sax).
Billy Childs Quartet
For many years the Jazz Bakery in Culver City was arguably the best pure listening jazz room in Los Angeles. While fans wait for their new Frank Gehry-designed complex to be built, the Bakery has continued its mission to cultivate a new generation of jazz listeners through its Moveable Feast series. The show comes this Valentine's Day to Zipper Hall, where pianist Billy Childs leads an all-star quartet with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Johnathan Blake, and features the highly valued New York commodity Steve Wilson on alto sax. It's a great idea for a date; just play it cool and don't geek out too much on the music.
Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band
As a fiery drummer whose textural, hyper-dynamic approach redefined jazz drumming for a new generation, Brian Blade’s made-for-the-stage name became well known as a sideman to saxophonist Joshua Redman, further increasing his celebrity cache touring with pop sensation Seal. The Brian Blade Fellowship debuted in 1998 to much fanfare and cemented Blade as one of the great visionaries of his generation. Their latest album, Landmarks, is only their fourth album in 14 years and first since 2008, thanks in part to Blades’ busy schedule as a high-profile drummer for Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Daniel Lanois (he keeps a drum kit at Lanois’ home), and all the world’s best jazz artists. The Fellowship Band, as it’s now called, is still defined by the spacious playing of keyboardist Jon Cowherd, and emphatically punctuated by the unmistakable rhythmic presence of the bandleader.
Orkestar MÉZÉ featuring Ellis Hall
As the son of musicians and educators in his native Bulgaria, Milen Kirov became a prodigy on piano and would follow in his parents’ footsteps as a well-respected composer and college professor. Little did they know he would lead a double life as leader of what may be the best Bulgarian party jam band in Los Angeles. Kirov’s Orkestar MÉZÉ mashes traditional eastern-European folk rhythms with funk groove and Tower-of-Power-esque horns. You’ll want to dance but don’t trip over the extra beats in every bar. This show features singer Ellis Hall, the Ray Charles disciple and self-proclaimed “Ambassador of Soul” who negotiated musical treaties with Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and George Benson among others.
Kevin Hays Trio
In this era of jazz musicians streaming out of college, pianist Kevin Hays got his education the old-fashioned way, by playing with jazz masters like Benny Golson, Joe Henderson, and Billy Hart. In doing so, he has honed a long and fruitful career in New York by earning the trust of legions of great musicians who want him in their bands, which has both seasoned him with experience and kept him on the cutting edge of modern jazz. Having established himself as a first-rate pianist, Hays now sings as well, possessing the surprising voice of a poet reminiscent of Neil Young. He’s here with his own trio from his forthcoming album, New Day.
Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio
The young saxophonist from Santiago Chile won the 2013 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, becoming the first female instrumentalist ever to win the prestigious award. No one could be more deserving, as Aldana is a complete musician with an eloquent facility and wisdom of note choices rooted in both history and innovation. As much as she would like it to be about the music (and it certainly is), she nevertheless is a bright light for a generation of young girls who can believe it’s possible to do this thing called jazz. Her band Crash Trio released their debut album last year, calling to mind the great saxophone trios of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson.
Scott Amendola Band
Since moving to the Bay Area in 1992, Amendola has been that region’s ambassador to the world in showcasing good and interesting instrumental music. He became well known for playing drums with guitar phenom Charlie Hunter in the Grammy-nominated band T.J. Kirk, and collaborated with notables such as guitarists Bill Frisell and Pat Martino. His longstanding band includes iconic violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist John Shifflett, and two more guitarists, Jeff Parker and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. It goes without saying Amendola likes stringed instruments, and he recently composed a piece for orchestra premiered by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, quite a feat for anyone who hits things for a living.
Petros Klampanis Group
The Greek bassist’s 2011 album, Contextual, featuring a string quartet and a jazz rhythm section with percussionist John Hadfield and true virtuosos Jean-Michel Pilc (piano) and Gilad Hekselman (guitar), established Klampanis as a remarkable bassist and a deft composer with an ear for beauty in harmony and texture. His follow-up album, Minor Dispute, will drop later this month, starring the same cast of characters. Klampanis’ west coast swing has him on display in a travel-friendly trio format, with the polished and clever guitarist Hekselman and drummer Mark Ferber.
Orenda Records 1st Anniversary Festival (also Saturday 1/31)
One year ago, trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom decided to do something crazy and founded a record label to support the growing number of musicians who prefer to be called “creative improvisers” rather than “jazz musicians”. They are not anti-jazz; it’s just traditional jazz enthusiasts might be anti-them. Today, Rosenboom is at the helm of a large vessel of innovation and creativity, cruising into the uncharted waters of establishing a high-profile creative music scene in Los Angeles. This Friday-Saturday festival features eight of Orenda’s best offerings, including pianist Cathlene Pineda, Michael Mull Octet, guitarist Alexander Noice, and Rosenboom himself in a band with Tedeschi Trucks Band bassist Tim Lefebvre.
Justin Kauflin Trio
When famed trumpeter Clark Terry began to lose his eyesight, a young blind piano student was brought in to share his own experiences. Terry soon realized Justin Kauflin's immense talent and became his personal mentor, literally the blind leading the blind with spectacular results. The encounter became the topic for the documentary Keep On Keepin' On, which highlights their unique and luminous bond, winning a slew of awards and hailed as one of the best independent films of 2014. Film producer Quincy Jones, himself once a student of Terry, signed Kauflin to his label, quite an endorsement from one whose previous work with blind keyboardists were Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.
Credit bluewhale owner Joon Lee for insisting above all else that the music in his club is of the highest quality, original, and authentic. Such terms describe singer/pianist/guitarist/composer Madeline Tasquin, whose classicist sensibilities in her strong-yet-whimsical singing and graduate-level writing are paired nicely with well-executed indie-rock production, and just enough blues to make it work in this jazz club. Tasquin is expanding her sphere of influence beyond her home base of Northern California (where SFGate calls her "a creative tour de force"), touring the West Coast and then on to Europe, where her Canadian-French heritage and language acumen will come in handy.
Nick Mancini, Brian Charette, Zack Albetta
CURVE LINE SPACE
Mancini, LA's resident jazz malleter, recently teamed up with NYC organist Charette to record Mancini's new album, Impulse. It's a mix of feel-good jazz-pop and ball-busting bebop virtuosity. Charette, a practitioner of martial arts, needs those reflexes to deflect a relentless barrage of good note choices from Mancini, and gets in more than a few good licks in riposte. Drummer Zack Albetta joins the double-barreled action at Curve Line Space, which was featured in the LA Weekly's 2013 "Best Of" Awards as "The Best Jazz Room That's Also a Frame Shop."
David Roitstein & Larry Koonse
Larry Koonse is well-known in Los Angeles as one of the most respected straight-ahead jazz guitarists. What most don't know is much of his musical persona has been shaped by his collaboration and friendship with fellow CalArts faculty member David Roitstein, an exquisite pianist not heard much outside of their scholastic community. They share the gift of musical empathy, the ability to connect with anyone they play with, and together, they exude a camaraderie of warmth and musicality, a reflection of their hearts which have inspired generations of young artists. Their forthcoming duo album, Conversations, will explain why these two gentleman are so beloved by their students.
He was born into a black family with an absentee father, in a mostly-white neighborhood in Bakersfield, CA. As a boy, he endured a burning cross on his lawn and bottles of urine hurled through his windows. He sang only in church, until he honored his mother's last wish for him on her deathbed and began his vocal career at age 40. Four years later Gregory Porter has a Grammy and international fame, recently bringing the house down at London's Royal Albert Hall. Hopefully someone makes a movie about his life, for the script writes itself. He's a jazz singer, but as in the manner of Al Jarreau, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Lou Rawls, and George Benson, his soul roots are gloriously self-evident. Blue Note Records has its new champion, one who sounds classic and current at the same time.
CATALINA JAZZ CLUB
Watching her sing gives one the sense of an other-worldly presence. Impeccable pitch, flawless rhythm and a delightful whimsy executed with deadly seriousness. She has maintained her youthful countenance, enhanced by wisdom from two decades in the spotlight. Tierney Sutton at times seems less like a jazz singer and more like a beautiful, immortal wizard in the vein of Galadriel, a true force of ethereal vocal excellence. She is backed by her longtime band, highlighted by brilliant pianist Christian Jacobs, who matches Sutton's invincible artistry with perfect pianistic workmanship.
Not to be confused with the bassist for Soundgarden, this Ben Shepherd is forging his own impressive path very early in his young career. He moved from his native New Zealand to LA to study with bass master Alphonso Johnson, getting his big break with American Idol runner-up David Archuleta, and a bigger break touring with guitar legend Lee Ritenour. His virtuoso playing and upbeat attitude has earned him friends in high places, many of whom join him on this show, including keyboardist/DJ Mark DeClive-Lowe, string savant Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and professional soul singer and Ray Charles protege Ellis Hall.
Shoeless Joe Jackson was an infamous baseball player. Joe Bagg is an exceptional jazz pianist and organist in Los Angeles. JoE-LeSs ShOe is a band which has neither Jackson nor Bagg in it, which is why it is called what it is. When listening to guitarist Jamie Rosenn, saxist Matt Otto, and drummer Jason Harnell, one must imagine their longtime bandmate and good friend Joe Bagg playing with the trio, contributing incredible keyboard wizardry. Eventually the players not named Joe will, through their brilliance, make one forget about the missing member and his shoe. It's crazy, quirky music, played with tremendous skill and imagination, without keys, baseball, gambling, or cheating.
A lesser-known fact regarding latin-jazz players is most of them prefer to play straight-ahead bebop, given the choice. At least that's what motivated drummer Ignacio Berroa to flee his native Cuba for New York, where he joined the quartet of Dizzy Gillespie, the godfather of Afro-Cuban music. Berroa himself has become an elder statesman of this original fusion of jazz with cubano musica, having played with jazz and latin music titans from Slide Hampton to Tito Puente. His undulating bolero cadences helped Charlie Haden win a Grammy (in 2002 for Nocturne). Traveling to Cuba is much easier now, but coming here on this night is the next best thing.
For Los Angeles to have a jazz scene on par with New York, it first must keep its promising young musicians from moving there. Alto saxophonist Josh Johnson is a welcome addition here, after a prodigious start to his career in Chicago was followed by an invitation to UCLA to be one of seven musicians in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Johnson remains in LA, contributing to the rapid youth movement in jazz currently underway. For this show he is joined by former fellow TMI bandmate pianist MIro Sprague, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Anna Butterss, and drummer Christian Eumann.
Alan Ferber Big Band
Big bands supposedly met their demise in the 1940's when Americans turned to pop singers and jazz musicians embraced bebop and the small combo, yet they have survived and maintained an important presence within the music industry. Recent years have seen an influx of innovation regarding the genre, with the new generation of composers led by Darcy James Argue and Alan Ferber, whose bands were both nominated for a Grammy this year. Ferber has established himself as one of the premier modern jazz arrangers of our time, and his annual LA big band concert helps to bridge our city's significant jazz generation gap with compelling music for any era.
A key part of the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles is the renaissance of late night establishments catering to the younger professional-class residents who live in the city and apparently don't need much sleep. Seven Grand has enhanced its reputation as the go-to downtown whiskey bar with classy but youthful jazz and blues. One of their new monthly features is Nora Germain, who sings with a sweet, buoyant voice but really shines on violin with a facile technique and a bubbling fountain of energetic ideas. She fits nicely with Seven Grand's retro-classic theme, implying a time when young people frequented hunting lodges and listened to jazz.
John Beasley and the MONK'estra
In almost every professional field there are unsung heroes, the ones behind the scenes making it all happen. Pianist John Beasley has played Tonto to many a Lone Ranger; playing with Miles Davis in the 80's, being associate musical director for Ricky Minor on American Idol, and serving for the past three years as musical director for International Jazz Day, which NPR has dubbed "the World's Biggest Jazz Concert". After years in the trenches, Beasley is finally getting his just deserves, with a Grammy nomination for his 2011 album Positootly!, and rave reviews for his MONK'estra, theThelonious Monk-inspired big band featuring a small army of brilliant unsung LA hero-musicians.
Friday, January 2
CATALINA JAZZ CLUB
Wishing for her youngest son to have a better fate than his musician father and brothers, Alex Acuna's mother kept her husband from teaching him music. It's hard to fight destiny, and Acuna's was to become one of the greatest percussionists/drummers of all time. He somehow combined the deep clave rhythms found in Peruvian, Brazilian and Cuban music with the white-hot precision of Tony Williams and the raging fire of Elvin Jones. With a single phone call from keyboardist Joe Zawinul, Acuna became a superstar, and he and bassist Jaco Pastorius helped Weather Report become jazz's own version of the Beatles. He will be joined by bassist Abraham Laboriel, pianist Joe Rotondi, guitarist Ramon Stagnaro, and Acuna's own daughter Regina Acuna-Williams on vocals. Apparently her father is more optimistic about a career in music than her grandmother was.
Katisse Buckingham Oddsemble
If there is such a thing as justice, Will Ferrell should finance every future album Katisse Buckingham makes. The money spent would be but a pittance compared to the priceless comedic moment in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy displays his incredible jazz flute prowess, a scene underscored with the audio of Katisse's other-worldly flute virtuosity. As a first-call saxophonist and perhaps the best improvising flautist in LA, Katisse has the resources to bankroll his own projects, including his ambitious Oddsemble, a group intent on confusing everyone with a dizzying array of mixed-meter rhythms and general bad-assery. To quote Burgundy, don't act like you're not impressed.
Bill Cunliffe Big Band
The third ever Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition was won in 1989 by a young pianist named Bill Cunliffe, a former student of Mary Lou Williams, who also taught Monk himself. In the ensuing years since, Cunliffe has carved out a remarkable career in Los Angeles, earning the right to be called one of the city's foremost authorities when it comes to jazz pianism and arranging. Hollywood has rewarded his brilliance with five Grammy nominations and one win, in 2009 for best instrumental arrangement. The winning piece was an arrangement for Cunliffe's big band, which will be on display this evening along with soul singer Freda Payne, who might still have that Band of Gold.
Friday 12/26 (also 12/27)
Ben Wendel, Walter Smith III, Gerald Clayton, Dave Robaire, Jeff Ballard
Aspiring jazz saxophone students in LA have two popular current role models. Ben Wendel lived in LA and made Kneebody a thing before continuing his ascendant career in New York. Walter Smith III established himself as a next-generation version of Joshua Redman and Mark Turner before moving cross-country to LA. The New York-Los Angeles commute is a popular one these days for jazz musicians, with former Angelenos Gerald Clayton (piano) and Dave Robaire (bass) home for the holidays. Our final Yankee, all-star drummer Jeff Ballard, was just here with Brad Mehldau, and now he's back for more fun in the sun down the coast from his native Santa Cruz.
Dan Schnelle, Kevin Kanner
Two albums unknown to most except jazz drummers and vinyl collectors are the legendary "drum battle" albums: Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland, showcasing Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones and Charlie Persip; and Rich vs. Roach, featuring Buddy Rich and Max Roach. Lovers of these records either play drums or were always standing at the center line when playing dodge ball in P.E. class. In an homage to the seldom-heard multiple-drummers-in-one-band format, drummers Dan Schnelle and Kevin Kanner will engage in a friendly-fire back-and-forth, with pianist Josh Nelson, saxophonist Walter Smith III, and bassist Dave Robaire. Kanner for years led the best jam session in town before moving to Brooklyn, and L.A. hasn't swung as hard since. Schnelle stayed out west and has matured into a dyna-rhythmic force and an essential cog in our jazz mechanism.
Arturo Sandoval Big Band
Since his splashy introduction in the '70's with the groundbreaking band Irakere, the Cuban trumpeter has forged a heavyweight career, peaking in 1995 with a Grammy win for his solo album Danzon. One-time protege and heir to the legacy of Dizzy Gillespie, he has become a legend himself, featured on countless recordings, having performed at the White House and with stars like Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. Just a month past his 65th birthday, Sandoval can still majestically power over a big band, which he will do with great tidings of joy for this Christmas concert.
Elliot Deutsch Big Band Holiday Special Concert
The big band era truly began in Los Angeles with Benny Goodman's breakthrough at the Palomar Ballroom in 1935. L.A. boasts a hallowed list of arrangers spanning over six decades: Gerald Wilson, Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, Sammy Nestico, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Bill Holman, Mike Barone, Bill Conti, John Clayton, and so many others. The newest member of this elite club is Elliot Deutsch, who at age 30 became the youngest ever to sit on the board of the American Society of Music Composers and Arrangers. His arrangements are polished and innovative, and his band is loaded with young talented musicians, helping this grand tradition last for yet another generation.
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Large Ensemble
After a successful flirtation with Hollywood's music-industrial complex, the violist/composer/arranger decided to focus on artistic pursuits nearer to his heart and further from his pocketbook. It's a brave investment now reaping great dividends in the galvanization of a new generation of talented and savvy musicians. Atwood-Ferguson will attempt to feature as many of those players as he can, with an 11-piece ensemble and a gathering of notable guests, including Daedelus, Mia Doi Todd, Moses Sumney and Inara George. The event should be a musical example of soul, unity, and love, things which can finally be associated with the name Ferguson.
Tuesday 12/16 (also 12/17)
Steve Coleman and Five Elements
Sonny Stitt once told a young aspiring player: "If you take care of that horn, that horn will take care of you." Steve Coleman didn't believe the legendary saxophonist, but he followed that advice, in the process creating his own musical worldview, which he calls Macro - Basic Array of Structured Extemporizations, or M-Base. It's gratifying to see artistic vision rewarded, and Coleman was richly so with a $625,000 "Genius Award" from the MacArthur Foundation, which affords his band, Five Elements, to play at a small Little Tokyo club. As an uncompromising musical originator for over a decade, Coleman can now be the torch bearer for geniuses everywhere.
The Grammy-winnng pianist/composer eschews the term minimalism, going as far to call himself a maximal-ist, making the most of every musical moment. His latest project, a tribute to singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, embodies the maximal spirit, sporting a string orchestra and an impressive parade of singers from Renee Fleming to Rickie Lee Jones, with a little Yo-Yo Ma for good measure. Childs is sans vocals for this show, allowing him to fully display his razor-sharp piano chops. With veteran saxist Bob Sheppard, newcomer Mike Cottone on trumpet, and the dynamic duo of Carlitos Del Puerto on bass and Jamire Williams on drums.
As a young prodigy he performed for jazz royalty, including Sarah Vaughn, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Tommy Flanagan and Jim Hall. His organ trio is regarded as one of the greatest, and he had the honor of playing duets with the late great Charlie Haden. Pianist/organist Larry Goldings has won at playing jazz, which might be why he traded the cutting edginess of NYC for the sun-drenched Hollywood Hills, now writing hits with Sia, playing piano for James Taylor, and otherwise, winning. Charlie Sheen is rumored to be attending, taking notes. He appears here with L.A. musicians bassist David Piltch, drummer Jay Bellarose, and percussionist Sebastian Aymanns.
Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz
Their new duo album is called Genevieve & Ferdinand, after McGarry's middle name. Overlooking the oddity of a woman having a middle name Ferdinand, Kate and Keith have put together a married musical act to rival the Dresden's Marty and Elayne. If McGarry would only stop singing jazz, she would be a star on the singer/songwriter circuit; her marvelous voice effluences unguarded power and affecting detail--but then she would no longer be one of the best and most interesting jazz singers alive. Ganz's nylon-string guitar playing is excellent and tactfully supportive, a clinic on how a husband helps his wife to be her best self.
Brad Mehldau Trio, The Bad Plus
VALLEY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
Orchestra - $60 | Parterre - $45 | Loge - $30
If it were boxing, it would be the main event of two heavyweight champion piano trios. In one corner, Brad Mehldau is the reigning king of jazz piano, whose pianistic prowess has knocked people out for two decades. In the other, the Bad Plus have developed a sound concept with taut execution and ferocious yet restrained intensity that allows them to explore a rock aesthetic, even as they play free jazz. These two über groups have taken the piano trio genre to places heretofore never ventured, which for this show means the Valley. BMT vs. TBP, the Rumble on Reseda!!!
Vijay Iyer at ROYCE HALL
The pianist has won almost every award the past three years, including the rare JazzTimes "quadruple crown" (best artist, group, pianist, album), allowing comparisons to Katy Perry, or maybe even One Direction. The latter actually doesn't fit, as Iyer seems everywhere at once, touring as an improvising musician, lecturing as a full-time professor at Harvard, and lately, writing music for chamber groups. This show presents music from his debut on ECM, Mutations I-X, featuring a traditional classical string quintet w/ the composer on piano, and RADHE RADHE: Rites of Holi, a work for music and film to be presented simultaneously. Up next, writing songs for One Direction.
Thursday 12/4 (also 12/5)
$20 pre-sale; $25 door
All-star bands are usually a hit-and-miss prospect; sometimes you get the '96 Olympic Dream Team, other times you get the '04 Lakers. This big three, however, shouldn't fail to exceed expectations. Pianist Edward Simon is at the top of his game, playing in the SF Jazz Collective (another all-star team) for the past four years. Bassist Scott Colley is one of the best in the world (and the best bassist from Eagle Rock High School). Brian Blade has toured with Seal, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell, yet he remains one of the most creative and dynamic jazz drummers alive.
The Wee Trio
Miles Davis once recorded the popular broadway hit "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," opening the door for a future jazz trio to record an entire album of David Bowie songs (Ashes to Ashes: A David Bowie Intraspective). Finding fertile territory from existing popular culture has long been part of jazz tradition, and the breadth and depth of Bowie's artistry suits this dynamic vibraphone/bass/drums ensemble. They stretch out a bit more on their latest recording, Live at the Bistro, but is it too much to ask them to perform as their Bowie-esque alter-egos on their previous album cover?
The Brazilian singer/guitarist exploded into world consciousness nearly 50 years ago on early collaborations with Herbie Hancock (Courage) and Wayne Shorter (Native Dancer), and on a series of his own albums during that time which redefined Brazilian music beyond bossanova. Nascimento's unmistakable voice became the model for the trademark vocal lines of the Pat Metheny Group sound in the 80's and 90's. Pop stardom soon discovered him as he recorded with Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and Duran Duran among others. At age 72, he's still going strong on a worldwide tour in support of his latest album, Uma Travessia.
Nick Mancini Trio
It helps to have a famous last name, and to play vibraphone, that most rare of the traditional jazz instruments (just below flute, well above pocket-comb). Given that, what has driven Nick Mancini's success is his mind-bending ability to flat-out rip on the vibes, using his custom mallets to pummel us into submission with a machine-gun barrage of awesome. How can so many notes all be the right ones? It requires an incredible facility and a fertile imagination, and Mancini has both in spades. Not content to lazily rely on all the hours of practice honing his craft, Mancini is a relentless hustler, performing everywhere including this trendy Venice listening room. Always the community man, Mancini is sharing the evening with the Leah Zeger Trio, whose whimsical singing and nimble fiddle playing makes gypsy-jazz music appropriate for Westside commuting nomads.
Joey Sellers Jazz Aggregation
They say true artists are all a little crazy, and anyone who plays trombone with four kazoos sticking out of the bell qualifies. Joey Sellers makes some of the craziest sounds ever on the trombone, which belies his complete mastery over music: as a performer who honed his abilities in New York with Conrad Herwig, Dave Liebman and Kenny Wheeler, and as an award-winning composer with scores of scores to his name. Sellers will feature new music for his big band, the Jazz Aggregation, an assemblage of LA's finest jazz musicians, and an agglomeration of some beautifully unusual musical sounds.
Maybe you've never heard of Marcel Camargo, you've probably already heard Marcel Camargo, or at least his guitar playing behind names you should also have heard of--Michael Buble, Sèrgio Mendes, Flying Lotus, Macy Gray, and others. Camargo's current solo project is called The Brazil You Never Heard-artful, Brazilian-influenced arrangements of pop and jazz, from Jobim to Stevie Wonder. This particular show features strings and the seductive voice of Jessica Jeza Vautor, as Camargo explores French songs á la Brazil. As he pulls this music out of obscurity, Camargo might need to rename it The Brazil You Want To Hear More Of.
Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
VALLEY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
In New Orleans, trumpet is king. Buddy Bolden, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong blaringly announced the arrival of jazz to the world, and their legacy has continued on through generations, including Wynton Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton, themselves all native sons of New Orleans. Enter Irving Mayfield, who with his music galvanized a devastated community in the aftermath of Katrina and he and his orchestra have done as much as anyone to bring healing and joy back to this proud city. Mayfield plays trumpet, not football, but he is certainly a New Orleans saint if there ever was one.
She has the goods required of every aspiring Hollywood starlet: talent, charisma, youth, country girl charm, a who's-who contact list, and an unforgettable name. Yet this Grace Kelly is attempting to achieve her stardom as a jazz musician. The 21-year-old All-Korean-American girl (her last name was Chung before her mom remarried) has unlimited creativity, an earthy groove, a singing voice of green fire, and alto saxophone chops so athletic she can seem more like Michelle Wie than Madeline Peyroux. Though she's no Princess of Monaco, Kelly has charmed and performed with music's high society, including A-listers Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Gloria Estefan and Questlove. All this, nary fourteen hours before high noon of her career. Kelly is racing to fame as if to catch a thief, waving to her colleagues from the rear window as she outpaces them.
Angel City Jazz Festival
BARNSDALL ART PARK - GALLERY THEATRE
Creative improvisers of music in Los Angeles are familiar with the name Rocco Somazzi. The Swiss-born impresario got his start programming adventurous music at various clubs in LA, then stepped it up in 2006 with the inaugural ACJF at Barnsdall Park, a hidden oasis just south of Los Feliz. The festival returns this year to Barnsdall for the finale of what has become an annual two-week celebration of art-music throughout the city. Somazzi, now assisted by Cryptagrammophone founder Jeff Gauthier and the Jazz Bakery, continues to shine the spotlight on innovative musicians who are otherwise rarely accorded their due. Featured performers include Josh Nelson, Aruan Ortiz, Craig Taborn, Taylor Ho Bynum, and a tribute to saxophone legend Arthur Blythe. A second stage will showcase fine artists from Orenda Records, the fledgling label primed to extend Somazzi's vision outward and upward.
Friday 9/12 (also Sat 9/13)
Walter Smith III
The saxophonist's new album is titled Still Casual, his fourth and a thrice-removed follow-up to his debut, Casually Introducing Walter Smith III. Smith is the epitome of casual-cool; anyone who has met or heard him in person knows they cannot be as cool as he is without trying too hard. Yet, the easy fire out of his horn and the cyclical momentum of his compositions foment relentless waves of sonic brilliance impossible to casually absorb. It's a mere formality before Smith is casually mentioned in the same breath as other modern saxophone greats like Joshua Redman, Chris Potter and Mark Turner. Still Casual features jazz exemplars Taylor Eigsti (piano), Matt Stevens (guitar), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums). Most of that band will be at bluewhale, with pianist Fabian Almazan and drummer Eric Harland as the overly capable subs.
This guitar phenom just released his debut album, Bolling High Idol, an un-categorizable mashup of punk, electronica, Balkan folk melodies, and unending repeated melodic fragments that will leave you delighted and stimulated, if it doesn't drive you to madness first. You'd think it's the work of a lunatic, or maybe just a smart and friendly guy who shreds on guitar and cites experimental hip-hop group Death Grips as his latest greatest inspiration. If he decided to focus on jazz guitar, Alex Noice would be the next up-and-comer, but he's too deep into other muses to do that, plus it's hard to feel like you wanna fucking jump off a stage at a jazz concert. His current band is a seven-piece group with saxophone and two opera singers. If you like horror movies and Steve Reich serialism, this is for you.
Friday 8/15 (also from Tuesday 8/12-Sunday 8/17)
Chick Corea & The Vigil
CATALINA BAR AND GRILL
Most septuagenarians hopefully stay spry with long walks and crossword puzzles. Chick Corea does this by assembling a band of exciting young virtuosos, recording new originals and touring the world. The new group, The Vigil, was dubbed "Corea's elektrokoustic band" for its integration of fusion with other modern jazz elements. That's a trend among the current generation of players, and some of the best are featured here, including drummer Marcus Gilmore (whose grandfather, Roy Haynes, played drums in Corea's trio), Cuban bass prodigy Carlitos del Puerto, and guitar supernova Charles Altura, who has exploded from obscurity on the West Coast onto the international scene. Completing the group are Luisito Quintero (percussion) and Tim Garland (woodwinds). The remedy is working, for Corea at age 73 sounds as good as he looks in that suit of armor on the new album cover.
Dayramir Gonzalez y Habana EnTRANCE
The three most popular exports out of Cuba are cigars, baseball players and music. Cuban versions of those things have this in common: they are rare, of the finest quality, dramatically distinguishable, and they can take a while to eventually make it to the US. Pianist Dayramir Gonzalez has been a star in Cuba from age 16, when master percussionist Oscar Valdez (from the legendary Cuban group Irakere) chose the young prodigy for his new band. Nearly fifteen years later, Gonzalez has achieved success away from his homeland, perfoming at Carnegie Hall in 2012 and in venues across Europe, the Caribbean, and North America. His refined yet bravado-infused pianism naturally extends the brilliant legacy of Cuban jazz pianists from Bebo Valdez to Chucho Valdez to Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Gonzalez brings to bluewhale an American version of his award-winning Latin-jazz group, Habana EnTRANCE.
GRAND PERFORMANCES/CALIFORNIA PLAZA
Quetzal's 2012 album Imaginaries won a Grammy last year for Best Latin Album, a zenith for the 20-year old band, which almost disbanded when leader Quetzal Flores and lead singer/percussionist Martha Rodriguez decided to focus more on graduate studies and raising a family. Thankfully for their ardent fans, the award has given them newfound vigor, as they continue to make music which reflects the diversity and eclecticism of the Chicano-American community in Los Angeles. Recent performances of music from their upcoming album, Quetzalanimales, reveals a mature band comfortable with their identity, with an even stronger emphasis on traditional Mexican folk rhythms from guitarist Flores, percussionist Alberto Lopez and bassist Juan Perez, and elegantly supported by enchanting violinist Tylana Enomoto and smiling cellist Peter Jacobsen. EDM zombies beware-this is dance music that will leave you with a conscience and a soul.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
In 1961, Allan and Sandra Jaffe founded Preservation Hall in New Orleans, where they held nightly concerts of traditional jazz music played by those who saw jazz being born. Defying decades of Jim Crow laws, they integrated blacks and whites in their audiences and even in their band, predating the Civil Rights Movement. All the current players hail from New Orleans, some the offspring of the original band members, including Allan's son, Ben, who like his father plays tuba and leads the group. The younger Jaffe has astutely infused healthy doses of hip, booking appearances on the Grammy Awards, Austin City Limits, Kimmel and Fallon, and associations with Tom Waits, Andrew Bird and the Foo Fighters. Yet for all their hype, they understand the music of New Orleans on a profound, familial level, making them the realest deal of all.
What could be better than touring the world alternately with a trendsetting jazz group (Kneebody) and an Italian pop star (Ligabue)? For bassist Kaveh Rastegar, what's better is to keep doing the former while spending more time in LA at the forefront of all things musically interesting and happening. His recent projects include writing for Bruno Mars, Cee Lo Green, Meshell Ndegecello, and De La Soul, and he'll be performing with Sia (as musical director) and John Legend this summer. Career musicians should be encouraged knowing good things come to those who learn to be awesome. At Blue Whale, he's enlisted keyboardist Jeff Babko, drummer Louis Cole, and guitarist Timothy Young, playing music from Rastegar's soon-to-be-released solo album and arrangements of his favorite songs, with maybe something by (The Clash's) Mick Jones, as it's his birthday. Yes, you should go.
KIRK DOUGLAS THEATER
Jazz in LA is enjoying a modern renaissance, where new players abound with innovative sounds, but sometimes it's okay to indulge in a little nostalgia. Take pianist Alan Broadbent, who was a young disciple of Lennie Tristano, one of the great historical jazz pianists, soon afterward finding employment as the pianist for the classic orchestrator Nelson Riddle. He himself became one of LA's premier jazz symphonic sages, arranging for Natalie Cole and Diana Krall, and earning Grammy awards. Remember when jazz musicians won Grammys? His talents were axiomatic in bassist Charlie Haden's Quartet West, a band steeped in nostalgia as their albums thematically revisited the golden age of Hollywood. It's only fitting his upcoming solo piano performance is in a theater named for an Hollywood icon. Broadbent's exquisite pianism allows us to pine for rosier days gone but not forgotten.
Saturday 5/24 (also Sun)
Mark de Clive-Lowe
In the age of automation, auto-correct, and auto-tune, it's more common to see a DJ mixing beats and tweaking knobs instead of someone playing piano. One never sees the two happening simultaneously by the same person, yet that's precisely what MdCL does. He's a jazz musician whose improvisational mastery extends beyond the keyboard to include a myriad of sounds and grooves from various electronic devices. He even orchestrates his band members on the fly, spontaneously mixing their talents onto his soundscape. If Duke Ellington were a DJ this might be what he would have done. His new album is called CHURCH, named after his trendy live performance series, and if it were really like that on Sundays you'd see the multitudes swell, dancing undignified in the aisles. Blessed are the innovators, for they shall inherit the adoration of the earth.
Monday 5/5 (also 5/6)
The Bad Plus
In 1913, Igor Stravinsky premiered his riot-inducing masterpiece, The Rite of Spring. 101 years later, bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer Dave King, a.k.a. The Bad Plus, have put their signature stamp on the formidable pièce de résistance, eliciting catcalls from the peanut gallery. Why excoriate three guys for not sounding like a 100-piece orchestra, especially when their arrangement is so meticulously researched and executed to make the feat possible in the first place? As with their other adaptations (Nirvana, Ligeti, Aphex Twin, etc.) they somehow pull it off with simultaneous historical accuracy and ironic mutilation. It's what makes this trio one of the most significant and visionary jazz groups in a generation. Check it out, the mob awaits, and LA knows something about riots…
Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors
It's a dirty secret that many fine indie-rock musicians were at one time studying or playing jazz. Some will never admit it, for the j-word can mean career suicide in certain circles. Others embrace it into their musical being and use it to their advantage. Bassist Todd Sickafoose has some street cred playing with Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird, and Anaïs Mitchell, and he's parlayed his folk and rock experience into a sound concept which makes for a satisfying synthesis of instrumental improvisation and atmospheric groove. His band, Tiny Resistors, debuts a piece commissioned by Chamber Music America, entitled Bear Proof, and features an impressive lineup of smart and savvy musicians, including violinist Jenny Scheinman and clarinetist Ben Goldberg. It will be unexampled, provocative, and splendid. Just don't call it jazz.
It's a dirty secret that many fine indie-rock musicians were at one time studying or playing jazz. Some will never admit it, for the j-word can mean career suicide in certain circles. Others embrace it into their musical being and use it to their advantage. Bassist Todd Sickafoose has some street cred playing with Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird, and Anaïs Mitchell, and he's parlayed his folk and rock experience into a sound concept which makes for a satisfying synthesis of instrumental improvisation and atmospheric groove, with remarkable attention to detail in composition, color and texture. His band, Tiny Resistors, features an impressive lineup of savvy musicians, including violinist Jenny Scheinman, drummer Allison Miller and clarinetist Ben Goldberg. It will be unexampled, expressive, provocative, and splendid. Just don't call it jazz.
Hiromi: The Trio Project
The still-young piano sensation frequently draws comparisons to an anime schoolgirl super heroine, but her ever growing body of impressive work has linked Hiromi as of late to larger heroes, like LeBron James. Her muscular technique and king-size pianistic vocabulary, coupled with an unrelenting torrent of energetic charisma make her a true jazz piano virtuoso and a crowd pleasing all-star, evidenced by the packed houses she always plays to. You certainly feel like you've been dunked on after one of her show-stopping pieces, and afterward one can only get up off the court and applaud her dominance. Hiromi's teammates on her Trio Project are fusion veterans, bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, both of whom have played with enough heavies to handle the fast break by this Japanese Mamba.
theLift (LIVE) presents Myele Manzanza Trio w/ Mark de Clive-Lowe, Ben Shepherd and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson
Although it's main inhabitants are sheep, New Zealand is rather progressive. Prostitution and gay marriage are legal (though not with those sheep). It's no wonder some innovative music has recently come from the other down-under. This trio features three Kiwis, not fruit but rare birds who are blurring the boundaries of jazz, soul, and electronica, compelling folks to get down-under a mirror-ball. Manzanza learned about rhythm from his father, a Congolese master percussionist, and he made some beautiful noise with NZ-based Electric Wire Hustle. On tour to promote his solo debut, "One," he is joined by virtuoso bassist Ben Shepherd and pianist and sound-wizard Mark de Clive-Lowe. Quartetto Fantastico (Led by string-master Miguel Atwood-Ferguson) and vocalist Nia Andrews complete the band. DJ Carlos Nina will ensure the dancing never ceases.
Bassist Ryan McGillicuddy, keyboardist Joe Bagg, guitarist Jamie Rosenn, and drummer Jason Harnell were among those who threatened to shift the balance of power in the LA jazz community, from established veterans to a new generation of upstarts. Now the young guns are new veterans fending off an insurgency of innovation by recent college graduates. McGillicuddy's solution was to flee to Seoul, becoming one of the best bassists in South Korea. He returns to LA for a brief reunion with his friends. Their band, Sigmund Fudge, was known for exploring sonorities not commonly found in jazz. In 2014, that's called jazz. In a brave new world of exploding sonic trends, these erstwhile iconoclasts who once stood at the frontier of a turning point continue to stay ahead of the curve.
Some musicians burst rudely into collective awareness, flashing prodigious ability, resplendent in youthful vigor and unbridled enthusiasm, and all are astonished. How does one continue to stay afloat after the initial splash? In alto saxophonist David Binney's case, he just keeps getting better. His 2011 masterpiece Graylen Epicenter would be the ultimate magnum opus to cap a career, but Binney continues to push into uncharted waters of excellence, no easy feat when many consider him one of the best alto players alive. His latest effort, Lifted Land, manages to maintain the freshness of an impromptu blowing session while exploring complex musical and emotional concepts, an intimate portrait of a master at the height of his powers. Especially powerful is his tune The Blue Whale, a fitting title considering its namesake.
Joshua White Trio
CAP STUDIO THEATER
Since placing second in the 2011 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition, pianist Joshua White has been all over the map, playing engagements on both coasts and with many notable jazz titans, including bassist Mark Dresser and saxophonists David Binney, Dayna Stephens, and Walter Smith. White plays piano unlike anyone, attacking the keys with a measured ferocity combining the percussive freedom of Cecil Taylor with the compositional curiosity of Monk. He commands the piano like a drill sergeant, and the keys dutifully fall in line, forming cascading flurries of harmonic texture. At the gorgeous little CAP Studio Theatre in Sherman Oaks, White will team up with bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Joe La Barbera, who as a member of Bill Evans' last great trio knows a thing or two about great pianists.
Herbie Hancock has described jazz as something which can happen to any kind of music when one searches for new avenues of discovery within the particular aesthetic constructs of the music, regardless of style or genre. Pianist Robert Glasper is doing precisely that with Black Radio 2, a sequel to his Grammy-winning, groundbreaking homage to soul, R&B and hip-hop. Those pillars of Black-American-Music are derivatives of jazz, and Glasper has come full circle in finding depth and innovation in these popular forms, making jazz relevant again in the ears of a youthful generation. It's an effort legitimized by endorsements via guest appearances from artists including Brandy, Jill Scott, Macy Gray, Common, and Snoop Dog. Herbie did this once with The Headhunters; perhaps its time for history to repeat itself…
Lucian Ban and Mat Maneri
Is it mere coincidence on the eve of Halloween we also have a concert by a man from Transylvania? He is Lucian Ban, an extraordinary pianist, who years ago fled his place of origin to reside in humble anonymity as a jazz musician in New York, only to discover his true talent couldn't be smothered. Word of his musical prowess spread, until he was summoned by the city's jazz immortals (including skin-strikers Pheeroan AkLaff and Barry Altschul). His homeland beckoned, and Lucian obliged with an appearance in the Culture Palace of Targu Mures, deep within Transylvania. The resulting album, Transylvania Concert (ECM), features Ban and Grammy-nominated violinist Mat Maneri in a performance that is mesmerizing, evocative, sensually explicit. Listening may stir within you that which you can no longer suppress.
ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL
Once a humble grassroots event, the Angel City Jazz Festival has steadily grown into an annual powerhouse, bringing to LA a remarkable amount of uncompromising creative improvisers from the front lines of the ever-evolving stasis of jazz. Now co-produced by the Jazz Bakery, ACJF plays over the next two weekends at LACMA, REDCAT, Royce Hall, and the Ford Amphitheater. Well-established acts like guitarist John Scofield, Dave Holland, and Terence Blanchard are balanced with powerful stalwarts of jazz modernism, including saxophonists Yosvany Terry and Greg Osby (with Anat Cohen on woodwinds), drummer Dafnis Prieto, and flautist Nicole Mitchell. Finally, we shall see the brilliant emerging artists who presage the future of jazz, the bands Kneebody and the Claudia Quintet, pianist Richard Sears (playing with legendary drummer Tootie Heath), and a trio with drummer Jim Black, reedman Chris Speed, and bassist Tim Lefebvre, three guys among the elder-statesmen of the new guard.
Miro Sprague Trio
Tucked away in a corner of the music building at UCLA is a secret program where an elite group of young musicians are being trained to take over the world. Like Charles Xavier's boarding academy of X-Men, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz is a school dedicated to the fostering of exceptional talent. They're not actually clandestine, but these young musicians are surely mutants, for they play jazz that is almost superhuman. Pianist Miro Sprague is a skinny 27-year-old from Western Massachusetts (allegedly), yet the pianistic abilities of Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner appear to be transplanted into his cerebellum. Sprague is joined by TMI brethren Jonathan Pinson on drums, and bassist Dave Robaire, who is in his 20's but is suspected of being at least seven times that age.
A rule of thumb for yoga students is to not force, but to reach one's limit, patiently waiting to go just a little further. Drummer Tina Raymond knows this as a certified yoga instructor, and she's dutifully waited for her music career to extend, her patience finally rewarded with a lengthy calendar of performances. Musicians love her lithe brush and cymbal work, supported by an iron core of time and groove. Sure, she's lovely, but yes, she will kick your ass, on stage, in the gym, or elsewhere. Raymond will lead two bands displaying her flexibility, a hard-swinging trio featuring former NYC pianist Max Haymer, and a second threesome featuring new music by pianistic sound-painter Cathlene Pineda. Guests include trumpeter Kris Tiner and saxophonist and Monk Competition finalist Danny Janklow.
Rare is the great instrumentalist who is an even better singer. Then there are two who were legendary players who became iconic singers for the ages. One was pianist Nat King Cole, the second is George Benson, whose exceptional jazz guitar career was apparently derailed when "This Masquerade" catapulted him to a platinum record and pop stardom. Cole and Benson considered themselves instrumentalists first, but there is no turning back if your voice can enthrall millions. Benson has finally recorded an homage to Cole (Inspiration-A Tribute to Nat King Cole), who was his boyhood idol, evidenced by the inclusion of an 8-year old Little Georgie singing "Mona Lisa". Cole's singing must be ingrained deep within Benson's psyche, for you could almost mistake the latter for the former on this record.
Wayne Shorter Quartet, Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Quintet, ACS (Geri Allen, Terri Lynne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding), special guests Herbie Hancock and Imani Winds
He's turning 80 and still selling out concerts worldwide, like the Stones, but he's 10 years older and playing jazz. The attention is justified, as saxophonist Wayne Shorter is unequivocally our greatest living jazz composer. From Blakey to Miles to Weather Report, every band he was in defined the zeitgeist and destiny of jazz. Even his current band is an institution now, having played for a dozen years with drummer Brian Blade, pianist Danilo Perez, and bassist John Patitucci. Their latest album, Without A Net, demonstrates the rarity of a legendary master presently charting a path to the future. Shorter gets birthday greetings from his quintessential friend Herbie Hancock, fellow jazz icons trumpeter Douglas and saxophonist Lovano, and pianist Allen, drummer Carrington, and bassist Spalding, in an all-star, all-female trio.
It would be a story tailor-made for 60 Minutes or Nightline: Talented Jazz Saxophonist Has Rare Kidney Disease. It has been Dayna Stephens' chronicle for 15 years, earning him an outpouring of love from thousands of musicians and fans alike. It also unfairly shifts the focus away from another compelling story, one which hearalds one of the best jazz musicians on the planet. Only 20 out of every million develop focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, but there are even fewer who develop into an exceptional horn player like Stephens. He needs a new kidney, but for now let's celebrate his new band and new album, "That Nepenthetic Pace", featuring the iconic Ambrose Akinmunsirie on trumpet and keyboardist Taylor Eigsti, whose pianistic pyrotechnics complement the creative fires that radiate from Stephens' warm soul.
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Steep Canyon Rangers
He's one of the funniest men in show business, however Martin's music is no joke, but then the best comedians are deadly serious about their craft. Transcribing riffs from old Earl Scruggs recordings as a teen, Martin has made the banjo a lifelong passion, a hobby which has finally morphed into a bonafide musical career. Celebrity notwithstanding, one has to be excellent to earn a Grammy in bluegrass music, a discipline noted for its exclusive perfectionism. Martin's new album, a collaboration with Edie Brickell ("Love Has Come For You"), has reintroduced her beautifully slippery vocals into exquisite modern bluegrass songs (imagine Bill Monroe singing "When you get to Asheville, send me an email"), and Brickell delivers with an elegance befitting her years of maturation from New Bohemian to eloquent songstress.
Tatiana Parra and Vardan Ovsepian
Pianist Vardan Ovsepian has a knack for collaborating with talented international vocalists, from Portugal's Sara Serpa to Korea's Joon Lee. Add Tatiana Parra, a rising star in Brazil because of her sweet, expressive voice, impeccable pitch and seemingly unlimited range. Her recent album, Aqui, features duets with Argentinian pianist Andres Beéuwsaert, a tour de force of artistry and technical ability. Few pianists could play complicated melodies with as much dexterity as Parra, but she has found a worthy counterpart in Ovsepian, whose contrapuntal brilliance will complement her on their upcoming duo album. Parra manages to sing these difficult passages with an easy grace, in typical Brazilian fashion, with just enough ambition to reveal her Sao Paulo city roots, as opposed to those laid back beach partiers of Rio de Janeiro.
Tony Allen w/ Najite and the Olokun Prophesy
THE MAYAN THEATRE
Who can truthfully claim they have invented something important? Add to the short list Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who in the 70's along with singer Fela Kuti invented a new music and coined the term "Afrobeat" to describe it. Combining grooves of jazz and James Brown with political undertones echoing the reggae of Bob Marley, Afrobeat became a worldwide sensation, influencing artists like Paul Simon, David Byrne and Brian Eno, the latter calling Allen "perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived." In this tribute to the late Fela Kuti, Allen teams up with Kuti's godson, fellow Nigerian percussionist Najite Agindotan, a longtime resident of LA who played with local jazz legends Horace Tapscott and Billy Higgins. It's a rare chance to see an original pioneer of a global phenomenon.
Daniel Rosenboom at ARTSHARE LA
Imagine a giant cosmic arrow piercing the sun, which is actually the heart of a mythic figure, a "Seer" whose death destroys the universe so it can be reborn again. Now, stop eating those magic mushrooms long enough to realize it's just a neat story dreamed up by trumpeter-composer Dan Rosenboom, whose soundtrack to his catastrophic imagery is debuting this evening as the album Book of Omens. Accompanied by guitarist Jake Vossler, bassist Tim Lefevbre, Matt Mayhall on drums and featuring free-jazz icon Vinny Golia on woodwinds, Rosenboom has created music terrifyingly spacious yet beautifully dense. If Meshuggah ever did a free improv album, it might sound like this. Adding to the devastation is some spontaneous video imagery by artist Kio Griffith, which will allow for a mushroom-free psychedelic experience.
Joe Santa Maria at BLUE WHALE
The High School for Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in Houston, TX has an impressive list of notable alumni, such as Kendrick Scott, Walter Smith III, Helen Sung, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, and for those who don't know who they are, Beyoncé. Alto saxophonist Joe Santa Maria also went there, and though he is not as well-known as the others, his pedigree is apparent when sound comes out of his horn. Consider him one of the best saxophonists no one has heard about, yet. He thinks music must be spiritually grounded, which makes sense when your last name is Jesus' mom. He values trust, passion, beauty, freedom, excitement, joy, friendship, and love. It's true, because he said so in an email. It's also true because that's how his music sounds.
John Daversa Progressive Big Band at THE BAKED POTATO
One of LA's favorite sons heads for the bluer waters of Miami, effectively ending on Sunday his 8-year residency at the Baked Potato, where he manages to cram an entire big band onto that tiny stage. Jazz in Los Angeles has always been about big bands, so it's fitting that one of the hippest comes from a native Angeleno. It's an evolution rather than a revolution, synthesizing the power and orchestration of Kenton with the funk of d'Angelo. Daversa did LA proud, impacting countless musicians over the years with his trumpet and writing, and as an educator he helped to push Cal State Northridge over the top as a jazz school powerhouse. University of Miami should cheer his arrival, if he keeps his UCLA and Laker jerseys in the trunk.
Kendrick Scott Oracle at BLUE WHALE
He is a man of faith, introspection, and Conviction, the name of his latest bestselling album. He's also a fan of Bruce Lee and The Matrix. What would the Oracle say if he consulted her to name his band after her? She might respond, "you didn't come here to make the choice, you've already made it. Now you have to understand it." Understanding the depths of his music should take a few passes, but it immediately connects on a lyrical, emotional level. Pianist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Mike Moreno, saxophonist John Ellis, and bassist Joe Saunders faithfully support Scott's vision, displaying sensitive musicianship and the ferocity of virtuosity, fluid as the water that Lee compels us to be like. The Oracle is pleased, and she still doesn't care about that lamp.
Anthony Wilson and The Curators at BLUE WHALE
Jazz musicians are supremely talented, representing the highest caliber of musicianship, but a lofty IQ often doesn't correlate with being the coolest kid in class. Most rock musicians will never volunteer their jazz experience, even though the best ones all have it. Attempts by jazzers to play rock usually suck hard, but in this case, jazz-guitar-hero Wilson manages to pull it off, first by including in his band keyboardists Larry Goldings (James Taylor) and Josh Nelson (Natalie Cole, Emmy Rossum), savvy and suave trumpeter Philip Dizack, and last by the inspired choice of drummer Barbara Gruska, she of The Belle Brigade, who absolutely kicks this band into another genre. Too fly for jazz, too smart for rock, too boss for words. There's no way she would have ever studied jazz…
The Kandinsky Effect at BLUE WHALE
Jethro Tull, Franz Ferdinand, Dandy Warhols, Mr. T Experience, all bands named after famous men. Saxophonist Warren Walker, bassist Gaël Petrina, and drummer Caleb Dolister decided to go with the Russian-Parisian artist Wassily Kandinsky, the first abstract painter, whose visuals are undefinably coherent and stunning. Painting what he termed compositions and improvisations, Kandinsky heard music in the colors, and this band paints ephemeral sonic pictures, grounded by less abstract constructions of rock beats and pedal effects. Their latest album, Synesthesia, is a sound palate of rock, jazz, and electronica, perhaps also representative of their namesake's attempt to combine all his prior techniques in his last, greatest masterpieces. This band defines abstraction! Warhol and Mr. T would approve, but if this band's fame lasts only 15 minutes, pity the fools.
Dylan Ryan Sand, Blue Cranes at BLUE WHALE
Blessed are those with two first names, an honor given to superheroes, southerners, and porn stars. Dylan Ryan is no porn star (okay, she is) but he made his name playing drums in Chicago, notably for the prog-jazz band Herculaneum. In his new band Sand, Ryan couldn't have found a better guitarist than Tim Young, who could be mistaken for Bill Frisell, if Frisell enjoyed punching random people in the face. With an ass-kicking palate of sonic texture, Ryan, Young, and bassist Devin Hoff offer something in-between John Zorn's raucous free-jazz and the romantic stylings of Black Sabbath. Joining the bill are Blue Cranes, an indie-jazz band from wacky Portlandia, whose whimsically heavy music is a fitting soundtrack for jumping off a bridge, or for enjoying a Stumptown single-origin pour-over.
Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart at VITELLO'S
As a kid, one of Larry Goldings' first influences was, interestingly, Billy Joel. On the way to becoming the next Piano Man, he discovered jazz and the organ, got the call for Maceo Parker, and became everyone's favorite keyboardist, from evocative chanteuse Madeline Peyroux to jazz guitarist John Scofield to James Taylor (the 'One Man' in the singer's One Man Band). Goldings lives in LA, but contra Joel, he won't Say Goodbye to Hollywood anytime soon, with a litany of film scores, songwriting credits, even some acting (here's hoping YouTube alter ego Hans Groiner gets a pilot). He is still best-known for his organ trio with guitarist Bernstein and drummer Stewart, a group approaching Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio in terms of longevity and preeminence in modern jazz. Also Fri/Sat.
Brad Mehldau Trio, The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman at ROYCE HALL
Brad Mehldau has simply redefined jazz pianism for the ages. The Bad Plus's Ethan Iverson is an exceptional pianist whose music and must-read blog (Do The Math) makes him an au courant jazz authority. They both have world famous piano trios! They play songs that people younger than 90 know the words to! Mehldau's treatments of Radiohead and Nick Drake are austere and profound, the Bad Plus versions of Queen, Blondie, and Nirvana are crazy and ironic, but both treatments kick-ass and have earned their arrangers legions of fans from outside the jazz-nerd network. Covers aside, their masterful innovations were crucial to the rejuvenation of the piano trio, ensuring its continued contribution to the ongoing development of modern jazz. Oh, and Joshua Redman is one of the best saxophonists alive.
Larry and Dave Koonse at CURVE LINE SPACE
Little Dave Koonse's father was a self-taught musician who recognized his son's prodigious talent, showcasing his 5-year-old singing and playing guitar in local clubs in Missouri. Dave grew up to be a first-rate jazz guitarist, playing with Harry James, Chico Hamilton, and George Shearing. Little Larry Koonse's father, Dave, recognized his son's prodigious talent, enrolling his 7-year-old in guitar lessons, recording their first album together (awesomely titled Son of Jazz Guitar) when Larry was 15. Larry grew up to be a first-rate jazz guitarist, one of the greatest in Los Angeles. In 2003 Dave and Larry recorded the poignant album Dialogues of the Heart, embodying several generations' worth of music and family. It might take a village to raise a great musician, but sometimes it just takes a great dad.
Tamir Hendelman Trio at THE EBELL CLUB
Since moving to Los Angeles from his native Israel at age 12, all this pianist has done is win a national Yamaha keyboard competition and toured Japan as a teenager, joined the famed Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, have an album (Destinations, 2010) reach #1 on the jazz charts, and become the pianist for some up-and-coming singer named Barbara Streisand. Hendelman is a virtuoso performer and a clever arranger, able to take anything from a Ravel piano piece to an Israeli folk song and make it swing. The show is at the historic Ebell of Los Angeles, where Judy Garland was discovered, Glenn Gould gave his last performance, and Amelia Earhart her last speech before disappearing from the earth. Let's hope the last two fates do not also befall upon Hendelman.
Rez Abassi at BLUE WHALE
Collaborations with Rudresh Manhanthappa and Vijay Iyer have unfortunately pigeonholed Pakistani-born guitarist Rez Abassi into the "Indo-Jazz" category. Abassi moved to the Indian province of Los Angeles at age four, was influenced early on by Indian rock guitar legends Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen, and Indian jazz guitar legends Jim Hall and Pat Martino. His latest trio album, Continuous Beat, features music by Indian composers Gary Peacock, Keith Jarrett and Thelonious Monk. Abassi needs to realize there is more to music that the great Indian masters, but this album shines with virtuosic, inspired improvisations, a wide ranging repertoire, and a multifaceted mastery over his guitar sound, further establishing him as one of New York's original voices on guitar. With Mark Dresser on bass and Indian jazz drummer Satoshi Takeishi.
Gary Smulyan at BLUE WHALE
As a mainstay in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and seven-time Grammy winner, the only current baritone saxophonist better known than Gary Smulyan is Lisa Simpson. Says Simpson of Smulyan, " I have tremendous respect for Gary, and I love his recordings, especially that Frankie Laine tribute album High Noon. But I've been playing bari for millions of viewers for 23 years! I hope people stop discounting my talent just because I'm not a real person." Maybe if she played with virtually everyone from Woody Herman to Dave Holland. Smulyan's only other SoCal appearance is in Palm Springs, where he will perform his well-reviewed Frankie Laine nonet material. At Blue Whale it's down to a trio, with the profound Darek Oles on bass and an eternally youthful Joe La Barbera on drums. -Gary Fukushima
Ben Wendel/Dan Tepfer at BLUE WHALE
To strive as an artist is to envy. Classical pianists envy better classical pianists, jazz pianists envy their better counterparts. Classical pianists envy jazz pianists, and vice versa. When pianist Dan Tepfer records Bach's Goldberg variations to perfection and then improvises exquisitely on them, and touring the world with saxophone legend Lee Konitz, there is enough envy to fill a concert hall with jealous musicians. Tepfer finds a kindred spirit in saxophonist Ben Wendel, both have moms who were opera singers, both have formidable classical chops (Wendel as a bassoonist), and both have the talent and careers that most jazz artists only dream of. So go ahead, hate them, because they are beautiful--musicians, that is. Their new album, Small Constructions, drops on March 12, and you'll probably hate it, jerks. -Gary Fukushima
Rudresh Mahanthappa at ROYCE HALL
South Indian music has a bit of a history with jazz, starting with Coltrane's tune "India", bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and countless collaborations with the late great Ravi Shankar. It is fitting that this exciting fusion of musical arts is recently best consummated by Indian-Americans such as saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who brings two bands to the UCLA concert hall. His Indo-Pak Coalition features famed Pakistani jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi, and Mahanthappa's current working group, Gamak, includes bassist Francois Mouton and guitarist David "Fuse" Fiuczynski, whose expertise in microtonal intervals works well with Indian music and American blues. Playing drums for both sets is rhythmic savant and tabla master Dan Weiss. In true Indian-American fashion, the music is smart and spiritual, but it can also get down like James Brown. -Gary Fukushima
Kurt Rosenwinkel at KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE
Granted, his playing is richly complex and challenging. Yes, he is smarter than you or me, but smart people also feel, and to label this guitarist as "intellectual" or "cerebral" does him a disservice. He is more poet than scientist, John Lennon rather than Stephen Hawking, for his music, with all its innovations which have inspired now a generation of jazz musicians, is yet defined by lyric beauty and emotive soul, and the union of head and heart elevates Rosenwinkel over others to a place among the hallowed. The band is the same as on his recent iTunes #1 jazz album, Star of Jupiter, with Eric Revis and Justin Faulkner on bass and drums (both just in LA with Branford Marsalis), and the superb Aaron Parks on piano and keyboards. -Gary Fukushima
David Friesen, Larry Koonse, Storm Nilson at BLUE WHALE
Many years ago in Seattle a musician took a beautiful girl out, and left his bass at her house. Her brother saw it and thought, "what an ugly instrument, I'll never play one of those". Yet somehow David Friesen became an exceptional bassist, playing with musicians from Johnny Griffin to Joe Henderson to Chick Corea. Hidden comfortably in Portland for decades, he manages to make it down to LA occasionally, playing with old friends like guitarist Larry Koonse, who (like Friesen) has a local cult hero status. They share a common disciple, Portland guitarist Storm Nilson, once mentored by Koonse and now a favorite bandmate of Friesen. This will be an interesting trio. That sister of his? You can call her Dyan Cannon. FYI, maybe TMI, but whatever Go Lakers… -Gary Fukushima
Taylor Eigsti at BLUE WHALE
What defines prodigy? In this pianist's case, it means being inspired by Fattburger at age two, and faithfully mimicking David Benoit solos at age seven. Eigsti is one of the few raised on smooth jazz to become an outstanding straight-ahead artist. His playing certainly is smooth, but smooth like a Jäger Bomb, for it will knock you on your ass before you know what hit you. He wields a ferocious technique and a mature and unpredictable sense of harmony, with beautiful and musical pianistic aesthetics. See the trio on Wednesday, with bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Eric Harland, or go on Thursday, when the excellent saxist Dayna Stephens joins them. Thursday is Valentine's day, so if you go hopefully your date will understand that jazz is your first love. -Gary Fukushima
Mark de Clive-Lowe at BLUE WHALE
He calls what he does CHURCH, fitting because it's spurring a revivalist movement on both coasts of a new kind of jazz and improvised music, one that has captivated skilled musicians, bourgeois dilettantes, and dancing fools alike. MdCL's innovations fusing hip-hop, electronic music, and jazz might be a trivial contrivance by one who was less skilled and lesser informed, but this keyboardist/DJ has the chops to pull it off in wildly successful fashion. His big band album, Take the Space Trane, drops on February 5, which might re-introduce big band music to the dance halls where swing was once king. MdCL leaves his covenant residency at the Del Monte Speakeasy to embark on a second CHURCH mission trip to Little Tokyo, featuring vocalist Nia Andrews and trumpeter Kamasi Washington. -Gary Fukushima
Marcel Carmago at BLUE WHALE
The Sao Paulo native moved here at age 16, absorbing American music into his bloodstream. Excellent at punk rock or neo-soul, yet it's his jazz guitar that earned him a touring gig with Michael Bublé. Now he returns to his roots with "The Brazil You Never Heard", which for most means anything not sung by Astrud Gilberto nor having to do with girls from Ipanema or some guy yelling "goooooaaaal" for five minutes after Ronaldo scores. Carmago enlists violist and arranging wizard Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, dynamic Brazilian vocalist Kátia Moraes, and a 17-piece ensemble to lead us on a comprehensive journey of Brazilian music, from pre-WWII samba to 70's and 80's pop, and some of Carmago's own writing. Just like those fútbol players, he makes brilliance look so easy. -Gary Fukushima
Nir Felder at BLUE WHALE
Innumerable guitarists graduate from Boston's Berklee College of Music, so those who end up at the top of the heap are to be commended. In the nine years since his own graduation, all Felder has done is become something of a phenomenon in New York, playing with everybody, most notably alto sax sage Greg Osby. Felder cites Scofield as an early influence, represented by a willingness to explore guitar palates trending more toward rock and blues. He also shreds like a rocker, albeit with a harmonic savvy that divulges his jazz training. You'd think at this point, someone this good would have his own album. Stay tuned… With Felder are fellow NY drummer Zach Danzinger, and two of the Kneebody cognoscenti, Angelinos Adam Benjamin on keys and bassist Kaveh Rastegar. -Gary Fukushima
Jason Harnell at BLUE WHALE
If your dad wrote the exit theme to the television version of "The Incredible Hulk" you would have a lot to live up to, musically speaking. The prodigious son of a keyboard prodigy, Jason Harnell has acquitted himself in that respect, both as an immaculate studio drummer for film and television, and as an uber-creative jazz musician. One of the most interesting drummers in town, he conjures a myriad of intricate and subtle polyrhythmic ideas, with a simmering ferocity that could ignite at the smallest spark of inspiration, or agitation. Please don't make him angry, though you might like him when he's angry. Harnell co-leads his band, Just Fudge (formerly Sigmund Fudge) with organist Joe Bagg and guitarist Jamie Rosenn, and they are sure to make a delicious gooey mess. -Gary Fukushima
Joe La Barbera at BLUE WHALE
He was already a rising star with engagements with Woody Herman, Jim Hall, and others when he got the call to join Bill Evans, becoming the last drummer of the fabled piano trio. Of his young sideman, Evans remarked, "he does the right thing at the right time." Maybe he should have stayed in Chuck Mangione's band until he became a household name, but otherwise Evans was absolutely correct. Joe is a superb accompanist with a deft touch and impeccable brushwork, yet he swings hard, with a confidence and fire that comes partially from his illustrious career experience, but mostly from being a badass from day one. Joe's quintet includes longtime colleagues Tom Warrington on bass and the exceptional pianist Bill Cunliffe, with saxist Bob Sheppard and trumpeter John Daversa. --Gary Fukushima
Drummer Jamire Williams, by all accounts, is doing great, working with jazz musicians like trumpeter Christian Scott and pianists Jason Moran and Robert Glasper. He also plays with soul artists like Corrine Bailey Rae and Bilal. As the name of his band suggests, ERIMAJ follows a contrariwise path toward greater things by skillfully incorporating jazz, soul and hip-hop into a wide-ranging melange of music that is undefinable yet redolent. In other words, it's the bomb. The accompanying music videos are iconic and capture the essence of Williams' vision, reinforcing an ongoing trend toward sophisticated hipness in urban culture. With guitarist Matthew Stevens, who also plays with Christian Scott, Joshua Crumbly, bassist for Terence Blanchard, and Corey King, trombonist and keyboardist who is in Esperanza Spaulding's band.
Those bummed about impending Mayan doom or wanting to get out of the house after too much family and fruitcake should cheer up by heading over to Blue Whale to see the finale of pianist Josh Nelson's month-long residency. The night features two white-hot trios that by listening to them should burn off any excessive holiday caloric intake. Bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Kevin Kanner, were (along with Nelson) the fast and furious rhythm section for years at the popular but bygone Monday session at The Mint. The complementary tandem of bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle have been Nelson's go-to guys recently. Anchoring both bands is the pianist himself, who must be sprinkling pixie dust on the keys to be able to work such magic on the instrument. --Gary Fukushima
Outside of LA, the guitarist is best known for his work with Diana Krall, but locally he is known for simply being one of the most dynamic and inspired jazz musicians anywhere. Wilson has been busy, having recently played on a multitude of projects, from backing up vocal chanteuses Sara Gazarek and Kathleen Grace to leading an all-star trio with organist Larry Goldings and drummer Jim Keltner. His latest project is a band called "The Curators" and it features a brilliant collection of musicians including Goldings, Kaveh Rastegar and Ben Wendel of Kneebody, and The Belle Brigade's Barbara Gruska, who could have been an incredible jazz drummer if she hadn't chosen pop stardom. The music will be earthy and spiritual, like a bluegrass band sans mandolin and banjo. Also Saturday. --Gary Fukushima
Ferenc Nemeth (featuring Lionel Loueke)
His new album is called Triumph, which is risky because, what if it isn't? Fortunately for the Hungarian-born drummer, it cannot be called anything but, with the help of luminaries like Joshua Redman, Kenny Werner, and the excellent Lionel Loueke on guitar. The record is so good he can march into LA on the back of donkey, all the way to the upper room at Vitello's to have a last supper before tearing it up with pianist Daniel Szabo, saxist Bob Sheppard, and featuring Loueke, about whom his other bandleader, Herbie Hancock, said, "I've never heard any guitar player play anything close to what I was hearing…" In other Triumphant news, Nemeth has made a drum instructional app for iPod/iPad, which means he can afford to play jazz now. --Gary Fukushima
Bela Fleck and The Marcus Roberts Trio
There are things that just don't seem like they would work together, until they do. Bacon on your sundae? Vampires and Abraham Lincoln? How about jazz and bluegrass? Although both genres can be traced to the roots of American music, the differences between the two are like black and white, literally. Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck has teamed up with jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and his trio to attempt a hybrid fusion experiment. Roberts came to fame in the '80s as the accompanist for an ascendant Wynton Marsalis, later becoming an expert stride piano player. He and Fleck compliment each other with impeccable rhythm and elegant explosiveness. The music is unique, unusual, and fun. They could be a latter-day Paul McCartney-Stevie Wonder, minus the singing and the number one hit. -Gary Fukushima
Famous collaborative jazz bands are rare with only a handful of notable examples, like Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever, The Bad Plus. As in those groups, Kneebody's members have become as well known as their occasional cause célèbre. Saxist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley have stellar New York jazz careers, Adam Benjamin plays keys with Dave Douglas, and bassist Kaveh Rastegar has played with Cee-Lo Green and Bruno Mars. Drummer Nate Wood is also a star on bass, guitar, as a singer-songwriter, and he has his own fan site. Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk are cool, but what if they joined forces in the same movie? Kneebody could be the Jazz Avengers, but that name is apparently taken by some group in Wichita.
When the band Weather Report hired a young bassist from Philadelphia who could be simultaneously free and funky, the resulting albums with Alphonso Johnson catapulted the group to international stardom in the 1970's. He eventually left the band (allowing a prodigy named Jaco Pastorius to rise to fame), keeping close friendships with WR founders Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. At age 61, he remains a compassionate powerhouse, teaching young musicians, maintaing an active performance career, and looking to revisit the music that changed his life. Alphonso has arranged the music of Shorter and Zawinul for a larger ensemble, featuring horns alongside legendary percussionist Airto Moreira, who recorded on the very first album. The music remains visionary and fathomless, reinforcing its creators as two of the greatest jazz composers of all time.
Dayna Stephens Fundraiser
Embraced by the New York jazz scene, doing gigs with Terence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove, Carlos Santana and Stevie Wonder, this saxophonist appears to lead a charmed life. However, Dayna Stephens has a rare kidney condition that afflicts 20 people in a million. He needs a new kidney, and medication costs him $4000 monthly. Jazz musicians are famously poor, but they are talent rich, offering their musical gifts in support of this beautiful soul. Featuring bands from the Los Angeles Jazz Collective, the Thelonious Monk Institute, Blue Whale owner and vocalist Joon Lee, and finally the guest of honor himself, with guitarist Larry Koonse and pianist/organizer Josh Nelson. Bassist Charlie Haden is noted for imploring improvisers to "play as if your life depended on it." Nothing could be truer for this show. -Gary Fukushima
Robert Glasper Experiment
When a Google query for 'jazz sucks' turns up over 18,900,000 hits, jazz has an identity problem. Granted, searching for 'i love dirt' turns up 62,500,000, but dirt never tried to pass off shitty playing as eloquent complexity. Glasper strives to define his music (even he doesn't call it jazz) as something that doesn't suck, by simultaneously connecting it to its roots in black culture and embracing jazz's younger fashionable nephew, hip-hop. So far the Experiment is succeeding, with his album 'Black Radio' peaking at #3 on iTunes album sales, and with close associations with non-sucky people like Erykah Badu, Bilal, and ?estlove. Their endorsements prove the pianist's efforts have relevancy outside the insular echo chamber of jazz, where the circular firing squad of its proponents and critics goes unnoticed by everyone else.
The watery disasters of Katrina, Indonesia and Japan are recent reminders of nature's indiscriminate tyranny over our fragile yet resilient humanity. One notable historical example is the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 that devastated the South, causing another flood of people who migrated all the way to Chicago, among them delta blues musicians whose exodus we have to thank for the evolution of blues, jazz, R&B and rock. The event is reexamined in a new film by Bill Morrison set to live music by guitar legend Frisell. Morrison specializes in displaying ancient damaged film as a kind of found object art, and for this Frisell is the perfect score writer, a master at excavating new conceptions in traditional roots. With trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer Kenny Wollesen.
Anthony Wilson, Larry Goldings & Jim Keltner
Rhythm section sidemen can stitch together a healthy career without ever needing to become the star of the show. But when the stars you play for are people like Diana Krall (guitarist Wilson), James Taylor (organist Goldings), and Lennon, Clapton, Dylan, and everyone else (drummer Keltner, of course), your own light gets pulled into a new nebula altogether. This organ trio has enough gravitas to initiate a black hole in downtown LA. To many musicians they are the real stars that shine underneath the fireworks, much like their venue, a secret black box theater buried in the bowels of a hall named after Walt Disney, himself no stranger to fireworks, or stars. This show is part of the excellent Angel City Jazz Festival, and it just might be the highlight.
Although not a household name himself, the violist is linked to many of them, recording and arranging for will.i.am, Erykah Badu, Dr. Dre, Flying Lotus, and countless others. Artists are by definition creators, and Atwood-Ferguson has chosen to pour his life and considerable talent into the creation of good things. His 5-year partnership with production house Mochilla and record producer ArtDontSleep has resulted in some outstanding shows dedicated to positive societal change through art that everyone can dig. Their latest show, "East Side Story" celebrates 'low rider' soul music from the 60's that was near and dear to the residents of East LA, and features such luminaries as Mayer Hawthorne, Bilal, and legendary R&B drummer James Gadson. Witness pop music transformed into high art, minus the highbrow. -Gary Fukushima
Vardan Ovsepian Chamber Ensemble
In baseball terminology, Ovsepian is a five-tool player. He is an adroit improviser, prolific composer, virtuoso pianist, intellectual heavyweight, and he can hit for power. He has become a sought-after commodity in L.A.'s jazz scene, most notably by drummer Peter Erskine, whose trio has featured some of the smartest, finest pianists in the world, putting the young Armenian in good company. V.O.C.E. is Ovsepian's own personal pet project, featuring tightly orchestrated strings, woodwinds and even a french horn, balanced with piano, bass and two drummers. The writing is compelling, provocative, and it has no peer in modern jazz composition. This show is to promote his Kickstarter campaign to fund the ensemble's new recording. If you contribute you might even get a Vardan Ovsepian bobblehead doll! -Gary Fukushima
Brian Charette Organ Sextette
This fabulous NYC organist sports a wide-ranging resume, playing with everyone from Joni Mitchell to Max Weinberg, and his inspiration comes from an equally diverse subset, from kung-fu to Oliver Messiaen. Imagine an austere French composer chasing birds while leaping from tree to tree in a yellow Bruce Lee jumpsuit, then you have an idea of what this music is about. His arrangements draw upon Messiaen's harmonic innovations, but while Messiaen was ever in pursuit of the sublime, Charette manages to keep things grounded, even earthy. Messiaen, a faithful lifetime church organist, might raise an eyebrow over titles like "Computer God" or "Prayer for an Agnostic," but were the two to meet they might have a nice time, comparing scale modes and White Crane to Wing Chun. --Gary Fukushima
Like Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride, bass players aren't the main attraction, but ultimately you can't help but notice them, because they are huge and ugly. Albums by bass players give the unsung heroes an opportunity to express their musical opinions. The Elvin Jones Project is Feinberg's third album as a leader, a lot for a bassist, but like Andre's poetry readings, he knows how to convey a meaningful narrative. This 25-year-old is fast approaching giant status in NYC, playing with the likes of saxist George Garzone and drummer Billy Hart, both of whom are on the record. Feinberg's LA band includes Walter Smith III on sax, local legend Larry Koonse on guitar and Dan Schnelle, whose laser-accuracy on drums is nothing like Elvin but no less fiery.
Mark de Clive-Lowe at BLUE WHALE
As one might expect from a hapa Japanese-New Zealander who arrived in LA via Boston, New York, and London, this keyboardist-DJ-music producer is a complex synthesis of musical styles and cultures. Mark de Clive-Lowe honed his craft in the UK with the likes of broken beat all-stars Bugz in the Attic, and producing for British soul sensation Omar and Grammy Award winner Jody Watley. What sets MdCL apart from his contemporaries are his formidable keyboard chops and his deep roots in jazz and classical music. His latest album, Renegades, is a tour de force, but he is best experienced live, where he effortlessly spins samples, drum beats, piano and keys, and a live band into a tight aural choreography. Dancing and art music really do mix, with the right DJ.
Herbie Hancock at HOLLYWOOD BOWL
The Dalai Lama. Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Herbie Hancock. Perhaps that last name seems strange next to the others, but then the legendary jazz pianist was named last year by the United Nations as a Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogues, an honor likely bestowed upon him because of his 2010 Imagine Project, a multicultural musical treatment of Lennon's profound vision. Hancock has re-dedicated his life to promoting world peace, which pretty much is all that is left for him to do, considering his monumental artistic achievements. This concert is aptly titled "Celebrating Peace" and features a dole of peace-loving artists, including iconic saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassists Dave Holland and Marcus Miller, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, and special guest Carlos Santana. Leave it to Herbie to turn Kumbaya into the hippest shit ever.
Saturday 8/18, Sunday 8/19
Sara Gazarek at Vitello's
Possibly Seattle's Best jazz singer since Diane Schuur, the Puget Sound native fled the rain and moved down to LA for college at USC (where she now teaches), becoming fast friends with what is now the core of the new straight-ahead jazz risorgimento in this town, led by sublime pianist Josh Nelson. Sara puts a voice on the movement, comely, clear and confident, with a hint of sass, terms which could describe many of her former coed counterparts on campus. Her latest album, Blossom & Bee, features her longtime working band and produced by pianist/organist Larry Goldings, the accompanist for James Taylor who has assuredly solidified his legacy as among the best ever. Goldings will join Nelson and her band for this two night album release show.
Terence Blanchard at CATALINA
He came to prominence in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, becoming a household name when his bold and beautiful trumpet sound was linked to Denzel Washington's face in Spike Lee's 1990 film Mo Better Blues. Lee tapped Blanchard to compose the scores for all his films since, garnering countless accolades and placing him at the forefront of this generation's influential jazz artists. His soundtrack skills have translated well to his small ensemble, where his solo projects are always brilliantly orchestrated with uncanny thematic vision. Also, they kick some serious ass. In the tradition of the Jazz Messengers, Blanchard has rotated prodigious young musicians in and out of his bands, often jumpstarting their careers much like Blakey did for him once. His current crop includes standouts Fabian Almazan (piano) and Justin Brown (drums).
Ravi Coltrane at CATALINA
If the last name sounds familiar, congratulations, for you know something about jazz. Anything written about Ravi Coltrane (including this paragraph) usually includes a reference to his famous father, a perpetually awkward circumstance that the second generation Blue Note saxophonist has managed to embrace with peaceful affection. Rather than trying to fill John Coltrane's giant shoes, his son simply removed them and took his own steps toward a distinct identity. Although his father wasn't alive to instruct him, the DNA of superior musicianship is evident in his beautifully even tenor sound and deftly controlled bursts of improvised brilliance. Take away the last name and what remains is an honest man and established jazz master. The band is an interesting departure from Coltrane's usual crew, featuring the innovative pianist David Virelles.
Josh Nelson at VITELLO'S
Like baseball, it's common in modern jazz circles to assume all the best players end up in New York. This pianist from Long Beach helps push back against this Yankee narrative, for he made it somewhere without making it where Sinatra said he needed to go. Being Natalie Cole's personal pianist certainly helps, but so does becoming one of the best jazz pianists in the world, including NYC. With an absurdly effortless virtuosity, matched with unlimited imagination, Josh Nelson seemingly can conjure up any musical idea and execute it flawlessly with a cherry on top. Part of his monthly "Discovery Sessions" series (which includes interesting spontaneous painting by Claudia Carballada), this show features the brilliant Ben Wendel on saxophone, whom Josh really needs to convince to move back to LA.
Slumgum at LACMA
Props to this Friday summer series for programming an adventurous band predictably unknown to the swarms of mainstream jazz fans who normally attend. The LA-based group recently generated some buzz both locally and nationally, using collaborations with vocalist Dwight Trible and pianist Art Lande to help them escape the hive of jazz anonymity. Trumpeter Hugh Ragin is their guest here, having stung audiences with his brilliance as a worker bee in the bands of free jazz pioneers Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell and David Murray. Alternately groovy or crazy-free, Slumgum's sound could be unpalatable for some, but there's just enough sweetness to help it go down easy. Considering the band's name comes from the crap that remains on the honeycomb after the honey is extracted, their music really is the shit.
Endermen at BLUE WHALE
Minecraft players know and fear the Endermen, dark, long-limbed block movers who appear benign until you look directly at them, at which point they put down their blocks and stare directly at you, daring you to turn away. Pianist Jordan Carrington doesn't have long limbs and he won't kill you, unless you're getting slayed by his prodigious piano skills and innovative writing of the head-exploding varietal. This 20-year old is endowed with a sui generis identity and a musical vision others could never achieve with a lifetime of study. His band of brutes includes his mentor and long-limbed trumpeter John Daversa, saxophone wunderkind Jacob Scesney, drummer Brijesh Pandya, and bassist Neil Patton, all in possession of high skill and health points. Enjoy the music, but please don't make eye contact.
Ferenc Nemeth at BLUE WHALE
The name Ferenc Nemeth might be lucky, for it belongs to an award winning sculptor, a Hungarian national team volleyball player, and a boxer who has lost all eight of his professional fights. That last guy does not seem lucky but at least he is realizing his dream of boxing professionally! Ferenc Nemeth is also a superlative drummer who once studied in LA at the Thelonious Monk Institute, now he tours and records with guys like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and his current bandmate, exceptional guitarist Lionel Loueke. Nemeth was last here with guitar wizard Gilad Hekselman, this time he leads a trio with Sam Barsh on piano and the unbelievable Hadrien Feraud on bass, featuring music from his forthcoming release, Triumph. Let's hope his boxer namesake gets a copy.
Michael Mull Octet, BlockRad at BLUE WHALE
Alien music is being promulgated by the mad scientists at CalArts, from which scores of deviant agents have begun to infect the LA music industry organism with a new strain of creativity. The new morphon is incubating, poised to gnaw through the host's fleshy abdomen and announce its birth with a primal scream of defiance and atonality. One such species would be reedman/composer Michael Mull (his analysis of Meshugga guitar riffs is a must read), whose octet explores everything from Balkan rhythms to electronica and metal. Blockrad is another breed, consisting of pianist Steve Blum, drummer Mike Lockwood and saxist Andrew Conrad, a strange and otherworldly trio. Both groups represent the coming evolution of jazz in LA to a higher life form. Audiences beware, for these monsters are killin'.
Slumgum, Vinny Golia at BLUE WHALE
When Vincent James Golia, Jr. founded Nine Winds Records in 1977, it was primarily a vehicle to record and promote his own works and those of his associates, but the label has come to symbolize the gradual and mostly-hidden revolution in improvised music in Los Angeles. Golia is the right man to lead the insurgency; the former baseball player-turned painter-turned musician/composer is a charismatic, even iconic rule-breaker, and his long tenure at California Institute of the Arts has produced countless disciples who have bolstered his counter-mainstream brand of music, including the excellent band Slumgum, who opens the evening as the first show of a month-long celebration for the 35th anniversary of Nine Winds. The founder himself follows with a new work for woodwinds, strings and piano. Viva la résistance!
Nikos Syropoulos at BLUE WHALE
A recent study in a respected medical journal claims one in three people will be arrested before they are 23 years old. Nikos Syropoulos is 23, and though his name is like that of a James Bond villain, his depravity is limited to being a wicked sharp composer and a total bad ass on piano. He honors his Greek grandmother Rozalia by naming his debut album after her, a beautifully arranged work for piano, voice, trumpet and strings. He funded his recording through Kickstarter, not from stealing. His only crime is to make you feel lame for not realizing your potential like he has. Some of you now probably want to hurt him, but then you'd be fulfilling your destiny to be that one in three statistic. Don't beat Nikos, become Nikos!
Brad Mehldau Trio at BROAD STAGE
At this point in his career, is it too soon to accredit the visionary pianist/composer with becoming the most influential jazz artist of the past two decades? He's inspired an entire generation of players, and it's hard to find a young pianist who hasn't borrowed something from him, a copycat reverence heretofore applied to hallowed figures like Parker, Coltrane, and Hancock. Still, there's no improving on the original, and Mehldau's new album Ode presents an artist firmly in flux to a maturation stage, finding his voice long ago but becoming ever more comfortable with it. His pianistic and harmonic innovations were once a tad expository, he now delves deeper into them, finding freedom within his ideas, untethered from self-consciousness. Witness a sage climbing toward the pinnacle of jazz history.
Tuesday 5/15 (Through Sunday)
Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke at CATALINA BAR AND GRILL
Jack is turning 70, and why not celebrate a milestone by doing something you've never done before with friends whom with you could do anything? These three bonafide legends have really done everything, just not altogether. Corea and DeJohnette first played on Miles Davis's hallowed Bitches Brew, followed by Corea and Clark cementing their legacies in the keyboardist's epic band Return to Forever. Clark and DeJohnette played together on albums by saxophonist Joe Farrell and pianist McCoy Tyner, but there's not a lot of documented history between the two. As a trio, there's barely anything out there, but if you can find a track of all three of them playing together on John McLaughlin's album Electric Guitarist, you will know why this birthday party is going to be so exciting.
Hitomi Oba at BLUE WHALE
This former prodigy could have been simply an amazing saxophonist, but her musical mind refuses to let her be limited to a single instrument or genre, and her focus has turned to composition. Jazz, post-modern or otherwise, her pieces embody emotional beauty and enlightened gravitas. There is even a jazz opera in the works, featuring the poems of Walter de la Mare. Now, she has decided to vocalize, and her electronic group Nova is a stunning departure from everything else, for the girl can flat out sing, with a voice pure and strong, eerily reminiscent of another former jazz protégé and electronica genius from Iceland. Her band features her old Berkeley High School classmate (and current sensational guitarist for Stanley Clarke) Charles Altura, possessor of endless chops and creativity.
Arturo Sandoval at THE FEDERAL BAR
Since his splashy introduction in the '70's with the groundbreaking band Irakere, the Cuban trumpeter has forged a heavyweight career, peaking in 1995 with a Grammy win for his solo album Danzon. One-time protege and heir to the legacy of Dizzy Gillespie, he has become a legend himself, featured on countless recordings, having performed at the White House and with stars like Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, and Justin Timberlake. There is even an acclaimed movie about his life, starring suave Andy Garcia as the papi! Here's hoping this engagement marks the beginning of another essential jazz presence at this sublime new NoHo hotspot. Sandoval's current band includes Zane Musa (sax) and Mahesh Balasooryia (piano), stunning virtuosos with the ammunition to match the fiery veteran in a hail of well-chosen notes.
Kate McGarry at BLUE WHALE
For three years straight, Downbeat Magazine has labeled the Grammy-nominated vocalist as a "Rising Star", so by now she should be somewhere around Mars. Hopefully she'll get back in time for her show at the Whale, for it would be a shame for anyone to miss her evocative lyricism and superb control throughout her ample vocal and emotive range. Her voice would be iconic in any genre, and she has crossed over with unique interpretations of Bjork, Dylan, and Peter Gabriel, but her latest album, Girl Talk, is an homage to the great ladies of jazz as well as an anthem for feminist equality in our time. McGarry brings her NYC band in tow, featuring star pianist/organist Gary Versace, whose playing puts him in another galaxy, far, far away.
Sara Serpa at BLUE WHALE
At her last gig here, she mesmerized the crowd with a style ripe with elegant intellect, and with her supple voice, pitch perfect and flawlessly lovely. All the females in the room wanted to sing like her, all the males wanted to date her, so perfect is she for Hollywood. Sorry boys, she's married to stellar guitarist André Matos, and he's also better looking than any of you guys. Vardan Ovsepian's piano playing is as beautiful as they are. Bassist Ryan McGillicuddy has a beautiful two year old girl. Steve Hass' name leads one to believe he is not beautiful, but rather that he might rock at drumming, which he does, and actually he's not bad looking. This music is challenging and gorgeous, just like the band that plays it.
Daniel Rosenboom Septet at OPEN GATE THEATRE
This young gifted trumpeter has been on a roll, showcasing his classical chops with the L.A. Philharmonic and on a world tour with Josh Groban, but all that glitz and glamour can't eradicate his dogged dedication to composing music that would send those Groban fans running out of the room holding their ears. Now that they are gone, the rest of us can dig on his vibe, which is about achieving a heavy rock sound with all acoustic instruments, done with ascendant splendor on his 2011 album, Fallen Angeles. This shit rocks harder than those bands you hear through the walls in rehearsal studios around town, and Rosenboom leads the charge with his super manly trumpet blasting. One of the most original, exciting, adventurous groups in L.A. right now.
P.O.E.M. at VITELLO'S
Pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Darek Oles, drummer Peter Erskine, and saxophonist Bob Mintzer make up this acronymic ensemble, their vocations beginning with explosive introductions to the music world, Pasqua with Tony Williams, Erskine with Stan Kenton, Mintzer with Art Blakey, and Oles with Brad Mehldau. Other associations include Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Jaco Pastorius, Lee Konitz, Allan Holdsworth, and the Yellowjackets, just to name a few. Extremely fiery players in their youth, these four have matured like a fine wine, more mellow but increasingly exquisite, as evidenced by their latest project, Standards 2, Movie Music. Still recording a ton, sounding as good as ever, all of them with cushy professorships at USC, they should write the textbook on how to have a successful career playing jazz.
Gonzalo Bergara at BLUE WHALE
Not long ago, a young blues guitarist from Buenos Aries saw the Woody Allen flick Sweet and Lowdown and was inspired by the guitar work of the character Emmitt Ray. Within a few years from that fateful viewing, Gonzalo Bergara was headlining Gypsy jazz festivals, drawing worthy comparisons to Stochelo Rosenberg, Bireli Lagrene, and of course, Django Reinhardt himself. Now a worldwide guitar sensation, Bergara keeps his chops sharp by playing gigs in his current hometown of LA. With due respect to Sean Penn, were Allen to recast the character of the confident and virtuosic Emmitt Ray, he might have picked Gonzalo instead, for the young man can certainly play the part. With Brian Netzley (bass), Jeff Radaich (rhythm guitar), and featuring the charmingly talented Leah Zeger on violin.
Thursday 3/15 (also Friday and Saturday)
Kneebody at BLUE WHALE
Eleven years ago, Kneebody was born to nurturing parents, all five of them incredible musicians on their own but through their union their procreation would grow into a special child, one with potential to shape and transform the world of music! Her precociousness would attract fans, bestowing her parents with celebrity, their fame eventually separating them to opposite ends of the country, but the parting was amicable and temporal, and their reunions are regular and vital to the development of this beautiful adolescent. Like most girls, she now is attracted to others, first vocalist Theo Bleckmann, then rapper Busdriver, her latest crush being electronic DJ wizard Daedelus, those two hooking up in the premiere of a work commissioned by Chamber Music America, composed by saxophonist and lead parent Ben Wendel.
Bruce Hornsby at PEPPERDINE CENTER FOR THE ARTS
When your debut goes multi-platinum, the question becomes: what to do with the rest of your life? The Way It Is garnered Bruce Hornsby a Grammy in 1987 for best new artist, since then he has enjoyed a gradual and creative descent from music's pinnacle, with projects ranging from playing with the Grateful Dead to recording bluegrass with Ricky Skaggs or jazz with legends like Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette. His songwriting now has depth to match his irony, akin to a wilder Randy Newman. Still, it's about the piano, and Hornsby has even gotten better at that, inflecting his signature Americana style with Ives, Schoenberg, and plenty of Keith Jarrett-inspired two-handed independence, all on display for this solo concert. Fame and fortune couldn't prevent this artist from doing what he's always wanted to do in his career.
David Binney @ BLUE WHALE
His bio still says that he is one of the most prolific young jazz musicians on the scene, but the New York-based saxophonist has been around long enough and done enough scene-changing projects with a who's who of jazz to have duly earned seasoned veteran status. Binney maintains his youthful similitude by hanging with the new generation, including and featuring on this show the popular YouTube L.A. electronica duo of Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi (the three of them are recording an album together). The fun continues with a plethora of guests from New York and Los Angeles, with all the makings of a beautiful sound orgy, just the sort of thing to maintain and sustain a virile spirit. Musically speaking, that is.
Hiromi @ THE BROAD STAGE
If some conjurer combined the solo piano virtuosity of Art Tatum with the modernist innovations of Chick Corea, and then injected the potion into a schoolgirl super-heroine from a Japanese comic book, the result would be Hiromi Uehara. One can say without hyperbole that this wunderkind is capable of doing things on the piano that no one else in the world can. Granted, her playing can get a little cute, but it's cute like a little girl taking on Godzilla and kicking serious ass, as she did recently with jazz behemoths Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. Still touring with Clarke, Hiromi finds time to play solo and promote her latest album, Place To Be, a breathtaking display of her unmatched talent. It wouldn't be surprising if she literally blew the roof off the gorgeous Santa Monica stage.
Chucho Valdes and The Afro Cuban Messangers/Poncho Sanchez & His Latin Jazz Band with Terence Blanchard @ WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL
If the 70-year old Cuban pianist were to perform magic instead of music, Valdes would draw comparisons to Merlin, Gandalf, and Dumbledore. The old wizard of Latin Jazz still commands the piano with thundering power and shimmering virtuosity, conjuring Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner, Horowitz and even Franz Lizst, but none of those guys could salsa. He and his Art Blakey-inspired band won a Grammy in 2010 (Valdes' eighth) for the scintilating Chucho's Steps. Also on the bill is another Grammy winner, Poncho Sanchez and his band, with jazz trumpet giant Terence Blanchard to display their latest release, Chano y Dizzy, honoring the respective titans on conga and trumpet, Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie. It's a lot of deadly serious musicians having a lot of fun, all fireworks and no bloodshed, and of course plenty of dancing.
Ben Wendel at BLUE WHALE
Perhaps the best and most well-known saxophonist to be consistently active on both coasts, Ben Wendel has parlayed his association with the Grammy-nominated band Kneebody into a prolific, multifaceted career, from writing film scores for John Krasinski (who can do much more than mug for the camera in The Office) to conducting a recreation of Charlie Parker's legendary album "Bird With Strings" at Lincoln Center, to his own solo projects, including his latest offering, "Frame." Wendel's second album is characteristically immaculate with virtuoso performances throughout, underscored by a pensive and brave emotionality, pointing to a man in transition to new territory as an artist and a human. With Kneebody mates Adam Benjaman (keys), Nate Wood (drums), Thelonious Monk Piano Competition winner Tigran Hamasyan, Larry Koonse (guitar), and Dave Robaire (bass).
Lonely Avenue [formerly Ross Garren Blues Band] @ BLUE WHALE
Tuesdays at Blue Whale could now be called the best-thing-you-didn't-even-know-existed night. In yet another episode we have harmonicist/pianist/composer Ross Garren and his mission to 're-present' American folk music by incapsulating it in more contemporary and artistic forms. This clever composer has arranged music for B.B. King, his songs are compelling and his blues harmonica playing is bodacious, but the heavenly voice of Angela Vincente is to die for; her ability to sing powerfully and sweetly at the same time just might kill you. Bassist Dominic Thiroux and drummer Gavin Salmon expertly round out the stripped-down band which exposes the songs in all their raw, beautiful, and unbelievably soulful affection. Throw away your old Rambo videos, for this music will actually make you proud to be an American.
Gilad Hekselman at BLUE WHALE
There is an endless parade of incredible guitar players this month at Blue Whale, having already hosted Anthony Wilson and Larry Koonse, with NYC standout Jonathan Kriesberg looming. If it could possibly get better, how about adding one of the most exciting young guitarists living in New York? Demonstrating exquisite technique and an fountain of ideas, Hekselman can get people cheering within a few choruses. Since winning the 2005 Gibson Montreux International Guitar Competition, the Israeli-born guitarist has collected many fans back east, now he ventures west to gain new admirers. Expect to see equal numbers of guitar-geeks and pretty coeds in the first row of ottomans. With former New School colleague Dave Robaire on bass, Kneebody saxist Ben Wendel, and also from New York exceptional drummer Ferenc Nemeth, who deserves his own paragraph of accolades.
Art Lande/Albert "Tootie" Heath at R.O.D. HALL, CALARTS [note: this is up on campus in Valencia, not REDCAT}
Here's a show that might compel one to head to the northern kingdom of Valencia to witness two bonafide jazz legends. Pianist Art Lande recorded for German uber-jazz-art label ECM in the 70's and 80's, including the brilliant duet (with reedman and Keith Jarret Quartet member Jan Gabarek) Red Lanta, Even though he's hiding under a rock now in Boulder, Lande still plays with intense artistry and is a must see for pianists. Drummer Heath embodies living breathing jazz history, having recorded with Coltrane as a young man to recently playing Small's in New York with Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson, and everyone in between, including his also-famous brothers bassist Percy and saxophonist Jimmy. Both gentleman knew are honoring drummer and Bay-Area legend Eddie Marshall, who passed away in September. Definitely worth the drive.
Billy Childs Quartet at BLUE WHALE
Billy Childs has referred to his compositional persona not as minimalist but rather maximalist, evidenced by his maximal output of original music and arrangements which over the course of his career have garnered the keyboardist/composer an impressive ten Grammy nominations and three Grammy awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2003 grant from Chamber Music America, from which came his own brilliant Jazz-Chamber Ensemble. NPR is recognizing this uniquely talented maximus on New Year's Eve by featuring him on their live Toast of the Nation broadcast. With Bob Sheppard on sax, the suddenly ubiquitous Tim Lefebvre on bass, and veteran drummer Gary Novak, and ensconced in the refreshingly minimalist atmosphere of the Blue Whale, seeing this show live will maximize your listening pleasure, but at the very minimum you should listen to it on the radio.
Chris Dingman at BLUE WHALE
If it's possible to make a percussion instrument sing, then Chris Dingman should write the manual. The vibraphonist wields his choice of armament in a way that avoids antagonism, no hitting the listener over the head with mallet pyrotechnics, instead employing a lyrical, harmonic-based thoughtfulness and a stealthy virtuosity. His debut album, Waking Dreams, is a masterful, personal testament, full of complex harmonies and rhythms, yet with a clarity of theme and purpose throughout. Hailed as one of the new and more original jazz voices in New York, Dingman brings with him some old friends from his L.A. tenure, drummer and fellow Monk Institute colleague Zach Harmon, pianist Josh Nelson and bassist Hamilton Price. This is easily one of the best jazz concerts of the early new year.
Kneebody with special guests, Daedelus and Busdriver
Little Temple, Sunday December 4
At a seemingly covert show at the Little Temple, this progressive-jazz-rock band delighted the boisterous crowd that somehow found out about the event. DJ and computer music genius Daedalus was somehow able to use the band as his own human turntable, setting up grooves and samples to which they played in a strange, fantastic courtship. Fast-rapping Busdriver closed it out, fronting the band with impressive flutter-beat poetry. Such collaborations only enhance Kneebody's unlimited creative capacity. -Gary Fukushima
Donny McCaslin with Uri Caine, Fima Ephron, Mark Guiliana and special guest Tim Lefebvre
Blue Whale, Tuesday September 13
The Blue Whale has given Angelinos a taste of the New York jazz scene, with cats who rarely ventured West suddenly making appearances. Saxophonist McCaslin was simply playing out of his mind, with Uri Caine, the grandmaster of keyboard, responding with sage advice. Fima Ephron held steady with sick groves, despite fellow bassist Lefebvre's best efforts to distract with sonic insanity. Mark Guiliana was conquering the impossible on the drum set. Electric crowd, incredible night. -Gary Fukushima
Fri 1/13 (Also Sat) Vardan Ovsepian Chamber Ensemble @ BLUE WHALE
This Armenian-born pianist reflects a modern-day Schubert, writing copious amounts of music during the day, hanging out in the clubs at night, a true musical savant and a friend to all good musicians. With four solo recordings for Fresh Sound New Talent and another with legendary drummer Peter Erskine, Ovsepian's talent is duly noted. His VOCE project unites musicians of varied backgrounds, including cello virtuoso Artyom Manukyan, a Brazilian guitarist who tours with Michael Buble in Marcel Carmargo, a violist and string arranger for singers like John Legend and Erykah Badu in Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, a reed player and member of the Mars Volta in Adrian Terrazas, and a choir of some of L.A.'s finest young vocalists. Ghosts of 18th-century German geniuses rejoice, for chamber music has been reclaimed by the revelers.
Tue 1/17 Joanna Malfatti Trio @ BLUE WHALE
Nestled north of the Newhall Pass, the venerable California Institute of the Arts is a bastion of creativity, its musical alumni seeping into every branch of the Hollywood music industry, from film scoring to indie-rock to jazz, infusing an often predictable and banal industry with imagination and artistic honesty. Drummer Joanna Malfatti is the latest bright light to emanate from the program, maybe to follow the trajectories of other mercurial Calartian beatmakers like Kneebody's Nate Wood and Black Note's Willie Jones III. She has her own orbit, however, seamlessly interpolating freer forms of textural improvising with beats that reflect her intensive study of African music. Maflatti is joined by her one-time schoolmates, sublime pianist Cathlene Pineda, who equally rocks Paul Bley or Paul Hindemith, and Emilio Terranova, indeed a rising planet on bass.
12/31 New Year's Eve Live Broadcast on NPR - Billy Childs Quartet @ BLUE WHALE
Luciana Souza @ BLUE WHALE
This Sao Paulo native has had a unique and multifaceted career, a reflection of the supple and deeply expressive voice she is blessed with. The four-time Grammy nominee made waves with her volumes of duets with some incredible Latin guitarists on Duos and Duos II, where she duels with the six-stringed virtuosity with gracious and fearless vocal riposte. Her lovely contribution on the song Amelia helped Herbie Hancock win a Grammy for Album of the Year (for River: The Joni Letters), just another milestone on her way to stardom. Souza has sold-out concert halls around the world, which makes her appearance at the Little Tokyo nightclub all the more stunning. With local legend Larry Koonse on guitar, and bassist David Pilch, who has played on numerous records that you probably already own.
Vocalist Sara Serpa shares her last name with a tiny municipality in her native Portugal, in a region famous for cheese, a trait that, thankfully, this evocative singer does not share. Possessing an extensive range and pitch-perfect control, she spins off difficult melodies (of her own composition and improvisation) with the grace and ease of an Audrey Hepburn character, attracting the attention of jazz luminaries such as Danilo Perez, Greg Osby and Ran Blake. Eschewing standards for vehicles with more gravitas, she delivers her pieces with great emotional focus and élan. Her career already in flight, Serpa makes her L.A. debut with her husband, outstanding guitarist André Matos, and old Boston colleague and current L.A. piano genius Vardan Ovsepian, whose talent cannot be overstated.