Mark Heard It First

The Art of the Hang

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I attended the Jazz Congress at Lincoln Center in New York this week.  Through Corniche Travel I got a great rate at the iconic Sherry-Netherland Hotel at 59th and 5th.  Iconic is an overused word, but in this case it applies.  Built in 1927, it has been the first call hotel for a long list of show business luminaries including Sammy Davis, Jr., Mel Torme, The Manhattan Transfer and Diana Ross.  This is the view that greeted me when I walked into the suite.  It is not terrible.

Sunset in Central Park

The attention to detail at this hotel is outstanding.  In the room were a handwritten note from Hotel Manager Theresa Nocerino, a fruit and cheese plate, a very nice bottle of Chateau St. Michelle cabernet, and a tin of chocolates, which I ate immediately.

My living room for my stay at the Sherry-Netherland.  I wish it could be my living room for my stay on the planet.

That evening I saw the ice skaters in Central Park and bundled up and went down for a closer look.  I’d post a photo, but I was not pleased with the branded name on the skating rink wall.  Let’s just say that it coincided with a certain garish hotel that looms over Columbus Circle.  Still, it was fun to see New Yorkers on ice.

New Yorkers on ice.

Each morning I bundled up and walked down 59th along the edge of Central Park to Jazz at Lincoln Center.  After proper bundling, that first blast of cold air as I left The Sherry (I can call it “The Sherry” now because we are close) was invigorating and exciting.

Morning walk.

I noticed they were offering free head shots at the conference.  So I did that.  The price was right.  I have a head.  Seemed like a no brainer, so to speak.

PR welfare.  Of course I had one done.

I always glean useful information from the various panels at the conference, but I have to say the most productive and enjoyable part of it all is the hang, getting to see East Coast radio programmers, writers and artists who I rarely see, and meeting new people.  Having said that, there was a healthy West Coast presence.  Mark Winkler, Jennifer Leitham, Denise Donatelli, Judy Wexler, and Jacques LeSure were all there.  Cathy Segal Garcia snapped this photo of Winkler and me.  Honestly the most productive hour of the conference was when I latched onto Winkler and he introduced me to people milling about the lobby.  That cat knows everybody.  Latching on is an art form.  I am good at it.

The Marks brothers, Winkler and Christian Miller.  From the coast.  The art of the latch on.

Highlights for me were hearing Darlene Chan (legendary Playboy Jazz Festival producer) talk about presenting jazz on the West Coast, hearing noted radio programmer Bradley Stone moderate a panel of well known DJs about what they will and will not spin, and the Perfect Pitch sessions, where various electronic press kits were evaluated.  I enjoyed meeting Staci Griesbach, who is based in LA and pitched an interesting concept album – reimagining the recordings of Patsy Cline in a jazz idiom.  She was great fun and I think I have a new LA jazz hang pal.

The first night out I caught the A train from Columbus Circle to the Village where I heard Denise Donatelli, three time Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album perform at Mezzrow.  Mezzrow is a classic Village basement bar hang.  Denise had the calibre of accompaniment you would expect from a three time Grammy nominee – Geoffrey Keezer on piano, who also arranged her last album, and Ron Blake on sax.  Did I mention this place is intimate?  I was practically onstage with Denise and the band.  I am going to add “appeared onstage with Denise Donatelli at Mezzrow” to my resume.  I’m sure Denise won’t mind.  It was a great set of first class arrangements and musicianship.

Exquisite Denise Donatelli and Ron Blake


Keezer on the keys.  Brilliant.

I was very proud of my friend Jennifer Leitham who spoke eloquently on Tuesday about transgender issues in the music business.  People were riveted as she talked about the process of transitioning while on the road with Doc Severinson.  Jennifer was Mel Torme’s bassist for a decade, and has played with everybody from Peggy Lee to Bob Dorough.  Right after she transitioned in the early 2000’s I was able to book her occasionally, and she has played in my trio from time to time.  I have been proud to know Jennifer for a long time.  I worked with her when she was John.  She is a great bass player.

Panel moderator Katie  Simon (WGBO/Jazz Night in America,) Jennifer, Chloe Rowlands, and LGBT ally Riley Mulherkar.  Chloe and Riley are trumpet players with the superb brass quartet “The Westerlies.”

Tuesday night I caught the A train again and heard the gorgeous symmetry between Kate McGarry, Jo Lawry, Will Vinson, and Keef Granz. Spectacular singing! The great Theo Bleckman sat in. Bar 55 in the Village was packed to the rafters.  Now I know first hand why Kate gets so much respect among jazz fans and vocalists.  She is currently Grammy nominated for Best Jazz Vocal album.

After the first set I hopped in a cab to make the second part of a double header at a place on 44th called “Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera” to meet my friend James Gavin and hear something called “Canadians in New York,” led by Ori Dagan.  Ori is a talented singer out of Toronto, with great energy and presence.  He writes some fun, quirky material and is very entertaining.  I dug him.  He was in town to present at APAP.

Ori’s all in!  Tremendous presence and energy from the talent from Toronto.

Ori’s opening act was “Bridge + Wolak,” a clarinet/accordion duo that also hails from the Great North.  They blended classical music with jazz and pop elements and were uniquely entertaining.  After the show James and I talked with Michael Bridge about the challenges of traveling with an accordion.  Michael told us that once a TSA worker asked him if he was a writer.  When Michael asked him why he asked that, he replied, “Because you have that typewriter.”

I was fortunate to be able to stay an extra day after the conference.  Wednesday morning Theresa Nocerino gave me a very interesting tour of the Sherry-Netherland.

This hotel is impeccably maintained and Theresa and her staff chose many of the decorative elements in the rooms.

I have no way of knowing, but I am thinking this was the suite where Sammy  Davis, Jr. always stayed.  Let’s just go with that.

The view out the window of a suite looking toward the Empire State Building.  The street facing rooms have double paned windows and are as quiet as a library.

George was often on duty during my stay.  I’m not used to having a manned elevator.  When I first got on, we stood staring at each other for a moment.  Of course he was waiting for me to tell him my floor, and I was looking at him like I expected him to take a wild guess.  We had a chuckle about that.  He is a lovely gentleman, and typical of the entire staff at the hotel – friendly, helpful, with no hint of attitude.


George on the job.

After my tour of the Sherry, I walked around the corner to St. Peter’s church on Lexington, known as “The Jazz Church.”  The late Edmund Anderson created Midday Jazz Midtown  in 1982.  A personal friend of Duke Ellington, Anderson was a music lover who wrote lyrics for Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and helped produce Duke’s Black, Brown and Beige concert at Carnegie Hall. Ronny Whyte, who curates the series, told me that Billy Strayhorn’s piano is housed in the church.  I thoroughly enjoyed the concert I saw there.  Hearing Mauricio de Souza’s mostly Brazilian music was like floating on a cloud.  His version of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” was particularly moving.

I’m pleased to say that I will be performing in this highly respected series on October 23rd.  A big deal for MCM in the Big Apple during his birthday week.  Many thanks to the gifted Ronny Whyte for the invitation.


This was during the load in for Wednesday’s concert at St. Peter’s.  By the time Mauricio de Souza performed the beautiful, airy sanctuary was filled with an attentive and appreciative crowd.  

Wednesday night I once again caught the A train to the Village.  It was the last night of my stay, and as gorgeous as my suite at The Sherry was, I was not going to spend the evening sitting in it.

I caught Vocal Mania at the Zinc Jazz Bar, hosted by Janis Siegel and Lauren Kinhan.  These are two of the most accomplished vocalists on the scene.  Janis, of course, of the Manhattan Transfer, and Lauren of New York Voices.  I was not familiar with Lauren’s singing.  She now has a new fan.  That would be me.  Her voice is agile and clear, and she knows how to use it.  Janis was in total command, spontaneous with solid musicianship.  The lady has a pretty darned good sense of humor as well.

Janis Siegel showing us how it is done.

Luminescent Lauren Kinhan.

The thing about New York is you never know who is going to show up.  Lea DeLaria stopped in and dropped a fiercely funky version of Bowie’s “Fame” on what would have been his 72nd birthday.  She took no prisoners.

Lea DeLaria popped up.  We were all glad.

As if things weren’t going well enough, Duchess performed.  Talent cubed.  These three singers are all superb, and their tight harmonies, rapport with each other, and slightly zany material are hugely entertaining.  They swing hard and know what they are doing.

Duchess.  Amy Cervini, Hillary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou.  Talent cubed.

There were other guest artists, notably the superb Brazilian singer Fleurine, who is about as authentic as it gets.  I shared a table with Tania Grubbs, the Pittsburgh based mover, shaker, taste maker, and bon vivant.  She will laugh if she sees that.  Actually she is passionate about this music and a really fun hang.  But it was getting late, and I had an early flight so after the first set  I grabbed a slice, a cab, and went back to – you guessed it, my suite at the Sherry.  Can a person be in a relationship with a hotel?  Yes, I think a person can.

The next morning I shared a taxi to JFK with Mark Winkler.  We talked with our driver Herb about the traffic, and talked with each other about the state of jazz in Los Angeles.  I don’t think Herb was much interested in hearing about jazz in LA, but no matter.

Grateful for another fantastic trip to New York.  It was really a great hang.  Onward and outward.



The Company We Keep

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What an honor it was to guest with the Katie Thiroux Trio at the ASMAC/Los Angeles Jazz Society holiday party.  I have always wanted to sing with Katie and Matt, and of course have been a huge fan of Justin Kauflin’s since I saw the documentary “Keep on Keepin’ On,” which details his musical relationship with the late great Clark Terry.  Justin is a protege of Quincy Jones.  He is of course a superb musician and easy going, with a good sense of humor.  It was not only a great musical experience for me, but a solid hang.

Betty From the Bar – My Happy Place

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Sunday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato, as I sipped a Manhattan at the bar, the gorgeous sounds of the Betty Bryant Quartet floated through the room. It was a good turnout, and Betty had them in the palm of her hand. The sound at Vibrato has always been good, but since Herb’s touring bassist Hussain Jiffrey took over the reigns, it is turning into a listening room with an upgrade to the PA and savvy programming from Hussain. The dinner crowd was buzzy, as they always are, but when Betty launched into “Try A Little Tenderness,” the room got silent as she drew them in. It was perfection, like a Manhattan made with a dash of orange bitters and shaken with authority so there is a bit of foam at the top….frothy and sweet with a bite and a kick, like Cool Miss B herself. (Hat tip to Anastasia Mann, who has educated us on the perfect way to make a Manhattan.)

Betty Bryant performed two sublime sets with Richard Simon on bass, Donald Dean on drums, and  Robert Kyle on reeds.

Music in the Air Session

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Kevin Winard, drums;  Danny Janklow, alto sax; Mike Gurrola, bass; Jamison Trotter, piano.

We had a great session last month at Paul Tavener’s Big City Recording Studio in Chatsworth, recording three fresh Jamieson Trotter arrangements, as well as one of my all time favorite Ellington ballads. It was fun to record these beautifully crafted charts. No arrangements are needed for an Ellington ballad, just solid musicianship, feeling, and respect for Ellington, the master craftsman. Danny’s solo on it is beautiful. I’m currently rehearsing four additional arrangements and we will be laying those down soon. Paul Tavener is a great engineer, lightening fast, with a great ear and a real knack for recording singers.

Love, Kristin

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photo by Robert Kyle

Thanks to all who came out to Vitello’s to catch the great Denmark based bassist/vocalist Kristin Korb in her only LA appearance this summer.  I’m so very grateful for the support from our singer/musician community and the fans!  I was honored to perform two Jamieson Trotter charts with Kristin, Andy Langham and Dean Koba.  From my current recording project, we performed Jamieson’s great, funky back beat take on “Too Darned Hot,” which was a very timely selection, given our current weather situation.  We also performed his smart and swingy arrangement of Artie Shaw’s “Moon Ray” from my 2015 release “Crazy Moon.”  I chose both for their strong bass lines for Kristin.  “Too Darned Hot” also has a romping 6/8 section on the bridge, giving Andy Langham, who is the touring pianist with Poncho Sanchez, a chance to show off his considerable Latin chops.  The “Moon Ray” arrangement gave Dean Koba some cool drum breaks.  Kristin and the guys took superb care of my charts!  I sent them to Kristin ahead of time, as one does.  Whenever I do this, I can tell immediately in the sound check/run through whether or not they have looked at them.  They had clearly done their home work, and played them through to perfection.  This is what happens when you work with real pros.  Kristin carried the show in her unique style, and I think a lot of my fan friends had not heard her perform live.  She is very special indeed, a gifted, innovative arranger and artist, a complete musician, entertainer, and a beautiful friend.

I continue to hitch my wagon to some amazing lady artists, with two upcoming appearances with the great Betty Bryant – I will be guesting with  her at the World Stage in Leimert Park on Friday, September 7th, and we are once again coming your way with the Betty Bryant Birthday Bash Brunch at Catalina Jazz Club on Sunday, November 4th.  I continue to gather some great arrangements with Jamieson Trotter in anticipation of our upcoming recording project, and will be returning to Jazz at the Merc in Temecula in 2019, other fun dates  TBA.  Keep swinging, y’all!


Living for Live Music!

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photo by Ziggy Spiz

When I was hired by Anastasia Mann to promote talented Latin entertainer Louie Cruz Beltran and to help develop an Entertainment Division for the Corniche Group, Inc., her successful corporate and leisure travel management and Anastasia’s Africa companies, I knew I was in for an adventure.  It has been quite a ride.  I’ve learned a great deal, and am grateful to say there has never been more music in my life than there is right now.  In addition to pursuing my love for performing, piano studies and recording, I have gained valuable insights into what it takes to present and perform quality music.  From dealing with club owners, festival promoters and event planners, to handling stage plots, tech engineers, logistics, public relations, scheduling, nervous private party hosts, and luxury hotel General Managers, we continue to do it all at Corniche Entertainment.  And through it all my love and respect for the many talented musicians and fans who make up our performing arts community has only increased.  The journey continues with a busy schedule taking us into 2019.  I wanted to share some upcoming dates here on my personal page, “Mark Heard it First.”

But first, a brief recap of the latest adventures.  April 29th master percussionist and entertainer Louie Cruz Beltran was  proud to appear through the Smithsonian Institution and the Blues Alley Jazz Society on the National Mall in Washington DC to represent Latin Jazz, closing out Jazz Appreciation Month.

Monday night, April 30th Louie performed two shows at famed Blues Alley in Georgetown to celebrate International Jazz Day.  It was a new market for Louie, and we beat the drums to get the word out and we had a great turnout!  As many of you know, Blues Alley is a legendary jazz club that is run the right way – big thanks to owner Harry Schnipper, house manager Jessica and Alex on sound!  Louie had an awesome band – thanks to our friend Sean Beale-Rosano, who now lives in Baltimore and came in for the gigs, and to the talented Olaolu Ajibade who killed on drums – so much fun to watch those two guys as well as hear them.  We brought Louie’s talented pianist/Musical Director Carlos Vivas with us from LA, as well as the great young sax/flute phenom Justin Janer.  Thanks to Harry and the Blues Alley team, and congratulations to Anastasia Mann for realizing her dream and making this happen.


On May 6th we presented the first of three shows we have booked for the prestigious LA Made series at the downtown Central Library.  Made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, LA Made is a cultural series featuring free music, dance, theater, and conversations with LA based entertainers.  Roberto Amaral presented Fuego Flamenco, a talented troupe of three dancers, a guitarist and percussionist, led by Roberto who danced and sang classic as well as cutting edge flamenco material.  It was hugely entertaining, and the full house gave them a well deserved standing ovation.


And now, onward.  We are proud of Louie’s popular solo library percussion seminars, “Roots & Rhythm” being presented by the Los Angeles County Library system in numerous branch libraries this year!  The shows are fun, interactive, informative, free and suitable for all ages.  Louie has a deep connection to and knowledge of Afro Cuban music, and demonstrates specific rhythms, where they originated and how they made their way into today’s music styles.

For Louie Cruz Beltran’s complete and busy schedule, including “Roots & Rhythm,” LA Made, and appearances at Spaghettini, Vibrato, Vitello’s, The Curtis Theatre, and other top regional venues, check out his website here.

Here are other upcoming dates, including the 2018 Music on the Main lineup at Descanso Gardens.  Descanso tickets will go on sale to the public two weeks prior to each show, and will likely sell out quickly.  Please contact Descanso Gardens directly for changes to their ticketing and entrance procedures on Thursdays.  All shows are 6 to 7:30, lawn seating on a first come basis.  Bring a picnic, bottle of wine.  And bring me a snack (optional.)  I am always by the band stand.  

Click on the artist’s name and/or venue for venue and show information.

Sunday, June 3rd.  2 PM.  The prestigious LA Made series  at the Grand Central Library, DTLA –  Louie Cruz Beltran Latin Jazz Ensemble.

Thursday, June 7th – Canadian born 7 time Juno Award nominee (Canadian Grammy) Carol Welsman opens the 2018 Music on the Main series at Descanso Gardens!

Thursday, June 14th – Louie Cruz Beltran, Descanso Gardens. Louie is a returning crowd favorite!  Party in the garden!

Saturday, June 16th – Mark Christian Miller returns to Egan’s Ballard Jam House, with Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Bill Anschell on piano.  I am getting comfy in this intimate, fun Ballard boîte.  It is my third appearance there, and I am thrilled to have a talented new trio to perform some new arrangements by Jamieson Trotter and Josh Nelson, in anticipation of my current recording project.

Thursday, June 21st – Carey Frank – Descanso Gardens.  I have been following Carey this past year – a superb musician, a hard swinging, energetic keyboardist and mandolin player.


Thursday, June 28th – Kevin Kanner featuring Danny Janklow, Descanso Gardens.  Kevin hosts the legendary Mint Jam,  and both he and Danny are respected, busy, and in demand.  Expect some fierce straight ahead jazz.

Thursday, July 5th – Incendio, Descanso Gardens – fiery guitar driven instrumentals, first rate musicianship.

Thursday, July 12th – Spencer Day, Descanso Gardens – there is nobody like Spencer, a gifted songwriter, engaging pianist and entertainer.  His show was a sensation last year at the gardens.

Thursday, July 19th – Nolan Shaheed, Descanso Gardens.  Nolan is a great entertainer as well as trumpet player, with an authentic, deep history in the music.  His shows are always a blast.

Pleased to be presenting renowned New York based violinist, mandolin virtuoso, bow tie rights activist and humorist Aaron Weinstein in two rare Los Angeles area appearances:

Thursday, July 26th – Descanso Gardens

Sunday, July 29th – Vibrato.  2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel Air 90077 – shows at 7:30 and 9:00.  Must reserve for a good table!

We are pleased to announce Cool Miss B, Betty Bryant will be appearing at this year’s Central Avenue Jazz Festival Saturday, July 28th!  Details TBA!

World renowned bassist Kristin Korb is in from Denmark for a couple LA shows!

Thursday, August 9th – Kirstin Korb with Special Guest Mark Christian Miller (lineup subject to change) – Vitello’s!

Thursday, August 16th, Jazz at the Merc, Temecula

National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Hubert Laws brings his singular talent to the LA Made series, Grand Central Library, Taper Auditorium on Sunday, August 19th at 2 PM!

Cool Miss B’s two favorite regular shows are coming up again!  Back by popular demand at Martini’s Above Fourth in San Diego on Thursday, August 23rd, and the annual Betty Bryant Birthday  Bash Brunch returns to Catalina Jazz Club on Sunday afternoon, November 4th.

Danny Janklow performs for the City of West Hollywood Winter Sounds series on Saturday, January 12, 2019.  His heart-felt, passionate, and highly energetic music has reached and inspired thousands of listeners from Japan to Holland to Mexico

I continue on my personal musical performance journey with a focus on piano practice, and am moving forward with the new recording project.  We have gathered new arrangements from Jamieson Trotter and Josh Nelson and are finalizing recording personnel and dates.  My Executive Producers Steve and Mary Miller will be attending our upcoming Seattle performance at Egan’s on June 16th, and I’m looking forward to seeing them along with my newfound Seattle pals.  Also very excited to be guesting with the brilliant bassist Kristin Korb at Vitello’s on August 9th, and returning to guest with Betty Bryant to celebrate at her annual birthday bash at Catalina Jazz Club on Sunday November 4th!

So there you have it.  There are more pending events that will be added soon, including partnering through the Los Angeles Jazz Society and our friends at the City of West Hollywood on some exciting events in the community.

Please support the Los Angeles Jazz Society – just one of our programs is Jazz in Schools, which presents live interactive jazz  to elementary school students throughout the LAUSD during February, Black History Month.  We are adding some exciting new public concerts and mixers to our established Bill Green Mentorship, New Note and Jazz Tribute programs.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!  Get out and support live music!



Joanne Tatham “The Rings of Saturn”

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From the opening drum roll of the Walter Donaldson/Gus Khan chestnut “Love Me or Leave Me,” Max Haymer’s smart and splashy arrangement and Joanne Tatham’s confident vocals drew me in. Her voice is clear, her tone is true, and she swings effortlessly. It is immediately evident that the listener is in for top rate production values, which is what we have come to expect when producer Mark Winkler is at the helm.

Michael Frank’s “Summer in New York” follows. Kevin Winard on percussion, Dan Schnelle on drums and Lyman Medeiros on bass give it the right Latin feel, and Tatham knows when to spin out long, perfectly pitched tones, and when to utter a hushed word, displaying first rate phrasing choices. Larry Koonse on guitar makes an always welcome appearance on this one track.

Producer Winkler and Eli Bruggemann contribute an original, a sunny, briskly swinging number “Catch Me if You Can.” Haymer’s arrangement gives it the appropriate breezy, kinetic energy.

Phoebe Snow’s beloved “Piano Man” is deconstructed and re-harmonized to a nearly unrecognizable degree. It is a studious arrangement, and I found the added measures and chord voicings to be a bit distracting from the heart of the tune. It’s possible that I am too much in love with the original to appreciate this version. Venturing into the realm of reimagined classic pop is not for the timid, and while it isn’t my favorite track on the record, the approach is honest and skilled.

The title song follows, a rollicking, energetic, 6/4 interpretation of Bill Gable’s “The Rings of Saturn.” The superb ensemble shines on this track, and Tatham overdubs some effective, ethereal vocal harmonies. As Tatham is faded out, or rather launched into outer space, presumably in the general vicinity of Saturn, the band provides a sparkling send off. The overall effect is affirmative and joyful.

A surprising pop/rock cover follows, Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends?” Lyman Madeiros kicks it off with an expert bass line. Max Haymer’s horn parts are perfect, quoting a snippet from Miles Davis’s “Milestones” behind the title lyrics, and then stretching out in long, satisfying phrases that Tatham floats over with ease. The great Brian Swartz contributes the outstanding trumpet playing, and reed hero Bob Sheppard delivers an intensely heated solo. I have no preconceived relationship with the song and it works for me on every level. Kudos to Eli Brueggemann for this engaging arrangement. It is the standout track for me.

Jobim’s “If You Never Come to Me” is always a pleasure to hear, and if a vocalist does not have pristine pitch and control, this is not a song that should be attempted. Tatham negotiates the half step intervals and long tones with ease, and doubles with guitarist Marcel Camargo on a lovely vocalese section.

A sweet, heartfelt and direct version of Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” follows with the classic jazz ballad pulse beautifully played by a trio that clearly knows how to support a singer. Max Haymer and Lyman Madeiros provide the sensitive backing and Dan Schnelle proves once again that he is a drummer who can support on brushes with a thoughtful variety of colors.

The John Williams/Paul Williams theme from the film Cinderella Liberty “Nice To Be Around” is a highly sophisticated composition that displays Tatham’s skill as a vocal actress. Brian Swartz on trumpet and the Max Haymer arrangement mesh to deliver this charmingly world weary, angular piece. A very effective melodic theme is employed before the fade out.

A second Jobim tune “Jazz ‘n Samba” is next with Tatham, Brazilian guitarist Marcel Camargo and Kevin Winard on percussion. After all of the densely, well arranged material, it is refreshing to hear this trio laying down a straight forward authentic Brazilian vibe on a familiar classic. Tatham handles both the English and Portuguese lyrics with ease.

Another standard closes out the collection, Jimmy Van Huesen and Johnny Burke’s “It Could Happen to You.” Bob Sheppard sets the tone in the beautifully written intro, which modulates nicely down to Tatham’s key. Tatham’s vocal is at first hushed, intimate and conversational and builds with the arrangement. Max Haymer is given room to showcase his deft improvisational piano skills. The vocal/sax unison line with Bob Sheppard works very nicely. This is a fitting capper to a very satisfying record.

It is hard to know where to start when praising the quality of jazz recordings currently coming out of Los Angeles. All of the names associated with this fine CD appear on many beautifully realized projects. With “The Rings of Saturn” Joanne Tatham gives us a worthy follow up to her outstanding 2015 release “Out of My Dreams.” The West Coast people seem to be on a roll, and Joanne Tatham once again takes her rightful place among the very best of the very best.

Joanne Tatham, The Rings of Saturn

Joanne Tatham, vocals
Max Haymer, piano
Lyman Medeiros, bass
Dan Schnelle, drums
Marcel Camargo, guitar (5,7,10)
Larry Koonse, guitar (2)
Kevin Winard, percussion
Brian Swartz, trumpet
Bob Sheppard, sax

Arrangments by Max Haymer, Eli Brueggemann (6)
Marcel Camargo and Joanne Tatham (10)

Produced by Mark Winkler

Engineered and mixed by Talley Sherwood
Mastered by Ron Boustead

Recorded at Tritone Recording Studio

Kellye Gray – Rendering

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Kellye Gray has reissued her 1989 debut recording “Standards in Gray” in a double disc package with her current release, titled “Rendering.” It isn’t immediately obvious that there are two CDs in the package. After I listened to “Rendering” and before I’d had a chance to dig into the one sheet from her publicist, I had to be told by her friend and fan the vocalist Jeffrey Gimble that the earlier disc is tucked into the side pocket – what a nice surprise.

It takes moxie to display side by side the natural changes in the human voice that evolve over a 26 year career. The good news here is that her 1989 debut is such a strong record in its own right. It isn’t so much that she has improved over the years, because she was solid to begin with. What is interesting is the added heft and authority of her voice, the self assured freedom in her approach that only life experience can impart.

In 1989’s “Standards in Gray” she recorded the Billie Holiday torcher “Don’t Explain.” In this recording it is immediately clear that she is a superior vocalist, with a full bodied tone and a mellifluous way with melodic variation. On “Rendering” when Gray bends the phrase “don’t explain” right out of the gate, we are hearing a singer who isn’t interpreting a classic so much as inhabiting it.

There are four other songs that are represented on both discs – Clare Fischer’s, “Morning,” “How Insensitive” by Jobim, and the standard anthems “How Long Has This Been Going On” and “Good Morning Heartache.”  I will focus my remarks on the current release, with an occasional comment comparing the two.

On “Rendering” she keeps the first two tracks down tempo, where she is very secure, phrasing with ease and delivering often heard lyrics like she is the first one who ever uttered the words. Andre Hayward contributes fine trombone support and soloing on “I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues.” The standard unison hits from the band on the phrase “All I feel for me is misery” could be a cliché in the hands of a lesser artist. Here it makes perfect sense because Gray connects it so beautifully to the next thought. There is a through line. In her hands it all makes sense.

She lightens the vibe a bit with Clare Fischer’s “Morning.” She seems to know that with Fischer it isn’t necessary to reimagine what already works, and keeps the approach straight forward, generously letting her backing musicians stretch out with good natured, sunny solos and relying on her own natural talent to illuminate the lyrics.

“Out Blows Me,” an original by Gray, is a lilting waltz with a pleasing angularity.   Halfway through, the phrase “Waiting to be free, waiting for the breeze” goes from brassy to soft, displaying remarkable sonic and emotional control.

“A Time for Love” is done as a duo with Pamela York on piano. Like all skilled accompanists, York is supportive and spare, keeping the singer out front and giving her plenty of space.

Another original by Gray, “God You Make Me Wonder,” a rolling samba, employs some effective unison vocal and instrumental lines, displaying fine arranging by Gray in tandem with Wayne Wallace.

On “How Long Has This Been Going On?” she has the audacity to speak/sing the phrase “Like I could melt….” It’s a choice that feels spontaneous, indicative of the kind of free form expressiveness that enlivens this entire record.

She elevates Jobim’s “How Insensitive” with Norman Gimbel’s English lyrics from the pretty, pale Chopin inspired lament it so often is, to a soaring indictment, an accusation that is astonishing in its dramatic impact. The raw honesty of her voice is compelling, almost painful at times. It is not surprising that this was not something she was able to achieve at this level when she first recorded it in 1989, although her interpretation succeeded on its own terms then.

Both records close out with “Good Morning Heartache.” I hear just a bit of Gray channeling Billie Holiday in the opening phrases in 1989, and at times she seems to be paying homage to the rounded purity of Betty Carter. This is not a bad thing, although it feels a tiny bit studied. Contrast that version with the unselfconscious way she launches into the current version and you have the essence of this woman’s musical journey.   Now she is telling the story she has lived.

This remarkable two disc set shows that Kellye Gray is a singer who from the beginning possessed an intense, innate musicality, a superior vocal instrument and the intelligence to interpret lyrics. At times her voice shimmers with quiet subtlety, at times she delivers a throaty howl, at times she spins out burnished, long horn like tones, and when her emotion dictates she is not afraid to sound rough around the edges and gritty. Her tone is sure, and her delivery always first and foremost serves the narrative. She was an arrestingly gifted singer in 1989. Now instead of being a student of the genre, she owns it.


Piano, Pamela York

Bass, David Craig

Drums, Sebastian Whittaker

Saxophone, Warren Sneed

Trombone, Andre Hayward

Engineer, Andy Bradley

Mixing, Erich Avinger

Arrangements, Kellye Gray and Wayne Wallace

Recorded at Wire Road Studios, Houston, Texas in 2015


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To release a collection of Sondheim vocals with a decidedly reimagined approach, a singer had better have three things going for her – a first class pedigree as a strong vocalist, innate acting ability, and an outstanding supporting team.

Some familiar names populate this ambitious release. The core trio consists of West Coast stalwarts Kevin Axt on bass, Dave Tull on drums, and John Beasley on piano. Jamieson Trotter is an arranger who has been consistently putting his stamp on some of the finest material being recorded today. The classical composer and arranger Bevan Manson expertly employs strings and arrangements on two tracks, and “Take 6” founding member Mark Kibble contributes a surprisingly fresh arrangement of perhaps Sondheim’s most famous, if somewhat over performed, song.

John Beasley’s arrangement of “I Remember” begins the journey with a dreamy, introspective piano figure cascading over Kevin Axt’s anchoring bass line. Bentyne’s voice is immediate, expressive, and self -assured.

Eli Brueggemann’s arrangement of the obscure “Sand” uses shifting feels and meters.  At times it has a straight-ahead determination, and at other times it floats freely with a bit of uncertainty. This is a smart and effective approach, true to the material.

“The Ladies Who Lunch” is one of Sondheim’s better-known Broadway anthems. I was surprised to hear the often used “Killer Joe” treatment. But after all it was “That’s Killer Joe” on the Manhattan Transfer’s landmark “Vocalese” album in 1985 that breathed new life into Benny Golson’s standard. Bentyne and Janis Seigel supplied the soaring vocals on that groundbreaking recording. So if anybody is entitled to use the riff again, it is Cheryl Bentyne in the company of Janis Siegel, joined by multi-Grammy nominated Tierney Sutton. Jamieson Trotter’s treatment is actually spot on, and the rock solid groove laid down by the core trio gives the ladies a framework in which to party.   This can be a very dark piece, but in the hands of Bentyne and company it is sophisticated, fun, self aware and never bitter. There is nothing over wrought about it. Everybody laugh.

Dave Tull taps out an urgent message on the cymbals at the beginning of “Everybody Says Don’t.” Kevin Axt supplies an insistent bass pedal point, and Bentyne delivers the message. It takes an expertly crafted arrangement to succeed with bass, drums and voice only. The arrangement by Axt is perfection and once again Bentyne shines as a musical actress, handling the rapid fire lyrics with ease.

Bentyne brings in arranger Bevan Manson to handle another of Sondheim’s better known pieces, “Comedy Tonight.” He employs the string section with theatrical flair, giving Bentyne a vehicle to display an admirable range of colors and timbres. It has an off kilter silliness appropriate to the material.

She wisely follows this romp with a plaintive, heartfelt reading of the beautiful “I Wish I Could Forget You” from “Passions” with solo accompaniment by Tom Zink on piano. The pair gets to the essence of Sondheim’s brilliance as a writer of ballads and melodies. Like all gifted singers, Bentyne spans different genres with ease. To my ear if she had just given a little more length to the final word the effect at the ending would have been enhanced.

“Not A Day Goes By” is another strong Jamieson Trotter arrangement. The song’s melody and lyrical structure, particularly the “day, after day” repetition, lends itself to the romantic bossa approach, with a gorgeous piano solo by John Beasley and beautiful, understated enhancement on guitar and percussion by Tom McCauley.

Bevan Manson returns with an arrangement for strings and voice and once again his classical credentials serve Sondheim well on “Move On.” The arrangement has a well crafted dramatic arc, and when Bentyne closes with the line “Stop worrying where you’re going,” I believe this is a person with a profound understanding of the message she is delivering.

“Send In the Clowns” is a gutsy, if logical closer. With Mark Kibble’s arrangement, and background vocals by Kibble and Armand Hutton we have Bentyne venturing back into “Manhattan Transfer” territory, backed by precise, inspired harmonies. But this arrangement is no throw back. It has a light, lilting Latin feel with Roy Wooten on cajon and Tom McCauley on shakere. Kibble’s arrangement strips any laborious pretentions from this overly performed song. This is gorgeous stuff, and in a collection of Sondheim by an important singer, of course we should have “Clowns.” But in this case, don’t worry, they’re here.

I wanted to like this record, and I actually love it. The strong arrangements are detailed, intelligently conceived and delivered. Bentyne has the dramatic talent and the vocal chops to do justice to a legendary and complex songwriter like Stephen Sondheim. Everybody rise!


Produced by Cheryl Bentyne and Tom McCauley

Recorded, mixed, mastered by Tom McCauley

In the Still of the Night – Cole Porter Tribute – Calabria Foti

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Calabria Foti

Cold Porter Tribute – In The Still of the Night



This collection of 11 Cole Porter standards is my first exposure to the recorded vocals of Calabria Foti, and to the work of arranger Michael Patterson. All of the selections are of course familiar, and yet through the artistry of the arranger, vocalist, and backing musicians, it is a distinct pleasure to revisit such chestnuts as “Miss Otis Regrets” and “Get Out of Town.”


Patterson is a Grammy and Emmy Award winning composer who has worked across multiple genres and instrumental ensembles, including orchestra and chamber music for concert halls, jazz arrangements and original compositions for big bands and solo artists, and scores for television and film.


Calabria Foti also brings solid musical credentials to the table. She is a recording artist who has worked with Seth Macfarlane, and is an active studio musician who has played violin on recordings including Barbra Streisand and Daft Punk. Each track on this record is enhanced by her authentic musicianship, and supported by a first class team. (Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Gene Bertocini, guitar, Michael Patterson, piano; Richard Locker, cello; Jared Schonig, drums; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ike Sturm, bass.)


This project is, at its heart, an example of the level of artistry two perfectly matched musical minds and sensibilities can create.


Foti’s voice is smooth and clear, and her intonation is perfect. At times she employs astonishingly beautiful long, silvery tones like a horn player. A natural, relaxed vibrato sneaks in at the ends of her phrases,  and she has an actor’s ability to burnish and illuminate a lyric. Foti uses her exquisite instrument intimately and intelligently, making her a very satisfying and effective storyteller.


Standout tracks for me include “Miss Otis Regrets” with Richard Locker’s mournful cello and the sensitive piano of Michael Patterson. Here we have Foti’s story telling ability on full display, and Patterson’s arrangement gives her the right framework. The effectively simple ending is particularly poignant.


“Get Out of Town” has a slightly ominous feel. The arrangement employs perfectly timed instrumental lines that are not mere filler, but that advance the narrative .   Eddie Daniels’ clarinet adds wry commentary.


“It’s Allright With Me” showcases Foti’s ability to swing. Notice how she phrases “It’s the wrong song…..” elongating the word “song” with her horn like clarity. It is an appropriate, unselfconscious choice. Patterson employs very tasty hits on the bridge, expertly contrasting with the straight ahead swing feel of the piece, and Eddie Daniels scampers through a delightful clarinet solo.


Foti, Patterson, and company connect on every one of the 11 songs, and this is a record I will be listening to a great deal. Like all exceptional artists, they have an innate ability to teach through example. This is how an effective singer communicates through phrasing. This is how you make an arrangement distinctive without sacrificing emotional impact. On every level this record offers superb artistic choices.


In an era when so many jazz oriented vocalists are mining non-traditional sources, it is refreshing to hear arrangements of standards that don’t overshadow the stories these classic songs tell. With these recordings, we are reminded why these songs have survived as standards, and once again Cole Porter “emerges” as one of our greatest songwriters.


Tina Raymond – Left Right Left

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“Left Right Left” is a title that alludes to drummer Tina Raymond’s experience as teacher and faculty member at Los Angeles City College. “As a drummer and percussion teacher, I say the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ often. I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what combinations of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are the most efficient way to execute rhythms…” The title also has clear political implications. Tina Raymond grew up in the household of a labor lawyer. She is imbued with a solid populist, feminist and, to put a somewhat simplistic label on it, liberal viewpoint. At her recent record release date at the Blue Whale she recounted with wry humor the time she was introduced to an audience as “the lovely Tina Raymond.” She seems to accept that labels happen – “lovely”, “liberal,” and the like. And she is indeed lovely. But more accurately, she is an accomplished drummer with rock solid technique and flawless time.

I have seen her play with various ensembles over the last year or so. I’m struck by the quality of her playing and by her calm and at the same time no nonsense presence. I would say her expression when she plays is placid, and at the same time intelligent and intense. These qualities are reflected in the music on her debut CD.

On the opening cut, she captures the rolling urgency of Odetta’s recording of “Pastures of Plenty” by Woody Guthrie. I am always amazed at the ability of good arrangers to transform a very simply constructed folk song into something with the depth that inspires real improvisation.   There is more to it than just using an interesting meter, in this case 7/4. There is an emotional connection to the material that inspires both the players and the listener.   The song fades out nicely with Putter playing the bass ostinato and Art Lande plucking the piano strings.

“Battle Hymn of the Republic” follows with a treatment that careens rhythmically and harmonically, veering off course and then almost back on track again. This is not happy tappy jazz music. There is real anger here, frustration and confusion. Just when it seems to go completely off the rails, the piano and drums drop out leaving Putter Smith to solo seemingly aimlessly. When pianist Art Lande and Raymond reenter, the melody is there, but it is not in good shape. The entire piece lurches to a halting finish. Also known as, “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” there is enough of the core of this song to identify it as Julia Ward Howe’s familiar militaristic anthem. Mine ears have heard the deconstruction, and it is kind of brilliant.

Art Lande’s arrangement gives “America” a more constructed reading, at the same time allowing each musician to stretch out in improvised flights. “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,” is the repetitive motif here, and the arrangement gives an impression of majesty and hope, before ending on a chord that lands like a question mark.

“Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ with the union” is the hook of the traditional crowd rousing toe tapper “Union Maid.” Pete Seeger’s energetic recording comes to mind. Yet here it is given a gentle, plaintive waltz treatment. It is introspective, melodic, and unaggressive. At the same time it has an assertive quality. Here “Union Maid” is an explanation given gently, but in no uncertain terms, articulated through the superb musicianship of this band. It is a fresh, unexpected approach.

“The Fiddle and the Drum” is a song Joni Mitchell wrote, in her words, “for America as a Canadian” in 1969, when the Viet Nam War was perhaps in its darkest days. Raymond removes any semblance of form in her approach. This is a difficult cut on the record for me, perhaps because it is so relentlessly dark, and to my ears meandering. But the approach is certainly not tentative, and does reflect the bleakness of the subject matter.

She is wise to follow the cut with James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with it’s uplifting gospel feel. Raymond understands that one can only take so much dark meandering. There has to be a morning after. It has a sunny, optimistic feel, and Raymond delivers superb percussive underpinning to the entire piece.

An original by Putter Smith, “Xmas in Baghdad” is next and once again the tone shifts to the darker side. There is an angular, ominous quality to the composition, suggesting danger lurking around every corner.

“Saigon Bride” by Joan Baez is another anti-war anthem from the Viet Nam era. Raymond slows down the tempo for her version, and gives the head to Putter Smith, who stays melodically true to the original. The trio explores the simple melody with thoughtful dexterity before Smith fades out with the line.

“White Light” is the second Putter Smith original on the record. It opens with another angular, moody section and then kicks into a straight-ahead swinger. There is an extended drum break, which gives Raymond a nice showcase, followed by bass and piano solos. The swing is solid, the groove relaxed and competent, and the solos are superb.

An appropriate ending to the disc is Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer.” It has a medium, securely swinging tempo, right in the pocket, and Raymond has expertly reimagined the familiar melody. Her drum breaks once again display rock solid time and a multitude of colors and hues. It is an optimistic, uplifting finish to the record.

I enjoy listening to this very intriguing and engaging CD as much as I enjoyed hearing the music performed live at the Blue Whale. Colorado based pianist Art Lande is somebody who is new to me. He is a thoroughly enjoyable and first-rate musician, who radiates the same good will and expertise in person that he does on this record. It is clear that he and Tina have a very special musical bond. And what a pleasure it is to hear the superb Putter Smith, who is nothing less than an icon of our Los Angeles jazz scene. That this young woman, at the relative beginning of her musical career, chose to collaborate with two veterans speaks volumes.

This is one of the most interesting records I have heard in a long time. It is refreshing to hear the music of somebody who is unafraid and bold in her vision, and has the technique and depth to articulate some very complex emotions. At times this music is dark and fearful, at times inspired, at times plaintive and melodic. But it is always assertive, honest and technically pure.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the lovely Tina Raymond. And by “lovely” I mean talented, fearless and significant.

Released April 7, 2017
Tina Raymond – Drums
Art Lande – Piano
Putter Smith – Bass
Recording Engineer, Mix, Master:
Paul Tavenner, Big City Recording Studios (Granada Hills, CA)
Alexandra Wiesenfeld
Eron Rauch


Descanso Gardens Music on the Main, Summer 2017

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Descanso Gardens and Corniche Entertainment are pleased to announce the lineup for this summer’s
Music on the Main series.

Thursday, June 15th – Yuko Mabuchi

Yuko started playing piano at the age of four in her hometown of Fukui, Japan. Since her arrival in Los Angeles in 2010 she has gained a loyal fan base and a reputation as a virtuoso pianist who also is extremely entertaining and exciting to watch. Her sparkling technique combined with a natural gift for showmanship recalls the greats of yesterday like Dorothy Donegan and Hazel Scott, while retaining her own fresh, contemporary approach.

Thursday, June 22nd – Dr. Bobby Rodriguez

Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Latin legend and Grammy Nominated Artist, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez is a trumpeter, dynamic leader, charismatic performer, entertainer, gifted composer/arranger, author and educator. He is an active speaker and clinician who has dedicated his life to helping to promote music. This self described “East LA success story” makes his Descanso Gardens debut.

Thursday, June 29th – Kathleen Grace

Kathleen Grace has forged a remarkable career which has sent her around the globe, playing for a worldwide audience whose diversity reflects her own eclectic musical tastes. Exploring the nexus of jazz, pop and country, Grace is a naturally exquisite singer and songwriter, whose soulful instincts are skillfully honed by her solid experience in jazz and blues.

Thursday, July 6th – Gina Saputo

Gina Saputo is a vocalist, entertainer, clinician and arranger who possesses a warm, rich voice and solid sense of swing. A graduate from the prestigious Thornton School of Music at USC where she was awarded the Barry Manilow scholarship for all four years, Gina always connects to audiences with a self assured stage presence, solid musicianship, and a clear, pure sound.

Thursday, July 13th – Lolly Allen

Lolly Allen’s music “…conjures the lanky, leisurely feel of Milt Jackson, her roomy rambles open up the spiritual spaciousness of Walt Dickerson, and her smooth flair for Latin rhythms recalls Cal Tjader.”– Downbeat Magazine. Lolly holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Performance from the New England Conservatory and is as entertaining to watch as she is interesting to hear.

Thursday, July 20th – Lado B Brazilian Project

Los Angeles’s highly recognized arranger/producer Otmaro Ruiz and international recording artist Catina DeLuna joined forces in 2015 to release their Portuguese version of “The Girl from Ipanema.” The recording was nominated in the 58th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals. Otmaro and Catina bring the sensual music of Brazil to the gardens with an all star group.

Thursday, July 27th – Spencer Day

Audiences around the world have enthusiastically supported Spencer Day for over ten years at venues as diverse as Birdland in New York, the Hollywood Bowl, Jazz Alley in Seattle, the Pacific Rim Jazz Festival in Manila, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Tanglewood Music Center in Boston, and The Craig Ferguson Show. Spencer is widely regarded for his original songs that blend compelling melodies, smart lyrics and lush arrangements.

Thursday, August 3rd – John Altman

John Altman has achieved international success as an arranger/conductor. Among his hit records have been Simple Minds “Streetfighting Years,” Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train,” George Michael’s “Kissing a Fool,” among many others including perhaps his most famous arrangement – Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” A frequent guest conductor for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, John is also a highly accomplished jazz musician, lauded by respected critic Don Heckman as “one of the few film composers with authentic jazz skills.”

Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Dr.
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011

Concerts are Thursday evenings, 6 to 7:30 PM
Lawn seating. Picnics allowed – no pets.
Concerts included with admission to the gardens.

General $9
Seniors 65 and over/Students with ID $6
Children (5 to 12 years) $4
Descanso members and children under 5 are free.

Unlikely Valentine

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The title cut opens this impressive outing by one of the idiom’s most respected recording engineers, Ron Boustead, who demonstrates why he is the “go to guy” for mastering the projects of so many of today’s most discerning vocal artists. He understands this music from the inside out. He is no neophyte to performing, either – this is his fourth record as a leader. Boustead wastes no time tucking into this opening piece
co-written with Bill Cunliffe, instantly displaying his natural, unforced voice, and sure-footed approach to handling up-tempo lyrics.

Leiber and Stoller’s “Love Potion #9” is given a rollicking 6/4 meter and some great horn arrangements and soloing by Bill Cunliffe, elevating it from an effective bit of pop fluff to a grittier, more substantial and satisfying piece of music.

Coffee seems to be a frequent subject in jazz. Carol Bach-y-Rita’s “Morning Coffee” by Bill Cantos was a favored cut from her recent project. We have “Java Jive,” “Black Coffee,” and “The Coffee Song.” Now we have a solid ballad written by Ken Kresge and arranged by Mitch Forman, entitled simply “Coffee.” Boustead handles his own lyric with an easy, musical and honest approach, pleasantly nasal, with self-assured long tones and a light vibrato that sneaks in at the ends of phrases.

Cantos and Boustead penned “I Won’t Scat” which kicks off with a vamp appropriately reminiscent of a trio’s stock intro during a live performance of “On Green Dolphin Street.” The song is a vocal jazz insider piece, with nods to masters like Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks and Anita O’Day, and references that will be familiar to any singer who has ever seriously tackled the idiom. In spite of his protestations that he eschews scatting, one gets the impression that Boustead would be up to the task. The song’s smart conspiratorial sentiment is best expressed in the lyric “when it’s time to blow through the changes, that’s what the band is for.”

A good contrast is “Til Now,” a guitar centric, lilting Brazilian original by Pat Kelley, who plays on the cut, along with a nice surprise, a guest vocal by Fabiana Passoni. Her clear, expressive voice pairs beautifully with Boustead’s, who also handles the Portuguese lyrics with ease.

One of only three recognizable Great American Songbook standards on the project, “Autumn Leaves,” is next, with a new arrangement by Mitch Forman with prerequisite added measures and solid, well arranged horn parts giving it a new feeling. Boustead’s variations and added lyrics are very well realized. It is nice to hear John Leftwich’s bass driving the energy, as it chugs along underneath the dense arrangement in the more overtly straight ahead sections.

Once again showing that Boustead and his co-producer Mitch Forman know how to put together a song list, the sweet, simple waltz “Love’s Carousel” follows, giving Boustead a chance to tell a story in an intimate way, greatly enhanced by the superb flugelhorn soloing of Ron Stout, and a beautiful bit of understated accordion playing by Forman. This is the track I find myself going back to again and again.

Having given a nod to Jon Hendricks in “I Won’t Scat,” Boustead shows us that maybe he should scat, as he nimbly handles the Hendricks vocalese lyric to Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty.”

“I Love My Wife,” the Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart musical debuted on Broadway in 1977. Here Boustead gives us a ¾ reading of the title song. It is a nice choice for the song list, with its major key, uplifting opening phrase that echoes throughout, and legit show tune construction. Broadway material and jazz have always had a happy alliance, and at the end of this performance, I was left with one thought – I believe that Ron Boustead does, indeed, love his wife.

It is always impressive when a vocalist avoids the “big finish” cliché on a project and instead chooses introspection. Bob Dorough’s angular anthem, “Love Came on Stealthy Fingers” closes this satisfying project. Boustead gives it an honest, no frills reading, with solos by masters John Leftwich on bass and Bob Sheppard on flute. Jake Reed on drums adds the right amount of support and shimmer on the brushes.

It is no surprise that a recording engineer of Ron Boustead’s earned respect has surrounded himself with an A team of musicians, producers and support. This is no vanity project. Boustead knows what he is doing, both at the controls and in the recording booth. The song list is put together with skill, making for an exceptional listening experience overall. Each track has integrity, honesty, and is authentically successful. Those of us in the biz understand that Ron Boustead knows how to get the most out of another singer’s recordings. With the release of “Unlikely Valentine” he reminds us that he also knows how to get inside a song and deliver an exceptional performance on his own terms.

Especially revealing is the dedication on the disc: “To Mark Murphy, thanks for the inspiration, my dear mentor and friend. May you rest in peace.”

I believe Mark would approve of “Unlikely Valentine.” Enough said.

Unlikely Valentine

Ron Boustead, vocals
Bill Cunliffe, piano, Rhodes, Hammond B3
Mitchell Forman, piano, Rhodes, Hammond B3 and accordion
John Leftwich, bass
Jake Reed, drums
Pat Kelley, acoustic and electric guitar
Bob Sheppard, saxes, flute
Bob McChesney, trombone
Ron Stout, flugelhorn
Fabiana Passoni, guest vocal

Produced by Bill Cunliffe and Mitchell Forman
Project Consultant, Barbara Brighton
Recorded by Talley Sherwood, Tri Tone Recording
Mixed by Steve Shepherd, Dave Rideau, Ron Boustead, Talley Sherwood.

Mastered by Ron Boustead

Andrea Claburn – Nightshade

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There is an impressive history behind Nightshade, the self-produced debut CD by San Francisco based vocalist and arranger Andrea Claburn. Rather than rushing into the studio to record early on in her performing career, she chose to wait until she became something that singers too often are not – a well rounded musician. After studying with respected vocal coach Raz Kennedy and earning a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley where she was awarded the Mark Murphy Vocal Scholarship, Andrea Claburn has given us a solid record, with five original compositions and her own strong arranging imprint on every track.


The entire collection of 12 songs was recorded in only three days, a testament to the patience and attention to detail she obviously took in preparing. This is certainly not a record that sounds like it was rushed.


The disc opens with a splashy and percussive intro to her original song “Lionheart,” written for her six year old daughter. Claburn’s voice is mature, confident and clear. Her opening lyric, “She dances into the room, she’s the sun and the moon to me” establishes the self assured and intensely personal tone of this project.


Pat Metheny’s “Bird On A Wire” follows, with a multi colored drum intro by Alan Hall. The vocal doubles with Terence Brewer on guitar until Brewer, Kasey Knudsen on alto sax, and Matt Clark on Fender Rhodes take turns delivering superb solos. Her voice combines nuanced shading and an emotional connection to the lyrics while staying true to the written line.


A New Orleans funk/groove feel follows on her original song “My Favorite Flavor.” which percolates along with a fun, satisfying lilt and the very tasty arrangement for four horns. Three quarters of the way through it very effectively kicks into a solid swing, then smoothly shifts back to the shuffle feel.


Ellington’s “Infinite Wisdom (Echoes of Harlem)” follows, and once again Andrea’s vocals and bold arrangement combine with excellent percussion on bongos by John Santos. The vocal/percussion interlude is very nicely realized, and the entire track is slinky and smart. There is some gorgeous vocal and trumpet doubling at the end.


“Turn Out The Stars” by Bill Evans follows, and Claburn wisely chooses to give it a straight forward treatment, letting the beauty of the composition stand on its own merit.


The chestnut “After You’ve Gone” has an amusing, light-hearted quality with a reggae like feel with Terrence Brewer contributing some outstanding comping on guitar. Once again the arrangement serves the approach and material very well.


Hoagy Charmichael and Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark” is next, and opens with drummer Alan Hall deftly tapping on the cymbals, combined with an expressive base line by Sam Bevan before Erik Jekabson lays in a plaintive horn line. There are some nice changes in the chord progression, and this often done standard has a fresh feel. Once again the arrangement for trumpet is outstanding.


“I Can’t Help It” by Betty Carter is handled with ease. I can hear Carter’s influence in Claburn’s vocal approach. Her tempo is right in the pocket, her tone is clear and her timing unforced.


Her original song “The Fall of Man” is enhanced by another strong arrangement employing some tasty hits at the top with the core trio before it stretches out into a nicely moving medium tempo swing feel, featuring an excellent solo by Teddy Raven on tenor sax.


“Daybreak,” is an introspective song that showcases Sam Bevan on bass. Claburn’s phrasing is superb.   The way she stretches out the word “this” on the lyric “this is how the story ends,” is a textbook example of how to use timing to convey an emotion.


Her original song “Colors of Light” is a pleasing bossa nova with lovely soloing by Erik Jekabson on trumpet and some very subtle, tasteful percussion by John Santos.


The CD closes with a brave choice, Claburn’s original song “Steal Away” which opens with Joseph Hébert on cello. Often singers go for the big finish. It is a sign of self-confidence to close with a moody, introspective original in a languid 6/4 meter. In this case, it is a strong choice and a fitting conclusion to a very satisfying collection of songs.


This is a well thought out record, an impressive calling card for a vocalist who has taken the time to grow into herself.   There is nothing tentative here, nothing contrived, trite or forced. Nightshade has a seriousness that is at the same time engaging and entertaining.


Much respect is due to Andrea Claburn, a naturally gifted singer who has taken the time and done the hard work necessary to become something more – a very interesting and capable composer and arranger.



Self Produced by Andrea Claburn

Andrea Claburn, vocals

Matt Clark, piano and Fender Rhodes

Sam Bevan, acoustic and electric bass

Alan Hall, drums

Kasey Knudsen, alto sax

Bob Ewing, trombone

John Santos, percussion

Erick Jekabson, trumpet and flugelhorn

Terrene Brewer, acoustic and electric guitar

Mads Tolling, violin and viola

Joseph Hébert, cello

Teddy Raven, tenor sax


All arrangements by Andrea Claburn, except for track 7, arranged by Ruthie Dineen and Andrea Claburn


Recorded at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California

Engineered and Mixed by Dan Feiszli

Mastered by Greg Reierson


Alyssa Allgood Strides in the Front Door Like She Owns the Place

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Out of the Blue – Alyssa Allgood

“Watch Me Walk Away,” the opening cut of Alyssa Allgood’s release “Out of the Blue” kicks off with eight solidly grooving bars with Dan Chase on organ, Tim Fitzgerald on guitar and Matt Plaskota on drums. Allgood comes in with her original lyric to Hank Mobley’s “Dig Dis” from his 1960 Blue Note release “Soul Station,” striding in through the front door like she owns the place. I immediately thought of Annie Ross, and not because I felt Allgood was being derivative. When I think of a female vocalist who can swing as hard as her band, and write lyrics that illuminate and don’t obscure, I think of Annie Ross. Allgood does have a somewhat similar sound at times – a little throaty, playful, naturally musical – and yet this is clearly a self-possessed singer who is not self-consciously channeling the past.

A take on Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” titled “Noticing the Moment” follows, with Chris Madden on sax and Allgood doing some dreamy riffing at the top. Allgood wisely slows the tempo down to accommodate the understated Latin feel and her uncontrived lyrics. Chase on organ and Fitzgerald on guitar add a nicely arranged and executed duet on a line that ushers in the solos, which echoes pianist Kenny Drew on the original 1957 recording.

Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “It’s You or No One” follows. It’s a straight ahead, lightly swinging standard that gives Allgood a chance to stretch out and showcase her excellent scatting skills. Allgood gives drummer Matt Plaskota a chance to shine, and he delivers a deft, lovely drum break with brushes and some tasteful accents on the kick.

Allgood’s take on Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” opens with a rubato vocal and organ intro before it kicks into a nice groove, matching the tempo of the original Blue Note recording. Writing lyrics to such a recognizable jazz anthem can be dangerous. But, as in all of her vocalese work here, Allgood is up to the task. Her words don’t in any way trivialize the iconic original Wayne Shorter recording.

Sam River’s lovely “Beatrice” lends itself beautifully to the Allgood approach. Once again she matches the tempo of the original and the handles the rangy melodic line with ease.

Allgood sings Horace Silver’s own lyrics to his composition “Peace.” She opens the song simply with the very sensitive accompaniment of Tim Fitzgerald on guitar. The organ, bass and drums kick in on the second verse, adding that familiar sweet, classic, evocative and relaxed jazz ballad pulse. Allgood’s approach is plaintive, unforced, and sincere. Her phrasing is superior to that of the generally superb Norah Jones, who released her version in 2002.

“If” by Joe Henderson follows. Once again, Allgood displays impressive scatting chops, cooking right along with the vigor and energy of the original.

A nice contrast is Lee Morgan’s “Ceora,” which she calls “Only A Memory.” Her clear, perfectly pitched voice makes a nice duet with Organ on a line that acts as a kind of interlude.

On “Moanin’” she sings the lyrics that Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross recorded, giving it a distinctive, underlying funk/shuffle treatment. She expertly trades fours with saxophonist Chris Madden before the piece shifts smoothly into a medium swing, and she takes it to another level with nicely composed unison lines sung with voice and sax. The group shifts back into the funk groove to close out the tune. This is tasty stuff, and a really pleasing reconfiguration of a jazz vocalese classic.

Keeping good time separates the “haves” from the “have nots” in jazz. This is as true for vocalists as it is for instrumentalists. Allgood has no trouble with a 7/4 meter on the Joe Chambers tune “Mirrors.”

Overall the packaging is a little dark, but the banner title on the front does give a nod to the iconic Blue Note label, which was of course the inspiration for this wonderfully realized project. I do appreciate the clear photos of all the musicians, including Allgood. This is so obviously a heartfelt collaboration, it is nice to see that reflected in the packaging.

This is a very impressive record by a serious singer who also knows how to have fun. It was fun to review because it brought me back to some wonderful Blue Note recordings that I had not listened to for some time, and in the case of Horace Silver’s “Peace,” had not even heard. As I referenced the original recordings with Allgood’s interpretations, I was impressed with her ability to reimagine these songs and at the same time capture the spirit of the originals. Adding new lyrics to classic jazz instrumental recordings is not for the faint of heart. Allgood seems to have it figured out. She has a solid musician’s self confidence, and a clear, healthy sounding voice with a lilting, pleasantly natural vibrato that often sneaks in at the ends of phrases. She is never over shadowed by her outstanding instrumentalists. She is one of the cats. I think that is something that Annie Ross herself would respect and appreciate. And that, my fellow lovers of song, is high praise indeed.

Recorded by Vijay Tellis-Nayak at Transient Recording Studio, Chicago
Mixed by Brain Schwab and Vijay Tellis-Nayak
Mastered by Brian Schwab
Production assistance by Jon Deitemyer
Photography by Ron Perillo
Design by Chad McCullough

Applauding the Sunset

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When Stephan Oberhoff’s friend Patrick Putman asked me if I would like an advance copy of Stephan’s newest recording, of course I said yes. Stephan performed his beautiful music to the delight of the Music on the Main crowd at Descanso Gardens last summer. Patrick asked me if I would review the record, and I said I would be happy to listen. I have been happily listening for the better part of a week now, at home, and where I do most of my listening – in the car slugging my way through LA traffic.

This is a beautiful record. I will just say it plainly and simply, because this music deserves a detailed review from somebody who has the vocabulary to do it justice. When it comes to the various sub genres and rhythms at the beating heart of Brazilian music, I am a grateful listener, but not an expert. Those who perform this sensual, lilting music with authority are steeped in the culture. Stephan Oberhoff clearly is, and I am not. But I can wholeheartedly recommend “Applauding the Sunset” with the delight of a child seeing his first sun shower.

At times it reminds me of sections of the “Misa Criolla” by Ariel Ramirez, which I discovered as a music student at Los Angeles City College. Ramirez, an Argentine, spent considerable time in Brazil and was an expert on indigenous South American rhythms. This connection is more a reflection of Stephan’s music than my own lack of in-depth knowledge. There is a spiritual quality to “Applauding the Sunset.” Once again, I don’t have the tools to be specific, but I found myself remembering the profoundly beautiful “Misa Criolla” as I was listening to “Applauding the Sunset.” My musical journey at Los Angeles City College was a particularly happy time of discovery, fondly remembered, and as I listened to Stephan’s music, I was taken back. And isn’t that what successful music does? It transports us.

As a vocalist, I can say that I particularly appreciate Stephan’s singing. He weaves and integrates his clear, evocative, perfectly in tune voice throughout this multi-layered, rich music.

“Applauding the Sunset” is scheduled for a November 2, 2016 release. Please check it out. I think you will love it as much as I do, and when you let it, it will transport you.

Stephan Oberhoff; piano, keyboards, vocals, percussion, electric and acoustic guitars
Robert Kyle: flutes, soprano sax, percussion
Katisse Buckingham: flute and vocals
Walter Rodrigues and Simon Carroll: percussion
Rob Trow background vocals
Marquinho Ribeerio: Violoncello
String section conductor: Michele Brourman

All arrangements by Stephan Oberhoff, expect “Senhorinha”
Vocal arrangement by Pedro Iacovini

Recorded by Stephan Oberhoff at:
Full Circle Studios, Pasadena CA,
Beck Studios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and
ClearLake Audio, Burbank, CA

Edited and mixed at Full Circle Studios by Stephan Oberhoff
Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, CA


“O Pantanal” Stephan Oberhoff
“Alta Vista” Robert Kyle and Stephan Oberhoff
“Lembra De Mim” Ivan Lins
“Foray Into Forro” Michele Brouman and Stephan Oberhoff
“Spring Knows It’s Way Back Home” Stephan Oberhoff and Sharon Vaughn
“Back To The Favela” Stephan Oberhoff
“Thorns Have Roses” Stephan Oberhoff
“Comecar De Novo” Stephan Oberhoff
“Spirit Of The Maracatu” Stephan Oberhoff
“Brasilia Sky” Stephan Oberhoff
“Senhorinha” (short version) Guinga Stephan Oberhoff
” I Wish You Well” Stephan Oberhoff

Minha Casa/My House – Carol Bach-y-Rita

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In an increasingly difficult business, Jazz inspired vocalists somehow continue to find the support and the grit to produce new music. Carol Bach-y-Rita has done just this and has given us “Minha Casa/My House.”

It is no surprise that the personnel is top notch. Bach-y-Rita is an established multi lingual voice over artist, dance instructor and lover of Brazilian culture, with solid jazz credentials on the LA scene. Bill Cantos on piano, John Leftwich on bass and Mike Shapiro on drums are the top tier trio, with the superb Larry Koonse on guitar, and lively percussion by Dudu Fuentes on one track.

The packaging is hued in sepia, cream, brown, beige and tan tones – a smart nod to the opening samba “Morning Coffee,” a Bill Cantos original. The track percolates with the energy of that first morning cup, when all things seem possible. I was immediately struck by the health and clarity of the vocals. Bach-y-Rita’s voice is full of optimism and vigor. Check out her excellent Portuguese scatting at the end.

Larry Koonse’s guitar, percussion and bass arrangement of the Cole Porter chestnut “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” opens with a distinctly Spanish sounding guitar line in 6/8. It develops nicely as the vocal and percussion are layered in. Once again, the singing is perfectly in tune , natural and effortless, the phrasing is smart.

“A Night in Tunisia” follows. While I might prefer a strong ending to the fade out, which seems to come too quickly and too fast, there is no quibbling with Bach-y-Rita’s sure footed nod to Eddie Jefferson and the song’s originator Dizzy Gillespie. Her tempo is brighter than Jefferson’s recording, and yet her vocalese fits right into the pocket. The words are clear and never rushed. Larry Koonse lays in a wonderful solo that starts with notes pulsing around an E natural, to interesting, slightly dissonant and arresting effect. Bach-y-Rita and bassist John Leftwich share an arranging credit on this track.

When a song has the elegant construction of Henry Nemo’s “ ‘Tis Autumn,” ‘tis is best to deliver it as is, which is what the guitar trio and singer do with Larry Koonse’s arrangement of this rarely heard gem. I first heard it performed live by Page Cavanaugh. Hearing it always brings back fond memories. Bach-y-Rita’s voice is lovely, unforced and clear, with phrasing that every once in awhile brings to mind Irene Kral. She skates through the angular and rangy melodic lines with ease. Partly for personal reasons, and partly because it is so well done in its simplicity, this may be my favorite track on the record.

The singer’s rhythmic credentials (she is an accomplished dance instructor) are once again on display in “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” with lyrics by Joni Mitchell and music by Charles Mingus. John Leftwich on bass keeps it funky and anchored. Here we have more of Bach-y-Rita as the voice over actress. She is giving us a bit of a character, and the casting is perfect. The arrangement is by Robert Kyle and the vocalist.

“Nature Boy” is reimagined as a drum and vocal duet. This tune, along with “Night In Tunisia” is maybe the most recognizable standard on the record, and Mike Shapiro and Bach-y-Rita pull off a fresh take on an often performed piece.

“Trust,” one of two Bach-y-Rita originals on the record, is co-arranged with drummer Mike Shapiro and is based on a Maracatu rhythm, which gives it an interesting and understated march/funk lilt. This original song holds its own in the company of a stellar set list.

“Pra Quem Quiser Me Visitar,” recorded with the permission of it’s composer Guinga and lyricist Aldir Blanc is delivered in the singer’s impeccable Portuguese, and has a haunting beauty greatly enhanced by Leftwich’s bow work. Bach–y–Rita’s deep affinity for Brazilian culture is once again on full display. A plaintive, lovely solo by Larry Koonse is followed by John Leftwich’s mournful bass line, making for a profoundly moving instrumental conversation.

A voice and percussion duet follows, Bach-y-Rita’s second original composition on the record, the provocatively titled “Gardening With No Pants.” What could be another garden-variety song about a relationship gone wrong is buoyed by the singer’s optimistic tone, spirited approach and smart lyrics. It is wry, not bitter or indulgent. Dudu Fuentes understands the story and is in on the humor, lending his tight, deft percussive support.

“Love Look Away” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song features the quartet with a lush, rolling arrangement by Bill Cantos.

Bronislaw Kaper and Gus Kahn’s “While My Lady Sleeps,” a piano and voice duo, has a languid “film noir” quality and Bill Cantos on piano, always sensitive and intelligent, provides a very pretty accompaniment to Bach-y-Rita’s performance, which is almost horn like in it’s musicality.

While I might have advocated for a different front cover image, the picture does project a self-assurance and sensuality that is reflected in the music. Carol Bach-y-Rita is comfortable in her own skin. Check out the back cover image, which has the dramatic impact of a Rene Lalique casting. The photographs were taken by Asa Mahtat. I appreciate the pithy comments the singer provides for each track in the liner notes, giving insight into her process.

The healthy clarity and tone of her vocals, the superb backing and arrangements, the freedom of her phrasing and percussive fearlessness of her scatting and approach, the adventurous material and fine production values make this an impressive record. In the hands of the right radio promoter, it should attract a good deal of airplay. In minha casa it will certainly continue to get a lot of spins.

Produced by Carol Bach-y-Rita
Recorded by Andy Waterman
“Gardening With No Pants” was recorded by Nolan Shaheed
Mixing and Additional Recording by Carlos Y. Del Rosario
Mastering by Robert Hadley
Additional engineering by Talley Sherwood
Package design by Sargent & Berman
Photography by Asa Mahtat

Sound Engineers in Sunny Moods and Sun Dappled Jazz

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Mark in the Park

Mark in the Park on Sunday, August 21st. Jamieson Trotter on keyboard, Dave Robaire on bass, Dan Schnelle on drums and Larry Koonse on guitar.

Jeff Bates from Vertigo Entertainment was the sound engineer that afternoon. I mention him toward the top of this little blurb because what a difference a sound man makes. Let’s be honest, they have a reputation for being surly. So when one shows up who is cheerful, enthusiastic, on time, and really digs your music and makes you sound great – that is a very good thing.

Click here for an article from Wunderground News – “Sound Engineering Declared Grumpiest Profession In The World.” This is a satirical article, but in good satire there are overtones of truth. Jeff and I were actually talking about this very thing. “Yeah,” he said, “nobody puts a gun to somebody’s head and forces them to be a sound man. I really love it.” It showed. What a pleasure to be able to get squarely into the mic and hear yourself with clarity, not having to force or strain. There was just a splash of reverb, barely discernible, and the eq was perfect. It was a blessing indeed. Hit me up for a referral – great rates, great attitude, great job. James Schumacher of Vertigo has never once let me down with his own work, or anybody he sends.

We had a great turnout in King’s Road Park, a cozy little green space tucked away off the east side of Kings Road. This charming little park is a neighborhood favorite, and yet if you walk by a little too quickly you might miss it. The band had my back on everything, and I thought they really connected with the material, especially Jamieson’s arrangements of “Moon Ray” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.” We performed Josh Nelson’s richly detailed, evocative arrangement of Marian McPartland’s “Twilight World” with its shifting meters of 5/4, 6/4 and 4/4. This chart has a precise bass line and some artful intervals. Dave Robaire played it perfectly. Larry Koonse is always a plus on the band stand, and gave me solid support throughout, contributing his usual stellar soloing and demonstrating once again why he is one of the tops in the biz. I was very happy with the two Page Cavanaugh arrangements we did – the hard swinging “Get Out of Town” and Page’s practically giddy samba take on “The Coffee Song,” which was expertly set up by Dan Schnelle on drums. We had fun with two saloon songs – Alan Jones’ “Easy Street,” a bluesy medium tempo swinger that I stole outright from Betty Bryant’s repertoire, and “Drinking Again,” which I think hit a little too close to home with a couple of my WeHo pals. (Insert winky emoticon here.) Harry Nilsson’s plaintive “Life Line” from the 1971 ABC Television broadcast of the cartoon “The Point” was added for contrast, and we closed with another hard swinging up tempo arrangement on “I Want To Be Happy.”

So there is my self review of a very special gig for me. I have no idea how it sounded in the house – I mean, park – but it felt great. You are only as good as the company you keep, and when that includes a quartet like the one I was blessed with on Sunday and a sound man with a sunny disposition – game on!

Many thanks to Mike Che and Amanda Carlson from the City of West Hollywood and Andrew Campbell from WeHo Arts for giving me the opportunity to close out this year’s Summer Sounds Series in my adopted home town.

Betty Bryant Road Trip

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Betty Bryant

This will make the third year in a row I have had the pleasure of a San Diego Road trip with the one and only Cool Miss B, Betty Bryant. She is making another appearance at Martini’s Above Fourth Table and Stage.

It is no secret that I work with and hang out in a lot of nightclubs. It is part of my job, and also part of my passion for live music. Truth be told, it is not always a fabulous experience. Club owners can be notoriously tone deaf in terms of what it takes to sustain a successful venue. Too often they expect the artist to do all of the promotion, not understanding that it is for the common good to get a good crowd. And too often musicians take on the entire burden without even attempting to form a partnership with nightclub management. There are certainly exceptions to this situation, and Martini’s Above Fourth in San Diego sets the gold standard. Sher Krieger and the staff know how to run a room. The physical space itself is bright, contemporary, clean and inviting. Just the right size for cabaret, comedy and jazz, it is intimate but not cramped, and the sight lines from all the tables are good. From the moment we arrive for the afternoon sound check, we feel we are welcome, and the evening of the performance not only is Betty treated like a star, I am given the utmost respect as well. It is just a heck of a lot of fun to go there. And I get the added pleasure of car conversation time with a legendary musician who is also a dear friend.

San Diegans, check it out. See video of Betty, get more show information and order tickets online here. Tables are going fast, and I would say that good tables are going fast, but they are all good at Martini’s Above Fourth. Can’t wait!


Send One Your Love

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2015’s “Send One Your Love” is a recording of arrangements by the members of the New West Guitar Group that features five of their favorite jazz vocalists telling stories about the “highs and lows of love” through a mixture of traditional and contemporary standards. Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens, Peter Eldridge, Sara Gazarek, and Tierney Sutton lend their considerable talents to this ambitious and yet very accessible music. New West consists of John Storie, Perry Smith, and on this recording Jeff Stein.

Gretchen Parlato lends her pleasantly breathy and yet lyrically solid sound to Jeff Stein’s distinctive arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Send One Your Love.” It is easy to hear why this became the title track. It has an engaging, catchy lilt, with hand claps adding effective percussion, and is a reminder that Stevie Wonder is one of our greatest composers of melodies. Parlato also sings on Perry Smith’s arrangement of “Like Someone In Love.” Gretchen has a well earned reputation for understanding that less is more. She sings with the cool, soft quality of an early morning mist, and yet there is a depth of emotional range to everything she does. Her flawless technique is in full display and yet never obtrusive – it serves the music.

Becca Stevens is probably the singer I was least familiar with. She has a throaty, slightly burnished sound that at times is reminiscent of Carly Simon at her best, but with more nuance and subtlety. She does a superb job with the arrangement by Jeff Stein on “Detour Ahead,” and her voice is perfectly suited to Storie’s arrangement of the haunting “Waltz No. 1” by the late Elliott Smith. This moody, evocative composition with Becca’s vocal and Storie’s arrangement has a heart achingly plaintive quality, and in a record filled with emotionally realized gems, it is a standout.

Peter Eldridge, co-founder of the double Grammy winning New York Voices, sing’s John Storie’s arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.” He has a natural, urbane quality to his smooth voice, and a true musician’s phrasing. Smith’s arrangement of “My Ship” has a nice medium tempo which is a refreshing change from the usual ballad version. Eldridge connects completely with the approach and improvises expertly. The guitar accompaniment percolates along making it feel like it is the first time I’ve heard this Kurt Weill chestnut. This is the sign of a superior arrangement and performances by both Eldridge and Smith.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am a Gazarite. I have been watching Sara Gazarek develop over the years and emerge as one of our most important singers. My admiration for her extends beyond how she comports herself onstage. I’ve had the pleasure of booking her a few times and she handles the preparation for the gig and the business of singing with as much intelligence, grace and good humor as she displays in her remarkably clear and melodious voice. Once again, she does not disappoint on Smith’s arrangement of “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and the closing track, Stein’s arrangement of James Taylor’s “The Secret of Life.” All five of these singers are comfortable in pop and jazz genres, and perhaps Gazarek and Stevens are the most adaptable. Sara delivers perfectly realized performances of both songs, adding jazz inspired melodic variations that are never forced or trite.

Tierney Sutton lends her sure footed musicianship to Smith’s romping arrangement of the Cole Porter standard “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” She and Smith pair for a vocalese section that rivals anything Paul and Mary Ford ever did (high praise indeed.) This is not material for a faint hearted neophyte vocalist. Tierney has the chops and the track is pure joy. (I heard Sara Gazarek perform the arrangement recently at Descanso Gardens. This chart is a winner.) Tierney displays her superb story telling ability on John Storie’s lovely arrangement of Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me.” She is too savvy and sophisticated to change the pronoun from “she” to “he.” In their hands this song becomes an ode to universal love, the love between a daughter and her mother, or a sister, or the love of friends or lovers.

This record is beautifully produced by New West and was engineered as well as co-produced by Paul Tavener. Many of the arrangements make very effective use of key changes to shift thought and mood. (An excellent example is the modulation that sets up Storie’s beautiful solo on “When She Loved Me.” It gives me chills every time I hear it.) The guitarists realize the percussive qualities of their instruments to add even more depth and color to the tapestry. Several of the tracks incorporate vocal humming which is used sparingly and is never contrived. Some vocal doubling is also used to excellent effect. The one thing all five of these accomplished singers have in common is an easy, natural approach that needs no studio effects or manipulation. The entire project breathes and moves with an organic, heartfelt honesty.

For a singer nerd like me, the chance to hear five distinguished vocalists in one package is a thrill. The members of the New West Guitar Group chose and arranged each song specifically for each singer. The results are something quite special. Lucky singers. Lucky New West Guitar Group. Lucky me…..I’ll be listening to this one again and again.

Pictured: Sara Gazarek, one of the five outstanding vocalists featured on 2015’s “Send One Your Love” performs recently at the 2016 Descanso Gardens Music on the Main series with the New West Guitar Group (Will Brahm replaces Jeff Stein in this iteration.)


The Sky Remains – Josh Nelson’s Latest Installment of his Discovery Project

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aky 1

Josh Nelson understands and loves his home town. Tonight he performed the third and latest installation of his Discovery Project, “The Sky Remains,” at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, combining his intricate and engaging original music with spoken word and visuals to create a tapestry of Los Angeles that was as illuminating as it was ambitious in scope. Travis Flournoy’s artful live video projections meshed perfectly with the music and included glimpses of classic film clips as well as iconic and more obscure images of Los Angeles. Travis not only knows how to use images to enhance narrative, he has an artist’s eye for color and shapes.

Everything from drought to floods, freeways, Tiki culture, the cult of fame, the human creative spirit, multiculturalism, architecture, and racial tensions were dealt with in a way that was deft, engaging, and completely satisfying. In addition to his original music Josh presented works by a handful of composers who are closely identified with Los Angeles including Jimmy Rowles and Eliot Smith. It was a pleasure to hear Jerry Goldsmith’s theme from “Chinatown” performed live, featuring the trumpet playing of Chris Lawrence – Uan Rasey would have been proud. As always, Josh surrounded himself with superb musicians – Chris Lawrence on trumpet and flugelhorn, Brian Walsh on clarinet and bass clarinet, Alex Boneham on bass, and Dan Schnelle on percussion. Kathleen Grace and Lillian Sengpiehl are two artists who never fail to amaze me. They are complete singers who not only possess beautiful instruments, but are solid musicians and perform with emotional intensity and focus.

The added element of narration by Robert Petersen, of the Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast brought everything even more sharply into focus, lending relevant historical perspective and insight to the proceedings. Jesse Ottinger and Claudia Carballada provided the very effective scenery, placing a series of opaque screens to create a palette that seemed to be constantly shifting and moving under the influence of Travis Flournoy’s projections. If you love Los Angeles, and I do, you need to see the latest installation of Josh Nelson’s Discovery Project – “The Sky Remains.” Only an artist in complete command of his craft could produce such a satisfyingly realized project.

Descanso Gardens Music on the Main 2016

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Descanso Gardens and Corniche Entertainment are pleased to announce the line up for summer 2016.

Billy 2

Thursday, June 9th – Summer 2016 kicks off with a Descanso debut appearance by pianist and producer Billy Mitchell’s 7 piece orchestra. Billy’s groups have appeared at many international festivals including the Monterey Jazz Festival, Playboy Jazz Festival, Heineken World Music Festival, International Jazz Festival, Pori Jazz Festival, Sedona Jazz on the Rocks, and countless club appearances. His solo career has included appearances in film, most notably Clint Eastwood’s “Bird.”

Louie Descanso Arms

Thursday, June 16th – Dynamic percussionist, vocalist and entertainer Louie Cruz Beltran returns! Louie is a master conguero and performs a fun, energetic and engaging mix of Latin music, Latin jazz, R&B classics, originals and salsa. His appearances at major festivals including Playboy Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl and Sunset (formerly Concord,) have cemented his reputation as one of the finest entertainers on the scene. Variety called his Playboy Jazz Festival appearance an “unexpected triumph of the day.”
photo by Jane Napier Neely


Thursday, June 23rd – Danny Janklow. Among the fiery young saxophonist’s many awards and accomplishments, Danny Janklow was awarded the first Outstanding “Triple” Soloist Award for Saxophones, Clarinet and Flute given by Wynton Marsalis at the Essentially Ellington Competition in New York.


Thursday, June 30th – A Descanso favorite, Betty Bryant returns for her fifth appearance at the Gardens. Her music is fun, bluesy, and infused with her wry sense of humor and her authentic Kansas City swing. She recently received a San Diego Bravo Award as a cabaret “Icon” and her piano playing and compositions are frequently featured on the CBS daytime TV show “The Young and the Restless.”


Thursday, July 7th – Nolan Shaheed was the musical director for Marvin Gaye, and lead trumpet player with the Count Basie Orchestra. Other acts he has worked with include Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Phil Collins, Anita Baker, Carole King, and Tom Waits. Nolan is a world record holding long distance runner as well as a beloved and immensely engaging entertainer.


Thursday, July 14th – Heartbeat Brazil leader Stephan Oberhoff has performed with and produced for a who’s-who of greats, including Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Patti Austin – and so many more. He brings in an A List of musicians to perform the beautiful and sensual music of Brazil.

MCM BW Color

Thursday, July 21st – Descanso audiences will recognize Mark as the curator of the Music on the Main series, but he is also a veteran performer. Mark makes his onstage debut with a quartet led by pianist Josh Nelson featuring Larry Koonse on guitar. Mark’s long awaited sophomore CD release, 2015’s “Crazy Moon” spent four months on the national jazz charts, and was named as one of the 15 top vocal jazz releases of 2015 by Jazz History Online.

NWG Sara

Thursday, July 28th – We are excited to announce that the 2016 series closes with one of the premier guitar ensembles in the world – the New West Guitar Group, featuring guitarists Perry Smith, John Storie, and Will Brahm. Appearing with NWGG will be the singularly talented and accomplished vocalist Sara Gazarek.”Gazarek balances fancy free notions, effervescence, carefree whims, fragile emotions, precocious pondering and humor in her work.” – All AboutJazz. “A rare chemistry…shimmering arpeggios, collectively strummed chords, tight crackling interplay and complementary playing.” – The New West Guitar Group, Downbeat Magazine.


Music on the Main
Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Drive
La Canada, CA 91011

Thursday evenings, June 9th to July 28th. 6 to 7:30 PM. Lawn seating, first come basis. Bring a picnic, lawn chair, bottle of wine. Food and beverage available for purchase. Admission $9.00
Students and over 65 $6.00; Children 5 to 12 $4.00; Under 5 and Guild Members free.

All artists scheduled to appear. Lineup subject to change.

Please consider purchasing a Descanso Gardens Guild Membership to support this wonderful community resource!


A very good gig

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Photo by jazz uber fan Micki Sackler

The goal is, of course, to make every gig special, to drop every day concerns for an hour or so, to lose yourself in the music. Sometimes it happens more so than others. Last Sunday at the Janice Anderson curated Jazz Vespers series at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, I feel that we achieved it. With my current first call band on board – Josh Nelson, Dave Robaire and Dan Schnelle – we were able to play Josh and Jamieson Trotter’s fine charts with a confidence and abandon that, quite frankly, I wish I had achieved in the recording studio when we made last year’s “Crazy Moon.” Even though I knew the charts backward and forward when we recorded them, there is nothing like the experience of performing live to really make arrangements your own. We planned for a 90 minute show, so I also threw in a couple of familiar swingers that we could blow on, including “‘Deed I Do” and “This Can’t Be Love” which gave us a nice contrast to the more densely arranged obscurities like “Strange” and “Second Chance.”

Performances usually take place in a dimly lit night club where (if you are lucky) a spotlight is in your face and you are not able to really see your audience beyond the first row. You always feel an audience no matter what, but you often can’t really see them. To be singing in this beautiful, open and well lit church was not only a pleasure sound wise, it was visually a thrill. To be able to see the faces of the 50 or so in attendance fully engaged, mouthing the words from time to time, intently focused on the music, smiling and swaying with the swing, looking wistful on the ballads, enhanced the experience beyond measure.

Big thanks to Janice for the booking, Rev. Eric Shafer for making us feel so welcome, to the marvelous crowd that turned out, and as always to the very fine musicians I am privileged to know.


Yours truly; Dave Robaire, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums; Josh Nelson, piano.

Remembering Page

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Page Cavanaugh once told me that he was never happier than when he was at the piano making music.

In that spirit I am starting a new project, the release of 10 songs recorded with Page in 2005 with Phil Mallory on bass and Dave Tull on drums. These 10 songs feature Page’s own arrangements of what he called “supper club” jazz – bright, swingy, and accessible. The fact that he let me sing his charts is a source of great pride, as you can imagine. This is clearly important unfinished business for me and my sincere hope is to make this an archival tribute to the memory of a singular artist.

Page liked and needed to keep busy. I was certainly not the only singer who had the privilege of recording with him in his later productive years. Michael Feinstein, Stephanie Powers, Beryl Davis, and a handful of lucky locals like me had the pleasure. That we also followed in the tracks of Frank Sinatra and Doris Day was a fact that was not lost on all of us who were lucky enough to get Page into the studio.

A still from “Romance on the High Seas.” Page, Doris Day and Lloyd Pratt

with doris

Aside from my respect for his contribution and talent, I can say that Page was my friend. I remember picking him up one afternoon and driving him to Pasadena for a meeting of SPERDVAC (the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy) where Page sat at the piano and regaled us with tales of his days in early radio. I used to go to the Bicycle Shop Cafe in West Los Angeles for his regular Friday nights, getting there early so I could sit near the piano bench before the dinner crowd arrived. Page would talk to me about the people who wrote and performed the songs as he played them. Many of those people were his personal friends and colleagues. After I booked Page into the Sunset Tower on the strip, then called the Argyle, a large hulk of a man came up to me and said, “Thanks for getting Page a nice place to play.” That man was Sid Luft. Jimmy Webb said something similar to me when he shook my hand at Page’s first Chaya Brasserie show.


I spent many happy afternoons at Page’s house, singing and talking music. I was one among the many who loved him. Songwriter and animal rights activist Gail Allen, who toured with Page as a background singer, was always his champion. Bobby Woods, Madonna’s Executive Producer at Boy Toy, Inc., was a loyal fan and friend. It was Bobby who provided the baby grand piano for the first show I booked for Page at Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills. (We did a second show at Chaya the following December, “Christmas with Cavanaugh.”) Beautiful and stylish Susan Levitus produced Page’s last record, “Return to Elegance.” There were many others, including Bill Reed, who produced an excellent video for the birthday party Susan threw for Page at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Larry Canova was a true blue friend. And of course not least were Phil Mallory and his wife Laurel. Phil was Page’s trusted and talented bass player and his de facto manager during his last years, handling the business of his recording sessions and getting him to the gigs on time. And certainly Michael Feinstein, the champion of the Great American Songbook, was a true blue friend to Page, and profoundly helpful to him, especially in his last months.

There are far too many people who had a strong personal connection to Page to mention all of them here – he attracted those of us who saw in him the spark of something special. We all felt he was our own “discovery,” that being close to him brought us close to a kind of show business authenticity and esthetic that we wanted to be a part of, that we could all feel slipping away. The truth is we were seeing the handwriting on the wall. So many night clubs were closing, and our kind of music was moving into the salon, the house concert, the impromptu corner of a fancy restaurant. We were becoming dependent on patrons of the arts. We saw ourselves becoming the audiences at each other’s gigs. And yet there was Page, enduring, playing in the same energetic, entertaining way, charming us, making us laugh, impressing us with his technique and his knowledge and giving us a living connection to something we longed for. He could be as feisty as a banty rooster and was a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with in a night club. He was quick witted, keenly observant and did not suffer fools.

Page was an artist whose career spanned two centuries. He made music on early acetate records, in radio, nightclubs, television, film, on vinyl and cassette tape, CDs and into the digital age. This is an astonishing accomplishment. I hope to do my small part to support the memory of this amazing person with the 2016 release of “Remembering Page.”

Below: The Page Cavanaugh Trio – Al Viola, Page, Lloyd Pratt

the trio

Below: Page cuts up at the keyboard with Chico Marx.


Kenny Burrell at LACMA

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As a board member of The Los Angeles Jazz Society I get a front row seat when we present our annual L.A. Treasure Award at one of Mitch Glickman’s  Jazz at LACMA Friday night shows.  Last year it was front and center for the great Ernie Andrews.  Last night the award went to master guitarist Kenny Burrell.

Kenny Burrell is a professor and Director of Jazz Studies at UCLA, and I have linked to his biography on the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology website.  I suspect if you are reading this you probably already know quite a bit about this man’s storied career, which includes performances with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman.  He received the Jazz Society’s Jazz Tribute Award in 1999

I can’t really describe the waves of energy and power that poured out of Kenny Burrell’s LA Jazz Orchestra Unlimited last night.  To be on the front line was an experience I will never forget.  I have never seen so much security at a Friday night concert at LACMA – people were crowded around the bandstand, shouting and stomping, screaming, dancing….security guards were shooing people away who were getting too close to the stage with their cameras, iPhones, whatever.  It was a fabulous feeding frenzy of fandom.  (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.  Walter Winchell would have loved it.)

The dramatic backdrop of the stunning Urban Light display created by the late Chris Burden makes for a vivid visual experience at Jazz at LACMA.  Is the sound great?  That depends on where you sit.  The cement patio, open sides and high canopy are tough obstacles to overcome for any AV company.  I’m glad it is not my job to make that work.  Nonetheless, Jazz at LACMA remains one of the best live music experiences in LA, due to the setting and the booking chops of Mitch Glickman. And  it certainly worked last night – especially for this big band freak sitting on the front row.  Here are just a few photos and a brief video clip, none of which can possibly do it justice.  Wow, just wow.

Below – Kenny Burrell waits quietly to accept his L.A. Treasure Award from the Los Angeles Jazz Society before his Jazz at LACMA performance.





















Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl presents Kenny Burrell with a Proclamation from the County of Los Angeles.  Sheila is a real trooper.  I have never not seen her rise to the occasion. Her remarks were brief, funny, and to the point.  This lady knows how to work a mic.

Kenny Burrell, LA Jazz Society President Flip Manne, and Jazz at LACMA series director Mitch Glickman.  Not only did I get to experience this great concert from the front row, I was privileged to sit next to Flip.  I have known her for almost 30 years.  She is a champion of great music and jazz masters, and a positive influence on young musicians.























The horns, the lights.  It was good to see the fiery trumpet player Javier Gonzales, who I got to know when he did a stint with Louie Cruz Beltran.  That is Javier in the back row, fourth from the right.  That is Justo Almario in the front row, on the right.





BobbyDr. Bobby Rodriguez, along with Charley Harrison co – leads Kenny Burrell’s LA Jazz Orchestra Unlimited. Bobby is a charismatic musician and entertainer. It is always a lot of fun to experience this self described “East LA success story.”

On the Night Side of Mars

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I have a fond memory of going to the Blue Whale this past summer to catch a Josh Nelson and Graham Dechter duo performance.  As I rolled down Beverly Blvd. toward Second Street and Little Tokyo in my trusted silver Civic, I listened to what had become my favorite music of the summer, Josh Nelson’s “Exploring Mars.”  As Josh read from The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury it seemed to me that this was a rare instant when the music met the moment. “It was an evening in summer upon the placid and temperate planet Mars……..In the amphitheaters of a hundred towns on the night side of Mars the brown Martian people with gold coin eyes were leisurely met to fix their attention upon stages where musicians made a serene music flow up like blossom scent on the still air.”  I sat up close to the bandstand that night.  I don’t remember what songs they played.  I wasn’t taking notes.  I fixed my attention upon the stage, where musicians made a serene music flow up like blossom scent, and took in the improvised interplay between these two superb musicians and friends.  It was a perfect LA moment in time.  And I was glad I had made the trip.




Crazy Moon released into the wild!

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Betty the cat

Crazy Moon Record Release Party
Wednesday September 16th!
Catalina’s Jazz Club
6725 Sunset – Hollywood 90028
Josh Nelson, piano
Dave Robaire, bass
Dan Schnelle, drums
Graham Dechter, guitar
One show at 8:30 – doors open at 7
$15 cover, two drink or dinner min.
Reservations recommended. 323.466.2210

Can’t wait to get my chops around
these Jamieson Trotter
and Josh Nelson charts!