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Once in a while I’ll get an invitation to go see something other than jazz. I usually enjoy these excursions off the jazz track. The celebration for the Bee Gees took place at Staples Center downtown. The whole area is busy with crowds having dinner, getting ready for a basketball game at Staples, visiting the Grammy Museum space or just hanging out. Downtown L.A. has become the destination place for entertainment, so it can get people there by cars, bus, subways, taxi’s, Uber, etc.

The event for the Bee Gees was being filmed for TV broadcasting and a big crowd showed up. There were a lot of celebrities in the audience and on stage for a show that certainly gave us a great overview of the music produced by the group. The film Saturday Night Fever made the group even more popular, with its disco tunes and John Travolta’s great dancing style. He was present for this event and acted as the MC. It’s hard to believe but this event celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the movie, so we saw a lot of clips from the film and also plenty of scenes from the Bee Gees first appearances as a group. They were born and raised in Australia, but quickly realized that they had to go to London to try to hear and see the Beatles in concert. We see very young boys, with a dream they are pursuing with a passion. At one time they were called The Rattlesnakes. If persistence is a virtue, they had plenty of that!

The first guest artist on stage was Keith Urban, who also grew up in Australia. He sang “To Love Somebody,” with backup singers. It was a very fine version, expressive in a slow, languid style. Urban continued with a blistering guitar solo, as a bass guitarist joined in. The group got a standing ovation for their efforts. Ed Sheeran came on stage with his guitar and two backup singers who provided lovely, light support. They performed a nice version of “Massachusetts” to great applause.

Photo of Barry Gibb

Panic at the Disco came on stage to sing/play “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights.” They got louder then nostalgic for a mighty, lavish ending. The Bee Gees were seen on film singing “Staying’ Alive.” There was a small break I think that a special TV show will be shown on Easter Sunday, “The Music of the Bee Gees.” Check that out, I’m not positive. Celine Dion came to the stage to a happy audience, applauding like crazy. She’s so poised and determined to sing her piece, “I’m on my journey till eternity…..There is a vision and a fire in me!” She was standing in front of Barry Gibb, singing directly to him. They hugged like old friends. Singer Kathryn McPhee performed her version of “Emotions.” She has a sturdy voice but was drowned out by a fierce drummer and four backup singers. The tune was a hit for Australian singer, Samantha Sang.

Stevie Wonder was on stage and pianist/singer John Legend was introduced. The two singers began with “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” with Wonder playing harmonica. Legend’s voice is maturing in such a noticeable way. His voice is robust but still tender. Pentatonix sang “Too Much Heaven” with light as a feather voices and such tenderness. Tori Kelly sang “Tragedy” to great applause. Demi Lovato sang “If I Can’t Have You” with four backup singers.

John Travolta came back on stage to explain how the title to “Saturday Night Fever “ came about. The Bee Gees and their manager worked over a weekend to write material and they sent back “Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive,” : You Should Be Dancing.” “More Than A Woman,” which was performed by Jason DeRulo, and Little Big Town sang “How Deep Is Your Love” on stage to great applause. The album of songs was a hit, the movie was a hit and Travolta became a star. The Bee Gees went on to continued success Sadly, Maurice and Robin passed away. Barry Gibb is the last of the group and came to the stage to give his thanks to all the performers who put on a great show. There was an orchestra, but I didn’t spot them. They certainly did a fine job all evening. The audience was filled with a lot of Australians who whooped and hollered for their mates all evening. It was a lot of fun!

Myrna Daniels

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Viva Cantina is a spacious restaurant, performance space in Burbank, which welcomes all kinds of entertainment, from Tuesday night jazz, and various country-western groups, big bands and more. The Randy Van Horne Singers have been around for decades. They made recordings, commercials, film and TV work. They’re still around and as finely tuned as they were in the past. They like to sing the classics that we all heard on the radio and in movies.

The group’s Valentine’s Day Concert was sweet, nostalgic, funny and so well planned. Alan Wilson is the Director and he keeps the show humming along. The back room at Viva Cantina was packed with fans, who were enjoying the Mexican food and margaritas. Lynn Keller-singer-announcer began the evening with a lovely “My Foolish Heart” and “We Love Being Here With You.” Ben di Tosti played a keyboard all evening and did a marvelous job, along with saxophonist Jay Cooper.

The singers were superb: Sopranos-Franny McCartney, Lynn Keller, Darice Richman, Patti Kelly, Altos- Billie Barnum, Lisa Jones, Bonnie Janofsky, Tenors-Alan Wilson, Harry Middlebrooks, John Schroeder, Doug Hermann, Bass/Baritones-Chas Grant, Bill Havis, Bob Marlo, Elliott Baygan.

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The show continued with Alan Wilson singing “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” and Bob Marlow’s “What I Did For Love.” Very smooth, nicely nostalgic. The group sang “Just a Giggilo” with such flair and enthusiasm, as Cooper’s sax playing burned hot! “My Foolish Heart” was smooth and sentimental, with lovely harmonizing. “Do You Ever Think of Me?” was sweet, with the guys whistling. “String of Pearls” was very pretty, enlivened by Cooper’s smooth sax playing.

Patty Kelly was introduced and she did a wonderful version of “Watch What Happens,” which also highlighted Ben di Tosti‘s marvelous keyboard. Kelly can also be heard at the popular Casey’s Tavern events in Canoga Park. Elliott Baygan’s version of “Nature Boy ” was a fine choice. We were reminded that the song was the only tune written by Eden Abaz. It became one of Nat King Cole’s biggest hits.

At this point there was a small intermission as the Life Gospel Choir entered, all dressed in red, and arranged themselves on the stage. How many singers? I couldn’t count them all, but the ladies ( and three male singers) took up the whole stage. They shook the rafters of Viva’s roof as they sang “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” and other lively tunes. The singers were so enthusiastic, so intense in their love of the music. It all came straight from the heart. The pianist who accompanied hem was H. B. Barnum. They were all show stoppers!

The whole evening just flew by as the audience cheered for all the singers. To close this very impressive evening was Franny Mc Cartney who toured with the divine Bette Midler as one of the singing Harlettes. McCartney sang “White Girls Get the Blues Too,” written by Howlett Smith. McCartney adjusted her voice in a very theatrical way. She really knows how to sell a tune, it was so hilarious, so much fun. The audience whooped with laughter. What a great evening! Everyone in the packed room applauded and cheered for all the singers. A very good time was had by all! I look forward to another visit to Viva Cantina, where you never knw what you’re going to get!

Myrna Daniels

Photo of Newport Beach Jazz Party AD

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The annual jazz celebration for Newport Beach Jazz Party is always a huge success and was a four affair, Thursday, February 23rd through Sunday, February 26th, 2017. They featured over 100 of the finest jazz musicians. My girl friend and I had the pleasure to attend the second tribute to famous piano store owner, David L. Abell and a remarkable Champagne Brunch, Saturday, February 25, 2017. Before the tribute we all were given excellent jazz from an amazing quartet led by trumpeter, Gilbert Castellanos with Tamir Hendelman (p), Katie Thiroux (b) and Matt Witek (d). They played a lovely version of “On the Trail” from Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. The audience loved this opener, giving very good applause. They performed several additional numbers before the piano tribute, all excellent and well received.

As in last year’s first tribute, part I, we again were afforded the gift of five exceptional performing pianists once again. Piano great, Bill Cunliffe, once again led the tribute, part II. Performing were: Shelly Berg, Bill Cunliffe, Larry Fuller, Tamir Hendelman and Bill Mays. Cunliffe started the show by making an audience request for three songs that he could put interpretively into one performed piano piece. The audience picked “Emily,” “Moonlight Sonata,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” The result was a lovely medley enjoyed by all. Next, Cunliffe introduced Larry Fuller and the two shared playing “Yesterdays” on two pianos with some exceptional musical exchanges. Pianist great, Bill Mays graced the stage and played the beautiful “Skylark” getting a lot of applause. Hendelman and Mays played “Dance of the Infidels.” Shelly Berg played a medley from “Guys and Dolls. For a closing number, all five pianists played, taking turns on both pianos to perform a jazzy number titled, “Woody N’ You.” They received a huge standing ovation by a delighted audience.

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The Pool Concerts, normally in the afternoon, were moved inside to the main ballroom because of cool and wind. The first duo segment, some comedy and vocal by bassist Jay Leonhart with pianist partner Bill Mays was excellent! These two did a miraculous job with stories, song, piano backing for a good portion of an hour. Leonhart sang a song about not being recognized by Dizzy Gillespie –even though they worked together a number of times. Good comedic story and some good lyrics. He also sang a comedy number about attempting to put a bass on a plane.

Very funny story. Their playing was together and very cohessive. The audience was entertained well and gave them much deserved applause. A novel and very interesting vocal group, Pacific Standard Time, appeared at NBJP for the first time. They are led by Director, Christine Helferich Guter, who has been with them at Cal State University Long Beach for the last fifteen years. There are eleven vocalists made of both men and women and they are exceptionally good! They are backed also by their own fine musical trio of piano, bass and drums from CSULB as well. They performed seven tunes in the short space of time allotted for their group. This musical organization is definitely worth seeing anytime they perform. Their members also do some well-placed scatting in many songs. They began with “Groovin’ Hard,” a composition of Don Menza’s. The voicings these vocalists sing is beyond belief. Here are some songs they performed. “So in Love,” (C. Porter), “Michelle,” (Lennon/McCartney), “Painted on Canvas,” (Gregory Porter), “Shining Star,” (Earth, Wind and Fire). The audience liked them so much and gave a big standing ovation. Absolutely great!

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Pianist, Billy Mitchell brought his musical band Circle of Friends to the same main Grand Pacific Ballroom. His show ran almost an hour and is made up of eight members. Mitchell (p), Kimo Cornwell (keys), Michael Saucier (b), David Cowen (d), Yu Ooka (g), Jock Ellis (tb), Andrew Carney (tpt), Robert Kyle (ts). They opened with “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” continued featuring Rob Kyle on a great version of “Georgia on My Mind.” Many good solos were given by all of the band throughout Mitchell’s impressive show. Mitchell sang a fine version of “Dindi” made famous by Willie Bobo many years back. He then introduced his new pianist friend, Yuko Mabuchi. She has been making exceptional strides forward in her young developing career and played a samba, “So DancoSamba” bringing out the best of her fantastic piano playing. The Mitchell band backed her to a tee. Continuing their show, Mitchell sang and band did an inspirational tune, “What a Wonderful World.” This audience of jazz patrons gave many rounds of applause as they closed with a dynamic rendition of “Boogie Woogie,” a great mover and garnered another standing ovation.

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State Fullerton Jazz Orchestra’s

The final concert in the Grand Ballroom for earlier afternoon was the Cal State Fullerton Jazz Orchestra’s salute to Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, conducted by Bill Cunliffe featuring Joe LaBarbera and Keith Bishop. Cunliffe gave some important history of this very popular organization and also made mention of differences between blues, swing and improvisational factors in several big bands of the same era. Of the six big bands presented by Newport Beach Jazz Party over these four days, this was the only one we attended and they were outstanding. The Cal State Fullerton Jazz Orchestra has excellent student players all playing on a professional level. The Herman band goes back to 1936 and has kept its identity for over forty years with some change along the way. They began with “In The Mood,” a Glenn Miller standard. They played “Wood Choppers Ball,”and “Early Autumn,” among several other important numbers.

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Special guest drummer, Joe LaBarbera was an earlier member of the Herman band, earlier in his long career. He sat in and was a wonderful treat for all of us as he told several stories of his time on the road with Herman. A big surprise was also seeing Jeff Hamilton, also a former member early in his career and longtime friend of La Barbera’s as well. Hamilton also told some interesting comedic, funny stories about the Herman band and did his usual fine job sitting in – a delight for us with both guest drummers. Longtime member on clarinet, Keith Bishop, was also on hand and interviewed while playing with Cal State Fullerton Jazz Orchestra. He had several great stories for the Herman band tribute. A truly remarkable afternoon of jazz music!

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Special mention should go, in capital letters, to hosts Joe Rothman and John McClure for all the tireless work they have put into making phenomenal jazz celebrations over many years. They are always a big success. Note: Coming soon will be the summer series: Sunset Jazz at Newport, starting eleven Wednesdays, July 12th and concluding, September 20th, 2017 in Marriott’s Rose Garden, Newport Beach, CA. See their excellent website: .

Glenn A. Mitchell