Five-time Grammy-nominated vocalist, composer and pianist Karrin Allyson brought her quartet group to Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles for a three-day engagement Friday March 24th thru Sunday, March 26th, 2017. We attended Saturday, March 25th. When you see an excited audience before any show, you know it will be the best.
Allyson was born in Great Bend, Kansas and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska in her earlier years spending her last year of high school in San Francisco before returning to Omaha and earning a degree in classical piano at University of Nebraska. She had some key stints in Minneapolis and Kansas City before relocating to New York. She began recording on the Concord Jazz label in the early 90s, expanding her musical aspirations into scat and vocalese that has continued throughout her career.
Her group had amazing performers: an excellent young Miro Sprague on piano (and keyboards), Larry Koonse on guitar and Jeff Johnson on a slimmed down acoustic bass. They began the evening with “A Felicidade” one of Jobim’s marvelous sambas. Allyson sang it in Portuguese – a very stirring rendition. While the trio performs choruses Allyson dances vivaciously to many songs they play.
Allyson has her own voice and it is very identifiable when listening to any songs she sings. One number that stood out for me was “Happy Talk” (from South Pacific). The lyrics are so positive and genuine which made it a standout tune of the evening. The band’s performance of the wonderful jazz standard “Equinox” by John Coltrane made an excellent impression. Not only was the band exceptional, but the lyrics written by Chris Caswell made this a highlight item of this show, along with terrific choruses by Koonse, strong piano fills by Sprague, nice bass solo from Johnson. For a number of years Allyson and Caswell have been friends and collaborators on successful lyrics for several songs she performs.
Other songs and numbers they performed in this one-set show were: “Never Say Never,” by Nat Adderly, “Footprints,” (Miles Davis), with lyrics by Caswell and Allyson. “Footprints” had some great piano lines and choruses from Sprague’s fine piano work. “Are You Happy Now?” (by Allyson) has her playing piano and singing this number. An excellent tune that shined well was “O’Pato,” (by Jayme Silva and Neuza Teixeria). Again, Allyson sang this in Portuguese.
During the entire show she and her exceptional trio were given many rounds of applause and a standing ovation at the show’s conclusion! Allyson continues to tour both nationally and internationally. See her splendid website: http://www.karrin.com.Glenn A. Mitchell
Catalina’s was very full as I arrived to hear singer Deborah Silver. I had not heard her in person before but seeing some of the musicians in the room I could tell it was going to be a good show. Bill Schneider-piano, Kevin Winard-drums, Lyman Meideros-bass, Ricky Woodard and Bob Sheppard -saxes, Sal Crachiolla and Bijon Watson-trumpets, Bob Mann-guitar. Silver was celebrating her new CD, The Gold Standards so we heard a fine program of tunes.
Silver was singing as she walked through the audience. Her long gown was a glittery gold, her voice clear and loud as she sang “Let MeEntertain You” as shemade her way to the stage.Silver is a very attractive woman and totally at ease. The band was excellent as she sang “Teach Me Tonight” in a saucy way. “Never On Sunday” and “”Ain’t Misbehaving’ “ were performed smoothly and the audience was enthusiastic and very pleased with her presentation. Silver got plenty of applause all evening.
Catalina’s is a perfect club for singers; the higher stage provides good sight lines and the acoustics are excellent. The most important element is that people come to listen and enjoy the performers. The staff is quiet as they move about, providing quick service. Silver is totally relaxed as she chats with the audience between songs. “Slow Boat to China” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” “The Nearness of You” was very effective as Silver enunciated carefully at the slower pace. Mann provided wonderful backing with his guitar. Actually all the musicians were right with her all evening.
Silver is from Mississippi and she was very humorous with an exaggerated accent. She went through the audience looking for ‘rednecks.” as the crowd answered with “Hell yes!” Silver had fun and so did the crowd. Patsy Cline’s famous “Crazy” was sung beautifully by Silver. She followed with a snappy “On the Bayou” showing her versatility. “The Glory of Love” featured an short but good sax solo from Woodard. “Don’t Cry Out Loud” was a terrific tune for Silver.
Silver took piano lessons as a child so she sat at the piano and played a bit of classical music with finesse. The last tune was “I Love a Piano.” The audience was very enthusiastic with their applause. It had been a strong program with a variety of familiar songs. Silver sang an encore tune “I Will Wait For You” to great applause.Myrna Daniels
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.
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!
By Karen “Nish” Nishimura
Earlier in 2016, pre-La La Land, I went to The Lighthouse to hear The Gary Herbig & Bill Spoke Quintet. It was a typical scene that had been trending for years in live jazz; the club managed to reach half capacity mid-way through the second set and the audience was mostly seniors and regulars, and a few tourists that wandered in for happy hour. That night I sat at a front row table, the right side of the stage, unknowing it was pre-Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
Cut to post multi-award winning musical “La La Land,” which shines its beacon on The Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, and I’m back to hear The Gary Herbig & Bill Spoke Quintet. It’s the “Happy Hour” show and at first I notice the regulars and seniors seated at the prime tables and bar stools ordering drinks, food, and happily anticipating the show. The club was only a quarter full when I arrived, but it was already a bigger crowd than the last time I walked in.
Sebastian, your dream is coming true!
At 6:00 P.M. the band took the stage and the downbeat opened the set to the Wayne Shorter tune, “Angola.” The jazzy sound waves must have signaled out an invitation to the folks walking Pier Avenue as the people started wandering into the club. After a while, I realized how fortunate I was to arrive a bit early because I sat at the same table I had a few months ago that is now the spot that Ryan Gosling sat in “La La Land” as Sebastian, the struggling musician. I couldn’t help feel a little like Ryan’s character who dreams of the resurrection of jazz in Los Angeles, as I see the club fill with a mixture of South Bay locals, tourists, and jazz lovers. I also notice Gloria Cadena (91), the jazz booker for The Lighthouse, welcoming the guests personally table to table and inviting them to come back for the upcoming jazz shows Saturday and Sunday. She’s been working continually to keep jazz alive at this club that was once the home of jazz music royalty seven nights a week. It didn’t take long before the club was full of guests enjoying the music and atmosphere.
Bill Spoke, drummer and band co-leader with Gary Herbig (sax) assembled a mix of Hard Bop, Post-Bop and modern jazz style tunes that pleased established jazz fans and the random tourist alike. My personal favorite of the night was the band’s performance of “Soul Leo,” a Post-Bop tune composed by Mulgrew Miller. “Soul Leo” has a smoking boogaloo beat that Bill on drums and Igor Kogan on bass lay down solidly while the Mitch Manker on horns and Gary on sax take turns streaming in melodic, interpretive solos. Mike Saul on keys fills out the song in bright rhythmic piano backgrounds and solos. “Soul Leo,” as performed by the band, is one of those songs that make you fall in love with jazz at first sight and keeps you hooked.
“No Room For Squares” by Hank Mobley was the perfect selection for Gary Herbig’s superb sax solos, while Bill tosses in vignettes of drum solos (trading 4s) here and there, segueing to each player. Mitch Manker on trumpet and flugelhorn was an audience favorite playing a kaleidoscope of horn solos during both sets that drew enthusiastic applause. Even the jazz newbies learning the tradition of applauding solos were naturally drawn to do so for Mitch. Mike Saul, a recent addition to the band, also wowed the crowd with his energetic style on keys. Mike is a musician possessed by the music when he gets up on his feet and puts his whole body into his piano solos. What a joy it is to hear and see how all of these jazz musicians channel their talents fully into the breath of each tune.
Rounding out the first set of eight selections was a modern jazz tune “Tumbleweed.” The intricacies of jazz drumming are done adeptly by Bill Spoke throughout out the tune. This is where Bill not only provides the backbone but also the skeletal system that frames the song. Supported by the amazing jazz virtuoso stylings of Igor on bass, “Tumbleweed” rolled through solo and verse from Gary on sax, Mike on keys, and Mitch on trumpet.
The second set was as satisfying and entertaining as the first. The energy in The Lighthouse pulsed like a steady heartbeat as the crowd filled tables and barstools to hear jazz while sipping wine and cocktails. A contrast to the tourist bars nearby where jukebox music is just background noise behind the loud conversations of drinking guests.
The highlight of set two was “Lost,” a beautiful song by Wayne Shorter. The back and forth solos of Gary on sax and Mitch on flugelhorn were nothing short of musical conversation. In jazz terms it’s called “question and answer” when soloists’ parts complement each other and bring depth to the composition. It’s one of the many reasons I love jazz; how music without vocals can tell a story and evoke deep emotion.
It’s evident that West Coast jazz is making a comeback at The Lighthouse thanks to Gloria’s dedication to booking great jazz bands like The Gary Herbig & Bill Spoke Quintet. The show Wednesday night made new jazz fans and delighted many long time jazz lovers, including myself.
This article is a “part deux” of a story I wrote a few weeks earlier, “A Modern Musical Shines Light on a West Coast Landmark,” published on Nishs Niche.
For more a listing of upcoming shows at The Lighthouse Café, go to thelighthousecafe.net
The Gary Herbig & Bill Spoke Quintet is:
Gary Herbig – Sax Bill Spoke – Drums Mitch Manker – Horns Igor Kogan – Acoustic Bass Mike Saul – Keys
For information on upcoming shows go to their Facebook Page
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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: http://www.westcoastjazzparty.com .Glenn A. Mitchell