Saturday, July 29, 2006

August Shows: So Much Jazz, So Little Time

August is one of those months that I'd tend to hate because there aren't any bank holidays, but I can't hate it because I was born in it. And in addition to my birthday (which incidentally I share with John Clayton) there are about a billion great shows happening in Los Angeles. I'll pick and choose among these shows, but if you find something you'd like to check out and you don't mind company, let me know! Apologies in advance for any errors or omissions...

Tuesday, August 1, 2006: Jeff Hamilton Trio at Hollywood and Highland, Hollywood. Although Jeff and Tamir are convinced I'm stalking them, I think the jury is still out for Christoph, so it's probably still safe for me to go out and support my favorite local trio.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006: Cross Hart with Zane Musa, Charlie O's, Valley Glen. I haven't checked them out yet but they're on my short list.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006: Shelly Berg Trio, Catalina's, Hollywood. Still meaning to go out and hear Shelly again after a mesmerizing performance earlier this year.

Thursday, August 3, 2006: Chuck Berghofer & The Midnight Jazz Band, Charlie O's, Valley Glen. One of my favorite acts to see. If I'm still standing after 2+ nights of jazz I'll be there.

Sunday, August 6, 2006: Barbara Morrison and the Arthur Blythe Ensemble at Catalina Bar & Grill, Hollywood. This is a fundraising event for the LA Jazz Society's Thurman Green Scholarship and a great chance to hear a jazz legend and hang out with the Jazz Society!

Sunday, August 6, 2006: Harold Mabern Trio at the UCLA Jazz Salon Series, Westwood. Harold Mabern is a legendary pianist playing with Los Angeles legends John Clayton and Roy McCurdy. Love the concept of talking with the experts about jazz...

Wednesday, August 9, 2006: Chuck Berghofer & The Midnight Jazz Band at Spazio, Studio City. Two performances in the same month (8/3 at Charlie O's)? Luck be a lady.

Friday, August 11, 2006: Bill Cunliffe Trio at Spazio, Studio City. Bill's a superb pianist and engaging performer with a bio as long as my arm. I'll see if I can get my sister Kesha to come out for this one!

Saturday, August 12, 2006: Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band at La Ve Lee Jazz Club, Studio City. Poncho is trying out some new tunes that will be on an upcoming album - hard to sit still!

Thursday, August 17, 2006: Kristin Korb Trio at Crowne Plaza LAX, Los Angeles. This singer / bassist sings and swings - let's get out there and support the young women in jazz!

Saturday, August 19, 2006: ***SAVE THE DATE!!*** Show to be confirmed, but would love to get a group to come out to help me celebrate my birthday! I'll bribe you with cupcakes and champagne...

Thursday, August 24, 2006: Roy McCurdy Trio at Spazio, Studio City. I've heard Roy's trio many times now and enjoy the bop feel. Larry Fuller is scheduled to be on piano. I'll believe it when I see it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006: Med Flory at Charlie O's, Valley Glen. Med Flory was the focus of my very first Listeners' Series and it would be great fun to hear him again!

Thursday-Sunday, August 24-27, 2006: ELDAR Trio at Catalina Jazz Club, Hollywood. I've only heard him on the radio and, but was completley mesmerized by this 19- or 20-year old prodigy. Will definitely have to catch one of the shows.

Sunday, August 27, 2006: John Daversa Group at The Baked Potato, Studio City. I heard John on trumpet at Joe LaBarbera's show in July (see my "Thanks for Dinner, Joe LaBarbera" post) and made a mental note to check him out again. Cool red trumpet too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006: Jeff Hamilton, Atsuko Hashimoto and Houston Person: "International Power Trio" at Crowne Plaza LAX, Los Angeles. When was the last time you heard a trio led by a drummer featuring a tenor sax player and a Hammond B3 organist? I suspect there won't be many future opportunities so be sure not to miss it!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thanks for Dinner, Joe LaBarbera!

I've been exhausted lately. It's been a busy week, but that's not it. It's just HOT. Hot hotty hot. Between global warming and Armageddon I'm thinking I've got about 9 more days before Earth melts. PLUS it's been longer than I can recall since I've heard live jazz in a small venue. So needless to say I have been super cranky.

Enter Brian Farrah, good friend and calming influence who suggested we go catch a jazz show tonight. I checked out good old and lo, and behold, Joe LaBarbera's Quintet was playing at Charlie O's. BINGO. I love hearing Joe play and Charlie O's is about as uptight as my living room, so my pessimism got dialed down a notch. Still feeling somewhat cranky, I threw on some jeans, flip flops and a tank top, skipped the makeup, and headed out, whining on the drive up the 101 about how I looked like death warmed over.

Brian and I arrived early at Charlie O's, and not wanting to sit at the bar drumming my fingers while the band set up, Brian and I sat in the car (aka convection oven) and chatted for a bit. We were making casual small talk when all of a sudden, in my rear view mirror, I caught a glimpse of a man walking in the back door of Charlie O's. Although I only got a quick look, the guy looked uncannily like Larry Fuller, a jazz pianist who has eluded me many times now. EUREKA. I couldn't believe it. I could finally finish that chapter of my book entitled: "Dear Larry Fuller: Please Lift the Restraining Order."

Alas. T'was not meant to be. When we finally went inside, it turned out to have been a doppelganger, sent to Charlie O's specifically to taunt me. However, the fates were still on my side because Bill Cunliffe was the featured pianist that night, and I happen to love hearing him play as well. Rounding out the quintet were Tom Warrington on bass, John Daversa on trumpet, and a player whose name sounded uncannily like "Ocean Jewel" on tenor and soprano saxophone. If anyone stumbles across this and knows who that reed guy really is, please let me know - he was quite good and I'd love to find out more.

Sitting in my usual seat sipping my usual cocktail, my crankiness started to subside as the band began their set with On Green Dolphin Street. They moved into Sixth Sense, a LaBarbera original composition with an intricate rhythmic structure that didn't isolate us non-musicians in the audience. It was a great piece of music and I was sad when it ended. After that was Evidence, a Thelonious Monk tune. I'll stop listing the set here because I had an epiphany during this number: Joe LaBarbera's quintet is EDGY. By that I mean in my brain, when I "see" the music being played, instead of being all curvy and smooth it's got corners and angles instead. And no, I didn't have mushrooms in my dinner. It's just kind of how I hear jazz. I realized during Evidence that this quintet definitely is multi-dimensional. All of these solid, very talented musicians created a musical texture that made us want to get wrapped up in it, but the edges kept us from getting too comfortable and zoning out.

I have no idea if that made any sense or not, so it's a great place to interject that there was an "interesting" (crazy?) patron at the club who made me laugh. And I felt bad for laughing because maybe there was something, you know, wrong with him. I'll call him Buster. Here's was his deal:

  • Buster walked into the club in the middle of a song and started talking super loudly to the bartender, Matt. Matt would answer him courteously, but quietly and briefly and he still didn't get it.
  • As John Daversa soloed at one point, Buster gave a loud and lengthy commentary to no one in particular about "how that young cat on the trumpet is OK, but he's no Carl Sanders." Um, it's Colonel Sanders, my friend. Carl Saunders is a trumpet player.
  • Buster ordered a daiquiri. A strawberry daiquiri, as Brian pointed out. Said order forced Matt the bartender to fire up the blender during Soul Eyes (which, as you might assume, is a sweet ballad not well-accented by the whirring of kitchen appliances).


Despite Buster's comic relief, after hearing a set and a half I realized that I had been STARVING for live jazz and I felt as if I had a wonderful meal. It wasn't like dining at Bastide, with trendy patrons and fancy, rich fare, but rather like Bistro K, with no frills in the dining room but a menu filled with beautifully prepared cuisine with something on the menu for every taste. Exhausted, I had to call it a night, but not after getting to hear one of Bill Cunliffe's original pieces, Sweet Andy, a tribute to the late, great Andy Simpkins. Sigh.

I'm volunteering at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival this weekend so I'm sure I'll have something to say about the ladies in jazz featured there. As always, don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like to come along on one of these jazz journeys! Never a dull moment....

Links to last night's music....

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ladies' Night: An Unofficial Listeners' Series Event

L-R: Kim Howell, Pam Howell, Flip Manne & Takayo Fischer

One of the things I love so much about championing the Los Angeles jazz scene is that at this point I'm making up my own rules as I go along. While initially I thought I'd reserve this blog for my listeners' series, I had a fun experience that merited sharing in the annals of cyberspace. Tonight I went to the Hollywood Bowl with Kim Howell, Flip Manne and Takayo Fischer. We heard John Pizzarelli, an excellent guitarist and bandleader hosting a couple of sets featuring The Great American Songbook.

Kim Howell is my sister / fellow Tramp (read: the lady is a ___) / partner in crime. Because she lives in Thousand Oaks, she has often expressed her disdain over not being able to join a weeknight series. However, Bowl logistics are actually pretty easy for her so she was able to play on a school night. Ergo, the primary reason that this is being posted is so that she will finally have an official place in my jazz rants.

I met Flip Manne several months ago at a jazz club. Flip is the wife of the late big band drummer, bandleader and pioneer Shelly Manne, and when I was introduced to her by one of today's greats, Jeff Hamilton, I was starstruck. Starstricken. Whatever. See, I'm flustered again already. Anyway, she admittedly "picked me up" at the club and we've been friends and jazz cohorts ever since. As President of the Los Angeles Jazz Society you'll find her in local clubs championing the perpetuation of jazz so keep an eye out. She'll probably try to "pick you up" as well, considering she showed up in the seats tonight with the phone number of a woman from her Park & Ride bus.

Takayo Fischer is an actress and friend of Flip's; they met in a dance class years ago and have been friends ever since. Takayo regaled us with tales of parties they had when they first met while plying us with the most deliciously decadent cheese you can imagine (she made a stop at the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop on her way over). Incidentally, the cheese paired fabulously with the Cabernet Franc that Kim brought and Flip's home grown tomatoes. In a nutshell, all three of these ladies have so much spark, intelligence and verve that I can't wait until the next time we hang out.

The show itself was quite good. On the heels of a new album (released just this past Tuesday), John Pizzarelli was an engaging host of two sets of music featuring four jazz vocalists: Annie Ross, Bill Henderson, Tierney Sutton and Kurt Elling. Sidebar: Those who know me know that my personal jazz taste tends toward instrumentals, so if I don't sound enthusiastic about the vocalists it's only because I typically focus more on the instruments.

Anyhoo, Annie Ross (of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, if you remember the vocalese group from a few decades back) was a treat to see and hear. Coincidentally, Flip told me that she was the honored vocalist at the LA Jazz Society Tribute Concert a few years back, and Tierney Sutton, who also performed, is among this year's honorees. Bill Henderson still has his chops and showed off on a couple of tunes made famous by Old Blue Eyes, and Kurt Elling sang / scatted a bossa nova version of Nature Boy that was, simply put, hot. The band got to show off a little during that piece and I loved it.

Speaking of the band, Pizzarelli's album is backed by the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra so it was no surprise that tonight's big band was comprised of many of those bandmembers, including Bijon Watson on trumpet, George Bohannon on trombone, and Keith Fiddmont & Gary Foster on reeds. Larry Fuller was a surprise on the piano, simply because every time I plan to hear him perform locally someone else is subbing for him. HUMPH. Makes stalking extremely difficult. The next time I see him I'll have to give him a piece of my mind. Which is sad, because a) frankly I don't have much to spare and b) he doesn't actually know me anyway.

In summary, the evening was great and while I haven't been that into the jazz lineups at the Bowl for a couple of years now, hearing Pizzarelli was a highlight. In addition to being a great guitarist and bandleader, he's engaging and can sing too. Check him out next chance you get, and be sure to get in touch with me if you want a buddy for live jazz!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's Scarier Than A Look Inside Pam's Brain?: Listeners' Series, Vol. IV

Lately I've been spending a good deal of mental energy listening to, writing about or remembering jazz. If I had to guess, I would say probably at least half a percent of my brain power on a given day in the past couple of years has been dedicated in some way to jazz. It's said that we human beings only use something like 3% of our brains, so a little number crunching means that my jazz compulsion leaves roughly 83% of my available brain function to do other things. It sounds like a lot until I consider that I need to use this 83% to feed and clothe myself, produce work so that I can earn money to buy fancy shoes, plus ruminate on the state of the world, why Dave Chappelle flipped out, and if Suri Tomcat really does exist. Among other things.

Then it hit me - I could free up some of my limited brain space by SHARING the jazz stuff that swirls around in there with others. This thought led to the evolution of my Listeners' Series IV: Jazz Tasting at the Tramp House. On Tuesday, July 11, 2006 a bevy of friends converged upon my living room in Glendale for some wine, tapas and jazz discussion. I emptied out about half of the 0.5% that was taking up valuable brain space and now can use the newly vacated area for some other useful endeavor, like figuring out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop and multiplying percentages of percentages for this summary.

Enough of that. Seven folks were coming over for the Listeners' Series, and I was a bit nervous because I had no idea what to expect. Would these folks actually like the music I had on hand? Would they be bored and change the subject to Lindsay Lohan? Would they point and snicker because I had a 'bat in the cave'? Pushing these questions aside, I prepared some materials ahead of time (just post a comment if you'd like me to send you a copy), opened a couple of bottles of wine (snoozers) and tried to figure out how to keep the prosciutto attached to the melon since I forgot to buy toothpicks (glue is not a good choice).

The evening was a great success. The participants were all interested, engaged and additive. We talked about what jazz is, how jazz songs are structured, what to listen for, and how to approach listening to jazz at home or out in da club. Check out the Series Review page on my website for photos - to put faces with the following names:

Pam Howell - Ringleader and evening DJ, spinning Miles, Trane, Ella, The Duke and even a little Erykah Badu.

David Reinhold - Former trombone player and sophisticated listener sporting a jazzy five o'clock shadow.

Allan Spring - Crossword expert (I think he cheats though) who now plans to teach his cats how to play the jazz spoons.

Cassy Nehring (+ baby to be) - Classical / rock pianist who may even introduce the group to Ethiopian jazz. I bet she means it too, since we learned to belly dance at her last baby shower...

Cam Frierson - Television producer and brainiac who drew analogies between jazz, Justin Timberlake and the Japanese flag. They made sense too. Really.

Holly Tempo - Artist and educator with some interesting observations on how the metamorphosis of a jazz tune resembles the creation of an art piece. We all impressed ourselves by how smart we sounded.

Susan and Art Young - These two folks have more music crammed into their 3% usuable brains than the cities of Tupelo, Mississippi and Paris, Texas combined. Art even suggested we play some free jazz (leading to Cam's analogy...) AND they have a dog named Ella. Zowie.

So that's a quick and dirty summary. The concensus when the motley crew broke up for the night is that we should definitely do it again. Next time, I'll be sure to provide more interesting wine and proscuitto/melon thingies that hold together better...