Of All My Vices, Jazz Is My Favorite: Listeners' Series, Vol. III
I have no idea really who all is reading this (if anyone), and it seems kind of foolish to air my dirty laundry on the Internet (especially since both of my parents have made remarks implying that they have peeked at this site). Nonetheless, confession is good for the soul, and although unconditional love is usually the purview of parents alone, I’m laying it all out there.
So here it is. I have a few vices. And I’ve been fortunate thus far, because my tendency to overindulge in my vices tends to be offset by the practicalities of life. For example, my affinity for single malt Scotch is mitigated by an unwillingness to suffer from a post-Scotch headache. Fancy shoes? Wear them too long and blisters and a backache ensue. Pride prevents me from admitting to my Brady Bunch rerun fixation, and common financial sense means that as much as I would love to gamble all the time, I must partake in moderation.
Jazz gorging, however, has had no downside so far. It’s not hard to find free or inexpensive shows, no one seems to be pushing the hooch at jazz clubs, and it feeds my soul like nothing else. So when I saw an opportunity to nurture at least one other vice while enjoying fine jazz, I couldn’t resist.
The third installment of my Jazz Listeners’ Series took place on Tuesday night, June 25 at Hollywood Park Casino. Gambling, Scotch AND jazz?!?!? What more could a girl ask for? The Tamir Hendelman Trio was the featured act, and as I am a huge fan it was a no-brainer.
Three seems to be the magic number for these series, so I was joined by the ever-stalwart Emily Hands and Christy Luna, jazz fan extraordinaire with energy that would put a two-year-old to shame. I put on my new very favorite strappy sandals and decided to go early to get my gamble on. Emily hadn’t gambled in ages so was willing to join me to try our luck at ye olde games of chance. As I had never been to Hollywood Park Casino, I wasn’t sure what to expect; however, my experiences with Las Vegas casinos have been many and varied so I thought I’d be fine.
Imagine my surprise when we walked in the door. It was not crowded at all. AT ALL. I sniffed, expecting to smell the unmistakable aroma of generic cigarette smoke. All I smelled was desperation. I looked at Emily. She looked at me. We walked toward the gambling area and noticed that approximately 10% of the tables were actually in use. Now, those 4 tables were crowded – but the rest of the casino floor was a vast wasteland.
Why Hollywood Park Casino sucks compared to Vegas
** There were no scantily clad cocktail waitresses hawking “free” drinks
** The tourists in Hawaiian shirts were missing
** None of the locals were carting around oxygen tanks since there was no smoking permitted
** The bottles of booze at the bar had fancy measurers guaranteeing that not a drop more than one ounce made it in each mixed drink.
Why Vegas sucks compared to Hollywood Park Casino
** Hollywood Park Casino had a Pink’s hot dog cart. Pink’s. For real.
** I don’t think I spent $20 and I got to hear a live jazz show, stuffed my face, had two drinks and parked at the valet. And I wasn’t a high roller.
** Although it was 100 degrees outside when we arrived, when we left it was a breezy 70 degrees.
** While the smell of cigarette smoke does lend a certain je ne sais quoi to casino ambience, the lack of it meant that I didn’t have to take 4 showers when I got home.
But I digress. I’m all over the place here. Let me give you a recap of the show itself. Tamir Hendelman is the pianist for the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra as well as for the Jeff Hamilton Trio, and between those huge commitments manages to find time to do session work and lead his own trio. This was my second time hearing his trio perform and as before they did not disappoint. Backed by Carlitos del Puerto on bass and Dean Koba on drums, the trio made the crowd happy with a mix of standards and original tunes.
Emily, Christy and I settled into our seats in the lounge, amid dimmed TV screens since there was no satellite racing. It was really weird. James Janisse, former DJ from KKJZ, was the MC and it was nice to hear his voice again (even though he kept referring to Tamir and crew as “cats,” which is kind of cool the first couple of times but after awhile I started singing “Memories” in my head). The place was full with a good proportion of jazz fans despite the whooping of the occasional jackpot winner in the background.
The first set consisted of 7 tunes, including originals “Babushka” (precious), “Israeli Waltz” (gorgeous) and “Bennissimo” (groovalicious). The standard “The More I See You” had a super cool bass intro with what I could swear were some strains of “Nature Boy” before launching into an up-tempo swingfest, and Tamir’s melancholy take on “Singin’ in the Rain” was just sweet enough not to make me cry.
At the set break I thought it would be great to get the series’ participants’ takes on the show so far. I told them that for posterity I’d like to get their impressions.
Pam (to Christy): “What did you think of that first set?”
Christy: “It rawks. R-A-W-K-S.”
Christy: “And swings.”
Pam: “Cool.” (turns to Emily) “Emily, what do you think?”
Emily: (looking a bit put on the spot) “Oh s%^&!”
So we ordered a round of drinks and spent a whopping $8.75 (total), snapped a photo with Mr. Hendelman himself and got ready for the second set. When I asked him what he had in store, he responded “I have no idea.” I love jazz. Seriously.
Now, those who know my jazz proclivities know that I do play favorites, especially when it comes to the classics. Favorite old-school vocalist: Ella Fitzgerald. Favorite old-school composers: George & Ira Gershwin. Favorite old-school big band leader: Duke Ellington. Imagine my glee when the second set began with an Ellington medley! Yee haw. We were treated to the ever-fabulous “Caravan” (worrrrrrrrrrldly), “In A Sentimental Mood” (swoooooony) and “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” (bluuuuuuuuuesy). And there was an encore. Are you sitting down? "Someone To Watch Over Me" (dreeeeeeeeeemy). Sigh.
The balance of the second set also included some high-energy bebop, an original ballad, and some Thelonious Monk, and even though there was a pretty raucous crowd enjoying themselves in the lounge, the rest of the audience seemed really into it. One of the things I appreciate about Tamir as a bandleader is that the sidemen were featured frequently. Dean and Carlitos did a fabulous job not only as “backup musicians” but as significant soloists and contributors in their own right. As for Tamir, watching him play the piano with the passion and enthusiasm that he conveys makes me want to take up lessons again. (All of you piano teachers who just died a little at the thought, don’t worry – I won’t actually do it.)
Bottom line – the show was fabulous, and in addition to being great performers the band had another thing in common: they all looked like there was no place they would rather have been that night. Regardless of whether or not that was true, the crowd certainly appreciated it. And even though I didn’t get my gamble on, I will make a point to check out the venue – and the trio – again!