Los Angeles Jazz Scene - Jazz Around Town
                               May 2017
DOC AT 90

Although it has now been 25 years since a 65-year old Doc Severinsen was the bandleader on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, he will
undoubtedly always be best known for his 30-year period on the show. Well Doc turns 90 on July 7 and, despite a few failed attempts to retire,
he is still playing music and sounding remarkably great. At the Valley Performing Arts Center, Severinsen played trumpet as if he were 50
and he walked as if he were 40. In fact, he did not sit down the entire time!
      
Most importantly, the music was excellent. Severinsen led a 16-piece big band that emphasized straight ahead jazz and swing. While Doc has
sometimes played funk and rock in the past, this night was strictly jazz.
      
After a brief version of the Tonight Show theme, Doc Severinsen strolled out, joked with the audience, showed off his flashy outfit (he would
wear a different one for the second set) and launched into “I Want To Be Happy.” Playing at 80-90% of his peak, Severinsen never rested on his
laurels and was featured on most of the songs including “September Song,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Jumpin’ At The Woodside,” and “A Night
In Tunisia,” taking an outstanding unaccompanied introduction on the latter. Singer Vanessa Thomas had a few features, showing off her
very wide range on “Mood Indigo” and “Every Day I Have The Blues,” and the other soloists during the night included tenor-saxophonist Bob
Sheppard, trumpeter Kye Palmer, trombonist Andy Martin, and pianist Bill Cunliffe with Wayne Bergeron leading the trumpet section.
      
Watching this show, it was impossible to believe that Doc Severinsen, who was never hesitant in his playing, talking or walking, is 90. He
sounded as if he was in his third childhood and did not miss a high note all night!

THE UNIQUE MARIA SCHNEIDER
      
Maria Schneider writes music that is impossible to classify. Often sounding like a picturesque soundtrack, Schneider’s works are unpredictable,
impressionistic, and consistently memorable. Although falling into jazz and leaving room for improvisations, her music is really beyond jazz
and occupies its own musical world.
      
At the Valley Performing Arts Center, her 18-piece orchestra from New York made a very rare Los Angeles appearance. Whether it was the
dramatic “Oriental,” “Nimba,” “Home,” “Data Lords,” or “Birds Of Paradise,” her music was quite intriguing and adventurous without ever
becoming overly dissonant or violent. Among the many featured soloists were tenor-saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Rich Perry, altoist
Steve Wilson, trumpeters Greg Gisbert and Mike Rodriguez, guitarist Lage Lund, Gary Versace on accordion, and Scott Robinson (featured on
the last two songs) on baritone sax and bass clarinet. They made Maria Schneider’s potentially difficult arrangements sound colorful and
natural.

LORRAINA MARRO
      
Lorraina Marro is always fun to see perform. At the E-Spot, the singer was joined by pianist Bradley Young’s trio with bassist Adrian Rosen and
drummer Jon Stuart plus an occasional tenor-saxophonist whose name I unfortunately missed. After the band played an instrumental version
of “Perdido” (with Young sounding a bit like Oscar Peterson), the appealing vocalist commanded the stage during a set ranging from obscure
love ballads and a grooving “Feel Like Making Love” to a swinging “Time After Time,” “Day In Day, Out” and even “You Make Me Feel Like A
Natural Woman.” She closed the night with a beautiful version of “Tea For Two,” starting with the lesser-known verse.
       
Sticking mostly to optimistic songs that fell between jazz, soul and r&b, Lorraina Marro displayed a joyful and powerful voice that consistently
delighted the audience.

RUSSELL MALONE
      
For the past 20 years, Russell Malone has been one of jazz’s greatest guitarists. Malone knows music history so well that he often quotes the
most obscure jazz and Hollywood songs in his solos, usually while having a twinkle in his eye. While he came to fame with Diana Krall in the
1990s, he has led his own band much of the time since.
      
At the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, Malone led an excellent quartet that featured pianist Rick
Germanson, bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Willie Jones III. Alternating melodic originals with such songs as a relaxed but infectiously
swinging “Witchcraft,” and a beautiful medley of an unaccompanied “It’s Easy To Remember” and “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Up To Dry,”
Malone and his quartet were in excellent form. Germanson shared the guitarist’s knack for coming up with surprising song quotes, Sellick had
several fine solos, and Jones was a quiet powerhouse, always giving the music exactly what it needed. Closing with a good-time rockish blues
(as if to show that he can play that too), Russell Malone sounded inspired throughout the night.

KARRIN ALLYSON
      
Karrin Allyson has been such a consistent and rewarding jazz singer during the past 25 years that it is easy to take her for granted. At
Catalina’s, she showed once again that she deserved to be ranked near the top of her field.
      
The singer led a different band than usual, a drumless quartet with guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Miro Sprague and bassist Jeff Johnson. Her
performance during the night included fresh versions of Mose Allison’s “Stop This World,” “Oh What A Beautiful Morning,” “Say It Over And
Over Again,” Abbey Lincoln’s “The World Is Falling Down,” a nostalgic “Home,” and “O Pato” (the quacking duck song). Allyson’s distinctive
and warm voice, her swinging phrasing, and her occasional scat-singing were a joy to hear. On “Double Rainbow” she switched to piano (with
Sprague playing an electric keyboard) and their tradeoff was memorable. Ms. Allyson also performed the happy philosophical tune “Wrap Up
Some Of This Sunshine,” an original that she wrote two days after the presidential election (“No More Big Discount”) and the closer, a warm
and wistful version of “Blame It On My Youth.”
      
It was rewarding hearing Karrin Allyson in this fairly sparse setting. Koonse and Sprague took many fine solos and Johnson held the rhythm
together and smiled during the whole night. I hope that the singer will record with this excellent band in the future.

TWO REMARKABLE JAZZ BOOKS
      
51 years ago, in 1966, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was born and became an instant success performing Monday nights at the Village
Vanguard. Over a half-century later, the band is still together. Its longevity has eclipsed that of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, both of whom
made it through 49 years.  Arranger-composer-trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis co-led the orchestra during 1966-78. Jones’
sudden departure to lead the Danish Radio Big Band in 1979 was a surprise and a shock, especially to Lewis. The big band became the Mel
Lewis Orchestra until the drummer’s death in 1990. Since then it has been the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
      
Any fan of the orchestra simply has to own 50 Years At The Village Vanguard, the definitive book by Dave Lisik and Eric Allen, two musicians
and educators who clearly love this big band. Their oversize 316-page book tells the long story of the band through interviews with all of the
surviving and current musicians, archival interviews of the co-leaders and others, many photos, memorabilia, mini bios on each of the
current members of the band, and a complete discography. The three stages of the orchestra are covered fully including many obscure or
previously unknown stories. There are also individual chapters on Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, the band’s road
trips, the Village Vanguard, and other aspects of the group’s history.
      
50 Years At the Village Vanguard (available from www.skydeckmusic.com) does full justice to the legacy of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
Open it up to any page and the fresh stories and colorful photos will be very tempting to read and quite informative.
      
Imagine spending a week with Billie Holiday; what would that have looked like? In April 1957, photographer Jerry Dantzic (1925-2006) was
hired by the Decca label to take pictures of Lady Day during her week performing at Sugar Hill in Newark, New Jersey. He took quite a few
photos of Holiday including on stage, in her dressing room, greeting fans, playing with her dog, walking down the street, and visiting with the
family of her co-author William Dufty. Dantzic also shot some photos of Holiday performing at the New York Jazz Festival that August.  Nearly
all of these pictures have never been published before.
Billie Holiday At Sugar Hill (available from www.thaesandhudsonusa.com) was put together by the photographer’s son Grayson Dantzic. It
has more than 120 full-page photos of the singer from Dantzic’s period with her. These candid and sometimes intimate pictures show the
legendary vocalist to be very human, vulnerable and mostly cheerful. She looks special even when doing something as mundane as washing
dishes or playing with the Dufty’s child.
      
Other than a fanciful essay by Zadie Smith (who imagines what Billie Holiday’s thoughts were during a typical day) and Grayson Dantzic’s
overview of the pictures, Billie Holiday At Sugar Hill is comprised solely of the memorable photos.  No Lady Day fan should be without this
valuable and fascinating book.