Los Angeles Jazz Scene - Jazz Around Town
                    May 2019
A TRIBUTE TO OSCAR PETERSON
      
Oscar Peterson was such a remarkable pianist, a virtuoso who could outswing anyone, that it would be very difficult for any one
pianist to pay a full tribute to him. At Disney Hall, eight masterful pianists took their turns, paying homage to one of the all-time
greats by mostly playing his compositions rather than trying to duplicate his wondrous style. Most of the musicians also spent a little
time talking about their interaction and memories of the great pianist.
      
There were two pianos on stage but surprisingly few duets. After an introduction by Peterson’s widow, Gerald Clayton played a
medium-tempo ballad, infusing it with some of Peterson’s phrases. Robi Botos (originally from Hungary and long based in Canada)
joined Clayton for an uptempo duet on Peterson’s “Wheatland” and Botos played a tender ballad by himself. Justin Kauflin
performed “Cakewater” with some speedy right-hand runs worthy of Peterson. Kenny Barron and bassist John Clayton jammed on
the medium-tempo blues “The Smudge” while Benny Green put plenty of feeling into the slow ballad “He Has Gone.” Bill Charlap and
Renee Rosnes dueted on a stirring version of “Sooji” (Charlap’s basslines were outstanding). Monty Alexander completed the first
half of the show by playing a song of his that Peterson liked (“Sweet Lady”) along with “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.”
      
Benny Green began the second set with “Cool Walk” (Peterson’s take on “Ja Da”) at a medium slow tempo. Kauflin performed a
thoughtful ballad, Charlap played a medley of “Body and Soul” and “Out Of Nowhere,” Rosnes and John Clayton swung “Like
Someone In Love,” and Clayton (playing Ray Brown’s bass) was featured on “Goodbye Old Friend.” Kenny Barron created a beautiful
medley that included “When Summer Comes” before Gerald Clayton performed a celebratory version of “Hymn To Freedom.” As a
grand finale, the eight pianists took turns on the two pianos during an exciting version of an Oscar Peterson blues. While they should
have played something similar to open the night and there should have been many more duets, there was plenty of rewarding music
heard throughout the evening. Oscar Peterson would certainly have enjoyed this concert.

A PAIR OF ALL-STAR GROUPS
      
On another evening, Disney Hall hosted both the SF Jazz Collective and the Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour. The SF Jazz Collective,
which has been together with regularly changing personnel since 2006, performed both inventive versions of Antonio Carlos Jobim
songs and a few originals. The band currently consists of trumpeter Etienne Charles, trombonist Marshall Gilkes, tenor-saxophonist
David Sanchez, altoist Miguel Zenon (the only original member), pianist Edward Simon, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, bassist Matt
Brewer, and drummer Obed Calvaire. With their four horns, there were times when the SF Collective sounded a little like the Jazz
Messengers, but the conga playing (shared by Sanchez and Wolf) and the advanced harmonies let one know that this was 2019, not
1959. Among the Jobim songs that were modernized were “If You Come Back To Me,” “The Girl From Ipanema,” “How Insensitive,”
and “Waters Of March”; the melodies were present but without the bossa-nova rhythms which were often replaced by ones from
Afro-Cuban music. All of the musicians played very well with Simon and Wolf often taking honors and Calvaire outstanding
throughout in support of the other players.
      
The Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour had the same personnel as was featured at the last Monterey festival: singer Cecile McLorin
Salvant, trumpeter Bria Skonberg, Melissa Aldana on tenor, pianist Christian Sands (the musical director), bassist Yasushi Nakamura
and drummer Jamison Ross.  The set started off strong with Ms. Salvant featured on a dramatic number, a fetching version of “I Can’
t Help It” (which Betty Carter had recorded in the late 1950s), and her original “Fog.” Unfortunately she was not heard from again
until the closing number. Aldana was showcased on her “Acceptance,” taking an adventurous solo. Ross did a fine job of singing
“Sackful Of Dreams,” getting quite soulful while playing swinging drums. Sands was featured with the rhythm section performing
Puccini’s “Tosca” while Skonberg sang and played trumpet on Valaida Snow’s mid-1930s hit “High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm,” an
all-too-brief swing performance repeated from the Monterey festival. After a boogaloo number from the ensemble, Cecile McLorin
Salvant returned and ended the night by singing a folk song along with Skonberg and Ross. This group had a great deal of potential
that was not quite fully realized (for example, Salvant should have sung an obscure classic blues number with Skonberg answering
her on her 1920s style trumpet) but the band is now history. Fortunately the many talents in the band will certainly be heard in other
contexts during the next few years, and one looks forward to their future accomplishments.

THE CALIFORNIA JAZZ FOUNDATION’S ANNUAL GALA
      
An extremely worthy organization, the California Jazz Foundation provides financial and social assistance to jazz artists who are
down on their luck. During the past 13 years they have helped quite a few jazz musicians who, in better days, provided joy to those
who love the music.
      
The California Jazz Foundation’s annual gala was held at the L.A. Grand Hotel Downtown. This year Patrice Rushen, the late Leon
“Ndugu” Chancler, and Terry Gibbs were honored. A fine trio comprised of guitarist Kyle Scherrer, tenor-saxophonist Michael
Blasky and bassist Ari Giancaterino played melodic versions of standards early on in the night. A necessary (to raise funds for the
organization) but rather long, annoying and loud auction was next. The great vibraphonist Terry Gibbs received the Foundation’s
Lifetime Achievement Award and made a gracious and witty speech. Patrice Rushen was given the Nica award before playing a
groove-based number with her trio and “Stella By Starlight” with a quartet featuring an altoist. The Jazz Heritage Award was
accepted by Stix Hooper for Leon “Ndugu” Chancler. The night concluded with pianist John Beasley leading a septet taken from his
MONK’estra big band that featured trumpeter James Ford, trombonist Francisco Torres and saxophonists Keith Fiddmont and Tom
Luer.
      
While I have suggestions for the next gala (how about honoring Barbara Morrison, featuring more music, and finding a way for the
auction to take up less time?), the admirable goals and work by the California Jazz Foundation are perfect. Visit www.
californiajazzfoundation.org for more information.

JUST JAZZ AT THE MR. MUSICHEAD GALLERY
      
Leroy Downs and Just Jazz TV have been presenting jazz at the Mr. Musichead Gallery in Hollywood for a year. Recently trumpeter
Theo Croker led a quintet at the attractive performance space that included pianist Paul Cornish, bassist Trevor Ware, drummer
Jonathan Pinson, and percussionist Allakoi Peete. Croker has a mellow sound (a little reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard’s fluegelhorn
tone) and an adventurous style. He performed such originals as “Eleven Eleven” and “Understand Yourself” along with Sam Rivers’
“Cyclic Episode,” and Joe Henderson’s “A Shade Of Jade.” On “Never Let Me Go,” Croker surprised the audience by taking a warm
conversational vocal, dedicating the piece to the late Roy Hargrove who was known to sing an occasional piece.
      
Pianist Cornish proved to be an energetic and brilliant soloist, Pinson and Peete drove the band enthusiastically, and Ware
consistently uplifted the music. Croker’s friendly and informative comments to the audience were an added plus to an enjoyable
evening that kept the audience smiling.

A VETERAN MASTER

Pianist, composer and bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim, who is 84, has been a major musician since at least 1959 when he was a member
of the Jazz Epistles, the first important jazz group from South Africa (Hugh Masekela was their trumpeter). In 1962 the worsening
apartheid situation resulted in him moving to Europe where the following year he was sponsored on a record date by Duke Ellington.
Since moving to New York in 1965, he has led many groups that perform his originals which are inspired by folk music and memories
of South Africa, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
      
Abdullah Ibrahim had not appeared in Los Angeles for quite some time. His performance for the Jazz Bakery at the Moss Theater
featured his Ekaya Septet which also included Cleave Guyton Jr on alto, flute and piccolo, tenor-saxophonist Lance Bryant,
baritonist Marshall McDonald, trombonist Andrae Murchison, Anoah Jackson on bass and cello, and drummer Will Terrill. Ibrahim
mostly played gentle piano, starting off the set with ten minutes of thoughtful reveries. He did not speak to the audience at all and did
not always play behind the other soloists but Ibrahim directed the proceedings with a quiet dignity. The music was consistently
picturesque, sometimes tightly arranged, included tone colors worthy of Ellington, and contained its share of wit (with Bryant at one
point quoting “The Pink Panther”). Guyton was particularly impressive on piccolo, trombonist Murchison displayed a boppish style
reminiscent of J.J. Johnson, baritonist McDonald was always inventive, Bryant on tenor had a commanding presence, and Jackson’s
occasional periods on cello were impressive. Ibrahim was at his best during a tribute to Thelonious Monk in which he quoted a
variety of tunes in his own style.

BRIGITTE BERMAN’S LATEST FILM
      
Director-producer Brigitte Berman is best-known in the jazz world for her superb documentaries Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got
(1985) and Bix: Ain’t None Of Them Playing Like Him Yet. She had also put together Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel.
      
Recently her latest film, Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking Out In America, had its West Coast premiere at the American
Cinematheque. The focus was on Hefner’s two musical television series, Playboy’s Penthouse (1959-61) which featured many jazz
greats, and Playboy After Dark (1968-70) which was more rock and r&b-oriented. Hefner was a pioneer in utilizing integrated casts
(both musical and in the audience) in these series, and in having lively discussions about social and racial issues.
      
Ms. Berman’s documentary has plenty of performance footage although unfortunately no complete performances. From the jazz
standpoint, the excerpts from Playboy’s Penthouse are of greatest interest, with appearances by the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Lenny
Bruce, Sammy Davis Jr, Ray Charles, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Joe Williams, Pete Seeger, and Barbara Dane being memorable if
way too brief. It made one wish that the 26 shows in this series were available in full on DVD; maybe someday.
      
The excerpts from Playboy After Dark include The Byrds, Jerry Garcia, Steppenwolf, Joan Baez, Moms Mabley and Taj Mahal. The
issues discussed in this series are still sadly relevant today, showing that not enough has changed during the past 50 years.
      
Unfortunately the documentary wanders away during its last 45 minutes, giving one bits of Woodstock, the civil rights and anti-war
movements, and other issues that have little to do directly with the programs. The narrative gets a bit preachy and loses its subtlety
in discussing some of today’s problems. One never learns why Playboy After Dark went off the air or what happened to some of the
participants. A tighter focus on the actual programs and the original plot of the film would have made this a more coherent and
definitive documentary.
      
Still, Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking Out In America is well worth catching.