|TWO AGELESS 90-YEAR OLDS
The great Randy Weston, a major pianist and composer since the mid-1950s, is now 91. In his career, in addition to creating his own voice on
the piano out of the inspirations of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, he composed such songs as “Hi-Fly,” “Little Niles” and “Berkshire
Performing a solo set at the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by the Jazz Bakery, Weston showed that he is still at the peak of his powers. He
played piano with the power and creativity of a musician half his age and talked with confidence and insight to the audience. Weston began
with “Ballad For T,” a medley of music for Thelonious Monk. Heard along the way were “Ruby, My Dear,” “Misterioso” and “Well You Needn’
t,” along with Weston’s ruminations and inventive interludes. Next he performed what he called “Blues For Duke” which treated some Duke
Ellington-associated songs in a similar fashion. Ironically, two of the three pieces that were explored (“Caravan” and “Take The ‘A’ Train’),
unlike “C Jam Blues,” were not actually composed by Duke but Weston closely emulated Ellington’s piano style. He then spoke about the late
arranger-trombonist Melba Liston and performed a suite that included his “Berkshire Blues,” “Little Niles” and “African Sunshine.” Weston
concluded with an improvisation that musically depicted ancient Africa.
All in all, I’ve come to the conclusion that Weston is 61 not 91.
Barbara Dane, who turned 90 last May 12, has had a remarkable and varied career. In the late 1950s she was well known as a traditional jazz
and blues singer, working with Kid Ory, George Lewis, Turk Murphy, Jack Teagarden, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and even on television
with Louis Armstrong. Always a political activist, she became more active in folk music and protest songs in the 1960s. In 1966 she was the
first American musician to tour Cuba.
She celebrated her 90th birthday at UCLA’s Royce Hall with a very enjoyable concert that put the focus on her versatility and ageless singing.
At the beginning of both of her sets, filmed excerpts from a documentary that is still in progress let the audience know about her
accomplishments in many areas of music. Still possessing a strong voice, Ms. Dane was joined at UCLA by a rhythm section comprised of the
excellent pianist Tammy Hall, bassist Daniel Fabricant and drummer Darla Johnson. After swinging through a few numbers and performing
Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” they were joined by the Chambers Brothers who she had championed and performed with in the mid-1960s.
They performed some folk songs with Ms. Dane (including “Let My People Go,” and “Together We Can Move Mountains”) with the audience
singing along, did a few numbers by themselves, and reminisced. Barbara Dane’s son Pablo Menendez, a major part of the Cuban music scene
for a half-century, was featured on guitar, harmonica and vocals, proving to be both a friendly presence and a potent blues performer. The
second half of the program again featured Ms. Dane alternating between jazz (including her lyrics to Duke Ellington’s “All Too Soon” and King
Pleasure’s “Tomorrow Is Another Day”), blues and folk/protest music. Her grandson Osamu Menendez took some fine rockish blues guitar solos
and his wife Tory Gomez sang a bit. Barbara Dane seemed to get stronger as the night progressed and probably could have performed another
hour without any difficulties or loss of passion. She is definitely a living legend.
ANGEL CITY JAZZ 2017
The theme of the tenth annual Angel City Jazz Festival was a celebration of the centennial of Thelonious Monk. Produced by Rocco Somazzi (the
festival’s creative director), Gareth Jiffeau, and Rob Woodworth, the festival once again featured very adventurous jazz-based artists over a
two week period. While most of the groups played some of Monk’s music, they also performed originals in their own styles.
I caught the final night of the festival, a triple-bill held at the Bootleg Theatre. While the venue has excellent sound, it only had about a dozen
chairs for the 80 or so people in the audience, which was a bit inexcusable. Luckily I grabbed one early on!
Elliott Sharp has long been an innovator on the guitar. While he can play conventionally, by using external devices on his guitar, his mastery
of tapping and a vivid imagination, he is able to produce a very wide assortment of unusual sounds from his instrument. In a set of
unaccompanied solos, Sharp improvised freely for 45 minutes while occasionally referring to such Thelonious Monk songs as “Bemsha Swing,”
“ Rhythm-A-Ning,” “Evidence,” “‘Round Midnight” “In Walked Bud” and “Epistrophy.” The music was fascinating if often jarring and it was a
set that every guitarist should have seen and studied.
The second group, Mast, was led by Tim Conley who plays electronics and guitar. The sextet also included trumpeter Dan Rosenboom, altoist
Josh Johnson, Gavin Templeton on baritone and tenor, drummer Nigel Sifantus and a bassist whose name I missed. While the horn players
had solos (with Rosenboom playing some powerful improvisations), the music was closely directed by Conley whose electronics dominated the
ensembles. As with Sharp, Monk’s melodies appeared including “Reflections,” “Well You Needn’t,” “Epistrophy,” “Oska T,” “Straight No
Chaser," “‘Round Midnight” and “Evidence.” The electronics, which were sometimes repetitive rhythms and at other times otherworldly
sounds, were certainly colorful although they often made the presence of bass and drums a little pointless since they generally covered their
roles. In any case, the results were certainly intriguing and held one’s interest.
Mostly Other People Do The Killing was the main attraction but most of the regular band members were not present. Its leader bassist, Moppa
Elliot, headed what could be considered a West Coast version of the group, one that included trumpeter Rosenboom, altoist Johnson and
trombonist Jon Hatamiya. Always a witty band, during the part of their set that I witnessed, the group performed music that hinted at
production numbers from the 1920s and ‘30s. They used some of the sounds and trappings of the past in humorous ways to launch their avant-
garde solos. The East Coast group should be booked in Los Angeles sometime for a full concert!
BENNY GREEN AT THE ‘A’ FRAME
One of the top jazz pianists of the past 30 years, the always youthful-looking Benny Green was featured at Betty Hoover’s ‘A’ Frame concert
leading a trio with bassist David Wong and drummer Carl Allen. Green, a former member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers who has had a very
viable solo career ever since, is a brilliant player who invigorates the modern hard bop scene.
Green mostly performed songs from his recent Happiness CD including Horace Silver’s “The St. Vitus Dance” and his own “Pittsburgh
Brethren.” In addition to superior obscurities from the classic years of Blue Note, Green played a few originals including an impressionistic
ballad and some rollicking blues. Other highlights included Tadd Dameron’s “Finesse,” a bass feature on “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,”
and a fast percussive piece inspired by Green’s longtime friendship with Carl Allen.
Jazz fans should always go out of their way to see Benny Green perform. The title of his new recording Happiness applies to his music.
A TRIBUTE TO LALO SCHIFRIN
Lalo Schifrin, who turned 85 this year, is best known as being a very prolific writer of film and television soundtracks with his theme from
“Mission Impossible” being his best known original. However in his career he was also a superb pianist who gained fame in the jazz world for
being a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet in the early 1960s.
I went to LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) in hopes of getting a rare opportunity to see Schifrin play, but unfortunately he
mostly sat in the audience. Instead, after a brief set by some skilled teenagers, Schifrin was paid tribute to by an all-star group consisting of
pianist Eric Reed, bassist John Clayton, drummer Kevin Kanner and, on a few numbers, the young but promising trumpeter Curtis Taylor.
Any time Reed and Clayton get together on the bandstand, one knows that the music is going to swing hard. That was certainly true of their
versions of “Confirmation,” “Django” (featuring Clayton’s bowed bass), “Down Here On The Ground,” part of “Gillespiana,” “A Night In
Tunisia” and, of course, the “Mission Impossible Theme.”
Lalo Schifrin looked as pleased by the music as the audience.
Leslie Bee is always a happy presence and puts on entertaining shows. At Catalina’s, while joined by pianist Richard Turner, Jr, bassist Kevin
O’ Neal, drummer Lyndon Rochelle and tenor-saxophonist Charles Owens, Ms. Bee was in top form. As usual her humor and spirit kept the
audience smiling but, in addition, her voice sounded particularly strong and warm.
After the quartet played “Doxy” and an O’Neill original that set an easy-listening groove, Leslie Bee (colorfully dressed as usual) sang
passionate versions of Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues,” “Night And Day,” and “You Go To My Head.” She was emotional and intimate on
“If I Should Lose You,” sang “Our Love Is Here To Stay” for her 89-year old mother, hit some impressive long notes on “Take Me Back Where I
Belong,” and swung her way through the joyful closer “I’ve Got A Lot Of Living To Do.” In addition, there were many fine solos throughout the
set by O’Neal (who was celebrating his birthday), the soulful and swinging Turner, and Owens who on one piece closely emulated John
But Leslie Bee, who has continued to grow and evolve through the years, was the main star and she put on a memorable performance.
November is filled with many jazz performances of interest. To name a few, pianist-singer Betty Bryant is celebrating her birthday at Catalina’
s Sunday brunch on Nov. 5, the great Mon David will be performing a tribute to Mark Murphy at Catalina’s on Thursday Nov. 9, pianist Jason
Moran will be interpreting the music of Thelonious Monk at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Nov. 10 (the same night that guitarist-singer Kurt
Rosenwinkel will be sponsored by the Jazz Bakery at the Moss Theater), singer Kevin Mahogany will be at the Barbara Morrison Performing
Arts Center on Friday the 17th, singer Kellye Gray performs at Bar Fedora DTLA on Nov. 18, and clarinetist Anat Cohen leads her tentet at
the Valley Performing Arts Center on Thursday Nov. 30.