I wish to our readers a happy & successful new year!
I am looking forward to the Smooth Jazz Festival 2012 which will be held in Augsburg, Germany Sept 14-15, where it has found its permanent home at the Parktheater im Kurhaus Göggingen, a historic building which provides the perfect backdrop for this event. Organized by Christian Bössner, it is going to feature a great lineup of major smooth jazz artists to perform in Europe, bringing this artform once more to European listeners and fans. Friday evening, John Stoddart, Kirk Whalum and Eric Darius will perform, while on Saturday evening, it will be Joey Sommerville, Nils and Keiko Matsui entertaining the crowd. The backing band will consist of the tried and tested players we enjoyed during the previous years (Lutz Deterra, Günter Asbeck, Andy Pilger and - new this year - Martin Feske). The setting of the festival allows easy mingling of the artists and fans, and this year's festival hotel should provide another excellent location to enjoy the festival among like minded fans. I will cover the festival like usual here on Smooth Jazz Vibes and post images later on Flickr. Say hi if you are in Augsburg, I should be seated somewhere in the front rows.
I wish to all of our reader a successful and happy new year!
May 20-22, 2011, the first issue of "Smooth Jazz In The Cube" took place, organized by Christian Bössner, the man behind the "Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg. This event took place in a design hotel called "The Cube", located in Biberwier-Lermoos, in Tyrol's Zugspitz area, near the German border. We had the breathtaking mountains around us, a cool spot to hang out and enjoy the concerts, and a first-rate lineup of some the very best US smooth jazz players. There were around 600 smooth jazz fans from all across Europe gathering to have some fun and get their healthy dose of smooth jazz. Festivities consisted of two double shows Friday and Saturday evening plus an All-Star Smooth Jazz Show with brunch Sunday morning, additionally noted DJ Ralph "Jazzcrusader" Schulz from Düsseldorf, Germany, entertained the crowd with his well-selected sets of smooth jazz and R&B.
Friday night was opened by guitarist Nils who hails from Germany, but lives in Los Angeles since the mid-80ies. He brought Clydene Jackson on keys & vocals and Oliver Brown on percussion with him, they were supported by the house band featuring Lutz Deterra on keyboards, Günter Asbeck on bass, Andy Pilger on drums and Martin Weiss on guitar. This band supported each of the headliners and did an outstanding job, all those players were top-level pros adapting to every situation very quickly. Nils kicked off the show with "Georgy Porgy" and continued with his radio hits, among them "Pacific Coast Highway" (the song that really ignited his career in 2005) and "Jump Start", his latest radio hit from his current CD What The Funk?. He also played a great latin track called "Brazilian Dance" from his debut album. His singer/keyboard player Clydene Jackson provided some great songs - especially "California Blue" - and took things to a different level with her soulful voice. Nils is an excellent guitarist and writes great songs, his catchy tunes went down very well with the audience and provided just the right start for the evening.
Next was Brian Culbertson who is one of the absolute smooth jazz super stars. I was very interested to see how he would fare outside the familiar setting of his touring band and was pleasantly surprised. This artist is not only a charming person, but also an incredibly talented player who took over the stage with authority and aplomb. He had Felix on trumped and Rocco Ventrella on sax in the horn section, they delivered some precise and funky horn charts, supplementing the keyboard work of Brian perfectly. He played all his familiar songs - like "Go" and "Let's Get Started" - and only slowed things down briefly with "Forever" playing solo on the keys. It was a high energy show that was simply stunning and flawless, his fluid keyboard playing was right on the mark, and his upbeat personality really helped the whole band to deliver a top-notch performance. Rocco Ventrella, who lives in Bari, Italy, got his solo spots as well and showed his prowess on the horn, he had a lot of fun with Brian who played the trombone along with him. He also did "On My Mind" complete with playing the keys from the opposite side and caressing his instrument, which is always a highlight of the show. We all were blown away by this incredible artist and he sure won some new fans that night.
Saturday was a nice sunny day and we spent the day hiking in the mountains, before the concerts continued in the evening with saxophonist Jackiem Joyner, who belongs to the younger generation of smooth jazz players. He was supported by Lutz Deterra on keyboards, Günter Asbeck on bass, Andy Pilger on drums and Martin Weiss on guitar, plus Rocco Ventrella on sax. He played with his sharp and precise style, often playing very quick staccato parts alternating with ultra soulful lines. I particularly liked the latin flavored "Dance With Me" and his great and deeply felt rendition of "Summertime" that gave me goosebumps. He also did his biggest hit "I'm Waiting For You" among more material from his catalog, putting us in the right mood for the rest of the night.
Guitarist extraordinaire Nick Colionne followed and he made no prisoners, taking part two of the evening to a whole new level with his high energy playing and stage personality. He looked great in his yellow suit and hat. Among the songs played was "Keepin' It Cool" and "Hurry Up This Way Again" which is always a highlight of the show, Nick went into the audience and took his time to seduce and delight the ladies, while the band provided the funky backdrop and adapted to every move of the leader. Great was also his rendition of "Rainy Night In Georgia" showing his velvety voice, another vocal was the bluesy "Hard Line". His guitar playing was incredible, moving between Wes inclined lines to heavy funky stuff, at the end of the show he summoned his fellow players onto the stage and with Nils, Jackiem Joyner and Brian Culbertson on trombone, ended the show with "Godfather J" in a wild funk frenzy having everybody on their feet.
Sunday morning, we had a nice brunch and an all-star show that reunited all the players of the weekend on the stage one more time. Rocco Ventrella started the proceedings with Grover Washington's "Mr. Magic", followed by Sinatra's "My Way" (which was completely spontaneous as Rocco later told me, Lutz Deterra started on the keys and Rocco just followed) and Stevie Wonder's "I Wish", before the other players joined him on stage. They didn't prepare this concert too much, they just gathered to jam and see what happens, which was fine with us. They did "This Masquerade" with Jackiem Joyner taking the lead on sax, with all the others soloing in between. One song was even coordinated right before our eyes with Nils giving some instructions, but soon things were nicely flowing along and everybody did his part. Later Brian Culbertson was asked to sit on the keyboard delivering more of his magic, before sitting behind the drums for a funk finale having us groove along. This was a loose, fun concert that didn't take itself too seriously, yet was on a good level. As an encore, the house band got a chance to perform one more track, it was Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven" that featured guitarist Martin Weiss, bringing a great weekend of smooth jazz to an end.
This was an outstanding weekend of smooth jazz by some of the genre's finest players, backed by a truly great professional band in an unusual location that provided the right setting for meeting friends, enjoying music and having a good time. "Smooth Jazz In The Cube" will be continued, so watch out for next year's date.
Jazz fusion keyboardist Patrick Bradley taps a luminous cast for the spiritually-inspired Under the Sun
Talk about mixed emotions. That’s what jazz fusion artist Patrick Bradley will experience April 26th, when he celebrates his birthday by releasing his second album, Under the Sun. April 26th also marks the anniversary of his father’s passing. Bradley’s mother passed away eleven months to the day after his father. It was one heck of a year. But instead of sorrow, the keyboardist-songwriter turned to his faith when composing or co-writing eleven songs of hope, adventure and spiritual surrender for a record produced by seminal fusion keyboardist Jeff Lorber.
In addition to Bradley’s and Lorber’s high-level, tag team keyboard artistry, the musicianship on Under the Sun is equally stellar, thanks to the masterful performances of saxmen Dave Koz and Eric Marienthal, flugelhorn and trumpeter Rick Braun, guitarists Dwight Sills and Michael Thompson, bassists Alex Al and Nate Phillips, drummers Tony Moore and Dave Weckl, horn section work from David Mann, and the sultry voice of Irene B.
With the genesis of the collection coming from reading Ecclesiastes, Bradley harnessed a variety of influences and inspirations for Under the Sun, on which he played piano, keyboards, organ and Moog synthesizers. Bradley refers to the deep-pocketed “Straight Path,” the first track to be serviced to radio stations, as his “life verse” as it is about trusting the Lord for guidance. A lilting and joyous celebration of love with a cascading piano hook, “Into the Sunset” was written for his wife, Lisa. Koz and Irene B. add seductive elements to the R&B ballad “Just Let Go.” Bradley is a passionate road cyclist and he offers a taste of the adrenaline rush experienced while descending in a pack on “Slipstream,” which includes a lead-out from Braun’s horns. The unpredictability of life is the focus of “Time and Chance,” which delivers the message to live life to the fullest while being unafraid of taking chances. “Crows on the Lawn” swings. The poignant “Tears from the Sky” was written after his father’s passing and it’s an expansive, emotional piece both mournful and celebratory. “Rush Street” and the majestic “The Empress of Dalmatia” explode into aggressive progressive rock-jazz fusion jams ignited by Sills’ incendiary guitar pyrotechnics.
As for the album title, Bradley said, “The idea behind this record is to enjoy life and celebrate all it offers during the brief time we have under the sun. No matter what life dishes up, we should keep our dreams alive and pursue our passion, hopes and aspirations. The last few years have been challenging for all of us as we find ourselves in times of change and uncertainty. Seasons of change hit home for me personally when my parents passed away. I found myself in a period of reflection. These songs were written in times of joy, sorrow and triumph, yet with an eye on eternity. Life is speeding by. My hope is that we all will take the time to prioritize and tend to the important things and important people and relationships, and not just chase the mad pursuits of this life.”
A self-taught musician who started playing piano at age eight, Bradley’s musical endeavors have spanned jazz fusion, smooth jazz, gospel, rock, progressive rock, and classical. The Southern California native debuted in 2007 with Come Rain or Shine, an international seller that spawned the title track single, which peaked at #26 on the radio chart. Bradley is assembling a band to perform music from Under the Sun live in support of the album release. Outside of music, Bradley serves as a regional president of the Whole Foods Market southern pacific region. Further information is available at www.patrickbradley.net.
As every year, I attended the 18th annual Capital Jazz Festival in Columbia, MD which took place at the Merriweather Post Pavillion surrounded by a big park. There was the main stage at the pavilion where I had my seat, while a more R&B oriented lineup was offered on the second "soul stage", next to it was the festival marketplace where several crafts were displayed and food was sold. This year, they moved this part of the festival to a different area of the park and expanded it a bit.
The weather was nice, relatively hot and mostly dry, only on Sunday afternoon there was a short thunderstorm, which was followed by sunshine again. Everything went smoothly with only one exception: This year, bigger cameras with detachable lenses were disallowed. On the website, people are encouraged to bring their photo cameras, only camcorders are prohibited. When I approached the gate, security told me that my big DSLR with telephoto lens was not allowed on the premises and forced me to return it to the car, which was quite frustrating. As it seems, the pro photographers were fighting off some competition. I hope, that this policy either will be clearly stated on the website next year to avoid any hassles or - even better - corrected again. Bummer!
I bought my tickets blindly, which was not a wise thing regarding Friday night. Instead of a top-notch lineup, it was an "evening of music & comedy", featuring Sinbad, followed by Gladys Knight. Being a white boy from Europe, I simply lacked the cultural background to dig the humor of Sinbad, so this was a bit of a waste on me. The show of Gladys Knight was nice, the lady still looks georgous and sings great, only the choice of material was a bit too modern for me, I would have enjoyed some of her vintage songs a lot more. At least she sang "Midnight Train To Georgia". After those two shows, the mix & mingle party at the Marriot featured DC's own Spur Of The Moment, which I had to skip because the jet lag forced me to hit the sack. Despite the fact that people seemed to enjoy Sinbad, I hope that next year Friday will offer some world-class bands again and this comedy & music evening had been a one-time experiment this year.
On the pavillion stage, the music on Saturday and Sunday provided a great mix of smooth jazz, funk, straight ahead, by newcomers and established artists as well. On both days at noon, the concerts were kicked off by a "catch a rising star" showcase featuring some upcoming artists - although I considered several of those artists being rather established. On Saturday it was B.K. Jackson, Althea Rene, Lin Rountree & Phaze II, while on Sunday it was Brian Simpson, Tom Braxton, U-Nam & The Urban Jazz Coalition. The schedule on Saturday was Marcus Johnson, "G & Lee" featuring Lee Ritenour & Gerald Albright, Basia, Esperanza Spalding, Brian Culbertson, and Ledisi, while on Sunday we got The Jeff Lorber Fusion featuring Eric Marienthal & Jimmy Haslip, David Benoit, Rachelle Ferrell, Nick Colionne & Eric Darius, with Kenny G bringing the festival to its close. At least, they stuck to the concept of bringing new talent to our attention, although I consider the "jazz challenge" concept a more rewarding thing, I still remember Marcus Anderson and BK Jackson bringing the house down in earlier years.
I don't want to run down each concert, instead I would like to point out those highlights that stuck in my memory long after the festival has closed. Flautist Althea Renee really brought her own cool vibe to the concert with her flute playing during the first "catch a rising star" concert on Saturday, she is a great player that has something to say. 18 years old BK Jackson playing after her is one of the most outstanding and talented players on the scene today, he has stage personality, enthusiasm and can play. This young man is definitely one to watch in the future. Esperanza Spalding on bass & vocals is a true jazz artist defying categorization and was a breeze of fresh air, as was Rachelle Ferrell on Sunday with her great set of expanded songs and her absolutely unique singing style. The Jeff Lorber Fusion was living up to its name with some hard hitting no-nonsense tracks delivered by four awesome artists. Nick Colionne & Eric Darius delighted the crowd with an energetic show and lots of humor, those two artists form a great team. There was not a weak show among the many concerts heard.
On a side note, the Q&A sessions hosted by Angela Stribling were revealing too. I skipped the Basia concert and checked out Down To The Bone (after Shilts left the band) to see that they carry the torch very well and groove like ever. I stumbled upon the Q&A session with Brian Culbertson, which was very insightful. Brian talked about his collaboration with Maurice White who collaborated on his last album and, most interestingly, named David Sanborn being the artist on the top of his list of artists he wants to work with. Unfortunately, David Sanborn hasn't answered his calls yet, but let's hope that the two get a chance to do some music together. Too bad that I didn't have enough time to check out more Q&A sessions. I also was sorry that I had to miss a concert on the "soul stage" by Patrice Rushen & Friends featuring Doc Powell, Ndugu Chancler, Eric Marienthal, & Freddie Washington. But sometimes, you have to set priorities.
So, with the exception of the annoying "no-DSLR" policy and the for me uninteresting comedy evening on Friday, this year's Capital Jazz Festival turned out the be another great event full of enjoyable music and - most of all - meeting friends, old and new, immersing myself in a sea of like-minded music aficionados having a good time. I will be back next year!
I wish to all the readers of Smooth Jazz Vibes a happy new year full of great music!
Shanachie sent me a review copy of the upcoming Norman Connors CD called Star Power, to be released in February 2009. I have been a fan and follower of Norman Connors career since its beginning, equally enjoying his jazz albums like Dance Of Magic or Love From The Sun to his more soul/r&b inclined LPs Romantic Journey or This Is My Life. A Norman Connors album always has provided reliable musical enjoyment, so I was very eager to hear how this great artist sounds these days.
To get to the conclusion first: This CD has its moments, it definitely is good, but in my opinion could have been a lot better. Unfortunately, on smashing hip hop tracks like "Used To Be" and "Thinkin'", Norman Connors felt that he had to sacrifice some of his trademark qualities in order to reach today's younger audience. Additionally, to play it safe, we get our share of covers like Sade's "Sweetest Taboo", Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By" (both stripped of their orginal magic with their uptempo renditions), Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" or Norman Connors' own "You Are My Starship" (at least Peabo Bryson's powerful performance does it justice). To my ears, most of these covers don't seem to add any real value to the album. Certainly the musicianship is on a high level with artists like Bobby Lyle, Christopher Williams, Ray Parker Jr., Peabo Bryson, Marion Meadows, Norman Brown and others, but the old magic shines through for me in only a few moments.
I always enjoyed the combination of jazz sensibilities and deep soul in Norman Connors music; he paired jazz players like Pharoah Sanders and Gary Bartz with singers like Jean Carn or Michael Henderson, who sang their hearts out in an "old school" way rarely heard these days. These hallmark qualities have gone on this current release, which is professional and polished, but could have gone a lot deeper. Anyway, if you like Norman Connors, go for this CD, just don't put it next to one of his classics like This Is Your Life or You Are My Starship. This album offers solid craftsmanship, but not the soul touching magic we have to come to expect from this artist.
Our Internet radio channel SmoothVibes, hosted by SwissGroove.ch, needs your support! This radio channel (which can be accessed using the buttons on the right column on the main page) provides a great mix of smooth jazz, lounge, r&b/soul, brazil, latin and classic jazz spanning a wide range of styles and periods in time. We strive for the best music experience for the open minded listener - not only selection-wise but also sound-quality-wise.
In spite of all our efforts to find sponsorship partners, we are, like last year, short of money to keep SwissGroove running troughout 2007. We therefore kindly ask for your financial support to help SwissGroove continue through this year. The goal is to collect at least 9,000 US Dollars by May 4th 2007, SwissGroove's 4th anniversary.
The money you donate will be spent on royalty fees, bandwidth & stream-server hosting. All other expenses (work, CDs, etc) are covered by the team at SwissGroove.
As our loyal and trusted listeners, we count on your support. Donate now and we'll ensure the continuous operation of SwissGroove & SmoothVibes audiochannel throughout 2007, soothing your body, mind & soul!
More information can be found at http://www.swissgroove.ch/en/services/donate.php Thank you very much!!!
Text by The Jazz Gypsy
Pictures by Ambrose
LA’s smooth jazz radio station, KTWV’s, 94.7 the Wave’s morning hosts, Dave Koz and Pat Prescott, hosted the second annual tribute to the late R&B vocalist Luther Vandross at the Vault 350 in Long Beach, CA. The Tribute brought out an all-star roster of smooth jazz musicians who performed and shared personal stories about their relationship to Vandross, who died on July 1, 2005, from complications from a diabetes-induced stroke. Vandross was preceded in death by his father, maternal grandmother, brother, sister and nephew who also died from complications of this disease.
|Ray Fuller||Cookie Brown||Jeff Lorber|
The standing room only crowd was treated to a two-set show with the following outstanding performances, primarily featuring Luther Vandross hit songs: Ray Fuller, “Never Too Much”; Michael Lington, “Give Me the Reason”; Jeff Lorber, “For You To Love”; Everette Harp and Ray Fuller, “Till My Baby Comes Home”; Patti Austin, “So Amazing”; Wayman Tisdale, “The Glow of Love”; Everette Harp, “If This World Were Mine”, and “Where Were You When I Needed You”; Brian Simpson (with Dave Koz), “It’s All Good” and “If Only For One Night”; Ronnie Laws, “Dream Maker” and “Always There”; and vocalist Cookie Brown, “Superstar”. Guitarist Robert Wilson from the Gap Band was in the crowd and joined Wayman Tisdale on stage and they brought the crowd to their feet in a rousing medley of “old school” hits from the 80’s. Tisdale and Wilson closed the show on a high note, leaving the crowd feeling elevated.
|Ronnie Laws||Patti Austin||Michael Lington|
Although all the performances were superb, vocalist and Wave employee Cookie Brown, and veteran performer Ronnie Laws received rousing standing ovations. The Tribute was a fundraiser and a silent auction of an original oil portrait of Vandross was held. Between sets and after the live performances, the crowd danced to music provided by DJ Jonathan Phillips.
|Dave Koz & Brian Simpson||Wayman Tisdale|
The November 30th Tribute also coincided with the release of the second volume of the 2005 Grammy-nominated Luther Vandross tribute Forever, For Always, For Luther produced, once again, by Rex Rideout (who played keyboards at the event) and Bud Harner on Rendezvous Records. It was announced that Rendezvous is partnering with the American Stroke Association's Power To End Stroke to educate the public about the disease that disproportionably affects African Americans. A short four minute video that talks about ways to prevent stroke and early warning signs, featuring Dave Koz, Patti Austin and Kirk Whalum, can be found on Rendezvous’ website.
According to information posted on the American Diabetes Associations’ website, an all-star Forever, For Always, For Luther tour is tentatively being scheduled for Spring 2007 and in February 2007 a major concert and fundraising telethon is tentatively planned in Washington, D.C., to raise funds for the American Stroke Association’s Power To End Stroke campaign as well as the Luther Vandross Foundation. The site also mentions that Patti Austin, who often recorded with Luther, will be one of the project’s spokespersons.
Also present at the Tribute from the Wave were Dan Weiner, VP and General Manager; Jamie Kanai, Director of Marketing and Promotions; and on-air personality, Talaya Trigueros. Other guests included Max Szadek, who worked as Vandross’ personal assistant for fourteen years and now heads of the Divabetic organization, representatives from the American Diabetics Association and The Power To End Stroke and Southern California BB Jazz promoters, Corky and Betty Benish. The event was sponsored by Good Neighbor Pharmacy.
Text and photos by Ricky Richardson
Charles R. Drew University & Honda presented the 16th Annual "Jazz At Drew" Legacy Music Series and Cultural Marketplace and Health Pavilion. This is one of Southern California's most popular music and charity event. This year featured another stellar line-up of jazz, gospel and R&B greats who performed on Saturday, September 30 and Sunday, October 1, 2006 in the grassy outdoor setting on the campus of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science in Los Angeles.
The line-up for Saturday, September 30 featured The Multi-School Jazz Band directed by Reggie Andrews, The Drew University All-Stars featuring Leon Jones and Dr. Casper Glenn, Axx Straight Out of Jamaica with Prezident Brown, Michael Session Sextet, Roy Ayers, Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Band, The Impressions and The Rickey Minor Band with special guest Rose Royce.
The festivities continued on a high note on Sunday, October 1 with Khay Jhay, Orquesta Charangoa, Jazz Disciples, Soul Seekers with Mary, Mary, The Dennis Nelson All-stars featuring Everett Harp, Hiroshima, The Meeting: Ndugu Chancler, Patrice Rushen & Ernie Watts, and closed out with Michael Henderson's Bass Players Ball with Billy Paul, Jean Carne, Angela Winbush, Cherrelle, The Calloway Brothers, DaMia Satterfield, Rodney "Sir Nose" Trotter.
What began in 1991 with an audience of approximately 150 people, over the past few years has grown to accommodate some 10,000 jazz fans annually and raises much needed funds to support Drew University, the only historically Black institution for graduate education in health profession west of the Mississippi.
"Jazz At Drew" has proven to be more than a celebration of music. Rather, it is due to the healing power of music that this event endeavors to build cultural bridges thru music, and to continue the University?s mission ?to conduct education and research in the content of community service in order to train physicians and allied health professional to provide care with excellence and compassion, especially to underserved populations.
Already a pioneer in education and medicine, Drew University has also evolved into a cultural leader as a result of the prestigious "Jazz At Drew" event, which has historically honored the greats of the jazz world, including James Moody, Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick, the late Billy Higgins, the late Joe Williams, and the late Harry "Sweets" Edison. That tradition continues each year with an exciting line-up of internationally known jazz, gospel, blues and R&B performers headlining the two-day music festival, cultural marketplace and health faire in a sprawling garden on the university?s 11 acre campus in the Watts-Willowbrook community.
Mr. Roland Betts, who has served as the Executive Director/Producer of "Jazz At Drew" for 16 years was at the helm for his final festival in that capacity when he announced his retirement from the University as Director of Community Relations and Special Events. He will retire May 2007.
Text and pictures by Doreen Haywood
The 3rd Annual Santa Barbara Smooth Jazz Festival held Sunday, October 1, 2006, from 3:00 p.m. – 9:00 pm, was held on the perfectly manicured lawn in the Hilltop area of the Santa Barbara Zoo, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Andree Clark Bird Refuge and Santa Ynez Mountains. Performing were Superstarzz, featuring Warren Hill, Craig Chaquico and Ray Parker, Jr; Julia Fordham, Chris Standring and Vega. Every aspect of the event seemed like it was designed to evoke the feeling of being at a luxurious celebrity garden party rather than your commonplace smooth jazz festival.
Despite the light, intermittent rain showers that persisted throughout the event, the intimate crowd, arrived prepared with umbrellas, rain ponchos, jackets and hats, and took full advantage of the unique environment and upscale setting. Passing time between sets, jazz fans were able to peruse and purchase fine art from local and regional artists, Gary Forssell and noted smooth jazz artist Betty Grace Minor of Miner Works of Art as well as purchase other jazz-themed merchandise from a select group of vendors. Additionally, several patrons indulged themselves in luxurious hand, foot and full body massages provided by Hobo International Men and Women. Others took a stroll through some of the 30 acres of lush botanic gardens that is home to 160 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects where more than 500 animals were exhibited in open, naturalistic habitats.
Wente Winery provided an assortment of fine wines, and healthy food items, prepared by the Zoo’s Ridley-Tree House restaurant, were available for purchase. One popular menu item was the whole ear, slow-roasted, corn on the cob with butter and chipotle sauce. Festival goers were treated to a cooking demonstration, using sustainable seafood and organic ingredients, presented by a local chef. Another atypical jazz festival experience was having a Zoo staff member give a brief talk and present two exotic animals; giving the audience an up close view and opportunity to ask questions.
Mark DeAna, festival co-founder, Program Director and Radio Personality on KMGQ, Magic 106.3 the Sound of Santa Barbara, hosted the Sunday event which was sponsored by the Santa Barbara Auto Group and Mercedes-Benz.
Local Oxnard band, Vega, opened the show. The six-man ensemble led by Julliard-bound saxophonist Uriel Vega included Omar Reyna, piano; Brandon Winbush, vocals; Jo Camerena, keyboards; Robert Ruiz, drums; Richard “pinky” Reyes, bass guitar; and Henry Karis, guitar. Mexican born Uriel Vega immigrated with his family to Southern California in 1994, where he quickly became known as a musical prodigy, proficient on drums, guitar, keyboard, saxophone and more. The band won the Camarillo (California) Jazz Festival Battle of the Bands and had the honor of opening for the Rippingtons at that festival in July, 2006.
Next, U.K. born guitarist, Chris Standring, delighted the audience with songs from several of his CD’s, including "Constellation", "I Can’t Help Myself", and "As" from his latest 2006 release on Trippin' n Rythm Records, Soul Express, which is also the name of his 2006 tour that features Grammy-nominated keyboard artist Jeff Lorber and vocalist Jody Whately. Standring opened his set with "Shadow Dance" from his 2003 Groovalicous CD, and ended with the aptly titled, "Hip Sway" from the CD of the same name. Standring, who has lived in Los Angeles since 1991, has certainly captured the laid back coastal Californian vibe infused with a funky R&B spirit.
Gracing the stage in a stunning red and black bejeweled skirt, sheer red ruffled sleeved blouse over a black silk camisole and donning a matching red acoustic guitar, Julia Fordham empathized with the umbrella-clad audience and sang a few bars of “In the Rain”, as part of her sound check. From there she took us on a musical journey, singing twelve songs, beginning with Italy followed by a low, throaty version of Michael McDonald’s, "I Keep Forgetting". Fordham showcased her diverse pop, folk and jazz styles singing "Genius", "Porcelain", "Concrete Love", "Happy Ever After" and "Wake Up With You (The I Wanna Song)". She also sang "How I Love You Baby", a song from her latest itunes five-song EP, titled Baby Love, in celebration of the birth of her daughter, who cried out in the audience when she recognized her mother’s voice on the microphone. Very at ease with the audience, Fordham encouraged us to “get funky and shake our Santa Barbara thang”, which many did.
Superstarzz, featuring Warren Hill, Craig Chaquico and Ray Parker, Jr. closed the festival with solo, duo and trio performances. The artists’ sustained the intimate setting by sharing endearing stories about their early beginnings and some of the mishaps they encountered enroute to the festival. Ray Parker Jr., a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, shared memories of his early teen years practicing playing the guitar with his Detroit boyhood friend, Earl Klugh. Playing a melody of songs on his box guitar that sustained a long split down the back from its airplane journey, the very charismatic Parker Jr. sang to the women, the lovers, and serenaded his way through the audience, dancing with several women who were eager to be his dance partner. Returning to the stage, Parker, Jr. invited a woman to join him as he sang. His set included his mega hits, "A Woman Needs Love", "You Can’t Change That" and "Jack and Jill".
When introducing legendary Craig Chaquico of Jefferson Starship fame, Parker, Jr. encouraged the audience to check out Chaquico’s legs. It turned out that the airline lost Chaquico’s luggage and he had to perform in a black polo style Tommy Bahamas shirt, cut off kaki green cargo shorts and flip flops. Not deterred by his “surfer dude” wardrobe, Chaquico performed a range of songs including "Café Carnival", "Luminosa", "Gathering of the Tribes", "Return of the Eagle" (which Chaquico dedicated to the US troops in Iraq), and "Sacred Ground". Chaquico also traversed the aisles playing a hot, crowd pleasing number from his Jefferson Starship days, finishing atop a chair with his brown locks blowing in the night breeze.
The last of the trio to perform his individual set was sax man Warren Hill. Hill made his entrance telling the audience that being at the zoo may pose a problem because it may be difficult to differentiate the animals from the musicians. Hill began his set with a funky version of the Beatle’s “Come Together” and then played an immensely romantic song he wrote for his wife, titled, "Our First Dance". Hill performed searing sax solos and melodic hits, from his Pop Jazz CD, including "Toronto", "Under the Sun" and "Still in Love". Before Hill played "Mambo 2000", he shared how he was inspired to write that tune while trying to entertain his daughter when he was making scrambled eggs for her while at home in Colorado.
Superstarzz, Hill, Chaquico and Parker, Jr. brought the audience to their feet during their two-song finale that included "Ghostbusters" and "Play That Funky Music White Boy".
With an exceptional location and offering smooth jazz fans an opportunity to indulge in the finer things in life, the Santa Barbara Jazz Festival is sure to become a destination festival in the years to come.
Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson
My busy schedule finally allowed me the opportunity to attend the 3rd Annual Riverside Jazz Festival at Fairmount Park, Saturday, September 23rd.
Fairmount Park was the ideal setting for this festival with its well kept grounds and the abundance of trees. The weather co-operated by providing a steady breeze throughout the afternoon for the first weekend of fall.
Emcee Jaijai Jackson, Woman of Jazz did a good job of introducing the bands and thanking the many sponsors who contributed to the success of the festival.
Groove Session got the festival under way with a set of original tunes with a Latin twist. Guitarist Nils, saxophonist Everette Harp, Unwrapped featuring Vesta and Mindi Abair provided the sounds. The small but attentive audience rocked and swayed to the upbeat, contemporary smooth jazz and danceable R&B music delivered by the above mentioned world-class, internationally known musicians.
Sunday the historic Watts Towers was the site for the 30th Annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival.
Alaadun, Martin's Flavor (gospel), Nate Morgan (jazz), song stylist Freda Payne performed a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez spiced up the atmosphere with some Latin jazz, Ray Bailey got down with the blues, and vocalist Dwight Trible thrilled the crowd at this festive event.
James Janisse and Torre Brannon emceed the event. Rosie Lee Hooks and Munyungo Jackson served as Artistic Director for this splendid affair.
Tours of the Simon Rodia Towers, Universal Drum circle, Prof. Peter Abilogu - stiltdancer, an exhibition in The Noah Purifoy Gallery entitled "Ancestral Legacy" from the Collection of the Watts Towers Arts Center, a gift from Congressman Augustus Hawkins, curated by Brian Breye, supervised children's arts and crafts as well as food, arts and crafts and Community Services Booths and Indigenous Arts & Crafts demonstrations rounded out the scheduled day long activities for the entire family to enjoy. To view a photo gallery of the above events go to http://rrichardson915.photosite.com click on album 2
By Val Vaccaro [with photos by Baz Chapman]
On Friday, August 18th, Long Island guitarist Matt Marshak performed a great show at the Harry Chapin Theater in Eisenhower Park in the Long Island town of East Meadow, New York. Joining Marshak were two band members, super-steady, versatile drummer Chris Marshak, the ever-cool keyboardist Tim Regusis and special guest - the funky bassist Bakithi Kumalo. (Kumalo has his own CD, tours with Paul Simon - and has played on Simon’s classic CD Graceland - as well as on Marshak’s CDs.) The show also included another special guest, the soulful vocalist De’adre Aziza (the voice on the CD101.9FM jingle).
Fittingly, Marshak and band were introduced by Nassau County Legislator Roger Corbin, who represents a diverse community of towns surrounding the Eisenhower Park area. Marshak acknowledged his pride in Long Island’s diversity, as reflected by the audience, which mirrors the appeal of his music to people of different backgrounds and ages. Marshak’s show was an example of the universal power and beauty of music to bring people together in an uplifting celebration. Corbin introduced Marshak’s music as a refreshing mix of smooth jazz, chill, retro soul vibes, world beat, and more.
The Matt Marshak show at the Harry Chapin Theater at Eisenhower Park was sponsored by the New York/Metropolitan area smooth jazz station CD101.9FM. A talented guitarist and gifted composer, Marshak won the CD101.9 FM original music contest sponsored by Absolut Vodka in 2003, opening at Bryant Park in NYC (site of ABC TV’s Good Morning America summer concerts) for the Guitars & Saxes show with smooth jazz artists Peter White, Jeff Golub, Richard Elliot and Steve Cole. Last year, CD101.9FM sponsored shows at Eisenhower Park with established smooth jazz artists such as Jonathan Butler and Chuck Loeb.
Marshak and band performed a wonderful show on a beautiful summer night. From a beautiful sunset to a starry night, while the birds flew across the sky over the Eisenhower Park lake, the hour and a half plus show brought music filled with joy and delight to the audience.
Marshak was a fine host, confidently relaxed and friendly, talking with the audience in between songs; he sounded great on guitar, with some vocals and scatting and played tunes from all three of his CDs. Marshak has a knack for playing guitar solos that are both sonically expressive and visually animating. From the well-received, current CD Groovosphere, the band played the energetic “Summerfunk” - the first single on radio charts for the past few months in the Top 50. The band also performed the pretty, inspired “Montauk Moon” – the second single released recently to 300 smooth jazz radio stations across America. (review of Groovosphere). The audience also heard the upbeat tune “Be With You” and the beautiful ballad “Quietly” from Marshak’s second CD This Time Around (2004), with moving solos from the band, including keyboardist Tim Regusis. (review of the CD This Time Around).
Guest vocalist De’adre Aziza was a bright spot in the show singing the bluesy “Nuthin’ But Time” from Marshak’s debut CD Preservation (2003) and the sultry R&B tune “Seduction” from the CD This Time Around. “Seduction” is one of many of Marshak’s songs which have been played across the U.S. on Rafe Gomez’ syndicated radio show The Groove Boutique.
Marshak’s band also played some new material. One of the highlights of the show was the super-charged, funky “Feelin’ It” – in which Marshak fuses funky guitar lines reminiscent of the James Brown band and melodic influences of Larry Carlton; there was also an exciting, dynamic jam by drummer Chris Marshak and bassist Bakithi Kumalo. (Kumalo also has his own CD out Transmigration (GuruProject))
Another audience treat was also the gorgeous “Sanibel,” a memorable, laid-back tune co-written by Marshak and Kumalo with tropical island flair and a South African vibe. The band also did excellent versions of two cover tunes, the classic George Benson tune “Breezin’” and the funky “Low Rider” by the 70s pop-rock group War.
Over the past five years, Marshak’s been busy. Back in 2004, Marshak opened for Spyro Gyra, Stanley Jordan, Marcia Ball, Mose Allison and other artists at the Brookhaven Theater’s Hilltop Jazz & Blues Festival in Long Island. This year in April, Marshak co-headlined a show at IMAC Theater, a national venue where top smooth jazz artists often play (e.g., Peter White, Jeff Golub, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine) in Huntington, New York.
This June, Marshak was a finalist at the Capital Jazz Fest Challenge original music contest (in Baltimore, Maryland). Also, Marshak has been playing across the U.S. in other places such as Washington D.C. and Nevada. During the summer, Marshak appeared regularly with his band at a trendy restaurant in Long Island often with renowned guest musicians such as keyboardists Mike Ricchuiti (Chuck Loeb, Patti Austin) and Tim Regusis (Patti Austin, Jonathan Butler, Ruben Blades, Najee, Chuck Mangione), and bassists Ron Jenkins (Jeff Golub, Chuck Loeb), Paul Ossola (G.E. Smith) and Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon), as well as many others, including newcomer saxophonist Vallynda Voz.
In September, Marshak performed in Melbourne, Florida with WGRV 'the groove' Smooth Jazz 107.9 at the Crowne Plaza overlooking the Space Coast near the Kennedy space center. In August, Marshak joined the Mighty Music Group marketing/promotion/booking agent firm which represents artists such as Nick Colionne, Brian Simpson, Nils, Rafe Gomez and others. On October 1st, Marshak is doing a concert for WPKN, with Gale Storm at Martha Clara Vineyards (in Riverhead, New York).
In addition, Marshak is looking forward to bringing his music to other parts of America and around the world. Later in October, Marshak is also scheduled to play three days in Europe in the Czech Republic for some great jazz festivals. On October 21s Marshak will be playing at the Jazz Festival Nove Zamky. The next day, on October 22nd, Marshak will be appearing at the Jazz Festival Bratislava Jazz Days, and on October 23rd, he’ll be playing at the Agharta Prague Jazz Festival.
The band is currently seeking sponsorship of their Czech Republic/Slovakia tour. Marshak says, “We are very excited. We are working to find a sponsor for this journey to this great part of the world. If interested, we would be happy to put your business on our site, and include you in our emails as part of our sponsorship program.”
Back in the U.S., on October 27th, Marshak will be playing in Charlestown, West Virginia at Charlestown Casinos. Marshak’s music can be heard on the radio in the U.S., Canada and around Europe. For more information, see www.MattMarshak.com, www.myspace.com/mattmarshak and www.NuanceMusicGroup.com.
Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson
Long Beach - Many of you may be saddened by the fact that Labor Day is the official end of summer. There are several events that contribute to your gloomy mood: the end of out door festival season, kids returning to school, shorter days and/or a return to work if you have been out on vacation like I have.
There is no cure for the blues better than going out to a blues club, concert or festival. I joined thousands of blues fans from all over the United States for KJAZZ 27th Annual Long Beach Blues Festival on the campus of Cal State Long Beach.
Sunday, September 3rd was the day I was in attendance to pick up my prescription of the blues. This was the last and final day of the blues festival that featured a smorgasbord of various hues of the blues.
The Campbell Brothers opened the festival with a spiritually, uplifting set of foot stomping, hand clapping, praiseworthy gospel music. For the un-initiated this is what you will experience at African American churches on any given Sunday. The grounds of the blues festival felt like a tent revival as the Campbell Brothers served the spiritual needs of the congregation (blues fans) with these songs - "Sign of The Judgement", "Fly Away", "I'll Take The Morning Train Home", "Bye and Bye", and "Don't Let The Devil Drive". The Choir (The Campbell Brothers) featured Phil Campbell - guitar/piano, Chuck Campbell - lap steel guitar, Derrick Campbell - lap steel guitar, Carl Campbell - drums, Malcolm Kirby - bass with Tiffany Goddatt and Denise Brown - vocals.
Kenny Neal - guitar, Billy Branch - harmonica and Carl Weathersby - guitar took the crowd to the delta with an acoustic set of blues with the song "Don't Get Me To Talking". Next, festival goers traveled north up the Mississippi River to the Bayous of Louisiana. Kenny Neal served swamp drenched blues on "Things That I Use To Do", "Since I Met You Baby", "Any Fool Will Do", and "Better Off With The Blues".
Vocalist Betty Lavette celebrated her 45th years in the entertainment business at the festival. She treated the audience to some of her hits from the past as well as some other gems: "He Made A Women Out Of Me", "Walking Out That Door", "Your Time To Cry", "My Joy", "Little Sparrow", "It Serves Him Right", "Souvenir", and closed her splendid set with "Don't Stop Falling In Love".
A cool summer breeze hovered over the festival grounds during the performance of Jerry "The Iceman" Butler. The band was augmented with a five piece horn section and a beautiful group of talented women in the string section. "The Iceman" delivered a top-notched performance of R&B, Soul, Blues, and Jazz classics. Mr. Butler's set list brought back many fond memories for the audience with hits such as "I Think About Cooling Out", "Moody Women", "Just Because of You", "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do", "Never Gonna Give You Up", "He Don't Love You Like I Love You", "Let It Be Me". He closed out his set by honoring the legacy of Jimmy Reed- ""Oh Baby; You Don't Have To Go", John Lee Hooker- "Boom, Boom, Boom" and Duke Ellington- "I'm Just A Lucky So and So", "Don't Mean A Thing; If It Don't Got That Swing", "Satin Doll", "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", and closed out his marvelous set with "Western Union", and "My Funny Valentine".
Vocalist Joe Cocker closed out the KJAZZ 27th Annual Long Beach Blues Festival with a set of soulful hits from the past "I'm Feeling Alright", "You Are So Beautiful", and "Up Where We Belong" were some of the highlights of his entertaining set.
Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson
Inglewood - I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate the end of summer than by going to Edward Vincent Jr. Park in Inglewood for "Jazz In The Park". Southbay Entertainment Group, along with the City of Inglewood, presented "Jazz In The Park", the 4th Annual Inglewood Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 2nd, 2006.
The event featured a stellar line-up of nationally renowned contemporary smooth jazz and R&B artist. Keyboardist Bob Baldwin opened the show with some original tunes from previous CD's. Mr. Baldwin was making a return engagement from last year's festival to the delight of the huge crowd of contemporary smooth jazz buffs.
The David Garfield Project and 3rd Force played a set of musical treats that contributed to the over all success of the festival.
DJ Jonathan Phillips played music in between sets that kept the crowd continually dancing.
The second half of the festival featured a trio of audience favorite performers.
Vocalist Regina Belle featured material from her latest CD Lazy Afternoon. She sang songs that brought back fond memories to me and the audience. Ms Belle performed "Living For The City" by the Isley Brothers, "Make It Like It Was", and "Ooh Boy!" "Fly Me To The Moon", "Show Me", "Write Me A Letter", "If I Could", "Give Me The Heat of Your Passion", "and concluded with "Baby Come To Me". Regina Belle received a roaring standing ovation.
Saxophonist Eric Darius has been heating up the contemporary smooth jazz community. He has two critically acclaimed CD's out Night On The Town and Just Getting Started. The titled of his last CD is letting the smooth jazz community know that he plans on being around for the long haul. A thunderous applause welcomed and greeted Eric before he played his first note. Mr. Darius continued to build up a repoir with the audience with his selection of songs that he performed. "Love TKO", "If I Can't Have You" by Alicia Keys, "Now's The Time", "Let's Stay Together" and finished his fantastic set with "Europa" by Gato Barbieri.
Keyboardist Bobby Lyle, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., and Peabo Bryson were the GRAND FINALE to the 4th Annual Inglewood Jazz Festival "Jazz In The Park". They all performed superbly as individuals and collectively to solidify their standing in the music world.
Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson
August 27th was described as a beautiful and gorgeous day depending on where you were in Southern California. The Mayor of Gardena, Paul K. Tanaka and his fellow council members couldn't have asked for a better day to host the 4th Annual Gardena Jazz Festival at the tree-lined Rowley Park.
Thanks to Mayor Pro Tem Steven C. Bradford, Chairman of Gardena Jazz Festival, The City of Gardena provided a safe and relaxed place for the community, elective officials from the surrounding cities, and visitors to the city joining together to enjoy a day of music, make new friends, hang out with neighbors in keeping with the mission statement of the City of Gardena's Recreation and Human Services Department - "To provide high quality, low cost recreation, leisure and human services programs that meet the need and interest of a diverse and growing community".
I'm still kicking myself for not being able to attend the other three festivals in the past. Rest assured I'll be attending all future festivals.
The festival got under way with the beautiful and lovely talented saxophonist Jeanette Harris. This is the third time that I have had the fortunate pleasure of seeing Ms. Harris. The audience and I were thrilled with her soulful sounds on the following tunes "Gotta Go", "Just The Way It Is", "Take Me There", and "Never Too Much".
Keyboardist Lao Tizer took the crowd on an inspiring musical journey. I'm glad that I had the chance to see this performance of Mr. Tizer, who is fast becoming a rising star in the contemporary smooth jazz genre. He performed material from his previous CD's - As The Eagle Soars, Arabian Dusk, Praeludium, Golden Soul and Diversify - his latest project. His eclectic set of music performed was "A Night In The City", "Olivas Adobe", "What It Is", Her Poetry", "Improvisation (solo), "St. Stephens Green", "Diversify", and "Uptown". You will be hearing a lot about and from this talented young man in the future.
Keyboardist Marcus Coleman played a set of danceable tunes that brought the party people out of their seats and unto the dance floor. You could see people doing the electric slide throughout the park while listening to "Love and Happiness" and "Funking For Jamaica".
Violinist Karen Briggs mesmerized the crowd by playing some electrifying and beautiful music during her set. I had to get a closer look to make sure that there wasn't any sparks flying off of her violin. Ms. Briggs were aided and abetted by Brandon Coleman (brother of keyboardist in the previous band), Cornelius Mimms on bass and Cedric Anderson on drums. The highlights of her set were "Loving You" by the late great Minnie Rippleton, and "Gangster Paradise". Ms. Briggs received a well deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of her set.
Guitarist Ray "The Weeper" Fuller took the crowd down memory lane while playing a set of R&B and soul classics by artists that he worked with in the past. He begin his crowd pleasing set with "I'll Take You There (The Staple Singers), "Sweet Love" (Anita Baker), "I'll Always Love You" (Whitney Houston), and brought up Peter Michael Escovedo to add some fiery hot percussion to spiced up his closing tune "Spanish Flyer".
The audience and I were in for a special treat with the surprise appearance of Vesta. She held the crowds undivided attention by performing a remixed version of "Use Me" by Bill Withers. This song will be featured on an upcoming CD entitled Vesta Williams Does Classic Soul. This CD will be released in January 2007. Ms. Williams concluded her short set with one of big hits from the past "Congratulations". She ad lib some additional verses for emphasis that hit home with most in attendance.
Everyone was waiting for the festival debut of actor and current jazz vocalist TC Carson aka Kyle Barker of the TV show Living Single. The audience were treated to a set of straight-ahead jazz that also featured the expert backing of Patrice Rushen on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Ndugu Chancler on drums. Mr. Carson (aka-Kyle Barker) opened his entertaining set with "Afro Blue" and continued with "Cherokee", "Without You", "and "My Favorite Thing". His distinct deep baritone voice coupled with a soulful delivery of jazz standards make him a candidate to be nominated for jazz vocalist of the year, if I were a voting member of the Downbeat Magazine Readers Poll. TC Carson (aka-Kyle Barker) featured material from his debut CD Truth.
DJ Paradise, 100.3 The Beat provided music between each performance. James Janisse served as Master of Ceremonies.
This year the 19th annual Long Beach Jazz Festival was held August 11-13 in the georgeous Rainbow Lagoon Park in Long Beach and boasted an incredible lineup of performers. This long standing festival belongs to California's finest and usually draws a crowd of several thousand people spread across the premises on beach chairs and blankets creating a unique festival atmosphere. As always the founder of the festival, noted jazz drummer Al Williams, led through the event as master of ceremonies with his wits and knowledge. But first the traditional prayer to the lord was spoken and the mayor of Long Beach got the opportunity to greet the crowd, both things which give the event a special touch.
Each day the concerts were opened by one of the winners of the Long Beach Jazz Search, a contest which was held during the months before the festival selecting some outstanding groups deserving wider recognition. I always go to these concerts and never have been disappointed, the level of musicianship and above all the enthusiasm of these artists is just great. Friday evening the Christian Hernandez Quartet featuring the leader on guitar played the first show. The players of the band either were teenagers (the bass player Joshua Crumbly just being 14 years old) or in their early twenties, they showed not only tremendous skills for their age but also a deep love for the music of Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane with their mostly straight ahead set. They played several covers, among them were Freddie Hubbard's classic "Red Clay" and "Seven Steps To Heaven". It was great to see that these young people were following in the footsteps of these giants keeping up the spirit.
Piano player David Benoit - having had a short trip to the festival living in Palos Verdes - was next with his unique brand of happy, groovy piano jazz ably assisted by a top-notch band consisting of Andy Suzuki (sax), David Hughes (bass), Pat Kelley (guitar) and Jamey Tate (drums). They provided an outstanding show playing the song "Beat Street" from the current release Full Circle, a groovy "Watermelon Man" with a great bass solo by David Hughes and his classic "Linus & Lucy" among others. I always love David's fluid piano playing and catchy melodies, this concert not only delivered this but also brimmed with energy and fun.
Friday evening was closed by the Rendevouz All-Stars comprising of Jonathan Butler (guitar), Kirk Whalum (sax), Brian Simpson (keyboards) and Wayman Tisdale (bass). Each artists has a catalog of solo albums to draw from so there was not shortage of material. Jonathan Butler played a very heartfelt version of "No Woman, No Cry" while Kirk Whalum played a song from his latest release Babyface Songbook. Brian Simpson delivered his picture perfect smooth jazz hit "It's All Good" with his keyboard around his neck delighting the crowd. The very energetic Wayman Tisdale turned up the heat a notch with his great cover of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" creating a sizzling party atmosphere. Another welcome highlight of the show was the appearance of Kirk's uncle Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum who at the age of 77 eventually started his career as a recording artist (watch out for his self titled debut album on Rendezvous Records). First crooning in the style of Nat King Cole he later picked up his saxophone and gave us a hot sax battle with Kirk showing us his tremendous talents. Peanuts not only turned out to be a great singer, pianist and saxophonist but also a very nice person to boot. This truly entertaining concert went down very well with the crowd, whenever you have the chance to check them out do so!
Saturday at noon the event again was opened by another Jazz Search winner, this time being the Khay Jhay Band featuring Khay Jhay on guitar, backed by keys, drums and bass. The band played funky instrumental music featuring the leader on guitar, who opted for a more rock oriented sound. They provided another hour of good music which was well received.
After that saxophonist Kim Waters delivered a very polished show with his smooth sax playing. He was supported by his brother John Waters (bass), Greg Grainger (drums) and Alan Smith (keyboards). He broke it down nicely with his famous "All I Want Is To Please You" and gave us a nice rendition of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" proving why he is one of the most successful sax players on the scene.
Singer Phil Perry turned out one of the true highlights of the whole event. This singer is truly outstanding and unique, he pours such a tremendous amount of emotion in every not he sings and conveys the message of the songs in a deeply touching way. This guy is just on a level that is breathtaking and after this concert I regard him even higher. He is not only a great singer, but his scatting and whistling was jazz improvisation at its best. He was supported by a world class band featuring Ray Fuller (guitar), Tony Moore (drums), Melvin Davis (bass), Barnaby Finch (keys) and three background vocalists (one of them being Jim Gilstrap). Songs included "My Imagination", "People Make The World Go Round" (with audience participation), "After The Dance" and the touching "Love Don't Love Nobody" which gave me goose-bumps. An overwhelming concert by a singer of the highest calibre, backed by a dream band who delivered a musical backdrop which was just perfect.
Everette Harp on saxophone was next, in his band were Darryl Crooks (guitar), Michael White (drums), Charles Love (keys), Larry Kimpel (bass) and an additional keyboard player from Denmark whose name I didn't catch, but he was constantly smiling and nodding his head to the proceedings so he must have had a good time. Everette Harp showed his prowess on the instrument with a very varied and entertaining show, even playing the EWI for one song which provided a nice change. One nice song that stuck in my memory was his Stevie Wonder cover of "Where Were You When I Needed You". His stroll around the audience was a highlight of the show as well. His set was very entertaining and showed an artist of the highest calibre.
While each artist usually had one hour to perform (with 30 minutes in between for setting up the next act) the superstar band of Stanley Clarke on basses (acoustic and electric) and George Duke on keys had two hours time to deliver their art. Both being solo artists in their own rights they had also a side career as the Clarke-Duke Project yielding their greatest hit "Sweet Baby" which was delivered during this concert in an acoustic version with George Duke at the acoustic piano. The current release of George Duke is an acoustic album called In A Mellow Tone and the their rendition of "Autumn Leaves" was in the same vein. Another well received song was "No Rhyme, No Reason". Both artists were an important part during the heydays of fusion jazz and this side of them came to the forefront with songs like "School Days" featuring Stanley Clarke on bass and others. They were supported by Phil Davis on keyboards and the absolutely incredible monster drummer Ronald Bruno who is just 23 years old. With this cat on drums the two masters on keys and bass were propelled to new heights showing a mind-boggling level of artistry and musicianship. At the end of the concert it was time for a funky good time and George swithed to funk mode giving us his classic "Dukey Stick", followed by classics like "Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself" and more. All in all a band of superlative players with a tremendous amount of experience which provided a truly great and memorable concert.
Brian Culbertson and his great band closed the evening with an extended set. As always they provided 90 minutes of entertainment and sheer fun with a polished and professional show. They opened the show with some funky horn playing featuring the leader on trombone, 23 year old Eric Darius on sax and father Jim Culbertson on trumpet, then it was hit after hit with Brian playing his trademark licks on keyboards often breaking it down in order to build it up again to create great climaxes. His love for old school stuff was evident and his musical director on guitar helped out nicely to bring up some gems from the past. I have seen this band numerous times but despite the fact that they didn't change very much of their show over the years I had a funky good time and enjoyed their set thoroughly.
Sunday at noon the third Jazz Search winners came to the stage. The Reza Saleh Band featuring the leader on bass, backed by a second bass, and the outstanding Jeff Magnus on saxophone next to a rhythm section and singer. The band played mostly in the jazz-funk realm with songs ranging from "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" to "At The End Of The Road" and others. Again this was an entertaining concert with some worthwhile players, especially saxophonist Jeff Magnus who by the way pursues his own career as a solo smooth jazz artist.
First big name artists was guitar player Nils (who originally hails from Germany, but made California his home over 20 years ago) giving us a selection of his very successful album Pacific Coast Highway. His band consisted of Oliver Brown (percussion) - of KC & the Sunshine fame -, Colin Mason (drums), Alex Al (bass), Gladys Jackson (keys and vocals). The band was grooving nicely on numbers like "Georgy Porgy", "Sneakin", "Pacific Coast Highway", "Comin' Home" and more which set the mood nicely for the rest of the afternoon.
Traditionally Al Williams & The Jazz Society feat. Barbara Morrison on vocals had their usual slot Sunday afternoon. Al Williams comes up each year with a different lineup, this year we got the great Dr. George Shaw (trumpet), Andre Delano (sax), Dave Bradshaw (keyboards), Nedra Wheeler (acoustic bass), Anthony Poingsett (percussion) and the leader on drums. They opened their set with a funky version of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island", and a nice rendition of "VSOP" and other songs which ran the gamut from funky to straight ahead. The second half of the show belonged to the mesmerizing singer Barbara Morrison who kicked off her part of the show with "I'm A Woman, I'm An Artist" showing a temendous presence on stage and great command of her voice. This concert was totally enjoyable and I would like to suggest to extend Al Williams' set for the 20th anniversary of the festival, maybe with an array of all-star guests.
Guitars & Saxes are the package of guitar players Peter White and Jeff Golub and saxophonists Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot. Each artist is a smooth jazz superstar in his own right, they were supported by Nate Philips (bass), Ricky Lawson (drums), Ron Reinhardt (keys) and Dwight Sills (guitar). These guys put out a great show with many highlights, Richard Elliot played a very heartfelt version of Luther Vandross' "Your Secret Love", while Peter White delivered his always popular "Bueno Funk". Gerald Albright played his version of "My, My, My" (always a crowd pleaser), later picking up his bass showing his skills on this instrument (after all he took care of bass duties during Anita Baker's Rapture tour). Later the lover of old school funk broke through with Peter White playing "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" (with great soloing on guitar applying a fuzzy sound), then they segued into "Oye Come Va" giving Jeff Golub a chance to shine. To kick it up a nod they gave us "Cut The Cake" and "Sing A Simple Song" (with audience participation) ending their set in a happy funk fest.
After that things slowed down a little with singer Howard Hewett of Shalamar fame doing a very intimate and soulful set. It was special to see his son at the drums and his beautiful daughter as background vocalist making this concert some sort of family affair. Howard established a great rapport with the audience and soon felt the urge to step down from the stage and sing right within his fans. I had the privilege to be seated right in front of the stage when Howard stepped on two chairs at the next table and sang a couple of songs right near me. It was truly mesmerizing to see this tremendous singer give all his passion, besides his songs had a lot of meaning and people could relate to them very well. Songs included "Without You" and most notably his Gospel classic "Say Amen" which traditionally closes his concerts.
Latin jazz and Salsa were on when conguero Poncho Sanchez and his band entered the stage. Willing to provide a party and have the people dancing they kicked off their set with a great version of "Watermelon Man", followed by "Afro Blue" and others, featuring all members of the band, most notably the great horn section providing many outstanding solos. Even Al Williams who is an old friend of Poncho sat in on bongos which was great fun, in the end a funky element was employed with their rendition of James Brown's "Out Of Sight". With this great set by Poncho Sanchez another great Long Beach Jazz Festival came to its rousing end.
As two years ago I enjoyed this festival tremendously, I met many friendly people (greetings to fellow music aficionado Darryl "the bar" who took good care of our table at Saturday when the waiters were a little overworked), enjoyed the setting of the festival with the park, the beautiful weather, the cool breeze from the sea and all the vendors and booths at the festival providing a nice diversion during the breaks. I look forward to the 20th edition of the festival which is supposed to be very special due to the 20th anniversary which will be celebrated then.
The 4th annual Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival took place Aug 4-6 in Camarillo, CA and was held in beautiful locations in this nice city one hour north of Los Angeles. I wasn't able to attend the concert by David Sanborn Friday evening but caught The Rippingtons, featuring Russ Freeman, Saturday night. This free concert was held in Constitution Park, a public park in the center of Camarillo with people sitting on the grass in their chairs and on their blankets, creating a nice festival atmosphere. The evening was opened by the band that won the "Battle Of The Bands" contest (sorry, didn't catch their name) providing some nice smooth jazz before the Rippingtons entered the stage. The band is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The lineup consisted of leader Russ Freeman (guitar), Bill Heller (keys), Kim Stone (bass), Steve Reid (percussion), Dave Karasony (drums) and most notably Jeff Kashiwa on saxophone who reunited with the band after having split for a very successful solo career. They provided a great evening with songs from their vast catalog old and new, with Russ Freeman running the gamut from pretty acoustic melodies to hot solos on electric guitar, supported by this great band, most notably by Jeff Kashiwa who is always an energetic and fun part of the show. The band proved that they are still going strong and haven't lost any of their appeal, with some great songs from the current release 20th Anniversary showing that they still know how to stay on top of the scene.
The highlight for me was the concert of Rick Braun on Sunday afternoon, held at the Camarillo Ranch House, a beautiful location in a historic park with big, old trees and a nice lawn. I got us some VIP tickets which included a "meet and greet" reception with the artists, a catered lunch and great seats right in front of the stage. The atmosphere was relaxed and all those nice helpful volunteers made the whole event even more enjoyable. Rick Braun came with an all-star band featuring Rayford Griffin (drums), Randy Jacobs (guitar), Jimmy Roberts (sax), Stanley Sargeant (bass) and most remarkably Greg Karukas on keyboards. The band was in fine form and they seemed to enjoy the event having the whole afternoon for themselves. Rick Braun played many of his familiar songs like "Notorious", "Emma's Song", "Use Me" (with great audience participation), "Kisses In The Rain" and others. He even sang a nice version of "My Funny Valentine" showing another side of his talent. In the second half of the show Rick and sax player Jimmy Roberts did their stroll around the audience which was well received, I noticed laughing and happy faces all around me! At the end of the concert they had the crowd on their feet bringing a truly great concert with a smooth jazz version of "Mustang Sally" to a rousing end.
The Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival is an outstanding festival. The crowd is pleasant, the whole event is not too crowded, the locations are beautiful and the people running the festival are friendly and welcoming, and the selection of artists is world-class.
It is very uncommon for our site to feature a review of audio hardware but there is a new product that has come to my attention which has blown me away. It is a major step forward in the way we consume music in our daily lives, reminding me of the impact Sony's walkman had back in the 80ies. I am talking about Roku's SoundBridge Radio, a Wi-Fi music system in the shape of a normal tabletop FM radio. All you need is a highspeed internet access like ADSL or cable modem and some kind of wireless router (in my case an Apple airport network) and you are all set to receive thousands of Internet radio stations anywhere in your house. Basically you don't need a computer (but it helps to make a few settings over the network or to stream music from your own collection). Additionally, the device is able to recieve AM/FM radio and serve as an alarm clock. It has some premium stereo speakers and a built in subwoofer for great sound and a remote control for your convenience.
With the recently launched SmoothVibes radio channel on the Internet, such devices are instrumental in helping this mode of radio broadcasting to reach a wider audience. Listening to music on the computer has been not as easy to achieve as one would want. You had to set up software, enter addresses and hook up external speakers to your computer. With Roku SoundBridge Radio and the menu guided setup, this has become a breeze which should help the Internet radio stations to become accessible to more listeners. You are allowed to program 18 stations directly into the device; if you need more presets you can solve this problem with a playlist which is stored on your computer (for instance in iTunes).
So the Roku SoundBridge Radio along with the SmoothVibes radio channel is the perfect companion for your life. I am entirely happy with it and you should be, too!
Dear readers of our site
All contributors of Smooth Jazz Vibes wish you and your families happy holidays and all the best for the new year. We look forward to more great music from our favorite artists and new discoveries and developments to be enjoyed. Thanks for visiting our site and supporting what we do!
Peter Böhi, Editor
I have updated the software which runs the site to the latest version (MovableType 3.2). If you should encounter any irregularities please send me an e-mail. Thanks for your understanding!
Something for the People, the debut album from Steve Butler featuring Ron Haynes, is a funky, smooth and soulful/jazz tribute to the craftsmanship of classic R&B music. Influenced by artists such as Miles Davis, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, and Earth, Wind and Fire, the duo wanted to produce an album that reached back to the roots of R&B and recalled a time when creating great music meant getting musicians together and capturing the magic that arises from the fusion of the individual expression and flavor of each artist.
“Ron would go into the booth and tell the engineer to record not really knowing what was going to come out of his horn, and we just captured some stuff,” Butler recalls of recording sessions in the studio.
Carefully constructed using a live horn section led by Haynes’ trumpet and the rhythms of Butler’s guitar, the mainly instrumental album is, like its creators, at once a study in contrasts, and a melding of classic and contemporary. Butler is a guitarist and producer from Chicago’s South Side whose credits include hip-hop production and performances for Grammy-nominated artist Skee-lo, Twista, Do or Die, major movie soundtracks, and scores of radio and television commercials. Haynes, a Grammy-nominated trumpeter from Chicago’s West Side, has a history that includes writing and backing artist such as George Duke, The Ohio Players, Ramsey Lewis, Lenny Kravitz and Liquid Soul.
With more than twenty years of age between them and careers that seem to flow in different directions, the unlikely duo of Butler and Haynes appear to have little in common. However, a closer look reveals that they share a passion for great music that has allowed them to not only draw on their differences creatively but also seek out new experiences. This willingness to experiment is the driving force behind Something for the People and has proven to be the magic behind the their successful 2004 collaboration “P-1 Groove,” an urban radio hit that blended hip-hop, soul and funk.
“I pushed him into some different directions that he had never been pushed in, and he in turn pushed me in some different directions too, as a player, and I think it’s been a learning process for the both of us,” recalls Butler.
The ten-track album, written, produced and arranged by the Chicago natives, has a nostalgic feel of ’70s R&B, including the syncopated rhythms from that era recognized as the hallmark of Chicago’s great Stepping culture.
Our site has a new logo. It has been expertly done by Mike Anderson from the Anderson Group which specializes in advertising, marketing & brand communications. We are proud and happy to have our own professionally designed logo. Mike did an outstanding job and we will now use the logo in all endeavors of our site. Hope you like it!
By Ricky Richardson
The 3rd Annual Inglewood Jazz Festival was held recently at the Ed Vincent Jr. Park in Inglewood. Organizers of the festival were blessed that this event was held on a beautiful Southern California Day.
The festival was overshadowed by the events that happened in the Gulf Coast (New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama). This caused me to stop and wonder what will be on the minds of the audience on this day. Many people in the audience, including myself were anxious to hear from family, friends and other loved ones from this region of the country. Thought and prayers were sent out to the people in the Gulf Coast throughout the day.
The festival kicked off with an outstanding set by saxophonist Jeanette Harris. This popular Fresno based artist will be honored by her hometown with a special day set aside for her on September 18th, 2005. She played material from latest CD Down Route 99. Her set consisted of the following tunes "Gotta Go", "Take Me There", "and continued with a tune by violinist Michael Ward entitled "Una Rosa" who joined her onstage for the remainder of her set. The honored the legacy of Grover Washington with "Grover Worked And Under Paid", and closed out with "Always There" by Ronnie Laws.
The Braxton Brothers are called "Groove Masters from the Bay". The San Francisco based smooth jazz duo consisted of twin brothers Nelson (bass) and Wayne (saxophone). They showcased their mastery for the audience performing tunes from their latest CD Rollin' . I witnessed many people swaying back and forward on "Don't Stop", "It's You", "Rollin'", "When Love Comes Around" (featured bass and saxophone only), "Anything For You", "When I See You" (a funky remix), "Blue Sand and "Take Me Back To Love". I'm sure that you; the readers have all four of their CD's in your collection. Steppin' Out, and Now And Forever on the Windham Hill Jazz Label, plus Both Sides and Rollin' on Peak Records label.
Every festival, concert or cultural event that I attend, there is always bound to be someone to knock my socks off. Keyboardist, Producer and Arranger Bob Baldwin did the honors on this occasion. He churned out some original as well as familiar instrumental pop tunes. He held my undivided attention as he played material from his latest CD All In A Days Work, and also featured songs from his previous CD's. His set was complimented by the presence of vocalist Toni Smith. You could hear her powerful vocals when she was away from the microphone. The group opened with "She Is Single, And Ready To Mingle", from the Standing Tall CD. He took a detour to Brazil with the samba influence "Cafezinho" from the Brazil Chill CD. "All In A Days Work" title track from his current CD. Prompted the audience to break out with the electric slide on "People Make The World Go Round", "Summer Breeze", and closed out his set with "Funkin For Jamaica" by Tom Browne.
Saxophonist Euge Groove came to the festival with some impressive credentials. He got his education at the University of Miami, and got schooled as part of the funk driven horn section of Tower of Power. He also debuted material from his latest CD Just Feels Right. Euge roused the crowd by serenading several women while strolling around the festival grounds. This exciting performer thrilled the audience with the tunes "What Is Hip", "Just My Imagination", "GonnaTakeUHigher", "Get Em Goin", and Let's Get It On".
Spyro Gyra cranked out an energetic set of their trademark sounds mixed with pop, jazz, R&B, and blues as the sun was setting. They thoroughly entertained the crowd by playing some familiar tunes "Shaker Song", "Morning Dance", and "Summer Strut" and debuted material from their current CD The Deep End.
Soulful vocalist Jeffrey Osborne closed out the festival. He had a special interaction with the crowd. His set was marvelous to say the least. He performed and the audience served as additional singers on "Ready To Learn", "On The Wings Of Love", "Stay With Me Tonight", "You Should Be Mine", "(Everytime I Turnaround) Back In Love Again", "Holding On (When Love Is Gone)", and "Love Power".
Photos and text by Ricky Richardson
By Ricky Richardson
The 18th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival was held on a picture perfect weekend, August 12-14, 2005. One could not have asked for a better setting. The festival was held on the grassy area of the Rainbow Lagoon, surrounded by trees, and punctuated by a cool breeze.
The festival featured several subtle themes within the festival: Global Jazz and Lady Sang R&B, and The Blues.
Friday night the festival got under way with jazz from a global perspective.
Hiroshima, a popular L.A. based band played a set of world music mixed with jazz, pop, and seasoned with Japanese traditional folk music. The crowd was entertained by the following tunes performed by Hiroshima as the sun settled over the horizon. "Another Place" sampled along with the sounds of The Temptations "Poppa Was A Rolling Stone", "One Wish", and a thrilling solo featuring the drummer and the Taiko player.
Keiko Matsui from Japan played material from her latest CD Wildflower. Keiko Matsui is also a wonderful humanitarian; with the release of her CD Deep Blue she dedicated a portion of proceeds from concerts as an awareness raising project for bone marrow donors. The recent release Wildflower will benefit the United Nation's World Food Programme in Africa.
The Summer Storm featuring guitarist Norman Brown, saxophonist Everette Harp, and vocalist Peobo Bryson and Brenda Russell showered the crowd with a popular set of original R&B, and smooth jazz to close out the first night of the festival.
The 2nd Annual Jazz Talent Search was held throughout Long Beach during the summer. The winning group had the pleasure of opening the Long Beach Jazz Festival. Vocalist Ora LaFae Smallwood and the S.O.E. Band performed on Saturday.
The Sevilles - a popular trio of singers backed by The Ohio Trio Plus performed a tribute to Motown. They took the crowd on a musical journey down memory lane with a set of Old School Oldies, R&B, Blues and Jazz standards. This set was one of the few highlights for me on Saturday. The crowd actively listened and also joined the group in singing one memorable hit after another - "Poppa Was A Rolling Stone", "Please Don't Go", "Get Ready", "The Way You Do The Things You Do", "My Girl", "Cloud 9", "Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down", "I Need Money", "The Twist", "If I Ain't Got You", "Nighttime Is The Right Time", "Down Home Blues", "Stay Till The Morning", and closed with "Just My Imagination".
Vocalist Michael Franks was another highlight for me on Saturday. The silky voice crooner was fabulous as usual on "Lady Wants To Know", "Tiger In The Rain", "Sleeping Gypsy", "Passion Fruit", "One Bad Habit", "Your Love Is Like Baseball", "Popsicle Toes", and "When The Cookie Jar Is Empty".
Down To The Bone, Chuck Loeb, and Joyce Cooling were on the bill for Saturday. South African trumpeter Hugh Masakela closed out the evening with his popular brand of Afro-Beat dance rhythms served up with some jazz, R&B, and African township songs in keeping with the global theme mentioned earlier.
On Sunday, I arrived just as Jazz Search winner guitarist James Christopher and his ensemble were poising for photographs for the media after their set.
The line-up for Sunday was the strongest of all three days as evidenced by the large turn out of people who blanketed every inch of grass available.
Keyboardist Kevin Toney kicked off the final day of the festival with a high energy set of original tunes from his upcoming CD 110 Degrees and Rising that also featured an added bonus of a string ensemble. The audience was ready to dance when he played "Walkin In Rhythm" and "Rock Creek Park" popular tunes from his days with Donald Byrd and The Blackbyrds.
Al Williams Jazz Society filled the straight-ahead jazz void that was absent until now. This tight knit band featured Al Williams-drums, Noland Shaheed-trumpet, Dave Bradshaw-piano, Nedra Wheeler-bass, Andre Delano-saxophones, and Tony Poingsett on percussions. The group featured material from their latest 2 CD's Let's Celebrate and Meeting At The Crossroads. The highlight of their set came when Barbara Morrison joined the group for a couple of tunes. She held the crowd (approximately 15,000) in the palm of her hands during her always crowd pleasing and delightful set. She opened with "Endangered Species", followed by "You Are My Centerpiece", "All Blues", "Things Ain't What They Used To Be", "Hit The Road Jack", and closed with "Sundown".
Al Jackson and his 17-piece orchestra featuring The Ray-lettes played a well received tribute to the late great Ray Charles. The lead vocalist was none other than Mr. Obie Jesse who was splendid in carrying on the legacy of Ray. The orchestra performed many of Ray's unforgettable hit songs such as "Outskirts of Town", "Let The Good Times Roll", "Busted", "You Don't Know Me", "What I Say", "Georgia", "I Got A Women", "Hit The Road Jack", and I Can't Stop Loving You".
Bob James also performed on Sunday. Vocalist Rachelle Ferrell and Angie Stone closed out the festival on a rousing note. The 18th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival marked another milestone in attendance being the premier jazz festival in Southern California.
Submitted by Richy Richardson
Rocco Ventrella grew up in Bari in the southern part of Italy. After music Conservatory, Rocco participated in various clinics with famous jazz musicians like David Liebman, Michael Brecker and Bob Mintzer. In addition, he began to play in small jazz groups appearing in numerous jazz clubs and at the same time started to study piano and began to work in the studios "Crescendo" and "Sorriso" (ex C&M) of Bari. Since 1983, Rocco plays in the Big Band J.S.O. of P. Lepore of Bari where he has appeared with an impressive and long list of world renowned jazz artists. By 1998, Rocco began to love Smooth Jazz music, with the latest fruit of this love being the promotional CD Tribute to Grover Washington, Jr., a great tribute to one of his idols.
Rocco was kind enough to send me a copy of this CD containing three of Grover's most beloved and classic compositions: "Winelight", "Let It Flow" and "Make Me A Memory," which all were originally recorded back in 1980 on Grover Washington, Jr.'s Winelight album. Winelight is a record which definitely has touched the hearts of many smooth jazz lovers around the world. Rocco Ventrella gives the songs a new twist with updated contemporary grooves but still manages to retain the spirit of the original. In the beginning he reluctantly and respectfully approaches the songs but increasingly starts to bring his personality and improvisation to the mix, generating quite a bit of heat before the songs are gracefully brought to an end. Rocco Ventrella is joined by fellow musicians Vito Di Modugno on bass, Alex Milella on guitar, Gino Palmisano on keyboards and Saverio Petruzzellis on drums.
I am looking forward to hearing more from this ongoing project in the future. All of these songs have been added to the playlist of SwissGroove.ch and they definitely are radio friendly, groovy, spirited and do justice to Grover's legacy. Rocco Ventrella is a great sax player and a nice person to boot so let's hope that more finished work will be available soon so the world can hear this music.
Visit Rocco Ventrella's website.
For the first time I attended the Capital Jazz Festival, which took place from June 3-5, 2005, in Columbia, MD, near Baltimore/Washington DC. Concerts were held in the Merriweather Post Pavilion in an amphitheater like setting with the seated area covered and the lawn behind in the open where people were sitting in their beach chairs and tents creating a special - as one performer put it - "Smoothstock" atmosphere. Unfortunately the weather was a bit unpleasant on Friday evening with some rain when the festival opened with Chaka Khan and George Benson. Saturday the weather was sunny with only light clouds, while Sunday was a hot and beautiful summer day, allowing the music to be enjoyed under perfect conditions. In the wood behind the concert area there was a marketplace area with many vendors offering art, CDs, food and the like. In addition, there were booths promoting upcoming smooth jazz cruises, the venerable Melanie Maxwell acquiring subscribers for Smooth Jazz News and booths of local smooth jazz stations Smooth Jazz WJZW 105.9 (Washington DC) and Smooth Jazz WSMJ 104.3 (Baltimore) whose radio personalities took on the responsibility of announcing the artists between sets. Usually the playing time was 60 minutes, with 30 minutes in between for setting up the next band; this time could be used to check out the marketplace, get some food or just wander around on the premises checking out all those cool folks. Sound-quality in general was good although the venue suffered from booming basses reverberating through the theatre.
The festival was opened Friday night by singer Chaka Khan who started out in 1973 with the band Rufus. She appeared with a competent band and some illustrious background singers (among them Karen Bernod), who provided some beautiful backing vocals and later in the show individually got their short solo spots. Chaka gave us many of their great hits including "Ain't Nobody", a number of Rufus songs reliving those old funk days, some songs from her latest release Classikhan and as encore - you guessed it - "Through The Fire". The set was warmly received and Chaka proved to be in good shape. A highlight of the show was the cameo appearance of the later scheduled George Benson who sang the classic "My Funny Valentine" with Chaka.
The set of George Benson with his great band (Michael O'Neill on guitar, Stanley Banks on bass and Kenya Hathaway on percussion and vocals) was thoroughly enjoyable. George is such a consummate performer with a vast catalog of familiar hits, so giving us a pleasant concert must have been an easy task for him. Songs like "This Masquerade", "Love X Love", "Give Me The Night", "On Broadway" and "The Ghetto" put the crowd in a party mood with George playing guitar accompanied by his trademark scatting. The jazz song "Moody's Mood" was graced by the vocals of Kenya Hathaway, who stepped down from her percussion set to duet with George - absolutely gorgeous. The younger daughter of the late Donny Hathaway showed not only to be a radiant beauty but a great artistic talent as well.
Next day at noon the Sax Pack featuring saxophonists Marion Meadows, Jeff Kashiwa and Kim Waters were on. Their band consisted of Carl Burnett (guitar), Dave Hiltebrand (bass), Clide Davis (drums) and Jay Rowe (keyboards). Their set featured individual tracks from each artist with some group efforts for good measure. Jeff Kashiwa got some crowd participation with his hit song "The Aah Ooh Song" which delighted the audience. Kim Waters is such a polished and smooth player and I always enjoy hearing him. Marion Meadows, who always boasts sharp looks, delivered some beautiful sounds on the soprano sax. This was a good set by some of the genre's best players, putting us in a good mood.
Female sax player Mindi Abair proved that good looks and chops are not exclusive of each other. It was my first time seeing her live and she literally blew me away. With a good number of radio hits under her belt, she created lots of positive vibes in the audience, "Lucy" being one of them. She had a good band with her, bass player Andre Berry stood out with his slapping playing getting lots of appreciation from the audience. Thumbs up for Mindi Abair!
Lee Ritenour and Friends was next, with "friends" meaning old cohorts Ernie Watts on sax, Patrice Rushen on keyboards and Alex Acuna on drums, with rising star Brian Bromberg on bass. This high caliber band, fronted by guitarist Lee Ritenour, brought us a selection from their vast catalog, which will be represented on an upcoming CD called Overtime. Reaching back as far as the fusion sounds of the Captain Fingers album, they played songs from various stages of Lee Ritenour's career with the Wesbound album being a most notable station. Great to see these veteran players going strong. The set was totally enjoyable and thinking about the amount of talent and experience gathered on the stage was mind boggling.
Joe Sample is an icon and a living music legend, having being part of the Crusaders. Appearing in an acoustic trio format with Jay Anderson on acoustic bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums, Joe played acoustic versions of some of his best known compositions like "X Marks The Spot". He even made some trips back in history with a stride piano track from the early 20th century. Despite the acoustic format the set was well received and you could feel the appreciation this artist received from a knowledgeable audience. Besides, one could relax after the high octane performances which preceded this set and go to the roots of jazz, which is never a bad thing.
Singer Ledisi came next with a truly entertaining set. Bordering jazz, soul and r&b, Ledisi is somewhat of a chameleon, and opening her concert with this Herbie Hancock composition was an appropriate choice. Talking extensively between songs, she gave us some insight into her life and motivation as an artist. It was moving to hear that she quit her well paying but frustrating day job in order to pursue a career as a singer meaning some hard times to go through. Her spiritual side was obvious and showed that Ledisi is not trying to make hits but rather express herself as a unique artist. Despite claiming that she is not doing jazz, everything she did was in the spirit of improvisation and soaked in jazz. Her concert was a lot of fun and had some comedy aspects when Ledisi joked with the audience and danced around the stage. It was hilarious the way she complained in a lengthy song about the fact that they don't do soul songs like they used to do. She sang incredibly jazzy and soulful with Al Jarreau coming to mind. Her concert was totally entertaining and enlightening. Catch her if you can!
When night came, it was time to party with Boney James. Coming with a great band laying down a phat sound, Boney could stretch out on sax, delivering his unique brand of playing. What I like about Boney is the way he can play soft and restrained one minute and burst out into the most intense playing the next. His music is sensual and steamy and with the added urban background leads to an irresistible mix. His band got some moments to shine, especially guitar player/vocalist Norris Jones and bass player Sam Sims delighted us with their talents. When Boney descended into the audience he was immediately surrounded by a number of excited females dancing next to him, which he obviously enjoyed tremendously. This concert was one of the highlights of the whole festival for me.
To top the proceedings, next was the ever popular Brian Culbertson. With Eric Darius replacing Michael Lington on the sax, Brian had his regular touring band with him (with father Jim on trumpet) and was ready for a party. Despite being plagued by some technical problems, they managed to bring some first-rate smooth jazz and funk to the proceedings. Always great is the part of the concert when Brian plays the trombone and funks it up with sax and trumpet (reminding me of Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns). Brian has a new CD called It's on Tonight coming out very soon - a song from that upcoming album featuring vocalist Brian Nelson from the group Az Yet, bringing a soulful vibe to the concert. Brian communicated easily with the crowd and delivered a totally entertaining and uplifting set. Too bad that the technical problems caused the mix to be sub-par.
Sunday had Paul Jackson Jr. at noon opening the official part of the festival (after the appearance of this year's "Jazz Challenge Winners" Phaze II). Appearing for the first time at the Capital jazz Festival, Paul Jackson Jr. played some of his best known songs with a first rate band. Grooving on guitar like the funky version of George Benson, he delivered an hour of top notch guitar playing. Hilarious were his "old school" rants between songs and his medley of familiar funk classics at the end of the concert. Glad to see him perform and pursue a solo career despite being one of the busiest sidemen on the scene.
Spyro Gyra is one of the classiest bands around, still going strong after almost 30 years. Original members Jay Beckenstein on sax, Julio Fernandez on guitar and Tom Schuman on keyboards fronted the band with newer members Scott Ambush on bass and the outstanding Ludwig Alfonso on drums completing the band. They drew from their vast catalog and offered a varied selection of songs, with compositions from each member of the band. Great contributions from all and the final delivery of "Morning Dance" concluded a satisfying performance.
Songstress Lalah Hathaway is the elder daughter of the late Donny Hathaway. Her set was truly soulful and rooted in the classic days of heartfelt soul which wants to express something and move the listener. Her voice sounds similar to her father Donny's raspy singing and possesses a very soulful quality. Her set was jazzy and subtle and her band was of a high caliber, especially notable were the great keyboard solos by Peter Horvath. Background vocalist Theresa Jones did an outstanding job as well. With her music owing as much to jazz and soul, Lalah proved to be an excellent part of the festival.
Bass player Marcus Miller, with his colorful band, represented the spirit of jazz and improvisation. Funkin' on the bass, leading his stellar band in the spirit of Miles, with whom he collaborated for years, provided a very entertaining hour of music. Saxophonist Keith Anderson and trumpet player Michael "Patches" Stewart were called by the leader when appropriate and provided an element of surprise. Dean Brown on guitar was great to watch pouring all himself into every note he plays when soloing. A surprise guest appeared in Lalah Hathaway, who sang Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" in a spontaneous performance improvising with the band. Marcus Miller's concert was very well received and he was forced to return for an encore which climaxed in a dixieland performance with the band marching across the stage led by Marcus with his bass clarinet. Classy!
At 6pm the Jazz Attack was scheduled for a special 2-hour performance. The Jazz Attack is a smooth jazz superstar group comprising of Richard Elliot on sax, Peter White on guitar, Rick Braun on trumpet and Jonathan Butler on guitar/vocals. The concert was opened by Rick Braun, who started playing in the audience walking to the stage. They played hit after hit with Peter White's "Bueno Funk" being one of the highlights of the concert showing Peter White's funny side dancing like a ballerina to the slow parts of the song. The deeply religious Jonathan Butler had his spot too getting a chance to get "Falling in Love with Jesus" off his chest before singing his current radio single "Fire and Rain". Richard Elliot provided some ultra soulful sax and brought it over the top with his rendition of "When A Man Loves A Woman" with some help by the incredible singing of Jonathan Butler. And above it all was the cool trumpet of Rick Braun holding things together. To top it all the band had Dwight Sills on guitar, Dave Dyson on bass, Rayford Griffin on drums and Ron Reinhardt on keyboards. A superlative show which is very recommended.
The festival was closed with the appearance of Kenny G, who had his 49th birthday that day. The set was totally polished and professional without any weaknesses. Kenny started out in the audience walking slowly down the aisle and stood on top of a little stage surrounded by his fans. Still looking fresh. Kenny performed many of his most favorite songs supported by long time band members Robert Damper on keyboards, Vail Johnson on bass and John Raymond on guitar. Great new additions were drummer Jonathan Moffett (who played with everyone from Janet Jackson to Madonna), Ron Powell on percussion and Karl Martin on keyboards. Percussion player Ron Powell delivered a great percussion solo which ended in an acrobatic show with a tambourine, while Vail Johnson slapped the bass like only he can. A little birthday surprise was part of the concert as well like a demonstration by Kenny G of his circular breathing technique which he brought to perfection and an unplugged version of "Summertime". Kenny G played beautifully and his familiar songs were warmly received by his many fans in attendance. The set was closed with "Pick Up The Pieces" and "Songbird,” bringing a truly memorable festival to an end.
Pictures by Peter Böhi. Sorry for the lack of pictures from Saturday but VIP seats were sold out and I was sitting too far away from the stage to make useful pictures. If you can help me out please send me your pictures. Thanks!
I had a great time at this year's Berks Jazz Fest with took place in Reading, PA from March 11-20, 2005. This festival is unique because it is a community operated festival which originated 15 years ago and since that time has grown from a 3 day event to a festival spanning 10 days featuring over 130 artists covering many different genres of jazz and related styles of music. Concerts are held at different venues across town giving each one the setting it needs. The vibe at this unique festival is easy going and open minded, providing me with a great time among fellow smooth jazz aficionados. I made a lot of new friends and met many people from the industry like Steve Quirk from England (trying to syndicate his Fusion Flavours radio show in the US), Dave Love from Heads Up Records, Melanie Maxwell from Smooth Jazz News and many fellow journalists and webmasters. I also had the opportunity to spend lots of time with fellow smooth jazz writers and contributors to this site Jonathan Widran and Beverly Packard and husband Michael who were so kind to be my hosts during my stay at the festival.
The first concert I attended was the one of Peter White featuring Jaared which was a blast as usual. He had David Sparkman with him on keys and vocals (who has done an own CD named Livin' For Love available at his site). The concert was very entertaining with Peter White delighting the crowd with his witty stories between tracks and heartfelt playing. Jaared, who has been part of Peter White's group for quite awhile, added some great sax playing to the proceedings and complements Peter's guitar playing nicely. Covers of 70ies soul and funk tracks brought a nice slant to the show, revealing where his musical heart lies. I enjoyed his show so much that I caught his second set later that day knowing that it would be different and so it was - the later show ended with a funk medley containing "Brick House" by the Commodores, which brought the audience to their feet. I definitely was not disappointed!
One of the bigger venues was the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, which was appropriate for the double bill of trumpet player Chris Botti opening for sax legend David Sanborn. Chris Botti's set was very enjoyable, providing us with some sharp trumpet playing. His band is very special with some rock touches and excellent drumming by Billy Kilson creating a lot of tension. Chris Botti successfully has escaped smooth jazz cliches and found his own attractive style which in a live setting is quite exciting as opposed to his more laid back studio recordings. After a short intermission, it was time for David Sanborn who was definitely grooving with an excellent band. It was without a doubt one of his better performances, and the slapping bass solo was a highlight of the show. His classic song "Lisa" was well received.
Next day the afternoon show was called Miles To Miles after the album led by Jason Miles featuring an all-star cast dedicated to Miles Davis' music. Among the musicians appearing that I was familiar with were Tom Harrell on trumpet, David Sanchez on sax, Barry Danielian on trumpet and Bernie Worrell on keys. DJ Logic handled the turntables giving the proceedings a special touch with his scratching sounds. The music mostly covered newly written songs by Jason Miles who has worked many years with Miles Davis, trying to capture the spirit of the man. In between songs Jason told stories about him and Miles, which inspired this project which gave it a special touch. The music was groovy and contemporary but definitely not smooth - but Miles wasn't either... I would like to mention especially Tom Harrell who suffers from schizophrenia and has to rely on heavy medication in order to be able to perform. His odd behavior on stage (often standing there motionless with his head down) and his playing, which was great but sometimes suddently stopped, posed quite a challenge to the rest of the band thus unintentionally creating situations the way Miles might have done. This was a superior performance by a great group of musicians bringing us a heartfelt project reliving the spirit of Miles Davis.
In the evening it was back to the Performing Arts Center where Pieces Of A Dream and Boney James were waiting for us. I have been a fan of Pieces Of A Dream ever since they entered the scene, being protégées of the late Grover Washington Jr. Today Eddy Baccus provides the sax playing, sometimes emulating the sound of Grover to an astonishingly real extent. It was great to hear this legendary group featuring James Lloyd on the keys and Curtis Harmon on drums giving us the good stuff we have come to love over the years. Their opening act lasted only an hour (so I hope to be able to catch them someday again for a full concert), paving the way for smooth jazz super star Boney James.
Boney was backed by a tight band (with Sam Sims on bass) providing some smooth urban grooves for his sax playing. Boney entertained the crowd with his numerous hits and his stroll in the audience had more than one excited female dancing next to him. Outstanding, great fun and one of the highlights of the festival.
Monday was a night off with Tuesday being dedicated to the concert of Stanley Jordan appearing on the smaller stage of the Albright College Wachovia Theatre. Stanley Jordan appeared solo, with only his guitar and a broad array of music for us. He improvised a lot, taking us on a musical journey brimming with technical brilliancy. There is no other player I am aware of who plays with the unique "tapping" technique Stanley Jordan uses. Not smooth jazz but definitely inspiring.
Keyboard player Tom Grant, who recently released his acoustic set of standards called Nice Work If You Can Get It, was scheduled for a special event called Jazz Dinner at the Windham Hotel which took place from 5-7 pm during four consecutive days. Tom played songs from his vast catalog on the grand piano while people were having dinner. I really enjoyed hearing Tom in this setting and he was accepting requests and provided a good time for everybody attending. Later, we also had the opportunity to spend some time with him and found him to be a really nice person.
Chuck Loeb was scheduled to appear with trumpet player Rick Braun for a straight ahead set but unfortunately, due to health problems (Rick had pneumonia which prevented him from airtraveling), a replacement had to be found. Fortunately sax players Eric Marienthal and Jeff Kashiwa along with local trumpet player John Swana came to the rescue to fill the bill. All involved handled the situation very well providing a great set of mostly acoustic jazz, giving the players an opportunity to show their chops. I was aware of the fact that Eric Marienthal is a very versatile player but Jeff Kashiwa blew me away - he is a very accomplished player who can compete in the straight ahead field as well and baffled me completely. Chuck Loeb was always on top of things, leading the set with his masterful and smooth guitar playing and entertaining the crowd with his dry humor. Chuck's wife of 25 years, Carmen Cuesta, who he met in Spain while on tour with Stan Getz, provided a nice break singing two songs. A very entertaining set and a revelation for me.
Next evening guitar player and crowd pleaser Jeff Golub was on. His bluesy set entertained the numerous fans in attendance with his playing ranging from soft, low sounds to the full screaming of the guitar. A special bonus was keyboard player Philippe Saisse being part of the band adding his hit rendition of "Moaning" to the set. Talent seemed to be present in abundance at this festival.
After this concert we changed venues for the Berks All-Star Jazz Jam which is held every year. This time we had Gerald Veasly (bass), Keith Carlock (drums), Tom Grant and Joe McBride (keys), Jeff Kashiwa and Kenny Blake and Eric Marienthal (sax), Chuck Loeb and David Cullen (guitar) and John Swana (trumpet) on stage with special guests Jeff Golub (guitar) and Mitch Forman (keys) to join the party later. As well for a couple of numbers appeared Bakithi Kumalo (bass) with his wife singing a great version of "My Funny Valentine". The set was directed by Chuck Loeb giving all involved lots of room to jam and stretch out providing us with a great evening of jazz.
On Friday, I saw the Heads Up Super Band with a special program of Tribute to Ray Charles at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Hotel. The blind Joe McBride was perfectly entitled to lead this effort, giving us renditions of "Georgia On My Mind" and "Hit The Road Jack" among others. The group was supported by a horn section and some great background singers. The intimate club setting made this concert a very memorable one and the positive response of the packed club makes one hope that this program will be brought to more people in the future.
Later that night one of my personal highlights came in the form of sax players Gerald Veasley, Paul Taylor and Richard Elliot, who where Groovin' For Grover. Jeff Lorber was on the keys, providing a funky backdrop and many outstanding solos. We are glad that he is well again after his kidney transplant and firing on all cylinders. The first half of the set was dedicated to individual songs from each one of the headlining sax players, while the second part was dedicated to Grover's music. They gave us their renditions of "Black Frost", "Let It Flow" and - naturally - "Mr. Magic" which brought the crowd to their feet. Superior stuff by some of the genre's best players.
As if we didn't have enough sax previously, there was the next wave of sax sounds due in the shape of the Sax Pack as saxophonists Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and Steve Cole call themselves collectively. Chuck Loeb opened the show with a great set featuring sax player Dave Mann and keyboard player Mike Ricchiuti. They gave us another polished set of great straight ahead and smooth jazz of the highest order. A great surprise was drummer Josh Dion who provided some incredibly soulful vocals provoking shouts of approval from the audience. Watch out for his debut album, which is due shortly. After that the sax pack entertained the crowd with a selection from their catalogs with Steve Cole standing out, providing the most energetic performance. As a suprise Marion Meadows joined his three colleagues for the encore.
Saturday, the Heads Up Super Band performed a set in Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base, playing songs from their own catalog. It was a joy to hear these great musicians in this intimate club setting with drummer Keith Carlock (who performed with Sting and Steely Dan) being incredible to watch and Gerald Veasley shining as supreme bass player. The next album by Gerald Veasley which will be released later this year was recorded live at this club and will be aptly titled Jazz Base!.
After that we drove to the Sovereign Performing Arts Center where the highlight of the festival was about to happen: The First Energy Berks Jazz Fest 15th Anniversary Concert, which was a lavish smooth jazz extravaganza. Led by director Jason Miles who put 5 months of work into realizing this project, we had his band, Maximum Grooves, as house band, backing the incredible array of performers during the evening. After the opening track by the band, the first guest stepped up: Jay Beckenstein from Spyro Gyra played a song, next was Marion Meadows, then came guitar player Paul Jackson Jr., followed by Jaared who is such an energetic performer (currently unsigned and seeking a new label). After a break came Walter Beasley, then Paul Brown who played the hit single from his debut album and Van Morrison's "Moondance," Kim Waters and eventually special guest Deodato, who played his classic "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (which has haunted him ever since as he jokingly admitted). Vocal appearances were given by Mike Mattison from the Derek Trucks Band (who sang "Just The Two Of Us" featuring Kim Waters) and Maria Muldaur. The closing song was Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," bringing all together for the rousing finale. Outstanding!
Sunday was the WJJZ 106.1 Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch, which was held at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom and featured popular sax player Michael Lington. People were seated at large tables and after the buffet, the show started. Michael Lington provided some great sax playing showing himself to be a great entertainer and crowd pleaser. On drums was Ricky Lawson, underscoring the level of musicianship at this festival. A nice touch was when Michael selected a person in the audience who didn't come with a loved one and played her a beautiful rendition of "Everything Must Change" standing right next to her which gave me goose bumps. He played all his hits including "Once In A Lifetime". Smooth jazz at its best!
The festival ended with the concert of supergroup Fourplay at the Scottish Rite Cathedral featuring legendary players Bob James (piano), Nathan East (bass), Larry Carlton (guitar) and Harvey Mason (drums). In this rather intimate venue the group had a very good setting to give us an entertaining set of their best songs which encompassed "Bali Run" and "Westchester Lady". It is always a joy to witness the perfect interplay by these supreme artists and the inspired solos of the inimitable Bob James.
Another great feature of this festival was the Meet The Artists event after each concert, giving fans the opportunity to meet and greet their favorite musicians. Usually there was a table set up for the artist to sit while fans patiently waited in line for their turn. CD covers, T-Shirts and hats were signed, pictures taken and brief conversations with the artists held. Most had a genuine interest in their fans and took their time to fulfill the various requests. They expressed their appreciation for the support they get, giving us fans the feeling of camaraderie. In addition to these events, artists were around at the hotels and you were bumping into them all the time. This setting made the Berks Jazz Fest very special to me.
With the Fourplay concert ended 10 days of music. Apart from these concerts were many more I couldn't attend like those by Manhattan Transfer, Yellowjackets and Bob Mintzer Big Band, Spyro Gyra, Steve Smith, Al Jarreau, Victor Wooten, Joyce Cooling, Tim Warfield Sextet, Joey De Francesco and many others. Despite this fact, I came home more than satisfied and must say that this festival is one of the best in the US. Not only because of the incredible lineup, but also because of the friendly people who run the festival. Being a community event with over 200 volunteers giving their free time for the festival makes things special and driven by the love of music. They all did an outstanding job helping so that things ran smoothly. I thank all of those who have participated in this festival and have done their best to make this event so memorable for me. Special thanks go to Mike Zielinski and John Ernesto. I will be back next year!
Pictures by R. Andrew Lepley, used with permission (thanks, Andrew!).
Reviewed by: Mary Elizabeth Simeone
Turn the lights down low and get cozy, when you listen to Bobby Caldwell’s new release, Perfect Island Nights. Once again, Bobby delivers heartfelt love songs to which we can all relate. He also revisits some old classics songs, which were due to be heard once again. This album is laced with the “blue-eyed soul” Caldwell has brought to listeners since his 1979 hit, “What You Won’t Do for Love.”
The first cut on the album, “In the Afterlife” not only has a great sound, but also suggests that romance can be so intense, it will “go on in the afterlife”. “Can’t Get Over You” is yet another Caldwell love song that pulls at your heartstrings. The vocals and harmonies in “Crazy for Your Love” are fantastic. Snuggle up with your honey for this one!
“I Need Your Love” is a powerful song, written by Tom Keene, who wrote “Through the Fire” for Chaka Khan. Caldwell’s soulful voice forms a perfect marriage with this song. Bobby also took on a song written by the great Phil Perry. Close your eyes and listen to “Perfect Island Night”. You’ll be transported to a moonlit beach filled with passion and ocean breezes.
Caldwell teamed up with Deniece Williams to revisit the 1972 hit, “Where is the Love”. What a great song! And, a fitting tribute to the original artists, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.
In 1963 Japan made the charts with a song called, “Sukiyaki”. It was one of a few foreign language songs to ever make the charts. Keeping the integrity of the original sound, Bobby Caldwell wrote his own English lyrics to produce a haunting little song. It’s quite unlike the other songs on the album, but it’s one that will linger in your mind all day long.
“Have you ever wanted something so bad it makes you blind… and each night it’s the last thing on your mind” Love that line from “Donna”! This song has a Latin flavor that grabs you right from the guitar intro.
Perfect Island Nights song for song, is a great album! Thank you, Bobby Caldwell, for bringing more romance into the world!
Sometimes I wonder where the industry is going to with Warner having dropped their smooth jazz artists and radio stations switching formats to other genres than smooth jazz. Luckily our favorite brand of music still is available on independent labels offering a surprising level of quality and musicianship with CDBaby.com at the center of the action.
I have the habit to sift through the list of new releases there. Admittedly much material on display there is not worth our attention but when you are persistent you are rewarded with some top-notch stuff - like the CD Bayside by keyboard player Bobby Wells. Guest artists on the album include Eric Marienthal (sax), Michael O'Neill (guitar), Bryan Savage (flute), Mel Brown (bass), Darren Rahn (sax), Bobby Wells (keyboards, vocals) and Brandy Wells (vocals) - talk about smooth jazz heaven! The album contains definitely Bobby Wells' best work and offers a nice selection of grooves and moods with first-rate playing by all involved. This album should not be missed - check it out at CDBaby.com!
Written by Rene Taniguchi, San Francisco, California, USA
Romantic British saxophonist James Vargas captivated Catalina audiences with his intoxicating blend of smooth grooves, funky rhythms and soulful singing during his American debut at the 18th Annual Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival, October 10 and 16, 2004, being only one of two artists to play twice during the three-weekend festival.
Vargas' performances, which were also broadcast live via streaming on Jazztrax Internet Radio, played to sold-out crowds of 1,450 in the beautiful Art Deco-styled Avalon Casino Ballroom on balmy October evenings on Catalina Island, opening for sax legend David Sanborn on October 10th and British funk band Down To The Bone, on October 16th. (His performances, along with the 29 other artists featured during the festival, was rebroadcast as part of a compilation on Jazztrax' syndicated 5-hour program Thanksgiving weekend, November 28, and is still available to listen to as Art Good's Jazztrax Radio Show On Demand. Go to www.jazztrax.com for more info.)
Good prides himself on showcasing new talent on the island, making virtual unknowns into Smooth Jazz favorites: The Rippingtons and David Benoit in 1987, Acoustic Alchemy in 1988, Mindi Abair in 1995, Paul Brown and Praful in 2003. The buzz in the audience this year was about the two new saxmen making their Catalina debut, who had catapulted onto the scene in June and July of 2004. Both James Vargas and Eric Darius were first introduced to American audiences by Good, who featured cuts off of Vargas' self-titled album and Darius' Night On The Town on his Internet Radio. With Catalina audiences used to such high-caliber performances, the underlying question of the weekend was: Would they wow or would they disappoint?
Both men were clearly in their element on an island that comes alive every October for the past 17 years with fabulous music and a great time. It was an incredible final weekend of performances, beginning with Rendezvous Entertainment saxman Michael Lington and ending with the all-star supergroup Groovin' for Grover, consisting of veteran artists Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright, Paul Taylor and Jeff Lorber. Both Vargas and Darius fit the bill for all things smooth; Vargas played up the more romantic side with his virtuoso performances on soprano, alto and tenor saxes while adding his warm voice to the mix, moving effortlessly from sax to vocals like a well-tuned car changing gears. Darius was the 'new kid on the block,' but at 21 years of age, performed like a seasoned veteran, not only with his fiery R&B sound and technique but with his showmanship, which surprised not only this reporter but some industry people spoken to after the show. We can only expect amazing things in the future from both performers, this 'next generation of Smooth Jazz artists,' who were both gracious, charming and thrilled to play such a prestigious show on their first time out to the West Coast.
Vargas clearly had his work cut out for him, opening for the legendary Sanborn his first weekend, but easily won over the jazz crowd with his killer chops, charisma and his ability to paint amazing audio landscapes with his sax. This reporter experienced the second of the two shows on October 16th and has to say that James Vargas had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand from the very first note. Wearing a caramel suit with black pinstriped shirt, Vargas was in command of the Saturday night 'British Invasion' at the Avalon Casino Ballroom, opening for Down To The Bone. He easily could've been headliner material with his fancy improv work and 'sound,' reminscent of the talents of Steve Cole or Walter Beasley in tone and sweetness. But that's where the similarities ended, with Vargas' fast-paced show taking the audience to higher highs ("Push Da Button" and "Speakeasy"), poignant reminisces of first love and romance ("Galveston Bay", "Won't Be A Fool", "Say You Will", "One Fine Day", "Lasting Impression") and everywhere in between ("Curtain Call", "Sitting Pretty", "Portmeadow"). The ease in which he took to the mic, lending his voice on the tender "Galveston Bay" and helping out on "Won't Be A Fool" with Kimberly Brewer, then playing a few lines on sax, proved his versatility and musical prowess. His encore was a tribute to Luther Vandross, performing a sprited and sassy rendition of "You're The Sweetest One," the perfect dessert to a fabulous musical feast. The audiences responded in kind, giving him standing ovations and cheers, each lasting longer than the last.
Rounding out Vargas' band were keyboardist extraordinaire and writing partner Oli Silk, whose band, Sugar & Silk, featured Vargas prominently on their second release entitled Duality, guitarist Allen Hinds (who did triple duty that final Saturday, playing with Dan Siegel in the afternoon, with Vargas Saturday evening and finally with his bandmates, Down to the Bone, Saturday night!), Keith Jones on bass, who had played with Grover Washington, Jr. (a fitting addition to the month-long tribute to Grover during the festival), with the talented Kimberly Brewer and Fred White on backing vocals.
Vargas, who makes his home in Wimbledon, England, was truly honored to be considered to be a part of the lineup, saying that to play Catalina was a long-held dream that had finally come true. He knows of the magic and the impact the festival has on Smooth Jazz as well as the success that usually follows once having played there. By the thunderous applause Vargas received on both evenings, it appears that this talented artist's time has come.
2005 promises to be an exciting year for Vargas, who is now setting his sights on taking America by storm and touring extensively around the country. If you get the chance to see this incredible performer live, by all means, GO! His affable charm and disarming good looks will immediately draw you in, but it is his grace and his impeccable showmanship that will make a 'lasting impression' in your soul.
We wish to all readers and visitors of Smooth Jazz Vibes happy holidays and a great new year. We are looking forward to share another year of exciting new music from our favorite artists with you.
This past year has been tremendously successful for us. With our first-rate team of contributors - they are Jonathan Widran, Brian Soergel, Denis Poole, Beverly Packard and Danny Desart - we managed to bring you exclusive news, in-depth reviews, enthusiastic concert reviews and more at a staggering rate. I thank these people for their outstanding work making the site what it is today.
We will strive hard to continue in this vein to bring you the good stuff from the world of smooth jazz. God bless you all!
Peter Böhi, Editor
PS: You are welcome to leave your shouts at our forum (please register and come back often!).
By Vallynda Voz
In 1976, I heard the amazing sounds of “Europa” on the radio (probably on WRVR FM - a jazz/R&B station in New York City at that time) from a tenor saxophonist named Gato Barbieri. Barbieri’s album (vinyl back then) Caliente! (“HOT” in Spanish for those who don’t know) had the debonaire saxophone hero in a dramatic stance wearing his trademark black fedora hat, with multi-colored flames in the background of the cover art (on Herb Alpert’s A & M label). The album became a favorite of mine, with many joyful latin-jazz pop tunes, from “Fiesta” to “I Want You.” That music still sounds as powerful and as fresh today as it did almost three decades ago. It is music that nourishes the soul, is emotionally-sustaining and life-affirming – in other words timeless.
Caliente! became a classic, best-selling recording pre-dating the smooth jazz radio genre. The tune “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile” (written by Carlos Santana) would become Gato Barbieri’s ultimate “theme” – an anthem that his adoring fans would expect to hear at every show – and he wouldn’t disappoint them. Gato’s intense, passionate and warm playing was partly my inspiration to learn to play saxophone. I learned from his biography that we had in common starting out on clarinet in our pre-teen years. Gato also played alto saxophone, until he switched to tenor, where he found his unique, passionate, growling tone.
At that time, little did I realize, that Gato Barbieri had a long career before his popularity beginning in the 1970s. Gato, (born Leandro Barbieri in Argentina), had played as a young adult in Lalo Schifrin’s orchestra in the 1950s. He started out playing traditional Latin music, and then went on to become a renowned avant-garde player of free jazz in the 1960s, performing with Don Cherry in Paris, as well as with Mike Mantler’s Jazz Composers’ Orchestra. In early 1970s, Gato returned to playing music influenced by Latin American melodies and rhythms and received recognition from the jazz world and with college audiences around the United States. Most traditional jazz critics view Gato’s earlier work as powerful contributions to jazz. In 1972, Gato achieved unexpected widespread acclaim for his playing on the soundtrack to the controversial Bernardo Bertolucci Last Tango in Paris film. Gato then toured at festivals around the world. He also became a successful composer for numerous international films in Europe, South America and the United States.
The first time I saw Gato play live was in April 1984 at S.O.B.’s (Sounds of Brazil) – a club that is still around today in Manhattan. It was a very special time – it was my birthday and I went to see Gato with my saxophone teacher, Fred Reiter (who in the early 80s had played with guitarist Stanley Jordan in college, and currently tours the world with a ska-jazz band called The Toasters). The funny thing was, I remember seeing all of these Gato look-alikes wearing the Gato-style hat and suave suits, waiting in a long line around the corner from the S.O.B.’s venue.
Twelve years later, in 1996 I saw Gato play at the legendary Blue Note club in NYC. I was thrilled to see him, but I sensed a deep sadness – something was wrong. Not long after, I heard that his beloved first wife, the Italian-born Michelle, who had been instrumental in his life and his career, had passed on, and then Gato had triple-bypass heart surgery.
The next year, in 1997, I heard this incredible tune “Into the Sunrise” from Gato’s new CD Que Pasa on the radio on CD101.9FM – the smooth jazz station in the New York City area. The big Gato sound, the passion – was back! It was Gato’s comeback! I was thrilled that Gato returned to his music and his audience in top form. I was also happy to hear that Gato had found new love in his life with his second wife Laura and then had a new baby son Christian.
The intensity of emotional playing of the beautiful songs on Gato’s Que Pasa CD, represented hope and made me realize that new love and a new start in life are possible anytime, if one looks deep within one’s soul and has faith. I’m sure Gato’s music has been inspirational to many fans. I’m just one that happens to be a jazz journalist and a musician who’s had the privilege to have Gato’s music play an important role in my life.
In 1997, the year that Que Pasa was released, Gato returned to play at the Blue Note. I saw him perform at least two nights that week. One memorable evening John Travolta and his entourage sat at the table behind me, dancing by his seat, and digging the music. Gato’s big sound enveloped the room and was wonderful; his piano player Bill O’Connell (who finally released his own solo CD recently), and the other members in Gato’s band were terrific. I had the pleasure and honor to talk with Gato backstage at the Blue Note, and tried to explain to him in English and in Spanish what his music meant to me. That same year, I also had a Gato “sighting” in the audience at Bea Smith’s Café in NYC at a Philippe Saisse show (the smooth jazz pianist who had a radio hit with “Moanin’”). Saisse had produced Que Pasa (on Columbia Records), which became the fourth highest selling Contemporary Jazz album that year.
Fast forward and it’s now 2004. Gato Barbieri’s current CD is called The Shadow of the Cat, (his debut on Peak/Concord Records and his 50th album). Last year, The Shadow of the Cat won Billboard's award for "Best Latin Jazz Album.” Barbieri dedicated The Shadow of the Cat to his beloved mother, who passed away in 1991. In his liner notes, Gato wrote, “If not for you and the spark you lit in me, I would not be who I am today. There would be no [The] Shadow of the Cat.” Barbieri grew up poor in Rosario, Argentina, but felt enriched by his mother’s teachings about life, love and music. “She understood me and encouraged my musical dreams…She was an incredible woman.”
The CD continues Gato Barbieri’s legacy by combining soulful Latin sensibilities with a seductive, contemporary jazz flavor. The first tune,“El Chico” is a festive, percussive Latin swing tune with a boisterous brass section. The title track is a beautiful, Latin romantic tune with the trademark Gato sound, that has the sweet, melodious complement of Peter White on acoustic guitar and Sheila E. on percussion. “Para Todos (For Everyone),” is a groove-oriented samba. “Tierra Del Fuego” (Land of Fire)” is a funky tune with rock and gospel influences that features Russ Freeman’s powerful electric guitar. There’s also the laid back, mellow finesse of “Blue Habanera” as well as a mid-tempo, neo-soul version of Barbieri’s classic hit song “Last Tango.” The CD finishes with a Spanish language rendering of “If I Was Your Woman“ called ”Si Tu Me Quisieras.”
The Shadow of the Cat was produced by Grammy winning Jason Miles. Jason Miles has worked with jazz and pop legends from Miles Davis to Luther Vandross and recently produced a tribute CD to the late Grover Washington Jr. Other special guest artists on Gato Barbieri’s new CD include vocalist Cassandra Reed, bassist Mark Egan, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, pianist Oscar Hernandez, drummer Richie Morales, percussionist Marc Quinones, bassist Will Lee and guitarist Romero Lumambo. The best surprise guest is the legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert, who plays on three songs.
In the next few months, Gato is doing some touring in select cities (check out dates on www.centralentertainment.com). During the second week in November, Gato is playing at the Iridium jazz club in New York City. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the one, the only Gato Barbieri with the big, unique tone on the tenor saxophone and those special vocal chants – emotional exclamations of simple words such as “Hey” that punctuate between his gorgeous melodic lines on the horn. Gato Barbieri’s music is simply the sound of Amor. To me, Gato, your music is the epitome of the beauty of love and the precious gift of how wonderful life can be. Your music will always have a special place in my heart.
Gato recently said: “It’s exciting that people are still moved when I play, and I consider myself blessed to have had fans that have listened to me for such a long time. They still do, and I’m still having fun. When I start recording, I am playing for me, but when I play a concert, I play for me and them. It is not a “show”, but it is a musical message. They understand where I am coming from.”
Yes Gato, we do understand. So to Gato Barbieri the legendary one-of-a-kind saxophonist with the glorious sound - still the cool cat in the hat - best wishes for a healthy, Happy 72th Birthday this November 28th!! Muchas gracias, for bringing your wonderful music with such joy to jazz fans throughout the world.
The 17th annual Long Beach Jazz Festival took place August 13-15 in Rainbow Lagoon Park in Long Beach, California. Sponsored by Bank of America and a host of others and organized by jazz drummer Al Williams, it included a wide selection of first rate artists. Also a part of the festival were winners of the "Jazz Talent Search" 2004 - an event Williams founded in 2002 with the goal of promoting new jazz talent giving the winners the opportunity to perform in front of thousands and help the genre throw. During the festival host Al Williams personally introduced the artists, most of whom he calls his friends.
Here are my impressions from this festival.
I opted to attend the festival in the VIP section that is located right in front of the stage and grants backstage access. Although you were not allowed to actually go backstage, you could at least stick around in this area where the chance of meeting artists is higher. Tickets for these seats included a separate entrance, seating at a table complete with food and wine, and a good view to the stage. It’s fun to meet those sharing the table with you. Behind the VIP section is the boxed seat area with numbered seats while the rest of the park is taken up with people setting up their umbrellas, blankets, picnic chairs etc. creating a cool festival atmosphere. The number of attendees over the weekend usually exceeds 30,000 people. The weather was just perfect with blue skies and a cool breeze from the ocean.
Friday evening at 7pm the festival was opened by newcomer Karina Nuvo, a Cuban-American singer who had quite a bit of smooth jazz talent in her band. On keyboards was Dan Siegel, on sax Jeff Kashiwa (replacing the originally scheduled Tom Scott) and trumpet player Johnny Britt from Impromp2. Nuvo’s material ranged from pop songs to songs with a Latin flavor, as in the rendition of EWF's "Shining Star.” Dan Siegel had the opportunity to play the title track from his current CD Inside Out, marking the only smooth jazz spot of this set. To learn more about her and her music, you can check out her work at her site at www.karinanuvo.com.
After the usual 30 minutes break one of the first highlights of the festival for me occurred: guitar player Peter White was on. I had bumped into Peter a short while before the concert and was able to talk to him briefly. He is a nice guy and very approachable person. His set was excellent, showcasing his ability to entertain a crowd with his acoustic guitar playing. He delighted fans with some covers of treasured soul classics like "My Cheri Amour", "The Closer I Get To You" and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and possibly showing where his musical roots (and probably heart) may lie. This was appropriately followed by his own "Bueno Funk, " bringing the crowd to their feet. In between songs, he told funny stories, and the set ended much too soon after 60 minutes. I wondered where Peter would have taken us if he had had more time.
The evening ended with singer Al Jarreau who sang material from his new CD Accentuate The Positive, but it wasn’t long before he found himself performing his old hits. His top-notch band was led by Larry Williams on keys and saxophone. At the beginning of the concert he scatted jazzily, telling us that "this is called jazz" but later during the course of the show had to rely on his pop hits from the 80’s like "Sad And So Distracted" and finally "Roofgarden" to bring the crowd to their feet. I wish I could have heard him in a more intimate setting as he used during his early work. But times are changing and no matter what, in my opinion, Al Jarreau is a world class performer and unique talent.
Saturday the festival was opened at noon by the Donavan/Muradian Quintet, winner of the "Best Mainstream Band" category of the 2004 Jazz Talent Search. The quintet was fronted by sax player Chuck Manning and trumpet player Kye Palmer with Curtis Brengle on piano, Larry Muradian on bass and Jeff Donavan on drums. I wholly enjoyed their swinging and occasionally grooving straight-ahead playing. Despite having had only 30 minutes of playing time, they left a lasting impression and I enjoyed their set thoroughly.
The next 30 minutes were devoted to Julie Burrell, winner in the "Vocals" category of the 2004 Jazz Talent Search. Originally hailing from Austin, Texas, Burrell relocated to Long Beach in 1999 and currently performs in the local club scene. She possesses a strong voice and good phrasing, delivering supper-club jazz and blues. Check out her new CD JulieJazz at her site at www.julieburrell.com. I had a good time listening to her as well.
The first big name act to come up Saturday afternoon was Fattburger, the ever reliable and genre defining group from Southern California. Fattburger members are Carl Evans Jr. on keyboards, Mark Hunter on bass, Kevin Koch on drums, Tom Aros on percussion and Evan Marks on guitar. They opened the concert with the track "Sizzlin,” the title track from their CD of the same name which gave Evan Marks the first chance to stretch out. They played some classic songs like "Who Put That Meat In My Bed?" from their vast catalog and cool cover versions of "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va" showing their Latin inclination. Fattburger is a joy to listen to and for me represent my idea of laid back, easy going Southern Californian smooth jazz to the fullest.
Next were the Jazz Crusaders, whose name caused some confusion. After Wayne Henderson split with buddies Wilton Felder and Joe Sample, there was some arguing about the use of the "Crusaders" name. It appeared to be settled by having Wilton Felder/Joe Sample use the "Jazz Crusaders" name, with Wayne Henderson adding "and the Next Crusade" to his name. And so I was expecting to see Joe Sample and Wilton Felder but learned instead that Wayne Henderson and band was scheduled. I like Wayne Henderson, I just wish the name problem could be cleared up.
Wayne Henderson is a living legend, not only as a member of the original Crusaders, but also as a producer during the 80’s and 90’s (there even was a time I was collecting Wayne Henderson productions!). Wayne was dressed like a cook with an apron, claiming to have come to cook for us. He had a sax player in his band helping him to recreate the original Crusaders sound (but when soloing didn't reach the level of a Wilton Felder). Wayne played old Crusaders hits like "Buck Stomp Dance” and "Keep That Same Old Feeling," with the audience singing along. He finished his set by bringing Jean Carne to the stage singing "Street Life," a stellar performance. Wayne helped us all have a good time during this old school set.
During the later afternoon it was time for three classic soul singers to enter the stage. First it was Billy Paul, with his velvety voice, delivering his old classics like "This Is Your Life,” "Let Them In" and the beautiful "Me and Mrs Jones" to a very receptive crowd singing along to each of his songs. Next was the inimitable Jean Carne singing, among others of her classics, "Love Don't Love Nobody.” She put her heart and soul in every note she sang turning out to be an absolutely consummate performer. Despite being a mother of three she still continues to tour six months out of the year and is totally committed to her art. Last we heard Michael Henderson, who performed "Valentine Love", "You Are My Starship" and after having grabbed his bass "Wide Receiver" with some funky bass playing starting the party. I caught myself thinking that it’s a shame this type of music is not made anymore. The sheer class and soul of these performers was not only bringing memories but was also touching my soul in a way I had almost forgotten was possible. It was beautiful to have these at the festival. Thanks to Al Williams for inviting them.
At 7pm it was time for one of my all-time favorites: Brian Culbertson featuring Michael Lington on saxophone. I had never seen Brian Culbertson before and knew that I was in for a treat. They opened the show with a splash, being in a party mood right away. The camaraderie was obvious with them jamming together and having a good time. Michael Lington, who was born and raised in Denmark and moved to the US in 1990, has become a smooth jazz star himself. He played a hot sax and made a great team with Brian Culbertson who was grooving at the keyboards which were located at center stage. The dynamic showmanship of all involved provided a great show and when Brian picked up his trombone to join in with Michael Lington and his father Jim Culbertson on trumpet in a wild horn frenzy, at that point the music went trough the roof. Brian also was a perfect entertainer, talking to the crowd and providing lots of fun, also when playing soft romantic songs on his keys. His rendition of EWF's "Serpentine Fire" was a beauty as well and had the crowd on their feet. It was a great show and this hour went by too fast. I have to see this guy again and hope that he will be allowed to play at least two hours! Great stuff!
The evening was concluded by sax legend David Sanborn, who had his work cut out for him after the powerful performance of Brian Culbertson and Michael Lington. But his sound is unique and his style founded a whole new school of playing the saxophone with all current smooth jazz sax players indebted to him. So his performance was warmly received and people continued to dance in front of the stage. He gave us his classic songs like "Chicago Song", "As We Speak" and "Lisa" among others. He was expressively improvising over a heaving backbeat, showing his incredible class as sax player. He concluded the evening with "Coming Home Baby" from his current CD. It was truly a privilege to witness this artist.
Sunday at noon I was there again to check out the AC Timba Jazz Band, who won in the "Latin" category of the 2004 Jazz Talent Search. Unfortunately their longtime leader Juan Sanchez Oliva passed away a short time before the festival, which may have hampered demonstration of a performance up to their fullest ability. The band consists of a rhythm section, piano, sax and trombone out-front. Nevertheless they provided a solid Latin set which seemed to appeal to the gathering crowd.
The first big name act at 1:30pm was sax player Steve Cole and band, who flew in just for this concert from Chicago. They were here to have a good time and so were we. Steve Cole played with a lot of heart and expression delivering one great song after the other, backed by his great band who had their own solo spots in which to shine as well. With hit albums Between Us and NY LA under his belt, which are regularly played at smooth jazz radio, Steve Cole has become another one of smooth jazz finest artists. His set was full of energy and enthusiasm bringing the crowd to their feet and providing the first highlight. He even dared to ignore his time limit saying that he didn't come all the way from Chicago to leave now and gave us one more to our delight. I talked to him and part of the band after the concert. They all turned out to be nice and friendly guys. This concert was one of the highlights of the festival for me.
Next was the Al Williams Jazz Society, featuring Niki Harris on vocals. Al Williams is not only the founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival and promoter of new jazz talent, he is also a noted jazz drummer deeply rooted in the jazz community. His band consists of veteran musicians like music director Nolan Shaheed on trumpet, Dave Bradshaw on keyboards, Nedra Wheeler on bass, Charles Owens on saxophone and Tony Poingsett on percussion. Later during the concert singer Niki Harris joined the band. Niki Harris is the daughter of late jazz pianist Gene Harris and provided a lot of energy to the show. Also sitting in was Wayne Henderson on trombone. They played mostly mainstream jazz but in a groovy and accessible way. Among the tunes played was Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time" which I particularly enjoyed.
With Kem came a performer many had been waiting for. His first CD Kemistry just went gold and he is a very respected figure in the industry. Clad in white, he sat at his keyboards center stage singing songs which have a lot of meaning. As he pointed out during the concert, he went through his share of troubles with drug and alcohol addiction, but has now not only found his faith but also a successful way of living with his music. His voice and style are unique and his performance brought this special vibe over. He had a first class band with sax player Dave McMurray being the most notable one. Dave opened and closed the show with his sax playing and colored many songs with his horn. I was delighted to see him to be part of this band and met him after the concert, when he told me that some new material from him is coming soon. We will watch for that, Dave!
At 6pm it was time to welcome vibes maestro Roy Ayers to the stage. Right from the start, the band was grooving, causing us to be in the right party mood. During the first 10 minutes, Roy was just singing a little and hanging around at the stage, occasionally taking the place of one of his background singers while this one was allowed to show his soulful singing capabilities. Then the guitar player had his solo, then it was sax player Ray Gaskins who got his solo spot before Roy decided to involve himself a little more. A cool way to start things off. Then it was time for "Everybody Loves The Sunshine" - which was quite appropriate with the sun burning hot - and Roy playing some mean vibes. "Evolution" followed, as an extended party jam. Again time was up too soon and I wonder where Roy would have taken us had he had more time. This set was fun and a great part of the afternoon. By the way, Roy Ayers' latest CD is called Mahogany Vibe and is available at Tower Records.
Next was George Duke, who is one of the most important figures in the industry, not only as a jazz musician, but as a producer with a career spanning over 30 years. Seeing him is something I was looking forward to and knowing him as I do, I expected to see only musicians of the highest calibre in his band. On bass was Michael Manson, on guitar Ray "The Weeper" Fuller. The drummer was not familiar to me. He had two background vocalists, one of whom was the famous Lori Perry. George started out with some of his old fusion stuff from the era with Stanley Clarke, then gave us a beautiful rendition of "No Rhyme No Reason" with Lori Perry shining on vocals. He then delved deeply into his funk stuff with "Dukey Stick" giving Michael Manson a solo spot and bringing the crowd to its feet again. People were dancing in front of the stage and at the end of the show he even invited one member of the audience to the stage to sing with him. The guy was first a bit puzzled after the microphone was handed to him, but he soon took heart and started to improvise quite well, to the delight of George. The show - which had to stick to the hour which was available - ended far to soon!
As in every year since the inception of the festival, Poncho Sanchez concluded the festival. The conga player appeared with his sharp band and horn section delivering his mix of Latin jazz, Salsa and more. The receptive crowd kept on dancing in front of the stage and when he went funky with "Out Of Sight" he finished this great festival on a good note. At 10pm the festival was over.
This 17th issue of the Long Beach Jazz Fest was a great collection of sounds featuring artists from a broad spectrum of music. We heard some smooth jazz greats like Peter White, Brian Culbertson, Michael Lington, Fattburger and Steve Cole, we had vintage acts from the old school like Wayne Henderson, George Duke, Roy Ayers, Al Jarreau and David Sanborn, we got our share of soul and R&B from people like Billy Paul, Jean Carne, Michael Henderson and newcomer Kem, and there even was some mainstream, straight-ahead and Latin jazz thrown in for good measure like Al Williams, the Donavan/Muradian Quintet and Poncho Sanchez. All of this music fit together and the selection of artists made up a varied, interesting and stimulating program showing the desire of Al Williams to keep the artform viable, give older artists a chance to shine and new talent an opportunity to appear.
Looking back, personal highlights of the festival were the appearances by Brian Culbertson/Michael Lington and Peter White, both of which presented the most entertaining and crowd pleasing shows; singer Jean Carne who simply blew me away with her totally committed and heartfelt performance; George Duke for being such a consummate performer and artist who provided a good time; and finally the "Jazz Search 2004" winners who made it worthwhile for me to show up early on the days they performed.
I applaud Al Williams for his work and look forward to attending another Long Beach Jazz Festival in the future. I also send out my greetings to all the nice people I met at the festival (you know who you are) and the artists I met backstage. See you next time!
I am currently spending some time in Los Angeles attending a few smooth jazz concerts and meeting people. So far I have attended concerts by Chieli Minucci & Special EFX, Doc Powell with guest Gary Taylor, the Braxton Brothers, Hiroshima, Joyce Cooling and Norman Brown and was invited to the CD release party of The House Of Urban Groove masterminded by Tony Joseph. Let me give you some of my impressions of these concerts and my stay in the smooth jazz capital LA.
The concert by Chieli Minucci & Special EFX was held at the "Garden Of Eden" as part of the "Live Jazz Wednesday's at the Garden Of Eden" series of The Wave 94.7 radio station sponsored by Lincoln. The "Garden Of Eden" is an upscale club located in West Hollywood decorated with an oriental flair. The layout is a bit spread out with not every seat having an unobstructed view to the stage, which due to space restrictions had to be put right next to the main entrance. I felt a bit disturbed by people circulating in front of the stage during the concert, but obviously this didn't seem to pose much of a problem to others who were dancing in front of the stage. Chieli Minucci had David Mann on sax, Mitch Forman on keys, Dave Hooper on drums, a small Sizilian guy named Kevin Brandon on bass. Despite the aforementioned somewhat distracting factors they did a great job. Chieli played songs from his vast catalog and I was happy that he played one of my favorites, the Stevie Wonder cover of "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" with its rousing climax. Especially David Mann provided a few burning sax solos turning up the heat with the rest of the band delivering a solid background. During the intermission I talked briefly to Chieli and David who both are nice and down to earth guys. Despite their music seems to come straight out of Southern California they operate from Manhattan, NY.
Next evening it was Doc Powell and Gary Taylor at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. The concert was part of "Jazz By The Bay at the Queen Mary" series. Set outside right next to the huge Queen Mary ship which now has been turned into a hotel remaining stationary anchored in Long Beach on a nice summer night with a cool breeze from the ocean I was in for a great concert. Doc Powell delivered some phat grooves with his band consisting of two keyboard players (one playing occasionally with Eric Clapton), a great bass player and drummer. Doc Powell showed some considerable skills improvising on guitar with warm sounds out of the Wes Montgomery/George Benson school. He was stretching out and letting it go to the enjoyment of the capacity crowd.
For a few songs guest Gary Taylor stepped in on vocals. Among them was "No Love" and the Bill Withers classic "Ain't No Sunshine" delivered with great style and class despite Gary claiming not to be much of a live performer doing mainly studio work. During the talking between songs Doc Powell not only told us about Luther Vandross recovering from a stroke to be doing quite well (Doc was a member of his band for years and stays close to Luther's family), about his religious beliefs and the fact that he is grateful for his career and the way it has turned out so far. He finished the set with his version of Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess". A great concert and one of the highlights.
Next were the Braxton Brothers and Hiroshima at a very upscale event at the Hyatt Newporter in Newport Beach. The event was part of the Wave's "Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Series" with sponsor Volvo aiming at the affluent smooth jazz crowd. Included was dinner to be taken in the nice surroundings of the Newporter outdoors, then over to the concert with the stage set in the garden and chairs set up on the lawn. Again it was a beautiful evening and a great setting for the concert. The Braxton Brothers were opening the concert with a short 30 minutes set having them play live over a recorded playback accompaniment. They delivered on sax and bass creating a good mood and upbeat groove despite the lack of a full band.
Then came Hiroshima with longtime members June Kuramoto on koto, Kimo Cornwell on keyboards and leader Dan Kuramoto on keys and woodwinds next to the rest of the band. They delivered their trademark sound which owns a lot to the unique koto playing of June Kuramoto. With a flower in her hair and a fragile smile she brought a lot of flair to the evening. Bandleader Dan Kuramoto was communicating with the crowd while black singer Terry Steele brought the ladies to their feet. When he sang the Isley Brothers classic "Caravan Of Love" everybody was just loving it. Their set was varied running the gamut from asian flavored jazz to pop and soul. This beautiful evening found its end too soon but at 10pm sharp they had to wrap it up.
Sunday afternoon I drove down the Thornton Winery in Temecula where Joyce Cooling and Norman Brown were scheduled. The sun was burning hot and cold drinks were flowing. The show was opened by the Thorntons who welcomed the crowd and introduced the artists. First was guitarist Joyce Cooling with partner Jay Wagner on keys and a great drummer and bass player. She played a nice set but appeared to me lacking a bit of fire so the crowd stayed on their seats.
That changed when Norman Brown entered the stage. His fluid guitar playing blew us away. Having amassed quite a catalog by now he gave us the best from the past 10+ years showing us being a first rate artist. I fondly remember his fun medley featuring a Jimi Hendrix track, "This Masquerade" by George Benson and "Bumpin On Sunset" by Wes Montgomery just ending abruptly asking us if we came here to listen to his stuff or what! After solving some technical problems with a hum they kept the good vibe by playing Stevie's "Too High" and more having the crowd on its feet at the end of the concert. Apart from Doc Powell this was one of the best concerts I have attended this week. On the website of the Thornton Winery you can find out about more upcoming concerts to come.
The Wave 94.7 seems to be rather active in organizing concerts and events with smooth jazz artists which is great. Unfortunately this contrasts to their radio programming. The Wave has been instrumental in the development of the smooth jazz format being the first station on the west coast playing this type of music. When I came to LA I was looking forward to hear the Wave again and discover some new music but soon was a bit disappointed. One problem was the amount of advertising they have. After having heard the Volvo ad for the umpteenth time I was a bit tired wondering if I was listening to an ad or a music station. Second problem was their programming which could be tagged as "safe". I don't consider Kenny G's "Songbird" or Sade's "Smooth Operator" as very original programming (knowing how much good stuff is out there). Besides they mainly play music from non smooth jazz artists like Gladys Knight, Sade, Earth Wind & Fire, Natalie Cole, Vanessa Williams, Anita Baker etc. and throw a smooth jazz track in there only once in while. So after a short while I got fed up with it, got an iPod mini and now program my music myself - without the odd pop song and no ads.
Next will be the Long Beach Jazz Festival which starts tonight - more on that later so stay tuned!
Review by Val Vaccaro
Matt Marshak was named “Best New Smooth Jazz Artist in New York” when he won the original artist contest sponsored by radio station CD101.9 FM and Absolut Vodka last summer. The station also interviewed Matt and has aired some of his tunes. Last July, Matt Marshak and his band opened for the CD101.9 FM “Guitars & Saxes" concert with Jeff Golub, Peter White, Richard Elliot and Steve Cole at Bryant Park in New York City. This June, guitarist Matt Marshak and his band (featuring Chris Marshak on drums, Kenny Harris on bass, and special guest Bill Heller from The Rippingtons on keyboards) was one of the opening acts for Spyro Gyra at the Hilltop Jazz & Blues Fest at the Brookhaven Amphitheater in Long Island. On August 21, Matt Marshak and his band will be opening for guitarist Peter White and saxophonist Jaared at the "3rd Annual Long Island Multiple Sclerosis Society Jazz at Sunset Fundraiser."
Matt Marshak’s sophomoric CD This Time Around (released in March) is terrific - one of the best, freshest, most exciting smooth jazz CDs from a new artist in the last few years!! This Time Around includes 14 songs with mainly instrumentals and some vocal tunes featuring upbeat, pop-rock contemporary jazz, funky pop/jazz with background vocals, beautiful smooth jazz ballads, R & B-influenced vocal tunes, and new-age pop songs with sweet scatting.
The production is top-notch and the CD includes many wonderful players: Matt Marshak on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals and scatting; on drums: the multi-talented Chris Marshak; on bass: Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon, Chris Botti) and Kenny Harris; on saxophones: David Mann (Chuck Loeb, Wayman Tisdale, Tower of Power), Mario Cruz (Jaco Pastorius) and Mark Gatz; on keyboards and programming: Rob Meeks (Kool and The Gang); also on keys: Dean Kraus and Tim Regusis; on flute: Dwayne Kerr (Erykah Badu); on vocals: Tanya Michelle (lead), Anastasia Rene (lead and background vocals), and Arty White on wah-wah guitar (Alicia Keys).
This Time Around features an enjoyable variety of catchy, memorable original compositions (11 composed by Matt Marshak and 3 are co-written by him), as well as one cover tune. The CD kicks off in high spirits with “Good Evening” - a sure bet for a smooth-jazz radio hit co-produced by Matt Marshak and Robert Meeks. The exuberantly energetic “Good Evening” features Matt’s warm electric guitar tone and some vocals. The song has melodic pop hooks and funky rhythms that get the audience up and groovin’ to the music, as well as some pretty flute lines. “Good Evening” has an easy-breezy feel - reminiscent of smooth jazz guitarists such as Chuck Loeb and Joyce Cooling.
On “Tell Me Why” Matt delivers funky rhythms with an urban flair that creatively combine with expansive Wes-Montgomery-inspired chords on electric and rhythm guitar. Robert Meeks co-produced the track with dance-club music production special effects on keyboards, drum loops and bass programming. “Autumn Breeze” is another funky, soulful track with vocals in the chorus by Matt and features some unusual melodic twists. Matt plays lead guitar and rhythm acoustic guitar riffs that drive the tune. There’s also the sole cover tune, Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” adeptly produced by David Mann who plays saxophones and keys and did the drum and bass programming. “Wonderful Tonight” is a moving version, with sweet notes that bend and float in the air, an intensified bridge, and upbeat, funky guitar/saxophone interplay.
Several uptempo tracks on This Time Around also have the potential to be popular smooth jazz radio hits and are great fun at concerts. “Shake It Again” was produced and co-written with guitarist/composer Carl Burnett (who has worked with artists such as Larry Carlton, Boney James and Paul Brown). “Shake It Again” is a catchy, upbeat tune with latin-influenced keyboards, and exciting guitar and tenor saxophone lines. “I Will Be With You” and “New Kid,” are accompanied by finger-tapping, hand-clapping, danceable grooves. “I Will Be With You” has upbeat, memorable guitar and saxophone riffs (with Mario Cruz on tenor sax), with guitar sounds inspired by Larry Carlton and The Crusaders. “New Kid” has received airplay on CD101.9. The song has a bluesy feel, with extended enthusiastic improvisational lines that feature Matt stretching out on guitar, supported by Tim Regusis on soulful organ and keys, Chris Marshak on drums, Bakithi Kumalo on bass, Mario Cruz on tenor sax and flute, and Fred Walcott on percussion.
“Your Name” is a fun, hard-driving, tune – a blast from the past with a modern twist. Matt is on electric guitar and lead vocals in the chorus. There is a catchy, sexy riff played partly with guitar and saxophone in unison. Mark Gatz is on tenor sax and plays a great, dark and mysterious solo. “Your Name” is driven by an exciting, brassy beat with Chris Marshak on drums, and has Robert Meeks on organ. In contrast, “Quietly” is a beautiful, dreamy, melodic instrumental tune that should also be a popular pick for smooth jazz radio with Matt on electric guitar and gorgeous soprano sax solos from Mario Cruz.
There are also two R&B/pop tunes with lead vocals. “Seduction,” has Matt on lead and rhythm guitars and features Tanya Michelle on vocals with David Mann on a pretty soprano sax solo. “Into Darkness” features Anastasia Rene on lead vocals, and has Matt on guitars, Dean Kraus on keys, Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Chris Marshak on drums. (These two tunes are reminiscent of Jeff Golub’s soulful cover with a female lead vocalist on “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” - the Average White Band tune). “Never Let You Go” is a winning smooth jazz tune with Matt on guitar, background vocals by Anastasia Rene, keyboards by Dean Kraus, Kenny Harris on bass and Rodney Harris on drums.
“Smile” and “Nu Day” have cross-cultural appeal, with Matt fusing flowing electric riffs and pop/new-age/world music acoustic sounds with his own sweet, soulful scatting. “Smile” has a pure, innocent, spiritual kind of quality that will touch the child in every listener’s heart. “Nu Day” is similar in nature, but with a more upbeat tempo that is fresh, uplifting and inspirational. Both tunes have Robert Meeks on keys and Chris Marshak on brushes. “Nu Day” also includes Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Arty White on wah wah guitar. These tunes, along with the R& B-flavored songs featuring female vocalists are an indication that Matt Marshak’s music has the potential to crossover into pop, R&B, and world music realms and have universal appeal (perhaps like artists such as Norah Jones). Matt Marshak’s music deserves to be heard by wider audiences who are likely to become enthusiastic new fans around the world.
Without a doubt, guitarist/vocalist/composer Matt Marshak’s new CD This Time Around is a great find to add to your smooth jazz and pop music collection that will bring you listening pleasure for a long time!
Dear readers - this site has undergone some major improvements.
First of all I have now adapted the new look to all elements of the site including the guestbook and the discussion forum which both were sporting the old look until now. The re-design of the site is now completed - hope you like it.
Please feel free to add your comments to the guestbook or participate at the discussion forum (links above) or send me your feedback and let me know what you would like to see on this site.
The most important improvements have been done input-wise. One of my main contributors Brian Soergel will from now on submit first-hand news from the industry in his new column called Brian Soergel's Smooth Jazz Scoop increasing the status of this site within the smooth jazz scene. Check back often - you will hear about it here first!
Besides we have some new writers who joined recently or will soon start to contribute to the site. Among them is Beverly J. Packard with her Berks Jazz Vibes column providing some great concert reviews. More is soon to come from Beverly so stay tuned.
I am in touch with others as well so you can expect a lot more from Smooth Jazz Vibes in the future. If you would like to join the team of writers please let me know.
And finally we have added banner advertising to the site to give the industry an opportunity to reach their audience and provide the site with some revenue. By the way if you would like to support our work we invite you to donate some money using PayPal (just click the button on the front page) - thanks in advance!
On a side note I would like to mention my new engagement at SwissGroove.ch web radio located here in Switzerland. I play my favorite smooth jazz tracks during a two hours show which is broadcasted twice a week. Check it out!
I am really excited how this site develops and thank our loyal readers for visiting here regularly.
I joined the team of SwissGroove Radio and will select some of my favorite tracks for a weekly two hours show. It is broadcasted each Sunday evening at 9pm CET and re-broadcasted Wednesday evening at 9pm CET (which for the US on the west coast is noon and on the east coast 3pm). I will give you a nice selection of lesser known artists and new stuff deserving your attention. I try not to play the same stuff over and over you hear on your local smooth jazz stations (which all depend on the same input from Broadcast Architecure).
SwissGroove Radio is operated by Patrik Jungo whose passion is finding new grooves and making radio. The emphasis music wise on SwissGroove is the emerging format called lounge, downtempo or chill out music with other genres like smooth jazz, brazil, r&b, funk, dub and world thrown in for good measure. Be prepared for an adventurous and stimulating ride through the universe of sounds and grooves from around the planet. This radio is absolutely unique and very recommended!
While riding my mountain bike uphill listening to studio ace David Garfield's latest release Giving Back on my iPod I was really having a great time. This album is varied, interesting, boasts top notch playing from an incredible lineup of L.A.'s best session musicians (Gerald Albright, the Brecker Brothers, Walt Fowler, Vinnie Colaiuta, Hiroshima's June Kuramoto, Ricardo Silveira, Airto Moreira, Paul Jackson Jr., Lee Ritenour etc. etc.) and doesn't shy away from some really demanding playing. The opening track "Desert Hideaway" is the first highlight with its catchy melody and great solos by Michael O'Neill on guitar and Will Lee on bass. The smooth "Laws Of Love" is a beauty with Larry Klimas and Walt Fowler playing the melody together on sax and flugelhorn. "Tune For Tony" is a wild jam featuring two drummers splitting the drum patterns between themselves while the Brecker Brothers really stretch out. Steve Lukather adds his rock guitar the way he did on previous Garfield albums. There are some vocal numbers on the CD as well and they have hit potential. Especially "The One With The Broken Heart" featuring Bill Champlin and some great background singers lift this catchy pop song to a new level. The Isley's "For The Love Of You" featuring Alex Ligertwood is a delight as well. I could go on and comment the rest of the great tracks on this album which range from smooth jazz to soul/pop and back to funk, latin and weird jazz. A standout CD which is highly recommended to the true music lover who knows no boundaries!
As an avid CD collector I bump into a great CD once in a while. On cdbaby.com I discovered a great CD by a duo called Playtime which really impressed me. It is called Red Arrow Highway and was conceived as smooth jazz project founded by Detroit area session pros Brian Brill and Robert Tye. While working on advertising jobs, they began exchanging ideas to record original compositions on the side. Experimenting with early tracks cut at Brill's own studio, over time the two refined their collaborations into a polished form which ultimately led to Red Arrow Highway.
This album boasts top-notch production and great smooth playing by all involved. Contemporary grooves, melodic playing and tasteful laid back arrangements result in a very satisfying smooth jazz record which I heartily recommend to any lover of the genre. Featured guest soloists include Mark Kieme on soprano sax and Rich Illman on trumpet.
It is great to see that independently produced albums offer such a great level of musicianship and I recommend to anyone to check out the smooth jazz section at cdbaby.com from time to time - some great stuff waits there to be discovered.
To check out Playtime and to listen to sound samples click here!
With Smooth Jazz Vibes being one of the first sites on the internet covering smooth jazz it was now time to redesign the site and bring it up to the level of current technology. It is amazing how far we have come over the course of just a few years.
By employing a great content management system (Movable Type) I now am not only able to handle the various contributions much easier but also to allow more reader interaction. Please feel free to post your comments next to each post - besides the Smooth Talk forum remains open for anyone to peruse.
I am glad that my regular contributors stay with me and continue to submit news, reviews and other contributions to help to keep the site running.
Please bear with me as I adapt the rest of the site and restructure things. If you would like to drop me a line please feel free to contact me.
Thanks for visiting Smooth Jazz Vibes!