Sunday, March 28, 2010

Johnny Meza Entertains at Desert Sage

Last week my wife and I had dinner at the wonderful Desert Sage Restaurant in La Quinta and while we were enjoying our dinner in one of the dining rooms, we heard some great music via the speakers in the room. At first we thought it was recorded music, but then we discovered that the great sounds were coming from the piano bar in a nearby room. After we finished our meal, we decided to go into the bar area to see who was responsible for the music we had enjoyed during our dinner. It's there we got to meet and enjoy more music from Johnny Meza.   Johnny plays piano and sings in a small area off the bar that also has a small dance floor. The whole atmosphere seems like a throw back to the Sinatra days when you could sit at the bar and enjoy live music in an intimate way that is very hard to find in 2010! Johnny's expertise enables him to play different kinds of music, but his roots are still with the Great American Songbook including many favorite Sinatra songs that he handles perfectly. Not only does Johnny play and sing, but he also entertains with his commentary that results in an immediate connection with his audience. And as it turned out, we were not the only ones that recognized Johnny's talents. While we were enjoying one of his songs, a long time resident of the California desert, a music legend in his own right and a long time Frank Sinatra favorite, Frankie Randall, walked up to say hello to Johnny and then sang a song with him. Frankie Randall's history with Sinatra goes way back to when Mr. Randall was playing at Jilly's Bistro. When Sinatra was in the desert, it was always Frankie Randall who was at Sinatra's home to play for his late-night, after-dinner parties. In addition, Frankie Randall is still one of the strongest supporters of keeping the Great American Songbook alive and well. After Frankie Randall, another member of the audience, a women named Tony Curtis, came up and beautifully sang a couple of great standards. This is what the California desert is all about. Great entertainers live here, and they support each other at the local restaurants. If you are in the area, Johnny plays at Desert Sage on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and also at Bing Crosby's on Wednesday. He is definitely worth seeing!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Live Jazz In The California Desert


As I have stated before in this blog, the area around Palm Springs California is the "mother load" for outstanding musicians and outstanding live music. Another example that proves this statement is correct occurred on this past Wednesday night at the small, but wonderful "Cafe des Beaux-arts in Palm Desert, Ca. My friend Steve Madaio brought together three other highly experienced professionals for the night so they could play the kind of music that they love. In my opinion, the difference between musicians playing music to suit their audience compared to when they play music they love is remarkable! That's what the result was on Wednesday night. Steve got to showcase some of his great trumpet skills on up-tempo songs and also got to play one of the "Top 10 Great American Songs, Here's That Rainy Day" for me. Steve said he had not played this great standard for over a year, but he had no problem playing with his usual extraordinary emotional approach. Seems to me that when Steve plays the great standards, you somehow don't miss the lyric because you can heard it in Steve's sound. Few musicians have the ability to play more than just notes, but all the great ones have the ability to inject the emotion of the lyric into the notes. Steve is certainly one of the greats.
I also want to note that the bass player in the group, Bill Saitta, put on a really impressive display of why the stand up bass will never be replaced by the electric bass. His ability to solo on the stand up bass was wonderful to see and hear. In another posting, I will highlight the keyboard performer in this group who needs more than just a couple of comments!

Gladys Knight Stars At McCallum In Palm Desert


Last night we were given a real musical treat by Gladys Knight as she performed at The McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert California to a sold-out audience. She was backed by a seven piece band and three "Pip-like" singers. Every new singer should be required to see Ms. Knight in action.  There is no doubt that she could teach a class in what it means and takes to have "Stage Presence".  From the moment she walked on stage, she connected with the audience and never let the attachment go from the beginning to the end of her performance. What a pro; what a voice; what a sense of rhythm!! She also brought her brother, the last living Pip, on stage to recreate his thing for the audience. It's a warm feeling to see big stars never forget their roots. Gladys Knight started her career at the age of 7 on the popular "Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour" and luckily for us has kept singing through the last 40 years.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sinatra And The Big Band Sound Are Back


This past Friday night I was able to attend the Frank Sinatra, Jr. concert at The McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, California. Over the past few months I had heard several recent songs recorded by Frank, Jr., and I was, quite frankly, surprised by how good he sounded. It's been years since I first heard Frank, Jr. and never thought he had more than an average voice. As a result, I had not been too interested in following his career. Probably a mistake on my part, since over the past years, Frank, Jr. has been quietly singing better and better. I wanted to see him in person to confirm my recent observations about his singing.

The concert started with what I counted as a 32 piece band playing several Sinatra signature melodies, and it was wonderful. Hearing a live 32 piece swing band again was quite the treat. I believe that if the entire concert consisted of just the band, I would have had no complaints; the sound was that good.

When Frank, Jr. came on, he sang the first three or four songs before he addressed the audience. He then took us through the music of his famous father and sang songs that marked each decade. His performance and team-work with the band was excellent. It seems to me that just like his father, Frank, Jr.'s voice has gotten deeper and more mellow. I also have to give him credit for picking some of the more difficult Sinatra songs to sing. He could have taken the easy way by singing some of the more simple tunes his father had hits with, but he proved that he is a real talent in his own right. I left the concert having totally enjoyed the performance and wondering why Frank, Jr. had gotten so little spotlight by the music industry press? Maybe they had the same experience I had many years ago and never took the time to follow up on his progress. In my opinion, his singing is as good, if not better, than several other current singers on the scene today, and they get tons more credit than Frank, Jr. I hope that in the future, he can get more exposure in the industry. It would be a real loss if more people could not experience the pleasure of hearing an excellent singer, singing standards in front of a swing big band. My personal thanks to Frank, Jr. for the great performance and his efforts to get a big band on the stage again.

CD Review: Stephane Spira :New Playground"

Stephane Spira Saxophonist and Composer Stephane Spira's success has not come easily or quickly.  Stephane is self-taught while...