Monday, April 23, 2012

Ron Kalina Stars In "Harmonica Convergence" at the Indian Wells Resort Hotel

Ron Kalina

Ron Kalina & Gino Antonacci

The Ron Kalina Trio
Gino Antonacci

Blake White
Frank Di Salvo

Ken Steele
Rich Bono

On Tuesday April 16, I attended the opening of Ron Kalina's "Harmonica Convergence" at the Indian Wells Resort Hotel.  Ron Kalina put together a highly talented trio consisting of Blake White on Bass and Gino Antonacci on Vibes and Ron Playing both Keyboard and Harmonica. I want to start this review by stating that Ron Kalina is simply an amazing musician. Tonight Ron sang, played the Keyboard, played the Harmonica and then played the Harmonica and the Keyboard at the same time. Ron further surprised me and a lot of people in the audience with his singing ability.  His voice sounds like a combination of Fred Astaire, Chet Baker and Johnny Mercer.  Not a bad group of singers to hang with, don't you think! There were two songs that Ron played on the Harmonica tonight that were just brilliant, "Body and Soul" and "Skylark". These are two of the greatest love songs ever written and when played with the soulful sounds of Ron's harmonica, it just does get any better.

Gino Antonacci is one of only a few great jazz players you can still hear playing the Vibes.  I have not heard a Vibes player in many years and after hearing Gino play it quickly reminded me of how much I love the sound.  Gino fit perfectly with the sound of Ron's Harmonica and Keyboard.  And can he swing! What a treasure to have him playing right here in the Desert.

The third member of this group was Blake White who played the Bass.  I had recently seen Blake with the wonderful singer, Rose Mallett and thought he was a fine Bass player.  But tonight, playing jazz in this trio, he was allowed to push the Jazz envelope, and his solos were intelligent and clear.  He provided the rhythm glue to pull the trio together.

Tonight marked the first time this talented group of musicians has played together, but you would never guess it because they sounded wonderful.  This group will be back again at the Indian Wells Resort on Tuesday, April 24.  You won't find the sounds that this trio produces any where in the area, and I encourage all my readers to get over to the Indian Wells Resort next Tuesday to catch the show. I understand that the Resort is thinking about adding this group as a regular on Tuesday nights next season. This idea would certainly get my vote!

Joining in at tonight's opening were several familiar musicians that we all love.  First, the resident musical director at the Indian Wells Resort, Frank Di Salvo who sang a couple of great classic songs.  In particular, Frank did a beautiful singing job on the standard "My One And Only Love". I have never heard Frank sing better.

The next singer was Ken Steele whose golden-deep voice had the feel of the great voice of Johnny Hartman. Ken sang "But Beautiful" and then sang a great version of "Emily".

Rich Bono, one of the best pianist in the West, then joined the Trio and played several great songs from the "Great American Songbook". Rich is a great pianist, and I never miss a chance to hear him play.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mike Costley Is Sensational At 360 North in Palm Springs

Mike Costley

Mike Costley
Mike Costley

Sal Frisaura, Larry Holloway and Yarek Yurant

Carole Hampton, Sal Frisaura, Larry Holloway and Yarek Yurant

Jeanie Stanhope, Larry Holloway and Yarek Urant

Beverly Jensen

On Wednesday, April 4, I had my first chance to hear Mike Costley sing since last winter.  Mike performs at 360 North Restaurant on Wednesdays and Thursdays to a packed house and with good reason.  Mike is pure and simple a great singer.  In addition, he is also a great performer.  When you go to hear Mike you get so much more than just a singer of songs.  Mike has his own unique approach to each song he sings, and he never opts for singing safely.  When he sings he "takes no prisoners" and pushes his performance to the highest level possible.  Tonight, I was particularly impressed with his vocal range which was far greater than I remembered.  Mike sings a variety of music from lush ballads like "The Very Thought of You" and "The Nearness of You" to a blinding fast version of "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing".  His voice can be smooth as silk singing "You Are So Beautiful" to down-and-dirty singing the blues.

As a performer, Mike is a perfectionist.  He always carefully picks the finest musicians to support his singing and tonight was no exception.  Mike had three seasoned, highly-talented players with him, Sal Frisaura on drums, Larry Holloway on bass and the always wonderful Yarek Yurant on keyboard.  I thought Yarek's performance with Mike tonight was exceptional.

As usual, there were several singers in the audience Mike called up to sing:  Carole Hampton, Jeanie Stanhope and the talented Beverly Jensen.

If you have not been over to hear Mike this season, make plans quickly.  You don't get to hear singers with Mike's talent everyday, and be sure to call 360 North for reservations as this show fills up quickly.  Reservations call 760-327-1773

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jim DeJulio, Bassist Extraordinaire

Music lovers in the Coachella Valley have the wonderful opportunity to see and hear one of the greatest living bass players in the country, Jim DeJulio.  Jim began his career in Pittsburgh, Pa and was honored by being inducted into the Pittsburgh Jazz Hall of Fame whose members include Ray Brown, Earl Gardner, George Benson and the Tarentine Brothers---not bad musical company.  Jim's first instrument was the accordion; but after a years or so, he was attracted and captured by the soulful sound of the bass. From the first day Jim bought his first bass, he practiced every free minute he had almost to the exclusion of everything else in his life. Jim's training was not limited to jazz.  He received classical training from musicians in the Pittsburgh Symphony which helped him develop his remarkable bow work.  

Because of the time he dedicated to practice, it was not long before Jim was performing with the greatest jazz musicians in the New York area including Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt, and Herbie Green just to name a few.  After Jim relocated to the West Coast, he worked with Phil Woods, Conti Condoli and some of the greatest singers of the Great American Songbook like Anita O'Day, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McCrae, June Christy, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis Jr, Barry Manilow and Frank Sinatra.  In fact, whenever Frank was in the Desert and wanted a bass player, Jim always got the call!  Also, Jim's marvelous resume includes his playing in the Mike Douglas Show orchestra for 18 years.

I first heard Jim play at Vicky's of Santa Fe in Indian Wells where he plays with Pat Rizzo on Mondays and Tuesdays.  What really made me a Jim De Julio fan was more than just his outstanding musical dexterity, it was his feel for melody, especially ballads from the Great American Songbook.  Few Jazz musicians, even among the great ones, have the ability to capture not only the emotion of the music but the lyrics as well.  Miles had it, Chet Baker had it, Coltrane had it and our own Desert favorite, Steve Madaio has it.  In my opinion, Jim De Julio is a charter member of this select group.

Jim has several CDs out that I have listened to and they are simply terrific.  "It's All About Time" was published in 1992 but it sounds as good today as when it was cut.  Jim is joined by a great cast of players including David Benoit, Eddie Daniels, Bill Watrous, Roy McCurry, Paul Smith, Wally Minko, Lou Forestieri and Chris Trujillo.  When you get this CD, check out the bass solo Jim performs on "Dewey Square"; it is out of this world.  There are two other songs that I keep playing over and over, "It Never Entered My Mind" and "Have You Met Miss Jones". The musical quality of these songs is as good as it gets!

Jim also put out "Take It From The Bottom" that contains some great songs like "Samba d'Marianne" that Jim wrote; the Jim Van Heusen gem, "I Thought About You" and a fine recording of "Amazing Grace".  Also, Jim plays a 2 minute solo on "How High The Moon" that gives me chills; it is that good!

The last CD I listened to was "The Jim DeJulio Jazz Quintet".  Jim is joined by top class musicians, Peter Christlieb on tenor, Conte Candoli on trumpet, Pamela York on Piano and Joe La Barbera on drums. I was surprised to see that Jim wrote five great songs for the CD. I went back and checked the other CD's and found that Jim had written songs for these CD's also.  He is truly a remarkable musician in all aspects. And this is simply a rock solid jazz recording!   You can buy these CDs on iTunes or CD Baby, and I highly recommend them all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: "Hound Dog" The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography By Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller With David Ritz

If you love R & B and the "Rock & Roll" music of the 50's and 60's, HOUND D0G is the next book you should read!  If you write or dream about writing music and lyrics, The Leiber and Stoller example proves you have a chance to succeed but only if you are willing to dedicate your life and put your heart and soul into writing music. However even as successful Leiber and Stoller were as composers, they were always living on the financial edge even after writing some of the most successful songs in the history of the music writing business! Writing good music and lyrics is one thing, making a successful living out of it is a more difficult undertaking.

Leiber and Stoller's first love and perhaps their greatest love was the music that Black musicians were singing and playing in the 40's and 50's.  Mostly "Black Blues" music coming out of New Orleans, Chicago, LA and NY.  In addition to the "Blues" they both loved the new jazz style that was being played called "Bebop" along with the music of Fats Waller, Count Basie and the jazz pioneers like Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Erroll Garner, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. This was fine except for the fact that the big record labels like RCA, Columbia and Decca almost totally ignored the great Black artists of the times because they didn't think the music was worthwhile, artistically or commercially.  So as great as the writing of Leiber and Stoller was, there was very little market for their songs because there was only a small market for Black performers could sell their records. This fact of American musical history while known by Leiber and Stoller, had little effect on their writing.  They wanted first and foremost to write music and lyrics that would be recorded by Black artists of the times.  Even one of their greatest songs, "Hound Dog" was first recorded by Big Moma Thornton before it became a smash hit for Elvis.  In fact, they both thought that even though the success and dollars they made from the Elvis' recording of "Hound Dog" were welcomed, they both still liked the Big Moma Thornton recording much better.

The book is written in first person, alternating between Leiber and Stoller recalling their individual thoughts during each period of their lives and careers.  I was especially delighted in their later work and personal stories about one of my favorite singers "Peggy Lee".  Peggy had two of her biggest hits with Leiber and Stoller songs, " I'm A Woman" in 1962 and "Is That All There Is" in 1969.

I enjoyed the trip back to a memorable musical period this book provided. However, I thought that the constant back and forth between Leiber's view to Stoller's view made the understanding of narrative somewhat more difficult.

                 BOOK REVIEW
The Music Man Awards This Book "3 Quarter Notes"

4 Quarter Notes= Excellent, Must Read
3 Quarter Notes= Good Read
2 Quarter Notes= Somewhat Interesting
1 Quarter Note = Save Your Time and Money

Friday, April 13, 2012

Brian Nova Trio Plays Great Jazz at Backstreet Bistro

Brian Nova

The Brian Nova Trio: Jay Lewis, Larry Holloway, Brian Nova

Larry Holloway and Brian Nova
Larry Holloway
Jay Lewis

Chase Huna and Brian Nova
Missoni Lanza and Brian Nova

The Brian Nova Trio and Carole Hampton
The legendary Harp Player, Ron Kalina

The night I went to Backstreet Bistro to hear Brian Nova, the outdoor event was cancelled due to high winds.  So when I heard that Brian would be performing on April 3 at Backstreet, I returned.  It was well worth it and proved to be a very entertaining evening.  Playing with a trio composed of Jay Lewis on drums, Larry Holloway on bass and Brian as lead with his guitar really cooking. Working with these two talented musicians provided the perfect background for Brian to showcase his amazing dexterity and imaginative improvising on the guitar.  In addition, Brian sang several great jazz tunes to the delight of the standing-room-only crowd at the Backstreet Bistro. Brian is an understated musical performer for all the lucky residents in the Coachella Valley.  If you love great jazz, you have to put hearing Brian on your "To Do" list. 

Of special note tonight was some killer-bass-playing from Larry Holloway and the always great drum playing from Jay Lewis. This trio sounded like they have been playing together for years and provided Brian with perfect backing.

As one would expect, there were several performers in the audience Brian called up to perform. First was a young sax player, Chase Huna.  Chase is 12 years old and is in the 7th grade at the Palm Desert Charter Middle School and has only been playing for 3 years.  But don't let that fool you, he can play and improvise on sax exceptionally well.  Keep up the studying Chase, you have what it takes to become a great player in the very near future.  Next up was the lovely and talented singer and friend to all musicians in the Desert, Carole Hampton.  Carole has a wonderful voice and sings effortlessly to the delight of her admiring audiences.  Thanks for the great sounds, Carole!
Next up was one of my personal Desert favorites, Ron Kalina.  I just never get to hear enough of Ron's harp playing.  However, I just found out that Ron has put a trio together and will be performing at The Indians Wells Resort on Tuesday April 17.  This is a performance that should not be missed.  Mark your calendars and call the Indian Wells Resort at 760-345-6466 to reserve your table

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Four Freshman Are Not Only Alive But Singing Better Than Ever

The Four Freshmen
The Four Freshmen

The Four Freshmen
I have been a fan of The Four Freshmen since I first heard the original group back in the early 60's. When I first heard them it was in the heyday of "Rock and Roll" but the jazz harmonies they produced had a great impact on my musical sensibilities and never left me. So on Monday March 26, I went to the McCallum Theatre to hear the latest group of Freshman,  Group #22. The Four Freshmen have been performing continually for 64 years since their start in 1948. This latest group has been together since 2001 and their performance showed that they are a finely tuned group of musicians.  The sound, the harmonies and the arrangements were as sharp and as good as when I first heard the group more than 50 years ago.  They sing songs from the "Great American Songbook" that produced sounds that can be current and nostagic at the same time. They sang 26 great songs this night including "Skylark", "Angel Eyes"and "Day In, Day Out". When they sang "Stardust" and "It's A Blue World" they got a rousing response from the audience. The Four Freshmen tour all through the year, in all parts of the country.  Log on to their web sight and you can check out their schedule. If they are anywhere near you, make every effort to hear the group. This current group of Freshmen has produced a couple of CDs, "The Four Freshmen, In Session" and "The Four Freshmen, Live in Holland". I bought and listened to both and highly recommend them.

Listen to the attached Youtube I have attached below.  It captures the Four Freshmen sound better than I could describe it.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Erroll Garner:Remembering The Jazz Giants: Chapter Four

Erroll Garner has been one of my jazz idols ever since I first heard him play piano in the mid 50's.  Erroll was born June 15, 1923 and died Jan 3, 1977.  He started playing piano at the age of 3.  By the time he was 7, he was playing piano on radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh with a group called "Candy Kids". At 11 he was playing on Allegheny riverboats.  He did all this playing without ever learning how to read music. Erroll had no problem playing any kind of music without written music notes.  Erroll always had his own distinctive style of playing that is easily recognizable.  Along with an outstanding musical career, Erroll also found time to write one of the greatest songs in the history of the "Great American Songbook" Misty.  If you have not experienced the magic of Erroll Garner, I have selected two YouTube videos that will open the Garner door for you.  If you already are a fan, these YouTube videos are sure to bring back some wonderful memories. The first video is of Erroll playing "Over The Rainbow" that is just great.  The second video is Erroll playing his own composition, "Misty" and there are no words to describe how good this is.

                                                Erroll Garner Plays "Over The Rainbow"

                                                        Erroll Garner Plays "Misty"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Johnny Meza Always The Life Of The Party At Arnold Palmer's Restaurant

The Bar in Arnold Palmer's with Johnny Meza performing

Johnny Meza

Johnny Meza

Johnny Meza

On Wednesday, March 28, I went to Arnold Palmer's Restaurant in La Quinta to see my long time friend, Johnny Meza.  I had not heard Johnny play and sing since last season but as soon as I sat down in the bar area, I quickly realized again how Johnny can light up a room.  The bar at Arnold Palmer's is a fun place to spend some time if you can find some space.  The bar is always a key destination for locals to gather to have a drink or two, have some laughs and dance to the music and sounds of Johnny Maza. Johnny plays music from the forties right up to current day favorites. Johnny is not just another singer, he is an entertainer par excellence.  He plays the piano and guitar, sings and interacts with the audience with entertaining and funny commentary.  If you were planning to have a party, Johnny is the guy you would want to provide the entertainment. You can also have dinner in the bar area or just drinks but it's the place to have fun.  Johnny sings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday from 6:30pm to 10:30pm.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Johnny Morris Plays The Great Standards Exactly Like the Composers Would Have Played Them Only Better!

Johnny Morris

Johnny Morris

Johnny Morris

Johnny Morris & Earl Knauss
I wanted to hear Johnny Morris play piano for quite a while but never had the opportunity until Tuesday March 27.  Johnny has been playing and singing at The Sandbar Restaurant in La Quinta for many years. After hearing Johnny play a couple of great Hoagy Carmichael gems, "The Nearness of You" and "Stardust" it was very clear why The Sandbar keeps Johnny playing year after year.  He plays standards like he wrote them and for good reason.  In addition to being a talented pianist, Johnny is also an acclaimed published arranger sought after by both singers and pianists. He wrote major arrangements for "Steinway's Most Popular Piano Solo Series".  He recently performed as the musical director for the sold out, highly acclaimed Derrik Lewis' Musical Chairs' production of "Polka Dots & Moonbeams" presenting the songs of Jimmy Van Heusen at the Indian Wells Theater in Indian Wells. While Johnny feels very comfortable playing for the locals that call the Sandbar home, he also is very much at home playing in some of the most upscale restaurants in New York City like the Oak and Edwardian Rooms in the Plaza, the Hotel Carlyle and the Rainbow Room. La Quinta calls itself "The Gem of the Desert" but now I know there is a second gem in the desert, Johnny Morris!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be at a party with Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Ira Gershwin and George Gershwin playing the piano?  Well now you don't have to wonder, get over to The Sandbar Restaurant on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday, sit back, close your eyes and listen to the wonderful sounds of Johnny Morris.

As is the custom in the desert, there is always someone who wants to sing and tonight was no exception.  Tonight's guest singer was Earl Knauss who sang a few songs along with Johnny's wonderful playing.  If I was a singer, and I am not, I would want Johnny Morris playing for me! It doesn't get any better.

CD Review: Clairdee Releases Her Forth CD, "A Love Letter to Lina"

San Francisco based Vocalist Clairdee has admired and been a fan of Lena Horne since she was four years old.  Clairdee was not just in...