Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Museum of Pinball's Pinball Madness - Los Angeles Times

In 1973, when Bruce Springsteen lustily cooed “I just got tired of hangin’ in them dusty arcades, bangin’ them pleasure machines,” pinball was illegal in Los Angeles.
It had been since before World War II and wasn’t legalized until the year after “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” made its debut. Blame the mob and degenerate high school gamblers.Far from the Jersey Shore, the Museum of Pinball occupies an enormous industrial space off the west end of the Banning airport, a dimly lighted sea of electrified consoles on the edge of Riverside County. Last weekend, the museum hosted Pinball Madness, one of only three weekends a year that the museum is open to the public.
Countless restless adolescents have dreamed of an arcade filled with hundreds of pinball machines and video games flashing quietly, unattended, beckoning with the blinking phrase “free play” — a four-leaf clover whose value is measured in quarters. In the past decade, John Weeks and his son Johnathon have built that Valhalla. The Museum of Pinball has 1,100 fully functional arcade machines, 650 of which are pinball. Every one of them is set to free play.

“We don’t open to the public a lot because it is a significant-sized facility,” says the younger Weeks, standing outside the 18-acre complex. “It’s 45,000 square feet of pinball. Just to flip the electrical breakers, it costs a few thousand dollars.” Deutsche Electronics Co. opened the campus in 1964, teeming with as many 800 employees. When it closed in 2010, the Weeks family purchased the lot. Nearly 80,000 square feet of it has yet to be used.
Pinhead heaven
The average pinball player is lucky to get a couple of minutes out of a machine. At more than a dollar a game, it wouldn’t take long to spend more than Pinball Madness’ cover charge ($30 on Friday, $50 on Saturday and $40 on Sunday). But it can also make a player restless and perhaps a little guilty, betraying a childhood spent maximizing coin life. Where one might spend half an hour on a single game in a pizza parlor, here visitors could play a single ball on every machine and probably not have enough time to play them all.

In their heyday, pinball machines were seemingly based around anything: commuting (Cross-Town, 1966), hippies (Doodle Bug, 1971), derivative hard rock (Ted Nugent, 1979). From the 1970s to the present, machines became extensions of film marketing. The Museum of Pinball boasts two machines apiece with Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky,” 1982, and “Demolition Man,” 1994) and Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future,” 1990, and “The Addams Family,” 1992). Not to be outdone, Arnold Schwarzenegger has three (“Terminator 2,” 1991, “Last Action Hero,” 1993, and “Terminator 3,” 2003).
Pinball business was so good at one point that Bally’s began making pinball machines about pinball (Fireball, 1972, & Silverball Mania, 1980), while the Who’s “Tommy,” the double album/movie/stage musical about a pinball prodigy, has two machines, one for the movie (Wizard!, 1975) and one for the musical (Pinball Wizard, 1994). If Broadway buffs remain unfulfilled by that offering, they can also take a spin on 1990’s “Phantom of the Opera.”
Weekend wizards
Kat Peterson looked forward, unblinking. She had attended all three days of the weekend, driving up from San Diego, and was fixated on topping the high score of Gorgar (Williams, 1979), a titillating depiction of the devil and an unlucky pair of lovers. “I have to beat that score,” she said with unrelenting focus. “I’ve been trying since yesterday.”
The endlessly scrolling dot matrix above many modern machines taunts and touts the victories of previous gladiators, memorialized with only three letters, oftentimes in inappropriate combinations. But for the most part, pinball is a solitary game. Each pull of the shooter is an attempt to uncover a new corner of the playfield. For the 5,000 people in attendance over the weekend, most do not interact with each other. Men, women and children all mumble and curse to themselves, striking strange poses in an attempt to coerce the ball toward a blinking ramp and away from the center gap.
To call the space a museum is a bit generous. Those looking for the history and evolution of pinball should look elsewhere. Aside from a small display at the entrance featuring an 1800s-era bagatelle and amusing assortment of objects inside vintage machines, visitors are left to self-discovery. A tour of the collection’s finer gems would be a nice addition.
The machines are lined up in a vaguely chronological order. The early Gottlieb and Bally’s machines are a quiet respite from the muscly bells-and-whistles of testosterone-heavy titles by Data East, which seemed to replace nearly every part of the control system with a replica of a gun.
A team of 70 volunteer technicians roam the museum in red shirts, lifting and inspecting machines, checking in with guests to make sure everything is going as intended.
“These games are made to withstand the abuse,” says Weeks. “We want the games played. They’re like a classic car. If you aren’t driving those games, you are going to have problems with the coils and springs, electrical issues.”
From the graphics to the placement of every screw, the machines at the Museum of Pinball prove its worth. They’re almost pieces of art. And each tells a story, a unique topographical map of plastic and rubber.

Museum of Pinball @ Los Angeles Times

The History of the Playboy Jazz Festival - Playboy Magazine

It was an outrageously confident promise: “See and hear more great stars in one weekend than most people see in a lifetime,” declared ads for the first ever Playboy Jazz Festival. But the three-day August 1959 event more than delivered. 

The brainchild of Hugh Hefner, the first jazz festival was part celebration of Playboy’s five-year anniversary and part marketing strategy, a way to raise the magazine’s profile and stake out cultural territory. The powerhouse lineup featured such first-ballot hall of famers as Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Nina Simone and Sonny Rollins. Five concerts showcased more than three dozen acts, and the cheap seats cost a little more than a buck. That August weekend Playboy had taken the first step in creating what would become one of the liveliest and longest-running jazz festivals in America—though two decades would pass before it took the second step.
From the introductory issue of Playboy in December 1953, jazz had supplied the soundtrack. It was one of four topics Hefner suggested his readers would enjoy discussing with women—Nietzsche, Picasso and sex being the others. In 1957 the magazine introduced an annual reader’s poll of the hottest jazz acts and released vinyl collections featuring the winners. Music reviews and ads for hi-fi systems and the newest releases from Gerry Mulligan and Charles Mingus abound in early issues. “Jazz is the most personal of arts,” Hefner declared, “and, if we bring our passion to it, we are rewarded.” For Hefner, that passion demanded a living, breathing outlet. 
But the festival faced a crisis before it was even under way, recalls Dick Rosenzweig, who in 1958 had begun what was to be a nearly 60-year career with Playboy: “We got a call from the mayor’s office. They informed us that they were sorry, but we could no longer hold the festival outside at Soldier Field.” Moving quickly, the Playboy team secured the Chicago Stadium, an enclosed, air-conditioned arena. “It rained like hell that weekend,” Rosenzweig says. “So thank you, Mayor Daley.”
The festival opened Friday night with 33-year-old trumpeter Miles Davis at the height of his powers, spinning elongated soul on Kind of Blue’s “So What?” alongside alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Playboy donated the proceeds from the evening to the Chicago Urban League, a civil rights organization. Vocalist trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross put the perfect ring-a-ding swing on Saturday night, while Ella Fitzgerald closed the weekend with a spirited “How High the Moon,” leveling the crowd with blasts of nimble scatting. (It had taken $10,000—twice the amont any other performer earned that weekend—to land Fitzgerald.)
Billboard declared the event an “overwhelming success.” The musicians and crowds were happy, and the magazine was elated. Nearly 70,000 tickets had been sold across the three days. Ambitious plans for a 1960 jazz fest—one that would take place in three cities—were discussed, but nothing materialized. “We were in such an expansive and go-go mood, there was only so much we could do,” says Rosenzweig. “We were constantly busy doing other events and promotions.” The first Playboy Club, for example, opened in Chicago in 1960, and locations around the world soon followed. With distractions like that, it’s no wonder the festival went quiet.

In the early 1970s Hefner bought Playboy Mansion West and began to spend more time in Los Angeles. When he finally decamped from Chicago to the West Coast, he brought his love of jazz with him. So when the magazine’s 25th anniversary rolled around in 1979, what better way to celebrate than to revive the jazz fest, 20 years after its original incarnation?
On June 15, 1979, the revitalized Playboy Jazz Festival, now a two-day affair, kicked off on the Hollywood Bowl’s iconic half-dome stage. Local promoter Darlene Chan produced the event. “I put all the elements together,” she says—everything from booking talent to coordinating lights, sound and transportation. In the two decades between the first and second jazz festivals, much had changed within the jazz world, but Chan and her staff crafted a remarkable lineup that included Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock. Acts that leaned outside the jazz world—such as Joni Mitchell, who played tunes from her collaboration with Mingus—signaled that the fest would be musically inclusive.
For almost 40 years the festival has presided over rain-free weekends at the Bowl, with Chan working behind the scenes every year. It has become the unofficial start of summer in L.A., a weekend when the hardest part can be trying to keep up with the rest of the attendees. A vast range of jazz acts (Tony Bennett, Ornette Coleman, Dianne Reeves), world music artists (Hugh Masekela, King Sunny Ade) and pop outfits (the Roots, Common, Ozomatli, Sheila E) have all performed tight 50-minute sets. The crowds are huge and energetic, often enlivened by the contents of their picnic baskets—one perk of the Bowl is that patrons can bring their own food and drink. Across its hardwood benches, stadium chairs and intimate box seats, the Bowl can accommodate 17,500 revelers. The summer sun slowly works its way to the back of the amphitheater, a peak glow nestling into the dinner hour.
Ten-time Grammy-winning guitarist and vocalist George Benson has been a frequent performer, occupying that perfect position between instrumental virtuosity and tender R&B suavity. A natural and engaging frontman, Benson knows how to entertain both the champagne sippers in the front and the Jell-O shot pounders in the back of the house.
“In a large place like the Bowl, you’re trying to reach that person way out in the last row,” Benson says. “In a little room, they hear you and feel what you’re doing. To get that sound out to the last row in the Hollywood Bowl, that’s difficult. It’s not just the sound system; it’s how you play what you play and the selection of the materials. You have to find the spot.”
The festival has grown into an institution, showcasing some of the most significant jazz musicians of the past half-century. It also fosters up-and-coming talent. Inviting young performers to fill the opening time slots has become an enduring tradition. And as L.A.’s largest jazz fest, playing it serves as a measure of success for local artists.
Bassist and singer Miles Mosley, a member of the trailblazing West Coast Get Down collective, first played the festival with his high school band in the late 1990s. Last year Mosley had his own festival berth, leading his chameleonic soul band through a set of songs indebted to the City of Angels. For him, it was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. “The Playboy Jazz Festival is the pinnacle of what you seek to attain as a kid looking at your musical heroes,” he says. “The first time that stage turns around and you see that crowd, man, it’s an experience.”
From three o’clock in the afternoon until 11 o’clock at night, the live music plays practically nonstop, facilitated by an innovation made possible by Playboy: A large center-stage circular platform, bisected by a partition, ensures the continuous soundtrack. As one band plays on the audience-facing side of the platform, the other is a whirl of stagehands and musicians quickly loading out one band and setting up another. When one set ends, it fades into the next as the circle slowly revolves to reveal the upcoming act. It is unlike any other festival in its efficiency.
“We’re blessed to have that turntable,” says Chan. “It’s what makes our festival a little different.” When the Bowl was remodeled, Playboy paid to have the platform installed permanently. The old equipment required workers to rotate the stage manually. “Now I just press a button,” says Chan.
Nearly 60 years after its debut, the festival is still carrying on Hefner’s mission of bringing a lifetime’s worth of music to a single weekend. (This year’s all-star lineup includes Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams.) The only thing the listener has to do is remember to bring a corkscrew.

Sam First, the new LAX-adjacent Jazz Bar - Los Angeles TImes

Few iconic locations appear as proud of their bureaucratic acronym as the Los Angeles International Airport. Known globally as LAX, the main entrance to the airport on Century Boulevard features those three iconic letters standing 50 feet high to greet some 85 million weary passengers annually.

Less than 100 yards in front of that trio of letters, some of the swingingest jazz trios in Southern California have been setting up shop since late last year at Sam First, a sleek new club with an emphasis on potent cocktails and the hippest jazz calendar within walking distance of Economy Public Parking Lot C.

Owner Paul Solomon first made waves in real estate with the development of the Toy Factory Loft and the Biscuit Company Loft in the Arts District in the mid-2000s. Now he is head of Liminal Space, a real estate firm reinvigorating 6171 Century Blvd., a three-story office space on one of the busiest roads in Los Angeles. Of the 92,000 square feet of real estate space he was looking to fill, Solomon opted to take a couple thousand for himself and open a bar.
“I get excited by neighborhoods that are not entirely clear what their identity is,” Solomon says. “The Arts District was an industrial neighborhood. Here you can walk in to the airport. How anachronistic is that?”

Sam First was Solomon’s grandfather, a Polish émigré, who was able to make ends meet as a tailor. Though a consummate provider, First was not much of a drinker. Or a jazz fan. But there are numerous nods to the patriarch, says Solomon, including the use of prune and plum on the menu’s signature Old Fashioned cocktail and a supply of Budweiser tallboys at the back of the fridge.
On one Sunday evening, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Jonathan Pinson dug into a hard-driving set of originals and a few obscure Duke Pearson tunes. The room was full of attentive ears despite the bachelorette party on the patio.

Patti Jenkins of Atlanta found the place out of necessity. She was staying at the hotel across the parking lot and they didn’t have a liquor license.

Spanish design firm SelgasCano helped to craft the intimate space full of curving walls and reed-like tubing that stretches from the ceiling to the floor. The band snuggles in alongside the bar with the nearest stool serving as music stand and stick-holder for any drummer squeezed in amid the purse hooks.
Yet Solomon’s secret weapon is his booker, bassist Robaire. A Los Angeles native, Robaire is a graduate of Manhattan’s New School, Cal Arts and the prestigious Monk Institute. He is one of the most in-demand upright bass players in the city and is a member of Holophonor, a collective of Monk graduates whose invigorating 2017 album, “Light Magnet,” was produced by Wayne Shorter.

Robaire’s contacts file has helped to push Sam First’s jazz calendar into one of the most rewarding and affordable nights of music in town.

“The club is a place that you can go down and hear what musicians really want to show an audience,” says Robaire. “It's not background music. It's not ‘let's wing it.’ It is a performance by musicians of only the highest caliber performing their music that they have prepared for the audience.”

The cover charge is often between $10 and $25 for two sets, with usually an one-drink minimum. Clayton, one of the most frequently listed pianists on the schedule, declared the room’s main piece of furniture “the best club piano in L.A.”

That compliment means a lot to pianist Vardan Ovsepian who played a set of original tunes earlier this year along with cellist Artyom Manukyan and drummer Kyle Crane. The piano used to belong to him. “It’s like visiting an ex-girlfriend,” says Ovsepian. “It’s nice to stay in touch.”

Ovsepian is one of the most compelling pianists in Los Angeles, but his work — whether solo or with his chamber orchestra — requires an intimacy and attention from patrons that makes suitable venues hard to come by.

“I think this place represents some sort of hope,” Ovsepian says. “Hope that there are still great rooms that people want to visit. This is a serious club. I hope it only gets bigger and bigger. When the concept is right, we don’t care where it is. We will drive if the room is good. It doesn’t matter how far.”
Solomon welcomes the experimentation.

He has given the bands free rein of their music choices and instrumentation. “In jazz, you hear a lot of standards, but it's hard to hear people play standards as well as the originals,” Solomon says. “In the ’50s, the music was still new. It was something that you hadn't heard before that was beautiful and interesting, but like a lot of art, it's not the copies that are the most interesting. It's the original work. Original music communicates more intensely to the listener's heart.”

Like the Blue Whale and Vibrato, L.A. jazz clubs seem to take pride in being hard to find. Sam First, with an optimistic benefactor at the helm, appears poised to uphold that tradition, presenting some of the best young new talent in L.A. as well as an occasional legendary musician in an intimate space.

“It's fresh water here,” says Solomon. “There are always people coming through from anywhere in the world. You never know who will walk in. We’re a welcoming spot or a sending off place for Los Angeles. We're representing the city with a great creative space. Plus it’s just a good place to have to drink.”

Sam First @ Los Angeles Times

61st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival - JazzTimes

The Monterey Jazz Festival, held this year from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23, is a quaint little village that exists for two and a half days in mid-September with a diverse population base decked out in obscure instrumental band T-shirts and at least three other layers of clothing. During the day, the sun scorches. The fog, Monterey Bay’s greatest native product, burns off by the end of the morning, leaving a light breeze and open skies. Mother Nature has a way of selling the shady seats. When the sun drops out of sight, that crisp Pacific air exerts itself mightily. Mother Nature has a way of selling commemorative sweatshirts too.
Across the 20-acre fairgrounds, there are three outdoor stages and three indoor venues, plus a smattering of more informal performance spaces. An active attendee is never not listening. At any given point during the festival, there are at least two acts you’d love to see and one you could roll the dice on. Casting as wide a net as the “jazz” label can muster, Monterey offers something for everyone, but rarely does it pay off to park yourself in front of one stage until the end of the night. There’s also little room for pretension, which is great for both listeners and performers, whose audiences can swell and diminish at the whim of a jam-packed schedule.
There were enough noteworthy features at Monterey this year to fill at least two JazzTimes 10 lists, but one will have to do.
Gender Equity on the Agenda
Monterey was quick to respond to the gender imbalance of festival lineups in the past. It has always skewed toward male artists, but this year was a welcome opportunity for performances from the likes of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, clarinetist Anat Cohen, saxophonist Tia Fuller, and flutist Jamie Baum. Norah Jones closed the weekend, filling the 5000-seat Jimmy Lyons Arena for her first performance at the festival. Backed by drummer Brian Blade, organist Pete Remm, and bassist Chris Thomas, Jones led a master class in tranquil vulnerability. She coolly matched the night air, providing ample excuses for attendees to cozy up to one another.
A mid-day symposium hosted by Suzan Jenkins on “women in jazz” was, fortunately, a relaxed discussion that touched on many great points, thanks to a panel that included Fuller and Jensen. Their honesty and, in particular, Jensen’s sense of humor made the event feel inclusionary without being accusatory. Problems were far from solved, but at least we’re admitting there are problems now.
The Legacy of Ray Brown
The spirit of the late bassist Ray Brown was summoned at least twice during the weekend. Christian McBride filled Brown’s role in a group filled out by Brown alumnus pianist Benny Green and drummer Gregory Hutchinson on the Arena Stage. The trio dug deep into a hard-swinging groove, each beat an opportunity to surprise, but it was a whisper-soft dance through Neal Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” that displayed their true mastery of the blues. Even the planes flying overhead couldn’t distract from their patient, immaculate playing.

Katie Theroux (right) performs with her trio at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 23, 2018
Katie Theroux (right) performs with her trio at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 23, 2018 (photo: David Royal/Monterey Jazz Festival)

The following afternoon, bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux evoked both Brown and McBride as she fronted her own hard-swinging trio. A solo homage by way of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” was bold, not an easy task for an outdoor gig in the middle of the day but a successful one. Her original tune “Ray’s Kicks,” a reference to her acquisition of a pair of Brown’s old shoes, was more sprightly, a youthful nod to the foundation of jazz.
Outdoor vs. Outdoor: José James
The Jimmy Lyons Stage is the festival’s largest performance area, breaking up each day with two three-band sets. José James, a charismatic and seductive frontman, headlined Saturday afternoon’s set. When he moved to the more intimate Garden Stage an hour later, his vibe became more immediate and casual. The crowd surrounded the stage and James wandered out among the blankets and beach furniture for “Lean on Me,” soaking up the enamored cries of one particular audience member before apologizing to her husband. Such moments can be a danger when leaving the safety of the stage.
Outdoor vs. Indoor: Bill Frisell
Guitarist Bill Frisell would probably maintain the same level of cool whether he was on the Arena Stage or in the middle of a hurricane. First he, along with pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz, supported saxophonist Charles Lloyd on the big stage. It was a stripped-down sound, driven by drummer Eric Harland’s JB breakbeats. Singer Lucinda Williams joined the band for a few tunes, adding a shock of pink lipstick and a ragged smile to the band’s country-rock swing.
Later in the evening, Frisell appeared fronting his trio in the intimate Pacific Jazz Café. Along with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston, he conjured crystalline phrases and an ethereal strum for an attentive crowd. Seemingly more an indoors guy, Frisell was just right for that room.

Donny McCaslin at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 21, 2018
Donny McCaslin at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 21, 2018 (photo: Craig Lovell/Monterey Jazz Festival)

Indoor vs. Outdoor: Donny McCaslin
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who first played the festival in 1982 while still in high school, dug into two very different bags. On Saturday night, he closed Dizzy’s Den, the largest indoor space, with a plugged-in quartet that also featured vocalist/guitarist Jeff Taylor, keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Zach Danziger. They were the loudest band of the day, a churning blend of rock riffs and electronically manipulated horn lines, and some people were not prepared, likely hoping for something more straight-ahead.
On Sunday night, McCaslin completely changed directions, taking on the role of Michael Brecker in the Arena Stage’s tribute to the late saxophonist. With help from trumpeter Randy Brecker and the unstoppable propulsion of drummer Antonio Sánchez, McCaslin ripped into a postbop sound, unadorned and full of fire, a reminder that even though his career is rapidly evolving, he’s still grounded in the fundamentals.
Appreciating Bill Withers
José James’ set, like his new album, was a fitting tribute to 80-year-old soulman Bill Withers. But it was blues vocalist Thornetta Davis who really put a stamp on Withers’ material with an a cappella take on “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Hushed and controlled, Davis seemed to have a great time during her set, hypnotizing the crowd with a welcome touch of gospel.

Thornetta Davis (right) performs with her band at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 22, 2018
Thornetta Davis (right) performs with her band at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 22, 2018 (photo: David Royal/Monterey Jazz Festival)

Higher Learning
It is kind of amusing that the high-school band tent was sponsored by the North Coast Brewing Company. (Hey, this is California; why not a cannabis company?) The parade of teenagers in ill-fitting suits was reassuring, however. They knew the music and weren’t afraid to test the waters. In particular, William Brandt and his band showed tremendous confidence in both abilities and repertoire—tasteful and unwavering, not flashy or unhinged, as some kids can get. A major bonus for the students performing at Monterey is the opportunity to hear and meet some of their idols. It’s refreshing to see so many young musicians checking the scene; the music is in good hands.

Bria Skonberg at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 21, 2018
Bria Skonberg at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 21, 2018 (photo: Craig Lovell/Monterey Jazz Festival)

Legacy: Monterey Jazz on Tour
After 61 years, the Monterey Jazz Festival is a tight ship. The brand is strong, and internationally recognized. This year, the festival’s ambassador ensemble (in its fifth iteration) is a killer combination of skill, youth, and diversity that bodes well for the festival and the genre. Tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana and trumpeter Bria Skonberg form the frontline while pianist Christian Sands, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Jamison Ross fill out the rhythm section. It’s a tight, swinging group that was immediately uplifted by the presence of vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant.
Joining the band mid-set on the Arena Stage, Salvant approached the microphone fearlessly, opening with a dark a cappella tale that transfixed the oversized space. Once again, Monterey has managed to corral some of the music’s best young talents into a touring band.
Up Close & Personal: Blue Note Tent
A small white tent barely eight folding chairs across was Blue Note Records president Don Was’ home for the weekend. Each afternoon he led listening sessions, with headphones for each attendee, and conducted interviews with festival headliners. Located in the center of the fairgrounds, the tent’s door (or, more accurately, flap) was a few feet from the stage, and it wasn’t unusual to see Charles Lloyd or José James discussing their craft several feet from the main walkway.

Joey DeFrancesco at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 23, 2018
Joey DeFrancesco at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival, September 23, 2018 (photo: Jim Stone/Monterey Jazz Festival)

B-3 Boogie
The rather drably named Nightclub was just that, with a slight commuter-hotel vibe thrown in. Padded chairs filled the space that hosted the most amplification of the weekend. Guitarist Adam Rogers and pianist Cameron Graves opened the festival here, but the final night was arguably Nightclub’s best of the fest, featuring three organ-led bands including Bobby Floyd, the electro-soul of Delvon Lamarr, and the unapologetic positive vibes of Joey DeFrancesco. Adding an electronic keyboard to his already hulking B-3 sound, DeFrancesco was in top form alongside saxophonist Troy Roberts, guitarist Dan Wilson, and drummer Michael Ode, blasting out cleansing soul before the fairgrounds wrapped it up for another successful weekend.

ASCAP's Jazz Awards with Roscoe Mitchell - DownBeat

Last week amid the million-dollar homes along Los Angeles’ Mulholland Drive, Vibrato Grill & Jazz hosted ASCAP’s Jazz Awards. There was a little dining, some music and a lot of schmoozing.
Trumpeter Herb Alpert owns the lavishly decorated venue, filigreed with his paintings and sculptures. The Wednesday ceremony moved seamlessly from act to act. Almost too seamlessly; it was over in an hour.
Early in the evening Paul Williams, ASCAP chairman of the board, made a joke from the stage that former president Marilyn Bergman’s success in extending the length of copyrights ensured that “my grandchildren can waste my money for an extra 20 years.”
It was a charming and fatalistic joke that was right on the nose.
Bergman, an 87-year-old, three-time Academy Award winner, sweetly received the ASCAP President’s Award. She accepted the award from her seat, alongside her writing partner and husband Alan, and spoke quietly. The entire room hushed and slowly sneaked in on her, surrounding the table as she gave thanks.
Verbose musicians are the exception to the rule in jazz. And both performing award recipients spent their time at the podium making succinct remarks, with little fanfare.
Pianist Gerald Clayton was the recipient of the ASCAP Vanguard Award. Pianist Matthew Shipp introduced him with kind remarks and Clayton spoke briefly before sitting at the piano, alone. He worked a mid-tempo pulse into a strident bounce, his hands calmly working in opposite directions. The reflective performance followed a boisterous display from trombonist Mariel “Spencer” Austin’s septet. Clayton played one tune, clasped his hands together in thanks and then rejoined the audience. It’s likely that he spent longer waiting for the valet at the end of the night than he did on the piano bench.
The VIP for the night was a man who never said a word on the microphone. Instead, Quincy Jones sat at the Bergman’s table, greeting visitors and taking selfies. When Ben Barson’s raucous costumed band (mariachi garb, a gold-leaf blazer, a tunic), accompanied by an operatic background vocalist, finished its one tune, Jones audibly let out a long “Ohhhhkay.”
Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell was the recipient of the ASCAP Founders Award; his speech, too, was to the point. His essential message: “I am committed to what I am hearing.”
Then with Shipp on piano, bassist Junius Paul and drummer Vincent Davis, Mitchell hit the stage with a soprano saxophone. The band blazed hard; there was no build-up. Davis was a barrage of reverberating crashes and thumping drums, killing any light conversation in the room. The group finished its one tune, and then someone approached the podium to announce, “Enjoy your desserts.”
Regardless of how much time was granted to presenting the actual artistry, ASCAP only can be commended for focusing a spotlight on generations of great jazz players.

An Interview with Composer Kris Bowers About 'Green Book' - DownBeat

The late pianist Don Shirley (1927-2013) straddled the worlds of jazz and classical throughout his prolific career. Born in Jamaica, Shirley was a piano prodigy, debuting with the Boston Pops Orchestra at the age of 18. Through the 1950s and ’60s, he released dozens of albums on Cadence Records from meditations on ancient Greek myths to straightahead interpretations of the Broadway hit parade. He had a measured sound, fond of chamber-esque instrumentation and poise, more introspective than raucous.
The new film Green Book is an embellished look at Shirley’s two month tour of the American South in the early 1960s. Directed by Peter Farrelly and starring Mahershala Ali as Shirley, the film is a sweetly turbulent road trip, full of holiday warmth and period pop songs. Viggo Mortensen co-stars as Shirley’s brash foil, Tony Lip, an oafish Italian-American bouncer whose anger has limited his options for regular employment. Young jazz pianist Kris Bowers wrote the score and more.
The title of the film comes from a guide book published and used by African Americans in the 20th century to help navigate the hostility of a divided America with a listing of black-owned and non-discriminatory businesses throughout the country. Long before the internet, it was the most respected and widely-used source for bypassing the antagonism of segregation, like a AAA guide that also takes into account virulent racism. It was an indispensable guide whose purpose is rather understated in the film. For those looking for a history of the green book and its relevance to American history, this is a good introduction, but far from a deep dive into a sinister necessity for many travelers. The movie is primarily focused on the relationship between Ali and Mortensen, an inverted Driving Miss Daisy with a better sense of swing.
“The first time I heard about him was when I got the script,” said Bowers of Shirley by telephone. “He reminded me a lot of other musicians from that era dealing with similar things—John Lewis, Nina Simone. He was another person trying to figure out how to showcase his classical training and his music.”
While Shirley was a prolific and successful artist in his time, his legacy has faded since the release of his last album in 1972, The Don Shirley Point Of View. His delicate precision and cross-genre style fell between the cracks of music history, neither heralded by jazz circles nor the classical world. When he died at the age of 86, much of his catalog was out of print.
Ali plays Shirley as a man often too refined for his surroundings. Mortensen is his foil, out of his comfort zone in virtually any environment that isn’t close to a pot of bubbling red sauce. Ali first appears on screen as a robed mystic living above Carnegie Hall. Mortensen opens the film busting heads on behalf of the Copacabana nightclub’s management. Both characters move toward an agreeable center the further south they travel, bonding before a backdrop of roadside attractions and concert venues that range from living rooms to concert halls.
Bowers has been making waves writing for film and television during the past five years. In 2011, he won the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition and in 2017 a Daytime Emmy award for his music on the new children’s classic A Snowy Day. He also has scored documentaries about Norman Lear and Kobe Bryant, but Green Book is his biggest scoring endeavor yet.
“I’ve been wanting to do this since I was eight. It’s always been a part of my life plan,” he said.
While a student at Julliard, he took orchestration classes, preparing himself for countless situations. Bowers was given a lot of room to explore, more than he expected. “[The filmmakers] let me write something that fits. A lot of times you have to match temp music or appease a director, be someone they couldn’t afford to hire,” he said, despite not being the only person hired to write music for the movie.
Ali’s piano performance is wonderfully convincing. He parries from glowing Steinways to juke-joint uprights with a natural flow that looks as though he had been playing piano for years. He had not: Bowers was Ali’s piano teacher.
“He’s a really quick learner,” the pianist said about Ali. “I figured we’d start with a major scale. He played the C major scale for three hours. He was so intensely focused I had to interrupt him physically to get him to stop.”

There were a few scenes that Ali’s skills were not up to snuff, though. Bowers’ hands were offered an acting opportunity, serving as Ali’s stand-in. “Having to learn all that music was pretty scary,” Bowers said. “I went back to practicing eight or nine hours a day. It was nerve wracking to get those things done in one, two, maybe three takes. They’re not going to spend an entire day to get one song right.”