|A TRIBUTE TO THE GREAT TERRY GIBBS
The day before the Los Angeles Jazz Institute began its four-day tribute to Buddy Rich, Ken Poston presented a celebration of the legacy of
vibraphonist Terry Gibbs. The audience at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel Los Angeles was first treated to a 20-minute film that summed up
Gibbs’ career and included some priceless film clips. Then vibraphonist Chuck Redd led a 15-piece big band that included such notables as
altoists Lanny Morgan and Kim Richmond, Roger Neumann and Terry Harrington on tenors, trumpeters Carl Saunders, Ron Stout and Bob
Summers, pianist Tom Ranier and Terry’s son Gerry Gibbs on drums.
The orchestra emulated the Terry Gibbs Dream Band of the late 1950s/early ‘60s both in style and repertoire. Among the performances were
an uptempo “Billie’s Bounce,” Bill Holman’s arrangement of “Ja Da,” “Begin The Beguine,” ”You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Don’t Be That
Way,” Gibbs’ “Soft Eyes,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
Terry Gibbs, who is 91, spoke to the audience in his usual rapid and witty fashion. He performed “Playing The Field” and “What’s New” with
the big band. While the latter was his ballad feature, Gibbs played double time much of the time, showing that his energy level and
creativity have not lessened through the years. For the grand finale, Gibbs revived his uptempo blues routine in which two musicians share
the same vibraphone, rapidly trading off with each other in competitive fashion while barely staying out of each other’s way. In the past he
performed it with Terry Pollard and Steve Allen, and his new version with Chuck Redd was just as fiery and humorous.
Terry Gibbs does not perform in public that often anymore, so this was a real treat from a masterful and apparently ageless musician.
HAROLD MABERN AND PHAROAH SANDERS
The night before the Playboy Jazz Festival, a couple of miles away at Catalina’s, some of the best music of the weekend took place. The
brilliant veteran pianist Harold Mabern and tenor-saxophonist Pharoah Sanders had not shared the bandstand that often before and there
were no formal rehearsals for their engagement, but it did not matter. The musical communication between the two giants was strong as
they performed with bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer John Farnsworth.
Harold Mabern began by playing Maurice White’s “Fantasy” and “Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” with the trio. While McCoy Tyner was an
early influence in his style, Mabern also hinted at Erroll Garner in spots but mostly played in his own powerful and hard-swinging voice. The
always-colorful Pharoah Sanders joined the group, hinting at both John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon on “You Say You Care” (which featured
a long drum solo) and putting plenty of feeling into “Naima.” “Lady Bird” was taken at a raging tempo that brought out Sanders’ passionate
side. The saxophonist’s greatest hit “The Creator Has A Master Plan” was given a brief rendition and then he finished his set with an r&bish
jump Bb blues. Sanders clearly had fun on that piece, throwing in some of his trademark screams and garnering a large ovation.
Surprisingly the set was not quite over yet. Harold Mabern remained on stage to play some outstanding solo piano on Bobby Timmons’ “Dat
Dere,” giving the audience a final bit of good vibes.
DALE HEAD SINGS AT THE E-SPOT
Dale Head is a likable singer and trumpeter who has loved big band jazz since his college days. At the E-Spot Lounge, he had a great time
performing with a 14-piece ensemble, delighting and entertaining the enthusiastic audience.
Head performed many arrangements from his excellent debut CD Swing, Straight Up and his upcoming release Swing On The Rocks. While
the emphasis was on his versatile singing, he took occasional trumpet and flugelhorn solos. His big band was always swinging and there were
many short spots for his sidemen.
The night began with an uptempo version of “It’s All Right With Me” that was full of high energy. In addition to singing the lyrics, Head
scatted a bit, trading off with his altoist. Next he performed an original from his previous album, “Love Is The Name Of The Game,” that
included his fine trumpet solo. An excellent song that could become a standard someday if it is more widely heard, the medium-tempo
swinger also included a bit of whistling by Head during his closing vocal. On “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” Head went out into the audience
while singing, shaking people’s hands and welcoming them to the performance.
Throughout the evening, one was constantly impressed by Dale Head’s versatility, both in his singing style and his band’s repertoire. He
performed numbers ranging from Bill Haley’s “13 Women” to the Frank Sinatra/Nelson Riddle version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” from
Bobby Darin’s swinging “Artificial Flowers” to the Mel Torme/Marty Paich rendition of “Too Close For Comfort.” Stretching the big band
tradition, he transformed songs associated with Van Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Simon & Garfunkel and even Van Halen into jazz. In fact,
the group’s one instrumental (other than a brief set-closing “One O’ Clock Jump”) was Edgar Winter’s funky “Frankenstein.” Other
highlights included “There’s No Easy Way To Say Goodbye” (a fine feature for his crooning), a floating arrangement of “Don’t Worry ‘Bout
Me,” “Get Me To the Church On Time,” a version of “Teach Me Tonight” that was inspired by Al Jarreau, and Sammy Davis Jr.’s version of
“Birth Of The Blues.” Perhaps most memorable was Dale Head’s reworking of “My Favorite Things” which shifted between 4/4 and 6/4 time
and featured topical and witty lyrics.
All in all, it was a very musical and entertaining evening.
JANIS MANN AT LACMA
During the past decade, Janis Mann has been one of the finest jazz singers around. She has always had a powerful voice, phrasing that is
sometimes a bit influenced by Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan, a wide range, and an improvising style all her own. Her concert at the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art’s Friday night jazz series was quite fun.
Janis Mann was assisted by pianist Rich Eames, bassist Ken Wild, drummer Roy McCurdy and Rob Lockart on tenor, soprano and flute.
Among the songs that she uplifted were “Always Trust Your Heart,” “Some Of My Best Friends Are the Blues” (which was inspired by Shirley
Horn), “You Taught My Heart To Sing,” “The Wind,” an emotional “Everything Must Change,” “Beautiful Love,” “The Meaning Of The
Blues” and “Comes Love.”
Every performance during the two sets had its bright moments and each song had its subtle surprises, Lockhart and Eames took rewarding
solos that fit in quite well with the singer. As for Janis Mann, she was heard at her best throughout the night, swinging throughout in
addition to contributing witty announcements between songs. Southern California jazz fans are very lucky to have her as a resident.
Way back in 1964, Freda Payne debuted with a jazz album for the Impulse label, After The Lights Go Down Low. She would go on to fame in
the r&b and pop worlds, not recording her second jazz album (Come Back To Me Love) until a half-century passed. Fortunately she has always
stayed very interested in jazz and her current show is mostly quite jazz-oriented.
At Catalina’s, the veteran singer was joined by a fine rhythm section with guest spots for tenor- saxophonist Rickey Woodard (who was perfect
for this setting) and three background singers. The youthful-looking singer showed very good control over her voice throughout the night,
holding long notes without ever wavering. She also displayed plenty of sass and sensuality on various songs. She sang such songs as a scat-
filled “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Up To Dry,” “Midnight Sun,” a bossa-nova version of “I Should Have
Told Him,” and “The Island” along with an Ella Fitzgerald tribute. Ms. Payne also included a few of her r&b hits (including “Band Of Gold”
and “Bring The Boys Home”) before concluding with a touching version of “Alfie” and a spirited “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.” She mostly
performed at medium and fast tempos, just including a few ballads along the way for variety. Her enthusiasm and energy were matched by
her musicianship, fresh ideas, and joy at singing songs that she loves.
It was difficult not to be very impressed by Freda Payne’s performance. Her return to jazz is a very welcome event.