Jazz Jottings May 2016

Bria Skonberg now has a manager – DSW Entertainment – which she says will help to further her ambitious career. Her April schedule took her coast-to-coast and included a concert and workshop in her hometown of Chilliwack, B.C., Canada, and appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro in the Big Easy.

She and fellow co-founder Molly Ryan, are gearing up for their New York Hot Jazz Camp (May 17-22), saying, “We still have a few spots open for piano, bass and drums.” In addition to receiving top-flight instruction on their instruments, the students will visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens and perform at the famed Iridium jazz club.

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After 14 years heading up the San Diego Jazz Party, Dave Cooper has stepped down as president and been succeeded by Board member Dan Reid, who anticipates a smooth transition leading up to the 2017 event the weekend of February 24-25 at the Hilton Hotel in Del Mar. Cooper will continue on the Board as treasurer.

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NO APRIL FOOL. It was 35 years ago on April 1, 1981 that Banu Gibson formed her first band, which had its first gig at Eddie Bayard’s Jazz Alley on Bourbon Street.

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Also celebrating an anniversary in April was Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band. Bill writes: “We left Church Street in 1990 and appeared in several jazz festivals, but could not use the Rosie O’Grady name. We are not as active as we once were. Gone is the black SUV and band trailer. Gone are the young Road Warriors we once were. but not the fantastic memories. We traveled the world making great jazz.”
“Most of us are still hanging in there. Sadly we lost Lou Mauro and Bill Hunter. We are doing the Suncoast Jazz Festival in November and quite a few concerts around Florida. Our Central Florida Jazz Society appearance is Sunday, September 11 at The Abbey in Orlando. Our body of recorded work is still out there—Pandora, iTunes, everywhere. Happy birthday to the Classic Jazz Band.”

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Jazz blogger Michael Steinman posts that he’s been reading a great deal about the new Chet Baker biopic, but says “Hollywood can’t spell. When are we getting the Clint Baker biopic?”

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The Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta, in promoting the annual Three Rivers JAZZAFFAIR, makes note of the fact that Earl McKee has been named Musician of the Year. Earl helped form the High Sierra Jazz Band 40 years ago and has been the sousaphonist and vocalist with the group ever since. Well deserved recognition!

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Will and Peter Anderson, (Photo by jazz photographer Lynn Redmile)
Will and Peter Anderson, who shared close quarters for nine months and came out swinging. (Photo by jazz photographer Lynn Redmile)

The reed-playing Anderson twins – Peter and Will – made their debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on April 22nd before embarking on a 30-day cross-country tour that had them performing in 26 cities in 13 states.

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Bassist Christian McBride has been named artistic director of the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival. His appointment marks the first time in the Festival’s 62-year history that a musician other than pianist/producer George Wein will serve as artistic director.

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Some 250 of Duke Ellington’s personal belongings will be sold at auction on May 18 at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, located at 58 West 129th Street in Manhattan. Among the items are two dozen original music manuscripts (written in Ellington’s own hand), dinner jackets, tuxedoes and suits; and paintings. Ellington’ portrait of his close collaborator Billy Strayhorn will also be sold along with other Strayhorn-related objects.

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For 14 years, the ultimate cabaret in the Big Apple for upscale dining and entertainment was Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency on Park Avenue, named for Michael Feinstein, who has built a considerable following as the “Ambassador of the American Songbook” through his 200-plus concerts a year and occasional television appearances. After a two and a half year respite, the stylish singer/vocalist has joined forces with the Club 54 supper club and taken over the lower level of the former disco Studio 54 as Feinstein’s/54 Below. The club on West 54th Street is the second nightclub to carry the Feinstein brand. Its West Coast cousin is Feinstein’s at the Nikko in San Francisco.

Ever the marketing opportunist, the singer has also joined with Entertainment Cruise Productions to promote a Mediterranean cruise, Feinstein’s at Sea, Oct. 1-8 on the Seabourn Odyssey.

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Vilma and Buddy Ebsen, in Buddy's pre-Jed Clampett, pre-Barnaby Jones song-and-dance days. inscribed to Lew Shaw
Vilma and Buddy Ebsen, in Buddy’s pre-Jed Clampett, pre-Barnaby Jones song-and-dance days. Fred and Adele Astaire had nothing on the Ebsens. Note that this photo has been inscribed to the columnist.

My distant memory recalls heading for the Town & Country Conference Center at the annual San Diego Thanksgiving Festival some years back and bumping into the actor Buddy Ebsen, who was on hand to sit in with Bob Finch’s Chicago Six. Most fans remember him from his various television series (Davy Crockett, Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones), but may not be aware of his early days as a singer and dancer with his sister Vilma.

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His daughter Kiki is a singer/songwriter/keyboard player from Southern California who has performed and toured nationally and internationally with many award-winning musicians. She also has a non-profit organization that rehabilitates rescued horses, The Healing Equine Ranch. Her sixth CD, Scarecrow Sessions, is a collection of jazz standards as a tribute to her father.

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Tony Bennett was asked what he does to keep his voice in shape. “Nothing. Just before I perform, I’ll warm up with 10 to 15 operatic bel canto exercises that emphasize vowel sounds. After that, I’m good to go. But I don’t drink tea or sing in a hot shower each day. I’m just blessed, I guess.” Tony, who considers himself a jazz interpreter of the Great American Songbook, will be 90 in August.

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The Jazz Age has returned to Broadway with the March opening of the 1921 musical Shuffle Along, with music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle and starring six-time Tony Award winner, Audra McDonald. Ninety-five years ago, the show ran for 504 performances, an unusually long run during that decade and launched the careers of Josephine Baker, Adelaide Hall and Paul Robeson.

The musical was and is a big hit with audiences because of its jazzy musical styles and features such tunes as “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “In Honeysuckle Time.” The original show was one of the first to be produced, written and performed entirely by African-Americans during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. The storyline is about a mayoral race. A 2016 promotional piece tabs Shuffle Along as “Aces in Syncopation.”

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Consider: No matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationery.

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