Riffs: Music News from Out and About

By Patricia Myers

February is Black History Month, when the lives of African-American innovators and contributors to the American way of life are celebrated. Among the many jazz musicians who went to Paris included my all-time tenor sax favorite, Coleman Hawkins, also known as “The Hawk” and “Bean.”

From the 1920s into the mid-1930s, he had been the top tenor player, but that changed when Lester “Prez” Young and Ben Webster arrived on the New York scene. “The Hawk” had been with Fletcher Henderson’s big band since 1923 (along with Louis Armstrong and Don Redman). In 1937, Hawkins went to Europe to join Jack Hylton’s orchestra in London, and stayed on, as musicians often did after experiencing the more accepting European scene, especially for jazz musicians. He found new and highly appreciative audiences in the City of Light. He toured Europe as a featured soloist, also performing and recording in Paris with guitarist Django Reinhardt and alto saxophonist Benny Carter.

The threat of World War II caused Hawkins to return to New York in 1939, where he soon recorded his seminal two-chorus rendering of “Body and Soul” that remains the quintessential version. He often is cited as a major influence on Lester Young and Miles Davis. In the following decades, other Blacks in art, music and writing also found favor and personal value in The City of Light, ongoing into the 21st century.


In Memoriam: George “Pepe” Grant, 78, renowned doo-wop and pop music vocalist, died Jan. 13 following emergency heart surgery. His entertainment career began as a teenager in Philadelphia and expanded into world tours. His silky tenor voice was the standout in doo-wop and classic pop groups including George Grant and The Castelles, also The Red Caps, The Orioles and later incarnations of The Ink Spots. He toured the world, charming audiences with his enchanting sound, gentlemanly style and gentle demeanor. He continued performing into his late 70s despite medical issues, gaining more fans and pleasing new generations. In recent months, when he sat in at performances of his daughter, vocal stylist Renee Patrick, he captivated audiences with incomparable renditions of “The Nearness of You” and “Cab Driver.” He is survived by five children (Renee, Garnell, Buddy, Teresa, Alicia), 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.   His passing is a great loss, both to music and to humankind.



The Buzz: A colossal treat for the valley jazz community is the upcoming concert by pianist Monty Alexander, who is reuniting with his original trio for only the second time in 20 years. Alexander will perform with bassist. John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton at 7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 20. This concert was booked through the diligence of producer Woody Wilson with the generous support of Jazzbird Foundation. Alexander has recorded more than 70 albums as a leader, and continuously tours worldwide. He performs in jazz clubs, concert halls and at international jazz festivals. I’ve reviewed him twice during my two decades of covering the summer jazz scene in Paris. He is a charming and incomparable performer, artistically merging American jazz with the influence of his native Jamaica. He hasn’t appeared in Arizona for many, many years, so tickets are selling fast, $35 for reserved seating in the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe 85281, 480-350-2822; info at Lakeshoremusic.org



The Danny Long-Judy Roberts Duo concert for Jazz in AZ at The Nash on Jan. 17 attracted a full house, the listeners rewarded by the pair’s musical wit and unparalleled synergy. These two musically adept artists launched the monthly party-afternoon with the Strayhorn-Ellington favorite, “Take the A Train,” followed by an upbeat “Cherry.” With Long on acoustic piano, Roberts on her electric keyboard, the fare ranged from Gershwin and Jobim medleys to the bebop of “Scrapple from the Apple.”


A special chart was the pair’s tribute to the late Rusty Jones, longtime member of Judy Roberts’ Chicago trio with bassist Neal Seroka. “It Had to Be You” was written by the drummer’s great-uncle, Isham Jones (who also wrote “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “No Greater Love”). Long delivered his special treatment of singing the lyrics backwards – “You Be to Had It’)” – that has amazed audiences during the past 50 years, and still does.


Roberts rendered one of her own signature songs, “Autumn Leaves” in both French and English, and Long delighted with his trademark tunes, such as “Can’t Take You Nowhere,” and his clever and very entertaining backwards-lyrics version of “It Had to Be You (You Be to Had It)” that he invited the audience for a sing-along, causing uproarious laughter. After intermission, Judy played the acoustic piano as Long sat nearby to deliver a mesmerizing rendition of “Skylark,” as only he can.


Long’s duets with his daughter Trishelle were captivating on “Side by Side,” “The Three Bears” and “Oleo.” Those reminded me of when I hired them as a duo, when Trish was 12, for one of three Father’s Day promotions at the Scottsdale Bullock’s department store. That pre-teen could replicate her dad’s vocal movements in total sync, as she did this day. (The other two dates featured Joel Robin and his drummer son Julian, and pianist Dale Meyer and his saxophonist son.) Their two-piano version of “Poinciana” was a stunning gorgeous instrumental.


This monthly party launched a new concept, focused on presenting three of our “Elder Statesmen of Arizona Jazz”: pianist Charles Lewis on Feb. 21, Long on March 20, tenor saxophonist Richie Oropeza on April 16, and Lewis on April 15. These jazz-heritage concerts are mustn’t-miss events, as each is expected to feature a variety of colleagues. At age 82, Lewis currently performs solo at the elegant piano bar in the lounge of Avanti restaurant in Phoenix from 7 to 10 pm most Fridays and Saturdays. He’ll also be in concert April 6 with some of his longtime sidemen (Frank Smith-sax-flute, Joe Corral-flute, Dwight Kilian-bass, Dom Moio-drums) for the final event in this year’s abbreviated Jazz in AZ-Kerr Cultural Center series. Preceding concerts will be Feb. 3, “Greg Fishman Celebrates Getz, Part Cinq” (Fishman-sax, Judy Roberts-piano, Scott Black-bass, Pete Swan-drums), and March 2, “Divas 2016:” Delphine Cortez, Sherry Roberson, Renee Patrick, Diana Lee, Holly Pyle.


Saxophonist Mary Petrich recently released a new CD, “Murmation” (Surface Tension Records, 888295365802), with her Open Hand Quartet of guitarist Alex Oliverio, bassist Sean Brogan and drummer Ryan Anthony. It’s available at her gigs, also at cdBaby.com ($14.99/downloaded for $9.99), the 10 tracks featuring two original compositions by each member.Those include Petrich’s “Neptune,” Brogan’s “October Song” and Oliverio’s “Metrognome.” Petrich also offers her interpretation of Bennie Maupin’s “Escondido.”


Gaynel Hodge, vocalist-pianist and co-writer of “Earth Angel,” is visiting from Holland for several weeks and performing occasionally during his stay, including sitting in with Dennis Rowland for the St. Francis Restaurant’s long-running Sunday brinch. (If I get more information, it will be posted on my website, MusicSceneAZ.com.)



Final Chorus: Natalie Cole-vocalist, 65, Dec. 31 in Los Angeles, CA; Paul Bley-pianist, 83, Jan. 3 in Stuart, Fla.; Rusty Jones-drummer, 73, (longtime member of Judy Roberts’ Chicago trio with Neal Seroka on bass), Jan. 27 in Chicago.






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