Nick Mancini Quartet
Jazz at the "A" Frame
Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California
January 20, 2008
Close your eyes, open your soul, and listen as your heart is lifted into another galaxy beyond your greatest jazz dreams. No, you're not in New York City, a metropolis known for jazz and for its jazz ministry through St. Peter's, the "Citicorps Church."
On the opposite coast the atmosphere was no less brilliant and spellbinding as the Nick Mancini Quartet performed jazz pieces including urgent call and unanimous response exchanges between the quartet members and the ardent congregation of participants. The setting was jazz at the "A" Frame, tucked away in the Hollywood Hills. Attendees were presented with a new and different kind of sermon on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, January 20, 2008.
This Los Angeles experience was no ordinary excursion through either a familiar, standard liturgical order or a program of familiar pop standards. Instead, it was a straight-ahead, sublimely swinging Sunday musical meeting at a service you'd never want to end. Mr. Mancini is a thoughtful yet communicative artist who wooed his audience chapter by musical chapter through his most wonderful story of jazz selection, often humming, singing, serenading the melody while playing vibes.
Nat Adderley's "Work Song" started us off on our journey with fervor and tantalizing, enjoyable toil. It's unlikely anyone has ever experienced greater spiritual connection and ecstasy during Sunday worship. Pianist Otmaro Ruiz's comping, grooving, and moving through the 88 keys of his instrument was in itself a moment of spiritual testifying that produced kinetic responsiveness among an audience that had clearly taken on the role of worshipful communicants.
Bassist Edwin Livingstone added his own loving and luring comments to each measure of music on Benny Golson's evocative "Whisper Not," his contributions throughout the event provoking frequent applause from an enrapt "congregation" that had been welded by the music into a living community. Finally, the sensitive, exquisite and teasing bush-work along with the tender yet firm pulse supplied by drummer Jimmy Branly proved nothing short of infectious. Seated close to the drummer, I could barely contain myself from emphatically hugging him in elation. Simply try to imagine a "quieter," equally-moving, West Coast version of a Southern Sanctified religious service, with all in attendance receiving and giving back the "good news."
The vibrant quartet continued taking us on a musical-spiritual journey with a suite by Contini with movements titled "Juicy Lucy," "Summer in Central Park," and "Swing in Samba." And swing we did...right to our feet in approval. The vibraphonist, who is originally from New York, put his stamp on his own composition "Phoenix" as the audience-congregation expressed joyful approval of Mancini's decision to make L. A. his home.
As a final benediction, the jazz-converted audience was embodied in a cloak of love by Contini's solo performance of Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy," opening up yet more beautiful melodic terrain on what had been a glorious musical journey. The overused word "incredible" seems the only way to describe the indescribable moment during which even the most willful among us must have known or at least relived the experience of "falling in," and being engulfed by, loveno less reeling but more uplifting than euphoria of a romantic order.
The rest of the "good news" is that the promise of similar experiences remains alive for followers of jazz or the merely curious. Jazz at the "A" Frame, one of the most exciting jazz havens in Los Angeles, and perhaps on the West Coast, stands in a class all its own. Betty Hoover, founder of this unique venue, has a hidden gem on her hands. In the midst of smog, fog, traumatic transportation routes, freeways and winding paths, diverse and segregated populations, rich, poor, the disenfranchisedthis jazz Mecca offers solace and inspiration. The "A" Frame, as it is affectionately called, allows one and all to forget the brown haze that hovers over our skyline and to see inner beauty bursting forth like needed rain on a winter day. The venue shows Los Angeles' uniqueness and authenticityperhaps it is, after all, a community watched over by angels.
Inarguably, the sanctuary offers an exquisitely satisfying experience to the jazz palette. To Betty Hoover, the wonderfully intuitive and musically innovative host of Jazz at the "A" Frame, we all owe a huge debt of gratitude. A Los Angeles experience of music, creativity, connection, freedom, joy, art, and sharing that should not be missed by anyone, whether a native or tourist. Just one more reason to embrace our surreal yet stupendous city.
To learn about future excursions into this unique world of jazz or to contact Betty Hoover, visit Jazz at the "A" Frame.