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So Cal Jazz 2013: Highlights and a Serious Low

Chuck Koton By

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As they first pondered this welcome tribute to the legendary Davis, Miller and his illustrious partners Shorter and Hancock knew they had to somehow capture Davis' restless creative spirit. As Miller noted, they reimagined the music in a way that they felt Davis would have approved. On this night, they played a sound track of Miles' dreams: no rules and no walls, just a sonic stream of consciousness spanning four decades of jazz history.

Kenny Burrell
John Anson Ford Amphitheater
Los Angeles, CA
Aug. 18, 2013

In August, jazz lovers filled the idyllic confines of the John Anson Ford Amphitheater for an evening of jazz driven by a well deserved, dual purpose: to honor a legend of jazz guitar and education, Kenny Burrell, as well as to raise desperately needed funds for the World Stage, the invaluable jazz and spoken word performance space birthed nearly twenty five years ago by LA's own irreplaceable and unforgettable drummer, Billy Higgins, and equally treasured poet, Kamau Daaood.

By the time the music began, the sun had receded behind the Hollywood Hills, and the Bowl's occupants were floating in an ethereal balm of mild air and swingin' sound. Burrell and his LA Jazz Orchestra Unlimited kicked off the musical festivities with his original composition, "Four Dimensions," a hot and swingin' tune that featured his own richly elegant guitar sound and veteran Charlie Owens' passionate rumblings on baritone sax.

Burrell's long time associate on the band stand, and in UCLA's Jazz Studies department, trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez, composed "Adelante," which means straight ahead in espanol, in honor of Burrell, the dean, literally and figuratively, of straight ahead jazz guitar. Rodriguez blew a bright, hot solo that lit up all the faces in the Bowl. Of course, no performance by Burrell is complete without a stop over in the land of Ellingtonia, and, on this occasion, that meant an enchanting, unaccompanied guitar solo on "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me."

Living proof of the value of Burrell's leading role in jazz education then took the stage in the person of vocalist Gretchen Parlato, a graduate of the UCLA jazz program and a true "rising star" in the jazz world. Parlato joined Burrell for a duet on "Solitude," her voice a gossamer whisper so intimate it sounded as if she were at home, alone and reading from her diary.

As darkness descended over Hollywood, Lee Ritenour joined John Beasley's Monkestra for a spirited take on "Epistrophy." Ritenour's unmistakably fluid, swinging guitar and the multi-talented Beasley's piano drove each other to Monkian heights.

The evening's highlight, however, came when vocalist Dwight Trible, possessor of a singularly personal singing style, joined the Monkestra for a tear- inducing rendition of "Strange Fruit." Trible, who so deserves greater recognition, reached deep down into his soul and shouted out the pain from this country's collective memory. His preternaturally modulated and emotional vocalizing brought to life the nightmarish horrors from Amerika's not so distant past.

Preach on, Reverend Dwight!

If any member of the jazz community deserved a tribute, it is certainly Kenny Burrell. In a career that has spanned seven decades, Professor Burrell has played with just about everyone, from Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. As a leader, he has recorded over one hundred albums. Remarkably, Burrell's contributions as a jazz educator rival his work as a performer. Nearly forty years ago, he began teaching a course on Duke Ellington at UCLA. In 1996, Burrell became the director of UCLA's Jazz Studies program. Under his guidance, it has become one of the most prestigious jazz programs in the world. Thank you, Kenny Burrell!

And one final thought regarding the fund-raising aspect of that day's musical adventure. The contempt alluded to above is reserved for the most venal perpetrators of yet another crime against humanity, specifically, the financial interests behind the developing, but hopefully, still avoidable destruction of the heart of LA's African-American cultural community, Leimert Park, and its hub, the World Stage.

The jazz and spoken word venue, established nearly twenty five years ago by the late, legendary drummer Billy Higgins and the prolific poet and community activist, Kamau Daood, had struggled mightily to convince the "powers that be" in Los Angeles that the light rail project currently being built should extend a "line" to the cultural oasis of Leimert Park. What better way to encourage economic development in an African American neighborhood crying out for relief from poverty. Of course, what chance could they possibly have in a world where only money "talks."

Well, lo and behold, miracle of miracles, the "Man" said yes, and the people rejoiced!

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