The all-star trio of Jazz/Funk/Soul plays the Fairmont Hotel August 15.
Alexander Zonjic presents the Shoreline Jazz Festival in Muskegon, Michigan (Peter White, Al Jarreau, Will Downing, Euge Groove, Norman Brown, Alex Bugnon and many more) August 22 & 23. For info, click here.
Hall & Oates at Riveredge Park (Aurora) - Friday, July 31.
*Norman Brown at the Montrose Room - Saturday, November 14.
For tickets and information, click here. (Tix not yet on sale)
*SmoothChicago Customer Appreciation Party at the Montrose Room - Saturday, November 28.
For tickets and information, click here. (Tix not yet on sale)
*Lisa McClowry Christmas Show at the Montrose Room - Saturday, December 5.
For tickets and information, click here. (Tix not yet on sale)
*Euge Groove Christmas Show at the Montrose Room - Saturday, December 19.
For tickets and information, click here. (Tix not yet on sale)
*The Loews Chicago O'Hare Hotel, home to the Montrose Room, is offering discounted room rates for those attending this show. Book a room, stay 'til the very last note of the final encore and don't worry about having to make the drive home! For information, click here.
Our Smooth Video of the Day: Coming to the Fairmont Hotel August 15 it's Jazz/Funk/Soul, starring Jeff Lorber, Chuck Loeb and Everette Harp
No, she wasn’t a smooth jazz artist, but her father was a member of a boy band that was dominant in the '80s and '90s, and her mother was powerful songstress who crossed genres (including Smooth Jazz) with stunning ease. When Whitney Houston sang, we all held our breath and got goose bumps from the high notes.
We’ve watched Bobbi Kristina her entire all-too-short life. I remember Whitney bringing her onstage as a toddler, getting her a chair and singing the rest of the performance to little Bobbi Kristina. Then there was the inside look at the entire family, the reality show called Being Bobbie Brown. To me it ended up being more about Bobbi Kristina and Whitney than about Mr. Brown.
Her mother died a tragic death, very similar to the one she experienced. Almost three years to the date of Whitney’s accidental drowning in her bathtub in the Beverly Hills Hilton on Grammy weekend, Bobbi Kristina’s sad accident is even more tragic.
She never got to show us what she could do with her voice or her life, but I believe that now she is in the arms of her mother. Peace be with them both.
On stage he’s the tall, thin one on the electric bass, his long hair and magic fingers flying in passionate fury. Verdine’s musical career started back in high school. His father, Dr. Verdine White Sr., was encouraging him to follow in his footsteps and take up medicine, but it was not to be. Verdine tells his musical origin story on his website as follows:
"The instrument (string bass) was standing alone in the corner of the orchestra class....tall, mysterious and majestic, so different from all the others, it called me and the love affair began."
It didn’t stop there. He was so good that he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for several years while hitting jazz clubs all over the area, perfecting his style on Fender electric guitars. When his brother Maurice, the drummer for Ramsey Lewis’s Trio, decided to start a band in 1969, Verdine joined him. Earth, Wind and Fire was born.
Now, after thirty five years, six Grammy Awards and seventeen nominations, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, he’s still going strong, playing solo and with many others. And through it all, he’s been married to a former Ikette, Shelly (Michelle) Clark.
Still on the road with his band and the band Chicago, Verdine will be in the neighborhood in late August, playing in Aurora at their Riveredge Park. Welcome home and happy birthday, Verdine.
Once upon a time in Chicago, there was a woman who loved music. At an early age she was given various musical instruments by her father in an attempt to see which one would sing out the songs that he knew were in her heart.
Like Stevie Wonder, she was given a harmonica, but it hurt her lips and the only notes she could coax out of it sounded like the squeaks of dying rodents. Neighborhood cats would gather to peek into the basement windows when she practiced.
She was given a wooden chantor from a bagpipe, but it tasted funny and her fingers were too small to cover the holes. Her grandmother replaced it one night with a large peppermint stick and said the fairies needed it.
There were the two green leather octagons with a cloth covered Slinky holding them together. It was called a concertina. It made better sounds when it was rolled down the stairs than when she attempted to play it.
When she held her dad’s Gibson acoustic guitar on her lap, she was so small that she couldn’t see over it to strum the strings, so he bought her a ukulele. After lots of plucking and plinking, she bashed it over the neighbor boy’s head because he said her version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" sounded stupid.
Weekly piano lessons lasted for years and years. She knew that she was no Liberace because her family didn’t own a candelabra or fancy sequined clothes. Hearing Ramsey Lewis play "The In Crowd," she ran out and bought the sheet music. She quit lessons shortly thereafter because her version was more out-takes than "In Crowd."
Trying to build on that success she had found with four strings, she moved to the violin and played in the High School orchestra. But like many high school musicians, she was told that maybe she should find another hobby. The college she went to did not have a music program. Her instrument was put aside.
She tried to make music her day job. She worked for Lyon and Healy Music Company, renting pianos and later Carl Fischer selling sheet music, but to no avail. She went into the corporate world and spent many years drowning out the office Muzak by listening to smooth jazz on large Sony headphones, long before Dr. Dre made them stylish.
She even worked for a public radio station, thinking it would be nirvana, but they were in the process of changing their format to all talk. The next blow to her love of music was when her favorite smooth jazz station got changed to mariachi music. Then, just as her music life seemed bleakest, a perfect niche was found. Instead of notes, she uses words.
On July 24, 2014, Rick O’Dell gave me the opportunity to blog for Smooth Jazz Chicago!
Thanks Rick, for giving me a place to use my real music voice.
To all my readers, Happy Anniversary! Never hesitate to contact me about stories – pro or con - I promise that I don’t bash folks with Ukuleles anymore!
If I said that he cast his fate to the wind and Charlie Brown answered, who would you guess?
If you needed another clue I would say that, with his handlebar mustache and horn rimmed glasses, if he bent over his keyboard, he could have be a grown up version of Linus Van Pelt.
However, Linus was born from the pen of Charles Schultz in 1952 and described by Charles Schulz as his spiritual side. Our mystery guest wasn’t involved with the project until 1964.
Would you have the answer yet?
If you still didn’t get the references, I might tell you that he died of a sudden heart attack in 1976, a few weeks before his music aired on a beloved television special and they played Peanuts music at his funeral, much of which he wrote.
Do you have it now?
So who is this performer? The one and only, Vince Guaraldi.
Born in 1928, he lived in San Francisco most of his life. On his 1962 single inspired by the movie Black Orpheus, the A side “Samba de Orpheus" flopped but the DJs loved the B side, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." It received considerable air time on the jazz and pop stations of the day. Hearing it while in a taxi cab going over the Golden Gate Bridge, Lee Mendelson, the producer for the first Charlie Brown animated special, decided that Vince was the man to compose the music. As they say, the rest is history.
From the bio on his website, he and his music are described as follows:
“Guaraldi's smooth trio compositions -- piano, bass and drums -- perfectly balanced Charlie Brown's kid-sized universe. Sprightly, puckish, and just as swiftly somber and poignant, these gentle jazz riffs established musical trademarks which, to this day, still prompt smiles of recognition.
They reflected the whimsical personality of a man affectionately known as a 'pixie,' an image Guaraldi did not discourage. He'd wear funny hats, wild mustaches, and display hairstyles from buzzed crewcuts to rock-star shags. . .
. . .On February 6, 1976, while waiting in a motel room between sets at Menlo Park's Butterfield's nightclub, Guaraldi died of a sudden heart-attack. He was only 47 years old.
A few weeks later, on March 16, ‘It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown’ debuted on television. It was the 15th--and last--Peanuts television special to boast Guaraldi's original music.”
It started back in 1969 when he played Woodstock. For many folks Carlos and his band were the gateway into the world of jazz. As for me, I was raised on a steady diet of jazz from a very early age, so Santana’s fusion of Latin, jazz and rock music made for a delicious treat. I was elated that I could enjoy his unique guitar playing and be hip at the same time.
His first album cover added to the sense of mystery by being a white line drawing of a snarling male lion with people hidden in his face and mane. "Santana" is written in distinctive psychedelic lettering. The cut "Evil Ways" got lots of air play on pop, jazz and rock stations of the day.
Again mixing art and music in a thought provoking package, the next album cover was quite a favorite. Everyone I knew had the album Abraxas. It was the one with the cuts "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." For many, even more tantalizing than the music was the buxom chocolate colored reclining nude with a stark white pigeon smack dab in the middle of the cover. They speculated that she was the inspiration for the song, "Black Magic Woman."
Others said that Abraxas was the nude red angel riding the floating bongo drum pointing up to a very fancy "S" because when you read the Herman Hesse quote on the back of the album it said “We stood before it . . . questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...”
One of my friends went to the record store and paid the owner for the promotional poster which was a much bigger version of the album cover. He had it framed and displayed it prominently in his living room. It was a win-win situation because in the early '70s, even with the sexual revolution in full swing, the store owner didn’t feel that he could display it.
When Santana released his Greatest Hits in 1974, the album cover featured a headless figure holding a white pigeon. Because this figure is decidedly male, we had many a discussion about whether it was the Abraxas pigeon or not, as Santana’s music played and the wine flowed.
We also spent time discussing Carlos’s love of hats. Like his album named Shape Shifter, Santana has always shifted his head covering. From an African kofia to an American Pork Pie, a Greek Fisherman’s cap to knitted beanies, baseball caps or sharp throwback fedora, Carlos is seldom seen bareheaded.
To this day, I find it difficult to describe what Carlos does with his guitar, but there is no dispute that he has mixed art, music, love and magic together. I wonder if for his birthday this July 20, they found him a new style of hat? Perhaps a trip to Ravinia in August will answer that question for me.
He plays piano, trumpet and electric bass. He has more than 100 published works recorded by his own music company and over 150 compositions/arrangements in his catalog.
He’s used his last name to do some great puns that mix art and music on three of his first solo albums, Pensyl Sketches 1, 2 and 3. And his first name is different too. It’s Kimothy, which he shortens to Kim. That's my guess because Timothy means God’s Honor and Kim means noble and brave. Putting them together must mean he is all those things. But, even more than that, to my ears, I think it means wonderful.
He’s been a side man for the likes of Guy Lombardo, Louie Belson and Al Hurt. He’s toured with Acoustic Alchemy and the Woody Herman Orchestra. He has a Master’s in Music from California State University and a Bachelor of Music from Ohio State University. He was named one of Billboard’s Top 20 Contemporary Jazz Artists of the Year twice and has had four albums on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. He was the featured artist in the WJZA Smooth Jazz Trio around Central Ohio until they changed the format in 2010. Kim is still in Ohio, playing, writing and teaching at the University of Cincinnati.
Somewhere I found that his birthday is in July, but now that I am searching more, I can’t find the reference again. That’s what happens when you’re a wonderful musician who everyone wants to work with--your presence can seem to fade into the background.
Happy Birthday, Kimothy Pensyl! Whenever your exact birthday happens to be, know that we enjoy you, your music and your sense of humor.
(Rick O'Dell's note: Kim Pensyl is one of two male artists in Smooth Jazz who go by the name Kim. The other is saxophonist Kim Waters. Back in the early days, when both artists were unknowns and there were new Smooth Jazz stations popping up around the country, you could tell the disc jockeys who did their homework by how they referred to both. If they referred to the artists as a "she," you knew they hadn't done a sufficient amount of show prep--or taken the time to glance at the album cover.)
On July 9th, John Tesh celebrated his 63rd birthday. And why should we care? Although he is better known for his time on Entertainment Tonight, he is also a keyboardist, composer and smooth jazzer. Back in 1987, Tesh asked his friend Yanni if he could join the band as a keyboardist. Keeping his day job with ET, John did only one tour with Yanni.
The 1990s took John deeper into composing. He did the theme to Bobby's World, a kid’s TV show hosted by Howie Mandel, and then crafted the "‘NBA on NBC" theme, known as "Roundball Rock." After he left his ten-year job as co-host for Entertainment Tonight in 1996, John turned to gospel and contemporary piano, jazz producing and composing.
Doing two albums called Sax on Fire and Sax on the Beach, John worked with Gerald Albright, Boney James, Eric Marienthal, Michael Paulo, and Marc Russo.Then he added other horns, a string quartet, Charlie Bisharat's violin, Mike Landau's raging electric guitar, plus David Pack's vocals--which brings me to another July birthday boy, David Pack, who’s turning 63 on the 15th.
Why is that important? David Pack was the front-man for the group called Ambrosia. Their gold single from 1978, "How Much I Feel" was (and still is) occasionally played on smooth jazz stations. After the group broke up in the mid 1980s, David went on to collaborate with and produce many artists in the smooth jazz genre, such as Brian McKnight, Patti Austin, James Ingram and David Benoit.
So Happy Birthday, John and David. Thank you for all the things you have done smoothly!
How did I miss my favorite horn player’s birthday? Because I am too full of barbeque, potato salad and corn after the holiday. I know July 6th is far enough away from the feast to have recovered and it’s not the best excuse, but it’s the one I’m sticking to.
Rick Braun, my favorite Allentown Pennsylvania native, turns the big 6-0 this year without showing any signs of slowing down. His last album, Can You Feel It, was released in 2014, his 21st since stepping off the merry-go-round of touring and recording with Rod Stewart, Sade, Tina Turner, Natalie Cole and Tom Petty.
My first (and only) meeting with Rick was at a concert at the Chicago Theater in 1994. While he was signing my copy of Intimate Secrets, I told him that he had made me come into the twentieth century of audio because I asked my husband to buy me a portable CD player for my birthday so I could listen to his Intimate Secrets. I went on to explain that the only reason I had decide to start buying CDs was because he didn’t do a double release of cassettes and CD like some of the other artists of the day. He said he was honored to know that he was the first CD in my collection. He warned me that there would be no more cassettes in my future. I agreed, shook his hand and walked away happy. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was going to record him to cassette myself so that I could play him in my 1991 cassette-only car stereo!
Happy Belated Birthday, Rick – keep blowing that horn!
This is the birthday of our nation. There are hundreds of folks telling you what this means in word and deed and song and fury. Some of us are relaxing, some of us are working, some of us are serving, but we are all seeking a common goal. We are here--born in or immigrated to-- this country to seek the dream of Freedom. Not just freedom from the rule of a monarch, not just freedom to worship as we want, not just the freedom to say what we want when we want, not just the freedom to be who we want to be, but all those freedoms combined.
America is the land of liberty, a place where the streets are paved not with gold but with opportunity. America is the place where you can become. America is a land of music.
America is like jazz. We have every kind that you can think of and some that haven’t yet crossed your mind. We are the land of infinite possibilities, myriad selections, improvisation and vast horizons. We as a people can head everywhere all at once and arrive at our destination all together as planned. We are strong and determined, sad and lonely, happy and joyful.
If you want to understand America, listen to jazz. It is the quintessential American-made music and it says it all. Happy Birthday, America!
What do you get when you subtract 1935 from 2015? 80.
What do you get when you add 50 to 30? You get 80.
What do 3, 7, 33, 1, 13, 12, 9, 2 add up to? Why 80 of course.
And why is 80 such an important number?
Because this year it is the magical number that belongs to one of the best and most well rounded of Chicago jazz men, Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis. He just turned 80 last month on May 27th.
The second equation represents his big hit "The In Crowd," released on July 31, 1965, when he was 30 years old, and this summer it is marking its 50th anniversary.
The last numerical representation is for three gold records, seven Grammys, thirty three slots on the Billboard 200 chart, one syndicated radio show, thirteen Legends of Jazz PBS television shows, twelve years as on-air host at WNUA, nine years on BET Television hosting and 2 years teaching at Roosevelt University.
And last, Ramsey has over 80 albums stretching from vinyl to CD and back again.
What makes him so important to Chicago jazz fans? Because he got famous and never left us. He might play all over the world, but he lives with us. As artistic director at Ravinia, teacher at Roosevelt University and on air radio host on WNUA, he contributed to our jazz life every day for the last 30 years.
From 1997 to 2009, he talked to us every weekday morning. The show became part of Broadcast Architecture's Smooth Jazz Network, simulcasting on other smooth jazz stations across the country until the unfortunate cancellation in May, 2009, when WNUA switched over to a Spanish format. For those of you listening that day, you will remember that his was the last smooth jazz voice we heard before a painful pause of dead air which was followed by mariachi music.
Happy Birthday Ramsey, Happy Anniversary to the In Crowd and thank you so much.