Alex Acuña, Barbara Morrison, Marcus Miller, and many others
Catalina Bar & Grill's 25th Anniversary
Better than…watching half of Ken Burns' Jazz in one sitting.
Even in the heyday of jazz clubs (a day long since past) a venue was lucky if it stayed afloat for a few years. Last night, Hollywood's Catalina Bar & Grill celebrated two and a half decades as one of Los Angeles' most significant jazz clubs. It's still vibrant and swinging, but most of the attendees and performers were old enough to have been sitting at the bar back in 1986. The room was sold-out for a nearly four hour marathon of music and memories, presented by a crackerjack roster of over two dozen first-call jazzbos.
Jazz clubs, unlike most other genres, are often defined by their owners. Trying to make a living out of presenting jazz is a hands-on career that requires a physical presence few people are willing to commit to. Catalina Popescu, the club's namesake, was as much an honoree last night with every performer on stage extending their gratitude for a quarter century of service to Los Angeles' diminishing jazz community. Originally nestled on a seedy strip of Cahuenga, Catalina moved eight years ago to a cavernous business complex on Sunset Boulevard that even the biggest name has a hard time filling. With over 300 seats it is a rare treat to see the room even a quarter full, let alone standing room only on a Monday night.
The show was MC'd by KKJZ's Bubba Jackson who, along with musical director John Beasley, managed to keep the show moving fairly briskly considering the number of egos waiting for the spotlight.
A rotating rhythm section saw pianists George Kahn and David Benoit tackle a few swinging standards before flutist Hubert Laws engaged in a couple of smokey collaborations with vocalist Tierney Sutton. Fusion mainstays the Yellowjackets followed, making the audience understandably wary of six-stringed basses.
Between raffles and remembrances, the crowd began to squirm and chatter before finally being silenced by the latin contigent – saxophonist Justo Almario, pianist Otmario Ruiz, trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez and percussionist Alex Acuna. They helped to rejuvenate the crowd with a rousing version of the bop standard “A Night in Tunisia” with Rodriguez doing his best to summon the ghost of Dizzy Gillespie.
Shortly afterward, electric bassist Marcus Miller took the stage to presumably test the limits of the club's sound system. His glass rattling pyrotechnics were aided by drummer Ndugu Chanceler, keyboardist Patrice Rushen and guitar shredder Lee Ritenour, who brought the energy to an undeniable peak. The evening closed with a short set by vocalist Barbara Morrison who, despite her recent health setbacks, showed that her inimitable vocal chords and stage presence were still very much intact. After a couple of tunes, her contemplative take on “That's All” wasn't enough for the crowd, as they demanded an encore. She obliged by belting out “Sweet Home Chicago” with help from another vocal legend – Bill Henderson.
Each performer, a headliner in their own right, came together in a display of camaraderie and respect that testifies to the significance of a venue like Catalina to the Los Angeles jazz community. Here's hoping for another twenty-five years.
Personal Bias: I like the old club better.
Old folks Experienced jazz fans.
Random Notebook Dump: If a performer in a wheelchair demands that you “stand up and dance!” then you stand up and dance.
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