So Esperanza Spalding won the Best New Artist Grammy. And not the Jazz Grammy either, the real Grammy. The big one, at Staples Center, with all those Klieg lights and reporters and Barbra Streisand and after parties and cocaine. We knew she'd been nominated. Hell, there's always a couple genuine talents nominated. We stopped paying attention decades ago. But then your editor asks what you think of Esperanza Spalding winning that Grammy. Uhhhh … well, she deserved it, because she really is that good.
Esperanza Spalding is cool. She's beautiful, yes, and has the best hair since Angela Davis. She has quite the voice, sweet, kinda earthy, and fans of jazz, funk, rock, groove and all those college kids can each identify with that voice. Dudes dig it, chicks dig it. She plays — get this — a big old stand-up bass. She dominates it. She may look the waif, but she has no trouble with that thing, either moving it around or making it go where she wants musically.
Every time we've seen her it's been with a trio, a badass trio, too: tough drumming, jamming piano, the real all-sinew, no-fat kind of trio. The kind that jams. She gives each plenty of solo space, takes plenty of her own, and the jazz numbers are pure jazz, the real thing. Her poppier material — which, let's be honest, is what she got that Grammy for — is some sweet nu-soul, sort of. It's soulful, and certainly nu enough, but it has that kind of hip, spare vibe they go so crazy for over at KCRW. Kind of like she'd been discovered by David Byrne. And she sings it all like an angel.
Angel, that's the word. Angelic. That's not a jazz thing. You think Billie Holiday and Anita O'Day and you don't think what little angels they were. You didn't find a lot of angels in the neighborhoods jazz came from. Jazz has always liked its women hard and knowing. That's the standard look, the standard image. You can't be angelic and make it as a vocalist in jazz.
But that's precisely the word that popped into our head sitting backstage at the Playboy Jazz Festival watching Spalding deal with the press. She'd just done another great set, the crowd went nuts for her, and her people had bundled her right off the stage to face us. Must have been a hundred reporters.
The salty, hard-bitten atmosphere dissipated instantly and it was almost church. We whispered. Reporters were afraid to ask anything for fear they'd bruise her. She looked so sweet, her voice was so sweet, there was so much innocence there — we all stopped swearing. We knew it wasn't real, that she couldn't actually be a jazz musician and be that innocent. But on that off, off chance that just maybe it was, we lobbed soft questions and she answered them all, eyes sparkling. She sure looked like the future of something. She was too damn talented to win a Grammy, that we knew. But maybe, just maybe, she was on to something. Something big.
On to one special gig (go to laweekly.com, though, for many, many more): Fred Katz is remembered now mostly for his years playing cello and composing with the Chico Hamilton Quintet; you can see him (alongside Eric Dolphy) play for the beatniks in Jazz on a Summer's Day and for the squares in Sweet Smell of Success. Since then he's made all kinds of interesting records, written soundtracks for big studios and Roger Corman, in fact done just about everything. He's over 90 now, but still playing, and the Skirball Museum has set up a living-room sort of concert, with Mr. Katz and his cello, flutist Hyman Katz, bassist Richard Simon and the Flying Pisanos. Music and memories will flow, at 4 p.m. this Sunday, $15.
Pianist Richard Sears is one of those fierce young pianists you see at the Foundry and Blue Whale, exploding with technique and energy and art. Like Austin Peralta, he's been venturing beyond pure jazz and experimenting with all kinds of other things, like the rock, trance and Middle Eastern-sounding grooves on his new Rick. We like it. The band is called Rick, too; they have a furious drummer and a chance-taking saxist named Sam Gendel and they're at the Bootleg Theater (2220 Beverly Blvd., 213-389-3856) on Sunday at 9 p.m. If this sounds like your kind of thing, it probably is.
On Friday tenor Chuck Manning tears it up at Charlie O's, but if you're jonesing for that big B3 sound, then check out Vitello's, when Larry Goldings gets his original Organ Trio (with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart) back together on Friday and Saturday (and the Jeff Hamilton Organ Trio is there on Tuesday).
You trombone freaks need to see Ed Neumeister and Bruce Fowler at the Blue Whale on Saturday. Both trombonists have long, diverse histories (Fowler's includes a bunch of Zappa albums), and both are well known for playing what is called creative music — that is, out there — so there'll be plenty of improvised trombone madness, also solid postbop and even a few pieces by Frank Rosolino. Recommended.
At 5 p.m. on Sunday, saxist Michael Session leads an arkestral tribute to Horace Tapscott at the Bryant Temple AME Church (2525 Vernon Ave. at 4th Avenue, 323-293-6201). Session's ranks includes the likes of Azar Lawrence and Trevor Ware. This should be wild and beautiful. $20.
He doesn't play in town that often, so guitarist Anthony Wilson at Vibrato on Tuesday is a real treat. Saxist Ben Wendel is a tremendous player with ingenious ideas and, damn it, he moved to NYC. He's back this week, and at the Blue Whale on Tuesday he's in a most extraordinary band with saxist Walter Smith III, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Steve Hass. Absolutely killer. Also in from NYC is the excellent vibist Tyler Blanton, who's with Walter Smith at Charlie O's on Wednesday and at the Blue Whale on Thursday, and both are recommended. Pianist Jon Mayer also came from NYC, but that was decades ago; still, there's a lot of that late '50s and '60s in his sound, though he's developed it further in his L.A. career since then. He has quite a band with him at Café 322 on Wednesday: saxist Ricky Woodard, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer Roy McCurdy. This will be a good one.
Vibist Warren Chiasson is at the Culver City Radisson on Friday. Chiasson's not a well-known player except among musicians, who know what a master of the vibraphone the man is. This is a rare opportunity to see him on the West Coast. Out at Café 322 on Saturday, the quintet of guitarist Riner Scivally and saxist David Sills with trombonist/vibist Isla Eckinger and bassist Putter Smith and drummer Tim Pleasant will be making some cool music. Eckinger's playing has long intrigued us: There's something different about his approach no matter which instruments he's playing at the time. Maybe they learn jazz differently in Switzerland, who knows. We really like his bass playing, too.
Master jazz accordionist Frank Marocco (and how many of you didn't even know there was such a thing?) celebrates his 80th birthday with a new CD, Live at Giannelli Square at, obviously, Giannelli Square (19451 Londelius St., Northridge; 818-772-1722). The band is good, with alto Jon Whinnery, bassist John Giannelli and drummer Kendall Kay. It's on Saturday at 8 p.m., $25 (which includes refreshments).
And ya gotta love Gil Bernal. He's got a sound that brings to mind the feeling of Lester Young at times, soul-stirring stuff. An L.A. legend who needs to be rediscovered by jazz fans, he's at Viva Cantina (900 W. Riverside Drive in Burbank) every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. and it's free. And he'll be able to stretch even more with his quartet, which also is at Café 322 on Thursday. Beautiful.
(Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)