First a sadder than sad note: Big, strapping, jazz-loving Mal Sands died of pneumonia on December 10. Sands was a very specialized impresario: He dug vibes, really dug vibes, and put on the annual Vibe Summits, which were highlights of the past decade. A dozen or more players from all over, crammed into one afternoon, always honoring one of the greats. (Gary Burton was the man in 2006, and his playing was so gorgeous.) And with Mal’s between-act patter, the summits sometimes had the feel of The Ed Sullivan Show, with all these musicians playing their hearts out for a tune or two, and then Mal whipping out the one-liners, monologues and Cal Tjader stories — sometimes his interludes outshone the playing. Fond memories. A swell cat as they say. Irreplaceable. Jazz thrives on fanatical devotees like Mal Sands, with their rare sort of loony energy. If only there were more of them.
The 48th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration is a musical explosion this year, with Armenian music from Araks, a mambo and Yoruban chant from Santa’s little helper Cecilia Noël, the Irish Dulcimers of Dunlore, Extreme Klezmer Makeover and the tangofied Klezmer Juice, Persian virtuosos the Lian Ensemble, the Mariachi Divas, the Ladino/Sephardic Stefani Valadez Ensemble, John Densmore’s TribalJazz and much more. (Fred Willard hosts!) It’s free and runs from 3-9 p.m. on Christmas Eve at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (see holidaycelebration.org for details). The superb pianist David Arnay and trio (with guests) do their take on Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas (the coolest holiday music ever) at the Pasadena Jazz Institute on Friday and Saturday (pasjazz.org has the details). And on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza there’s a very early New Year’s Eve (Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve, to be technical about it) party with streamers and champagne and the Billy Mitchell Quartet and the Jimmy Branly Quartet, which includes (besides the incredible Branly on drums) fired-up tenor Walter Smith III and pianist Otmaro Ruiz.
The acts in from out of town include exquisite jazz piano from the great Kenny Barron Trio at the Jazz Bakery on Friday and Saturday; vibist Bobby Hutcherson joins the Joey DeFrancesco Trio in what ought to be some seriously hard-grooving jazz at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Friday and Saturday. And if you want the really hard chops, the heavyweight Chick Corea Elektric Band (with drummer Dave Weckl) are at Catalina Bar and Grill through Sunday.
The unrepentant Birdophiliac alto saxman and wonderfully entertaining Med Flory plays Landings (next to the Van Nuys Airport) on Saturday night. A lot of people talk Bird, a lot of people met Bird, but Med once actually got cadged out of his last five spot by Charlie Parker — so you know he’s for real (or a mark, anyway). His quintet includes trumpeter Carl Saunders and that great drummer Frank Capp (a veteran — and nobody plays like that anymore). Saunders is doing a Valley tour this week: On Friday he joins tenor Pete Christlieb and the excellent John Hammond Trio at the Back Room in Canoga Park; on Christmas Eve he leads a group at Charlie O’s and then is with a trio with pianist Tateng Katindig at Spazio on Wednesday. Katindig was a highlight at the Filipino American Jazz Festival at Catalina (which had top-notch jazz all around). This guy absolutely swings; you’ll be flashing on Oscar Peterson more than once as he solos. And while we’re waiting for a label to notice the guy (which says something about the jazz biz — or A&R people, anyway), you can check him out leading his own trio this Sunday at Spazio. Also at Spazio, reed player Bob Sheppard leads his own quartet on Friday, while at Charlie O’s it’s tenor Azar Lawrence (with pianist Nate Morgan) on Friday and tenor Doug Webb on Saturday. The Pasadena Jazz Institute has two hot nights late in the week: the pianist Otmaro Ruiz (massively talented, and no label .?.?.) with the tenor Ben Wendel, bassist Carlitos del Puerto and drummer Jimmy Branly on Wednesday; and a quartet with pianist Theo Saunders (also with no label), tenor Benn Clatworthy and bassist Chris Colangelo on Thursday. That’s a helluva lot of good jazz this week — and this is that dead week between Christmas and New Year’s, no less. Maybe a good omen?
And finally, in the spirit of the season, we’d like to give a last-month’s thanks and a this-month’s happy holidays to all the jazz cats, players and listeners all, and to all the bookers and bar owners and bartenders and cocktail waitresses who help keep the music alive and well oiled with drink. And to all those who died, and all those who didn’t. To KKJZ for turning real again. To the Central Avenue Jazz Festival for staying real again. To Ozzie Cadena. To all the jazz fans who go out and hear the real thing, live, the way jazz ought to be. To all those obsessive collectors who know so much it’s scary. And to every damn-fool jazz musician who released a CD this year, gawd bless ’em. Vince Guaraldi’s on the radio, Scrooge is buying a goose and George Bailey is headed uptown screaming Merry freakin’ Christmas. He does it every year. Yup, the Nazz is in the house. Dig out those ol’ Bethlehem sides and let it blow, let it blow, let if blow, to misquote the Bingo. Raise a well-nogged brandy and toast all the amazing musical moments this past year, and pour yourself another to the music yet to come. Then kick back beside the tree, open your ears, and groove. Merry X-mas, y’all.
Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.