In the past week at the Crowne Plaza in Los Angeles, Tony's Steak And Seafood in Ventura and The Lighthouse at Hermosa Beach, there were some "explosive events" right here in sunny California.
First consider a gathering of the best musicians in the jazz world along with the foremost jazz singer in this galaxy, Nancy Kelly.
At the Crowne Plaza..Miss Kelly's stratospheric orbit was launched by The genius of pianist Theo Saunders, Bassist extrodinaire Chris Colangelo, and the tasteful drumming of Tim Pleasant. This was ground zero to be followed by a magical night at Tony's Steak And Seafood, with the piano mastery of Drew Salperto and Nancy's favorite Bassist Chris Colangelo and of course the scintillating Miss K herself.
The sun was hot at Hermosa Beach and so was Nancy Kelly as she mesmerized the Lighthouse audience with her magic. Her worthy constituents, Ray Pizzi (Tenor), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Greg Eicher (bass), Steve Cotter (guitar) and the venerable Bobby White on drums, supplied the fuel..Nancy and the boys rocked the house to thunderous applause. Kelly held the band and the crowd in the palm of her hand.
The musicians were effusive in their praise, with Pizzi saying "Nancy Kelly, you are the REAL THING, simply awesome"..Jack Sheldon smiling impishly in approval and Cotter and Eicher anxious to resume the swingfest again soon.
Back to ground zero at the Crowne Plaza...The minute Nancy Kelly hit the stage and sang the first tune, the audience was transfixed and the ensemble was ecstatic. It was just one of those nights, just one of those fabulous flights when pure jazz ruled the night and electricity filled the room.
By the time "Till There Was You" and "Jeannine" "More Than You Know" and the sassy blues "Ain't Nobodies Business" was performed, it got hotter than baked grits at a down home church social.
Clearly inspired by Nancy Kelly, and Vice versa, Theo Saunders was spellbinding, his solos were beyond superb and his comping for Kelly plumbed the depths of emotions from tenderness to G force drive
Colangelo was never better, time was automatic, his solos were a work of art and he wove a tapestry of brilliant colors to draw upon...
I will repeat the essence of Tim Pleasant, and that is..."A minimum of fuss and a maximum of taste"..No vocalist could ask for more, his accents and embellishments were perfect and as my friend Artt Frank would say "He was in the moment"
This was the first of three clinics that Nancy Kelly would put on, I say clinics because from the first note to the last it was a lesson in jazz singing, scatting, and SWING, absolute unadulterated swing and you know it don't mean a thing if you can't hang with swing.
If swing was gold, Nancy Kelly would be the richest woman on earth..So would her trio of cohorts...
To call it just a gig would be a disservice, it was a supernova in JAZZ.
It was an intimate setting at Tony's in Ventura, with a nice crowd. Drew Salperto was joined by the ubiquitous Chris Colangelo on the 'wood'. Again the reaction from the crowd was a mixture of cheers and applause after each tune. I have been at Tony's many times since the days of Leroy Vinnegar, Billy Higgins et al and I have never heard a response like this..EVER. The owners were pleased, the waiters were transfixed and even the chef came out to see what 'swing' looked like in person..A fan turned to me and said "I am blown away, I get goose bumps during every tune" An elderly gent, a stroke victim actually began to cry and wave his arms...
Salperto was at his best infusing the tunes with sensitivity and professionalism and Colangelo was, as always, magnificent. This too was an event to remember and Kelly will return in the fall to Tony's and to Clancy's Crab Shack in Glendale, Ca
Nancy Kelly and the NEW Lighthouse All Stars made a bit of history in Hermosa Beach, when for the third night in a week, Kelly wowed a knowledgeable, hip group of listeners...
The scat bag of Kelly made Jack Sheldon pause with his trumpet half way to his lips, Pizzi leaned to Kelly and said, " You are unbelievable" Steve Cotter and Greg Eicher responded with, "That is Pure Swing, We have to line up some gigs"
Nancy Kelly traded fours with Pizzi and Sheldon to the delight of the listeners , she takes no prisoners.
Bobby White is 78 years of age in actual life, but is only 20 when he plays the drums. White has the command of his instrument and is hip to backing a vocalist and he solos like a champ. He is as good as his Art Pepper days.
Nancy Kelly, plus Jack Sheldon, Ray Pizzi and Cotter and Eicher made the world pause in it's orbit for a moment and smile in satisfaction at this swinging jazz supernova. It was an experience to savor till the next time. After all, like Pizzi, Kelly has the vocal range of the King Ranch in Texas, a ballad style to melt your heart and swings like the Flying Wallendas. It gets no better than this, only different. Jazz ain't dead, it still struts its stuff, led by giants like these incomparable musicians. Case Closed. Until next fall.