WITH MUSIC IN THE AIR
SAM FIRST — “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” (“Jabberwocky,” Carroll), “HUZZAH!” (Albert Alligator, or mebbe Howland Owl, from the uniquely precious Pogo cartoon strips by Walt Kelly), “Great googly-moogly!” (Willie Dixon, F. Zappa) — I had to call out all the great orators to express my elation that Sam First is back in the saddle. They were pretty much the last club to wave the white flag, as the pandemic forced venues to shutter like falling dominoes, so this is fitting.
Many of you still don’t know of this superb jazz club near LAX. Well, now is the time to make that right. It is laid out artfully, jazz-cool decor, because owner Paul Solomon wanted to create an intentional space, not convert to one, and gutted the room to build it out as a jazz club, period. It’s small, but that means you are really close to the performers, playing at floor level.
This reopening is particularly auspicious because while they have already been presenting live shows at Second Home Hollywood, this is the place you want to be. They have a concert in Hollywood next Tuesday, and LAX performances tonight and next Wednesday through Saturday, with combos I’m not familiar with so I can’t comment, except to say that Sam First booker/bass player David Robaire is spot on. It’s been so long for most of us that a really good group sitting a few feet away is probably going to be as thrilling as the Miles Davis Quintets (mid-’50s and mid-’60s).
BUT, Friday and Saturday nights, two separate shows at 7 and 9 p.m., they have a trio, the Lounge Art Ensemble, that you should drive 500 miles for, crawl over broken glass and pay a lot of money. But it’s nearby, and $25.
I was lucky enough to have the Ensemble play on my cable TV show years ago, and that’s when I got to know my fellow Santa Monican Peter Erskine, one fine fellow and possibly the best drummer on the planet. Oh, yes.
The original Ensemble included the exquisite bassist Dave Carpenter, a founding member, who sadly passed from a heart attack in 2008 at the age of only 48. Carpenter was held in high esteem by other musicians, a veteran of the Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman bands, and more than 200 recordings. The other member back then was superb sax man Bob Sheppard, and he will be there along with Darek Oles, who can’t replace Carpenter, no one can, but he is now one of my very favorite jazz bass masters, and also a composer, arranger, and educator.
Erskine likes Sam First a lot, he told me, for all the reasons above but also “because it’s so close to home.” It has been a while, for players and public and I’m sure these guys are rarin’ to go. These two nights with Peter Erskine’s new Lounge Art Ensemble are a Don’t Miss opportunity that we worried might never come. We have learned to count our blessings.
HARVELLE’S — my local heroes, Damian, Jason and Cevin, for their cool vibe and hot bookings, the oldest blues club in LA (1930!) has been struggling to be good science-minders and still make it through to the other side, pushing swag, delivered drinks and concerts on their back patio with patrons spaced around inside watching a screen and getting the sound though the open back door, and now they are minding the county’s date of June 15, to come roaring back. They have a bunch of their perennial favorites booked, like Cafe R&B, the Delgado Brothers, Alligator Beach, Led Zepagain (close your eyes and you’ll think…), the too fabulous for words Toledo Show, and best of all, in my book, the DAMN WELL PLEASE ORGAN TRIO and Friends (just go, with no preview, no expectations, if you like music, and tell me if you don’t think Darius… well, no expectations).
JACARANDA — another of our best-kept local music secrets, unfortunately (every seat should be filled in the acoustically articulate First Presbyterian Church, downtown SM). Jacaranda has not yet announced a live performance schedule but I hope that will soon come. Artistic Director Patrick Scott is responsible for their thoughtfully-curated, innovative programs of boundary-pushing modern (and not) classical music. Sometimes challenging, always different, never boring.
In the meantime, Scott has kept himself busy, the latest project to emerge being a video he directed, released Tuesday, titled “CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS: A Tribute to George Floyd in 8:46.” Beautifully crafted in every way, and moving. It begins with a Mako four-drum ensemble playing over stylized news footage of the demonstrations following Floyd’s murder, then soon brings in staccato, reverberating notes from a solo trumpet, accompanying a dancer performing without much lateral movement on a mandala-like turning art platform that eventually hurls us, and Floyd, into the vast unknown. Check it out.
LA PHIL at the HOLLYWOOD BOWL — they just added a very interesting Sept. 24 show with St. Vincent, Spoon and Mereba, to an already star-studded schedule that includes Yo-Yo Ma, H.E.R., Kamasi Washington, one of their best reggae nights in a while with Ziggy Marley and The Wailing Souls (is that not one of the best vocal group names ever? — and the mesmerizing quartet, still with original founders “Pipe” and “Bread” from the ‘60s, lives up to it), Christina Aguilera, Herbie Hancock, Ledisi Sings Nina Simone, Andrea Bocelli, and the usual Peter and the Wolf, Sound of Music sing-along, Mariachi USA + Tchaikovsky + Kool & the Gang fireworks, movie accompaniment, and classical gems. Bowled over!
“BRING MUSIC HOME” — The last time I wrote about the nearly 500-page coffee table book that I helped write, which profiles some 200 music venues across 30 U.S. cities which were forced to shutter during COVID, it was still in the production stage, but the wait is finally over. Since its release just a few weeks ago it has already received a glowing review from Variety: “[Bring Music Home] captures, yes, the fear and desolation of past year, but much more than that, the hope for the future and the certainty that we’ll come through all this and be in a room packed with people sharing the irreplaceable, inimitable experience of a concert.”
I could not be more proud to have contributed to the tremendous efforts of co-founders Tamara Deike, Amber Mundinger and Kevin Condon, and the dozens of other creatives who helped make this very special project come to life.
Visit bringmusichome.com to order a copy, which will in part benefit the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA).
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org