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Eric Darius and Larry Braggs bring in a New Year of Excellence.

 

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On New Year’s Eve 2013 a dynamic show took place at the Huntington Beach Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa. Saxophonist Eric Darius with his special guest, Larry Braggs opened the evening’s festivities in front of Brian Culbertson. This high energy lineup of exuberant artists, who are at the top of their game, made it a New Year’s Eve not to forget.
Darius and Braggs take an enormous amount of pride in performing to that level of excellence. This coming year that tradition of distinction will carry on through all of their endeavors. Speaking to both performers, they shared with me what is coming up for them. True to form, both gentlemen will be very busy performing as well as continuously creating and 2014 looks exciting for each of them.
Larry Braggs – After a 14 year run as lead singer of Tower of Power, Braggs has just embarked on a solo career and there is no stopping him from his pursuit of creative expression. He is working on two albums right now, one is a blues, soul record and the other is with his trio doing a series of Salons in people’s homes called The Cook Book Living Room Series. They will be performing the music of Sam Cooke, hence the name “Cookbook,” starting in March and he is working on recording those sessions for an album.

He is also writing a book of poems and quotations he has penned. The quotations will include some from famous people that he enjoys as well.
Another exciting venture for Braggs will be doing a segment with Destination Magazine called, “On the Road”. “It will be (in part) about my concert travels and I will also do interviews with other musicians while on the road. It won’t be typical interviews; more of the inside scoops, and insights while they tour, in video segments.”

So in 2014 we will be able to catch Braggs in three dimensions; live in concert, reading his writings and seeing him on video segments. He says he might even try to throw in a Christmas record but adds that is just something in the back of his head right now.

For what he has yet to do Braggs wants to do a lot more speaking to kids in schools, saying, “There is a gap from taking music and arts out of schools. It’s left a void and my contribution is to give back. I know how important it is to have structure and mentorship and how important teaching is. We have benefited a lot and it’s important to give back to the kids now so they can help the next generation.”

Eric Darius – This was the first New Year’s Eve show Darius has done in a long time and he was very excited to share the stage with Braggs once again. He says it was an amazing night of dancing partying and celebrating the evening in the right way. Braggs adds, “Eric Darius is one of the up and coming saxophone players and I always enjoy doing shows with him, he’s a high energy guy and he will be around for a long time.”
“It’s a pretty energized deal by Eric and (me) and it will be fun,” says Braggs offering a straightforward description. “We’ll be playing songs from all our albums and we may mix things up a little too. It can turn into something we’re not expecting it to be… it could just take off and never come back.”

The last few months of 2013 were very busy with new opportunities. Darius performed with Mary J. Blige (Grammy Award winner) and Verve Music Group Chairman, David Foster for a live orchestra concert on the Home Shopping Network. “It was amazing and a tremendous opportunity to share the stage with both Mary J. Blige and David Foster. They are each incredible and accomplished artists. I had a great time working with them and hope there will be more opportunities in the future.” He also appeared on The X Factor season finale and you may have caught him in an episode of Mob City.
Darius will release a new album in 2014. As an artist he says he wants to try new things and evolve musically so this album will have a new sound. With each of his albums, his goal is to stretch and try new styles. “That’s the true excitement about releasing new music”, he says. “It’s pointless to release a new album if you don’t have anything new to say. There have been so many changes and experiences over the years and they will be reflected on this album.”

Darius’ school campaign, On A Mission is also something he wants to keep promoting. He says, “It (forwards) music education and encourages the younger generation to follow their dreams about playing an instrument and any other dreams they have for themselves. It’s about keeping the music alive in schools and something that we are definitely going to be refocusing on for 2014.”
Darius has many exciting things in the works and adds, “It is very important for me to connect with my fans and they are the reason I get to do what I love to do. I’m thankful for all their support … and that they are going on this journey with me.”

Larry Braggs Standing on the Side of Greatness

Larry Braggs Standing on the Side of Greatness

Melina Paris

The stars have aligned and the time has arrived. Larry Braggs is about to embark on a solo career and he has lots of plans. One of the first events coming up for him is the Wilson Creek Winery Concert on September 13. He will share the stage with Eric Darius, and anyone who has seen either of these two high-spirited artists knows well that they are in for an invigorating show.

Braggs has been lead vocalist with renowned soul band, Tower of Power for the past 13 years, during which time the band earned a Grammy nomination in 2006 for “Best Remixed Recording – Non Classical”.

Asking him about the highlights of working in Tower of Power, he says there are so many.

“From my good friend and great musician who I learned to love and got to know before he left us, Mr. George Duke, to singing with James Brown on tour with Power, that was a big highlight. I got to do shows with Little Richard and my great friend Marcus Miller. He has done so much from such an early age, you’d think he was 100 years old, and Dr. John with so much talent, just hanging out with him. Those are the highlights.”

Braggs has said, “In Tower of Power you’ve got to have soul,” his soul music inspirations range from the romance of artists like Lionel Ritchie, Peabo Bryson and Jeffrey Osborne, to the richness of Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band and the funk of James Brown. But he says what people don’t realize is that he holds a special affinity for Sir Tom Jones.

He continues, “He is a big inspiration to me, even to this day. What he’s done in his career and being that solid an entertainer for all these years. I used to go into the house as a little kid to watch the Tom Jones Show. I could be outside playing football or basketball or whatever, but if the Tom Jones Show came on, I’m going in the house to watch it.”

“I have an eclectic taste for music and soul is feel good music, it is the voice of your soul” Braggs says.

Very early on when Braggs started singing with Tower they were not sure he was the voice and were still auditioning other singers. As it turned out he was the right voice after all. He explains how that experience influenced his decision to branch out into a solo career.

Growing up in Chicago, in a place called Pig Town, he says his parents were tough-minded people. They were very well educated in street smarts and just how to survive. Braggs watched his father as a powerful and strong man his whole life. Even while bedridden he always said, “I might give out but I’ll never give up.”

When this happened at the beginning with Tower he thought he could say forget this, but his motivation kicked in. He didn’t have a job back home and Tower didn’t want him for this job he explains, so he had to prove them wrong.

“They said they didn’t think I was the voice but they don’t have anybody right now. So, could I stay until they find the person they are looking for? I mean, who does that?”

So he stepped it up saying, “I’m not the best singer in the world but I will not let anyone out entertain me. I decided I was going to be the best singer they ever had.”

Coming in to Tower, Braggs entered as a piece of something already there. He says he had other music he wanted to do. Feeling strong about that, he had to make his move because he says, being safe is not always best for a person.

“It’s up to you, once you make the commitment to keep driving the bus. You may have downfalls and valleys, it won’t always go your way, but you have to keep focused and believe that you can be successful. If you aren’t, at least you tried and didn’t just sit on the couch and waste away.”

For his solo career Braggs’ wants to put out different kinds of records, soul, blues, jazz and rock-n-roll. He currently has a record out with the band CTA (California Transit Authority), a rock band which the original drummer for Chicago, Danny Seraphine is in. Braggs sings on four tracks on their sophomore CD, called Sacred Ground.

“We’re doing more things together now and I’ve got some offers from other bands. I’m concentrating on doing a little bit of everything but more of what I want the world out there to hear from me. People saw what I could do with Tower and I’ve given them a little taste on my last two records, Places and Just Saying”

Braggs has had a very diverse performance background going back to his days in college at University of Arkansas Pine Bluff and North Carolina A and T. He studied opera for several years and has done theater, musicals and even a few movies, (Wild Cats, Soldier Story, Player 5150). It’s no wonder he wants to embark on a solo career. It seems it was only a matter of time before he would want this and now is his time.

Braggs would like his new record to showcase a lot of the new music he wants to do. He says it’s going to be fun, kind of a blues soul record. He’s really looking forward to this particular project.

He adds, “I love Gary Clark Jr. and the success he had. I’ve been looking forward to doing a similar record and mine will be a little more vocal than on the guitar side.”

Braggs explains, “We’re doing a Kick Starter campaign for the upcoming record. Certain donations will receive CD’s and MP3’s of the single, all the way up to $10,000. For that amount we will do a personal concert for you and your friends at your house or wherever you decide.”

“Without TOP I would not be in the position I am now. They’ve really helped me grow as a singer and a musician. The band has its own way of doing things and it increased a lot of skills I didn’t know I had. It taught me how to be a better singer; if I am a better singer at all,” he humbly jokes.

“Singers are musicians; we have this incredible god given gift and we have to take care of it. It’s the only instrument we have. Like I said, how you feel is how that instrument is going to deliver. When I go on stage, that’s my gospel in life, to make you forget anything negative that might have happened in your life and to bless you with something to walk away with and feel good. I know when I go on stage and perform I feel better than I did before I went out there.”

Braggs and his band have a big show coming up at Theater 166 in Carrollton, Texas, near Dallas on October 4. It will be videotaped and streamed online. He says he is looking forward to it and showing people what he’s been working on.

He muses, “I know that I was put in charge of a talent and I’m supposed to nurture a talent and share a talent and be respectful of it. That’s the thing that a lot of musicians know and a lot learn it as we start playing all over the world. Going to other countries and seeing the faces of the people and the greetings that they give you is amazing. People actually know who I am, it’s really a blessing.”

Braggs adds that there’s something very honest about playing away from home. People in other countries get live music, and they accept it more. They give an artist a chance and if they like you they accept you. They love you for life and they let you know it. It’s truthful.

“We’re living in trying times and if you’re a musician and have something to say, people listening to the music hear the words more than anything else. Your words will cause someone to act in a certain way. You didn’t plan it that way but what you say and what they hear, depending on what they’re going through in their life is really going to lead them in a certain way.”

He continued putting a very fine point on his conviction saying, “You have to be careful what you put out there and how you portray yourself to kids especially because they’re watching. You are a bastion of everything around you when you become a person of interest or wealth or popularity. It’s better to be on the side of greatness than on the side of weakness.”

The pairing of Larry Braggs and Eric Darius together is a hot match. Braggs is a very charismatic, lively exuberant singer and Darius is just that way on his saxophone. Before we closed I asked Mr. Braggs what it’s like to share the stage with Eric Darius.

“I’m an old man; I’ve got to get my laps before I go on stage with Eric, he doesn’t know how to slow down. He has so much energy! One time on the jazz cruise David Sanborn looked at him and said. “If I did that I would die.” He’s out of his mind when he’s on stage and it’s just fun doing it that way. He has come into his own.

He adds, “I don’t know if my new record will have me jumping around at one hundred miles per hour but it’s still going to have the same energy because the energy is the energy no matter what it is. I would love to have him play on my record too, he doesn’t know that yet but if he reads this article, he will know.”

“I’m looking forward to playing with all the guys on the roster at Infinity Artist Group. This is the agency to look out for.”

Closing in a spirit of greatness, Braggs adds, “Be good to yourself, be good to others. Take life as it is because we know what the end is. So live it, be kind to everyone that you meet and smile more.”

 

Blake Aaron Shares His Passion at Wilson Creek Winery

Blake Aaron Shares His Passion at Wilson Creek Winery
Melina Paris

It’s that time again. The Wilson Creek Winery jazz concert is coming up and the talented
multi-faceted Blake Aaron is opening the show on September 13. Aaron will be followed by the high energy and charismatic team of Eric Darius and Larry Braggs.

Aaron says he is totally looking forward to playing at Wilson Creek Winery and adds,
“We also just got word that we have a very well-known special surprise guest coming. I can’t say his name but he’s going to appear with us on our set.”

Aaron is an accomplished musician, composer, recording artist and radio show host. His nationally syndicated weekly radio show is recorded live from host station KSBR and is streamed on iTunes. Aaron used to be a guest at the radio station from time to time and it was suggested to him that he had a good radio personality and should consider doing his own show.

He says, “I always wanted to do something live on the air; it seems like people play CD music, people do interview shows but no one has the artist come down and play live on air. I could play with them and it’s almost like the old MTV unplugged shows on the radio.”

So he took a bunch of radio classes and started broadcasting. He has built up the show over five years now and had many musically diverse artists on, from Anita Baker and Earl Klugh, to Jon Anderson, singer from the prog rock group Yes, Najee and Bill Medley.

Aaron mixes it up a bit with the show, incorporating some comedy, artist interviews and live and recorded music listening. It’s a variety radio show of sorts.

That variety also spills over into his playing. Aaron likes to include the blues in his repertoire, and on occasion has shared the stage and recorded with a wide range of R&B and funk artists, including Bobby Womack, Mary Wells, The Gap Band and Funkadelic. Aaron has also played in a lot of rock bands back in the Sunset Strip days.

Aaron explains, “Combining all that with my love for jazz and playing jazz, a lot of that does come out as the blues.”

Aaron adds he has been influenced by some great blues artists like, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, which has given him kind of a bluesy style as well.

On his Billboard single, “You’re the One for Me,” Aaron wrote the music and lyrics and got the soothing and sophisticated vocalist Spencer Day to sing on it. It’s a very soulful song which has that rich mix of influences that often unfolds in Aaron’s music.

He also has a new song out now called, “You’re My Miracle”, which he wrote along with Derek Bordeaux who will also appear with him at Wilson Creek. It’s an easy feeling, melodious number with rich layers of expression.

Aaron writes his own music and has composed music for film and TV. He has also been guitarist on many TV shows including, Mad TV, The Super Dave Osborne Show, Blue Collar TV, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and many more.

He says he feels really lucky to perform his own music and be working on his fourth CD called Soul Stories, on which some of his latest singles will be featured. Playing for people is important to him as much as he loves the TV, film and production work he does for other artists.

The professional accomplishment that Aaron says he holds closest to his heart is,
“To do shows and put out music I’ve written and seeing the effect it has on people’s lives, it’s what I hold the closest to my heart. I feel very blessed to do what I love and have a wonderful family to share it all with. We have a little boy who just turned one and a five-and-a-half-year-old daughter.”

This year is sure to bring a highly entertaining show. Aaron wants his fans to know that they are really looking forward to seeing everybody out there at The Wilson Creek Winery. Come enjoy a night offering nothing short of pure musical expression and diversity with Blake Aaron.

Eric Darius, Larry Braggs and Blake Aaron at Wilson Creek Winery!

Infinity Artists Group presents the very exciting and entertaining duo of Eric Darius and Larry Braggs at the Wilson Creek Winery. Come see Billboard #1 artist Eric Darius and Grammy nominated artist Larry Braggs perform live on September 13th at the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula.

Eric and Larry provide a synergy that is unmatched with any other show. Opening the show will be the talented Blake Aaron. Last year this show sold out quickly, so purchase your tickets soon to reserve your spot at what has proven to be a show loved by all. A limited number of dinner and wine packages with reserved table seating are available.

Buy your tickets here…

Spotlight – “Aysha, Celebrating New Beginnings”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aysha, Celebrating New Beginnings

Melina Paris

Aysha, a shining new star with Infinity Artists Group, has just come out with her fourth album, Take me Higher; and there’s no doubt this CD will.

Marking this occasion in the most fitting way, Aysha will perform at her CD pre-release party, which also happens to be a festive birthday celebration for this rising artist. The events will coincide on Saturday, July 13, at Spaghettini’s in Seal Beach.

Aysha has been nominated, both in 2009 and 2010, for Jazz Artist of the Year. She was also the winner for Jazz Album of the year at the 2010 Los Angeles Music Awards.

Her single, “Release Me” which she co-wrote with music producer Monty Seward, has received high praise and even higher ratings. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best, “Release Me” was given a 10 on the examiner.com website.

Recently over the telephone, discussing her new album, she shared some insights on how the CD came into fruition.

She explains the musical direction she was originally going in has changed over the past six months. Take Me Higher is more of an eclectic album, not any one particular genre. It leans more towards urban adult contemporary.

She says, “It fits in smooth jazz but it’s more urban and crosses over to pop.”

The inspiration behind the album, she says, is about relationships. Speaking of her dreams and personal experiences, she put to melody what she learned from her past and from looking into herself. She says it’s not only about romantic love, but love in general.

“I definitely went deep,” Aysha says. “This came from a relationship I ended in 2010 and then we got back together. It’s about that journey with my partner who was a big inspiration. It’s very uplifting.”

“Release Me also had another meaning, she adds, I wanted to step outside the box of smooth jazz and do what felt good musically.”

She says it was an experience of total freedom in music and in her life.

“It was pretty intense, the emotions and what I went through. I felt like I could breathe all of a sudden”.

Rooted in her truth she expands like the limbs of a tree; though she does not stray too far from the female artists who she says inspired her, Phyllis Hymen and Sade.

“I love the way Phyllis can tell a story through a song. Listening to her music you can really put a whole picture together.”

“And then there’s Sade, she is just sexy and crafty with a different sound. You didn’t really know what genre to even put her in. That’s kind of how a lot of my music is; it crosses over a lot of genres.”

Through her personal growth Aysha has captured a way of telling her own story. She has done so while branching out musically and successfully expanding across genres.

Early on in her career Aysha experienced some significant stage fright but was able to pull herself through it. She described it as more of a confidence and acceptance issue. Worried, at first that people wouldn’t like her, she remembers her legs shaking before going on stage. Yet, through harnessing her talent she was able to pull herself through. As she became more confident in her abilities, she explains, it got better.

“It’s easier for me to perform in front of thousands of people than in the smaller more intimate rooms. I still get nervous before hand but once I’m out on stage I’m so happy to be there.”

Her happiness must be infectious. She shares a story about one time being booked in a show where it was a heavy R&B crowd.

“At the time I was doing more smooth jazz, I thought why was I scheduled here?”  She explains, “I was worried I would not get a warm reception at all.”

People started entering the room as she was in the middle of a sound check; suddenly some of them walked up to her saying they really liked her voice.

Musically and personally Aysha has come full circle and she is acquiring many admirers along the way. She recounts the story of how she came about performing at the esteemed Dubai International Jazz Festival this past February.

About five years ago Les Cutmore, CEO of Trippin ‘N’ Rhythm Records, contacted her. He wanted to sign her but at the last minute some of his people thought it wasn’t the right time for a vocal artist to come in on their smooth jazz genre. She did not get signed but Cutmore, likely recognizing a big talent, always stayed in touch with her.

Aysha explains, “Then one day, out of the blue, I received a Facebook message from him asking if I could perform at the Dubai Jazz Festival. He said he had a spot open and needs to know ASAP because he has to wrap it up.”

The Dubai Jazz fest has become an iconic event featuring world class artists, covering all genres of jazz music. Aysha muses over on the sheer surprise of it all.

“I was told there were several people who wanted to do it. It was the opportunity of a life time.”

A great compliment to a talented and hardworking artist. Between her day job and studio time, she works more than 60 hours a week. Aysha says she does make time for church on Sundays and spending time with her boyfriend.

“This is a new beginning in all aspects of my life. I have a big birthday coming up and it’s a whole new outlook.”

If you are in the area, come to Spaghettini’s and celebrate with Aysha and friends, bet you will be happy you did!

Taking a Holiday at the New San Diego Jazz Festival

 

Taking a Holiday at the New San Diego Jazz Festival

From La Costa Resort and Spa

Melina Paris

When a radio station changes its format, live music events the station sponsors can suffer some collateral damage. When people who are passionate about music mobilize, live music prevails.

This past Memorial Day weekend we saw just such an occurrence. A few years ago, award winning San Diego smooth jazz station KIFM switched music formats and the annual jazz festival they promoted in the historic Gaslamp Quarter ended.

Quickly to the rescue, the Payne’s of Payne Pest Management in association with Brad Laughlin are bringing you the new San Diego Jazz Festival. Willie and Kathy Payne are determined to bring live jazz back for you to enjoy in our beautiful San Diego setting. Brad Laughlin promotes the Arizona and Las Vegas Jazz Festivals as well. Between the Payne’s passion for music and Laughlin’s know-how, the new San Diego Jazz Festival was born at the serene La Costa Resort in Carlsbad on Memorial Day weekend. The tradition is renewed!

By the looks of it, keeping to tradition works. Attending Saturday’s festivities I had the privilege of seeing a great lineup of artists starting with the R&B/Latin soul/jazz group, DW3. Now we’re talking smooth here.  Eric Mondragon, William Mondragon and Damon Reel, who make up this trio, harmonize beautifully together. It turns out members of DW3 are related to the Latin and R&B band from the 1970’s, Tierra. Melodic grooves certainly run in this family. These three are great musicians who had the audience on their feet throughout most of their performance.  Engaging showmen that they are, they interact with the audience, dance a little and play great music. They performed a wonderful cover of Luther Vandross’ “All My Love” and original numbers, including the romantic “On the Floor” and “Would You Mind?” which showcased a powerful guitar solo.

Following DW3 were the classic soul and jazz stylings of Kim Waters and Phil Perry. Kim Waters is a smooth saxophone player with great poise. He paces his notes through songs with the self-assurance of the seasoned musician he is. He touches his audience through his affecting technique, letting the notes offer unexpected expressions from his horn.

Phil Perry was born to sing, and that is the plain truth. Merging the talent of these two jazz titans resulted in the purest musical manifestation. Waters, in an all cream suit, opened the set by playing two lingering and harmonious numbers. He then introduced Perry to the stage and the audience reacted with great enthusiasm. When Perry opened with “Distant Lover” the concert goers were thrilled. Perry has the gift to move an audience with his voice, so sweet, it’s like icing on a cake. When he went into The Isley Brothers “Living for the Love of You” this audience became his backup singers right on cue. Following that classic we were treated to a number by Waters called “The Ride“ where he seamlessly showed us his range, from smooth all the way to straight ahead jazz. A friendly seat neighbor made the comment, “This is real jazz.”

Next up was a wonderful highlight of the concert with Eric Darius and Larry Braggs. Eric always creates a high energy show and Larry, also a part of Tower of Power, brings his own brand of vocal might to the stage. Besides the talent of these two artists, they had what amounted to a small orchestra performing with them: two more horns, (sax and trumpet), two guitars, keyboards, drums, bass and percussion player. This place was jumping! Eric came in with a strong start looking crisp in white slacks and a pastel blue shirt. He moved into the perfect number for a summer day titled “Kingston’s Flavor” in a nod to his Caribbean roots. Extending this number out nice and long the percussion player initiated a call and response with the audience echoing his beats. Soon enough Larry came on stage to start things up asking, “Does everybody know something about James Brown?” leading into, “I Got the Feeling”.  Eric was all over this number. The band, lined up swaying back and forth in time. With Larry, his big voice channeling James Brown, their performance socked a whole new form of electrified energy into this venue. The audience was charged up and ready for more. After a soothing version of Marvin Gaye’s, “I Want You”, they played Tower of Power’s, “What is Hip” escalating the groove and the mood.

They followed with Alicia Keys’ “All I Want Is You”.  Rich Antonio, on electric keys was actually administering backup to Eric’s horn by producing an element that sounded like his keyboard was scatting. Yes, the keyboard was scatting; live on stage with reverb as Eric fanned Antonio with a jazz fest tee shirt.

By the way, this year’s tee shirt, in complimentary fashion, pictures a silhouette of Eric Darius playing his sax. From there, Darius was off and running into the audience. He got up close and personal with his horn and played for attendees face to face. Musically, visually and viscerally it was a feast for the ears. More than a set; this was a complete and invigorating show.

Coming next were, Jonathan Butler, Sheila E. and Elan Trotman. This concert happened to be the debut of Butler’s Soul of Summer Tour featuring Trotman and Sheila E. Together this diverse group of artists brought some very cool and interesting vibes combining Butler’s South African roots and Trotman and Sheila E’s Caribbean and Latin flavors respectively.

Trotman opened with a groove called “Heaven in Your Eyes” tranquilly gliding us into the twilight. Jonathan Butler’s 1980’s hit “Sara, Sara” followed to the audiences delight. Butler joined in with some “ahh yeh, ahh yeh, ahh yeh’s” on the next number “The Wave” off Trotman’s new CD, Tropicality. It’s a cool summer groove bringing a happy feeling.

Introducing Sheila E. to the stage they went into their interpretation of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.” Their version, slower than Marley’s original, was performed with a melodic jazz guitar reminiscent of Earl Klugh, eloquently highlighting higher chords. It was quite a pleasant surprise and so nice to listen to under the sun.

Something that was expected though was delivered in top form, Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life” Performed with Trotman on sax and of course Sheila’s dynamic drum solo, this audience was dancing with joy. It was the perfect finale.

Eight times Grammy nominated Ledisi brought us into the evening next with her rich and strong vocals. This woman has energy. Wearing a vivid cobalt blue strapless dress, she commands your attention as she literally bounces around the stage. Opening with “Think of You”, she likes to get the audience to sing along with her, encouraging us between delivering song verses. Shortly into her second number “Raise Up”, about the inspiration the title implies, she seemed to be even more energized, coquettishly expressing “I’m sorry, I’m not smooth jazz.” She loves to sing and her style reminded me of the exuberant spirit of Patti Labelle.  On “Joy”, her funky roller skating song, the band went deep into a continuous cool vibe of lighthearted funk while Ledisi scatted and displayed her vocal range with finesse (She studied opera at UC Berkeley and grew up in a musical family from New Orleans). This cheerful animated artist loves to converse with the audience. Before the end of her set she was sharing advice from her mother with us, “Have faith, love yourself by any means necessary, be careful of what and whom you allow into your personal circle.” She continued later, “I could just be cute and sing but I have a purpose to let you know.” It’s clear; Ledisi also has a purpose to sing with contagious joy.

To close this evening out was the consummate musician, keyboardist and trombonist, writer arranger and producer Brian Culberson. Whew, what a show!  He opened saying he has lots of music for us, and did he. Opening with “So Good” and leading into “Always Remember” from his CD Bringing Back the Funk, every instrument comes through clearly. It’s funk, it’s jazz, it’s bebop, it’s amazing and we witnessed it- live. Along with his keys and trombone, Culbertson shared the stage with two vocalists; Jason Morales and Selena Albright as well as guitar, bass, drums, and a second keyboardist. Honestly, it sounded like even more than that. “Still Here” featured Albright on vocals. It’s a rock ballad yet has classical elements with Culbertson’s meticulous keyboard playing and Albright’s strong voice, both remarkably clean and clear. On Tower of Power’s “You’ve Got to Funkifize”, Culbertson jammed on the trombone once again moving all over the stage as though he were on a mission. At this point, Culbertson seemed to have caught the spirit and took us on a musical joy ride.

They slowed it down for a bit with the classic “Secret Garden” featuring Morales on vocals and Culbertson playing each note on the keys ever so slowly and delicately.  Taking it further he started conducting the audience on the chorus, “if you think I’m gonna take care of you, if you think I got what you need, sho’ you right.”  Magical.

While playing Earth Wind and Fire’s “Serpentine Fire” these showmen snaked their way around the stage and brought the whole venue to its feet singing and boogieing along.

Bringing it all on “Funkin’ Like My Father”, Culbertson shared yet another talent, doing a rap. At multiple times during this show, Culbertson’s fingers and hands were moving so fast on his keyboard it looked as though the keys were singeing his fingertips. Culbertson and band played a one song encore as our goodnight gift.

The entire event was absolutely fantastic.  The weather was perfect, the setting was beautiful and the music was great.  Hurry up and get your tickets for next year’s Memorial Day weekend performance at La Costa Resort and Spa as they are sure to go quickly.

Antonio Pontarelli Brings the Heat to Temecula Wine and Music Festival

Antonio Pontarelli

Antonio Pontarelli Brings the Heat to Temecula Wine and Music Festival 

Melina Paris

The first Saturday in May brought us the perfect spring day at Temecula Wine and Music Festival. Listening to live jazz and sipping delicious smooth wines surrounded by peaceful oak trees is the right way to top off such beautiful day.
After unwinding to a remarkably beautiful set by Hawaiian keyboard legend, Rene Paulo someone was about to rock this very cool and smooth vibe into an electrifying one.
This rousing charge came by way of the amazing violinist, Antonio Pontarelli. Now just 22 years old, he started playing violin at age four. He has been playing basically his whole life. He is a virtuoso who brings a heap of passion into his performance.
Pontarelli has known Michael Paulo for most of his life and has performed in the Temecula area sense shortly after he began violin. He and Paulo both played the Jakarta at Java Jazz Festival and at Spaghettini’s in Seal Beach and so many more times together.
It was telling when festival founder, Michael Paulo announced Pontarelli to the stage that we were in for something special. Stating with pride, Paulo said, “We watched him grow up and now he’s doing quite well making a living as a musician!”
The broad-shouldered Pontarelli strides out on stage opening with, “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Treating us to his rendition of vocals on this Bill Withers hit, his voice is strong and sexy and he’s got the beautiful long locks of hair and dramatic flair to share. Watching him pace his way through a song singing and playing, it’s like listening to him tell a story. Wholeheartedly getting into performing, he bends at his knees and leans way back transporting his notes into the sky.
His next number was refreshingly unexpected; he covered The Turtles classic, “Happy Together.” That song is a favorite of mine and the crowd seemed to dig it just as much. Hearing it played through his violin was rich, adding a lush romanticism to a very sweet song. I swear it sounded like two violins. If I didn’t see only Pontarelli on the strings, I’d have believed two violinists were on stage. He is speed lightening on his instrument as he moves across the stage leading with his shoulders forward and back and stomping his feet to the beat.
Closing this short, powerful set was George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” He told the audience he’s played this many times and every time it’s a little different. This time, with vocals to start Pontarelli sings, la ,la, la, la, la’s and Rene Paulo joined in playing his piano powerfully and impeccably. Then son, Michael Paulo joined in on saxophone adding even more depth to this sensuous number. Leading into those unforgettable verses; “Your daddy’s rich, your mama’s good looking.” Pontarelli holds those long notes coming straight from his heart, nicely done.
I spoke briefly to Pontarelli following his set. After our chat I came to believe that passion I mentioned has more to do with his musical background and talent rather than his youth. He also has a good mind for the music business, as you will see.
The first thing I wanted to know was how he came to playing the classic, “Happy Together.” at this festival.
He says he’s always been attracted to classic rock, the 60’s and that style of music.
“I know this is more of a jazz gig in terms of a lot of the players here but I’ve always been more on that rock style and its fun to find pieces of music that can that bridge that gap.”
Pontarelli has been spending his time attending the University of Southern California the past few years. He majored in Entrepreneurship in business. During that time he released a demo CD but in the true entrepreneur spirit he says,
“I haven’t been going for the whole mentality of getting a label; instead, I’ve been trying to do it myself.”
Recently he has been working on a You Tube channel where he will release videos on a regular basis. He explains he is still in the process of developing and recording all the content.  With all the material he would normally put on a CD to sell he decided to wait, record a video for it and then start releasing that for free. Then he may release those tracks for sale later on.
He adds, “Because of the way the industry has changed the idea of putting a bunch of time and money into a single release is not in the plan as much. Nowadays it’s about keeping something going consistently, not just an album every year, but trying to release songs every month so there is always something coming up.”
Pontarelli has literally studied the dilemma he describes above. He elaborated on his decision to approach to recording in this way. Upon first applying to the university he decided on the music business program. During that time, in 2007, the music business was in great turmoil. Pontarelli mentions it still is but many of the questions that are answered now were still being asked. For instance; is it right to go to a label? How much money should you put into a tour?  He decided rather than learning something that may have been outdated in a few months he will just transfer all the way into Entrepreneurship.
He offers, “That was the idea behind me getting into business. While the music industry program is great at SC, I felt that there needed to be a totally different way of looking at things. You cant look at it from the point of view of being a musician because it’s a whole new world. It’s now about the internet, about social media, about how you can have corporate sponsorships that don’t necessarily come across like corporate sponsorships, you know?”
Getting back to the music, I wanted to find out what type of music initially captured his attention. He says his parents were very encouraging of him to play an instrument because learning to play would be a good tool for him educationally. At first it was a hobby but by about age seven he realized he wanted to do this more. He says he would practice songs and memorize them for concerts but then, maybe from being such a young child, he says he would forget what to do next so he would simply improvise.
“And that’s what I liked more than anything elseI still studied classical music because the way to learn violin and get the technique is through classical training.”
He continued on that course until about age 12 even while still improvising for fun, because he enjoyed it. As he grew it occurred to him he doesn’t have to be a classical violinist. Why not play Jimmie Hendrix? His father had exposed him to the artist as well as many more. Pontarelli says it was the perfect time to broaden his horizons.
“Before, I improvised because I forgot something but then I realized, Oh wow, there is a kind of music where I can actually improvise. It was blues and jazz and rock. I started finding there was a lot of interplay between the two and my classical training helped my improvising.”
During that time period he tried out for the TV show called Americas Most Talented Kids.  He won the second season and at that point started focusing his career more towards rock music. He says it still is rock but it has more of a pop and classical background.
“I try to bring the music I studied my whole life to contemporary pop music. Pop is a dirty word but it’s more catchy and recognizable to my generation. That’s what I’ve been developing and trying to discover.”
Website www.antoniopontarelli.com

Infinity Creations March 2013

Rib-Eye Steaks with Red-Wine Sauce

Ingredients:

4 (1/2-inch-thick) boneless rib-eye steaks (2 pounds total)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preparation:

Pat steaks dry, then sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper (total).
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over high heat until it shimmers, then sauté steaks in 2 batches, turning once, about 4 minutes per batch for medium-rare.

Transfer to a large plate and cover with foil.

Pour off fat from skillet, then sauté garlic in remaining tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until pale golden, about 30 seconds.

Add wine and boil, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add water, soy sauce, and any meat juices from plate and boil until reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time, until slightly thickened.

Stir in parsley and pour sauce over steaks.

Serve with mashed sweet potatoes and sauteed vegetables.

94.7 The Wave’s Smooth Night Out hosted by Pat Prescott

Talent Abounds with Emerging Artists and Seasoned Performers at 94.7 The Wave’s Smooth Night Out

The Wave put on a smooth night out indeed on Saturday, February 23rd at the Nokia Theater.  Boney James, Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown, Mindy Abair, Spencer Day and Vincent Ingala performed to perfection.

The Wave’s line-up showcased the great breadth of current talent and has inspired me to encourage you to go see the artists you love – now. They’re here and they want nothing more than to play for their fans.  You’ll be so glad you did.  I promise.

It’s always exciting to see young musicians and be touched by their talent. It reinforces the belief that the music we love is carrying on. Vincent Ingala and Spencer Day are two such artists.

Composer and sax man Ingala is barely 20 years old and has a promising career ahead of him. He is baby faced, largely talented and recognized for mastering the expressions in standard smooth jazz favorites.  His second CD released, Can’t Stop Now is making a lasting impression on Billboard and many other charts.

Day is an enthusiastic performer who has an eloquent vocalizing style. His distinctive enunciation of lyrics and his dreamy singing are likely to carry you away on a cloud. He garnered a hit with “Till You Come Back to Me” on Billboard’s chart for well over 20 weeks. To the delight of this room he closed his set with that number. Day clearly loves to engage his audience and keep them smiling and he is skilled at doing just that.

Wild spark Mindy Abair graced the stage next in a silver sequin top and black spandex pants. Talented and highly energetic she knows how to hold an audience’s attention. Her sound is funky and along with a lot of bass from the band, her happiness is infectious.

Abair shared a story that just that morning she was eating breakfast in the Philippine’s, then she  and the band flew to Hong Kong and then back to LA in time for sound check at the venue. “I feel like it’s never going to end.” she said with a huge smile and she was blowing her alto sax hard. Her energy is astounding.

She went into the classic “Summertime” to warm up the crowd following it with her song “Lucy” from the album It Just Happens That Way. The room happily sang along the melodic song with her. Abair shared that this song saved her life.

After Abair’s performance, The Wave’s Pat Prescott came out and announced the station was paying tribute to the 2013 honorees of Black History Month this evening and all of their names were on display on the big screen.

She then introduced one of the original smooth jazz stars, Kirk Whalum to the stage who received a very warm welcome. Wearing a leather fedora and color splashed blazer with leather black pants and a scarf, he was looking sharp. Blowing his horn up and down the scales and tossing a little straight ahead style into the mix, he let the audience get a little taste of his seasoning.  Whalum’s method of entertaining is very smooth, he can get funky, bluesy or play the purest expression of jazz on his horn but does so with graceful eloquence.

A highlight of his performance was “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston which he played the saxophone solo on in the film. It was bitter sweet.  Whitney may as well have been on stage singing it because Whalum played to every single nuance in her voice on that number perfectly and exactly.  Bravo!  He got a standing ovation.

Norman Brown was a joy in this concert playing what he so appropriately calls feel good music; and that feeling was definitely circulating the room.

He opened with the number “Keep it Moving”.  Brown is amazingly clear and precise on his azure blue electric guitar. You can hear each individual note his fingers play even as his digits are moving with deftness and speed. You can tell Brown loves this, he is shining.  Later in his set he played The Isley Brothers’ “For the Love of You”.  Brown was actually singing his instrument right along with every note on his guitar.  He and his guitar were one and the same; I was thoroughly impressed by his immense skill.

About this time Kirk Whalum came back out to join his comrade on Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” These two cats got it down THEN they got funky- old school style. The audience ate it up.

The evening closed with showman Boney James who donned a nice dark suit, fedora and Vans tennis shoes. So at home on stage, he came out with a smooth start on his alto sax building to a little bit of sass, and spiritedness with his walk and expressions to the audience. He loves the back and forth with the crowd and will playfully tell them to respond if they’re a little laid back.

He spoke to us about his latest record, The Beat, and said he came out with it to make contact with his audience.  James walked all over the stage and interacted with his band mates constantly.  Going into Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone”, James treated us to a groovy little dance on stage.  Following his lead his band got real funky and glided right into Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing”.  Then with sax in hand, blowing real cool Boney made his way out to dance with the audience and he spent some time with the crowd.

Getting everyone up dancing at the end of the night was a great close to an evening that had a smooth and happy groove all the way through. The Wave DJ Pat Prescott summed up the evening this way;

“Tonight’s concert had it all. We heard from talented emerging artists like Spencer Day and Vincent Ingala; artists whose careers were launched on The Wave like Mindi Abair and Norman Brown; and popular veteran performers like Kirk Whalum and Boney James. It was the perfect blend of all the musical elements that have created the station’s magic for the past 26 years”.

Article written by Melina Paris

December 2012 Newsletter ~ The Jazz Queen

Whether enjoying a jazz concert, making connections or conducting business, we at Infinity Artists Group are blessed to have been able to forge many great friendships.  We would like to introduce you to a friend whom you may not yet know.  Her name is Terri Scott and is known in the industry by her sobriquet:  “The Jazz Queen”.

Terri lives in Las Vegas and works as a legal secretary in a law firm that specializes in construction defects.  However, her passion is jazz.

In the evening you’ll find her at home on her laptop on blogtalkradio, interviewing some of Contemporary Jazz’s top artists.  The interviews are interactive where fans can listen, call in questions and participate in a chatroom while the artist is on the air.  Let’s take a few moments to get to know “The Jazz Queen”.

IAG:  A lot of us know you as “The Jazz Queen” but we know very little about Terri.  Tell us about your background and how you became involved with jazz?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  I was not really exposed to jazz until I moved to Atlanta in 1996. That was the first time I heard Brian Culbertson and Boney James play and saw Fourplay and Steve Cole live.  Then in 1998 I started working part time at Circuit City and heard Brian Culbertson’s “Secret” CD. To this day it is still my favorite.  From there my love of jazz grew.

IAG:  Tell us how you choose to work in the Smooth Jazz genre?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  I lived in California for 13 years and I would casually listen to the jazz station, but I mainly listened to R & B.  I was not familiar with the jazz artists back then and it was not until I became exposed to the jazz scene in Atlanta that I had the opportunity to make new friends and learn more about the music.  Someone gave me Steve Cole’s ”Stay Awhile” CD and I loved it. They told me that it was produced by Brian Culbertson.

IAG:  How did you start Talking Smooth Jazz?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  When I moved back to Las Vegas in 2001 I wanted to get involved with the local jazz station, so I called Cat Lee and asked if I could just come in and sit and watch him do what he does.  Unfortunately, the station did not allow it at that time.  I then decided that I should enroll in broadcast school, however, at that time there was no such school in Las Vegas.  A year later a school opened up and I was the first student to register.    One of our school assignments was to create a television or a radio show.  So I created a radio show and I got my name “Jazz Queen” from one of the instructors who is a local news anchor in Las Vegas.  He would always call me Jazz Queen because he knew about my love of jazz.  The director of the school told me about a couple of online websites, one of them being blogtalkradio, so I checked it out.  At the time it was free so I registered and did my very first show in May 2008.  I was so nervous during the show that after I completed it, I deleted it.  No one will ever hear that show.  My first airing was on June 8th 2008, just me talking about my passion for Jazz.

IAG:  With whom was your first interview?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  I met Terry Steele on the 2007 jazz cruise that Brian Culbertson hosted.  Terry did a tribute show to Luther Vandross.  I never forgot Terry’s show, so in July 2008 when I was ready to do my first show I did a tribute to Luther Vandross too.   It was a great show and Terry talked about Luther and how he came to record “Here and Now”.  Terry also talked about how he attended the Grammy’s with Luther, so there were some great personal stories that Terry shared.  The first Smooth Jazz Artist that I interviewed was Nick Colionne.

IAG:  How many interviews have you done?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  Since 2008, I have done over 250 interviews.  My goal is to do my 300th by my 5 year anniversary next year.

IAG:  Do you have a favorite interview moment?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  Definitely it would have to be the first time I interviewed Brian Culbertson.  I was still in broadcast school and I brought in all my pictures of Brian and taped them up on the walls of the studio.  I was so excited to interview him and I have been lucky to interview him three more times since then.  Brian has such a large fan base, that any time I interview him he always breaks the record of chat participants and call-ins.

IAG:  Is there someone whom you would still like to interview?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  The main artists that I wish I could have interviewed have passed on.  They would include:  Luther Vandross, Art Porter, George Howard, Grover Washington and Wayman Tisdale.

IAG:  How do you select the artists you are going to interview?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  When I first started I had a “Wish List Binder” of artists I would like to interview.  I would collect information on them including bios and press releases and then I would go on MySpace and email them requesting an interview.  Now I contact artists through Facebook or their publicist, or someone from their label will contact me asking me to interview their artist.

IAG:  What can we look forward to in 2013 on Talking Smooth Jazz?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  On June 8th, 2013 I’ll be celebrating 5 years on the air, so I am working on those plans now.  I am also working on updating my website and a few other things that can help grow and develop the station more.

IAG:  What do you suggest the smooth jazz fans do to keep your show and the genre going strong?

THE JAZZ QUEEN:  Keep tuning in and listening and keep supporting the artists by buying the concert tickets and the music.  Don’t copy the music, buy it and support the artists.  They put a lot of time and effort into their CD’s, so purchase their music and keep supporting them that way!

If it’s smooth jazz, we are talking about it on Talking Smooth Jazz.  Join us for interviews with regional, national, and international smooth jazz artists.

Contact information:

www.talkingsmoothjazz.com

www.facebook.com/talkingsmoothjazz

talkingsmoothjazz@yahoo.com