Category: Influences

Influences: Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall Jazz Band

November 16, 2011 |  9:00 am

Ben Jaffe Ben Jaffe leads the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which makes its home in a storied New Orleans venue when it isn’t touring the world. Jaffe, son of the group’s founders, marched in carnival parades while still in grammar school. Now a tuba player and bassist, he extends the group’s original mission: to keep the music of 1920s New Orleans alive and accessible to audiences, and to maintain the rawness sometimes rubbed off by the “Dixieland” movement and its genteel followers.

The band appears at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday for a collaboration with dance group the Trey McIntyre Project.

Besides his expected roots in musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Jaffe, 40, says he’s also inspired by Muhammad Ali’s resistance to the Vietnam War draft, Pete Seeger’s involvement with the Civil Rights movement and Andy Warhol’s redrawing of art’s map. “Where do you go,” Jaffe asks, “when there are no limits or boundaries?”

Here are some of Jaffe’s influences. 

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Influences: Pianist Lang Lang

November 3, 2011 | 11:05 am

LangIn the stratosphere of classical music celebrities, pianist Lang Lang is that rare shining nova who is respected by critics and the public at large — arguably the closest the classical world has to a rock star. On Sunday, the 29-year-old pianist will perform a recital at Walt Disney Concert Hall of pieces including Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat, Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat and the 12 etudes by Chopin.

Speaking by phone Tuesday from San Francisco, Lang said that he is especially looking forward to the Schubert. "Even though Schubert wasn’t even 30, he already felt that he was approaching death, and you can feel that it in the slow movement," he said. "So the piece creates a special mood. It's my favorite Schubert piece."

Lang, who has been on the international music scene since he was 17, said his schedule will keep him on the road for the next few months. After L.A., he heads to Canada, followed by a return to Asia for a holiday tour. The Chinese pianist has a new Liszt album out and has recorded music for two new movies, "My Weekend With Marilyn" and "A Dangerous Method."

Lang shared his thoughts on the individuals who have influenced him during his career.

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Influences: Actress and singer Christine Ebersole

October 26, 2011 | 10:00 am

Christine Ebersole
Christine Ebersole has had long and substantial careers in theater (she won a Tony for playing Big Edie and Little Edie in “Grey Gardens”) and movies (“Amadeus,” “Tootsie”), and as a singer, interpreting the music of Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, and Noel Coward. (Her performance in Coward’s comic play “Blithe Spirit” is also celebrated.) Not to mention television: She has appeared on programs including "Ugly Betty" and "Will & Grace," and was a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.”

An Illinois native, she escaped the Midwest for the world of New York theater after what she describes as an “extremely supportive” upbringing. 

Ebersole will be at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts  on Saturday with Stephen Sondheim and Brian Stokes Mitchell as part of "Stephen Sondheim: In Conversation." She discussed the story of her development.

Gene Laurent: At MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., I had a professor who told me to leave school and go to New York. It’s rather shocking, isn’t it? He said, "Don’t stay here." I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduated … and got a job as a waitress.

Carole Lombard: My biggest influence was Carole Lombard. I loved her childlike mischievousness — that, I identified with. She had a complete honesty about her performance. I was drawn to “Twentieth Century.”  I identify her with the sophistication and the acting of that era. I felt like I had lived then.

Joni Mitchell: Joni really spoke to the human struggle — she was very deep. She just transcended the now. There was something about her lyrics — she’s a poet. I love all the early albums, particularly “Court and Spark” and “Blue.”

Colleen Dewhurst (in “A Moon for the Misbegotten”) and Vanessa Redgrave (in “Orpheus Descending”): There’s a theatricality to their acting and yet it never veers from honesty: It’s like they don’t put on airs. I love that directness about the acting. It’s not just a bag of tricks.

Gerald Gutierrez: I did "Dinner at Eight" at Lincoln Center with him [directing] — one of the great acting experiences of my life. He was always likening acting to baseball — it wasn’t always about the individual. You’re always onstage to get the team to second base, to get the player home. He saw it as a team sport. 


Influences: Patti LuPone

Stephen Sondheim and the case of 'Porgy and Bess'

Jazz review: 'Joni's Jazz' at the Hollywood Bowl

— Scott Timberg

"Stephen Sondheim: In Conversation," Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, ( 714) 556-2746. 8 p.m. Saturday.

Photo: Christine Ebersole. Credit: Kit Kittle / Segerstrom Center for the Arts.


Influences: Veteran jazz club owner Catalina Popescu

October 11, 2011 |  3:49 pm

Catalina Popescu
Catalina Popescu has been running the club named for her for 25 years this month. In 1986, she’d been in Los Angeles for 10 years, after arriving in town from a repressive, jazz-averse Romania, and she had tried to open a restaurant that hadn’t worked out. A chance meeting with horn player Buddy Collette led to Popescu and husband Bob opening the jazz supper club that has survived numerous waves of openings and closings in a city that has not always been friendly to jazz. 

Catalina Bar & Grill will celebrate that quarter century with a party Monday night that will be guest-hosted by KABC’s Doug McIntyre and KJAZZ’s Bubba Jackson and that will include a tribute to Jack Sheldon and performances by artists including David Benoit, Hubert Laws and the Yellowjackets. (The evening, dedicated to the memory of Popescu's husband, will benefit the California Jazz Foundation.)

“I can say it’s quite stressful and consuming,” Popescu says of running a club. "But when you have the passion, things happen.” 

The Influences column usually focuses on performers and not proprietors. We wanted to ask Popescu: Which artists inspired you to open a jazz club and –- through all the ups and down of the economy and jazz’s popularity –- keep it going for 25 years?

Buddy Collette: We met him through a family friend, and were thinking of maybe presenting music. After he spoke to us about how great jazz was, we decided we would open the next weekend -- with his band. He was a charming man with a beautiful smile. The way he spoke about music was a total winner for us. 

Dizzy Gillespie: He was the first big musician who came to our club. I’d always liked his style, and he was the only jazz musician who had been allowed into my country. When we thought of opening a club, he was the one who came to mind. When he came to perform, I had to pinch myself –- that was my biggest thrill, when he picked up his trumpet.

Ahmad Jamal: He played about 1990, and he came many times over the years. When he performs, he becomes a totally different person. You can watch and realize there’s something you can love in this world. When he touches the piano, I feel like he is leaving us, becoming an angel.

Chick Corea: He performed here and would say, “Welcome to my living room.” His music is so variable. He can play an electric concert, or a solo performance, or Spanish music. He’s so versatile. He affects the very youngest to the very oldest.

Steve Tyrell: He has such charisma and such beautiful music, so romantic. We’ve had him for Valentine’s Day concerts. He can make people fall in love. He was a record label person; he did his first show in our club, and decided, “This is something I love.”


Influences: Bass player Charlie Haden

Influences: Patti LuPone

Influences: Trumpet player, bandleader, composer Terence Blanchard

-- Scott Timberg

"Jazz 25: An Unforgettable Night," Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., (323) 466-2210, Monday night.

Photo: Catalina Popescu at Catalina Bar & Grill. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times


Influences: Patti LuPone

September 28, 2011 |  9:00 am

  Patti LuPone
Broadway stars don't come much bigger or more combative than Patti LuPone, the Tony-winning force of nature who has left her indelible imprint on numerous musicals including "Evita," "Anything Goes," "Sweeney Todd" and "Gypsy." Equally loved (by critics, the gay community) and feared (by cellphone abusers everywhere), she is an actress whose ferocious stage presence knows no compromise.

LuPone will perform a concert Tuesday at UCLA's Royce Hall as a benefit for Reprise Theatre Company. "Gypsy in My Soul" will feature the actress singing an eclectic array of songs with a 10-piece band. The program will no doubt skew Broadway, but LuPone isn't divulging the lineup, preferring not to tip her hand.

This fall, LuPone is returning to Broadway in a concert production titled "An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin," which opens Nov. 21 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The show has been traveling the country and has played at the Ahmanson Theatre and the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. (It is scheduled to return to Southern California in March at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.)

LuPone spoke recently by phone from Barrier Island in South Carolina, where she was vacationing. When asked about the artistic influences in her career, she singled out the music teachers in her hometown of Northport on Long Island. She said students were introduced to musical instruments in elementary school and that she picked the cello, because the school didn't have a harp.

LuPone also chose to speak about four individuals who have inspired her in different ways throughout her life.

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Influences: Violinist Ray Chen

September 14, 2011 |  6:00 am

Ray Chen
Violinst Ray Chen has been called “a thoughtful player” by Gramophone and the possessor of “a beautiful sound” who “doesn’t get lost in tone for its own sake” by the Washington Post. Chen, who was born in Taiwan and raised in China, released his debut album, "Virtuoso," in January and has won acclaim for both the recording and for his extensive touring. 

Wednesday night Chen will inaugurate the new season at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, performing pieces by Bach, Tartini, Franck and Wieniawski. The 22-year-old violinist, who is also an enthusiast of food, exercise and family, talked to us about his influences.

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Influences: Bass player Charlie Haden

August 31, 2011 | 10:00 am

Alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary quartet stood the jazz world on its head at the end of 1959. His vigorous and intense music was in continual motion: melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. With no piano providing a chordal roadmap, Charlie Haden’s bass was the freewheeling bottom rooted in low, earthly tones.

Haden, 74, comes from a background quite unlikely for his role as musical insurgent. He debuted at 22 months in the Haden Family Band on its radio show in Springfield, Mo. The Carter Family and the Delmore Brothers were contemporaries; Mother Maybelle Carter used to hold the toddler Charlie on her lap.

The stringent textures and rhythmic complexity of Coleman's music alienated quite a few listeners and musicians. But Coleman was a Texan with a deep blues background. His melodies always had a folksy quality, which made Haden a perfect fit for the music. “Ornette always loved the fact that my background was in country music,” Haden points out.

An abiding love of well-written standard songs has always been an important ingredient in Haden's music. He’s had mutually beneficial collaborations with pianists Hampton Hawes and Keith Jarrett, trumpeter Chet Baker, and composer-arranger Carla Bley, among others. Haden began the jazz program at Cal Arts 27 years ago and a love of what he calls “deep” songs is something he tries to impart to students.

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Influences: Composer Philip Glass

August 24, 2011 | 10:00 am

Philip Glass
For a composer associated with the minimalist movement, Philip Glass always has a lot to say. In comparison to the repeating and sometimes laconic quality of his music, he’s full of words and ideas and speaks in long, often coiling sentences. 

Glass is interested in film –- he’s composed Academy Award-nominated scores for “Kundun,” “The Hours” and “Notes on a Scandal” –- and in Franz Schubert, India, vegetarianism and spiritual matters. (The Baltimore native has called himself a "Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec-Buddhist.")

In April, he brings his Ninth Symphony to Walt Disney Concert Hall, to be conducted by John Adams (who dissed Glass slightly in his own memoir, “Hallelujah Junction”). The symphony, performed and co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will make its West Coast premiere. “It’s a very high energy piece, not contemplative like my Eighth Symphony. There’s lots of time for things to happen, and they do.”

And on Tuesday Glass will be in town to lead the Philip Glass Ensemble in a performance of “Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation, at the Hollywood Bowl.” He also recently announced that he will write a memoir to be published by W.W. Norton.

 “In a way,” Glass said as he spoke about figures who have shaped his composing, “these people are all more connected than they seem. All of these people were about social responsibility, and being open to the world and alert to life.”

Here are five of his key influences: 

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Influences: Trumpet player, bandleader, composer Terence Blanchard

August 17, 2011 |  9:00 am

Terence Blanchard talks about his influences in music

The lineage of unsung legends in the world of New Orleans jazz runs deep. Fortunately, the soul and style of their sounds ring loud and clear in the music of trumpet player Terence Blanchard.

Raised in the Dixieland hotbed of the Crescent City, the five-time Grammy winner grew up combining the hard bop sound of Miles Davis and John Coltrane with the down-home spark and flavor of the South. By the 1980s, he’d emerged as a brass-wielding force of nature, playing and learning alongside Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey and childhood friend Wynton Marsalis.

In the early '90s Blanchard’s path as a trumpet player, composer and bandleader spilled into the world of film. Ushered in by director Spike Lee, Blanchard’s emotional compositions became part of nearly all of Lee's pivotal films, from 1992’s “Malcolm X” to 2006's gripping Hurricane Katrina documentary "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." His participation in the cinematic excavation of African American history continues with his work as a composer in the forthcoming George Lucas-produced film “Red Tails,” a story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

And Blanchard's career, much like his music, is known for interesting and unexpected turns. In May, he brought his talents to Broadway, scoring original music for the well received play "The Mother... With the Hat." Through the years, Blanchard’s work on albums, television, stage and film has given a collective voice, regardless of medium, to the people and places that inspire him. Blanchard makes a stop in Hollywood this weekend at the Catalina Jazz Club, with performances Aug. 19-21.

He talks about his influences:

Miles Davis: Miles was a person who epitomized what it meant to be a jazz artist. He was uncompromising. He was a person who didn’t look back and didn’t let his decisions be swayed by anything other than his drive for creation, and you have to truly respect that.

Clifford Brown: I view him as one of the most unsung heroes of jazz because of his untimely death. I shudder to think what he would’ve developed had he lived longer than 25 years. His technical prowess is already amazing, and he knew how to put it in a musical context that was very inspiring and appealing.  I came across his and Miles Davis’ music in high school, thanks to Wynton Marsalis, who helped me learn the [trumpet] in high school.

Alvin Alcorn: He is the reason I picked up the trumpet. Where I grew up in New Orleans it’s the kind of place that has tons and tons of musicians who may not have made a name for themselves on a national stage but are big stars here. They were a big part of my music education growing up because I would hear them on a regular basis. But Alvin is one that influenced me the most.

Spike Lee: He always challenges me, setting the bar pretty high. He has a strong love of melody, which creates a challenge when you’re writing music for certain genres. On [the soundtrack for] “Inside Man,” for example, I wrote a whole bunch of arrangements and I chose a few of my favorites that I thought he liked and he didn’t pick them, he picked some other things I wrote. And I think that forces me grow as an artist. He says, "Look man, trust me, this is gonna work." And he’s been right every time.


Jazz review: Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard at the Broad Stage

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard takes his composing talents to Broadway

The Roots, Lee Konitz lead the 2011 Playboy Jazz Festival

-- Nate Jackson

Photo: Terence Blanchard                  Credit: Shannon Brinkman

Influences: Actress Anna Deavere Smith

July 20, 2011 | 10:00 am

Smith Anna Deavere Smith didn't invent the one-person play. (The honor most likely goes to the ancient Greeks.) But in the last 30 years, she's invested the solo form with a sense of political urgency that makes her brand of theater an increasingly rare example of the artist as engaged citizen.

"Let Me Down Easy," at the Broad Stage through July 31, is Smith's exploration of the nation's healthcare crisis. The actress interviewed more than 300 people and condensed her material to 20 characters, all of whom she plays over the course of one hour and 35 minutes.

Smith has been touring with the show since she finished filming the most recent season of Showtime's "Nurse Jackie," in which she plays the uptight hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus. The play grew out of a visit to Yale Medical School, where she was invited to interview doctors and patients and enact their stories live.

In her plays -- which include "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" and "Fires in the Mirror" --  Smith channels the words of her subjects verbatim, down to their ums, ohs and awkward pauses. Her subjects in "Let Me Down Easy" include the famous (Lance Armstrong, Ann Richards) and the not-so-famous (her elderly aunt).

Smith recently discussed some of her artistic influences while on a short break in Wyoming. ("Altitude builds stamina," she said by phone.)

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