An Adventure with Jazz Pianist Bobby Lyle at Discovery Green

Categories: Music

Courtesy of Da Camera Houston
Bobby Lyle
Get up and dance this week's Da Camera JAM at Discovery Green, part of the group's jazz appreciation Month concert series. Headliner and Houstonian Bobby Lyle won't mind. In fact, he wants audiences to react physically to his music. "At outdoor venues, you're a little more relaxed. You can get up and move when the band gets cooking," he tells us. "I see people get up and dance, they're out there shaking around. It's great.

"If you go back to the '40s and the '50s, the jazz audience was involved in a very physical way because they were going out to dance halls and dancing to big band jazz. It's only when jazz got into the small group mode that I think it began to intellectualize itself too much."

Thankfully, the influences of fusion and funk made jazz danceable again and saved it from becoming a purely intellectual exercise.

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Rich Iacona: You've Never Heard of Him But You've Heard Him

Categories: Music

Photo courtesy of Rich Iacona
Noted New York pianist Rich Iacona performing twice in Houston this week
Chances are high you've never heard of pianist/composer Rich Iacona. But believe me, you've heard him.

While Iacona, a New Yorker who comes to town this week for a series of clinics and shows with the Houston Community College big band program at the invitation of HCC professor Woody Witt, has never toured much or had hits on the radio, he has a resume of recordings he's worked on and compositions he's written that would be the envy of anyone claiming to make their living in jazz.

In a career spanning 50 years, Iacona has played with or provided arrangements for an amazing array of artists ranging from Charles Aznavour to Lisa Minelli, Chuck Berry to Clark Terry. He composed the theme for Telemundo's hit series, 12 Corazones, commercials for Sears, Acura, Folger's Coffee, and has appeared in movies such as Mighty Aphrodite and Woody Allen's Celebrity. His music has been heard on Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Maury Povich Show. He has also produced four albums of his own as The Bad Little Big Band. His most famous composition is "Sin Palabras."

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Moores School's AURA Ensemble Presents a Different Kind of Chamber Music

Courtesy of Rob Smith
Left to right: Sonya Matoussova, cello; Shelby Thompson, viola; Ingrid Hunter, violin; Roberto Trillo, violin

Asked to expand on the theme for the upcoming AURA concert, entitled Multifaceted, University of Houston music composition professor Rob Smith was at a loss to describe it in words other than what it is -- a three-dimensional shape with flat surfaces.

"Every single work on the program looks at something from a variety of different angles. That's the deal behind something that's multifaceted, it's got a bunch of different ways you can view it," said Smith, director of the ensemble.

AURA is UH's chamber music ensemble for new music, generally meaning music that has been composed since the 1990s.

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Maiden Houston Voyage for Yellowjackets Drummer Will Kennedy

Categories: Concerts, Music

photo by Jaime Olmo via Flickr
Will Kennedy (r) drumming with Lee Ritenour (l) and Melvin Davis.
Will Kennedy, drummer and producer for L.A. jazz fusion giants Yellowjackets, is stepping out into the Houston jazz scene this Friday and Saturday at Cezanne. After three years living quietly in Katy, Kennedy says his schedule has finally opened up so that he can get a taste of the local scene.

"I grew up in Oakland and until three years ago had never lived outside California," he explains. "I got to exploring more options for my son's education and my wife has some family in the Katy area, and we just decided it was the right time to move and the right move to make.

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Houston's Newest Jazz Jam Invites Vocalists to Step Up to the Mike

Categories: Music

Photo by Pin Lim, courtesy of Tianna Hall
Tianna Hall

We're at Costa's Elixir Lounge discussing the bar's Vocal Jazz Jam with Paul Chester, the well-known and highly-regarded Houston musician who co-hosts the new Thursday night event. He and Tianna Hall, the always-busy jazz vocalist and his jam counterpart, are trying to recall a song they performed when the jam debuted a few Thursdays ago.

Chester's the kind of musician who, when he can't recall the name of a song, just starts strumming at the guitar until the title reveals itself. Here, he's trying to remember "It's Alright With Me." Mid-sentence, his conversational language switches from English to strings and frets. He plays mellifluously and Hall comes in, right on time, with a voice strong enough to fill your heart while simultaneously melting it like oleo.

What began as a query is now swing time at Ella Fitzgerald's kitchen table, with Joe Pass there plucking out notes for the First Lady of Jazz. It's that intimate, that good and that fun.

Welcome to the first few moments of the Vocal Jazz Jam, musicians and music-lovers. The new effort began in late March and focuses on singers, both pro and novice, with a decided emphasis on jazz standards from the Great American Songbook.

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Moores Opera Center Presents a Lush Tragedy in Rappaccini's Daughter

Courtesy of the University of Houston
Mark Thomas (Giovanni) and Kaylie Kahlich (Beatriz)

To close out the current season, the University of Houston's Moores Opera Center presents a haunting fairytale opera in florid impressionist style by Mexican composer Daniel Catán. It is the composer's first opera, and it's sure to have viewers running home to prune back the springtime growth in their backyards.

La Hija de Rappaccini, or Rappaccini's Daughter, takes place on the streets of Padua, Italy and in Rappaccini's garden, where the centerpiece is a large mystical tree, an overt reference to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.

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Houston's Society For the Performing Arts Announces Its 2015-16 Season Today

Photo by Harry Fellows
The Hot Sardines
In a season once again serving up an eclectic mixture of dance, music and theater as well as speakers including returning favorites such as writer/performer David Sedaris and chef/author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain, Houston's Society For the Performing Arts remains dedicated to its mission to bring the arts to Everyman.

No, everyone is not going to like everything offered here but that's the point -- pick what suits and maybe stretch your world by trying one more. Who know, you might discover a previously unknown fascination for Russian accordian playing technique. And the price of a ticket is still less than what you'd pay for a trip overseas.

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Audra McDonald Wows at UH's Madison Artist Series

Photo courtesy of the University of Houston
Audra McDonald
She's played a doctor in a Grey's Anatomy spinoff, Billie Holiday in a new musical commemorating her life, the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, and so many other disparate roles that even she probably can't keep track of them.

Singer and actress Audra McDonald, holder of six Tony Awards and two Grammys on the side, brought her talents to Houston for a one-night-only performance Tuesday to benefit the University of Houston's Moores School of Music through the Madison Artist Series.

Singing at the Wortham Theater, McDonald showed off her strong vibrato and sliding glissandi amid an assortment of show tunes and blues numbers, accompanied by her touring pianist and music director Andy Einhorn.

"The last time I was singing here was in 2006, and I got one of the worst reviews of my life," McDonald said after her opening number.

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Broadway's Audra McDonald Launches the UH Madison Artist Series

Categories: Music

All photos by Autumn de Wilde
Award winning actress and singer Audra McDonald returns to Houston, where she made her opera debut in 2006, for the first of the University of Houston Moores School of Music's Madison Artist Series. During her time here, McDonald performs in a public concert and leads a private master class for Moores School students.

Songs from her newest CD, her first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home along with Broadway tunes and jazz standards are on the set list. "There will definitely be something for everyone," McDonald tells us. "We'll be doing a good mix of standards from the great American songbook, favorite showtunes, some pop songs, and of course, newer songs by some of the musical theater composers who've become my dear friends."

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Is Moving to the Unexpected

Sharon Bradford

People don't usually associate ballet with the music of Prince and Stevie Wonder, but Complexions Contemporary Ballet isn't interested in replication. "We are not afraid to entertain," says Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder Desmond Richardson.

Hailing from New York City, Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by Richardson and Dwight Rhoden--two directors who both value multiculturalism as well as breaking artistic barriers. Their focus is to be continuously evolving, a group that changes with the culture and time. Their success in doing this has brought them such honors as the New York Times' Critics Choice Award.

Rhoden, the company's resident choreographer, has worked with The Joffery Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and The Dance Theater of Harlem.

"Dwight often begins his creative process with the music, which informs what he has to say...the current social climate also affects the work at times," says Richardson, former principal dancer with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, and Ballet Frankfurt. "I assist in the studio by workshopping movement before we teach it to the dancers," says Richardson, who also choreographs on occasion.

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