LAJC Presents: Josh Nelson Discovery Project, Carmen Staaf Group at Bluewhale, Monday March 28



We’ve had two very successful nights for the first two shows of our new monthly residency at Bluewhale.  Thanks to all of you for coming out to see the shows!  Our next event at Bluewhale features our most star-studded lineup to date.

Josh Nelson is a Southern California native, and as the son of an ‘Imagineer’ for Disneyland, he and his brother often were the first to ride the newest, coolest rides at the Happiest Place on Earth.  Josh has often made the seats of those who listen to his piano playing their personal happiest place, with the audio equivalent of theme park-worthy roller coaster rides for small jazz ensemble.  Josh’s Discovery Project came out of his groundbreaking 2011 album Discoveries, and his excellent 2015 sequel, Exploring Mars.  Both albums deal with the fantastical, the scientific, and the strange phenomena found on this planet and beyond, from the super-charged Tesla coil, to the ill-fated Hindenbug Zepplin, to the more-fortunate Martian rovers Spirit and Opportunity.  Every subject is admirably represented with pieces that are no less fascinating and quirky.  For his next act, Josh is examining his birthplace of greater Los Angeles, in a new suite called ‘The Sky Remains’.  He has written pieces that pay homage to the interesting architecture of LA, the singer/songwriter Elliott Smith (who lived the last years of his tragic life in Echo Park), and the old Pacific Ocean amusement park (which also suffered a calamitous fate).

It’s a real treat to have virtually all of Josh’s original musicians join him for this show.  This excellent group features guitarist Larry Koonse, clarinetist Brian Walsh, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle.  All are contributors on Josh’s albums, and their unique voices are the consummate chorus behind their imaginative maestro.

Bringing the music into the focus will be Josh’s longtime collaborator, video artist Travis Flournoy, who has made countless stunning short films which make up the ‘visontrack’ to Josh’s music.  Travis is also an adept improviser of live video, and as he did on last month’s show, he will be able to accompany our next musical guest:


Carmen Staaf has been in Los Angeles for nearly two years, yet it’s possible the majority of jazz aficionados and even players have yet to receive a proper introduction.  Carmen grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where she got about the best jazz education a high school student can get, attending Seattle’s Garfield High School and playing for renowned drummer and director Clarence Acox.  She was already drawing attention to her adept pianism at age 14, following a trend of local jazz piano prodigies to come from the Emerald City before her, Travis Shook, Aaron Parks and Anne Drummond to name a few.  Upon graduation from Garfield, Carmen went to Cuba for a year to study salsa music, then on to Boston, where she got degrees in anthropology from Tufts University and music from New England Conservatory.  Carmen would go on to win the 2009 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Pianist Competition, which launched her into an international performing career and getting her featured in numerous publications as a rising star in jazz, including a brodcast of her winning performance from the Kennedy Center on NPR’s JazzSet:

Carmen was selected to the 2014-16 class of the Thelonious Monk Institute, which brought her out to LA, and allowed her to perform with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock at the Hollywood Bowl at last year’s Playboy Jazz Festival.  In short, Carmen is one of the great young pianists of her generation, and we are extremely lucky to be able to feature her here.  Joining Carmen this evening is a tremendous band with all-star tenor saxophonist (and longtime LAJC friend) Walter Smith III, NY alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis, and previous Monk Institute alums Dave Robaire on bass and Jonathan Pinson on drums.  [UPDATE: Walter Smith unfortunately not be able to join us this evening. Look for a special guest or two to sit in.]

We can expect a high level of music making this night from two exceptional pianists and their bands.  Do not miss it!

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