Joon Lee, Putter Smith, Joey Sellers
Peter Schlamb Group
Michael Mull Octet
Sunday looks to have quite a different feel from Saturday’s lineup, but no less interesting:
Joon Lee, voice
Putter Smith, bass
Joey Sellers, trombone
From Wikipedia: Lee Chang-sun, better known by his stage name Lee Joon is a South Korean idol singer, dancer, actor, model and member of the Korean male group MBLAQ, currently active in South Korea. He is currently signed to J. Tune Camp.
I can’t believe we landed an international pop star to headline our little jazz festival! This will certainly help draw attention to our mission to create a stronger jazz community. Oh wait a minute…
This is actually the guy, my mistake. As you can see he’s much better looking than that other dude. And even though he might not have his pop-idol namesake’s abdominal muscles, what Joon Lee does have is something of far greater value: an unquenchable passion for jazz, impeccable taste in everything from music to art to design, and oh yeah, unequivocally one of the best jazz clubs in the world. Kidding aside, Joon has actually become kind of a celebrity in the jazz community in and out of Los Angeles. I don’t think there’s a single influential jazz musician who doesn’t know at least the name Joon Lee, if not the man himself. He’s done as much to advance the cause of jazz in this city as anyone in the last decade, and when it’s all said and done, he could be mentioned in the same breath as the most hallowed of jazz promoters in history, names like Quincy Jones and Norman Granz. Certainly he is at least in the same sphere of influence of current movers and shakers like Herb Alpert, Ruth Price, Jeff Gauthier and Rocco Somazzi. With a brain trust of individuals like those people dedicated to pushing this music forward into greater public awareness, there is much to be hopeful about, and at the center of all the buzz is bluewhale, this incredible club born from the dreams of one Joon Lee.
What many might not know about Joon are what prompted those dreams in the first place. Joon was an architecture student in New York when he first heard in a coffee shop a duo recording of Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea. That fateful moment would forever change his life, as he was compelled to drop out of school and learn how to sing jazz, making his way to Los Angeles and making history when his deep love for music and for those who do it well compelled him to open bluewhale.
Owning and operating a club is a labor of love, and it’s also a cruel fate not suitable for even the most depraved of souls, and Joon has soldered on, fighting the good fight at the expense of downplaying his singing career. No one would begrudge any musician who could easily create his own playing opportunities to take full advantage of the situation, yet Joon humbly and heroically has constantly deferred to the considerations of the community he seeks to support. How can it be that someone who loves to sing almost never sings in his own club? Joon is an excellent musician, with a strong, supple voice and an incredible ear for melodies and ideas. His recent album with pianist Vardan Ovsepian (entitled Now) is a tour de force of intricate but impassioned singing, often in unison with the piano over quick passages of chromatic melodies in odd-time signatures.
Joon has recently been working in a new band, one that is very unconventional (and difficult) for a vocalist. Bassist Putter Smith has been a musician in Los Angeles for five decades, an astounding feat on its own but made extraordinary by whom he’s actually played with: Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Billy Eckstine, Ray Charles, and Dexter Gordon, and on and on. As you can imagine he’s one of only a handful of bass players alive today who can boast that resume, but his true claim to fame would of course not be from jazz but from playing a villain in a James Bond film. Which one of those two things is something you’d like to say you did? Rounding out the trio is master composer/arranger, trombonist and educator Joey Sellers, who has inspired countless musicians through his compositions and his imaginative playing, and through his work as Director of Jazz Studies at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. As someone who received the Gil Evans Fellowship in Jazz Composition, and composed and/or arranged for the likes of Doc Severinsen, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orcherstra and symphony orchestras around the country, Joey is often seen in larger ensemble settings, yet this group offers him the opportunity to showcase his more personal, spontaneous nature which is undoubtedly the impetus for his adventurous writing. Overall, Joon, Putter and Joey have a thing which is all their own and a lot of fun.
Peter Schlamb Group
Karl McComas-Reichl, bass
Sean Mullins, drums
One of the things we’ve done and hope to continue to do at these festivals is to add an occasional artist from somewhere other than LA to participate in the cross-sharing of music. Our most recent out-of-area performers were the guitarists Gilad Hekselman and Jonathan Kreisberg, the latter bringing with him the fabulous alto saxophonist Will Vinson. This time around we are happy to be presenting vibraphonist Peter Schlamb, a native of the Midwest (where he met Matt Otto) and currently active in New York, where he has been working with New York heavies like Mike Moreno, David Binney and Logan Richardson. Peter is on tour in support of his new album, Tinks, featuring Karl McComas-Reichl on bass and Sean Mullins on drums, both of whom will be performing with Peter at bluewhale.
Michael Mull Octet
Michael Mull/Frank Silva, woodwinds
Harrison Kirk/Will Wulfeck, trombone
Gregory Uhlmann/Max Gualtieri, guitar
Emilio Terranova, bass
Brijesh Pandya, drums
One thing that makes it difficult to sustain any kind of quality jazz scene in any community is the attrition of talent to other locales, and by other, I mean New York. The big move to the Big Apple probably will (and probably should) always be the ultimate goal for aspiring jazz musicians looking to succeed at the highest level, and that’s how it’s gone for virtually every great jazz musician from Louis Armstrong to Dexter Gordon to Charlie Haden. Given that, what we hope to see and are starting to see are promising young musicians from Los Angeles making an alternate choice. Composer and saxophonist/clarinetist Michael Mull is a harbinger of one of the more exciting developments in jazz in Los Angeles, in that he is part of a significant number of very talented jazz artists who are committed to staying here and seeing if it’s possible to survive as a creative musician. Michael sports an impressive pedigree with degrees from two of the finest jazz colleges in town, CalState Northridge and CalArts, and he has made a splash in Los Angeles with the debut of his working group, an octet which showcases his exceptional compositional and arranging acumen. Those skills were enough to get Michael back to his old alma mater CSUN, this time on faculty as an instructor of jazz arranging. Through his ensemble, one can hear the collision of all of Michael’s influences, from classic rock to Miles and Monk, to Messhuggah and Bulgarian women’s choir. It’s truly one of a kind and very exciting to hear this music coming from a home-grown product.
It’s a fitting ending to close our two days of music with Michael Mull’s band, because in a way he sums up what our entire festival (and indeed, our organization as a whole) represents: Artists who call Los Angeles home, engaging their peers to form a community with a collective purpose, calling attention to everyone in and outside of the city that yes, there is something exciting happening here.