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Sunnie Paxson All Star Band Jazz La Femme Celebrates Women »

Jazz La Femme Hits the E Spot

  04/05/16 18:24, by , Categories: Review, Featured Artist , Tags: Clarice Cast, Cynthia Calhoun, Jazz Le Femme, Linda Taylor, Risa Tadokoro Arisue, Robin Bramlett, Sarah Bauza, Suzanne Morisette, Vitello's, stanley clarke, sunnie paxson, tasty riffs

If you know me at all, you know I have been whining about the fact that there are no supper clubs anymore. You know, the kind of place where there is a two-drink minimum and great jazz and good food at a table with tablecloths and fresh, hot bread. Where your top-shelf scotch comes in a glass and the box that holds the wine holds 12 bottles from Napa or a town in Italy you pronounce all wrong, much to the delight of the waiter. You dress up a little to go there and you bring your best gal. She puts on a dress and heels and she feels like a lady on the arm of your pretentious leather jacket as you whip out a pocket square and tip the valet.

I am delighted to say that those days are not over and I found one I want to tell you about. It’s upstairs above a great restaurant in the San Fernando Valley; maybe you’ve heard of it. From its beginnings back in 60s as a little sandwich shop, Vitello’s is now one of the Valley’s best Italian restaurants.

Known for its authentic Italian food, Vitello’s Osteria is now home to real jazz in a great room upstairs that has the feel of an old supper club. The E  Spot Lounge has great seating at tables and every seat is a good seat. There are only about 125 seats upstairs, so it is intimate enough to feel like you’re at a private event. A decent sound system with a great engineer, Nick, riding the faders. Not too loud but just loud enough. They didn’t even mic the drums and you could hear everybody; by the 3rd song it was dialed in.

The food is prepared by the chefs downstairs so it is that same great Italian food. The wine list is huge with something for everyone’s taste and budget. Lots of stuff from California; I found a favorite Cabernet Savignon from a Paso Robles winery I visit often. An Eberle select at 12 bucks a glass. (Man that’s good; I gotta get back up there!) They also have twenty or so beers, reasonable appetizers, sides and traditional desserts including a NY cheesecake that ain’t too bad. A friendly, courteous  staff completes the scene with valet parking outside.

An interesting circumstance creates an opportunity for an early show. Noise ordinances in the neighborhood force the 10 o’clock curfew on everyone. They take advantage of it here with an 8-10 show which gets you home and tucked in before midnight. Maybe you could catch a late show somewhere else but you won’t find jazz like that.

Located in the heart of Studio City, just one mile from Universal Studios Hollywood, Vitello’s is a landmark in the quaint Tujunga Village neighborhood and we went there for the Sunnie Paxson show the other night.

We met Sunnie when she and bassist Stanley Clarke, with whom she toured for years, were launching his new Roxboro label and her new album. As a featured artist, she and several others played tunes off of their new albums and we were lucky enough to film the whole thing. You can find that story here.
This time out, in celebration of Women’s History Month, Sunnie put together an All-Star Band Jazz La Femme featuring some of the most talented ladies in jazz today. With Sunnie on keys, Suzanne Morissette on drums, Robin Bramlett on bass, Linda Taylor on guitar, Clarice Cast on percussion, and Sarah Bauza on trumpet, the stage was full of Jazz Goddess goodness. Also featured was vocalist Cynthia Calhoun and jazz dancer Risa Tadokoro Arisue (I’m afraid she stole the show a little when she appeared).

When this caliber of players gets together on a stage it is just something to witness. As a musician, I know how difficult it can be to “click” with band members. Perhaps it was the lack of testosterone but even in rehearsal this group all got along from the giddy-up and all found a place to fit in without stepping on anyone’s toes.

Sunnie revealed on-stage that she met Linda Taylor for the first time that day. I shot the rehearsal, I can attest that she was not there. Time and again she rattled off note-for-note riffs with Robin and Sunnie, right off the chart like she wrote it. Nicely done. You may recognize her from her stint on the hit TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” Linda has, however, released several CDs and her resume of musical accomplishments in film and TV are quite impressive; a stunning player with a great guitar. I really want one just like it! A sweet Gibson 335; yeah, a red one. Sigh.

She also revealed that they met Clarice Cast only the day before at the last rehearsal. From São Paulo, Brazil, Clarice is a grammy-nominated percussionist. She performs and records and, as an educator, she is dedicated to her students and gives clinics on percussion everywhere she goes. We recently acquired a few percussion instruments for recording and I have been glued to her video; just watching her is teaching me stuff.

Sunnie divulged that she recently found Sarah Bauza on the internet. She was looking for a Latina horn player to top off the celebration of historic women. They found each other online and the fit is just right. If I’m not mistaken that’s her in the Disneyland Band.

The “regulars,” if you can call them that, are more like the “spectaculars” and are veterans of Sunnie’s music, having most recently shared the stage at the Women’s Jazz Festival in Palm Springs in October, 2015. It was a delight watching them hold the line, each taking appropriate length solos and feeding off each other to drive the train with big ol’ grins on their faces.

Suzanne Morissette Cruz is from Quebec and she has, as I found on the internet, “freelanced for the Quebec Symphony.” Think about that for a second.  She has done everything from the Ice Capades to the world famous Circus Flora based in St. Louis. She plays for TV and Film Festivals and manages to teach and - oh yeah - she is the full-time drummer for years for the The Jennifer York Quartet and plays all over California. You may have seen her viral video on the internet playing drums at her wedding with her husband, Mr. Cruz, an accomplished keyboard player himself. They’re adorable.

Bassist Robin Bramlett is one of those “one in a million” naturals, primarily self-taught and smart enough to take music theory. She became a regular on TBN, played with the best of gospel music and held down the lower register in several all-female bands like Ladies in Pink  and Hit Like a Girl. Her right thumb is mesmerizing. You just have to see it. I can’t wait for her upcoming CD her tone and talent is something else.

Singer/songwriter/actress Cynthia Calhoun has toured and/or performed with a veritable Who’s Who of music artists, including Grammy Award winners Al Jarreau [with whom she shared a solo spotlight on tour], Steely Dan [twice, including a solo on Dirty Work], Gloria Estefan, Jon Secada, soul great Betty Wright, Paul Simon, Barry White, Boz Scaggs [twice], and Grammy Award nominee and International Reggae & World Music Award (IRAWMA) winner, Julian Marley. She also provided background vocals on Two Against Nature, the 2000 Steely Dan Album of the Year and winner of four 4X Grammy Awards, as well as Groove Suite by Sunnie Paxson, and others. A talented actress, Cynthia has appeared in Menace II Society, Ally McBeal and ER, to name a few, and appeared in the critically acclaimed play, Blood Sisters: The Musical. In July 2012, Cynthia was in Russia for a series of solo jazz performances in Moscow and Perm. For more info, please visit

A delightful treat as well when Singer/Songwriter Laura Robinson came up to sing backup. You might recognize her from her syndicated hit show “Celebrity Name Game” which she created and produces. She and Cynthia killed a rousing rendition of “Taking It To The Streets” among others. Her infectious vibe lit up the stage.

An up-and-comer you might not recognize yet was also in attendance: one of Sunnie’s students, 12-year-old prodigy Tyler Kilmer. He got up there for the first time in front of a paying crowd and played the trumpet like he’s been performing all his life. So great to see all the musicians support him as he ducked under the bill of his hat.

This All-Star Band turned notes into music, beats into rhythms, music into jazz, improv into the sublime and they did it, for the most, part in heels. It was a stunning show. Rushing through the last few songs as time ran out, like football players with no timeouts: “Just Two Friends” Ready 1.2 a 1,2,3. BAM! killed it. next… BAM!

They literally played until all the employees had to leave the room by law. Wacky ordinance is wacky. It was 10 o’clock and everyone was jazzed. Fully and completely jazzed.


Below is a video with Tasty Riffs from the event and you can click through to the photo set here. We’ll have more video soon and we’ll update the page.

Sunnie Paxson’s Jazz La Femme will be back at Vitello’s on April 18th with another great lineup celebrating women as they make some history at The E Spot.

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