Harpist Liza Wallace welcomes guests to the Music Academy fundraising event. | Credit: Josef Woodard

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on June 8, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

Among the developments at the Music Academy over the last several years, under the guidance of head Scott Reed, was the introduction of community-friendly $10 tickets for many concerts. It was a radically different story, price-wise, at the Academy’s Miraflores estate-campus on Saturday night, where the annual fundraising gala, dubbed The Magic of Miraflores, lavished a sold-out crowd with elaborate accouterments of drink, dinner, socializing, and an aperitif of concertizing. No $10 tickets for this night out, but there are plenty of chances to come during the eight-week summer festival.

Soprano Michelle Bradley performs with Natasha Kislenko on piano. | Credit: Carly Otness/BFA.com

This will be the last season of Reed’s leadership, after being involved for 25 years and 12 of those as president/CEO, and that occasioned a host of toasts onstage at Hahn Hall, including from Belle and Lily Hahn. Reed himself gave a speech teeming with gratitude for all, summing up that the Academy was the kind of place where a singer like Michelle Bradley could go on to sing at the Met, where violinist Frank Huang could end up, and, turning to his own Academy saga, “where a young intern could one day become the president.”

Renowned pianist Vassily Primakov | Credit: Carly Otness/BFA.com

For the musical portion of the evening, renowned pianist Vassily Primakov opened the program with Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise. The aforementioned soprano Bradley, an Academy alum whose star has risen dramatically and who has performed in Aida at the Met, offered up a short sampler plate of pieces with Natasha Kislenko on piano, from Wagner to “The Wiz,” with the spiritual “Plenty Good Room” between them. Next up, the next generation: the remarkable (and remarkably) young chorus in the still-new Sing! program hosted by the Academy. Spirits were sufficiently felicitous in the house that the climactic “We Are the World” transcended its own kitschy reputation and put a genuine smile on the collective face of the tony crowd.

Sweet Legend James

The full James Taylor 2023 touring band at the Santa Barbara bowl, featuring (L-R) Larry Goldings on keyboards; Andrea Zonn on violin and vocals; Arnold McCuller on vocals; James Taylor on guitar and vocals; Henry Taylor on vocals; Dorian Holley on vocals; Kate Markowitz on vocals; Jimmy Johnson on bass; Steve Gadd on drums; Michael Landau on guitar; Walt Fowler on trumpet, flugelhorn, and keyboards; and Lou Marini on saxophone | Credit: Matt Perko

Of the numerous occasions I’ve caught the great American singer-songwriter James Taylor — many of those at the Santa Barbara Bowl — last week’s Bowl stop was the finest. His voice may be a bit scratchy and weathered at this point, at 75, and actually to a positive effect, especially on his bluesy phraseologies, but his depth and wisdom prevails. For a fuller review, check out Leslie Dinaberg’s report here.

One of the superlative aspects of the two-set concert, spanning his 50-plus year songography, was the stunningly fine company he kept. The brightest member of the all-star band was on the back line: The great Steve Gadd held down the drum chair, while the eminent musicians’ musicians list included guitarist Mike Landau, keyboardist Larry Goldings (whose group with Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart is among the great jazz organ trios of our day), percussionist Luis Conte, and trumpeter Walt Fowler, whose vast résumé includes a stint with Frank Zappa.

Somehow, though, our ears kept zooming in on Gadd, a jazz player whose immortal pop moments include the transcendent solo on Steely Dan’s “Aja” and the hypnotic groove on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” At the Bowl, Gadd respected the Taylor traditions, but added such nifty touches as a signature snare roll on “Fire and Rain.”

Taylor himself brimmed with his usual wit and wisdom and tried to play against his typecast “warm and fuzzy” persona on a couple of quasi-edgier tunes. But ultimately, by show’s end, he was filling us up with warm fuzzy and authentically life-affirming sentiments on such tunes as “Shower the People,” the gospel-fueled Martin Luther King tribute “Shed a Little Light,” and a touching capper of “Close Your Eyes,” in duet with his pure-toned son Henry. Clearly, in a year of fine concerts locally, this was one of the prize winners, which still has our town abuzz.


Attaca Quartet will perform at Ojai Music Festival. | Credit: David Goddard

In the 805, this week’s Big Event unfolds down Ojai way, when the Ojai Music Festival lays out its thick and juicy program, Thursday through Sunday evening. At the helm, just left of classical music proper, this time is Rhiannon Giddens, leading a program also featuring the Attacca Quartet, Wu Man, red fish blue fish, Kayhan Kalhor… and more (see story).


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