The Los Angeles Jazz Society held their awards and concert celebration on November 18th, 2017, at The Montalban Theater in Hollywood.  On that evening the Jazz Society was honoring the Oscar and Grammy winning composer Johnny Mandel and actor/producer/jazz vocalist Seth MacFarlane for his commitment to live music and the performing arts.  Also recognized was Joey Curreri, who won the Shelly Manne Memorial New Talent Award and Don Erjavec, who won the Jazz Educator Award.  The night was hosted by author, film critic, and historian Leonard Maltin.

“Jazz doesn’t get much attention anymore.  A cosmopolitan city like LA to not have a major newspaper covering jazz on a regular basis is a shame.  As far as the Grammy’s and the main stream media like that, Jazz is absent altogether or a quiet footnote.  Anything I can do to promote the music I love, I am happy to do.” —Leonard Maltin.

Shelly “Flip” Manne and Johnny Mandel (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

The program began with opening remarks from the president of the LA Jazz Society Mrs. Shelly “Flip” Manne.

“The number one goal of the LA Jazz Society is to keep Jazz alive!  It’s an American invention.”

Following Mrs. Manne, a delightful set of music was played by the quartet of trumpeter Curtis Taylor, pianist Roger Kellaway, bassist John Clayton, and drummer Joe LaBarbara.  These musicians were celebrating 100 years of music from Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie.

Joey Curerrei's Quartet
“New Talent Award-winner Trumpeter Joey Curreri (Left) and his band (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

When the winner of the New Talent Award Joey Curreri and his quartet took the stage to perform, the audience witnessed the passing of the baton to a new generation of jazz musicians.  Each player was accomplished on their instruments of bass, guitar, and drums.  Joey Curreri’s was precise and fluid on the trumpet.  Following these great student players, the Jazz Educator Award was presented to Don Erjavec.

“Jazz education is keeping the music alive.  We have to find a way to communicate that to other young people so they have a chance to hear it,” commented Leonard Maltin from our interview.

Seth McFarlane (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

Before Seth MacFarlane received the David L. Abell “Angel” Award, there was a multimedia presentation of his television, which included Orville, The Family Guy, and American Dad, in which MacFarlane continuously uses live music in his productions.  This Award was given to Seth by the legendary film composer  John Williams.  The audience was treated to MacFarlane crooning two jazz standard compositions accompanied by bassist Chuck Berghofer, pianist Tom Rainer, guitarist Larry Koonse, and drummer Joe LaBarbara.   

John Williams (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

After intermission, master lyricist/composer Alan Bergman performed a salute to his dear friend Johnny Mandel, and was accompanied by the Johnny Mandel Big Band.  We heard Bergman deliver “Where Do You Start,” composed by Johnny Mandel (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) and “I Won’t Believe My Eyes.”  Jazz vocalist Calabria Foti also sang “You are There” and the Oscar/Grammy Winning Song won by Johnny Mandel in 1965, “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

The evening ended with a commemorative speech given by Quincy Jones; and Alan Bergman presented Johnny Mandel the 2017 Jazz Tribute Award.

Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

“ It means an awful lot to me being here tonight because I am seeing my life come bombarding past me with all my friends being here that I have worked with in the music industry.  It’s so good because I had a great life and I am always happy to see people who have been a part of it.”—Quincy Jones

Before the award ceremony and concert, I had the opportunity to interview some of the celebrity guests who were attending the lovely reception.

Sheryl Aronson:  Please talk about the history of the LA Jazz Society.

Flip Manne: The Los Angeles Jazz Society was started by . . .  because she said, “They are all dying and we need to honor them before they are all gone.  She was a wonderful imaginative person who started a lot of our programs.  After her was David Abel, then Mary Lou Calendar, then me.  I have been the president of the Los Angeles Jazz Society since.”

Sheryl Aronson:  What are the goals of LAJS?

Flip Manne: The number one goal is to keep Jazz alive—it’s an American invention!  It’s always been bigger in Europe and Japan than it is over here. There are so many young musicians studying in school, and there are no places for them to play when they get out.  The clubs are closing one after the other. 

Sheryl Aronson:  Talk about tonight’s award ceremony.

Flip Manne:  Johnny Mandel is such a talented musician and one of a kind person.  It’s going to be a great musical night.  The Johnny Mandel Orchestra is full of great musicians.  We have a wonderful singer.  I give an award every year in Shelly’s name and he will be playing tonight.  He plays piano and trumpet. 

Sheryl Aronson:  Anything else you would like to say about this evening.

Flip Manne:  We have a wonderful group of volunteers.  We are a non-profit.  We send three bands around to the elementary schools.  We have a mentorship program for high school-age students that are studying jazz.  They learn how to arrange, conduct, and play.  We don’t want this music to die. 


Next I had the honor to talk with Dean Kay who wrote the hit song “That’s Life.”

Dean Kay
Composer of “That’s Life” Dean Kay (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

Dean Kay:  I wrote the song, “That’s Life.”  I am a pianist and play guitar.  Right now I am a music publisher.  I ran Lawrence Welk’s publishing company for 18 years. 

Sheryl Aronson:  What was your background?

Dean Kay: I was a featured entertainer on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.  My partner and I auditioned with 1500 people and we got the gig.  Then 18 months into the show I got drafted into Vietnam War.  On Christmas leave, when I came home, I wrote “That’s Life” in 20 minutes.  Frank Sinatra recorded that song in about 20 minutes. He did it in two takes.  In 40 minutes my whole life changed.  I wrote the song that Evel Knievel used to be lowered into the rocket when he was jumping over that lake.  It’s called “The Ballad of Evel Knievel.”

Sheryl Aronson:  What is your connection to Johnny Mandel?

Dean Kay: I’ve known Johnny Mandel for a long time.  I was an ASCAP member and a dear friend.  He is one of the most talented human beings I have ever known.  He is still writing and composing at 91.  You can always tell a Johnny Mandel arrangement on a recording because he has a special little thing he does.  Every time I tell that to him he says, “Well that’s really bad.  I don’t want everybody to know I have some technique.”  He has arranged some of the greatest records that have been recorded. 

Sheryl Aronson:  Talk about why this occasion is so special tonight.

Leonard Maltin: Jazz doesn’t get much attention anymore.  A cosmopolitan city like LA, not to have a major newspaper covering jazz on a regular basis is a shame.  It goes to the Grammy’s and the mainstream media like that; jazz is absent altogether or a quiet footnote.  Anything I can do to promote the music I love, I am happy to do.

Sheryl Aronson:  Please talk about Johnny Mandel.

Leonard Maltin: Johnny Mandell, it’s not that he has done it all in terms of composing, arranging, conducting . . . winning awards, working with the best vocalists and musicians in the business—but he’s still active.  He is not someone who lives in the past.  He doesn’t mind visiting it by playing some of his earlier compositions, but he doesn’t dwell there, and I admire that. 

Sheryl Aronson:  Please talk about Seth MacFarlane who is also being honored tonight.

Leonard Maltin:  We love Seth for a number of reasons; not the least that he employs a lot of musicians.  He insists on original music for his animated shows, and this is a great thing for the musical community in LA, as well as the viewers who watch the shows.  They will hear great music as a result.

Sheryl Aronson: We have a young man tonight who is getting the Shelly Manne Award tonight . . . so here we have the continuation of jazz. 

Sheryl Aronson: How can Jazz stay vibrant now?

Leonard-MaltinLeonard Maltin:  Jazz education is keeping the music alive.  We have to find a way to communicate that to other young people so they have a chance to hear it.

Sheryl Aronson: What is the significance of being here tonight?

John Clayton:  The significance of being here tonight is that Johnny Mandel has kept this genre of music alive.  I have followed him since I was a teenager.  I’ve studied his music because I love it.  I actually had a couple of lessons with him where he actually blew up my head.  He had such a strong impact on me.  To see him acknowledged in this way is a big deal for me.  I am happy to play the couple of numbers I am playing tonight but I am more happy to see these two gentleman being acknowledged.

Sheryl Aronson: Why is it so important to keeping Jazz alive and pass it down to the younger generation?

Music Director John Clayton

John Clayton:  First of all (he pauses) there are a long list of reasons.  This is America’s music.  The music was created here.  I am serious about the music continuing on.  I’ve done a lot of teaching and touring and I’ve seen more and more young people embracing jazz.  The term jazz has been growing from the 20s 30s, and 40s to the innovations that came thereafter, including now.  Including all the music that people my age don’t connect with, and that’s being fused into jazz today.  There are more styles of jazz and influences that we can now appreciate.  There are so many reasons that young people can get into jazz today.  I think the jazz community is really a special one.  We love each other and know each other.  You don’t see that as much in the pop world.  There aren’t that many chances to connect with people in the same way that have the same feeling about the music on the level and breadth about Jazz. 

Sheryl Aronson: What does it mean to you to be here tonight?

Johnny Mandel:  It means an awful lot to me to be here tonight because I am seeing my life come bombarding past me.  It’s so good because I had a great life and I am always happy to see people who have been a part of it.

Sheryl Aronson:  How important is it to you and what does it means to keep this great music of jazz alive and vibrant in today’s music world?

Johnny Mandel: It means everything.  You can always get the other kind, as they say, “A good man is hard to find.”  It’s also wonderful seeing all my friends in one place.  I don’t have to chase around after all of them.

Sheryl Aronson:  Talk about writing the song, “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

Johnny Mandel: When I wrote it, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to compose. So it was a problem that I solved. When I was writing it, I had many factors to consider, and I am always happy when I come with fantastic solutions to my composing problems. 

Sheryl Aronson:  Could you also tell us how you wrote the song for M.A.S.H. “Suicide Is Painless.”

Johnny Mandel:  It was the only song that I wrote drunk.  Because I tried to write it every other way.  I was having dental surgery at the time and I couldn’t get it.  I had to have the song the next morning because they were shooting the first stills [of the] episode of M.A.S.H. So we had to have it done.  It was about the character who was about to end his life and everyone was circling around the casket dropping scotch and things like into it, symbolically representing seeing him in the next life.

Agenda Bloggers: Written by Sheryl Aronson for “Arting Around” | Want to comment? Login/Register here.