Jimmy Mak\'s in Portland, Oregon was rated \"One of the top 100 Places in the World to Hear Jazz\" by Downbeat Magazine. And The Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, which has performed to packed houses at this venue on Thursday nights for over eleven years running, has been called \"Jimmy Mak\'s signature group\" by The Oregonian.
So needless to say, a live CD by this band entitled \"Smokin\' At Jimmy\'s\" has to be worth a listen! And so it is. In urging readers to attend the 9-29-06 CD release gig, The Oregonian wrote, \"It\'s Thursday, there\'s something funky going on. With the release of a deliciously representative live CD, \'Smokin\' At Jimmy\'s,\' you could just get this simmering soul-jazz stew to go; but for full flavor, have a heaping helping on the premises.\"
To read a review of the band\'s previous release, \"Live At The Britt Festival,\" check the listing for that CD, also at CD Baby.
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An Oregon icon in jazz, drummer Mel Brown has been labeled the \"Gentleman of Jazz,\" with a career spanning over 40 years. In recognition of his contributions to the cultural life of Oregon, Mel received the Governor\'s Arts Award in 2002.
Mel set out on a quest to become a great drummer in the seventh grade, practicing 19 hours a day, 6 days a week. His professional career began with a stint with Earl Grant. Mel went on to be a staff drummer for the Motown Music Corporation, recording and touring with groups including the Temptations, the Supremes, and Smokey Robinson. He subsequently spent ten years working with Diana Ross, Suzanne Somers, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, and others.
The jazz artists Mel has played with reads like a \"Who\'s Who\" of jazz, including Gene Harris, George Benson, Teddy Edwards, Joey DeFrancesco, Bill Watrous, Leroy Vinnegar, and many more. For the past six years, Mel has led bands three nights a week--including the \"Mel Brown B-3 Organ Quartet\" on Thursdays--at Portland\'s Jimmy Mak\'s (listed by Downbeat as \"one of the world\'s top 100 places to hear jazz\").
Mel has also been very involved in music education. His passion truly is in working with college and high school students. He has served on the Boards of Directors of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Portland Music Association, and the Mt Hood Festival of Jazz. He also has served as an adjudicator in the U.S. and beyond, and has conducted various jazz workshops.
Mel has received many local awards, and his sextet received first place in the Hennessey Jazz Search in 1989. The City of Portland proclaimed June 22, 1989 Mel Brown Day in recognition of his achievements. When Mel received the Governor\'s Arts Award, David Hudson of the Regional Arts & Culture council wrote: \"Oregon is widely recognized for its rich jazz scene, and the enormous following supporting that genre. Mel Brown is largely responsible for this phenomenon.\"
\"A real Hammond guy--and Pain is one of those--isn\'t happy unless he\'s using more appendages than a helicopter pilot trying to hold a high hover over Manhattan.\" So wrote John Foyston, music critic for the Oregonian.
Certainly, Louis specializes in playing organ bass with his left hand and foot. Living Blues wrote, \"Pain\'s left hand...is truly to be marveled at.\" But above all, whether he\'s playing bass or not, Louis is a consummate ensemble player, always listening to what\'s going on around him and supplying exactly what\'s needed to further the song. \"Pain adds the soul with his expressive organ playing,\" wrote the Oregonian\'s Kyle O\'Brien recently.
And it doesn\'t matter what type of song Louis is playing: he\'s always crossed the supposed boundaries between musical styles, as reflected in the diverse group of musicians he\'s worked with. In and around his hometown of San Francisco, Louis played with Bruce Conte (of the Tower of Power), Jules Broussard (Ray Charles, Santana), Bobby Forte (B.B. King), Barry Finnerty (Miles Davis), Tricky Lofton (Duke Ellington), and Cornelius Bumpus (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan). Louis also accompanied gospel-oriented singers, including Dorothy Morrison (of \"Oh Happy Day\" fame) and the Grammy-nominated Helen Baylor.
Since relocating to Portland in 1986, Louis has continued the trend. He\'s worked with blues & soul artists Solomon Burke, Howard Tate, Robben Ford, Bo Diddley, Curtis Salgado, Linda Hornbuckle, and Paul deLay. (With deLay, Louis toured internationally and recorded and co-produced four CDs on the Evidence label). And he\'s worked with jazz musicians Mel Brown, Thara Memory, Dan Faehnle, Tom Grant, and Dan Balmer. Recently, Louis has played with two of his musical heroes: Bernard Purdie (\"The World\'s Most Recorded Drummer\") and Phil Upchurch. With Purdie, Louis played on and co-produced the live CD, \"Purdie Good Cookin\',\" called \"one of the best party albums in years\" by Blues Review.
Dan Balmer is widely considered the defining sound of contemporary jazz guitar in the Northwest. Described by the Los Angeles Times as \"the model of what a contemporary guitarist should be,\" Dan is one of the most original and creative artists to come from the fertile Northwest music scene.
Dan has performed with an impressive line of talented musicians, including Andy Narrel, Jim Pepper, David Friesen, Airto, Joey Defrancesco, and the late Red Mitchell. However, Dan is best known for his collaboration with keyboardist Tom Grant, with whom he toured for over ten years and recorded ten CDs. Of note, Dan composed some of Grant\'s most popular songs. Dan has also recorded with Mercury recording artists Val Gardena, saxophonist Patrick Lamb, and pianist John Nilsen. In addition, he has released six CDs of his own.
Currently, along with playing in both the Mel Brown
B-3 Organ Quartet and the Mel Brown Quartet, Dan leads his own groups around the Northwest, is a member of bassist David Friesen\'s trio and quartet, and is an in-demand studio player and educator. He was a guest lecturer at Bruce Foreman\'s Jazz Masters Workshop, Bud Shank\'s Centrum Jazz Workshop, and Western Oregon University\'s Mel Brown Jazz Workshop. Dan also is on the faculty at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
In performances across the country, Dan\'s playing has consistently won enthusiastic praise. The Palm Beach Post wrote, \"...guitarist Dan Balmer played exceptionally fast-fingered runs and twisting figures that were arresting.\" The Seattle Times proclaimed, \"Balmer\'s top fuel solos and tasty octave work...were most satisfying.\" The Anchorage Daily News stated, \"Balmer turned in a top notch, unstinting performance.\"
When not performing locally, touring, or recording, Dan focuses his energy on composing. His works have appeared on television and in movies, and have been choreographed by Ballet Oregon.
Renato Caranto has a work ethic. When this second-generation saxophonist first arrived in the U.S. from his native Philippines in 1981, he owned nothing of value but his horn. At that time, Renato was playing in a Top-40 band. The music didn\'t thrill him--he aspired to be a jazz musician--but Renato played that commercial material with all the passion and professionalism he could muster. As a result, he was able to gain a financial foothold for himself and his family in his adopted country.
In 1992, after a decade spent playing hotel lounges up and down the West Coast, Renato joined a blues and R & B band and began playing in Portland-area nightclubs. Once again Renato applied himself, and soon he was recognized as the best blues sax player around, winning the Cascade Blues Association\'s award for best saxophonist in 1994 and again in \'95, \'97, and \'98.
However, Renato never lost sight of his first love: jazz. Despite a busy performing and recording schedule, he always found time to study and practice. Gradually he began playing more jazz gigs and recording sessions, appearing with top Portland jazz players like Mel Brown and Thara Memory. At Portland\'s Jimmy Mak\'s, Renato has performed with Brown\'s Tuesday night septet as well as with his Thursday night B-3 Organ Quartet for over 6 years now. Along with organist Louis Pain from the latter group, Renato played on the 2002 live recording, \"Purdie Good Cookin\',\" featuring the legendary drummer Bernard Purdie. In recent years Renato has also been getting invitations to perform and lecture at various Northwest colleges.
After a flirtation with smooth jazz on his 1999 disc \"Generations,\" Renato\'s aptly-titled 2001 release \"Straight Ahead\" announced his transition to blues-rooted modern jazz. In publicizing the latter CD release, the Oregonian called Renato \"one of Portland\'s most soulful jazz saxophonists.\" Clearly, a work ethic can pay off.
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