In Concert

Jazz Education Network / Brent Black / January 9, 2012
Michael D’s / All About Jazz / John Gilbert / June 30, 2002
Yoshi’s / San Francisco Examiner / Phillip Elwood / August 31, 1994

Brent Black

…the work done here is a fitting homage to true musical genius and genius reviews itself.

Suzanne Pittson, voice
Jeff Pittson, piano
Bob Bowman, bass
Steve Houghton, drums

A jazz conference such as the 3rd annual Jazz Education Network gathering in Louisville is a critics worst nightmare. Everyone is asking you to hear them play or sing and covering everyone is impossible. I reached out to Suzanne Pittson because of Out of The Hub which is a release that I have never heard but hearing that original lyrics were put to Freddie Hubbard tunes then I simply had to check this out.

Freddie Hubbard was a driving force behind this project offering lead sheets and anything else that would be of help in such a tremendous undertaking. Entering the room this was a tired worn out critic from covering the conference for the past three days. Suzanne Pittson’s husband Jeff Pittson was on piano along with two former Hubbard sidemen Bob Bowman on bass and Steve Houghton on drums.

Opening with “Gibraltar” and moving quickly into the Abbey Lincoln classic “Up Jumped Spring” there was no doubt that I made the right choice on which artist to check out. Moving on to tunes from Out Of The Hub, Suzanne Pittson’s son Evan penned the lyrics to the title track at the advanced age of fifteen with the blatantly obvious of the apple not falling too far from the tree certainly not lost. “Lament For Booker” found Suzanne Pittson at piano on a Hubbard classic that was co-written with husband Jeff Pittson. Another Hubbard classic “You’re My Everything” and the slight blues infusion that slipped in was a sheer delight. Closing with “Birdlike” which Suzanne wrote the lyrics for, this smoker helped wrap up a set that was swinging hard! Jeff Pittson’s harmonic punctuation on piano was flawless. The rhythm section which was anchored with Bob Bowman’s stellar bass work and is as fine as anything you will hear and was more than complemented by drummer Steve Houghton whose musicality was a perfect match. Not just a rhythmic time keeper, Houghton rode the groove for all it was worth and the 4tet responded in kind. Freddie Hubbard has a keen sense of melody and is one of the incredibly gifted lyrical instrumentalists of our time, the work done here is a fitting homage to true musical genius and genius reviews itself.

Suzanne Pittson is a remarkable vocalist, a proven lyricist and made the critic into a fan. An incredibly enjoyable 5 star set that anyone would appreciate! I hope to review Out Of The Hub soon but if the set that I was fortunate enough to take in was any indication then this is a release to check out!

After the set the Suzanne Pittson Quartet was presented with the Outstanding Performance Award, well deserved recognition for an outstanding ensemble!


Performance at Michael D’s
June 29-30, 2002

John Gilbert

Her ‘scatting drives the rhythm section and they respond to her urgings

Suzanne Pittson, voice
Bevan Manson, piano
Don Kasper, bass
David Hocker, drums

Aside from the fact that Suzanne Pittson has a delightful stage presence, good looks and all of the accoutrement necessary for a jazz singer, it is the ability to “instrumentalize” her voice that is so intriguing. Pittson is like an additional horn in the ensemble. It is often written (ad infinitum) by jazz scribes, that a singer’s voice “is their instrument.” In this instance it is indeed accurate. Her “scatting” drives the rhythm section and they respond to her urgings, her message is clear and concise. Delicate tonality will be followed by driving cascades of notes, all constructed carefully, yet done with the ease of a true professional.

Bevan Manson complements the vocals with superb accompaniment, his contribution is done with the utmost perspicacity, his solos are delivered with elegance plus swing. To say that Pittson and Manson are attuned is an understatement to say the least.  This Pianist has a firm grasp and appreciation of the history of jazz and it is evident in the respect shown in his soliloquies.  There is humor in his playing, he may sign off a tune with a “Night Train” quote or mention “Habañero” from Carmen. In the exchanges, his ideas were fresh and compelling.

Bevan Manson is another “made member” of the piano elite. Don Kasper had some things to say on bass. His improvisations had the same mixture of delicacy and strength that are Pittson’s qualities. This made for an interesting cohesiveness, particularly in the timing, which was flawless.

David Hocker’s style fit right in with this fine group.  He did not overplay and his accents were in the right place.  Embellishing the soloists is not an easy task and Hocker was masterful on this night. He executed tastefully on the exchanges and again the timing which is so necessary, was perfect.

On “Caravan” it was Pittson at her best, weaving her way through an ethereal solo, with the rhythm dutifully following this beautiful yet other-worldly exploration into improvisation.  Manson was exquisite in his musical statement. “There Will Never be Another You” jumped into orbit.  Pittson’s scatting was a text book example of how it should be done.  “My Ship” is a song that deserves the utmost care and attention.  It is a beautiful composition by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin. Suzanne Pittson sang this piece with sensitivity and beauty.  This writer was both impressed and moved by her vocal painting. “I’m Old Fashioned” was given a new treatment. At times the vocal was like a susurrus breathing by ones ear, most unique and sweet.

This two-day event was the highlight of the Los Angeles jazz scene and if you happened to have missed it, it was an incalculable loss, considering the magnificent performances and the aesthetic quality rarely achieved these days.  Many kudos to Scott Hamm for bringing first class jazz to Michael D’s. A bow to Michael himself, a most genial host. Often little thought is given to the importance of a good waitstaff, and Michael D’s has the finest in town.

Lastly, I would like to thank Suzanne for her flattering comments about your correspondent from the bandstand. It was most generous.

After all is said and done, this was a performance worthy of the attention given to it.


Philip Elwood

Pittson plunges into as eclectic a bag as I know of… the audience was ready for anything.

Suzanne Pittson, voice
Jack Walrath, trumpet
Jeff Pittson, piano
John Wiitala, bass
Mike Clark, drums

Tuesday night’s listing in the Yoshi’s Nitespot calendar read, “Suzanne Pittson Quintet featuring Jack Walrath & Mike Clark,” and I suspect many in what we understanding writers call the “intimate” audience came to hear the fabulously talented trumpeter Walrath, a near legendary studio musician who worked for years with Charles Mingus (and in the Mingus Dynasty, which he currently leads) and along the way turned out some stunning performances for Blue Note, Muse and other jazz record labels.

Walrath, at Yoshi’s, was indeed brilliant and, for a dedicated bopster,

commendably restrained — a delightful performance over all.

But the evening was far more that a trumpet exposition. Drummer Mike Clark (a Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter colleague who’s been around the Bay Area frequently) is, like Walrath, a seasoned performer, and one who realizes that drumming can be a study in dynamics as well as rhythms; the listener can feel Clark’s playing even if it is not bombastic.

Suzanne Pittson sings most of the quintet’s numbers — after all it’s her gig — and her husband, Jeff, is a superb pianist, both in accompaniment, ensemble, and solo performance, the toughest of that trilogy being that of the accompanist.

Singer Pittson plunges into as eclectic a bag as I know of — ranging from “The Sweetest Sounds,” the 1962 Richard Rodgers show tune, to “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” a complex, up-tempo boppish Oliver Nelson flag-waver that features voice, trumpet and piano in unison lines that tear along like a bebop roller-coaster gone amok.

Following the lovely Depression-era ballad, “For All We Know,” (“my favorite,” said Pittson) the Nelson piece, a true tour de force, was quite a jolt. But since Walrath, for his feature number, played Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts,” a wild and fascinating chart that starts like a calypso version of “How Are Things in Glocca Morra,” the audience was ready for anything.

And they got it, and enjoyed it. For most, I suspect, it was the first time they had ever seen and heard jazz just “happening,” and that — for many dedicated jazz fans is what the music is all about.

In early rock ‘n roll days, kids jammed auditoriums not to listen to the music but to be part of a “happening.” The action was in the audience, not on the stage. For jazz, it’s the reverse — the happening is on stage. That’s where the jazz action is.

Pittson and Walrath shared the lead lines on “Love For Sale,” and the singer also managed to make musical sense out of some awkward lyrics written to bassist Buster Williams’ instrumental, “Something More.”

Pittson’s voice is knowingly musical, somewhat burry, a bit “around” the note (often conveying a nice dissonance) and well controlled; and, thank God, she’s neither a Billie Holiday clone nor purely a scat singer.

Bassist John Wiitala, as usual, laid down a steady mellow beat.