Jazz & Rock All-Stars: Return To Forever IV and Zappa Plays Zappa at Merriweather Post Pavilion
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One of the creative minds behind some of the most enduring hits of the '60s, '70s and beyond, R&B superstar Valerie Simpson returns to the stage at The Blue Dolphin. Simpson, along with her husband and longtime musical partner, the late Nicholas Ashford, found success penning a string of chart-topping R&B and pop songs, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "I'm Every Woman," as well as writing and performing their 1984 hit single "Solid (As a Rock)." Simpson recently returned to the music scene following the death of her husband, and released her first solo album in several decades, Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again. Learn More
Reviews & Ratings
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The Dweezil Zappa band was killer, especially the percussionist who played the marimba and vibraphone parts.
RTF was fantastic and ended the show with Spain by Chick Corea and School Days by Stanley Clarke. Smoke me baby, eight to the bar!
Quotes & Highlights
Watch videos of Return to Forever IV and Zappa Plays Zappa.
“Return to Forever devastated the landscape. It transformed me. I haven’t recovered yet.” —Sting
“I’ve seen many shows in my years on this planet, but none I enjoyed more than this.” —JazzTimes, about Return to Forever
Return To Forever, whose mind-blowing experimentation in jazz and rock transformed the music world, will debut a historic new lineup this summer at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The tour brings a re-imagined musical dimension to both the wildly influential group and its repertoire.
Working together with complete creative compatibility and steeped in the tradition of extreme freedom of expression, these five pillars of jazz and rock have prepared a must-see performance that will please fans new and old. Their ever-evolving setlist encompasses an amalgam of Return To Forever classics, highlights from each member’s solo repertoire, and brand-new compositions written for the RTF IV lineup.
Chick Corea on piano and keyboards
An NEA Jazz Master, 16-time Grammy winner, prolific composer, keyboard virtuoso and 2010 Artist of the Year in DownBeat’s Readers Poll, Chick Corea has attained living legend status after four decades of unparalleled creativity and an artistic output that is simply staggering.
From straight ahead to avant-garde, bebop to fusion, children’s songs to chamber music, along with some far-reaching forays into symphonic works, Chick has touched an astonishing number of musical bases in his illustrious career while maintaining a standard of excellence that is awe-inspiring. A tirelessly creative spirit, Chick continues to forge ahead, continually reinventing himself in the process.
Since embarking on a solo career in 1966, Chick has been at the forefront of jazz, both as a renowned pianist forging new ground with his acoustic jazz bands and as an innovative electric keyboardist with Return to Forever and the Elektric Band. His extensive discography boasts numerous essential albums, beginning with his 1968 classic, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.
Stanley Clarke on bass
Stanley Clarke is nothing short of a living legend, having liberated the bass in much the same way that Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker liberated their instruments decades earlier.
Born in Philadelphia, Clarke headed to New York City right after college as a classically trained bass virtuoso. He quickly made his mark on the New York jazz scene by gigging with Stan Getz, Joe Henderson and Horace Silver before joining Getz pianist Chick Corea to form the seminal, GRAMMY-winning fusion outfit Return to Forever in 1972. As the band took more of an electric focus (with Bill Connors and Lenny White, and later Al Di Meola), Clarke not only split his time between upright and electric bass, but also launched the high-end boutique bass guitar market via his use of custom-made Alembic basses.
Taking issue with the narrow perception of the bass as a support rather than solo instrument, Clarke released a string of solo albums, beginning with Children Forever in 1973. The watershed recording, School Days, came three years later, with a title track that served as the first bona fide bass anthem. Clarke also pushed the tonal range of the electric bass upward, inventing the piccolo and tenor basses in an effort to speak in the range of his musical hero, John Coltrane.
Having solidified his solo career, Clarke moved on to a number of acclaimed pairings, including the Clarke/Duke Project (with keyboardist George Duke), the New Barbarians (with Keith Richards and Ron Wood), appearances on two Paul McCartney albums, Animal Logic (with Police drummer Stewart Copeland) and Rite of Strings (with Jean-Luc Ponty and Al Di Meola).
The late ‘80s brought new opportunities, as Clarke was hired to score the TV series Pee Wee’s Playhouse. This led to his first movie score for the film Boyz n the Hood, and what has become his second career as an acclaimed film composer. Other notable soundtracks include Passenger 57, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Poetic Justice, The Transporter and the Showtime series, Soul Food.
Lenny White on drums
As one of the founding fathers of the musical movement that became known as “fusion,” Lenny White earned a worldwide reputation as the drummer in the mid-’70s supergroup Return to Forever. But as with many drummers, often overshadowed by the so-called “lead” players in their band, White’s legendary work with RTF, although important in the history of jazz, hardly represents the entirety of his musical contributions.
He first made a name for himself in Jamaica, Queens, NY, nearly a decade before wearing his trademark gaucho hat and YouTube-made-famous tuxedo t-shirt. White was still a teenager in 1967 when Jackie McLean asked the lanky left-hander to join his band. Within a year he had played on two of the most important fusion records ever made: Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay. In 1972, before joining RTF, White established his rock ‘n’ roll credentials in the Escovedo brothers’ Latin rock band Azteca.
After Return to Forever’s split in 1977, White proved his individual mettle by recording three critically-acclaimed jazz rock records on his own, contributing significantly to a new form of danceable jazz-funk that he describes as “progressive-pop.” His late-’70s bands, Best of Friends and Twennynine, are often cited as outstanding examples of a new transitional sound made famous by friends Earth, Wind & Fire.
White’s versatility attracted the attention of the finest jazz musicians, leading to collaborations with Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans, Stan Getz, Jaco Pastorius, Carlos Santana, and RTF band mates Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, and Chick Corea. Most notably, he worked with Corea on two straight-ahead jazz projects in the early 1980s, Griffith Park and the GRAMMY®-nominated Echoes of an Era with vocalist Chaka Khan (both produced by White). At the other end of the spectrum, White again teamed up with bassist Marcus Miller (who had played on his 1978 Streamline record) for the drum-and-bass-dominated Jamaica Boys and Spike Lee’s School Daze soundtrack.
Throughout the 1990s, White excelled as a composer and producer, effectively bringing all genres together on a number of solo projects. He also recorded and produced a number of records for the Hip-Bop record label.
With the coming of a new millennium, White, with help from guitarist Larry Coryell and bassist Victor Bailey, offered more proof of his success and influence in the world of jazz/rock fusion. Having begun by playing complicated jazz compositions in an energized rock ‘n’ roll vein with RTF, the group CBW (Coryell, Bailey and White) was defined more by its jazz interpretations of rock ‘n’ roll standards.
In the summer of 2008, as a dramatic completion to White’s living legend drum circle, he again joined Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Al Di Meola for a 30-years-in-the-making, highly successful Return to Forever reunion world tour. In May 2010, White released his 13th album, Anomaly, in conjunction with the Abstract Logix label.
Jean-Luc Ponty on violin
An undisputed master of violin and a pioneer in the area of jazz-rock, Jean-Luc Ponty is widely regarded as an innovator who has applied his unique visionary spin to expand the vocabulary of modern music. Upon hearing “The Flying Frenchmen” in concert in the 1960s, the great American jazz violinist Stuff Smith said of Ponty, “He is a killer! He plays on the violin like Coltrane does on sax” (Encyclopedia of Jazz In The Sixties by Leonard Feather). In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976, Stéphane Grappelli said, “No, he is not a student, he is a great musician who invented a new style on the violin.” Ponty will bring his scintillating vocabulary to bear as the newest member of Return To Forever IV.
In 1976, Ponty was invited by Chick Corea to participate in the recording My Spanish Heart, which included the stirring piano-violin-trio number, “Armando’s Rumba.” Through the ‘70s and into the mid ‘80s, Ponty toured the world repeatedly and recorded 12 albums for the Atlantic label. He switched to Columbia in 1987, releasing The Gift of Time that year and following up with Storytelling in 1989. In September, 2009, he appeared as a guest of Corea, Clarke & White along with Chaka Khan for a special evening at the famous Hollywood Bowl, with Stevie Wonder showing up by surprise for a jam at the end. In 2010, Ponty toured with his band in the Caribbean, Europe and Russia and also as a duet partner with pianist Wolfgang Dauner in Europe.
Frank Gambale on guitar
One of the elite guitarists in modern jazz, Frank Gambale continues to raise the bar for a generation of aspiring six-stringers with his unsurpassed fretboard facility. Gambale is simply one of the greatest guitarists walking the planet today, a bona fide guitar hero who never fails to astound aficionados with his signature sweep picking prowess. His uncanny ability to blow fluently and unerringly over the most labyrinthine changes has earned him countless gigs and dozens of recordings over the past 20-plus years, as a valued sideman and leader in his own right.
From his earliest days with the Chick Corea Elektric Band in the mid ’80s to his more recent work with Vital Information, Billy Cobham and the all-star GHS power trio (with bassist Stu Hamm and drummer Steve Smith), the Australian-born guitarist has set a new standard of excellence with a combination of dazzling technique, inherent melodicism and soulful expression.