Rhythm Planet Recommends: December Concerts to Spice Up Your Holidays

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With the holidays in full swing, these upcoming December concerts are sure to add to some merriment. World and classical music fans have lots to look forward to this month with a late-night mambo jam session featuring Cuban artists, plus performances by Israeli singer-guitarist David Broza, a modern Mexican chamber group, and Tchaikovsky’s glorious first piano concerto. Angelenos can also celebrate the season with veteran jazz and gospel greats Bennie Maupin, Dianne Reeves, Ralph Gibson, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. These shows are a sure way to spice up your holidays!

Friday & Saturday, December 1–2 | Sleepless: The Music Center After Hours (Downtown L.A.)

It’s not every day that The Music Center hosts a mambo party at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, so this is one event that tropical Latin dancers and music lovers won’t want to miss! Arturo O’Farrill is the son of Cuban big band leader Chico O’Farrill, who was part of New York City’s “Cubop” scene in 1940s that fused Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker’s bebop music with Cuban mambo. Joining him onstage will be Pancho Amat, one of the greatest masters of the Cuban tresthe iconic three double-string guitar. The show also features newcomers Telmary Diaz, drummer Yissy Garcia and her group Bandancha, along with DJs spinning Afro-Cuban sides.

Sleepless: The Music Center After Hours goes from 11:00 p.m. till 3:00 a.m. this Friday through Saturday, as part of the Cuba: Antes, Ahora / Then, Now series programming related to the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative. For tickets and info, click here.

Sunday, December 3 | ÓNIX Ensamble (Westwood)

Known for the sheer intensity of their live performances, ÓNIX Ensamble is a Mexican chamber group dedicated to promoting Mexican and other Latin American classical contemporary works. “The classical contemporary music we do is deliberately eclectic, disobedient of European orthodox traditions,” says creator and director Alejandro Escuer. “It reflects the vital mixture of our new, diverse global influences, both Latin and from everywhere else.” On Sunday, December 3, audience members can experience a uniquely intimate performance, seated together onstage with the ÓNIX Ensamble at UCLA’s Royce Hall. For tickets and info, click here.

Friday, December 8 | Bennie Maupin plays The Jewel in the Lotus (Downtown L.A.)

Benny Maupin worked with Lee Morgan and other Blue Note stars, but first gained fame as the reed man on Herbie Hancock’s 1973 Head Hunters album. Maupin’s own 1974 ECM album, The Jewel in the Lotus, was one of his most unusual recordings. REDCAT will showcase this timeless work on Friday, December 8. For tickets and info, click here.

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, December 8–10 | Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (Downtown L.A.)

Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 is an iconic classical work if there ever was one. Texas-born pianist Harvey Van Cliburn performed this work for the inaugural Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958—in the midst of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union—and stunned the world with his win. Afterwards, the competition judges were forced to seek permission to grant this tall Texan’s piano victory from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Conductor Xian Zhang (Photo by B. Ealovega courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Concerto No. 1 is a masterpiece of Russian romanticism. Xian Zhang is the renowned young conductor for this series of weekend performances with Venezuelan-born pianist Sergio Tiempo. The show also features Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6 in E-flat minor (Op. 111), a powerful lament for the loss of Russian lives during Hitler’s siege of Leningrad that occurred during World War II. Classical music enthusiasts will have three opportunities to catch Zhang and Tiempo at the Walt Disney Concert Hall: December 8 at 11 a.m.; December 9 at 8 p.m.; and December 10 at 2 p.m. For tickets and info, click here.

Friday, December 15 | Blind Boys of Alabama and Legacy Horns of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: A Christmas Celebration with Ruthie Foster (Orange)

The Blind Boys of Alabama was founded by Clarence Fountain and Jimmy Carter in 1939, when they were young boys attending the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind. It was there that the young men discovered the Golden Gate Quartet, which inspired them to form their own gospel group. Seventy years later, they’re still hitting the road and performing. Clarence Fountain is now 87 years old, so this show is a great opportunity for Angelenos and Orange County residents to catch the original lineup. The Legacy Horns of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans and vocalist Ruthie Foster will also join the Blind Boys of Alabama onstage for this special holiday show at Chapman University’s Musco Center for the Arts. For tickets and info, click here.

Wednesday, December 20 | Dianne Reeves: Christmas Time is Here (Downtown L.A.)

Dianne Reeves (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Dianne Reeves is one of jazz music’s most eloquent and versatile singers. She’s won Grammys for Best Jazz Vocals on three consecutive recordings—a first for any jazz vocalist. Reeves will perform carols from her holiday album, Christmas Time is Here, together with Romero Lubambo, guitar; Reginald Veal, bass; Terreon Gully, drums; and Peter Martin on keyboards. Don’t miss this special one-night show on Wednesday, December 20. For tickets and info, click here.

Thursday, December 21 | David Broza & Friends: The Not Exactly XMAS Show (Santa Monica)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist David Broza is a musical polymath adept in Israeli, Sephardic, and flamenco styles. Broza’s music has always reflected his passionate advocacy for peace. Broza brings his tour to The Broad Stage to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his best-known song, Yihye Tov (Things Will Be Better), which was written during the Arab-Israeli peace talks in 1977. For his acclaimed East Jerusalem / West Jerusalem project, Broza brought together Israeli and Palestinian musicians for a week-long session at a recording studio in East Jerusalem. Broza is known for his virtuosic flamenco guitar playing and has collaborated with artists such as Wyclef Jean, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Jackson Browne. For tickets and info, click here.

Friday, December 22 | Ralph Gibson Quartet (Downtown L.A.)

Tenor saxophonist Ralph Gibson has been part of the L.A.’s jazz community for over 30 years. He was a longtime fixture at the late drummer Billy Higgins’ World Stage in Leimert Park. Gibson’s style reflects his influences: John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, and Charles Lloyd. The chance to hear him perform at the Biltmore’s Golden Ballroom provides ample reason to head downtown to catch either the 7 p.m. or the 9 p.m. show on Friday, December 22. For tickets and info, click here.

Banner image of Blind Boys of Alabama courtesy of the Musco Center for the Arts.