Surviving Las Vegas and CES 2015

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Tom performing Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” with the Axxis All-Stars at CES 2015.  (L to R) Tom Schnabel (flute), Joe Nazzaretta (flute/sax), Cocho (keyboard), Barry Saperstein (traps), Paul Salvo (trumpet), Jack Bone (upright bass), Arturo Manzano (trumpet), and Charlie Maranzano (tenor). (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

CES stands for the Consumer Electronics Show, the largest showcase of new gadgets and gear that takes place every year around this time in Las Vegas. Techies swarmed the Strip last week for a sneak peak at the latest offerings for 2015. A friend of mine invited me to perform at CES with his jazz group, so I had the opportunity to check out some choice audiophile hi-fi systems.

Tom at the Axiss Audio studio suite showroom.

First off, I have to admit that wandering through the Vegas casinos is like being stuck in the ninth circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno, with literally no clear exit or way out. On my way to breakfast in the old school Plaza Hotel, I’d see haggard-looking gamblers left over from the night before still hoping to recoup their losses. Or there were the automatons, nursing their drinks and puffing away at their mostly-spent cigarettes, looking wrecked like wheelchair zombies strapped to oxygen tanks, mindlessly inserting one quarter after another into slot machines. As a spoiled Californian, I simply wasn’t used to the unhealthfulness of the scene, much less the cigarette smoking indoors. I actually had to take my clothes from the trip to the dry cleaners just to get the odor out.

I will say, however, that the people in Vegas and at CES were friendly, probably because (most) everyone there was having such a good time. And being in the company of my gregarious, fun-loving Italian bandmates helped me to overlook the less palatable aspects of place.

Axiss Audio is a Southern California-based distributor of über high-end, limited edition audio equipment, run by my good friend, Arturo Manzano. Referencing the Axis Powers of World War II, Arturo sources only the best of the best in hi-fi gear from Germany, Japan, and Italy, with brands like Accuphase, Air Tight, Shelter, and Transrotor to name a few. I purchased my own Air Tight ATM-3 monoblock amp and Focal Scala Utopia speakers from Arturo, and boy, does this guy know his stuff. Every beautifully crafted piece he sources is a work of art. One of his customers at CES purchased a Transrotor turntable for $14,000—that’s what I mean by ‘über.’


Axiss had a suite for CES at the Venetian Hotel, so I’m going to take some liberties and call our group ‘The Axiss Audio All-Stars.’ For those of you who don’t know, I’m a closet flute player, and thanks to Arturo, I’m lucky to have been taken under the wing of my instructor, Joe Nazzaretta (flute/sax), who performed with us. Joe was a former student of Joe Henderson and a member of Mel Tormé’s Orchestra. With Arturo and Paul Salvo, a professional studio musician, both on trumpet, we also had professional musicians Barry Saperstein (traps) and Jack Bone (bass), Charlie Maranzano (tenor), and Peruvian pianist Cocho, who filled in as a sub at the last minute, impressing us with his chops and his taste. I have to thank Alan Geik of KCRW’s former tropical music show, Latin Dimensions, for hooking us up with Cocho.

Together, we performed Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” (clip below), Miles Davis’ rendition of “Summertime,” Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” Louis Armstrong’s “Basin Street Blues,” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower.”

Here’s a video of us playing Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar.” I’m on the left taking the first solo, despite not being anywhere near these guys technically, but they’re inspiration enough for me to practice and improve!

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