7.26.11 Special Event ! Ben Wendel + Walter Smith III + Larry Koonse + Billy Mohler + Steve Hass

Blue Whale presents
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St. Suite 301, Los Angeles, CA 90012  |  213.620.0908    

Born in Vancouver and raised in Los Angeles, Ben was educated at the Eastman School of Music in New York. Since graduating he has enjoyed a varied career as a performer, composer and producer. Recent highlights include multiple domestic and international tours with such artists as Cuban drumming legend Ignacio Berroa, Thelonius Monk Piano Competition Winner Tigran Hamasyan, Electronica artist Daedelus and Hip Hop artist Snoop Dogg. Ben is a founding member of the Grammy nominated group Kneebody.

In addition to playing saxophone, Ben also doubles on the bassoon and piano.

A frequent writer of film music, he co-wrote the score for John Krasinski’s 2009 adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.” Ben also won an ASCAP Jazz Composer Award and recently received the Chamber Music America “New Works Grant.” In the summer of 2007, Ben was honored to work with conductor Kent Nagano in producing a series of concerts for the Festpeil Plus in Munich, Germany. One of the performances (a collaboration between Theo Bleckmann and Kneebody featuring the songs of Charles Ives) was recently signed to Winter & Winter. Ben currently produces a new performing arts series at The Edye in Santa Monica, California.

Ben’s is a recording artist with Sunnyside Records, with plans for his second release in Fall 2011. Ben was a former Adjunct Professor of Jazz Studies at USC.

Ben Wendel website

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photo by Michel Vasset

From a young age, Walter began taking music very seriously. “My first gig was playing at a McDonalds in Houston with another saxophone player. I took a solo on “Blue Bossa.” It was terrible. People clapped, and I figured if I could get away with that and get applause, how could I fail?”

Walter Smith III began playing the saxophone at the age of 7 in his hometown of Houston, TX. At Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, in 1998, Smith received a Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship from IAJE and NFAA; the NFAA Young Talent Award; a full tuition scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music; and a United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts medal. Walter Graduated from Berklee in 2003 with a degree in Music Education.

Walter has performed all over the world participating in numerous national and international festivals as well as famed stages in the U.S. such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Smith has shared the stage and/or appeared on recordings with many jazz notables including Terence Blanchard, Roy Haynes, Christian McBride, Eric Reed, Mulgrew Miller, Joe Sample, Bob Hurst, Myron Walden, Walter Beasley, Lewis Nash, Terri Lynne-Carrington, and a host of others.  To date, Walter has appeared on over 75 recordings that are released worldwide.

Walter’s debut recording as a leader was released in March of 2006 on the Fresh Sound New Talent label and features many of the brightest young jazz talents. His sophomore release, titled “Live in France”, was released in October of 2009 to critical acclaim. His most recent album, “III”, was released in September of 2010 and was the #3 best seller on itunes in the U.S. for it’s first week. It features Ambrose Akinmusire, Jason Moran, Joe Sanders, and Eric Harland.

Over the past few years, besides leading a quintet, Walter is/has been a member of several amazing groups (recording and touring) including the Terence Blanchard group, Eric Harland’s quintet, Ambrose Akinmusire’s band, Christian Scott’s group, the Sean Jones sextet, Jason Moran’s Big Bandwagon (In My Mind:Monk at Town Hall), and the Christian McBride situation band.

Walter Smith III website

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Born into a musical family, Larry has been playing the guitar since he was seven years old. At the age of fifteen he recorded an album with his father, guitarist Dave Koonse, entitled “Dave and Larry Koonse; father and son jazz guitars.” In 1984, Larry was the first recipient of a BM in Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California.

Immediately after graduating from USC Larry toured extensively for six years as a member of the John Dankworth quartet, traveling all across the globe and backing up Cleo Laine. He is currently a member of Billy Child’s landmark chamber sextet which just released a CD entitled “Lyric” featuring Brian Blade and received a grammy nomination for instrumental jazz album of the year. He has also toured and recorded with Mel Torme, Terry Gibbs, Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Childs, John Patitucci, David Friesen, Karrin Allyson, Warne Marsh and was a featured performer with the Percy Faith Orchestra on a tour of Japan. At the invitation of Nelson Mandela and UNICEF, Larry traveled to South Africa to perform for the first annual SAMIX festival with the Steve Houghton quintet. He also performed with Gary Willis in Sao Paulo for a government sponsored concert at SESC Ipiranga. In his travels, he has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Academy of Music, Disney Hall, the Sydney Opera House, and has been a featured soloist with the L.A. Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and many other orchestras throughout the world. Larry has recorded with Cleo Laine, Al Hirt, Jimmy Rowles, Lee Konitz, Larry Goldings, Alan Broadbent, Ray Brown, Bill Perkins, Toots Thielemanns, Rod Stewart, Clay Jenkins, Linda Ronstadt, David Friesen, Bob Sheppard, Charlie Haden and many other jazz artists. His solo guitar work was featured throughout “Crazy”, a feature film chronicling the life of the great guitarist Hank Garland.

The founder of the Player’s School, the renown bassist Jeff Berlin, contacted Larry in 1995 to write a guitar curriculum which is currently used for their program. He was co-leader of the L.A. Jazz Quartet which released their fourth CD, “Conversation Piece” (NAXOS Records) in September, 2000. The quartet’s first three CD’s, “Astarte” (GOWI), “Look To The East” (NAXOS), and “Family Song” (NTR), have received critical acclaim for their originality and musical depth. Larry’s most recent recording, “Storybook” is now available through Jazz Compass (www.jazzcompass.com). He has two other releases on the Jazz Compass label: Americana ( a recording featuring Scott Colley on the bass) and Dialogues of the Heart (featuring his father Dave Koonse in a guitar duo setting). Larry has been a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts since 1990.

Larry Koonse website

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Billy Mohler is an L.A-based songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He was raised in South Orange County and is Bill Medley’s (of the Righteous Bros.) godson. He attended and graduated from Berklee College of Music where he studied electric and acoustic bass. After Berklee Billy was awarded a full scholarship to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at USC where he studied under Barry Harris, Terence Blanchard, Brian Blade, Joshua Redman, Christain McBride, Russel Malone, Cassandra Wilson, and many others.

Billy’s credits are as diverse. He has worked with The Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Chamberlin and Billy Corgan, Kelly Clarkson, Macy Gray, Lee Scratch Perry, Terence Blanchard, Bill Medley ( Righteous Brothers), Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Billy Childs, The Calling, Lifehouse, Lenka, Rob Dickenson ( Catherine Wheel) Musical Director for Tony Hawks Boom Boom Huck Jam, Gustavo Galindo, Scored the Charles Kaufman film Synecdoche New York

Bill Mohler website

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“It’s all there with Steve,” Scofield says. “He has the mindset to play real R+B, not just ‘funky jazz’, and we can do straight ahead tunes too. That’s something I’ve always wanted but haven’t really done until now. I was lucky to find him. Scofield praising Hass’s professionalism and solid groove, says, “I’m sure if this was twenty years ago Steve wouldn’t even be on the road.”  -John Scofield, Modern Drummer June 2006

After attending Boston’s prestigious Berklee College Of Music on full scholarship, Steve Hass moved to New York City joining the Ravi Coltrane Group. Along side Lonnie Plaxico, Michael Cain, and Ralph Alessi, Steve was playing a mixture of hard bop, funky odd meter grooves and free improvisation in Ravi’s band. During his five years with the group, Hass was also freelancing and recording with several local singer/songwriters and working at jingle houses in New York City including Fluid Post Music, Three Tree Productions, Ian London Productions, and Red House to name a few. He had local weekly gigs with The Bitter End house band, The Blue Note house band and Monday nights at Zinc Bar with The Ron Affif Trio. He also had touring stints with artists such as, Richard Bona, Christian McBride, Suzanne Vega, Miri Ben Ari and many more. The Ravi Coltrane group gave Steve his first major label album credit for the critically acclaimed Mad 6, released on Sony Music, as well numerous european tours. At 24 years of age, Hass was touring and recording with some of the world’s most influential artists and making a name for himself as an in demand session musician.

In April of 2003, Hass heard of an audition for Atlantic recording artists The Manhattan Transfer. The band held auditions in New York City and Los Angeles. Hass was asked to join the eight-time Grammy winners and immediately went on the road. After numerous world tours, four albums and a live Christmas concert DVD, Hass continues to work with the group as his schedule permits. In October 2003 Hass released his debut solo “Traveler” featuring some of New York City’s top players. Traveler received critical acclaim and Hass’ version of “Skylark” featuring vocalist Janis Seigel was included on a special C.D. release from the Hoagy Carmichael foundation.

Exactly two years later, in April of 2005, Hass received a call from guitarist and Miles Davis alumnus, John Scofield. Scofield was releasing a Ray Charles Tribute album called That’s What I Say, and needed a drummer to cover traditional R+B, funk, jazz and latin. Scofield asked Hass to be his touring drummer for the “Ray Charles project.” The band had several tours in 2005 through the end of 2006. Their last tour featured legendary gospel singer, Mavis Staples and was a great success.

In 2008, Hass decided to settle down in Los Angeles, performing locally with such greats as Bob Sheppard, Bob Mintzer, Alan Pasqua, John Beasley, Bill Cunliffe, Jimmy Haslip, Mitch Forman, David Garfield, Dennis Hamm, Jeff Babko and more. In 2010 he teamed up with “The Difference”. “The Difference” is the production team of Adam Gurr and Carlton Douglas. Together they created Hassbeat Production Studios, a full service production company and recording studio where Steve is able to produce music and record drum tracks for artists around the world.

Whether it’s playing a 12/8 ballad behind Art Garfunkel , flowing through a funk groove in 13 with the Ravi Coltrane Group, or playing a variety of styles with The John Scofield Band, the ability to speak and communicate through music is what matters to Steve Hass.

Steve Hass website

BlueWhale website


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