Monday, October 26, 2009


While dorking around with some photoshop collage templates I had made I used some photos from the Dotsero show saturday night for experimenting with. Here was one example I came up with I kinda liked...

Stargazers Theater & Event Center

Ok, I might be in love with Stargazers Theatre, it's a great venue. Perfect size for those mid-tier acts that need a "bigger than a bar, smaller than an arena" performace center. Pikes Peak Center is the next step up in size locally, I guess, but Stargazers is just about perfect for everything else.

Owners John and Cindy Hooten have been consistantly updating things a little at a time since taking it over in early 2009. The building's been around since the 60's, originally built as a Lowes Theatre, but in later years becoming a church, the "Colorado Opry", an all-night rave location and a church again (I think that's the order). It's considerably cleaned up.

Stargazers can be set up for dining in the main auditorium just in front of the stage, cocktails, dancing, or just for additional seating. When set for just seating I think they max out at 500 seats. I've been there 3 times in the last month for a blues act (Tommy Castro), a rock/blues act (Jake Loggins) and one jazz act (Dotsero), and I could see incremental improvements every time I've been in there.

Stargazers can be booked for business and civic events, too.

For more info, and to see their upcoming schedule of event see their web site here:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: Dotsero at Stargazers Theatre, Saturday 10/24/2009

stephen watts

Saturday night at Stargazers featured Dotsero, a contemporary smooth jazz band that has established a strong following in Colorado as the house band at Jazz@Jacks in Denver. They've released several CDs, the first of which, "Off the Beaten Path" (Nova Records/March 1990) got some national attention. They've played with or opened for Spyro Gyra, Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, David Sanborn, Wynton Marsalis, David Benoit, the Yellowjackets, and many more. Having played the JVC Winter Park Jazz Fest, Jazz Trax Catalina Island Jazz Fest, The Cancun Jazz Festival and many other jazz festivals, and having had their CD Jubilee spend 10 weeks on Billboards Contemporary Jazz chart, these guys have been around.

Core band members Stephen Watts and David Watts who play sax and guitar respectively were joined on stage by Tom Capek on keyboards, Marvin Craft on bass, and Jeff Woods on drums.

stephen watts

A pleasant piece called "Just Because" opened the night with Stephen playing a curved soprano sax before switching to a space-alien sounding midi wind controller... kind of an electronic sax you can drive through a computer or synthesizer or sampler to generate practically any sound you can think of (or mixtures of sounds in this case). I'm not a connoisseur of these things and the sounds it produced struck me as rather odd in this case.

The band moved into "Jeepers Creepers", a nice number featuring keyboardist Capek providing perfect light hip licks with the band building into a heavy syncopation with proud keyboard strokes offset by heavy drum and bass accompaniment. A few songs later the band played "Late At Night", with a slow dreamy intro that alternated between strong dynamics and classic cool jazz which I refer to as "late night with your honey" jazz - characterized by a good punchy rhythm with a nice solid groove like a soft summer breeze in an open convertible.

The only negative thing I think I heard was that the sax kept trending towards being a little sharp at this point and it took a few songs before I felt like it was consistently back on point.

marvin craft

Several songs followed, one featuring the incredible bass talent of Marvin Craft, one featuring the jazzy guitar lines of David Watts, then into one with Stephen Watts blowing his curved soprano again while sitting on the front of the stage. As he gets up to close out this number, he blew into the opening riffs of Santana's "Oye Como Va" which jumped into hyper-drive during a cut-time slash and burn funked out interlude with a nice drum jam by Jeff Woods.

david watts

The band took the first of 2 breaks during their three sets coming back to play "Two of a Kind" and the up-tempo Rippingtons crowd pleaser "Morocco". "Jumping Through Hoops" - which starts off a nice slow jazzy introspective piece turns up the back beat without you even noticing and it just grooves off into the sunset with some fine syncopation, the insistent sax hitting notes dead on. "Always There" was destined to carry us to the second intermission but not until featuring tight syncopation between mirrored guitar/sax riffs, a heavy bass and drum section, a self-indulgent sax solo leading into audience participation "Hey Jude". The band and the audience needed a break to catch our breath here!

Nice continued funked-out and soulful jazz numbers followed until one of the Dotsero fans yelled "LODO MOJO!" which the band was happy to oblige with. "Lighthouse in the Rockies", a hip version of "Spooky" and then a funky jam "ditty" closed-out the night to the applause and cheers of the audience.

All in all a nice mellow trip down a contemporary jazz highway brought to Stargazers by Dotsero.

Review: Jake Loggins Band : Stargazers, 10/23/2009

Everybody who really knows music in southern Colorado kept telling me "you gotta see this kid." His name has been popping up on my radar for months, one reason being that he fronts a local jam night in Colorado Springs at Southside Johnny's. I had held off checking him out for a number of reasons, and when I heard a month or so ago that Stargazers had him booked for Friday October 23rd, I knew that was the time and the right place. I - like you - have been let down before by local music aficionados over-hyping one band or another to me only to go see them in less than perfect circumstances with a less than perfect crowd leaving me with a ho-hum feeling towards the band. So given the underground skinny on Jake Loggins, I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt of seeing him do his thing in a performance venue, not just possibly hacking around in a bar for his regulars.

One of the guys who knew I hadn't seen Jake Loggins before sidled up to me at some point half an hour into the show just looked at me with raised eyebrows. Just then there was a song break and I told him my review for the Gazette would probably consist of two words: "Holy" was the first one. Something else I can't get printed was the second one.

Jake Loggins is his own man. He's 25 and has the chops of alot of guys I've seen twice his age. He plays blues laden rock. I'm hesitant to call him a straight blues player, and to say he plays rock and roll is totally wrong. But if you're old enough to remember bands like Montrose or Robin Trower or Pat Travers, you may get an initial impression. Bands from the late 60's/early 70's that were drawing from blues material and making it "heavy" like Cream. And inevitably names like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page come to mind. But I mentioned that he also has some groove to him like maybe a Dave Mason, you might start to get other ideas. If I added "oh, yeah, you can tell he's studied Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan" you might cry "foul". Who's over-hyping now?

I wanna be clear: he has his own tone and style. I think he's a bluesman at heart with party-rock mojo. And in some quieter moments you can tell he's gotten education in alot of techniques. And that's where his father comes in.

Jake Loggin's father's name is David "Lobo" Loggins. Most people just call him "Lobo". Lobo's a guitar slinger who has played from Texas to Colorado to Nashville for a long time and has a following everywhere he's played. Although he's got credits on recordings and has a co-produced CD "Vices and Verses" (Lobo Loggins & Sheryl Mayfield, March/2003) (with its own great reviews if muted success) and had a top-40 song "Ain't No Cows In Texas" with video play on TNN and CMT, he apparently didn't play music politics as well as he plays guitar. So Jake always had access to guitars and his father’s grasp of classic Texas-branded guitar grinding to country rockabilly styles.

Which brings us back to Stargazers. In simple terms, I can sum this up by saying Jake's show in a performance venue is not to be missed. This is a national act masquerading as a regional power band at the moment, their gate pricing is cheap, the performance level is amazing. Last parenthetical observation I'll make here: this is the most democratic audience I have ever seen at a show recently: cholos and truckers, stock brokers and bikers, high heels and cowboy boots, hippies, kids, moms, and grandmas. And babes. Oh. My. God. There was incredible, uh, "ambience" at friday night’s show.

Opening the night was some stand-up routines by comedian Tim McKenna who started off a little tentatively but gained momentum and had several funny bits like "...I've got a sex-ed book for kids coming out in the spring. It's a pop-up book." This led into Justin Loggins, Jakes older brother also doing a comedy routine. Since this was the first time Jake, Lobo and Justin had all been on the bill the same night, Justin did a pretty amusing routine while showing and commenting on old family photos being displayed up on Stargazer's insanely huge screen behind the stage. Alot of family was in attendance, but many more were long-time followers of Lobo and Jake and everybody got some belly laughs out of Justin's self-deprecating and family gigging descriptions of mullet hair styles, large sun glasses, and fashion sense over the years. The biggest laugh came at Lobo's expense: shown in full mullet next to the Grand Canyon, Justin riffed "here's my family heritage - this says it all - how Joe Dirt!"

In keeping with the feel of a Loggins family reunion, congratulations to Justin and his baby-momma: Justin proposed marriage to her at the end of his set, and it was a genuinely nice moment to share.

Jake came onstage and before getting into his real set he started with a simple singing of "happy birthday" to Tim McKenna, Justin and Lobo Loggins who all share birthdays within a few days of each other, and he included another family member that just had twins that day.

So just as I was worried that this was going to devolve into a family love fest, the Jake Loggins Band dove into a no-holds barred set of high-energy blues/funk fusion with tight syncopations coupled with great stage presence, Jake leaning over and pouring energy into his Fender strat & pulling back with grimaces over burning solos, standing out in front of the mics at stage center just wailing away.

First serious observation: this band is tight. Drummer Desmond "Motown" Washington's animated and very heavy handed style of play was showy without showboating: I loved watching him beat down his equipment while bassist Noel McFarland matched "Motown" in perfect synch, adding punch and a solid foundation for Jake to stand on. One thing about power-trios: if you look back historically at many bands that had killer sound and huge success, you'll see that fewer musicians almost always means everybody's pulling their load. There’s no place to slack. And these 3 were on overdrive friday night. But here's the fun part. They have a keyboardist, Lawrence "LC" Clark. Now I didn't get a chance to talk to LC, but he's back there providing perfect support, with style. While the band was totally in overdrive, LC's back there at one point laying down perfect jazz-influenced fills that as I'm writing this sound out of place to say, but I swear I heard it and it was very cool. He had his share of organ effects in a couple breaks he took, but he was just over there on the side not making a fuss and adding this totally cool enriching vibe to the whole band as they're totally shredding my ears off.

This is a loud band. But after 4 songs or so, Jake invited his father Lobo Loggins onstage along with special guest Don Rollins. Don's name you may recognize. He's based in Nashville and has many songwriting credits to his name, one of the most notable being "It's Five O’clock Somewhere" you've seen and heard Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet play. Don won a Grammy for that one.

The expanded band went into a smokin' version of "Little Wing" ala Hendrix or Vaughan but with a decided Loggins stamp on it. Jake's totally boogying "Soul On Fire" followed along with a slow very bluesy version of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Leave My Girl Alone", in which Don could stretch out on with his saxophone. The band picked up the pace with several more numbers that just burned, Lobo just absolutely leaning into his guitar work like there was no tomorrow. Maybe a little Father - Son bonding over six-strings, both trading scorching guitar work and vocals in different songs, both looking totally proud of what the other was doing depending on who was driving at any given moment.

Like a fully loaded freight train cranking up the tracks from Austin Texas, the band ended the set with a classic Texas grinding shuffle version of "The Blues is Alright".

After a brief break Don, Lobo, and Jake all entertained the audience of nearly 300 with acoustic guitar work in a format that's become popular recently at reunion concerts which this kind of was for a little while. Three stools, three guitars, three excellent musicians, three songs, each musician taking a song for a vocal lead starting with the original version of Don's "Five O’clock Somewhere". This was followed by a heartfelt rendition of a song Jake wrote, "It Takes My Blues Away" followed by a country-fried song written by Lobo and Don, "You've Got The Rest of My Life". A final acoustic number by Don and fellow writer Jim Brown followed about people that come up and brag in bars about song material (and other things) that were lifted from them and made into hits called "That'd Be Me".

The full band came back on for several more numbers with various solo breaks by different members expressing everything from Dave Mason-type soulful bluesy guitar work with mellow tones to some rowdy soul/funk material leading into "Patience", another Jake Loggins crowd pleaser that went from slow to fiery to self-indulgent leads into just solid purring portions that underscored what a great rhythm section Jake had in Desmond, Noel and LC. The final number with Don and Lobo was the Stevie Wonder song "Superstition" which Stevie Ray Vaughan remade into a funkier strung-out version. The band pulled no punches, making it totally funky and outrageous. Musicians love playing "Superstition" because of the middle part of the song - you can jam, repeat themes, have a lot of fun with solos, but JLB took the opportunity to seamlessly bring in a funky version of Jeff Beck's "Going Down" right in that middle part before bringing it back to a big-finish close-out of "Superstition".

It's now 11:25pm and Don and Lobo leave the stage and Jake announces they're gonna stick around and jam for a while "if that's alright!" After a funky heavy rock laden blues number Jake rips out the classic intro to Jimi's "Voodoo Child" which - after a few solo breaks by everybody including Jake playing his guitar up over behind his head without even making it look like he's doing anything special turns into the big finish of the night at around 11:45 with the exhausted and deafened crowd on their feet ready to go for another couple hours.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sports Photography - issues and tips

I really enjoyed giving a presentation to the Colorado Springs Creative Photography Meetup Group ( on sports photography.

I've been shooting sports part time and after my photography day-job for about 3 years. This hardly makes me an expert among many sports photographers I know that have shot sports for a decade or more. That being said, I've shot hundreds of games and well over 100,000 photos in that amount of time. (Thank God for my 15% shot selection rule of thumb, huh??!?)(In other words, only 15% of what I shoot makes the light of day (and odds are thats 10% too many!).

I've shot everything from extreme mountain biking, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, & water skiing to all the basics: football, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball, and soccer. With alot of other sports in between (like rugby, swimming, golf, gymnastics, wrestling, cheerleading, and more).

I've shot on spec, sold sports images, had sports images published, and have had my images used in posters and marketing for national teams, and have shot high-school, NCAA, minor-league, and national team level sports.

My presentation was on "issues and tips" with shooting sports, starting with overall tips, then hitting specifics about camera and lens specs, issues with certain types of sports, and ending with my list of killer "jedi" sports photography tips.

It took about 2 hours which was about 30 minutes longer than I thought it would take, but some of the kinder participants (and, well, everybody attending of the 30-40 people there were kind) said the length was perfect.

I showed a little short video of some of my favorite sports photos set to some heavy rock music... pumping through my external speakers and subwoofer I set up: it was funnn!

Anyway, it was a good time and I appreciate their letting me come in and share some ideas.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Kenny G. Yes, Kenny G. Pikes Peak Center, Sunday, 10/4/2009

Kenny G
"6:00PM DOORS - 7:00PM SHOW" is what it said on the ticket.

As I approached the Pikes Peak center on Cascade Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs Sunday evening, I thought I was plenty early to find parking on the street and get in and get a drink since it was only 5 after 6:00. But I started to get confused. I started seeing more and more people still 2 blocks away walking in the direction of Pikes Peak Center. Traffic was slowing down. The closer I got, the more bewildering it was: Kenny G was playing tonight, and it was a mob scene!

I admit I didn't know what to expect. Kenny G is practically a house-hold name and like many successful commercial and pop artists is the butt of his share of jokes. But like him or not, his music helped solidify and define the "smooth jazz" genre. He has sold millions of albums and has millions of fans worldwide, but this was Colorado Springs: was there something else going on I didn't know about? Some folksy music festival, maybe, outside Pikes Peak Center earlier? No, it's simply this: He's. Packing. Them. In.

Let’s assume for a minute the name doesn't ring a bell. You've probably heard his high soaring soprano saxophone on smooth-jazz radio stations, during Christmas specials on TV, and (perhaps) in an elevator or two. And his first Christmas album "Miracles: The Holiday Album" (Arista/January 1994) with just over 7 million sales in 15 years is the second all-time greatest selling Christmas album after "Elvis' Christmas Album" (RCA Victor/October 1957) with 9 million sales in 50 years.

But it was very clear that Kenny G has a very faithful following in Colorado Springs where he and his band performed at the Pikes Peak Center to a very full house. My guesstimate is around 1700 people were in attendance, most high-toned and well-heeled. This was a good looking crowd largely made up of people in the 30-60 year old range, many couples but as many single men as single women were in attendance. Speaking with a few people in the lobby illustrated just how faithful this crowd was: nearly everybody I talked to claimed to have all his albums (and I count 20 altogether when you include the 3 Christmas albums and 4 "Best Of" type albums), claimed to have bought their tickets the minute they went on sale, and appeared very excited to get to see him live.

The general excitement level rose as Kenny came through the crowd about 20 minutes before the show to a merchandise sales area to sign autographs on the CDs and other items for sale, his trademark long curly hair staying remarkably well-behaved as he laughed and joked with people coming through the line.

And here's where another thing that becomes abundantly clear: Kenny G is actually a pretty genuine guy! He's accessible to his fans, good natured, and as became clear later on during the show when he was bragging about being up to 135 pounds - he doesn't take himself too seriously. He plays golf, has a pilots, license... but I digress.

In general, however, his music It's well arranged, and feels lush and embracing, romantic and rhythmic, invoking soaring birds and rippling streams. With musician-friends that have been with him for years, Kenny G experienced live is an emotionally satisfying experience. Some would argue it's like sneaking into the kitchen for a late night snack of chocolate cake: it may be "wrong" but it feels so "right"!

Kenny G
In doing some background research on Kenny G (the "G" stands for Gorelick, his real last name), many detractors don't consider his music sophisticated, but simply commercial. But last night, what I saw was an amalgam of styles and cultural influences with solos taken by each of the supporting musicians that showed the chops these guys have and put to rest any qualms I might have had going in about Kenny G being "pedestrian".

The opening started with the band doing a nice rendition of "Going Home" with Kenny G joining in from the back of the auditorium walking down the aisles, standing on the side of the stage level tower box seats, then showing off his note-sustaining breathing technique by holding one note for several minutes while he made his final way to the stage detouring across rows through the crowd while pointing and waving with a free hand. Moving through "Silhouette" with a tight polish from playing hundreds of gigs together, the band dove into the very popular song "Havana" during which percussionist Ron Johnson broke into an extended solo percussion jam that was a master class of Latin percussive techniques.

Ron Johnson, Kenny G Band
Completely surrounded by a dizzying array of chimes, multiple conga drums, timbales, cymbals, cowbells, blocks, whistles, gongs, and devices that generated sounds of bugs and birds, this was an explosive segment that was stunning and full of excitement and flair. As the band came back in, Ron got up to the front of the stage and led a "call and response" percussion jam with the audience clapping back rhythms generated by Ron on undoubtedly the best tambourine work I've ever seen. Not to be confused with the merely "tapping in time" style of tambourines you may think of from your elementary school days, this was a physical gyrating syncopated acrobatic attack that got everyone totally engaged and enthusiastic earning him a big round of applause. Who knew a tambourine could be a weapon of mass destruction?

Moving through other material like "G-Bot" and "Forever In Love" got the crowd back into easy-going jazziness and romance people like about Kenny G. Taking a break from playing for a minute, Kenny riffed with the crowd a little commenting on everything from hand warmers in his pockets, golfing (he has a plus- handicap) to his hair ("maybe I should cut it? but my career would go down the toilet like Michael Bolton’s!") (And who said he doesn't have a sense of humor?!?). They played a final collection of material before the set break and intermission with extracts from his last CD "Rhythm and Romance" with a slightly up-tempo version of the title track, then "Tango", "Besame Mucho" - with a beautiful interlude by keyboardist and long-time friend Robert Damper - and "Sax-O-Loco", voted best smooth-jazz song of 2008.

After a couple songs into their second set, they announced the winner of one of the "Kenny G" line of saxophones they gave away from a drawing of audience members who had earlier purchased CDs and merchandise. While waiting for the couple seated high in the balcony to get down to the stage for the presentation, the band played "White Christmas" from the Miracles Christmas album. With the winning couple Dee and Saul Macias onstage, Kenny serenaded them using the same soprano sax they had won before presenting it to the grateful couple. Speaking with the couple afterwards Saul confided he was "still shaking" he was so excited and Dee - it was clear - who had been moved to tears onstage was still glowing.

Louis Armstrong's classic "What A Wonderful World" came next with video work juxtaposing Kenny on stage blended with Louis Armstrong on screen in a nice rendition of what has become a favorite of Kenny G fans everywhere. It has to be said that this piece has garnered Kenny G the most derision from the serious jazz musician community, but I thought it was tasteful and respectful.

Not to let everybody get too mushy, the band slammed into a punchy raucous version of Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces" with an outrageous lightshow bathing the audience in blazing lights timed with the music.

Vail Johnson
Bassist Vail Johnson got a chance to stretch out his chops on a collage of material starting with the Beatles "Come Together" from Vail's own album (Sony/ATV, January 2009) of the same name. Now, when I say "stretch out", I mean Vail played the bass in an exhibition of punchy funky syncopated slap bass seeming to simultaneously play his own rhythm, lead, and percussion lines on his instrument in triplets, chords, strums, plucks, 32nd note runs, through what must have been a veritable "black page" of sheet music that was nothing short of amazing. With the band joining back in minus Mr. G into a punchy bass driven version of Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine" the crowd was stimulated into near hysteria!

Kenny G reappeared up in the balcony winding his way through the audience with various band breaks while Kenny made his way down a level into the main auditorium for more personal one-on-one serenading of audience members, leading into the big finale onstage with a standing ovation. Coming back onstage for "Cadenza" and one of his first major commercial hits "Songbird", Kenny and band closed out the night leaving everyone on their feet from this totally satisfying and entertaining show.

I just realized I didn't mention other hot solos by guitarist John Raymond and drummer Daniel Bejarano. The amazing talent these guys have individually and collectively help drive the band with a greater depth and breadth than many touring bands today, and make the live version of Kenny G even more enjoyable than recorded versions. Kudos also to lighting director Bruce (Higgy) Higinbotham and video director George Yancy who's tasteful direction made this a "big show" while seamlessly underscoring the overall production and popular music sensation that is Kenny G.