Category Archives: Reviews

Pianist Ted Kooshian reminds you of one of the overlooked joys of jazz; the ability to have some fun. Remember Louis Jordan? He made jazz a joy – that’s the attitude that Kooshian delivers with his team of Jeff Lederer, flute, tenor and soprano sax; Pete McGuinness, trombone; Wilbur Bascomb electric bass; David Silliman, drums and percussion; Mat Jodrell, trumpet; Scott Neumann, drums; Tom Hubbard, bass; Warren Odze, drums and percussion; Napoleon Murphy Brock, vocals on “Christmas Day, My Favorite Day”; Morrie Louden, bass; Cliff Lyons, alto sax; and Paul Livant, rhythm guitar. The songs here are a mix of originals, a few standards, and the rest are wonderful themes from the Golden Age of TV for Baby Boomers.

Want examples? How about a take of “Lost In Space” that takes you to wonderfully forbidden planets with Kooshian’s keyboards. A hip take of “Get Smart” has some shark skin suit crispness with keyboards, trumpet and sax. Percussion and flute come out of the bottle for “I Dream Of Jeannie,” and Lalo Schifrin’s classic “Mannix” theme has deep groove for Lederer’s tenor to cruise in. Even more enjoyable is a ragtime and wonderfully hectic read of music [based on] a Max Fleischer flick on “Koko,” and even Wayne Shorter joins in on the frivolity with his “Three Clowns” coming off like a dreamy adventure. Dan Hick’s “I Scare Myself” has some glorious sensuality, as Kooshian’s keyboards coalesce with Silliman’s percussion.

Everyone drops out for the leader to close out the album with a shopping mall version of “When You Wish Upon A Star.” If you don’t get a smile on your face somewhere along this disc, go buy a whoopee cushion and work on your attitude.

by George W. Harris – Jazz Weekly (2015)

Ted Kooshian doesn’t clown around. Or does he? The pianist, known for his imaginative adaptations lets loose with the big noses, funny hair and wide shoes with Clowns Will Be Arriving (Summit Records, 2015), an exciting collection of five original songs and remakes of television show themes composed by Hugo Montenegro, Lalo Schifrin, Johnny Williams and more.

Kooshian uses a variable lineup of players to help him take this trip through time. Jeff Lederer appears on all but one track, playing flute, soprano sax or tenor sax. Others who appear here and here are Pete McGuinness, trombone; Wilbur Bascomb electric bass; David Silliman, drums and percussion; Mat Jodrell, trumpet; Scott Neumann, drums; Tom Hubbard, bass; Warren Odze, drums and percussion; Napoleon Murphy Brock, vocals on “Christmas Day, My Favorite Day”; Morrie Louden, bass; Cliff Lyons, alto sax; and Paul Livant, rhythm guitar.

“I Dream of Jeannie” kicks things off. Lederer’s flute takes point. Bascomb’s dynamic bass line gives this track extra depth. The congas add a tropical vibe. For his part, Kooshian tickles the ivory like there’s no proverbial tomorrow. McGuinness gets his licks in while there’s time. The song ends with a series of creative, tightly syncopated phrases.

Trumpet and soprano saxophone harmonize for the main theme of “Get Smart,” then take turns on the stairstep bridge. Kooshian shifts to electric keyboard. Neumann’s timely high-hat play mixed with tenor and snare rolls is the backdrop for the soloists.

Lederer leads with the tenor for Kooshian’s take on “Mannix.” This take largely follows the path laid by the original, with some subtle adjustments here to make it distinctive. After delving into the familiar, Lederer and Kooshian venture into uncharted territory with their solos. After a brief return to the melody, Lederer plays a couple of lines from the introduction to Steely Dan’s “Peg.” The inside joke is that in the series, private investigator Joe Mannix had a secretary named Peggy.

Using electronic noises to aid the introduction, Kooshian and company deliver a quirky rendition of Williams’ theme for “Lost in Space.” Lyons joins Lederer for a saxophone duet on the melody. When the ensemble deviates from the theme, the song takes on a more straightforward jazz approach, minus the computer sounds. The saxes and the keyboard are in orbit as each delivers its own message. After the solos, the band shifts to the season 3 theme before inserting a morsel of the cartoon series The Jetsons theme. The composer, Williams, went by Johnny in those days, but later changed to John before delivering such blockbuster scores for JawsStar Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Oddly, several of these themes were composed by jazz musicians, and some, particularly “Mannix,” sounded like jazz songs. But few, if any, have been remade before now.
All of the material fits into Kooshian’s passion for nostalgia. The music, including Wayne Shorter’s “Three Clowns,” is culled from Kooshian’s past. The original songs include the title song, which Kooshian wrote in 1992 but had never recorded, and three songs named for favorite characters in two comic strips and one animated series that he loved: “Koko,” for the clown in Max Fleischer’s Out of the Ink Well cartoons; “Porkypine,” named for a character in Walt Kelly’s Pogo; and “Ignatz,” a tribute to a character in George Herriman’s Krazy Kat series.

by Woodrow Wilkins – Smooth & Soul (2015)

Pianist Ted Kooshian has found largely untapped resources for jazz. Inspired by comic books, cartoons and television shows, he devises performances full of humor, nostalgia and surprise. “Clowns Will Be Arriving,” his fourth album as a leader, includes originals such as the zippy title tune, the slow and bluesy “Porkypine” (a tribute to one of the characters in the “Pogo” comic strip) and the wistful ballad “Christmas Day, My Favorite Day,” sung by Napoleon Murphy Brock.

Then there are the TV themes “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Get Smart,” “Mannix” and “Lost in Space.” Wayne Shorter’s “Three Clowns,” written during Shorter’s stint with the fusion band Weather Report, and Dan Hicks’ “I Scare Myself” conjure up the expanding music scene of the ’70s. A couple of indestructible ballads, “Skylark” and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” also appear.

Kooshian’s band includes tenor and soprano saxophonist and flutist Jeff Lederer and four different bassist-and-drummer teams, plus additional horn and rhythm section players from tune to tune. Lederer is a bold, expressive player whose soprano is perfect in technique and spirit for the fast, busy “Koko” (not to be confused with Charlie Parker’s “Ko-ko”), Kooshian’s tribute to one of cartoonist Max Flesicher’s characters. “Ignatz,” another Kooshian tribute to a cartoon character, also has a good groove, with Kooshian’s piano bluesy and kicking. In addition to providing inspirational accompaniment and offering apropos solos on acoustic piano throughout the album, Kooshian also shows his skill with electronic keyboard effects on John Williams’ theme for the TV program “Lost in Space.”

by Owen Cordle – News & Observer (2015)

It really puts a smile on my face when a musician has the ability of not taking himself too seriously while still having the ability to create a wonderful work of art. There are many examples in history – one that comes to mind is how The Beatles were able to call themselves the ones with “the big fat hairy heads” on a British TV show – something that clearly endeared them to their audiences.

You rarely see that in jazz, though. Maybe because of all popular music forms, it is the one in which the artists want most to be respected for their skills and musical ability (sure, all do but you’ll probably never see a jazz singer doing a promo in drag like Queen did in the 80s). But sometimes the magic happens, it’s a wonderful thing when it does.

Which brings us to pianist Ted Kooshian’s incredibly amusing “Clowns Will Be Arriving,” (Summit), a mix of original tunes inspired by old comic strip characters and reinvented takes on classic TV show themes written back in the day when screen and TV composers were getting inspiration from Henry Mancini to write their own themes – all who draw inspiration from jazz in the first place.

The album opens with the theme from “I Dream of Jeannie” – its Latinesque feel allows for lots of improvisation, and you can feel how much fun the musicians were having in the studio.  “Get Smart” begins with a Booker T & the MGs feel via the bass and keyboards, and then evolves into a more straight ahead piece featuring the bandleader and saxophonist Jeff Lederer, who steals the spotlight with a soul-intensive tenor solo.

Also notable are the covers of Wayne Shorter’s “Three Clowns,” played here with great sincerity, and the playful take on “Lost In Space,” which includes a Theremin-like keyboard and some electronic sounds inspired by the original recording. Among the originals I enjoyed both the bluesy “Porkypine,” a track that also gave the musicians a lot of space to be creative and the up-tempo “Ignatz,” which features both Lederer and drummer Warren Odze.

This is a really fun album to listen to from the very first track all the way to the heartfelt arrangement of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which Kooshian plays as a solo piece on electric keyboards.

by Ernest Barteldes – Music Whatever (2015)

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

I have to admit that it was the cover of this CD that called to me, seeming to say, “play me first.” I expected some sort of circus music, and it was there, but not until the clowns had already arrived on tracks 2, 3, and 4. Truth be told, this exceptionally amiable jazz set is about Ted Kooshian’s nostalgia, which not only includes clowns but other fun memories. This is a guy who still remembers the pleasures of boyhood. I relate.

The songs fall into groups. There are actually two songs about clowns — the title song, written by Kooshian, and “Three Clowns” by Wayne Shorter. Another clown shows up in the songs Kooshian has written to honor characters from his youth — “Koko,” inspired by Max Fleischer’s “Out of the Inkwell” cartoons. Other songs in this category include “Porkypine,” in honor of one of my own comic-strip heroes, Walt Kelly’s Pogo; and “Ignatz,” a “tribute to the character in George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comic strip.”

Another category is that of slightly off center, cult television shows — Hugo Montenegro’s “I Dream of Jeannie,” Lalo Schifrin’s “Mannix,” Irving Szathmary’s “Get Smart,” and John Williams’ (then writing as Johnny Williams) “Lost in Space.” Thrown into the mix without a category are Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” Kooshian’s “Christmas Day, My Favorite Day,” and Dan Hicks’ “I Scare Myself.” And to close this trip down memory lane, what else — Leigh Harline’s “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from my own favorite animated film, Pinocchio.

“Koko” is the number that gets a dazzling circus treatment, with a few familiar tunes thrown in. The rest are performed in affectionate arrangements that are simply fun. Kooshian is the keyboard player throughout on piano and electronic keyboard. He’s joined by saxophonist Jeff Lederer, who can make playing filigree scales sound like fun, whether on soprano, tenor, or flute. Mat Jodrell is a solid trumpet player and the various bass and drums combinations are all stellar. The players are all seasoned professionals and play like it.

The recorded sound has lots of presence and is pretty close-up without being overly aggressive. There is a lot of width to the soundstage and moderate depth for the drums. Those parameters work for this collection.

Clowns Will Be Arriving is an upbeat, fun collection that falls easy on the ear. If you need something substantial yet fun to chase the blues away, this is the album.

Be sure to listen to: The bowed and plucked bass work on “Skylark” from Morrie Louden is simply outstanding. After you hear the song once, play it again and listen just to the bass line.

by Rad Bennett – Soundstage Network (2015)

C’mon, who doesn’t like a jazzy set of TV themes with some edge? Kooshian revisits his youth and adds some themes of his own that should have been, like tipping the cap to Koko, Ignatz and Krazy Kat. The shows might have been humorous, but the playing is no joke and this is a great way to take a walk down memory lane. Check it out.

by Chris Spector – Midwest Record (2015)

Yes, you heard right: “Underdog.” Pianist Kooshian, who may be best known for his work with the Ed Palermo Big Band (whose Zappa covers are wacky enough), has here again put his twisted mind on exhibition, with another album of (primarily) cartoon, TV and movie themes. Listeners will have a ball hearing the “Popeye,” “Little Lulu” and “Underdog” themes performed as jazz. Who knew “Underdog” would make a great Latin number? Only Kooshian, and his cohorts in the Standard Orbit Quartet I suspect. Some of the covers make sense: ’70s TV themes “Sanford and Son” (written by Quincy Jones), “Baretta” (Dave Grusin) and “The Odd Couple” were pretty jazzy to begin with, but hearing the “Wild, Wild West” theme as a waltzing ballad never occurred to me. Special credit must got to saxophonist Jeff Lederer, who simply burns through this humorous, yet musical jaunt.

by Brad Walseth – (2009)

Jazz pianist Ted Kooshian follows up his well received self-titled “Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet” (Summit Records 2008), with another unique recording inspired by Kooshian’s love for movies and television program theme songs. As the press clippings accurately states, Underdog and Other Stories… “takes the listener on a ‘jazzy-trip’ down memory lane” turning theme songs from cartoon shows like “Underdog,” and “Popeye” into striking motifs of contemporary jazz with stellar play from such players like saxophonist Jeff Lederer who wields the tenor and soprano with assertiveness, drummer Scott Neumann and bassist Tom Hubbard with Warren Odze sharing duties with Neumann on several tracks.

This is of course Kooshian’s album and as such the pianist is formidable in his own right providing flowing piano lines evident through out, just listen to the very jazzy rendition of Dave Grusin’s “Baretta.” The theme song from the classic comedy “Sandford and Son” comes across with a taste of funk hiding the familiar melody a bit. The group slows it down on the ballad-like “Wild Wild West” featuring Lederer on a slow tenor burn and the pianist on a graceful dance on the keys. Other interesting arrangements are found on such tunes as Neal Hefti’s “The Odd Couple,” the familiar Duke Ellington standard “Purple Gazelle,” the soft and beautiful Henry Mancini composition “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the brisk and bouncy groove of the finale number, “Little Lulu.”

On Underdog and Other Stories, Ted Kooshian takes his remarkable Standard Orbit Quartet on another spacey ride across the universe picking up radio waves from some more TV and movie signals and transforms them into exceptional jazzy arrangements radiating with excitement.

by Edward Blanco – ejazznews (2009)

While Ted Kooshian named his album Underdog, and other Stories… Kooshian is certainly not an underdog, nor is his Standard Orbit Quartet. He gives life to old television themes and superhero anthems, such as the highly energized re-imagination of “Underdog,” an upbeat number featuring a sick tenor sax feature by Jeff Lederer that starts off low and mysterious, much like the Pink Panther theme, then morphs into something more powerful. Lederer’s perfectly executed solo soars above Kooshian’s own piano, which is incredibly interesting by itself; his feature prior to the sax solo begins with just the bass line, then builds up to chords, and finally is joined by Lederer. After a few bars of that, the mood shifts briefly to a more Latin-infused beat, with Kooshian playing a conga-inspired pattern. The mood shifts several more times before the end of the song, transforming a simple cartoon theme song into something layered with more depth, which becomes infinitely more interesting.
The best part about this collection is the fact that Kooshian and his quartet obviously like to have fun, particularly evidenced with their rendition of “Popeye.” This song begins with bird noises and the sounds of the sea, followed by a boat horn, and then a smooth transition into the music with Kooshian playing the beginning of the theme in a complex meter. While the burden of the melody is once again given to the saxophone, don’t be fooled; Kooshian and his piano have total control over this song. In the middle after a false ending, the piano breaks the silence with a minor interlude that is a little haunting but beautiful nonetheless. He also ends the piece, with a dissonant variation of the melody that sums up the whole song, which then fades back to the bird noises from the beginning.
Underdog, and other Stories… is packed with energy. The quality of musicianship is outstanding and the arrangements are fresh, inventive, and genius. And they certainly do more than cartoons; the album also features the themes to Sanford and Son and The Odd Couple. They’re updated and reinvented in an adult way, giving these shows back to the people who watched as children in a new incarnation.

by Valerie Williams – Skope (2009)

Don’t tell Ted Kooshian that jazz can’t have a sense of humor. He knows how to have good fun with his Standard Orbit Quartet. Seriously. Underdog, and other Stories… primarily consists of songs that are very familiar, just not in a jazz context. This is a second edition of the pianist’s project of recording jazz versions of cartoon, TV and movie theme music – with interesting and unusual rearrangements – featuring his spirited quartet.

A zany take on the “Sanford and Son” theme song (written by Quincy Jones) is here, complete with slide whistle added to saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s arsenal. Quite fittingly, cartoon music king Raymond Scott is represented, as are the themes from “Underdog,” “Popeye,” “Baretta,” “The Odd Couple,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and a soulful, gospel take on “Wild Wild West.” The theme from the “Little Lulu” cartoon show is even embellished with drummer Warren Odze’s use of an inverted plastic bucket like those employed by so many street drummers. A fresh take on Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle” is a great choice just for its name. Ellington described the exuberant tune, also recorded as “Angelica” in his small group session with John Coltrane, as a “ragtime cha-cha.” Enjoy the creative levity here, and the wonderful playing.

by Ken Franckling – Ken Franckling Jazz Notes (2009)