Counting a song is a way of life for many musicians, but Ira B. Liss and the 16 members of her Big Band Jazz Machine have two particularly notable countdowns coming up in the next four days.
On Saturday, the group will headline the 40th anniversary celebration of the Kehilat Ariel Messianic Synagogue. This will be the brass ensemble’s first public concert since the end of 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupts performances around the world. Coincidentally, the group – which Liss has led through a number of iterations over the decades – celebrated their own 40th anniversary earlier this year.
On Tuesday, an even more notable event could happen when nominations for the 64th annual Grammy Awards are announced. Liss and her band mates are anxiously awaiting whether their sixth and most recent album is successful.
Released in January after being remotely completed during the pandemic lockdown, “Mazel Tov Kocktail!” is the first Big Band Jazz Machine album to be nominated for the Grammy Awards. The daring album garnered the most favorable reviews in the band’s career, most notably in Jazziz magazine, and was released in Europe, Japan and Brazil.
âIt would be a real honor and a pleasure to get a Grammy nomination,â Liss said. “It’s something you dream of all your life and I know it would really be the band and me.”
Liss is not a member of the Recording Academy, under whose auspices the Grammys are held. But Holly Cooper, Los Angeles-based publicist of the Big Band Jazz Machine, is a member and she submitted “Mazel Tov Kocktail!” in five Grammy categories, including Best Major Jazz Ensemble and Best Original Instrumental Composition (for the song “Bass: The Final Frontier”).
A showcase for the great San Diego electric bass guitarist Nathan East, âBass: The Final Frontierâ was also submitted for Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo.
Liss and East had already met in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when each played in rival high school jazz ensembles here, Liss in Patrick Henry and East in Crawford.
Liss asked East to record with the Big Band Jazz Machine in 2015 at the Sherwood Auditorium. The bassist was at the now defunct La Jolla site for an event sponsored by the Union-Tribune to perform solo, screen “For the Record” (a documentary film about his career) and discuss his musical collaborations with Whitney Houston, Daft Punk, Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock, George Harrison, Beyonce and many more.
“When Ira sent me the recording of ‘Bass: The Final Frontier’ to add my parts to it, it sounded so good I thought, ‘He really doesn’t need me on it'” East remembers with a chuckle from his San Fernando Valley House.
âI put on a bass track quite similar to what he sent me. Ira heard it and said, ‘No I want you to do you and expand and go. So I re-recorded my part in my studio, during confinement, and I sent it to him. I was surprised and very happy to hear that they submitted it to the Grammy Awards.
East has been nominated for six previous Grammys as a member of the pop-jazz group Fourplay. He also earned a nomination for his self-titled debut solo album of 2007. If âBass: The Final Frontierâ is nominated and receives enough votes, the former UC San Diego could clinch his first-ever Grammy victory.
âIt would be a little ironic if it wasn’t for one of my own projects, but it would be amazing! Says the East. âLeading a big band is a real labor of love, and I have a lot of admiration for Ira and her musicians.
Country music star Vince Gill, now a member of the Eagles, is one of the artists East has collaborated with. Coincidentally, Liss independently contacted Gill during the pandemic to ask if he would like to record a track for the Big Band Jazz Machine’s next album, which will feature guest artists who rarely, if ever, record jazz. Gill responded enthusiastically that not only did he want to dive into big band music, but that he wrote a song precisely for such an opportunity.
If all had gone according to plan, Gill would have joined Liss and her band in October at Studio West in San Diego to record Gill’s âI’m Counting on You,â which Liss describes as a slow swing track. That recording session was postponed, Liss said, after members of the Eagles road team contracted COVID-19 and the group’s management asked the Eagles to stay in a tight bubble for their tour of duty. ‘fall.
âWhenever Vince is ready to go, we are ready,â Liss said. “He’s pretty amazing, and it’s not everyday that you work with someone who has won 22 Grammy Awards.”
40th Anniversary Celebration of Kehilat Ariel Messianic Synagogue, with Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Or: Kehilat Ariel Messianic Synagogue, 5185 Acuna St., San Diego
Tickets: $ 50 (adults), $ 25 (13 and under); proceeds go to special synagogue projects
Telephone: (858) 430-6433
In line: kehilatariel.org