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  • Jonathan Widran


A famed Hollywood marketing executive and long beloved patron of the arts, Richard Del Belso never wrote a song or sang or played a note. Yet three and a half years after his passing, he was ever present in spirit at the Second Annual Richard Del Belso Animal Rescue Benefit at Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood – a spirited, delightfully swinging fundraiser for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) named for him by jazz singer and songwriter Mark Winkler, his husband and partner of 35 years, in honor of Del Belso’s longtime passion for pets, especially rescues.

As Winkler explained on a page on his website before the first annual event last year, throughout their relationship, he and Del Belso had a total of nine dogs – seven of which were rescues. Over the years, the two helped countless other dogs and cats get adopted, and even had a holding area in their yard that housed dogs until they found good homes. Del Belso often frequented Petmania in Burbank and told Winkler about their rescues. He contributed to their non-profit and helped some of them find homes.

Aside from being a critically acclaimed international performer and recording artist, Winkler has been a beloved staple of the L.A. Jazz Scene for years – and all his friends and colleagues became great fans and friends of Del Belso as well. So it was only natural that the evening’s jazzy festivities started with Del Belso onstage at Catalina’s via a video shot at an earlier fundraiser in 2014, introducing that show, now repurposed for this presentation.

The event was slightly more streamlined than at last year’s inaugural event, with the adventurous and soulful, high energy pianist Josh Nelson and the inimitable, sultry, warmhearted, witty and charismatic (not to mention bluesy!) London-based singer Claire Martin the only other performers besides Winkler himself. The pacing was breezy, the mood lighthearted and the grooves and coolness intense as each of the three brought a mix of rousing sparkle and sensual cool interacting with three of our city’s most exuberant jazz lights, saxophonist Ann Patterson, bassist Gabe Davis and drummer Dave Tull.

Nelson started his set with an ultimately hard swinging Frank Loesser jam (featuring one of Davis’ wildest solos) before offering a quirky, percussive, bustling and slightly exotic original named for late Pakistan Prime Minister “Bhutyo” Benazir. After another number that went from elegant to whimsical (with Patterson rockin’ it on the soprano), Winkler joined the band for “Vintage,” an elegant vocal adaptation of Nelson’s lush nostalgic ballad “Duke and Billy.”

Then Winkler, cognizant of the season, brought out the tricks and treats – musically anyway – and had a blast romping through his clever, crafty “Halloween” version of one of his favorite Bobby Troup songs “Hungry Man,” a longtime staple of Winkler’s shows that appears on his latest album I’m With You: Mark Winkler Sings Bobby Troup. The singer joined forces with Tull (also a talented vocalist and harmonizer) for another humorous, lighthearted gem (this one a singalong) from the album called “Triskadekaphobia,” an ode to the fear of the number 13. Winkler concluded his set with a fresh version of his likewise playful tribute to musical felines, “Your Cat Plays Piano.”

Martin followed Winkler with a spectacularly eclectic, buoyantly fun set which featured a sensual and stylish hipster tune about “breakin’ in her doo wop shoes,” a heartfelt rendition of one of Winkler’s most stark, heartbreaking pieces (“Another Night”), a burst of bass-vocal scat with Davis, the torchy blues-jazz of “I Keep Going Back to Joe’s” and a speedy roll through “Lover Come Back To Me,” zipped along by Tull’s lightning rhythms. Of course, Winkler then joined her for a few duets which paid homage to Wes Montgomery (Winkler’s adaptation of “Bumpin’” and their mutual influence, the late Mark Murphy (“Stolen Moments”).

After announcing the silent auction winners (lots of Hollywood and music memorabilia and collection of Winkler-centric goodies) and the three raffles, Winkler closed the night with his tasteful arrangement of “Here’s To Life,” which in four minutes captured all the mystery, magic and melancholy of our existence on this planet. Part of that mystery is our connection to animals and the way we open our hearts to our beloved pets, and creating great jazz to celebrate and help them find homes is always a worthwhile cause.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) is an independent, nonprofit animal welfare organization serving Southern California since 1877. Donations run programs and services including Cruelty Investigations, Disaster Animal Response Team, Violence Prevention & Humane Education and a variety of shelter services.

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