Jerry Vivino

Jerry Vivino’s Midnight Express & Friends:
August 11, 2009 at the Baked Potato, Studio City, CA
by Debra Graff

Jerry Vivino & the Midnight Express Band

(L-R) Mark Pender, Walt Fowler, Gary Herbig, Jerry Vivino, Andrew Lippman

Click any photo to see a larger image.

Jerry Vivino’s second LA gig was at the Baked Potato, LA’s oldest jazz club, with his Midnight Express Band, featuring Mike Merritt, bass, James Wormworth, drums, Mitch Forman, keys, and Walt Fowler, trumpet. The Baked Potato has so much history, you can feel it the moment you enter the compact club that caters to loud, where no one ever asks to have the volume turned down. There’s not much talking there, so even if the musicians play quietly, they know the audience is listening. Musicians love the closeness of the audience to the stage and it feels like you’re listening to great jazz in your living room. That’s one of the things that draws prominent jazz artists from all the world to The Potato.

In addition, owners Don and Justin Randi have spent a lot of time, money, and research to make sure the sound is outstanding. They’ve found top of the line sound people and the club has the most sophisticated audio gear. Musicians love that they can handle their own mixing since the main audio board is just to the left of the stage. You can’t help but be moved by the proximity and intimacy of the band, along with the brilliance and intensity of the sound. Every patron in the club becomes part of the musical experience, both physically and emotionally.

Jerry Vivino & the Midnight Express Band

Jerry was thrilled to be playing with his old friend, superb composer and keyboardist, Mitch Forman, who often plays at the Potato with his All Star Band. Forman has worked with John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, and Freddie Hubbard, and co-leads the band, Metro, with guitarist Chuck Loeb. He recently started his own record label, Marsis Jazz, recording many originals, including the brilliant Mr. Clean, and Patience. Forman attended the Manhattan School of Music with Jerry and traveled on the road with him for two years with the Frankie Valli Band.

Gary Herbig

Walt Fowler, trumpet extraordinaire, has played with George Benson, George Duke, Ray Charles, Buddy Rich, James Taylor, Frank Zappa, on Mitch Forman’s recording of Mr. Clean, and many soundtracks. Drummer, Wormworth and bassist, Merritt are also in Jerry’s quartet (see review on this website re: Jerry’s 1st LA gig at Vitello’s).

Jerry Vivino & the Midnight Express Band

Jerry seemed right at home at The Potato, as if he’d been playing there for years. He invited several musicians to sit in, including Alex Nester singing a magnificent version of Summertime, skilled trombonist Andrew Lippman, from NYC, amazing Mark Pender on trumpet, and gifted saxophonist, Gary Herbig.

Jerry & Andrew Lippman Jerry & Andrew Lippman

Jerry with guest trombonist Andrew Lippman

Andrew Lippman, calling the Potato, “charming” and a “nice slice of NY out here,” told me its history reminded him of NY’s Bottom Line. He loved that people were right on top of the band. He sat in while Jerry crooned an unforgettable version of Sunny Side of the Street, honoring The Potato’s owner by changing the lyrics to “I’d be as rich as Justin Randi.“ Pender (Conan since 1993, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Joe Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Knight, Charles Earland, Bruce Springsteen and Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg) was in awe of Jerry doing his “two horn thing,” playing soprano and tenor sax at the same time on Hampshump. When Herbig (Tower of Power, Lee Ritenour, David Benoit, Elvis, Big Bands of Buddy Rich, Bobby Rodriguez, Don Ellis, Gerald Wilson, 100’s of movies, TV shows, including Cheers and Knots Landing, and over 1000 records) sat in on Tenor Madness, Jerry flattered him saying “it’s my pleasure to share the stage with you.” Gary just released his latest CD titled Montana Shooting Star."

Jerry, Walt & Gary

Jerry was having the time of his life and his exuberance transferred to the audience with each response during his smokin’ hot version of Jump, Jive, and Wail. At one point, Jerry, Walt, Gary, Mark, and Andrew all played at the same time and the audience went wild. The crowd was cheering and I felt like I was in a room of greatness, which I was. The energy was so intense, it was as if I was seeing and listening to a big band of 20 or more. I could practically touch these impressive musicians and I was touched by their music, in a profound way. They were amazingly tight with such a close connection; their instruments spoke to each other, no words needed here. The show was remarkable and Jerry and his band will likely have a regular gig at The Potato, playing every third Thursday of the month, something only reserved for the best of the best, which is what Jerry and the Midnight Express Band, certainly are.

Debra Graff is a Los Angeles based music critic, writer, musician, piano/keyboard teacher, promoter, and lawyer.

> Debra Graff

She covers the Los Angeles entertainment scene for a variety of publications and we welcome her as a contributor to this site.
She can be reached at

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