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2 Jan
Back: Red Holloway, Ernie Watts, Jay Graydon Front: Charlie and Sandi

Back: Red Holloway, Ernie Watts, Jay Graydon
Front: Charlie and Sandi

The “Famous Jazz Artist Series” was started in 1991 in San Luis Obispo County after renowned jazz vibraphonist, Charlie Shoemake, and his acclaimed vocalist wife, Sandi, moved to Cambria and noticed a dearth of major jazz artists performing on the Central Coast. How Charlie and Sandi ended up on the Central Coast is a fascinating tale. Growing up in Houston, Charlie developed a passion for both music and baseball, excelling in both. He was on the high school’s city championship baseball team, and attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals. Initially he planned to pursue both in college, but then decided to really excel, he would need to focus on only one. So in 1956 he moved to Los Angeles to become involved in the jazz scene. In a proud aside, Charlie mentioned his grandson is now being drafted by a professional baseball team.

The 1950s were an exciting and inspirational period in Charlie’s music career as he honed his craft. He shared that he was particularly influenced by his informal studies with pianist Jimmy Rowles, as well as learning from the innovations of his idols Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and other talented innovators. Charlie eventually worked on the biographical film on American saxophonist, Charlie Parker released in 1988. During the 1950s, he met his future wife Sandi at a Si Zentner rehearsal, where Charlie was substituting for an absent band member.

Sandi’s path to a music career was influenced by her father who was a semiprofessional drummer-vocalist with Dixieland bands. As far back as she can remember, she wanted to be singer. To that end, in 1956 she enrolled in the acclaimed Los Angeles City College’s music department where she quickly rose to being a featured vocalist. After her second year of college, she was hired as a vocalist by trombonist Si Zentner’s Orchestra, which played various venues on the west coast, and was a regular attraction at the Hollywood Palladium. Sandi shared that she had a chance meeting with Charlie at a Si Zentner rehearsal; within two days they decided they would eventually marry, which they did in 1959.

During his early professional career, Charlie became a sought-after accompanist for well-known vocalists. He adoringly shared he has always enjoyed accompanying Sandi, but he felt many of the singers he was accompanying were not of her caliber. Thus Charlie decided to switch his musical focus to vibraphone, which he had begun playing in high school. For a year, he spent nearly every waking hour in exhausting practice. His efforts were rewarded in 1966 when he became the vibraphonist for the fabled George Shearing Quintet. George Shearing is a piano jazz legend,  best known for his composition Lullaby of Birdland, a jazz standard. Born poor and blind in London, George’s father delivered coal to Buckingham Palace. In 2007 George was knighted by the Queen of England in Buckingham Palace for his contribution to music.

During the year Charlie was honing his skills on the vibraphone, Sandi did studio work to help keep the family afloat. While Charlie was touring with the George Shearing Quintet, she was a staff vocalist at N.B.C. from 1965 to 1971, in addition to singing with other television shows including The Andy Williams Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Lennon Sisters-Jimmy Durante Show and specials for Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Dean Martin and others. She was particularly proud of her time performing with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra.

Charlie working with Barry Harris on movie "Bird"

Charlie working with Barry Harris on movie “Bird”

In 1973, driven by a desire for change and to be home more with his wife and son, Charlie opened a jazz improvisational school in Los Angeles. In spite of the widely-held belief that jazz improvisation couldn’t be taught, his school was a success. He was the only teacher at his eponymous school. By 1990, he had taught over 1500 students, with many students going onto successful careers including Ted Nash (trumpeter with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis), Kye Palmer (trumpeter with the Tonight Show Orchestra and formerly with Woody Herman and Poncho Sanchez), Andy Martin (top jazz trombone recording artist), and smooth jazz artists Dave Koz and Richard Elliott. During a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) at the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center in March 2013, Wynton Marsalis verbally recognized Charlie Shoemake, who was in attendance, as an important mentor and teacher to Ted Nash who was a featured soloist at the concert, and is the first person other than Wynton Marsalis to be a featured composer for the sensational orchestra. When asked about the recognition he received at the concert, Charlie stated, “I didn’t teach Ted Nash how to play, but what to play, how to improvise.”

Following the local JLCO performance, Ted was contacted by this writer for comments on his time studying with Charlie, and in spite of a busy performance schedule, he generously agreed. During the April 8, 2013 interview, Ted said he initially was trained classically on piano starting at age seven and clarinet at age 12. At age 13, Ted stated he started playing sax and was in the junior high jazz band. Ted’s high school jazz band director enthusiastically recommended studying with one of Charlie’s students. Ted’s father, (well-known jazz and studio trombonist, Dick Nash), decided that Ted should study jazz improvisation directly with Charlie. Charlie was very busy at the time bbut agreed to accept Ted as a student. Ted noted Charlie’s teaching method involved “memorizing transcribed music” from such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. Ted stated that the 2 ½ to 3 years of studying with Charlie gave him a foundation that he still uses, even with “new improvisation and harmony.” When asked about his being the first composer for JLCO other than Wynton Marsalis, Ted replied that he was the first “featured” composer, although they had some prior visiting composers who had provided some arrangements. Ted noted that this Portrait in Seven Shades helped forge a new direction for JLCO. Although he did not mention it, Portrait in Seven Shades was a Grammy-nominated album representing seven different artists including Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, and Jackson Pollock. On the Shoemake’s website, Ted is quoted, “When I began lessons, I could hardly play. Three years later, not only could I play, but I was working professionally with many groups, including Lionel Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and even Charlie’s own quintet….Charlie was the ONLY teacher in Los Angeles with a method of teaching jazz improvisation that actually worked.”

In the early 1990s, Charlie closed his school and relocated with Sandi to what he described as “the beautiful little ocean village of Cambria” where they began bringing in major jazz artists. During their two Sunday show times, Charlie accompanies the guest artists by playing piano or vibes and Sandi graces the stage for select vocals. The series was held at the Hamlet Restaurant in Cambria (which is currently under renovation), and is presently appearing at D’Anbino Vineyard and Cellars in Paso Robles. A list of the stellar artists who have performed at the series and more interesting information on Charlie and Sandi can be found on their website

Sounds of Shearing Tribute Group: Joe Bagg, Ron Anthony, Charlie Shoemake, Luther Hughes, Colin Bailey

Sounds of Shearing tribute group: Joe Bagg, Ron Anthony, Charlie Shoemake, Luther Hughes, Colin Bailey Courtesy: Bob Barry

When asked to share a humorous or interesting experience, Charlie said that due to an unavoidable delay due to a national crisis, the George Shearing Orchestra didn’t actually perform on television until two days after they were scheduled. Sleep-deprived due to the schedule changes, when the band was called back for an encore, the bassist forgot to take off his sunglasses. During a second encore all of the band members sported sunglasses, along with George, who regularly wore them due to being blind. Charlie added that when the band would arrive late for a gig, George would humorously say it was because he was driving.

Last year, instructors from the music departments at local Cal Poly and Cuesta College, both of which have outstanding music programs, approached Charlie to work with some of their students. To that end, the non-profit Central Coast Jazz Institute was recently established, which is “dedicated to the instruction and preservation of American jazz music.” Charlie spoke passionately about how the donated funds provide scholarships for jazz instruction of private students of all ages, as well as a lecture series.


Multi-talented Musician and Composer: Danny Pelfrey

25 Jul
Danny Pelfrey playing with Tower of Power

Danny Pelfrey playing with Tower of Power

Local musician Danny Pelfrey sat in on saxophone with Tower of Power’s superlative horn section during a performance at Castoro Winery on the Central Coast of California in September 2013. Founded in 1968, Tower of Power is known for their upbeat “urban soul music.” Danny used to be a regular member of the band, and took this fortuitous local performance for a rare reunion. Even though he no longer is in the band, Danny still executed all the synchronized, choreographed horn section moves.


When meeting with Danny for this article, his friendly, humble demeanor belied his musical talents and many accomplishments, awards and accolades. While his achievements and honors are too many to mention, some of the highlights include his having won two Emmys, with a total of nine nominations. He has six BMI Awards and a Video Premiere Award for Best Video for the animated film: Joseph, King of Dreams.


Danny related that he got his start playing guitar at age nine in his home state of West Virginia. He cited Chet Atkins as his first musical hero. Wanting to play with other musicians in the high school band, he took up the trumpet, on which he excelled.


He wrote his first musical arrangement at age 13, and with the encouragement of teachers, he began conducting. While still in high school, he began playing with big bands and jazz groups at a local college.


Danny attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music, the world’s foremost institute for the study of jazz and American music. He honed his performance skills, while also focusing on composing and arranging. He found the vibrant Boston music scene very inspiring.


Danny with Tower of Power

Danny with Tower of Power

After accepting a teaching job in Canada, Danny started playing with local musicians. Always fascinated with different instruments, he took up tabla, a type of Indian percussion instrument, which he played during performances with a sitar player. He continued to expand the many instruments he played to include flute and alto saxophone. He was particularly drawn to sax as it had the flexibility of woodwinds and the power of brass. This is the instrument for which Danny would become best known.


Danny moved to Los Angeles where he began doing session work and began touring with many prominent artists including Diana Ross, Carole King, Eric Clapton, Melissa Manchester and many others. He especially relished the time playing sax and guitar while touring the world with Carole King, as well as doing recordings and television specials with her. When asked about a particularly memorable experience, he recounted that he performed with Diana Ross during the infamous 1983 deluge of Central Park in New York City. During the increasingly heavy downpour and lightning, the band members had to flee on foot to get back to their hotel.


Danny has recorded with such stellar musicians as Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, and was a producer for Usher, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Rimes, Ashanti, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, and numerous others.

Danny said he was “extremely blessed to have a rich and varied musical career.” He played as a soloist on numerous television shows such as the Wonder Years, Arsenio Hall, David Letterman, The Tonight Show and Rosanne. In addition, he was the score composer for many popular television shows in the United States, wrote commercials for large companies such as Nissan, Toyota, Ford and California Lottery, and has composed a variety of music which can be heard in worldwide. He has also written music for more than 50 interactive games including a Star Trek series. His concert works have been performed by the Knoxville Symphony, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, and the National Symphony Orchestra. He has shared concert programs with John Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Igor Stravinsky, and Charles Ives. Danny shared that he particularly enjoyed writing “rich and soulful music.”


Moving to the Central Coast of California in 2009, Danny found the local music scene “very vibrant.” He noted that Cal Poly Performing Arts Center (PAC) brings in excellent quality entertainment. He was primarily spending his time composing, arranging and producing for various media. He was also playing sax with the BarFlyz, which consisted of Kenny Lee Lewis (guitarist for Steve Miller Band), Diane Steinberg Lewis (award-winning pianist and vocalist), Ken Hustad (bass), and Dean Giles (drums.) The Barflyz play pop-cabaret music including jazz, pop, Latin, Broadway and television tunes, and blues. Danny also played with the popular Central Coast band, Human Nature, which features world-inspired music, where he replace original band member, Dave Becker, who relocated to Florida. The band has a diverse repertoire including jazz, samba, funk, Americana, with some original songs written by group leader, Adam Levine, another graduate of the Berklee College of Music.


Danny relatively recently moved to music-centric Nashville where he continues his many musical projects. Current Music recently added Danny’s AMUSICOM to their playlist of quality, downloadable music.


Music Icons: Kenny Lee Lewis and Diane Steinberg-Lewis

12 Feb
Diane and Kenny Lee

Diane and Kenny Lee at Home with Sophie

After spending time the prior evening with old acquaintances, B.B. King and Peter Frampton, Kenny Lee Lewis and his wife, Diane Steinberg-Lewis enthusiastically shared their fascinating, intertwining respective lives and experiences. Kenny and Diane have performed in San Luis Obispo County (California) in their band, the Barflyz, but are more well-known for Kenny being a member of the classic rock Steve Miller Band, and Diane for her role as “Lucy in the Sky” in the 1978 American musical film, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (in which Peter Frampton was also cast). The couple, who has been together almost 40 years, was more interested in recounting the history of Diane’s influential musical parents, than talking about themselves. To that end, they were compiling documentation, which included talking to B.B. King after he performed in Paso Robles, California in September 2013, which is when I met with them at their home.

Martha Jean on B.B. King Album Cover

Martha Jean on B.B. King album

Diane’s father, Luther Steinberg, played trumpet with legends Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, and Duke Ellington, was a Big Band leader, and did arrangements for artists including B.B. King. Diane’s mother, “Martha Jean the Queen,” was an African-American pioneer in radio and one of the first female D.J’s in the United States. She helped to bring R&B music to the airwaves for the general public. Diane showed a photo of her mother on the cover with B.B. King on his album, My Sweet Little Angel, recorded in the 1950’s, but not released until 1993. B.B. signed the cover of Diane’s copy during their recent meeting. Diane and Kenny Lee hoped to talk with him further to add more of these memorable experiences to their memoir of Diane’s mother:  Speaking of the Queen: from Memphis to Motown.

Born Martha Jean Jones in Memphis, she landed her first job there as a WDIA. The radio’s early format of country, swing and light pop was not successful. In 1947 WDIA became the first radio station to target programming to black audiences. It quickly rose to the number two radio station in Memphis, and then became number one after switching to all black music programming. B.B. King started working at WDIA in 1948 promoting medicine and then cigarettes; he became a D.J. in 1950 before launching his performance career. Though all genres of music are widely accepted today, in an era of resistance to integration of the military and Jackie Robinson playing baseball with white players, incorporation of black music into the mainstream was controversial in Memphis. When the “race” music being broadcast by WDIA reached the white suburbs of the south, it was the beginning of what would become the phenomenon of “Rock and Roll.”

Following her parents’ divorce, in 1963 The Queen moved with Diane and her two sisters to Detroit, where The Queen continued as a D.J., and a community activist through the 1970s. The Queen became involved in the ministry in 1984, and in 1997, after being named Michigander of the Year, purchased a radio station WQBH, an acronym for Welcome Queen Back Home where she worked until her passing in 2000.

Allee Willis, Diane, Kenny Lee with Photo of "The Queen"

Allee Willis, Diane, Kenny Lee with Photo of “The Queen”

Diane was influenced by the encounters and events she was exposed to by her musical family. At age six, when she began “playing” the babysitter’s dilapidated piano, her father purchased a new piano for her.  She still has this piano, which their dog, Sophie, “plays” when she wants a snack. As a child, Diane’s father brought home many talented musicians who helped her hone her craft. In 1997, her father, his siblings and their father received the W.C. Handy Award for Authentic Beale Street Musicians. In 2010, Diane’s mother was honored with a W.C. Handy Music Legacy Award for her years in radio, and on the same day the Steinberg family was presented with a Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame.

At college, Diane studied dance, and then music while simultaneously teaching high school.  In 1972, she got her first record contract with Atlantic, and later recorded for ABC Dunhill and Word. She performs both secular and gospel music, has written music performed by such artists as Natalie Cole and Cleo Laine, and wrote the theme music to An Evening at the Improv. She has performed with such music notables as Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and the Steve Miller Band. Diane met her future husband when getting ready to record an album for ABC and she needed a new bass player. Kenny was recommended as a replacement. Diane said they fell in love and married in 1984; he gently reminded her it was 1983. She smiled noting many men are not sure of their anniversary. Diane has periodically returned to teaching in order to provide a more stable home environment to raise their two daughters. Above is a photo of Diane recording with her friend, Grammy Award-winning songwriter Allee Willis, with a picture of the Queen as inspiration. (Allee Willis is an award-winning, multimedia artist, who has written many well-known songs including Boogie Wonderland and September, made famous by Earth, Wind and Fire, I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends), and co-wrote the Broadway musical version of The Color Purple.

Mary Wilson (Supremes), Allee Willis, Diane and Kenny Lee

Mary Wilson (Supremes), Allee Willis, Diane and Kenny Lee

Kenny was born in Pasadena, but was raised in Sacramento. He is self-taught, initially picking up the ukulele at age seven and then playing his brother’s acoustic guitar in the sixth grade. Not long thereafter, he started playing an electric guitar he had borrowed. He credits his parents for being supportive of his musical focus. He was playing professionally at 15 and went on the road with his first band, Sand Castle, at age 17. He attended Cal State Northridge for a semester, but left when he got the chance to go on tour. After becoming a successful studio session bass player, he and Steve Miller drummer Gary Mallaber started a band, and were pursuing a record contract.  Steve Miller contacted Gary asking for songs for an upcoming album. Kenny, Gary and guitarist, John Massaro submitted their eight demos, and Steve took then all. Steve then incorporated Kenny, Gary and John into his band. The album, Abracadabra, was released in 1982 which went multi-platinum. Kenny initially was guitarist for the band, but in more recent years has become the bass player. When I met with he and Diane in September 2013, the band had recently finished a tour in Australia and New Zealand, and on the top of his television cupboard, a colorful boomerang peeked out.

Diane and Kenny moved to Central Coast of California after visiting a friend and falling in love with the area. They describe the local music scene as “creative” and “original,” with less pressure to follow trends than in the L.A. music scene. The Barflyz was one of their local groups, which Kenny described as an “acoustic pop-cabaret” band performing rearranged jazz, rock, blues, Latin, TV themes and original. When I met with them in September 2013, the band included stellar musicians Danny Pelfrey on sax and flute, Ken Hustad on bass, Dean Giles on drums. Kenny sometimes performs solo at small, local San Luis Obispo venues and bars

For more information:

Swan’s Songs

25 Nov
Mike Swan

Mike Swan

Although he did not realize it at the time, playing with the Lester Lanin Orchestra at the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana was one of the highlights of Mike Swan’s professional music career. This was one of a number of international music venues where Mike performed that had a formative influence on his varied musical repertoire. Presently, Mike performs his entertaining and diverse songs on bass guitar and vocals at La Bellasera Hotel in Paso Robles, California, on Thursday evenings with guitarist Adam Levine and Judy Philbin.

Mike always loved music and started playing the cornet in elementary school, and then went on to play the French horn in high school. He developed an interest in Dixieland music; when he and some friends formed a Dixieland band and could not find a banjo player, Mike borrowed a tenor banjo from family friends. Then he used a book to teach him to tune it and play basic chords. Once he got to the respected Reed College in Portland, he studied philosophy but continued his banjo playing by joining a “jug band.” During this time in college when folk music was big, he started playing the guitar, and later began playing bass guitar.

He left school to move to the San Francisco Bay area where he played banjo in a trio at the North Beach’s “Red Garter” which featured Dixieland music. Mike described the music they played as “cornball sing alongs” dating from the 1890’s through the Great American Songbook era. In 1967, the owner, Jack Dupen, offered Mike a job at the New York City Red Garter. Moving to New York with its 13 degree weather during the 1967 Christmas/New Year’s holidays was “like running away to the circus,” Mike joked. He also did some stints at the Red Garter’s Niagara Falls and Florence, Italy outposts, and subsequently started playing for competitor “My Father’s Mustache” where he led the band for two years.

Mike realized that if he wanted to continue to make a living playing music he would have to become a better guitar player and singer, and to that end he began studying with talented professional musicians in New York City. He honed his skills and expanded his repertoire which included jazz and ragtime. He learned songs in Italian, Swedish, German, and Hebrew/Yiddish which he performed at special events. The venues in which he performed expanded to private “society” parties for affluent patrons, Jewish celebrations, a private Aegean cruise, and Claridge’s in London while there for the royal wedding. When asked to share an interesting or fun experience, he related that they when he was playing with the Lester Lanin Orchestra they had a gig in Gstaad Switzerland, the second night the venue was at Eagle Ski Chalet which necessitated transporting their equipment by ski lifts. The themed party was pre-revolutionary Russian, for which attendees and musicians donned period costumes.

Besides his musical career, Mike also did corporate and IT work to help pay for raising his children and their college. In 2006, Mike said he and his wife were tired of their corporate work and the hectic pace of living in New York City. He stated, “Like a salmon swimming upstream,” they decided to return to California. They settled in northern San Luis Obispo County where Mike’s brother was living. Taking a break from music, Mike helped his brother with his import business. Then he received a call from a local Dixieland band which needed a banjo player, and with that, he became involved in the local music scene.

Mike is presently working on two CDs, having completed his first CD in “the early 2000’s” which consisted of a trio with him on banjo, along with a tuba and mandolin. Besides his weekly appearances at La Bellasera Hotel, he plays at many wineries where he jokingly described his function as “sonic wallpaper.” He also plays with Jazz in the Vines, and at private parties. He has been playing solo for hospice patients which he described as “rewarding.”  For more information on Mike and his performance schedule, go to


27 Oct
Judy Philbin

Judy Philbin

Judy Philbin smilingly sings a sublime samba to the delight of the audience. Whether performing to a concert audience or restaurants and wineries, Judy relishes the opportunity to be energized and inspired by her listeners. She is excited about her newly released CD, Keeping It Simple, in which she collaborated with local talented guitarist and composer, Adam Levine (see my March 2013 column archives.) The CD includes jazz standards, pop tunes, and four originals with two written by her, and two more to which she wrote lyrics to Adam’s compositions. As the title reflects, they kept the music simple, and straightforward, with Judy on vocals, and Adam laying down from one to four guitar tracks for each song.

Judy always loved to sing, and retrospectively noted that she was privileged to start singing at age six in one of the stellar children’s choirs they had at the time at San Luis Obispo First Presbyterian Church. At six, she also began playing piano. Over the years, she learned a variety of instruments including percussion, stand-up bass, trumpet, and guitar. In the eighth grade, she noticed all the boys played brass and all the girls played woodwinds, so she decided to play trumpet, which she continued through high school. She also was active in choir. In high school, as was typical of the era, she played guitar and sang the typical “teen-age angst-filled songs,” and began singing in coffee houses.

After completing her college degree, which was not in music, she returned to her love of singing by becoming one of the founding members of the acclaimed San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble. Motherhood led her to take a temporary hiatus from the time demands of performing, but when her children started school, she began collaborating with a friend to do sing-along concerts for kids. Her husband and two children were also involved, and they even performed on the Children’s Stage at the Live Oak Music Festival.

As a child, Judy felt enriched by living with her family in Guatemala for two years, from ages four to six years of age, while her father worked there. She was drawn to the simple, traditional music there, particularly marimbas and flutes, and has since enjoyed music from Central and South America. She and her professor husband decided to give their children a similar experience living abroad by taking his taking a teaching position in Denmark, where they became involved with the international mix of people involved with the school.  During her two year stay in Denmark, she was impressed by and drawn to the quality jazz music. Upon return to San Luis Obispo, she was inspired to start developing her jazz and standards repertoire. To that end, she attended a workshop with Phil Mattson, a conductor, arranger, and father of the vocal jazz movement. He encouraged Judy to explore solo vocal work, which she has been doing seriously for the last five years. In 2007, she released her first album, Candle in the Window, which is a compilation of songs to provide comfort for those who have lost loved one. As a result she has performed numerous times nationally at conventions for The Compassionate Friends, which provides grief support after the loss of a child. She and her husband, who also sings, have been involved with the annual Central Coast Follies Parkinson’s fundraiser at the Clark Center for seven years, and she noted that the benefit has contributed over $250,000 toward Parkinson’s research.

Judy presently performs locally at restaurants, wineries, public concerts, and private parties. Nearly every Thursday evening, she, Adam Levine, and bass player, Mike Swan perform at La Bellasera Hotel in the lounge/restaurant starting around 6:30 p.m.; there is no cover charge. For information on Judy and her performance schedule, go to  Judy encouraged locals to purchase the new release, Keeping it Simple, at local businesses which include Boo Boo Records (San Luis Obispo), Volume of Pleasure (Los Osos), and Matt’s Music (Paso Robles.) It can also be purchased from her website, Itunes and

Top 12 Paso Robles Restaurants

29 Aug
Restaurant: Cuisine Meals Wine, Beer, Full Bar Patio: Resv? Dog/Family Friendly*
Il Cortile: Rustic Italian D WB Yes
Artisan: Creative American 11am to close FB No Dog
Bistro Laurent: Traditional French and Provencal LD WB Yes Dog
Buona Tavola: Northern Italian LD FB Yes Dog**
Paso Terra: Seafood, French D WB Yes Dog
Goshi: Traditional Japanese LD WB No Patio
Robert’s: Classic American LD LD Yes Dog
La Cosecha: Spanish, Central &
South American
Panolivo: French, Bakery, Mediterranean (Jaffa) BLD WB Yes Dog, Family
Berry Hill Bistro: Comfort, American Bistro LD FB Yes Dog
Estrella: Latin Riviera LD WB Yes Dog
Chico’s: Casual American, Seafood BLD WB Yes Dog, Family

Click the links to see my reviews posted on TripAdvisor, Yelp!, and Google

*All of the restaurants in Paso Robles are accommodating to children, but  those that tailor their restaurant and menu to families are identified as “family-friendly.”

**Pending approval of other patio patrons

For those with dogs, keep in mind some of the restaurants have limited outdoor seating, so make patio reservations to assure a spot.

Central Coast Bandit in My Rearview Mirror

27 Aug

Looking in my car’s rearview mirror, I suddenly see multiple flashing blue and red police lights giving chase to a vehicle about a half mile behind me. Working with law enforcement for over 25 years, I immediately realized that the two law enforcement vehicles (combination of California Highway Patrol, County Sherriff, or local Atascadero Police) I had seen waiting on the on each of the last three freeway entrance ramps must have been waiting for a specific car. After I passed the San Anselmo freeway exit, I saw the vehicle being pursued was quickly approaching my car in the fast lane.  At that moment, I was the only vehicle in front of it. I took my foot off my accelerator, intentionally causing my car to slow, in the hopes of slowing the car being pursued. Once that car came very close to the back of mine, in my rearview mirror, I clearly saw a woman with curly hair who I estimated to be in her 50s. She then started to try to go around by pulling into the median, so I moved into the right lane. Multiple law enforcement units continued pursuit.

When I got to my destination in Paso Robles five minutes later, I called 911 to inquire if they wanted a statement. I was told they had a woman in custody, and they would call me if they wanted to talk to me. My assumption that this was the notorious female “Central Coast Bandit” turned out to be correct. She was wanted for bank robberies in Modesto, Monterey County, and four in San Luis Obispo County.

I later learned that just before the chase, she had gone into a bank in San Luis Obispo where the clerk became suspicious and notified law enforcement. The woman drove north on Highway 101, eventually being pursued by law enforcement. She crashed in Paso Robles and was taken into custody.

After being told by law enforcement they would not be taking a statement from me and that I was free to share the information, I am doing so here. Not my usual travel story, but a story of  how unusual things can occur in the most unexpected places.


8 Aug


Soaring slowly over the alluvial golden hills punctuated by mature oak trees and orderly rows of grapevines in a hot air balloon can be a transcendent, once in a lifetime experience. This is just one of the many offerings stay in the bucolic wine country in northern San Luis Obispo County.  Every month has its unique activities, so determining travel dates warrant consideration of when the weather and activities meet the needs of the types of travelers: families, couples, friends or singles.

If arriving on Friday, head for the Paso Robles City Park for the weekly 2013 summer concert series which occurs through August 26, starting at 5:30. Watch the concert from one of the restaurants that have outdoor seating just across from the park: Reservations can be made for patio seating just across from the park at Berry Hill Bistro, Estrella, La Cosecha, or Chico’s or take a chance without a reservation at Artisan or Villa Creek. Food and beverages are also sold at the concert. Bring a sweater or jacket as it sometimes quickly cools down in the evening.


La Consecha charcuterie plate

“Paso” now boasts many of the best restaurants in the county. One of the newest, La Cosecha, (Spanish for harvest) Restaurant + Bar serves Spanish, Central and South American fare.  This casual eatery has the feel of a casual, friendly ambience of a neighborhood watering hole. They are open daily for lunch and dinner, with options of indoor regular or tall table seating, a communal table for large parties, and outdoor patio seating. Some of the highlights are the braised bone marrow appetizer, Iberico ham with figs, Honduran-style empanadas, Black cod mofongo and the delectable paella of the day. The bar stocks Spanish sherries, food-inspired wines and beers, and has a dedicated mixologist who concocts seasonal craft cocktails such as the seasonal caipirinha made with Brazilian chaçaca, St. Germaine, limes and blueberries.

Il Cortile

Il Cortile

Honduran-born Chef Santos MacDonal and his welcoming wife, Carole, also own one of Paso’s other best eateries, Il Cortile Ristorante, which specializes in rustic Italian food in their upscale, but comfortable restaurant. Dinner specialties include such creative appetizers as grilled octopus, crostini porchetta, pan-roasted quail with prisciutto-filled tortellini, and a bountiful selection of mozzarella cheeses.  Santos’ homemade pastas and, when available, pork osso bucco, are house favorites. Just a half block from the city park, they are open for dinner daily from 5:00 p.m.

Artisan serves locally-sourced, creative American Fare. Now open daily starting at 11 a.m., Artisan is now at their new location, a stylish modern building, just across from the city park. The Kobayashi brothers have added an outdoor dog-friendly seating area, a full bar with some new menu items such as pizza. Chef Chris has a knack for unique combinations that wow the palate such as duck confit salad, spinach, pt. reyes blue, smoked almonds, “fried egg;” abalone tostada, avocado, pork belly carnitas; hanger steak, asparagus, black trumpets, bacon tater tots; and Alaskan halibut, burnt flour orecchiette, peas, morels, green garlic. For a list of best restaurants in Paso Robles, including information about type of cuisine, which meals they are open, patios and whether those seats can be reserved, wine or full bar, family-friendly, and dog-friendly.

D'Anbino Winery and Tasting Room

D’Anbino Winery and Tasting Room

Paso offers an array of live musical and entertainment venues that appeal to varied interests. D’Anbino Cellars, a short walk from downtown, is one of the premier musical venues in the county, attracting local and nationally-renowned musicians who perform varied styles including jazz, bluegrass, blues, rock, funk, soul, and Great American Songbook. Their website provides information about events which include both afternoon and evening entertainment.  Presently, they offer salsa lessons Friday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. with an opportunity afterward to practice new moves. During the warm months, the Pony Club, the wine bar in the Hotel Cheval, offers nightly solo or duo artists which start in the early evening on Friday and Saturday, and at 5:00 p.m. Sundays. Listen on the outdoor patio under the shade of the large shade tree. Other local bars offering live entertainment include The Pour House, Pappy McGregor’s, and The Cattleman’s Lounge in The Paso Robles Inn. All of these music venues offer snacks or full meals. Also, many of the Paso Robles area wineries feature live music, especially in the summer. Vina Robles Winery recently opened their 3300 seat “boutique amphitheatre” which attracts big name acts like the Moody Blues, Darius Rucker, Tony Bennett, B.B. King, and George Lopez.

Festivals provide the perfect opportunity to experience local culture and food. The “First Saturdays: Wine and the Arts” occurs monthly from 5 to 8 p.m. They feature a wide array of art including mixed media, oil painting, jewelry, photography and quilting, with several wineries as participating venues. At the annual Olive Festival, this year on August 17, there are a number of entertaining activities for adults and children. There are many other family friendly activities in Paso Robles, as well.


Paso Robles City Park

Paso Robles City Park

One of the more popular festivals is the Classic Car Show Weekend, which occurs Labor Day week-end. It features members’ cars dating back to 1923 which are displayed at the car cruise and show. Starting Sunday September 29th at 3:00 p.m., The North SLO County Concert Association starts its 65th season, which will include 1930’s era vocalist diva Dawn Lambeth, a band featuring brass instruments, chamber music, and a vocal jazz quintet.

The celebrated Harvest Wine Weekend, October 18-20, visitors can experience the grape harvest up close; summon your inner Lucy for grape-stomping or enjoy more leisurely tours of wineries, many of which offer fantastic winemaker dinners and/or live music. The Paderewski Festival, scheduled for November 7-10, honors Ignancy Jan Paderewski, composer, virtuoso pianist, humanitarian, orator, and the first Prime Minister of Independent Poland after World War I. He visited Paso Robles on many occasions between 1914 and 1939, and owned over 2800 acres where he planted Zinfandel grapes, almonds and fruit trees. The festival features a variety of concerts, a piano master class, documentary, youth competition winners’ recital, and lecture. Traveller beware: some festivals and events can be very crowded, so take that into account when making plans.

Hotel Cheval

The best downtown lodging is the 16 room European-inspired, boutique Hotel Cheval. The cozy rooms have plush towels, quality bedding and many other amenities. Welcome cookies, bedtime organic chocolates and breakfast are included. Options for rooms include fireplaces, outdoor patios, sundecks, and for dog owners, pet beds and food and water dishes.   The inviting central outdoor patio has a fireplace that visitors can stoke. The historic Paso Robles Inn first opened in 1891 and is the only hotel in the area that still offers thermal hot springs in guest rooms. The comfortable rooms are family and dog-friendly. The outdoor area includes a large grassy area, Koi pond, brook and flower garden. Ask for the “locals rate.” Although not in downtown Paso, Tuscan-inspired La Bellasera Hotel and Suites has luxury suites which include fireplace, whirlpool and patios. The outdoor pool also has a fireside cabana. Spa services are available at all three hotels.

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27 Jul
Brett and Julia Mitchell performing

Brett and Julia Mitchell performing

Brett and Julia Mitchell make beautiful music together…and apart. But how these two got to their shared lives as local musicians took each down very different paths. Speaking at their comfortable family home, Julia shared she didn’t start singing professionally until around 1993 when a friend, local jazz singer, Jim Conroy, heard her harmonizing to his vocals from the audience. He called her on stage to harmonize with him to the song, On the Boardwalk. Thereafter she occasionally sang with Jim. Three years later, she met Brett, who composes, sings and plays keyboards. He was so impressed with her deep, rich vocals that he sought to make her a featured singer and his wife. Julia primarily performs with Brett in duets or as a vocalist in one of the groups in which he plays. Her versatile vocals, primarily jazz, pop and from the Great American Songbook, resonate with the hearts of her listeners. She is best known for performing songs of female jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Diana Krall, Roberta Flack, and Joni Mitchell. She was featured at the Cambria Jazz Festival, the Jazz Federation “Diva” concert, and the Central Coast Follies.

Brett and Julia

Brett and Julia

Julia’s relatively late start as a professional musician belies her early love and involvement with music. When she was around age six, she and her brother started playing violin and viola, and their father, the cello. As a child growing up in Thousand Oaks, Julia loved playing in the local youth symphony, as well as attending concerts, opera and operettas, dressed in her finery. She relished visits from her Spanish cousins when the whole family would sing “in multiple layers of harmony.” Julia occasionally sang as young adult, but then pursued other interests until years later when she started singing professionally on the Central Coast.

While growing up in Oklahoma City, Brett started playing piano at age 12 and then percussion in the school band. By 15, he reported he was writing and performing music professionally, at a spot on the old Route 66. At 16 he began following his interests in acting which continued through his college studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where Olympia Dukakis was one of his acting instructors. At NYU, Brett also continued to pursue his musical interests. He and his friend/classmate, Melissa Manchester (later a Grammy-award winning artist), wrote music together as part of an application to a class taught by famed musician Paul Simon; they succeeded. Brett remembers this as an exciting time in music and theatre. While at NYU, Brett wrote the music for two musicals and the score for a student film, and he was a member of the BMI musical theater workshop, taught by famed conductor Lehman Engel. After college he acted with the North Carolina Repertory Theatre, but his passion for music pulled him back toward that career direction, eventually taking him to Southern California. Brett’s music is influenced by varied musical genres, including rock, pop, jazz, Broadway and the Great American Songbook.

Knowing some musicians who lived on the Central Coast, in 1986 Brett decided to relocate there from Southern California. He initially performed with his friends, Craig Nuttycombe (currently of Café Musique) and Peter Yelda (guitarist and former co-owner of Blue Note.). Brett began his local solo career playing at the Inn at Morro Bay. During solo performances, he surveys the crowd and tailors his musical selections to the audience make-up. Currently, he stays busy playing with several local bands. When forming a band Brett joked that he considers “the old guard of usual suspects.” On February 9th, Brett will be performing with his new group, the Kings of Cool (formerly Franks & Deans), at D’Anbino Vineyard and Cellars Tasting Room. The Kings of Cool draw from the music and improvisation of the “Rat Pack”. Besides Brett, other vocals and repartee are performed by Steve McAndrew, Chad Stevens and Bobby Horn.

This year, Brett has been showcasing his original compositions. Accompanying Brett were Ken Hustad on bass, Darrell Voss on drums/percussion, Danny Weiss on guitar, Diane Steinberg-Lewis on vocals and keyboard, and Kim Wilkins on viola. George Wilkins, Kim’s husband, is helping Brett with arrangements. Before moving to the Central Coast, George Wilkins spent over seven years as a Composer in Residence at Walt Disney Productions and Director of Music for Walt Disney Engineering. In addition, George is a composer, arranger and orchestrator who has worked with many top recording artists and headline acts.

Human Nation

Human Nation

As a member of the popular local group, Human Nation, Brett is looking forward to the release of their CD which is scheduled for later this year. Human Nation is comprised of stellar musicians: Adam Levine, composer/arranger on electric and acoustic guitar; Danny Pelfrey (formerly with Tower of Power); Bill Wingfield on acoustic and electric bass; and Dean Giles on drums and percussion. Human Nation’s music draws from jazz, blues, Latin and funk melded with world rhythms.



Counterpoint is a cabaret-style group, featuring vocalists Steve McAndrew, Karinda Scott, as well as Brett and Julia, that performs favorites by groups like Earth, Wind and Fire, Christopher Cross, James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers and the Great American Songbook. Brett plays piano, with Adam Levine on guitar, and Ken Hustad on bass. Brett also performs locally with the trio, No Ego Amigos, who play a wide variety of musical styles at such venues as D’Anbino and the Bellasera Hotel in Paso Robles. Brett’s tangible achievements include ten CDs and composing the main theme for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival


26 Jul
Dawn Lambeth

Dawn Lambeth

Listening to Dawn Lambeth’s rhythmic, joyful jazz vocals, one would be surprised to learn that she was initially had no plans to become a musician. Her unique vocals emphasize simple, but pure jazz and swing from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Her humble, gentle countenance belies the fact that she has received admiring reviews from jazz historians and hosts of NPR music programs, been compared to such greats as Jo Stafford and Maxine Sullivan, and enjoyed national and international airplay.

Dawn grew up in upstate New York where she started taking traditional piano and violin lessons around age 10. In junior high school, she started singing in school and jazz choirs, as well as musicals at her church. In spite of a love for music, she didn’t feel confident enough to major in music and instead pursued a Liberal Arts degree with a music focus at Boston College. Since she was not a music conservatory student, her musical studies were primarily classes like jazz improvisation and music theory. She focused on piano, having not yet found her singing voice and style.

After graduating from college, Dawn had good friends who were musicians who encouraged her to be a “lounge singer” in a small band on a cruise ship. She didn’t find the music the band played to fit her style, although she admitted she had not yet found the musical genre she would eventually embrace. After six weeks performing, the cruise ship crashed (then very uncommon), which she took as “a sign” concluding that she was done with the music business. Seeking a more marketable degree, Dawn returned to college to study computer science.

While attending college in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, “the same musician friends” asked Dawn to play piano in their salsa band. They typically performed two to three times a week for dedicated salsa dancers. Through those musicians, she became friends with band members in a New Orleans style jazz band. When their regular pianist went on tour with Leon Redbone, Dawn would substitute. As the group atmosphere was “relaxed”, all the musicians, regardless of experience, sang, including Dawn. This was when she developed her passion for 1920s and 30s American music, which led to her searching for both familiar and lesser known songs.

At the last minute, in 2000, Dawn was invited to substitute for a musician who couldn’t make it to a music festival in the Monterey area. There she met her future husband, Marc Caparone, who was subbing on trumpet in another band. His regular “gig” was working at the family’s Paso Robles Caparone Winery where he and his father are winemakers. Dawn relocated to the Central Coast in May 2001 at which time she began performing at West Coast festivals with bands she knew from Pittsburg (Pennsylvania) and with her husband. Once on the Central Coast, Dawn also started developing her solo act. She started playing piano and singing at GiGi’s (now closed) during Thursday night Farmers’ market in San Luis Obispo. She performed regularly at the former Vinoteca wine bar in Paso Robles to admiring fans. Dawn’s elegant, yet personal style gives the listener the feeling of being part of a small, intimate audience.

Besides her solo performances, she sing and plays piano with she and her husband’s band, The Usonia Jazz Band, which usually consists of Dawn, her husband, Marc on cornet and occasionally bass, his father, Dave, on trombone, Mike Swann on bass, and often Karl Welz on saxophone. As a soloist and in Usonia, Dawn has performed in a variety of venues including at Hearst Castle, the historic Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island, and Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. as well as local bars, art shows, and private parties including weddings and wineries. Her most memorable experience was performing as one of the select invited musicians at a New Orleans style jazz festival in Osaka, Japan.

Dawn Lambeth

Dawn Lambeth

Dawn continues to play select local venues after the births of her two young children. She is scheduled at Pear Valley Vineyard, which describes her as a “favorite” in their summer concert series, on September 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. On Sunday September 22, she will be opening the North SLO County Concert Association’s 2013-2014 concert series at Trinity Lutheran Church in Paso Robles at 3p.m. Dawn noted her new favorite venues are private intimate performances at people’s homes or other small gatherings, such as potlucks or dessert concerts, where family and friends can relax and enjoy her music. Dawn’s upcoming performances and contact information can be found at