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Valley-Bred Bassist Shines with Singer's Trio

Larry Steen, a member of the the family that founded Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena and Judd's Hill Winery in Napa, has become a leading jazz bass player. Sunday at Silo's, he returned from L.A. with singer Anne Walsh to wow a local crowd.

What was Napa vintner , of Judd's Hill Winery, doing at a Silo's jazz show on the Sunday of "wine auction weekend," when most local winemakers are ready to collapse from exhaustion after the annual Auction Napa Valley?

Like the rest of us in the well-filled club, he was there to hear some great jazz from Los Angeles-based singer — which happens to include Finkelstein's cousin, bassist Larry Steen.

A son of Alan and Charlene Steen of Atlas Peak Road, who with Finkelstein's parents founded Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena in the 1980s, Larry Steen played for the St. Helena High School Jazz Choir before leaving the Napa Valley for higher education leading to his thriving career in music.

After studying at two of the country's top jazz programs, Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. and the University of Miami in Florida, Steen earned a master's degree in jazz at the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) and has won first place in the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition, according to his website larrysteenmusic.com.

Other listed accomplishments include the film Swingers "and various independents, CDs such as The Stan Kenton 50th Anniversary Celebration: Back to Balboa (with Frank Strazzeri and Bill Perkins) and The Songs of G.H. (Disney Records), as well as numerous television and radio spots that include Roswell, Providence, Felicity, Once and Again, Beverly Hills 90210, Power Rangers, General Hospital, Entertainment Tonight, A.B.C./Disney library music, Mitsubishi, Apple Computers, Blue Cross of California and Contadina." 

Sunday at Silo's, Steen showed why he's not only a sought-after session man — clearly, he can play just about anything on electric bass — but also a well-respected jazz and world music improviser.

On jazz standards, Brazilian tunes and fusion arrangements alike, his bass work provided nimble support to Walsh's fluid, spirited vocals, while his solo statements were models of condensed creativity.

Family and friends who turned out to hear Steen were rewarded by an outstanding two sets of music presented by the * as part of its Parlor Jazz series.

Grammy-nominated singer Walsh had the crowd in her power from her first number, a bossa nova sung in crystal-clear Portuguese. Pianist Tom Zink, who is Walsh's husband, and drummer Chris Wabich were, like Steen, both strong rhythm players and skilled improvisers whose solos kept the audience absorbed.

The foursome's set list ranged from great-American-songbook numbers ("If I were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls; "Nature Boy" by Eden Ahbez) through jazz fusion (Chick Corea's "Spain," with the Al Jarreau lyrics; vocal versions of instrumentals by Pat Metheny and Don Grolnick) to newer tunes like the not-quite-naughty "Bumblebee," from Walsh's new album Go.

Anyone who loves good contemporary music and missed this show should keep an eye out for Walsh and her trio in the future.

The next Napa Valley Jazz Society concert features pianist Larry Vuckovich and special guest, Latin percussionist John Santos, in a birthday tribute to Vuckovich July 15 at 4 p.m.

For more information, please visit napavalleyjazzsociety.org.

*Writer and Napa Patch editor Louisa Hufstader, a former jazz broadcaster and record producer, recently joined the board of the Napa Valley Jazz Society.

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