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Bill Warfield And The Hells Kitchen Funk Orchestra's new CD SMILE
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Bill Warfield and the Hellís Kitchen Funk Orchestra

The Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra is a group of New York City Jazz and Studio musicians who aim to produce a brand of music that defies boundaries. The HKFO accomplishes just that on the new Planet Arts Network release “Smile”. 

The groups first release “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” on the Blujazz label was the “maiden voyage” for this band. It was chosen by Downbeat as the Editors Pick of the Month for August 2015. Reviewer Bobby Reed observed that the band “offers some tracks that would be irrefutable additions to a party mix”, while also saying “but that doesn’t mean the music lacks complexity. Sometimes it takes a highly intelligent musician to propel you onto the dance floor”. 

The new release “Smile” features a core of musicians from the original unit. Added to the mix are vocalist Jane Stuart, Blue Lou Marini on reeds, Paul Shaffer on Hammond Organ, Cecilia Coleman on piano, Matt Chertkoff on guitar and Matt Hong on reeds. 

Originally known as the International Quartet, the group included Bill on trumpet, Libor Smoldas from Prague on guitar, Jakub Zomer, also from Prague on Hamnmond organ and a variety of drummers from Eastern Europe on drums. With the addition of John Eckert on trumpet and fluglehorn, Glenn Cashman on tenor saxophone, Scott Neumann on drums, Steve Count on bass, all regulars of the New York Broadway and studio scene, and alto saxophonist Jens “Chappe” Jensen from Denmark the quartet became the Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra. 

Bill wrote 12 arrangements and with some generous help from the College of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh University, where Bill directs the Jazz program. The eight musicians met in New York City and began to rehearse. The group had made plans to travel together, bringing their mutual love of music to audiences and include musicians from wherever they traveled. 

The first order of business was a short tour through New York and Pennsylvania followed by a documentation of what occurred in Water Music studio in Hoboken, N.J. under the watchful eye and discerning ears of veteran engineer and producer, Dave Kowalski. After two weeks of driving through blizzards, bouts with the flu, carrying equipment and two days in the studio, the recording was done. Bill recalls, “I remember sitting in the control room of the studio with everyone when it was over. Bassist Steve Count said, I don’t want it to be over. He said what we were all thinking. It had been so much fun”. 

Well it wasn’t over. In between HKFO recording projects Bill released a big band recording “For Lew” in memory of his mentor and friend, Lew Soloff and spent a short time as musical director for the great Nicole Henry. Thrust into the directorship of the Allentown Jazz Festival orchestra with two days notice, a festival orchestra that was assigned the task of backing Nicole in the festival’s opening concert, Bill contracted the band and studied Nicole’s music. Their relationship developed empowered by the unyielding deadlines and last-minute emergencies generated by even the most carefully planned performance. The HKFO did a series of performances with Ms. Henry the following spring. 

That short time working with Nicole was enough to convince him that he wanted a vocalist as a regular member of the band. He called his friend Jane Stuart, a veteran jingle singer that he had worked numerous casual dates with. Because of the eclectic nature of the repertoire Bill realized that he needed more than a singer. The group needed a musician whose instrument was voice. 

After a year and a half and many HKFO gigs, the group realized that Jane was just what the group needed. With addition of the great Matt Chertkoff on guitar, rising star Andrew Gould on alto sax and woodwinds, the amazing composer/pianist Cecilia Coleman, and the always inspiring Matt Hong on baritone sax and reeds, the Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra was a NYC band. 

For the new Planet Arts Network new recording, “Smile”, the band is joined by Bill’s long time friend, Blue Lou Marini on saxophone and the one and only Paul Shaffer on Hammond B3 and electric piano. “Smile” will be released on June 5, 2020. Be on the lookout for it. 

That’s the history of this wonderful band. They have been joined by guest vocalists, Carolyn Leonhart and Julie Michels on the new recording and a long list of NYC “a-team” members in their short existence. The group always comes through performing compositions and arrangements born out of the genres of funk, contemporary music, hard-bop and latin jazz while embracing the varied backgrounds and experiences of it’s members. Audiences are treated to high-powered contemporary music that communicates, transcends and inspires. 

On their exciting new album, Smile, Bill Warfield and the Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra not only fire on all cylinders, they run every yellow caution light. What other band would take on such stylistically disparate tunes as Booker T. and the MGs’ “Hip Hug-Her,” Weather Report’s “Cucumber Slumber,” the Eurythmics’ “The City Never Sleeps,” and the Charles Chaplin evergreen, “Smile”? For listeners, the risks are amply rewarded. For Warfield and his one-of-a- kind little big band, all that matters is that the music cooks. “We had so much fun making this album, and I think it sounds it,” said the storied trumpeter and arranger. “For me, that’s what it’s all about.”