‘Such a Joy’

Roxanne Layton returns to Mannheim Steamroller for year 27

By L. Kent Wolgamott

Roxanne Layton doesn’t know exactly how many shows she’s played in the 27 years she’s been with Mannheim Steamroller.

But the recorder player knows she’ll be adding about 40 more to that total this year as the orchestra, which plays the classical rock Christmas music of Chip Davis, makes its annual two-month holiday tour. Mannheim Steamroller comes to The Pasadena Civic at 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 28. 

“I was trying to add it up,” Layton says. “Here’s an average of at least 40 shows a year. The first 10 years we didn’t have 40 shows. We were playing arenas to 10,000 people a night. So, let’s say 500 shows at least.”

And, even though the Mannheim Steamroller program only changes slightly from year to year, Layton never gets tired of performing it, on her recorder and percussion. 

“There is such a joy to doing this,” she says. “This music is timeless. It was the first Christmas album that so many people remember getting introduced to Mannheim Steamroller, even though we know there was much more before that.”

Layton, in fact, came to Mannheim Steamroller before it became an American Christmas tradition.

After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, Layton was working in Boston when she initially encountered Mannheim Steamroller. 

“I won tickets from a radio station,’” she says. “I was making recorders at the time, and someone had given me ‘Fresh Aire III.’ I thought, ‘This is so cool. It’s classical rock and roll.’ They had a (touring) orchestra back then, and the trumpet player came into the shop. He asked if I wanted to come to rehearsal. I went from my shop with my instruments for the show, met Chip later, and ended up talking with him until 2 a.m.”

Layton had left a tape with Davis, the Omaha-based composer who created the neoclassical new age group in 1974, who, apparently, listened immediately after.

The next morning, Davis called Layton. “He asked ‘Would you like to be on my next album?” That all happened in 24 hours,” Layton says.

So, why did Mannheim need a recorder player?

“Back in the Renaissance, the recorder was like the trumpet and the saxophone. It was the instrument that led all the dances,” Layton says. 

“Chip is a big Renaissance fan. He was a bassoonist, but he was also a great recorder player and drummer, which is a double you don’t see out there.”

Adding Layton to the group gave Davis, who, for years, played with Mannheim on tour, additional flexibility in his role onstage.

“What it did was allow him to play the recorder while I played the drums or I could play the recorder while he plays drums,” she says of Davis, who no longer tours but still appears at special Mannheim Steamroller events.

The enduring career of Mannheim Steamroller began in 1975 — not with a Christmas album, but with the first “Fresh Aire” album. Combining classical music and pop, and using orchestral instruments and synthesizers and other synthetic tones, “Fresh Aire” helped usher in the new age music genre.

Davis created Mannheim Steamroller during the period when he was writing music with friend Bill Fries, who adopted the stage name and the CB radio toting character of C.W. McCall and became a country music star in 1976 with their hit song “Convoy” (which inspired the 1978 movie of the same name, starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw).  

Davis, though, was soon focusing on Mannheim Steamroller and what grew to a series of eight “Fresh Aire” albums, which enjoyed major popularity considering they were marketed in a niche genre.

But today Davis and Mannheim Steamroller are best known for Christmas music. Davis entered the holiday fray with the 1984 album “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,” at a time when such seasonal albums were largely seen as something artists released when they were on the downside of their careers.

Instead, that first Christmas album became a huge hit, selling 5 million copies, and Mannheim Steamroller has gone on to become the bestselling Christmas act of all time.

The way Davis schedules the holiday tours has helped keep fans — especially families — coming out to see Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas shows year after year.

“We go to the markets every other or every third year,” Davis said in a 2017 interview. “So, then that gives them time to (think about), ‘Oh, you know, the kids are a little older. We should take them this year.’ I think that has a lot to do with the longevity.”

Like every other music group and artist, Mannheim Steamroller was unable to tour in 2020. But it was back for the Christmas tour last year. Once again, this year, two companies of the group will go on tour — one East Coast and one West Coast. 

That music will be performed by an orchestra that is made up of a core group of Steamroller players, like Layton, and musicians brought in from each community or area where the group performs, who rehearse in the afternoons before the evening show.

That combination works well, Layton says, as the local musicians come in well prepared and the rehearsal tightens up the music before the performances.

“We do the same program every night,” she says. “For me, I just try to do it better every night. For me, it’s a gift to get to enjoy this music. I still cry at a point in ‘Oh Holy Night.’ … I try not to cry during the shows, but sometimes it happens.”

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 28

WHERE: The Pasadena Civic, 300 E. Green Street, Pasadena

COST: Tickets start at $50

INFO: ticketmaster.com

A Rule Breaker

Billy Zane’s artwork reveals a free soul

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Billy Zane’s art begins with the spirit of inclusion. 

The award-winning actor encourages patrons to interact with his works at his current show titled “Action!” on display at the Speedy Gallery in Santa Monica through Saturday, November 26. The title nodding to the correlation between action painting and his cinematic roots. 

“I always tell people, ‘You’re not allowed to not touch my art,’” says the South Pasadena resident with a laugh. 

“You might even find an Easter egg of a hidden painting under one. It’s a tactile, pleasing experience, especially with some of the metallic paints I like to use.”

The applications have an urgency and force, Zane says. He balances the inherent masculinity of his paintings with the more feminine sense of beauty and balance. Zane says painting and acting complement each other, too. 

“The painting informs the acting and the acting the painting,” he says. 

“For the better part of 30 years, I had the pleasure of improvising and creating under pressure on film. I found that that same level of controlled chaos, danger and satisfaction could be found in painting. Especially with a show pending, you have to produce work that are legitimate.”

Zane’s raw authenticity in his paintings, drawings and photography have garnered recognition with shows in Los Angeles, London, Budapest, Milan, Miami, and Thessaloniki, Greece. 

Independent gallery owner Yiwei Lu curated the exhibition for the Speedy Gallery’s owner Atsushi Fukuda. Lu and Zane were introduced by mutual friend, Venice entrepreneur Todd Collins. 

“I didn’t know he had 150 (movie) titles to his credit,” Lu says laughing. “I introduced myself to him as a curator and he was introduced to me as an artist. I asked to see his work and I was just really, really impressed by it. They’re so free. It just seems like he doesn’t care about any rules. When I looked up from the artwork, I realized who he was. He was a villain in ‘Titanic’ whose character didn’t like art. It’s so funny because Billy is the opposite of that.”

The two met again at Zane’s outdoor studio behind Old Focals, a South Pasadena optical shop that provides eyewear to all the top films. 

“He’s created a clubhouse atmosphere and it makes me love creating there,” Zane says of its owner, friend Russ Campbell. 

“My home is nearby. Being part of the South Pas village informs my work with the nostalgia, charm and creativity the community is synonymous with. When not adorning the eyes of the hip and famous, the Old Focals family — Russ, Jessica and Rick (Barzell of the Cretin Hop, vinyl DJ collective)—screen movies, throw parties and have barbecues.”

The legitimacy of the work is evident and celebrated by experienced gallerists and neighbors at Bergamot. They are supportive of Lu and her activities and Zane as an artist whose works are easily identifiable. 

“I’m grateful for the response by the celebrated Bergamot gallerists like John Berman, Craig Krull, William Turner and Billy Gross, whose encouragement has been most generous while hosting tremendous exhibitions currently themselves,” he says. “I encourage everyone to come and vist all the galleries in an extended Bergamot stay.

“I’m most grateful to Atsushi and Yumi, who afforded an extensive and extended exhibition running from September 10 to November 26.”

Bold juxtapositions

His abstract expressionist paintings are bold juxtapositions of kinetic application and elegantly balanced color combination derived from both intentional and naturally occurring contradictory influences. 

“He’s a total rule breaker,” Lu says. “Not a lot of artists paint outdoors. He lays his paintings on the ground, steps on them, puts his fingerprints on them. Everything you would not want an artist to do, he does that.

“He sometimes drives over his canvases. He cares about the moment, which is cool. It really shows his free soul.”

It’s all in the name of joyous improvisation and sustainability. Zane started painting on the set of “Titanic,” Lu says. 

He uses discarded materials like coffee bags, patio umbrellas, signage, crates and recycled paint. He turns things that some would throw away into collectibles. It’s like new alchemy. 

“It’s like from garbage to gold,” says Zane, who is producing and starring in a film about Marlon Brando’s little-known yet impactful work in environmentalism.

“I seek out hardware and marine supply stores, which you can find in any village of any country or any town. I always ask about the paint they are throwing away in order to keep it from going into a landfill or local water system.

“When the palette being dictated by an unknown source, it is exciting to me. It’s surprising. I’ll always start there and then integrate elements I control.”

Zane is grateful for Lu, calling her “visionary and generous” for bringing his art to another gallery’s attention. 

“It’s lovely to be back at Bergamot Station,” he says. “My first show was there at Frank Pictures Gallery in 2010. It’s so nice to come full circle with a mid-career retrospective, ‘Action!’” 

“Action!”

WHEN: Noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays until Saturday, November 26

WHERE: Speedy Gallery, 2525 Michigan Avenue, B5B, Santa Monica

COST: Free admission

INFO: 213-248-4712, speedyartgallery.com, billyzaneart.com

Vroman’s Live

Bookstore boasts stellar lineup for November

By Arroyo Staff

The renowned bookstore Vroman’s is hosting more top-notch virtual and in-person programs throughout November.

All in-person events will all be held at Vroman’s located at 695 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, unless otherwise noted.

Register through vromansbookstore.com. Anyone with questions is asked to email email@vromansbookstore.com.

Margo Price discusses “Maybe We’ll Make It: A Memoir”

7 p.m. Thursday, November 3

When Margo Price was 19 years old, she dropped out of college and moved to Nashville to become a musician. She busked on the street, played open mics, and even threw out her television so that she would do nothing but write songs. She met Jeremy Ivey, a fellow musician who would become her closest collaborator and her husband. But after working on their craft for more than a decade, Price and Ivey had no label, no band, and plenty of heartache.

“Maybe We’ll Make It” is a memoir of loss, motherhood, and the search for artistic freedom in the midst of the agony experienced by so many aspiring musicians: bad gigs and long tours, rejection and sexual harassment, too much drinking, and barely enough money to live on. Now a Grammy-nominated Best New Artist, Price tells a love story of music, collaboration, and the struggle to build a career while trying to maintain her singular voice and style. 

Fierce Reads Fall Tour: Featuring Judy I. Lin and Joan He

7 p.m. Friday, November 4

Authors Judy I. Lin and Joan He present their latest, “A Venom Dark and Sweet” and “Strike the Zither.”

Robert Crais discusses “Racing the Light”

4 p.m. Saturday, November 5

Private investigator Elvis Cole and his partner, Joe Pike, are back on the case in this new thriller from No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Robert Crais.

Adele Schumacher isn’t a typical worried mom. When she hires Elvis to find her missing son, a controversial podcaster named Josh Shoe, she brings a bag filled with cash, bizarre tales of government conspiracies, and a squad of professional bodyguards. Finding Josh should be simple, but Elvis quickly learns he isn’t alone in the hunt — a deadly team of mysterious strangers are determined to find Josh and his adult film star girlfriend first.

Liz Climo presents “I’m So Happy You’re Here: A Little Book about Why You’re Great”

5 p.m. Wednesday, November 9

International bestselling author Liz Climo’s little book lets someone know how important they are to you or a thoughtful gift you can give to yourself. 

Sheldon Epps discusses “My Own Directions: A Black Man’s Journey in the American Theatre”

7 p.m. Thursday, November 10

The author’s journey in the American theater has been amplified by his experience as a Black man who has frequently been one of the few, the first or even the only. His directing career has been full of rewards and opportunities as well as huge challenges and frustrations, along with the anger that has come from being chased by race for so many years. 

Much of the author’s experience comes from two decades artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse, one of the oldest and well-known theaters in America. 

This is the story of how the author came into leadership at Pasadena Playhouse after a successful career directing on Broadway, in London and all over the world.  

Vroman’s presents Michael Connelly discussing “Desert Star”

7 p.m. Friday, November 11

LAPD detective Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch team up to hunt the brutal killer who is Bosch’s “white whale” — a man responsible for the murder of an entire family.

A year has passed since Ballard quit the force in the face of misogyny, demoralization and endless red tape. But after the chief of police himself tells her she can write her own ticket within the department, Ballard takes back her badge, leaving “the Late Show” to rebuild and lead the cold case unit at the elite robbery-homicide division. 

For years, Bosch has been working a case that haunts him — the murder of an entire family by a psychopath who still walks free. Ballard makes Bosch an offer: Come volunteer as an investigator in her new open-unsolved unit, and he can pursue his “white whale” with the resources of the LAPD behind him.

Priority for Ballard is to clear the unsolved rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl. The decades-old case is essential to the councilman who supported reforming the unit and who could shutter it again — the victim was his sister. When Ballard gets a “cold hit” connecting the killing to a similar crime, proving that a serial predator has been at work in the city for years, the political pressure has never been higher. To keep momentum going, she must pull Bosch off his all-consuming investigation, the case that is the consummation of his lifelong mission.

The two must put aside old resentments and new tensions to run to ground not one but two dangerous killers who have operated with brash impunity. 

This ticketed event will take place at Pasadena Presbyterian Church located at 585 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena. Tickets will include a copy of Desert Star to be handed out at check-in.

Tickets are available at https://bit.ly/MichaelConnellyBosch.

Rabia Chaudry presents “Fatty Fatty Boom Boom: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family”

7 p.m. Monday, November 14

According to family lore, when Rabia Chaudry’s family returned to Pakistan for their first visit since moving to the United States, 2-year-old Rabia was more than just a pudgy toddler. 

Dada Abu, her fit and sprightly grandfather, attempted to pick her up but had to put her straight back down, demanding of her mother: “What have you done to her?” The answer was two full bottles of half-and-half per day, frozen butter sticks to gnaw on, and lots and lots of American processed foods.

Despite her parents plying her with all the wrong foods as they discovered Burger King and Dairy Queen, they were highly concerned for the future for their large-size daughter. How would she ever find a suitable husband? Soon she would leave behind fast food and come to love the Pakistani foods of her heritage, learning to cook them with wholesome ingredients and eat them in moderation. At once a love letter (with recipes) to fresh roti, chaat, chicken biryani, ghee, pakoras, shorba, parathay and an often-hilarious dissection of life in a Muslim immigrant family, “Fatty Fatty Boom Boom” is also a searingly honest portrait of a woman grappling with a body that gets the job done but that refuses to meet the expectations of others.

Jules Blaine Davis discusses “The Kitchen Healer: The Journey to Becoming You”

7 p.m. Wednesday, November 16

All the ways you live and love begin in your kitchen. And it’s in the kitchen where you’ll find the way to your true self. A place to nourish your being and heal with the freedom, beauty and permission you have always longed for.

With “The Kitchen Healer,” Jules Blaine Davis invites you into the messy beauty of her healing kitchen and asks, “What are you really hungry for?”

Though this book contains recipes — with ingredients both traditional and emotional — this isn’t your typical cookbook. This is a book that will shine a light on how to cook up the life you deeply long to live with food you love to make.

Matt Coyle discusses “Doomed Legacy: Volume 9”

7 p.m. Thursday, November 17

Private investigator Rick Cahill has been running from his past and chasing the truth his whole life. But his past is relentless — and so is his CTE, a disease caused by repeated head traumas that has attacked his body and his mind. As his CTE progresses, he realizes that the disease not only threatens his life but also endangers his family’s well-being.

As Cahill struggles to keep his family together, he does a favor for Sara Bhandari, a business contact. Then, Bhandari is murdered, and the police believe her to be yet another victim of a serial rapist who has been terrorizing greater San Diego. But Cahill has reason to question their theory. Determined to find the truth at any cost, and against his wife’s warnings, he investigates on his own.

Along the way, he bumps up against a sinister private investigative agency and a shady shell corporation that may be hiding more than company secrets. As Cahill digs for the truth about Bhandari’s death, he risks his own life and the lives of countless innocents caught in his relentless crusade. Ultimately, Cahill must decide if his quest is worth the risk of losing his family forever. 

Neal Shusterman discusses “Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe”

2 p.m. Sunday, November 20

There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.

Neal Shusterman — along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden and Joelle Shusterman — returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

Evelyn Alsultany discusses “Broken: The Failed Promise of Muslim Inclusion”

7 p.m. Tuesday, November 29

One of Donald Trump’s first actions as president was to sign an executive order to limit Muslim immigration to the United States, a step toward the “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” he had campaigned on. 

This act of Islamophobia provoked unprecedented opposition: Hollywood movies and mainstream television shows began to feature more Muslim characters in contexts other than terrorism, universities and private businesses included Muslims in their diversity initiatives, and the criminal justice system took hate crimes against Muslims more seriously. Yet “Broken” argues that, even amid this challenge to institutionalized Islamophobia, diversity initiatives fail on their promise by only focusing on crisis moments.

Ed Humes discusses “The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder”

7 p.m. Wednesday, November 30 

In November 1987, a young couple on an overnight trip to Seattle vanished without a trace. A week later, the bodies of Tanya Van Cuylenborg and her boyfriend, Jay Cook, were found in rural Washington. It was a brutal crime, and it was the perfect crime: With few clues and no witnesses, an international manhunt turned up empty, and the sensational case that shocked the Pacific Northwest gradually slipped from the headlines.