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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Gene Perla and Funk Xpress, 7:30 p.m. March 21, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Gene Perla and Funk Xpress, 7:30 p.m. March 21, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown

Gene Perla brings the funk to Symphony Hall jazz series

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by JERRY DUCKETT Special to The Press in Focus

The Jazz Cabaret Series continues with a performance by Gene Perla and Funk Xpress, 7:30 p.m. March 21, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown.

For nearly five decades, virtuoso bassist Perla has travelled the world, making his mark as a jazz musician playing with Frank Sinatra, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and Willie Bobo.

Each member of Funk Xpress is a world-class musician.

New York-based keyboardist Jon Ballantyne is noted for improvisation and driving rhythms.

Bill Washer, a guitarist who began playing at 13, continues his career as a session musician and working on commercial jingles. He brings the Funk to Xpress.

Tenor and soprano saxophones are instruments of choice for Adam Niewood,who began his career playing jazz in high school. He attended Berklee College of Music and received degrees from William Paterson University, Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School.

Joe Magnarelli has been playing trumpet for almost three decades. He teaches at Julliard and Mason Gross School of the Arts and is considered to be one of jazz's most fiery horn players.

As a standout drummer, Vern Mobley comes from gospel roots, playing in churches and choirs while honing his skills with his organist father and guitar-bass playing brother. His counterparts say his rhythms often give the illusion of multiple drummers-percussionists playing simultaneously.

Perla grew up in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. His music career began at five, playing the classical piano. While in high school, he added the trombone to his repertoire and was active in the concert and marching bands.

"I was basically a goof-off in high school. My mother wanted me to go to college. She took me to Stevens Institute of Technology where they gave me a battery of tests, and found out I was best suited for engineering or business.

"I decided to take my high school senior year over to pull my grades up, so I would have a better chance of getting into college. I enrolled in the New York Military Academy. I spent a year there, and then headed for The University of Toledo. I spent the first year studying civil engineering, the next year in business, and the last two as an engineering aide."

Perla attended the Berklee and the Boston Conservatory of Music to study bass after hearing Charlie Haden on "The Shape of Jazz to Come." He is comfortable playing double bass or electric bass.

Perla went back to the piano for his first paying gig, a wedding in Rhode Island. In 1964, at 24, he hooked up with Los Muchachos, the only Latin band in New England.

After four years, he left for New York City where he felt the action was. The first band he played with was another Latin band led by famous percussionist Willie Bobo.

He was dong a lot of jamming in his New York City lofts with Steve Grossman and Don Alias, with whom he formed the group Stone Alliance in 1976.

In 2007, Perla moved to Easton and formed the Go Trio.

He started Funk Xpress about one year ago. Perla teaches at Lehigh University. He owns and operates PM Records and Plug Records.

Tickets: allentownsymphony.org, 610-432-6715