Thursday, October 19, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by The Black Butterflies, Miles Donahue, Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, and Matt Wilson….

The Black Butterflies, Luisa (self-produced) 
This third recording by The Black Butterflies, an eclectic, Latin-tinged group led by alto saxophonist Mercedes Figueras, is a gem - and a bit historic to boot. Figueras, a native of Argentina, was heavily influenced by the musicality of fellow countryman Gato Barbieri. Her sound shares a lot of the same brawn and take-no-prisoners firepower that were a hallmark of Barbieri’s distinctive tenor work over his long career.

Barbieri was a special guest on three tracks here: Figueras’ homage “Gato’s Hat” and “Brother Nacho, Sister Lola,” as well as Ramon Sixto Rios’ “Merceditas.” It turned out to be Barbieri’s last recording project prior to his April 2016 passing. Their intertwined tenor/alto saxophone duels are a thing of wonder, particularly on the session highlight, “Brother Nacho, Sister Lola.” The percussion-rich band here gives Figueras and Barbieri quite an exotic cushion with both samba and tango influences. Here’s another bit of history. The octet includes vibes player Karl Berger. He and Gato were part of the Don Cherry Quartet in 1965-66.

Miles Donahue, The Bug (Whaling City Sound) 
New England jazzman Miles Donahue is a musical force of nature. He composes, he teaches, and he is equally adept at playing trumpet and saxophone. His recordings are few and far between, so it is good to relish them when they do arrive. Such is the case with The Bug, which teams Donahue with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi (a long-time collaborator), guitarist Mike Stern, pianist Tim Ray, bassist Tamir Schmerling, and drummers Ralph Peterson and Larry Finn, who split the timekeeping role. All nine tracks are Donohue originals.

Favorites: “The Bug,” “All Grown Up,” “Hawthorne Hideaway,” “Leaving Home” and “Clifford.” The title track showcases Donohue’s trumpet work and Stern’s distinctive, searing guitar. Donohue sits out to relish the interpretations featuring Bergonzi on “All Grown Up” and Ray on the solo piano track “Leaving Home.” Donahue (on alto sax), Ray and Stern dig deep into “Hawthorne Hideaway” and the boogaloo-driven “Swamp House.” Donahue was inspired by Bill Evans when he wrote the opening track, “Bill,” and the closer, “”In Three.” Donahue and Bergonzi are featured, on flugelhorn on tenor respectively, on the Clifford Brown tribute, as Donahue tips his cap to another of his mighty influences. This is a gem.

Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Whispers on the Wind (MAMA)
This is the sixth recording by Chuck Owen’s Central Florida-based band, The Jazz Surge. The project, in essence, is a seven-part tone poem inspired by various aspects of the wide-open spaces of America’s heartland, where Owen grew up. The composer is a native of Omaha NE. The 19-member band is augmented for this recording by trumpeter Randy Brecker, harmonica player Grégoire Maret and violinist Sara Caswell.

Whispers on the Wind is inspired by cowboys, gunslingers, breathtaking vistas and the writings of Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. Aural imageries abound through each piece. The finest gems are “Into the Blue,” which features intense overlapping solos by Brecker and guitarist LaRue Nickelson, and Maret’s extensive spotlight on “Sentinel Rock,” a tribute to the Bryce Canyon landmark that toppled last year. The latter track also features alto saxophonist Valerie Gillespie. To add more of the folk/roots flavor to the project, Owen played accordion and hammered dulcimer on various tracks.

Matt Wilson, Honey and Salt (Palmetto)
Drummer Matt Wilson’s newest project was without peer this year in concept and execution. Wilson wrote 18 tunes, each inspired by the works of Carl Sandburg, the “poet of the people” who died 50 years ago. Sandburg long has been an influence on Wilson, and both were born one town away from each other in rural Illinois. Nine of the pieces include guest readers who add Sandburg’s words. They include jazz musicians Christian McBride, Wilson, John Scofield, Jeff Lederer, Bill Frisell, Rufus Reid, Joe Lovano and Carla Bley. Sandburg’s own narration is featured on his poem “Fog.” Favorites include Scofield’s take on the whimsical “We Must Be Polite” and Lederer’s reading of “Prairie Barn.” That poem was a most-fitting inclusion. Sandburg wrote the poem about a barn that was owned by a relative of Wilson. The versatile drummer’s fine band included singer-guitarist Dawn Thomson, cornetist Ron Miles, reed player Lederer and bassist Martin Wind.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

UNESCO sets the stage for International Jazz Day in 2018, 2019

Sometimes you know, sometimes you don't - until the last minute. That's been the case with International Jazz Day celebrations. But apparently it's no longer going to be kept close to the vest.

Since the global program was created in 2011, major events were held in Paris, New Orleans and UN headquarters in New York City in 2012. Global Host Cities for the all-star concert and major celebrations included Istanbul in 2013, Osaka in 2014 and Paris in 2015, with at least a few months' advance notice.

As the 2015 Paris all-star concert concluded,  jazz pianist UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock announced from the stage that 2016's concert would be held at the White House, with Washington DC serving as the Global Host City.

In contrast, this year's locale wasn't revealed until three weeks before the April 30 concert took place - in Havana, Cuba.

UNESCO is giving lots of lead time for at least the next two years - and apparently will do so well into the future. It announced this week that St. Petersburg, Russia, will be the Global Host City in 2018. Sydney, Australia, is on tap for 2019. Both were selected by an advisory committee at the culmination of a new nominating process.

International Jazz Day was created to recognize the power if jazz to promote peace, intercultural dialogue and international cooperation. It has grown to include broadcast, concert, community and educational events in more than 190 countries. The International Space Station has also gotten involved.

The high-profile program is co-produced by UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Swinging jazz in two different contexts

The Charlotte County Jazz Society opened its 2017-18 concert season on Monday, October 9 with a robust evening featuring two Sarasota-based bands that covered a lot of musical territory in different contexts.

Trombonist Dick Hamilton's sextet and pianist Mike Markaverich's trio performed an hour apiece - and 10 songs apiece as it turned out - at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's newly renamed William H. Wakeman III Theater. The early season event drew a crowd estimated at more than 225 attendees.

Dick Hamilton
Hamilton's main instrument is trombone but one could argue that his main instruments are pen and paper. His peerless skill as an arranger dominated the opening set, as the band dug deep into his complex charts.

Hamilton spent about 45 years as a studio musician and arranger in Los Angeles before returning to Florida four years ago. He now writes and arranges principally for his swinging sextet, which includes Jim Martin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tony Swain on alto and tenor sax, pianist Matt Bokulic, bassist John DeWitt and drummer Johnny Moore.

His arrangements feature crisp unison horn lines as well as unexpected moments where the other horns add complementing or contrasting textures behind the soloist. The material included Hamilton's arrangements of jazz and Great American Songbook standards plus two originals. Those latter tunes were things he wrote to the chord changes of classic tunes. "Dive/Jump" was based on Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean (How High is the Sky)" and "Getting Sentimental All Over You" was based on Ned Washington's "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You."

On an ultra-slow version of "Blue Monk," all three horns riffed beautifully behind Bokulic's piano solo on this Thelonious Monk classic. Moore's mallet-work set the exotic tone for Hamilton's arrangement of "Delilah's Theme" from the 1949 movie "Samson and Delilah." Other material included Miles Davis's "Walkin," "Someday My Prince Will Come," ""Prelude to a Kiss," "Love for Sale," "Just Squeeze Me" and the newst chart he'd written for the band, "Falling in Love With Love."

Bokulic, Hamilton, Martin, DeWitt, Swain, Moore

Markaverich, Mopsick, Moore
New Hampshire native Markaverich, blind since birth, moved to Florida 29 years ago after playing jazz piano on Cape Cod for a decade. He quickly became a mainstay on the Sarasota jazz scene.

In the evening's closing set, his music covered a wide stylistic range -  jazz classics, few standards from the Great American Songbook, and a few things you don't often hear in a mainstream jazz context. 

Right from the opening tune, "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm," it was clear that the set would be all about musical conversation between Markaverich, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Johnny Moore. Throughout the evening, Markaverich reacted with glee to the other players' solos.
Mike Markaverich

The trio performed two Oscar Pettiford tunes, "Tricotism" and "Laverne Walk," as well as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's chestnut "Up Jumped Spring" and Horace SIlver's "Nica's Dream." 

Makaverich featured pleasant lyric and scat vocals on the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross classic "Centerpiece," "What is This Thing Called Love?" and "The Bare Necessities" from the Disney film "The Jungle Book." He played Rodger's and Hart's "Lover" in 5/4 time rather than the standard 4/4 rhythm, and added some ragtime twists along the way. 

Johnny Moore
The trio closed the evening with an instrumental take on Michael Franks' "Popsicle Toes." This mid-1970s jazz-pop hit isn't heard often without its clever, saucy lyrics, This version relished its beautiful jazz underpinning, from which the pianist revealed glimmering new facets.

The evening's big bonus: a double helping of Johnny Moore's drumming. You'll never hear flash or bombast from this man. His playing is all about finesse, subtlety and unexpected accents. Every note has a purpose.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The home of the red piano

Henry Ford once told his car-makers back in the early 20th century that they could paint his Fords any color - as long as it was black. Just like Ford's vintage Model T's back in the day, pianos are black more often than not.

Once in a while, you may find a white one, or some in their natural wood brown tones. But you really have to search to find an acoustic grand that's red.

The red piano is the visual and aural centerpiece at 88 Keys Florida, where it is a stark contrast to the primarily gray-and-black motif of this modern-looking piano bar and restaurant at the Wyvern Hotel in Punta Gorda FL. 88 Keys features jazz three nights a week. I finally got a chance to visit on Friday and found it quite different than many of the other restaurant gigs in southwest Florida.

The sleek and modern designer look is quite unusual. The room holds less than 30 people, which is not ideal, but the featured bands tend to draw regulars who are big fans. Singer-pianist Danny Sinoff's trio with drummer Patricia Dean and bassist Scott Smith performs on Thursdays and Fridays from 7-10 p.m. Pianist Stu Shelton performs solo on Saturdays.
Dean, Smith, Sinoff

Sinoff is always a treat. He digs mightily into the Great American Songbook, particularly Sinatra covers. While he is a fine singer, and has a strong following in that regard, I find his piano solos even more enjoyable as he takes familiar material to unexpected places. 

If you haven't heard him - or heard him lately, check him out at 88 Keys Florida, La Fiorentina Cafe Italiano in Punta Gorda on Tuesdays or the Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers, where he performs Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

This edition considers several new CDs with distinctive orchestral jazz focuses. They are projects by composer Mica Bethea, pianist-composer Alan Broadbent, trumpeter John Vanore, and two saxophonist-composers - Brian Landrus and Brian McCarthy.

The Mica Bethea Big Band, Stage ‘N Studio (self-produced)
Composer and arranger Mica Bethea is a fascinating story unto himself. Twelve years ago, he was a young music student at the University of North Florida. The multi-instrumentalist was driving back to school in Jacksonville, after visiting his parents in Daytona, when a big truck slammed into his car at 85 mph during a traffic slowdown. The accident left Bethea a quadriplegic. He put his life back together, returned to school three years later and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. He may be unable to play anymore, but he has emerged as a very fine composer and arranger.

This is a two-disc album featuring Bethea’s big band. One disc was recorded in studio, one in concert at UNF. Both discs feature four originals from Bethea plus a mix of his arrangements of six tunes from the jazz canon. All are excellent, with the material written with each player in mind. Favorites include his originals “Frahm Out of Nowhere,” “Jonesin’ for Thad,” “Coal” and “Birth Rite,” and the band’s spirited take on “Hang Up Your Hang Ups,” which Herbie Hancock recorded with an expanded version of his Headhunters’ funk band. The Mica Bethea Big Band’s many standout soloists include pianist Joshua Bowlus, guitarist James Hogan, saxophonist Todd DelGiudice and singer Linda Cole. Check it out.

Alan Broadbent with the London Metropolitan Orchestra at Abbey Road, Developing Story (Eden River)
Pianist Alan Broadbent teamed up with the London Metropolitan Orchestra for this wide-ranging project, recorded at Abbey Road studios. His longtime trio-mates, bassist Harvie S and drummer Peter Erskine, were along for the musical ride. The session opens with Broadbent’s three-part suite, "Ðeveloping Story.” 

Most fascinating are his intricate orchestrations on four jazz classics: Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green” and “Milestones.” In each case, Broadbent found ways to celebrate and accentuate the rich nuances of these standards. He also does the same thing for two originals, “Lady in the Lake,” which he wrote for Quartet West, and “Children of Lima,” which he which he wrote in the early 1970s after a Peruvian earthquake. It was recorded in a 1975 collaboration by Woody Herman’s Young Thundering Herd and the Houston Symphony. Broadbent spent three years as pianist in Woody’s big band.

Brian Landrus Orchestra, Generations (BlueLand) 
Baritone saxophonist Brian Landrus used a wide range of musical genres as his inspirations in writing the material for his 25-piece all-star orchestra. He wrote all of the material to focus on each participating player’s sound and strengths. 

The piece de resistance is the opening segment – a four-section piece called “Jeru Concerto.” It was inspired by Landrus’ son Jeru, whose namesake was the nickname of baritone saxophonist Gerry Mullgan. Jeru was not yet born when Landrus started writing the piece. The evocative “Orchids” features harpist Brandee Younger and vibes player Joe Locke. This ambitious project is a contemporary slant on the grand big band tradition.

Brian McCarthy, The Better Angels of Our Nature (Truth Revolution Recording Collective)
The late Phil Woods once had an octet (five horns plus rhythm section) that he called the Little Big Band, which offered a lot of the same firepower and nuance of a much larger ensemble. Brian McCarthy took much the same approach here with his nine-piece band. While not a big band in actuality, it has the musical depth and scope of one. This project has a very different – and very specific - thematic focus. Civil War history buff McCarthy crafted fresh, extended arrangements for Union and Confederate folk songs from that era, and added two originals written to reflect the same spirit and style. Each is a gem in its own way.

The title track, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” is a musical interpretation of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address. “Shiloh” is an aching ballad that reflects on the first battle of the Civil War that saw large-scale death and suffering, and features McCarthy on soprano sax. The other players on this project include saxophonists Andrew Gutauskas, Stantawn Kendrick and Daniel Ian Smith, trombonist Cameron MacManus, trumpeter Bill Mobley, pianist Justin Kauflin, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Zach Harmon. This is terrific from concept to delivery.

John Vanore, Stolen Moments (Acoustical Concepts)
Philadelphia-based trumpeter John Vanore assembled this all-star ensemble to celebrate Oliver Nelson's musical legacy. This year would have been the 85th birthday of Nelson, who passed away in 1975. Featuring a 14-piece band augmented by percussion on one Latin track, this is Nelson’s music as reimagined and arranged by Vanore. 

The CD includes six Nelson originals, “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” “El Gato” (written to honor Gato Barbieri), “I Hope in Time a Change Will Come” (featuring saxophonist Steve Nelson),“Reuben’s Rondo,” “Self-Help is Needed” and “Stolen Moments.” Vanore’s band  also updates three of the standards that Nelson arranged and recorded - “A Taste of Honey,” “Greensleeves” and “St. Louis Blues.” This was a long-overdue way to spotlight Oliver Nelson’s important contributions to jazz – and freshen the material rather than merely do a repertory stroll through his charts.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

The snowbirds will start trickling back this fall, which means it’s almost concert season again. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November. (I'll freshen this every six weeks or so, right through spring.)

  • Friday, September 8 – Singer Tony Bennett at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Saraasota. 8 p.m. (Postponed until a date TBD in 2018 because of Hurricane Irma.)
  • Monday, October 9 – The Charlotte County Jazz Society opens its 2017-18 concert season with a double cocert featuring the Dick Hamilton Sextet and the Mike Markaverich Trio. Cultural Center Theater, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 19 to Sunday, October 22 Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Postmodern Jukebox are the two closest things to jazz among the seven headliners. Jazz acts include Jon Cleary, Jason Miles with the Music of Weather Report, Theo Croker, Shaun Martin, Mino Cinelu and Gerald Veasley. Otherwise lots of blues, indie rock and vintage Motown. Coachman Park.
    Russell Malone
  • Wednesday, October 25 – Guitarist Russell Malone is special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s season opener at Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 12 – A concert celebrating the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, featuring trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham and  11-year-old piano sensation Brandon Goldberg. East Naples United Methodist Church.  3 p.m.
  • Monday, November 13 – Pianist Johnny Varro’s Swing Seven in concert. The Charlotte County Jazz Society, Cultural Center Theater, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 15 – Tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart is special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s monthly performance at Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Friday, November 17 to Sunday, November 19 Suncoast Jazz Classic at Clearwater Beach. The wide-ranging lineup includes the Bill Allred-Allen Vaché Florida All Stars, Dave Bennett, Danny Sinoff, and the West Coast trad jazz band High Sierra. 
  • Saturday, November 25 – Guitarists John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring’s Meeting of the Spirits tour, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. 8 p.m. 
  • Wednesday, November 29 – 20th anniversary tour of Dave Koz Christmas, teaming the alto saxophonist with fellow smoothies David Benoit, Rick Braun, Peter White and Selina Albright. Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. 7:30 p.m.
Johnny Varro
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Turtle Club in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Ft. Myers, and The Side Door Jazz Club at Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily). A variety of Friday matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

If you dig music, dig a little deeper

The Jazz Foundation of America's Musicians Emergency Fund stepped up big time to help New Orleans musicians after Hurricane Katrina and its catastrophic flooding aftermath. And it is preparing to reach out to Texas jazz, blues and roots musicians affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The Jazz Foundation will help them rebuild, repairing homes, replacing belongings and treasured instruments and even replacing work.

Here's a link where you can join me and others in the music community in supporting this great effort.

Some background if you're unfamiliar. The Jazz Foundation brought over 1,000 musicians and their families back after Katrina by rehousing them, donating top-shelf instruments and creating paying gigs for hundreds. 

It also was there for hundreds affected by Superstorm Sandy. It also helped rebuild the homes of the musicians who lost everything in last year's devastating floods in Baton Rouge.

For 26 years, the Jazz Foundation has been keeping jazz and blues alive by helping the musicians who have played with everyone from Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday to Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. It assists in more than 5,000 cases a year nationwide.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Swinging the heck out of gypsy jazz

There is something simultaneously exotic, passionate and downright swinging about gypsy jazz. That's the all-strings musical style that guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli popularized with their Hot Club of France collaborations in the 1930s and '40s.
Keven Aland

Southwest Florida has its own splendid version of that Hot Jazz/Jazz Manouche sound. Sarasota-based Hot Club of SRQ, directed by violinist Keven Aland, plays regularly all over the area with groupings that range from duo, trio and quartet to larger possibilities depending on the event or venue's needs - and budget.

I caught them two Sundays ago at the tap room at Fat Point Brewery in Punta Gorda. This time out, the band was the trio - with Aland, guitarist Jon McLaughlin and bassist Glenn Stevenson. They dug into a wide range of material, not just from the gypsy jazz canon. But they performed it in that mesmerizing, collective style.

On any given gig, their repertoire may weave through Parisian jazz, rumba flamenco, bebop, bossa nova, tango, Afro-Cuban music and the Great American Songbook as they explore fresh facets in the music of Rienhardt, Stochelo Rosenberg, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Bireli Lagrene, Dizzy Gillespie. Listen close and you may hear a Beatles lick worked into a gypsy-jazz tune.

Aland and McLaughlin performing 
Sidnet Bechet's "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere."

Aland is a classically trained violinist who fell in love with gypsy jazz during his college days when he heard Grappelli-Reinhardt recordings. While working in a variety of musical contexts, he started putting together a band with authentic gypsy-jazz instrumentation around 2001. The band and the sound have been evolving ever since.

"This style is a great vehicle for expression," Aland says. "A lot of people who may say they don't like jazz come up to me and say they like our music."

The lineup for quartet and quintet gigs, has included guitarist Nikola Baltic, bassists Don Mopsick or J.P. Coley, and clarinetist Jim Snyder. 

The Hot Club of SRQ Quintet, featuring Aland, Baltic, McLaughlin, Stevenson and reed player Rodney Rojas, performs Sunday, September 24 at the Side Door at The Palladium in St. Petersburg at 3 pm.

Hot Club of SRQ performs every Saturday at the State Street Eating House in downtown Sarasota, and alternates Sunday afternoons between Fat Point Brewery in Punta Gorda  and Cask &  Ale in Sarasota.

Thursday nights, the duo version of the band is at The Cottage Restaurant on Siesta Key. Aland performs with McLaughlin or Nick Baltic on guitar.
Stevenson, Aland, McLaughlin at Fat Point Brewing
Hot Club of SRQ performs in a variety of other locations as well. Check out the band schedule for details.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Assignment Newport

George Wein
This was the 37th consecutive year that I've gone to Newport on assignments to cover the Jazz Festival and/or the Folk Festival. 

That long  run started when George Wein brought the jazz festival back to the City-by-the-Sea in 1981 after a 10-year absence. 

This year' s coverage was for Jazz Times and New Orleans-based Offbeat magazine, as well as this blog.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images of New Orleans musicians published by Offbeat.  

It's been a splendid run so far. I look forward to 2018 and documenting the festival's continuing evolution.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Newport Jazz Festival looks to its future

There was a palpable shift in the musical air at this year's Newport Jazz Festival, the first year in which the new artistic director, Christian McBride, put his stamp on the event. 
Christian McBride, George Wein

Founding producer George Wein, 91, still heads the Newport Festival Foundation that runs the jazz and folk festivals in Newport. But the musical choices mostly were McBride's, and that lineup delivered the largest weekend attendance the festival has seen in quite a few years.

Combined attendance was 25,500 for the three afternoons at Fort Adams State Park and a sold-out opening night concert at historic Newport Casino on Friday, August 4. Saturday's attendance at Fort Adams was 9,600, just 500 tickets shy of a sellout for the day.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Exceptional jazz with firepower

Allmark, Antell
John Allmark’s Monday evenings at the Met Café in Pawtucket RI generally feature his very fine big band. This past Monday, Allmark presented his octet, a brass-rich band that gives each player a bit more time in the spotlight than the big-band format permits.

For that evening, the horn line included Allmark (trumpet), Tucker Antell (tenor sax), Mark Vint (alto sax), Angel Subero (trombone) and Bob Bowlby (baritone sax), Dennis Hughes (piano), Bill Miele (electric bass) and Jim Lattini (drums) comprised the rhythm section.

The octet’s first set included a wide range of bop classics from the likes of Horace Silver, Benny Golson and Kenny Dorham, artfully arranged to feature the textures and possibilities of the horns. The band also dug deep into Dave Holland’s “Blue Jean,” which was a feature for Bowlby, and a spirited take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that closed the set.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Musical impacts linger in jazz and beyond

If you’ve ever experienced a musical epiphany, you know of what I write.

It’s about those special encounters with music – not necessarily jazz – where you walk away with goose bumps from the experience. The memories linger for a long time. Perhaps it was the band’s chemistry and musical conversation, perhaps some other intangibles, something that leaves you almost speechless, beyond saying “wow.”

I was reminded of that impact of music last weekend in western Massachusetts at Mass MoCA, the sprawling contemporary art museum in North Adams, housed in a 250,000 square-foot former mill complex.

Mass MoCA’s many exhibits include Dawn DeDeaux and Lonnie Holley’s collaborative installation, Thumbs Up For The Mothership. 

Their multi-faceted installation consists primarily of found objects that were recrafted and are exhibited in ways designed to provoke serious thinking about the issues facing our planet.

The Strength of Music.....
Holley’s portion of the exhibit space included the folk artist and musician’s installation called Vox Humana III: The Strength of Music Lives After the Instruments Are Destroyed.

This Alabama-born artist, now based in Atlanta, combined a wide range of junked/destroyed musical instruments into a visual commentary. To me, it said, the best musical experience lingers long after the notes ebb into the night.

Other viewers may have different takeaways. That's just fine. That's art's purpose. Right?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When less is more

Patricia Dean
Simplicity can be a breath of fresh air in jazz. One such example occurred on Thursday, July 20 when drummer-singer Patricia Dean performed at the Venice FL: Performing Art's Center's Local Spotlight Festival, an intimate summer lobby series.

Dean appeared with bassist Don Mopsick and guitarist Dave Trefethen as "Patricia + 2." Their performance was inspired by singer Sarah Vaughan's classic 1962 recording Sarah + 2 with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Joe Comfort.

The slimmed-down format brought simplicity and sensitivity to the material they dug into because none of the musicians got in each other's way. The result often was simultaneously cool and sultry, with Dean offering beautiful vocals and preferring brushes to drumsticks most of the night.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pianist will be remembered at Newport

Suffice it to say, Geri Allen will be there in spirit.

Geri Allen at Newport, August 2004
The pianist had been scheduled to perform at this year's Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday, August 5 in the all-star, all-woman trio that has featured her with bassist Esparanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.

That changed late last month when Allen succumbed to cancer.

Under the new plan, Allen will be honored with a one-set performance being called Flying Towards the Sound: For Geri, With Love. Carrington and Spalding will share the stage at Fort Adams State Park with three pianists who were proteges, collaborators and/or friends of Allen: Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran and Christian Sands. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Gates and Morgan – two different takes on vocal jazz

Giacomo Gates
Hot House, New York City’s long-running monthly jazz guide, asked me to profile singer Giacomo Gates, as well as preview singer Melissa Morgan’s metro-area gigs for its July issue, which is now out.

It can be read online or downloaded - or picked up at the many metro NYC jazz venues. 

Gates and Morgan have their own jazz vocal niches because of their approach and specialties. 
Melissa Morgan

You can read here about Giacomo, a master of many trades.

Melissa’s spotlight is available here

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The jazz of summer

The concert season in southern Florida pretty much mirrors the months when the area has the most visitors and seasonal residents.... say October through late April or early May. While that makes great sense, some programmers are also taking note that a considerable number of Floridians don't go north for the summer, or for the full summer.

A fair number of restaurants still offer jazz entertainment for their patrons year-round and there are concert gigs if you look for them.

Dick Hamilton
Here's one of the latest examples. The Venice Institute for Performing Arts is running a Local Spotlight Festival throughout June, July and August in the lobby of the Venice Performing Arts Center. It includes a Summer Jazz Series of once-a-month concerts featuring fine area musicians.

The first such jazz event was a Thursday, June 22 concert by Dick Hamilton's quartet, which featured the leader on keyboard and trombone, guitarist Steve Martinucci, bassist John DeWitt and drummer Johnny Moore. All four musicians are based in Sarasota.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The music community helps its own

When a musician gets in a life-altering jam, the music community tends to respond in a very big way.

One of the latest instances involves West Coast bass player Marc van Wageningen. He and drummer David Garibaldi were injured severely on January 12 when struck by an Amtrak train while were walking to a Tower of Power performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland CA.

Marc VW, a 30-year fixture on the Bay Area’s jazz, funk and Latin music scene, has been subbing in the funk band since 2002. He was the most seriously injured of the pair. He underwent surgery to remove his spleen and repair broken bones and facial fractures. Like many musicians, he had no health insurance.

Monday, June 5, 2017

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Antonio Adolfo, Mike Longo, Yoko Miwa, Norbert Stachel, and John Stein and Dave Zinno.…

Friday, May 12, 2017

Living his jazz mentors’ advice

Bass player and educator Brandon Robertson practices what he teaches.

Brandon Robertson
Robertson earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in music performance at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where his mentors had sage advice. “They’ve all told me to go out and make my own name for myself. Make my own success,” Robertson says. “I just want to be positive, be professional and play as well as I can play.” 

He’s a busy addition to the Southwest Florida jazz scene since moving here summer. He performs regularly at area jazz venues in addition to his day job as an adjunct professor of instrumental studies at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. He has subbed the regular bass player in the Count Basie Orchestra. (More on that later.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Lili Añel, Ron Boustead, Laura Dubin, Diego Figueiredo, Steve Khan, Joachim Kühn, Sarah Partridge, and The Three Sounds....

Friday, April 28, 2017

Oh, have times changed in Newport

There was a time after the first phase of the Newport Jazz Festival (1954-1971), that jazz pretty much was a dirty word in Newport. The city, known as a playground for the super-rich, was a Navy town transitioning into a tourist mecca. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Always a night with musical surprises

You never know just what's in store when the Dan Miller Quartet performs on Tuesday nights at the  Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers FL. There are always musical surprises, and that's a good thing in this case.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It's JAM time again. Get your jazz on.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month - and it is flying by.

The Smithsonian Institution decreed the month's status 16 years ago as a way to spread appreciation for - and interest in - the music genre. Many activities now find themselves under that celebratory jazz umbrella.

The National Endowment for the Arts moved its annual NEA Jazz Masters induction concert from January to April, and, six years ago, UNESCO added International Jazz Day to the mix. That global celebration closes the month on April 30. It reaches more than 190 countries with thousands of performance, education and community service programs in cities and town large and small.

So how are you honoring Jazz Appreciation Month this time around?