Friday, January 13, 2017

A jazz singer's heartfelt return to familiar territory

Toronto-based singer June Garber delivered a superb - and superbly programmed - performance on Friday, January 13 as part of the South County Club's matinee concert series in Venice FL.
June Garber

It was the first area appearance in nearly two years for Garber, a vocalist whose art crosses the border between jazz and cabaret with ease. The occasional cabaret-style gesture or expression is nearly forgotten, however, when she immerses herself in the jazz feeling and is surrounded by ace instrumentalists.

Such was the case at this concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice. Garber was backed by saxophonist-flutist Tom Ellison's quartet, with pianist Judi Glover, ex-Duke Ellington Orchestra bassist John Lamb and drummer Bob Stone.
John Lamb, June Garber

Garber blended some jazz and Great American Songbook standards, but more often than not, offered material that hasn't been heard in a long time, or came more from the popular music repertoire.

Examples: Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares For Me," Blossom Dearie's "I'm Always True to You Darling, In My Fashion" and a stunning take on "Something Cool" that had every bit of emotion as June Christy's 1950s hit. 

June Garber, Tom Ellison
Garber filled this generous afternoon with an even mix of ballads and uptempo material. the slower songs held the most poignancy.

The very finest moments, to my ears, were her takes on "It was a Very Good Year," the 1970s Melissa Manchester hit "Don't Cry Out Loud," Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole" and "Here's To Life," a concert staple for singers Shirley Horn and Joe Williams. She also shared Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" as a tribute to the Canadian songwriter and the many other music greats who died in 2016.

The band was in synch with Garber all the way, with passionate solos and tasty accents. "It Was a Very Good Year" was an interesting example. The song was written by Ervin Drake  in 1961 and made famous by Frank Sinatra. It was written from a man's perspective, but these days carries a more universal message. Garber sang it at a dramatically slow pace, with Stone keeping the rhythm flowing as he alternated between mallets and his hands on the drums - and Lamb adding subtle single note accents from time to time. Ellison enhanced the mood with his flute.

Other gems included Garber's pairing of "Bye Bye Blues" and Jon Hendricks' "Cloudburst," and her wistful interpretation of the Judy Garland hit "The Man That Got Away."
Judi Glover, John Lamb, Bob Stone, Tom Ellison


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sarasota Jazz Project returns for a strong big band night

What a difference three years makes. The Sarasota Jazz Project returned to Port Charlotte on Monday, January 9 for Big Band Night in the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series. 

With very few personnel changes, the band was stronger and more in the groove compared to its ho-hum December 2013 performance. It showcased both classic and a bit more contemporary material, and this time it also featured a top-notch guest singer. Miami-based Lisanne Lyons sang with a mix of poignancy, bluesy grit and bits of scatting that enhanced her eight-tune performance.

Kevin Celebi
The evening's instrumentals ranged from the Count Basie Orchestra's "Splanky" to Los Angeles bandleader Gordon Goodwin's Basie tribute "Count Bubba." The Sarasota Jazz Project, now in its sixth year under the leadership of saxophonist George McLain, also performed Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile," Clifford Brown's swinging blues "Sandu," Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues," and "Back Row Contest," a spirited feature for all four trumpeters - Kevin Celebi, Luke Jones, Mike Valasek and Bob Delfausse.
Rojas and bandleader McLain

Instrumental highlights included the late big band arranger-composer Don Schamber's original "Matchpoint," spotlighting drummer Chuck Parr and lead alto saxophonist Rodney Rojas, and Schamber's arrangement of  "Angel Eyes." Rojas delivered the evening's strongest extended solo on the Matt Dennis ballad. The band's take on "Black Nile" featured tenor saxophonist Tony Benade and trumpeter Celebi.

Lyons, a soprano who grew up in Sarasota, teaches jazz vocals at Florida International University in Miami. Her career has included work as featured vocalist with three U.S. Air Force bands, and performances with the Woody Herman Orchestra, and trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Arturo Sandoval, among many others.

Jerry Eckert
Lisanne Lyons
Her great sense of time and ability to make each tune her own were evident right from the start, and the big band kicked it up a notch to support her, including several exquisite introductions and solos from pianist Jerry Eckert.

 Vocal treats included George Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay," Charles Trenet's "I Wish You Love," "What's New" (featuring Nelson Riddle's arrangement for Linda Ronstadt), Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," as well as "Deed I Do" and "Cry Me a River." 

Lyons saved the best for the last segment, delivering "That Old Devil Moon" with a creative scat ending, and a rousing take on "Every Day I Have The Blues" as arranged for Diane Schuur's recording with the Basie Band.
Chuck Parr

Big Band Night drew the largest crowd CCJS has seen so far in its October 2016-April 2017 season. 

Drummer Chuck Parr, who powers the band with solid rhythms and clever punctuating accents, told me before the show that he plans to retire from music this year. That will be a huge loss for this band, as well as other groups of varying sizes with whom he's worked in and around Sarasota
Sarasota Jazz Project

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A masterful night of straight-ahead and Gypsy jazz

Jazz guitar master Martin Taylor was the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s featured guest at the sextet’s January 4 concert at Daniels Pavilion. It was a spectacular night on all counts. 
 The award-winning Englishman, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002, dazzled the Artis Naples audience with his style and musicality in a 75-minute set that showcased his sheer talent, sense of bandsmanship and touched on his best-known career association. He spent toured the world and recording more than 20 albums with French violinist Stephane Grappelli from 1979 to 1990.
Martin Taylor

“I spent 11 years sitting in Django's seat, and it was a hot seat,” Taylor said, referring to Grappelli’s classic collaboration with guitarist Django Reinhardt. The pair founded the Hot Club of France quintet in 1934 and worked together until 1948.

Jazz standards (“Stella By Starlight,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy”), a few tunes from the Great American Songbook (“Skylark” and “Like Someone in Love”) plus an unusual jazz vehicle by Taylor and the full band were sandwiched around the highlight segment.
Taylor used that middle section to spotlight his guitar mastery and musicality with three unaccompanied tunes. They included Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” Marguerite Monnot and Edith Piaf’s beautiful French ballad “Hymne á L’Amour,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”

Del Gatto, Miller

Taylor is a marvel to hear and watch. The self-taught guitarist developed his own” jazz fingerstyle” mode. He simultaneously plays the melody, bass lines and chordal harmonies. Even when you see it, it is hard to believe it is all coming from the same two hands.

The NPJO’s members are tenor saxophonist and artistic director Lew Del Gatto , trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin G. Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey.

The presence of Basham, who is concertmaster of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, was highlighted on two other pieces: Gypsy-jazz-tinged originals recalling the guitarist’s work with Grappelli and Taylor's own fascination with Reinhardt’s music.
Taylor, Mauldin, Basham
Taylor said he wrote one of them, “Chez Fernand,” while sitting in one of Reinhardt’s favorite cafes in Samois-sur-Seine, the village where he lived in France. The other was a hornless quintet version of “Last Train to Hauteville,” in which Taylor and Basham traded spirited solos and had their two stringed instruments providing the sound and propulsive rhythm of a passing train.

The band opened the concert with a tune rarely heard in jazz circles. It was the vintage “Theme From The Odd Couple” 1970s TV series. “You may not have recognized it,” Martin quipped. “But we’re jazz musicians. That’s what we do.”

This night, they did it all very well.

Stawski, Taylor, Mauldin, Del Gatto, Miller, Harvey, Basham

Monday, January 2, 2017

The year in jazz

My comprehensive compilation of significant jazz happenings across the US and around the globe during 2016 is now posted at All About Jazz. You can read the details here

To summarize: It was a year of triumph and a year of tragedy in the jazz world. It bubbled with events and initiatives to strengthen jazz’s place in American and world culture, as well as a variety of venue openings, closings and cancellations. Jazz and stories about jazz men and women hit the silver screen over and over. 

Pop star David Bowie put his farewell musical ride in a jazz context. The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra financing scandal cost the trumpet-playing founder his job. Four young musicians lost their lives in horrible ways. The National Endowment for the Arts welcomed four new NEA Jazz Masters and the jazz world said farewell to five others who were among the many industry-associated musicians and figures who passed away over the past year.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

May you have a merry - and jazzy - Christmas

Best wishes to you. your friends and families for a very Merry Christmas 2016, joyous New Year - and hopeful 2017 - from the Jazz Notes staff.  

A toast to you all as we share some vintage musical cheer from among our holiday favorites. Raise your glass, whatever your favorite libation!

The holiday season would not be complete without the delightful animated video of The Platters’ doo-wopping their way through “White Christmas” with feeling. This animated cartoon by Joshua Held is excellent - and quite special.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Celebrating a Brazilian jazz legacy

There is something mighty special about Brazilian music. The pulse of its varied rhythms, the sensuous sway of its melodies and the textures of its exotic percussion combine in ways that touch the heart – and soul – of the listener. Those qualities were on full display Sunday, December 18 at the Tampa Jazz Club’s Manfredo Fest tribute concert at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor campus.

Pianist and composer Manfredo Fest was one of the lesser-known creators of the bossa nova when the style was in its incubation stage in the late 1950s and early ‘60s in his native Brazil. The Brazilian musical tidal wave brought him to the U.S. in 1967. He worked in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Chicago before settling in the Tampa Bay area in 1988. He spent the last dozen years of his musically prolific life in Florida, leading a band that blended the music of his homeland with bebop.

Thomas Carabasi
Phill Fest
Manfredo’s son, guitarist Phill Fest, and pianist Robert Prester drove in from West Palm Beach to collaborate with drummer Thomas Carabasi’s Samba Jazz Ensemble. The band included bassist Patrick Bettison, saxophonist Perry Childs and percussionist Alvon Griffin. Phill Fest, Bettison, Carabasi and Griffin were Manfredo Fest band veterans, so this was also a musical family reunion of sorts.

The matinee event featured mostly material from Manfredo (some of it co-written by his wife, Lili Galiteri Fest), and a couple of Phill Fest originals. The band also performed Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Double Rainbow,” “Wave” and his lesser-known “O Morro Não Tem Vez (Favela).”

Robert Prester
It was an afternoon filled with bossa nova, samba and baiao rhythms from a band that explored every nuance of the material. Each band member had multiple solo spotlights. 

Carabasi, who was Manfredo Fest’s drummer for many years, was the rhythmic engine powering the program. Griffin’s exotic percussion touches were a sight to see and hear from his dozens of hand drums, shakers and other exotic instruments.

Alvon Griffin

Perry Childs
Manfredo Fest compositions revisited by the band included “Frajola” (Hip Dude), “Bossa Blues #2,” “Guararapes,” “Hermeto” (a tasty homage to Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal), “Brazilian Dorian Dream” and “Dig This Samba.” Prester, who has recorded on both of Phill’s CDs, shared a series of stunning piano solos, including on his own composition “Islands of Guizar.”

While he spent three years touring with Sergio Mendes, Manfredo Fest’s American breakthrough as a bandleader came in the early 1990s when he signed with the Concord Picante label. 

He recorded four albums for Concord, late standouts in a career discography that included 10 recordings overall. Fest died in October 1999 while awaiting a liver transplant. He was 63.  He would have celebrated his 80th birthday last May 13.

Prester, Bettison,Fest, Carabasi, Childs, Griffin

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan digs a jazzy Christmas

Ira Sullivan was in a holiday frame of mind for his sextet appearance at the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series Monday, December 12 in Port Charlotte. The jazz veteran dug into five seasonal classics before sharing other facets of his repertoire. Before the night was done, nearly half of the concert included gems related to winter or Christmas.
Ira Sullivan

Sullivan's band for the evening included trombonist Dante Luciani, Merc Berner on flute, pocket trumpet and saxophones, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Vince Evans and drummer Barry Smith.

Dante Luciani
The festive material included "Sleigh Ride," "What Child Is This?," "Winter Wonderland," VInce Guaraldi's ballad "Christmastime is Here," "Little Drummer Boy" and a second set highlight, a bebopping romp through "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The latter featured Sullivan on both trumpet and alto sax, Berner on tenor sax and Luciani on trombone.

Sullivan, now 85, played with Charlie Parker and Lester Young in the 1950s and co-led a classic bebop quintet with trumpeter Red Rodney from 1980-85. He is a multi-instrumentalist and then some, playing trumpet, pocket trumpet, alto and soprano saxes, flute and afuche cabasa, a Latin hand-percussion instrument that added exotic textures to several tunes.
Barry Smith

Vince Evans
The Guaraldi tune, written for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was a terrific showcase for Stawski's keyboard artistry. Smith was in a joyous mood behind the drum kit all night and was featured on "Little Drummer Boy." 

Bassist Evans was featured on vocals on "Everything Happens to Me" and "Almost Like Being in Love," a Sullivan concert staple. Berner and Sullivan shifted to pocket trumpets for "The Toy Trumpet," which was written for the 1938 movie"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" starring Shirley Temple.

The band's version of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue," which closed the first set, was tedious at best. Rather than the bright and lovely sound associated with the horn, Sullivan's soprano sax sounded more like an instrument at a Middle Eastern bazaar on this and several other tunes. Bizarre indeed.
Ira Sullivan and Marc Berner

This concert wasn't as smooth and strong as Sullivan's prior Cultural Center Theater appearance in February 2012 but it had very fine moments, particularly when Sullivan and Berner teamed up on flutes with contrasting musical shadings from Luciani's trombone.  

That flutes and trombone combination was featured on "Christmastime is Here," "Corcovado" and the evening's closer: a beautiful version of "Day by Day" from the musical "Godspell" that segued into "Amazing Grace."
Stawski, Evans, Sullivan, Smith, Berner, Luciani