Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No matter what you call it, it covers jazz

Sunday afternoon's concert by the Naples Jazz Orchestra outside the Boca Grande FL Community Center was musically excellent - and a bit different for its visuals.

Bassist Paul Shewchuk was playing what you could call either a "bass umbrella" or an "umbrella bass." The crafty musician attached a small black umbrella to the top of his upright bass, presumably to shield himself and his bulky instrument from the warmth and direct rays of the sun. 

Perhaps he did it to protect the bass fiddle, as some call it, from the possibility of a sudden shower, which pop up at any time in Florida. It would work for both possibilities. Either way, it was a sight to behold.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A sound all his own

Brazilian jazz guitarist Diego Figueiredo is a musical talent to take note of. Many notes, in fact.

Figueiredo  (pronounced fig-a-reed-o) drew a packed house at the Fogartyville Cafe in Sarasota FL on Wednesday, March 18 where he put on a mesmerizing display of solo guitar artistry, blending a variety of Brazilian styles, including bossa nova of course, with a handful of classic American jazz standards. 

Figueiredo, who first picked up the guitar at age four in his native Franca, Brazil, is now in his mid-30s and has released 22 CDs. He has won several major guitar competitions, including one held at Switzerland's prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival.

 You can find an interesting range of his material on YouTube. Check him out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Sinatra centennial

If you are going to have a vocal doppelganger, who better than Frank Sinatra?

Walt Andrus
Such is the case for singer Walt Andrus, who puts his uncanny  vocal similarities to the test Monday, March 16 at the Naples Jazz Orchestra's Sinatra centennial concert - and passed with flying colors. The event drew more than 3,000 people to Cambier Park in downtown Naples FL.

Andrus is a veteran big band singer, whose most notable work included 15 years (from 1988-2004) with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra conducted by Buddy Morrow. His forte is the Sinatra repertoire. He doesn't sound like an imitator. He's just blessed with very fine pipes and an ability to deliver on the repertoire in his own convincing way.

The very fine Naples Jazz Orchestra put the swing in the charts, pushed and prodded by musical director Bob Stone's hard-driving drums. The evening's two sets included a wide array of Sinatra-associated material, from his early big band days to more saloon-style material.

Treats included their explorations of "Yellow Days," "Witchcraft," "One More for the Road"  and "The Best is Yet to Come." Sinatra's Chicago tribute "My Kind of Town," was a perfect fit for the evening given Stone's long big band association with the Windy City. It set up the delivery a few songs later of the Sinatra staple "New York, New York." "Strangers in the Night" was the evening's encore.

With the 100th anniversary of Sinatra's birth coming on December 12, there is an audience hunger for events such as this during 2015. This is a powerhouse band, with Andrus in tow, that ought to capitalize on that momentum.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jazz to hang your hat on

Judi Glover
Judi and Alex Glover worked the cruise ships and the casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City for more than two decades. Eighteen months ago, without any job prospects lined up here, they decided to take a gamble on Florida. They haven't looked back.

For most of those years up north, Alex was in the spotlight as vocalist and leader of Alex Glover & Company, which ranged from small groups to larger ensembles and even a big band. His wife worked out of the limelight as the group's pianist and as a music educator.

In Florida, the tables have turned. Alex sings when opportunities permit, but mostly, he's content to sit back and listen to Judi's marvelous skills at the keyboard. She's been busy from the time they moved from the Atlantic City area to the Gulf Coast, as an occasional leader but more often as a  rhythm section member or as an accompanist. This year, she signed on as the pianist of the highly regarded Naples Jazz Orchestra.

Alex & Judi Glover
Thursday, March 12 brought one of those rare opportunities to hear them working together. They performed in the finale of the South County Jazz Club's 2014-2015 matinee series at the Venice Art Center.

Supported by three standout area players - bassist Don Mopsick, reed player Tom Ellison and drummer Johnny Moore, they explored a wide range of jazz and Great American Songbook staples. They managed to sidestep virtually all of the so-called tired tunes, the standards that have been done ad nauseum.

Glover, Ellison
Favorite moments: the quartet's Latin-tinged take on "Night and Day," and Alex's versions of tunes of long-standing quality that don't seem over done. They included "Nevertheless I'm in Love With You," "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," and the Rosemary Clooney hit "You'll Never Know."

Alex Glover
Alex noted that much of this material dates back 50 or 60 years and passes the test of enduring quality. Then he asked rhetorically if the same could be said down the road for much of what passes today as pop music."In 50 years," he asked the audience, "will anyone be asking to hear anything Beyonce recorded" (in this decade)?  "or Justin Bieber?," Ellison chimed in.

It's a point to ponder.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview - Spring edition

The 2014-15 jazz concert season will start winding down after Easter… when the majority of snowbirds will start heading north. But there is great music still to be found for those who linger in Southwest Florida, or are here pretty much year-round. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through mid-May.

  • Monday, March 16The Naples Jazz Orchestra's Frank Sinatra centennial tribute with singer Walt Andrus. 7 p.m., Cambier Park, Naples.
  • Friday, March 20 – Singer Carla Cook with the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto Quintet. Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Fort Myers.
  • Wednesday, April 1, 2015 – Trumpeter Jon Faddis is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, April 13 – Trombonist Herb Bruce‘s Dixieland band, Herbicide, in concert, Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 16 – Singer-pianist Diana Krall. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Friday, April 17 – Trumpeter Chris Botti. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 22, 2015 – Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 13, 2015 – The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra features drummer Mike Harvey in its tribute to the music of Art Blakey. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House and the Turtle Club in Punta Gorda, The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers, and Alto in Naples) offer jazz steadily. A variety of matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Freshening classic jazz

Trombonist Bill Allred knows how to honor the earliest jazz and the finest in big band swing without sounding dated in any way. He did so with his eight-piece Classic Jazz Band Monday, March 9 in the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series in Port Charlotte FL.

Bill Allred
The Orlando-based octet is a high-energy outfit that knows how to make the music swing, and then some. "Let's get this party started," the leader said as the band launched into Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" before beginning a first-set examination of Louis Armstrong-associated New Orleans staples, then moving north to Memphis and Chicago, much as the music did in its formative decades.
Randy Morris

Allred described New Orleans' Storyville district, where jazz and ragtime were born, as "the first adult theme park" before pianist Randy Morris worked his way through a bit of Jelly Roll Morton ragtime. Trumpeter and singer Bobby Pickwood had very strong features on "West End Blues and "What a Wonderful World."

Bobby Pickwood
The second set focused on the big band era, coursing through material from Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Buddy Morrow, sneaking in a bit of the Ray Charles songbook with "Hard-Hearted Hannah" and Bob Crosby's Bobcats' "Big Noise from Winnetka" before winding down with a nod to Benny Goodman on "Sing, Sing, Sing."

This version of Allred's band also featured David MacKenzie on reeds, trumpeter Greg Little, trombonist Herb Bruce, bassist Jay Mueller and drummer Dick Maley. 

Allred's band, now in its 25th year, was last in Port Charlotte in December 2011. It was an ideal choice for the jazz society's 25th season, in a concert that drew 400+.
Morris, MacKenzie, Pickwood, Little, Mueller (partly hidden), Allred, Bruce, Maley.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hot jazz in every sense

Bria Skonberg
Trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg, a British Columbia native now making her mark on the New York jazz scene, brought her talents and charm to Southwest Florida on Sunday, March 8. She performed at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center in Sarasota in a South County Jazz Club concert.

Skonberg, whose music is rooted in traditional jazz but isn't limited to it, displayed a wide range of stylistic material - and strong vocals to boot. She was backed by pianist Dalton Ridenhour,  a frequent collaborator, and two Miami-based players - bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer John Yarling. 

Chuck Bergeron, Bria Skonberg
Her repertoire ranged from Louis Armstrong's "Hotter Than That" to Janis Joplin ("Mercedes Benz") and The Mamas & the Papas ("Dream a Little Dream of Me"). A blend of jazz and American Songbook standards and Skonberg originals was sandwiched in between.

Favorites included her own recession-inspired "Have a Little Heart" and the band's take on trumpeter Charlie Shavers' "Undecided" that featured a stride piano solo from Ridenhour. Skonberg also shined bright on "Tea for Two," offered as a tribute to vocal idol Anita O'Day, and "Je Suis Seule Ce Soir," a poignant French ballad from 1941 whose title translates as "I am Alone Tonight." 

The audience dug Skonberg, clapping along to her planned finale, "Mercedes Benz."
Then they clamored for more, bringing the quartet back to the stage for "Dream a Little Dream."

 Indeed, it was a dreamy afternoon.
Ridenhour, Bergeron, Skonberg, Yarling

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Honoring the Brubeck jazz legacy in her own sweet way

Karla Harris
Singer Karla Harris celebrated the teamwork of Dave and Iola Brubeck on Friday, March 6 at the 35th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival. Few going into the concert may have been aware of the extent of Iola Brubeck's impact on her pianist husband's career, but they left with a much deeper understanding, thanks to Atlanta-based Harris' brief but insightful song introductions.

Iola was Dave's early manager and came up with the jazz goes to college concept in the 1950s that helped catapult his visibility and popularity.  She raised their six children while he was on the road, as much as nine months a year. And she wrote lyrics for a variety of his compositions, as well as the Brubeck recording staple "Take Five," which was composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond. In a few cases, Dave and Iola wrote the lyrics together.

Dave and Iola Brubeck *
The concert was built around the new recording Karla Harris Sings the Dave & Iola Brubeck Songbook, which was released last month on the Summit label. The recording was built around  a copy of a rare Dave Brubeck songbook published more than 30 years ago. Iola Brubeck had provided a copy to Howe through her estate, before her passing last year.  

In Sarasota, Harris was featured with her primary collaborator and arranger, pianist Ted Howe, as well as bassist Mark Neuenschwander, drummer Ric Craig and alto saxophonist Dan Jordan.
Ted Howe, Karla Harris

Howe's crafty arrangements transformed the feel of some of the original instrumental compositions in service to the lyrics, and Harris' vocal approach. For example, the buoyant ballad "In Your Own Sweet Way" was slowed and darkened to underscore Iola's pensive words.

The concert featured may Brubeck staples, such as his Ellington tribute "The Duke," "Take Five,"  and "My One Bad Habit," from the Brubecks' "The Real Ambassadors" project with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. It also included "Strange Meadowlark," which Dave based on the call of the bird he heard growing up on his father's ranch in northern California. 

It included one tune not associated with the Brubecks. Harris sang Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to" as a tribute to the couple's 70 years together. Harris and Howe followed with a poignant vocal-piano duet on "Weep No More," which Dave wrote for Iola that also spoke to his homecomings after extended time on the road.

Harris kicked things up a notch with two of Brubeck's blues numbers, "Far More Blue"  and "Trav'lin Blues" Dave wrote the music and words to the former, Iola wrote the words to the latter.

"After doing this project, I'm now a huge Iola fan," Harris told the audience at the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center.
Howe, Harris, Neuenschwander, Jordan, Craig
Other concerts in the jazz festival's week-long run included singer-pianist Freddy Cole's quintet, and the Sarasota Jazz Project big band featuring bassist John Lamb and singer June Garber. The series winds down tonight with pianist Dick Hyman, reed player Ken Peplowski and singer Kitt Moran.

* The Brubecks were photographed on September 4, 2004 at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Lenox MA. © Ken Franckling

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The hipster returns

Giacomo Gates, Mac Chrupcala
Jazz singer Giacomo Gates is full of surprises - for his audience, and his bandmates. His performances are richer for it.

Such was the case Saturday night when he closed out February with a South County Jazz Club concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center in Sarasota FL. Gates' band for the night, and a pair of jazz bistro concerts scheduled Sunday, March 1 at JD's in Port Charlotte, included pianist Mac Chrupcala, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Patricia Dean.

He built an instant rapport with the band and the audience, putting each song in context as he blended straight-ahead vocals; scat solos in which he uncannily sounded like a trombone, a double bass and even a flute; and vocalese. The latter technique involves singing words to a classic instrumental solo. Eddie Jefferson pioneered vocalese, Jon Hendricks popularized it, and Gates is one of today's great vocalese ambassadors. 

As for the surprises sprinkled among his many gems.
Dean, Gates
  • Gates brought Dean out from behind the drum set to share the vocal spotlight for two tunes. She's one of Florida's finer jazz singers but finds her timekeeping in steady demand. Their vocal duet on "All of Me" was followed by an interesting vocal twist. Gates layered bits of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" over Dean's version of the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross classic "Centerpiece."
  • Digging deep into the jazz archives, Gates sang the rather obscure tune "If I Were You, Baby, I'd Love Me." Nat Cole recorded it first in 1950 and it is rarely heard anymore.This was the first time Gates' band mates had ever played it. He also rolled out Babs Gonzalez' ode to romance gone wrong, "When Lovers They Lose."
This was Gates' third annual appearance in the area, though it was his first for the South County Jazz Club. No doubt he'll be back.
Chrupcala, Mopsick, Gates, Dean

Friday, February 27, 2015

Florida meets jazz singer Tess Collins

Tess Collins took a circuitous route for her first concert before a Florida jazz audience. It began in her native Maine, wove through several major cities in China where she appears regularly (including Beijing and Shanghai) and her new home base London. 

Tess Collins
The Southwest Florida stop coincided with a vacation visit with relatives on Florida's east coast. She came to the Gulf Coast on Thursday, February 26, to perform as a special guest of pianist Mac Chrupcala's trio at the Venice Art Center. The concert was part of the South County Jazz Club's matinee series.

The band's music was exceptional all afternoon - and Collins stole the show - earning standing ovations at the end of each set. This young singer has great chops, a very strong ability to engage her audience, and a wide-ranging jazz repertoire. 

Mac Chrupcala, John Lamb
Chrupcala, a snowbird who divides his year between the Newport RI and SW Florida jazz scenes, has worked with Collins for about six years in New England. They were joined by two other fine talents, bassist John Lamb and drummer Dave Morgan. They developed an instant musical rapport.

Personal favorites: 
  • Their unusually funky, bluesy romp through "Summertime" that turned the otherwise tired tune into something fresh and vibrant
  • Collins' knowing and poignant interpretation of "Blame It On My Youth"
  • The trio's instrumental version of "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?"
  • And the two set closers: Bonnie Raitt's dirty blues "Love Me Like a Man" and their gospel-imbued take on Billy Holiday's "God Bless The Child"
That said, there wasn't a bad moment all afternoon. Collins said she wants to make a return appearance when she next visits Florida, and the full house at the concert made it clear she'll be most welcome.
Morgan, Lamb, Chrupcala, Collins

Sunday, February 22, 2015

RIP Clark Terry

The jazz world lost Clark Terry yesterday at age 94 after more than a decade of declining health. He was a jazz giant whose legacy extends far beyond being a trumpet player. 

Clark Terry
Terry was a true NEA Jazz Master, bandleader and educator. He worked as a sideman in both the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras at varying times. In the 1960s, he became the first black staff musician at NBC, playing for 12 years in The Tonight Show band. And he was a humorist, best known for his creative and hilarious "Mumbles" versions of scat singing. 

I remember another side of his humor, a moment in which he described what we might call his earliest encounter with "ear training." Educators use the term to refer to the way musicians - solely by hearing - learn to identify the pitches, intervals, melody, chords and rhythms that are part of music. Clark Terry was talking about something quite different as he described  growing up in the St. Louis music scene. 

Clark said he asked an old gentleman once how to improve his tone in the lower register. “He told me to grit my teeth and wiggle my left ear. And being a young, naive little brat, I didn’t know any different. I practiced that diligently and reached a point where I could wiggle my ear while gritting my teeth and attempting to play a bigger, lower note. It didn’t make a bigger note… but I got a lot of attention wiggling my ear and gritting my teeth.”
No matter how you remember him, the legacy of Clark Terry  (December 14, 1920 - February 21, 1915) is an indelible part of the jazz world. As it should be.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A rare dose of jazz talent on display

Trumpet prodigy Geoff Gallante was back at JD's Bistro in Port Charlotte FL on Friday night, February 20, sitting in for two sets with singer-pianist Danny Sinoff's trio. Gallante, now 14 (but sounding like a wily jazz veteran in his 40s),  is an interesting talent.

Dean, McCants, Gallante, Bruce
The Fairfax County, Virginia resident started playing the horn at age 4 and mastered it very quickly. Before he turned 6, he sat in with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson at Blues Alley in Washington DC. At age 6, he became the youngest musician to perform at the White House and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has appeared with a wide range of high-level jazz artists, big bands, concert bands and symphonies across the U.S.

Danny Sinoff
One thing was readily apparent at JD's this time around, he continues to grow musically. It had been only 11 months since his prior appearance (on March 21, 2014), yet it was clear there was much more subtlety and an even deeper harmonic sophistication to his playing.

Highlights: the band's take on Duke Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" (showcasing those subtleties) and a third-set opener, when the band roared through "On Green Dolphin Street." Trombonist Herb Bruce joined the band for that final set. He and Gallante went head to head on solos and blended seamlessly on riffs supporting the rhythm section soloists. No matter the tune that was called, the kid knew the music, and then some.

Sinoff's Friday night trio at JD's includes bassist Sherrell McCants and drummer Patricia Dean.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jazz with an R&B-3 twist

Katt Hefner
The rhythm and blues feel is inescapable when you've got a Hammond B-3 organ in the house, and that was the case at Friday's South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Englewood FL Art Center.

Siblings Katt Hefner and Stan Heffner (yes, they spell their last names differently) teamed up for the first time with saxophonist and flutist Tom Ellison. But you wouldn't have known by the performance that it was their first time blending their talents with the Venice-based reed player.

Stan Heffner, Tom Ellison
Katt Hefner is a Sarasota-based jazz singer. Her brother is based in Pittsburgh (he keeps a B-3 up north and another down here), and flies down whenever Kat has an organ-related gig in Florida. He was no doubt glad to escape the Northeast's winter cold for a few days.

The blues, rumba, and more than a bit of R&B figured into their wide-ranging program. 

Highlights: their takes on the Lou Rawls hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Me" and the Al Green hit "Let's Stay Together" - and a teasing romp through "Let the Good Times Roll." Stan Heffner's rhythmic, percussive groove at the B-3 is untypical and most interesting. He displayed it nicely throughout, nowhere better than the band's take on "It's Alright With Me."

It was a treat to hear the versatile Ellison in an R&B context most of the afternoon. His flute work on a rumba version of "Love Walked In" was also delightful. 

The trio had great fun - and so did the audience.
Stan Heffner, Katt Hefner, Tom Ellison

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Harry Allen and Jan Lundgren, Jon Davis, George Robert and Joanna Wallfisch….

Harry Allen/Jan Lundgren Quartet, Quietly There (Stunt)
This is a gem, pairing one of today’s versatile swing tenor players with a Scandanavian trio led by Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren. The other fine bandmates are bassist Hans Backenroth and drummer Kristian Leth. Together on this project, recorded last July in Copenhagen, they dig deeply into the Johnny Mandel songbook. In that regard, the project is very similar to Zoot Sims’ 1984 CD Quietly There, which was one of the tenor player’s final sessions. Allen & Co. dig into nine Mandel tunes, ranging from the wistful ballad “Emily” to the Brazilian lilt of “Cinnamon and Clove” and the playful “Suicide is Painless” (better known as the Theme from TV’s “M*A*S*H” series). Lundgren’s intro to “Just a Child is exquisite, setting up Allen’s conversational solo. This beautiful project is a vivid reminder of Mandel’s indelible impact on pop music and jazz. Every one of the nine tracks is something to savor.

Jon Davis, Moving Right Along (Posi-Tone)

New York-based pianist Jon Davis has an adventurous CD in his second Posi-Tone project, Moving Right Along. Favorites include his original, “Beauty and the Blues,” and his interesting interpretations of John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” and the Beatles (Lennon/McCartney) classic “She’s Leaving Home.” The blend of originals and covers also includes “Portrait of Tracy” and “Dania,” which were written by his 1980s boss, Jaco Pastorius. Davis has fine support throughout from bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi.

George Robert All-Star Quartet, New Life (GPR)
The Swiss alto saxophonist George Robert recorded this session during two-nights of a 10-night, 10-concert Swiss tour with three other jazz heavyweights: pianist Dado Moroni, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Robert released it simultaneously with another fine CD Coming Home, a duo project with longtime collaborator Kenny Barron at the piano.. But the intensity of Robert’s live performance in the quartet format rises to a higher level. The lone track from Ascona, the mightily swinging “Blue Ray,” is a composition that Robert wrote for late bassist Ray Brown. It’s a natural for this session, as all four players worked with Brown in some way at various points in their careers. The rest of the CD was recorded five nights later in Zurich. Other favorites: his Cannonball Adderley tribute “Cannonball,” the Pink-Panther films-inspired “Clouseau” and “Hammer’s Tones,” a burner he wrote for Hamilton.

Joanna Wallfisch, The Origin of Adjustable Things (Sunnyside)
Singer and poetic songwriter Joanna Wallfisch is a breath of fresh air on the jazz scene, and on this second CD reveals her considerable talents in a most intimate duo format. The Origin of Adjustable Things pairs Wallfisch’s vocals with the piano improvisations of Dan Tepfer, whose jazz comet is also on the rise as a member of saxophonist Lee Konitz’s quartet. Tepfer complements Wallfisch’s vocals on piano, Wurlitzer, Mellotron and pump organ. Wallfisch’s effects include live-looped vocal harmonies as she and Tepfer course through a dozen tunes, eight of them written by the singer. Favorites: her own “Satin Grey” and “This is How You Make Me Feel,” and their covers of Tim Buckley’s “Song to a Siren,” Radiohead’s “Creep” and an astonishing version of “Wild is the Wind.” This is a March 3 release