Friday, September 4, 2015

The fine art of musical conversation

Subbing for vacationing drummer-singer Patricia Dean's band, pianist William Evans brought his Tampa Bay-area trio to JD's Bistro & Grille in Port Charlotte FL Thursday night, September 2, for what turned out to be a top-flight night of music.
William Evans

Detroit native Evans splits his time between Florida's Gulf Coast and Basel, Switzerland, where he's a longtime faculty member at the Swiss Jazz School. Evans' band mates on Thursday were two other very fine Tampa Bay-area players, bassist Joe Porter and drummer John Jenkins.
Evans, Porter

Together they engaged in the fine art of musical conversation, where the shared result becomes something far greater than the mere sum of its individual parts. Each of these players is a jazz modernist, able through tone, touch and musical ideas to transform any song into a fresh gem with many facets. To use a bit of art analogy, they were like three sound painters sharing one canvas.

They avoided the "tired tunes" repertoire entirely - which is rare for a club or restaurant gig - and the music was better for it. The trio  did include one so-called standard, albeit one that was a hit so long ago that most listeners wouldn't remember it. The Marty Palitz-Alec Wilder ballad "Moon and Sand" was first recorded back in 1941 by Xavier Cugat with his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra. It is always great when a musician dusts off some of the infrequently visited pages of the Great American Songbook.

The evening's repertoire also included a bit of Joe Henderson ("Black Narcissus"), Cedar Walton, Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk ("Eronel"), among others. Evans, Porter and Jenkins put their own collective stamp on them. And a fine stamp it was.

What a way to get prepared for the forthcoming jazz concert season in southwest Florida. 
William Evans, Joe Porter, John Jenkins

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

The 2015-16 jazz concert season will start heating up in southwest Florida in September and continue through May, mirroring the gradual arrival and departure of the snowbirds. 

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November. I’ll post updated lists as the season progresses.
  • Tuesday, September 8 – Singer Lorri Hafer with the Helios Jazz Orchestra. The Palladium Theatre’s Side Door Cabaret, St. Petersburg. 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, September 23 – Guitarist Nate Najar, drummer-vibist Chuck Redd and bassist Tommy Cecil. The Side Door Cabaret at the Palladum Theater. St. Petersburg. 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, October 12 – Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series opens its new season with a double bill featuring singer-drummer Patricia Dean with the Stu Shelton trio, plus trumpeter Bob Zottola’s quartet. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Friday, October 23 – St. Petersburg-based O Som Do Jazz performs Brazilian jazz at Artis Naples’ Daniels Pavilion. 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. shows.
  • Wednesday, October 28 – Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan is featured guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for its All That Jazz season opener. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
    Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Wednesday, November 4 – Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater joins Irvin Mayfield &  the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall, Tampa, 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 9 – Pianist Jerry Stawski’s Jazz Ensemble. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series concert at Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 15 – Guitarist Julian Lage’s trio. The Side Door Cabaret at the Palladum Theater. St. Petersburg. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 18 – West Coast singer Kenny Washington joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • November 20-22. Dixieland and trad jazz take over Clearwater Beach for the 25th annual Suncoast Jazz Classic, featuring bands from across Florida and across the U.S. in performances at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort and the Marriott Suites on Sand Key. Details at the group’s website.
  • Saturday, November 28 – Smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz brings his 2015 Christmas tour, with special guests, to Artis Naples. Hayes Hall, 8 p.m.
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota and The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers) 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.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Another view of Newport

You could call this one Jazz on Sunny Days. 

Justin Brown
Eyewear spotted on the various 2015 Newport Jazz Festival stages last weekeend was a combination of fashion statement, utilitarian - or both. 

Here's a look at some of the more interesting sightings.  Be sure to note the red, white and blue predominating trumpeter Arturo Sandoval's eye wear.

Shoko Nagai

Cecile McLorin Salvant

Lucky Peterson
Solomon Dorsey

Irvin Mayfield

Steve Lehman

Grace Kelly

Arturo Sandoval

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Newport Jazz Festival photo gallery is posted

My 2015 Newport Jazz Festival primary photo gallery has been posted at Take a stroll through it and enjoy. Here's a direct link. Here's a link to more images of New Orleans-related musicians at Newport posted by Offbeat.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Newport Jazz Festival marathon

The 2015 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival, granddaddy of them all, was one of the finest in  recent memory... with spectacular weather, a wide range of engaging music, and combined attendance exceeding 23,000. Saturday was the more robust day at Fort Adams State Park with 8,000 attendees.

While I continue to prepare photos for publication assignments, let me share some personal favorite moments: 
  • Splendid sets on Saturday by guitarist Pat Martino's organ trio with Pat Bianchi on the
    Tom Harrell
    B-3 and Carmen Intorre Jr. on drums; and trumpeter Tom Harrell's quintet, both on the tented Harbor Stage. I hadn't seen Harrell live in many years, and it was a reaffirmation of his power as a player, as well as the depth and beauty of his music. The overflow crowd hung on every moment - moments that seemed spiritual at times.
  • 12-year-old Joey Alexander, a native of Bali, Indonesia with the jazz chops of a much, much older player, displayed his piano mastery and engaging way with crowds, including two network TV teams documenting virtually his every move on stage and backstage for "60 Minutes" and Japan's NHK channel.
  • Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly, a frequent Newport player in recent years (who was considered a prodigy when she was 12 and throughout her teens) performed Friday night and Saturday afternoon with pianist Jon Batiste's high-flying band Human Spirit. Batiste begins his next high-profile gig in September as musical director for Stephen Colbert's edition of the CBS "Late Show" formerly hosted by David Letterman. Human Spirit will be his TV band.
    Jon Batiste
  • Batiste performed four times in Newport last week: Sunday, July 26 at the companion Newport Folk Festival, Friday, July 31, at the evening traditional opener at Newport Casino; Saturday afternoon, August 1 at Fort Adams; and at a Saturday night gala to benefit the Newport Festivals Foundation.  
    Lucia Micarelli, Richie Goods, Chris Botti
  • Trumpeter Chris Botti ostensibly was the Friday night headliner at Newport Casino, site of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, but Batiste picked his pocket in terms of engaging musicality. But there was one superb moment at the start of Botti's otherwise predictable show, which rarely varies. As part of a weekend celebrating Miles Davis's Newport debut 60 years ago - and his Newport legacy through the years. Botti opened his set with a beautiful version of "Concerto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" - the hallmark piece from Sketches of Spain. This inspired Botti version featured Lucia Micarelli on violin and Ben Butler on flamenco guitar. For this Sketches of Spain lover, it was a goosebumps moment.
  • Festival producer George Wein introduced one of Sunday's supercharged sets, a piano duet featuring Michel Camilo and Hiromi. "Thais one's for me," Wein said. "These are two of my favorite people in the world and two of my favorite pianists in the world."
    James Carter
  • James Carter's sextet performed the music of Don Byas on the Quad Stage on Sunday afternoon. His channeling of the Byas spirit no doubt was enhanced by playing Byas's tenor saxophone. Carter played it at a Byas centennial concert in the Netherlands and arranged to buy it from its owner. "Seven months after the centennial hit," Carter said, "I brought his horn home." And last weekend, to Newport.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Keeping the beat

Want a great summer read that you'll find hard to put down? Check out novelist Mary Morris's fine new work, "The Jazz Palace" (Doubleday's Nan A. Talese imprint). This is her 10th novel. It is a beautifully crafted work that Morris worked on for two decades amid other projects.

It's set in booming, rough-and-tumble Chicago in the 1920s. The primary character is Benny Lehmann, whose passion in life is jazz piano. As his story unfolds and interwines with several other interesting significant characters, it involves the lives of two Jewish families beset by separate and blended tragedies, set against a backdrop of music, gangsters, racial divides, love, passion and the eve of the Great Depression.

The music is the heart and soul that moves this story along like like an extended blues form. With her skill as a writer, Morris' prose carries a musical cadence that pulls you into the work and holds you there through its twists, turns and ultimate triumph.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Jazz singers are in today’s spotlight. Taking a look at a variety of stunning new CDs by Thana Alexa, Keri Johnsrud, Gillian Margot, Joanna Pascale and Charenée Wade….

Thana Alexa, Ode to Heroes (Harmonia Mundi / Jazz Village)

 New York City-born, Croatia-raised Thana Alexa has an exotic voice and significant talent as a composer and lyricist. This is her debut CD as a leader after guesting on several CDs by guitarist Gene Ess and her husband, the fine drummer Antonio Sanchez, who co-produced this session. In addition to writing eight originals, she also penned fresh lyrics for and arranged the music for “Trace Back Your Footprints” (Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”) and “The Wanderer” (her version of Charles Mingus’ Lester Young elegy, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”). 

My favorites: the title track, which she wrote with Sanchez and tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin in mind; the “Footprints” redux and “Ghost Hawk,” which she wrote in memory to her brother Niki, who died five years ago in a motorcycle accident. She also included a lovely version of “Take Five,” the Paul Desmond classic with lyrics by Dave and Iola Brubeck. Alexa is a musician who happens to sing. She employs scatting and vocalese to sparing, yet great, effect on several tracks. Other key collaborators here include pianist Sergio Salvatore, bassist Jorge Roeder and tenor player Lenart Krecic (McCaslin only guests on the powerful title track).

Keri Johnsrud, This Side of Morning (self-produced)
Singer-songwriter Keri Johnsrud has been working in the Chicago jazz scene for about 15 years. All of her material here is original, with her writing the lyrics and pianist Kevin Bales writing most of the music for her finely honed musical short stories. Like the great preponderance of vocal material, she explores various aspects of love, romance and love lost - through her own filters and imagination. The gems include “When Morning Dawns,” “Everything’s Okay,” and the clever “The Chameleon.” The band includes bassist Larry Kohut, guitarist Neal Alger, drummer Jon Deitemyer and vibes player Stephen Lynerd, all of who provide strong support and memorable solos. Check her out.

Gillian Margot, Black Butterfly (HiPNOTIC) 
The great thing about jazz projects is that musicians can take a range of fine material from other genres and enhance it in their own way. Toronto-based Gillian Margot and her producer, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, recruited a team of fine New York-based musicians for this project, in which Margot puts her own stamp on a wide variety of jazz, pop and soul tunes. The band includes Pelt, saxophonist Roxy Cross, guitarist Freddie Bryant, pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Richie Goods and drummer Kendrick Scott. The opening title track is a hybrid, with Margot adding her own lyrics to pianist George Cables’ jazz tune “Ebony Moonbeams.”

No matter whether she’s taking a gospel or bluesy approach in her interpretations, Margot’s sound is imbued with subtlety, pathos and wistfulness. The gems include her takes on Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You,” a bluesy ballad version of Simply Red’s “1985 hit “Holding Back the Years,” and an a capella version of Joni Mitchell’s “Conversation.” There’s also a fine original blues in which she’s backed only by Goods on upright bass. That one’s a conversation too.

Joanna Pascale, Wildflower (Stiletto)
Philly-based Joanna Pascale says she only sings songs that she loves and connects with. That approach greatly enhances Wildflower, her fourth CD as a leader. She’s backed by producer Orrin Evans on piano, Vicente Archer on bass, and Obed Calvaire on drums. Cyrus Chestnut (piano and B-3 organ, Christian McBride and Luques Curtis (bass), Donald Edwards (drums) and Gregoire Maret (harmonica) are among the special guests on select tracks. She even performs J.J. Johnson’s jazz ballad “Lament,” with fresh lyrics written for her by Tony Haywood.

Favorite tracks: the opener “Forget Me,” which Washington DC-based poet Valerie Brown wrote and her good friend Shirley Horn first recorded; Pascale’s takes on Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” and the Gerry Goffin-Carole King pop classic “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (both enhanced by Maret’s wonderful harmonica work); and a splendid cover of Henry Glover’s soulful “Drown in My Own Tears” (with Maret on harmonica and Chestnut on B-3). The title track, a 1970s pop hit for Skylark that’s been covered by many singers over the years, sure endures. Pascale does it justice here with a wistful version featuring guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Tim Motzer, and backing vocals by soul singer Bilal. There is much here to savor, as Pascale celebrates quality songwriting.

2010 Monk International Jazz Competition runner-up Charenée Wade has brought her vocal talents and life’s perspective to 11 pieces from the voluminous songbook of the late Gil Scott-Heron and his frequent musical collaborator Brian Jackson. Christian McBride and Malcolm-Jamal Warner are the narrators on two Scott-Heron pieces, “Peace Go With You, Brother” (from his Winter in America album) and “Essex/Martin, Grant Byrd & Till” respectively. The tracks include “Song of the Wind,” “Peace Go With You Brother,” “Ain’t No Such Thing as Superman,” “Home is Where the Hatred is, and the optimistic “I Think I’ll Call it Morning.” 

Wade’s all-star musical collaborators are pianist Brandon McCune, guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Alvester Garnett, vibes player Stefon Harris, alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and Marcus Miller on bass clarinet. Four decades after we heard Scott-Heron deal with growing up black in America issues – perhaps the clearest inspiration for the rap and hip-hop genres – with anger, pathos and optimism, current events show his social empowerment message is just as relevant today. Wade and her collaborators have carried that reminder forth with great beauty, feeling, hope and triumph.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Pat Bianchi, Brian Charette, Jason Miles & Ingrid Jensen, Josh Nelson and Donald Vega….

Pat Bianchi, A Higher Standard (21-H)

B-3 player Pat Bianchi, who provides the keyboard sound in guitarist Pat Martino’s organ trio, is a musical adventurer who understands and coveys the deep energy groove that is so vital to jazz. A Higher Standard, his sixth CD as a leader or co-leader, teams Bianchi with bassist Craig Ebner and drummer Byron Landham. Favorite tracks: their take on the Sergio Mendes classic “So Many Stars,” the Bianchi burner “The Will of Landham,” their romp through Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark,” Bill Evans' classic “Very Early” and Stevie Wonder’s “From the Bottom of My Heart.” There are also interesting takes on material by Leonard Bernstein, John Coltrane and Horace Silver.

Brian Charette, Alphabet City (Posi-Tone)

The B-3 organ seems centered in soul jazz, but Brian Charette is one of the modernists who are taking that classic B-3 sound into fresh territory. Alphabet City, his ninth release, teams him with guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Rudy Royston for propulsive explorations of a dozen Charette originals. Favorite tracks: the teasing sounds of “They Left Fred Out,” the soulful “Sharpie Moustache,” the Pink Panther-like “Hungarian Major” and the hard-driving closer, “The Vague Reply.” Hammond B-3 fans in particular need to check this out. The trio is hot as the members combine their individual musical voices into a splendid conversation.

Jason Miles / Ingrid Jensen, Kind of New (Whaling City Sound)

This gem, co-led by keyboard player Jason Miles and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, is already high on my list of 2015 favorites. Inspiration for the 11 originals came from trumpeter Miles Davis’ early 1970s live concert music and his progressive jazz that followed into the late 1980s. Jason Miles, who brought his keyboard skills to three 1980s Davis projects (Tutu, Amandla and Music From Siesta), was greatly inspired by Davis’ Cellar Door Sessions, which featured Keith Jarrett on Fender Rhodes. 

The only non-originals here are their takes on Wayne Shorter’s “Sanctuary,” which was on Davis’ breakthrough electric album Bitches Brew, and an unlisted bonus track covering Davis' playful "Jean Pierre." They took the spirit of Miles, and imbued it with their own visions of electric jazz for today. Two tracks of particular note: the ballad “Shirley,” dedicated to the late singer-pianist Shirley Horn, and the mournfully edgy “Seeing Through the Rain,” which they dedicated to Ferguson MO. Miles, Jensen and their collaborators made a project that is stunning from start to finish.

Josh Nelson, Exploring Mars (Origin)

Jazz inspiration can come from anywhere at all. In the case of pianist-composer Josh Nelson, it comes from the annals of the finest science fiction and real-time space exploration, including four different robotic rovers (Curiosity, Opportunity, Sojourner and Spirit) exploring the surface of the Red Planet. To set the mood, Nelson opens the CD by reading a section from a Ray Bradbury short story from 1950’s “The Martian Chronicles.” Quite appropriately, the passage depicts a Martian jam session. Favorite tracks: “Memmonia Quadrangle,” a superb solo showcase for guitarist Larry Koonse, and “How You Loved Me on Mars.” The latter is a ballad co-written and sung by Kathleen Grace, with Larry Goldings guesting on B-3.

Donald Vega, With Respect to Monty (Resonance)

In the jazz world, most tribute recordings tend to be recorded and released after the death of a jazz great. That’s unfortunate, since the subject of such inspiration isn’t around to hear them. Pianist Donald Vega bucked the trend with this release interpreting compositions by Jamaican-born Monty Alexander, who is one of the reigning powerhouse jazz piano greats. 

Vega arranged and interprets a wide range of Alexander’s music, including two tunes Alexander recorded and performed regularly but did not write (Milt Jackson’s “Compassion” and John Clayton’s “3000 Miles Ago”), and adds a tune of his own that’s brimming with Alexander-like touches. The band includes guitarist Anthony Wilson, an ideal melodic foil for Vega; bassist Hassan Shakur (who also happens to be Alexander’s regular bassist); and drummer Lewis Nash. Favorite gems: “Slippery” with its shifting reggae feel and exotic percussion touches, “Mango Rengue,” “Renewal” and Vega’s playful tribute summation, “The Gathering.” There is much here to love.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Looking forward to Newport

There is pretty much something for every jazz fan at the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival this July 31-August 2, no matter your stylistic or demographic preferences. A lot of crowd favorites are back - like Maria Schneider's Orchestra, pianists Hiromi  and Michel Camilo, and singer-pianist Jamie Cullum. 

The talent longevity ranges from 88-year-old Lou Donaldson, appearing Sunday with his quartet, to pianist Joey Alexander, who turned 12 a few days ago. Alexander will bring his trio to the festival's intimate new Storyville jazz stage inside the Museum of Yachting on Saturday.
Jon Batiste

New Orleans will be well-represented again this year with Jon Batiste & Stay Human, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and Dr. John.

The weekend's many singers include Cassandra Wilson, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Jose James, Lisa Fischer, Dr. John, and Cullum.

Here are several acts I find most interesting and noteworthy each day. There are always painful choices with overlapping sets on four stages. They are on my not-to-be missed list, though I undoubtedly will also see many more.
Bria Skonberg

Friday, July 31:
  • The jazz collective Snarky Puppy, a band that is bringing many young fans to the music.
  • Sets by two rising young bandleaders: saxophonist Matana Roberts with her band Coin Coin, and trumpeter-singer Bria Skonberg with her trad-influenced but wide-ranging quintet.
 Saturday, August 1:
  • The Maria Schneider Orchestra, which is just out with what is her most formidable recording to date, The Thompson Fields.
  • Guitarist Pat Martino's organ trio with Pat Bianchi on B-3 and Carmen Intorre on drums.
  • Trumpeter Tom Harrell's quintet. Harrell has played Newport in the distant past as a sideman, but this is his first showcase at the festival as a leader. Long overdue and most welcome.
  • Pat Martino
  • Trombonist Conrad Herwig's "Latin Side of Horace Silver" project featuring Michel Camilo.
  • Pianists Helen Sung and Joey Alexander at the Storyville stage.

 Sunday, August 2:
  • A set of piano duets by Camilo and Hiromi, this should be incendiary, given the passion and power both exude at the keyboard.
  • Dr. John, the New Orleans gris gris ambassador, who had to cancel at the last minute a year ago due to a bout of the flu.
  • Trumpeter Jon Faddis' "triumph of the trumpets" set that teams the longtime Dizzy Gillespie protege with Sean Jones and Marquis Hill, who was the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition winner.
  • Pianist Fred Hersch's trio. If anyone can be described as carrying on the musical momentum of the late Bill Evans, surely it is Hersch.
There is much much more, including an appearance by drummer Jack DeJohnette's Made in Chicago band with Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill and Larry Gray.  There are also two panel discussions a day that consider various aspects of Miles Davis' Newport legacy, this being the 60th anniversary of his breakthrough appearance at Newport in July 1955.  

Here's a link to the schedule. If you're heading to Newport. bring open ears, sunblock and lots of energy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What a wonderful change of pace

The jazz concert season is pretty much gone in Florida from May until the snowbirds start returning in the fall. While there are regular club and restaurant gigs to fill in the gap, it was a treat to have an actual concert to attend.
Najar, Lamb, Feinman, Suggs, Ellison

The Venice Art Center and the South County Jazz Club teamed up to present a Louis Armstrong tribute concert on Thursday, June 25, featuring a quintet led by fine young trumpeter James Suggs. He's an engaging player with family roots in Newport RI, but who grew up in Ohio. He moved to St. Petersburg area in 2014 after having spent the prior eight years living and working in Argentina.

Tom Ellison, James Suggs, Brian Hughes
Suggs was backed by Southwest Florida jazz stalwarts Nate Najar on guitar, John Lamb on bass, Mark Feinman on drums and the versatile reed player Tom Ellison on clarinet. Brian Hughes provided vocals on five  tunes.

The concert underscored just how much music associated with Armstrong is embedded in the foundation of jazz and American culture. ""I love Louis Armstrong, I always have," Suggs told the audience, a full house of about 170. "He's just one of those guys who's iconic. He is one of the best the world has ever seen." Suggs' speaking about Armstrong in the present tense made sense, given the entertainer's enduring legacy 44 years after his death on July 6, 1971.

The evening's repertoire included "West End Blues," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue,"  "Basin Street Blues," "When It's Sleepytime Down South," "St. James Infirmary," La Vie En Rose," "Mack the Knife and, of course, "When the Saints Go Marching In," among others. The band's version of "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" was exquisite. Ellison had a fine clarinet feature on "I'm Confessin' That I Love You."

Sharon Preston-Folta, Louis Armstrong's daughter from a 20-year sometimes turbulent affair the trumpeter had with her mother, was on hand to sign copies of her book, "Little Satchmo: Living in the Shadow of My Father, Louis Daniel Armstrong."  She now lives in Sarasota.

In brief intermission remarks, she said Armstrong took she and her mother on summer tours with him when she was ages 3-7, bought her mother a house and supported them. She said she last saw him when she was 13, not too long before his health failed and he passed away.