Saturday, September 21, 2019

Big band bebop at its finest

A 17-day family road trip brought me back to Rhode Island for the second time in a month, returning in September, not long after my August visit to cover the Newport Jazz Festival. The scheduling gods worked their magic for this September journey.

In other words, I got to hear the splendid John Allmark Jazz Orchestra on Monday, September 9 at The Met Cafe, a premiere RI music emporium that is located in a former mill building in Pawtucket. The band plays there on Mondays once or twice a month. 

You can never be sure which charts the British-born trumpeter will pull from his huge band book on any given Monday,. But the music is always swinging -- and delivered impeccably by his crew of southern New England musicians, most of whom are Boston or Providence jazz mainstays.
John Allmark, Bob Bowlby

On this night the finest moment came very early, as Allmark and alto saxophonist Bob Bowlby traded solo firepower - back and forth - and back again, and again - on "Groovin' High." Composer Dizzy Gillespie recorded the 1945 tune several times that year (in quintet, sextet and quartet formats, twice on the East Coast, once on the West Coast), all with fellow bop pioneer Charlie Parker in his band.

Allmark and Buddy Rich band alumnus Bowlby put their own feverish marks on the bebop classic, musically tipping their hats to Bird and Diz in the process. 

In addition to his regular big band appearances at The Met, Allmark also fronts a Super Jazz Octet that performs regularly at Askew in Providence's Jewelry District. It, too, is a great vehicle for his trumpetry and exquisite arrangements. The next octet gig at Askew is Sunday, October 6.

One of these trips, I hope to catch that one too.

John Allmark Jazz Orchestra

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November, as the 2019-20 concert season heats up….


    Valerie Gillespie
  • Saturday, September 7 – Saxophonist and singer Valerie Gillespie opens the Firehouse Cultural Center’s 2019-20 jazz series with her Blues in the Night band. Ruskin. 7:30 p.m.


  • Monday, October 14 – Clarinetist Allen Vache’s quintet opens the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2019-2020 concert series. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County. Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 17-Sunday, October 20 40th annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday. With headliners including Boyz II Men, Alison Krauss, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago, you have to look hard, and arrive early, to hear most of the jazz on the program. But it is there this year. Check out the Young Lions Jazz Masters Sessions, featuring trumpeter James Suggs, at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the University of Miami’s Frost Jazz Ensemble featuring trumpeter John Daversa, and a 40th anniversary tribute to jazz vocalists, with singers Valerie Gillespie, Karen Benjey, Erica DiCeglie, Fred Johnson, Theo Valentin and Belinda Womack, backed by the jazz trio La Lucha. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue close out the Friday night show. Coachman Park, Clearwater.
  • Saturday, October 26 The Jazz Club of Sarasota opens its 40th season with a concert by pianist Shelly Berg’s trio with bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Ian Goodman. La Lucha opens the evening with tenor saxophonist Jeremy Carter and singer Synia Carroll. Holley Hall, Sarasota, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 30 – Trombonist Michael Dease guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s 2019-2020 concert series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m. 
  • Monday, November 11 – Pianist Johnny Varro's Swing Seven performs in the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s concert series. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County. Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 20 – Singer Carla Cook guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s 2019-2020 concert series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
    Jason Marsalis
  • Friday, November 22 to Sunday, November 24 – The 28th annual Suncoast Jazz Festival’s lineup includes drummer Jason Marsalis and his 21st Century Trad Jazz Band, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, reed player Adrian Cunningham, singer Molly Ryan, Tom Rigney & Flamabeau, and Tom Hook & the Terrier Brothers, plus a long list of area guest musicians. Sand Key, Clearwater Beach.
  • Friday, Nov. 29 – Dave Koz & Friends Christmas tour with Jonathan Butler, Melissa Manchester, Michael Lington and Chris Walker. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, 8 p.m. The saxophone smoothie and his friends also perform on Sunday, December 1 at Artis-Naples. 
James Suggs
Several local venues offer jazz steadily. They include J.D.’s Bistro in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Blue Turtle in Punta Gorda, Amore, the Art Ovation Hotel and the Burns Court Bistro in Sarasota, The Roadhouse, Society and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers, and Slate’s in Cape Coral. A variety of matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and Morrie Trumble Productions also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Monday, August 26, 2019

More Newport moments

Here are a few more visual moments from the 2019 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival, held August 2-4, along with one from the Thursday, August 1 One More Once concert that featured the festival's founding producer, George Wein. The Newport Jazz Festival began in 1954.

George Wein and NJF Artistic Director Christian McBride
Jon Batiste

The Sun Ra Arkestra

Drummer Ralph Peterson's Messengers Legacy band

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Tony Scherr, Jenny Scheinman, Allison Miller

Artist-in-Residence Herbie Hancock

Dianne Reeves

Laurin Talese

Terence Blanchard

Aaron Diehl

PJ Morton
The tented Quad Stage is a big draw

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Postcard from Newport

A broad spectrum of jazz and a few genres added to bolster the crowds made for an interesting weekend at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival. Three days of afternoon concerts drew a total of nearly 20,000 to Fort Adams State Park, including 9,145 on Saturday. Attendance is capped at 10,000 per day.

The August 2-4 event marked the 65th anniversary of the storied festival, which began in 1954 at historic Newport Casino,home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The festival's ties to the site continue, as it hosts the Friday night downtown Newport concert, this year headlined by singer-pianist Jon Batiste. That event drew 2,853 people.

Here is a visual tapestry ....

< The backstage sign post honoring the late greats who performed at Newport over the years was updated to include two New Orleans musicians who died in 2019: Dr. John and Art Neville.

Women of the World

Marcus Strickland

Theon Cross, Sons of Kemet

Kandace Springs
Thundercat drew a younger crowd to the main stage
Marshall Allen, Sun Ra Arkestra

Ethan Iverson, Mark Turner

ELEW (Eric Lewis)
David Virelles, Ravi Coltrane

Dee Dee Bridgewater & Daisy

Makaya McKraven checks his phone one last time.
Founding producer George Wein

Drummer Sammy Miller & The Congregation
Aaron Diehl

Jazz on a summer day, 2019-style

Friday, August 9, 2019

Catching up with old friends, musically

Timing is everything. Singer Ronnie Rose returned to New England last weekend for his 50-year class reunion at Taunton High School in southeastern Massachusetts. It turned out to be great timing by reunion planners, because the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra performs on the first Monday of the month at The Met Café in nearby Pawtucket RI. As a result, Rose also had a musical reunion with the trumpeter 's big band, which was one of his favorite backing bands before he moved to Las Vegas 15 years ago.
Ronnie Rose and the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra

As a special guest for the night, on Monday, August 5, Rose performed a half-dozen tunes. They included Allmark's arrangement of “The Shadow of Your Smile” (a crowd-pleaser often performed by orchestra’s longtime vocalist, the late Clay Osborne), “Stormy Monday,” Ray Charles’ “Mary Ann” (first recorded in 1957 and then recorded with conguero Pancho Sanchez in 2003), and Big Joe Turner’s “Switchin’ in the Kitchen,” which Turner re-recorded with Rhode Island’s Roomful of Blues.
John Allmark, Ronnie Rose, Bob Bowlby

Rose, a fine singer who also pulls out his harmonica on the bluesiest material, hadn’t sat in with this robust big band for six or seven years but relished the opportunity. “It was so great,” he said. “It was like putting on an old pair of shoes.

This longtime fixture on the Rhode Island jazz and popular music scene, moved to Las Vegas in 2004, where he appeared at a variety of venues over the years. 

Ronnie Rose

He liked Vegas and Vegas clearly liked him – as he was named Entertainer of the Year in 2011, inducted into the Las Vegas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 2012, and was a multi-year winner of “Best Jazz Male Vocalist” and “Best Blues Male Vocalist" at the Las Vegas Black Music Awards.

He is semi-retired but still performs a few gigs a month either in Vegas or on the road. He’ll be at Arizona’s Prescott Jazz Summit on August 24 and 25, performing with the festival‘s big band, and at a jam session to follow.

If you’re in Vegas or plan to visit, check the schedules for The Dispensary Lounge, and the Piazza Lounge at Tuscany Suites and Casino to see if he’s on the bill. Better yet. Check his calendar at his website.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Newport Jazz Festival's 65th anniversary edition is in the books

The granddaddy of all jazz festivals - held in Newport starting in 1954 - hit another milestone this past weekend (August 2-4). Over three days, plus a Friday evening downtown concert, the Newport Jazz Festival celebrated its 65th anniversary with a wide array of musicians from the jazz spectrum and beyond. Alto saxophonist Gary Bartz made his first Newport appearances at this year's event.

My annual photo-pit marathon, briskly ambling between four stages, wound up Sunday evening, as I documented and captured moments from most of the 58 bands that performed over the three day weekend. JazzTimes has posted a wide array of those images taken by yours truly and three other assigned photographers (Marek Lazarski, Alan Nahigian and Joseph Allen) as part of its comprehensive coverage.

As some of you know, this was my 39th annual trek to Newport, starting in 1981 when founding producer George Wein brought the festival back to Newport after a 10-year hiatus.

Sheila Jordan
In addition to the photo pit adventures, which made it impossible to hear more than a song or two of most performances, it also provided a few opportunities for some backstage portraiture. One happy subject was Sheila Jordan, who appeared as special guest with The Royal Bopsters vocal quartet. "I may be old, but I'm not dead yet," she told the crowd.

Brandon Goldberg
At age 90, she wasn't the oldest performer. That honor went to saxophonist Marshall Allen, who at 95 still leads the Sun Ra Arkestra. The youngest performer at Newport this year was pianist Brandon Goldberg, 13, who led a trio with bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. on the festival's Storyville Stage.

Perhaps the most poignant event happened the night before the festival opening. 

Wein performed at a free Quad Stage concert* at Fort Adams State Park that was dubbed One More Once. Wein, who turns 94 in October, performed with bassist Christian McBride, who is now in his third year as the jazz festival's artistic director. They were joined after a few numbers by an unadvertised guest: trumpeter Jon Faddis.

Before performing “What is This Thing Called Love?,” Wein tipped his hat to the many jazz festival executives who have been so vital to its past and are bringing it well into the future. 

Wein, McBride, Faddis
“We’ve been here 65 years, and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” he said. “I want to dedicate this program to the generations that have made the festival what it is and the new
generation that’s taking it over and will be bringing us more festivals for many years to come.” He singled out longtime associates Bob Jones and Darlene Chan, and the Newport Jazz Festival/Folk Festival executive director Jay Sweet.

 At one point, Wein suggested Faddis and McBride do a duet. As they explored Miles Davis's “All Blues," Wein, 93, listened at his piano, savoring their music like a proud papa.

McBride joined the Newport Jazz Assembly for several numbers before his duo collaboration with Wein. The septet has performed for students at 65 public elementary and middle schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island over the past two years. The ensemble is sponsored by the Newport Festivals Foundation.

I'll post more Newport Jazz Festival images as time permits.

The Newport Jazz Festival is sponsored by Natixis Investment Managers.

*The event was part of BridgeFest, a series of Monday-through Thursday local music events to "bridge" the days between the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival.