Thursday, September 13, 2018

Things are heating up again, music-wise....

Jazz never goes away in southwestern Florida. There is jazz to be found in all seasons, if you seek it out. The major concerts and festivals generally take a summer hiatus - but things heat up again come fall.  They really intensify once the snowbirds start returning to the region. 
Bobby van Deusen

For me, those summer doldrums ended on Wednesday, September 12, when Pensacola-based pianist Bobby van Deusen came to town to share his formidable musical talents at a Charlotte County Jazz Society membership recruitment and preseason fundraising event at JD's Bistro in Port Charlotte. 

The afternoon included a bit of ragtime, jazz and Great American Songbook standards, some singalongs and a healthy dose of movie theme music. Van Deusen added some ragtime and reggae flavors to "Under the Sea" from the Disney movie "The Little Mermaid." He concluded the afternoon with his 10-minutes-plus medley of the music from "Phantom of the Opera."

Kudos to JD's General Manager David Bell and his staff for making their fine venue available for this worthy cause. The matinee event drew a crowd of nearly 100.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

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.


  • Wednesday, September 12 – Pensacola-based pianist Bobby van Deusen, a boogie-woogie, ragtime and stride piano marvel with equally strong classical chops, performs at a preseason fundraiser for the Charlotte County Jazz Society.  JD's Bistro, Port Charlotte. 2 p.m.
Lisa Kelly, J.B. Scott


  • Monday, October 8 – Singer Lisa Kelly and trumpeter J.B. Scott open the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2018-19 concert season. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County. Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday to Sunday, October 18-21 – 39th Clearwater Jazz Holiday, once again a jazz event in name only. All headliners are from genres other than jazz. Coachman Park.
  • Wednesday, October 31 – Vibes player Joe Locke guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s 2018-2019 season opener. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 12 – Trombonist Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band performs in the Charlotte County JazzSociety’s concert series. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County. Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Friday to Sunday, November 16-18 – The 28th annual Suncoast Jazz Festival offers a mix of Swing, big band, blues and traditional jazz. Headliners include Adrian Cunningham, Nate Najar, Chuck Redd and Rossano Sportiello.Clearwater Beach.
  • Friday, November 23 – Saxophone smoothie Dave Koz brings the 2018 edition of his Christmas Tour, with Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui, to the area. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8.p.m.
  • Sunday, November 25 – Saxophone smoothie Dave Koz brings the 2018 edition of his Christmas Tour, with Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui, to Artis-Naples’ Hayes Hall. Naples, 7 p.m.
  • Romero Lubambo
  • Wednesday, November 28 – Guitarist Romero Lubambo guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s 2018-2019 concert series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Blue Turtle in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers, and Slate’s in Cape Coral, 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, September 1, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Lynne Arriale, Yelena Eckemoff, Dongfeng Liu, Debra Mann and Bobby Sanabria…

Lynne Arriale, Give Us These Days (Challenge)

Pianist Lynne Arriale’s playing is filled with passion and invention – and swings with a crystalline grace all her own. Her latest project was recorded last year in Belgium and New York with two Dutch musicians bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer Jasper Van Hulten – whose empathetic support is superb. In addition to delving into six originals, Arriale puts her own delicate spin on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles hit “Let It Be” and Tom Waits’ lament “Take It With Me.” Kate McGarry is guest vocalist on the latter track. Favorites: Arriale’s Flamenco-tinged “Appassionata” and prayer-like “Give Us These Days.” Arriale adds some quirky twists to the program on her uptempo “Over and Out” and Monkish “Slightly Off-Center.”

Yelena Eckemoff, Desert (L&H Production) 
Moscow-born pianist and composer Yelena Eckemoff has a vivid imagination – imagining her own view of the multi-faceted Middle Eastern desert into one of the year’s finest jazz concept recordings. Desert is rich with musical influences from its land of inspiration – delivered artfully by Eckemoff and fellow sound travelers: horns player Paul McCandless, bassist Arild Andersen and drummer/percussionist Peter Erskine. Favorite tracks: “Bedouins,” the teasing piece “Mirages,” the sinuous “Dance,” “Oasis” and the unrelenting flow of “Dust Storm.” Eckemoff, based in North Carolina since 1991, also painted the impressionistic CD cover and included her own fictional stories and poems that complement each of the 11 tracks. The scope of the project and the delivery by this fine quartet are masterful. 

Dongfeng Liu, China Caribe (Zoho)

Music is the world’s universal language – and pianist Dongfeng Liu underscores that notion in an ambitious and unusual way on his new CD. China Carib is just what the name says - a fusion of musical influences from the leader’s native China, bubbling Latin rhythms and jazz harmonies. With support from both Chinese and Latin musicians, Liu meshes the various musical influences and sounds into a seamless tapestry of originals. 

The Latin musicians aboard are John Benitez on acoustic and electric bass, his son Francis Benitez on drums, and Roberto Quintero on percussion. Min Xiaofen performs on two lute-like Chinese stringed instruments, the ruan and the pipa, on three tracks. Feifei Yang plays the erhu, a bowed Chinese string instrument, on another. The Beijing-based Mongolian folk-rock band Hanggai adds its sound, including Mongolian throat singing, to the exotic opener, “In the Clouds.” Favorite track: Liu’s “Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon,” which features Chinese melodies and strings over a propulsive Afro-Cuban beat. This one defies easy categorization, but it is exceptional from start to finish.

Debra Mann, Full Circle: The Music of Joni Mitchell (Whaling City Sound)

Pianist and singer Debra Mann has been captivated by the Joni Mitchell songbook since she was in junior high school. The music has been ingrained in her all these years and, on this project, she celebrates it with a jazz twist without straying far from Mitchell’s originals. She and her fine southern New England band-mates give new energy to a dozen Mitchell classics, including the songwriter’s lyrics to Charles Mingus’s Lester Young elegy “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” 

The band includes saxophonist Dino Govoni,  guitarist Jay Azzolina, bassist Dave Zinno and drummer Marty Richards. Pianist Paul Nagel and percussionist Jerry Leake join the project on two tracks apiece. Govoni and Azzolina turn in some solos for the ages, with the reed player soaring on “Black Crow,” “Gooodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Woodstock.” Azzolina shifts between searing electric guitar and a more-subtle acoustic axe as the songs demand. No matter which Mitchell songs resonate most for a particular listener, these dozen re-arrangements and treatments are beauties. This is a dandy.

Bobby Sanabria, WestSide Story Reimagined (Jazzheads)

The story of powerful love amid conflict and tragedy is the story of the human condition. Shakespeare built “Romeo & Juliet” around it – and Leonard Bernstein based his musical “West Side Story” on The Bard’s classic lover story. Drummer Bobby Sanabria has done Bernstein’s classic work great justice with the latest project from his New York-based Multiverse Big Band. 

This powerful Latin jazz orchestra draws on the emotion and story line of Bernstein’s classic story of romance, dreams and love amid racism, bigotry – and the fear that cause the latter two traits. This reminder – through Maria & Tony, the Sharks & the Jets, and Officer Krupke – couldn’t have come at a more important time. The arrangements and the solos are top-notch throughout. The session was recorded in 2017 – the 60th anniversary of the debut of “West Side Story” and released in 2018, Bernstein’s centennial year.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Postcard from Newport

Here are more images from the Sunday, August 5 performances of the Newport Jazz Festival. The festival now presents about 20 bands per day over three days - on four stages at Fort Adams State Park. It draws up to a maximum crowd of about 10,000 per day.

Harold Lopez-Nussa
Russell Hall
Pianist Eric Lewis

Herlin RIley
Alexey Marti

Nicole Mitchell

Shirazette Tinnin of Mitchell's Dusty WIngs band

NJF artistic director Christian McBride
Renee Rosnes of Artemis

Pull up a chair - or a boat
Melissa Aldana of Artemis
GoGo Penguin's Chris Illingworth

Jazzmeia Horn and pianist Victor Gould

Noriko Ueda of Artemis
Tivon Pennicott

Gregory Porter

Alex White of James Carter's organ trio

James Carter and Gerard Gibbs

Naile Sosa of Maqueque
Lucinda Williams, Stuart Mathis, Charles Lloyd
George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A lyrical legacy endures

Johnny Mercer's imprint is all over The Great American Songbook. He's best known for writing the lyrics to more than a thousand songs - for Broadway, for Tin Pan Alley, for film, and for pop singers.

Johnny Mercer's imprint also is all over Savannah, GA., the verdant and historic city where he was born. Any place live music is performed, Mercer's material seeps out at listeners. 

You might even hear "Moon River" a few times a night at a piano bar or restaurant. (The tune, with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Mercer, won Grammy and Academy Awards in 1962). Heck, there's even a brew pub in Savannah named after the song, which premiered in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's.

A sculpture of Johnny Mercer, leaning on a fire hydrant reading a newspaper, was unveiled on November 18, 2009, which would have been his 100th birthday.

The life-size tribute, at the edge of Ellis Square, is just a stone's throw away from artist Susie Chisholm's studio in the city's arts-vibrant City Market area. Galleries and studios abound, including one featuring A.J. Seidl's jazz-themed paintings. 

Mercer's most frequent collaborators over this career included composers Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Henry Mancini and, in his later years, Barry Manilow.

He was a lyric genius. Tunes with his imprint included "Skylark," "The Midnight Sun," "Early Autumn," "Tangerine," "Satin Doll," "And When October Goes" and "One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)." Mercer penned both music and lyrics for "Dream" and "Something's Gotta Give," among others.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sunny and sultry weather blend with hot music for Newport Jazz Festival's 2018 finale

The scheduling gods complicated my 38th annual visit to the Newport Jazz Festival and/or Newport Folk Festival. It meant I was only able to attend on Sunday, August 5, covering the jazz event for JazzTimes

But the schedule turned out to be fortuitous. Saturday's monsoon-like intense rain and resulting mudfest (yes, the music went on), gave way to a humid day with brilliant sunshine and a wide range of hot music.

Favorite acts, caught during and after photo-pit dashes between the three outdoor stages and the club-like indoor Storyville venue, included several all-woman bands, some contemporary advances on the bebop tradition, and two fine singers: festival veteran Gregory Porter and newcomer Jazzmeia Horn.

Of particular note: 

The septet Artemis was named after the Greek goddess of the hunt, a daughter of
Artemis' Aldana, Cohen, Jensen
Black Art Jazz Collective
Zeus and sister of Apollo. This all-woman super band teams reed players Anat Cohen and Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist/musical director Renee Rosnes, bassist Noriko Ueda, drummer Allison Miller and singer Cécile McLorin Salvant.The band crackled with energy and fine music including its romp through Rosnes' original "Galapagos." This main stage set (was Aldana's long-overdue Newport debut. She won the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition five years ago. 

The Black Art Jazz Collective brought its modern bop sound to the nearby Harbor Stage. The band featured saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, trombonist James Burton III, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Johnathan Blake. 

Toronto-based soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett blended
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque
jazz and Afro-Cuban music with her sextet Maquegue. The five other musicians are women from Cuba: pianist Danae Olano, bassist Celia Jimenez, percussionist Mary Paz, drummer Naile Sosa andlead singer Melvis Santa. This one was tropically hot.

Another fine Cuban band opened the Quad Stage on Sunday. Pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa's trio included bassist Gaston Joya and the leader's brother, Ruy Lopez-Nussa, on drums. Lopez-Nussa is more of a modernist, putting a fresh spin on the Cuban music and jazz intersect.

Drummer Herlin Riley's New York-Havana Connection quintet opened the main stage on Sunday morning. Riley began his set with a solo on a conch shell, it's deep horn-like sound emulating those carried by some of the ships anchored yards offshore in Newport Harbor.

Charles Lloyd
The three-day festival included different lineups each day led by saxophonist Charles Lloyd as a celebration of his 80th birth year. Sunday's Lloyd finale included his "Charles Lloyd & Friends" band with pianist Jason Moran, guitarists Stuart Mathis and Marvin Sewell, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Eric Harland and singer Lucinda Williams.

They came by land and sea

The many other Sunday acts included England's GoGo Penguin trio, pianists Bill Charlap and Helen Sung, saxophonist James Carter's organ trio, flutist Nicole Mitchell's Dusty Wings and the crowd-drawing closer, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic.

Natixis Investment Managers is the festival's presenting sponsor.

Festival founding producer George Wein, now 92, continues to put his stamp of approval on the event. He created a Newport Festivals Foundation several years ago to ensure these storied jazz and folk festival outlive him. Bassist Christian McBride is the Newport Jazz Festival's artistic director.

Earlier this month, the state and the foundation unveiled an agreement to continue the festivals for at least 25 years at Fort Adams State Park, its picturesque home since 1981. The foundation also signed a 40-year lease to transform the former Museum of Yachting, a brick building now housing the Storyville stage, into a festivals museum.    

I've posted more photos from Newport here.                            

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Music for troubled times

There is a grand tradition of jazz being a social commentary music when needed. Consider the Louis Armstrong-Dave and Iola Brubeck-Carmen McRae and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross collaboration on the "The Real Ambassadors project in 1961. Or "We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite" with the drummer's then-wife Abbey Lincoln.
Dave Brubeck

Susan Brink
Over the years, there have been quite a few more. Fellow Jazz Journalists Association member and broadcaster Susan Brink put together a keen playlist for her Jazz Sanctuary program that aired last night, Monday, July 16, on WOOC 105.3 FM in Troy NY, where she is jazz music director.

Susan came up with some gems, before noting that she "wasn't sure what goes well with treason" - in the aftermath of the Helsinki "summit." I particularly liked the inclusion of the Dred Scott Trio's "This Ain't No Russian Novel, Baby" and Betty Carter's "Please Do Something." 

Here's a link to her July 16 program.

Check it out, and think hard about the list. Doubtless, it may trigger some other choices of your own given the state of affairs today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Mica Bethea, Alexis Cole & One For All, Fernando García, Jeff Hamilton, Ken Peplowski and Akira Tana…

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

2018's Newport Jazz Festival juggle nears

The 2018 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival's three-day music marathon has quite the lineup in store at Fort Adams State Park August 3-5  With all sizes of ensembles and a range of mostly jazz styles, the event offers more than 60 musical groups on its four stages.

Charles Lloyd
Tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd turned 80 in March - and that significant birthday celebration will continue at Newport, where he will be featured with a different group each day. On Friday, he appears with his Sangam trio with tabla player Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. Saturday features Lloyd's New Quartet with pianist Jason Moran, bassist Ruben Rogers and Harland. Lloyd wraps up the birthday fete on Sunday with his Americana-styled band with singer Lucinda Williams, guitarists Marvin Sewall and Stuart Mathis, Moran, Rogers and Harland.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Benjamin Boone & Philip Levine, Roxy Coss, E.J. Decker, Thomas Fonnesbæk & Justin Kauflin, the Benito Gonzalez-Gerry Gibbs-Essiet Okon Essiet trio, and Dave Tull…

Friday, April 20, 2018

Solo piano artistry - and then some

Pianist Bobby van Deusen is a master of the keyboard, blessed with an astonishing musical range in terms of genres, sound dynamics and sheer artistry. And those elements were all on display on Friday, April 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

The Philadelphia native, now based in the Florida Panhandle, is best known for his work in the ragtime, stride and Dixieland genres. But his reach goes much deeper and wider.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Celebrating the gypsy jazz legacy

Keven Aland
Violinist Keven Aland's Hot Club of SRQ brought its fascinating update of the gypsy jazz tradition to the Venice Art Center on Thursday, April 12, in a concert co-produced by the South County Jazz Club.

Jim Snyder
The program built on the Hot Club of France tradition, drawing much material from gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his disciples. Reinhardt co-led the Hot Club of France Quintet with French violinist Stephane Grappelli, starting in 1934.

For this performance, the Hot Club of SRQ was also a quintet, with Aland, guitarists Nikola Baltic and Jon McLaughlin, bassist Glenn Stephenson and clarinetist Jim Snyder. On every tune, Baltic and McLaughlin shifted with ease between melodic solos and rhythm guitar duties.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Superb music and whimsy combine for a memorable CCJS season finale

Herb Bruce
Trombonist Herb Bruce's repeat visit to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series with his Herbicide Jazz Band was a night of uncontrolled exuberance. Sometimes it was in the music. More often, it was the self-deprecating humor of Bruce and his merry music makers on Monday, April 9's Dixieland Jazz Night.

Herbicide presented excellent music - not always in the traditional Dixieland style. There were some crowd-pleasing vintage set pieces, some new things - including a new face in the area, some borrowed thing and some blue(s). And it all worked seamlessly.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Honoring and updating a classic saxophone sound and spirit

Harry Allen
Bandleader Woody Herman's Second Herd in the late 1940s featured a stunning saxophone section known as the Four Brothers. It featured tenormen Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward, plus baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. The sound was swinging and vibrant as the four players dug into crisp unison lines and took turns passing solos to one another much like relay runners hand off the baton.

Seventy years after the Four Brothers made their mark on big band jazz, Harry Allen is having great fun keeping the format and its spirit alive. In October 2016, he recorded a Four-Brothers-style project, The Candymen (Arbors) with his All Star New York Saxophone Band. Allen made the recording with tenorists Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart and baritone player Gary Smulyan. 
Richard Drexler

Allen brought that sound and energy to Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus on Sunday, April 7 for a Tampa Jazz Club concert billed as The Four Others. It teamed Allen with fellow tenorists Lew Del Gatto and Jeff Rupert, as well as baritone saxophonist Saul Dautch. Pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. were the afternoon's ace rhythm section.