The saxophone ruled on the Sarasota jazz scene on Friday, December 13 with two separate, excellent concerts.
MATINEE: Alto saxophonist Rodney Rojas was featured in a quartet setting at the Jazz Club of Sarasota's Jazz at Two series at Unitarian Universalist Church. Pianist Kenny Drew Jr., bassist Dave Trefethen and drummer Bob Stone rounded out the band.
Being a holiday month, Christmas tunes - or quotations in some cases - were in evidence during the set. The band opened with a fine take on the John Lewis composition "Afternoon in Paris." Drew dropped in the "It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas" melody with such elan that it felt like part of the tune.
Highlights: The rousing R&B feel that Rojas added to his solo on Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk" and Drew's extended moment in the spotlight. The rest of the band took a breather as Rojas invited Drew to perform a solo version of a composition of his choosing that was written by his father, the great bop pianist Kenny Drew. He selected the ballad "Serenity," and treated the crowd to an interpretation of thundering power and elegant delicacy. Rodney's bride of 25 years, Lisa Rojas, sat in on a lovely version of "But Beautiful."
EVENING: Guitarist Nate Najar's Jazz Holiday concert, a South County Jazz Club production at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center, featured Najar's trio with tenor saxophonist Harry Allen.
New York-based Allen is one of the finest ambassadors of the mainstream swing tenor style, as well as an excellent Brazilian jazz interpreter. The band also included bassist John Lamb and drummer Steven Bucholtz. The evening was a strong blend of jazz and American Songbook standards, and instrumental interpretations of holiday fare.
Highlights: Their takes on two Duke Ellington tunes, "The Feeling of Jazz" and "The Single Petal of a Rose" from Duke's The Queen's Suite, Najar's dazzling solo intro to "Greensleeves" and the band's whimsical rearrangement of Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from The Nutcracker. They called it "Sugar, Rum, Cherry."