Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jazz under the banyan tree

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota FL is an outstanding home to wide-ranging plant life, and is renowned for its collections of bromeliads and epiphytes. On Sunday, it was also the site of outstanding jazz by saxophonist Tom Ellison's band Hip Pocket featuring singer June Garber. The concert was part of a Sunday afternoon music series that The Selby presents in the shade of a giant banyan tree on its 13-acre property.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Piano jazz: The full Monty

I had an extended conversation a couple of weeks ago with pianist Monty Alexander when preparing a profile for the May issue of Hot House, which is now posted online. Among the topics we covered:  the enduring popularity among some listeners (myself included) of his classic live trio recording, Montreux Alexander (MPS), from Switzerland’s 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival. I consider it one of the very best live trio recordings. It happened during a three-year tour with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, who had been classmates a couple of years earlier at Indiana University.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Colossus in the Catskills

Sonny Rollins
There’s an interesting reflection by jazz tenor saxophone titan Sonny Rollins in today’s Wall Street Journal that focuses on his move this year from bucolic Germantown across the Hudson River to Woodstock, an upstate New York town best known for its reputation as an artists' colony and being the namesake for the music festival held in nearby Bethel.

Creativity wasn’t the lure for Rollins, though it has been for many other jazz musicians who reside in the area.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sunday mornings with George...

Sunday mornings, with few exceptions, are the time I dig out a George Mesterhazy CD and relish the depth and breadth of his talent as I savor the day’s first cup of java and catchup on email or peruse the morning paper. It’s been that way for the better part of the past year. I find it a terrific balm that soothes the loss of this close friend and masterful musician. He died in his sleep on April 12, 2012, a few days after his 59th birthday.

I have many such CDs to choose from: George’s wonderful collaborations with Shirley Horn and Rebecca Parris, or more recently, Cat Conner, Lisa Lindsley, Gina Roché and Paula West, or, moving to the rock sphere, his work as a sideman (piano, B-3, Fender Rhodes and accordion) on Bob Lowery’s Mellencamp-esque 2000 CD Yellow Light.  

The one that draws me in most Sunday mornings is George’s trio session, One For My Baby, which he recorded in September 1999 at Peter Kontrimas’ Westwood MA studio with drummer Matt Gordy and bassist John Lockwood. It is exquisite. Each listening reveals new aspects in his playing and his personalization of nine jazz standards.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Straight-ahead jazz draws from an eclectic mix

Pianist Lenny Wilson's quintet went far beyond mining the usual jazz repertoire Friday when it concluded the South County Jazz Club's Venice (FL) Art Center concert series. You would expect a blend of tunes from the Great American Songbook, as well as jazz classics, but Wilson also threw in a bit of Chuck Mangione, a wild jazz romp through guitarist Mason Williams' 1968 hit "Classical Gas" (rarely heard today in any jazz setting), The Beatles hit "Can't Buy Me Love" and a solo-piano exploration of a "Les Miserables" medley (including "I Dreamed a Dream") with Dave Norman's fine drum work joining at the end.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

2012 at Newport: NOW we’ve heard it all…

After baking in the sun and wandering between the three scattered stages at the Newport Jazz Festival for seven or eight hours, nearly all in the crowd call it a day during or right after the final set at Fort Adams State Park. It’s time to quench one’s thirst, grab a meal and a shower, and head home or to local lodging - and rest up for Sunday’s equally long schedule.

But that’s not the case for everyone. Some 250 fans and a  nearly a dozen musicians dusted off and cleaned up - perhaps changing to something less casual - and headed for Marble House. One of Newport’s storied mansions on stately Bellevue Avenue, it was built between 1888 and 1892 as one of the Vanderbilt family’s “summer cottages.”

On Saturday April 4, 2012, Marble House was something else: the site of a fundraising gala for the Newport Festivals Foundation, which produces the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals under the leadership of the festivals’ founding producer (and foundation chairman), George Wein. The gala raised more than $200,000 to help the nonprofit carry on the festival tradition well into the future.

The gala featured an array of musical combinations not heard at Fort Adams – or anywhere else for that matter. And the tapes were running. The Festivals Foundation has released that recording, called Newport Jazz Festival Gala!, on ArtistShare.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Jazz from Naples hits Port Charlotte

"Sir John" Jeffrey
Monday night was Naples Night at the Charlotte Cultural Center as the Charlotte County Jazz Society wound down its 2012-13 concert season in strong fashion. The double bill featured two small groups that made the 70-mile trek north from Naples.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Digging deep into the Great American Songbook

Marlene VerPlanck
Singer Marlene VerPlanck closed out the Glenridge Performing Arts Center portion of the South County Jazz Club's robust 2012-13 concert season last night with a thoughtful mining of the Great American Songbook.

For the most part, her concert at the cozy state-of-the-art Sarasota FL venue featured Songbook pages turned less frequently but just as worthy of illumination as the warhorses that everybody else puts on their short lists.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Welcome to Jazz April

Yes, this is Jazz Appreciation Month. It is also the month in which UNESCO's 2nd annual International Jazz Day takes place.

Some might argue that every day ought to be Jazz Day. I won't quibble with that ideal.

But a month in which we are asked to help raise the general public's jazz consciousness is a great thing.

There are many ways to get involved - without any great fanfare.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

One value of the jazz jam session

André Roy
Jam sessions are great for a lot of things. One of my favorite values: the opportunity to hear musicians from near or far with whom one might not cross paths otherwise.
Over the past few months, I got a chance to hear Toronto guitarist André Roy at the South County Jazz Club's weekly jam, which has been held for the past year at Allegro Bistro in Venice FL.

Roy is a guitar modernist born of the rock era, and his beautiful guitar sound is infused with a rockish energy and intensity. Think John Scofield for comparisons.