Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dixieland jazz in top form - and with a few twists

How do you keep Dixieland jazz from being mere repertory music? Trombonist Herb Bruce's approach is one way to go. As presented by his Herbicide Jazz Band, the music is solid, with clever, intricate arrangements. And the band takes the stage with good humor. Lots of it. 

The players take the music seriously, but don't take each other too seriously. That personable approach helps draw in the audience for what's a fun ride. Such was the case, Monday, April 13, when Herbicide closed out the Charlotte County Jazz Society's 2014-15 concert season with a Dixieland Night concert at the Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte FL. In short, you could call it syncopated swing with a sense of humor.

Valerie Gillespie
Don Johnson

There is nobody better on trombone than Bruce, and his band-mates also came with high musical pedigrees: pianist (and humor sidekick) Jeff Phillips, trumpeter Don Johnson, Valerie Gillespie on clarinet, Charlie Silva on bass, Paul Parker on drums and Bruce's wife, Patricia Dean on vocals. (She's also a very fine drummer who got one showcase solo ("Perdido") during the second set).

Bruce has strong credentials as a performer, educator, and custom trombone-maker. He lived and worked for years in Nashville, working with Boots Randolph, the Nashville Brass and even Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band. Then he led the Main Street Rhythm Rascals at Walt Disney World and Rosie O'Grady's Goodtime Jazz Band in Orlando. He's worked in many traditional and straight-ahead jazz units over the years, as well as a variety of touring show bands backing top entertainers.

Patricia Dean
In Port Charlotte, the leader drew material from the Basin Street Six and Turk Murphy repertoires, as well as some early Duke Ellington ("The Chant" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me").The latter was originally was titled "Concerto for Cootie." Dean's vocal version was exquisite.

Versatile reed player Gillespie's clarinet work was showcased on the New Orleans staple "Tin Roof Blues" and trumpeter Johnson was featured on the ballad "Melancholy Rhapsody." Phillips, who is a piano marvel, turned in a tour-de-force exploration of "Take the A Train." The band's other gems included "Granada," "Snake Rag," "Royal Garden Blues," "Apex Blues" and a most-fitting closer, Basin Street Six's "Farewell Blues."
Herb Bruce

Except for the trio version of "A Train" and Dean's instrumental feature on "Perdido," every tune absorbed a cleverly textured Dixieland feel. Credit for many of those arrangements goes to Terry Waddell.

Then there was the humor. The audience knew it would be an interesting evening as soon as the band walked on stage and Bruce asked "How many of you know us or some of us?" And amid the raise of hands, Phillips interjected "And they still came."

Then there was Bruce's front-and-center stage prop, a dead potted flowering plant. An ode, if you will, to the band's zany name, Herbicide.
Phillips, Gillespie, Silva, Johnson, Parker, Bruce

1 comment:

  1. Herb Bruce - Most talented trombone player and musician!!