Saturday, December 24, 2016

May you have a merry - and jazzy - Christmas

Best wishes to you. your friends and families for a very Merry Christmas 2016, joyous New Year - and hopeful 2017 - from the Jazz Notes staff.  

A toast to you all as we share some vintage musical cheer from among our holiday favorites. Raise your glass, whatever your favorite libation!

The holiday season would not be complete without the delightful animated video of The Platters’ doo-wopping their way through “White Christmas” with feeling. This animated cartoon by Joshua Held is excellent - and quite special.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Celebrating a Brazilian jazz legacy

There is something mighty special about Brazilian music. The pulse of its varied rhythms, the sensuous sway of its melodies and the textures of its exotic percussion combine in ways that touch the heart – and soul – of the listener. Those qualities were on full display Sunday, December 18 at the Tampa Jazz Club’s Manfredo Fest tribute concert at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor campus.

Pianist and composer Manfredo Fest was one of the lesser-known creators of the bossa nova when the style was in its incubation stage in the late 1950s and early ‘60s in his native Brazil. The Brazilian musical tidal wave brought him to the U.S. in 1967. He worked in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Chicago before settling in the Tampa Bay area in 1988. He spent the last dozen years of his musically prolific life in Florida, leading a band that blended the music of his homeland with bebop.

Thomas Carabasi
Phill Fest
Manfredo’s son, guitarist Phill Fest, and pianist Robert Prester drove in from West Palm Beach to collaborate with drummer Thomas Carabasi’s Samba Jazz Ensemble. The band included bassist Patrick Bettison, saxophonist Perry Childs and percussionist Alvon Griffin. Phill Fest, Bettison, Carabasi and Griffin were Manfredo Fest band veterans, so this was also a musical family reunion of sorts.

The matinee event featured mostly material from Manfredo (some of it co-written by his wife, Lili Galiteri Fest), and a couple of Phill Fest originals. The band also performed Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Double Rainbow,” “Wave” and his lesser-known “O Morro Não Tem Vez (Favela).”

Robert Prester
It was an afternoon filled with bossa nova, samba and baiao rhythms from a band that explored every nuance of the material. Each band member had multiple solo spotlights. 

Carabasi, who was Manfredo Fest’s drummer for many years, was the rhythmic engine powering the program. Griffin’s exotic percussion touches were a sight to see and hear from his dozens of hand drums, shakers and other exotic instruments.

Alvon Griffin

Perry Childs
Manfredo Fest compositions revisited by the band included “Frajola” (Hip Dude), “Bossa Blues #2,” “Guararapes,” “Hermeto” (a tasty homage to Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal), “Brazilian Dorian Dream” and “Dig This Samba.” Prester, who has recorded on both of Phill’s CDs, shared a series of stunning piano solos, including on his own composition “Islands of Guizar.”

While he spent three years touring with Sergio Mendes, Manfredo Fest’s American breakthrough as a bandleader came in the early 1990s when he signed with the Concord Picante label. 

He recorded four albums for Concord, late standouts in a career discography that included 10 recordings overall. Fest died in October 1999 while awaiting a liver transplant. He was 63.  He would have celebrated his 80th birthday last May 13.

Prester, Bettison,Fest, Carabasi, Childs, Griffin

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan digs a jazzy Christmas

Ira Sullivan was in a holiday frame of mind for his sextet appearance at the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series Monday, December 12 in Port Charlotte. The jazz veteran dug into five seasonal classics before sharing other facets of his repertoire. Before the night was done, nearly half of the concert included gems related to winter or Christmas.
Ira Sullivan

Sullivan's band for the evening included trombonist Dante Luciani, Merc Berner on flute, pocket trumpet and saxophones, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Vince Evans and drummer Barry Smith.

Dante Luciani
The festive material included "Sleigh Ride," "What Child Is This?," "Winter Wonderland," VInce Guaraldi's ballad "Christmastime is Here," "Little Drummer Boy" and a second set highlight, a bebopping romp through "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The latter featured Sullivan on both trumpet and alto sax, Berner on tenor sax and Luciani on trombone.

Sullivan, now 85, played with Charlie Parker and Lester Young in the 1950s and co-led a classic bebop quintet with trumpeter Red Rodney from 1980-85. He is a multi-instrumentalist and then some, playing trumpet, pocket trumpet, alto and soprano saxes, flute and afuche cabasa, a Latin hand-percussion instrument that added exotic textures to several tunes.
Barry Smith

Vince Evans
The Guaraldi tune, written for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was a terrific showcase for Stawski's keyboard artistry. Smith was in a joyous mood behind the drum kit all night and was featured on "Little Drummer Boy." 

Bassist Evans was featured on vocals on "Everything Happens to Me" and "Almost Like Being in Love," a Sullivan concert staple. Berner and Sullivan shifted to pocket trumpets for "The Toy Trumpet," which was written for the 1938 movie"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" starring Shirley Temple.

The band's version of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue," which closed the first set, was tedious at best. Rather than the bright and lovely sound associated with the horn, Sullivan's soprano sax sounded more like an instrument at a Middle Eastern bazaar on this and several other tunes. Bizarre indeed.
Ira Sullivan and Marc Berner

This concert wasn't as smooth and strong as Sullivan's prior Cultural Center Theater appearance in February 2012 but it had very fine moments, particularly when Sullivan and Berner teamed up on flutes with contrasting musical shadings from Luciani's trombone.  

That flutes and trombone combination was featured on "Christmastime is Here," "Corcovado" and the evening's closer: a beautiful version of "Day by Day" from the musical "Godspell" that segued into "Amazing Grace."
Stawski, Evans, Sullivan, Smith, Berner, Luciani

Friday, December 9, 2016

A swinging, sophisticated romp through West Coast Jazz

Trombonist-composer-arranger Dick Hamilton has a thing for West Coast Jazz, no matter how you define it. He grew up in Sarasota, Florida on the west coast of Florida, where as a teenager in the 1950s, he was drawn to the sounds of cool jazz coming out of the west coast of the U.S. - i.e., California. The music of Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck and Shorty Rogers, among others.

Dick Hamilton
Now living back in Sarasota after 45 years on L.A.'s studio scene, Hamilton has a band that draws from both of his "west coasts." His newly formed West Coast Jazz Sextet performed Friday as part of the South County Jazz Club's matinee concert series at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

The two-set concert featured Hamilton's intricate arrangements of jazz standards, a few tunes that he based on the chord changes of other hits, and a handful of originals. While Hamilton is a fine, inventive trombonist, his mastery as an arranger was on full display from start to finish.

Every tune included intricate voicings for the band's blend of horns, piano, bass and drums. At various times they included unison playing, sophisticated counterpoint reminiscent of the Gerry Mulligan-Bob Brookmeyer collaborations, and segments where two horns provided complementing or contrasting fill behind the solo horn.
Matt Bokulic

Hamilton's superb teammates for this lively event included Jim Martin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rodney Rojas on tenor and alto sax (subbing for the band's usual reed player, Bill Carmichael), Matt Bokulic on piano, John DeWitt on bass and the clever, laid-back drummer Johnny Moore. Martin and Hamilton have been playing jazz together since 1950 when they were students at Sarasota Junior High School.
Collaborators since 1950

Rodney Rojas
Highlights: Martin's beautiful solo on "Delilah" (from the movie
"Samson and Delilah"); the band's take on "Misty" (performed as an uptempo jazz samba rather than the melancholy feel of the original ballad); an unusual rearrangement of fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose" (which Hamilton recast as "Contrapuckle Rose"); and a version of "Prelude to a Kiss" that featured the beautiful blend of flugelhorn, tenor sax and trombone.
Johnny Moore

Other jazz standards included "Love For Sale," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Walkin'," "Skylark" and "WhereAre You." Hamilton also shared originals that he based on the chord changes to "Getting Sentimental Over You" and "How Deep is the Ocean?"

Two standout Hamilton originals included the funky groove of "D&P," which he said he  wrote for a 60-second Old Milwaukee beer commercial, and the somewhat raucous "So's Your Old Man." Dick Hamilton's West Coast Jazz Sextet rode off into the sunset with an instrumental version of "Tumbling Tumbleweed" filled with the leader's clever and sometimes humorous arranging touches
Bokulic, Rojas, Martin, Hamilton, DeWitt, Moore

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Digging into classic Miles

Twenty-five years after he left the planet, Miles Davis's music lives on. His classic jazz material was on full display Wednesday night at the Venice Art Center in a concert by trumpeter James Suggs' quintet. The band dug into material from his cool, modal and hard bop periods from the 1950s and early 1960s.
James Suggs

The band's performance, co-sponsored by the South County Jazz Club, drew a full house of 160 in the center's main gallery. Suggs' band include tenor saxophonist Jeremy Carter, pianist John O'Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman.

"You can't be a trumpet player today without going through Miles in some way," said Suggs, marveling how the innovator bridged the gap between a succession of jazz styles and even turned beautiful show tunes and movie music into instrumental masterpieces. 

Ohio native Suggs, who turns 37 next month, said he has been absorbing the music and playing nuances of Miles Davis since he was 13. He moved to St. Petersburg several years ago after spending eight years as a musician in Argentina.
John O'Leary

Suggs opened the concert with a beautiful solo version of "My Ship" before his band mates joined this musical voyage through nine more Davis-associated classics: "Freddie Freeloader," Wayne Shorter's Miles-inspired "Prince of Darkness," Bill Evans' ballad "Blue in Green," "Green Dolphin Street," "If I Were a Bell," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Seven Steps to Heaven," "My Funny Valentine" and perhaps Davis's best-known composition, "So What."

Jeremy Carter
All of the players performed the material with swinging reverence for the originals, but also added their own creative enhancements that melded well, thanks to their great chemistry.

While Suggs channeled the spirit of Miles for the night, Carter was busy channeling Trane and Wayne (Davis's prominent tenors of the period, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter). He did it well both in ensemble passages and solos that were logically conceived and passionately delivered all night, but most notably on the closer, "So What."  

This was Carter's first visit to the South County Jazz Club's six-year-old concert series. Let's hope he comes back soon.
O'Leary, Carter, Suggs, Arenas, Feinman

Friday, December 2, 2016

Looking back at the year's best jazz recordings

‘Tis the season for the outpouring of Top 10 lists, and their many variations, for jazz, world events, etc. The jazz lists always have a lot of variation depending on the individual reviewer's personal tastes, as well as what he or she listened to during the year.* Bottom line, all are extremely subjective.

These choices below (aside from top 10 new songs of the year) were submitted to the Jazz Times, Jazz Journalists’ Association and NPR Music 2016 compilations (the latter is the annual Francis Davis-produced poll that previously was published by The Village Voice and

As I begin preparing my review of significant events and trends in jazz in 2016 for posting on, I thought I'd share my "best of 2016" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2016
  1. Aziza, Aziza (Dare2)
  2. Scott Hamilton/Harry Allen, Live! (GAC)
  3. Tierney Sutton Band, The Sting Variations (BFM Jazz)
  4. Gregory Porter Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note)
  5. Sonny Rollins, Holding the Stage: Road Shows Vol. 4 (Doxy/OKeh)
  6. Roberta Piket, One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland (Thirteenth Note)
  7. Greg Abate and Phil Woods, Kindred Spirits: Live at Chan’s (Whaling City Sound)
  8. Noah Preminger, Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground (self-produced)
  9. Horace Bray, Dreamstate (self-produced)
  10. Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family, Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto)
2016’s best vocal recording:

Tierney Sutton Band, The Sting Variations (BFM Jazz)

2016’s best debut recording:

Horace Bray, Dreamstate (self-produced)

The best historical/reissues of 2016 (includes any recordings made over 10 years ago, whether newly released or reissued):

1.     Bill Evans, Some Other Time (Resonance)
2.     Lyle Mays Quartet, The Ludwigsburg Concert (SWR Jazzhaus)
3.     Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, All My Yesterdays (Resonance)
4.     Erroll Garner, Ready Take One (Legacy/Octave)
5.     Joao Gilberto/Stan Getz, “Getz/Gilberto ’76 (Resonance)

2016’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz recordings:
1.     Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Oddara (Linus Entertainment)
2.     The Pedrito Martinez Group, Habana Dreams (Motéma)
3.     Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, This Could Be That (Bacalao)
4.     Matt Geraghty Project, Trade Winds: Cuba (self-produced)
5.     Gabriel Espinosa, Songs of Bacharach and Manzanero (Zoho)
6.     Socrates Garcia, Back Home (Mama)
7.     The Dominican Jazz Project, The Dominican Jazz Project (Summit)

The 10 best new songs from CDs released in 2016, listed alphabetically:
  • Jim Clayton, “The DeRozan Effect” from Lenny Jumps In (Clay-Tone)
  • Marc Copland, “Best Bet” from Zenith (InnerVoice)
  • Lisa Hilton, “Seduction” from Nocturnal (Ruby Slippers)
  • Grace Kelly, “Blues for Harry Bosch” from Trying to Figure It Out (PAZZ)
  • Roberto Magris, “Candlewood Dreams” from Need to Bring Out Love (JMood)
  • Jenny Maybee, “Winter Butterflies” from Jenny Maybee / Nick Phillips Haiku (Nick Phillips Music)
  • Gregory Porter, “Don’t Be a Fool” from Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note)
  • Steve Slagle, “Ft. Greene Scene” from The Stryker/Slagle Band (Expanded), Routes (Strikezone)
  • Ernie Watts & Marc Seales, “Wheel of Time (Anthem for Charlie)” from Watts’ Wheel of Time (Flying Dolphin)
  • Matt Wilson, “Flowers for Felicia” from Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto)