Saturday, February 25, 2017

Jane Monheit digs Ella - and plans to keep on digging

Jazz singer Jane Monheit's musical home is the Great American Songbook. She showed a Naples, Florida audience on Friday, February 24, that with sensible bits of personal redecorating, it is still in very good hands.
Jane Monheit

She performed two 75-minute sold-out shows at Artis Naples' Daniels Pavilion, sharing her love for "First Lady of Song" Ella Fitzgerald. Material from Monheit's recording Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (released last year on her own label, Emerald City Records) made up half of the night's repertoire. The other half consisted of Ella-related songs that Monheit has not yet recorded as part of this project.

She's already planning Volume 2 of the collaboration with producer/trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Heck, with the amount of material that Ella recorded over her career, Monheit has fodder for many such albums.

Monheit was supported by pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Neal Miner and drummer Joe Strasser. Most of the material came from composers Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers & Hart.
Kanan, Monheit

Here were some concert highlights:
  • Monheit and Kanan's duo version of "My Funny Valentine" was beautifully dramatic. Its melancholy introduction (a verse rarely heard in modern covers today) setting up an at-times dark interpretation. Monheit said she and Kanan are planning a duet recording project. This could be its centerpiece.
  • The band's delivery on Payton's arrangement of "I've Got You Under My Skin," with a Michael Jackson-style opening groove to add a contemporary feel to this classic.
  • Porter's "All of You" floating over Strasser's teasing New Orleans shuffle beat.
  • A fresh interpretation of "I've Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)." Monheit recorded this Ellington composition on her first CD, Never Never Land in 2002. She said she received more than a little flak for recording the tune at such a tender age. Her delivery now is far more nuanced. Kanan dropped a snippet of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" into his solo, reinforcing the sense of how our understanding and wisdom  evolves with age.
  • Monheit's version of the Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova "Corcovado" began with the original Portuguese lyrics and seamlessly shifted to English for the second half of the song. She said she intends to include some of Ella's Brazilian material on Volume 2.
  • The singer credited her grandfather as a huge influence in shaping her taste in classic jazz material. After his passing at age 94 a couple of years ago, she found the last song he selected for her sitting on his dining room table. It was "I Used to be Color Blind," which Irving Berlin wrote for the 1938 film Carefree. She sang Neal Miner's arrangement with great poignancy.
  • The show included one clever medley, pairing "I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues" with the more upbeat "I'm Just a Lucky So and So."  
Monheit came to Naples directly from a concert trip to Poland. No jet lag was evident. I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if she'd dusted off "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." Ella recorded that Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart classic in 1956. Maybe it will be on Volume 2.
Kanan, Miner, Monheit, Strasser

Monday, February 20, 2017

Afro-Cuban jazz under the banyan trees

Latin fire is in pianist Chuchito Valdés' genes. He's the son of Chucho Valdés and grandson of the late Bebo Valdés, two of Cuba's venerable jazz pianists.Though now based in Cancun, Mexico, he carries on the family tradition, much like his globetrotting father. 
Chuchito Valdes

Chuchito shared many elements of his Afro-Cuban jazz technique with a crowd beneath the majestic banyan trees at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota FL on Sunday, February 19.

Dimas Sanchez
He performed in a trio format with two Florida-based Latin jazz musicians. Tampa-based Mauricio Rodriguez, a fellow Cuban, was on electric bass. Orlando-based Dimas Sanchez, a native of Puerto Rico, was on drums.

Chuchito offered a wide range of material from fiery originals and languid ballads to sultry Cuban danzon (dance music), the Latin pop hit "Guantanamera" and a few American jazz standards - performed, of course, with Latin touches. The latter included a bit of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" and a thickly chorded exploration of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Chuchito Valdes
Mauricio Rodriguez
The performance was as much about energy as it was about his sheer musicality. That energy was absorbed from and then re-shared with the audience. There were more than a few dazzling keyboard runs and at times he raised high  off his piano stool to accent his feverish playing. At others, he seemed to hug the electric keyboard when exploring delicate ballads. 

Rodriguez and Sanchez fit right into his groove, complementing it at every turn.
Chuchito Valdes, Mauricio Rodriguez, Dimas Sanchez

Friday, February 17, 2017

A jazz event 50+ years in the making...

To say it was long overdue is an understatement. Joshua Breakstone and Don Mopsick grew up in Linden. NJ. Their families knew each other and sometimes hung out together back in the 1960s, long before either man had any designs on a career in music.

Joshua Breakstone
Guitar modernist Breakstone and Mopsick, best known as the bassist in Jim Cullum's Jazz Band for more than 18 years, performed together for the first time on Friday,. February 17 at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

Don Mopsick
Breakstone, 61, is on a two-month Florida tour, cris-crossing the state for a variety of club, concert, jazz festival and master class appearances. Mopsick, 66, now living in Southwest Florida, is one of the region's first-call bassists. They teamed up with drummer Tony Vigilante, a Philly native who moved to Florida a few years ago, for an afternoon of music-making.
Tony Vigilante

"It is amazing to have this reunion after more than 50 years," Breakstone said.

After opening their first set with a blistering version of "Lean Years," a tune from the songbook of Philly guitarist Pat Martino, the trio performed deep and lengthy explorations of seven jazz / Great American Songbook standards.

Breakstone's guitar artistry includes a bright-toned sound and extended harmonic and melodic explorations, finding fresh nuances and ideas in familiar tunes. In doing so, he also offers extended, teasing introductions that sometimes disguise familiar melodies.

His "standards" offerings at this two-set concert were "Star Eyes," "I'm an Old Cowhand," "My One and Only Love," "Nobody Else But Me," "What's New?," "Too Late Now" and "Where or When."

We know the answer to where and when the next reunion will occur. Breakstone and Mopsick will perform again on Friday, February 24 at The Side Door at the Palladium in St. Petersburg with drummer Mark Feinman as part of the St. Petersburg Jazz Festival.

Vigilante, Mopsick, Breakstone

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A night of jazz with "George Who?"

You may not know him by name, but changes are great you've heard this saxophonist's performances over the past five decades on countless hit pop, rock 'n' roll or jazz recordings, movie and TV soundtracks.*

Studio musicians and even big-band section players often toil in anonymity, unlike the exposure that can come from small group jazz performances. If you do know George Young by name, so much the better. 

Tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto has known Young - and worked with him - for more than 40 years. They shared many a stage or recording studio in various horn sections, most notably in NBC's "Saturday Night Live" band. Lew played in the band for a quarter-century - and George was there from 1991-1996.
Young, Harvey, Del Gatto

Del Gatto brought Young to Naples FL as the featured guest on Wednesday, February 15 with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra. On this evening, the oddly named sextet also included trumpeter Dan Miller, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin, drummer Mike Harvey and trombonist Herb Bruce. (Bruce subbed for violinist Glenn Basham, a NPJO regular who had another gig).
Old friends

Early in the concert, Del Gatto credited Young for making him the player he is today. "He's the guy who kicked my butt to play jazz," Del Gatto said.

Other than a romp through "Cherokee" and a tender Young-plus-rhythm section exploration of the 1941 Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn composition "Day Dream,"  the evening featured a wide range of Young's diverse compositions.
  • Young wrote the burner "Mother Stanley" for tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, with whom he shared a New York City dentist.
  • His ballad "Amore" was a contrast to his more experimental and uptempo pieces.
  • The name of the tune "George Who?" underscores the notion that everybody's heard him but few know him by name. This piece, featuring Young on tenor and soprano saxes and Del Gatto on tenor, was written to the chord changes on "Sweet Georgia Brown."
  • "Flippin'" is so-named because the tune's extended groove "flips" to something different three times, from straight-ahead jazz to  bebop to a traditional swing feel.
  • The closer was also unusual. "Azules Grande"  translates to 'big blues.' The name was most appropriate for this high-energy 40-bar blues, not built on the traditional 12-bar blues progression.
    Dan Miller, Herb Bruce

Young's compositions are complex at times. The band dug right into them, offering robust and complementary solos that made this an exceptional night of music for the Artis Naples jazz series. Attendees packed the 375-seat venue for two separate 75-minute shows.

*see a sampling of those credits below
Stawski, Young, Del Gatto, Mauldin, Miller, Bruce and Harvey
Philadelphia native George Young, 79, has recorded in jazz with his own bands, as well as as with Louie Bellson, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Steve Gadd, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Dave Holland, Earl Klugh and Toots Thielemans, among others.

His pop credentials include Tony Bennett, James Brown, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Celine Dione, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Madonna, Liza Minnelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Paul Simon and Frank Sinatra.

Besides "Saturday Night Live," his TV credits include "Miller's Crossing," "My Name is Earl" and "The Simpsons," His many movie soundtrack credits include "A Chorus Line," "All That Jazz," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Ghostbusters," "Meet Joe Black," "Naked Gun 2 1/2," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Tootsie" and "When Harry Met Sally."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The fine art of solo jazz piano

Either as a snowbird or a full-time resident, pianist-composer-arranger Dick Hyman has lived 30 miles up the road in Venice for a few years longer than the Charlotte County Jazz Society has existed

The stars aligned on Monday, February 13, for Hyman to make his first CCJS appearance in Port Charlotte. It was long overdue. And it was also the first solo piano concert that the society has presented in its 27 seasons.

Dick Hyman
Sitting center stage at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's grand piano, Hyman explored a wide range of material, adding context for many of the lesser-known pieces. The program ranged from Broadway shows, films and the Great American Songbook to vintage jazz standards, including a few selections from the Duke Ellington repertoire. He even wove in  a bit of classical and opera.

In virtually every case throughout the two sets, the New York City native offered extensive variations within his chosen songs without straying from or diminishing the basic familiar melodies. Those variations included stride and boogie-woogie piano styles, as well as some walking bass lines.

Highlights included Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" (co-written with Harry Brooks), a somewhat dark version of Henry Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses," Louis Armstrong's arrangement of "Basin Street Blues," and a romp through Willie "The Lion" Smith's 1939 stride piano tour de force "Fingerbuster." 

Hyman, who wrote the music for 11 Woody Allen films, shared his poignant composition  "The Purple Rose of Cairo," the title ballad from the 1985 Allen film.

He told the audience of nearly 400 that he'd play requests only if he knew the tune - and liked the tune. Those requested gems included "Autumn Leaves," Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," "Tuxedo Junction" and "Misty." Hyman began his take on "Autumn Leaves" with several bars of classical flourishes before shifting to a more delicate jazz feel. The evening's Ellington-related material included Hyman's explorations of Duke's 1933 composition "Sophisticated Lady" and trombonist Juan Tizol's "Caravan," long an Ellington band staple. 

Touching on the exotic, he played the aria "Seguidilla" from Bizet's opera "Carmen," followed by Ernesto de Nazareth's "Odeon." He said the Brazilian composer developed a South American parallel around the same time Jelly Roll Morton was popularizing the ragtime in New Orleans. Then Hyman played Morton's "Maple Leaf Rag" in a more Latinized style "as if it came out of Argentina."

There were two other surprises from Hyman's keyboard artistry. The first was a bit of his theme song from the 1960s-early 1970s TV game show "Beat the Clock" (written when Hyman was the show's house organist. The second was the concert closer: a stunning series of variations on "Chopsticks," one of the first tunes that beginning pianists learn. Few musicians ever played it like this rendition.

Hyman turns 90 on March 8 but shows no sign of slowing down. In April, he will be inducted as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A fine tribute to Brazilian jazz

To fully appreciate the rich place that Brazilian jazz holds today among the world's music forms, you have to go back to its roots in the late 1950s and the 1960s. So that's what a top-notch quintet did on Sunday, February 12 on Longboat Key, across the bay from Sarasota FL.

The event, co-sponsored by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and Longboat Key's Temple Beth Israel, musically transformed the temple into an acoustically superb jazz room for the afternoon, one where the instruments needed little or no amplification.
Bob Bowlby

The band included bassist Don Mopsick, who programmed the afternoon, pianist Joe Delaney, guitarist Nate Najar, drummer Eddie Metz Jr., and alto saxophonist Bob Bowlby. The versatile Boston-based reed player, who spent four years early in his career as a member of the Buddy Rich big band, doubled on flute.
Nate Najar

Guitarist Charlie Byrd first brought Brazil's bossa nova sound to jazz devotee's ears. After visiting Brazil on a 1961 State Department tour, he recorded the classic Jazz Samba album with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in 1962. America's fascination with the bossa nova began in earnest. Because of it, our ears are open to a greater swath of Brazilian rhythms and textures. The bossa nova (a popular version of the samba) remains its core.

Najar is a huge devotee of Charlie Byrd. Quite appropriately for this matinee concert, he played one of Byrd's acoustic guitars, which he purchased from the guitar master's estate. Delaney, a wide-ranging jazz pianist who has a special feel for Latin, Caribbean and Brazilian music, toured with singer Astrud Gilberto for a time. These were no casual musical credentials.
Delaney, Metz, Bowlby

Most of the afternoon featured the music of composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the several founders of the bossa nova movement. The material included "Desafinado," (which was on Byrd's Jazz Samba recording, "Wave," "Favela" and "One Note Samba."

Mopsick noted that Brazilian Jazz has moved in scope over the past 60 years to become "an essential part of the jazz canon." And Delaney note that even before the Byrd/Getz classic collaboration, Brazilian music probably was introduced to the world at large when the film "Black Orpheus" made its debut at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival.

Joe Delaney
Luis Bonfa's classic "Theme from Black Orpheus" ("Manhã de Carnaval" or"Morning of Carnival") was a superb feature for Bowlby's sax. The quintet also dug into Sergio Mendes' Brasil 66 hit "Mas Que Nada," a showcase for Metz, as well as arranger-composer Bill Fox's "Brazilville." 

Najar was featured on a guitar-bass-drums version of Jobim's "Favela." Delaney dug deep into the Jobim ballad "Dreamer" before the afternoon's finale. The band saved Brazil's most popular bossa for last.

This version of "The Girl from Ipanema," a hit for Getz and sultry singer Astrud Gilberto, had a twist. Near the end of his solo, Delaney seamlessly dropped in a brief snippet of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely."
Mopsick, Metz, Delaney, Bowlby, Najar

Friday, February 10, 2017

Jazz saxophonists dig the Great American Songbook - and much more

Saxophonists Peter and Will Anderson are steeped in the jazz and Great American Songbook classics, but their material is never fenced in by that repertoire.

Peter and Will Anderson
Such was the case on Friday, February 10 when they performed at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert with guitarist Felix Lemerle.

The twin brothers brought an arsenal of instruments, with Peter (the older by 10 minutes) playing tenor sax and clarinet, and Will (the taller by 1 1/2 inches), playing alto sax, clarinet and flute. Lemerle's masterful guitar work included melodic solos, rhythm guitar as needed, and a bit of percussion by tapping his fingers on the guitar neck. In short served was guitar, bass and drums all rolled into one.

Peter Anderson, Felix Lemerle, Will Anderson
The 29-year-old Andersons, Washington DC natives now based in New York City, shifted between instruments with ease as the tunes required. At times, they played clarinets together, blended the saxes, performed tenor/flute or tenor/clarinet, alto/clarinet combinations. They'd only been working steadily with Paris native Lemerle for less than a month, but you'd never know it listening to this fine trio.

The Andersons opened the show with a twin-clarinet version of Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine," which quickly revealed their uncanny ability to perform on their instruments as one, to offer some counterpoint, or to quickly shift roles between soloist and accompanist.

Their standard fare was supplemented by Duke Ellington's little-heard "Purple Gazelle," Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama" (given a Caribbean lilt with tenor sax, flute and guitar), and Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie," with the Anderson brothers going head to head on tenor and alto saxes. 

Their two-set concert also featured one original from each brother: Peter's ballad "Rachel," written for his wife, and Will's more uptempo "Fresque Vu."

Peter and Felix's tenor sax-and-guitar take on Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" was beautiful.
Will Anderson

Their first-set closer, "Appalachian Mountain Song," written by their good friend Kyle Athayde, was a gem. Featuring the brothers on clarinets,  its textures and rhythms made it sound like it was inspired by the Appalachian Round song form, and perhaps a bit of shape-note singing.

Peter Anderson
Felix Lemerle