Sunday, March 26, 2017

A robust sound rooted in early jazz

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is a modern-day ambassador for classic jazz dating back nearly a century. He digs the repertoire and style, putting his own stamp on it whether performing vintage songs or his own newer material.
Wycliffe Gordon

Such was the case on Friday, March 24 when Gordon performed at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers as part of its Jazzy Nights concert series. He was backed by four Southwest Florida jazz all-stars: tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto, pianist Joe Delaney, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Tony Vigilante.
DelGatto, Gordon, Delaney

Gordon, 49, is a Georgia native best known for his work with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1989. The multi-instrumentalist has also carved out his own solo career as a bandleader, composer and educator.

More than half of the evening focused on music from the repertoire of trumpeter Louis Armstrong, with Gordon shifting with ease between trombone, trumpet and slide trumpet, and adding his own vocals.

DelGatto, Gordon
Gordon also wove in a bit of Duke Ellington ("It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and "In a Mellow Tone"), Dizzy Gillespie ("Ow!") and Thelonious Monk ("Straight No Chaser"). He also debuted a vocal version of the title track from his newest CD, "I Give You Love."

Lew DelGatto
"It Don't Mean a Thing" and Gordon's version of "On The Sunny Side of the Street" both displayed the robust complexities of his trombone artistry. He frequently uses the plunger mute to create a growling tone with very personal, voice-like shading. On the latter tune, he used the growling technique to riff behind the basic melody he was laying down on his solo.

Gordon, Delaney
DelGatto, who performed in NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live Band for 25 years,  was an excellent foil for Gordon's horn work all night. He also was featured with a beautiful take on the classic jazz tenor ballad "Body and Soul." Early in the second set, Gordon and Delaney teamed up for a soulful trombone and piano version of "Danny Boy."

The Armstrong-related material included Fats Waller's "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue," "Hello Dolly," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee.

Then came a rousing New Orleans medley. Gordon had the crowd clapping along to "When The Saints Go Marching In," then weaving in a frisky vocal take on "(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You." The night wound down with an encore: Armstrong's late-career pop hit "What a Wonderful World."
Delaney, DelGatto, Mopsick, Gordon, Vigilante

Thursday, March 23, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Joe Bourne, Andrea Claburn, Ingrid and Christine Jensen, Jeff Rupert & Richard Drexler, and Jimmy Scott…

Joe Bourne, Upbeat and Sweet (Summit)
After 25 years of performing in Europe, singer Joe Bourne settled in southern Arizona, which has been his home base since 2000. This project features him with some of the Tucson area’s finest jazz talents, including drummer Lewis Nash, saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Doug Martin, guitarist Ed DeLucia, and bassist and arranger Mike Levy. Together they put a jazz spin on classic 20th century rock hits. These jazz versions explore The Beatles, Steppenwolf, The Eagles, Carole King, Bob Dylan, among others. Favorite treats: their takes on the playful Captain and Tennille hit “Muskrat Love,” The Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight,” Carole King’ “Jazzman,” Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” (with Levy on organ), and an beautiful cover of  Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.” This is a very fine reminder that jazz is a process, not a repertoire of specific songs.

Andrea Claburn, Nightshade (Lot 49 Labs)
San Francisco-based singer Andrea Claburn is a quadruple threat. She’s a confident and formidable singer, arranger, composer and lyricist. Claburn wrote five of the CD’s dozen tunes – and penned her own lyrics to three others. The latter included quite a range: “from Infinite Wisdom” (her take on Duke Ellington’s “Echoes of Harlem” to “Bird on a Wire,” her vocalese version of Pat Metheny’s challenging “Timeline.” Other favorites: the New Orleans second-line mood of her funky and clever “My Favorite Flavor,” with the band giving it a dance party feel, and a hard-swinging romp through Betty Carter’s “I Can’t Help It.” Fine originals include the sobering tune “The Fall of Man,” her bossa nova “Colors of Light” and the pensive closer “Steal Away,” featuring mood-setting solos by Mads Tolling on violin and viola, and trumpeter Eric Jekabson. What a fine debut for Claburn. Nightshade features six of her fellow faculty members at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley.

Ingrid and Christine Jensen, Infinitude (Whirlwind) 
Sisters Christine and Ingrid Jensen each have been pursuing separate, but sometimes intertwining careers in jazz for more than 20 years but this is their first small-group recording as co-leaders. It features five original compositions by saxophonist Christine, three from trumpeter Ingrid and one from guitarist Ben Monder, plus a tribute to late trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. The Jensens and featured guest Monder are joined here by Ingrid’s husband, Jon Wikan, on drums and Fraser Hollins on bass. They cover a wide range of moods and stylistic ground in a fresh way, and their sibling simpatico creates a sound that is musically seamless. Gems include Ingrid’s ethereal and soaring duet with Monder on “Duo Space,” the band’s frisky take on fellow Canadian Wheeler’s “Old Time,” Ingrid’s wrenchingly beautiful “Hopes Trail” and Christine’s CD-opening “Blue Yonder” (which sounds grounded in the vast beauty of their native Northwest Canada), and “Trio: Garden Hour,” a stunner that features the soaring and swooping Jensens and Monder without their rhythm-mates.

Jeff Rupert & Richard Drexler, Imagination (Rupe Media) 
Stan Getz and Kenny Barron’s People Time is a classic of the highest order among jazz duo recordings. This project was inspired by that collaboration – and is embued with the same level of musicality and cohesiveness. That almost single-minded sound comes from working together frequently. Tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert and pianist Richard Drexler have been performing together for early 30 years in a wide variety of situations. Rupert has a beautiful Getz-like tenor tone, and also has a Barron connection. He studied with the pianist at Rutgers University.

On Imagination, Rupert and Drexler explore a wide variety of material with thoughtful, interesting solos and beautiful comping behind each other in this fine musical conversation. It includes Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It” (from Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album), “Strange Meadowlark” (the only tune in standard 4/4 time on Dave Brubeck’s Time Out recording), Claude Thornhill’s classic “Snowfall,” Rupert’s original “My Mistress’ Eyes,” Jobim’s “A Felicidade” and Mal Waldron’s jazz staple “Soul Eyes,” as well as the title track and another Great American Songbook standard, “Without a Song.” “Soul Eyes” is the only repeat from People Time. Imagination was recorded live at Orlando’s Timucua Arts White House over two nights in June 2015. A second volume of that material is due for release this fall.

Jimmy Scott, I Go Back Home (Eden River)
Not since Billie Holiday has there been a pained voice quite like Jimmy Scott’s. He sang his classic lyrics as if they were his alone, drenched with heartache, stretching one-word syllables into three, four or even five for pained, dramatic effect. This fine 2009 project was Scott's last before he passed away three years ago, German producer Ralf Kemper teamed Scott with a wide variety of collaborators for the project, which is also included the documentary film “I Go Back Home – a Story About Hoping and Dreaming.” The musicians who recorded with Scott here included B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco, pianist Kenny Barron, trumpeters Till Brönner and Arturo Sandoval, harmonica player Gregoire Maret, tenor saxophonist James Moody and singer-guitarist Oscar Castro Neves, and singers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini, Renee Olstead and Joe Pesci.

DeFrancesco’s organ and Maret’s harmonica are ideal complements for Scott’s emotional sound. Other gems include Kenny Barron’s feature on “How Deep Is the Ocean, Bridgewater’s duet with Scott on “For Once in My Life,” and Scott’s reprise of his first hit “Everybody is Somebody’s Fool” with Moody a year before the saxophonist’s death. Actor Pesci, whose voice is closest in comparison to Scott’s, sings a duet with Scott on “The Nearness of You” and is featured in a Scot-less tribute on “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz calendar

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through April when the 2016-2017 concert season winds down.

  • Friday, March 24 – Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Fort Myers, 8 p.m.
    Diego Figueiredo
  • Saturday, April 1 – Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo and St. Petersburg-based O Som Do Jazz. Fogartyville Arts Center, Sarasota. 7 p.m.
  • Wedneday, April 5 – Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  monthly All That Jazz concert. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 8 – Drummer/vibraphonist Chuck Redd with the St. Petersburg-based La Lucha Trio. A Jazz Club of Sarasota concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. 8 p.m. 
  • Monday, April 10 – The Bob Leary Sextet performs on Dixieland Night. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Concert Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 12 – Trumpeter Chris Botti, The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8 p.m. Sunday, April 23The Four Freshmen. A South County Jazz Club concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 26 – The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s final All That Jazz concert of the 2016-17 season features the sextet performing the music of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte,  Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Ft. Myers and Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily). A variety of “Jazz at Two” Friday matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Celebrating Stan Getz and other jazz giants

Tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert & Friends, featuring rising star singer Veronica Swift, wound up a 10-day Florida concert tour on Sunday, March 19, with a stunning matinee performance in Venice.

Jeff Rupert
 Rupert, who directs the University of Central Florida's Jazz Studies Program, was joined for this performance by fellow faculty members Richard Drexler on piano and Marty Morell on drums, plus Swift and bassist Don Mopsick. 

Much of this tour dug into music recorded by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, but there were other inescapable touchstones.They included Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, George Gershwin, Johnny Mandel, Cole Porter, William Shakespeare and even the beloved "Peanuts" cartoon character Charlie Brown.

Swift is the 22-year-old daughter of singer Stephanie Nakasian and late pianist Hod O'Brien. She was first runner-up in 2015's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition. She graduated in December from the University of Miami's Frost School of Music and is moving to New York this month to further her career.
Veronica Swift

She has been listening to jazz virtually her entire life and has been performing it - and absorbing its nuances - since before she was a teenager. Based on the two times I've heard her this year (in Fort Myers and Venice), Swift may well be the finest female scat singer to come along since Ella when it comes to originality, inventiveness and musicality.

On Sunday, the band opened with "September in the Rain," including Swift's vocalese, in which she sang her own lyrics to emulate Lester Young's classic recorded solo. Later in the program, she also shared her vocalese take on Getz's tenor solo on "Pennies From Heaven." Swift also shared the lyrics she wrote for "Beauty Becomes Her," a poignant ballad that Rupert wrote for his wife.

Swift, Rupert
Two other Rupert originals found their way onto the set list. One was his breezy bossa nova "Let's Sail Away." The other was "His Mistress' Eyes," a melody he wrote for the Shakespeare sonnet of the same name. There's a beautiful instrumental version on Rupert and Drexler's new duo CD Imagination. On this afternoon, they performed it with a full band, and Swift singing the bard's words.

Richard Drexler
Rupert's beautiful tenor sound is heavily influenced by Getz's lyrical, romantic tone and was a wonderful mood-setter. Swift meshed well, with her spot-on vocals serving at times as a second horn from her scatting and vocal interplay with the other instrumentalists. During Cole Porter's "It's Alright With Me," she and Rupert stood side by side, comping with voice and tenor to add tasty fills behind Drexler's extended piano solo.

Other Getz touchstones included their versions of the Getz/Bob Brookmeyer arrangement of Johnny Mandel's "Pernod," a fresh take on "I Want to Be Happy" (recorded by Ella, and by Getz with Oscar Peterson's trio), and "Ginza Samba," a Vince Guaraldi song that Getz recorded with vibraphonist Cal Tjader. Since Guaraldi is best known as composer of the  music from the Charlie Brown/Peanuts television specials, bits of those familiar melodies found their way into the solos.
Mopsick, Morell

The most rousing piece of the afternoon featured Swift singing the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross classic bebop head arrangement "Everybody's Boppin'" over "I've Got Rhythm." It was a fitting inclusion. Her mother spent two years touring with John Hendricks and Company in the early 1980s.

This South County Jazz Club concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice drew a full house of more than 150. A recording of this project is in the works. Rupert's band and Swift spent two days in the studio in Orlando at mid-week with a larger horn section.
Drexler, Swift, Mopsick, Rupert, Morell

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Orleans on parade - and other surprises

Singer Lisa Kelly and trumpeter JB Scott had a few surprises up their sleeves for their return performance at the Charlotte County Jazz Society on Monday, February 13. The Jacksonville-based musicians spent about one-third of their two-hour concert digging deep into music associated with New Orleans. They also.brought a larger band than anticipated and featured Scott on several vocal numbers in addition to his solid trumpet artistry.
Lisa Kelly

The Crescent City connection was a natural. Scott spent three years as musical director of the New Orleans-based Dukes of Dixieland. He's now an associate professor of jazz studies at the University of North Florida and directs its award-winning Jazz Ensemble I. While in New Orleans, he was mentored a bit by trumpeter Al Hirt, whose influence was clear both in Scott's playing and his audience rapport.
Kelly, Silva, Scott

JB Scott
The evening was advertised as a quintet performance, but Kelly and Scott turned it into a sextet by adding the fine Southwest Florida trombonist Herb Bruce, whose humor and versatility made him an ideal fit for this unit. The other players included pianist Jeff Phillips, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Clyde Connor. This was the Port Charlotte debut for Connor, who teaches percussion and jazz theory at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Herb Bruce
The band covered a wide range of material, from Dixieland, classic jazz, big band standards and the Great American Songbook. The New Orleans-associated material that bubbled up throughout the night included "Basin Street Blues" (a strong feature for Bruce), Kelly's exquisite  take on the Louis Armstrong hit "What a Wonderful World," "Sweethearts on Parade" (complete with Connor's shuffle beat and Scott's gritty vocals), a Professor Longhair-inspired solo from Phillips on "Tin Roof Blues," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" and the closer, "When The Saints Go Marching In."

They also put  jazz stamp on pop material when Kelly performed a beautiful ballad version of "I Can See Clearly Now" with just the rhythm section. Johnny Nash wrote and first recorded the reggae tune in 1972, and Jimmy Cliff's 1993 hit cover was on the soundtrack for the film Cool Runnings. "It's not the song that makes it jazz, it's what you do with it," Kelly said, underscoring the point that jazz is a process, not a repertoire.

Jeff Phillips
Other standout moments included Scott's vocal take on "After You've Gone," compete with bass-style scatting to Silva's bass solo; a gorgeous Phillips-led trio exploration of "My Foolish Heart" that opened the second set; and Kelly's Ella Fitzgerald tribute with a full scat chorus on "Blue Skies." Connor showcased his drum mastery to full effect with a feature on "Caravan."

Much like their Port Charlotte debut in March 2014, Kelly and Scott  showed how to blend exceptional musicality with good humor - and connect with their audience in a profound way.

Phillips, Kelly, Silva, Scott, Connor, Bruce

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Celebrating a man and his music

The depth and breadth of pianist, arranger and composer Dick Hyman’s career seems astonishing by any musical standards. Most aspects of his career, which began in the late 1940s in the thriving Manhattan music scene, were touched upon Tuesday, March 7 at the 37th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival.

Dick Hyman
The evening’s journey, which Hyman called “wallowing in nostalgia,” featured the pianist with an all-star cast of supporters. They were pianist Bill Charlap, guitarist Russell Malone, tenor saxophonist Houston Person, trumpeter Randy Sandke, singer Clairdee, bassist John Lamb and drummer Mark Feinman. Retired Tampa jazz radio host Bob Seymour was the evening’s narrator-interviewer.

Hyman dug into vintage material from significant and/or unusual points in his career and premiered two brand-new tunes. He opened the program with “Sweet Sarasota,” which he wrote specifically to honor this year’s festival. During the second set, he premiered “Clairdee, That’s Me!,” written for the San Francisco-based singer who goes by just her first name.
Dick Hyman, Bob Seymour

The carefully paced program provided several opportunities to reminisce. “I was a jazz guy on one hand and a studio guy on the other hand,” Hyman said on the eve of his 90th birthday. “If you could stand it, you could do three recording sessions a day… and maybe had an early morning radio show the next day.”

The evening included several piano duets with Charlap. The first was a rollicking version of “Ready or Not,” one of their variations on “Back Home in Indiana.” Another was an extended exploration of “42nd Street,” much like Hyman and the late Derek Smith played it on one of their dual piano recordings.
Person, Sandke, Malone

Some of the interesting moments underscored Hyman’s versatility. He wrote the music for Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits, a recording featuring singer Earl Wrightson, some of which was later covered by Maxine Sullivan (and re-interpreted this night by Clairdee). He also served as house pianist/organist for several radio and TV shows, including those of broadcaster Arthur Godfrey. Hyman shifted to the B-3 organ to reprise “Sam Taylor Blues,” a track on his Rockin’ Sax and Rollin’ Organ session with Sam “The Man” Taylor. This version featured Hyman and Person.
Russell Malone, Dick Hyman

A wide-ranging Duke Ellington medley closed the first set. Russell Malone sat in rapt fascination as he watched Hyman’s Stride piano version of “Jubilee Stomp.” It then segued into Ellington bassist John Lamb’s feature on “Mood Indigo,” and shifted to “Dooji Wooji,” a blues that Duke wrote for alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. The extended medley wound down with Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” a longtime Ellington band staple.

In addition to their piano duets, Charlap complemented the evening beautifully. He softly comped behind interview segments, at one point playing “Lullaby of Birdland,” as Hyman talked about working at Birdland in 1949 as part of Max Kaminsky’s Dixieland band during a wide-ranging “All-American Jazz Festival.” Charlap was featured on a beautiful trio version of “S’Wonderful” with Lamb and Feinman.

Malone offered a solo version of “While We’re Young” before Hyman joined him on “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me.” Malone and Clairdee then teamed up for an intimate take on Kurt Weill’s “My Ship.”

The program wound down with two other aspects of Hyman’s career. His work writing music for film, including 1987’s Oscar-winning Moonstruck and 10 or so Woody Allen movies, and his early Moog synthesizer work. For the latter, the band performed Hyman’s “The Minotaur” from 1969’s Moog - The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman. The song charted in the U.S. top and was the first Moog single hit.

Third cousins, once removed
As “The Minotaur” wound down the evening, Charlap, a distant cousin of Hyman, tagged it with a few well-deserved bars of “Happy Birthday.”

More than 900 people packed the Riverview Performing Arts Center for the concert, acknowledging Hyman’s impact on the area over the years. Broader recognition will come next month in Washington, DC, when he is honored as a new NEA Jazz Master.

Hyman and his sculptor wife, Julia, moved to the Sarasota area as snowbirds about 30 years ago and took up permanent residency more than 20 years ago. They were attracted to the area by Sarasota’s vibrant arts scene, particularly its then-young Jazz Club of Sarasota, which was founded by ex-Benny Goodman publicist Hal Davis.

Hyman has had a hand in the festival virtually every year. This festival concludes on Saturday, March 11 with a concert by Hyman and the Jim Cullum Classic Jazz Band. That evening will include some piano duets by Hyman and Cullum pianist John Sheridan.
Person, Sandke, Malone, Hyman, Clairdee, Feinman, Lamb