Friday, April 28, 2017

Oh, have times changed in Newport

There was a time after the first phase of the Newport Jazz Festival (1954-1971), that jazz pretty much was a dirty word in Newport. The city, known as a playground for the super-rich, was a Navy town transitioning into a tourist mecca. 

George Wein
The jazz festival lost its luster after 1969 and 1971 riots by beer-swilling rowdies in the city, including gatecrashers who brought the festival to a premature end in '71. Producer George Wein took his festival to Manhattan but retained the NJF name. Conditions weren't right for a return to Newport until 1981.

Jon Batiste
Don't blame the 10-year absence on the festival itself. That was the time of the rock revolution, and the little city by the sea didn't have the capacity to deal with huge crowds of people, particularly rowdies who weren't there for the music.

The festival did return in '81, with a subdued ambience and a new setting - Fort Adams State Park overlooking idyllic Newport harbor. Newport again embraces jazz - and the companion Newport Folk Festival - in a big way.

There is a big sign of just how embraced it is these days. Wein will receive an honorary doctorate from Salve Regina University in Newport, and pianist and bandleader Jon Batiste,will deliver the school's commencement address on Sunday, May 21. Batiste will also receive an honorary doctorate. Batiste is musical director for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and appears with his band Stay Human.
Christian McBride

The 2017 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival will be here before we know it, with a three-day schedule of music at Fort Adams (four stages) and a Friday night performance at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in downtown Newport. The latter event will feature singer Rhiannon Giddens plus Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue.

The huge Newport lineup has something for everyone.

Maria Schneider
I'm particularly looking forward to these particular groups and a few more:
  • the Maria Schneider Orchestra
  • NJF artistic director Christian McBride's Big Band, with surprise special guests
  • Pianist Jason Moran's Fats Waller Dance Party
  • The trio of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esparanza Spalding.
  • Hammond B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco's band The People
  • Drummer Antonio Sanchez and Migration
  • The 20-year-old collective One For All, which features tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trombonist Steve Davis, drummer Joe Farnsworth, pianist David Hazeltine, trumpeter Jim Rotondi and bassist John Webber
  • Singers Cyrille Aimee and Cecile McLorin Salvant
  • The new quartet Hudson, consisting of Hudson Valley residents Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier
  • Pianist David Torkanowsky (one of several players who will be featured in the intimate Storyville  club in either solo or small group settings)
  • Pianist Cyrus Chestnut's trio
  • Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson's quartet with pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Carl Allen
Golson, now 88, is the grand old man in this year's lineup. He made his Newport debut 60 years ago (Saturday, July 6, 1957) as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Always a night with musical surprises

You never know just what's in store when the Dan Miller Quartet performs on Tuesday nights at the  Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers FL. There are always musical surprises, and that's a good thing in this case.

That's just what happened on April 17 when the Tuesday night series concluded its season-long run. (The Roadhouse will be closed on Tuesdays from now through the summer).

But back to last night. Trumpeter Miller has been working steadily for several years with this fine band, which includes Joe Delaney on piano, Don Mopsick on bass and Tony Viigilante on drums. All four of them have fierce musical credentials.

And they have a terrific time playing a wide range of jazz - from Great American Songbook standards to lesser-known tunes from the jazz/bebop canon. They were having such a good time last night that the planned 50-minute opening set was more like 90 minutes before they took a break.

There are two surprises on this gig. 

1 - You're never sure what talents might sit in. On this particular night, tenor saxophonist Lou Califano, a long-time player in Atlantic City, joined the band for the last two tunes of the first set and was in the mix for the rest of the night. 

2 - You're never quite sure where each announced tune will lead, thanks to the hip piano artistry of Delaney, a Dave McKenna protege who developed his career in the Boston area and returns to Cape Cod for gigs in the summer.

During his solos, and sometimes while trading four-bar or eight-bar phrases with the other players, Delaney seamlessly drops in familiar melodies from other tunes to underscore a feeling or add a touch of whimsy. It doesn't happen on every song, but some tunes occasionally become four or five in one.

Here are a couple of examples that stood out last night:

On George and Ira Gershwin's "Lady Be Good," Delaney wove in a snippet of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely." 

On the band's exploration of "Flamingo," Ted Grouya's exotic 1940 ballad first recorded by Duke Ellington with singer Herb Jeffries, the pianist dropped in a bit of "Poinciana."

When they played Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," Delaney's solo wound down with a salute: "Thanks for the Memories."
Thanks indeed!  

Snowbirds and year-round jazz lovers in southwest Florida are fortunate that Miller (originally from Chicago), Delaney (from Brockton MA), Mopsick (from Linden NJ via San Antonio), and Vigilante (from Philadelphia), decided to make this area their home base.

It's been a pleasant discovery since moving here more than five years ago, having retired from northern winters, that the region is blessed with many such talents.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It's JAM time again. Get your jazz on.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month - and it is flying by.

The Smithsonian Institution decreed the month's status 16 years ago as a way to spread appreciation for - and interest in - the music genre. Many activities now find themselves under that celebratory jazz umbrella.

The National Endowment for the Arts moved its annual NEA Jazz Masters induction concert from January to April, and, six years ago, UNESCO added International Jazz Day to the mix. That global celebration closes the month on April 30. It reaches more than 190 countries with thousands of performance, education and community service programs in cities and town large and small.

So how are you honoring Jazz Appreciation Month this time around? 

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Support live music. Go to at least one more jazz event this month than you usually do. Heck, increase the level by one a week.
  • Take a friend or friends to those concerts. It's a great way to turn somebody onto jazz who previously had only a casual appreciation for the music.
  •  Buy more an extra recording - exceeding your usual purchasing level.
  • If you've got a collection of jazz recordings, take the time to dig back through them and revisit some favorites that you may have neglected for a while.
  • Compile your own list of "Desert Island" recordings - those 10 or 12 recordings that would be must haves should you be heading out on an adventure.     
  • Catch the April 30 "live stream" on the web of UNESCO's Global Concert on International Jazz Day. This year's all-star event will be held in Havana, Cuba. The 2016 event, co-sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, was held at the White House in Washington, DC.
The 2017 program at the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Aonso will be live streamed worldwide (at goodwill ambassador Herbie Hancock and Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés are the artist directors for the event.

The international roster of performers for the sixth annual Global Concert also includes Ambrose Akinmusire, Melissa Aldana, Marc Antoine, Richard Bona, Till Brönner, Igor Butman, Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, Kenny Garrett, Takuya Kuroda, Ivan Lins, Sixto Llorente, Youn Sun Nah, Gianluca Petrella, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Antonio Sánchez, Esperanza Spalding, Tarek Yamani, Dhafer Youssef and others.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An evening of artful exuberance

In the right hands, Dixieland jazz is more of a feeling than a specific repertoire. It’s not what you play, so much as how you play it. Bob Leary’s sextet closed out the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2016-17 concert season exploring a wide array of vintage material that had toes a-tapping.

Bob Leary
The band mined quite a few trad jazz classics and early pop hits along with a variety of New Orleans jazz staples at the Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte on Monday, April 10. The band included Leary on rhythm banjo and guitar, and occasional vocals, cornetist Davey Jones, clarinetist Jim Snyder, trombonist Pat Gullotta, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Steve Bagniuk.

Davey Jones
The evening featured exuberant solos and strong ensemble work by the three horn players. Each added swinging, whimsical accents throughout the evening, particularly from Gullotta’s trombone and occasions when Jones and Gullotta went head-to-head with plunger-mutes on their horns.

Pat Gullotta
Each band member received generous spotlights during the evening. They included Jones’ trumpet artistry on “When It’s Sleepytime Down South” and the Bix Beiderbecke hit “Singin’ the Blues.” Snyder’s clarinet artistry was featured was on “Linger Awhile,” a ballad first recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1923.

Leary, Snyder

The night also included “That Da-Da Strain,” “Up a Lazy River,” Sweet Georgia Brown,” the Louis Armstrong late-career hit “What a Wonderful World” and “Mama Inez,” which was performed in a Cajun zydeco-style without either accordion or washboard.

Leary sang “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans” in addition to two staples from his collection of nonsense tunes. The latter includedHuggin’ and Chalkin’,” a 1945 song by Clancy Hayes and Kermit Goell that was a hit for both Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. Leary described it as “one of the worst songs ever written.” That comment makes one wonder why he keeps singing it. Simple: it gets laughs.

The other zany inclusion was his falsetto take on "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire," accompanied by just Mopsick on bass. The song was an early 1940s hit for both Horace Heidt and The Ink Spots. Mopsick was featured on bass and vocals on another nonsense lyric hit rarely heard today, Slim and Slam’s “Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)."

The evening’s other New Orleans-rooted material included “Bourbon Street,” “Royal Garden Blues,” Kid Ory’s “Muskrat Ramble” and the rousing concert closer, “South Rampart Street Parade.”This was Leary's second Port Charlotte appearance as a bandleader. His group was last here in March 2013. Toes were tapping then, too.
Leary, Snyder, Bagniuk, Jones, Mopsick, Gullotta

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Eric Alexander shares many shades of bebop

Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander fully embraced the rich and vibrant sound of bebop in his formative years as a jazz player - and continues to help it evolve a quarter-century later.
Eric Alexander

That was the takeaway after his Wednesday, April 5 appearance with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra at Artis-Naples' Daniels Pavilion. Despite the big name, the band is actually a sextet. They explored a wide range of standard material, finding ways to add their own energetic stamp on it. In each case, the music was stretched for expansive and interesting solos by all of the participants.

Dan Miller
On this night, the NPJO included three regulars - tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto (the 25-year Saturday Night Live Band alum), powerhouse trumpeter Dan Miller and pianist Jerry Stawski - plus two rhythm section subs: Miami-based bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer Goetz Kujack. Regulars Kevin Mauldin (bass) and Mike Harvey (drums) had other commitments.
Anderson, Miller

Alexander had never played with any of them, but they worked together very well.

With the extended solos and features, the 80-minute performance included just seven tunes. They opened with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's jazz classic "Four," often mis-attributed to Miles Davis,  then dug into Ahmad Jamal's "Night Mist Blues." The latter tune was an evening highlight. While not a traditional blues by any stretch, it has a blues feel. It opened like a genteel ballad, thanks to Stawski's exquisite keyboard work, but Alexander soon added heavy doses of robust, harmonically challenging tenor fire. That musical energy set up a blistering solo from Miller.
Chuck Bergeron

Goetz Kujack
The full band explored the standard "Alone Together," freshening it with a clever three-note horn vamp under the opening and closing melodic sections. Alexander, runner-up in the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, performed two tunes with just the rhythm section: Jimmy Van Heusen's Sinatra hit "All the Way" and "A Day in the Life of a Fool," the Luis Bonfa composition also known as Manha de Carnival" and "Theme from Black Orpheus." Both spotlights drew on his seemingly endless supply of musical ideas.

Alexander, Bergeron, Del Gatto
Alexander and Del Gatto teamed up for an Gene Ammons-Sonny Stitt-style tenor sax battle on Stitt's "Blues Up and Down." They traded solos and brief phrases, picking up on each other's musical thoughts and implicitly egging each other on. "I graciously concede the tenor battle," Del Gatto quipped later. "I'm old; his fingers move faster than mine."   

The full band closed out the evening with a straight-ahead take on John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice."

Alexander's appearance completed the special guest portion of NPJO's 2016-2017 season. The band will perform once more on April 26 with the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the best-known composer in Brazil's bossa nova movement.
Eric Alexander guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Guitar mastery on full display for jazz fans

Diego Figueiredo's Brazilian guitar artistry will make your jaw drop. His nylon-stringed acoustic guitar is merely the vessel for astonishing sounds that come out of his musical psyche, delivered by unusual blends of technique.
Diego Figueiredo

Such was the case at Saturday, April 1's sold-out show at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center in Sarasota FL. As you absorb the exotic sound, you also notice the fingers themselves. All five nails on his right hand are substantially longer than those on his left, acting as guitar picks. He treats them with great care, carrying his own large, multi-colored, multi-textured four-sided emery board nail file.

Figueiredo (pronounced fig-a-ray-doe), 36, performed a range of original ("Lele" and a fado inspired from a trip to Portugal) and classic Brazilian bossa nova and samba material, a bit of classical music, and some exotic-sounding straight-ahead jazz. He performed most of the first set solo. For its last two tunes, he was joined by bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman from his second set collaborators, St. Petersburg-based O Som Do Jazz.
Figueiredo, Arenas, Feinman

His technique blends tremolo and arpeggio with dazzling speed, dexterity and musicality. At times, his right thumb was playing the dark rhythm while his other fingers simultaneously explored the melody.  

The samba band knew going in that solo Diego is a tough act to follow, even with him in the mix.

There were two clear evening highlights: 
  • Figueiredo's extended solo version of the Paul Desmond-written Dave Brubeck hit "Take Five," which seamlessly wandered into Brubeck's "Blue Rondo A La Turk" before returning to the "Take Five" melody. 
  • When Arenas and Feinman joined Diego, the trio played Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado" and the traditional Brazilian choro "Tico-Tico no Fubá," which was a rousing set closer.