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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Trad jazz with a few twists

Clarinetist Bud Leeds brought musicians together from near and far - in this case, mostly far - for his annual South County Jazz Club matinee performance on Sunday, March 5 in Venice FL. His "Trad Jazz Ensemble" featured players who are right at home in the traditional jazz/Dixieland genres, but the afternoon touched on more recent music as well.
Bud Leeds

The band included powerhouse pianist Bobby van Deusen (a Pensacola-based member of the Barbary Coast Band), Minneapolis-based bassist Steve Pikal, trad jazz cornetist/multi-instrumentalist Bob MacInnis from Boston, and violinist Jonathan Russell, now 21, a native New Yorker who has been amazing jazz audiences since age 7. Russell was impressive with his solos, comping behind other musicians and in several call-and-response segments with Pikal.
Bobby van Deusen

 Afternoon highlights at this concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice included two beautifully structured medleys. 

The first medley, closing the first set, was a two-clarinet feature for Leeds and MacInnis that started with the 1928 standard "My Mother's Eyes" and ended with Sidney Bechet's wistful ballad "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere," which was written in the early 1950s but is better known today from Woody Allen's Oscar-winning 2011 film Midnight in Paris.
Jonathan Russell

Van Deusen, Pikal, Russell
Van Deusen teamed up with Pikay and Russell for a strings-only medley that dominated the second set. He artfully segued through five familiar tunes from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. 

Steve Pikal
They included "Prelude/The Sound of Music," "Do-Re-Mi," "Edelweiss" and "My Favorite Things," varying the mood and intensity of each interpretation to fit the particular song, before the exhilarating closer: "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," which triggered a standing ovation.

A few overly familiar tunes from the Great American Songbook worked their way into the "trad" program as singer Judy Alexander putting cabaret-musical theater touches on "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues," "Summertime," "Kansas City" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The band found trad ways to make them more interesting.
Bob MacInnis
Russell, Leeds, Alexander, MacInnis