Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Jazz mastery on parade

Classic jazz from New Orleans is essential to performances by singer Lisa Kelly and trumpeter JB Scott but the couple showed once again what a wide net they cast when digging into material from the jazz canon, Great American Songbook and vintage popular standards.
Lisa Kelly, JB Scott

In the Charlotte County Jazz Society's 2081-19 season opener on Monday, October 8, their sextet mixed in a lot of fresh material with six of their concert staples, five of them rooted in New Orleans. This was the band's third visit to Port Charlotte in five years.

Dave Steinmeyer
Kelly and Scott's band for this concert included pianist Jeff Phillips, bassist Jay Mueller, drummer Clyde Connor and trombonist Dave Steinmeyer. This was  the first time they'd been able to bring fellow Jacksonville resident Steinmeyer to Port Charlotte. His credentials are mighty. He spent 28 years with the U.S. Air Force big band, The Airmen of Note, and led that outfit for more than a decade.

Scott is coordinator of jazz studies at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. He has strong New Orleans jazz credentials, having led the Dukes of Dixieland for three years. During that time in the Crescent City, he was mentored by trumpeter Al Hirt.
Lisa Kelly

This outfit swings the heck out of its music, always finding new things to explore in material performed in prior engagements - and make the evening fun at the same time.
JB Scott

The night's New Orleans material included "Basin Street Blues," "Sweethearts on Parade," "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" and the concert closer, "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Some fine surprises were interspersed with the New Orleans fare. Those concert gems included:
  • Kelly's feature on "How High the Moon." This sultry version was performed at a slowed half-time rhythm and featured Steinmeyer on trombone.
  • On "The Days of Wine and Roses," Kelly supplemented the lyrics with some trombone-like scatting to create a call-and-response moment with Steinmeyer. Scott did something similar when he used some drum-style scatting to mix it up with Connor on "Sweethearts on Parade."
  • Jay Mueller, Clyde Connor
  • The sextet's take on Dizzy Gillespie's classic "A Night in Tunisia" dug deep into the tune's Afro-Caribbean underpinnings. Phillips provided that Latin fire with some solid montuno at the piano, complementing Connor's supercharged rhythm.
Kelly's other fine vocal features included "The Very Thought of You," "Exactly Like You," "The Way You Look Tonight" and "That Old Black Magic." She has an uncanny way of turning a familiar tune into something fresh and personal. 
Jeff Phillips

Scott shifted between trumpet and flugelhorn as the material required, and added vocals on several New Orleans staples plus "Lady Be Good." He also featured the band on a fine original - the gospel-tinged "Inspiration."

Steinmeyer was a great fit in this group. His trombone artistry was filled with fluidity and clever counterpoint to Kelly's vocals and Scott's horn solos.

The concert drew an early season crowd of about 200 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater. 
Phillips, Scott, Steinmeyer, Mueller, Connor

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A jazz project with important messages

Miami-based trumpeter and educator John Daversa's newest recording project is important on many levels that stretch far beyond jazz - or music.

American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom (BFM Jazz) was recorded by the John Daversa Big Band supplemented by 53 so-called "Dreamers" - undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and have grown up with American culture and values.

Daversa and his production team worked with nonprofit immigrant organizations to find Dreamers who could share their stories through music. The young singers, rappers and instrumentalists who signed on for the project live in 17 states - and had roots in 17 different countries around the globe. Those homelands are Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden and Venezuela.

Daversa, who chairs the Studio Music and Jazz Department at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, drafted professional musicians from Miami, Los Angeles and New York for his big band.

The Dreamers performed sols, instrumental accompaniments, spoken word poetry, percussion grooves, lead vocals, choruses and some raps. Each of the nine tunes on the CD is preceded by a Dreamer's narration of his or her individual story.

The featured music includes "Living in America," "Don't Fence Me In," Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," Woody Guthrie's "Deportee" (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), two patriotic classics - John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" and Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel Wards "America the Beautiful," "America" from West Side Story, and two Daversa originals - the hopeful and optimistic "All is One" and "Red White and Remixed."

The project's treatment of "America" from West Side Story - is unusual and stunning. It's an all-percussion version, on which big band member Murph Aucamp brought together more than a dozen Dreamers who add multiple layers of exotic rhythm.

Many of the stories will make you pause and think about the challenges these talented young people have endured and continue face.Six years ago, the so-called Dreamers received temporary statues through the Deferred Action for Childhood Early Arrivals policy. It was rescinded last year, creating a limbo of sorts for 800,000 DACA recipients, 90 percent of whom are in school or have jobs.

Juan Carlos Alarcon Moscoso, who performs here on pipe organ, piano and percussion, talked about his challenges as a student musician and a Dreamer. "I don't think unity comes from everybody being the same, but respecting people's differences. I think that's the real unity of America."

Another Dreamer musician, trombonist Denzel Mendoza from Oregon, who came to the U.S. at age 5 with his family from Singapore, says the project "opened my eyes on how far I could take my musical career."

This project is a balm of sorts amid the challenges and rage going on across the US about immigration in general - both legal and illegal. That tragic situation is not what America is deep down inside.

The project endorsements include warm and positive words from both US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA,  and Sen. Lindsey Graham. It's a shame that Congress and the White House have been unable to solve the Dreamers' legal quandry - and take a more welcoming stance for other people who come here seeking to better their lives and contribute to its multi-cultured fabric.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Things are heating up again, music-wise....

Jazz never goes away in southwestern Florida. There is jazz to be found in all seasons, if you seek it out. The major concerts and festivals generally take a summer hiatus - but things heat up again come fall.  They really intensify once the snowbirds start returning to the region. 
Bobby van Deusen

For me, those summer doldrums ended on Wednesday, September 12, when Pensacola-based pianist Bobby van Deusen came to town to share his formidable musical talents at a Charlotte County Jazz Society membership recruitment and preseason fundraising event at JD's Bistro in Port Charlotte. 

The afternoon included a bit of ragtime, jazz and Great American Songbook standards, some singalongs and a healthy dose of movie theme music. Van Deusen added some ragtime and reggae flavors to "Under the Sea" from the Disney movie "The Little Mermaid." He concluded the afternoon with his 10-minutes-plus medley of the music from "Phantom of the Opera."

Kudos to JD's General Manager David Bell and his staff for making their fine venue available for this worthy cause. The matinee event drew a crowd of nearly 100.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November.


  • Wednesday, September 12 – Pensacola-based pianist Bobby van Deusen, a boogie-woogie, ragtime and stride piano marvel with equally strong classical chops, performs at a preseason fundraiser for the Charlotte County Jazz Society.  JD's Bistro, Port Charlotte. 2 p.m.
Lisa Kelly, J.B. Scott


  • Monday, October 8 – Singer Lisa Kelly and trumpeter J.B. Scott open the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2018-19 concert season. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County. Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday to Sunday, October 18-21 – 39th Clearwater Jazz Holiday, once again a jazz event in name only. Most headliners are from genres other than jazz. Coachman Park.
  • Wednesday, October 31 – Vibes player Joe Locke guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s 2018-2019 season opener. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 12 – Trombonist Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band performs in the Charlotte County JazzSociety’s concert series. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County. Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Friday to Sunday, November 16-18 – The 28th annual Suncoast Jazz Festival offers a mix of Swing, big band, blues and traditional jazz. Headliners include Adrian Cunningham, Nate Najar, Chuck Redd and Rossano Sportiello.Clearwater Beach.
  • Friday, November 23 – Saxophone smoothie Dave Koz brings the 2018 edition of his Christmas Tour, with Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui, to the area. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8.p.m.
  • Sunday, November 25 – Saxophone smoothie Dave Koz brings the 2018 edition of his Christmas Tour, with Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui, to Artis-Naples’ Hayes Hall. Naples, 7 p.m.
  • Romero Lubambo
  • Wednesday, November 28 – Guitarist Romero Lubambo guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s 2018-2019 concert series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Blue Turtle in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers, and Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily). A variety of matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Lynne Arriale, Yelena Eckemoff, Dongfeng Liu, Debra Mann and Bobby Sanabria…

Lynne Arriale, Give Us These Days (Challenge)

Pianist Lynne Arriale’s playing is filled with passion and invention – and swings with a crystalline grace all her own. Her latest project was recorded last year in Belgium and New York with two Dutch musicians bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer Jasper Van Hulten – whose empathetic support is superb. In addition to delving into six originals, Arriale puts her own delicate spin on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles hit “Let It Be” and Tom Waits’ lament “Take It With Me.” Kate McGarry is guest vocalist on the latter track. Favorites: Arriale’s Flamenco-tinged “Appassionata” and prayer-like “Give Us These Days.” Arriale adds some quirky twists to the program on her uptempo “Over and Out” and Monkish “Slightly Off-Center.”

Yelena Eckemoff, Desert (L&H Production) 
Moscow-born pianist and composer Yelena Eckemoff has a vivid imagination – imagining her own view of the multi-faceted Middle Eastern desert into one of the year’s finest jazz concept recordings. Desert is rich with musical influences from its land of inspiration – delivered artfully by Eckemoff and fellow sound travelers: horns player Paul McCandless, bassist Arild Andersen and drummer/percussionist Peter Erskine. Favorite tracks: “Bedouins,” the teasing piece “Mirages,” the sinuous “Dance,” “Oasis” and the unrelenting flow of “Dust Storm.” Eckemoff, based in North Carolina since 1991, also painted the impressionistic CD cover and included her own fictional stories and poems that complement each of the 11 tracks. The scope of the project and the delivery by this fine quartet are masterful. 

Dongfeng Liu, China Caribe (Zoho)

Music is the world’s universal language – and pianist Dongfeng Liu underscores that notion in an ambitious and unusual way on his new CD. China Carib is just what the name says - a fusion of musical influences from the leader’s native China, bubbling Latin rhythms and jazz harmonies. With support from both Chinese and Latin musicians, Liu meshes the various musical influences and sounds into a seamless tapestry of originals. 

The Latin musicians aboard are John Benitez on acoustic and electric bass, his son Francis Benitez on drums, and Roberto Quintero on percussion. Min Xiaofen performs on two lute-like Chinese stringed instruments, the ruan and the pipa, on three tracks. Feifei Yang plays the erhu, a bowed Chinese string instrument, on another. The Beijing-based Mongolian folk-rock band Hanggai adds its sound, including Mongolian throat singing, to the exotic opener, “In the Clouds.” Favorite track: Liu’s “Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon,” which features Chinese melodies and strings over a propulsive Afro-Cuban beat. This one defies easy categorization, but it is exceptional from start to finish.

Debra Mann, Full Circle: The Music of Joni Mitchell (Whaling City Sound)

Pianist and singer Debra Mann has been captivated by the Joni Mitchell songbook since she was in junior high school. The music has been ingrained in her all these years and, on this project, she celebrates it with a jazz twist without straying far from Mitchell’s originals. She and her fine southern New England band-mates give new energy to a dozen Mitchell classics, including the songwriter’s lyrics to Charles Mingus’s Lester Young elegy “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” 

The band includes saxophonist Dino Govoni,  guitarist Jay Azzolina, bassist Dave Zinno and drummer Marty Richards. Pianist Paul Nagel and percussionist Jerry Leake join the project on two tracks apiece. Govoni and Azzolina turn in some solos for the ages, with the reed player soaring on “Black Crow,” “Gooodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Woodstock.” Azzolina shifts between searing electric guitar and a more-subtle acoustic axe as the songs demand. No matter which Mitchell songs resonate most for a particular listener, these dozen re-arrangements and treatments are beauties. This is a dandy.

Bobby Sanabria, WestSide Story Reimagined (Jazzheads)

The story of powerful love amid conflict and tragedy is the story of the human condition. Shakespeare built “Romeo & Juliet” around it – and Leonard Bernstein based his musical “West Side Story” on The Bard’s classic lover story. Drummer Bobby Sanabria has done Bernstein’s classic work great justice with the latest project from his New York-based Multiverse Big Band. 

This powerful Latin jazz orchestra draws on the emotion and story line of Bernstein’s classic story of romance, dreams and love amid racism, bigotry – and the fear that cause the latter two traits. This reminder – through Maria & Tony, the Sharks & the Jets, and Officer Krupke – couldn’t have come at a more important time. The arrangements and the solos are top-notch throughout. The session was recorded in 2017 – the 60th anniversary of the debut of “West Side Story” and released in 2018, Bernstein’s centennial year.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Postcard from Newport

Here are more images from the Sunday, August 5 performances of the Newport Jazz Festival. The festival now presents about 20 bands per day over three days - on four stages at Fort Adams State Park. It draws up to a maximum crowd of about 10,000 per day.

Harold Lopez-Nussa
Russell Hall
Pianist Eric Lewis

Herlin RIley
Alexey Marti

Nicole Mitchell

Shirazette Tinnin of Mitchell's Dusty WIngs band

NJF artistic director Christian McBride
Renee Rosnes of Artemis

Pull up a chair - or a boat
Melissa Aldana of Artemis
GoGo Penguin's Chris Illingworth

Jazzmeia Horn and pianist Victor Gould

Noriko Ueda of Artemis
Tivon Pennicott

Gregory Porter

Alex White of James Carter's organ trio

James Carter and Gerard Gibbs

Naile Sosa of Maqueque
Lucinda Williams, Stuart Mathis, Charles Lloyd
George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A lyrical legacy endures

Johnny Mercer's imprint is all over The Great American Songbook. He's best known for writing the lyrics to more than a thousand songs - for Broadway, for Tin Pan Alley, for film, and for pop singers.

Johnny Mercer's imprint also is all over Savannah, GA., the verdant and historic city where he was born. Any place live music is performed, Mercer's material seeps out at listeners. 

You might even hear "Moon River" a few times a night at a piano bar or restaurant. (The tune, with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Mercer, won Grammy and Academy Awards in 1962). Heck, there's even a brew pub in Savannah named after the song, which premiered in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's.

A sculpture of Johnny Mercer, leaning on a fire hydrant reading a newspaper, was unveiled on November 18, 2009, which would have been his 100th birthday.

The life-size tribute, at the edge of Ellis Square, is just a stone's throw away from artist Susie Chisholm's studio in the city's arts-vibrant City Market area. Galleries and studios abound, including one featuring A.J. Seidl's jazz-themed paintings. 

Mercer's most frequent collaborators over this career included composers Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Henry Mancini and, in his later years, Barry Manilow.

He was a lyric genius. Tunes with his imprint included "Skylark," "The Midnight Sun," "Early Autumn," "Tangerine," "Satin Doll," "And When October Goes" and "One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)." Mercer penned both music and lyrics for "Dream" and "Something's Gotta Give," among others.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sunny and sultry weather blend with hot music for Newport Jazz Festival's 2018 finale

The scheduling gods complicated my 38th annual visit to the Newport Jazz Festival and/or Newport Folk Festival. It meant I was only able to attend on Sunday, August 5, covering the jazz event for JazzTimes

But the schedule turned out to be fortuitous. Saturday's monsoon-like intense rain and resulting mudfest (yes, the music went on), gave way to a humid day with brilliant sunshine and a wide range of hot music.

Favorite acts, caught during and after photo-pit dashes between the three outdoor stages and the club-like indoor Storyville venue, included several all-woman bands, some contemporary advances on the bebop tradition, and two fine singers: festival veteran Gregory Porter and newcomer Jazzmeia Horn.

Of particular note: 

The septet Artemis was named after the Greek goddess of the hunt, a daughter of
Artemis' Aldana, Cohen, Jensen
Black Art Jazz Collective
Zeus and sister of Apollo. This all-woman super band teams reed players Anat Cohen and Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist/musical director Renee Rosnes, bassist Noriko Ueda, drummer Allison Miller and singer C├ęcile McLorin Salvant.The band crackled with energy and fine music including its romp through Rosnes' original "Galapagos." This main stage set (was Aldana's long-overdue Newport debut. She won the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition five years ago. 

The Black Art Jazz Collective brought its modern bop sound to the nearby Harbor Stage. The band featured saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, trombonist James Burton III, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Johnathan Blake. 

Toronto-based soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett blended
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque
jazz and Afro-Cuban music with her sextet Maquegue. The five other musicians are women from Cuba: pianist Danae Olano, bassist Celia Jimenez, percussionist Mary Paz, drummer Naile Sosa andlead singer Melvis Santa. This one was tropically hot.

Another fine Cuban band opened the Quad Stage on Sunday. Pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa's trio included bassist Gaston Joya and the leader's brother, Ruy Lopez-Nussa, on drums. Lopez-Nussa is more of a modernist, putting a fresh spin on the Cuban music and jazz intersect.

Drummer Herlin Riley's New York-Havana Connection quintet opened the main stage on Sunday morning. Riley began his set with a solo on a conch shell, it's deep horn-like sound emulating those carried by some of the ships anchored yards offshore in Newport Harbor.

Charles Lloyd
The three-day festival included different lineups each day led by saxophonist Charles Lloyd as a celebration of his 80th birth year. Sunday's Lloyd finale included his "Charles Lloyd & Friends" band with pianist Jason Moran, guitarists Stuart Mathis and Marvin Sewell, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Eric Harland and singer Lucinda Williams.

They came by land and sea

The many other Sunday acts included England's GoGo Penguin trio, pianists Bill Charlap and Helen Sung, saxophonist James Carter's organ trio, flutist Nicole Mitchell's Dusty Wings and the crowd-drawing closer, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic.

Natixis Investment Managers is the festival's presenting sponsor.

Festival founding producer George Wein, now 92, continues to put his stamp of approval on the event. He created a Newport Festivals Foundation several years ago to ensure these storied jazz and folk festival outlive him. Bassist Christian McBride is the Newport Jazz Festival's artistic director.

Earlier this month, the state and the foundation unveiled an agreement to continue the festivals for at least 25 years at Fort Adams State Park, its picturesque home since 1981. The foundation also signed a 40-year lease to transform the former Museum of Yachting, a brick building now housing the Storyville stage, into a festivals museum.    

I've posted more photos from Newport here.