Thursday, March 29, 2018

Warren Wolf brings great vibes to Naples

Vibes player Warren Wolf was the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra's special guest on Wednesday, March 28 in the sextet's 2017-18 concert series at Artis-Naples' Daniels Pavilion. His performance was an artful showcase of his instrument's wide range of shimmering possibilities - given the right hands and musical approach. The mallets were indeed in the right hands this fine night.
Warren Wolf

Wolf is blessed with a fertile musical mind and a mesmerizing technique. Indeed, he imbued each solo with something fresh and personal. The material included one original - "Soul Sister," which was so funky it sounded like something from Horace Silver, a wide range of classic bebop tunes, a bit of bossa nova and couple of classics from the Great American Songbook.
Mauldin, Wolf, Del Gatto, Miller, Basham

The Naples sextet includes tenor saxophonist and artistic director Lew Del Gatto, trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey.

The band's treatment of bossa nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," with Del Gatto shifting to flute, revealed the softer side in Wolf's playing. "Round Midnight," one of two Thelonious Monk tunes performed back-to-back, was a showcase for the Baltimore-native's style. He'll add surprise accents to enhance the melody or underscore parts of the melody - or he'll let the music breathe with bits of silence in places you least expect.

Wolf, Mauldin
The evening's finest moments included Wolf and Mauldin's vibes and bass duet on "All the Things You Are," and the closing pair of burning bop tunes with the full band: Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" and, quite appropriately, vibes player Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove."

Wolf, 38, is best known for his vibes playing, but the busy musician is a formidable multi-instrumentalist. He plays plays the drums in alto saxophonist Tia Fuller's group, and plays piano in singer Rachael Price's band. You could see Wolf sitting back on his stool, his head cocked, reveling in Stawski's exquisite keyboard solos.
Stawski, Wolf, Del Gatto, Mauldin, Miller, Basham, Harvey

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Steve Allee's compositions - and playing - in the spotlight

Pianist Steve Allee is a musical quadruple threat - as a player, arranger, composer and educator. All four of those roles were on display on Monday, March 26 when he was the featured artist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. 

Steve Allee
The Indianapolis native, now an assistant professor of music at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, held a master class for jazz students at USF, then performed Monday night with the excellent USF Jazz Ensemble I, a big band directed by Chuck Owen, and a Faculty Jazz Ensemble.

Allee, a versatile performer who's been a member of bassist Rufus Reid's band for the past decade, has serious compositional chops. His originals are filled with sparkling musical imagery that evokes the visual delights of their inspirations.

The student band, with Allee at the Steinway, performed two of his compositions, the uptempo "Pure Spirit" and the more idyllic "Dragonfly." They also dug into "Thick and Thin," a composition by saxophonist Gary Campbell, an Indy native who teaches at Florida International University in Miami. The latter was an extended solo feature for tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins, who directs the USF Jazz Studies Program.

Allee, Wilkins
The Faculty Jazz Ensemble portion of the evening was a multi-faceted set that teamed Allee with Wilkins, bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Ric Craig. The quartet performed "Tippin'" from a new Rufus Reid recording, and premiered a new Allee tune, "Hesitation Point." The latter was inspired by a beautiful overlook in Brown County State Park near his country home and studio outside Indianapolis. Then Allee and Wilkins teamed up for a piano-sax duet on "But Not For Me." 

Allee's deep solo piano exploration of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" was filled with teasing nuance before he dug into the full melody midway through, and then continued to explore variations built off its chordal structure. The  Faculty Jazz Ensemble, buoyed by trumpeter James Suggs and alto saxophonist Jon Cestero, grad students who are section leaders in the student ensemble, closed out the evening with the pianist's "Arts Groove."

Full disclosure: This was my first time to meet and hear Allee in person. However, I talked at length with him by phone 10 years ago when I wrote the liner notes for his recording Dragonfly (Owl Studios). It's a splendid trio session with bassist Bill Moring and drummer Tim Horner, and I've been revisiting it a lot lately.
Allee, Wilkins, Neuenschwander, Suggs, Cestero, Craig

Monday, March 26, 2018

A magical afternoon of jazz

Singer Alexis Cole wound up a three-stop Florida mini-tour on Sunday, March 25, treating the Firehouse Cultural Center audience in Ruskin to a rather unusual source of material for a jazz band. Quite simply, it was all about what she called "The Magic of Disney Love Songs."

Alexis Cole

She mined the Disney songbooks extensively to find these heart-felt ballads from Disney-produced films, including Aladdin, The Aristocats, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Great Mouse Detective, Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Pete's Dragon, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Pocahantas, Robin Hood, Snow White, and even The Parent Trap.

The charming and talented singer put her own spin on each song, and took the time to place each of them in context, talking about their splendid mix  of songwriters and often sharing her own interpretation of the lyrical messages.

John Olearchick

John Warcholak
Cole was backed by three Orlando-area musicians, pianist John Olearchick, bassist John Warcholak and drummer Gerald law.
Gerald Law

Gems included "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and "So This is Love," both from Cinderella, "The Second Star to the Right" from Peter Pan, "For Now, For Always" from The Parent Trap, "There's Room For Everyone" from Pete's Dragon, the jazz-tinged "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" from The Aristocats, and the saucy "Let Me Be Good to You" from The Great Mouse Detective.

The program reinforced the notion that it's a small world, after all. And she made sure to include "It's a Small World," written by two prolific Disney songwriters, brothers Robert and Richard Sherman.

Cole performed a dozen such Disney tunes on her 2016-US-released album Someday My Prince Will Come (Venus Records). She delivered many of those, and a lot more, in Ruskin. The Florida tour also included an in-studio performance at WUCF in Orlando and a concert at the South Florida State College Performing Arts Center in Avon Park.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

A great day in Venice

Nearly seven years ago, former broadcaster Morrie Trumble was asked to start a jazz club in Venice for music fans who loved mainstream swing and a bit of bebop. It started small with scattered concerts and regular jam sessions. Before long, the South County Jazz Club, set up to serve the southern end of Sarasota County, was serving up helpings of jazz with season-long series of concerts generally running from October through April.

Morrie Trumble
Trumble, who has been president and major domo of the organization all these years, is stepping back a bit to serve strictly as artistic director. Others on the Board of Directors and volunteers, are picking up the day-to-day administrative details.

On Thursday, March 22, people jammed into the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice for a matinee jam session to honor - and thank - Trumble for his herculean efforts over the years, including some headaches he never wanted.
Al Hixon

Drummer Al Hixon put together a rhythm section for the afternoon - himself, bassist John Lamb and pianist Billy Marcus. Hixon played just one tune before turning the drum chair over to a succession of other timekeepers, and spent the rest of the afternoon juggling talent in varying combinations.

Greg Caputo
Sixteen instrumentalists and three singers took to the stage for this revolving tribute, then most joined together for a final jam-style romp through "Broadway."

In brief remarks, Trumble said his mission all these years has been to present straight-ahead jazz - "and smoke out the people who say they play jazz but don't. Smooth jazz has given jazz a real identity crisis," he said.

Fine moments: 
  • When Greg Caputo took over the drum kit from Hixon, the trio dug into "I Love Being Here With You" with singer Vivian Murray. During his solo, the always-inventive Marcus dropped in a "Take the A Train" melodic riff in a subtle nod to ex-Duke Ellington bassist Lamb, drawing a few smiles.
  • Guitarist Dave Trefethen and tenor saxophonist Jim Wellen, and then guitarist Nate Najar and bassist Lamb, teamed up on several tasty duets that added warmth and musical intimacy to the program.
    Nate Najar, John Lamb

Dave Trefethen, Jim Wellen
 This event was a thank you on many levels. Area jazz fans saluted Trumble for providing hundreds of concerts for their enjoyment over six robust seasons - so far. 

And area musicians, like Najar who drove down from St. Petersburg to play a few tunes - got to thank him for the many performance opportunities that Trumble gave them over the years. He always insisted they get decent paychecks for their efforts - and raised that pay level whenever he could.

Len Murphy, Bud Leeds
The "Broadway" jam finale

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview (updated)

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through May.
Alexis Cole
  • Sunday, March 25 – Singer Alexis Cole in concert. Firehouse Cultural Center, Ruskin. 3:30 p.m.
    Warren Wolf
  • Wednesday, March 28 Vibraphonist Warren Wolf guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 31 – The Bossa Nova All Stars featuring guitarist Nate Najar, vibes player Chuck Redd, saxophonist Harry Allen and singer Maucha Adnet. A South County Jazz Club-Venice Institute for the Performing Arts concert. Venice Performing Arts Center. 7 p.m. 
Herb Bruce
April is Jazz Appreciation Month
  • Sunday, April 8 Harry Allen digs into the Woody Herman band's classic Four Brothers sound with a Four Others program teaming him with fellow saxophonists Lew Del Gatto, Jeff Rupert and Saul Dautch. A Tampa Jazz Club performance at the Mainstage Theater, Hillsborough Community College' Ybor City campus. Tampa, 3 p.m.
  • Monday, April 9 Dixieland Jazz Night closes out the Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s 2017-18 concert series. Trombonist Herb Bruce and his Herbicide Jazz Band provide the swinging merriment. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 12 - A Night of Gypsy Jazz with Hot Club SRQ. A South County Jazz Club concert at Venice Art Center, Venice, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 15 - The Four Freshmen. Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 15 – Trumpeter Chris Botti, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8 p.m. 
  • Monday, April 16 - Trumpeter Chris Botti with the Naples Philharmonic, Hayes Hall, Artis Naples, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 18 - Trumpeter Randy Brecker is the featured guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, April 30 - This is International Jazz Day across the globe.St. Petersburg, Russia is this year's Global Host City.
  • Wednesday, May 16 - The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra plays The music of Miles Davis in the season finale of the sextet’s All That Jazz 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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Honoring Buddy, Rosie and many more

Buddy Rich and Rosemary Clooney were top of mind when trumpeter-singer David Pruyn brought his Jazz Legacy Big Band back to Port Charlotte on Monday, March 12. Both received multi-song tributes in this artful program. The evening also highlighted the music of other big-band leaders, composers and arrangers - some well known, some deserving of far more recognition. 
David Pruyn
Pruyn drafted an A-team of Florida jazz musicians for this Charlotte County Jazz Society concert, with drummer Eddie Metz Jr. powering the band. Area newcomer Roy Gerson, a nationally known jazz pianist who moved to Naples seven months ago, and bassist Charlie Silva completed the rhythm section. The leader's wife, the talented singer Michele James-Pruyn, spiced up the evening with a half-dozen tunes, five of them from the Clooney hit parade. 

The Buddy Rich tribute was fitting, because hearing drummer Rich's road band live in 1969 as a kid drummer in his father's circus band whetted Pruyn's appetite for big band jazz. The New Orleans native has spent time on a half-dozen of the big-name big-bands that have tour the country over the years. In addition to leading the band heard this night, he also is the new leader of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.
Eddie Metz Jr.

The Rich-related portions of the concert included Buddy's traditional opening number, Sammy Nestico's "Ya Gotta Try," (which was Pruyn's opener this night); a big-band take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," on which bass trombonist Chris Lundquist's solo floated over the reed section's flute chorus; another longtime Rich opener, "Mexicali Nose"; and a "West Side Story" medley that Rich had commissioned for his band. The latter spotlighted Metz and hornman Scott Melamerson, who had been Rich's lead trumpeter.
Michele James-Pruyn

The Clooney tribute included "Something's Gotta Give," the feverish "Mambo Italiano," "Hey There" from The Pajama Game, "Someone to Watch Over Me" and the frisky "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening." James-Pruyn also delivered a poignant take on the Luis Bonfa bossa nova "The Gentle Rain."

Roy Gerson
Other big band gems delivered this night included Bob Florence's melancholy composition "Autumn," Phil Kelly's arrangement of "Sweet Georgia Upside Down" (recorded by trombonist Bill Watrous and the Manhattan Wiildlife Refuge),Oliver Nelson's "Baja Bossa,"and Pruyn's take on Woody Herman's vocal hit, "Sonny Boy." He also sang on a Ron McConnell arrangement of the Mel Torme hit "Liza, "Fools Rush In" and the Sergio Mendes hit "Like a Lover."  

The program closed with Mike Barone's "Peachy," which was trumpeter Doc Severinsen's "Tonight Show" closing number when he fronted the band.
Danny Jordan

Tenor saxophonist Danny Jordan was a solo powerhouse, with spotlight moments on the Tom Kubis arrangement of "When You're Smiling," "Autumn" and "Mexicali Nose," among others. Alto saxophonists Peter BarenBregge and Valerie Gillespie were featured respectively on ""Baja Bossa" and Patrick Williams' arrangement of the Ray Noble composition "I Hadn't Anyone 'Til You."   

The concert drew an estimated 375 people to the Charlotte County Cultural Center's William H. Wakeman III Theater.

Jazz Legacy Big Band

Monday, March 12, 2018

A tasty and filling jazz smorgasbord

The Sarasota Jazz Festival took on a jazz party flavor at its 38th annual event, March 8-10, which, under this year's "A World of Jazz" theme, featured 15 musicians from seven countries. 

Its four major concerts blended festival first-timers and familiar faces in a format that  changed combinations of on-stage musicians frequently in creative ways. In his first year as the festival's new music director, reedman Ken Peplowski kept things vibrant and at times surprising - and joined in as a player several times per show. He also used his self-deprecating sense of humor to great effect.
Sinne Eeg

Danish drummer Kristian Leth's Scandinavian Jazztrio with Swedish bassist Hans Backenroth and Danish pianist Ole Hansen, was the featured rhythm section for most of the concert sets.

Here were some highlight moments:
  • Danish singer Sinne Eeg's performance of Lionel Hampton's "Evil Man Blues" in a duet with Backenroth during her Thursday night performance with the trio. The talented vocalist added gender-bending twists to the original Leonard Feather lyrics to turn the song into a teasing ode about "an evil girl."
  • Thursday's second set featured tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene
    Jeremy Pelt
    and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt with the trio.The two horn players are frequent collaborators whose boppish sounds work well together. Pelt stepped away from the microphone and delivered a stunning acoustic solo feature on "Little Girl Blue" - showcasing his beautiful translucent tone and melodic invention. Audience members rose from their seats after this mid-set moment.
  • Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo performed Friday night
    Hyman, Peplowski, Figueiredo
    with Greene and Italian singer Chiara Izzi, and in several combinations at Saturday afternoon's jam-style concert, including a guitar duo with Los Angeles-based Graham Dechter. At the end of Friday set, Figueoredo and Peplowski invited 91-year-old pianist Dick Hyman to come up from the audience. He joined them for a trio version of Luis Bonfa's "Samba de Orpheus."
  • Tenor saxophonist Houston Person and guitarist Dechter performed with the Scandinavian trio in Friday's closing set. Person showed again and again how he is a soulful balladeer on the horn, then brought out Peplowski for a two-tenor take on Bobby Hebb's pop hit "Sunny."
  • The Saturday jam closed with an all-hands on deck version of "Perdido" that featured two drummers - Leth and Jeff Hamilton, who was this year's recipient of the festival's Satchmo Award for his career contributions to jazz.
    Ole Hansen
  • Two fine piano moments stood out at Saturday night's opening set, which featured Peplowski, Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie, Backenroth and Leth. To start the show, Peplowski asked Ole Hansen to perform one number with Backenroth and Leth. The Danish pianist, composer and bandleader's feature moment, quite appropriately, was a jazz version of the traditional Swedish folk song "O, Tysta Ensamhet," which translates as Oh, Silent Loneliness.
    Ehud Asherie
    Later in the set, Asherie delivered an impressionistic solo piano take on Fats Waller's classical-tinged "Clothes Line Ballet."
  • Akiko Tsuruga
  • Japanese organist Akiko Tsuruga performed a rousing final set on Saturday in a trio with drummer Hamilton and guitarist Dechter. This rising star in jazz has been part of saxophonist Lou Donaldson's organ quartet for a decade. The three trio members were fueled by each other's energy and ideas throughout the set. They were joined at mid-set by Person, whose spotlight on "My Romance" drew out Tsuruga's subtle side as an accompanist.
With 10 fresh faces and five SJF veterans - Figueiredo, Hamilton, Hyman, Peplowski and Person - this festival had much to offer.

The 2018 festival had been scheduled for the new Art Ovation Hotel in downtown Sarasota. Because of a delay in the venue's opening, the performances were moved to Riverview Performing Arts Center, which was the festival's home for the past three years.

Here are a few more visual treats:
Jimmy Greene
Graham Dechter

Satchmo Award-winner Jeff Hamilton, Graham Dechter
Houston Person, Akiko Tsuruga
Kristan Leth

Hansen, Greene, Eeg, Backenroth, Pelt, Peplowski, Leth

Graham Dechter, Diego Figueiredo

Chiara Izzi
Houston Person

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Jazz with an unrivaled intimacy

There is nothing quite like the intimacy and congeniality at a jazz house party. That was clear on Thursday, March 1, when bassist Michael Ross and his wife, Amanda, welcomed about 40 friends and jazz lovers into their Sarasota FL home for an evening of music.
Michael Ross

Fred Johnson
The band for the one-hour-plus set of music included Ross, singer-percussionist Fred Johnson and reed player Danny Jordan, who performed on tenor sax and several flutes.

This was like having jazz in your living room - except for the fact that it was held outside on Ross's lush garden patio as the full moon rose in the distance.

St. Petersburg-based Johnson's deft fingers added colors and accents with his cajon, a box-shaped wooden percussion instrument on which he
sat, but his vocal creativity carried the night.