Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mixing wine and jazz – and sunshine

I spent much of President’s Day Weekend covering the seventh annual Punta Gorda (FL) Wine & Jazz Festival for The main event at the city’s Laishley Park along picturesque Charlotte Harbor featured pop saxophonist Mindi Abair (pictured), guitarist Peter White and The Rippingtons.

The festival is evolving beyond a one-day event. This year, organizers added a Sunday program that featured a mainstream jazz brunch in the ballroom of the nearby Isles Yacht Club. It drew a full house of 250. May the festival continue to grow - and evolve.

In addition to jazz, the Saturday program at Laishley Park lets attendees enjoy a huge variety of wines and tapas-sized portions of food from several dizen restaurants. Those are included in the cost of a ticket. All you need to bring are sunblock and your listening ears.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Wes Montgomery, Echoes of Indiana Avenue (Resonance)

Jazz guitar compleatists will dig this one, which is mandatory listening for anyone who thought they’d heard everything by the marvelous Wes Montgomery during his comet-like impact on jazz before his heart gave out in 1968. These long-lost club and studio sessions with local Indianapolis musicians were recorded in 1957 and 1958, perhaps as a demo tape, before his debut on Riverside Records in 1959 with The Wes Montgomery Trio: A Dynamic New Sound. There is much detail in the accompanying essays about how the tapes reached Resonance Records, and how they were restored beautifully.

Montgomery performs in several settings: with brothers Buddy on piano and Monk on bass; with Melvin Rhyne on piano or Hammond B3 and Paul Parker on drums; and with pianist Earl Van Riper, bassist Mingo Jones and drummer Sonny Johnson. These earliest-known Montgomery recordings show him to be a ferocious, inventive and swinging player from the start. The eight standards explored here in various contexts are followed by an improvised “After Hours Blues” that liner note writer Bill Milkowski says “may be the funkiest Wes Montgomery on record.” I concur. This session reveals Wes Montgomery at his earliest sessions as a leader, and captures the flavor and importance of his hometown’s jazz clubs that were his musical incubator. This will be released on March 6, which would have been Montgomery’s 88th birthday.

Ahmad Jamal, Blue Moon (JazzVillage)

Consistent excellence. That’s the simplistic accolade for pianist Ahmad Jamal’s music-making. He sustains that level of creativity and inventiveness in every format. At age 81, he’s got a refreshed band and a new recording. Blue Moon explores classic music from American film and Broadway from the 1940s through the 1960s, adding three originals and a fresh take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody’n You.” His band here includes bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena. This was Jamal’s first recording of the gorgeous title track, which originated in the 1934 film “Hollywood Party” and was popularized by Billie Holiday, Elvis and Mel Torme. Jamal’s version ought to stand without peer for many fans in the way that he has owned “Poinciana” for decades. This is classic Jamal. Dig it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wein is gearing up for August 2012 in Newport

The competition for the live entertainment audience has intensified as the number of venues has increased over the years. People only have so much time and money to travel to concerts and festivals. As a result, promotion of those events starts earlier and earlier.

Announcement of the Newport Jazz Festival lineups used to come in April or May. This time around, producer George Wein will roll them out on March 13, and he is already providing a sneak preview on select artists who will perform at Newport August 3 to 5.

Composer Maria Schneider (pictured, with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen soloing) will be in the lineup with her always exhilarating Maria Schneider Orchestra, which made its Newport in 2010. Schneider will debut the music from her third fan-funded ArtistShare project at Newport on Sunday, August 5.

Sunday’s program at Fort Adams State Park also includes Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Centennial Project. Truesdell will present music from his soon-to-be-released CD of newly discovered, unrecorded works by Evans from the 1930s to the 1980s.

On Saturday, August 4, saxophonist John Ellis will bring his band Double-Wide - featuring sousaphonist Matt Perrine, drummer Jason Marsalis and organist Brian Coogan. Ellis calls the band’s New Orleans-inspired sound “very raucous, kind of festive, wild, carnivalesque, but sophisticated.”

Already, Newport in August is sounding most intriguing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hixon & Co. tear it up at the Venice Art Center

Drummer Al Hixon, who at times sounds like he could have a second career as a semi-corny standup comedian, brought his quartet into the Venice Art Center today for a South County Jazz Club concert that drew more than 100 music fans to the venue. The band was joined by two special guests for a few songs apiece - singer Dick Smollins in the opening set and tenor saxophonist Jim Wellen in the second set.

The music was superb, with Wellen synching nicely with trumpeter Bob Switzer's often soft and always elegant soloing. They really clicked on the breezy "Summer Samba." Pianist Dick Reynolds and bassist/singer Vince Evans completed the band.

Hixon is a greater Sarasota fixture who seems to be one of the busiest musicians around.

Hixon is rarely flashy on the drums; his solid accents are often spare and always to the point. Suffice it to say that his drumming is an aural and visual treat. The band's standing ovation was richly deserved.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Catching up with a legend

Ira Sullivan is on his SW Florida annual tour, which stopped last night in Port Charlotte. My coverage of the octagenarian's concert has been posted at

The multi-instrumentalist made his mark initially on the Chicago jazz scene in the 1950s. It seems amazing that he has made Miami his home base for 50 years and counting.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Grammy redux

Another random thought on the Grammys last night. Maybe the voters have begun a course correction for the major categories.

Adele goes six for six. Which, in my mind, is a very strong endorsement for purity of voice and genuine soul. She soundly whack-a-moled the alternatives that have reared their ugly heads for too long: fashions selected for shock value, artists who win more for their dance moves than their voices, and glitz glitz glitz.

That was reinforced when some of the night's flashy entertainers (can you spell Bruno and Katy) walked away empty-handed. I won't even get into the Little Red Riding Hood gets an exorocism nonsense.

Way to go, Adele. You deserve it - and then some.

I must also commend Neil Portnow for his turnabout from 2011. He delivered his remarks about NARAS without talking over anyone's music. Let's hope that, too, starts a new trend.

Congratulations to the jazz-related musicians who won Grammys this year: Pat Metheny, Cachao, Chick Corea, Stanley Clark and Lenny White; Gordon Goodwin, Terri Lynne Carrington, Jorge Calandrelli, Bela Fleck and Howard Levy, Christian McBride, Tony Bennett and the Rebirth Brass Band. And to all of the nominees in those categories.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...

The portion of the Grammys featuring jazz categories and jazz musicians took place hours before tonight’s prime time telecast of the least-common-denominator categories… and it was quite a showing today for Concord Records and its subsidiaries… garnering four of the eight awards.
See the winners here in category numbers 29-33, 42, 57 and 58.

Another shout out goes to the always-funny actress/comedienne Betty White for her Best Spoken Word Album Grammy for If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't) [Penguin Audio]. It’s not jazz, but Betty’s a hoot.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Debbie Keeton - Jim Wellen at Venice Art Center

Singer Debbie Keeton and tenor saxophonist Jim Wellen work together frequently. And they work well together, which was evident at the February 9 South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Venice Art Center, which drew 100+ music fans.

The band included bassist Dominic Mancini, guitarist Dave Trefethen and, for the second set, drummer Dane Hassan. It was an afternoon of standards, mostly performed straight ahead with some rhythmic twists.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Get there early

Get there early - and make a reservation if you want to have any chance of getting in to the South County Jazz Club's weekly jam session on Tuesday nights at Snook Haven in Venice (music from 5:30 to 8:30, home by 9:00). Otherwise, you may find yourself at a table al fresco - out on the deck overlooking the Myakka River. I called first thing one Monday morning and was told all the inside tables for the following night were reserved already, but sometimes folks cancel their reservations and seats open up.
In addition to the regulars who sit in most weeks, there have been some treats of late. Rhode Island pianist Mac Chrupcala, who's in the area for six weeks this winter, subbed for Tommy Goodman on February 7 (after sitting in a couple of weeks earlier for a few tunes.) He joined regulars Dane Hassan (drums) and Dominic Mancini (bass) as the house rhythm section. 
Mac's wife, singer Nancy Paolino, joined the jam for two tunes. (See top photo). That was a treat, particularly since they have separate Newport-area bands and never work together back home in Rhode Island.
For the past two weeks, trumpeter John Willis was one of the new jammers. The resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula didn't know about the club's Snook Haven jam sessions when he arrived at Venice Campground next door on vacation. Fortunately he brought his horn. He headed back to Michigan on Wednesday, but some jam regulars hope he'll be back with his spirited playing next winter.(bottom photo)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Gregory Porter, Be Good (Motéma)

Singer-songwriter Gregory Porter is the real deal. This second recording in as many years is a delight in so many ways. Let’s start with his firm, clear voice and uncanny musicality of his phrasing. Then we take a closer listen to the lyrics. He wrote nine of the dozen tunes here. Each is a gem, painting vivid pictures of moments in time, emotions, relationships real or imagined, and values. He’s part poet, part storyteller – both in service to his music. The fact that he created the music from within, and isn’t just covering someone else’s thoughts makes this stand high.

Personal favorites: “Painted on Canvas,” “On My Way to Harlem,” and “Real Good Hands.” The allegory in the title track is quite charming. As far as the covers go, he digs deep to find his own meaning in “Work Song” and “God Bless the Child.” His working band provides excellent support throughout. It features Chip Crawford on piano, Aaron James on bass, Emanuel Harrold on drums, Tivon Pennicott on tenor sax and Yosuke Sato on alto sax, with guest appearances by Keyon Harrold on trumpet and horn arranger Kamau Kenyatta on soprano sax. Five stars. This is a February 14 release.

Jon Gold, Bossa of Possibility (BluJazz)

Pianist/composer Jon Gold is a Renaissance man whose jazz interests dig deeply into the multi-flavored rhythms of Brazil, as well as a clear respect for American popular song, classical music and bebop. This new album leans heavily toward influences and interests absorbed during his time living, teaching and studying music in Brazil from 1990-1995. He’s brought saxophonists Dave Liebman and Jon Irabagon, harmonica player Howard Levy, bassist Harvie S and horn player Tom “Bones” Malone, among others, along for the journey on Bossa of Possibility.

The music is varied and deeply moving. So is Gold’s perspective as shared in his notes: “Making music can be difficult but thinking about it the right way helps. I now understand that when I send a composition out into the world, it is no longer about me or even of me. It is helpful then to remember that the listeners will eventually add their own contribution (or possibilities of experience)…” Everything here is original material.

Wanda Stafford, Something Cool (self-produced)

West Coast singer Wanda Stafford is not a belter. This is a good thing. She celebrates the laid-back side of jazz, reveling in the spaces between notes, on Something Cool. The project is a nod to the path set by June Christy, Chris Connor, Anita O’Day and Billie Holiday. There is much to enjoy in the approach she’s taken and you may find yourself putting the CD player on repeat mode for some time. Standouts among the dozen tracks include “Something Cool,” “All of You,” “The Man I Love,” “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “You Turn the Tables on Me.” Pianist Grant Levin, bassist Chris Amberger, drummer Lorca Hart, saxophonist Noel Jewkes and trumpeter Bob Switzer provide fine support. Levin and Switzer, in particular, really locked in with Stafford’s intent here and helped put the project over the top.