Just three weeks into its new home the South County Jazz Club's Tuesday night jam session feels fully entrenchedat Valenti's Allegro Bistro in Venice. The music remains strong and the dining options are wonderful, to say the least.
One of the treats when he stops by - which is most Tuesdays - is the opportunity to hear saxophonist Jim Wellen.Wellen abandoned snowbird status six years ago to make greater Sarasota his home. He's a retired English teacher from New Jersey who has developed over the past few decades into an excellent mainstream tenor player whose forte is the Great American Songbook standards and jazz classics.
Last night, with the strong support of pianist Tommy Goodman, bassist Dominic Mancini and drummer Dane Hassan, he performed a samba version of "Lover Come Back to Me" and "Embraceable You" in the first set and was featured in the third set on "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "Easy Living." His tone is always beautiful, his solos are thoughtful, he swings like mad - and he's an all-around nice guy.
|Jim Wellen and Dominic Mancini
When I first heard Jim shortly after arriving in southwest Florida last fall, I thought I was hearing Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen's musical godfather. He clearly drinks from the same musical well. Jim credits the pair for rekindling an audience interest more than two decades ago in the kind of music he's always loved to play.
The Beatles and the rock music revolution pretty much wiped out a lot of jazz opportunities - particularly for mainstream players. Jim says he actually packed away his tenor in the mid-'60s, and didn't touch it for about 15 years. "It was so deep in the closet, it took me a while to even find it again," he told me. Then he got a call for a local gig in Jersey, He found the horn, did the gig, and then did a lot of woodshedding to get his chops and improvisational skills back in shape. I suspect it didn't take very long.
He's having a ball playing great music. We're the better for it.