Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Another gem brought to the table – and refreshed

Tommy Goodman
The South County Jazz Club’s weekly Tuesday evening jam session at Allegro Bistro is notable for two things: it’s always packed… and one of the rhythm section regulars always brings a tune the audience hasn’t heard – or heard in a long while. Then it gets refreshed in splendid fashion.
Last night, it was pianist Tommy Goodman’s turn.

He pulled out “The Gentle Rain” as a trio piece to start the second set. This beautiful Brazilian tune was first a hit in 1965 for singer Astrud Gilberto. Its melody and original Brazilian lyrics were written by guitarist Luiz Bonfá. Matt Dubey added English lyrics. “The Gentle Rain” has been covered by a few jazz and pop greats through the years (Tony Bennett, Irene Kral, Jimmy Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, Toots Thielemans, Barbra Streisand, Diana Krall), but is not often heard anymore.

For Goodman, it provided an opportunity to explore and refresh the bossa nova in a ballad-like way, his arranger’s mind finding new accents, colorings and embellishments to make it more beautiful. He then took a similar tack on “Just Friends,” comping and soloing behind violinist Elisa Miro. Both were wonderful moments.

The former associate of Benny Goodman (no relation) made his recording debut as an arranger at age 19 on the clarinetist’s 1946 version of “Blue Skies.” He is better known as an arranger and composer than as pianist, having arranged for Louis Armstrong and a variety of other jazz and pop artists, including John Denver.

He also played in several classic jazz combos in the 1950s, led by reedman Bud Freeman and drummer Louis Bellson. Since moving full time to Southwest Florida last year from New York, playing piano has dominated his work.

Those of us who get to hear him regularly are the better for it.

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