Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No matter what you call it, it covers jazz

Sunday afternoon's concert by the Naples Jazz Orchestra outside the Boca Grande FL Community Center was musically excellent - and a bit different for its visuals.

Bassist Paul Shewchuk was playing what you could call either a "bass umbrella" or an "umbrella bass." The crafty musician attached a small black umbrella to the top of his upright bass, presumably to shield himself and his bulky instrument from the warmth and direct rays of the sun. 

Perhaps he did it to protect the bass fiddle, as some call it, from the possibility of a sudden shower, which pop up at any time in Florida. It would work for both possibilities. Either way, it was a sight to behold.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A sound all his own

Brazilian jazz guitarist Diego Figueiredo is a musical talent to take note of. Many notes, in fact.

Figueiredo  (pronounced fig-a-reed-o) drew a packed house at the Fogartyville Cafe in Sarasota FL on Wednesday, March 18 where he put on a mesmerizing display of solo guitar artistry, blending a variety of Brazilian styles, including bossa nova of course, with a handful of classic American jazz standards. 

Figueiredo, who first picked up the guitar at age four in his native Franca, Brazil, is now in his mid-30s and has released 22 CDs. He has won several major guitar competitions, including one held at Switzerland's prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival.

 You can find an interesting range of his material on YouTube. Check him out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Sinatra centennial

If you are going to have a vocal doppelganger, who better than Frank Sinatra?

Walt Andrus
Such is the case for singer Walt Andrus, who puts his uncanny  vocal similarities to the test Monday, March 16 at the Naples Jazz Orchestra's Sinatra centennial concert - and passed with flying colors. The event drew more than 3,000 people to Cambier Park in downtown Naples FL.

Andrus is a veteran big band singer, whose most notable work included 15 years (from 1988-2004) with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra conducted by Buddy Morrow. His forte is the Sinatra repertoire. He doesn't sound like an imitator. He's just blessed with very fine pipes and an ability to deliver on the repertoire in his own convincing way.

The very fine Naples Jazz Orchestra put the swing in the charts, pushed and prodded by musical director Bob Stone's hard-driving drums. The evening's two sets included a wide array of Sinatra-associated material, from his early big band days to more saloon-style material.

Treats included their explorations of "Yellow Days," "Witchcraft," "One More for the Road"  and "The Best is Yet to Come." Sinatra's Chicago tribute "My Kind of Town," was a perfect fit for the evening given Stone's long big band association with the Windy City. It set up the delivery a few songs later of the Sinatra staple "New York, New York." "Strangers in the Night" was the evening's encore.

With the 100th anniversary of Sinatra's birth coming on December 12, there is an audience hunger for events such as this during 2015. This is a powerhouse band, with Andrus in tow, that ought to capitalize on that momentum.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jazz to hang your hat on

Judi Glover
Judi and Alex Glover worked the cruise ships and the casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City for more than two decades. Eighteen months ago, without any job prospects lined up here, they decided to take a gamble on Florida. They haven't looked back.

For most of those years up north, Alex was in the spotlight as vocalist and leader of Alex Glover & Company, which ranged from small groups to larger ensembles and even a big band. His wife worked out of the limelight as the group's pianist and as a music educator.

In Florida, the tables have turned. Alex sings when opportunities permit, but mostly, he's content to sit back and listen to Judi's marvelous skills at the keyboard. She's been busy from the time they moved from the Atlantic City area to the Gulf Coast, as an occasional leader but more often as a  rhythm section member or as an accompanist. This year, she signed on as the pianist of the highly regarded Naples Jazz Orchestra.

Alex & Judi Glover
Thursday, March 12 brought one of those rare opportunities to hear them working together. They performed in the finale of the South County Jazz Club's 2014-2015 matinee series at the Venice Art Center.

Supported by three standout area players - bassist Don Mopsick, reed player Tom Ellison and drummer Johnny Moore, they explored a wide range of jazz and Great American Songbook staples. They managed to sidestep virtually all of the so-called tired tunes, the standards that have been done ad nauseum.

Glover, Ellison
Favorite moments: the quartet's Latin-tinged take on "Night and Day," and Alex's versions of tunes of long-standing quality that don't seem over done. They included "Nevertheless I'm in Love With You," "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," and the Rosemary Clooney hit "You'll Never Know."

Alex Glover
Alex noted that much of this material dates back 50 or 60 years and passes the test of enduring quality. Then he asked rhetorically if the same could be said down the road for much of what passes today as pop music."In 50 years," he asked the audience, "will anyone be asking to hear anything Beyonce recorded" (in this decade)?  "or Justin Bieber?," Ellison chimed in.

It's a point to ponder.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview - Spring edition

The 2014-15 jazz concert season will start winding down after Easter… when the majority of snowbirds will start heading north. But there is great music still to be found for those who linger in Southwest Florida, or are here pretty much year-round. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through mid-May.

  • Monday, March 16The Naples Jazz Orchestra's Frank Sinatra centennial tribute with singer Walt Andrus. 7 p.m., Cambier Park, Naples.
  • Friday, March 20 – Singer Carla Cook with the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto Quintet. Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Fort Myers.
  • Wednesday, April 1, 2015 – Trumpeter Jon Faddis is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, April 13 – Trombonist Herb Bruce‘s Dixieland band, Herbicide, in concert, Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 16 – Singer-pianist Diana Krall. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Friday, April 17 – Trumpeter Chris Botti. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 22, 2015 – Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 13, 2015 – The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra features drummer Mike Harvey in its tribute to the music of Art Blakey. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House and the Turtle Club in Punta Gorda, The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers, and Alto in Naples) 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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Freshening classic jazz

Trombonist Bill Allred knows how to honor the earliest jazz and the finest in big band swing without sounding dated in any way. He did so with his eight-piece Classic Jazz Band Monday, March 9 in the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series in Port Charlotte FL.

Bill Allred
The Orlando-based octet is a high-energy outfit that knows how to make the music swing, and then some. "Let's get this party started," the leader said as the band launched into Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" before beginning a first-set examination of Louis Armstrong-associated New Orleans staples, then moving north to Memphis and Chicago, much as the music did in its formative decades.
Randy Morris

Allred described New Orleans' Storyville district, where jazz and ragtime were born, as "the first adult theme park" before pianist Randy Morris worked his way through a bit of Jelly Roll Morton ragtime. Trumpeter and singer Bobby Pickwood had very strong features on "West End Blues and "What a Wonderful World."

Bobby Pickwood
The second set focused on the big band era, coursing through material from Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Buddy Morrow, sneaking in a bit of the Ray Charles songbook with "Hard-Hearted Hannah" and Bob Crosby's Bobcats' "Big Noise from Winnetka" before winding down with a nod to Benny Goodman on "Sing, Sing, Sing."

This version of Allred's band also featured David MacKenzie on reeds, trumpeter Greg Little, trombonist Herb Bruce, bassist Jay Mueller and drummer Dick Maley. 

Allred's band, now in its 25th year, was last in Port Charlotte in December 2011. It was an ideal choice for the jazz society's 25th season, in a concert that drew 400+.
Morris, MacKenzie, Pickwood, Little, Mueller (partly hidden), Allred, Bruce, Maley.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hot jazz in every sense

Bria Skonberg
Trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg, a British Columbia native now making her mark on the New York jazz scene, brought her talents and charm to Southwest Florida on Sunday, March 8. She performed at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center in Sarasota in a South County Jazz Club concert.

Skonberg, whose music is rooted in traditional jazz but isn't limited to it, displayed a wide range of stylistic material - and strong vocals to boot. She was backed by pianist Dalton Ridenhour,  a frequent collaborator, and two Miami-based players - bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer John Yarling. 

Chuck Bergeron, Bria Skonberg
Her repertoire ranged from Louis Armstrong's "Hotter Than That" to Janis Joplin ("Mercedes Benz") and The Mamas & the Papas ("Dream a Little Dream of Me"). A blend of jazz and American Songbook standards and Skonberg originals was sandwiched in between.

Favorites included her own recession-inspired "Have a Little Heart" and the band's take on trumpeter Charlie Shavers' "Undecided" that featured a stride piano solo from Ridenhour. Skonberg also shined bright on "Tea for Two," offered as a tribute to vocal idol Anita O'Day, and "Je Suis Seule Ce Soir," a poignant French ballad from 1941 whose title translates as "I am Alone Tonight." 

The audience dug Skonberg, clapping along to her planned finale, "Mercedes Benz."
Then they clamored for more, bringing the quartet back to the stage for "Dream a Little Dream."

 Indeed, it was a dreamy afternoon.
Ridenhour, Bergeron, Skonberg, Yarling

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Honoring the Brubeck jazz legacy in her own sweet way

Karla Harris
Singer Karla Harris celebrated the teamwork of Dave and Iola Brubeck on Friday, March 6 at the 35th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival. Few going into the concert may have been aware of the extent of Iola Brubeck's impact on her pianist husband's career, but they left with a much deeper understanding, thanks to Atlanta-based Harris' brief but insightful song introductions.

Iola was Dave's early manager and came up with the jazz goes to college concept in the 1950s that helped catapult his visibility and popularity.  She raised their six children while he was on the road, as much as nine months a year. And she wrote lyrics for a variety of his compositions, as well as the Brubeck recording staple "Take Five," which was composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond. In a few cases, Dave and Iola wrote the lyrics together.

Dave and Iola Brubeck *
The concert was built around the new recording Karla Harris Sings the Dave & Iola Brubeck Songbook, which was released last month on the Summit label. The recording was built around  a copy of a rare Dave Brubeck songbook published more than 30 years ago. Iola Brubeck had provided a copy to Howe through her estate, before her passing last year.  

In Sarasota, Harris was featured with her primary collaborator and arranger, pianist Ted Howe, as well as bassist Mark Neuenschwander, drummer Ric Craig and alto saxophonist Dan Jordan.
Ted Howe, Karla Harris

Howe's crafty arrangements transformed the feel of some of the original instrumental compositions in service to the lyrics, and Harris' vocal approach. For example, the buoyant ballad "In Your Own Sweet Way" was slowed and darkened to underscore Iola's pensive words.

The concert featured may Brubeck staples, such as his Ellington tribute "The Duke," "Take Five,"  and "My One Bad Habit," from the Brubecks' "The Real Ambassadors" project with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. It also included "Strange Meadowlark," which Dave based on the call of the bird he heard growing up on his father's ranch in northern California. 

It included one tune not associated with the Brubecks. Harris sang Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to" as a tribute to the couple's 70 years together. Harris and Howe followed with a poignant vocal-piano duet on "Weep No More," which Dave wrote for Iola that also spoke to his homecomings after extended time on the road.

Harris kicked things up a notch with two of Brubeck's blues numbers, "Far More Blue"  and "Trav'lin Blues" Dave wrote the music and words to the former, Iola wrote the words to the latter.

"After doing this project, I'm now a huge Iola fan," Harris told the audience at the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center.
Howe, Harris, Neuenschwander, Jordan, Craig
Other concerts in the jazz festival's week-long run included singer-pianist Freddy Cole's quintet, and the Sarasota Jazz Project big band featuring bassist John Lamb and singer June Garber. The series winds down tonight with pianist Dick Hyman, reed player Ken Peplowski and singer Kitt Moran.

* The Brubecks were photographed on September 4, 2004 at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Lenox MA. © Ken Franckling

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The hipster returns

Giacomo Gates, Mac Chrupcala
Jazz singer Giacomo Gates is full of surprises - for his audience, and his bandmates. His performances are richer for it.

Such was the case Saturday night when he closed out February with a South County Jazz Club concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center in Sarasota FL. Gates' band for the night, and a pair of jazz bistro concerts scheduled Sunday, March 1 at JD's in Port Charlotte, included pianist Mac Chrupcala, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Patricia Dean.

He built an instant rapport with the band and the audience, putting each song in context as he blended straight-ahead vocals; scat solos in which he uncannily sounded like a trombone, a double bass and even a flute; and vocalese. The latter technique involves singing words to a classic instrumental solo. Eddie Jefferson pioneered vocalese, Jon Hendricks popularized it, and Gates is one of today's great vocalese ambassadors. 

As for the surprises sprinkled among his many gems.
Dean, Gates
  • Gates brought Dean out from behind the drum set to share the vocal spotlight for two tunes. She's one of Florida's finer jazz singers but finds her timekeeping in steady demand. Their vocal duet on "All of Me" was followed by an interesting vocal twist. Gates layered bits of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" over Dean's version of the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross classic "Centerpiece."
  • Digging deep into the jazz archives, Gates sang the rather obscure tune "If I Were You, Baby, I'd Love Me." Nat Cole recorded it first in 1950 and it is rarely heard anymore.This was the first time Gates' band mates had ever played it. He also rolled out Babs Gonzalez' ode to romance gone wrong, "When Lovers They Lose."
This was Gates' third annual appearance in the area, though it was his first for the South County Jazz Club. No doubt he'll be back.
Chrupcala, Mopsick, Gates, Dean