Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Jazz Legacy Big Band hits the mark

David Pruyn
The calendar added interesting twists to bandleader David Pruyn’s top-flight Jazz Legacy Big Band return visit to the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s concert series. The Monday, December 14 event in Port Charlotte fell two days after the centennial of Frank Sinatra’s birth – and 11 days before Christmas.

Pruyn is one of Florida’s most versatile musicians. He sings, he plays trumpet and plays drums, although he left the time-keeping on this gig to drummer Barry Smith. He spent more time than planned on the microphone due to the health-related absence of Sinatra vocal doppelganger Walt Andrus.

Valerie Gillespie
The first set at the Charlotte Cultural Center primarily featured the big band and its guest vocalists performing material from Ol’ Blue Eyes’ songbook, much of it from his time with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the early 1940s at the start of his five-decade career. Highlights included trombonist Greg Nielsen’s spotlight feature on “All The Way,” Pruyn’s vocal interpretation of “The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else” and alto saxophonist Valerie Gillespie’s feature on the Ray Noble composition “I Hadn’t Anyone ‘Til You.” 

Guest vocalists Michelle Pruyn (Dave’s wife), Michelle Amato and Suzy Park, who often work together as “The Swing Sisters,” joined the leader to reprise the sound of The Pied Pipers, with whom Sinatra performed and recorded during his years with the Dorsey band. Their takes on “I’ll Never Smile Again” and The Pied Pipers first hit, “Dream,” were sublime as their voices blended exquisitely
Park, Amato, M. Pruyn, D. Pruyn

The second half of the show was devoted to the music of the season, including “Happy Holidays” and “Let It Snow!” (an odd wish for Florida perhaps) and a wonderful duet by the Pruyns on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside. David Pruyn also reprised two songs written by Mel Tormé – “The Christmas Song,” a classic first recorded by Nat King Cole, and “The Christmas Feeling.” Pruyn performed the latter, lesser-known tune with just the spare backing of pianist Stan Collins.

The three guest singers each had solo spotlights that went far beyond the harmony duties required to get that Pied Pipers sound. Suzy Park was featured on the Ella Fitzgerald hit “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” Michelle Pruyn delivered a strong performance of “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas,” and Michelle Amato dug deep into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Michelle Pruyn was also featured in a fine duet with pianist Collins on the holiday classic “White Christmas.”

While vocals dominated much of the night, several strong instrumentals and formidable arrangements showcased the breadth of talent in Pruyn’s Tampa Bay-area big band. The combined sound revealed a band that goes far beyond mere sight-reading of classic charts. Their collective ability to convey the nuances and dynamics of the music was quite something to behold.

Greg Nielsen solos with the Jazz Legacy Big Band

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