Thursday, February 25, 2016

Digging deep into the roots of jazz

Skip Conkling
No matter your style preference, it is good once in a while for all jazz listeners to go back to the source material - the roots, if you will. Drummer Skip Conkling's band, Skip's Dixie Mix, provided the itinerary on Thursday, February 25, and had toes a-tapping at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Venice Art Center.

His septet rolled through an extensive series of Dixieland tunes, but Conkling also made space for a riveting boogie-woogie spotlight for pianist Bill Buchman. The Sarasota-area band included Conkling, Buchman, Bill Carmichael on clarinet and soprano sax, Marv Luckett on trombone, Joe Miller on trumpet and cornet, Mike Evans on banjo and vocals, and John Dewitt on bass.

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through mid-May.
Diego Figueiredo
  • March 6-12 – Jazz Club of Sarasota‘s 36th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival. This year's major concerts feature the Naples Jazz Orchestra with trumpeter Byron Stripling; guitarist Diego Figueiredo and clarinetist Ken Peplowski; trombonist Wycliffe Gordon; and a Dick Hyman-led all-star band that includes guitarists Howard Alden and Russell Malone. These 7:30 p.m. concerts are at the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center in Sarasota.
  • Wednesday, March 9 – Flutist Hubert Laws joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m. Across the courtyard, trumpeter Chris Botti guests with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra at Hayes Hall, 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 13 – Singer Tony Bennett in concert. Hayes Hall, Artis Naples, 8 p.m.
  • Monday, March 14 – Saxophonist Harry Allen’s quintet featuring singer Rebecca Kilgore. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, March 15 14 – Saxophonist Harry Allen’s quintet featuring singer Rebecca Kilgore. South County Jazz Club concert at Unitarian Church, 1971 Pinebrook Road, Venice.
    Cyrus Chestnut
  • Saturday, March 19 – Pianist Cyrus Chestnut makes his first South County Jazz Club appearance. Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 7.p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 5 – Trumpeter Chris Botti. Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Monday, April 11 – The Dave Morgan quartet and the Bob Zottola quartet are featured in this Charlotte County Jazz Society Artists Series 2015-16season finale. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 27 – Cornetist Warren Vaché joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 11 – The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra (actually a sextet) pays tribute to late pianist and composer Horace Silver at its monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota and The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers, 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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Celebrating the rhythmic essence and varieties of tropical jazz

Since departing the New York jazz scene more than 25 years ago, guitarist Steve Uscher has immersed himself in what he calls tropical jazz - the varied but often-sultry music originating in Argentina, Brazil and Cuba, as well as a few other Caribbean locales. After his Big Apple days working on Broadway shows, in jazz clubs and backing vocal headliners, he moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands and spent five years playing jazz, calypso and reggae on the resort hotel circuit. 

Steve Uscher
For the past 20 years or so, he's been based in Naples, FL, where he and singer-percussionist Winnie Purple perform as a duo three to five nights a week at the Ritz Carlton's Lobby Bar. A few times a year, when schedule and opportunities permit, Uscher assembles his full-blown Tropical Jazz Group. He brought its latest version to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series on February 8 in his first CCJS appearance since 2008.

Papo Valentin
Besides Uscher and Purple, the band included trumpeter Dan Miller, the inventive percussionist Edwin "Papo" Valentin,  bassist Daniel Navarro and drummer Darrell Nutt. While Uscher and Purple have a fine rapport from working together so frequently, the added instrumental firepower revealed a sextet bubbling with energy and invention. 

Uscher's wide-ranging techniques and mastery of the acoustic guitar always are something to savor. Over two long sets, the music ranged between exotic and romantic, sultry and cool, whether they were playing Latin American material or adding a Latin tinge to familiar jazz tunes and popular songbook material. It was a night peppered with exotic rhythms, including bolero, bossa nova, cha cha, mambo and tango, as well as the samba-like afoxe propelling Dori Caymmi's "Obsession."

Winnie Purple
Uscher and Purple performed two tunes each set as a duo. They included Baden Powell's "Berimbao," the exquisite Dizzy Gillespie ballad "Con Alma," a Latin take on Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and an exotic tango, "Kiss of Fire."

Other gems included a Latinized version of Blue Mitchell's "Fungi Mama," two bossas - Ivan Lins' "Velas Icadas" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema," Clare Fischer's "Morning," and a fine pairing of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" (the hallmark piece from Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain project) with Chick Corea's "Spain." Other treats: a cha cha version of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" and the high-energy closer, "Mambo Yoyo."

Dan Miller
Purple added many percussion touches all night and was equally charming whether singing in English, Portuguese or Spanish. Miller, a Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson alumnus, added his soulful trumpet sound and some stunning extended high notes as needed. He was featured on "Cherokee" and the ballad "My One and Only Love," which the band performed as a bolero. 

Navarro, Uscher, Purple
 Navarro may have felt like he was under a microscope, sharing the stage with two of his music teachers (Uscher and Miller) - and his mother (Purple). Navarro and Uscher were locked into a deep groove all, and the bassist also blended well  with the three percussion players. The percussionists complemented each other, adding both energy and subtle accents to the Tropical Jazz Group sound.

Valentin, Nutt, Navarro, Uscher, Purple, Miller

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Jazz versatility with a bit of a brogue

Paul Duffy
Paul Duffy has had a charmed life as a musician and entrepreneur. He played jazz in his native Ireland, but had to learn to play Irish music when he came to the U.S. in the 1980s. His career also included six years of touring with The Commitments rock band. Until it closed five years ago, he owned the Irish Rover pub, a music mecca in Sarasota. He continues to play music on the southwest Florida's Irish pub circuit.

Duffy has considerable jazz chops, as a singer and multi-instrumentalist. And those chops were in fine form Thursday, February 4, at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Venice Art Center.
Matt Bokulic
Primarily playing a bebop style ontenor sax, Duffy also treated the audience to his trumpet and flute work on select tunes, backed by a mighty fine rhythm section: Matt Bokulic on piano, Joe Porter on bass and David Pruyn on drums. They also backed Duffy in his previous SCJC appearance in October 2013.

Joe Porter
Thursday's highlights included the band's skillful romp through "Autumn Leaves,"  Wayne Shorter's jazz classic "Footprints," and a version of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island," on which Duffy traded the melody back and forth seamlessly between sax and trumpet.

He and the band also offered an update of Van Morrison's "Moondance," with Duffy featured on flute, vocals and a bit of scatting, and a blues take  on "Teach Me Tonight." With a romantic holiday just around the corner, they finished the show with "My Funny Valentine" - but played it as a high-energy samba.

David Pruyn
Duffy got his start as a musician in a family circus band in Ireland where, among other things, while he walked a tightrope while playing the sax. Jazz still provides him an interesting tightrope, with the rhythm section acting as the net. He never fell off the rope, but they were in synch with him all afternoon.
Bokulic, Porter, Duffy, Pruyn