Friday, July 22, 2016

A welcome addition to the Southwest Florida jazz (and blues) scene

There's a new slice of jazz heaven in the region. Slice is the operative word in the case of The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers, where one night of jazz (Thursdays) shares the musical menu with two nights of blues (Fridays and Saturdays).

And what a Thursday night it turns out to be since the Bay Street venue added jazz to its mix in late June. The featured band usually includes trumpeter Dan Miller and tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto (a quarter-century "Saturday Night Live" band alumnus) plus a bassist and drummer.

Dan Miller
With Del Gatto vacationing in Scandinavia, the always engaging and highly talented trumpeter (a longtime Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson sideman) was joined on Thursday, July 21 by tenor saxophonist Gerald Augustin, bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Tony Vigilante. The quartet bopped its way through 11 jazz standards in its two sets, with each player bringing fresh nuances and a lot of creativity to the material.

In a rathskeller-styled room, with superb acoustics, Miller & Co. had an easy choice for the opener: Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." Favorite treatments included their blistering take on "What Is This Thing Called Love," an extensive workout of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and Augustin's featured solo on the tenor classic "Body and Soul."

Brandon Robertson
Gerald Augustin
Miller dusted off two pop tunes that Miles Davis transformed into instrumental standards: "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Stella By Starlight." Robertson opened the latter tune with a pensive bowed bass melodic solo. Vigilante, a longtime Philly-based drummer who moved south a couple of years ago, had the night's
climactic solo on "Caravan."

It is great to see more and more fine talent gravitating to the area. Robertson, who sometimes subs in the Count Basie Orchestra, moved to Southwest Florida in June after earning a master's of music degree in jazz studies at Florida State University. He begins work in the fall as an adjunct professor running the jazz program at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Augustin, who started studying with Miller when he was 13, is a Fort Myers native who moved back to the area after several years on the L.A. music scene. 

The Barrel Room opened in late April as an annex to Twisted Vine Bistro. Owners Steve and Denise Hollister are Chicago-style blues lovers, hence the heavier dollop of blues programming. Kevin Blinkal manages the music room. 
Given the overlaps and historic association of jazz and blues, the Jazz Thursday program is a natural fit. Long may it prosper. And if last night's off-season packed house was any sign, it will.
Augustin, Vigilante, Robertson, Miller

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