Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan digs a jazzy Christmas

Ira Sullivan
Ira Sullivan was in a holiday frame of mind for his sextet appearance at the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series Monday, December 12 in Port Charlotte. The jazz veteran dug into five seasonal classics before sharing other facets of his repertoire. Before the night was done, nearly half of the concert included gems related to winter or Christmas.

Sullivan's band for the evening included trombonist Dante Luciani, Marc Berner on flute, pocket trumpet and saxophones, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Vince Evans and drummer Barry Smith.

Dante Luciani
The festive material included "Sleigh Ride," "What Child Is This?," "Winter Wonderland," VInce Guaraldi's ballad "Christmastime is Here," "Little Drummer Boy" and a second set highlight, a bebopping romp through "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The latter featured Sullivan on both trumpet and alto sax, Berner on tenor sax and Luciani on trombone.

Sullivan, now 85, played with Charlie Parker and Lester Young in the 1950s and co-led a classic bebop quintet with trumpeter Red Rodney from 1980-85. He is a multi-instrumentalist and then some, playing trumpet, pocket trumpet, alto and soprano saxes, flute and afuche cabasa, a Latin hand-percussion instrument that added exotic textures to several tunes.
Barry Smith

Vince Evans
The Guaraldi tune, written for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," was a terrific showcase for Stawski's keyboard artistry. Smith was in a joyous mood behind the drum kit all night and was featured on "Little Drummer Boy." 

Bassist Evans was featured on vocals on "Everything Happens to Me" and "Almost Like Being in Love," a Sullivan concert staple. Berner and Sullivan shifted to pocket trumpets for "The Toy Trumpet," which was written for the 1938 movie "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" starring Shirley Temple.

The band's version of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue," which closed the first set, was tedious at best. Rather than the bright and lovely sound associated with the horn, Sullivan's soprano sax sounded more like an instrument at a Middle Eastern bazaar on this and several other tunes. Bizarre indeed.

Ira Sullivan and Marc Berner
This concert wasn't as smooth and strong as Sullivan's prior Cultural Center Theater appearance in February 2012 but it had very fine moments, particularly when Sullivan and Berner teamed up on flutes with contrasting musical shadings from Luciani's trombone.  

That flutes and trombone combination was featured on "Christmastime is Here," "Corcovado" and the evening's closer: a beautiful version of "Day by Day" from the musical "Godspell" that segued into "Amazing Grace."

Stawski, Evans, Sullivan, Smith, Berner, Luciani

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