Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Veronica Swift's jazz DNA serves her well

The Charlotte County Jazz Society got to catch a rising star on Monday, February 12, and she made a mighty impression.

Fresh off a week-long series of performances aboard The Jazz Cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, singer Veronica Swift quickly showed she's the real deal in a concert with tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert's very fine quartet. The band included pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Ben Kramer and Marty Morell, who was late pianist Bill Evans' longest-serving drummer. (Rupert, Drexler and Morell are on the University of Central Florida jazz faculty.)

Swift, the 23-year-old daughter of late bebop pianist Hod O'Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian, has a swinging presence. It is backed  by her abilities to explore a wide range of tunes, write and deliver vocalese (lyrics written to classic jazz solos), scat tastefully and emulate instrumental sounds that often make her one more horn player in the band.

She is making a rapid rise on the national jazz scene on the heels of her second-place performance in the 2015 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition and her December 2016 graduation from the University of Miami's Frost School of Music. She's now based in New York City, gigs regularly in Manhattan and tours with trumpeter Chris Botti.

On this evening, Swift and the quartet explored a half-dozen tunes from their 2017 CD, Let's Sail Away, plus a few other gems with their high-energy, bop-infused swing.

Swift, Kramer
On "September in the Rain," Swift sang vocalese lyrics to a classic Lester Young solo and then emulated an upright voice with her voice, trading clever phrases with Kramer's bass lines. The band's take on "Pennies from Heaven" included Swift's own vocalese lyrics to a classic Stan Getz solo on the saxophonist's 1958 recording with the Oscar Peterson trio.

Other gems included the band's takes on pianist Vince Guaraldi's "Ginza Samba," and the "Home Blues" middle section of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris." The latter tune's strong and bluesy feel revealed Swift's breadth and depth as a lyric interpreter. The band's two sets also included fresh material for this concert: Oscar Pettiford's "Battle Axe" and Sidney Bechet's "Promenade aux Champs-Elysées."  On the latter, Swift emulated a trombone in her solo, complete with slide motions.

Swift, Rupert

The band also dug into Rupert's ""Let's Sail Away" and "Beauty Becomes Her" (the later with lyrics written by Swift), Johnny Mandel's hard-driving "Pernod," a Brazilian medley with Portuguese lyrics deftly delivered by Swift, and a sizzling closer, "Fine and Dandy."

This band fits Swift well in her Florida tours. Rupert loves to celebrate the beauty of the melody on his horn with a tone that often sounds like the late Stan Getz. Drexler is a tasty accompanist at the keyboard, adding solid and subtle touches as needed. Kramer and Morell provided a solid rhythmic cushion all night long.

 This concert drew a crowd estimated at 375 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater. It was the 2017-18 CCJS  season's largest audience to date.
Drexler, Swift, Rupert, Kramer, Morell

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