Saturday, February 23, 2019

Time flies when you're having fun

Drummer Al Hixon has been hosting weekly jam sessions in or near Sarasota for about 30 years that draw an interesting blend of consummate jazz pros, amateurs and devoted listeners. The latest incarceration takes place Monday nights from October through May at 15 South Ristorante Entoteca on St. Armand's Circle. 
Al Hixon

The retired landscape architect and land planner from southern New England also treats area jazz societies at least once a year to appearances by his Underheard Herd. That band includes a few mainstays - former Ellington bassist John Lamb and pianist Dick Reynolds, who was the house pianist at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago for many years.
Dick Reynolds

Dick Hamilton, Jim Wellen
The rest of the band changes from appearance to appearance, as Hixon shines the spotlight on a variety of players that he likes - sometimes in fresh combinations - or newcomers that he feels should be heard by more ears. He's as much a talent scout as a timekeeper.

On Friday, February 22, his Underheard Herd performed for the South County Jazz Club in Venice FL. Besides Lamb and Reynolds, it included trombonist Dick Hamilton, tenor saxophonist Jim Wellen and singer Debbie Keeton. There were also two unexpected treats who had found their way onto Hixon's musical radar at 15 South.  

Rick Aaron
Jonah Kreitner
Those cameo performers were Milwaukee-based flutist Rick Aaron, who has joined the flock of snowbirds who head to Florida for some of the winter months, and Jonah Kreitner, a 16-year-old violinist who attends Hunter College High School in New York. Kreitner happened to be in town visiting his grandparents.

The afternoon featured a lot of band flexibility. There were some quintet pieces, a few quartet pieces featuring one of the horn players with the rhythm section, some solo piano artistry from Reynolds, and even some solos or duos by Lamb, the latter with Wellen.

Favorite moments: 
  • Reynolds' classically-tinged exploration of "My Funny Valentine," mining a lot of fresh nuances from this jazz staple. 
  • Hamilton's features, which underscored his talent as a top-notch jazz arranger: "I Thought About You" and Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee."
  • Kreitner's versions of "If I Were a Bell" and "No Greater Love" with the trio.
  • Aaron's beautiful flute work on "Beautiful Love" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." He was enjoying the 85-degrees and sunny afternoon in Venice, noting it was -7 in Milwaukee that morning.
  • Wellen's breezy bossa nova take on "All or Nothing at All" and his center-stage  tenor-bass duet with Lamb on "Pick Yourself Up."
Al Hixon, John Lamb
Debbie Keeton
Keeton joined the quintet for "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," "Lullaby of Birdland" and a bluesy afternoon closer.

The concert was held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.
Hamilton, Keeton, Reynolds, Wellen

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